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The Ecologic Secession
The Culmination of the Ecolitan Trilogy
By L. E. Modesitt Jr.
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 1990 L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
All rights reserved.
"You really think he's the answer to all our problems, don't you?" The bronzed woman with the long silver hair stared at the Prime Ecolitan. Her face and figure were youthful under the unadorned forest-green uniform. The intensity of her green eyes and the faintest tracery of fine lines edging from the corners of those eyes contradicted the impression of youth.
"No. I never said that." Sam Hall glanced from the tall woman seated across the wooden desk-table from him. "He has talents and a unique outlook that we need."
"He's a sociopathic killer with a few stray ideals, and he turned to us to save him from his former colleagues."
"Major Wright —"
"Soon to be Ecolitan Professor Whaler, I understand."
"— understands the business of survival. He also has a deeply developed sense of ethics."
"Just about personal survival." The green eyes flicked from the floor to the half-open window. "Sam, I don't understand you. You've devoted your entire life to your ideals and to building the Institute into a force for the good of ecology. We've worked hard to avoid the usual problems of Imperial colonies, to prepare the way for a peaceful transition to independent status. Now ... along comes Major Wright, the most bloody-handed of Imperial Special Operatives, and you order us to make sure he doesn't get killed on our turf. Given Imperial politics, that's understandable. But then you ordered me to ensure he knew everything about Accord — about the Institute — when that knowledge could bring an Imperial reeducation team down on us faster than a jumpshift. Not only that, but you want him to report that information to the Intelligence Service. So ... we work with him and get him back where he came from, again possibly revealing capabilities we've spent decades building in secret."
She brushed back a strand of the long silver hair, looking from the darkening western horizon to the Prime. "Then, when he's safely out of our jurisdiction, he destroys half a planet. With most of the human Galaxy looking for him, he comes running, and again you order me to take him in. If the man had learned anything from us ... but he's the same old killer. He's close to the ultimate weapon — that much I admit. He can probably destroy anything ever conceived of by civilization. We can't hide that kind of weapon."
Whhhsssttt ...A gust of wind reminded both Ecolitans of the coming rain.
Sam Hall nodded, not agreeing, but acknowledging that he had heard her complaints. "Who will know he's here after he returns from Timor II? Especially after Dr. Hyrsa finishes with him?" The white-haired Prime briefly placed a square-fingered hand on the small stack of papers that threatened to lift from the polished wood.
"Sam, he's so hardheaded that even a complete cosmetic surgery won't hide him for long — not without a complete personality change. And that won't happen. Major Jimjoy Earle Wright has more blood on his hands than half the villains we scare our students with."
The Prime Ecolitan smiled softly, looking out into the late afternoon at the thunderclouds gathering over the hills to the west of the Institute. The line of gray that heralded rain appeared as though it would arrive before the twilight — but not by much. He said nothing, steepling his fingers.
"Sam, won't you at least tell me why?"
The white-haired man straightened in the all-wooden chair, letting his hands rest on the smooth natural wood of the table. "Times have changed. They always do, you know. The Empire's politicians respect only force — force they can see. Force they can measure in their own limited and conventional perceptions. Our biologics mean nothing to them. Does a salamander understand a jaymar's flight or stoop? Only the Imperial Intelligence Service understands the danger we pose, and, for political reasons, they refuse to tell either the High Command or the Senate.
"We lack anyone who can project force so effectively as can Major Wright. Yet that is precisely what we need. Once he establishes that Accord, through the Institute, possesses a credible military force —"
"We don't have any real space force, let alone a credible one," interrupted the woman. Her long bronzed fingers, with their short, square-trimmed nails, whitened as she gripped the arms of the wooden chair where she sat.
"You are forgetting Major Wright's considerable talents, Thelina."
"Talents!" The word burst from the Ecolitan's lips. "You act as though he could build and command a space force single-handedly."
Sam Hall waited, gentle smile unchanged.
"Sam, he's nothing but a hired killer. He'll never be more than that."
"Just like another hired killer would never be more than a cold-blooded Hand of the Mother ...?"
Thelina pursed her lips, but the Prime Ecolitan let his words trail off.
The light in the room dimmed as the thunderclouds and rain approached. A gust of wind riffled the handful of papers on the table that served as the Prime's desk. Sam stretched his left hand and gently held them down. "You have taken a rather strong dislike to the man. Do you know why?" His words were gentle, almost abstract.
Thelina shrugged. "Do you want a catalog? He acts as though nothing but death could stop him, and maybe not even that. He murdered more than fifty thousand innocents on Halston. He destroyed an entire Imperial outpost to escape — and then thought that we'd be impressed because he rescued two of the rebels the Empire was trying to kill. He still doesn't seem to understand that Accord is an Imperial colony, and that we have to watch every orbit we break. Worst of all, he takes apparent pride in being a one-man killing machine."
