Authors: J.S. Wayne
Tags: #BIN 06860-02209
Dusk (Dusk 1)
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Copyright ©2014 J.S. Wayne
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Editor: Crystal Esau
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Table Of Contents
Three people. Two worlds. One love. One galactic threat.
On the remote border world of Dusk, the Dusk Diplomatic Corps serves their planet as diplomats and aristocrats. A bombshell lands on the Corps when Terra sends a request for negotiations to begin mining the planet’s most vital resource: magickstone, a uniquely rare element that allows those exposed to it to use magick and to live an unusually prolonged and vital life. Olivia Gunnarson and her lover, Merrick Grissom, believe Terra’s real reason for wanting to mine magickstone is their desire for a new and devastating weapon of galactic conquest.
On Terra, Marine Corps Colonel Pedro Silva is dispatched as part of the Terran diplomatic team to serve as a military attaché. En route, he is advised of the unthinkable: The sitting head of the DDC, Ambassador Nils Trelawney, has been assassinated. A new and untested diplomat, Olivia Gunnarson, has been tasked to take his place. What Pete doesn’t count on is that the outwardly demure ambassador possesses a wild streak… and her bodyguard-lover will do anything to keep his charge safe and happy. But with an assassin in the shadows and diplomatic relations between Dusk and Terra in jeopardy, will a love affair save them or destroy them all?
Every genre author owes a debt of gratitude to its founders. In this case, I am deeply indebted to Robert Heinlein, David Drake, Isaac Asimov, and Diane Duane for their pioneering efforts in the realm of science fiction.
I also wish to thank the real Kase J. Reed, without whose suggestions this work would not have been possible, and who bravely allowed me to use her as a character in this book. I hope you did not find your trust misplaced, Kase!
The usual suspects are also owed my thanks, including Margaret Riley, Reneé George, Crystal Esau, and Faith Cenobio. All of these people contributed to making Dusk what it is, and I am profoundly grateful to all of you.
Finally, as always, I wish to thank the readers who continuously inspire and challenge me to keep coming up with new stories for your pleasure. A writer’s lot is often a lonely one, but knowing you’re out there makes my profession much more pleasurable than it might otherwise be.
In the dry code parlance of the Planetary Exploration and Knowledge Repository, the tiny, unassuming world some fifteen parsecs from the galactic rim was known as TMA-L-24381. “T” designated one of the thirty-six spokes into which the first astrogators had divided the galaxy, breaking it into arcs ten degrees wide. “M” indicated the planet’s status as a world capable of sustaining both human life and Terran flora and fauna, within limits. “A” described the planet’s approximate location within the galaxy on the X-Y axis, while the -L denoted its location on the Z axis. The first numerical indicator described the type of star around which the planet orbited, in this case a huge, hot blue giant. The remaining numbers detailed the planet’s size, about 1.25 times that of Mars; its composition, primarily carbon and rare earth elements; in what order the planet had been located within sector TA and cataloged for future reference; and the number of satellites, in TMA-L-24381’s case, only one.
To its inhabitants, TMA-L-24381 was known simply as Dusk.
* * *
Olivia Gunnarson folded her arms behind her back and stared out the synthetic sapphire viewport at the jagged fangs of relatively young rock comprising the moonscape around the planetary south polar city of Galacia. In the warm, faded lavender light of the eternal dusk for which the planet had been named, the city’s lights shimmered and winked from the valley floor to heights nearly equaling her own aerie’s vantage point. A subtle blue glow on the southwest horizon heralded Astaroth’s incipient rising, lending a steely sheen to the city’s polished metal and natural obsidian towers.
Beyond the city, the dark gray and black stone spires of Dusk reared all around. With the mastery of gravitational repulsion had come freedom from the credit-devouring, time-consuming process of constructing terrestrial roadways beyond the city itself, as the entire population shifted from the clumsy, heavy-wheeled groundbound transports they had arrived on-planet with to hovercars. Even so, navigating over and around the needles of rock could be a hair-raising experience that most Dusk natives preferred to avoid. This made for a brisk transit economy.
To a native-born Terran, Dusk would look as inhospitable as the gaping, hungry gates of Hades itself. Olivia had seen vids of how Terrans believed the mythic home of sinful souls might appear, and there wasn’t much to choose between Dusk and the nightmarish visions they conveyed to tri-vid in an apparent bid to scare the living hell out of themselves and others. The only functional difference between one and the other to judge from the Terrans’ dismal imaginings of the netherworld was that Dusk had a moon where Hades, being reputedly under the ground, did not.
She shrugged. Her family lineage traced back well beyond the first settlement of Dusk by the generational colony ships that struck out toward the galactic rim, to when humans were first perfecting the art of water-based navigation and set forth in craft made of an exotic material called “wood.” There was no such thing on Dusk, although by repute the material was so common on Earth as to be nearly devoid of value. Likewise, the first colonists of Dusk had largely left the superstitions and myths of Earth behind in a bid to create a new world. The spirit of adventure lived in her veins as surely as it had in a twelfth-century Viking berserker who landed on the shores of Greenland with conquest, treasure, and rape in mind. The sole difference between Olivia and her allegedly bloodthirsty forebear was that she would gladly forego the rape.
