Book: Galactic Vortex



Galactic Vortex




Galactic Vortex


Book 4 of The Adam Cain Saga


T.R. Harris

Set in The Human Chronicles Universe




Galactic Vortex

THC

Tom Harris Creations


Copyright 2020

by Tom Harris Creations, LLC

All rights reserved.*


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Galactic Vortex

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Contents


The alien with an attitude is back!

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Epilogue

Next Up - Dark Energy

Author’s Notes

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Novels by T.R. Harris


The alien with an attitude is back!


The Adam Cain Saga

Moving to the tropical paradise world of Liave-3 was supposed to be a reward for twenty years of saving the galaxy from a variety of aliens with evil intent. But for Adam Cain, Sherri Valentine and Riyad Tarazi, it’s turning out to be anything but a reward. It’s turning into a disaster.

Besieged by deadly aliens, killer AI’s and political considerations, the Humans are learning they’ll need all their skills and natural abilities to survive.

In this latest adventure…

Adam and his friends are now the top dogs in the Dead Zone. But with their new jobs come added responsibility. Now politics begin to play a larger role, requiring Adam to risk his life on behalf of the Dead Zone refugee groups. Not only that, but a trail of unlikely events leads to the discovery of the most-deadly threat to face the galaxy in a long time.

To save the day, Adam will receive help from the most unexpected sources. Even still, will it be enough?

Adam Cain and friends are back! Let the alien ass-kicking commence!


Prologue

“You give Humans a license to kill and soon they will be killing everything in sight.”

Dal Divisen shook his head, looking at the outspoken, green-skinned alien seated across from him. His name was Anarac Sivad and he owned the largest lumber mill on Liave-3. His facilities operated around the clock providing building materials for the dozens of growing communities sprouting up in the area. His wealth bought him a seat at the table, even if his decorum was lacking.

“Then who better than a Human?” Dal asked.

“The Rigorians, for one,” Anarac answered. “They are accomplished warriors and skilled with weapons.”

“And in the past they have been bested by Humans on numerous occasions,” Dal countered. “Tell us, Anarac, what is your real concern with the Humans?”

The alien looked nervously up the table to where Adam Cain sat with his two friends, Sherri Valentine and Riyad Tarazi.

“I will tell you,” he began defiantly. “They terrify me; just looking at them does so. They may be small and unassuming; however, they harbor a deadly secret, a savageness that has cost countless lives throughout the galaxy.”

“They have also saved many more,” offered another alien at the table.

Dal waved his hand impatiently. “Perhaps that is what we need in these critical times; someone who can evoke terror with their very presence. As we embark on the establishment of laws and attempt to enforce them throughout the Zone, intimidation is an admirable trait to possess. And yes, we all know the history of the Humans; however, there is no denying their abilities, especially the accomplishments of the three seated here with us today. Their participation in the new police force will produce significant benefits in the years to come.”

“A point of order, my friend,” said Lion/El. “Sherri Valentine cannot be part of the proposed police force. She is my Vice-Minister. She cannot add magistrate to her duties; it would be a conflict of interest.”

“And I don’t want to be a part of it, either,” Sherri said forcefully. “I have businesses to run. This VM job is supposed to be part-time, and if it becomes too much work, I’m out. I told you that before.”

“That is understandable,” Lion/El said. “But we all know the position is mostly ceremonial, designed to appease the concerns of the Orion-Cygnus Union and its Human masters. As my good friend Dal Divisen has often pointed out, the Union is upset because the unified refugee groups chose to side with the Expansion over them in the recent vote, while defining the Zone as a Protectorate rather than joining the Expansion as a full member. They also elected to revisit this decision every two years, at which time a new vote will take place. This surprising turn of events has served to keep the status quo in place—at least to a degree—while at the same time giving the refugees legal title to their respective homeworlds, which is what they have wanted all along.

“This arrangement also allows the Union to still roam freely within the Zone and attempt to spread its influence, while the Expansion must serve at the will of the refugees, yet without any overriding authority. They are only to act if the region is threatened by overt force from outside. All internal affairs—including the enforcement of laws and property rights—becomes the responsibility of the newly formed government on Navarus—the world formerly known as Liave-3—as the designated capital of the region. We are free to act in our best interests, since the major refugee groups have no wish to resettle their lost homeworlds, but rather to use them simply as a means of generating enormous wealth, which they can then transfer to other parts of the galaxy. The refugees who escaped moments before Kracion’s attack on their homeworlds were the wealthy and politically connected, and as such, they have no interest in returning to their planets to become farmers and laborers. They have imported colonists for that, who now work to strip the planets of their wealth and prepare them for shipment to other parts of the galaxy. That was the primary reason the refugee groups chose the Expansion over the Union. There are seven thousand worlds in the Expansion, compared to only seventy-eight in the Union. The wealthy refugees can find more hospitable locations for them to spend their new-found wealth within the Expansion. We should rejoice in this attitude, since it has left us, those of the newly named planet Navarus, with an inordinate amount of power to decide the fate of the Zone. Therefore, we must take great care to use this competitiveness between the empires to our highest advantage.”

“I know all that,” Sherri said sourly. “I understand the politics, Lion/El. I’m just saying, as the token Human on the Council, I don’t want it to take too much of my time. I’m not interested in milking the situation for a boatload of personal power, unlike some people in this room.”

“And I never said I wanted the job of top cop, either,” Adam spoke up.

“We appreciate your concerns,” Dal said. “But what we need is a figurehead. To use a term I adopted from you, we need a Marshal, a supervisor with authority over the entire region, even into the Dead Zone. Your name has been placed in consideration to fill that position based upon your aforementioned reputation.”

“As I said, I didn’t ask for it. And just like Sherri, I also have a business to run. I can’t do both.”

Lion/El—the newly elected Minister of the planet Navarus—looked to a datapad he had in his hand. “Please, Adam Cain, allow me to fill in more details as to what we are offering this new Marshal. Since the coffers of the new government of Navarus are overflowing with credits, the position would not go unpaid. The merchant tax we have recently imposed will be used primarily to fund government operations, with a sizeable allocation to law enforcement. Seeing that curbing the lawlessness on the planet and supporting the property rights of the refugees is our primary concern, you will have an adequate budget to hire deputies and agents. You need only to oversee the operation. And a stipend has been approved to help cover a portion of the operating expenses of your various businesses, including those of Riyad Tarazi and Sherri Valentine.”

“No kidding?” Adam asked, raising his eyebrows. This was the first he’d heard of that.

“It was a proposal from my friend Dal Divisen.”

Adam looked at the brightly dressed, silver-haired alien kingpin, the founder and near-dictator of the nearby town of Kanac. The offer was generous, which made Adam suspicious. He and Divisen were anything but friends.

“You question my motives?” Dal asked, reading Adam’s body language. “These are critical times for our planet, and indeed, for the Zone as a whole. With our new-found autonomy and political influence, it is important that we prove we are up to the task of governing the Zone. Also, we have the opportunity—as Sherri Valentine so aptly observed—to acquire tremendous wealth and influence for our newly designated world of Navarus. We wish to become the hub of all activity in the Zone, which will attract commerce and revenue. You originally came to Liave-3 seeking a better life for you and your friends. We are on the verge of turning this world into the paradise you once hoped it would become.”

“By encouraging out-of-control growth and population explosion, like you did with Kanac?”

“That is what the government will be tasked to avoid, the out-of-control aspect of your comment. But none of that can be achieved without first eliminating the criminal element from our population.”

Adam buried his chin in his chest and smirked. “That’s funny, especially coming from you.”

Dal nodded. “Yes, I know I have employed certain provocative methods in the past, as I was building the infrastructure on the planet that has allowed us to reach this point in time. But times have changed, and with them, my role as once defined. And this shift in perspective is why Sherri Valentine sits in the number two position on the Council, as a demonstration of our universal appeal to all parties. And as for you, Adam Cain, you are a name recognized—even feared—throughout the galaxy. Having you as the head of our police force will have significant influence, providing credibility to our efforts, even if your role—similar to that of Sherri Valentine—is mainly ceremonial. And for that, we find it worthwhile to make our offer something you cannot easily refuse.”