The Prime nodded. "Did you know that he's from White Mountain? Or that he had one of the highest recorded Service entrance-exam scores ever? Or that he's had his calligraphy exhibited? Or that he could have supported himself as a professional musician?"
Thrummmmm ... thrummmm ...
Thelina frowned simultaneously with the thunder. "I'm supposed to be impressed?"
Sam sighed softly. "No. I just thought you might consider that there is more to Major Wright than meets the eye."
"There may be, Sam. There may be. He certainly doesn't show it. Or any of those finer qualities. And all your persuasive words aren't likely to change my mind."
The older man laughed. "Words never do. Perhaps his actions will, once he returns."
The younger woman shook her head slowly. "After he fakes his own death to get the Empire off his trail. Will it work?"
"It should. The bodies will show a complete DNA match, and that's what the Special Operatives base death verifications on. The courier is equipped exactly as when he commandeered it. All that should prove his death."
"Until his oh-so-submissive personality reexerts itself and screams to the Galaxy that Major Wright is back in business destroying real estate and killing innocent bystanders."
"Why don't you help the Major change, then, Thelina?"
She shook her head more deliberately. "A man like that?"
"Will you give him a chance?"
"Only because you ask it. Only because of you, Sam, and what I owe you."
Thrummmmm ... thrummmmm ... whhhsssstttt ...
The papers began to lift from the table, and Thelina swept out of the chair to close the sliding window to a crack.
For a long moment she looked out through the rain at the Institute, at the low buildings housing the laboratories, the classrooms, and the physical-training facilities. Under the low and grass-covered hills beyond the classrooms and the formal gardens were the underground hangars for the flitters — and for the other equipment the Empire did not know about, equipment no colony was allowed to have. That the Institute had developed and controlled such resources was only a legal technicality that would not have amused the Imperial Senate, much less the Imperial Intelligence Service.
The Prime Ecolitan watched her, a faint smile playing across his lips.
Thrummmmmm ... thrummmmmm ... The thunder rolled eastward from the mountains, and the rain dropped in sheets onto the thick green turf and the precise formal gardens.
In time, a tall woman walked down an empty corridor, still shaking her head, leaving the lean and tanned Prime looking into the darkness of the storm alone.CHAPTER 2
"Time to jump. Point five. Time to jump. Point five."
The pilot, wearing unmarked greens, glanced over at the silent figure beside him. The other, a woman wearing the uniform of a lieutenant in the Imperial Space Force, remained facing the screens, saying nothing.
The control room flashed black at the instant of jump, that subjectively infinite blackness that ended so quickly it could not be measured.
"Jump complete. Jump complete," the console speakers announced impersonally. "Insert course tape."
The pilot touched the console again. "Manual approach."
"Control returned to pilot."
The pilot began entering figures and inputs. A representational plot appeared in the lower right-hand corner of the main screen.
"Two plus to target. Not bad," the pilot noted to himself.
The figure in the copilot's couch said nothing. The representational screen showed the system entry corridor as clean — the only moving symbol the single red dot of the courier itself. The target — a mineral-poor planet too warm for comfortable human existence, though technically habitable — glimmered a dull silver-blue on the screen.
The remote observation station was the only other red on the screen, a technicality, since the station was in a stand-down condition and would remain so unless triggered by certain activities or by a distress call.
The pilot checked the controls, the readouts, and then locked the control settings. He stood up, wrinkling his nose at the faint remainder of decanting liquor, a lingering acridity mixed with sweetness.
With a brief head-shake, he glanced back at the screens, then headed down the narrow corridor to the crew quarters. He carried the pouch of tools he had retrieved from the small storage space behind the control couch.
Three meters aft of the control room bulkhead, he stopped and slid open a cover set into the side bulkhead, toggling the switch inside. A hatch set into the deck irised open.
After easing himself down the ladder in the low gee of the courier, the pilot began to work.
"Power flow meter ... check ...
In time he came to a black cube, which he did not touch, but which he carefully checked, noting the model number and the other features. He nodded.
"... hours since power-up ..."
Then he shook his head. "... stupid ..." He stood up from his kneeling position in the cramped power room and went back up the ladder to the control room.
The figure in the copilot's seat had not moved. The pilot ignored the still form as he reseated himself to manipulate the ship's data system once again.
"Time to programmed deceleration is point five," announced the console's measured voice.
The pilot looked at the representational screen, then called up the forward navigation screen. His fingers continued to skip across the keyboard. Then he tapped a last key and straightened, stretching in place and unconsciously brushing a short strand of black hair off his forehead.
He glanced at the copilot's seat and shivered, looking away in spite of himself before he stood and walked back down the narrow corridor to reenter the power room.
