A Forest of Stars

The Saga of the Seven Suns Book 2


By Kevin J. Anderson

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Five years have passed since humans set fire to the gas-giant planets, unwittingly committing genocide of the Hydrogues-an infinitely powerful species of aliens-and igniting a war of epic proportions.

Five years after attacking the human-colonized worlds of the Spiral Arm, the enigmatic hydrogues maintain absolute control over the galaxy's gas-giant planets. Still reeling from renewed attacks by the hydrogues, the Terran rulers don't realize the dangers they face. The Ildirans, believed to be allies, are abducting humans for breeding experiments. Far-flung colonies plan a rebellion–an military robots, used to build cybernetic legions to fight the war, have secretly exterminated their own makers–and may soon turn on mankind.

Five years ago, humans thought they ruled the cosmos. Today they are the galaxy's most endangered species.



Available from Warner Aspect

The Saga of Seven Suns

Hidden Empire

A Forest of Stars

Horizon Storms

(coming in 2004)


This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Copyright © 2003 by WordFire, Inc.

All rights reserved.

Aspect® name and logo are registered trademarks of Warner Books, Inc.

Warner Books, Inc.,

Hachette Book Group

237 Park Avenue

New York, NY 10017

Visit our website at www.HachetteBookGroup.com.

First eBook Edition: July 2003

ISBN: 978-0-7595-2814-7


I would especially like to thank Rob Teranishi and Igor Kordey, visual geniuses whose imagination and input into the graphic novel portions of the Seven Suns universe have helped to crystallize many of my own ideas, as well as sending me off on fascinating new tangents. And Jeff Mariotte and John Nee of Wildstorm, for letting me pursue this big epic in a different direction. Also, my cover artists, Stephen Youll and Chris Moore, have done excellent work conveying at a glance some of the things I take many pages to do.

My wife, Rebecca Moesta, provided enormous input both in the big picture as well as line by line … seeing both the forest and the trees.

Catherine Sidor transcribed this novel almost as fast as I could dictate it into my tape recorder, and gave me her running commentary and suggestions as well as spotting inconsistencies. Diane Jones and Brian Herbert were early readers, offering valuable ideas and input, helping to shape the story into its best form.

My British editors John Jarrold and Darren Nash gave me excellent comments and support. The exceedingly competent Melissa Weatherill kept all the production matters running smoothly from half a world away, while at Warner Aspect, Devi Pillai and Penina Sacks kept track of enough maddening details so that the rest of us could have moments of sanity.

My agents Matt Bialer, Robert Gottlieb, and Kim Whalen at Trident Media Group have always shown great fervor for this series and have helped enormously to make it a success both in the U.S. and in many languages around the world.


Across the Spiral Arm, the gas-giant planets held secrets, dangers, and treasure. For a century and a half, harvesting vital stardrive fuel from the cloud worlds had been a lucrative business for the Roamers.

Five years ago, though, that had all changed.

Like vicious guard dogs, the hydrogues had forbidden all skymines from approaching the gas giants they claimed as their territory. The embargo had crippled the Roamer economy, the Terran Hanseatic League, and the Ildiran Empire. Many brave or foolish entrepreneurs had defied the hydrogues' ultimatum. They had paid with their lives. Dozens of skymines were destroyed. The deep-core aliens were unstoppable and ruthless.

But when facing desperate situations, Roamers refused to give up. Instead, they changed tactics, surviving—and thriving—through innovation.

"The old Speaker always told us that challenges redefine the parameters of success," Jess Tamblyn said over the open comm, taking his lookout ship into position above the deceptively peaceful-looking gas giant Welyr.

"By damn, Jess," Del Kellum transmitted with just a touch of annoyance, "if I wanted to be pampered, I'd live on Earth."

Kellum, an older clan leader and hands-on industrialist, signaled to the converging fast-dive scoop ships. The cluster of modified "blitzkrieg" skymines and a hodgepodge of small lookout craft gathered at what they hoped was a safe distance above the coppery planet. No one knew how far away the hydrogues could detect trespassing cloud thieves, but they had long since given up playing it safe. In the end, all life was a gamble, and human civilization could not survive without stardrive fuel.

The ekti-scavenging crew powered up their huge scoops and containers, ready for a concerted plunge into the thick cloud decks. Hit and run. Their supercharged engines glowed warm. Their pilots sweated. Ready.

