When Beka Valentine's ne'er-do-well brother Rafe limps onto the Andromeda Ascendant in a stolen junker with a sputtering Slipstream drive, Beka can't turn him away, because he claims to have found the mother they never knew.
Unfortunately, right now the Andromeda is the linchpin in a precarious negotiation between the Drago-Kazov Pride and the Human Interplanetary Alliance, which seeks to free Earth and other old-school planets from the Nietzschean yoke. But the HIA may also be allied with the pure-human-supremacist Knights of Genetic Purity, who, in their evangelical fervor, have become every bit as fanatical as the genetically engineered devil they oppose. If the HIA allies with the Genites, the Milky Way will see yet another Human-Nietzschean bloodbath. Captain Dylan Hunt has survived one already and will do just about anything to prevent another such debacle.
Dylan can't count on Seamus Harper, the only unmodified human in his crew, who is naïvely susceptible to the appeal of the Genite cause. He needs every level-headed crewmate he's got, and Beka, for all her emotional Sturm und Drang, is the best pilot in three galaxies.
But Beka can't resist the chance---however remote---to find her long-lost mother. Years before, Magdalena Valentine went on a quest . . . the same one Beka has made her own. A quest to find the advanced technology of the lost Vedran race. A technology so powerful it lets the Vedrans hide their solar system in the fabric of the Slipstream itself; so powerful it could destroy the universe as we know it.
This quest is where it all must lead---where, if you ask a certain purple alien, it was always, inevitably, destined to lead. Now only Dylan Hunt can stop Beka Valentine from activating the Vedran device. And he may have to kill her to do it. That is, if Tyr Anasazi doesn't kill him first. Or the Knights of Genetic Purity. Or the Human Interstellar Alliance . . . led by one Seamus Harper.
The fate of the universe hinges on what Dylan Hunt and his crew do next!
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
About the Author
Journalist, author, and screenwriter Ethlie Ann Vare was a producer and key member of the creative team during the first two seasons of the Andromeda TV series. The author of a number of award-winning nonfiction books, most recently Patently Female: From AZT to TV Dinners, Stories of Women Inventors and Their Breakthrough Ideas, she lives in Beverly Hills.
Daniel Morris is a writer living in Los Angeles. He has written the noir thriller THE CANAL, and co-written the sci-fi novel ANDROMEDA: THE BROKEN PLACES.
Read an Excerpt
Any government that guarantees its citizens freedom of choice exposes itself to the risk that they will choose a different government.
--YIN PAN-WEI, THE RISE AND FALL OF THE SYSTEMS COMMONWEALTH, CY 11942
Deck 84 felt empty.
Of course, Deck 84 was empty, as were Decks 14 through 63, Medical Deck, three out of five Hangar Decks, and the unwanted-invitation-only V Deck--better known as the brig. That's what happens, thought Captain Dylan Hunt as he stood roughly geometric center of the Andromeda Ascendant, when a ship massing 96,410,000 kilograms carries a crew massing…Dylan let the thought trail off. He wasn't even going to estimate Beka Valentine's mass. He knew that much about women. He also knew that five people rattled around in here like so many BBs in a boxcar.
But Deck 84 was more than simply unoccupied. It was…uninhabited. Dylan felt like he did the time his father accidentally left him behind after work, locked in the Imperial Museum in Etashi Tarn past closing hour. He was eight, and the ceilings were ten meters high.
Where's the AI?
Dylan's wide blue eyes did a quick, accurate sweep of the corridor. Glorious Heritage-class ships like this one were built for both aesthetics and function; the Andromeda Ascendant was as much art as architecture. The burnished copper walls, the carved moldings, the seamless integration of technology and design, so Vedran in concept--it all looked perfectly normal. And yet…
"Rommie? Are you there?" Dylan spoke aloud to nothing in particular. Nothing in particular responded with nothing in return.
"Andromeda? Are you off-line? Report."
"She's with me, Boss."
The voice came from behind him. Dylan turned to see a face on the nearest comm screen: vaguely blond, undeniably human, with a cocky grin that made most people want to mop the floor with his brush-cut. The captain, however, had an uncharacteristic soft spot for Seamus Zelazny Harper's decidedly unmilitary antics. If I grew up on a slag heap, starved and beaten like an unwanted dog, I probably would have turned out to be a brat myself.
