When mankind realized Earth would become uninhabitable, Humans built space habitations. Their first allies arrived in 2073 and shared their technology to power ships through space corridors that fold space and time. Only 58 years into their struggle for survival, an enemy emerges. In the wake of this threat an organic menace is only beginning to be recognized, ensuring the annihilation of every living thing if, together, they can’t find a way to stop it.
Tori Bertoletti, librarian and planet cataloger, and Raze Salen, mankind’s emissary, aboard the Human spacefaring liveship the Aero have succeeded in creating a Galactic Alliance with other cultures in their universe in order to protect themselves from an adversary who considers itself the supreme race, the Chosen of the Creator. Cultures that at one time would have considered all others antithetical to their own no longer have a choice about facing the indisputable fact that, though they’ve all come from different planets and far-flung sectors of the galaxy, they are genetically one and the same. But can the enemy of my enemy become my friend against the warring Sinshe…as well as an organic process that won’t be stopped until all life to the farthest corners of the universe ceases to exist and only darkness reigns?
GENRE: Science Fiction ISBN: 978-1-925574-73-9 ASIN: B086HGP6S5 Word Count: 89,959
What a wild ride! Seriously, I’ve read so much sci-fi–and Karen Wiesner has practically reinvented the genre by blending it with her own approach to writing. I enjoyed the political aspects and negotiations, as well as the complex relationships between all the different species and individuals. It’s amazing how the author managed to keep it all straight in her head and to give every character a unique voice and fascinating personality. As for the physics involved, I think the author found the perfect balance of explaining enough scientific background to make things credible, while not overdoing it like some hard sci-fi authors do, which tends to get tedious and boring after a while.”
Author Christine Spindler http://www.christinespindler.com/
Have I ascended to Riakengate, the Throne of Mighty Ruro in the highest realm? Or am I in Fyrengate? Can’t say I’d be surprised at the latter.
Supreme Monarch Halon knew only that he was no longer in the escape pod he’d jettisoned from his own dreadnought, Paladin–straight into a battle. Not only had that capsule possessed limited propulsion and no weapons but the communication had been severely limited. Halon had realized that as soon as he offloaded from the Paladin, he’d be vulnerable. He couldn’t outrun let alone outgun, and so his only choice had been to put out a distress call to the dozens of alien ships that had converged on his warship.
The long shot was his best hope, given that he felt certain his grandmother had indeed gotten his original defection message. If the aliens believed he was on their side and would aid them in whatever way possible on the condition of his rescue, he would have to signal them the instant his shuttle was out in open space. Making myself a sitting duck between the Paladin and the alien spaceships already engaged in battle.
The pod had been hit almost the second his desperate cry for help went out. He remembered nothing of what had happened afterward. But he’d reached consciousness and a tug-of-war had assailed his mind endlessly ever since.
What hellish irony if I was finally weaned of the Prophet’s relentless indoctrination only to find myself dead and realizing all that was foreseen as the inevitable right of purebloods was actually true?
Halon had never fought the warrior training or the indoctrination after the first punishment taught him to submit. I became ten times worse than even the most evil megalomaniac and despot in the FuRod line–that I did it at my father’s behest doesn’t excuse my obedience in perpetrating the Prophet’s crimes for so long. Still… something changed recently. In a sub rosa communication, Mare Arie challenged me to test my faith. Prove that I believed in the Code without the machine, without the indoctrination, without the Seph.
Once he’d been weaned, there was no way to accept what he always had as Truth. Yet to escape was unthinkable. Billions were indoctrinated on their hidden military infrastructure at Neth-beo in the Siegfried Sector. There, prisoners of war were forced to do Fu-Rod bidding, put to work on the Project, building a weapon of hitherto unprecedented mass destruction that would obliterate a planet in mere minutes. But not only prisoners occupied that territory. Herd soldiers and Sinshe warriors, Halon’s own sons…
Billions stood between me and escape. There was no hope. I considered suicide when that seemed the only option. I saw no other way to end the duality of pretending to still believe in the Code, all while my second-in-command, my half-brother, Carron, stood muttering over my shoulder, looking for any opportunity to usurp my place as Supreme Monarch.
A slender light had appeared, a ray of illumination that could only stem from the desperation of a man with obstacles on every side. Yet Halon had taken it. He’d boarded his warbird, Paladin, simulated an impromptu training exercise, ordered only a quarter complement crew–the bare minimum to run the ship–then quickly set a foolhardy plan of escape in motion. He’d drained the Seph tanks, erased the Prophet’s proselyting from the ship’s computers and so rendered the machines worthless, and he’d run like the coward he’d ridiculed since he became the strongest warrior his people had ever seen. His only hope had been that the small crew would be weaned before they–and those back at Neth-beo–realized what he was doing.
