The third book in the thrilling Donovan series, a sci-fi action adventure set on a treacherous alien planet where corporate threats and dangerous creatures imperil the lives of the colonists.
Corporate assassin Tamarland Benteen's last hope is the survey ship Vixen. With a load of scientists aboard under the supervision of Dr. Dortmund Weisbacher, Vixen is tasked with the first comprehensive survey of the newly discovered planet called Donovan. Given that back in Solar System, Boardmember Radcek would have Benteen's brain dissected, he's particularly motivated to make his escape.
The transition that should have taken Vixen years is instantaneous. Worse, a space ship is already orbiting Donovan, and, impossibly, human settlements have been established on the planet. For Dortmund Weisbacher, this is a violation of the most basic conservation tenets. Donovan is an ecological disaster.
Down on Donovan, Talina Perez takes refuge in the ruins of Mundo Base with the wild child, Kylee Simonov. But the quetzals are playing their own deadly game: one that forces Talina and Kylee to flee farther into the wilderness. Too bad they're stuck with Dortmund Weisbacher in the process.
Back in Port Authority, Dan Wirth discovers that he's not the meanest or deadliest man on the planet. Tamarland Benteen is making his play for control of PA. And in the final struggle, if Benteen can't have it, he'll destroy it all.
About the Author
W. Michael Gear is the author or co-author with his beloved wife, Kathleen O’Neal Gear, of fifty-seven published novels. He is a New York Times, USA Today, and international bestselling author whose work has been translated into 29 languages and has over 17 million copies in print world wide. Both and anthropologist and archaeologist, he brings extraordinary depth and complexity to his characters and settings. Gear lives on a back country buffalo ranch in Wyoming where he raises outstanding bison, indulges in his passion for large-caliber rifles, and pets his two shelties: Jake and Shannon. Michael can be found at gear-gear.com.
Read an Excerpt
7 July 2102
Off Neptune transfer point
Tamarland Benteen had never been on the run like this. Sure, he'd been chased. Hunted like an animal through back alleys and sewers. Some of the finest security teams in Solar System had been hot on his tail with orders to kill on sight. But never like this. Not with the stakes this high.
No safe haven awaited him at the end of this flight. No sanctuary with fine wine, succulent food, or luxurious beds, immaculate rooms, and sparkling female companionship.
This was the end of the chase. Here, on this ship. The last chance. And he was so close to escape. He'd made it to Vixen. Assumed his identity of Corporate Advisor/Observer.
Tam watched the clock ticking down from where he sat in one of the conforming chairs in the small astrogation control. Second by second, hope built that he would actually make it before Radcek's agents stopped the countdown and surrounded the ship.
Scrolls of holographic data-projected in various colors meaningful to Vixen's officers-unreeled in the air before each station. The tension continued to build as the survey and exploration ship's field generators came online.
I'm going to make it.
Words couldn't describe the sudden surge of joy that burst through him. Euphoric. Possessed of the urge to laugh. And cry. Escape now lay but heartbeats away.
In his central command chair, Captain Tayrell Torgussen addressed the photonic com. "Neptune Control, this is Vixen. We're one minute from inversion. All systems go."
"Roger that, Vixen. You are cleared for inversion. We'll see you in another four years or so. Godspeed. Good luck. Happy spacing."
Inverting symmetry required the control and focus of energy that squeezed a vessel out of time-space, out of the universe. Benteen didn't understand how the generated fields created an interdimensional bubble. He'd been told that the fields were so incompatible with the laws of physics, the universe itself spat the ship out of
Even the physicists weren't sure they had much of a hypothetical handle on where a ship went. As long as Vixen's reactors generated a field that inverted symmetry, the vessel would remain "outside."
The moment the reactors were shut down, symmetry reverted to "normal." According to the hypothesis, the ship's matter, "our" physics, could no longer exist in that dimension, and like a bubble of air that had been forced underwater, it rose and "popped" back into our reality.
Symmetry? Multiple universes? Travel based on descriptive and probability statistics? As far as he could tell, the difference between interdimensional physics and black magic was that one started with a P and the other with a B.
Chairman of the Board Radcek had the entire Solar System alerted, searching for Tam. Even as Benteen ran that unpleasant thought around the inside of his head, his implant sent a chime through his thoughts. Message? From whom?
Fear returned in an instant, tensing his nerves, pumping through his veins.
Benteen flicked on the photonic com that channeled through his implant. The image projected before his eyes was a news shot: Artollia Shayne as she was paraded into a Corporate board of inquiry at the Hall of Justice, her hands cuffed behind her. Artollia was accompanied by a phalanx of lawyers. Not that it would do her any good. Chairman Radcek and his henchmen would orchestrate the entire proceeding. The depth of Artollia's machinations had been discovered; she'd been flanked, ambushed at the last moment, and set up for the fall.
Corporate politics wasn't a game for the timid. Those who lost considered themselves lucky if their only censure turned out to be exile or incarceration. Benteen suspected that Artollia-having come as close as she had to unseating Radcek-would pay with her life.
