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Science Fiction and Fantasy
Read an Excerpt from Allen Steele's Coyote Horizon

FOREWORD

When I began writing Coyote in early 2000, I believed that the tale I wanted to tell—the story of the first starship from Earth and the first interstellar colony—could be done in one volume. I'd been researching and developing this particular novel through most of the previous decade; after a couple of false starts, the time had finally come to put it down on paper.

As things turned out, though, the story was too big for one novel, so I decided to write a sequel, Coyote Rising, that would tie up the threads left hanging at the end of the first book. Yet that wasn't enough, either; by the time I finished the second book, I'd come to realize that I still hadn't answered a lot of questions I myself had put forward. As a result, a third book became necessary, and thus I wrote Coyote Frontier.

Once the Coyote Trilogy was finished, I turned my attention to other matters, including a couple of independent novels—Spindrift and Galaxy Blues—set in the same universe. Then something happened that I didn't expect.

When reviews of Coyote Frontier started coming in, quite a few critics expressed the opinion that, while it was obvious that I'd wrapped up the storyline, there was more about Coyote that remained to be told. Then I began receiving fan mail from readers, with the majority asking me to write more. One reader used the maps Ron Miller and I had created to build a globe of Coyote; it now rests on my desk as a reference tool. Another took my description of the Coyote Federation flag to make one for me; it's taped to my notebook. Yet another went so far as to create an entire fan website that included interactive maps and lists of all the major characters, events, starships, and locales mentioned in the books (you can visit it at www.coyoteseries.com). Not long after that, Coyote entered the curriculum of university science-fiction courses, with one student emailing me to ask questions for a dissertation she was writing about the trilogy.

Inspired by the attention, I decided to write some short fiction about Coyote. The first story, "Walking Star," occured after the events of Coyote Frontier; a slightly different version appears in this novel as Part Two. A second novella, "The River Horses", filled in the gap between Coyote and Coyote Rising. And a short story, "The War of Dogs and Boids," related an incident that didn't make its way into Coyote. I thought these stories would satisfy everyone, but they only added fuel to the fire. Readers continued to insist that I continue writing about the world I had created, and after awhile I came to realize that, although the original story arc was complete, I wasn't finished with this place yet.

It should be pointed out that Coyote Horizon isn't the "fourth book of the trilogy," but rather the first volume of a duology; the second volume, Coyote Destiny, will conclude the story arc. Although astute readers of this series may notice that the events of Coyote Horizon are roughly concurrent with those depicted in Galaxy Blues, it isn't necessary to read the other book first in order to understand this novel.

This novel should dedicated to everyone who asked for more. Thank you for your support, and for demanding that I return to Coyote.


PROLOGUE

Bridgeton, New Florida—Asmodel 22, c.y. 16

Traveler's Rest, the home of two former presidents of the Coyote Federation, was located on top of the Eastern Divide, the granite wall that separated the savannahs of New Florida from the broad expanse of the East Channel. Built of sturdy blackwood imported from Great Dakota, with a slate roof cantilevered at forty-five degree angle, the manor overlooked the channel and the port town of Bridgeton and, on the other side of the Divide, the grassy flatlands that lay southwest of Liberty. The residence had its own wind turbine, a slender pylon on which three blades slowly rotated in the early spring breeze, as well as a satellite dish perched on corner of the roof. Although visible for many miles, the house could only be reached by a narrow dirt road that wound its way up the ridge.

President Gunther's personal aide had recommended that she come ahead of time, so Lynn Hu made sure that she arrived at Traveler's Rest an hour before her scheduled appointment. It wasn't until the cab she'd hired in Liberty came to a halt at the front gate at the bottom of the ridge, though, that she knew why. An iron-barred arch eight feet tall, the gate was the sole point of entry through the chain-link fence surrounding the estate. Although the bluff was steep enough to challenge even the most dedicated of climbers, the fence extended all up the side of the Divide, prohibiting anyone from climbing over. If that weren't enough, solar-powered flood lights and surveillance cameras were positioned on posts within the fence.

To be sure, the couple who lived here had good reason to guard their privacy. Yet in the three weeks that she'd been on Coyote, Lynn hadn't seen this measure of protection since going through customs at the New Brighton spaceport. Even Government House was remarkably accessible; all she'd had to do to arrange a meeting with the current president was present her credentials and have a brief chat with a couple of bureaucrats before she was escorted upstairs to his office.

Despite his colorful past—an uncle who'd been a hero of the Revolution, teenage years spent as a member of the Rigil Kent Brigade, being elected mayor of Clarksburg despite having a notorious brother who was murdered by his own son—Garth Thompson had given her a boring interview, with little worth quoting save as background material. Yet in the end, he'd come through with what Lynn really wanted: a satphone call to Traveler's Rest, setting up an appointment for her to see the very person whom she'd traveled forty-six light-years to meet.

And now, here she was. Lynn paid the driver C10, adding a couple of colonials as a tip. He pocketed the money without so much as a word, then reached up to shut the gullwing door; the coupe rose upon its skirts and turned around to glide back down Swamp Road toward town.