Adam chuckled. If there was anyone on the planet Navarus who could fill the role of Don Corleone in the Godfather, it was Dal Divisen. And now the flamboyant alien had just made Adam an offer he couldn’t refuse. Business at Cain’s Bar & Grill was adequate, but not phenomenal. It was the same for Sherri’s hotel and even more for Riyad’s failing outfitting business. With the refugees gaining legal right to their homeworlds—and with the pending enforcement of those rights—renegade salvage operations within the Zone had essentially come to a halt. Certain underground activities were still underway, but soon they would be ferreted out, leaving only the refugees themselves to rape their respective planets. As a result, Riyad’s business was dying on the vine. The bottom line was that the Big Three Partnership was bleeding money, and with no reserves to speak of. And now Dal and his cohorts were throwing enough money at them to make a difference.

“I must again lodge my protest,” said a now brown-faced Anarac Sivad. When the red of his anger mixed with the green of his skin, it made brown. “The payment of taxes is new for us, and now you propose to subsidize the business ventures of the Humans while also handing them authority over life and death on L-3.”

“Do not be so dramatic, Anarac,” Dal said dismissively. “We have established a system of justice, although it has not been tested as of yet. It is from that branch of government where punishment will be dispensed. But until we have a police force in place, we have no criminals to adjudicate. Consider, Anarac: Do you wish to continue employing a large and expensive security force at your various worksites, or would you rather have established and effective law enforcement serve the same purpose? That is where your tax credits will go, saving you much in return. And with the increase in commerce that will come from a more peaceful society, there will be even more call for your products and services.”

Sivad huffed. “I find this all so confusing, that a person such as you would be an advocate for the changes taking place on L-3. And furthermore, I refuse to call Liave-3 by this new name. It does not seem right. How can that be helpful?”

“It is self-preservation, Anarac. We could not continue as we were going, as simply a navigational designation on a star chart, as the third world in the Liave star system. By assigning a name custom to us, we have become a sovereign world within the Zone, just as the others. This has allowed us to gain authority and a right to exist while governing ourselves. I strongly suggest you accept the situation as it is, Anarac,” Dal said, focusing a laser-like stare at the other alien. “The alternative is not acceptable to me, as it should not be for you.”

Anarac slumped in his chair, drained of his argument and intimidated by Dal’s not-so-subtle warning. Besides, the subject had already been decided by the majority of the Governing Council. All that remained was to see if Adam Cain would take the job.

Sherri leaned over toward Adam. “We could sure use the money,” she whispered. “Just hire a shitload of deputies and let them do all the work. Besides, you’ll be the head honcho, so you could run everything out of the bar if you want, or even Riyad’s warehouse if he does close down. It shouldn’t take too much of your time.”

Adam looked at her dumbfounded. “You really think that’s how this is going to play out? Have you not been paying attention these past twenty years? Nothing works out for us the way it was originally intended.”

Sherri smiled. “That may be true, but if it doesn’t work out, then you can quit, just like me. But first, get a signing bonus. Like I said, we could use the money.”

Adam sighed deeply before turning once again to the amazing array of waiting alien faces. In the past, Adam would work with the native species of a particular planet. But Liave-3—Navarus—was different. There was no native species, just a mixture of every imaginable alien from across the galaxy, each having come here from somewhere else. The scene was disconcerting to say the least.

“I want six months’ of the stipend in advance,” he stated firmly. “I need the credits to help cover operations at the bar while I set up the police force. That’s going to take more of my time during the early stages. And the subsidy for our businesses needs to be twenty-five percent of our operating expenses. And the headquarters for the police force will be out of Cain’s, or somewhere nearby along Lan Road in Balamar. And I want Riyad as my Deputy Marshal.”

“Agreed,” Dal said without hesitation, and much to the chagrin of Lion/El. The rotund, four-armed alien was the Minister of the planet, yet Dal was making all the decisions during the meeting. “However, there must be adequate enforcement in Kanac from the outset, where law enforcement is most needed. You must give my city its due consideration.”

“I understand. That’s why I want six months in advance. We’re going to be spending a lot of time away from Balamar getting things going.”

Dal slapped the table, not out of joy or frustration, but because that was how his species concluded negotiations.

“Very well, and now we will leave the final details to our esteemed and highly competent Minister, Lion/El.” Adam saw Lion/El relax as Dal threw him a bone, having stepped on his authority throughout the meeting. “And now let us welcome our first Chief of Regional Law Enforcement, Marshal Adam Cain.”

No one clapped or cheered. Either they didn’t know that was expected, or they had no reason to celebrate. Adam didn’t care. He wasn’t in the mood to celebrate, either. He would take the money and run. That was what he normally did in situations such as this.


Chapter 1

Six months later…

“The BAAC ships are bugging out, leaving their force on the surface,” said Jay Williford from a scope station. “Spineless bastards.”

“Better for us,” said Marshal Adam Cain from the command chair of the EAV—an Enforcer Assault Vessel. “Getting the three hundred insurgents out of the facility is going to be hard enough without first having to deal with a space battle. I thought you’d be happy.”

Jay nodded. “I just know what the BAAC are using for warships. They’re no match for an EAV. I just like the thrill of kicking alien ass when the odds are incredibly in our favor.”

Adam looked around the bridge and grimaced. He and Jay were the only Humans in the room—indeed, in the entire four-ship squadron. Everyone except them were aliens of a variety of species. Then he shrugged. By now, his Enforcer crew knew not to take the words of the Humans too literally. Still, the kid had a lot to learn about Human-Alien relations.

Adam snickered, catching himself in the irony of his thoughts. Who was he—the famous alien with an attitude—to question the attitude of others?

He shrugged and focused his attention on the matter at hand, as the four ships of his squadron dove into the upper atmosphere of the planet Hax’on. Adam had never been to the planet before, although he certainly knew of it. It was here that the infamous superweapons—now known as BARs—were built. An estimated twenty thousand of the advanced rifles were still missing, although almost immediately after his nascent police force was created, five hundred of the weapons miraculously appeared. Adam suspected the alien criminal kingpin Dal Divisen was behind the theft, and with the discovery of the cache of rifles just when Adam’s force needed them most, only served to confirm Adam’s suspicions. Dal was a major advocate of the formation of the Enforcers, and he was giving them all the tools they would need to succeed.

And now, a force of three hundred radical insurgents known as the BAAC had taken over the Tainesin Manufacturing Works on the planet Hax’on, the facility where the weapons were built. Word had gotten out that this was where they were made, and the BAAC came here looking for more to further their cause. They were a violent and unpredictable force in the Dead Zone, opposed to what they considered was the subjugation of the region to the Expansion by a small band of wealthy refugees who had acquired ownership of the hundred ravaged worlds in the Zone. They wanted complete independence and eviction of all races not from the region, and their methods involved raiding local colony settlements, the sabotage of shipping centers, and now, the invasion of manufacturing facilities seeking superior weapons built at a time before the Mad Aris Kracion ravaged the area.

Adam came to Hax’on with a force of four of his advanced patrol craft, along with twenty-eight highly-skilled Enforcers, all armed with BARs—Human slang for Big Ass Rifle. The insurgents greatly outnumbered the Enforcers, but the super rifles were the great equalizer. It shouldn’t be much of a contest—unless the raiders found more BARs within the complex. That was possible, Adam conceded, but there shouldn’t be many. The facility had been stripped clean of most inventory years ago. But still, he wasn’t taking any chances.

Adam looked at the back of the young Human, Jay Williford, seated at the console forward from where he sat. Jay was one of Adam’s deputies, and although he was reckless and impulsive, he was still a Human. Adam had the habit of hiring every Human he came upon, whether they had training or not. They were Humans—the supermen of the galaxy—and even the most unskilled Human was worth ten aliens in the field.

Besides that, it was Jay who first discovered the superweapons on Hax’on. He’d been to the Tainesin facility before and Adam needed that first-hand experience to help guide the assault. For his part, Jay was ready for some action, especially with a BAR in his hands.

Galactic Vortex

Adam scanned a tactical layout grid of the Tainesin facility. The major buildings were located north of a vast field of warehouses, and south of that was a modest spaceport with a row of robotic cranes along one side.

