Read an Excerpt
In Endless Twilight
By L. E. Modesitt Jr.
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 1988 L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
All rights reserved.
The once-upon-a-time scoutship jumpshifted, and for a moment that was both instantaneous and endless, black light flooded the two small compartments, the one containing the pilot and the crew space that contained no one. That instant of shift seemed to last longer than normal, as it always did when the actual shift was near the limit.
"Interrogative status," asked the pilot, a man with tight-curled blond hair and hawk-yellow eyes that swept the range of displays on the screens before him.
"No EDI traces. No mass indications within point one light. Destination estimated at four plus." The impersonally feminine tone of the artificial intelligence would have chilled most listeners, but the pilot preferred the lack of warmth in the voice of the Caroljoy.
In his rebuilding of the discarded and theoretically obsolete scout, the former Imperial Commodore could have programmed warmth into the voice when he had added the AI, just as he could have opted for more comfort in the spartan quarters, rather than for the raw power and extensive defensive screens the beefed-up ex-Federation scout now enjoyed. The pilot had avoided warmth in both the ship and the AI.
He leaned back in the control couch, trying to relax, as if he wanted to push away a particularly bad memory. He did, and as he often also did he whistled three or four notes in the odd double-toned style that was his alone.
The AI did not acknowledge the music, since the notes represented neither observation nor inquiry.
What was past was past. The two tacheads he had used on El Lido, along with the thirty thousand casualties, would certainly draw Imperial interest, but he doubted that they would call Impie attention back on him. Not yet. After all, one of the two targets had been CE, Limited, in which he, as Shaik Corso, had held the controlling interest.
Now, Hamline Rodire had control, and the former Commodore hoped that Rodire would use the influence that CE, Limited, represented for the benefit of all of El Lido.
He shook his head. He had run through the arguments all too often to change his mind, or the past. What was past was past. Time to concentrate on the future, on running down the rest of the research leads that he and the Foundation had neglected for too long. Time to refocus himself on the long range and eventual mission, on getting the technology he needed for the reclamation job on Old Earth, a job that was too big for the underfunded and ignored Recorps to complete.
"EDI traces at forty emkay."
"Interrogative signature pattern."
"Signature pattern tentatively identified as standard system patroller, class II."
"Preliminary course line indicates target headed in-system. Probability exceeds point eight that patroller destination is planet three."
Former Commodore MacGregor Corson Gerswin nodded. That made sense, particularly since planet three was Byzania.
"Interrogative other patrollers."
"Remote EDI traces from exit corridor two. Probability exceeds point five that second system patroller is stationed within one hundred emkay of jump point."
"Interrogative other system targets."
"That is negative this time."
Gerswin's fingers played across the representational screen, checking the relative positions and travel times.
He pulled at his chin.
After the debacle on El Lido, he had plunged into trying to tie up a number of loose ends. That had been fine, but he hadn't bothered to update Lyr on those activities. Not what had happened on El Lido, but on his OER Foundation-related efforts, the ones she monitored and on which she had to keep records for the Empire's tax collectors and various departmental snoops.
First, though, he really wanted to take a rest, one of several hours while the Caroljoy cruised in-system.
He reached for the control couch harness release, then straightened.
Might as well do the update and send it. The energy required would be less the farther out-system he was when he dispatched the torp. And the less energy required for the message torp, the more left with the ship.
Who could ever tell what he might require?
From what he recalled, Byzania, while not unfriendly, was a rather tightly controlled society. But, first, the update to Lyr. Then he could worry about sleep and Byzania.
Once she got the update, she could be the one to take on the worries about the latest implications of what he was doing, not that she wasn't already.
He cleared his throat and tapped the data screen controls.CHAPTER 2
At the sound, Lyr dropped in front of the console.
The screen showed the face of the man with the curly blond hair and hawk-yellow eyes.
"You never change," she observed safely, since Gerswin was really not on the screen, his image only the beginning of a prerecorded torp fax for her.
She first tapped the controls to store the entire message and the mass of data that always accompanied his transmissions, then tapped the acknowledgment stud to start the message.
"Lyr. Finished the Grom'tchacher lead. Your first impressions were right. Leased the lab, took the cash, and left. Nice prospectus, though. Theory's interesting, if not down our line. Might be worth a commission job for one of your friends to investigate."
Gerswin looked down, then back into the screen. In the shadows behind him, Lyr could make out the accel/decel shell/couch that dominated the control room, and the manual auxiliary control banks that Gerswin had insisted on retaining even after centralizing the direct controls in the simplified bank before him and, secondarily, in the AI center.
In scanning the background, she missed the next words, not that she could not have replayed them anytime.
"... off to Byzania next. Hylerion — the precoded, accelerated tree grower — heard some interesting reports. Never collected the last installment of the grant. Suspicious enough to make me think the idea worked.