"Tamarland? Hope you're getting this," Artollia's head counsel's voice accompanied the images of the courtroom. "Whatever you do, under no circumstances should you return to Solar System. I'm sending a short-burst photonic encryption, starting now."
A red dot flashed in his holo, indicating that the compressed photonic code had been received by his implant and placed in memory.
The red dot flashed off. The image faded.
Benteen tilted his head back into the astrogation chair's cushion and closed his eyes. She'd already risked more for him than she should have. Had somehow wrangled at the last instant to assign him to Vixen when she could have used his life as a bargaining chip. That bit of loyalty had been above and beyond call despite the intimate aspects of their relationship.
"She knew they were onto us," Benteen whispered as the countdown continued.
The miracle was that he'd made it this far. And, in only minutes now, he might make it all the way.
For the last couple of days it had seemed impossible. Yet here he was.
It had been too good to be true when a reservation under a false identity placed him on an express flight to Neptune where Corporate marines had met him at the shuttle hatch and escorted him to Vixen's airlock.
By the time he'd been directed to his quarters aboard the exploration ship, word had broken of Artollia's arrest on charges of corruption, sedition, extortion, and murder.
By removing him, facilitating his escape, she'd ensured that no one could interrogate Tamarland Benteen about his actions on her behalf. All that blood, all that murder and death. He might have been Artollia Shayne's most potent weapon, but with Callypso Radcek's victory, Tam Benteen would now become Solar System's most hunted and feared criminal.
Tam had no trouble imagining that familiar and mocking smile as it curled Artollia's delicate lips.
Yes, you won again, didn't you, my love?
"Vixen, do we have a go?" Torgussen asked the ship.
"All systems are go," the ship's AI replied in its reasonable voice.
Benteen glanced around the astrogation center with its controls, workstations, and the holos displaying endless data. Once this would have been called the bridge. Now it accommodated Captain Torgussen, Engineer Wang Chung Ho, and First Officer Seesil Vacquillas. Each sat at his or her station, eyes fixed on the scrolling data and tuned into their implants.
Second Officer Valencia Seguro was down below, monitoring the ship's physical plant where water, hydroponics, and atmosphere were located. The scientific and survey team should be another two decks down, watching in the lounge monitors that gave them the last glimpse of Neptune and the distant sun as Vixen's reactors began spinning energy fields around the globular ship.
For the next two years Vixen would be Tamarland Benteen's home, his entire universe. At the other end of the monotony, processed food, and claustrophobia, lay Capella III-commonly called Donovan's planet for the man who'd died there. Vixen's mission consisted of comprehensive mapping, survey, analysis, and sample collection before initiating the two-year voyage home. Her scientific team was to determine if the planet's resources justified the cost of exploitation, and, critically, if human habitation was even possible.
Figure, all in all, that Tam had maybe five years before he had to face Corporate justice-assuming they even still cared by that time. Surely Radcek couldn't stay in power that long.
The external monitors showed space wavering and distorting around Vixen.
"Ten seconds," Vacquillas called. ". . . Five, four, three, two, one."
In the monitors the black-and-star-frosted fabric of space turned pearlescent gray. Shiny, flowing and translucent. Then blank.
"Inversion," Torgussen called. "Status?"
"Reaction stable," Vacquillas told him. "Inversion complete."
"Good work, people," Torgussen said softly. "Looks like we made it."
I win! I made it! Tam wanted to shout out loud. Raise a defiant fist and bellow, Fuck you, Radcek!
Like the professional he was, he let none of it show, but shifted in his chair, calmly asking, "Is that all there is to it? I thought I'd feel something. A sense of difference. I mean, we're outside of the universe, right? Like we just vanished from space."
"Advisor Benteen," Vacquillas told him, "we might be outside of our universe, but we're carrying our own little bubble of it locked inside the field generation with us. Sorry, but it's kind of anticlimactic."
He forced himself to take a breath. Back in Solar System they'd be pulling Artollia's organization apart, searching out every one of her operatives, clients, and benefactors. Radcek was ruthless when it came to the destruction of his . . .
"What the hell!" Torgussen straightened in his chair as the monitors flickered, shimmered, and flashed with the image of stars against velvet black.
"I don't get it," Vacquillas muttered under her breath. "The reactors just shut down, reverting symmetry. All systems are reporting normal, just as if we'd completed the entire two years in transit. Chronometer reads zero elapsed time since inversion."
"Neptune control, this is Vixen. Do you read?" Torgussen addressed the photonic com. The unit's entangled photonics allowed him real-time communications with the navigational station at Neptune control. He should have received an immediate response.
"Neptune control, this is Vixen. Do you read?" Torgussen repeated. "We've got a malfunction, Neptune control. Inverted symmetry failed. Do you read?"
