Winner of the 2009 Prix Aurora Award for Best Long-Form Work in English, this thrilling science-fiction novel introduces a battle for survival on a distant water world.
After a worldwide disaster strikes Earth, the planet is taken over by a fanatical religious theocracy. Scientist Victor Hansen flees with a staff of non-genetically modified humans and young members of his newly created race, the Selkies, to Marseguro, a distant water world.
But their peace and freedom is threatened when a traitor calls forth a strike force from Earth, and Victor's own grandson, Richard, is with them. What Richard Hansen discovers may alter not only his own destiny, but that of Marseguro and Earth as well….
Here's your chance to read the first entry in Ed Willett's acclaimed two-book series of thought provoking SF adventure. Marseguro won the Aurora Award and its sequel, Terra Insegura, was a finalist for the award. It's a series that will make you both feel and think, and is a great introduction to the work of an author of more than fifty books. – Douglas Smith
"The novel is a great combination of political and religious chicanery by the powers on Earth and the struggles of the selkies to assert their rights to live and maintain Marseguro as their home. The characters are fascinating and the story is great…. A compelling and fast read."– ConNotations
"Marseguro reaches far beyond the stuff from which our genre came…. The settings are well drawn and creative…. The characters possess substance, emotions, and realistic motivations…. This book is almost impossible to put down."– SciFi Weekly
"Willett is a strong writer with a great concept and good story. Anyone who wants to read a novel that talks about tough ethical questions and has characters whose lives are in shades of grey will enjoy Marseguro."– Arch Thinking
The main pier of Hansen's Harbor stank, but that was only one reason Chris Keating hated it.
He stood in the early spring sun, shivering, glaring down the three-hundred-meter-long, fifty-meter-wide stretch of pre-formed bioplast planks. The pier looked secure, but Chris knew better. Some of that stink came from the salt water. Some of it came from the alcohol-fueled engine of the catamaran-sub SeaSkimmer, idling at the end of the pier. Some of it came from rotting seaweed. But some of it, Chris knew, came from the slowly decomposing bioplast itself. To him it always stank of anaerobic decay, the smell of swamps and stagnant ponds. One day–he knew it–one of the pier's massive posts would give way, and the whole structure would collapse, flipping everything and everyone on it into the deep, cold water of New Botany Bay, where they would drown like his father drowned, lost at sea, when he was four.
One day. Maybe even today, while he was on the pier.
Chris shivered again. He hadn't expected to come down to the pier today, and his white shirt and pants were made of thin cloth designed for comfort in the warm, humid environs of the genesculpting lab's algae room, not for keeping out the wind currently whipping up whitecaps on the bay's blue-green water. But Dr. Stanless had radioed half an hour ago for someone to come help unload the samples he'd collected from the algae fields off Slick Rock, and the only someone who could be spared had been Chris.
He hadn't dared refuse. No one on Marseguro knew his shameful secret except his mother, and she wasn't likely to tell.
He clenched his fists when he thought of her. He'd visited her in the hospital on his way to work that morning. She'd looked so frail, lying in that hospital bed hooked up to the machinery that kept her alive–not at all like the strong woman he remembered from childhood, the woman who had single-handedly raised him after his father's death…and single-handedly made sure he knew the truth that lay behind that "accident."
She'd been conscious this morning, an unusual occurrence since the last stroke. She could speak, after a fashion. Most of what she said made little sense, and usually she hardly seemed to know he was in the room, but this morning had been different.
She'd squeezed his hand with astonishing strength for someone at death's door. "Selkies!" she'd hissed, her eyes focused on his face with a feverish intensity he well-remembered but hadn't seen in six months. "They killed your father. They're killing me! They'll kill you, too, if they find out…if they know…"
"Shhh!" Chris had shot a look over his shoulder, though he knew he'd been left alone. Still, you could never be certain the Selkies weren't listening…
"He hated the sea. They made him go on that boat. The Selkies all came back. The landlings all died."
Chris almost reached out and put his hand over her mouth. These were things they only talked about in their own home, never in public, never where someone else might hear…
"They knew…they must have found out he Believed…he never wanted to be here at all…never wanted to be on the Rivers of Babylon…Hansen kidnapped him…the Selkies murdered him…and now they're killing me…" Her wide eyes suddenly filled with tears. "They'll kill you, too, my little boy…my little…" Her eyes fluttered closed.
