Authors: Kevin J. Anderson
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2006 by WordFire, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Hachette Book Group USA
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The Aspect name and logo are registered trademarks of Warner Books.
First eBook Edition: July 2006
BOOKS BY KEVIN J. ANDERSON
The Saga of Seven Suns
Available from Warner Aspect
A Forest of Stars
Of Fire and Night
Book 6 coming in July 2007
Available from Wildstorm/DC Comics
Veiled Alliances (graphic novel)
Who was a dear friend long before she became such a devoted fan
s the Saga grows, so does the list of people I rely upon. For help, advice, test reading, and hard work, I thank Louis Moesta, Diane Jones, Catherine Sidor, and Geoffrey Girard. The official editorial team of Jaime Levine, Devi Pillai, Ben Ball, and Melissa Weatherill did masterful work, as always. Stephen Youll and Chris Moore created fabulous covers for the U.S. and UK editions. My agents John Silbersack, Robert Gottlieb, and Kim Whalen at Trident Media Group make sure the series keeps getting the attention any author hopes for. And, as always, my wife Rebecca Moesta contributes more to my writing, and my sanity, than even she realizes.
he ongoing titanic war between the alien hydrogues and the faeros had already extinguished suns and destroyed planets. Determined not to be trampled on the galactic battlefield, the various groups of humans developed new weapons and forged powerful alliances.
The Hansa, led by Chairman Basil Wenceslas, ordered the Earth Defense Forces (EDF) to employ more Klikiss Torches, the superweapon with which they had unwittingly triggered the hydrogue war eight years earlier. The EDF also built armored “rammer” ships for suicide missions, crewing each rammer with expendable Soldier compies and a token human commander (one of whom was the Roamer recruit Tasia Tamblyn).
On the homefront, repeated failures drove Chairman Basil Wenceslas to make impulsive, often damaging decisions. King Peter and Queen Estarra rebelled against Basil’s authority, which increased the animosity between the Chairman and the royal couple. When Basil ordered the Queen to terminate her new pregnancy because the unexpected baby did not fit with his plans, she and Peter leaked news of her condition to the media, through the secret assistance of Deputy Eldred Cain. With such an outpouring of public joy, Basil could not force the Queen to have an abortion, but punished her indiscretion by slaughtering Estarra’s beloved pet dolphins.
The spoiled and uncooperative Prince Daniel—Basil’s choice to be the next King—escaped from the Whisper Palace. After quite a scandal, the Prince was recaptured and forced to make a public apology. To keep Daniel from causing further trouble, Basil put him into a drug-induced coma, which unfortunately left the Chairman without a replacement for King Peter.
With the Hansa’s war against the hydrogues going badly, Chairman Wenceslas turned his military forces against the Roamer clans, using the space gypsies as scapegoats. One major assault destroyed the Roamer government center of Rendezvous, scattering the clans. EDF ships hunted down hidden Roamer bases and sent prisoners off to the abandoned Klikiss planet Llaro.
Speaker Cesca Peroni hid out on the frozen mining base of Jonah 12, where miners uncovered and inadvertently reactivated a nest of hibernating Klikiss robots buried beneath the ice. The robots went on a rampage and destroyed the base. After Cesca succeeded in obliterating the scheming robots, she and the young pilot Nikko Chan Tylar crashed their ship while trying to escape.
Meanwhile Cesca’s love, Jess Tamblyn—fundamentally changed by watery elemental creatures called wentals that inhabited his body—guided his volunteers to spread wental water across new planets. Along with the verdani (the worldforest on Theroc), the wentals were age-old enemies of the hydrogues, who had nearly exterminated them in an ancient war. By restoring the wentals, Jess created another powerful ally in the fight against the deep-core aliens.
Jess went to the water mines on Plumas where his uncles had taken over the business. Here, years ago, Jess’s mother Karla had fallen into a crevasse and frozen to death. Using his wental powers, Jess found and extracted her frozen body, hoping to give his mother a proper Roamer funeral. Delivering her to his surprised uncles in a grotto under the frozen crust, Jess began to melt the ice around Karla. Before he could finish, though, an urgent message alerted him to Cesca’s peril on Jonah 12, and he sped away. Finding Nikko’s crashed ship, Jess engulfed it in his amazing wental vessel and raced to find help for Cesca, who was injured and clearly dying.
