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ISBN-10: 1-55404-483-9
Genre: Science Fiction/Suspense/Thriller
eBook Length: 329 Pages
Published: August 2007

Total Readers: 1

From inside the flap

In this first volume of the two-volume sixth novel of the series, Sebastian, Chief of Internal Security of the Military Complex, captures and interrogates Marianne, a Gaean spy who accessed secret data.  Knowing that if Milhauss discovers that she entered the Arsenal, heíll confine her in a military penal work force, Sebastian conceals evidence.  He offers to confine her in his auntís home, but demands that she engage in sexual exchanges in which heíll indulge his penchant for inflicting pain.  Marianne agrees only after he lets her see her wounded brother Merrill.
A notorious sensualist, Sebastian uses his expert knowledge of sexual technique and psychology to vanquish his captiveís inhibitions.  His four-week-long program of conditioning his repressed partner flattens her mental defenses.  He knows that the hatred she bears him prevents her from forming a dangerous emotional attachment to him.
Having exchanged Merrill for Simon, a captain held by Signe, the Columbians learn that Theo lent Simon historical works, and enabled him to write an historical commentary.  Shame scalds Sebastian, as he contrasts Theoís generosity with his treatment of Marianne.  Sebastian paroles the captive, and allows her to take courses at the University while supporting herself by doing menial work.
Having embarked on a brutally stressful program of work and study, Marianne excels academically, despite suffering chronic fatigue.  At mid-term, she hears Arlen state in a speech that he will never commit genocide.  Realizing that the data she secured at such cost just lost its strategic value, she battles despair, but finishes the term.  When Sebastian learns that she earned top grades from two tough professors, he succumbs to shame, and longing.  He offers the shocked, exhausted woman a full scholarship.  Verging on physical collapse, she accepts his offer, and again becomes his lover.
Marianneís life grows far less traumatic.  Sebastianís secret visits relieve the carnal need that had tormented her.  When he deduces that she transmitted the secret data to Merrill during the brief meeting he allowed, he refuses to believe her explanation of how she did it.  He considers employing neurostimulation so as to learn the truth, but refrains from doing so.  Having taken a severe blow to his pride, he nonetheless continues to visit Marianne.
On hearing that the war just ended, and that Arlen offered her a scholarship under the terms of the treaty, Marianne decides to get her degree in Columbia.  Direly afraid that Sebastian will eventually tire of her, she hides her fear.  When a fellow student proposes marriage, she succumbs to depression.  Sebastian prods her into revealing the reasons she sees as preventing her from marrying either a Columbian or a Gaean.  He convinces her that only one solution to her dilemma exists, and persuades her to embrace it.  This stirring narrative forms part of an ongoing saga of futuristic action, adventure and romance.


Chapter One

Sebastian woke to the unsettling awareness that today formed the midpoint of his fiftieth Earthyear. The vanished decades arrayed themselves in ranked order squarely upon his chest, mocking him. Grimly, he confronted the spectral entities. Raising an imperious eyebrow, he curled his thin upper lip back over his perfect white teeth, and stared the enemy down. Eyes black as polished obsidian annihilated the apparition, sending the ghostly ranks into oblivion. Rising with lithe grace, the Chief of Internal Security of the Columbian Military Complex stretched his lean, hard-muscled body, donned a freshly adjusted, exquisitely tailored black uniform, and resolutely shook his mind free of unwontedly gloomy fancies.

Those five decades sat lightly on Sebastian. Tall, hawk-profiled, piercing of eye and expressive of countenance, he radiated an unshakable, serene assurance lightly tinged with arrogance. A combination of striking features and aristocratic bearing, coupled with an ability to project an electric aura of masculine allure, rendered him irresistible to the mature, unattached socialites from whose ranks he selected the mistresses he charmed, seduced, enjoyed, and expertly converted from lover to friend before making a new conquest.

