Read Deathstalker War Online

Authors: Simon R. Green

Deathstalker War

Praise for Simon R. Green’s
Deathstalker Novels

Deaths talker Rebellion

“A strange mix of high tech and swordplay, like a grand space opera. . . . It makes for lots of action-packed scenes and heroic efforts.”

—SF Site

Deathstalker War

“The action is fast and frenzied . . . manages to consistently entertain, with some wondrously quirky and warped characters.”


Locus

Deathstalker Destiny

“Be prepared for an incredible romp through a wonderful universe of space opera filled with outrageous and incredibly powerful heroes and villains, swords and disruptors, and more lethal creatures than you can imagine.”

—SF Site

Deathstalker Legacy

“Rip-roaring space opera with dastardly villains, exciting battles, nefarious plots, and strong-willed heroes.”


Chronicle

Deathstalker Return

“Have fun with this. . . . Reading even one Deathstalker [novel] leaves one feeling jollier than before, for the series continues to avoid the lapses of tone so common in humorous space opera and fantasy.”


Booklist

Deathstalker Coda

“[A] wild conclusion to [the] Deathstalker saga.”


Publishers Weekly

Other Deathstalker Books

Twilight of the Empire Deathstalker

Deathstalker Rebellion

Deathstalker Honor

Deathstalker Destiny

Deathstalker Legacy

Deathstalker Return

Deathstalker Coda

The Adventures of Hawk & Fisher

Swords of Haven

Guards of Haven

Also by Simon R. Green

Blue Moon Rising

Beyond the Blue Moon

Blood and Honor

Down Among the Dead Men

Shadows Fall

The Man with the Golden Torc

Daemons Are Forever

Ace Books

The Nightside Series

Something from the Nightside

Agents of Light and Darkness

Nightingale’s Lament

Hex and the City

Paths Not Taken

Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth

Hell to Pay

The Unnatural Inquirer

SIMON R. GREEN

Deathstalker WAR

A ROC BOOK

ROC

Published by New American Library, a division of
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street,
New York, New York 10014, USA

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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices:

80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

First published by Roc, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

First Printing, July 1997

Copyright © Simon R. Green, 1997

All rights reserved

REGISTERED TRADEMARK—MARCA REGISTRADA

Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

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CHAPTER ONE

THE TAKING OF MISTWORLD

Every Empire needs a dumping ground. Somewhere out of sight in the back of beyond where it can dump malcontents and troublemakers. The Empress Lionstone XIV had Mistworld, a cold inhospitable rock well off the beaten track, populated almost entirely by traitors, criminals, rogues whose luck had run out, and runaway espers. Lionstone tolerated Mistworld’s presence in her harshly run Empire on the grounds that at least that way she knew where the bad apples were.

She would have preferred to kill them all, but she had advisors wise enough to know that exiles were, on the whole, far less troublesome than martyrs. But over the years Mistworld had become a haven for all kinds of rebels and outlaws, and suddenly what had been a useful dumping ground was now a defiant, poisoned thorn in the Empire’s side. Lionstone gave orders for its purging, by fire if need by, only to discover that the planet was now protected by a psionic screen of combined esper minds more than strong enough to withstand anything her Imperial Fleet could throw at it. And so, despite Lionstone’s many vicious plots and schemes, Mistworld remained the only surviving rebel planet in the Empire, safe from Lionstone’s wrath.

Or so they thought.

The
Sunstrider II
dropped out of hyperspace and fell into orbit around Mistworld. The long slender yacht glistened with sensor spikes, but there were no Empire starcruisers anywhere in the vicinity. The Empire had learned to keep its distance. There was only the single golden vessel, hanging silently above a cold, featureless sphere. In the main lounge of the
Sunstrider II
, Owen Deathstalker sat at ease in a very comfortable chair and counted his blessings. Not least of which was that for the moment, at least, no one was shooting at him. Owen had learned to appreciate the quiet moments in his life, if only because there were so few of them.

He’d lost the original
Sunstrider
in a crash landing on the jungle planet of Shandrakor, but the Hadenmen had rebuilt the ship according to Owen’s instructions, around the original stardrive salvaged from the wreckage of the first ship. It was a very special drive, one of the prototypes for the new stardrive the Empire was currently attempting to mass-produce, and for the moment, at least, a great deal faster than anything the Empire had to offer.

Theoretically.

The yacht itself looked pretty much the way Owen remembered, and contained all the original fittings and luxuries, but the Hadenmen hadn’t been able to resist improving things as they went along. And sometimes their ideas of improvements only went to show how far the augmented men differed from Humanity. Owen could handle doors that appeared in solid walls as he approached, and lights that turned themselves on and off as necessary without having to be told, but he rather drew the line at controls that operated if he only thought about them. After a few near disasters brought about by his mind wandering at important moments, Owen had decided very firmly to leave the running of the craft to the ship’s computers.

