Read a sample from INTO THE FIRE by Elizabeth Moon

Nebula Award-winner Elizabeth Moon triumphantly returns to science fiction with this space opera series – Into the Fire is the sequel to Cold Welcome and perfect for fans of Lois McMaster Bujold, James S. A. Corey and Star Wars.




Ky Vatta stood looking out the upper-floor window of the Vatta home in Port Major, just above the entrance. Below, she could see the brick walk bordered by low shrubs pruned into balls, the perfect green lawn, the white-painted palings and gate through which she and Rafe had entered a few hours before.

A chill draft came off the window, reminding her that she was still in the beach clothes she’d put on before leaving Corleigh just that morning. If Stella and Helen hadn’t arrived on Corleigh yesterday, if she and Rafe had gotten back to the mainland when they planned, it would have been warm here, too. She could almost feel the elation of the previous morning as they packed to leave the island, planning to buy their own ship and leave Slotter Key together. Her fortune, they’d thought—her back pay, her savings banked on Cascadia, and the money Stella owed her for the shares Ky had given up—combined with Rafe’s personal fortune and the stipend he had from ISC, would be enough to buy a spaceship, hire some crew, and go wherever their interests took them.

But then . . . it had all fallen apart. Stella and Helen arrived because the house—this house—had been attacked, a door kicked in, and Helen had feared for the children. They’d brought the news that the money Ky had counted on to help buy a ship—her back pay from Space Defense Force and money owed her for the sale of her shares of Vatta Transport and Vatta Enterprises—had been sequestered by the government of Cascadia, because she was being blamed for the death of her former aide Jen, whose father was on the Grand Council of the Moscoe Confederation. Stella’s position on Cascadia, Vatta’s secondary headquarters, was threatened, as well. Ky’s own accounts here on Slotter Key were also frozen because of the deaths on Miksland. The evidence she’d collected so carefully from the crashed shuttle and from Miksland had gone missing—the evidence that could clear her of suspicion that she’d murdered those who died. So much had gone wrong; probably more would.

The gray sky outside matched her mood. She felt alienated from the house, the city, the entire planet; eight years of physical separation, the attack—she wasn’t even sure exactly how long after she’d left—that killed her parents, her brothers, her uncle, Stella’s sister and brothers. It was too different—no, she was too different. She didn’t fit into the Vatta family structure anymore. She didn’t have a place in Slotter Key’s military; she no longer had her own fleet, the fleet she had built from one old battered tradeship. The men and women she’d commanded—those who knew her best—were either dead or far away, in the Space Defense Force. Her throat tightened; her stomach churned.

She took a deep breath, forcing herself to think forward and not back. She had things she could do, things that might—though it was hard to believe—be as interesting, as worthwhile, as what she’d already done. First she needed to find out what had happened to the evidence she’d brought back from Miksland, evidence that would clear her of charges of murder for every death that had occurred. Then find a way to convince the Moscoe Confederation that she had not killed Jen Bentik, so they would release the lien on her funds. And she needed to know how the other survivors from Miksland were doing. By now, they should be almost through the home leave she’d been told about, ready to return to duty. Grace, as Rector of Defense, would be able to get their addresses for her.

And—if she was stuck here long enough, all the way to the next southern summer, she might even return to Miksland, explore the deep levels, those mysterious laboratories, maybe even figure out who had built them. Rafe didn’t have enough money for a spaceship, but he certainly had enough for a charter flight. Scientists were probably down there now. It would be safe, with Greyhaus’s people far away and the mercenaries dead. Whoever had first claimed it surely wouldn’t dare do anything now that it was public knowledge.

She looked across the street to another front garden as formal as the one below, and the white brick house behind it with its flagstone walk, its rows of shrubs pruned into little pyramids. The second floor was built out over a rounded portico, forming a curved row of windows. Handy for neighborhood snoops, if there were any.

Rain spattered the window, a swift rattle that broke into her thoughts. Across the street she saw a curtain twitch, opening a dark gap, but she couldn’t see anyone. So there was a neighborhood snoop. Below, a black car pulled up in front of the house. Stella got out, accepted her travel case and two white containers from the driver, then tapped the code onto the front gatepost. It opened for her. Ky saw someone step out between the portico columns of the house across the street, and then disappear again. Stella waved the driver away.

Ky went back to the stairs and down in time to see Rafe open the door. A gust of cold wet air swirled in when he pulled it back.

