Authors: Michael Wallace
Table of Contents
by Michael Wallace
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The Sentinel Trilogy
Book #1 –
Book #2 –
Book #3 – Shattered Sun
copyright 2016 by Michael Wallace
Cover Art by Lorenz Hideyoshi Ruwwe
The Hroom general and his young adjutant stood in the loading bay, eyeing the single-seat spacecraft. It sat on a rail in front of them, waiting to be shuttled to the launch tube, there to be hurled from the sloop of war into space. The adjutant gave a worried whistle through her nose slits.
“Lord General,” she said, “I am not sure it’s advisable. Very unsafe. Very unsafe, indeed.”
“Nonsense,” Mose Dryz said. “A skimmer craft is serviceable to five million kilometers, although with the size of that cockpit, I imagine my legs will be in need of a good stretch before I’m through. Perfectly safe, though.”
“That is not precisely what I mean. It’s the cultists. Once they look at you . . .”
“Because I am pale and pink instead of purple?”
Another whistle, but this one turned into a hum that sounded disapproving. “Yes, Lord General. To be perfectly frank, that is exactly what I mean.”
The younger Hroom was Lenol Tyn, from one of the most important families in the empire. Her father was a senator, her mother a cousin of the empress herself. The Lenol clan—the whole planet of Tyn, in fact—prided itself on being free from sugar addiction. Some families had been known to sell their own children to the humans when they fell to the addiction so as to keep their lineage pure. Now that an antidote was available, injections were mandated by law on the planet of Tyn. All Hroom would be inoculated against sugar addiction.
“Listen to me,” Mose Dryz said. “The cultists have promised me safe passage. You don’t think they are
, do you?”
Lenol Tyn flushed deep purple. “The cultists are as incapable of human-like deception as any Hroom. I would never fear a lie.”
Then you are a fool. Someone is lying in this room. And it isn’t you, my young friend.
Anxious that something would tumble out of his mouth—a worry that terrified Mose Dryz even as he was desperate to come clean with his adjutant—he looked over the skimmer. It was eight meters long, a sleek, torpedo-shaped craft wrapped around a pulse engine that gave it quick acceleration, but was incapable of reaching jump speeds. And it was unarmed; if it ever found itself attacked, its only hope was racing for cover.
“It isn’t that they are lying, Lord General,” Lenol Tyn said. “But the cultists are brittle, quick to anger. They loathe humans and have sworn to kill any Hroom who deal with them. When they see your pink skin, they’re sure to fly into a rage.”
“I am well aware of their devotion to the god of death. But they must set aside their hatred, must work with me and the humans, or our worlds will bleed and die. The birds will kill us all.”
take the skimmer. Let
negotiate. You trusted me last time, trust me again. I’ve been trained in the art of negotiation. I can do this for you, Lord General, with honor and pride. Win them back for the empress, may she live forever.”
Mose Dryz rested his palm in the center of Lenol Tyn’s chest, a gesture that urged trust, a father to a child, a general to his adjutant. “You are right, my friend, the cultists are brittle. If I send my adjutant, they will see an insult—we will never win them over.”
“Then put the high priestess on the viewscreen first,” she urged. “Let the woman see the color of your skin, get her accustomed to the shock.”
“There’s no point in that.”
“Of course there is. That would guarantee that the cultists won’t fly into a rage and tear you apart on first sight.”
“Friend, friend,” Mose Dryz said, tone soothing. Her suggestion was more dangerous than she knew, and he had to dismiss it. “Now you’re only deflecting.”
I’m lying, friend. There are no cultists on the planet.
Yes, a lie, incomprehensible as that seemed. Lenol Tyn would never suspect it, and not only because Hroom didn’t lie. That General Mose Dryz—a Hroom she loved and honored—had deceived her, had terrible, dangerous intentions on the other end of this flight, was something beyond her understanding.
Mose Dryz removed his hand from the young woman’s chest. “You have eleven sloops, Colonel. It is a great responsibility.”
“Yes, Lord General.”
“Eleven sloops is the largest fleet remaining in the shattered remnants of our once proud race, and the only hope for restoring the dignity of the Hroom people. A seed to plant and cultivate. You understand?”
“Yes, Lord General.” This time, however, a vibration in Lenol Tyn’s voice indicated doubt.
“The size and importance of our fleet is beyond question, is it not?” Mose Dryz pressed.
“Yes, Lord General. But, please, would you not consider . . . before you go . . .” Her eyes fell to the hip packs belted around the general’s waist.
“Not that again. It is a little bit of sugar, there is no harm.”
“A quick injection—I know the withdrawal is terrible, but it would be worth it. I have the doctor on hand, and he is experienced with the antidote. There are drugs to take to mitigate the effects, treatments that—”
“I have no time for that,” Mose Dryz scoffed. “We have a few days to gather these cultists and meet with the other sloops before rejoining the humans. An addiction like mine would take months to overcome, antidote or no. The war will be over by then, one way or another.”
“It would generate sympathy. Show your commitment.”
“Enough, Colonel. Now listen to me, and listen carefully. If I do not return for any reason, don’t try to negotiate with the cultists, don’t attempt to contact them. Take the ships and flee. Find Captain Tolvern. If Admiral Drake sends a subspace, obey him without question.”
