Read Shadow Hunters Online

Authors: Christie Golden

Shadow Hunters (6 page)

BOOK: Shadow Hunters
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Will there be more? Memories, like what you did with Temlaa and Savassan?

Yes. There is much more that you still need to know. More that you must understand before I can give you the final piece. I would not burden you with such if it were not absolutely necessary.

That’s the least of my concerns about the situation. Now that I understand what to expect, I … am enjoying learning about your people. As an archeologist I find it fascinating.

“Well, it’s a good thing you’re along for the ride then,” Jake said lightly to Rosemary. The entire mental exchange with Zamara had taken just a couple of seconds. “So, are you going to tell where you’re taking us? You said something about going back in time?”

“Like I said, I had to cobble things together. I know all the spots to get spares. This one happens to have some historical significance about it. Ever heard of a little thing called the Battle of Brontes?”

“It sounds familiar.”

She gaped at him. “Familiar? Where were you when all this stuff went down?”

“On a little planet called Pegasus, happily forgotten by the rest of the sector. We heard about the bigger events, sure, but I never followed the battles. Just the big things. Like the zerg and the protoss and the wiping out of entire colonies.”

She shook her head. “Wow. Huh. I never thought of myself as being particularly up on current events, but I suppose you have to be, if you want to know which side your bread’s buttered on. Anyway, there was a Confederacy general named Edmund Duke. There was a pretty major skirmish here against some of the Sons of Korhal. After a space battle, salvagers, scavengers, and thieves usually move in to take whatever is left … but our buddy Val’s dad is rebuilding an empire and he needs all the ship parts he can lay his hands on. This place has become a salvage yard for the Dominion, and we will need to be careful getting in, and getting out. We’re just about in viewing range.” She hit a couple of buttons. “Ah, there we go.”

Rosemary had brought them to a graveyard. Jake thought that it had indeed been a significant battle, to leave this much wreckage. He wondered if any effort had been made to find the bodies, or if they were out there along with pieces of ships, spinning slowly in starlit darkness, nothing more than space junk now. Some of the vessels appeared largely intact, others were obviously unspaceworthy pieces of debris.

“Okay, so far so good,” said Rosemary, breaking his train of thought. “No sign of a welcoming party coming to intercept us. Chances are we haven’t been
noticed yet. We go in dark and drift in … just another piece of the junk.” She touched a few controls and the power went down with a soft sigh. Jake and Rosemary were enveloped in dim starlight as the controls went dark. “Slow and unnoticed,” Rosemary said. “More people than us know about this place. There’s usually a lot of unsavory types here even with the Dominion’s presence—smugglers and pirates and so on. There’ll likely be a couple of Wraiths beating a patrol around the place, but we’ve got a system runner, so we should be able to outrun them if we’re spotted.”

Jake felt a twinge of amusement at the thought of Rosemary’s referring to anyone else as “unsavory types.” That sensation was shortly replaced by unease as they moved toward the dead ships. His headache increased as they passed several tense moments while the ship drifted closer and closer to the debris field. Finally, they were in among the pieces of wreckage. Giant parts of ships loomed past and Rosemary slowly brought minimal power online and used the runner’s thrusters to avoid hitting any of the other vessels.

“No company yet—good. Let me risk some quick scans to see if we can find what we need.” Jake was glad Rosemary seemed to know what she was doing. She was calling up information, her blue eyes scanning it quickly, and finally she nodded. “A compatible nav system right there, as well as some drive and life support components we need. May need work, but probably nothing I can’t handle. Looks like we finally
caught a break. Let me remove this one and then I’ll go get the other.”

Slowly, carefully, R. M. maneuvered the system runner until it was only about ten meters from the vessel in question. Rising, Rosemary located a tool kit, dropped down to the metal floor, and slid under the console. Jake watched in silent admiration as she unfastened the plating, reached into a jumble of wires and glowing chips, and inside of fifteen minutes removed a fairly large navigation unit. As they lifted the frame holding the nav system out, she pointed with a scowl to a glowing green circular component in the heart of the frame.

