Emily Tesh’s Some Desperate Glory takes the time-honoured tradition of space rebels and turns teenage horribleness on its head. In Tesh’s own words, this novel is “about being the very worst person imaginable, and then trying to be better. It’s a book about the end of the world, and what happens after. It’s a book about survival, and hope, and change. And it’s a book about how sometimes your queer found family is your fellow cult survivors who hate you, a horrible gremlin boy who won’t stop doing crimes, the cutest alien you’ve ever met, and your literal brother.”
Here’s a brief synopsis of Some Desperate Glory:
Since she was born, Kyr has trained for the day she can avenge the murder of planet Earth. Raised in the bowels of Gaea Station alongside the last scraps of humanity, she readies herself to face the Wisdom, the powerful, reality-shaping weapon that gave the majoda their victory over humanity.
They are what’s left. They are what must survive. Kyr is one of the best warriors of her generation, the sword of a dead planet. When Command assigns her brother to certain death and relegates her to Nursery to bear sons until she dies trying, she knows she must take humanity’s revenge into her own hands.
Alongside her brother’s brilliant but seditious friend and a lonely, captive alien, Kyr escapes from everything she’s known into a universe far more complicated than she was taught and far more wondrous than she could have imagined.
Here’s the full cover, followed by an excerpt from Some Desperate Glory.
Kyr tried Systems first. Systems and Suntracker were the two top levels of the station, with power feeding down into Systems from Suntracker’s solar sails to supplement the trickle that came up from the shadow engines at the station core. The main workspace of the wing was a maze of consoles arrayed on several levels in one of the planetoid’s natural rocky caverns. Kyr did not know it well. She had no talent for Systems work. When Sparrow had a rotation in the wing she usually found herself shunted off to try out test agoge simulations for scenario designers. She hesitated just inside the entrance. She could not exactly go wandering through the wing asking if anyone knew Mags’s queer friend.
While she was hovering a woman with iron-grey hair and a corporal’s patch on her sleeve looked up from behind her array of consoles. “Need something, cadet?”
Kyr found herself tongue-tied. “Corporal,” she said, to buy time.
The woman raised her eyebrows, and after a long pause finished, “. . . Lin. Corporal Lin, Valkyr. Your mess has rotated through here once a week since you were ten. After Victoria? She’ll be up in Suntracker.”
“No,” said Kyr.
“Spit it out,” said Lin. “What’s the matter?”
“Nothing,” said Kyr quickly.
Lin gave her a long look. Kyr pressed her lips tightly together. Once again she had a horrible suspicion she was being pitied.
“Avi,” she snapped. “I’m looking for Avi.”
Lin’s eyebrows went up. “Avicenna, really?” she said.
Kyr didn’t say what, because that would have been speaking out of order to someone who was technically her superior.
Corporal Lin said, “Try the arcade.”
Once each of the four dreadnoughts that had been stripped to build Gaea Station had had an arcade of its own. Now, there was proof of how rich humanity had been: even active-service warships had spared space for entertainment. The consoles and media libraries from all four had been combined into one entertainment space for Gaea. It was a long low room with booths and chairs set out around game stations and flickering displays. The lights were kept dim. Old music played on a loop. Kyr winced as she walked in. It wasn’t loud, but it was constant, and she disliked the wastefulness of it: power that Suntracker risked their lives for, thrown away on meaningless noise.
There was almost no one in the long dim room apart from a junior mess on rec. Kyr glanced at them as she walked past. It was just Blackbird. They were playing a game where you had to dance to the music — tinny from the machine speakers, clashing with the background hum — and catch at lights as they flashed in the air. Kyr saw one of them spot her and falter, missing her jump for a darting yellow sparkle that appeared and disappeared in time with the thumping beat.
But her gaze slid past and kept going.
She missed the young man at first. He was slumped alone in a booth at the far end of the room, his shoulders almost horizontal, his feet propped against the edge of the seat opposite. From that angle it was hard to get a sense of him except that he was undersized.
