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With Shadow And Thunder
Shadow Gods Saga: Book Six
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ISBN-10: 1-55404-886-9
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy/SF
eBook Length: 292 Pages
Published: October 2011
OUT OF PRINT

From inside the flap

The Orieli are the first aliens to confront the Serrll Combine in two thousand years. But the Orieli are at war with the Celi-Kran and the Serrll now faces invasion by creatures out of nightmare. On the Moon, caught in a web of Serrll power plays, First Scout Terrllss-rr is betrayed by his Wanderer brother Dharaklin. His ship is sabotaged and he crashes to Earth. Escaping, he now has American security forces after him and the secrets his crashed ship holds. Above the Moon, Serrll and Orieli ships face each other for the control of the Solar System. Rescued, his soul scarred, Terr returns home only to find his loved one kidnapped - by Dhar. With the god of Death in his hands, revenge is the only thing now left to him.

With Shadow And Thunder (Excerpt)


Chapter One

The shuttle was waiting.

Official gatherings always gave Terr a pain, and this one was no exception. He had attached himself to a tight little group, staked out a bit of floor space and tried to appear attentive. It was not working. Surrounded by a throng of beribboned uniforms, thinly clad female forms, friendly chatter and lots of laughter, he suddenly felt alone.

Ornate chandeliers hung from heavy chains beneath a sculptured dome. Frescos of past deeds and valor helped fill the ceiling spaces. Tall black-veined marble columns hugged the walls. They provided a measure of relative seclusion from prying eyes. Each small group, hands waving and ample bellies heaving, claimed one. Intruders were discouraged. A surprising amount of business got done behind such pillars. Terr should know. He was about to conclude a deal of his own.

At the far end of the hall a band toiled gamely on strands of reedy music, thin and scratchy. It drifted forlornly above the noise of the party and did nothing to perk him up. But that was the kind of stuff they went for around here. He nodded sagely at some witty crack and made the usual crappy responses that go with small talk on occasions such as these. Things could have been worse. He’d had his choice; this or fill out reports.

There were all kinds of uniforms on display; dark green of the assault forces, dress blacks of the Scout Fleet and a sprinkling of deck whites. Terr was bemused to note the conspicuous absence of any working grays. Its appearance would probably have earned the unfortunate a terminal career gasper. The brass knobs from Captal wore what they damn well pleased. The local female community added the color - in eye-popping fashion. For the occasion, Terr had squeezed himself into a full-decked blue Scout uniform. On his left breast was a bordered gold oval full of little colored pins, fruit salad. A thin yellow stripe ran down the seam of his trousers, denoting a field grade officer. He looked the part, but it made him uncomfortable - a dressed up cadet!

Smiling urbanely and mumbling an excuse, he disengaged himself from the tableau and pushed his way through clearly defined demarcation lines that marked flag officer territories, senior diplomats and the rest, trying to hang some enthusiasm on his face and not making it. He figured that this whole job was a case of Anabb’s twisted sense of humor, a way of getting even for past sins. Dirty, rotten old fart.

Well, the only way to beat the game was to slosh his brain or go cruising. On this occasion, he could not do either. Which was a damned shame, for there were enough willing females on the prowl to add interest to the hunt. He shook his head and grunted. It was time to do some paid work.

He snagged a frosted tumbler off a passing tray, wielded by one of the unobtrusive drifting waiters, and took a sip. The stuff burned on its way down and his eyes unfocused a bit. He blinked at the cloying yellow liquid and shrugged.

Life in the Diplomatic Branch was hell.

He had been told that this was a small gathering as functions usually go. The cavernous Trillian Assembly reception hall had seen bigger. Then again, this was supposed to be an informal occa sion, strictly by invitation only. Looking around, he could not really tell the differ ence. Still, Trillian was only a speck in Sargon space and any excuse to hold a blowout, the locals figured, was too good to miss. Tonight the political knives were sheathed and the vitriol for gotten. Probably diluted by a drink or two, he thought moodily.

