Supergiant (Gigaparsec Book 2)

BOOK: Supergiant (Gigaparsec Book 2)
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Supergiant

Characters

Timeline

Roz’s Star
Chart

Prologue – Meeting
the Astrogator

Chapter 1 –
Ghost in the Machine

Chapter 2 –
Bedridden

Chapter 3 –
Paranoia

Chapter 4 –
Visions

Chapter 5 –
Prairie Station

Chapter 6 –
Traveling Salesman Problems

Chapter 7 –
Guild and Wergild

Chapter 8 –
Probability Mechanics

Chapter 9 –
Plausible Deniability

Chapter 10 –
Motives

Chapter 11 –
Hidden in Plain Sight

Chapter 12 –
Crystal Ball

Chapter 13 –
Enigma Cube

Chapter 14 –
Cerulean

Chapter 15 –
Blindsided

Chapter 16 –
Fallout

Chapter 17 –
Treason and Reason

Chapter 18 –
Let He Who Is without Sins

Chapter 19 –
Toxic Secrets

Chapter 20 –
Land Mines

Chapter 21 –
It’s Raining Shoes

Chapter 22 –
Seat of the Pants

Chapter 23 –
Butterflies of Doom

Chapter 24 –
Experiment

Chapter 25 –
Profits Roll In

Chapter 26 –
Paved with Good Intentions

Chapter 27 –
Spin and Deception

Chapter 28 –
Outpouring

Chapter 29 –
Alien Anatomy Lessons

Chapter 30 –
Wishes

Chapter 31 –
Retrofit

Chapter 32 –
Cathedral

Chapter 33 –
Celebration

Chapter 34 –
Prejudice

Chapter 35 –
Magi Adversary

Chapter 36 –
First Contact

Chapter 37 –
Smoke and Mirrors

Chapter 38 –
We Uplift One Another

Chapter 39 –
Farewells

Chapter 40 –
Subbasement

Book Two of Gigaparsec

 

by Scott Rhine

Amazon Edition

Copyright 2015 Scott Rhine

 

Thanks to my editors,
Melissa
Duclos and
Weston Kincade. To my beta
readers Tammy Rhine, Steven Terry, and Matt Erler.

Cover art by
http://www.thecovercounts.com

Characters

 

Alyssa Greenberg
– A Human cook with a criminal record.

Deke
– A Bat pilot who crashed in a shuttle race.

Echo
– Astrogator of the reclusive Magi race. She is missing her two partners
and accused of murdering them. Instead of her own form, she echoes the face of
the person the viewer wronged most.

Eesan Crakik
– A Bat physics professor whose math papers provide Echo with hope of
navigating the subbasement, the dimension below subspace.

Feeveerkahn
– A pure-white Bat prince, third in line for the throne.

Grady
– A
retired Union Navy repairman with bad memories of fighting Phibs on Winedark.

Herb Greenberg
– An old man who owns Just Desserts ice cream parlor.

Ivy DeLaurelin
– A psi who communicates instantly with
her triplets at interstellar distances. Roz’s best friend.

Jeeves
– An odd alien mimic that hides under the bed … and makes it.

Kesh
Far
Traveler
– Former money launderer for the Saurian mob posing as his
deceased brother, the former captain of
The Inner Eye
.

Lord Aviar
– A Bat nobleman who resembles Anubis, exiled for playing the violin too well
and leading the youth astray. A fan of Nero and Satan.

Max Ellison

A Human !Kung doctor and ex Turtle Special Forces operative
. His name was selected from the Catholic prayer
Kyrie
eleison
—Lord have mercy. He wants to start a new life devoid of killing.

Reuben Black
– A descendant of the Black Ram, capable of boosting the mental skills of
others. The Goat computer programmer chose this mission name because of his
penchant for Reubenesque women and his pure artistry as a forger.

Roz
– Chief Engineer Shiraz Mendez. Human starship repair tech from a high-gravity
world. Because she grew up as a poor migrant worker, she has a scar over her
left eye and a chip on her shoulder.

Yenang
– A Bat weapons expert with an
unhealthy curiosity about the Magi ship.

Timeline

The Anodyne calendar begins the year of the colony’s
founding (1 AF).