The Roamer clans found other ways to survive. Cesca’s father Denn Peroni helped establish an independent trading base at Yreka, a colony cut off from all Hansa support and defenses. Denn also traveled to the Ildiran Empire and met with the Mage-Imperator to reopen trade, once again bypassing the Hansa.
In the rings of the gas giant Osquivel, Del Kellum and his lovely daughter Zhett ran a complex of Roamer shipyards. The EDF had recently lost a tremendous battle with the hydrogues there, and among the debris of the battlefield, Zhett found a small intact hydrogue derelict; her father immediately called the brilliant Roamer scientist Kotto Okiah to study it. Kotto learned enough from the derelict to develop a new weapon against the hydrogues: “doorbells” that would blow open a warglobe’s hatches. With his doorbells Kotto rushed off to Theroc, the likely target for the next hydrogue attack.
The Roamers also rescued a handful of EDF soldiers whose lifepods had been left behind by their fleeing fleet, as well as many sophisticated new Soldier compies, which were reprogrammed and put to work in the Osquivel shipyards. Zhett helped nurse the POWs back to health, paying particular attention to surly Patrick Fitzpatrick III; because of the hostilities between the Roamers and the Hansa, the POWs could not be sent home. Fitzpatrick and his comrades, including Dr. Kiro Yamane (a specialist in Soldier compies), searched for a way to escape. While romance grew between Fitzpatrick and Zhett, Yamane found a way to make the Soldier compies go berserk in the shipyards. As part of an escape plan, Fitzpatrick lured Zhett to a romantic rendezvous, tricked her, and stole a ship to get away while the Soldier compies created a diversion. The compies, far more destructive than Yamane expected, systematically detroyed the Roamer facility.
Fitzpatrick’s powerful grandmother Maureen was a former Hansa Chairman. After hearing that her grandson had been killed in action at Osquivel, she rallied the relatives of other fallen soldiers and flew to the ringed gas giant to establish a memorial. She was shocked to stumble upon the extensive hidden Roamer shipyards, now thrown into turmoil because of the unleashed Soldier compies. During a tense standoff, Fitzpatrick appeared and then angered his grandmother by speaking on behalf of clan Kellum; he brokered a cease-fire by giving the EDF ships the hydrogue derelict Kotto had been studying. As EDF ships took the POWs back home, Zhett and the other Roamers slipped away. Fitzpatrick doubted he would ever see her again.
General Lanyan, the frustrated commander of the EDF, wanted to make an example of someone. With dwindling recruits, he had no choice but to produce huge numbers of Soldier compies (all of them carrying Klikiss-robot programming modules) and to distribute them across the fleet. He was pleasantly surprised when a deserter—Branson “BeBob” Roberts—came to Earth bearing two survivors he had rescued from a devastated Hansa colony. The survivors, a girl named Orli Covitz and an old man named Hud Steinman, told a wild tale that marauding Klikiss robots and Soldier compies had destroyed their settlement. General Lanyan sent a team to investigate these preposterous claims, but he was much more interested in court-martialing BeBob for desertion.
The trader Rlinda Kett called in all her favors to help BeBob, but it did no good. The trial was a sham, and BeBob’s sentence was a foregone conclusion. To their surprise, though, the spy Davlin Lotze helped them escape. BeBob and Rlinda flew off in her ship, the
while Davlin led the EDF pursuers on a wild-goose chase, faking his own death. Just when Rlinda and BeBob thought they were safe, they ran into a group of inept Roamer “pirates” at the ice moon Plumas. Rlinda and BeBob’s ship was seized, and they were held in the water mines while the Roamers figured out what to do with them.
When he’d gone to rescue Cesca, Jess Tamblyn did not realize that he had unwittingly dispersed a corrupted spark of wental energy into his mother’s partially thawed body. Karla came alive, but was no longer human. Offhandedly killing one of Jess’s uncles, she began to move toward the others, while Rlinda and BeBob watched in horror.
On Theroc, the recovering worldforest created a wooden golem of the green priest Beneto to act as a spokesman and to prepare the worldtrees for another hydrogue attack. Beneto’s sister Sarein, the Hansa ambassador, arrived on behalf of Chairman Wenceslas, secretly hoping to become the new ruler of Theroc. When she did not succeed in that plan, she convinced green priests to spread among the orphaned Hansa colonies and establish a communications network.