“There’s our culprit.”

“Are you going to destroy it?”

She shook her head. Her silky black hair flowed with the movement. As was always the case, Jake wished he could touch it without getting punched.

“We have a better use for it. All right, time to go get its replacement. Same deal as the last spacewalk, Professor. I go out, you watch the little light.”

“Will do.”

They carried the nav unit into the docking chamber, and she went into the back room and suited up. The door closed and a few moments later the light illuminated green. Jake waited until he saw her floating past, the tether secure on her body, nav unit in tow, directing herself purposefully to the Wraith they had pulled alongside of, and then got himself a coffee. It was much, much better than what passed for the
beverage on the marine vessel the
Gray Tiger.
He supposed he shouldn’t be surprised. This was a black marketer’s vessel, after all. While he was up, he opened the medkit and found something for his headache.

The thought of the
Gray Tiger
made him think of his friends who had died aboard that ship. He wondered if he would ever remember them without this rush of commingled guilt and pain.

Eventually you will be able to. Once you fully understand what it was for which they died.

Don’t suppose you’re going to tell me this century?

Zamara chuckled at his turn of phrase.
There are things you must know first, as I have told you repeatedly.

Be happy to learn them, so long as you watch out for Rosemary.

Of course.

Jake took another sip of the coffee, looked at the green light, smiled to himself, and closed his eyes.

Jake stood with the rest of the templar as their fallen brother, their leader, their friend, made his final voyage. Jake was not a young protoss, and this was not the first friend to whom he had bade farewell. But it never got easier.

Zoranis had been popular with his people. Thousands had turned out for this solemn ceremony, lining the Road of Remembrance for almost its entire length. The Road of Remembrance led from the provincial capital of Antioch, wound for several kilometers west, and ended at the ruins of an ancient xel’naga temple. Broken steps led up to a flat surface
with a pool that collected rainwater. Here, the honored dead were ritually bathed, dressed for burial, left for a day’s cycle under the watchful care of loved ones so that the sun, moon, and stars would shine upon them, and then laid into the earth for their final rest.

While the ritual itself was ancient, performed by each tribe even back during the Aeon of Strife, the Road had come into existence only after the protoss had embraced the Khala. The Road of Remembrance was a physical symbol of the Path of Ascension. As all protoss were joined in the Khala, so now all veterans and protoss of note, no matter their caste, were given the honor of traveling the Road of Remembrance. Jake had seen artisans, scientists, templar, and members of the Conclave alike being borne on a floating dais, a stasis field surrounding their bodies with a halo.

This was the first time he had walked beside the body of a high templar, though, and he hoped it would be the last.

Zoranis had fallen in honorable combat. He was not one to sit back and let others take all the risks while he made all the decisions. His choice had cost him his life, but had won the battle—as had his decision to have his second-in-command fight beside him.

The young protoss Adun was already becoming something of a legend. He had fought at Zoranis’s side for over eighty years now. Few had seen a more graceful warrior in physical combat or a more intelligent strategist. Some petty folk had implied that Adun was the real driving force behind most of Zoranis’s decisions over the last fifty years. Jake actually hoped so. Because if it was true, then Zoranis’s good leadership would not have died with him.

He walked solemnly, his heavy, formal robes brushing the earth. On either side of the white-paved road were lines of mourners. They were hunched over, shaking, their skin mottling in the unmistakable sign of grief. Zoranis was not only well liked, but well loved.

In the Khala, there was nothing but heart, and hearts were full today. Jake let the respect, admiration, and sorrow wash in and around and through him, adding his own genuine grief to the mix.

Beside him walked Adun. Young, vibrant, intense, and strong, he was everything the templar were supposed to be. As an active warrior—Jake was too old to participate in combat, though he had excellent tactical knowledge—Adam wore his armor, and it gleamed golden as the sun that glinted off it. A half a head taller and a bit larger than any of the other templar, he was a commanding presence. His grief was a bright thread woven into the tapestry of the Khala, shimmering in its purity. Adun had loved Zoranis almost as an elder brother. More than any of the other templar, he grieved this loss. He looked over at Jake and their eyes met.