Trillian’s diplomatic community was toasting the Controller’s first year in office. Seen as a rising star the local Servatory Party branch had gone all out. Terr got picked, among other things, to represent Captal’s Bureau of Cultural Affairs. After all, the Controller was one of government’s own and nobody was going to say that the government didn’t take care of its own.

Swallowing the last of his drink, he concluded that Anabb would have fitted right in with all the other starched shirts. This would definitely be his macabre idea of a good time.

He absently touched a ragged scar above his left eyebrow. Not quite bored, he looked around counting the gun handlers. It was easy to spot them. They were the guys wearing wooden smiles, cold eyes and suspicious stares. The Controller they were guarding was chatting busily with a demurely provocative female dressed in a shimmering wisp of blue noth ing. She had a sultry destructive look that always meant trouble for someone. Around them, hovering like a cloud, was the usual swarm of foreign dignitaries and hangers-on.

Gashkarali, Controller of Trillian, looked ordinary enough. Terr wondered what he did to deserve Death’s wrath. A year in office did not seem long enough to screw things up that much. He must have pissed some body off real bad, though. Anabb had given Terr the usual glib worm crap about factional plots and Captal secrets, that kind of stuff. The way he said it the fate of the Serrll hung in the balance. Terr admitted that it sounded good at the time. It almost got him all choked up and patriotic, but he managed to contain himself.

Still, Anabb’s fancy tirade could not hide the blunt orders.

Gashkarali had to die.

Normally that would have been enough for Terr. So far, he had been happy leaving the whys to Anabb. That gambit had worked for almost five years - until his last mission. That had spoiled it all and got him thinking. That was always a bad sign in his line of work. His target had been a General Assembly rep in her fist term. Her Servatory Party cell had managed to execute a level two penetration of the Diplomatic Branch’s comms center, and in the process compromised two of Anabb’s best operatives. The ensuing stink had resulted in another operative suddenly enjoying an extended vacation on Cantor - counting rocks. What Anabb had to say to the security people had not been pretty, but it was effective. She was returning to Captal when Terr caught up with her. The fact that the target was a female had not fazed him. There were as many bitches around as there were traitorous bastards.

It was what she said to him before the lightnings struck her, looking at him with fierce defiance, challenging him, that got him thinking. She had died believing in the conviction of her cause. Where was the conviction of his cause, she demanded scornfully. Technically it had been a perfect mission, but he could not get her words out of his mind. The rot had set in.

Afterwards, he kept seeing the wrinkled features of his old master set in stern disapproval. He was not exactly using his gift for self-enlightenment. He remembered drinking quite a lot while waiting for the liner to touch down on the transit port to Taltair.

Looking around now at the glitter and pomp of the hall, his master did not have to tell him that the gods would not exactly approve of what he was doing with their gift. Terr allowed himself a brief frown of uncertainty. The last thing he needed right now was his conscience giving him a hard time. Anabb paid him to do a job, not to like it.

Rit!

Studying the hired stiffs, he tisked and shook his head. The security here was lousy. But lousy or not, he was not about to rush in and fumble it. There were plenty of other beginner’s tricks he could fall for.

On a job, he always worked under his official persona. That fact had saved him more than once from a compromisingly sticky predicament. Anabb had pointed out the obvious on many occasions - any cover, no matter how elaborate, can be blown. As a diplomatic attache, Terr could move around without attracting more than his usual quota of hostile stares. If some dignitary should suddenly fade out of sight while he was around ... well, it happened to the best of them.

Still, it was possible that some smart computer somewhere could build a correlation between his movements and a few untimely deaths. He was sure the ensuing result would cause someone in the Servatory Party machine to raise an eyebrow. Not that he handled a body job every time he went out. He did do legitimate work on occasions, enough to keep below the statistical threshold. Nevertheless, he knew that if he kept this up long enough, he was bound to fall for some terminal gag. Anabb did not have to tell him that one. He sort of figured it out by himself.