When the hydrogues did arrive at Theroc, hoping to destroy the worldforest, unexpected allies came to stand against the enemy: Kotto Okiah destroyed many warglobes with his new “doorbell” weapon. And a living comet infused with wentals crashed into the hydrogues, finally defeating them. Though they were driven off, the hydrogues now knew that the supposedly extinct wentals had returned to the fight. In the aftermath, the golem of Beneto received an awesome armada of spacefaring “verdani battleships”—huge thorny trees intent on defending the worldforest.
Meanwhile, the insidious Klikiss robots worked their quiet plans for conquest. When Admiral Stromo went to Orli Covitz’s devastated colony world, following up on the survivors’ reports, he uncovered evidence that robots were indeed responsible for the massacre.
Tasia Tamblyn, responding to an ongoing hydrogue attack on a Hansa skymine at Qronha 3, led the sixty compy-crewed rammer ships. The boss of the skymine, Sullivan Gold, evacuated his people and also rescued a great many Ildirans from a nearby facility. Before Tasia’s rammers could arrive, Sullivan was already flying away with the Ildirans, and they were intercepted by Solar Navy ships. When Tasia’s rammers finally reached the gas giant, the Soldier compies turned on her and captured Tasia and her personal compy EA. Joining with Klikiss robots, they seized the rammer fleet for themselves and intended to use the ships against humanity.
Klikiss robots had also attacked the few people remaining on the Ildiran resort world of Maratha. The scholar Anton Colicos, his friend Rememberer Vao’sh, and a small group found themselves stranded on the nightside of the planet, facing a long overland journey. Not knowing the robots were the culprits, the ragtag band of Ildirans blamed mythical creatures called the Shana Rei, which were the subject of many tales in the
Saga of Seven Suns
. When Anton and his companions reached the supposed refuge of Secda, they found it overrun with armies of Klikiss robots. Anton and Vao’sh barely escaped in a small ship and flew away, alone. But for Ildirans, solitude leads to madness. During their long flight to Ildira, Anton tried to keep Vao’sh occupied, but the old rememberer degenerated into a near-mindless state by the time they arrived. Safe in the Prism Palace at last, Anton tried to nurse his friend back to health.
The Ildiran Empire, meanwhile, was rocked by a civil war led by Hyrillka Designate Rusa’h and the Mage-Imperator’s own son Thor’h. After suffering a head injury, Rusa’h was cut off from the telepathic
that bound their race together. Filled with delusions of grandeur, he created an independent
web and spread a bloody rebellion, forcing other Designates to surrender and accept his brainwashing. Adar Zan’nh brought a group of Solar Navy warliners to quell the revolt, but those ships also fell under the mad Designate’s control, and Zan’nh was taken prisoner.
When Rusa’h tried to convert his devious brother Dobro Designate Udru’h, he thought he had found a willing partner. Leaving the impressionable young Designate-in-waiting Daro’h in charge, Udru’h set up a trap and a betrayal that led to Rusa’h’s downfall and the end of his rebellion. Hyrillka was recaptured by Mage-Imperator Jora’h, and the traitorous Thor’h was seized. But the mad Designate fled, flying directly into Hyrillka’s primary sun. In the last moment before Rusa’h’s ship was consumed, a group of flaming faeros rose up and surrounded him, carrying him into the star.
The faeros and hydrogues continued their constant war, smothering one of the seven suns of Ildira. Now was the time for the Mage-Imperator to try his special “weapon”—his own half-breed daughter, Osira’h. With the girl’s special telepathic powers, Jora’h hoped she could call the hydrogues and get them to reaffirm an ages-old nonaggression agreement. Osira’h, who had learned the truth of Dobro’s human-Ildiran breeding program from her green priest mother Nira, experienced mixed loyalties and confusion, not sure whom to believe. Still, she did her duty and rode in a protective chamber down into Qronha 3 to communicate with the hydrogues.
Back in Ildira, with the civil war over, the Mage-Imperator was shocked when Udru’h revealed that Jora’h’s beloved Nira was alive after all. Still in love with the green priest, the Mage-Imperator demanded that she be freed and returned to him at once. But when Udru’h went to the island on Dobro where he’d kept Nira prisoner, he discovered that the green priest had escaped and was nowhere to be found! Before Jora’h could learn this, though, Osira’h returned to Ildira with a huge armada of hydrogue warglobes, all of them looming over the Prism Palace. Now Jora’h had to face the hydrogues, knowing that if he failed to make a convincing case, the deep-core aliens would destroy his entire world.