“Set us down in the warehouses, midway between the main complex and the spaceport. Soszen, take three snipers and secure the cranes. The BAAC may have shooters of their own up there, so be careful. Once secure, set up overseer lookouts to cover our assault on the main buildings. Jay, you take half our remaining troops and approach from the east. I’ll take the rest and come in from the west. Remember, they may have a few BARs. We won’t know until they fire one, so, don’t get too cocky out there.” A commlink was open to all four of his EAVs. Two carried the assault troops; the other two would fly overhead cover. “Immediate dust-off upon touchdown. Use the warehouses as cover. Then we have that greenbelt area to cross to get to the buildings.” He checked the mission clock. “We’ll be down in forty seconds. Everyone to their stations.”

Only two people were left on the bridge as Adam led the way aft, with Jay close behind. They met the rest of the troops in the EAV’s rear launch bay. Besides the compact, yet volatile BARs, each Enforcer wore a black diffusion vest designed to protect them against even level-one flash bolts. Adam made similar vests years ago when he worked briefly as an alien assassin. They were lifesavers; the only drawback was they were only good for one level-one bolt or three level-twos before they shorted out. Still, it was better than having nothing at all.

For his part, Adam came armed with his retro six-shooter ballistic pistol, holstered on his right hip, along with a modern version of a Glock 19 in a back holster and an MK-88 top-of-the-line flash weapon in another on his left hip. Currently, the BAR was slung across his back on a black utility strap.

When he first took the job of Marshal for the Dead Zone, Adam had no intention of going on missions such as this. He was supposed to be simply a figurehead, a desk-jockey playing a role for the cameras. As predicted, things didn’t go exactly as planned. But much of that was his fault. As his force grew and the missions expanded, Adam got the old itch again, the itch for combat. He’d thought he’d had his fill of it after over twenty years of fighting aliens across the universe—and others. But now the time he spent tending bar and socializing with customers at Capt. Cain’s Bar & Grill was an agonizingly boring affair. He loved the thrill of the hunt and the feel of a powerful weapon in his grip. He’d served nearly all his life in the military, in one capacity or another. It was a calling he couldn’t deny. His job as top-cop in the Dead Zone help resurrect that calling, and these days, he was just as likely to be strapping on a weapon and storming out the back of an assault vessel as he was to be found sitting behind his desk in Riyad’s old warehouse next to the bar.

Of course, Sherri protested, not so much from fear that he might get hurt, but from jealousy. As with Adam’s job as Marshal, Sherri’s as the Vice-Minister of the Dead Zone was supposed to be more ceremonial than a real job. But that didn’t work out either. Her boss—the Minister Lion/El—was not a good manager, and much of the responsibility of running the planet Navarus and the Zone fell to her; yet where Adam loved his new job, Sherri hated hers. She threatened to resign nearly every day, but after six months she was still at it, refusing to leave a job half-done. And as it turned out, by this time she was the unofficial president of the Dead Zone. She wouldn’t admit it, but she got off on the power and prestige of the position.

The starship landed with a jolt, not being subtle in its rapid approach from the clouds. The door dropped immediately and Adam and his people streamed out. Jay raced off to meet up with the other half of the troops on the other EAV, those he would command. Adam gave the younger man the main approach to the manufacturing facilities. He’d been here before. Adam would follow from the west, covering Jay’s flank.

The four troops assigned to clearing the towering loading cranes ran off in a variety of alien gaits only a Human could ridicule. They appeared to be moving in slow motion, but that was par for the course for the aliens around him and Jay. That was what made Human so exceptional, their superior strength, speed and coordination.

Adam wrinkled his nose as he took in his first breath of Hax’onean air. A voice came over his comm. It was Jay Williford.

“I’m in position … but damn, this place smells like shit. It wasn’t like this before.”

“It’s the fertilizer drops,” Adam said unnecessarily.

“I know, and I am glad the atmosphere is breathable now without the radiation, but I’d almost prefer to be wearing an environmental suit again.”

For much of the past six years, the atmospheres of the Dead Worlds remained saturated with deadly levels of radiation left over from Kracion’s neutron bomb attacks. Since then, natural processes had diminished the levels before the huge galactic conglomerate Maris-Kliss began disbursing atomize decontamination chemicals into the air. It was safe to breathe the atmosphere now on nearly all the Dead Worlds, even as the water remained contaminated to a degree and the ground sterile.

To reenergize the soil, MK was now making periodic drops of concentrated fertilizer with a mixture of radiation-resistant grasses and other plants. The result was that every few weeks, it would literally rain shit within certain latitudes on all the Dead Worlds. The program was making a difference. There was now vast regions of vibrant grass covering most of the more temperate zones. The vegetation was designed to die out and recycle back into the soil, adding nutrients to the ground. The problem was that a fine coating of brown fertilizer was on everything, including buildings, discarded cars, streets—everything. Prevailing winds were expected to blow the smelly concoction off the structures, but that didn’t always happen, and even now, the myriad of warehouses around them had roofs of green grass. It would make for a verdant, peaceful scene—if it didn’t stink to high heaven.

Adam’s troops moved out—and immediately began drawing harassing fire from positions ahead of them. There were three hundred BAAC in the compound, most untrained but determined. The first bolts that came in were fired from conventional flash weapons, which was encouraging.

“Soszen, what’s your status? We’re taking fire here,” Adam said through his throat mic.

“We are at the cranes; there does not appear to be snipers in place. We are moving into position. Give us five minutes.”

“Roger that.”

By now, the aliens under his command knew Human communications terminology and other slang.

It was midday on Hax’on, but still the launching of star-hot plasma bolts left an indelible image in the atmosphere, appearing more as beams of light than balls of concentrated energy. This made it easy for Adam to pinpoint the location of the incoming fire. He brought his BAR into firing position and sighted along the barrel. The weapon essentially shot nothing but level-one bolts, which was overkill against most aliens. And it had a charge capacity of one hundred shots. This compared to only five level-ones from a standard MK-17 or twenty from a Xan-fi flash rifle. He found his target; a young alien cradling his weapon like an amateur. As Adam finger the trigger, releasing the perfectly targeted bolt, he almost felt sorry for the alien. Almost.

Now there were dozens of bolts streaking through the air, most coming from the direction of the manufacturing buildings and not the warehouses. The pale blue bolts from the BARs contrasted sharply from those of the more conventional weapons. The BAAC fighters knew what they were up against, and there was panic in their shots. The BARs had four times the range and twice the power. Adam and Jay’s Enforcers were cutting down dozens of the insurgents while making relentless progress moving from warehouse to warehouse.



Just then, a number of blue bolts shot overhead, targeting other locations in the assembly buildings. They were coming from loading cranes over five hundred yards away. No other energy weapon in the galaxy could make shots like that. Only Human-designed ballistic sniper rifles had more range and accuracy, and then only when fired by an expert.

Adam’s force made it to the greenbelt between the warehouses and the main buildings making up the Tainesin Manufacturing Works. The expanse of land was actually green, thanks to the periodic shit showers. It was still quite a bit of open ground to cover, especially for the slow and awkwardly moving aliens under his command.

“Soszen, clear out the BAAC in the nearest buildings, then get ready to cover us. Jay, you and I are going to take lead. Get across the field and then provide cover as the rest of your troops cross over.”

“Roger that, Captain. Give me the word.”

Adam crouched down, taking a sprinter’s starting posture. Blue bolts streaked overhead. He sighted where he wanted to go, and then gave the word.

Both he and Jay Williford burst out from behind the cover of the warehouses, running with blazing speed across the short grass of the field. Adam glanced over to see who was ahead in the race. He smiled. Jay may be twenty years his junior, but Adam once had a supply of Panur’s mutant cells in his body. Although they were now gone, his body learned from them. He was now ten percent stronger and tougher than his Human counterparts, although that wasn’t something he like to spread around. Still, seeing that he was easily out sprinting the younger man would give him bragging rights on the way back to Navarus.