"Be back in Ydris to check their system after that. Send a report there."
He grinned at the screen.
"Since you're the cred worrier, some good news. In tracing down Grom'tchacher, ran across some business. Managed to broker a lab lease and some other property along with ours. Finder's fee arrangement. Took it personally, but felt some belonged to the Foundation. Means no draw on my operating account for a while. Remainder of the OERF share is coming through the general receipts. Code blue."
Lyr frowned. That she'd have to check. Credits were often the last thing the Commander worried about, the very last thing.
"... off to Byzania. See you soon."
He always closed that way, she reflected, tapping the studs to store the message in the permanent file, but it had been more than five years since he had been anywhere near New Augusta.
She pursed her lips, knowing she should be somewhere other than before the console at 2030 on a spring evening. At less than seventy, she certainly wasn't novaed; her weight was the same as it had been years earlier; and her muscle tone, thanks to her exercise regime, was probably better. She looked far younger than she was.
"That could be the trouble ..."
She cut off her monologue before it began and called up the general receipts account and the Commander's code blue entry.
"Unsolicited donation. Fyrst V. D'berg, Aerlion. One million credits. Codes follow. ..."
Lyr ran her tongue over her chapped lips. Gerswin and his unsolicited donations ran to as much as several million annually. Where he found them she wondered, but they always were supported.
And his ventures ... she really wanted to ask him what else he had been doing besides tracking completed grants and projects and grantees who had failed to report or collect. Always the ventures, like the fabrication plant on Solor and whatever he was doing on Westmark with that plant protein substitute. Add to that the aliases ... she worried at her lower lip with her upper teeth.
After forty years with the Foundation, she could see an accelerating trend, even more than in the first few years after the Commodore's retirement, a trend where things were building. To what, she didn't know, but once again she had the feeling that the Empire and the Commodore were going to clash.
She'd really have to talk to him about it — assuming he ever came back.CHAPTER 3
"Selern? The nephew of the old Earl?"
The deep bass voice disconcerted Selern, coming as it did from the chipmunk cheeks and bright green eyes of a fool. But His Majesty Ryrce N'Gaio Bartoleme VIII was no fool, reflected Selern, not if his actions in removing the previous Eye indicated anything at all.
"That is correct, Your Majesty."
"Surprised, weren't you?"
"At becoming the Earl? Quite."
"That was not the reference I meant, Selern."
"Then I do not understand the question." Selern swallowed and hoped that the gesture had not been noticed.
"That I doubt." The current ruler of the Empire of Light pointed toward the single small chair on the other side of the inlaid and old-fashioned wooden desk. The occasional shimmer of dust motes that intermittently resembled a ghostly curtain revealed the defense screen that separated the two men. "Have a seat."
The newest Earl of Selern sat cautiously, keeping his eyes fixed on the Emperor. Ryrce wore neither circlet nor crown. Wispy strands of straw-tinted hair framed his all too-round face.
"Caution carried to excess, Selern. That warning about Calendra — the old Eye — could only have come from one or two sources. None of them would have had the nerve to deliver it, even anonymously. So I checked the peerage lists for the newly elevated and for recent heirs. Had to be you. Would you care to comment?"
Selern smiled. The smile was forced, but with a bit of humor. "You apparently have me on all rights, Your Majesty." He paused, then added, "I thought I was more discreet than I was."
"You were discreet enough — assuming your Emperor was trustworthy."
"Are you?" asked Selern, trying to keep the tremor out of his voice.
"No Emperor can afford to be trustworthy, Selern, except when he benefits by it." Ryrce laughed softly, a deep chuckling sound, before speaking again. "Then, he cannot afford not to be."
"As of tomorrow, you assume the position of Eye. Both Eye regents have also been terminated."
Selern swallowed hard.
"What else could I do? Either they chose not to stand up to Calendra, or they agreed. I suppose they might also have failed to see his plans."
"Your action makes sense." Selern nodded slowly. "Unfortunately."
"You noted the question of certain nuclear weapons. What do you propose?"
"Finding them, if possible."
"If you cannot?"
"Trying to avoid situations where they might be used."
"And if that fails?"
"Waiting for the ax to fall when they are used again."
Ryrce laughed once more, this time a bass and booming guffaw.
"At least you understand for whom you work!" Selern — the new Eye who had never desired the position — waited.
"There should be some records. Calendra implied that a single man controlled them. He saw that man would be my downfall as well."
Selern repressed a shudder. One man? One single individual with that kind of power?
"If the remainder of those missing tacheads and hellburners are used in the wrong way," commented Selern slowly, "that just might undermine all the centuries of peace."
