Read an Excerpt
The Ecologic Envoy
By Leland E. Modesitt Jr., David G. Hartwell
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 1986 Leland E. Modesitt, Jr.
All rights reserved.
The needle-boat blinked out into norm-space. Both high and low wave detector plates flared.
"Flame!" The pilot scanned the board, jabbed a series of control studs to put all energy radiating equipment into a passive mode, and waited for the picture to build on his screens.
Energy concentrations peaked around the fourth planet, Haversol, then spread to a standard picket line and deep warning net typical of an Empire operation.
Whaler's fingers flickered over the control studs as he took in the information flowing from his receptors. While all the material would stay on tap for the Institute to dissect after his return, his own survival might depend on a nearly instantaneous understanding of the tactical pattern.
"Ten stans, max," he muttered to the controls, eyes darting from screen to screen. The needle-boat itself was a single pilot craft, jammed with sophisticated sensors and communications equipment, and made possible only through a combination of thin hull, minimal support and backup systems, and overpowered drives.
At the upper left of the board in front of Whaler, a flat panel flashed amber twice, then settled into a steady glow. He touched the panel and listened to the direct feed of the Imperial comm net through his own implant.
"Seven ... clear on grid november five ... interrogative ..." "That's negative."
"Angel four ... negative on survivors ... send the junkman."
"Hawkstrike! Hawkstrike! Gremlin, Arthur class, vector zero eight five, radian one three three, ecliptic plus two."
"Hawkstrike, gremlin acquisition, closing."
The Imperial Fourth Fleet was obviously mopping up the scattered remnants of the Haversolan system defense forces.
"Class four on radian two five seven. Hotspot three. Interrogative waster. Interrogative waster."
"Waster's down. Negative."
"Unscramble, Northwave. Unscramble."
"Gremlin secured, Hawkstrike. Repeat, Gremlin secured."
The needle-boat pilot shook his head and touched the pale green panel to start the power-up for nullspace reentry.
The return coordinates for his out-space base flashed across the display. The Institute maintained its own forces independent of the Coordinate. So independently, thought the Ecolitan who was the needle-boat's pilot, captain, and crew, that the government itself had no idea of the Institute's strength.
"Sooner or later, they'll need us again," murmured the pilot. "Sooner, if this is any indication. Much sooner."
Nathaniel Firstborne Whaler, sometime scholar and fulltime practicing Ecolitan, automatically squared himself within his seat cocoon and cleared the board readouts, returning all the data to the coded master disc in the center of the boat.
As the bell chime sounded in his ears, Whaler tapped the sequencing plate, and the needle-boat vanished from the norm-space where the Imperial detectors had failed to notice the discrepancy in the energy levels that had been the only sign of its presence.CHAPTER 2
The Admiral glared around the conference table that circled an empty space, then tapped the flat control panel.
The panel flashed twice before settling into a steady amber glow to signify that the full security screens were on-line and functioning.
A tap on another panel stud brought the holo star map into being in the once-vacant center of the encircling table.
The Admiral lifted the light pointer from the console and rapped the table. Once. The low murmur from the dozen senior officers died.
Guiding the pointer into the holo map, the Admiral focused the tip on a G-type system on the far side of the Rift.
"Accord. You can see how it controls the trade lines. Particularly since the Secession."
The pointer tip moved from the holo and jabbed at the Commodore.
"Let's have your isolation strategy report."
The Commodore stood stiffly and gestured at the blank wall to the right of the senior officer. A segment of the holo, blown to larger dimensions, appeared. On the inner edge of the Rift, the Imperial side, three stars appeared in red.
"Haversol, Fonderal, and Cubera. Until the success of our recent operation, Haversol was the largest out-Rift trade staging point on the Imperial side dealing with the Coordinate traders. The economics dictated that we hit Fonderal first, and that was completed before we even planned the Haversol campaign. The embargo on Fonderal was a simpler matter, of course, because of its lack of an internally supported infrastructure. Even they couldn't tackle that kind of rebuilding job, not in the short run, and especially with Haversol still open.
"Next came the flanking movement. We managed to get adequate support to the statist insurgents, who, in turn, were able to topple the monarchy. Of course, the new provisional government asked for Imperial assistance, and the Fourth Fleet was close enough to provide the necessary support."
"That left Hernando and Haversol along this corridor, and we've just about completed the establishment of the military support agreement with the new government of Haversol."
Another system on the holo blowup began to alternate flashing white and red.
"That leaves Hernando."
The Commodore coughed twice, reached down, and took a sip from the tumbler before returning to the presentation.