Kyr hadn’t expected him to be alone. The way Mags had talked about Avi had made him sound like someone who could be impressive. She’d supposed there would be a ring of similar types, the worst of Systems and Oikos: not friends, but weaklings clustering together for safety.
Avi was ostentatiously by himself. He was watching some media or other loaded up on the screen. It wasn’t even a game. If you had to be in the arcade, the least you could do was laze around with something worthwhile. The Blackbirds were working on their group bond and improving their coordination while they jumped around grabbing at sparkles.
Kyr tried to relax, told herself it would be stupid to start by antagonizing him, and marched over to the booth.
“Avi?” she said.
The young man said nothing.
“Excuse me,” snapped Kyr.
“Shh,” he said. The flicker of the screen illuminated his face in unpleasant flashes. He had squinting eyes under an untidy mess of red hair. “I’m watching this.” He waved a dismissive hand in her direction without looking round.
Kyr’s patience ran out.
She reached over the back of the booth, grabbed him by the scruff of the neck, and dragged him upright. He let out a squawk of surprise. He really was scrawny. Lifting him was practically effortless.
“Turn that off,” she said.
He didn’t. Kyr reached over to the controls and did it for him. The screen went dark.
Avi stood up. He only came up to Kyr’s chin. He stepped further back into the newly dimmed booth and folded his arms. Kyr didn’t miss how he’d kept the back of the booth between them like a shield. He looked her over, and his face did a fair impression of boredom, but she could tell he was afraid.
“What do you want?” he said.
Kyr made herself breathe out. This was not how she’d meant to do this. “You’re Avi,” she said. “You’re friends with my brother.”
“I wonder who?” Avi said. “I don’t have many friends built like tanks. Let me guess, you must be Vallie.”
“Valkyr,” Kyr corrected.
Avi smiled unpleasantly. “Then it’s Avicenna,” he said. “Lovely to meet you. What do you want?”
“I want to know where Mags is,” Kyr said.
“So,” said Kyr, “you’re going to find out for me.”
Avi was Systems, so he had access to information. Avi was supposedly the smartest person Mags had ever met. And Avi was already a cheat. That had to mean something.
“Or what?” he said.
Kyr narrowed her eyes.
Avi sneered. “Yes, I know, there’s a huge range of or what you could do to me, Valkyr. I’m just wondering which part exactly of the no-doubt-merciless bruising you’re offering would be worse than getting exiled or executed for digging into files I’m not supposed to touch.”
Kyr shifted her weight, and had the satisfaction of watching him flinch away even though the back of the booth was still between them.
“I have been beaten up before, you know,” he said, but the tight stillness of his body didn’t match his bored voice.
“Do you care if you’re exiled?” said Kyr. “People like you leave anyway.”
“Let’s ignore people like you for now because, actually, it was the executed part that concerned me,” Avi said. “Crazy, I know, but I want to keep living.”
With honest confusion Kyr said, “Why does he like you?”
“Must be my winning personality,” said Avi. But he unfolded his arms and sighed. Kyr didn’t understand what had changed his mind, but she didn’t care, because he stepped out of the booth — still giving her a wide berth — and said, “Damn. All right, all right,” in a defeated way. “Come on.”
Avi took Kyr down to Drill. “What are we doing here?” said Kyr. “I want — ”
“I know what you want,” said Avi. “Go on.” He swiped the key for an agoge room. “In you go. Take this.” He passed her an earpiece.
“What?” said Kyr.
“Do you want my help or not?” Avi said.
Kyr stumbled into the agoge. The plasteel floor gleamed green with shadowspace sublight as the room hummed, warming up. Kyr put the earpiece in. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Well, I’m going to use the agoge as a jumping-off point to get myself into some places I’m not supposed to be,” said Avi. “Which happens to be one of my hobbies anyway, luckily for you. And you’re going to pretend to be testing some simulations.”
“Why can’t you just do it in Systems?”
