Authors: Michael Wallace
Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Colonization, #First Contact, #Galactic Empire, #Military, #Space Fleet, #Space Marine, #Space Opera
Rebellion of Stars
by Michael Wallace
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The Starship Blackbeard Series
Book #1 –
Book #2 –
Lords of Space
Book #3 –
Book #4 –
Rebellion of Stars
Cover Art by Lorenz Hideyoshi Ruwwe
Pez Rykan never intended to become a rebel chief, only to stay free in the bush.
Years before his escape, at the age of ten, he’d been taken as a slave after his home world fell to Albion. Slavers arrived soon after the surrender of the planet, slaughtering resisters and forcing sugar on millions. The young Hroom took his first spoonful of sugar from the shaking hand of his mother, while a human with a gun looked on. Within two days, Pez Rykan could think of nothing else but securing his next dose.
They shipped him on a packed, stinking slave galleon to the Malthorne estates on Hot Barsa. Eight weeks in transit; hundreds died en route. The healthy and ill alike were put to work. More died.
Pez Rykan was a willing laborer from the beginning. He never complained, never shirked his duties, even when the work stretched to sixteen hours a day during the harvest, with his only relief being his sugar rations. He always ate his ration down at once, sank into a swoon, and roused himself at the touch of a whip on his shoulders. Then it was back to work.
Over the years, he grew unusually tall and strong for one who’d been ravaged by addiction since his youth, and was frequently put into the crews performing the most back-breaking work of the plantation. There was a lot of it. The humans rarely used machinery when sheer, brute slave labor would do.
When Pez Rykan was about twenty, he was sent deep into the jungle with several dozen other slaves and their handlers to clear new cane fields. A strange lowland illness swept over the company shortly after they arrived. As the Hroom fell sick and began to die, the humans fled the pestilent land, abandoning them. Pez Rykan awoke one day from the illness, dehydrated, hungry, and desperate for sugar.
He staggered out of his tent to find the dead everywhere. Bugs the size of his forearm chewed their faces or gnawed off limbs to cart into the brush. No living Hroom. No humans to be seen. And no sugar. Rain had battered down the tent holding the supplies and washed them away.
Growing more desperate by the hour, Pez Rykan staggered through the red jungle of ferns and vines, heading in the general direction of the plantations. He drank from muddy streams and puddles and ate small creatures to keep up his strength.
Sugar. He must have it. Find his masters and beg for relief. Yes, he was happy to return to slavery. Just give him sugar.
Somehow, he kept going for day after day. But as the days passed, it felt as though a cloud were lifting from his mind. He still needed to get back, but now began to give thought to other considerations. He picked the parasites from his body. He covered his scratches and gashes with leaves to keep his flesh from rotting. He was more cautious about the water he drank. He grew wary of predators.
Finally, nearly two months after he’d been abandoned, he staggered out of the jungle onto the edge of a recently harvested cane field. The cut stalks seemed to stretch for miles. A sickly sweet smell hung in the air. It inspired the old craving, but it was faded, like a dull ache from an old injury never fully healed.
“You! What are you doing here?” a voice said to him in Hroom.
He turned to see an overseer with a whip and a stun gun. A free Hroom, not a slave, yet with the pale pink skin of an eater. Pez Rykan looked down at his own bare arms to see them mottled red through the pink. The mark of a sugar eater was fading from his skin.
The overseer cursed. “You are one of those feral bush people, aren’t you?” His hand touched his stun gun.
“No, I . . . ” Pez Rykan swallowed. “I was abandoned in the jungle. I came back.”
The large eyes narrowed. “When did you last eat?”
“Whatever and whenever I could scavenge. This morning I—”
“Sugar, you fool. When did you last eat?”
“Weeks ago. I don’t know.”
The overseer reached into a side pocket of his trousers. He fished out a vial of sugar. “Here, take this. You’ll soon feel better.”
Revulsion mixed with craving as the overseer stepped toward him. They were alone, the two of them. Pez Rykan could easily flee into the jungle, leave all of this behind. Never work for the cursed humans again, producing the very substance that kept his body enslaved.
Pez Rykan reached for the sugar, as if someone had seized control of his limbs. But when his hand closed around the vial, it tightened and kept squeezing. The vial broke, spilling sugar all over the overseer’s hand.
“Are you mad?” the overseer shouted.
Pez Rykan wiped his hand on his damp, tattered clothing even as the overseer lapped the bits of sugar from his own palm. Then the overseer reached for his stun gun. Pez Rykan grabbed his wrist.
The abandoned slave had been living in the bush, subsisting on whatever meager food the jungle gave up. He should have been no match for the overseer. But the bit of sugar seemed to be taking effect. The overseer’s eyes widened, and his grip went slack.
Pez Rykan wrestled the stun gun free and turned it on its owner. He sent a jolt of electricity through the overseer, who collapsed to the ground, shaking and convulsing. A white rage had come over the slave, and he kept the weapon pressed against his enemy’s flesh. When he drew back a few seconds later, the overseer was dead.
Pez Rykan fled into the jungle.
For the next year, he staged solo raids on the edge of the sugar plantations, taking food, killing an occasional overseer or human, and burning a sugar mill. Then he met up with another marooned former slave by the name of Epa Pim, and they began to work together. She would eventually become his mate.
Others joined them. They became dozens. The humans mounted expeditions with their security forces but could never catch Pez Rykan and his small band. For five years, they fought a low-level bush war, always one step ahead of the enemy. And then their luck ran out.
