Against the Odds (novel)

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Against the Odds
Elizabeth Moon - Against the Odds.jpeg
Author Elizabeth Moon
Cover artist Gary Ruddell
Country United States
Language English
Series Familias Regnant
Genre Space opera, Military science fiction
Publisher Baen Books
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 529 pp (paperback edition)
ISBN ISBN 978-0-671-31850-5
OCLC 48378993
Preceded by Change of Command
Followed by None

Against the Odds is a science fiction novel by Elizabeth Moon. It is her seventh and last novel set in the Familias Regnant fictional universe. It does not fall in either informal trilogy (the Heris Serrano and the Esmay Suiza trilogies); fittingly it does not focus on any particular character, instead a more general, almost kaleidoscopic perspective of the upheaval in the Familias Regnant, and the rise to power of a new and more capable Speaker. It can be seen as a conclusion to the series, resolving or at least making a good start at resolving many issues and peoples and ending as it does on a memorializing elegiac note.


The opening steps back to near the ending of Change of Command; the loyalists in the weapons lab on Copper Mountain (which planet has just been taken over by mutineers) have finished sending out their radio transmission, which unbeknownst to them will indeed be picked by an escaping loyalist Fleet warship, and are wondering what to do next. Their transportation is ruined, so they decide to steal one from the mutineers. They stage a series of movements and radio transmissions intended to convince the mutineers that the weapons labs are being progressively taken over by their own. This ruse succeeds, and the NEMs and scientists go aboard the assault shuttle the mutineers dispatch to pick them up, along with "Project Zed" - a bona fide working cloaking device. The plan is to take over the shuttle and then stage another play, the NEMs pretending to be mutineers forcing the scientists into testing out Project Zed then and there, quite against the scientists' better judgement. At the opportune moment, the heretofore intermittent cloaking will be turned on completely and explosives laden with shuttle weapons and parts will be tossed out the back. Presumably the mutineers will believe the scientists and Project Zed destroyed and cease to pay attention to them.

Esmay Suiza, in a hurry on Trinidad Station, discovers when she is surrounded by security forces that she has apparently been kicked out of the Regular Space Fleet (courtesy of an "Admiral Serrano"); the rationale given is her marriage to Barin Serrano and complications arising from being the Suiza LandBride. Suiza immediately begins trying to obtain transportation to Rockhouse Major and thence to Fleet HQ so she can contest this unjust separation. The only thing she can find is informal passage with a Terakian trading vessel by the same two Terakians who discovered the plot to bomb the space-stations in Rules of Engagement and who were presently transporting a religious fugitive from the Benignity to Castle Rock along with the acting troupe who sheltered him; the Terakians owe her for helping to rescue a relative (Hazel) in Rules of Engagement from the Our Texas religious fanatics.

On Sirialis, Cecelia has not yet left. She is still poking around Pedar's "accidental" death. A chance remark by the man in charge of the stables, mentioning that Miranda had used the stable's small forge for something a few days before Pedar's death leads Cecelia to investigate: She discovers a piece of scrap metal suspiciously akin to the chain mail of the defective armor concerned. Miranda had deliberately weakened the armor, and exploited the opening to stick a sword in Pedar's brain. Cecelia confronts Miranda with this evidence and is appalled by Miranda's lack of remorse. Cecelia forces Miranda to agree to go with her to the Guerini Republic, there to live in exile and "Get treatment for whatever it is that made you think you could kill him with impunity." (pg 81)

The Grand Council of Castle Rock is shaken by the news of Hobart Conselline's murder by a visiting fencing master, and only slightly less perturbed by the killing of Pedar. As the Council meets, the Benignity ambassador breaks in with an urgent message: He informs them that the assassination had been solely ordered by the (now former) Chairman of the Benignity, and that for ordering such a thing, he had been executed. The ambassador offers the Benignity's sincere apologies and regrets, and shows a recording the Chairman made before he died explaining the reasoning that drove him to order Hobart's (and by extension, his own) death: In short, the Familias was not handling the rejuvenation issue and Hobart's policies would only exacberate the issues which would inevitably spill over onto the Benignity.

While travelling near Copper Mountain en route to the Guerni Republic, Cecelia and Miranda's vessel, the Pounce is accidentally forced out of an FTL jump by the mass shadow of the Bonar Tighe, flagship of the mutineers. Disabled, they can only try to get off a message to the Familias via ansible, but they are captured. The mutineers remember Cecelia hiring Serrano and also her role in discovering the vileness on Sirialis suppressed in Hunting Party; they ill-treat the two and throw them in the brig with the surviving loyalist female crew (preserved for future manhunts). Cecelia and Miranda trade on their reputation as harmless frivolous old ladies and cause no trouble, so their guards decide to amuse themselves and humiliate the two by making them clean the latrines. One day, when the guard is light and inattentive, Miranda uses her unstoppable fencing skills to stun and kill one guard. His keys open the cells of all the other loyalists. They separate into separate groups: One goes to sabotage the drives, another goes with Cecelia EVA to destroy external sensors and a third attacks the shuttle bay. That attack succeeds, but it can only be got into via EVA suit, and the mutineers have rallied and will eventually overcome their rear-guard. Miranda stays behind with the other two volunteers, giving her suit to a young traumatized female, and dies fighting the mutineers' onslaught.

