The national bestselling author of The V’Dan returns to her gripping military sci-fi series set in the same world as Theirs Not to Reason Why.
The First Salik War is underway, and the Alliance is losing—their newest allies must find a way to win, or everyone will be slaughtered.
Though committed to helping their V’Dan cousins, the Terrans resent how their allies treat them. The V’Dan in turn feel the Terrans are too unseasoned to act independently. And the other nations fear that ending the Salik War means starting a Human Civil War.
Even as Imperial Prince Li’eth and Ambassador Jackie MacKenzie struggle to get their peoples to cooperate, they still face an ethical dilemma: How do you stop a ruthless, advanced nation from attacking again and again without slaughtering them in turn?
About the Author
Jean Johnson is the national bestselling author of the First Salik War novels (The V’Dan, The Terrans), the Theirs Not to Reason Why series (Damnation, Hardship, Hellfire), and the Guardians of Destiny novels (The Guild, The Grove, The Tower). She believes the best part about being a writer is the joy of entertaining others. The second best part is inspiring them to do greater things than they would normally imagine, and to honor those who have tried. This is one of those stories, and she hopes you both enjoy it and are inspired by it.
Read an Excerpt
August 10, 2287 c.e. (Common Era, Terran Standard)
Avra 3, 9508 v.d.s. (V'Dan Standard)
Winter Palace, Winter City
V'Dan homeworld, V'Dan System
"The Terran embassy to V'Dan is now officially closed!"
Ambassador MacKenzie's final words echoed down the shallow-stepped terraces of the Inner Court. Carved from golden granite and lined with benches and chairs designed to accommodate a range of alien and native body types, dotted with security and broadcast equipment, the mix of hard and soft surfaces did not diminish her hard-voiced claim. Silence stifled the ancient hall.
Seated on the top step of the highest dais of his mother's court, just a few mitas from the empty, pearlescent pink curve of the Eternal Throne, Li'eth felt that silence pressing down on him, squeezing his skin like some sort of congealing plastic film. The officers' uniforms of the Imperial Armed Forces, made from special ballistics cloth, were designed to look formal enough to appear in his mother's court while still being both comfortable and durable enough that he could fight off an enemy attack. Yet all he felt was trapped in its confines.
The uniform no longer fit him. It was still tailored perfectly to his figure, every crimson seam straight, every golden line neat . . . but the loyalty and pride with which Imperial Prince Kah'raman had originally worn it no longer fit the man whom Li'eth had become.
Li'eth still loved his home nation. He loved his people. He loved his family! Mostly . . . Most of the time.
Right now . . . he wanted to smack his eldest sister repeatedly about the head and shoulders with the hardest, heaviest cushion he could find. Or something that would solidly bruise some sense back into her without actually killing or crippling her. Except the absurd idea of smacking his sister-the Imperial Regent Princess Vi'alla V'Daania-about the head and shoulders with a pillow like some common Fifth Tier sibling did not cheer him out of his . . . grief? Regret? Ire? Despair? Desolation.
He had thought he knew Jacaranda MacKenzie, Grand High Ambassador of the Terran United Planets . . . No, he did know her. He had known that Jackie would choose to serve the needs and protect the rights of her people despite any personal inconvenience, pain, or peril. And she had chosen to do so just now. They were bound in a Gestalt, a holy pairing, his and her psychically gifted minds entangled on a quantum level-the will of the Saints, pure random chance, or fate, he did not know. They were bound, and he could feel her subthoughts of pain and determination and anger just beyond his innermost walls.
She lived within his outermost mental shields, the very same shields she had taught him how to construct, support, and stabilize in ways strong enough to keep her out of his head even though he didn't want to do that. He did it right now, though. Jackie was strong enough to do what was right for others even if not best for herself. Li'eth-Imperial Prince Kah'raman, who had been raised from birth to heed his duty to the Eternal Throne-respected and honored that level of dedication.
Ambassador MacKenzie had chosen to refuse to allow his people to continue to insult hers over and over and over again, all because of a simple yet pervasive cultural difference that was literally just skin-deep. Because of those differences, their embassy had been closed. His people had just lost their access to the only form of breathtakingly swift interstellar communication the entire Alliance knew, and he was going to lose personally one way or another because the embassy was closed, his Gestalt partner was headed home . . . and either he would have to stay here and suffer without her or abandon his people and go with her into virtual exile.