He’d set coordinates for Shojan, where aliens called Humans had built two habitations in orbit of the Shojan homeworld. It was there that Mare Arie and the Hiiwa rescued from the planet lived, allying themselves against the Sinshe, their own brothers. Finally, when all was in readiness, he’d sent his grandmother a message on their secret channel, telling her of his defection and begging her and her allies to find a way to rescue him if his plans went awry and he couldn’t get to Shojan with Paladin.
During a sub rosa communication with Arie before he’d been fully weaned, he’d threatened all the other cultures in the galaxy, warning them that they would be conquered, their worlds occupied by the Chosen. Any resistance would mean certain annihilation for them and their planets against the weapon his science engineers had built and would soon be ready to be brought online. As a result of his threats, Humans, Vreah, Strigoni, Quing, and Hiiwa had formed an official alliance. The others–including the Gurgh, Osing, Drario, and even the isolationist Usragos–would no doubt follow suit sooner rather than later, considering the inescapable Sinshe threat.
I almost made my escape, too. But Carron had, unsurprisingly, been waiting for me to do something reckless. He came on board with his own warriors he’s been gathering to supplant me, circumvented my sabotage, and locked me in my state room. But who knows my ship better than I do?
Something niggled in the back of Halon’s subconscious. That was what his Second had intended to do. But events just before Halon ejected his escape pod had called into question whether his brother had actually succeeded. His warrior sensibilities insisted that, if Carron had stolen on board Paladin before Halon tried to escape, he hadn’t come with more than a handful of his own warriors before takeoff and hidden until they could overtake the crew and seize control of the ship.
Potentially, Carron may have sent a message to Neth-beo and asked for backup ships to meet him at Qu. But Halon didn’t believe he succeeded or even had the capability to do so. Halon himself had locked out all commands on Paladin but his own. Somehow, Carron had usurped of a few of the ship’s functions, but how many was in doubt.
Once he put me in chains, he bragged that he had full control…but he’s not smart enough and couldn’t produce a large enough battalion to circumvent me as thoroughly as he implied he had.
No, his Second had never been anything but a thug, acting rashly with brute force. Going to Qu at all had been an act of desperation. Halon believed Carron intended to “look larger than life” and threaten the peace-loving, powerless Quing to get them to submit without having to back up his warning. If he had to fire a few shots to get the unconditional surrender, so be it. No doubt the allies had told the Quing all about the Sinshe-Shojani and their intentions.
Sudden, crippling pain crushed Halon’s brain until all thoughts evaporated. Only when it subsided slightly and he could breathe again did he carefully return to the first thought he’d had upon reaching consciousness: Where was he? The potential for divine irony aside, he was either alive or dead in a nightmare that he seriously doubted would prove to be a celestial Riakengate.
Worst case scenario, he’d sustained life-threatening injuries and Carron had recaptured him. His Second would keep him alive so he could prove his treachery and seize the Monarchy and depose Halon’s sons in line to ascend “legally”. In which case, I’m being kept alive until he kills me and my descendants to ensure his reign goes undisputed.
Best case scenario, he’d sustained life-threatening injuries and the aliens had captured him. Until his defection was proved valid, he would be given sanctuary–and microscopic scrutiny.
Halon let his body and mind relax in order to give himself over to sensory input. He refused to open his eyes in case he wasn’t alone and wouldn’t be allowed to give his surroundings the attention he needed to ascertain where he was and under what conditions. Rule of the Code: Know more than everyone else. Patience in gathering intel would prove to be its own reward.
The first thing he became aware of was the feeling of underlying motion. He was on a ship. That much he could be sure of, but where were they going? While Halon could hope they were on their way to his grandmother–potentially the only person in the entire galaxy who might believe his defection was authentic. Mare Arie was on the Human Shojan-orbiting habitations. The only way to find out his location and their destination would be to listen to anything around him.
Could silence lead to insanity? Halon didn’t doubt it in the endless tide cycles that followed. The relaxation method he’d employed to heighten his senses altered with the unwavering monotony of input. He attempted to risk opening his eyes just enough to allow himself to adjust to the low light. Without turning his head or widening his vision, he made mental notes of his surroundings. He was in some kind of medical chamber and even the bed he lay on was clearly monitoring and tending to his injuries. It was also imprisoning him. Was that because of who he was, or because of the severity of his trauma?