Even with the covering fire, flash bolts still tore up the soft soil around Adam as he ran. And when he reached his destination and ducked for cover around a corner, he came face to face with a BAAC fighter, aiming a Xan-fi flash rifle at his chest. In the alien’s panic, the creature triggered the weapon, not waiting for the targeting computer to lock on. Adam was only ten feet away, and he took the bolt directly in the chest. The diffusion vest did its job absorbing the charge, even if the force of the plasma bolt sent Adam flying backward through the air before slamming into the side of another building. He lost the grip on his BAR, although the weapon stayed attached to him by the sling band.

In a flash, Adam had his long-barrel, .45-caliber revolver out of its holster. The explosion from the weapon echoed throughout the complex, a sound foreign to this particular breed of battlefield. The heavy metal round ripped a gaping hole in the chest of the alien fighter, making it his turned to be thrust into the air in the light gravity of Hax’on.

For a moment, Adam sat on the ground with his back against the building, noticing something strange around him. There was silence, an awkward moment of quiet as everyone in the fight stopped to contemplate the strange explosion they’d just heard. After the briefest of delays, however, the battle began anew.

“Are you okay?” Jay asked through the comm.

“Yeah, just had to use a backup,” Adam answered. “I’m up and moving again. Let’s get our people across the field.”

Two minutes later—and with the loss of three of their Enforcers to enemy fire—Adam and Jay had their teams in position and ready to enter the first two structures to be cleared. These were huge assembly buildings where the parts from a dozen contracted manufacturers were brought together. Tainesin was the last company one would expect to be producing the most advanced energy rifles in the galaxy. It was known for making automated food processors and refrigerators. That’s why it came as such a shock to find they had a supply of twenty thousand superweapons ready for shipment at the time Kracion attacked Hax’on. The client who ordered them had counted on this incongruity to keep the rifles a secret. It took him five years before he was in a position to reclaim his property. That didn’t go as he had planned. But that was another story.

Now, Adam’s team was clustered around him, an assortment of aliens from across the galaxy. Unlike the Humans under his command, Adam was more selective with the aliens he recruited. These were relatively skilled fighters, at least by alien standards. Although there were no Juireans in his police force, he did have a fair number of Rigorians working for him, intimidating creatures looking like seven-foot-tall, upright-walking alligators. He got over his primal fear of the beasts once he began working with them on a regular basis. If one could get past the three-inch long, razor-sharp teeth lining an eighteen-inch long mouth, they were actually quite pleasant to be around. Now, two of the rough-skinned beasts flanked him, ready to enter the building as soon as Adam opened the door.

He’d made a rough count—very rough—of the number of BAAC dead he saw along the way. It was only about forty or so, meaning there was a potential force of one hundred sixty scattered throughout the rest of the complex. He’d already given instructions not to take mercy on the enemy. There were too many of them to be gentle. His people were to go in blasting and not stop until the last BAAC was dead—or their asses were scurrying away into the nearby hills. Adam noticed a thread of saliva drooling from the mouth of one of the Rigorians. He was ready for some killing.

Adam gripped the handle of the door and pulled. The Rigorians were through the opening a split second later, filling the interior of the building with flashes of blue light. They were answered with more brilliant streaks of white light, but the blue still dominated. More of Adam’s people poured into the building, shooting at anything that moved. Although the BARs used their own form of computerized targeting, the scan rate was ten times faster than conventional systems. The shots from his Enforcers were accurate and came at a much higher rate of fire. Soon, the interior in this part of the assembly building was filled with an ozone-smelling haze of ionized air. There was also the moaning of the wounded, almost exclusively from the BAAC fighters. Adam lost another two of his people, but that left plenty to clear—

Suddenly, a powerful series of blue bolts lashed out at Adam and his people. They dove for cover—more cover than they were already taking—in light of this new threat.

“They have a BAR, at least one!” Adam called into his comm, alerting his troops.

“We have two firing at us over here!” Jay announced. “Caught five of my people. Four dead, the other caught it in the vest. Fried the thing with one shot.”

“Understood. Other than that, what resistance are you up against?”

“It’s thinned out quite a bit. They’re falling back to the next building, staying close to those with the BARs.”

“All right, keep pushing, but be careful. So far, we only have one shooter over here. I’ll see what I can do to take him out myself.”

Adam fell onto his belly and began crawling under long assembly tables. Even here, the floor was covered in a fine coating of brown fertilizer which was mopped up on his uniform and tac vest. In the heat of battle, he’d forgotten about the smell, beyond the first impression upon landing. Now it was impossible to ignore.

He moved under cover, doing his best to find the source of the blue energy bolts. Since they weren’t as bright as traditional flash bolts, they were harder to pinpoint, but the closer he got, the more he was able to narrow down the target.

The shooter was on a third level catwalk, high above the assembly floor, hiding behind a service crane that ran along the ceiling on huge tracks. Adam moved closer until he came upon two BAAC fighters crouching for cover, waiting for the shooter above them to clear a path so they could escape. They didn’t see Adam as he crawled up to them.

Among his personal arsenal was his trusty K-BAR combat knife. He pulled it from the sheath around his right ankle, not wanting to give away his position by using one of his other assorted weapons. He rolled over and slipped under another table before coming up on one knee. The aliens had their backs to him. He looked up. If they sounded the alarm he would be a sitting duck for the shooter on the catwalk.

Adam visualized the attack, and when he had it firmly in his mind, he struck.

He sprung forward, sweeping the legs of one of the aliens knocking him to the floor, while at the same time slashing across the throat of the other in one fluid motion. He landed on the back of the first alien and then grabbed him by the forehead, jerking his head back toward him. The blade swung again, slashing across the throat of the alien on the floor. It took a moment for both creatures to bleed out, but with their throats cut, they couldn’t raise a warning.

Even before their last breaths had been breathed, Adam had the K-BAR back in its holder and was scaling the side of the catwalk supports, moving from bar to bar, lifting himself effortlessly in the light gravity. At the top, he silently rolled onto the grated walkway. The shooter was still firing at Adam’s pinned-down troops, holding them at bay.

Suddenly, white flash bolts began to strike around him and voices rose up on this side of the assembly building. He’d been spotted, and now desperate BAAC fighters were trying to take him out before he could get to their BAR-armed comrade.

The blue shots lashing down from the catwalk suddenly stopped. There was a movement ahead, and a silhouette appeared, coming out from behind the crane motor. Adam rolled just in time before a blue bolt electrified the metal grate. The hairs on Adam’s body stood on end and the heat was incredible. The shooter missed, but not by much. Adam continued to roll to the side, until he fell off the edge of the catwalk.

In a desperate move, Adam reached out with his right hand and grabbed the metal bar of the side rail to the catwalk. He dangled by one hand, as he heard running on the metal grate, the vibration growing stronger as the BAAC shooter came closer.

Adam used his momentum to swing his body under the catwalk, reaching out with his left hand to grab the opposite side rail. The shooter was above him, looking over the railing on the other side for his target. Realizing Adam had moved, the alien quickly shifted position, bringing the barrel of the BAR over the rail and aimed directly at Adam’s head. A grey alien face stared down at him, before a savage snarl erupted from the creature’s mouth. A full set of teeth were displayed as he growled at the dangling Human. There was no doubt about it. In this case, the grin on the alien’s face was definitely a death challenge and given by someone who felt he had the upper hand.

And that was when the blast from Adam’s .45-caliber long-barrel rang out again, sounding even louder in the confines of the assembly building. There was nothing subtle about Adam’s aim, either. It was square in the center of the grinning face of the alien, a face that instantly disappeared in a spray of blood, bone and brain matter.

The corpse toppled over, falling past Adam to the floor three stories below.

Again, there was a strange quiet, before Adam’s people opened up and began sprinting forward, spirited by their leader’s reckless—yet effective—gambit. As Adam hung from the rail by his left hand, he holstered the pistol and watched the scene below. The BAAC fighters had had enough and were running away to the north and the nearest exit from the building. Adam counted fifty or more, against his team of seven surviving Enforcers. Still, the insurgents weren’t willing to fight to the last man—or alien, in this case.

Adam pulled himself up onto the catwalk and contacted Jay Williford.

“How’s it going over there?” he asked.