"Obviously, this is all just a sketch, but the next step will be harder. Hernando is considerably more stable than the other systems. Still ...if we can get a more favorable government in the upcoming elections or, failing that, generate enough civil unrest to demonstrate a certifiable lack of control, we would have the basis for another control action, citing the threat to Imperial commerce. That would just about close down Accord's access to the Limber line."
The Commodore looked back at the Admiral.
"Any questions, Admiral?"
"What's the best possible time line?"
"The midterm elections on Hernando are more than a standard year off, and to generate any real results will be hard in such a short frame, but we intend to try. Certainly, by the next elections after the midterms —"
"Aim for the midterms. Giving Accord time to react could put us on the defensive."
The Commodore nodded. "Full speed ahead on Hernando it is, Admiral."CHAPTER 3
Tipsy, that the man definitely was.
Otherwise he would not have staggered down the hallway and elbowed his way through the heavy wooden door into the private party in the second dining room of the Golden Charthouse.
Twenty people, fourteen men and six women, sat around the two rectangular tables, enjoying the first course of dorle soup and the thin and genuine wheat crackers and anticipating the days of power to come. Only six weeks remained before the upper chamber elections.
A tall man, clean shaven and attired in a formal, deep blue tunic and contrasting cream sash, was standing to make the first toast.
"To the people of Hernando and to the Popular Front, the government to be."
The drunk, a sandy-haired fellow, lurched inside the room.
"Sir, this is a private party." The guard moved away from the curtained archway to block the intruder. His partner approached from the other side.
Neither thought to reach for the illegal freezers in the belt holsters they flaunted.
"So ... want to join the celebration ... see the new masters ... see what kind of government the Empire bought ... how much the sellout cost ..."
The sandy-haired man stood almost as tall as the two guards. All three were nearly half a head taller than the men seated around the tables, even than the toastmaster.
"Sir!" protested the lead guard, stiffening.
The interloper stumbled backwards, then kicked the heavy door shut. The toastmaster jerked his head toward the noise.
With his right hand, the intruder launched an aerosol into the space between the tables. Simultaneously, a backhand slash casually broke the neck of the guard on his left.
The right-hand guard grabbed for his freezer, too late, and had no second chance as he doubled with a crumpled windpipe and a smashed kneecap.
Even before the aerosol had landed and come to a full stop, the Ecolitan had returned his full attention to the diners, with a small dart pistol in each hand.
The toastmaster in blue was dragging a stunner from his waistband when the first dart caught him in the throat.
A black man with flaming golden hair dove from the top of the nearest table but fell short of reaching the attacker, and was rewarded with a dart in the neck and a kick snapping his collarbone.
The shouts and sounds, already muffled by the private dining room's heavy insulation and rich hangings, began to dwindle under the effects of the darts and the aerosol.
The Ecolitan calmly continued to shoot anyone trying to reach him or to escape until there were no living figures in the room. None had escaped. Then he checked the bodies, methodically studying each face and comparing it against his memory, and insuring that every member of the Popular Front present was indeed dead.
The sometime Ecolitan professor who bore the unlikely name of Nathaniel Whaler disliked the necessity of the assignment but continued to move with measured and deliberate speed, touching nothing except with his gloved hands as he turned each still form. Last, he replaced the aerosol in his tunic, concealed the dart guns in his boot sheaths, and opened the heavy wooden door, staggering out as he closed it behind him. Weaving back and forth, he stumbled back down the hallway and out into the main corridor from the hidden Charthouse.
Three levels down, he disappeared into a public fresher stall. In time, a blond man in a dark blue business tunic crisply strode out.
After descending yet another level to the open square, the Ecolitan/businessman sat down beside a fountain on an empty pseudo stone bench, apparently admiring the interplay of the golden water with the crimson spray curtains.
In time, a young woman, low-cut blouse revealing her profession and assets, sat down next to him, thrusting her chest at him with an artificially inviting smile.
"All but Zeroga," answered Whaler. "Not at the dinner. You try the firm. I'll hit his quarters."
As he spoke, Whaler let his eyes range over the woman, as if appraising what she offered.
She rolled her eyes in exasperation.
Whaler shook his head vigorously, and the woman pouted publicly before standing with a flourish and mincing her way from him and the fountain.
The Ecolitan shook his head again and stood.
Finally, with a last look at the fountain, the blond man who had been sandy haired and would be again walked down the corridor to the flitter stand, where he dialed for public transportation.CHAPTER 4
The Commodore stood more stiffly than usual, waiting to report to the Admiral and the other members of the Ministry's strategy board.
