Tenebrea's Hope (Tenebrea Trilogy #2)

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9780671036096: Tenebrea's Hope (Tenebrea Trilogy #2)
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In the sequel to Entering Tenebrea, ace Tenebrea agent Andrea Flores is finally given the chance to avenge the murders of her husband and children, killed by Cor terrorists, when she and her comrades are sent on an important mission. Original.

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Chapter 1

The artificial time, synthetic food, enforced idleness, and incessant hum of space travel plagued her sleep. Andrea slept fitfully in her berth aboard the armed merchant Benwoi. Her mind grappled with a collage of memories.

The teak decks are damp. Morning dew collects as cool droplets on the railings. The Deeper Well rocks slightly -- more from movement on board than from the glassy water. Steve comes up from the cabin with a steaming cup of aromatic coffee. He kisses me. The stubble of his beard rubs my cheek, a touch more stimulating than caffeine. He seems distant -- preoccupied -- as he walks to the forepeak to raise the jib. Little Glendon, my little pixie, scampers up the ladder wearing an orange life vest and nuzzles her cheek into my breast, jostling a bit of hot coffee that splashes on my bare leg, but I ignore the insignificant pain. Glendon's hair smells of lilac shampoo. She says "I love you, Mother," with perfect diction, too old for a child of three. Glendon's voice has lost its innocence. Glendon looks into my eyes. I watch as those pixie eyes dim. I'm confused. Glendon stops breathing! Then she slumps into my arms, cold and lifeless. I shake my child who suddenly is covered with blood. I can do nothing but scream, "Steve! Help me!" The man at the forepeak raising the jib turns. He is irritated by the commotion. He says coldly, "I'm not Steve."

Andrea woke to a shrill pulsating alarm. She dismissed her dream and sat up sprightly, slapping the comm-panel on the bulkhead above her berth. With the alarm silenced, the quiet hum of the ship returned like a long somnolent note played on an oboe. But Andrea was instantly and completely awake, perspiring.

Even in her sleep, she'd anticipated this important wake-up call. She glanced at the status panel: systems nominal. Tara, her partner and the only other soul aboard ship, was already on station. Not surprised -- Tara was a clone. Andrea held the common bias that clones worked not from need or virtue, but from habit.

At the top of her panel, the chronometer counted backward: four hours, twenty-eight minutes until they slid out of faster-than-light speed into kinetic speed. Enough time to dress, eat, and rehearse their critical first minutes in the Jod system. Andrea touched the intercom button, "Tara, I'm awake. What are you doing up so early?"

After a pause, a sleepy voice replied, "I prepared a hot..." The message collapsed into a long yawn. "Excuse me. A hot meal, and I brewed some black gaval."

"You'd better have another cup." Andrea waited for a reply but caught the last audible part of another yawn over the intercom, which she clipped short, saying, "I'm switching off before you put me to sleep." She touched the pad closing the channel.

Andrea slipped her long legs out from under the thin cotton sheets till her feet touched the cold floor. Her plain undershirt had hiked up over her stomach during the night while she'd slept. Standing in her small quarters, she bent over, stretching her hamstrings, placing the palms of her hands flat on the floor, then grabbing her ankles, she stretched her strong leg muscles. She gracefully unbent herself and stretched her arms above her head as she rolled her head in slow, grand circles to limber her neck. Her shoulder twinged slightly from a wound not completely healed.

Her purloined clothes lay draped over a chair where she'd carefully laid them. She'd plundered the clothes lockers of the all-male crew -- one of whom was quite small. She'd consigned her own set of foul, tattered clothes to waste disintegration; all but the wilderness cloak that Brigon gave her. Brigon, how is he? The cloak hung from a hook on her cabin door. Stained with smoke, blood, and sweat, the cloak smelled dank, but she dared not launder the garment and risk damage, because she did not know the secret of the cloak's technology -- how it perfectly camouflages the wearer.

With a sense of practicality and irreverent mirth, she mixed and matched the crew's wardrobes to fit herself with a tunic, shirt, and trousers. The white pullover shirt fit well although roomy at the waist. The tunic hung loose on her shoulders and the sleeves were a bit short. Trousers were a much harder fit and she settled for the diminutive crewman's trousers that hung low on her narrow hips. Fortunately, the cloth had some give, as the trousers were tight about her seat and thighs. Serviceable, clean clothes, yet on her the outfit lost its military aura; instead, it broadcast a mixed signal of authority and tease. She fastened the belt with an audible click, then pulled on a pair of small boots -- the smallest boots aboard the ship.

