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The Saga of Seven Suns, Book 6
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Among the humans, the Hansa’s brutal Chairman struggles to crush any resistance even as King Peter breaks away to form his own new Confederation among the colonies who have declared their independence.
And meanwhile, the original, voracious Klikiss race, long thought to be extinct, has returned, intent on conquering their former worlds and willing to annihilate anyone in the way.
Praise for the Saga of Seven Suns?
“A soaring epic? A space opera to rival the best the field has ever seen.” — Science Fiction Chronicle
“Kevin Anderson has created a fully independent and richly conceived venue for his personal brand of space opera, a venue that nonetheless raises fruitful resonances with Frank Herbert’s classic Dune series.” — Scifi.com
BOOKS BY KEVIN J. ANDERSON
The Saga of Seven Suns
A Forest of Stars
Of Fire and Night
Available from Wildstorm/DC Comics
Veiled Alliances (graphic novel)
1 ORLI COVITZ
An unending swarm of giant beetlelike Klikiss poured through the transportal on Llaro for days, marching from some unknown, distant planet. During the initial panic, Mayor Ruis and the Roamer spokesman Roberto Clarin had issued a futile appeal for calm among the people. There was nothing more they could do. With the Klikiss controlling the transportal, the colonists had no way to leave Llaro. They were trapped.
The horror and shock gradually dulled to hopelessness and confusion. At least the creatures hadn't killed anyone. Yet.
Alone on a barren hill, Orli Covitz stood looking toward the termite-mound ruins and the colony settlement. Thousands of intelligent bugs moved over the landscape, investigating everything with relentless, alien curiosity. No one understood what the Klikiss wanted—with the exception, perhaps, of the strangely haunted Margaret Colicos, the long-lost xeno-archaeologist who had spent years among them.
Presently, the fifteen-year-old girl saw Margaret trudging up the hill toward her accompanied by DD, the Friendly compy who had taken a liking to Orli almost as soon as he arrived with Margaret through the transportal. The older woman wore the field jumpsuit of a xeno-archaeologist, its fabric and fastenings designed to last for years under tough conditions in the field, though by now it was tattered and stained.
DD walked cheerfully up to Orli. He studied her expression. "You appear to be sad, Orli Covitz."
"My planet's being invaded, DD. Just look at them. Thousands and thousands. We can't live here with them, and we can't get off the planet."
"Margaret Colicos has lived among the Klikiss for a considerable time. She is still alive and healthy."
Breathing heavily in the dry air, Margaret stopped beside the two. "Physically healthy, maybe. But you may want to reserve judgment as to my psychological health."
The distant, shattered gaze of the older woman discomfited Orli. She didn't want to imagine what Margaret must have endured among the giant insects.
"I am still getting used to talking with other people again, so my social skills may be somewhat lacking. I spent so long trying to think like the Klikiss. It was very draining." She placed her hand on the compy's shoulder. "I really thought I might go mad . . . until DD arrived."
The compy didn't seem aware of any sort of threat around them. "But we're back now, Margaret Colicos. And safe among friends."
"Safe?" Orli didn't know if she would ever feel entirely safe again. Not long after she and her father had left dreary Dremen to become colonists on Corribus, black robots had wiped out the settlement, leaving only Orli and Mr. Steinman alive. To make a new start, she had come to Llaro. And now the Klikiss had invaded.
DD's optimism was unrelenting. "Margaret understands the Klikiss. She will explain them to the colonists and show you how to live together. Won't you, Margaret?"
Even the older woman had a skeptical expression on her face. "DD, I barely understand how I survived. Though my years of training as a xeno-archaeologist should count for something."
Orli reached out and took her calloused hand. "Then you have to tell Mayor Ruis and Roberto Clarin what you know."
DD dutifully took her other hand. "Knowledge is helpful, isn't it, Margaret?"
"Yes, DD. Knowledge is a tool. I'll explain what I learned and hope it turns out to be useful."
