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Thrilling Space Opera Aboard the Andromeda!
When Captain Dylan Hunt's ship The Andromeda Ascendant of the Systems Commonwealth High Guard ventures near a world on the galactic rim to make friendly contact, it is attacked. Suffering severe damage, the crew must find a drift, an asteroid-based installation where they can resupply and repair the ship.
Too far from a supply depot, they must depend upon a Waystation, a disused depot on a frozen world long abandoned by the Commonwealth. The Waystation might have parts the crew can use for repairs, but something lurks on the surface of this frozen world. Malevolent and dangerous, it has been waiting for centuries. In the long history of the old Systems Commonwealth there are secrets which have never been revealed. What terrible force has the Andromeda crew unleashed?
"Fans of the syndicated show will enjoy this new escapade."
--Booklist on The Broken Places
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Steven E. McDonald is the author of The Janus Syndrome and many science fiction stories. He has also been a screenwriter for television and feature films, as well as a poet and musician. He lives in Tucson, Arizona.
- ONE - BROAD HINTS AND DEEP MYSTERIES
Never shake hands with a razorpig.
--INFORMAL HIGH GUARD MOTTO, CIRCA CY 5000
Nothing was clear. That scared her, as much as she could be scared.
Her name was Trance Gemini, at least for now. Her skin was gold, shading to pink in some areas, and her long red hair was caught into tight braids, some of which were woven into an ornate design that offset her sharply pointed ears. Depending upon mood or need, her face could seem soft and caring, or become a mask of cold determination. Even her shipmates, long used to her mercurial state, had no hope of predicting what she would do, say, or manifest next.
She was watching the stars, looking for the lines of force, and trying to divine individual characteristics. She was standing on the huge observation deck of the Andromeda Ascendant, a former Systems Commonwealth High Guard starship that was the epitome of the iron fist in the velvet glove--her outward beauty, composed in the main of curves with only a handful of straight lines, concealed an ability to destroy entire star systems. Prior to the fall of the old Commonwealth, the 1.4-kilometer-long Andromeda Ascendant had carried a complement of forty-seven hundred. Now it was occupied by only a handful of people. Trance had left her mark on the ship, however--the hydroponics gardens had flourished in her hands, and she had placed plants all over the ship. Andromeda was extremely pleased.
She was Trance Gemini. Once upon a time she had been younger, purple, and equipped with a prehensile tail. All those things were gone. Her tail, always a useful tool, had been shot away in a firefight. Her younger self had gone forward in time, and she had come backward to replace her, and temporal paradoxes be damned. She had come back from a terrible future, a time that had claimed all too many of the people she had known, as well as an increasing chunk of the universe.
She had said, time and again, that her agenda was to create the perfect possible future. Yet she had arrived amid chaos in a place where time was out of joint and almost limitless quantum possibilities radiated into the future. Faced with too many choices, she had narrowed them to one. In that instant she had locked down one reality, condemned a brilliant Perseid scientist to the fate he had already suffered, and saved a human she cared about from a horrible death.
She had made the choice out of friendship, for better or worse. She had easily admitted that later. She had also admitted that she had no idea as to the long-term consequences of her actions. It was almost the complete truth at the time. Within seconds she had felt her memory starting to blur and shift, leaving her feeling as though she were looking at her own existence through smoked glass.
It was not the first time she had been through that particular temporal nexus, but she was going to keep that piece of information to herself, at least for now. She had caused one man to sacrifice himself for the good of billions. A fair trade, perhaps...no, she was certain. Gaheris Rhade had been a trusted and admired first officer, and he had betrayed the ship and her crew when the Nietzscheans had revolted against the Commonwealth. He had murdered the captain, his friend, and been frozen in time as the Andromeda Ascendant moved inexorably toward the event horizon of a black hole. Three hundred years later the ship had been pulled free. Rhade had been devastated when he discovered what had happened since the Nietzscheans--his people--had brought down the Systems Commonwealth.
Imposing his will on the great starship, and taking on the salvage crew that had rescued her, he had set out to repair the damage and rebuild, by any means necessary, the Commonwealth.
He had failed, his efforts leading to exponentially worsening conditions. Trance had lived in a future of black despair and endless destruction. When the opportunity arose, she had marshaled her powers and ridden the probability stream until she reached the nexus she needed. Time and space were tangled in complex knots at that point, victims of an out-of-control tesseract machine that was folding space a bit too efficiently.
She had stepped out of her present and into her past. Her younger self had nervously changed places with her--she hadn't remembered being quite that shade of purple--and she had gone to speak with Rhade.
The conversation had not been a long one. When it was over, she had taken him through a spatio-temporal interface, leaving him on the Andromeda Ascendant just before his betrayal. She had left, but she knew what had happened then. Gaheris Rhade had, in defiance of temporal logic, shot his younger incarnation, taken his place, and reversed events by allowing himself to be killed by the man he had betrayed.