Benteen leaned forward, curious about why there was no reply, wondering, immediately, if Corporate Security was behind the failure. That somehow, some way, he'd been fingered as Artollia's key agent. The man she lovingly called her scorpion. Perhaps Neptune control was under orders not to reply as a marine patrol cutter closed to effect his arrest.
A sinking sensation in the gut brought a weary smile to his lips. Well, shit.
"It always came with risk," he told himself softly, waiting to hear the Corporate hail for the Vixen to stand to and be boarded.
"Vixen, do we have a malfunction?" Torgussen demanded.
"Negative, Captain," Vixen's voice assured. "Analysis of all systems indicates a successful inversion of symmetry. Mathematical algorithms analysis indicates that all statistical probabilities have been met." A pause. "In short, sir. Analytics indicate that we're right where we're supposed to be."
Torgussen looked puzzled. The journey to Capella took a little over two years as the mathematical and statistical equations ran in the qubit computers.
Tam Benteen sure as hell didn't have a clue about how that worked. More black magic.
And then he really got a good look at the monitors that showed the star field, the swirls, splotches, and patterns of frost-like light that smeared the midnight background. Nothing looked familiar. He couldn't quite place the patch of near total black that looked like a hole in the stars. Certainly not the Coal Sack. Nor did the Milky Way, brighter, more misshapen, seem quite right. He struggled-having often oriented himself by the heavens-to find the first fricking familiar thing in this new immensity. No Big Dipper, no Orion, no Southern Cross. He stared at an entirely new starscape.
"This is nucking futs," Vacquillas growled as she flipped data bits back and forth where her hands interacted with the holo display and her implants. "We should have red lights all over the board. Everything's reading optimal. No abort to the field generation, no fluctuations in the reactors. Nothing."
"I'm getting the same thing," Ho added from his station. "Nothing's offline. The only weird reading is an eighty-eight-percent fuel consumption."
"Eighty-eight percent?" Torgussen swiveled in his chair. "That's impossible. It would have taken years to consume eighty-eight percent. Gauge malfunction?"
"My board diagnostics don't indicate a malfunction," Ho insisted.
"Okay, so we inverted, it failed, and we popped back into Solar System," Torgussen insisted. "What went wrong?"
"You tell me." Ho growled. "Maybe Neptune control telemetry can give us a clue. They would have been watching right up to the last second."
Torgussen tried again to raise Neptune control on the photonic com, heard only silence in return. "They're still not answering. Seesil, get an astral fix. Maybe we popped a couple thousand klicks from our original position."
Finally. This would solve his mystery.
Vacquillas did, flicking her fingers to bring up the star charts for Solar System. Then she ordered: "Superimpose Vixen's position and locate."
The stars wavered, seemed to expand and then shrink as the ship's external sensors projected their observations against that of Solar System.
"No match," Vixen's voice informed. "Checking star charts now." A pause. "Location established. Capella system. Six point one five light-hours from the primary. Twenty-one degrees, seven minutes, thirty-two seconds inclination."
"Impossible!" Torgussen cried, standing from his chair to stare as Vixen superimposed the star charts with the masters recorded during Tempest's initial survey of the Capella system more than a decade ago.
"This has got to be wrong," Ho snapped. "We barely inverted symmetry."
"Running additional analytics now," the ship told them.
"I gotta go check this." Vacquillas stood, taking her holo with her. "I'm headed to the observation dome. I want to see with my own eyes."
"Yeah, go," Torgussen told her, gaze fixed on the rolling screens of data.
"I don't get it. What's the problem?" Tam asked. "So, we're there. So what?"
"So, Advisor, it doesn't work that way," Torgussen insisted. "After years of hypothesis testing, we're barely beginning to grasp the theoretical roots of navigation in inverted symmetry. Put in the simplest of terms, once a ship has inverted symmetry, its location is a matter of statistical probability. The longer the ship is outside, the more time it has to appear in any given place, or nowhere at all. But we know that if you run a series of mathematical equations and statistics, they somehow set the initial conditions for where the ship will or will not appear. Sort of like the way quantum mechanics function in our universe. Vixen is programmed to run the same mathematic probabilities that Tempest ran when she discovered the Capella system. Assuming those initial conditions, and running those same descriptive statistics, we should come out at the same place after the same amount of relative time: two years ship's time, in whatever dimension, universe, or wherever the hell Tempest went."
"But we're missing the two years. What we call transit time," Ho said. "Which is a problem."
Torgussen added, "And if anything goes wrong during the transit time, the ship is supposed to default back to Solar System by immediately running the math backward."
"Which Vixen never had time to do," Ho added.
"But I still don't get how running a series of statistics can get us from point A to point B across space."
"Yeah, well, we really don't have a handle on that. No one does. Maybe, eventually, the brainiacs will work it out. In the meantime, you're just going to have to accept that it works, and when we initiate the program, we usually get where we want to go. As to the mathematics necessary to get from Solar System to Capella, it takes a 10 power quantum qubit computer to compute, which means it's an insoluble problem to figure it out by hand."