 

015 Stewart
Llewellyn rules Anodyne colony

070 Anodyne
purchases first ansible

080 Anodyne
teaches Earth oligarchy to build starships

091 Jotunheim
mining colony founded by oligarchs

105 At Union
convocation, Anodyne named mentor for the Panda race

106 Venice
founded as an oligarch farming and biofuel colony

125 Shangri-La
founded, first Anodyne colony

130 Vegas founded
by oligarchs to establish trade lines

138 Anodyne’s
great terraforming project begins to save Earth

140 Eden oligarch
colony attempted, the great mistake.

141 Anodyne
cosigns a long-term Goat loan from Bankers

149 Laurelin
founded, Llewellyn’s private retirement planet

150 Jotunheim
orbital shipyards established

151 Earth slips
into the time of chaos, and the oligarchy inhabits the Moon

160 Cocytus
founded by Blue Giant Fuel Corporation and an Anodyne defector

170 Over one
million Humans in space

210 Commercial
interests dominate space and second Earth exodus begins

230 Stewart
Llewellyn dies

256 Anodyne pays
installment of Goat loan in exchange for New Hawaii

270 Mayflower
colony ship misjumps

271 Black Ram
Xerxes dies

278 Pirate
activity forces construction of first Human warship

312 Border
skirmishes lead to thawing of embryo Churchill Llewellyn

320 Evidence of
Phib theft and genocide uncovered

321 Last
Llewellyn raised by Stewart destroyed with his diplomatic vessel

333 Max Culp
joins Union Navy as a medic

338 New Hawaii
falls

345 Mnamnabo
falls, but tide turns in favor of alliance

351 Max joins
Turtle Special Forces

385 Gigaparsec
War officially ends

392 Max frees
Echo and forges the Far Traveler partnership

Prologue
– Meeting the Astrogator

 

Chief Engineer Shiraz Mendez hadn’t been on many dates. During
her brief social encounter with Max, she had faced death twice, acquired a
criminal record, and been recruited to be the pilot of a prototype Magi
starship. As an expert in alien ship repairs, Roz wasn’t a particularly good
pilot, but she wasn’t going to turn down a chance to work on this magnificent
vessel. Hundreds of jump drives bristled from the spherical core like a
high-tech hedgehog, twice the number needed to enter subspace. The extra drives
were useful to cushion the passengers against the effects of acceleration,
making the ship steer like a silken dream.

If Roz were honest, she might admit
that a second date with the good doctor might be an equally exciting
possibility. He was a mass of internal conflicts—a !Kung tribesman with blue
eyes and a notorious hunter who didn’t want to kill. Right about now, though,
Max was freaking her out. When she had asked to meet the mysterious owner of
the ship, he had looked
frightened
for her.

This was a guy who four of the six species
in the Union had awarded the Order of the Dolphin for bravery. He had pinned
the silvery dolphin medal on her when she left to visit the astrogator’s
chamber.

The Magi known as Echo plotted the ship’s
course. No Human had ever seen what a Magi looked like. As humanity’s patron
race, they remained hidden.
Were they hideous monsters?
she wondered.

Too late for second guessing, Roz
held her breath as the cylindrical elevator dropped toward the core of the
ship. When the door slid open, she was alone in a huge, mirrored, spherical
chamber. The magnitude of the reflected light nearly blinded her. “Wow. Does
this chamber have something to do with your prototype star drive?”

This ship had been the first to dip
into the theoretical area below subspace, nicknamed the subbasement. Although
Echo had spent over a hundred years recovering from the maiden voyage that had
veered drastically off course, the ship had achieved faster-than-light travel outside
a gravity lane between stars.

For an engineer like Roz, the advance
was worth a risk or two. “Hello?” A sheet-covered table stood a third of the
way across the room. Max had lured her down here with the promise of a massage,
which seemed silly compared with a private audience with one of humanity’s
reclusive, high-tech uplifters.

She caught sight of her straight,
unwashed hair in the mirror and cringed. Everybody on this ship was better
looking than her, even the Goat, and none of them had chunks of hull ceramic caked
in their hair.
So much for a good first impression.
Her image grew as
she crept toward the padded table and then vanished altogether. She played with
the focal point of the lens for a moment, stepping in and out of view like a
magician’s assistant.

Her white jumpsuit uniform with red
stripes was relatively clean, but Max had told her to remove it for the massage.
Why was she so nervous? He had prescribed a legitimate medical treatment for
the arm she had strained when using a Turtle-tech sonic cutting tool. She
wouldn’t be visible to anyone else, and this was just like visiting the doctor.
Shyly, Roz looked both ways and unzipped.

