With Shadow And Thunder - Shadow Gods Saga: Book Six
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by Stefan Vucak
Category: Science Fiction
Description: 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.
eBook Publisher: Double Dragon Publishing/Double Dragon eBooks, 2011 Double Dragon Publishing
eBookwise Release Date: October 2011
1 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [471 KB]
Reading time: 284-397 min.
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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 occasion, strictly by invitation only. Looking around, he could not really tell the difference. 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 forgotten. 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 nothing. 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 somebody 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.
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 approaching 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 terminus. 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.