Ah, my old friend Vetraas,
came Adun’s pain-filled thoughts,
I am glad you walk beside me. Your composure gives me strength.

There is no shame in deep grief,
Jake sent back.
To not mourn the dead is to dishonor them. But we must also be thankful for their lives.

I am, Vetraas. I am.

The walk took almost an entire day. They reached the temple at sunset, and it was Jake, adviser to Zoranis, and Adun, Zoranis’s protégé, who had the honor of bathing and
dressing the body and sitting with it. Traditionally this was done to protect the body from scavengers. Now the corpse was safely preserved in stasis until the moment of burial, but the ritual of lovingly protecting it lingered on.

Jake looked down at his old friend. Clad in robes of simple white as opposed to the armor in which he had spent most of his life, Zoranis looked at peace. The robes hid the horrific wounds that had claimed his life. The large eyes were closed, the flesh looking almost alive.

Jake wished he could speak with Zoranis one more time, tell him how well he had served his people. How greatly he would be missed. Instead, he contented himself with pressing the dead hands and thinking the traditional farewell:
“Und lara khar. Anht zagatir nas”: “Be at peace. The gods watch over you.”
Night was falling on the last day of Zoranis’s leadership. Before the sun rose, as tradition had it, there would be a new executor.

The Templar caste, like any group whose members were finite, was not without its flaws, disagreements, and occasional corruption and infighting. This time, the templar would rise to the heights of which he knew it was capable, the heights of what Khas intended when he created the Khala. There was one among their number who exemplified all that was right and good with the templar. One whom everyone respected. One who, if he accepted it, would greet the dawn as executor.

And quite possibly, Adun himself was the only one who didn’t know it.

Jake opened his eyes as he heard the slight hissing sound of the door irising open. “A highly successful
run,” Rosemary said. “Can you give me a hand with these?”

He turned to see her standing beside the door, behind her another nav frame. She was still in her suit, which was clearly too large for her. At her feet was an opened container filled with a variety of items, none of which Jake recognized and all of which he was glad he had very little to do with. He carefully took the piles of chips, plating, and wires and moved it into the main cabin.

“Not only were we able to ditch the tracking device,” she told him as she emerged from the bulky suit, “it’s now going to lead anyone who’s latched onto its signal on a wild-goose chase. I’ve rigged it to engage from here. We’ll want to beat a quick retreat once I activate it, though, just in case the movement attracts any attention.” She hung up the suit and turned to Jake. “I’m certain that those Wraiths are in the area. Let’s put you to work monitoring Dominion standard com channels while I hook all this stuff up.”

She directed him into a seat and entered a rotational sequence in the com system. “Maybe they’ll give their presence away and allow us to get a fix on their location.” The minutes ticked by as Jake monitored and Rosemary tinkered. Annoyed, Jake finally began to suspect that she had given him this task to keep him out of the way and occupied. Finally, Rosemary emerged, looking grubby and tired. As she took her seat, she said, “So. Hey, Zamara, how do we get to Aiur from here?”

I will require an accurate map of the sector.

“Pull up a map and show her where we are,” Jake said. Rosemary did.

“Zoom out,” Jake said, again speaking for the alien intelligence inside his skull. “Again,” he instructed. And a third time he asked her. She raised a raven brow.

That is sufficient for my needs. I shall enter the coordinates.

… Okay.

Jake leaned forward and relinquished control of his hands and watched, bemused, as they entered a series of digits. How did Zamara know how to program a—of course. Zamara had been linked with R. M. on a very deep level a few hours ago. She’d have the same knowledge the human woman did. Rosemary looked on with interest.

“Well, it’s no day trip. Good thing I scrounged up some extra rations. Okay. We all set?”

Jake and Zamara nodded.

“All right. Getting in was fairly easy. Getting out won’t be. Those Wraiths will scan for power sources and movement inside the debris field, so we need a little diversion. There’s no way they won’t come here looking for us, so we might as well make the most of it. Now. Watch that ship right there.”

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