Chris had eased his hand away from her and stood up, shaking. He'd had to take half a dozen deep breaths before he felt calm enough to walk out of the hospital, and it took all his strength not to look over his shoulder to see who might be watching him go.
"It's not just the Selkies," his mother had told him over and over. "Most of the landlings are on their side. A very few of us know the truth. A very few of us cling to the Body Purified. But we can never let on…or they'll kill us.
"Like they killed your father."
Chris looked at the alarmingly narrow ribbon of bioplast stretching from the shore into the bay, and the balefully glittering water all around it. God, I hate this planet. But he couldn't let on, or the secret Selkie cabal his mother had told him really ruled Marseguro would know he had inherited his family's dangerous beliefs, and eliminate him as they had eliminated his father.
Maybe they've already decided to. Maybe this errand is a set-up, carefully arranged to provide an opportunity for another "accident"…
He shook his head. Don't be paranoid. If the Selkies wanted to kill him, he'd simply disappear. Hardly anyone would notice. Even fewer would care.
No, the errand was just what it seemed to be. And though he hated his job almost as much as he hated the pier–and the planet–everyone on Marseguro had to work, and if he quit at the genesculpting lab he'd be stuck scaling hulls or filling potholes with a Council make-work crew, doing jobs bots could do better and faster.
Gathering his courage and holding it tight like the teddy bear he'd carried everywhere until his tenth birthday, he set off down the pier.
Halfway to the SeaSkimmer, the Selkies swarmed him.
They soared out of the Bay like dolphins, trailing drops of water that flashed silver in the sun. Their broad, bare webbed feet slapped down on the bioplast with the sound of fish being poured from a net. There were at least a dozen, male and female, all adolescents or young adults, all wearing the water resistance-lessening skinsuits the Selkies favored, vibrant reds and purples and greens and yellows personalized with lightning bolts and starships, Earth dolphins and Marseguroite squigglefish, flames and starscapes and abstract designs that made their owners hard to look at. They surrounded him in a whirlwind of color and he stopped dead. They laughed and chirped in their own language, one landlings could neither understand nor speak, since they lacked the Selkies' modified vocal apparatus and enhanced hearing.
"What do you want?" Chris could barely squeeze the words out through a throat gone tight with fear. His heart pounded in his chest, a caged animal frantically throwing itself against the bars of its prison. "What do you want?"
They ignored him, circling him like Earth sharks were said to circle their prey, chanting–not in Selkie, but in English. He suddenly realized what they were chanting: just a silly poem, but one that almost loosened his bowels. "Eeny-meeny-miny-mink, tip a landling in the drink, watch him splash and watch him sink, eeny-meeny-miny-mink." Oversized eyes stared at him, transparent nictitating eyelids sliding sideways across giant green irises.
He knew this "game." He'd known it since childhood. He'd seen Selkies "play" it to his friends. He'd always managed to avoid it.
The Selkies rushed him, laughing. Strong hands seized him. He felt his feet leave the ground, then he was horizontal, held high above short-cropped hair, pink and violet, green and blue, and shaved pates tattooed to match the skinsuits. They were carrying him, running with him. He screamed, then he was flying through the air, the horizon flipping, the pier suddenly above him…
…and then he hit the water. Its cold embrace enveloped him. He sank, kicked desperately, managed to get his head into the air, grabbed a precious breath, sank again, and couldn't find the surface. His clothes pulled at him, sucking him down. He floundered, striking out blindly. He couldn't see, couldn't breathe, couldn't think through the heart-stopping terror. I'm going to die! his mind shrieked, then shrieked again, a mantra he couldn't stop, running through his head over and over. I'm going to die! I'm going to die! I'm going to die!
Something grabbed him. He struck out at it in panic, his body no longer under his control, but the thing was stronger than he was. Against his will it pulled him deeper and deeper into the…
…then his head broke water and he sucked in a lungful of air, coughing and choking as spray came with it, and he realized he'd been pulled up to the surface, not down into the deeps, and maybe, just maybe, he wouldn't drown this time after all.