Alone in his lookout ship, Jess flexed his hands on the cockpit controls. "Prepare to come from all sides. Move in fast, gulp a bellyful, and head for safety. We don't know how long the drogue bastards will give us."

After the big harvesting ships acknowledged, they dropped like hawks after prey. What once had been a routine industrial process had become a commando operation in a war zone.

When presented with the hydrogue threat, daring Roamer engineers had redesigned traditional skymining facilities. They had accomplished a lot in five years. The new blitzkrieg scoops had giant engines, superefficient ekti reactors, and detachable cargo tanks like a cluster of grapes. Once each tank was filled, it could be launched up to a retrieval point, passing off the harvested ekti a bit at a time without losing a full cargo load if—when—the hydrogues came after them.

Kellum transmitted, "The Big Goose thinks we're shiftless bandits. By damn, let's give the drogues the same impression."

The Hansa—the "Big Goose"—paid dearly for every drop of stardrive fuel. As ekti supplies dwindled year after year, prices skyrocketed to a point that Roamers considered the risk acceptable.

Five of the modified scoops now dispersed across the atmosphere, then plunged into Welyr's clouds, storm upwellings, and vanishingly thin winds. With giant funnel-maws open, the blitzkrieg scoops roared through storm systems at top speed. They gobbled resources, compressing the excess into hydrogen-holding tanks while secondary ekti reactors processed the gas.

As he flew his lookout mission, like a man in the crow's nest of an ancient pirate ship, Jess deployed floating sensors into Welyr's soupy clouds. The buoys would detect any large ships rising from the depths. The sensors might give only a few minutes' warning, but the daredevils could retreat quickly enough.

Jess knew that it did no good to fight. The Ildiran Solar Navy and the Hansa EDF had demonstrated that lesson often enough. At the first sign of the enemy's arrival, his renegade harvesters would turn and run with whatever ekti they'd managed to grab.

The first blitzkrieg scoop filled one cargo tank and rose high enough to jettison it, leaving a smoke trail in the thin air. A resounding cheer echoed across the comm, and the competitive Roamers challenged each other to do better. The unmanned fuel tank soared away from Welyr toward its rendezvous point. Safe.

In times past, leisurely skymines had drifted over the clouds like whales feeding on plankton. Jess's brother, Ross, had been the chief of Blue Sky Mine on Golgen; he'd had dreams, an excellent business sense, and all the hopes in the world. Without warning, though, hydrogues had obliterated the facility, killing every member of the crew. …

Jess monitored his scans. Though the sinking sensor buoys detected no turbulence that might signal the approach of the enemy, he didn't let his attention waver. Welyr seemed much too quiet and peaceful. Deceptive.

Every crewman aboard the blitzkrieg scoops was tense, knowing they had only one chance here, and that some of them would likely die as soon as the hydrogues arrived.

"Here's a second one, highest-quality ekti!" Del Kellum's harvester launched a full cargo tank. Within moments, each of the five blitzkrieg scoops had ejected a load of ekti. The scavengers had been at Welyr for less than three hours, and already it was a valuable haul.

"Good way to thumb our noses at the drogues," Kellum continued, his anxiety manifesting as chattiness over the comm band, "though I'd prefer to slam them with a few comets. Just like you did at Golgen, Jess."

Jess smiled grimly. His cometary bombardment had made him a hero among the Roamers, and he hoped that the planet was now uninhabitable, all the enemy aliens destroyed. A strike back. "I was just following my Guiding Star."

Now many clans looked to Jess for suggestions on how they might continue their retaliation against the aliens' nonsensical prohibition.

"You and I have a lot in common," Kellum said, his voice more conspiratorial now that he had switched to a private frequency. "And if you ever do another bombardment, might I suggest this place as a target?"

"What have you got against Welyr?" Then he remembered. "Ah, you were planning to marry Shareen of the Pasternak clan."

"Yes, by damn!" Shareen Pasternak had been the chief of a skymine on Welyr. Jess recalled that the woman had an acidly sarcastic sense of humor and a sharp tongue, but Kellum had been delighted with her. It would have been the second marriage for both of them. But Shareen's skymine had been destroyed in the early hydrogue depredations.

Now three more ekti cargo tanks launched away from the racing blitzkrieg scoops.