As they descended the hill toward the town, they walked directly past several spiny Klikiss warriors and a troop of mottled yellow-and-black builders that had begun to dig long trenches, disregarding any boundaries the colonists had marked. Anxious, Orli held the woman's hand tightly. Margaret was unruffled, though; she paid no more attention to the individual Klikiss than the creatures seemed to pay her.
"Why are there so many types of Klikiss? They've all got different colors and markings." Orli had even seen some with almost human heads and faces like hard masks, though most just looked like bugs.
"Klikiss don't have sexes, they have sub-breeds. The large spiny ones are warriors to fight in the many hive wars. Others are gatherers, builders, scouts, scientists."
"You can't be serious. Those bugs have scientists?"
"And mathematicians and engineers." Margaret raised her eyebrows with a certain measure of admiration. "They discovered the transportal technology, after all. They invented the Klikiss Torch and left detailed records and intricate equations on the walls of their ruins. Those creatures solve problems through brute force—and they do it well."
Orli watched the swarming Klikiss, whose clustered, towerlike structures looked like a giant hive complex. "Do they have a queen?"
Margaret stared with unfocused eyes, as if buried in unforgettable nightmares. "Not a queen—a breedex, neither male nor female. It is the mind and soul of the hive."
Orli drew the woman's attention back to the real question. "But what do they want?"
Margaret remained quiet for so long that Orli thought she hadn't heard. Then the archaeologist said, "Everything."
Most of the Klikiss had moved back into their ancient city as if nothing had changed in millennia. One huge Klikiss, with a silvery exoskeleton adorned with black tiger stripes, had an extra pair of segmented legs, a carapace full of spikes and polished knobs, and several sets of faceted eyes. Its head/face was ovoid, composed of many small plates that shifted and moved, almost giving it expressions. This one seemed much . . . vaster somehow, more important and ominous than the others. Orli stared, her eyes wide.
"That is one of the eight domates that attend the breedex," Margaret said. "They provide additional genetic material necessary for spreading the hive."
"Will I see the breedex myself?"
The older woman flinched. "Hope you do not. It is very risky."
"Did you ever see her—it, I mean?"
"Many times. It is how I survived." She offered nothing more.
"So it can't be that risky."
They passed by EDF barracks built among the alien towers. The soldiers were pale and frightened, their uniforms rumpled and stained. These Eddies—stationed here with instructions to "protect the colonists" and guard the transportal so the Roamer detainees didn't escape—could now do little more than watch the invasion, as helpless as the colonists they were supposed to safeguard.
Orli was surprised to see that the Klikiss had not disarmed the troops. "Why do the soldiers still have their guns?"
"The Klikiss don't care."
Without asking permission or making any gesture to acknowledge what they were doing, the Klikiss workers began to tear down the modular barracks, ripping open the walls with their armored claws.
The edgy EDF soldiers began shouting. "Wait a minute!" Some of them pushed forward. "At least let us get our stuff out first."
The bustling insects diligently continued their tasks, paying no more attention to the distraught men than they would to ornamental rocks.
Bolstered by their fellows, several soldiers ran toward the barracks. "Stop! Hold on!"
Klikiss workers tore one section into scrap metal, strewing dismantled bunks, storage units, clothing, and supplies around like garbage. The nearest EDF soldier got in the way of an insectile demolitionist and raised his pulse jazer rifle. "Back off, bugs! I'm warning you—"
The Klikiss swung a segmented limb, decapitated the man, and returned to its labors before the corpse fell to the ground. Outraged, nine uniformed soldiers screamed, took aim with their high-powered rifles, and started shooting.
Margaret groaned and squeezed her eyes shut. "This will turn out badly."
"Isn't there something you can do?" Orli cried.
"Not a thing."
As projectiles slammed into them, the insect creatures didn't comprehend what was happening. Despite the weapons fire cutting them down, workers continued to destroy lockers full of clothing, equipment, scrapbooks of friends and family.
EDF weapons splattered eleven of the insect workers before the rest of the subhive turned on the soldiers. Dozens of spiny warriors marched up while the soldiers kept firing until their weapons were empty.