“One, boring. Two, the odds of getting anything past Yingli Lin from there are slim to negative.”
“Her? She’s just a corporal.”
“And of course you’re one of those people who thinks rank correlates directly with ability.”
“You realise people look at the agoge logs,” Kyr said. “They can watch what I’m doing in here.”
“No, I’m not an expert and I had no idea. Thank you so much for telling me. Fine.”
“I was going to spoof something but you’re clearly going to be unbearable if you haven’t got something to do,” Avi said. “Here.”
The green flickers disappeared as the agoge room brightened to a clear shadowless white. Ghostly shapes began to trace themselves on the air.
“That should keep you busy,” Avi said. “Have fun.”
The simulation resolved into a narrow street. Kyr had seen streets before — had drilled in simulated urban environments since she was twelve — but this was no majo city. The walls were primitive, smooth blocks of white stone rising to her left and right. An arch marked the end of the street. Somewhere far overhead was a very blue sky.
Kyr did not have time to take in more, because the shadows slowly taking form beneath the arch resolved into three — no, five — no, eight separate hostiles, like nothing she’d ever seen. They weren’t a majo species. The shortest was six and a half feet tall, with a broad heavy build underneath its armour. Kyr didn’t recognise the style of armour either: dark organic material with plates of actual metal sewn to it. The hostile looked at Kyr and gave a low unpleasant rattle of sound, like a laugh.
The leader was nearly eight feet high, with sharp tusks in its mouth that would be dangerous weapons in their own right, and it was gripping a solid length of steel. The agoge could give you a good jolt of pain to teach you the lessons of war, and Kyr could tell that thing was going to be agony.
She had no weapons. She’d trained for years in snatching majo weapons from simulated enemies and turning them on their makers, but the weight of that mace made the prospect absurd. She doubted she could even lift it.
“What are these?” she demanded.
Avi answered, “Orcs.”
That meant nothing. Kyr eyed the things again. They were hanging back under the arch. In the Level Twelve runs Kyr was used to, you didn’t get this moment to think.
At least none of them seemed to have anything ranged.
As she thought it, the short one lifted a length of organic material and began to swing it around its head. Kyr’s body moved faster than her brain. Eight hostiles and she was unarmed: when the missile zipped from the slingshot through the space where her head had been, she was already running.
Kyr ran between walls of smooth white stone and under gleaming white arches, and the hostiles ran behind her. It didn’t matter how fast she moved, they stayed the same distance back: far enough that their heavy weapons wouldn’t touch her, close enough that if she stopped moving that slingshot was going to be a problem. Occasional missiles cracked the stone walls around her as she ran, but the thing’s aim didn’t seem to be much good with a moving target. “What the hell is this for?” she yelled at the air.
“Do you mind? I’m working,” said Avi. “On something you asked me for, if you remember.”
“I need a weapon!”
“So find one. You’re not very good at this, are you?”
Kyr snapped her mouth shut on the words she wanted to say and glanced around as she ran. Urban-combat scenarios were normally full of civilians, but there was nothing in the white city but Kyr, and Avi’s absurd monsters.
And walls. Primitive white stone walls, with mortar crumbling from the cracks. Kyr could make it from Suntracker at the top of Gaea Station to Drill at the bottom in under five minutes. She skidded around a corner to give herself a few extra seconds out of the sightline of the monsters and flung herself up.
The stone was cold under her hands as she scrambled for handholds. She was grimly aware of that slingshot — she was a much easier target heaving herself up the vertical than she had been as a running figure at the far end of a street. She heard the orcs come round the corner below and start talking. They spoke in grunts, but the confused tone was clear.
They spotted her when she was nearly at the top. A slung stone smashed into the wall next to Kyr’s hand as she pulled herself up to a parapet and rolled over the edge. She crouched against the other side, breathing hard.
Overhead the sky was still deep unending blue. Kyr tilted her head back and looked for a moment as her lungs strained for air.