“I brought supper,” Stella said. She handed the containers to Ky. “Take these into the kitchen, please. I’ll be back when I’ve changed into something warmer.”

Stella came into the kitchen a few minutes later, dressed in slacks and a pullover, looking elegant as usual. Ky wished she had asked for her own clothes to be picked up that afternoon. She set out plates on the kitchen table, opened the boxes and made a guess at who wanted which. Stella pushed the opened containers to the middle of the small table and said, “Whatever you want.”

After supper, eaten quickly and almost silently, they made the rounds of checking doors and windows. As Stella looked out the double glass doors into the back garden, she shook her head. “I should have checked before supper. There’s that miserable stuffed pony, getting wet on a swing. Justin loves it. It’ll mildew if I don’t get it in the dryer. And the ball looks tacky out there.” She turned on an outside light, opened the door and went out, crossing the terrace and then the grass; Ky stayed back, away from the cold wind and rain, watching. Stella came back, raindrops in her hair sparkling in the light, the wet stuffed toy in one hand and the ball in the other. Just as she came into the house, the door chime rang and someone knocked on the front door.

“Take these,” Stella said, handing off the wet toys to Ky. She shut and locked the garden doors and headed toward the front. “Dryer’s just off the kitchen.”

Ky had no desire to visit with company; she ducked into the short passage to the kitchen as whoever it was pounded harder on the door. Rafe, she noticed, had followed Stella. Ky found the dryer, tossed the stuffed toy into it, and stared at the dials, finally deciding on GENTLE. She dried the wet ball with a kitchen towel, then sat down at the kitchen table. She could just hear Stella speaking, though she could not distinguish the words. The tone made it clear Stella was upset. In a minute or so Stella was back in the kitchen, color in her pale cheeks. “The utter nerve—” she was saying to Rafe, who followed her.

“What’s the problem?”

“Oh, some military police or something—not Port Major police—said they suspected there were dangerous fugitives in the neighborhood. They wanted to search the house and grounds. I said no, that there’d been a watchman at the house day and night. They thought the damage to the kitchen door meant someone might be hiding inside. I had to show my ID, even. Do I look like a fugitive?”

“Of course not,” Ky said.

“I told them to check with Port Major police about the break-in—maybe it was the same gang they were chasing—asked if they knew who the fugitives were, but they didn’t answer. Just said to be careful and lock everything up. Oh, and they’re going to be doing aerial surveillance tonight.”

“We should see what’s on the newsvids,” Rafe said. “Surely there’d be something about a prison breakout.” He led the way to the security office next to the lift and turned on another screen. A serious-faced man was explaining what cut of cattlelope to choose for braising. A streamer at the bottom carried ads for cookware shops. Rafe changed selections. Two women and three men were arguing about a recent election on Dorland and what it meant for the balance of power in the planetary legislature. Here the streamer carried what Ky recognized as financial news. Another try gave them an obvious drama vid, with a stationary block giving time, temperature, wind speed, and wave height.

“Wrong time,” Stella said. “Slotter Key’s media laws are different from Nexus or Cascadia. Much more tightly controlled.”

Rafe switched off the screen. “I’ll go on out, then, and repel lurkers, if any.”

“It’s cold and wet,” Stella said. “You should change.”

“I have nothing with me. I’ll be fine.”

“Backup?” Ky said.

“No. Stay here with Stella.”

“That’s his I’m up to something voice,” Stella said. “If only they hadn’t been so rude—”

“It upset him?” Ky leaned on the wall, out of the draft coming in the door Stella held half open.

“Yes.” Stella looked outside again, where Rafe was a vague blur in the dark.

“Why military police?” Ky asked.

“I don’t know,” Stella said. She glanced at the kitchen door, slightly crooked in its frame and braced with a couple of boards nailed across it. “But I hope they’re wrong about any escaped military criminals. That boarded-up door does look like an easy place to break in.” They watched Rafe move along the front of the shrubbery and waited for him to turn back toward the house when he reached the garage wall. Instead, he stood still.

“Found something,” Stella said. “I wonder what.”