The Hadenmen had also got many of the interior details wrong, in small, disquieting ways. Floors that sloped or bulged for no obvious reason, chairs that matched themselves to slightly the wrong shapes, and lights and colors that were subtly uncomfortable to merely human eyes. Owen held up his left hand and studied it thoughtfully. The golden metal of the artificial hand, the Hadenmen’s other gift to him, glowed warmly in the lounge’s light. He hadn’t liked the idea of having Hadenmen technology connected to him so intimately, but after he lost his own hand fighting the Grendel alien in the great caverns under the Wolfling World, he’d had no choice but to accept their gift with thanks. It was a good hand, strong and responsive and practically invulnerable, and if it felt subtly cold all the time and not altogether his, he could live with that. He flexed the golden fingers slowly, admiring their fluid grace. He trusted the hand because he had to; he wasn’t so sure about the ship. The Hadenmen might be his allies for the moment, but a people who had once been officially named the Enemies of Humanity, and with good reason, had to remain suspect for all their gifts. There was always the chance they still had their own, separate, agenda, hidden somewhere in the ship, the improvements, and possibly even his hand.

Owen sighed. Life hadn’t always been this complicated. He studied his reflection in the mirror on the wall behind him. A man in his mid-twenties stared broodingly back at him, tall and rangy with dark hair and darker eyes. A man who’d been hard used, and expected to be harder used in the future. It wasn’t that long ago he’d been a simple scholar, a minor historian of no importance to anyone but himself. Then Lionstone named him outlaw, and he’d had no choice but to become a rebel and a warrior. The Hadenmen named him Redeemer, and the rebel underground called him Humanity’s last hope. Owen didn’t believe a word of it.

A clinking of glass caught his attention, and he looked fondly over at Hazel d’Ark, who was sorting determinedly through the bottles in the drinks cabinet, searching for something vaguely drinkable. Owen knew how she felt. The Hadenmen had done their best with food synthesizers, but the various alcoholic beverages they’d come up with had proved universally vile. That hadn’t stopped Hazel from drinking them, but she persisted in trying to discover some combination that didn’t leave her with an overwhelming urge to spit copiously in all directions. Owen admired her patience, and wished her luck. Personally, he wouldn’t have touched any of the stuff if someone had held a gun to his head.

He studied Hazel, admiring her sharp, pointed face and mane of long, ratty, red hair. She wasn’t conventionally pretty, but then Hazel wasn’t conventional about anything if she could help it. Before becoming a rebel, she’d been a pirate, a mercenary, and a clonelegger—and those were just the things she’d admit to. She was good with a sword but preferred a gun, and as many as possible. Since she and Owen had discovered the huge cache of projectile weapons in the Last Standing’s Armory, Hazel had made a point of loading herself down with as many guns and as much ammo as she could carry. Owen thought she found the weight comforting. Owen didn’t. Hazel tended to be a bit too arbitrary about safety catches for his liking.

He sighed quietly, tapping his fingers on the armrests of his chair as he waited for the Hadenmen computers running the ship to finish their security checks. Technically speaking, he was trusting his life to the smooth running of the AI the Hadenmen installed, which did absolutely nothing for his sense of security and well-being, but it wasn’t like he had a choice. Someone had to run the ship, and it sure as hell wasn’t going to be him. Keeping on top of a starship’s many and various systems was hard, skilled work, and if he’d wanted to work, he wouldn’t have been born an aristocrat.

The original
Sunstrider
had been run by his personal Family AI Ozymandius, but Oz had turned out to be a traitor working for the Empire. It had used hidden control words to turn Owen against his friends, and he’d had no choice but to destroy it. Even though the AI had been his friend long before the others. He’d had to kill his mistress, too, when she tried to kill him, on the Empire’s orders. You couldn’t trust anyone these days. Maybe not even the woman you loved . . . Owen turned his gaze away from Hazel, and made himself concentrate on something else. At least the Hadenmen had got the toilets right this time. Their earlier attempts had been somewhat distressing. Apparently Hadenmen had no use for such things, which told Owen rather more about the Hadenmen than he really wanted to know.

Hazel wandered over, drink in hand. The liquid was a pale blue in color, and looked like it was trying to climb out of the glass. She sank into the chair opposite Owen with an inelegant grunt and settled herself comfortably. Hazel appreciated luxuries, big and small, mainly because there’d been so few of them in her life. She took a good mouthful of the drink, pulled a face, but swallowed the stuff anyway. Hazel never believed in letting a drink get the better of her. It was a matter of principle. Owen had had to hide a smile when she’d first explained that to him. He hadn’t been aware that Hazel had any principles. He’d had enough sense not to say that out loud, of course.

“What does that muck taste like this time?” he asked amiably.

“Trust me,” said Hazel. “You really don’t want to know. That I am drinking it at all is a sign of how incredibly bored I am. How much longer before we can land?”

“Not long now. Looking forward to being on your old stamping grounds again?”

“Not really, no. Mistport is dangerous, treacherous, and bloody cold, and that’s on its good days. I’ve known rabid rats with bleeding hemorrhoids that were friendlier than your average Mistworlder. I can’t believe I let the underground talk me into going back to this hellhole.”