"Are you jealous? Be jealous!" said Harper.
"If by jealous you mean annoyed, impatient, and capable of severe retaliation, then yes, I'm jealous. Harper, what the hell are you doing to my ship?"
Dylan wasn't simply being possessive; he was being all-inclusive. Andromeda Ascendant is not only the name of a heavy battle cruiser-- technically, her name is Shining Path to Truth and Knowledge, AI model GRA 112, serial number XMC-10-182--but also of the awesome artificial intelligence that inhabits it. Andromeda operated everything from her imaging sensors to her missile launch tubes to the Oracle attack drones to the microwave oven by autonomic reflex. Everything, that is, except the steering wheel. Only organics can actually pilot the Slipstream.
Andromeda was also Rommie, the ship's public interface avatar, which interacted with the crew in a humanoid form that artfully blended every Old Earth genotype into a visual amalgam Harper referred to as "babelicious." But that was Harper.
It also was Harper who turned the holographic avatar into a flesh and blood (well, nanosilicate and petrolubricant, at any rate) woman, making a silk purse out of a battle-damaged utility 'bot, some human DNA, and his own lusty imagination. It was this last (the avatar, not the imagination) that Harper was currently fine-tuning--if anything in his bag of spit-and-baling-wire engineering tricks could be called "fine"--and the reason Andromeda's attention was not currently on Deck 84.
I should have known, Dylan thought. Harper's mind ran to two things so consistently that you could see the grooves: girls and gadgets. Rommie was both. Whenever there was a brief, much-welcomed respite in the Things Go Boom general theme of their experiences since Dylan had arrived in this post-Fall dark age, Harper could reliably be found with a Sparky Cola in one hand and a nanowelder in the other.
Back in the machine shop, Rommie herself spoke up. It wasn't that she resented Harper's constant mechanical intercession, or even minded his puppy-dog infatuation; it was just that she enjoyed talking to her captain: he was, after all, the only living thing that shared her memory of the Systems Commonwealth. Oh, and she was desperately in love with him. Not that a good High Guard officer like Andromeda would ever admit such a gaffe. Even to herself.
"I can't be everywhere at once, Dylan," she said, with an unstudied pout on her fantasy lips and a toss of her anthracite-shiny hair.
"Yes, you can," said Dylan. "In fact, you're supposed to be. Regardless, whenever the two of you are finished, meet me on the Command Deck. I need to talk to you about this Drago-Kazov situation."
Calling the latest Drago-Kazov mess a "situation" is like calling Pythia's planet-shattering hyper-earthquakes "geological disturbances." It's accurate, but one hell of an understatement. The "situation" in question was an open revolt of the human slave worlds in the Alpha Centauri system against their Dragan overlords. Of course, this wasn't a phenomenon unique to Alpha Centauri--as of late, humans everywhere were rising up against the Nietzschean yoke, thanks in part to the efforts of the aforementioned Seamus Harper and his cousin Brendan Lahey, who orchestrated the first rebellion against the fierce Drago-Kazov Pride on Earth itself.
True to form, the Dragans responded by unleashing a litany of brutal atrocities against humans. A disproportionate number of the
atrocities were aimed at a trio of planets in the Centauri colony, the foremost being the Earth-like planet Natal. There were two reasons for this choice, as Dylan saw it. One: Natal was where the Human Interplanetary Alliance had come into being, evolving from a ragtag group of freedom fighters who picked up the Bunker Hill battle cry and transformed themselves into an organized militia. Armed with little more than what they could scrounge, the HIA had nonetheless managed to severely disrupt Drago-Kazov slave-labor operations.
Which resulted in reason number two: the Nietzscheans, never ones to forgive losses at the hands of any enemy, let alone these genetically substandard kludges, seemed willing to quell the rebellion at any cost. Even if the cost was reducing an entire sector of space to rubble. It was time to bring the HIA and the Dragans to the negotiating table, whether they liked it or not.
Dylan sighed. A nice quiet slag heap is actually beginning to sound rather appealing.