For bloodlust and ruthlessness, Olivia could match her ancient kinsman and then some when necessary.
Tilting her head, she turned to consider the small potted succulent on the windowsill. Like all the native-bred Dusk plants, it had evolved to thrive in the low light and high heat of the planet. It produced fine, tough fibers that could be woven into anything from lingerie to body armor, and was frequently used as a resilient outer coating for the treads of minecrawlers and the exteriors of hovercars. To Olivia’s mind, the healing properties of this particular plant’s gluey sap made it even more valuable: as a little girl, the powerful regenerative stimulant had saved her life more than once when her blossoming power had overridden both her control and common sense.
“We’ve been through a lot together, haven’t we, Dudley?” She patted the plant’s clay pot fondly.
Dudley emitted a wave of floral contentment, scenting the air with a spicy, pleasant whiff of cinnamon and peppers, underlain with a more exotic fragrance unknown anywhere but here.
Her lips curved up for a second, then fell again as she peered at the double-faced digital chronometer. The top readout showed the local time on Dusk, 28:47:13, and the date, 10 July 2845. The bottom readout gave the same information for Earth, in Terra Mean Time: 06:09:29, two months and four days earlier. Her typical bemusement at the ludicrously short Terran day and the paradoxically long Terran year shriveled as she realized her woolgathering had put her behind schedule.
“Damn. I’m going to be late.”
Waving a hand at the recessed door of the wardrobe while she muttered a sibilant phrase, she caused the panel to slide silently to one side. Within hung a neatly arrayed series of similar items of clothing woven from the excrescences of Dusk fluteworms. The fabric was as light and soft as a sleeping lover’s breath against her skin, but capable of stopping even the most brutishly overpowered hand-fired chemical projectile and utterly immune to incineration or the strongest acids humans had yet managed to discover.
She chose one in a shade of blue-black that precisely matched the color of Astaroth’s reflected sunlight. The complicated assortment of straps would cover everything that needed covering while still allowing her extremities freedom of motion and her skin the ability to breathe. The temperature on Dusk rarely dipped below thirty-two degrees, making any more than the absolute minimum clothing an exercise in torture. While she had other, more “formal” attire available, she generally refused to wear it for anything less than the most solemn
. Tonight’s informal debriefing of the Dusk Diplomatic Corps did not qualify. Most of the men would be in the shortest short pants or breechclouts that propriety and their individual builds would permit, while only the oldest and least attractive women would cover their bodies any more than utterly necessary.
One corner of her mouth turned up as she wondered what Hui Sin Ling would wear tonight. The woman had been blessed with a body that commanded every eye to look, and no sense of modesty to balance her sensual magnetism. At the last convocation, she had showed up with the tiniest of pasted nipple shields and a tiny strip of cloth held on with adhesive to cover her crotch. Ambassador Nils Trelawney, the head of the DDC, had finally directed her to leave and come back when she was “decently attired,” as her charms were “distracting” the members from their rightful business.
From the smug smile on Ling’s lips, she had already guessed for herself that what was distracting Trelawney was not her charms, as he so delicately put it, but his aging manhood’s firm reaction to them. Olivia barely kept from laughing out loud at Trelawney, settling for exchanging a conspiratorial glance dancing on the verge of a giggling fit with Ling before the other woman ducked out.
With quick, practiced motions she stepped into the complex web of deep indigo straps and set about arranging them over the essentials. A rebellious voice in the back of her mind whispered she could do worse than getting “sick” and calling Merrick to go beachcombing.
She shook her head emphatically as she pulled the straps taut over her thighs, covering her mound to the minimum standard public decency required. Even a junior member of the DDC enjoyed a level of prestige and social cache largely denied to the general population. As tempting as the idea of ditching the meeting in favor of finding a secluded cove on the Galacian coast and allowing Merrick to ravish her was, her sense of duty would not be denied. Besides, it would set a poor precedent and make a commentary on her reliability and capability that she was utterly unwilling to permit.
Seconds later, she finished dressing. Fishing in one of the recessed drawers, she withdrew a sheath bearing a slender curved blade and clipped it to the equatorial band about her waist. The satisfying weight of the short sword and the way the hilt curved toward her hand brought another smile to her face. Then she picked up her tiara from the bedside table and placed it around her head so the faceted, polished chip of dark blue stone set in the center lay directly between and above her eyes, in the tiny cleft in her skull she shared with all humans. The titanium tiara snugged about her temples readily, holding as securely as a limpet-worm attached to a hurczek lizard. The key difference between the native parasite and the magickstone was that the limpet-worm would inevitably destroy its host while the tiara aided its owner by permitting access to the secret areas of the brain humankind had never adequately plumbed. It was this unique property of the stone, known in scientific parlance as gallartium, which gave it its common name: magickstone.