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Authors: Kevin J. Anderson

Island in a Sea of Stars

BOOK: Island in a Sea of Stars
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Title Page

Copyright Notice

1. Garrison Reeves

2. Elisa Reeves

3. Garrison Reeves

4. Lee Iswander

5. Elisa Reeves

6. Lee Iswander

7. Tasia Tamblyn

8. Elisa Reeves

9. Lee Iswander

10. Elisa Reeves

11. Lee Iswander

12. Garrison Reeves

13. Lee Iswander

14. Elisa Reeves



He had to run, and he fled with the boy out into the dark spaces between the stars.

Garrison Reeves took one of the ships from the Iswander Industries lava-processing operations on Sheol. Though he'd planned this for days, he gathered only a few supplies and keepsakes before he departed. None of the possessions mattered to him more than getting away safely with his son.

He had been living on edge, alert for the disaster that he knew had to come. Lee Iswander, the Roamer industrialist, gave no credence to his concerns and refused to spend the money necessary to increase the safety margins; Garrison's own wife Elisa didn't believe him. The other lava miners paid little attention to his warnings about third-order tidal shifts in the broken planet, not because they disputed his geological math, but because they didn't
to believe.

So Garrison made his choice, the only possible choice, he believed. He stole one of the company ships, and Elisa was going to say that he stole their son.

He flew out of the system, running far from any Roamer settlement or Confederation outpost that might log his passage. Elisa was not only ambitious, she was also abusive and dangerous—and he knew she would come after them. Garrison hoped he'd get enough of a head start.

This was just a standard Iswander ship, nothing special, with no particular modifications. It was a workhorse, fully fueled with ekti, run by an efficient Ildiran stardrive. Garrison could fly the vessel without special training, as he could fly most standard spacecraft.

As they soared into the stellar emptiness, ten-year-old Seth rode in the cockpit next to him. Garrison spent much of the long and lonely time familiarizing the boy with cockpit systems and engine diagnostics, giving him simple navigation problems to solve—as any good Roamer father would, even though Garrison had chafed under how his stern father had raised

Roamers were free spirits, sometimes deprecatingly called space gypsies, whose clans filled rough and rugged niches that other, more pampered people considered too dangerous. Not many pampered people came to the lava operations on Sheol, but he had followed Elisa there, for her advancement in Iswander Industries.

“You should stay away from That Woman,” Olaf Reeves had warned him, not once but dozens of times. “If you defy me, if you marry her, you will regret it. You are spitting on your heritage.”

He hated to admit his father had been right.

Garrison closed his eyes and opened them after taking a breath. He studied the markers on the ship's copilot control panels, then turned to his son. “Go ahead and set the next course, Seth.”

“But where are we going?” the boy asked.

Garrison smiled. “On this trip, we're truly roaming. So long as we're heading away from Sheol, you pick.” He tapped the starscreen, which showed infinite possibilities. “For now, we're just staying away from everything and everybody.”

“Like hide-and-seek?”

“A little, but it's not really a game. We need some time alone so I can rethink things.”

The boy was obviously glad to be with his father, but anxious. Seth knew that they were escaping from the fiery planet, though he didn't entirely understand why. He respected his mother, even feared her, but he loved his father. Seth and Garrison genuinely liked each other. Elisa had never allowed herself to let down her walls—not with any business associate, not even with her own son.

After scanning the star catalog, Seth chose coordinates that qualified for little other than “middle of nowhere.” They adjusted course. The stardrive engines hummed and changed tone as they readjusted, then the vessel streaked off again.

Garrison felt dismayed to leave all those other workers at the Sheol lava-processing complex. More than two thousand employees, specialists of various ranks, engineers, metallurgists, geologists, shipping personnel, and just plain grunt workers who filled shifts aboard the smelter barges or control towers, surrounded by fires that could have inspired hell itself.

That was the landscape Seth knew—not a domed greenhouse asteroid or the toroidal orbiting habitat of Newstation, which served as the Roamer center of government. Many Roamers lived in the open gas-giant skies on an ekti-harvesting skymine, reaping great profits by collecting stardrive fuel from the diffuse clouds.

Instead, the boy's daily view was a blaze of scarlet magma erupting in incandescent metal plumes in the smoke-filled sky; he'd grown up in a reinforced habitat mounted on pilings sunk down to solid rock.

As the two closely orbiting halves of the planet adjusted their dance of celestial mechanics, Garrison had studied the melting points, annealing strengths, and the ceramic-lattice structure of the habitat and factory components. He had analyzed the binary planet's pirouette, uncovering third-order resonances that would cause the fragments to dip fractionally closer to each other, increasing stresses and endangering the Iswander operations.