Head of a small, elite, autonomous military police force-an organization gratifyingly independent of the authority of the commanders of the five Columbian military corps-the Chief found the excitement provided by his professional duties to be in inverse proportion to the magnitude of the responsibility resting on his ample breadth of shoulders.

Sebastian had long ago managed to come to terms with that circumstance. Scion of a prominent aristocratic family, independently wealthy, the Chief enjoyed the prestige and associations afforded by a military career. His rather onerous duties seldom interfered with his pursuit of pleasure in a culture well able to provide any sort of stimulation he craved, even in wartime. Now that the war in space had dwindled to a frustrating stalemate costly to both sides in terms of human and material resources, life in the capital of Columbia went on much as it had for the past Earthcentury.

Striding at exactly 0800 into the crowded operations area where he perceived his four subordinates on the 0400 to 1200 shift to be busily occupied, Sebastian checked with the officer on duty, and exchanged a few crisp words with Teno, his deputy, as was his custom before vanishing into his relatively spacious private office.

Still troubled on some subconscious level by the earlier reminder of the inexorable advance of age, the Chief most uncharacteristically acted on a sudden impulse. He determined on making an unannounced and unscheduled inspection both of the Complex, and the men of his force presently carrying out the duty of patrolling the premises.

Those patrols provided a strong deterrent against clashes between enlistees of any two of the five Corps. Corpsmen, no less than their commanders, tended to see their counterparts in the other four organizations as rivals. That well-known propensity formed the main factor necessitating a police force operating under an authority separate from both the Commanders of the five corps, and the officials of the civil Ministry of Internal Security. The officers of Sebastianís force also guarded against the unauthorized entry of civilians into the Military Complex: a huge, sprawling area comprised of the headquarters of all five corps, the military locks assigned to each corps, and the corridors giving access to those facilities.

Two hours and forty minutes later, having walked at a smart pace through the corridor bisecting the headquarters of Fifth Corps and that of Fourth, and having also traversed the main corridor below the docking facilities of those two corps and those of Third and Second, Sebastian strode through Third Corpsí Headquarters, passed through that of First, emerged from the corridor below First Corpsí locks, and considered whether to opt for absolute thoroughness by inspecting the guard within the area housing the life-support equipment serving the Complex. Tempted to skip a large area seldom entered by personnel other than those from Feigenbaumís crew of life support engineers, the officer pondered his options.

A shrug accompanied his decision in favor of thoroughness. The Chief determined not only upon traversing those premises, but also upon entering the Arsenal. That move, he well knew, would arouse the ire of Milhauss, the dour Chief of Weapons Production and Distribution, who commanded a company of engineers, technicians and military workers: a force smaller than Sebastianís. The Chief of Weapons Production and Distribution nonetheless enjoyed independence equal to that of the Chief of Internal Security of the Columbian Military Complex. Both Sebastian and Milhauss owed allegiance to only one superior: Arlen, Commander-in-Chief of the Columbian Military Forces, who at present exercised dictatorial power over an aggressively militant world bogged down in a stalemated space-war with Gaea, the only other political entity in the star-system.

Instinctively muting the echoing tread of his gleaming black boots, Sebastian advanced through a maze of support equipment providing lighting, electrical supply, temperature regulation, the venting of excess heat, communications, and in-house, highly shielded data-storage. From there, he passed into a separate, adjoining facility solely devoted to life-support: part of an integral parallel universe interweaving with, and inseparable from, the web of habitats girdling a globe of barren, airless rock.

Threading his way through an interconnected array of huge photosynthetic exchangers, the Chief snapped a salute to one of the two guards engaged in patrolling this area, noting the flash of astonishment his subordinate failed to conceal. Observing with satisfaction that both men marched with military precision at exactly the locations where he expected to find them, Sebastian strode on. A smile of sardonic amusement fleetingly animated his lean face as he contemplated the anger his visit to the Arsenal would arouse in a colleague Sebastian enjoyed needling.