Hands reached for him again, but this time they pulled him up, lifted him out of the water, laid him on the pier. Prostrate, eyes closed, cheek pressed against the reeking wet bioplast, he coughed out the last of the water. Selkies chirped and squealed around him, then a shadow fell across his face and he opened his eyes to see one, a girl, crouching down and looking at him. Her zebra-striped yellow skinsuit, practically painted on, left little of her lithe body to the imagination. She had violet hair and the same green eyes as every other Selkie…and she looked familiar. He wasn't sure why. "Are you all right?" she said. "I'm so sorry. We never thought…"
Chris closed his eyes, shame and anger choking him in equal measure. He couldn't talk. He wouldn't give them the satisfaction of hearing his voice break. He pushed himself up onto all fours, then stood shakily, ignoring the girl's proffered hand.
"We didn't know," said another Selkie, a boy with a red-and-blue spiral tattooed into his shaved head and wearing a skinsuit covered with iridescent scales. He looked vaguely familiar, too. "We didn't know you couldn't–"
"Chris? Is that you?" A burly, bearded and bald-headed nonmod pushed his way through the now sheepish-looking crowd of Selkies. Behind Dr. Stanless, Chris glimpsed the rest of the crew of the SeaSkimmer, nonmods and Selkies alike, gawking like bystanders to an accident. "Are you all right? What happened?"
Selkie kids at the edge of the crowd began melting away. Three slipped into the bay, barely raising a splash. But the tattooed boy and violet-haired girl stood their ground. "It was just a prank," the boy said. "We were celebrating the end of school. We didn't mean anything by it…"
"We didn't know he couldn't swim," the girl said.
"We didn't know anybody couldn't swim," the boy said.
Chris felt himself flush. The shame and fury had reached the surface.
Dr. Stanless glared at the Selkies. "It was a stupid prank. It's one thing to pull it on one of your friends, but grabbing a stranger and throwing him into the bay…"
"He's not exactly a stranger," the boy said. "We went to landschool together." He glanced at Chris. "Don't you remember? I'm John Duval."
Chris still hadn't spoken. The world seemed preternaturally bright and clear around him, as though the air had turned to diamond. At the sound of John Duval's name, it grew harder and brighter yet.
John Duval. The Selkie boy who had bullied him from the time they were both eight Earth years old until they were thirteen, and Duval had gone off to seaschool. Tripped him in the cafeteria. Pulled down his trunks in the swimming pool, then swam off with them, leaving him naked and shamed in the water, begging someone to bring him a towel while the other kids laughed at him…
He looked at the girl. Emily Wood. He remembered her, too. Remembered her standing with the other girls pointing and laughing.
How could they not know he didn't know how to swim? The teacher had forced him into the pool that day, told him he had to overcome his fear of what had happened to his father. He'd been too little, too scared, not to give in. His mother had always told him if he didn't conform, didn't hide the truth, something bad would happen to him…but he'd never forgotten the shame, never forgotten that early proof that Selkies couldn't be trusted. "They're not real humans," his mother had said. "They're monsters." Before that, he'd wondered. After that…
He'd never gone back into the pool. And the teacher, once she'd realized what had happened, had never made him.
They knew, he thought. They knew. It's a warning. I'm being warned. The Selkies…the secret cabal…they suspect me, suspect I'm like my father…they're letting me know what will happen to me if I cross them…
He shivered as the sea breeze flowed over his wet body. I'm all alone, he thought. Mom was the only one I could talk to, and now…
Something clicked into place inside him, as though a switch had been thrown, and the heat of his anger vanished. Instead, he felt as if he had been doused in water even colder than that of the bay, water that froze into certainty his determination to do something that, until that moment, he had only toyed with on his blackest days.
He didn't say a word to John Duval and Emily Wood. To Dr. Stanless he said, "I hate to ask, sir, but may I have a few days off?"
Dr. Stanless blinked, then frowned. "I understand you're upset, Chris, but it was just a soaking…"
"It's not that, sir." Not precisely. "It's…my mother." Again, partly true.
"Oh." Dr. Stanless knew all about Chris's mother, of course. "Oh, I see. Of course. Take as long as you need."
"A week or two at most," Chris said. "Thank you, sir."
With all the dignity he could muster, letting his gaze slide past the shamefaced Selkies as if they weren't there, he turned his back on the sea and walked inland.
He didn't look back.