“Or someone,” Ky said. She moved her pistol from her shoulder holster to the pocket of her shorts. Then Rafe turned back toward the house, walking steadily, not looking back, and behind him the first figure came out of the shrubbery. Then another. And another. They were hard to see in the rain and poor light. Ky heard Stella’s indrawn breath, Rafe’s sandals scuffing in the damp grass, and behind him, other footfalls, softer. He stepped onto the terrace, walked across it, his sandals slapping lightly on the bricks. He quirked an eyebrow at her. Behind him, just visible in the dim scattered glow of his handlight, she could see the first of the three following him: short and slight, a bald head paler than the brown face, wearing some kind of thin garment—a robe?

Rafe stepped inside and walked on, turning around as the three came in: all women, Ky could see now, shivering as their wet clothes clung to them. All were bald, scalps and faces completely hairless. Were these the escaped criminals? They didn’t look like it. Their legs were bare from well above the knees, their feet in thin, now-sodden cloth slippers. Stella shut the outside doors and pulled heavy linen curtains over them.

All three knelt, dripping on the floor. The one who had led them in said, “Admiral, please help us. You’re the only one who can.”

The voice gave Ky the name. “Inyatta?”

“Yes, sir. Please—don’t turn us in—”

Ky fought to keep her expression calm despite a surge of rage at what had been done to them. They did not need her rage; they needed her help.

“Stella, lock us down,” Rafe said.

Stella looked at Ky, at Rafe, at the three wet women who’d been hiding in the shrubbery. “No one can see in now. And lockdown will seal off the kitchen annex.”

“Do it,” Ky said. She held out her hands; Inyatta grasped them. “Inyatta—all of you, get up; the floor’s cold.” She reholstered her pistol. “These must be who those men were hunting.” She had not looked away from Inyatta; she heard Stella walk to the master panel and key in the code. “Corporal, what’s happened to you? Are the others all right?”

“No—and we don’t know what, or why—they separated us—they changed our implants—” Inyatta’s voice was shaky as she clambered up; she was shivering.

The house lights brightened and a current of warmer air moved across the room. “Internal power and environmental confirmed,” Stella said. “Now what? You know these people?”

“Yes. This is Corporal Inyatta; she was with me on Miksland.” She still didn’t recognize the other two. Ky glanced at Rafe, then back at Stella. “We need to get them dry, warm, and fed. Then find out what’s been going on.”

“You won’t send us back?” Again, the voice gave her the identity: Corporal Barash. “Please!” The third had not spoken at all, and Ky hadn’t figured out who she was yet. She had a fresh scar, a raised red-purple ridge, on her head, and puffy swelling that changed whatever her face had been.

“Of course I won’t. Come on upstairs. Hot baths, towels, clothes—Stella, have you got some extra warm things? All I have is a change of shirts.” Ky headed for the stairs. “I trust you left nothing behind that could be noticed in the morning?”

“No, sir. We ate the paper off the fruit bars.” That was the third, and again the voice gave Ky the identification. Kamat—that was Durga Kamat? The shaved head, scar, and puffiness obscured what had been an unusual beauty. What had happened to her—to them—and what about all the others? Questions erupted in her mind, but right now these three needed care.

Ky led them to the first of the two bedrooms on the right of the landing. “I’m guessing you’d like to stay together?”

“Yes, please.” They were clustered in the doorway, staring at all the flowered chintz.

“The sofa will make another bed. The bath’s back here—” She led the way. “This should be a linen closet—yes. Towels, robes—ready for guests.”

They looked worse in the brighter light, bruises and puncture marks as if they’d had many injections, marks on wrists and ankles from restraints. Ky said nothing about that. “Stella’s my cousin. She and I will be looking for clothes for you, but feel free to wrap up in blankets or anything you find to get warm.”

She kept her voice level and calm, for their sake, but when she went back into the hall, her anger shot up like a geyser, dimming her vision for an instant. All of them must have been taken, drugged, held. Separated, Inyatta had said. Probably early on, perhaps even at Pingat Base while she had been on a flight to the mainland. Who had done this to her people? And how? Why hadn’t Great-Aunt Grace made sure the other survivors were properly taken care of? She should not have agreed to fly back separately—she should have thought—but too late for that. First things: take care of these three. She crossed the head of the stairs and met Stella coming back with a stack of folded clothes.

“I’m taller than any of them, and I have no idea what size underwear they need—but this is what I’ve got.”

“Thank you,” Ky said. “I thought I’d be going back to Grace’s when we flew back, where my box from Vanguard II is. I’d use it, but—”

“It’s all right,” Stella said. “Plans change, that’s all. I’ve gotten used to it.” Stella’s lips twitched. “Tomorrow you can order in.”