She was on a flat rooftop with a kind of garden on it. There were tubs of earth with vegetables growing in them, and a stack of wooden crates next to a door that led into whatever this building was supposed to be. Residential, maybe. Kyr stayed crouched against the parapet, better cover than nothing. Could those things climb up after her? She could still hear them grunting down in the street, so maybe not.
“Why would you make this?” she demanded when she had enough breath to speak. “This is a waste of station resources.”
“Hardly. The agoge drains power constantly regardless of what you use it for.”
“You’re a station resource.”
“Rec time is your own time, those are the rules. Aren’t you the rules type? You seem like a rules type.” Avi sounded amused. “You’re on the roof, huh? I set it to easy so they’re too stupid to climb, but the bad news for you is that eventually they’re going to find the stairs. Got a weapon yet?”
“I get it, you’re good at this. You could make something meaningful,” said Kyr. “You could be building things our soldiers actually need.”
“You don’t think our soldiers need to know what it feels like to be hunted by a gang of merciless war monsters twice your size?”
“Majo are small,” Kyr reminded him.
The voice in her ear didn’t answer. Kyr walked between the vegetable planters toward those wooden crates, keeping an eye on that door. The grunted conversation from the street had gone quiet. Probably a bad sign.
Propped up in the shadow of the crates was a staff, capped and weighted at either end with gleaming silver. Well, it would give her some reach, and against that eight-footer she would need all the reach she could get. Kyr picked it up.
There was a thud. The door shuddered on its hinges. Kyr went to wait in front of it. The doorway was human-sized. It wasn’t big enough for more than one of Avi’s monsters to get through at a time.
Another thud. Then the door smashed into pieces around a massive armoured shoulder.
It was the eight-footer with the mace. Kyr hadn’t got a close look at the primitive body armour when the simulation started, but since she was using a fairly basic weapon herself she doubted she could achieve much by going straight at it. She went for the face instead, smashing the weighted base of the staff into the tusked jaw so the thing’s head snapped sideways, and then went in with a low sweep and knocked the monster’s feet out from underneath. She came up turning and kicked it hard in the chest, feeling the blow rattle through her knee. The orc went stumbling backward through the doorway windmilling its arms and knocked down the three behind it when it fell.
“Stupid, huh,” Kyr said.
The orc got to its feet, snarling and shaking its head hard. The rest of them were piling up confusedly behind it, except for one on the ground which had taken the spike of its ally’s ax in the thigh as it tripped. Kyr bounced on her feet, waited for her moment, and then as the giant advanced she smashed it in the face again — going for its nose this time, snapping its head backward.
The orc howled and fell.
Avi said, “Huh.”
“I am good at this,” said Kyr. The big one wasn’t getting up. Two behind it tried to squeeze past it through the doorframe at the same time. “Are these human? They move like humans.” It was more like mat practice than agoge work. The agoge was where you fought majo. Mat practice against Coyote, maybe — though even the warbreed boys of Mags’s mess weren’t this much bigger than Kyr.
Avi’s orcs really were stupid. The only tactic they seemed to be able to think of was rushing her. It would work if they were out in the open. If even one of these giants had her pinned, Kyr would not be able to get loose again. But as long as she could control how they came at her, the problem of their size stopped mattering.
“Well, I had to base them on something,” Avi said, sounding irritated. “Are you actually having fun?”
“This is still stupid,” said Kyr.
“That’s supposed to be a wizard’s staff,” Avi said. “You’re hitting them in the face with it when you could literally just set them all on fire.”
“What would be the point of that?” said Kyr, knocking another orc down and stamping hard on its fingers. Its grip on its wicked-looking serrated knife relaxed a fraction. Kyr snatched it up and cut the thing’s throat. Black blood sprayed everywhere.
“Not everything has to have a point!” said Avi. “Are you sure you’re Magnus’s sister?”
“Yes,” said Kyr. “I am.”
As she said it she killed the last of the stupid orcs. The rooftop shimmered and dissolved around her. Kyr was left standing in the middle of the grey plasteel floor in an empty room. She felt a sudden sharp tug of loss — for that primitive stone city, where the steps and doorways were all the right size for a person, and the sky blazed blue.