She looked into the long mirror to adjust her gig line, a habit held over from her days as a cadet. Her short black hair stood in a cowlick where her head burrowed into a firm pillow. She'd gained a couple pounds during this trip, pounds that brought her back to her correct weight. Her long ordeal on Cor had left her looking gaunt, her face showing the greatest deprivation of food and sleep. Her eyes still showed fatigue. She longed for the sleep of complete resignation, an outpouring of consciousness that refreshed mind and body.

Nevertheless, sixteen days of forced rest and full rations had done her good. She smiled slightly with self-satisfaction. She and Tara had stolen a comfortable Cor ship, the Benwoi, an armed merchant cruiser provisioned for a crew of eight, plus forty passengers. Yet, looking in the mirror, Andrea could see the latent anxiety about her own eyes, tension written in small tell-tale lines on her otherwise smooth olive skin. Now, she wished they'd managed to hijack a more formidable fighting ship, not this armed merchant. This comfortable ship -- this pig, using loose nautical lingo -- lacked long-range weapons, speed, and maneuverability. As best as she could tell, Andrea believed the Cor had dispatched two warships in pursuit.

On previous mornings, Andrea knew that she'd awake in the relative safety of traveling at FTL speed, a demilitarized state of physics where weapons are useless. Ships chasing them could not fire forward lest they fly instantly into their own ordnance. Likewise, the Benwoi could not see aft to target the pursuers, but not for long.

In four hours, they'd come out of light speed into the Jod system, where according to plan, her comrade H'Roo Parh waited with a heavy cruiser. He'd damn well better be there waiting with his finger on the trigger. This kind of fight was new to Andrea -- not the tactile struggle of close combat where peripheral vision, reflex, and strength mattered. She knew physical anatomy better than warship structures. She knew how to use a variety of handheld weapons, not shipborne lasers and torpedoes. For her the proper distance between combatants was measured in one or two arm's lengths, not hundreds of thousands of kilometers. However, one principle applied to both situations: the party who inflicts the first blow usually wins. The Cor had the advantage of being at her back, at present invisible, possessing superior firepower. Andrea paused by the galley long enough to pick up a warm cake made of coarse cornmeal on which she spread a rich butter and a sweet chutney. She poured herself a large mug of steaming black brew, gaval -- a synthetic that she recognized as insipid coffee buttressed with chicory. She loaded it with four heaping teaspoons of sugar to mask an unfamiliar aftertaste. She drank for the effect of the stimulant.

Andrea walked down the short spine of the ship and stepped onto the bridge, the arena of today's battle. The hiss of the door announced her.

"Morning."

Tara turned around in her seat and she offered a wan smile. She looked pale. Her gold-specked, hazel eyes sparked with anxiety. But her spirits picked up just having a companion. She wore her auburn hair loose, pulled behind her ears.

Sipping her gaval, Andrea put her free hand on Tara's soft shoulder, trying to transfer some of her calm to her nervous comrade: words of encouragement were superfluous. Andrea looked at the screens. The forward screens showed them approaching Jod space. The ship's computers filtered the ambient light from the screens to present a picture of approaching stars, drifting from the center toward the edges as the perspective changed, each star eventually absorbed into a milk white glow at the edge of the screen -- a blur of white light reminded the viewer that the screen was a representation, not physical reality.

Meanwhile the rearview screens displayed only charts and a virtual image. The aft sensors were useless because they outran all matter and energy. She glanced at the small weapons console and shook her head ruefully. The ship had no torpedoes in inventory. The laser cannon was small, suitable for intimidating other merchant ships or pirates, but Andrea thought to herself, If we get close enough to use it, we're already dead.

Andrea asked, "Have you figured out where we'll come out of light speed and become fully kinetic?"

"Yes -- sort of." Tara brushed a wisp of auburn hair from her face. "The probable error is significant. The ship's computers have detailed charts leading up to the Jod system, and the Jod system itself -- even the location of artificial satellites and space stations. But we can't confirm our position because we can't get a decent star fix until we come out of light speed. In short, we've been flying dead reckoning, just bearing and time, and I'm not an experienced navigator. This trip will last sixteen days, seven hours, forty-four minutes, and thirteen point six two seconds."

Tara pointed at the ship's red chronometer counting down the seconds, minutes, and hours in the flight. She shook her head. "So the trip takes close to one and a half million seconds. If we're off by just two of those seconds, we'll find ourselves about three hundred sixty thousand miles off course. A ten-second error is not out of the realm of possibility."

"Not very encouraging." Andrea looked at the sensor readouts -- all flat, and she muttered in frustration. "We're deaf, dumb, and half-blind."