“I don’t have any money, remember?” Ky said. Her voice had an edge to it; she wished she’d softened it.

“Vatta tab.” Short and flat.

Ky shook her head. “I meant for them. No one can know they’re here. I know they aren’t criminals, and if they’re the ones those men were hunting, something’s very wrong.”

“That’s all right. You need clothes, too, I’m sure. Just order extra. Two of them are near your size.”

“And Kamat?”

“Toss hers in with the rest.”

“Maybe. Can we receive deliveries while the house is locked down?”

“The front door can be opened; it’s just a little slower. The ship armor slides sideways first, then the door opens as usual. And we really should unlock everything daily, if we can, to access the kitchen stores and air it out.”

Ky found the three women perched on the couch, wrapped in blankets, when she returned with a pile of Stella’s clothes. She set the clothes on the end of one bed and explained the plan for tomorrow.

“What if they come here looking for us?” asked Inyatta. Barash nodded. Kamat stared at her own lap.

“Someone did, earlier. But they didn’t say it was you; they just said escaped criminals. And they left after Stella told them only family was here. If they come back, they won’t make it inside. You don’t have tags in, do you?”

“I don’t know,” Inyatta said. “They drugged us, and my implant’s different—doesn’t hold everything it did. They might have changed it out. I couldn’t walk well most of the time; they’d give us a shot to wake up more if they wanted us to walk and take a shower. But if I had a tracker tag, they should have caught us sooner, shouldn’t they?”

Ky had no idea what the range was on whatever kind of tag might have been used. “They didn’t catch you; that’s all we know. We’ll work on that tomorrow. This house is shielded, and some parts double-shielded. If we unlock it tomorrow, we’ll put you in one of the inner offices.” She paused; they said nothing. “When you’ve dressed, turn left out the door, follow the passage past the head of the stairs, and take the first right. There’s a small kitchen at that end; Stella’s heating up soup.”

After soup and toasted cheese sandwiches, they all looked better, though Stella’s clothes were too big for all of them. Stella returned, holding a single bedraggled black wig and shaking her head. “This was all I could find in the old playroom storage closet. We had costumes up there, you remember, Ky? We used to have more wigs, but apparently Mother threw them out. I’m afraid it won’t be very comfortable—they were cheap wigs for children’s games—but you’re welcome to try it out. We might be able to trim it so it looks better.”

The three passed it around, each one trying it on. It looked entirely fake, and didn’t fit two of them, but Corporal Barash wanted to keep it on. Kamat asked if there was a scarf she could wrap around her head; Stella ducked into her room and brought out a tray of them. Kamat and Inyatta each chose one and put it on—one green, one orange. With the baldness covered, they did look more like themselves.

“How did you escape?” Ky asked.

“Remembered what you said,” Inyatta said, with a shy smile. “Figure out the next thing to do, and do it. When we got the chance—even though you’d said to stick together and we had no idea where the others were.”

“You weren’t all in the same building?”

“No—I don’t know. Where we were was big, many sections, and each was separately locked, besides each cell. All three of us were together because they didn’t want us to mix with any of the others that weren’t our people.”

“They had you in a prison?”

“Yes,” Inyatta said. “Not far from here, in fact. We walked to the city.”

“They said they were taking us to be checked out medically, and then we’d get home leave,” Kamat said. “But the first place they took us to—it did look like a hospital—they gave us shots. To take care of any infections, they said.”

“And we woke up in that prison,” Inyatta said. “There was a lot of yelling we couldn’t hear clearly when we arrived—”

“I could hear ‘quarantine,’ ” Barash said. “And ‘thirty days to be sure.’ ”

“They’d taken away our comunits right away, back at the start—”

“The mercs?”

“No, when we got to the base, before we flew here for debriefing. Our own troops.”

Ky nodded but didn’t interrupt. As she’d thought . . . they were all taken, and now she would have to find them, somehow, and get them released.

“And then we woke up, our heads shaved like this, and—well, I’m the only one of the three with a prepaid skullphone account, but they’d operated on us all, and disabled all our implant communications. And forced Kamat to have an implant.”

“Which doesn’t do anything I can’t do myself,” Kamat said. “It’s disgusting.”