Everyone else believed that the mysterious tesseract generator was the sole source of the space-time distortions. Trance, however, knew the truth--that the tesseract generator was only one of the reasons space-time had suddenly begun tearing itself apart.
The universe had needed to realign itself following Rhade's final actions. She had not helped the healing process much by looping around once more, coming backward from a future that was only marginally less terrible. Her younger self was, if anything, even more nervous about changing places with her. There had been no choice other than to take the second journey into the nexus. There was far too much at stake for her to hesitate.
There was a price for her determination, however. With each decision she made, each step she took to set things right, she endured another mental upheaval as her memory realigned to each change in the timeline. The shifts felt like tidal currents pulling at her mind, and sometimes all she wanted was to be swept away. Keeping all the pieces in the proper places was no easy task, even for her.
There was so much to do, still. Sooner or later she was going to have to let more of the truth out, and bear the consequences.
Someday she would have to tell them all what she really was.
Still, things had changed. She hesitated to trust that the changes were all positive, but she could hope. She had put too much of herself into this to fail now.
Nothing was clear anymore. Nothing.
She bowed her head for a moment, and took a deep breath, trying to focus. She looked up again, centering herself, and letting her mind drift until the starfield was all she was aware of.
"Help me," she whispered. "Please. Help me."
* * *
Captain Dylan Hunt, the tall, towheaded commander of the Systems Commonwealth starship Andromeda Ascendant, strode out onto the expansive Command Deck. There was always pleasure in the moment of contemplation before his mind turned to command issues; Andromeda was a live being, and he could feel her pulse, her heartbeat.
Come to think of it, he could literally feel her pulse or heartbeat if he wanted to--all he had to do was reach out to Andromeda's android avatar. Seamus Zelazny Harper, their sometimes-lunatic engineer, had built the avatar using old High Guard manuals found on a former High Guard station. He had started with a standard maintenance android as his template and by the time he was done he had created a perfect match for the idealized image that the ship's AI used. The avatar was slender and exotic, but the sylphlike appearance was deceptive. He had fought alongside her on several occasions, and always felt slow and clumsy in comparison.
To his right, standing at one of the bridge consoles, Andromeda--Rommie, as she preferred to be called--turned her head to look at him. Her face was still, and she said nothing, but it was enough to make him take a mental step backward to see what he was doing to pique her curiosity.
He was smiling, he realized. One of those big, beaming smiles, full of sunshine. Alarmed, he realized he was on the verge of becoming perky.
"Radiant joy and gleaming hope." Dylan turned to his left, still smiling. The words were bright, but in the dour, laconic drawl of Tyr Anasazi they had all the qualities of a dirge. "Have you seen the light of the Divine then, Dylan, and decided to follow the Way?"
As suggestions went, it was certainly not a bad one. Wayists were among the most peaceful beings in this brave new Systems Commonwealth that he had kick-started into existence. He had seen for himself that the Wayist path could tame even the ferocity of Magog. Well, one Magog, the Reverend Behemiel Far Traveler. Rev Bem had left their small company suddenly, driven by a need to find answers to unexpected questions. It was the best path for Rev to take, Dylan knew, but he still felt the loss on a spiritual level.
Tyr, of course, felt quite free to mock the Way. The religion encouraged a passivity that ran counter to everything in the Nietzschean culture's philosophy, where survival by any means was the ultimate goal. Bioengineered into existence by Drago Museveni, who had turned his own son into the first of the Homo sapiens invictus genus, Nietzscheans had inherited a drastic philosophy--they were to be the perfect, unconquerable people. It was the perception that their existence was threatened by Commonwealth policies toward the feral Magog that had caused the Nietzschean prides to unite in a revolution. Ultimately, the Commonwealth had fallen. With the onset of the Long Night, the Nietzschean prides had turned on each other. In Dylan's time they had been warriors, poets, artisans. That was no longer the case.
Tyr had indeed survived, outliving the rest of his pride, but it was not exactly a worthy achievement by Nietzschean standards. It had, instead, made his genetic line suspect--if the Kodiak Pride had fallen before their enemies, then it indicated weakness.
He had no time to retort to the Nietzschean, however. Beka Valentine was standing at the pilot's console, leaning slightly backward. Her full lips quirked slightly. "Tyr's got a point. A good point." She looked across Command, to where the slight and extremely rumpled figure of Seamus Harper was standing and staring into a mug of coffee. Inducted into the reconstituted High Guard or not, there was no chance that Harper was ever going to come close to any sort of uniform code.
Harper suddenly realized he was being looked at. "Huh?"
Oh, yes, a typical Harper moment. Normally he lived in overdrive, but there were moments when he underwent a complete disconnect.
Harper looked at each of them in turn, his face screwing up further and further in confusion. He finally looked back at Beka. "What?"