The soft sound that impinged on the inspecting officerís ear ought to have gone unnoticed amid the whirr of fans, the hum of transformers, and the deeper, more strident noise of pumps. It did not. Attuned to the normal, his every sense on the alert, Sebastian caught the aberrant sound he could not identify. Stopping in mid-stride, he listened. No repeat of the stimulus impinged on his straining ear.

Familiar with the layout of the major facilities, he narrowed the possibilities during a swift scan of the area, and chose that most likely. Stepping soundlessly to the sliding door of a cramped cubicle housing both a terminal and gear for automatic monitoring of the life-support system, the Chief observed the panel to be standing open a crack. Drawing his sword, he flattened his shoulders against the wall, reached out an arm, and drew the door aside without exposing his person either to the view or the blade of whoever lurked within. Having determined that the illicit occupant aimed no tracer-ray of an electronic weapon through the now unobstructed portal, he entered, sword in hand, to behold that person in the act of sliding open an inner door-panel that ought to have been impossible to unlock.

"Freeze!" Sebastian barked.

A slim, dark-eyed woman whirled to face him, and froze.

"Raise your hands."

The tip of the Chiefís sword came to rest at a point just below the intruderís breastbone, and pricked the skin beneath her suit. His eyes narrowed, his face mirroring his readiness to kill if she moved, Sebastian studied the slim figure standing utterly motionless. He saw that she wore the uniform overgarment issued to female custodial workers employed in Ministry Main Habitat: familiar garb that concealed the womanís tunic and reached to a point just above her knees. Short, dark hair framed a still, wary, delicately lovely face gone pale as frost. Meeting her captorís raking glance unflinchingly, the unlikely transgressor waited.

"State your name."

When that peremptory query evoked no response whatsoever, Sebastian increased the pressure of the sharp tip of his blade. A faint wisp of pink fog curled up from the garment repelling a few drops of blood, but the threatening gesture produced not a quiver, much less a reply.

"Keep your arms raised, and your palms towards me," the Chief ordered, stepping closer. Satisfied that no telltale, blue-black spot denoting an implanted weapon marred the tips of the intruderís fingers, Sebastian sheathed the sword. Grasping the arms the woman kept raised, he twisted them behind her, and secured them with a pair of metal wrist-restraints produced from a pocket.

Forcing his captive to keep his swift pace, the Chief propelled her to the nearest exit onto O-Corridor, a main thoroughfare restricted in this locality to military use. Mouth tight, he stalked past the facade of the Arsenal, and thrust her through the door of his headquarters, which adjoined the Arsenal and faced Fifth Corpsí Headquarters across Third Corridor.

Striding into his operations area, Sebastian marched his charge past five men whose expressions denoted shock-even Tenoís, as carefully as that canny subordinate cultivated an habitual impassivity. Ignoring the questioning faces, the Chief snapped an order to his deputy. "Palm-imprinter," he grated, prompting his subordinate swiftly to produce a device for recording a palm-print electronically. Having pressed the womanís right palm against the sensor and touched the activator, Sebastian issued an order in a low tone. "Find out who she is, Teno. Fast. Donít barge in. Iíll ask you for that information shortly."

"Yes, sir."

Having thrust the woman through the door to his private office, Sebastian slid the panel shut behind him. Though he removed the restraints, he maintained a firm grip on his captiveís arm as he shoved her into a position facing a strip of wall uncluttered by built-in furniture.

"Hands against the wall," he ordered. "Higher. So. Donít move." Reaching around the slim form of the prisoner obeying his command, he unfastened the uniform overgarment, drew it off, and tossed it aside. "Hands as they were. So."

Deft fingers now parted the bands of the womanís tunic, and stripped off that garment, leaving her nude from the waist up. Hearing her sharp, indrawn breath, noting the instinctive movement of her hands to cover her exposed breasts, Sebastian observed the manner in which she caught herself reacting thus, and so aborted the gesture. Intuitively, he sensed the power of will it cost her to place her palms once again against the metal wall.

"Donít move," he rasped.