The chill in the room gave her
goose flesh, causing her to hug herself. Perhaps she was trying to hide the
dark, sapphire-colored bra leftover from her party outfit. She had wanted to
look nice, but black would have been too much of a statement.
Who am I kidding?
I waited beside Max’s bed all night, and only his pet mimic creature sat on my
lap.
Even the odd, wrinkled Jeeves fell into the category of “so ugly he’s
cute.”

After she slipped from her magnetic
ship boots, she padded uneasily in her woolen socks.
Ugh!
She should
just hold up a neon sign. Men weren’t interested in women over thirty who wore
wool socks and cut their hair to fit inside a helmet. By contrast her best
friend, Ivy, had done the nasty with the Goat man several times last night. She
had the nerve to brag that male Goats could perform twelve times in a day …
enough for every unoccupied room on the cargo level.

And I’m too puritanical to let a
gender-neutral alien see me.
Shaking her head, Roz sprawled on the table,
which had the standard cutout for her face to fit into. The furniture’s surface
seemed to be composed of hundreds of hexagons that sprouted from the floor.

Her muscles tensed further from
cold and dread as she waited. In utter silence, warm, delicate hands touched
the base of her back. Roz said, “The pain isn’t there, it’s—oh, that’s good.” Her
spine tingled as the hands worked her over. Echo’s fingers felt Human in number
but more delicate. Even this amount of information was more than most people
learned about the Magi in a lifetime.

Instrumental harp music played in
the background, reminding Roz how long it had been since she had slept. She
forgot to quiz the astrogator about her ship’s design as the muscles loosened.
Long before the hands returned to her neck, her eyes rolled back into her head,
and she drifted off into slumber.

****

Roz relived the worst day of her life. She hated farming,
but as a migrant worker on the high-gravity moon Napa, the only way she stood a
chance of attending university was earning the women’s math and science scholarship
to Anodyne. Her father’s sister, Alicia, had been the only member of the family
to escape in this way.

The world had been colonized decades
too soon when rumors of war threatened to close the space lanes. Workers wore breathing
filters to block out arsenic and other poisons still in the atmosphere. However,
she could never make quota if she changed the filters as often as the manual
suggested. Every farmer over the age of twenty got sick eventually. Those who
could no longer harvest were moved to the manufacturing moon, Flux, where the
extreme temperatures hammered the workers instead. The only way to truly live
was to leave before the poisons reached critical levels in her body.

The sole scholarship on the ag
world depended on the results of a test given once a year. Trying to eke out a
few extra points, Roz had stayed up too late studying. While she slept, her kid
brother Merlot had borrowed her computer pad to play games. By the time her
computer was supposed to wake her, the battery was long dead. On the most
important day of her life, she missed the only bus into town. By the time a misdialed
call woke her, the exam has already begun.

“There’s always next year,
chica
,”
her father had advised. Of course, he had been the one to tell her when she was
five, “You’re smart and have small hands. Maybe you can free the jammed combine
blade so we don’t have to wait hours for the mechanic.”

She still wore that scar. The
injury to her head had made her the mental equivalent of a deaf-mute—a null.
Everyone else in the Union had some sense of when another sentient was in the
room. They could bond to another person in marriage and share intimacy. Anyone
could tell from her aura that she was damaged, like a bud clipped from the rosebush
before opening. It didn’t matter that she had designed the safety mechanism
that prevented anyone else from becoming injured this way. She was alone.

Even if Roz could afford the exam
fee a second time, she wouldn’t be able to stomach the stares and insults for
another year. She already had two strikes against her record, defending herself
from people who thought it was funny to pick on a null. Even her own family had
referred to her as “special.”

Excelling in academics was the only
way to prove her brain was undamaged in other ways.

Using her life savings, she
invested in a cab. The test was four hours long, an hour for each section. If
they did the math section first, she could still catch up. When she rushed into
the testing room, the only seat remaining was in the back next to sexy Sylvia,
her primary competition. Sylvia’s hair was wavy and perfectly groomed, while
Roz’s was bound in a ponytail and cut with a pocketknife.

They were in the middle of the
English portion of the exam. Though the workers spoke primarily Spanish,
English was the official language of the university, and her weak point. She could
waste a ridiculous amount of time scouring a paragraph, only to be asked a
stupid question like, “What should the title of the paragraph be?” None of the
choices fit for Roz. She didn’t see the shape of the forest, but she could tell
the number of leaves on each tree. It wasn’t fair.