Alarmed, Garrison had gone through all the right channels and presented his results to the industrialist, only to experience an even greater shock when he realized that neither Lee Iswander nor his deputy Elisa wanted to hear any such warnings. They simply and impatiently reassured him that the lava-processing outpost was safe enough and told him to go back to work. The material strength and heat tolerance of the structural elements was sufficient to withstand the environment of Sheol, they said … but Garrison knew there was very little margin for error.

Adding unnecessary and expensive levels of redundant shielding and “paranoid” safety measures—Iswander said—was irresponsible to Iswander Industries, as well as to the employees, who participated in profit-sharing.

Garrison had then made himself greatly unpopular by spreading his warnings among the Sheol employees, creating nervousness, which only upset his wife even more. She was furious with Garrison, sure that his whistle-blowing would cost her a promotion.

Sadly, when he became convinced that there was no alternative, he had to take Seth away from Sheol before disaster happened. He hoped he was wrong. He knew he wasn't.

Elisa claimed that she loved their son, even insisted with great vehemence when Garrison had challenged her on it, but her words were only words. He knew her loyalty was to Iswander Industries. Elisa had hitched her star to the powerful man who came from a Roamer clan but acted like no Roamer.

In his head, he heard his father's gruff voice again. “You never should have married That Woman. You're a Roamer, and you belong with other Roamers!”

“Lee Iswander's a Roamer,” Garrison had responded, though the words sounded flat in his own ears.

“That man has forgotten who he is.” The bearded patriarch of clan Reeves had waved a finger in front of his son's face. “And if you stay with him, you will forget who you are. So many Roamer clans have forgotten.”

But Garrison had refused to listen, and he married Elisa Enturi anyway. He had given up so much for her … or had he done it just to act out against his father?

“If we find a place and settle down, will Mother come to live with us again?” Seth asked.

Garrison didn't want to lie to the boy. He stared out at the forest of stars ahead and the great emptiness in which they had lost themselves. “I think she wants to take her chances on Sheol.”

Seth looked sad but stoic. “Maybe someday.”

Garrison could not see any other answer but
Maybe someday

In the stolen ship, they changed course several more times, flying where no one else would go. They crossed the expansive emptiness that reminded them both of how vast the universe was, and how little it contained. When they had nothing but light years around them, they came upon an amazing anomaly—a cluster of gas bags far from any star system, bloated globules, each twice the size of the ship.

Seth leaned forward, studying both the sensor screens and the unfiltered view through the windowport. “They're bloated and floating. Maybe we should call them … bloaters.”

Garrison ran a quick diagnostic. “Never seen anything like it.”

The membranous bubbles seemed organic, drifting along in a loose gathering. In the dim light of faraway stars, the spherical structures were greenish brown, filmy membranes that each enclosed a blurry nucleus. Tens of thousands of them formed an island in a sea of stars.

Seth said, “Are they alive?”

Garrison shut down the engines so their ship could drift toward the gas bags. “No idea.” The strange objects seemed majestic—silent, yet powerful. They filled him with a sense of wonder.

A random glimmer of light brightened one of the nodules, an internal flash that faded. Another bloater flickered, then faded.

As he and his father stared through the windowports, Seth asked, “Did we just make a discovery?”

“Maybe we did, but I couldn't tell you what it means.” Garrison moored the ship among the thousands of silent, eerie bloaters. “Let's just stay here for awhile.”



Elisa was so furious and indignant she could barely think straight, but she had enough common sense to maintain her composure. She squashed her instinctive reaction and clung to her professional demeanor like armor.

She could not let Lee Iswander see her like this. There was too much at stake, and her responsibilities were too great. Her kidnapped son, as well as her husband's betrayal, were only part of what she had to worry about. Priorities had to be weighed and balanced.

He took my son! He stole a ship, and he left me behind!

Even before she'd married him, she had known Garrison was a backward bumpkin, but he had said all the right words. Together, they had laid out their great plans, and he agreed to do the proper things, keep his eyes focused on the Guiding Star that would change everything for them.

And Elisa had believed him. That made her as angry as anything else. She had
him! She hated to feel like a fool.

Elisa presented herself at the door to Iswander's office, in Tower One of the Sheol lava-processing complex. Tower One had five decks of offices and habitation spaces, standing high on carbon-reinforced ceramic struts. All around them, scarlet lakes oozed up from molten springs to form a shimmering—some called it terrifying—panorama.

Elisa was a lovely woman with well-sculpted features, a pointed chin, and a generous mouth. Her face was not soft by any measure, but her hazel eyes had a penetrating quality. She could shape her emotions as she wished, because different situations required different personalities, different responses. There was an entire subset of moods that she had never shown Garrison because she had not needed to—until recently.
He took my son!

Outside of Iswander's office Elisa straightened her uniform and took a moment to compose her expression. She ran fingers through her short, professional-length auburn hair with highlights of gold. When she was ready, she entered.

BOOK: Island in a Sea of Stars
5.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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