"I doubt that any one individual could have that great an impact on the Empire," observed His Imperial Majesty. "But with nuclear weapons ..."
The implication was clear. Selern's job was to keep the Empire whole and hearty, including the prevention of any one man from undermining its authority and image. Trust was the glue that held the Empire together, and the Empire was the structure of humanity, the one remaining web binding man in a common purpose.
Ryrce N'Gaio Bartoleme VIII nodded at the sound from his new chief of Intelligence, nodded and stood to signify that the private audience was at an end.CHAPTER 4
Gerswin rubbed his forehead, massaged his eyes, and looked away from the data screen on the right side of the Caroljoy's control console.
"Two plus before Byzania orbit station." The AI voice, the voice of the ship in real terms, was pleasant, cool and clear, emotionless, unlike the warm and faintly husky voice of the woman for whom he had named the modified scout. The dichotomy did not bother him, perhaps because he avoided thinking about it.
Gerswin rubbed his temples with the thumb and forefinger of his right hand, closed his eyes, and leaned back in the upslanted shell seat.
With each totally new system, it became a little harder to assimilate the information he needed. But he couldn't blunder around strange planets without at least a fundamental idea of their government, customs, and legal structure. Not doing what he was doing.
The standard structure he'd developed with the Infonet professionals had helped, both financially and in reducing the information to the absolute minimum he needed. But it was still more than he wanted to learn, time after time. And that was a danger itself, since it pushed him toward continued dealings within systems he already knew.
He frowned, and, eyes closed, tried to sort out Byzania.
Government — quasi-military, despite the trappings of more democratic institutions. Popularly elected senators formed an upper chamber which could approve or disapprove any law or regulation, but which could not propose either. Laws were enacted by the lower chamber, composed of delegates selected from each political party's preference list in proportion to the total vote in the general election. Head of government — prime minister, appointed from the military by the Chief of Staff.
Gerswin suspected that the preference lists provided by the political parties were screened by the military, which had its hand in everything.
Population — roughly thirty million, the majority on the largest and first settled continent.
Economy — largely agricultural, with enough local light industry to provide a small middle class. Two M/M (mining/manufacturing) complexes on the largest moon of the fourth planet in the system.
Culture — Urabo-Hismexic, with emphasis on male-dominated honor.
Gerswin pursed his lips and opened his eyes.
By all rights, unless the ecology was hostile, and the population and agricultural figures belied that, the system shouldn't need a military or even a quasi-military government. Byzania produced nothing of high value and low cubage, i.e., nothing worth the energy costs of jumpship transport as an export, and wasn't strategically located vis-à-vis the Dismorphs, the Analexians, the Ursans, or the two other intelligent and technologically oriented races found by the Empire.
"Search capabilities of Byzania orbit control?" he asked the AI. He refused to personify the artificial intelligence or to program in any human traits, or to otherwise associate it with the ship or her namesake.
"Do they have the ability to pick out the Caroljoy from orbit if I took her down on the southern continent?"
"Probability approaches unity."
"Do they have the technology to crack the hull without fracturing the scenery if I set down at the shuttle port outside Illyam?"
"Probability is less than point one."
"What is their hard credit balance?"
"That is classified. Estimated as negative."
"The fact that it's classified tells me that. What about fax outlets? How many are independent?"
"Estimate point five of all media origination points, including fax outlets, are independent. No official censorship."
"It's a risk, but we'll go in. Evaluate the probability of acceptance — agent of Imperial family looking for a very private retreat."
"Probability of disapproval less than point two. Credibility less than point five."
"In other words, they'll let me do it, but won't buy the excuse. Well ...let's hope so."
Gerswin wondered if he were being overdramatic. At the same time, when grantees didn't collect hard currency drafts, even at bayonet point, there was a reason, and the reason wasn't normally friendly. Still, he needed to get on the ground in one piece, and he wanted to find out if Hylerion had succeeded with those special trees.
Caution could be discarded later, if he had been overcautious. It was difficult to reclaim after the fact.
"Contact Byzania control. Arrange for landing rights and touchdown at Illyam shuttle port. Use code red three ID package."
"Contact is in progress," the console announced.
The control area went silent. Gerswin wouldn't have to say a word unless Byzania control and the AI came to some sort of impasse, which was unlikely. A private yacht meant hard currency, and Byzania needed whatever it could get.
In the interim, he went back to studying background information on the system, attempting to get a better slant on why such a largely agricultural planet had adopted such a strong military presence.
The climate on the two main continents was nearly ideal for synde bean production, and other easily produced foodstuffs. What land areas weren't under cultivation supported wide local forests, generally softwood akin to primitive earth-descended deciduous trees.
Excerpted from In Endless Twilight by L. E. Modesitt Jr.. Copyright © 1988 L.E. Modesitt, Jr.. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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