Right now, Andrea wanted more than anything to send H'Roo Parh some kind of warning. First, she might not appear in the Jod system where they had planned. Second, she was bringing company, at least two armed Ordinate ships ready for a fight. She knew that a Jod battle cruiser could outmaneuver and outgun the Ordinate ships, providing H'Roo was not taken by surprise. But any message she transmitted to H'Roo would arrive in the Jod system about five hundred years after she arrived to deliver it in person. Andrea leaned stiff-armed against the console. The amber lights reflected from her high cheekbones and forehead. Her deep-set eyes were lost in shadow.

"Maybe the Cor didn't follow us?" Tara's eyes betrayed her own doubts.

Andrea stepped away from the flat screens and stifled a bubble of sardonic laughter. "Oh, they're behind us. Count on it." After all, she reflected, we saw two Ordinate ships accelerating in hot pursuit when we engaged the FTL drive and just barely escaped with our skins. They're motivated. We burned down their Clone Welfare Institute, ruined their crop of NewGen clones, killed scores of their security forces, started an insurrection between the old-order clones and the Ordinate, stole their ship, and set a course straight toward the Jod system.

Andrea smiled grimly, "I'll be pleasantly surprised if we discover that we've got only two Ordinate vessels on our tail. The Ordinate want our heads on a pike. Our best chance is to come out of light speed then pour on the speed in kinetics."

"Maybe we lost them. After all, we traveled in a broad arc -- not even a straight line. They are bound to have the same navigational problems." Tara offered up some hope.

Andrea looked down at Tara and wondered how best to explain to a simple clone who'd never experienced space flight, let alone faster-than-light travel, the phenomenon of quantrails. But Tara seemed to have a gift for thinking in the abstract world of computers, so why not physics? "We're leaving a trail. Even in the vacuum of space, there are hydrogen atoms. We are traveling at such speed that we collide with billions of atoms a second. When the hydrogen atoms smash against our inertial dampeners, the atoms break into their elemental particles -- muons, positrons. The particles spin off in a momentary life, but they leave a brief trail to follow. Have you seen aircraft on a clear day leave long thin clouds behind them?"

"Yes." Tara leaned back in her chair and nodded.

"Those thin clouds are the contrails that come from the tips of the wings -- water droplets or ice crystals left in the wake of an aircraft. Something like that happens with a spacecraft traveling faster than light."

Tara thought for a moment, then observed. "If that's the case, they know our direction, but how will they know the instant we come out of light speed?"

Andrea smiled, seeing where Tara's thought was leading. "Very good. Suddenly they'll run out of quantrail, but by that time they will have passed us. They'll be ahead of us. What kind of time lag are we talking about?"

Tara swung her chair around and tapped her console to bring up some ship's data. Andrea watched her scroll through charts of data, amazed at the speed with which this clone from Cor assimilated information. Can this be? This once timid clone is acquiring self-confidence.

Tara brushed her short auburn hair from her face and said, "Assuming their sensors are roughly equivalent to ours and their onboard computers operate at the same speed, and they can switch down their FTL drive at the same speed...we're looking at a half second -- max." Her face fell: she'd expected a greater buffer.

But Andrea brightened. "Yeah, but that puts ninety thousand miles between us. At kinetic speed, it'll take them a half hour to come about, then catch us."

"That still isn't much time."

"It's thirty minutes I didn't think we had. We need to take advantage of every second. When we come out of FTL, we must have a programmed maneuver. We'll come about and reverse our course for two minutes at maximum kinetic speed. How fast can the ship's sensors pinpoint our position?" Andrea set her cup of gaval down on the console and crowded next to Tara.

Tara answered from memory. "Assuming we show up without a clue as to our position, the computer can identify stars from the charts and triangulate our position within a hundred meters in less than eight seconds."

"Okay. As soon as we have coordinates, we send a distress call to H'Roo. We'll pick a direction, and run like hell."

"The Cor will hear the signal as well. What if H'Roo can't get to us before the Cor do?"

Andrea looked Tara in the face and replied with certainty, "Then we're dead." Andrea picked up her cup and took a sip.

Andrea and Tara prepared to decelerate to kinetic speeds. They rehearsed their actions and anticipated decisions. Then, for the last twenty minutes, Tara sat at her console and silently watched the chronometer count down, waiting for the ship's computer to execute a series of maneuvers.

Andrea paced the bridge with an eye on the screens. She wiped a film of nervous perspiration from her forehead as she riveted her attention to the sensors, trying to grab even a half-second's advantage of knowing the disposition of her adversaries before they spotted her.

The final seconds dragged themselves off the clock. The hum in the ship changed markedly to a lower pitch. The screens blinked off, then back with live images fore and aft. The sensor...

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