He didn't know what to do. Which path to choose. And on top of it all, Li'eth didn't know how badly his mother had been injured. He did not know if his mother would live or die.
"An Imperial Prince does not sit on the steps of the Inner Court like a common Fifth Tier in a marketplace."
He twisted, looking up at his sister. Vi'alla clenched her jaw as she stared down at him, her body tight with returning anger. The same anger that had caused her to refuse to even consider the Terrans' demands that they either be treated with respect or that those who disrespected them be punished so that they could no longer see the cause of that disrespect, via something called a mind-block. Her aura had broken into confusion when their Ambassador had closed the embassy, and panic when she discovered that Jackie had ordered the nearest Terran hyperrelay unit destroyed. But now, that look on her face was the look of someone furious, hurt, and looking for a target.
She wanted one? He would give her one. Herself. Li'eth pinned his sister with a hard look. "An Imperial Regent does not treat her desperately needed allies like u'v'shakk."
Vi'alla stiffened, her gray eyes widening. "You dare talk to me that way?"
"You dared talk to them that way. Imperial Regent," Li'eth stated formally, pushing to his feet to face down his eldest sister. "Our people need what the Terrans can provide."
"Then they need to provide it!" Vi'alla snapped, frowning at him. "Instead of yanking it away like a child!"
"You don't even see it, do you?" Li'eth asked softly, more to himself than to her. She was the one trying to yank it away like a child. A child being deprived of a toy.
"See what?" his sister snapped.
Li'eth wracked his brain for a parable that could get her to understand. ". . . Do you remember the story of Saint Ba'nai?"
"A story?" she scorned.
"For once in your mind, will you clear it?" Li'eth demanded, gesturing at his head. "A good Empress listens to the counsel of her people! The story of Saint Ba'nai is about how she tried to get the people of a village she was visiting to listen to her warnings that they were going to be caught in a great fire because of a terrible drought that had plagued the land that year. They were stubborn and set in their ways, proud of their skill in cutting wood, trimming and shaping it, and sending it downriver. The river kept getting lower and lower until they could no longer pole their barges downstream to the cities that needed it, but the villagers kept cutti-"
"-The villagers kept cutting wood until a stray spark set fire to the forest, and only a third of the people managed to escape by heeding Ba'nai's warnings to go deep into the abandoned mines in the mountain while the firestorm raged through, yes, yes, I know the legend!" Vi'alla overrode him. "I've studied the Book of Saints far more often than you!"
"Did Nanny Ai-sha ever tell you how she got a third of the village to listen to her?" Li'eth asked her. "Because Nanny El'cor told me how she did it when I asked him." He waited to see if she would dismiss him and his story. When his sister gave him an impatient but silent listening look, Li'eth continued. "El'cor taught me that Ba'nai was of the Fifth Tier, the daughter of a herdsman. A pig herder. She had no training in eloquence, no ability to make fancy speeches, and no real grasp of etiquette, but she was smart, and she occasionally had dreams of the future, what the Terrans call precognition. Those dreams led her to that village.
"That village was filled with skilled laborers, lumberjacks and carpenters, Fourth and Third Tier, higher socially than her place in the Fifth. She was so worried about the firestorms in her dreams, she spoke bluntly, told everyone they had to stop working the lumber, stop leaving sawdust everywhere, stop piling up the bark against their wooden houses and the uncut trees. She demanded that they stop their livelihood, demanded that they leave the area to save their lives. She thought she was doing the right thing, trying to save lives, but how she went about it was wrong.
"El'cor taught me that because she was rude, because she did not show her respect, Ba'nai could not sway the hearts of the people-she tried urgency, she tried to describe the violence and horror of her visions, but they saw only someone being hysterical over nothing. Finally, one of the village elders spoke to her and reminded her that her words were like too much spice and soured wine in a dish. If she tried speaking sweetly, with respect, speaking of positive things-of gains instead of losses-the people would be more likely to listen to her. And so she went back to the people, and spoke gently, apologizing for her coarse ways, letting them know she understood how valuable their work was, how important their continued livelihoods.
"Saint Ba'nai pointed out how dry everything was, how many piles of dried limbs and sawdust there were, the layers of bark that had been stacked to provide them with fuel for winter fires, the cane poles stacked in bundles and set aside to dry out so they could be light enough to ship downriver when the water rose again and turned into pulp for paper . . . and how much hotter the days were growing. She asked them where they thought would be the safest place in the region to outwait a massive firestorm . . . and some finally listened. Some of the villagers, swayed by her politeness, her logic, told her that there was that abandoned mine in the river ravine.