“Was that a real place?” she said.
“No,” said Avi’s voice in her ear after a moment. “I got it out of a book.”
Kyr for no particular reason felt angry. So that was what this very smart person did with all his hours in the arcade: dragged up old media to read books about things that never existed. “Is that what you did with my brother? Wasted his time treating the agoge like a game?”
“The agoge is a game,” said Avi.
“The agoge is training for war.”
“If you say so.”
“Did you find him yet?” demanded Kyr.
“No,” said Avi. “It would help if you shut up.”
Kyr clenched her hands into fists. She couldn’t remember ever wanting to hit someone quite as much as she wanted to hit Avi now. It wasn’t the cold simplicity of how she’d known she would break Admiral Russell’s wrist. She wanted to punch him right in the face, to feel the crunch of cartilage against her knuckles when his nose broke. Mags was gone, and he was supposed to be Mags’s friend, and all he did was sneer.
The grey room was too cold. Kyr missed the sky.
“Give me another scenario,” she demanded. “Something you built for my brother.”
“Maybe I build these for me,” Avi said.
“You think I can’t handle it? I’m as good as he is. I’ll fight your monsters. Show me.”
The space dissolved. Kyr looked around, and then up, at the reappearing sky.
She was standing in a semicircular courtyard. There was a building behind her made of more white stone, reaching high into the sky. At its upper levels the stone gave way to glass that shone in the sunlight. A fountain was set against the wall, water bubbling up and splashing over a basin. Climbing plants were trained along its edges, and the water dripped down dark green leaves, leaving a wet sheen.
More plants were laid out in the rest of the courtyard, in beds that followed the curved shapes of the semicircle. All of them seemed to be in bloom. Kyr saw nothing she recognised from Agricole — nothing useful, nothing edible. Just colour, almost more colour than she had known existed in the world: white and cream and red and pink and blue and yellow and riotous purple. Small winged invertebrates moved between blossoms, making low buzzing sounds.
The courtyard was on the lip of a cliff. A carved balustrade marked its edge, and beyond that the world dropped away. Kyr went to the edge and looked over.
There were birds nesting down there. Kyr knew what birds were from Nursery, from Ursa’s stories, from the names of the girls’ cadet messes. The birds had their nests tucked in crevices where dull greenness spread, clinging stubbornly to the stone. Far below, at the base of the cliff, there was a white stone city. Tiny human figures moved through the streets. Kyr thought that if she looked long enough she might be able to see the rooftop where she had been killing monsters moments ago.
“What is this?” she said.
“Something I made for Magnus,” said Avi. “You asked.”
Kyr looked up into the sky. She had to shield her eyes against the light with her hand. There was nothing descending on her out of the shining expanse. “Where are the hostiles?”
“I guess we didn’t get around to those yet.”
Kyr said nothing.
“Let me know when it all gets too pointless for you,” Avi said, but Kyr found she could ignore him.
After a while longer looking out from the cliffside at the city below, she went to the fountain. When she put her hands into the water it felt real. The scents of the flowers mixed in the air to create a chaotic kind of perfume. It was a little like being in Agricole, but Agricole did not have a sky.
Kyr took her hands out of the fountain and sat down. Drops of water ran past her wrists. There was a deep green leaf at the edge of the basin with water dripping steadily from its tip. Kyr put her hand underneath it.
Slowly the light changed. The sun was dropping down the sky. Some of the flowers closed. Kyr heard sounds she couldn’t make sense of coming from the cliffside, until she realised it was the birds calling to each other. She stayed where she was, watching the water bubble and splash in the stone basin and drip through green leaves to sink away into the ground.
Eventually a voice in her ear said, “Found him.”
Excerpt from Some Desperate Glory by Emily Tesh reprinted by permission of Tordotcom.
Some Desperate Glory is available for pre-order now. It will release April 11.
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