"I understand we've run into some difficulties on Hernando, Commodore."
"Yes, Admiral. A major stumbling block, though you will recall that my last report to the board indicated the lack of time facing us."
"I recall that. However, would you please provide a fuller explanation for the record." The tone of the request sent shivers down the back of the senior Commanders in the briefing section. Several others shifted their weight quietly.
The Commodore turned to face neither the audience nor the Admiral and pointed at the lit screen, which displayed a chart.
"As you can see, the Conservative Democrats, with the help of the seven seats held by the Socialist Republicans, control the Upper Chamber, and thus, the executive branch of Hernando's government. The Popular Front, with some outside technical support, had identified the most vulnerable Conservative Democrats and targeted them. We also targeted those strong opinion leaders opposed to a greater Imperial presence along the Limber line."
The chart shifted.
"This indicates the probable election outcome, including deaths and retirements, which we had predicted last month."
"That doesn't look like a problem," commented a junior Admiral to the Commodore's right.
"It wasn't ... until some mutant form of A-damp virus wiped out the entire Popular Front planning group and the ten leading candidates — all on the same night ten days ago."
"The Institute. No way to prove it, but the signs all point that way."
"First, both security guards were taken out by hand. One had a broken neck and the other a crushed windpipe." The Commodore cleared his throat before continuing. "Second, it was done quietly. No guns, blaster bolts, slug throwers. And virtually no traces left."
The Admiral studied the faces around the conference table. Several expressed open doubt.
"Why do you think those are enough to point at Accord and at the Ecolitan Institute, Commodore?"
"Well ... we don't deal with biological weapons, especially tailored ones. Imperial intelligence, as well as the Ministry's teams, indicates that only Accord has a capability sophisticated enough to develop and deploy individualized weapons —"
"Was this really a weapon?" snapped a senior Fleet Admiral.
"Admiral," answered the Commodore, "have you ever run across a swamp fever virus that killed an entire room full of people within a unit or two, simultaneously? At the same time when two armed security guards were killed by hand?"
The silence dragged out. Finally, the Commodore turned back to the Grand Admiral.
"That brings up the hand-to-hand ability. We might have a dozen men with the ability to disable a pair of two-meter-tall armed guards in seconds. Several other terrorist groups might have a handful spread across the Empire. None of us have anyone with that ability also immune to swamp fever, mutated or not, or with the ability to walk through a crowded restaurant into a private dining room and assassinate twenty people and then leave without even being noticed."
"Not even noticed?"
"Not so far as we can determine."
The Admiral surveyed the faces again. "You might ask why this all points to Accord. I'll tell you. What the Commodore has not said is that all members of the Institute are either naturally immune or immunized against swamp fever and a number of other fast-acting diseases. He also has not mentioned that the Ecolitan Institute maintains the most intensive hand-to-hand combat training in the civilized worlds, along with a special corps that is little more than a crack terrorist unit."
"Can we prove any of this?"
"That's not the point. Accord wanted to send us a message. They sent it, and we've received it. It doesn't change a thing. Single individuals, no matter how gifted, cannot stop the massed force of history that we will bring to bear."
The Admiral frowned slightly after finishing the declaration, then touched the control console. The holo star map and the wall charts vanished.
"We can't wait for another set of elections on Hernando, not with this kind of a challenge. How soon can we go with Plan B?" The Commodore cleared his throat. "That's already underway, but the flagship won't be ready for about three standard months —"
"See if you can make it two."
The Commodore nodded.
The Admiral touched the amber stud, and the security screens winked off.
Restinal paused outside the open door.
"Come in, Werlin. Come on in."
Restinal didn't recognize the voice, but it was apparent from the cheerful tone of the invitation that the speaker recognized him.
He shrugged, took a tighter grip on his datacase, and went in.
The room was paneled in lorkin wood. The desk and chairs were all carved from it as well. Restinal noted that the furniture all matched, each piece done in the spare style termed Ecolog.
Behind the desk, which was really a wide table with a single drawer, sat a silver-haired man, laugh lines radiating from the bright green eyes. Restinal mentally compared the face against the ones shown him by Delward before he'd left Harmony. He struggled momentarily before realizing that the man was the Prime Ecolitan himself, Gairloch Pittsway. For some reason, Restinal hadn't expected to be met by the Prime himself, much less in an empty office without aides.
Excerpted from The Ecologic Envoy by Leland E. Modesitt Jr., David G. Hartwell. Copyright © 1986 Leland E. Modesitt, Jr.. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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