Stepping closer to the gate, Lynn noticed a small metal box on a post next to the gate. Raising its hinged cover, she found an intercom.

She pressed its button, bent closer. "Hello?"

"Yes?" The voice from the speaker was male, with the Hispanic accent of someone born in the Western Hemisphere Union back on Earth. "Who's calling, please?"

"Lynn Hu ...Pan News Service. I have an appointment with..."

"Of course, senorita. We've been expecting you." A brief buzz, then the right half of the gate slowly swung open. "Please come up."

"Thank you." Lynn started to step through the gate, then stopped as something occurred to her. "Umm ... come up, you said?"

"Yes."

She stared at the dirt road leading up the ridge and swallowed. No signs that any vehicles had come recently this way. Nothing that looked like a tram. She heard the chitter of small birds—grasshoarders, she'd learned they were called—within the high grass on either side of the road; a skeeter buzzed past her face, and she swatted it away.

"Walk, you mean," she added.

No response from the intercom, yet as she strolled through the gate, it silently closed behind her, locking with a definitive click. Realizing that argument was pointless, she took a deep breath, then set out to climb the rest of the way to Traveler's Rest.

The ascent was less difficult than it appeared. The house was only about three hundred yards from the bottom of the bluffs, with the road cut in a series of switchbacks that afforded an easy grade. Yet, although someone born and raised on Coyote probably would have considered it little more than morning exercise, Lynn only recently become acclimated to the thin atmosphere; when she'd left the inn in Liberty, she hadn't expected go to hiking. So her linen business suit was drenched with sweat and her sandals filled with sand by the time she arrived, out of breath and gasping, at the top of the ridge.

Traveler's Rest was magnificent. Tall cathedral windows looked out upon carefully cultivated gardens, their beds planted with flowers both native to Coyote and imported from Earth, lending color to a place where it was least expected. Wooden stairs led her up a low retaining wall to a semicircular veranda upon which Adirondack chairs and potted shrubs had been set out; she noticed a small refractor telescope on a tripod, its capped lens pointed toward the sky. As she came closer, Lynn was startled to hear a horse ninny; looking around, she spotted a chestnut mare peering at her from the half-door of shed beneath the wind turbine. Horses were still scarce on this world, and most were working animals, yet this one was obviously a pet, something a rich person would ride every now and then.

She was about to walk over to the shed when a carved blackwood door opened on the veranda. A young man, not much older than she, wearing a homespun tunic and trousers, stepped out. "Ms. Hu? I'm Tomas Conseco, the president's personal aide. Would you follow me, please?"

The foyer was cool after the warmth of the early spring day, the lighting subdued. "You may leave your shoes there," Tomas said, motioning to a row of boots and moccasins carefully arranged on the tile floor beside the door. As Lynn gratefully slipped off her sandals, he offered her a hempcloth towel. "It's a long walk here," he added. "If you'd like to freshen up a bit, the guest bath is just over here."

"No, thank you. This will be fine." She ran the towel across her face and neck, mopping her sweat. Suddenly, her business suit felt too warm. "Is there any place where I may...?" She plucked at her jacket lapel.

"Of course." Tomas gallantly extended a hand, and Lynn shrugged out of the jacket and surrendered it to him. "Just one thing, though," she said, reaching for its inside pocket. "I need my pad ..."

"Sorry. No pads." Tomas shook his head as he draped her jacket across his arm. "Not until the president gives permission."

"You don't understand. I'm here to interview..."

"The president scheduled a time for you to meet with her." Tomas turned to walk up a short flight of stairs. "Whether she consents to an interview is another matter entirely."

Irritated, but with no choice but to comply, Lynn followed Tomas as he escorted her through the house. Much of the ground floor was taken up by a large living room, with overstuffed catskin furniture arranged around a fieldstone hearth whose chimney rose nearly twenty feet above the polished wooden floor. The sun shined brightly through the cathedral windows, illuminating an framed portrait of the two presidents that hung upon a wall above a handcrafted cabinet. A miniature globe of Coyote, positioned within a semicircular arc carried upon the shoulders of a pewter boid, stood upon a glass-topped center table; scattered here and there were books, delicate ceramic sculptures, finely woven blankets. A place of splendid isolation, inhabited by a couple who'd earned a dignified retirement after a lifetime of labor and sacrifice.

At the back of the living room was another row of windows, shorter than the ones that faced west. Tomas opened a glass door, then stepped aside to let Lynn pass through. She found herself on an open balcony that ran the length of the house, with only a railing separating her from a sheer escarpment that plunged several hundred feet to the rocky shores of the West Channel. And it was here that she found the former president of the Coyote Federation.

Wendy Gunther didn't appear much older than she did when she and her husband, Carlos Montero, traveled to Earth as Coyote's emissaries to the United Nations. With pale blond hair turned silver with age and braided into a slender rope that hung down her back from beneath a straw sun hat, she remained slender and almost sensuously regal, with only crows feet at the corners her eyes and the wrinkled skin of the back of her hands giving evidence of her age. There was a certain strength to her, though, that hinted at a sense of belonging to this place; Lynn would later reflect that it was as if she'd become part of Coyote, as native to this world as any of the creatures that had evolved here.