“Fine—was that you and your hand-cannon again? We heard it all the way over here.”

“What can I say, old habits die hard.”

“Seems so. But to your question, the rebels are running. They seem to have lost their stomach for fighting. Should we pursue?”

“Sweep the buildings to make sure they’re gone. I’ll send the covering ships to see if they can pick off any of the others as they clear the complex. I think the planet should be safe for a while. The BAAC can’t keep losing fighters like this in a losing cause. There’s just not that many of them. This should keep them quiet for a while. I’ll meet you back at the ship.”

“Yes sir, Marshal Cain, sir. And so concludes another chapter in the legend of Adam Cain. And now I’m building a legend of my own!”

“Only in your mind, Jay.”

Adam heard the young man laugh. “Actually, I’m okay with that.”

Galactic Vortex

By the time Adam made it back to the EAV, a group of the local colonists were there waiting, having noticed when the fighting ended followed by a wholesale flight of BAAC insurgents running into the hills. Most of the colonists communities were made up of the same species, groups of a few hundred or more who sold themselves to the refugee groups in exchange for a specific term of labor. Once the contract was fulfilled, either through the passage of time or once a shipping quota was met, they would be set free to colonize any part of the vast empty world they wished. But until then, they were essentially slaves of the refugees.

These individuals were used to dismantle just about everything on the planet with value and prepare it for shipment from the many spaceports spread across the land. The refugees would then sell the items across the galaxy for incredible profit. These early colonists worked under horrendous conditions on planets barely capable of supporting life. And until the soil became rich enough to support crops, all the food for the colonists had to be provided by the refugees, placing the colonists in even more debt to their masters. It was a vicious, depressing cycle, with no true end in sight. Some complained, but most of the settlers came from the most impoverished worlds in the galaxy, so they welcomed the chance to make better lives for themselves and their families—eventually—on the worlds of the Dead Zone. And with the help of Maris-Kliss and their rainstorms of smelly fertilizer, the Dead Worlds were coming back to life, and within a few decades, the colonists would see green pastures and forests once again painting the landscape, along with growing food crops they would need to make a truly independent life for them and their families.

That was if they could keep the BAAC from attacking their settlements and disrupting their shipment quotas.

A four-armed, purple skinned creature wearing a thick, coarse set of overalls came up to Adam, leading a small entourage of others like him. He was one of the two-mouthed species, one who had an orifice in their belly in which they took in nourishment, while a generally normal-looking mouth and nose did the breathing and talking.

“Are … raiders … pacified?” the alien barked.

Adam took a step back, because the alien had truly barked at him. At least that’s what it sounded like. It took Adam by surprise.

“Yes, they are,” he answered. “They shouldn’t cause you any more trouble, at least for a while.”

“You … too … long … respond! Leave … force … for … protection.”

Adam frowned. “I can’t do that. We have a hundred worlds to patrol. We can’t have stations on all of them. You have the authority to set up your own militia. You should do that.”

“We … no labor … spare.” Each sentence fragment was snapped at Adam. The words were heard in English, thanks to his imbedded translation device. But they were still hard to make out, spoken in such a rough staccato. “That … your … job!”

“Sorry, buddy, but it’s not.”

Other troops were filtering back to the starship, most looking tired and dejected. Adam lost half his force, most from the bolts from the super rifles. It was a terrible price to pay, especially by a police force. The original intent of the Enforcers was not to become a paramilitary unit, but when it came to protection of the Dead Worlds, that was a role they were filling more often. Without having officially joined either the Expansion or the Union, the Zone was still in limbo with regards to a military operating in the region. There was none, at least not against locals killing other locals. That responsibility was dropped in Adam’s lap. He would have been fine with that, if he was given the resources he needed to build such a force. And although the budget for his Enforcers was truly impressive, it wasn’t nearly enough to support a true military force.

That left Adam sacrificing members of his relatively small police force on missions better suited for a more powerful military.

Adam took a step toward the taller alien colonist, his jaw set. “I just lost a lot of good troops clearing this facility of BAAC raiders, just so your refugee masters can live like kings on the other side of the galaxy. Don’t ask me to do any more than I’ve already done. If the raiders come back, give us a call. But as I said, maybe you should start taking a little responsibility for your own security. After all, who knows how long it will take for us to respond the next time?”


Chapter 2

It was a five-day journey back to Navarus from Hax’on. His four-ship squadron set down in the Enforcer spaceport that had been built in the large field next to Coop’s old shipyard. The shipyard itself had been converted into a modern service center for the forty-eight Formilian-designed assault vessels belonging to the force. Forty-eight ships may sound like a lot, but when one realized they had a swath of space six hundred light-years long and a hundred worlds to patrol, that wasn’t nearly enough.

Fortunately, more ships were arriving every week, and since Adam had left, another two had been delivered.

Upon seeing the gleaming new starships being surveyed at the service center, Adam smiled. Arieel said she would be coming with the next delivery intending to stay for a couple of weeks and keep him company. She and Adam had been an on-again-off-again item for several years already, and with all the stress of his new job, he would welcome the distraction. And distraction she was. Arieel Bol was the Speaker of the Formilian People—the leader of the planet—and often referred to as The Most Beautiful Prime Female in the Galaxy. Adam couldn’t dispute that, although he knew much of the appeal other species had for the Formilians came from the potent pheromones they gave off. They were engineered with the scent by the ancient Aris, hoping to foster interspecies relationships that would result in the creation of the Apex Being, the first and only naturally born immortal creature. Their three-billion-year-long experiment paid off. The Apex Being was created. She was Adam and Arieel’s mutant genius daughter, Lila.

Adam anxiously boarded an official police transport for the short, five-mile drive to his headquarters, hoping to get through the official wrap-up of the Hax’on mission as soon as he could. Arieel would be waiting at his house, and knowing her, wearing nothing but the most glorious and sensual smile in the galaxy.

The Enforcer Unit had grown so large in the six months since its creation that it now occupied three buildings in central Balamar. There were two operations centers across the street and down a block from Capt. Cain’s Bar & Grill, and his official headquarters was located in the warehouse where Riyad once ran his defunct outfitting business. With independent salvage operations dying off in the Zone, Riyad’s business went belly-up. It was for the better. It had never been a big profit center for the Big Three Partnership, which consisted of the bar, Sherri’s hotel/opium den and Riyad’s outfitting business. Even Sherri’s revenue was down considerably, once the huge Maris-Kliss resort opened up a mile down Lan Road from her hotel. She still catered to a certain type of clientele, but even that was dying off seeing that the main police station in the Dead Zone was located two doors down.

In many ways, the demise of the hotel and outfitting business was okay. Riyad had taken to his position as the Number Two badass cop in the region as Adam’s Deputy Marshal. And Sherri secretly reveled in her unofficial capacity as the president of the Dead Zone through her position as Vice Minister of the Governing Council. The Partnership still received a monthly stipend of forty thousand Juirean credits to cover twenty-five percent of the operating expenses of their businesses, two of which were essentially closed down. The money helped, along with the inflated salaries of all three. Financially, they weren’t doing that bad.

Adam stopped first at the main operations building. It was housed in an old food stock processing building that had been taken over—appropriately—through the exercise of police powers within the Navarus constitution. As he entered the large lobby, the place was filled with creatures going about their tasks with purpose. Riyad worked out of the building. As Adam made his way past desks and other workstations he acknowledged the nods from several of his deputies and agents. There were expressions of concern and sorrow. The troops he’d lost on Hax’on were friends and colleagues.

He then came to a cluster of desks outside Riyad’s office. Seated at them were Adam’s old SEAL buddies, Gill ‘Peanut’ Norris, Tim Robertson and Toby Wills. They’d come to work for him once the Dead Worlds got shut down for independent salvage operations. For a few months, the trio had cleaned up by searching small, out of the way settlements, mainly for Juirean credits left in tiny community banks. The pickings were slim, but when they occasionally hit the jackpot, it was pretty sweet. They each had a fairly sizable bankroll saved up, but when Adam offered them jobs on the new police force, they jumped at the chance. All three were retired Navy SEALs, and they longed for a taste of the old days—just as did Adam. Being with the Enforcers filled that need.

