Read an Excerpt
The Killing Frost
By Scott Gamboe Medallion Press, Inc. Copyright © 2006 Scott Gamboe
All right reserved.
Chapter One Arano Lakeland moved stealthily along the wooded bluff near his home, picking his way carefully and soundlessly through the darkness. Although it was a moonless night, he moved with confidence through the tree-covered landscape. Some of his colleagues thought it odd that he kept coming back to his homeworld on these short breaks from work, but this forest paradise was his greatest love. Untouched by the wars and petty bickering of the outlying systems, his home here helped him to escape from the harsh realities he had to face every day.
He was wearing his usual hunting garb: loose-fitting, camouflage-patterned clothing that allowed him to move without being seen by the object of his hunt. Arano was in excellent shape, his body kept lean and fit by decades of hard physical training. Small scars were scattered across his body, memoirs from battles long since forgotten. While he was still a young man by most standards, the experiences he had been through had removed all traces of youth from his countenance, leaving behind a serious face, the eyes stubbornly trying to hide his emotions.
His breath steamed in the cool autumn morning air and the frozen grass crunched soundlessly underfoot. He stopped for a moment to consider his surroundings.
Laying aside his hand-carved longbow, the only weapon he ever used for hunting, he knelt and felt the icy layer of frost beneath him. He sniffed at the air and nodded in satisfaction. The killing frost had come, making his quarry safe to eat. Now, the hunt could truly begin.
He shouldered his longbow and continued along his chosen path for the better part of an hour, making absolutely no sound as he went. He finally arrived at his hunting grounds, sat on a frozen tree stump, put his back up against an outcropping of rock, and waited. He knew should he keep moving; the super-sensitive ears of his prey would pick up his movements, despite his uncanny ability to move silently. He removed his hat and ran his fingers through his close-cropped brown hair before pulling the hat firmly back into place.
Although his family held a hereditary title and consequently had substantial wealth, Arano lived a simple life. He had steadfastly refused to use his family's position to get ahead; instead, he prided himself on getting everything he had through hard work and dedication. He had a passion for working with his hands, a pastime he'd picked up from a woman he'd been close to years before. In fact, with a bit of help from a few close friends, he built his own house on Leguin 4, clearing the trees from the area and using the wood harvested from those trees for the construction. Arano had seen enough bureaucratic waste in his time to have developed a strong dislike for excess and waste, and tried to make the most of resources at his disposal. When he had a successful hunting season, he gave away what food he wouldn't use himself.
He shifted his weight slightly, trying to find a more comfortable position. While he waited, his thoughts naturally drifted back to his work of the past few weeks. Since the brief occupation of his homeworld a few years prior by the Bromidian terrorist group, Rising Sun, he had attempted to prove a link between Rising Sun and the government of the Bromidian Empire. He had finally made some headway recently, finding a likely financial link between Rising Sun and the Bromidian High Command, but it had been to no avail. The rulers of the United Systems Coalition knew if a definite link were established between the terrorists and the Bromidian Empire, it would mean a second titanic war with the Bromidians. This was something the Coalition High Council wanted to avoid at all costs, even if it meant turning a blind eye to what was plainly in front of them.
And the Grand High Councilor, Balor Tient, was the greatest obstructionist of them all. If anything angered Arano more than waste, it was those who couldn't be trusted, who betrayed their loyalties to others in order to better their own positions. He fumed in frustration at the last thought and forced the matter from his mind. Worrying about it now would do nothing to change the situation.
He stretched his legs slowly to the front, muscles stiffening in the cold air despite his superb state of physical conditioning. He leaned back once more, watching unmoving as the sun climbed slowly above the ridgeline. Unbidden, his thoughts drifted back to the dark days, years before, when this peaceful world languished under Rising Sun occupation.
* * *
The door to Arano's tent parted with a snap, and a messenger hustled inside. He was breathing hard and, judging by the way the man sweated, Arano surmised he had run quite a distance.
"What is it?" Arano asked.
"Rising Sun ..." he gasped. "They've ... they've found the Giona site!"
Arano dropped onto his chair, his leaden legs suddenly unable to support his weight. His heart pounded, and each beat resonated to the furthest reaches of his limbs. His chest felt so tight he could scarcely draw a breath.
"My family?" he asked softly.
"Your parents were taken to the square in the center of town, along with the other families hiding at Giona." The man paused, choking back tears. "They started the executions immediately."
Arano rose and moved woodenly to a supply cabinet. He hung a spotting scope from his neck before picking up his sniper rifle. "Show me."