"She asked them if they would be willing to help her store water and a bit of food deep in those caves, some old rags and other supplies. Some of them actually helped her . . . and when the terrible fire started, she was able to get those people deep into those caves, cover their faces with wet cloths, and stay there while the world far above burned so hot and hard, they could not go near the entrance for three full days. Those whom she had turned into her friends with kind words were willing to cooperate, willing to go with her, and willing to understand that she meant the best for them. They grieved for those who felt too badly disrespected and who had perished, but rejoiced that she had managed to save at least some of their lives."
Vi'alla eyed him, her mouth tight, then lifted her chin toward the hall the Ambassador had taken. "Then she should have spoken sweetly to me instead of with soured wine and too much spice!"
Li'eth felt his shoulders start to slump. She hadn't seen the analogy correctly. "Wrong person, Vi'alla. Ba'nai needed to be kind and respectful to those who had what she wanted because she needed their cooperation. She was willing to come help save them, and she was willing to warn them of all the dangers, and she was willing to help them make a plan to survive . . . but she needed their cooperation. Their knowledge of the terrain. Their help in stockpiling resources.
"We need the Terrans' technology. Yet all we have done as a nation is be rude to them, like how Ba'nai treated those Third and Fourth Tiers like Fifth Tiers-we have been treating Terran First Tiers like Fifth Tiers," he emphasized, pointing at that hallway where Jackie had vanished. "All non-V'Dan are to be treated like respected members of the Third Tier, as they are all experts in the knowledge of their ways and their people. That is the custom and that is the law. More than that, their leaders are to be treated as equals of the First and Imperial Tiers. Yet we-the V'Dan Empire-consistently have treated them like less than Fifth Tiers.
"The irony in this, Sister, is that without them, we are the villagers being burned alive by the Salik and their war," he told her, sweeping his hand out, then upward. "The whole Empire is at stake! You don't get people willing to listen to your needs by being disrespectful to them. You don't encourage people to share what they have by demanding and grabbing and insulting their hospitality and their generosity. You don't close your ears to their legitimate complaints about being disrespected, insulted, and treated as infants instead of as adult allies, then expect them to still like you enough to want to stay and help you.
"And you, Imperial Regent," he emphasized, pointing at her, "have forgotten that it is my job as a member of the Imperial Tier to warn you when you are on a path that will destroy the Empire. Which is more important to you, Regent? Your personal pride, refusing to give the Terrans any respect because you believe they are not worthy of it? Or the survival of the Empire, which demands you give it? Which is more important, Vi'alla? I demand that you answer that."
"You dare make demands of me?" Vi'alla demanded through clenched teeth, her hands tightening into fists at her sides.
"I am obliged to point out that your pride is busy making enemies of the allies we need," he reminded her fiercely. "You were free to be angry at them as a mere princess, yes, but you are now the Regent, and the needs of your people must come before everything else! Including your own feelings and opinions!"
"If they weren't so stubborn-" she growled, fists rising.
"That's the jumax'a flower calling the sky blue!" he retorted, slashing his hands upward. "You have exactly two ways to get your hands on Terran technology, Vi'alla: You can attempt to steal it from them, turning them into our enemies . . . and they have tens of thousands of highly trained holy ones they can unleash upon us, never mind their ship hulls that cannot be deeply damaged by our energy weapons and that can travel from system to system in mere moments.
"Or, you can swallow your pride, seek them out instead of demand they come to you, apologize sincerely, and try to make amends, to make friends of them." He stared at her, hoping she would understand. "Because the third thing you can do is to continue to abandon your duty to your people, and prove yourself unfit for the throne. Which is it, Vi'alla? Think carefully."
She glared back at him in anger, not saying a word. Li'eth knew he had backed his sister into a corner, though. Stepping away from her, he bowed, then moved around her to exit through the side door on the dais level.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The only problem with Jean Johnson is she does not write fast enough! That said its amazing that she writes excellant fantasy as well as sci fi! Get ALL her books! They are all worth 5 stars!
Good story kept me interested most of the way through a little to much explanations in parts but all in all I liked.
This story is fabulous! It fits very well into her story arch for this world. I hope she writes more in this world and quickly as I can't wait to see what her 'friends' get up to next.Very interested to learn more about the Immortal as well.