An easel had been set up on the balcony, a broad canvas perched upon the tripod. President Gunther stood before it, wearing a smock smeared with flecks of gumtree-oil paint. She didn't look around as Tomas escorted Lynn onto the balcony, but instead continued to gently daub at the canvas with a small shagshair brush, using brief, gentle strokes to add minute details to the landscape she was creating.

"Ms. Hu, yes?" she said softly, her voice almost too quiet to hear. "Welcome. I'll just be a minute." She nodded toward a nearby pair of wingback wicker chairs. "Have a seat, please. Tomas ... I believe there's some ice tea in the kitchen. Would you be so kind?"

"Of course, Madam President." Tomas gestured Lynn toward a chair, then disappeared through the glass door. Yet Lynn didn't sit down yet. Instead, she stepped closer to the easel to see what President Gunther was painting.

The Garcia Narrows Bridge, as seen from the top of the Eastern Divide. Not a realistic depiction, though, but rather an impressionist image, its two-mile span rendered in muted, slightly unfocused earth bones, the reddish-brown colors of the wooden trusswork contrasted against the blue waters of the West Channel and the dark tan of the Midland Rise on the opposite side. Certainly not a masterpiece, yet nonetheless the work of a talented amateur.

"Please don't tell me it's good." The president added a dash of magenta to the leaves of the faux-birch trees in the foreground, then sighed in frustration as she stepped back from the canvas. "An old lady's hobby, nothing more. Something to while away the time."

"Well ... it is pleasant." Lynn gazed over the balcony rail at the view below. The Garcia Narrows Bridge rose high above the channel, its long roadway joining New Florida with the subcontinent of Midland to the east. If she correctly remembered the history of Coyote colonies, the bridge had been erected during the Union occupation, shortly before the Revolution. Although sabotaged by its own architect, James Alonzo Garcia, the bridge was rebuilt after the war, and now served as the major conduit between the two land masses.

From the distance, she could see traffic moving along its roadway, with sleek hovercoupes recently imported from Earth competing with riders on horseback and farm wagons hauled by massive shags. Beneath the bridge lay Bridgeton's commercial port; dozens of vessels were tied up to the pier, while people and animals unloaded freight from barges that had recently sailed up the channel from the Great Equatorial River and carried it to warehouses along the nearby wharf.

"Flattery will get you nowhere ... except here." President Gunther dropped her brush in a jar of grain alcohol, then picked up a rag next to the palate and wiped her hands. "So ... from what I've been told, you're a journalist from the old world, come out here to write about what you've found in the new."

"Yes, ma'am. I..."

"Don't `ma'am' me, young lady." The president's chin lifted slightly as she turned toward her. "I have a daughter about your age, and I wouldn't take that from her." Lynn couldn't tell she was joking until she glanced toward the door. "Tomas insists on formality," the president added, smiling as she lowered her voice in a conspiratorial manner. "He's been with me a long time, so I let him do that ...but between you and me, I wish he'd call me by my first name."

"Umm ... Wendy?"

"At your service." She offered her hand. "Pleased to meet you, Ms. Hu ... or may I call you Lynn?"

"Lynn is fine." Surprised by the unexpected familiarity, Lynn accepted Wendy's hand. Her grasp was almost mannishly firm, her calloused palm like old suede leather. "Yes, I'm writing a story ... a series of stories, really ... about the colonies. Trying to find out what's going on here, for my readers back on..."

"`Trying to find out what's going on here.' Fascinating." Wendy glided over to the wicker chairs. "Please sit ... ah, and here's Tomas with our drinks."

Lynn looked around just as Tomas opened the balcony door and stepped out, carrying two tall glasses filled with dark brown tea. He silently one to each of the women, then walked over to the railing and settled against it, arms folded against his chest. "Forgive the sarcasm," Wendy said as she sat down, "but I've been on Coyote for most of my life, and I'm still trying to find out `what's going on here.' What makes you think you're going to do any better?"

Again, it was hard to tell if the former president of the colonies was serious or not. "I have a hard time believing that. I mean, one of the reasons why I want to interview you is because of your memoirs..."

"You've read my book?" Wendy's face expressed mild astonishment. "All of it?"

"Yes." Lynn couldn't help but grin. "You don't know that it's been a bestseller back home? Takes several minutes to download ... and forget about trying to buy a hard copy in a bookstore. The waiting list is ..."

"I had no idea." The president shrugged. "I should have a word with my editor. My royalty statements seem to be in arrears." She gave Lynn a sidelong glance. "Not that I'll see any money from the book. I've put it in my contract that all royalties are to be contributed to the Colonial University medical school. The Kuniko Okada Scholarship, named for..."

"Your adoptive mother, who taught you how to become a physician yourself." Lynn caught the annoyed look on Wendy's face and shook her head. "Sorry. Didn't mean to interrupt."

"Not at all. I'm afraid I'm the one who keeps interrupting." Wendy took a sip from her tea, then placed her glass on a table between them. Taking off her sun hat, she stood up for a moment to untie her smock, revealing the light summer dress she wore beneath it. "But the question still stands," she continued, sitting down again. "What makes you think you can do any better?"