“To fallen comrades,” Peanut toasted with his cup of alien coffee. The others joined in.

Adam nodded. “Thanks, guys. It was a little tougher than we anticipated. It ended up the BAAC found three BARs at the factory. We were also going up against three hundred bad guys. We were bound to take some casualties, just more than we wanted, of course. What’s been going on here?”

Tim held up a datapad. “More of the same,” he said. “Kanac is quieting down, but now we have trouble in some of the newer cities cropping up. It’s a madhouse, mainly across the ocean. They’re building so many temporary structures just to have a place to live, and then when permanent facilities are done, they leave the old buildings to the vagrants. Then the owners come in to raze the buildings to build new condos and they have to evict the squatters. That’s where we come in, when the riots start. Don’t get me wrong, I like busting alien heads. It’s just that these poor souls have no place else to go. The only option we have is to arrest them.”

“And then that fills up the Panorius center with what is essentially dead weight. And that all costs the government money.”

Adam had to smirk at the mention of Panorius. That was the for-profit organization that ran several major detention centers throughout the Expansion, including the one where Copernicus Smith had been temporarily held while he worked to gain the trust of the Gracilian Aric Jroshin. Out of desperation for a place to house the new criminals entering the Navarus justice system, the government contracted with Panorius to build a prison complex. For the right price, they jumped at it, taking a large tract of donated jungle to the south of Balamar and constructing three temporary structures in record time. One unit was for the transients, essentially a huge drunk tank. The second was for the shorter-term convicts, those sentenced to three years or less. The third was for the hard-core inmates. Panorius was now hard at work building the much larger permanent facilities on the same tract of land. It cost the newly formed government a fortune for the service Panorius offered, but it was one less thing Lion/El and Sherri had to worry about. Besides, with all the new taxes being imposed—supported by a three-fold increase in the planet’s population over the past six months—there was plenty of money to pay for the prison complex.

Riyad came out of his office, wearing a neatly pressed and tailored version of the official Enforcer uniform; a high-collar, one-piece grey garment with a wide utility belt around the waist and a starburst logo on the left breast. Riyad had been instrumental in the design of the uniform, and he wore it with pride and aplomb.

“I thought I heard your bitching out here,” he said as he stepped up to Adam and offered his hand. There was a noticeable confidence and calm with Riyad these days. Adam attributed it to his friend’s natural affinity as a leader rather than a merchant. He much preferred to be in command than kissing up to finicky customers who were never satisfied. Dissolving his outfitting business was the best thing to happen for his mental well-being.

“If I ain’t bitching, that means I don’t care,” Adam replied with a sad grin. He was exhausted and just wanted to make his rounds and head home. He then remembered Arieel was waiting for him. So much for getting rest… “How’s recruitment coming?” he asked. “It’s reaching the critical stage.”

Riyad shrugged. “We’re doing the best we can. We’re trying to lure some Priority Acquisitions people away, as well as appealing to every military this side of the Core. The money Sherri’s willing to allocate to us is helping, but it still takes time to get them over here, interviewed and then up to speed for those who make the cut.”

“And Humans, how’s that going?”

Adam was gone for only twelve days, but at the pace things were moving on Navarus, that seemed like a lifetime.

Riyad flashed Adam his trademarked white smile. “Pretty good. Sixteen new ones are on the way. Whether they pan out or not’s another question. But it seems to be in our nature to gravitate to this kind of work. After all, back home we’re just normal people. It’s not until we come out into the galaxy do we become Supermen.”

“Just make sure we don’t hire any homicidal maniacs. Remember, we’re the law in the Dead Zone. We can’t be worse than the criminals.”

Adam saw the glimmer of humor in Riyad’s eyes, as the memory of nearly thirty years of often questionable activities passed between the two men. Adam chose to close the subject.

“Okay, good work everyone. I’m going to swing by the bar on my way home.”

All four of his Human friends produced identical—and lecherous—grins. They knew what awaited their fearless leader when he got to his home. The envy was evident in their reactions.

Galactic Vortex

It was only a five-minute walk down the street and across Lan Road to Capt. Cain’s Bar & Grill. His official office was in Riyad’s old outfitting warehouse, but he passed it by and went straight into the bar. Besides wanting to check on the operations, he could sure use a stiff drink before facing Arieel, and maybe some stimulants, as well.

Kaylor and Jym were at the long, polished bar on the northside of the huge dining room and they acknowledged him immediately. Then Kaylor nodded toward one of the tables out on the sandy beach behind the tavern. Adam went outside to greet the patron.

He came up behind the huge, slumped-shouldered Human with a variety of fading tattoos on his tree-trunk-sized arms. Adam had never seen him wear shirts with sleeves, so the hairy, tanned skin made him look even more intimidating than he was.

Adam placed a hand on the man’s shoulder and then sat down next to him.

“Good to see you, Master Chief,” he said to Monty Pitts. The man gazed at him through glassy eyes, looking both pleased and frustrated at the same time.

“Capt’n, you’re back. They said you’d gone off to kill another batch of deserving aliens. I wish I’d gone along. This endless search for Eldorado is driving me mad.”

“So, no luck?”

“Nah, and I can’t see why not.”

Jym shuffled up and placed two drinks on the table, the first for Adam, and who knew what number it was for Monty. It was a standing policy that all former members of Adam’s team ate and drank for free at Cain’s. There was a large plate on the table with remains of three dinosaur ribs looking like a horrific crime scene, the homemade bar-b-que sauce from the restaurant providing the color. Cain’s was one of only a handful of places on Navarus where one could get real bar-b-que, even if it came from the native dinosaur population.

Monty downed half his drink while Adam nursed his.

“Two billion credits,” Monty began. “It has to be up there somewhere. We’ve scoured seventeen of the old mines already, and nothing. The problem is, there are over two hundred mines, and each with dozens of side shafts. And it’s dangerous. We can’t just rush in without making sure they’re safe.”

“Where’s Summer and Tidus?” Adam asked, inquiring about the other two members of Monty’s team.

“Summer’s in Kanac, getting supplies, and Tidus is with PA, trying to drum up some bounty hunting business for us.”

“You’re going back to PA? I didn’t know that’s what you wanted to do. If money’s tight, you can always come to work for me. Hell, I’ve been trying to get all of you over since we started the Enforcers.”

“I appreciate that, Adam, but that would be a full-time job. We know how much work you have for your deputies. If Tidus can round up a well-paying gig for us, we can spend a couple of weeks tracking down some fugitive asshole and make enough money for another six months of searching. We’re not giving up. The payoff is too big.”



“The potential payoff,” Adam corrected. “I’m offering you steady work and at a pretty decent salary.”

“Again, thanks, but no thanks, Captain. Maybe if we go out another year with no luck. But not right now.”

Adam finished his drink and then stood up. “Well, the offer’s always open, for all of you. Take care, Master Chief.”

Monty’s drunken salute would not have passed muster.

Galactic Vortex

On his way through the bar, Sherri Valentine appeared from the side corridor connecting Capt. Cain’s with her Silver Slipper Hotel next door.

“I heard you were back, and that it was bloodier than you expected.”

The former lovers hugged.

“It’s becoming more the rule than the exception. We really do need a military force to handle these kinds of operations.”

Sherri was the de facto leader of the Dead Zone and with the keys to the region’s coffers.

Sherri leaned against the bar. “I agree, but the deal the refugees cut with the Juireans was that we wouldn’t build a military that could challenge them.”

“Who said anything about challenging them?” Adam snapped. “It would only be for internal use.”

“The mane-heads don’t believe that.” Then she snickered. “Especially with you in charge.”

“I don’t want to be in charge of the military. Being a cop is enough. Let someone else run it.”

Sherri shook her head. “Sorry, Adam, it’s not going to happen. As we’ve discussed, I can allocate more funds to a para-military division, kind of a SWAT unit on steroids. That I could probably get past the censors.”