He could have attempted to resist, fought his bonds, but what was the point? He’d brought this on himself. Not once had he ever believed any of this would be simple or ideal. The ordeal ahead of him would break him, remold him, just like his warrior training and the indoctrination had nearly 90 revolutions before.
He wasn’t dead. Nor was he in the highest realms of Riakengate. He was a traitor to the Code and what the aliens he’d submitted himself to ultimately decided to do with him wasn’t under his control or direction. The only thing left to do was recover and be ready when he was called to prove his apostasy–for wasn’t that what it was, truly?–was legitimate. In the meantime, he had to figure out how to substantiate his worth to the aliens who would probably rather blow him out the nearest airlock than work alongside him.
“You need to sleep, Vespera. You’ve been sitting beside this bed for weeks. The doctor will send for you if anything changes.”
“Arie…would want me to be vigilant in her absence.”
Halon had been little more than a boy on the cusp of manhood when his father, the Supreme Monarch, had ordered him to infiltrate the Vreah–the most advanced species in the galaxy–and find a way to learn their technology in hopes of building a weapon to subjugate every culture. He’d been given lateral permission to gain what was required. By any means necessary, his father had said. Possibly most shocking of all, Hilongko had advised him to go off the Seph and indoctrination. Simply put, nothing must stand in the way of him gaining Vreah advancement. Was it possible his father believed the indoctrination was absolute? That nothing could sway his belief in it?
If so, his overlord would have been deeply disappointed by all that took place after his advisements.
Halon alone made contact with the Vreah via audio communication. He’d been very guarded, very careful, giving only enough to draw them out. His initial reaching out had led to the galaxy ambassadors asking eagerly to meet with him. He refused. But, when they noted his love of science (a falsehood), they’d suggested he meet with their daughter, who was only a little younger than he’d been at the time. She was part of a research team studying negative energy.
While Sinshe didn’t possess sexual prowess, given the clinical, cold coition chambers where FuRod pureblood males who’d reached the age of 21 attempted conception devoid of desire with the breeding mothers, the potential for seduction to get what he needed had been clearly outlined to him by his father.
When Halon had met Vespera Vos the very first time, she’d been lovely with skin that was like living velvet, long hair, and wide eyes. Her eagerness–combined with an intoxicating scent and her husky voice–had been utterly compelling to him. Their next meeting had changed everything. Strangely, she’d changed her coloring to gold and reddish toned hues. On Vree, she told him, they had treatments that could permanently change skin, hair, and eye color. Later, she’d admitted his haunting, golden eyes had prompted the change that altered everything about her in a way he couldn’t define let alone deny.
Perhaps his weaning from the indoctrination and Seph that had left him weak and defenseless contributed to the shocking rapidity of how fast he’d fallen for her. The mind, the body, the heart and spirit of this golden creature had fascinated him, and the fact that she herself claimed to be in the throes of “fantazema” over him as well quickly brought about everything he’d never had the imagination or freedom to envision.
In the same life-altering way her love had changed him, her betrayal returned him to the unmerciful brainwashing that had ruled his life. He’d been inconsolably angry, devastated and lost. He’d reacted in a way that still stunned him. Only when he’d begun weaning himself recently had he let himself look back at all that had made him into the singular tyrant he’d become.
Two voices roused Halon from the sleep of the injured, but only one of them reached inside–reached back to a miracle that seemed to have started everything for him.
“I know you too well, sister, to believe what you’re trying to sell with that ridiculous defense,” a deeper, male voice gently chided the first. “He’s not going to die. You heard the doctor. He said if Halon was going to die, it would have happened in those precarious first days after he was first pulled out of that escape pod.”
They’re talking about me. I’m not going to die but I obviously came close. There’s an indication that we could be on our way to my grandmother now. How long have I been here? And was it Vespera’s ship that retrieved me before my Second could blow me unceremoniously to the Fyrengate underworld?
I told myself Vespera was dead but, after Mare Arie and I began sub rosa communications, she told me she knew Vespera. She gave me a message from someone who shouldn’t have the power she still does over me. Someone who claims her love is still bone-deep, the very essence of her being…
“Why don’t you relax? Go back to your cabin and get some sleep. As soon as he wakes up–”
Vespera interrupted. “Just…go, Verrick. You don’t have to understand. I need to be here.”
Halon became aware he’d been holding his breath unconsciously, listening to Vespera talk to the person who had to be her twin brother. On Vree, all children were born as fraternal twins. They were able to engineer that. He remembered the crazy things she’d told them about Vreah reproduction, but then he supposed the Sinshe way couldn’t be considered exactly normal either.