“They said you were really sick, in a hospital, and maybe would die, Admiral,” Barash said. “Were you sick?”

Ky shook her head. “Not at all. I had meetings, interviews—and legal stuff to do inside the family. And the news media—Stella, what did they have on newsvids about the Slotter Key personnel who were rescued?”

Stella shook her head. “I’m sorry—I didn’t pay attention. I was absorbed in the transfer of command inside Vatta. Mother had left a lot of loose ends. I glanced at one of the interviews you did, Ky, but I didn’t read beyond that.”

“Nobody said anything to me about infections or disease related to Miksland,” Ky said. “You had arranged a medical appointment for me through Vatta—”

“I wasn’t about to turn you over to Slotter Key military,” Stella said. “Even with Aunt Grace as Rector. Their shuttle failed and lost you—”

Ky noticed the others’ heads turning back and forth, like spectators at a tennis game, and held up her hand. “Wait, Stella. Inyatta, do you know where the others are? Still in prison? All in the same prison?”

“All I know for sure is what happened to the three of us. Except that the senior NCOs were taken by a separate flight from Pingats.”

“Staff sergeants? Sergeants?”

“Both. Gossin, Kurin, Cosper, Chok, and McLenard. I’m sure, because I recited the names over and over so I wouldn’t forget. In case—I  don’t know what I was thinking, really . . .”

“That was good thinking, Corporal. A smart thing to do.”

“And we don’t know what they told our families. What if they were told we died of some horrible disease?” Kamat’s voice trembled. “What if they planned to kill us all, and the rest are already dead?”

“You’re safe here,” Ky said. “So get some sleep—we’re all on the same floor—and in the morning we’ll start figuring out how to help all of you.” She yawned; she couldn’t help it.

“Were you here in Port Major the whole time?” asked Barash as she stood up and put her soup bowl in the little sink.

“No, I just got back to the mainland today. I was on Corleigh, the island where I grew up. I hadn’t been back since the house was destroyed, after I left the Academy.”

“Come on,” Inyatta said as Barash opened her mouth to speak. “Everyone needs rest.” She turned to Ky. “Admiral, thank you for taking us in. And you, Sera Vatta,” to Stella. “And you, Ser.”

The others followed her down the passage toward the other wing. “Bad,” Rafe murmured, shaking his head. “Something’s rotten—”

“It’s all bad,” Ky said. The anger she’d been controlling flared again, white hot. “Aunt Grace let them be thrown in prison? Or did she plan it? Is she part—”

“You can’t believe that,” Stella said.

“I can,” Ky said. “And right now I want the truth! Stella, did you know anything about this? Anything at all? What did Grace say about the Slotter Key personnel?”

“Don’t bristle at me, Ky. I don’t recall her saying anything about them. We didn’t have that much time. I met her at Hautvidor; she and Mac and Rafe and Teague. They were all talking about the mercs—whether the Mac-something—”

“Mackensee,” Ky said.

“Could land their force on Miksland quick enough to keep the others from killing you all. Then Grace got a call from someone in the military—Slotter Key’s, that is—and shooed us all out. Someone’s head would roll was the last I heard from her.”

“I don’t think she’s involved in what happened to your people,” Rafe said to Ky. “Teague and I overheard enough while in her house to know she was concerned about the others as well as you. But there’s division in the Slotter Key military, which she thinks might go back to that civil war.”

“Civil war?” Stella wrinkled her nose. “You mean that little insurrection thing she got caught in?”

Rafe cocked his head. “You don’t know more than that?”

“She told me about it,” Stella said. “Back when I was in trouble—you know, Ky, with the gardener’s son. She got involved with someone and ended up in some kind of violent mess. It barely shows up in our history books at all. Something happened to her; she was in a psych hospital for a while.”

“She didn’t give the details?”

“Not exactly. She did tell me she’d killed some people, that she’d been scared a lot.” Stella’s voice was cool, calm, as if whatever had happened to Grace didn’t matter in the slightest.

“I suspect it was a lot more than that,” Rafe said. “She’s a very complex woman, and she’s—she reminds me of someone I knew.”

“Well, it’s a hard job.”

Rafe looked at Ky. “We’d better get some rest, too, Ky.”

“I want to talk to her now—” Ky could feel the anger boiling up again.

“It’s late,” Stella said. “There’s nothing she could do tonight anyway.”