An hour later, Arano lay on his belly and crawled to the edge of an outcropping of rock. He knew the area well, and in fact he and his fiancé, Erlinia Drontas, had frequently come to this place to admire the view. From here, he could use his scope to look out over the city where so many of his family and friends had managed to hide for so long. In the town square, plainly visible from Arano's high vantage point, about fifty people sat huddled in a tight group, their hands secured behind their backs.
To Arano's everlasting horror, he saw row upon row of bodies, the gaping holes in their chests giving mute testimony to the savagery of their captors. Almost reluctantly, he zoomed in his scope for a closer view. Tears came to his eyes when he recognized the faces of people he had known his entire life. But the tears turned to white-hot anger when his scope showed him the faces of his parents, their features contorted with the agony of death.
Hatred so intense it almost overwhelmed him filled his heart. With a certainty that defied logic, Arano knew he would avenge them. But the death of one Bromidian would not suffice to calm his rage, not even a hundred. He wouldn't rest until the resistance he led had killed every Bromidian on the planet.
New resolve swept over him as he finished looking over the bodies of the fallen. He felt a small measure of relief when he didn't see Erlinia among those executed at the hands of the Broms. When he didn't find her among the prisoners who yet lived, he grew puzzled. Had she somehow escaped the Bromidian assault on Giona? If so, she might need his help. Arano lowered his scope and turned to leave, but a lone figure at the center of the square caught his eye. His scope confirmed what his heart already knew: Erlinia was being held prisoner, tied securely to a post as a message to Arano; he must surrender, or she would die.
* * *
For three hours he sat in silence, watching the forested hillside in anticipation. He had studied the signs in the area for two days, and he knew his prey would return. Finally, he was rewarded as the object of his search came lumbering into view. The furry, horned animal weighing in excess of 100 kilograms was larger than he had anticipated, but he still felt confident he could bring it down with one shot. He fingered the tip of his arrow, waiting for the beast to come into range.
The Comm at his belt gave a telltale twitch. Annoyed, he briefly considered ignoring it, but knew he couldn't. He inserted the speaker in his ear and activated the link. "Lakeland here," he whispered.
"Captain Lakeland, this is Sergeant Drowt with Avengers Command. Sorry to bother you during your leave time, but this is an emergency. The Disciples of Zhulac have killed again."
"Damn," muttered Arano. "All right, be there as soon as I can." He snapped off the Comm, then loudly gathered his gear. He looked longingly after his prey, which had moved off upon hearing Arano crash about. Sighing, he shouldered his pack for the long walk back to the spaceport. After a moment's consideration, he retrieved his Comm and activated the subspace link, the tiny device instantly contacting a member of his squad hundreds of light years away on Immok 2.
"Lieutenant Videre Genoa here," a voice announced.
"It's me," Arano responded. "Do you have any details on the latest Disciple killing?"
"Nothing yet, Viper," Videre replied, using Arano's nickname. "Lain is trying to find out the specifics right now. He should return within the hour. Squad B is doing a presentation for the High Council Committee on Special Military Units, so they'll be tied up for a while."
"Understood," muttered Arano. "I'll see you when I get there. Lakeland, out." He replaced the Comm in the holder on his belt, then resumed his march. Even with such weighty matters on his mind as the ongoing serial murders by the Disciples, his enthusiasm for the beauty of the forest could not be dampened. Something small and unseen off to his right scampered away at his approach, ducking into a large briar patch for protection from its perceived threat. Overhead, the trees bent reluctantly under the unyielding force of the wind, scarcely felt by Arano on the forest floor.
Sighing once more, he picked up his pace, knowing he needed to get back to his ship as quickly as possible. Despite the chill in the air, his efforts brought out beads of sweat on his forehead, and he loosened his jacket, and relaxed. Lieutenant Lain Baxter was very thorough, as were most Kamlings, since that reptilian race based their society on a military hierarchy. Arano knew Lain would have all the information gathered long before Arano's arrival back at headquarters.
Five hours later, Arano had arrived at the spaceport and boarded his personal ship. Though not large, the Eclipse was fast and highly maneuverable. He had added modifications not typically found on civilian ships, like an advanced targeting computer, a torpedo bay, and three independently controlled plasma battery beam weapons.
As the ship hummed to life, Arano breathed a sigh of relief. The Eclipse had not been the most reliable ship, even though it was only a year old. He and the dealer had gone round and round about the problems, but there seemed to be no resolution. The ion engines roared, and the Eclipse lurched obediently toward the heavens.
On a whim, he activated the ship's subspace link, similar to his portable model but with the addition of a video display. After a few moments, Lieutenant Genoa's Gatoan, feline face appeared on the screen, the large, fur-covered ears twitching in irritation at the interruption, then relaxing when he saw it was Arano
"Anything yet, Videre?" Arano asked him.
"Not much," the Lieutenant replied, shuffling through a stack of papers. "Rumor has it the victim was a Human female Coalition employee. No confirmation on that yet."