Then the Klikiss killed them.
Orli stared at the bloodshed, speechless. Even DD seemed alarmed. A troop of workers arrived to replace the dead insects, and others hauled the human and Klikiss bodies away.
A tiger-striped domate strode up to Margaret and spoke in a clattering language. Margaret made a clicking, unnatural sound in her throat, while DD translated for Orli. "The domate says those newbreeds are defective. They have been eliminated from the gene pool." It turned away as a new troop of workers continued the demolition of the barracks in order to build their own structures.
"They're going to kill us all, aren't they?" Orli asked with grim resignation.
"The Klikiss aren't here for you." Margaret narrowed her eyes, staring at the ancient structure that housed the transportal. "I learned something very important when I deciphered their language. Their primary enemies are the black robots. The Klikiss mean to wipe them out. All of the robots. Just don't get in the way."
Despite significant setbacks, Sirix and his black robots were undefeated. He immediately formulated a revision to his plan and determined that the robots would recapture—or destroy—one world at a time. The human military was greatly weakened, their governments too scattered to do anything about it.
All of the long-hibernating robots had been reawakened and were ready to complete their mission. The base that the robots had seized on Maratha was nearly completed, and Sirix's military force would be substantially augmented by the stolen EDF battleships. They would form a metal swarm to crush the humans and then the Ildirans. Extreme and unprecedented violence was the only appropriate course of action.
Until recently, he had felt invincible, but in the free-for-all between the human military, hydrogue warglobes, monstrous verdani treeships, and Ildiran warliners, the robot fleet had been decimated. Worst of all, Sirix had lost many of his ancient, irreplaceable comrades. After millennia of planning, he had expected to conquer Earth and eradicate the rest of humanity, much as the myriad robots had exterminated the creator Klikiss race thousands of years ago. He had never postulated that the hydrogues might lose.
Seeing the tide turn, Sirix had assessed the damage, gauged his limitations, redefined his objectives—rather than admitting actual defeat—and retreated. Now, isolated in empty space, the remaining ships were safe, and Sirix intended to retaliate swiftly. One world at a time. From the bridge of his Juggernaut, he led his battleships toward a new destination. A planet called Wollamor.
He reviewed the tallies of his remaining weapons and resources: Out of thousands of ships, he still had three Juggernauts (one severely damaged), 173 Manta cruisers, seventeen slow-moving but heavily armed Thunderhead weapons platforms, more than two thousand Remora small attack ships, and enough stardrive fuel to grant them reasonable mobility from system to system, provided the engines operated at peak efficiency. They had standard-issue weaponry, explosives, even sixty-eight atomic warheads. It would be enough. Soon, when the rest of his robots completed their tasks on Maratha, they would have an invincible predatory force.
Soldier compies operated the Juggernaut's relevant consoles, though many stations were unmanned and unnecessary—life-support systems, science stations, communications centers. Dried bloodstains caked the floor and diagnostic panels. Admiral Wu-Lin himself had died here, fighting the rebellious Soldier compies with his bare hands after his weapons gave out. Nineteen human bodies had been removed from the bridge; more than six hundred humans had been hunted down, trapped, and executed on other decks. Sirix had no interest in keeping prisoners. They were not relevant to his plans.
Given time, the bloodstains would degrade, and so long as the systems functioned, he cared little for hygiene or cosmetic appearances. Such things had never been of concern to his insectoid creators either, and the Klikiss had programmed their behavior traits into the robots.
The lift doors opened, and Ilkot walked onto the bridge on his clusters of fingerlike legs. He communicated in a staccato flash of coded electronic signals. "According to the ship's database, Wollamor has been claimed by the humans as part of their colonization initiative."
"It is a former Klikiss world, and all Klikiss worlds are ours." Sirix studied the screen, pinpointing the bright star and the mottled brown, green, and blue planet in orbit around it. Though diminished, his battle group was more than sufficient to crush the unwanted human presence below and take possession of Wollamor.