One of Pez Rykan’s fighters was captured, and apparently she gave up the location of the free Hroom base under torture, because the enemy was soon on them. The first warning was the sound of a helicopter buzzing over the free village, and then fire bombs rained from the sky.
In came humans wearing armored cool suits and leading an army of several hundred armed sugar slaves. They rampaged into the bush village, slaughtering indiscriminately, burning people alive in their homes. Pez Rykan hadn’t expected that; Lord Malthorne’s forces preferred to take rebels and force-feed them sugar. But word had reached the swamps and jungles that Malthorne was embroiled in a civil war on Albion, and it seemed that he’d decided on harsher measures.
Pez Rykan organized a defense on the western edge of the village, at the site of a weapons cache and where the trees growing along a muddy creek provided shelter. The enemy ignored him at first, concentrating on destroying the village. They set one stilt home after another on fire, until the center of the village was a roaring inferno, and the screams of the dying filled the air. Pez Rykan lost soldiers to the fire, as they ran back to try to rescue their mates and children. But others came pouring out of the flames, and he armed them as they arrived. Soon, he had a few dozen survivors, and the enemy took note of them at last.
A helicopter fired down on them, but the free Hroom took to the creek to hide until it passed. A silver-suited human marine came forward from the village, leading his pale-skinned slaves. Pez Rykan organized a spirited defense to drive them back. At the same time, one of his fighters loaded a rocket into a shoulder launcher and fired it at the helicopter. The helicopter jammed it somehow, and the rocket went off course. But it served its purpose, forcing the craft to retreat over the jungle and away from the village.
These two small victories heartened the rebels. Pez Rykan’s lieutenant and mate, Epa Pim, began to organize a counterattack to retake the village.
“No,” Pez Rykan told her. “The village is lost.”
“There are still people alive in there!”
“I know that.” He tried to keep the shaking from his voice. “I can hear their dying screams. But there are too many enemies, and that helicopter will be back. We have to get to cover before it does.”
Indeed, he could hear the thumping again already. From the village came renewed gunfire. There was nothing left to set ablaze, and the humans were reorganizing the slaves to push against the last holdouts by the creek.
Pez Rykan hesitated a moment longer, staring toward the mass of flames, willing any survivors to come to him. Now. Hurry, before it was too late. But there was no one. Only the screaming.
He lifted his hand. “Go!”
For the first day, Pez Rykan thought they’d made good their escape as they traveled single file through the dense forest. His survivors spoke in low, hooting voices—the respectful tone of the grieving. Every so often, the grief became too much, and someone let out a high, keening cry to the gods. How could they be so cruel?
They were forty-three in number when they set out—thirty-eight adults and adolescents, and five children. Two adults died of their wounds within the first few hours, and a child died shortly thereafter. A second child, his parents and siblings all killed in the village, threw himself into a crocodile-infested river as the others were searching for a way to safely cross. One of the beasts quickly grabbed him in its beak and dragged him under.
Pez Rykan couldn’t get the child’s blank stare out of his mind. The way he’d ignored the shouts to stay back from the riverbank. How he’d spread his arms wide as he waded in, as if in prayer to the god of death.
“So many dead,” he told his mate after they’d reached the forest edge late that afternoon, where they waited for a safe moment to cross the open plain. “Why so many children, so many elderly? I told people, I warned them. Send your loved ones into the bush, don’t keep them with the fighters. They are a target. We cannot protect them.”
“When can we cross?”
The entire company had come to a halt in the shadow of a ruined stone temple on the forest’s edge. It was defensible against both the dangers of the jungle and the humans who were searching for them.
He listened for a helicopter, but heard nothing. “Should be safe enough to take a look.”
Epa Pim gave instructions to the camp, then tossed her head at Pez Rykan, and the pair left the others and began to climb the temple’s crumbling, vine-choked steps.
“Life is always uncertain,” she told him. “We all knew there was a risk. Some chose to accept it, to live with what fate and the gods chose for them.”
“And where are they now?” he asked. “Burned alive. Enslaved to sugar if they’re lucky. Tell me, do you think they’d have been more careful about controlling their fertility had they known?”
Epa Pim’s face hardened. “Must you be so callous?”
A hoot came out of his mouth before he could stop it. Her face hardened still further. She tromped her way up the steps, with Pez Rykan following, wanting to press her, but knowing it would only make her angrier.
They reached the top of the temple and pushed through the brush to the edge of the platform. The sun was a dying red ball on the horizon, staining the vast plain ahead of them in blood. A jagged mountain range sawed at the sky some thirty or forty miles to the north. The plain itself was flat, but for the hundreds of small hillocks rising from the tall, knife-bladed grass. Giant, leathery birds circled overhead. They were large enough to carry off an unwary Hroomling.
“Derisive laughter,” Epa Pim said, dragging him from his thoughts. “That’s all you could manage?”
“No, love,” he said. “That was an ironic, bitter hoot. It was not derisive. The enemy is not fate, it’s not the whims of the gods. The enemy is the human race—they’re the ones who killed those people, not me. So don’t call me callous. I was anything but. I was soft, is what I was. I should have forced the same conditions on the army as I . . . ” He broke off, recognizing his mistake too late.
“As you what?” she asked coldly. “As you forced upon your mate, you mean?”
“I didn’t force,” he said defensively, glad that the rest of the Hroom were below on the jungle floor. He was their chief and couldn’t be seen arguing with his mate.
“You refused to release your seed when we copulated,” she said.
“We discussed the matter at great length,” he said. “It was not the time.”
“We never discussed. You informed me.”
“Are you telling me you have regrets?” he asked. “With everything you know, you wish I’d released my seed? That we’d had offspring when they attacked the village?”