Maybe it was time for him to go into a new line of business. Like conning a ship again. Right now, he reflected wistfully, he would be quite happy herding his old M-3, anything that would take him away from Anabb. The craggy old face and grating humor was beginning to get on his nerves. Psandra had been a good ship to him...

The party was getting kind of boring and people were beginning to drift away. The hall was too hot and the atmosphere cloying. The noise and chatter was a constant wash and Terr longed for a moment of silence. He was getting restless, looking for an excuse to do a fade himself.

But if he wanted to catch that shuttle, he had better finish this. Leaning against a convenient pillar, twirling his tumbler, he let the images come. The sounds of the party faded around him and the figures blurred. It was as if he was merging with the reality in his mind. Arms raised, cape fluttering behind him, he contemplated the rolling dunes and the shifting sands beneath a hot amber sky. He could almost feel the heat and the smells of the desert wash over him. The words came to him easily. When Death settled on his shoulders, he found the burden heavy. The images faded and he felt a sharp pang of loss. He badly needed the solitude and vastness of the open sands to heal himself. Someone bumped into him and mumbled an apology. Terr did not even notice him.

He gritted his teeth, primed the Death Messenger and moved in. The security guys never even twitched. To them, he was only another minor flunky. That was all right with him. Walking past Gashkarali, Terr hesitated, tempted to let him live, then brushed his arm as he went. A small blue spark jumped between them. Gashkarali merely twitched, not breaking his gushing tirade to the pretty thing hanging on to his every word. In eighteen hours the hand of Death would collect him and no one would be able to connect it to this party, or to Terr.

He melted into the crowd, suddenly soured of the whole thing. But it was a bit late for second thoughts. He pushed his way through the grouped guests, just wanting to get out of the damned place.

Outside, the air had that clean washed smell that comes after a shower and he breathed it deeply. It helped to clean the stale odor he had picked up inside. The guard, crisp and regulation, his phase rifle vertical by his side, snapped to attention when Terr appeared in the doorway. The communal driver, looking bored and sleepy, brightened as Terr descended down polished stone steps. He quickly raised the bubble canopy and climbed out. He beamed as though Terr was his long lost son returned, sketched a brief salute and opened the door. Terr settled into the upholstery with a stifled grunt. He felt Death linger, then it was gone, leaving him empty and hollow.

"The Ambassador, sir?" the driver asked, rich with experience, used to carrying the movers and the powerful. The bubble snicked shut around them. Terr thumbed the mike pad and the driver’s face glowed in the plate.

"Yeah," he said impatiently. He touched another pad and the bubble became opaque. A thin ribbon of green, softly glowing around the bubble boundary, remained. The communal rose with a faint hum of power and he felt himself sag.

He must have dozed off, for the next thing he heard was the incessant buzz from the mike. The bubble was transparent and they were ap proaching one of the landing ramps of the Ambassador hotel. The ramp protruded like a rude tongue near the top of the glittering column of ceramic and color-reactive panels. The communal hovered briefly then settled to the spooling down sound of the power plant.

The charge pad glowed brown, pulsing gently as it waited. Terr pressed his palm against it and it changed to dull yellow. The door opened. The driver stood beside it, still beaming. Terr climbed out and the driver gave him another one of his home-made salutes. Terr nodded as the driver wished him a pleasant night. He waited while the communal took off, then followed it with his eyes as it disappeared into the traffic stream. Shoulders drooping, he walked slowly toward the entrance. Reaction had set in and he was beginning to feel fragile and moody. The job had got him thinking again and he did not want to do any thinking just then.

There wasn’t much to pack. The hotel management was sorry to see him go - at least they pretended. A chorus of ’Have a good flight, sir’ and ’We hope that you will visit the Ambassador again, sir’, and crap like that followed him to the cable-tube. He hated goodbyes!

The tube deposited him at the civilian end of the Field inter-star termi nus. The departure lounge was relatively empty and his footsteps echoed faintly on the hard polished floor. Trillian was not exactly on the beaten tourist path. He cleared customs without having to wade through packed queues, snarling children and harassed parents. He was thankful for that. Twenty minutes later the shuttle punched through the atmosphere bound for Karmal, where he would change flights for Taltair.