Taking his time, the Chief emptied the pockets of his captiveís tunic, mentally cataloging the contents. A comb, a small mirror of polished metal, a square of cloth, a spool of thin, strong line, a small, inoffensive folding knife, most definitely not intended for use as a weapon, preceded a compact device. Frowning blackly, he studied that object, which he knew had to be the means by which the agent opened security-locked doors and panels.

Frowning, he examined the black tunic minutely, ascertaining that the twin tabs that should have borne the names of tailor and owner had been removed. Holding the garment suspended from both hands, he observed the quality of the cloth, and the cut. Incredulity registered on the Chiefís ruggedly handsome face.

"Kick off your boots," the officer commanded. Silently, the woman complied. Bending with supple grace, Sebastian swept up a boot, fixing glittering black eyes on the leather-like fabric. Intently, he studied the styling, the quality, and the manner in which the object had been fabricated. Incredulity faded, to be replaced by dire fear.

Seizing the woman by both upraised arms, he thrust her bodily into the sturdy chair fronting his desk, which he pulled to a position facing away from the door. His face grim as death, he secured his captiveís wrists behind her, with the chain of the restraints looped around an upright portion of the chair-back. Producing a second pair, he hobbled her ankles after passing the chain around a rung. Leaving her thus immobilized, he emerged into the operations area.

Glancing up, Teno gauged the gravity of the situation from the set of his superiorís mouth, and the icy anger visible in his eyes. At Sebastianís curt command, he reported. "That palm-print doesnít match that of any female between the ages of fifteen and fifty whoís a citizen of Columbia, sir," he averred, concealing the astonishment produced by that discovery. "Weíre checking out those older than fifty now. I erroneously judged the prisoner to be in her mid-thirties, sir. The new search will take five minutes."

"Itíll prove equally fruitless. Teno, call in every man on both off-shifts, and alert those on duty that a possibility exists of unauthorized agentsí having penetrated the environs of the Complex. Send every man not now patrolling the Complex to the corridors below the locks of all five corps. Donít issue a general alarm. Let it be assumed by the guards mounted by the five corps that weíre searching for an offender whoís a delinquent corpsman, but order our personnel to search for someone in a lifeboat or ship who canít properly account for himself.

"Search the military locks first, and then those assigned to the officials from Ministry Main Habitat. Any individuals-male or female-whom our men apprehend, theyíre to conduct here as speedily as possible. Theyíre to capture any intruder they encounter alive-got that? Tell them to ignore any contrary orders from officers of any corps, personnel from the Arsenal, or military engineers, who try to take custody of whoeverís captured. Make damned sure you issue those orders exactly as I just gave them to you."

"Yes, sir."

Sebastian lowered his voice. "I intend to question the prisoner prior to any formal interrogation," he grated. "If any news comes in that I need to hear, knock. Youíre to keep out anyone but Arlen himself, Teno. Is that clear?"

"Yes, sir. Count on me, sir."

Satisfied that he could count on Teno, Sebastian reentered his office.

Standing with legs planted apart, hands on hips, the Columbian fronted the woman who met his glittering black eyes squarely. "Iím Sebastian, Chief of Internal Security of the Military Complex," he stated in a voice cold as the deeps of space. "Youíre a Gaean agent: a spy. You refused to speak because your accent would betray you. Well, youíll spill what I need to know, under truth compeller."

That assertion produced no response whatsoever.

Pulling open a drawer, the interrogator withdrew a spring-capsule. Holding the object against the womanís bare arm, he released the spring, thereby injecting her with a drug that produced an irresistible compulsion to answer questions truthfully. Giving only a barely perceptible start, the woman sat stonily regarding her captor. He waited, searching the still-pale face for the flush and beads of perspiration denoting the fact of the drugís taking effect, but no telltale signs appeared.

A brisk knock on the door forced a grunt of exasperation from the man shifting his eyes periodically from the clock to the face of his captive. Striding to the entry, he opened the door a mere ten centimeters.

Standing on the threshold, Teno urged, "Better let me report inside, sir. Claiborne will keep everyone out."