Another Harper tic. Seamus Harper could turn any monosyllabic word into one containing two syllables or more. It was definitely not his most appreciated talent.
"You slipped something into Dylan's breakfast, didn't you?" Beka said. "I know you, Harper. It's that crazy engineer stuff you do."
Tyr turned to look at Harper. The big Nietzschean had the expression of a man regarding a bug he was contemplating crushing. In the Nietzschean's case that might be exactly the thing he had in mind.
"Hey, wait a freakin' minute!" Harper protested, his expression shifting between astonishment, disbelief, and annoyance in rapid succession. "Why would I do something like that?"
"Wouldn't be the first time," Beka said.
"Oh, come on, that was a freakin' accident!" Harper cried as Tyr, Rommie, and Dylan turned to look at Beka.
"Tyranian joy-juice," she said.
"So I didn't know, okay?" Dylan, Tyr, and Rommie looked back at Harper. Dylan wondered if this was what life had normally been like on the Eureka Maru, Beka's salvage ship. More sullenly, Harper added, "The guy in the store said it was like orange juice for humans. I thought it would be good with breakfast."
"It took us a week to get Trance back to normal," Beka said ruefully, looking at Dylan.
"You mean whatever passes for normal with Trance," Harper added.
"I believe I understand what has been behind my good mood of late," Tyr said quietly. Dylan's smile faded as he tensed. Tyr couldn't be taking this seriously, could he? Then again, Dylan couldn't remember any indication of a good mood on Tyr's part lately.
"Oh, no! Ohhh, no!" Harper said, holding up a hand as Tyr stepped off of the command riser and walked toward him. Dylan almost started to smile again at the contrast. Tyr was very tall, very dark, and extremely muscular. His expression was calm, but his gaze did not waver in the slightest, and the mass of long dreadlocks that hung halfway down his back only added to the image of a predator sizing up a snack.
Harper, on the other hand, was a wiry, rumpled man of average height. While it was not a good idea to underestimate Harper's ability in a fight, he was no match for Tyr.
Harper turned to Rommie. He was beginning to look desperate now. "Rom-doll, you see everything--"
Rommie's holographic avatar shimmered into view next to Harper, startling him. "We all know how good you are with my systems, Harper."
"He does have a way with women, doesn't he?" the android avatar said to the holographic avatar.
Screens lit up with the image of the ship's core AI. "That's one way of putting it."
"So," the android Rommie said, "I can't vouch for you, can I?"
Harper had now worked all the way through to slack-jawed astonishment. "I don't freakin' believe it. Rommie, if I'd been messing around with your circuits--"
"Perhaps you have a secret agenda," said Tyr.
Dylan could almost see Harper's brain suddenly going full blast, as though someone had thrown a switch. "Yeah, right, like I care, Tyr. That stuff's your department. Well, yours and Trance's."
"I have a secret agenda?" The sound of Trance's voice made everyone turn toward the Command Deck entrance. Dylan, knowing all too well what Trance was capable of, wondered how long she had been standing there. "And why are you trying to scare Harper?"
Tyr raised an eyebrow. "The spirit of fun," he said.
"Oh, sure," Harper said with a sneer. "Your idea of fun is blowing stuff up. Or shooting things. Or shooting them and then blowing them up."
"I think we've had enough fun for now," Dylan said. "We're back in the business of making new friends, and I want everybody ready to make the best possible impression when we reach Kantar. Even you, Mr. Harper."
Harper looked down at his rumpled clothes, then across at Beka. "This is just fine, right, Boss?"
"Oh, for a lot of things," Beka said. Harper had been her engineer on the Eureka Maru for years before they had encountered Dylan. As far as she cared, Harper could wear whatever he wanted, just as long as he got the job done and didn't scare the clients. "Just not for these diplomatic missions Dylan likes to bore us with."
"I don't think it'll be so boring," Trance interjected. Somehow, her baby-doll voice managed to fill the deck.
All levity was suddenly gone. Trance Gemini was an enigma, and every time there seemed a possibility of finding explanations for her, other questions arose. She was the most disingenuous person Dylan had ever known. She had signed up with Beka's crew on the Eureka Maru, but no one had known her background--no one had asked. In this day and age, even with the formation of a new Commonwealth, questions could get you killed.
"Well," Dylan said with a smile, "I do like to keep my crew entertained."
Trance did not return the smile. Her expression was deadly serious, and Dylan realized that she was not blinking. He had a momentary and unnerving feeling that he was suddenly trying to stare down a snake. He wasn't sure which bothered him more--the idea that Trance's objectives might always be obscure...or the idea that she...
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Book Description Tor Books, 2004. Paperback. Condition: New. Seller Inventory # DADAX0765344092
Book Description Tor Books, 2004. Mass Market Paperback. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P110765344092
Book Description Tor Books. MASS MARKET PAPERBACK. Condition: New. 0765344092 New Condition. Seller Inventory # NEW7.1265892