***

Anatol Keller simmered. His attention was focused on the main holoview plot as it followed the trace of the Orieli ship slowly moving toward him. Thick stubby fingers tapped the armrest of his command couch, the only evidence of his restlessness. Unconsciously, he pulled back his purple-red lips into a silent snarl of frustration.

Perdition on the aliens!

His skin was deepest black. His head was perfectly round, covered by a faint oily sheen. Normally thin and pinched, his nostrils now flared as they tended to do in moments of tension. His thick heavy-set form shifted restlessly as he clutched the armrest.

Unwelcome or not, he had to deal with them.

"Plot? Talk to me," he demanded without turning his head. His deep throaty voice reflected his heaviness.

"Target now showing two point eight million talans indicated. No course deviations. No anomalous power emissions. Detecting primary shield configuration only. Scan matches previously recorded ident curve. Profile confirmed," the tactical plot officer announced briskly. His eyes flicked briefly at Anatol, not wishing to draw further attention from his irascible commander.

Profile confirmed. As though there was any doubt, Anatol mused bitterly.

In the plot display the image of the Orieli cruiser rotated through various multi-dimensional position schematics. Columns of figures flashed and faded beside each image. The images and the figures did not tell Anatol anything he did not already know. His eyes probed the plot officer.

"The other two M-4s maintaining relativity?"

"In position. Tandem link established and in standby mode. All systems read nominal. Tactical available on command."

"Mmm," Anatol said with a noncommittal grunt. At least the crew was with it.

The M-4 6/A Sofam-built main battle cruiser was the mainstay of the Serrll Scout Fleet and a front line presence of the General Assembly’s authority. It had a better part of nine tetalans grade C composite armor on top of the four-tetalan thick polymer hull construct. Even without secondary shields, it could withstand several twenty-four millisecond bursts of up to one hundred and twenty-eight TeV at close range. Hopefully, it gave it enough time to get away or press an attack.

It mounted two Koyami 3/C phased array generators; their power channeled through a single projector dome beneath its belly. An M-4 was capable of pouring almost continuous twenty-four millisecond, 128 TeVbursts to a maximum range of 140,000 talans. It carried a crew of 240. Formed into a triad with two other ships, their fire control systems slaved to the command unit, the M-4 was a formidable weapons platform.

Sofam Industries built them well, but they did not have the Orieli in mind when they did it.

Unable to contain his irritation, Anatol slapped the armrest with the flat of his hand and sprang out of the formchair. Everyone suddenly found themselves preoccupied, conscious of Anatol’s discomfort. He started pacing along the raised tactical platform that overlooked the main control stations two steps down. He shot a withering glance at his executive officer, standing apparently unconcerned behind the tactical station console, hands clasped casually behind his back. It irritated him that the exec could be so unmoved by the irony of the situation. Then again, it wasn’t his ass on the line. Anatol paced up and down, his eyes flicking from time to time at the main plot.

Beneath the transparent navigation bubble the darkened command deck was deceptively quiet. The silence distracted only by the muted whisper of status reports, inter-deck comms and tactical computer readi ness notices. Blocking a full quarter of the bubble, the Moon was a brilliant wedge of grays, whites and blacks - a smooth sickle that bordered a circle of darkness drilled through the stars. Above it, almost within touching distance, hung the blue and white of Earth.

The nav dome ringed the deck above them. Beneath it, display plates, sensor stations and touch-sensitive, color-reactive control panels arrayed the inward sloping frame. A full-dimensional holograph node occupied the center of the deck. If necessary the tactical plot it now showed could be replicated on the bubble above them. Offi cers and crew unobtrusively monitored the automated operation of the warship.

Anatol paused in his stride and glowered at his executive officer.

"And what are you so damned smug about? Never mind, I don’t want to know," he growled and jerked his head at the plot. "What do you make of all this?"