This was a near-forgotten outpost from ancient times, former home of a subhive whose breedex had been slaughtered in the interminable Klikiss wars. Sirix himself had been persecuted on Wollamor thousands of years ago. This time, though, his arrival would be far different.
Soldier compies working the key bridge stations alerted him to an incoming transmission. The extended sensors of the colony's satellite network had picked up the group of ships. "EDF, where have you been? We've waited six months for relief supplies!"
A second voice came on the comm. "We've been cut off here—no news, no green priests. What's happening out there in the rest of the Spiral Arm? We thought you'd written us off."
Sirix contemplated various fictions he could disseminate. Using snippets from stored log recordings, he could compile a convincing conversation and dupe these anxious colonists. But why bother? He decided that the benefits of such a ruse would not justify the effort necessary to convey veracity. "Maintain communications silence."
Sirix sent a group of Manta cruisers forward to attack. He observed through external imagers while the cruisers plunged down like broad spearpoints, tearing through wispy clouds on their way to the rugged and cracked landscape. He easily spotted the primary colony settlement the humans had built around the old Klikiss ruins and the transportal gateway.
After deciphering how the ancient technology functioned, these human vermin had rushed through transportals, spreading like pernicious weeds across numerous pristine worlds. Klikiss worlds. Planets that by right belonged to Sirix and the black robots.
Sweeping low over the clustered buildings, the first group of Mantas readied their jazer banks and explosive-projectile batteries. They had plenty of firepower. In the streets below, emerging from colorful prefabricated buildings, the Wollamor colonists waved at the ships overhead, welcoming them, cheering for the chain-of-stars logo of the Earth Defense Forces.
EDF weapons spat out projectiles and energy bolts, raining destruction on the colony. Nearly half of the people were annihilated before the rest realized what was happening. The frantic survivors scattered in all directions, running to find shelter.
Mantas set croplands on fire, exploded cisterns and grain silos. The bright polymer huts turned into puddles and smoking ash. People dropped like flaming matchsticks. Diligent Soldier compies blasted a crater twenty meters in diameter simply to obliterate one panicked fugitive. They were very thorough.
"Do not damage any original Klikiss structures. Those are ours."
Beside him, Ilkot said, "That will require a more cautious attack to complete our objective."
"A more personal attack," Sirix agreed, flexing his sharp pincers as he remembered the kinesthetic experience of killing Louis Colicos. "I will go down myself to take charge."
His Juggernaut descended toward the smoking ruin of the colony. All the while, the ship's comm systems recorded the anguished cries, screams of terror, and bellows of rage and disbelief. Sirix decided he would replay them later and savor the images. It was just the sort of thing a breedex would have done.
Here on Wollamor, he and his black robots would regroup and plan for their next victory. His ship landed amidst dust and smoke and flames, and he hoped he would still find a few humans alive, so that he could take care of them himself.
The chamber deep inside Hansa HQ had thick walls, no windows, and harsh lighting. Sarein's breath caught with claustrophobia the moment she entered. With the gigantic pyramid pressing around her, she could feel the weight of the political problems that bore down on them all.
I am trapped here, far from Theroc. Sarein was no longer sure which side she would better serve. So much had changed. I can't even tell anymore whether Basil considers me a friend or an enemy.
Although Earth was saved during the final battle against the hydrogues, the Terran Hanseatic League had become a casualty of the events that followed. The trade-oriented government, its figurehead King, and the colonies had been lost through miscalculation, diplomatic insults, and sheer neglect. The mistakes were primarily Basil's, though he would never admit as much. The Chairman would make others pay for those errors. She wondered if that was why he had summoned his few loyal advisers here to meet with him in such extreme privacy. Either heads were about to roll, or cautious plans would be made. These days, an anxious Sarein never knew what to think, so she had learned to keep quiet.