Trish Ng, the pilot of a second lookout ship, frantically radioed Jess, cutting off the conversation. "The sensor buoys! Check the readings, Jess."

He saw a standard carrier wave with a tiny blip in the background. "It's just a lightning strike. Don't get jumpy, Ng."

"That same lightning strike repeats every twenty-one seconds. Like clockwork." She waited a beat. "Jess, it's an artificial signal, copied, looped, and reflected back at us. The drogues must've already destroyed the sensor buoys. It's a ruse."

Jess watched, and the pattern became apparent. "That's all the warning we're going to get. Everybody, pack up and head out!"

As if realizing they had been discovered, seven immense warglobes rose like murderous leviathans from Welyr's deep clouds. The Roamer scavengers did not hesitate, retreating pell-mell up through the gas giant's skies.

A deep-throated subsonic hum came from the alien spheres, and pyramidal protrusions on their crystalline skins crackled with blue lightning. The Roamer daredevils had all seen the enemy shoot their destructive weapons before.

Kellum ejected four empty ekti cargo tanks, throwing them like grape-shot at the nearest warglobes. "Choke on these!"

Jess shouted into the comm, "Don't wait. Just leave."

Kellum's diversion worked. The aliens targeted their blue lightning on the empty projectiles, giving the blitzkrieg scoops a few more seconds to escape. The Roamers fired their enormous engines, and four of the five harvester scoops lifted on an escape trajectory.

But one of the new vessels hung behind just a moment too long, and the enemy lightning bolts ripped the facility to molten shreds. The crew's screams echoed across the comm channel, then cut off instantly.

"Go! Go!" Jess yelled. "Disperse and get out of here."

The remaining commando harvesters scattered like flies. The automated cargo tanks would go to their pickup coordinates, where the commandos could retrieve the haul at their leisure.

The warglobes rose up, shooting more blue lightning into space. They struck and destroyed a lagging lookout ship, but the others escaped. The enemy spheres remained above the atmosphere for some time, like growling wolves, before they slowly descended back into the coppery storms of Welyr, without pursuing.

Though dismayed at the loss of one blitzkrieg scoop and a lookout ship, the raiders were already tallying the ekti they had harvested and projecting how much it would bring on the open market.

Alone in the cockpit of his scout ship, Jess shook his head. "What has happened to us, if we can cheer because our losses were 'not too bad'?"


It was an emergency high-level staff meeting, like many others called since the hydrogue attacks had begun. But this time, King Peter insisted that it be held within the Whisper Palace, in a room of his own choosing. The secondary banquet room he selected had no particular significance for him; the young King simply made the move to demonstrate his independence … and also to annoy Chairman Basil Wenceslas.

"You keep telling me my reign is based upon appearances, Basil." Peter's artificially blue eyes flashed as he met the Chairman's hard gray gaze. "Isn't it appropriate that I meet with my staff in the Palace, not at your convenience in Hansa HQ?"

Peter knew that Basil hated it when the young King used his own tactics against him. The former Raymond Aguerra had learned to play his part better than the Hansa ever expected.

Basil's studiously blasé expression was clearly meant to remind Peter that as Chairman of the Terran Hanseatic League, he had dealt with crises far worse than a petulant young King. "Your presence is merely a formality, Peter. We don't really require you in the meeting at all."

By now, Peter knew a bluff when he saw one. "If you think the media won't notice my absence at an emergency session, then I'll go swim with my dolphins instead." He understood his tenuous importance and pushed, just a little, whenever he could. Peter rarely misjudged Basil's limits, though. He approached each small battle with finesse and subtlety. And he knew when to stop.

In the end, Basil pretended that it didn't matter. His primary advisers— Basil's handpicked but diverse inner circle of representatives, military experts, and Hansa officials—gathered behind closed doors around a chandelier-lit table as a light luncheon was served. Silent servants hurried to place bouquets on the table, damask napkins, silverware; fountains trickled in three alcoves.

Peter seated himself in an ornate chair at the head of the table. Knowing his role, however, the young King listened in respectful silence while the Chairman went through the agenda items.

Basil's iron gray hair was impeccably trimmed and combed. His perfect suit was expensive, yet comfortable, and he moved with a lean grace that belied his seventy-three years. So far today, he'd eaten sparingly, drinking only ice water and cardamom coffee.