"If the police tell you the victim was Human, make sure the medical examiner double checks to be certain she isn't Padian."
"There hasn't been a Padian victim yet," noted Videre. "You Padians and your danger senseit really keeps you from being easy targets."
"We're funny that way." Arano had to laugh inside. Videre frequently made light of the fact many Humans looked down on Padians, who they thought of as a race of primitives who would still live in the dark ages if Humans hadn't provided them with a technological boost. Arano felt no particular animosity toward Humans in general, but found it amazing such an enlightened people could judge someone based solely on their race. He shook off his reverie and returned to his Comm.
"Keep me posted. It's about a sixteen-hour jump from here to the Immok system. I'll be there as soon as I can."
Arano closed down the subspace link and returned to his flight controls. He monitored the ship's sensors until he confirmed he had cleared the planet's gravity well, then calculated the jump to the Immok system. He touched a final control, and his Rift Drive engines instantly came alive. The stars before him, which had been mere pinpoints, stretched into larger and larger globes of light. They exploded in a white flash, followed by an eruption of color. Irregular shapes, most of them various shades of reds and blues, rushed outward. A dark field, colored a deep blue-black hue, formed a tunnel and rushed out to greet him, the swirling colors morphing into different shapes as they spun around the tunnel's surface. His Rift Drive engines had opened an artificial wormhole linked to his destination, and the swirling vastness in front of him swiftly devoured his ship.
* * *
"Captain Lakeland," greeted the duty sergeant. "You arrived more quickly than we had anticipated. The rest of your team is in your ready room. They have all the details." The sergeant paused, then added, "Sir, the lab has confirmed this was not a copycat killing. It was the real thing. The victim was a civilian who worked down the hall here in intelligence. Pisada Casan."
"Thank you, Sergeant." Arano moved through the seemingly endless corridors of the United Systems Coalition Military Headquarters building. He wondered briefly at how many thousands of people of different races all worked here, and the fact that despite having been assigned here for several years, most of these people were just faces in the crowd. Some were soldiers, men and women who had proven themselves either at the training grounds or on the field of battle. Others were simply time-serving bureaucrats, many of whom were self-important people whose assessment of their own self-worth was inestimably higher than their actual achievements.
His Comm twitched once more, and he activated the link.
"Captain Lakeland, this is Corporal Heatherly. I've been asked to pass along new orders for you. You'll get a full report shortly, but I can give you an overview."
"The Grand High Councilor has assigned one of his aides to study your team's interaction with your civilian advisor and determine if that arrangement is worth the expense."
Arano rolled his eyes to the ceiling and gave a great sigh. "What's his name?"
He continued through the sprawling complex, eventually arriving at the computer-filled room that had been set aside for Avengers Team 5. When he entered, he noted that the rest of his team was assembled and poring over documents and photographs on the planning table, assisted by their civilian advisor.
Arano and his team tended to ignore some of the more inconvenient military formalities when no one else was around and his arrival was greeted with little more than smiles, nods, and words of welcome. Military protocol called for the soldiers in the room to rise upon his entry, but Arano and his friends were informal about those matters. As he took his place with the team, the door slid open behind him, and an official-looking Tsimian entered, his diminutive form contrasting with the large, bestial features and hawk-like beak common among the members of that race.
Arano cleared his throat to get his team's attention, and announced, "Everyone, this is Cono Vishturn. He's one of the closest advisors to Grand High Councilor Balor Tient. He will meet with us and observe as we investigate this case. Cono, I'd like to introduce everyone. Welcome to the headquarters for Avengers Team 5. I'm Captain Arano Lakeland, team commander and squad leader for Squad A. I also pilot my team's Assault Class Fighter, the USCS Specter. This is"
"Specter?" interrupted Cono. "How did you arrive at such a dreadful name?"
Arano glanced sideways at Cono, scowling at the interruption. "We enter systems unseen, and leave the same way. It seemed appropriate. The Gatoan to my left is Lieutenant Videre Genoa, of Squad A. He's our communications and computers expert." Videre nodded in greeting, bearing his long, pointed eyeteeth when he smiled at the newcomer. Videre's short, coarse fur was a light brown that contrasted with the green of the military's duty uniforms. Even as Gatoans went, Videre was considered muscular, and his uniform struggled to contain his powerful arms.
Arano breathed an inward sigh of relief when Videre didn't make an attempt at humor. Videre was in the habit of trying to show everyone he could be funny, and occasionally did so at inappropriate times. Despite this shortcoming, he could always be counted on in a tight situation, and Arano knew of no one who could do more with computers.
Excerpted from The Killing Frost by Scott Gamboe Copyright © 2006 by Scott Gamboe. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.