The shuttle escapes, but they were surely doomed: Eventually the mutineers would repair the ship systems and search them out. Fortunately for them, the distress signal over the ansible that Miranda and Cecelia had attempted to send so long ago (but had been cut off) had been noticed by one of Heris Serrano's crew: Her ship had been assigned to Admiral Minor Arash Livadhi's flotilla to monitor anomalies and seek out mutineers.

Disabled, the Bonar Tighe is easy prey. The loyalists are rescued. For her services to Fleet past and present, Cecelia jokingly demands to be made an Admiral - a nod to a running joke in the series where various Fleet underlings become convinced (by how they keep showing up in the thick of things) that either Cecelia or Heris is really a special operations undercover admiral ferreting out traitors for Fleet.

Finally at Rockhouse, Esmay meets up with Brun and her own father General Casimir Suiza, who had brought along with him all the necessary apparatus to transfer Esmay's status as LandBride to her cousin Luci. They then all of them go to Fleet HQ and discover that according to HQ, Esmay never left Fleet - Trinidad Station had been destroyed by mutineers and so the records of her being separated from Fleet were never forwarded to HQ; further, Fleet (thinking she was still with them) had ordered her to a new ship and when she never showed up, listed her as a mutineer. Eventually, with help from Admiral Vida Serrano (not the Admiral Serrano who had arranged her removal from Fleet), she is reinstated with no criminal charges and command of her own ship, the patrol ship Rascal, assigned to Admiral Arash Livadhi's flotilla along with Heris.

Before Esmay leaves, she and Brun and General Suiza and Kevil Mahoney have some long conversations about recent events and issues raised by rejuvenation and how to save the Familias from itself. Brun is summoned to a meeting with the head of her sept (family of Families), Viktor Barraclough. He offers her the same thing he was offered: To live on as usual, taking rejuvenations and possibly living forever, or to forswear any use of rejuvenation and receive a position as his heir, heir to all the power that entails. She considers how she could change the Familias, and accepts his offer. At the next meeting, she masterfully takes control of the meeting and orchestrates a vote on whether the Fleet can expect the full backing of the Familias against the mutineers or not. The vote succeeds and soon Brun is Speaker, marshalling a "youth vote" comprising young Family members who recognize the issues that rejuvenation raises and the fact that something has to be done.

Admiral Arash Livadhi this entire time has been growing increasingly uneasy. He had unfortunately been close to Lepescu when he was a younger officer, and fears every day that the investigation into the Lepescu-inspired mutineers will damn him as well; he is further compromised by the fact that his closest friend Jules had been a Benignity deep agent, who had solely manipulated him into breaking rules and then through blackmail into becoming a Benignity agent. The Benignity is not happy with him, as he has failed to be useful (although his work in Sporting Chance in thwarting the incompetent Benignity base commander was of value) - if he wishes to continue living, he will bring with him when he defects something valuable like an intact cruiser. His unease is noticed by his crew, especially old Heris and Arash stalwarts like Petris and Koutsoudas, who begin investigating his communications. What they find makes them suspicious but they find nothing solid enough to charge him with. They decide to confide in Suiza.

One day, Livadhi takes off. His ship begins bouncing around the Familias, attempting to throw off followers. Suiza follows in her Rascal, and is hidden by Koutsoudas foxing the scans aboard Livadhi's cruiser. In the last system before the Benignity proper, Suiza powers up her weapons when she sees a Benignity vessel enter the system. Heris and her cruiser follow shortly after. Livadhi's crew begins evacuating on the shuttles. Petris confronts Livadhi in his cabin, but is drugged by him. Livadhi uses him as a hostage and the self-destruct button as a threat in his conversation with Heris; he lays out his whole list of grievances and suchlike, chief among which is his anger at being rejected by Heris - he had loved her, like Petris, but she had chosen Petris and not him. Partway through his rant, he notices the crew's evacuation. Furious that he would not be able to take them all with him, and believing that Heris was about to win yet again, he pushes the self-destruct button, taking Petris with him.

The final scene is the promotion of Heris and Cecelia to Admiral, to replace Livadhi. Essentially everyone yet living is there, toasting the two. At the end, they memorialize all who had died in the conflicts, and especially Livadhi, with a song based on William Blake's Jerusalem (with additions and modifications by Moon):

This for the friends we had of old,
Friends for a lifetime's love and cheer.
This for the friends who come no more,
Who cannot be among us here.
We'll not forget, while we're alive,
These hallowed dead, these deeds of fame.
Where they have gone, we follow soon
Into the darkness and the flame.
Then we shall rise, our duty done,
Freed from all pain and sorrow here;
We'll leave behind ambition's sting
And keep alive our honor dear.
And they will stand beside us then,
All whom we loved and hoped to see;
And they shall sing, a glad AMEN,
To cheer that final victory.
Bring me my bow of burning gold;
Bring me my arrows of desire;
Bring me my ship — O clouds unfold —
Bring me my chariot of fire.
We shall not cease our faithful watch,
Nor shall the sword sleep in our hand,
Till we have gone beyond the stars
To join that fair immortal band.