"I require an accurate assessment of the state of our Hansa colonies." He swept his gaze around his advisers, admirals, and colony envoys. "In the five years since the hydrogues killed King Frederick and issued their ultimatum against skymining, we've had considerable time to draw conclusions and make realistic projections." He looked first to the commander of his Earth Defense Forces. Since he was Chairman of the Hansa, Basil was also the de facto leader of the EDF. "General Lanyan, what is your overall evaluation?"

The General waved aside the numbers and statistics that an aide called up for him on a document pad. "Easy enough, Mr. Chairman: We're in deep trouble, though the EDF has rigorously rationed ekti since the beginning of the crisis. Without those highly unpopular measures—"

Peter interrupted him. "Riots have caused as much damage as the shortages, especially on new settlements. We've already had to declare martial law on four colonies. People are hurting and hungry. They think I've abandoned them." He looked at the sliced meats and colorful fruit on his plate and decided he had no appetite, knowing what others were suffering.

Lanyan stopped in midsentence, looked at the King without responding, then returned his attention to Basil. "As I was saying, Mr. Chairman, austerity measures have allowed us to maintain most vital services. However, our stockpiles are dwindling."

Tyra Running Horse, one of the planetary envoys, pushed her plate aside. Peter tried to remember which colony she represented. Was it Rhejak? "Hydrogen is the most common element in the universe. Why don't we just get it somewhere else?"

"Concentrated hydrogen is not as accessible elsewhere," said one of the admirals. "Gas giants are the best reservoirs."

"The Roamers continue to supply some ekti through their high-risk harvesting techniques," said the Relleker envoy, trying to sound optimistic. With his pale skin and patrician features, he looked just like one of the faux-classical statues against the wall of the small banquet room. "Let them keep taking the gambles."

"And there is simply no other fuel alternative for the faster-than-light stardrive. We've tried everything," said yet another envoy. "We're stuck with what the Roamers provide."

Scowling, Lanyan shook his head. "Current Roamer deliveries don't match even our bare-bones military requirements, not to mention public and civilian needs. We may be forced to impose further austerity measures."

"What further measures?" said the dark-faced envoy from Ramah. "It has been months since my world received a supply delivery. No medicine, no food, no equipment. We have increased our agriculture and mining, but we do not have the infrastructure to survive being completely cut off like this."

"Most of us are in the same situation," the ghostly pale Dremen representative said. "And my colony has entered its low weather cycle, more clouds, lower temperatures. Crop yields are traditionally down thirty percent, and it'll be the same this time. Even in the best years, Dremen would need aid to survive. Now—"

Basil raised his hand to cut off further complaints. "We've had this discussion before. Impose birth restrictions if your agricultural capabilities can't support your population. This crisis isn't going to end overnight, so start thinking in the long term."

"Of course," Peter said with thinly veiled sarcasm. "Let's take away the rights of fertile men and women to decide how many children they need to sustain a colony they've risked their lives to establish. Now, that's a solution the people will like. I suppose you'll want me to put on a happy face and make them accept it?"

"Yes, I will, dammit," Basil said. "That's your job."

The grim news seemed to diminish everyone's appetite. Servants came around pouring ice water, using delicate silver tongs to offer wedges of dwarf limes. Basil sent them away.

He tapped his fingers on the tabletop with uncharacteristic impatience. "We need to do a better job of making the people see just how dire the situation is. We have minimal fuel, not to mention very limited communication abilities, thanks to the continuing lack of green priests from our shortsighted friends on Theroc. Our fast mail drones can do only so much. Now, more than ever, we could use more green priests just to maintain contact between isolated colony worlds. Many planets don't have a single one."

He looked over at Sarein, the dusky-skinned ambassador from the forested world. She was lean and wiry, with narrow shoulders and small breasts, high cheekbones and a pointed chin.

"I'm doing the best I can, Basil. You know that Therons have never been good at seeing the forest for the trees." She smiled to emphasize her clever choice of words. "On the other hand, Theroc has received no routine supplies, no technology, no medical assistance, since this crisis began. It's difficult for me to ask my people for more green priests if the Hansa dismisses our own needs."

Peter watched the interaction between Basil and the pretty Theron woman; from the first days of his reign, he'd recognized the mutual attraction. Now, before the Chairman could respond, Peter squared his shoulders and spoke in the rich voice he had practiced during numerous speeches. "Ambassador, considering the hardships faced by many of our Hansa colonists, we must allocate our resources, giving our own colonies highest priority. Theroc, as a sovereign world, is already much better off than most."