Once on the deck below, he made several last-minute adjustments before gathering his tools and climbing back up the ladder. Then he triggered the lock switch and resealed the hatch. His steps back to the control room were quick, his motions precise as he replaced the tools in their storage space.
"Point one until programmed deceleration."
With a sigh, he strapped himself back before the controls, not that such a low level of deceleration would affect the interior gravity of the courier. Only a slight humm and a barely perceptible jerk marked the beginning of the deceleration. The pilot watched until he was certain that the courier was maintaining the appropriate low-power approach to Timor II.
Then he unstrapped again. His destination was the forward crew stateroom — scarcely more than two bunks and the accompanying lockers. There a still form lay cocooned in each bunk, fully webbed in place. He repressed another shudder and closed the hatch.
Three steps away was the wardroom-common-room-galley, where he opened a package of dried rations and sipped a glass of metallic-tasting water. Methodical mouthful by methodical mouthful, he chewed the rations.
After rinsing the empty glass and replacing it in the rack, he headed forward.
Nothing had changed in the control room except the screen readouts showing the courier's progress and diminishing power reserves. The pilot sat down and waited, half alert, half resting.
"Programmed deceleration ending in point one. Programmed deceleration ending in point one."
The man stretched before calling up more detailed readouts from the courier's data banks. The readouts confirmed the accuracy of his piloting and of the data supplied by the Institute.
"Programmed deceleration terminated. In-system closure rate is beyond normal docking parameters," the console announced mindlessly.
"Of course it is," mumbled the pilot. He pulled the estimated approach time from the system. Less than point three. "Anytime now ... anytime now."
"This is Timor control. This is Timor control. Please declare your status. Please declare your status."
"Timor control, this is Dauntless two. Dauntless two. We have system power failure. System power failure."
"Dauntless two, declare your status. Are you disabled or operational? If possible, state your status in Imperial priority codes ..."
The pilot waited for the computer-generated message to end.
"Timor control. Code Delta Amber slash Omega Red. Delta Amber slash Omega Red. Ship control number is IC dash one five nine. IC dash one five nine."
"Dauntless two, you are cleared to lock one. Lock one. Lock one is illuminated and marked by rad beacon."
"Stet, Timor control. Approaching lock one this time."
The pilot split the main screen, the left half for visual approach, the right upper quarter for a local representational screen, and the right lower quarter for a system-wide representational view. After that, he began to enter the manual approach profile, continuing to check the representational screens as he did so.
"Dauntless two, approach speed is above recommended closure."
"Stet. Will reduce approach speed."
"Dauntless two, approach speed is above recommended closure."
"Hades ..." mumbled the pilot, his fingers on the controls. A flare of gold showed on the close-in representational screen as the last of usable power reserves flowed forth.
"Dauntless two, closure is acceptable. Closure is acceptable."
"Many, many thanks, you mindless machine." The pilot did not transmit his words as he continued to make what adjustments he could with the remaining power.
A single line of green flashed on the close-in screen, indicating a tiny vessel departing the station at extraordinary speed — a message torp. He noted the time absently, estimating that he had a minimum of roughly twenty standard hours to complete the conversion and disable certain station functions. Even as he mentally filed the information, his fingers initiated another minor correction.
In one moment of respite, he wiped his damp forehead with the back of his sleeve before the sweat ran into his eyes. Despite the chill of a control room where his breath nearly stood out as condensed vapor, he was hot.
Clunk ... clung ... cling ...
"Locking complete," announced the courier's console. "Receiving aux power from lock."
"Dauntless two, interrogative medical assistance. Interrogative medical assistance."
"Timor control, negative. Negative."
The pilot made an inquiry through the direct data link.
The message screen responded. "Input Imperial power usage code."
The pilot frowned, then shrugged, tapping in an active code, though one which did not match the ship.
"Power transfer beginning," the screen responded.
Nodding, the pilot watched the power reserve indicator as the bar inched upward.
"Power transfer complete. Further transfer would limit station requirements."
The indicator bar rested at sixty percent, more than enough for the next phase of the mission.
The pilot stood, letting the harness retract, massaging the muscles in his temples with the fingers of his left hand, trying to relax. Finally, he retracted the control console into the standby position.
Kneading the tight muscles between his shoulders with his right hand, he walked back down the narrow corridor to the second crew compartment. There a single cocooned figure rested within the crash webbing.
The pilot surveyed the crewroom, not looking at the face of the courier's fourth still form, then bent and released the harness. He took a deep breath, then eased the figure out of the bunk and over his broad left shoulder, straightening as he did so. Wrinkling his nose at the acridness of decanting solution, he cleared his throat once, twice ...
Excerpted from The Ecologic Secession by L. E. Modesitt Jr.. Copyright © 1990 L. E. Modesitt, Jr.. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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