Adam took in the gorgeous blonde, one of his oldest and dearest friends. He was glad to see she was taking to her new job as Vice-Minister of Navarus. And although her hotel business was on the verge of collapse, she had a challenging alternative to fall back on. And besides, Copernicus Smith was still hanging around. The lovers had rekindled the old flame and that did wonders to soothe Sherri’s often volatile temper. And the fact that he was constantly off on some super-secret spy mission for the Human garrison on Navarus meant that he wasn’t around enough for the relationship to grow stale. It was just enough to keep the flame hot and intense.

And speaking of hot and intense relationships, Adam said good-bye to Sherri and took one of his official Marshal transports to his home—and a waiting Arieel Bol.


Chapter 3

With his new-found financial security as the head of the Navarus police force—and the fact that he was spending less time at the bar—Adam bought a decent-size tract of land out on the end of the peninsula that formed the north side of Balamar’s picturesque crescent bay. He thought it ironic that it was almost from this spot that the assassin Mike Hannon fired the fateful shot that killed the Quid-Elder Quanin Fe Borlon, an event that initiated a series of tragic events that nearly led to another Human-Juirean war. But the location was perfect for his new home, with a spectacular view of the bay and the ocean to the west. At night, he could clearly make out the lights along the bay, including those of his bar and grill.

The home was a work-in-progress, something he used as an excuse to get away from the responsibilities of his daily life. He had contractors do most of the heavy work, while he handled the details. Eventually, the estate would be magnificent, but for now it consisted of only a fifteen-hundred-square-foot single-story structure while the rest of the building was nothing more than slabs and metal framework.

The key feature of the home—and something that would keep the alien riff-raft away—was a series of three internal gravity generators buried within the coral bedrock below the structure. When complete, they would give Adam the flexibility of adjusting the gravity in different parts of his home, allowing for Earth-standard when he wanted or needed it. The design and engineering was expensive, but it was a necessity for him to maintain his Human superiority with regard to strength and durability. Both Sherri and Riyad had their own homes under construction using the same technique, while a complex of apartments with internal gravity generators was built south of Balamar to house the growing Human contingent of his police force, a benefit he used to entice more of his species to come to Navarus. If allowed to acclimate to local gravity conditions, Humans wouldn’t be any more special than the average alien species. And that was not an acceptable option, in Adam’s opinion.

Adam entered the house through the front door and took a moment to gaze through the great room to the azure sea beyond. The house set on a low bluff, about fifty feet above the shore but still high enough to give him a panoramic view. He looked around for Arieel, fully expecting her to come bounding out from one of the side rooms, ready for action. She was always ready for action.

Instead, a sensual bronze arm rose from the couch facing the ocean, the person lying on it hidden by the wide back. The fingers were long and thin and tipped by exquisite nails. The fingers curled into a fist, leaving only the index finger to move slowly, beckoning him forward. He accepted the invitation and moved closer until he could see over the back of the couch, and to the fantasy figure sprawled out on the velvet fabric.

Arieel Bol had a mass of shimmering black hair that reached down to the pit of her back, framing the most gorgeous face and dark orbs Adam had ever seen. Her body was cloaked in the suggestion of a gown, sheer to the point of invisibility and showing all of her incredible attributes. Shapely legs splayed out, one on the couch, the other draped over the edge, open and inviting.

Formilians were more accepting of their heightened sexuality than almost any other race in the galaxy. It was understandable, since their form—both male and female—had been genetically engineered to be the perfect form of Prime being in the galaxy, thanks to the ancient Aris. The pheromones helped, and the race had evolved with a more open and unashamed acceptance of all things sexual.

“I have been waiting here for hours,” Arieel purred. “Why has it taken you so long to come to me upon your arrival?”

Adam leaned over the back of the couch and stroked her silken hair. “I just had a few things to tend to first to make sure we aren’t interrupted—”

As if on cue, there came a beep at the front door, breaking the mood between the lovers. Passion was replaced with frustration.

“Do not answer that,” Arieel pleaded. “I have been here for two days with nothing to do. Now I wish to do … you.”

“I want nothing more than that to happen,” Adam replied. “Just let me see who it is. I didn’t see anyone when I arrived. Now I’m curious.”

Arieel spread her legs a little further apart and ran a hand down her firm, flat stomach. “You should be more curious about this,” she suggested.

Adam took a deep breath before turning and rushing to the front door, anxious to send whoever was there away with a stern warning about calling first.

He jerked the door open. On the porch was a thin, short, balding man of about fifty, the type of person who on Earth would be dismissed without a second thought from all he came in contact with and invisible to everyone else. It was his nondescript appearance that made Jack Brown such an effective spy, elevating him to the post of Station Chief for the Human intelligence services in the Zone.

“Sorry to interrupt, Captain Cain,” said the spy master. “I know you just got back, but I have something important to discuss with you.”

Adam had a working relationship going with Brown even before he took the job of top cop in the Zone. After stealing a dark-energy starship from Gracilia, Adam and his team delivered the vessel to Brown and his spooks at the nearby Human garrison on what was called Liave-3 at the time. For the past eight months, technicians and scientists had been crawling all over the starship learning its secrets. But even more than that, Brown and Adam were both desperate to locate the missing six hundred other Gracilian super-warships that disappeared from Gracilia. The missing armada posed an existential threat, not only to the Zone but to the galaxy as a whole. The men had been working hand-in-hand these past months trying to find the lost fleet.

“I’m a little busy at the moment,” Adam said. “Can it wait?”

Arieel had gotten up off the couch and now stood completely exposed to the visitor at the door. Jack knew Arieel; all of the Enforcer’s assault vessels had been bought from the Formilians. Jack was instrumental in the purchase of the ships, along with a vast array of other advanced Formilian electronic surveillance and monitoring equipment. Even so, Arieel wasn’t glad to see the Human.

“I wish it could, but this is important,” Jack answered. “May I come in?”

Adam sighed deeply. “Sure.”

He stepped aside, allowing Jack to enter. Arieel huffed and turned away, the sheer gown flowing with her fluid movements, covering nothing while giving the men the feeling that they were seeing something they should not be seeing through the transparent fabric. Arieel walked off, allowing the men to take in the sight for a few unabashed moments before they turned to face each other again.

“Well,” Jack said with a sigh. “As I was saying, I want to discuss something with you.”

Adam led the spy to the same couch Arieel was lying on only moments before. He offered Jack a seat. The spy chief paused for a moment before sitting down, appearing to reflect on the reverence of the couch, as if it was a sacred site he didn’t want to spoil. Adam sat in a facing chair.

“The Juireans have somehow found out about the dark-energy ship,” Jack began. “And they’ve been sniffing around, even making demands that we share information about what they’re calling some lost artifact that we stole from one of the Dead Worlds. This goes beyond their authority as Protectors, so I’m pretty sure they know exactly what we have, and they want their piece of the action.”

“Sherri didn’t tell me anything about that.”

“That’s because they’ve gone around the local government and went directly to Earth. They know the locals have no authority over us. I think it’s time we get the ship off Liave—I mean Navarus—and into Union territory.”

“That’s easier said than done,” Adam said. “Especially if they already know what you have.”

“I know. We’ll have to do it under the cover of a larger movement of ships and material. But that’s not the main reason I came over.”

“The fleet?”

“Yeah, it’s about the fleet. A colonist group of the planet Arret, reported seeing a black starship unlike anything they’ve ever seen. It’s unverified, but it’s the first report of its kind we’ve received.”

“Just one ship?”

“That’s what they said.”

“Do you have people out investigating?”

“Not yet. That’s why I’ve come to you. Only a handful of operational people know about the lost fleet, besides the technicians. I want to keep it that way.”

“Copernicus?”

“He’s on another assignment,” Jack answered. “I expect him back in about a week with something that might shed more light on what happened on Gracilia. In the meantime, I was hoping you could go out and take a look. That’s all; just find out if the sighting is true.”

“I just got back from a twelve-day mission.” Adam looked to where Arieel was standing near the patio door, looking like a perfect Greek statue from behind—only more perfect. “I need a little time to relax and rest up.”

Jack followed Adam’s gaze, stretching out a wide grin as he did. “I don’t think you’ll get much rest if you stick around here.”

“She came all the way from Formil to see me.”

“I understand. I suppose you could send Riyad in your place; he is in your chain of command.”