Lenol Tyn hesitated.
“Open the canopy,” he told her.
“Yes, Lord General.”
She obeyed, and Mose Dryz climbed the short ladder. Other people in the launch bay stared as he folded his long limbs into the cockpit. The bay also served as the sloop’s armory, and workers were stacking the short bomblets of the serpentine batteries in preparation for battle.
Most of the workers were Hroom—their dark, liquid eyes reflected anxiety as they watched the general preparing for his departure—but there were also three humans on loan from the Royal Navy. Their expressions were unreadable, and they kept working even as they glanced his way. Humans were cold weather creatures, and sweat poured down their temples as they fought the climate inside the Hroom ship. Mose Dryz almost felt sorry for them.
But the general was not fooled. These humans were not merely engineers and technicians, but liaisons, a fancy Albionish term for spies. To watch the Hroom and make sure they did not renege on their agreements. The design of a sloop of war was both different and inferior to that of a human warship, and the humans must worry every moment they were on board a Hroom ship, must wish they were on one of their own destroyers or heavy cruisers.
And the bay was the weakest part of a sloop. Thick armor protected the hull outside, but there was only a single, inadequate bombproof. Due to some ancient design flaw, the serpentines needed to be armed when they were stacked for loading, ready to go off. If enemy fire penetrated the bay, the resulting explosion frequently burst the hull or shot out through the plasma engines. Either result was catastrophic.
That vulnerability had been long known by the humans, who relentlessly targeted this part of a sloop during any engagement. Apex knew it, too. At some point, Mose Dryz knew, the empire had had scientists and engineers capable of solving such problems, but that was centuries ago. Now, the Hroom were helpless but to continue building the same ship, generation after generation, even as enemies grew and adapted.
The Hroom general held up his hand, and the colonel pressed her palm against it. “Remember your orders.”
“Yes, Lord General. May the old gods bless your journey.”
The blessing sounded like blasphemy coming out of the general’s mouth, and if he died, he expected to find himself in the Ice Sheol, where the souls of the wicked, the disbelievers, and the traitors would shiver for all eternity. Some doubted that such a place existed. Not General Mose Dryz; one of his wayward brothers often appeared in his dreams, hands shackled in cold iron, a crown of ice around his head, to warn Mose Dryz to abandon his wicked ways.
Once the canopy was down, Mose Dryz checked the instrument panel while a rail slid the skimmer toward the launch tube. All systems were functional. The small ship glided through a pair of airlocks, and then the outer bay door opened and he was staring at the black void and an endless swath of stars.
A buzz. The skimmer shot forward. The pulse engine engaged, and Mose Dryz took the helm and steered toward his rendezvous. He’d left his crew behind. His adjutant, his officers, his crew down to the lowliest septic worker. Not one of them seemed to suspect that his mission was other than what he’d claimed. Neither did the human observers.
A voice whispered in his ear. No, not his ear—this was no message via com link—but directly into his mind.
Well done, General. You have convinced the fools, one and all.
Horror filled him, and a familiar scratching dug at a spot behind his eyes, like there was an insect in there, a nasty, burrowing parasite that was devouring him from the inside. His hand fumbled at one of his packs, and he brought out a small vial containing carefully measured white grains. Sugar, the food of the gods, the curse of death.
He got the stopper off and poured the sugar into a small pile in the middle of his palm. He stared at it for several seconds, then dipped his head and lapped it up. The swoon was immediate, a light, hazy feeling that carried him on wings, even as the stars blurred to a smear outside the canopy of his small ship.
And the clawing in his brain subsided.
Eight hours out of Samborondón, and HMS
was still alive, still running for her life. Captain Tolvern counted that as a victory. She hadn’t expected to live this long, to be honest. The moment the subspace came through from Admiral Drake, the lances had stopped sniffing casually at the refugee ships leaping clear of the doomed planet and searched eagerly for the fleeing human warship. They found
moments later, and Tolvern began to count their continued existence in minutes, not hours.
Eight lances against one heavy cruiser. It would be a lopsided battle.
But instead of attacking, the lances were content to follow, even as they fell farther and farther behind.
’s powerful engines stretched the advantage to a million miles, then two million. The lances could jump in at any time, but so far hadn’t. Tolvern had forced herself to leave the bridge to get some rest, and lowered the alert status so that others could catch up on needed sleep as well.
Now, back on the bridge, she stared at the viewscreen and tried to peer into the alien mind. The enemy had the firepower and the ability to force combat. Why hadn’t they?
“How far are we from the jump point?”
“Eleven hours,” Nyb Pim said. The Hroom pilot tapped at his screen and gazed to one side in the way that indicated that his nav chip was interfacing with the nav computer. “Ten point five hours if engineering finishes repairs of the number two engine. It’s still not running a hundred percent.”
“Fast enough to outrun these blokes,” Lieutenant Capp said. She stifled a yawn; it was the end of the first mate’s shift, and she’d been holding the bridge in Tolvern’s absence. “Maybe that short-range jump thing is broke and they can’t come after us.”
“Eight ships,” Tolvern said. “They can’t all have broken equipment.”