Owen shrugged. “It had to be us. Someone had to represent the underground to the Mistport Council, and we know the lie of the land better than anyone else they had to hand. Cheer up; things won’t be so bad this time. Probably. We’re a hell of a lot stronger and sharper than the last time we were here.”

Hazel scowled. “Yeah. That’s something else I’ve been wanting to talk to you about. When that Blood Runner’s hologram threatened to take me apart in his laboratory, you reached across light-years of space and blew him to pieces, just by thinking about it. I didn’t know you had that kind of power. I don’t.”

“I didn’t think I had either, until I needed it. Our time in the Madness Maze changed us more than we knew. We’re different people now.”

“I don’t like the sound of that. Where do the changes end? Are we still human? Are we going to end up like the Hadenmen, so divorced from what we started out as that we might as well be aliens?”

Owen shrugged again. “Your guess is as good as mine. I think we’re as human as we want to be. Our humanity lies not in what we do, but why we do it. Besides, I’m not sure our abilities are all that stable. They seem to come and go. There used to be a link between us, a mental link among all of us who passed through the Maze, but that disappeared when we split up and went our separate ways. Now I can’t even feel you through the link. Can you still feel me, in your mind?”

“No,” said Hazel. “Not for some time now.”

“That might be my fault,” said Ozymandius in Owen’s ear. “Perhaps my presence is disrupting your accord.”

“Shut up, Oz,” Owen subvocalized. “You’re dead. I destroyed you.”

“You wish. No, I’m still with you, Owen, here to advise and guide you through life’s little difficulties.”

“The only difficulty I have is this dead AI that keeps yammering in my ear. If I knew a good cyberdruid, I’d have you exorcised. Whoever or whatever you are, I don’t need your help. I can manage perfectly well on my own.”

“Well pardon my computations, you ungrateful little snot. If it hadn’t been for me, you’d never have got off Virimonde alive, when your own Security people came after you for the price on your head. Your trouble is, you don’t appreciate me. Look after yourself for a while. I’m going to sulk.”

Hazel studied Owen unobtrusively. He’d gone all quiet again, his eyes far away. He did that from time to time, and it never failed to irritate her. Even though she’d always known he was the thoughtful one in their reluctant partnership. Hazel had always believed in the virtues of direct action, preferably with a sword or a gun. Cut them all down and worry about the consequences later. If at all. She wondered what Owen would think if he knew she was taking Blood again.

Blood. The most addictive and soul-destroying drug known to Humanity. It came from the adjusted men, the Wampyr. One of the Empire’s less successful attempts at manufacturing terror troops. Synthetic Blood flowed in their veins, making them stronger, faster, nearly invincible. Just a few drops of Blood could make a mere human feel that way, too, for a while. It made you feel sharp and confident, and Hazel needed that more and more these days. She’d been hooked on the drug once before, in her early days on Mistworld. She’d beaten it then, though the cure nearly killed her. But so much had changed in her since then, and very little of it to her liking.

She’d never wanted to be a rebel. All she’d ever wanted was the comfortable life, free from hunger and danger. She’d been happiest as a confidence trickster, parting rich leeches from their ill-gotten gains and disappearing into the night before they realized how badly they’d been stung. Hazel had only ever fought for money, cash in hand, and never trusted anyone but herself. Now she was a major player in the new rebellion, a target for every bounty hunter and backstabber in the Empire, being asked for opinions and plans on matters she had little or no understanding of. For the first time in her life, the lives and futures of countless numbers of people depended on her every action and decision, with all the stress and uncertainties that involved. Now everything she did or didn’t do had consequences, and she just couldn’t stand it. The pressure weighed down on her, filling her head till she couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t keep her hands from shaking. So she started taking Blood again. Just a drop, now and then, when she needed it. The Hadenmen had been only too happy to supply her with as much as she wanted. She didn’t ask where they got it from. And now she was heading back to Mistworld, where Blood was widespread.

She didn’t want to be addicted again. She didn’t want to be a plasma baby, her only thought and need for the Blood that was slowly destroying her. She resented anything that had power over her. She’d beaten it once; she could beat it again. She only needed a drop, now and again, after all. Just a little something, to help her cope. She looked at Owen, and her mouth tightened. She knew why their mental link had disappeared. The Blood interfered, separating them. But she couldn’t tell him that. He wouldn’t understand.

The lounge door opened suddenly, and Owen and Hazel’s fellow rebels on this mission walked in, ostentatiously not talking to each other, as usual. The new Jack Random, or Young Jack as Owen always thought of him, was tall, well muscled, and devilishly handsome, with long, dark shoulder-length hair that always looked like he’d just permed it. Owen only had to look at him to feel puny and out of shape. Random wore silver battle armor chased with gold like he was born to it, and he radiated strength, wisdom, confidence, and compassion. A born leader, a charismatic warrior, a hero out of legend and altogether too much of a good thing. He’d arrived out of nowhere, just when the rebellion needed him the most, and Owen didn’t trust him an inch.

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