Ky stiffened. “If she’s involved, she certainly could do something tonight! Others are still in prison—or somewhere—being mistreated like these.”

“I know you’re upset,” Stella said, “but be reasonable, Ky. They aren’t really your troops; you don’t have any authority. Grace does, but she’s got a lot on her plate.”

The tone ripped the last shreds of Ky’s control. In just that calm, almost syrupy voice Stella had insisted Ky’s earlier enthusiasms and angers were unreasonable overreactions. Older to younger, senior to junior.

“You do not get to tell me who my people are or aren’t!” Ky said. “You weren’t there, you don’t—” Someone had hold of her arm; she spun, freeing herself, and struck before she realized who it was. Rafe, who had slipped the worst of the force and now stood just out of reach, poised in case she attacked.

“Ky!” Stella said, now roused and angry.

“Don’t,” Rafe said to Stella. She stepped back, frowning.

Ky turned slowly to face Stella. “He’s right. Don’t. Don’t lecture me in that tone, Stella. Ever again.”

For a long instant the three of them did not move. Ky stood rigid with the control she exerted not to strike again. Then Stella shrugged. “You’re right, Ky. You’re not a shareholder anymore, you’re not living on Slotter Key, what you do is your own business and not any concern of mine.” Her voice was cool, level. “Except that you are in my house, and you are the one who decided to bring strangers into it, fugitives, and then give me orders. And I am your cousin; your actions do affect me; I was attacked in my own apartment on Cascadia because of you. You might remember that when your temper cools.”

Ky felt the rage subsiding as if it were a column of boiling water leaking out of a pipe.

“I do,” she said, her voice still colored by it, but quieter. “I didn’t know about the attack.”

“Would it have made a difference?”

“Yes. Some.” She felt sore, as the tension dropped, sore and tired inside and out.

* * *

Stella made it to her own suite, closed the door behind her, and let loose a streak of language that Ky probably did not suspect she knew. How dare Ky treat her that way! Ky hadn’t even spoken to her on the flight back from Corleigh, had just sat there sulking, as if Stella were responsible for the bad news about her money and missing out on a longer vacation with Rafe.

The problem wasn’t just money. Ky didn’t have a ship to boss around anymore, a crew that hung on her every word and thought she was wonderful. She was feeling sorry for herself and probably believed Stella had it easier because Stella still had both the homes she’d grown up in, a mother alive, and Jo’s children as a promise of the future.

“Easier!” she said aloud, surprising herself with the venom in her voice. “Ha! I have nothing. My mother—my real mother—is someone I never met and never will, and my real father was a monster. My so-called family lied about my birth, Jo wasn’t any relation to me, and her children—how can I love them as if they were my real niece and nephew when I will never have children of my own?”

Not that she’d really wanted children. But still. The things she might have said to Ky, wanted to say to Ky, boiled through her head, vicious and potent as vitriol. Ky was the lucky one. Ky’s parents had been her real parents; yes, they were dead, but she was not being hassled by a live “mother” who wasn’t, a woman riven by grief and fear, whose only real grip on life was the twins she clung to. And yet Ky, as always, had grabbed the moral high ground, eager to play rescuer to those three peculiar-looking women, no doubt eager to have them kneel at her feet again, bask in their adulation of the great, wonderful Admiral Vatta who had saved everyone.

“Gah!” Stella said aloud. “And ordering me around like one of her soldiers!”

She was sweating now, pure fury hot as summer sun. All the quarrels in their past rose up, all the times she’d been told Ky was smarter or more sensible.

Her daysetter chimed, reminding her it was time for bed. She took a shower instead, letting the familiar beat of hot water on her shoulders relax them, inhaling the fragrances designed to calm, until she could think more clearly. She was the elder. And she was CEO of Vatta, all of it, responsible for the businesses, the employees, their families. That was where her energy should go, not on trying to fix her stormy younger cousin that no one else had ever been able to fix, either.

She had the shares now. She had the support of the corporate Board. Ky couldn’t touch any of that. She would show everybody that—monster’s bastard or not—she deserved to be where she was: in the big corner office. She drifted into sleep imagining that office and herself in charge . . . She hated the thought of her birth father, the family traitor, the criminal—but it was amusing to realize that he would be proud to see one of his own in charge. More than her adoptive father, the father of her childhood, who had never trusted her ability, who had preferred Jo, “the smart one,” to “that idiot Stella.”