The exec was used to these bursts of vitriolic behavior from Anatol and ignored them. He raised a quizzical eyebrow and pointed at the repeater plate beside them.

"They are already in the inner system. Doctrine calls for a standard defensive posture."

"A standard defensive posture, eh?" Anatol pierced his exec with eyes of ebony, expressionless buttons that reflected no light or the individual within. "Is that your recommendation?"

Sensitive to his commander’s frustration the exec shrugged. "Tactically there is nothing to be gained by going farther out."

Anatol planted his hands on his hips. "Who said that this was a tactical situation, anyway?"

"It isn’t? Five years ago -"

"One of those damned things from the pit almost put three of my ships in the junk yard. I haven’t forgotten."

"I did not mean it that way -"

"Hah!"

Anatol shook his head in disgust and stomped away. With a surly glance at the plot, he lowered himself stiffly into the command couch.

It was silent rage that kept his tall two katalan-high frame coiled in his seat. The alien ship out there represented everything that had gone wrong with his career. With the precision of a well-planned cam paign, he had positioned himself on track for Prima Scout rank and a coveted post at CAPFLTCOM, Captal’s Fleet Command headquarters. Tactical command had never appealed to him. He saw himself as a strategist, a thinker, above the mundane minutiae of ship routine. With the cultivation of a few carefully chosen Servatory Party luminaries, his future seemed assured.

Like a cup from which he was about to drink, that future had been dashed by a single encounter with a ship just like the one whose plot he was staring at now. It might even be the very one. Even now the memory of that brief exchange made him cringe.

It all started innocently enough. After a routine mission on Earth to destroy an old C-32 scoutship the locals had managed to dig up in a Mayan ruin, First Scout Terrllss-rr was returning to Taltair when he encountered the enigmatic Orieli. The alien survey ship had come through the Moanar Nebula, some two thousand light-years beyond Serrll space. They were about to return home when leakage from the Serrll Moon Base power core attracted them to Sol. Terr was invited aboard their ship and after a brief exchange of information the Orieli proceeded to check out Earth. Twenty days later, they made another unexpected appearance. With an M-1, Terr was in no position to stop the Orieli, but with three M-4s, Anatol was not about to let them into the Sol system that easily. When the Orieli began moving, he fired on the alien ship.

Refusing to withdraw, the Orieli ship simply had stood there, taking everything that Anatol could throw at it. He had been so confident at interdicting the alien that he had not even bothered to slave in the firepower of his two supporting M-4s. That had turned out to be a tactical mistake. When the alien finally tired of his game and fired back, its single burst crashed through his shields as though they were not there. It took the Orieli ship two more shots to disable his other ships. Three bursts. That was all it took to take out the Serrll ships. That kind of firepower had chilled him.

With the ships of his triad crippled, shields down, Anatol waited for the fire that would have reduced his M-4s to slag. It might have been better that way, but theOrieli ship did not fire. It just moved past his wallowing M-4s.

He survived the ensuing political furrow, but even his powerful friends could not remove the official reprimand that now blotted his record. CAPFLTCOM had cited his action as an exemplary lack of command judgment. No matter what they called it, it was a career stopper. That reprimand ensured that he would never make Prima Scout.

The knowledge was galling.

What in perdition was he supposed to do? Allow those Orieli sons of bitches to breach Serrll’s territorial integrity? The Rules of Engagement had left him little option. If he had not stood his ground those bureaucratic bastards on Captal would have had him on charges of dereliction of duty, conduct unbecoming, even cowardice. To cover their embarrassment at having three line warships dismissed so easily, CAPFLTCOM looked around for someone to carry the drip. It was his bad luck that he got picked.

Since then, he’d had a series of dead-end assed commands. His current tour as commander of the Serrll Moon Base was a case in point. The Sol system was the crappy end of nowhere. The posting was for losers who could not otherwise make it. Still, no matter what the worm shitters at CAPFLTCOM may otherwise think, he had done his duty as he saw it.