Dylan walked to a ladderway. He activated the AG unit on his belt and stepped out over the opening, free-falling toward Command Deck. Andromeda hated when he did that; it was, after all, a distance of two hundred meters, and what if the artificial gravity field failed? But Andromeda was in the machine shop, and Dylan delighted at the forbidden sensation of flight as he plunged weightless through space.
"I saw that." Rommie's voice came out of nowhere and everywhere. Dylan smiled wider. Yup. I definitely would have been a brat.
* * *
"You're watching me again, aren't you?" Tyr Anasazi didn't look up from his kata as he addressed the seemingly vacant space precisely two and a half meters to his left. There was no response. Tyr put down the extended force lance that served as his bo and stared at the hydroponics garden. The nictitating membrane of his eyes blinked; the vertical pupils contracted. Tyr's genetically enhanced vision wasn't likely to miss the sight of a pointed, purple ear peeking out from between the translucent leaves of an Infinity water rose. He waited, perfectly still. If he was breathing, no one could have heard it, be they hunter or be they prey.
Trance held out as long as she could, then she began to giggle. The colorless, fluid-filled globules that passed for flowers on Infinity Atoll jiggled as she laughed, which made her laugh more. The corners of Tyr's mouth turned up, but he stopped short of actually smiling. Unlike some Nietzscheans--the Drago-Kazov, for instance, practiced their menacing looks as children, and were punished for laughing--Tyr valued his smile. It was beautiful, and powerful. Which is precisely why he hoarded it.
Tyr's opinion of Trance was this: he liked her. She was useful and amusing and had a feel for living things. He understood that she was
far more than she appeared to be, and he approved of that. He also feared it. So while Tyr Anasazi--of the Kodiak Pride, out of Victoria,
by Barbarossa, etc., etc., etc.--was willing to kill for Trance Gemini, he was also prepared to kill her. Which is pretty much how he felt about every member of the crew of the Andromeda Ascendant. Don't look for sentimentality in a Nietzschean. It was bred out of them, along with sickle-cell anemia and male pattern baldness.
Trance stood up behind the hydroponics vat, and the rest happened rather quickly. Her tail got caught in a feeding tube, which pulled free of the watering system, which toppled the ultraviolet bar, which short-circuited the timer, which sent Tyr diving across the room to pull her out of the vat before she electrocuted herself, just as Andromeda's face appeared on the comm screen to warn them that she detected a surge in the force lance's power pack, which at that moment exploded…just as Tyr put a full body length between himself and the time bomb.
Water roses splattered, klaxons blared, and a burst of undifferentiated laser light painted stark shadows on the walls. Tyr helped Trance up, but didn't let her go right away. He held on, maybe a little too firmly. Trance didn't squirm or flinch. She just looked at him with the quizzical expression Harper called her what-me-worry? face. Harper said it was an Old Earth cultural reference, which annoyed Tyr, who considered himself something of an expert in Old Earth culture. But then, Harper frequently annoyed Tyr.
"That was very lucky, for both of us," said Tyr mildly.
Trance brushed rose goo off her leotard. "But not for the poor roses." Well, save for one particular rose that, separated from the force of the explosion by Tyr's bulk, had somehow gone unharmed. Dear, egocentric Tyr, thought Trance, carefully ignoring the flower, he'll think I did this all for him.
"Still, wouldn't you call the timing of your accident…fortuitous? Imagine the odds."
About thirty-five thousand to one, Trance estimated. But she didn't say that. She just said, "Yeah. Imagine."
What Trance guessed--Trance is a very good guesser-and Andromeda quickly determined by forensic analysis, was that Harper had been putting tinfoil across the force lance's circuit breakers again. So to speak.
Force lances, like many High Guard artifacts, are powered by a "displacement battery," which was as close to perpetual motion as any technology is likely to get. The power pack consisted of a few billion nanobots navigating the Slipstream on a subatomic level. Of course, being nonsentient and nonorganic, they had no idea where they were going and couldn't reach their destination if they did, but that didn't matter. Charging around an enclosed space like so many microscopic bumper cars, the nanobots unleashed an enormous amount of displaced kinetic energy. In the case of a force lance, it was usually displaced as a plasma blast--although force lances also had less destructive uses. They made dandy flashlights.