The Chairman was already at the table, looking disappointed in the universe. He was impeccably dressed, and his handlers had touched up his appearance, but Sarein's heart sank to see him. She had known and loved this man for many years, but Basil appeared old and washed out. Even before the hydrogue conflict he had not been a young man, though rejuvenation treatments and anti-aging drugs from Rhejak had kept him fit, healthy, and energetic. No medical remedy could alleviate the pressures that were taking their toll on him.
When Basil saw her enter the thick-walled room, his expression remained hard and distant. He didn't smile or offer her a warm glance, which cut her deeply. They'd been so close once. Sarein had been Basil's protégée, and he had guided her through the web of Hansa politics. Now she wasn't sure that he felt anything for her. She couldn't even remember the last time they had made love.
She lifted her chin and found her seat, ready to get down to business. Already present were General Kurt Lanyan, commander of the Earth Defense Forces (or what was left of them), and pale Eldred Cain, the Deputy Chairman and the Chairman's heir apparent. If Basil had been a different sort of man, he would have gracefully retired long ago. If Basil had been a different sort of man . . .
Captain McCammon, wearing his royal guard uniform with a maroon beret atop his platinum-blond hair, moved carefully around the room with two guards, scanning for listening devices. "We've been through it three times, Mr. Chairman. The room is clear. No eavesdropping apparatus. I guarantee no one will be able to hear what's said in this meeting."
"There are no guarantees." Basil's shoulders slumped wearily. "But I will accept your assurances for now."
Lanyan poured himself a cup of strong coffee from a dispenser in the wall and took a seat near the Deputy Chairman. As the guards completed their sweep, Cain said in a gentle, reasonable voice, "Mr. Chairman, who exactly are we worried about? We're deep in the heart of Hansa HQ."
"Yes, sir, but spies for whom?"
Basil's face darkened. "Someone helped King Peter and Queen Estarra escape. Someone leaked news reports to the media about her pregnancy. Someone stole Prince Daniel so that our Hansa is without a King." He glanced up at McCammon. "Take your guards and go. Be sure the door seals behind you."
The man hesitated for a moment, perhaps thinking he should be included in the discussions, then nodded briskly and retreated. When the heavy door closed, Sarein felt even more claustrophobic. She glanced at Cain, and the pallid man met her gaze. Clearly both of them thought Basil was overreacting, but neither said as much out loud.
Basil glanced at his notes. "Peter has gone into exile on Theroc and set up an illegal government. Though I fail to see any logical reason for it, he seems to be gaining followers among the Roamers, breakaway Hansa colonies, and the Therons. Sarein—you are the ambassador from Theroc. Is there nothing you can do to bring them under control again?"
Although she should have expected this, Sarein was flustered. "Since the King renounced the Hansa, I've had no official contact with Theroc."
The Chairman rose halfway out of his seat. "It is your traitorous family! Father Idriss and Mother Alexa were never strong leaders. They would have done whatever you told them. You should insist on it."
"My parents are no longer the leaders of Theroc," she said in a brittle voice. "And it seems clear that King Peter and Queen Estarra are making their own decisions."
"And how can I be certain of you, Sarein?" Basil swept his gaze toward Cain and Lanyan. "How can I be certain of any of you?"
"Perhaps we could focus the discussion on more productive topics," Cain suggested. "Our lack of green priests is a severe handicap. How are we to resolve this problem if the two sides never talk? As Theron ambassador, perhaps Sarein could convince Nahton to deliver a few important diplomatic communiqués."
She shook her head. "I've already spoken with him, and he won't change his stance. Until the Chairman abdicates and the Hansa recognizes the new Confederation, no green priest will serve us."
Basil was furious. "We can issue our own proclamation declaring this Confederation an outlaw government! Peter is emotionally unstable—his own actions prove it! Any Hansa colonies that follow Peter, any Roamer clans, any Theron citizens, will be considered rebels. None of them can stand up to the EDF."
Lanyan loudly cleared his throat. "If you're going to get into a firefight, Mr. Chairman, remember that our military forces are severely limited. We're still rounding up all the wreckage and assessing the damage. We've got at least a year of all-out repair work before we have even modest functionality again."