To the pit with them all!

But the exec was right, of course. Whether he liked it or not, and he didn’t, he had to face the oncoming ship - and his own nightmare.

And if the Orieli demurred?

Fuckers!

Against the backdrop of two worlds the alien ship slowed and stopped ... and waited. Energy discharge lines barely flickered within the net of its primary shield grid.

"Better start telling me what is going on, Plot," Anatol growled.

"Target is outside the firing envelope, sir. Range now showing one point six-three million talans," the plot operator said hastily. "No relative momentum. No weapons status indicated. Secondary shields are still down. Their interceptor net is extended to twenty-two talans."

Not taking any chances with warm Serrll hospitality, eh? Anatol’s smile was grim.

Cloaked in black, running at half secondary boost, his M-4 blotted out the stars as it closed to intercept. The covering M-4s maintained relativity. One of them took a high port, the other a starboard low position in a classic triad maneu ver, for all the good it did.

The exec strode up from the comms station, his round features grim. "We have a priority three message from Serrll Moon Base."

"Not now! Close to six hundred thousand talans and stop."

"Six hundred thousand talans indicated. Relativity in two point three minutes."

"You need to look at this one," the exec insisted and Anatol bit off an angry retort.

"What in perdition do they want? Can’t it wait -"

"They reported cascade failure on all screens -"

"So?"

"That new survey bird that Earth sent up the other day? It just happened to be overhead at the time."

Anatol took a few seconds to digest the information, then his face contorted in weary resignation.

"Oh, that’s great! That’s all we need now."

"SMB thinks that they might be compromised."

The comms officer looked up. "Sir, the Orieli have opened a chan nel."

"Just hold your water!" Torn between two problems Anatol pulled at his chin. "That satellite. What kind of TLM its got? Real-time or passive?"

"Real-time," the exec said.

"That tears it then. The damned thing probably dumped its data bank as soon as it got out of the Moon’s LOS zone. We should have vaporized that piece of junk before it achieved orbital insertion. Another example of Captal’s idiotic policy that panders to Earth’s primitive space efforts. Well, there is nothing we can do about it from here. Tell SMB to advise COMSAROPS. Let them deal with it. You know the form. Let’s go to tactical."

"Full alert?" the exec queried, his face impassive, but his eyes twinkled.

"What’s the matter? You anxious to see the Orieli in action?" Anatol rasped, ignoring the implied impertinence.

Under increased readiness some of the sensitized control panels immediate ly changed from soft yellow to pulsing amber. Previously inactive action contact pads rippled to life in arrays of colored strips and squares. The cable-tube doors opened and two additional watch officers quietly took up their control stations.

In the engineering spaces below, almost directly above the projector dome, there was not much to do except monitor procedures as the computer increased the level of energy management readiness. Stripped helium nuclei plasma powered the primary fusion chamber that fed the artificial antimatter convergence point and kept it from collapsing. The energy surge from particle annihilation was channeled through the containment field directly into the shield grid.

The M-4’s secondary shields extended to eight talans beyond the primaries along almost spherical lines of force. With both shield grids in place a cocoon of energy extending sixteen talans enclosed the M-4.

In a separate reaction chamber, energy flooded the twin Koyami 3/C generators. Coils fully powered up, the computer waited for the command to synchronize the firing pulses with the shield management system and the ship would be ready to do business.

The M-4 slid to a stop. At six hundred thousand talans, sensors could just make out the flowing rectangular shape of the Orieli ship. Its edges curved down, tapered like drooping wings. The obsidian shape was not showing any lights. Nothing about it suggested menace, but its power was palpable.

Anatol had forgotten how big the bastard was. According to plot the ship was over 800 katalans long - almost twice the size and mass of the M-4.

He stared at the deceptive simplicity of the alien ship’s design and slowly clenched his fists. This time, he wasn’t about to repeat his mistake. If the Orieli wanted Earth, they could have the damned place.

"Comms? Let’s see what they have to say," he said, unaware that his teeth were grinding.