Since nanobots are self-replicating and since the Slipstream exists within the interstices of matter and energy and is essentially infinite, this is a power source that lasts practically forever. It's also a power source that's too strong to put in the hands of enlisted men. That's why displacement batteries were designed by the Vedrans--the legendary, lost race who tamed The Universe As We Know It--with a staggering array of baffles, governors, and overrides built in.
Harper spent half his life circumventing these safety mechanisms. He had, in fact, only just hot-rodded the very force lance that Tyr was using for weapons practice. Well, it worked, didn't it? thought Harper as he surveyed the damage safely from a comm screen in the machine shop, tucked far away from any angry Nietzscheans.
* * *
Beka Valentine, at this particular moment, wasn't thinking about how big and empty the Andromeda Ascendant felt. She wasn't worried about the relative mass of the ship, nor was she concerned with the relative mass of her own body, whatever Dylan might think. Beka
wasn't the type to worry about what her butt looked like in a pair of black leather pants. She was always more concerned about what a quick-release ankle-holster would look like in them. Besides, Beka was, as usual, ensconced in the familiar and far smaller area of the salvage ship Eureka Maru, the current occupant of Hangar Deck Two. Beka liked confined spaces. Something to do with spending three-quarters of her life in actual Space, no doubt. Space, as Harper liked to remind people, is Big. Infinitely, coldly, unimaginably Big. Off-duty, Beka was quite comfortable somewhere a tad more circumscribed, thanks.
What Beka Valentine was worried about at this particular moment was a silvery plastic disc that dated back to sixty-ninth-century Earth. Beka did a quick mental calculation: AFC 306, minus CY 6990, give or take an era…That makes it over three thouand years old. Wow. An artifact from a region known as "Eire-land," it was part of a museum salvage job that never quite made it back to the client. They didn't miss it, and wouldn't have had the taste to appreciate it anyway, Beka thought. But now the silvery disc was missing.
"Where's my goddam Pogues album, God damn it!" yelled Beka in frustration.
"Are you making a request of the Divine?" The voice came from what had been a weapons locker, since converted into a greenhouse for Trance's bonsai plants. Beka wouldn't say so to Trance, but the fact is that she missed the locker. She had a recurring dream where she grabbed for a Gauss gun, and found herself facing a Nietzschean Alpha brandishing a midget tree instead.
A face and body connected to the voice: mangy and scabrous, with fetid breath and rheumy eyes, its needle-edged fangs primed with paralytic poison. A Magog, the most feared creature in the Known Worlds. Rapacious. Remorseless. Relentless.
Wearing a monk's robe.
Beka grinned. "Hey, Rev. Didn't know you were in there. And I don't think the Divine responds to requests when they're phrased like that."
"I would caution against deciding what the actions of the Divine will or will not be. My experience is that all prayers are answered. Sometimes, the answer is--"
"No," Beka finished the thought. It was an old game between them. "Yeah, I got that one."
Rev Bem arranged his features into what he hoped was a warm smile. It was more like a twisted leer, but Beka knew him long enough to read the intent as much as the grimace. Rev added, "Have you misplaced one of your sound recordings?"
"I don't misplace priceless antiques. It's been stolen."
"Now, Beka. I'm sure that Harper…"
Beka waved off Rev Bem's instinctive defense of the larcenous engineer. It wasn't that followers of the Way were blind to bad behavior, or even that they forgave it. They just accepted it.
"Not Harper. Rafe."
"May he eat glass and die ptooey amen. Yeah, him."
Rev's impression of a grin stretched wider--which was even scarier than the first grotesquerie. Nothing amused Reverend Behemiel Far Traveler more than cosmic synchronicity. It was, he thought, the universe's way of being funny. Admittedly, the Divine played some truly sick practical jokes, but Rev appreciated the spirit of the thing. And this particular bit of coincidence was a knee-slapper.
The reason Rev Bern had come looking for Beka in the first place was to tell her that Rafael Valentine, missing and presumed incarcerated these past two years, was hailing them.
Copyright © 2003 by Tribune Entertainment, Inc., and Fireworks Entertainment, Inc.
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