"We don't have a year, General."
Lanyan took a swallow of his coffee, winced at the taste, and took an even bigger gulp. "And we don't have the resources or manpower to do it any faster."
Sarein could see Basil's hands trembling. "With the industrial capacity of the Hansa, how can we not manage? Those colonies signed the Hansa Charter. They are required to do as I command."
"Not true, in a strictly legal sense," Cain pointed out. "They specifically swore their loyalty to the Great King, not to you. The Charter was intentionally designed so that the Chairman could keep a low profile."
Basil barely contained another outburst. "We don't have time to bring forth a new King now. The one I'm currently grooming isn't ready, and I'm not going to risk the kind of failure we had with the previous ones. I will have to be the public face of the Hansa. For the time being."
In a soothing voice, Sarein said, "Considering our situation, maybe I should go to Theroc and talk to my sister. I could try to build bridges, reach some sort of peaceful solution. Would it be so bad for you to retire gracefully, if the King agreed to abdicate, too?"
Basil looked at her as if she had already betrayed him. "On the other hand, I might offer amnesty if they overthrow Peter and deliver him to us for appropriate punishment."
4 KING PETER
The last verdani battleship lifted into the clear Theron sky, guided by a former green priest whose body had fused into the heartwood. King Peter watched the departure with his wife from a broad, open balcony of the fungus-reef city—his new capital. From alcoves and windows of the white-walled organic structure, and across the forest floor, crowds cheered and waved farewell to the breathtaking mass of branches and thorns.
Estarra held his arm, tears streaming down her cheeks, though she was also smiling. "Now we're on our own."
"Not exactly 'on our own.' We have the whole Confederation—all the Roamer clans, the orphaned colonies." Peter held her close, feeling the swell of her pregnancy against him. "Just not the Hansa. Not yet. But they'll come around."
"Do you think the Chairman will ever resign?"
"No. But that won't stop us from winning."
The thorny treeship rose higher and higher on its journey to orbit. The verdani battleships had helped humanity defeat the hydrogues, and now the group of many-branched living vessels would drift through open space, spreading across the Galaxy. With their great power, the treeships could face off against titanic enemies, but that form of strength did little good on the battleground of human politics. Peter and Estarra had to face the next challenge themselves. The treeship dwindled in the distance.
Warm sunlight dappled the airy platforms and balconies of the fungus reef, and the breezes carried a thousand forest scents from damp fronds, bright epiphytes, and dazzling flowers filled with perfume and nectar. The worldtrees whispered a gentle lullaby. To Peter, Theroc was even more beautiful than Estarra had promised.
A regular stream of visitors had been arriving on the planet, eager to join the Confederation. Everyone claimed to have brilliant ideas for the new government, for the constitution, for revenues and taxation, for a new system of laws. Green priests passed messages around the breakaway colonies, promoting the new government. Many displaced groups of humanity had waited a long time to tear free of the barbed wire of the Hansa. Peter offered them a viable alternative, and many placed their faith in him. It was up to him to show that he was indeed the leader they wanted and needed.
Chairman Wenceslas had worked hard to transform him from a young street scamp into a figurehead ruler. Now the Hansa had to accept what they had created. More than ever before, Peter needed to act like a King—to be a King. When he looked at all the people who came to volunteer their skills and resources and offer their loyalty to his new Confederation, Peter knew that he and Estarra had absolutely made the right choice. The Confederation was still being formed, and many details of its bureaucratic infrastructure were in flux. Breaking away from the Hansa was actually the easy part.
OX walked out onto the sunny balcony platform carrying platters of refreshments and leading several people who had arrived to discuss competing needs and expectations. Although the Teacher compy was far too sophisticated to serve as a mere butler, since purging most of his stored personal memories, he retained little of the personality that Peter had known. Still, Peter felt a strong loyalty to the compy and knew he would one day prove invaluable again. After all, OX was in large part responsible for the man Peter had become: King Peter.
- On Sale
- Dec 10, 2007
- Page Count
- 672 pages