While Sarein fumed at the verbal slap, Basil nodded appraisingly at Peter, relieved. "The King is correct, of course, Sarein. Until the situation changes, Theroc will have to take care of itself. Unless, perhaps, Theroc would like to join the Hansa … ?"

Sarein's face flushed, and she gave a barely perceptible shake of her head.

General Lanyan drew his glance like a scythe across the envoys. "Mr. Chairman, our only choice is to take certain extreme measures. The longer we wait, the more extreme those measures will have to be."

Basil sighed, as if he had known this choice would fall upon him. "You have the Hansa's permission to do what is necessary, General." He skewered Peter with his gaze. "And you will do it all in the King's name, of course."


I have seen many fascinating worlds," Estarra's oldest brother said as their flitter-raft traveled across the densely wooded continent. "I've been to the Whisper Palace on Earth, and stood under the seven suns of Ildira." Reynald's tanned face lit with a smile. "But Theroc is my home, and I'd rather be here than any other place."

Estarra grinned, looking around her at the new, but always familiar, landscape of whispering worldtrees. "I've never seen the Looking Glass Lakes, Reynald. I'm glad you brought me along."

As a girl, she had slipped out before dawn, running through the forests to investigate whatever caught her curiosity. Fortunately, a wide variety of subjects piqued her interest: nature, science, culture, history. She had even studied records from the original generation ship Caillié, the story of Theron settlement and the origin of the green priests. Not because she had to, but because she was interested.

"Who else would I bring?" Reynald playfully rubbed his knuckles on his sister's tangle of hair twists. He was broad-shouldered, his arms muscular, his long hair done up in thick braids. Though a sheen of sweat covered his skin, he didn't seem uncomfortable in the forest warmth. "Sarein is an ambassador on Earth. Beneto is a green priest on Corvus Landing, and Celli is … well—"

"She's still too much of a baby, even at sixteen," Estarra said.

Years before, as part of his preparation for becoming the next Father of Theroc, Reynald had traveled around the Spiral Arm to learn different cultures. It was the first time any Theron leader had diligently investigated other societies. Now, with travel restricted, stardrive fuel strictly rationed, and interplanetary tensions high, Reynald had decided to visit the main cities on his own world. His parents had made no secret that they intended to step down and turn over the throne to him within the year. He had to be ready.

Now their flitter-raft flew above the treetops, passing from one settlement to another. Laughing followers, pretending to be part of a procession, swooped around them on gliderbikes, small craft composed of rebuilt engines and fluttering wings scavenged from native condorflies. Rambunctious young men circled above and behind them, showing off aerial maneuvers. Some flirted with Estarra, who had reached marriageable age. …

Ahead, she saw a gap in the thick canopy and a glint of azure water. "Those are the Looking Glass Lakes, all deep, all perfectly round," Reynald said, pointing. "We'll stay the night at the village."

Around the first beautiful lake, worldtrees supported five worm hives, the empty nests of immense invertebrates. When Reynald landed the flitter-raft on the lakeshore, people rappelled, jumped, climbed, or swung down from their hive homes to greet the visitors. Four green priests emerged with the grace of gently waving branches, their skin tinged emerald by photosynthetic algae.

The green priests were capable of communication more sophisticated than the most complex technologies either the Hansa or the Ildirans had invented. The problem had frustrated scientists for generations, and the green priests had been unable to help them—not because they were keeping secrets, but because the priests themselves didn't know the technical basis for what they did. Many outsiders offered to hire them for their telink skill, though the self-sufficient Therons had little need or interest in what the Hansa had to offer. The worldforest itself seemed intent on keeping a low profile.

On the other hand, the Hansa representatives were very insistent and persuasive.

Balancing such issues was a difficult job for any leader. Watching her brother interact with the green priests and smiling villagers, Estarra could see how well he would fill his role as the next Theron Father.


On Sale
Jul 1, 2003
Page Count
704 pages

Kevin J. Anderson

About the Author

Kevin J. Anderson has written forty-six national bestsellers and has over twenty million books in print worldwide in thirty languages. He has been nominated for the Nebula Award, the Bram Stoker Award, and the SFX Readers’ Choice Award. Find out more about Kevin Anderson at http://www.wordfire.com.

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