Nodding, Sebastian slid the panel aside. Teno stepped through, shut the door, and stood with his back to the entry. "A detachment of four men under Rawlinson captured the operator of a lifeboat docked on the lock reserved for the First Ministerís official boat, when heís in the complex, sir. No one uses that lock, currently. Arlen habitually docks his personal lifeboat on Fifth Corpsí Headquartersí locks, and Neville seldom lifts. Rawlinson apprehended a man refueling, sir. A man in Gaean military uniform, worn under another garment: a sort of lab coat, black in color."

"He was alone?"

"He seemed to be, sir. He all but got away. He put up a hell of a fight, until he sustained a sharp blow to the head. Heís unconscious. Rawlinson took him to Fifth Corpsí Infirmary. He told Ahearne heíd leave a pair of guards to convey the prisoner away as soon as he could be interrogated. Ahearne said the man suffered a severe concussion. He emphasized that he wouldnít sanction a move for quite a while. I told Ahearne youíd call him shortly.

"Arlenís not available. I raised the orbital fort, and Amin informed me that the Commander-in-Chief lifted in his personal vessel last night, so as to conduct drop-in inspections of the ships of the Special Force. So youíve got breathing space in which to handle whateverís happening, sir."

"I see. Keep everyone out, no matter who seeks entry."

"Yes, sir."

Having waited until the door closed behind Teno, Sebastian strode back to view the bleak, pale, strained, non-perspiring face of his enemy. "You heard," he snapped. "Youíre obviously dosed with the antidote to truth compeller. That leaves me only one alternative: to interrogate you under neurostimulation.

"Iíll take the time to issue you the warning I doubt youíll need. The device sends pain down your nerves. It wonít cause physical damage, but the pain will either stay constant, or increase steadily, as I choose. You wonít pass out. The device holds you fully conscious, no matter to what intensity the level of stimulation rises. Beyond a certain point, the agony will damage your mind. Without doubt youíll spill all I want to know long before that pointís reached, but Iíve warned you. You canít lie to me. An integral lie-detecting function assures that. So. Better think over those hard realities while I attach the electrodes."

Her clear, cultured, Gaean-accented voice as level as Sebastianís own, the woman replied, "I am dosed with the antidote to the drug, but you wonít need that device. Iíll answer your questions willingly."

"And spin me a web of lies. Donít think for a moment that Iíll spare a female spy any ordeal Iíd inflict on a male! Youíll answer, all right. Iíll set the device at the lowest level of stimulation it delivers. Iíll see if you really will talk willingly. If you lie, or try to avoid giving an answer, Iíll let the pain increase to whatever level it takes to produce prompt, truthful replies. So."

While issuing that harsh ultimatum, Sebastian set a compact device on a movable stand. That he pushed next to the chair. Withdrawing a small voice-recorder from a cabinet, he activated the device. Having reached into a cavity in the apparatus, and pulled out a set of cables tipped with electrodes, he attached the multiple tentacles to the womanís forehead and chest. Sitting rigidly still, she quivered slightly as long, strong fingers touched her bare breasts.

His preparations complete, the Chief seated himself facing her, on a low stool. Activating the switch integral to the remote controller held in his left hand, he sent pain throbbing along every nerve in the agentís taut body. Scanning her minutely, he failed to detect the least sign that his captive experienced the severe distress he knew assailed her. The woman neither writhed, nor struggled against the restraints. "Whatís your name?" he grated.


"Are you a member of the Gaean military force?"


"Your rank?"

"Chief Recruiting Officer."

"How many of you debarked on Columbia?"

"Two. The man your subordinates captured, and myself."

"How many lifeboats or other ships comprised your force?"

"One lifeboat was all."

"Whatís the rank of your companion?"


"His name?"


"Whose rank is higher, yours or his?"


"Youíre trained to participate in combat? To fight?"

"No. Iím only trained in self-defense."

"How did you gain access to the Military Complex?"