She skipped the reading section at
the start and went straight to vocabulary, filling in bubbles at astonishing
speed. Still, she had too many left when the bearded proctor had them flip to
the next test. Roz completed the math section in record time and went back for
more English. She did the same for logic, but there still wasn’t enough time. The
essay portion would take every second remaining. She hadn’t completed the
idiotic reading questions, and those twenty-four empty bubbles would end her
chances of attending university.

Then it happened. During the final break,
high and mighty Sylvia wanted to challenge a question in the logic section—a
mistake in spacing that misled the reader. She left her exam answer book closed
and face up so no one would cheat off her math or logic answers. The first page
had personal information as well as the first twenty answers.

The pattern of the bubbles was
quite distinctive, even at a glance. Having seen the sheet, Roz couldn’t forget
them. Here was the real question of the exam: who would be left here on this
poisoned rock to die? Sylvia routinely attended social events with the
landlords. If she missed out on university, she would use her wiles, piano
lessons, and fancy literature references to marry the son of one of those rich
men.

Sylvia could afford a retake.

Recalling the stains on her
father’s fingernails and the coughing fits he experienced at night, Roz filled
in the bubbles.

Returning to her seat, Sylvia
sneered. “That section of the test is over!”

Heart pounding, Roz held up her
answer key for the proctor to see. “I came in late, sir. My name isn’t bubbled
in yet.”

The bearded professor had an
understanding face. “I’ll give you a few minutes at the end.”

Later, he did, leaving her alone in
the room for the few minutes Roz needed.

****

Roz’s stomach had churned for days afterward, but she won
the scholarship by a nose.

At her congratulation party, the mental
reenactment deviated from true memory. When Roz met the foreman’s daughter,
Sylvia accused, “We both know you robbed me of my future.”

“I’m so sorry. Once I got a job, I
gave back the amount I stole from the original scholarship fund.”

“Too late for me,” Sylvia said.

“I checked on you when I came back
for my father’s funeral. You have a super palate, more taste buds than normal
people. You parlayed that into a better job in the vineyards and a husband from
the elite moon of Ravenna.”

Sylvia glared at her. “Would that
have been good enough for you?”

“No,” Roz admitted, “but I would’ve
died on the farm. Will you forgive me?”

The scene flickered for a moment. The
voice changed. “I can help to heal you if you want.”

This wasn’t a normal dream.

Roz willed herself awake. She could
feel the alien sitting on her back, hands around her neck. “Stop messing with
my mind!” She willed the false Sylvia to change appearances to that of the
hologram actress, Gina Millhouse Graham, in a short sari that showed too much
leg.

Soon, the shape blurred, like
vision seen though tears. The dark, wavy hair and facial symmetry were similar,
but the skin tone paled. The face seemed to grow kinder. “You’re very strong.”

Roz snorted. “High-g world. Are you
going to call me a burly girl in addition to a retard?” She crawled to her
hands and knees on the table, ready to throw the Magi off.

“I meant mentally. Very few Humans
have the ability to guide my projections. Your will is formidable. Please, lie
back down or both of us could be hurt.”

“What the hell are you doing to
me?” Roz asked.

“This is a defense mechanism. I
appear as the person you have wronged the most. You had perhaps the mildest
crime and quickest reconciliation of any being I’ve tested. Max was right to
trust you.”

“Why is the woman Max wronged the
most a drop-dead sexy starlet? Is there a little Max running around somewhere?”

“Do I have permission to tell him
your darkest secret?”

“Hell, no.”

“Then you must respect his.” Echo
stood and touched the scar over Roz’s eye. “Pilot Mendez, I think I can
reactivate your own link to the Collective Unconscious.”

“What m—makes you think that’s
possible?”

“The speed with which you fell
asleep at my touch indicates you’ve been hypnotized frequently.”

Roz blinked. “I often fall asleep
in Ivy’s salon chair during hair washing. She said it was a compliment, a sign
of trust.”

“She’s a spy and a powerful psi. I
believe Ivy has been attempting to treat you. From the signs of cortical
stimulation, she’s had modest success. I have more skill and training in mental
manipulation. I believe with the proper treatment and frequent sessions, we
could etch new pathways to make your brain whole again.”

“My best friend has been
hypnotizing me to get passwords and confidential information?” Roz asked.

“From what I’ve witnessed, you told
her everything she wanted to know without hypnosis. She appears to genuinely
care about you. Following you to this ship probably violated her orders and
jeopardized her mission.”

“I’ve managed just fine without
mind sight this long,” Roz said with pride.

BOOK: Supergiant (Gigaparsec Book 2)
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