Sounds indicated that the brother Verrick left the medical bay and Vespera settled beside him. Halon jolted mentally when he felt the velvet hand touch his. A reaction that shouldn’t have been stimulated after the excruciating embarrassment of the coitus chambers and his own age convinced him he couldn’t continue to pretend he was still unconscious. In truth, based on the 150 revolutions most pureblood warriors lived to be, he was considered middle-aged at just over a hundred revolutions. Remembering his youth–the sparse handful of tidal cycles he’d been given with Vespera–piled on him like weights.
What to say wasn’t nearly as difficult as relearning how to talk. He made the effort and ended up coughing wildly so the machine he was lying in started making all kinds of alarming noises. Just like that, his consciousness was unveiled, and the room flew into frenzy as doctors and medical personnel descended on him with armed guards in the background. Only once did he glance at Vespera staying out of the way and see tears in her eyes at his unpredictable distress.
Finally, quiet and solitude were his rewards, Vespera sat beside him, perhaps not speaking since the doctor had warned her not to “stress” him further. But finally she did speak, and her reassurance made sense of her tears earlier: “You’re not being indoctrinated, Halon. This machine is medical. It’s helping to heal you with drugs and other means. You were seriously wounded.”
I suppose the thought of being hooked up to a machine–any machine–should make me react insanely. Yet it never occurred to me that this machine could be doing me harm.
“Carron…” he murmured, sounding rusty and weak. “Carron…my…Second?”
How much could she know of what he’d been through in his temerarious bolt off Paladin? Yet somehow she did understand his question. “Your second-in-command got away on your ship.”
She described the battle, ending with the news that several of the alien spaceships had pursued Paladin when it fled. While it was true that the Sinshe warbird could have taken on the dozens of alien spaceships with unmistakably inferior weapons, Carron must have realized no backup was coming for him. He was alone in the fight with a quarter complement crew. The only way to win was to flee and return with the armada in tow.
“Where did your allies break off pursuit…?” Halon asked, feeling winded by the few words he’d uttered.
Vespera’s beautiful eyes showed her confusion. Up to this point, all he’d seen there was wariness replacing the tears while the medical team had evaluated his condition. “Does that matter?”
“Yes. Show me…map…”
Vespera maneuvered a console in front of him and begin the process of bringing up a map of the region of space the planet Qu called home. When she pointed to where the aliens had broken off their pursuit, Halon nodded. “I know…where he went. The only place he could have disappeared.” Halon took a deep breath. No turning back.
At the movement of his hands to indicate he needed access to the console, Vespera aided him. “These are the coordinates to a space corridor the Sinshe stabilized, the Zurg-rtu. Class 1. It’s the only direction he could have gone…if he wanted to lose the alien spaceships. He would only have had to be in it two tide cycles. From there…a little more than 14 spins to a Class 2 corridor, Pai-an. How long…has it been?”
“Since you were injured and brought on board?”
He nodded with almost no strength.
“16 days–spins…that’s right, Shojan measure time by tide cycles. You’ve been in a coma for 16 spins.”
Two tide cycles in the Zurg-rtu corridor. A little more than 14 spins to cross open space to Pai-an. Seven spins inside that corridor…
“He’s still in Pai-an. You have to tell your allies…now. Paladin won’t be just outside the Zurg-rtu space corridor, where Carron left it, much longer if Carron gained access to SL communication as soon as he entered the first corridor and gave Neth-beo the coordinates to the ship.”
The implication–the entire Sinshe fleet heeding a warning order to converge on and engage hostiles–drained all color from her face. She was up in a second, but Halon grabbed her arm before she could run to do what he’d suggested. Touching her skin shouldn’t have stunned him, leaving him feel weak in another way. But it did and, for a heartbeat, their eyes locked and held so the past was there between them, happening anew in the space of no time at all.
“The Quing…did they survive? Is their world intact?”
Her expression became startled, as if this was the very last question she expected him to ask her. Had she believed he wouldn’t care that Carron might have nuked an entire world into oblivion? Halon had done just that himself when he was too young to have become an evil monster. He’d never forgot, never forgave. Shame filled him with the need for revenge, for an absolution he would never deserve.
“Your message is what got us there in time. If you hadn’t sent that…”
Somehow his warning had saved an entire planet. He’d sent the warning with his distress call to Mare Arie after fleeing Neth-beo in the Paladin. Carron had told him his message had been intercepted before it could reach his intended target.
A lie. Another lie? How much of what Carron told me after he apprehended me and locked me in my stateroom with armed guards was true?
His overwhelming relief made Vespera pause for another second they didn’t have, but he urged, “Go. And…come back as soon as you can.”