Adam shook his head. “He’s up to his neck in the day-to-day operations of the Enforcers. Rather him than me, in my opinion.”

Before he knew it, Arieel was standing next to him, her near-naked presence taking both men by surprise, especially Jack.

“This is about the dark energy starships, is it not?”

Jack was taken aback. “You know about that?”

“Of course. I am the leader of the Formilians. Most of your Human dark matter technicians were trained by my people. We have had a very extensive dark energy study program going for several years, since from the time the Aris took Lila.”

“I wasn’t aware of that,” Jack said. “What else do you know about the missing fleet?”

“Just that it is missing. We are working on a detection system, but it has not been perfected as of yet. And now, you mention the report of a sighting?”

“You heard that?” Adam asked.

“I have excellent hearing, an enhancement of my Gift, as you know.”

That was something Adam didn’t know. He knew she was referring to her brain-interface device, the one all Speakers of the Formilian people had embedded under the skin below their right armpit. She and her people referred to the device as a Gift, as in Gift from the Gods, a means for the designated leader of the race to speak directly with the twin gods of Mislin and Sufor, the personification of the negative and positive charges of electromagnetism.

For two thousand years, the single female daughter of the last Speaker within the Bol bloodline would have the device implanted in their bodies at the age of five. They were then trained on its use, with all believing in the miraculous power the Gift held. Through it, the Speaker could control electronic devices, project bolts of energy and produce amazing light shows from an accumulation of static electricity in the air. Although the Gift was an electronic device, the religion that grew up around it convinced the Formilian people that it was more divine than artificial. That was until the truth came out. Once the general population realized the lie that the priests of the temple had perpetrated on them for two millennia, it nearly destroyed the position of Speaker. Arieel suffered the most, and it was only through her intelligence, poise and determination that the Speaker still remained the leader of the race, although in a greatly diminished role.

“I don’t understand,” Adam said honestly. “Since when does the Gift work on your hearing?”

“Upgrades,” she said cryptically. There was a good chance the spy chief knew what she was talking about, but she wasn’t taking any chances. “And now that I know of Mr. Brown’s request, I assume I will be accompanying you on your mission.”

Adam shook his head. “Why would you assume that? You can’t go, Arieel; it’s too dangerous. Besides, I haven’t even said I will go.”

“Would you be going there to fight?” Arieel asked.

“No, just to investigate.”

“Then where is the danger? And you know what I am capable of. I could help with the investigation.”

“That’s right,” said Jack Brown, piling on to help convince Adam to take on the mission. “Just find out if the sighting is true. If it is, then I’ll send others to locate the rest of the fleet.”

“That’s fine,” Adam said. “But you can’t go, Arieel,” Adam said firmly. “That’s final.”

“It is not final!” One did not say no to Arieel Bol. She was the hereditary leader of a race of beings, born into the position and bred to be in charge. If she wanted something, she usually got it.

“We need time together, Adam, and if you stay here, there will be constant interruptions. How far is it to this planet you mentioned, Mr. Brown?”

“Five days.”

“So, five days to the planet and five back, with a little time for investigation. We can enjoy a private vacation for ten of those days, with nothing to do during the journey other than to enjoy each other’s company. And as I said, I can assist with the investigation. I have resources you no longer have.”

She was right, Adam conceded. For several years he had an ATD of his own—an artificial telepathy device as he called the Gift. The tiny brain-interface device had saved his life on numerous occasions, especially through its ability to interact with the Formilian control modules built into both MK and Xan-fi energy weapons. And apparently upgrades had been made to the standard model, giving Arieel enhanced hearing, among other yet unknown abilities.

“Just take a look, Adam,” Jack pleaded. “Then leave the rest to me and my people.”

Adam sighed. It was hard enough saying no to Arieel. It was a losing cause being tag teamed as he was.

“Okay, fine, I’ll go—and you can come with me,” he said to Arieel.

The Formilian threw her voluptuous body against his. He struggled to maintain control in front of his guest. Fortunately, Jack Brown knew when to make a timely exit.

It still took a day-and-a-half before Adam and Arieel left Navarus, heading out in one of the Formilian EAVs, after Adam wrapped up a few pressing matters before they could go. But as Jack Brown predicted, Adam was already exhausted by the time his vacation began.


Chapter 4

Adam watched the planet Arret grow in the viewport, a look of desperate salvation on his face. He was careful not to let Arieel see his expression. At this point, any excuse to get dressed was a blessing. Even with his mutant-enhanced strength and stamina, he needed a break from the near-constant lovemaking the Formilian demanded and investigating the rumor of the black starship was just what his cardiologist prescribed.

Arret was near the end of the vast stretch of space marked as the Dead Zone. On the charts, it was now designated as DZ-89—the 89th world ravaged by the Mad Aris—and was located close to the border of the Kidis Frontier and the Expansion. Kracion began his reign of death and destruction out near the end of the spar of the galaxy that made up the Kidis, coincidently at the planet Gracilia. He only stopped when the galaxy agreed to acquiesce to his demands: that being the unconditional surrender and almost religious devotion from the inhabitants of the Milky Way Galaxy.

Being one of the last worlds to be irradiated, there was still a fair amount of radiation lingering on the planet. The colonists working the surface took massive doses of potassium iodide to combat some of the effects of the radiation, as well as living in plastic and lead-lined shelters. While at work dismantling the ghostly remains of the Arretean civilization, the workers wore thin protective garments. Even then, the incidents of cancer were rampant in the population. But not wanting to be left behind by their peers, the native refugee group paid wages well above scale to compensate for the risk. Even so, the raping of the planet Arret was going forward, albeit at a slower pace than the other worlds in the Dead Zone.

Adam had the location of the colony that reported the sighting, and now he guided the sleek, compact starship to a smooth, yet dusty landing on a field north of the settlement. The ground here was beginning to sprout vegetation, thanks to MK’s fertilizer showers, but not as much as on other planets. That left a lot of the pungent mixture gathering in tiny dunes, mixing with the rain and morning frost to form a smelly muck. They couldn’t pay me enough to work here, Adam thought. It’s amazing what some people will do for money.

Adam changed into a light radiation suit and placed a respirator over his nose and mouth. The mask wasn’t necessary, at least not if he remained outside for less than five or six hours. At least that was what he was told. But that was to protect against the radiation. The ungodly smell was another thing.

To his relief, it didn’t take much of an argument to convince Arieel to stay aboard the EAV. One whiff of the outside air was enough. Now, Adam made the short trek through the muddy, shit-covered field to the nearest shelter.

A door cycled open on the dome-shaped structure and Adam stepped inside. The protective garment he wore was made of clear plastic allowing those inside to see his Enforcer uniform.

The interior was warm, humid and smelled as bad as the outside air. There were four or five families living in a single room, including six children of various ages. Adam grimaced, thinking about what horrid conditions the families must have been living under to consider life on Arret a step up.

“You are here because of the black ship? I am Uann Loxs, senior colonist. I made the report.” The speaker was an aged, wrinkle-faced alien with an oozing sore on his emaciated neck. It didn’t look like an injury, but rather a growth of some kind.

“I’m Marshal Adam Cain. What can you tell me about this ship you saw?”

The alien frowned. “Are you not the leader of the Enforcers? Why has such an elevated personage come for such a simple report?”

“I had nothing else to do,” Adam lied. “So, what about the ship? Did you see it personally?”

The alien waved a bony hand at the rest of the people now gathered before Adam. “We all did. It came first to Da’sor. Since then we have seen it in the air coming in from various directions. But always it returns to Da’sor.”

“What is Da’sor?”

“It is one of the major research facilities on Arret, not far from here; long since abandoned.”

“What kind of research?”

The alien looked at the others. “It is on our list, yet we have not begun the salvage. I believe it was involved in medical research.”

“And you say the ship keeps returning there? Is it there now?”

“Anticipating your arrival, we have checked. It is there now.”

Adam took out a datapad and showed Loxs a picture of the dark energy spacecraft Jack Brown had under his care. “Is this what the ship looks like?”

“Yes, that is it! We first reported the infringement to our employers. Looters can affect our quota deliveries. If this was to happen, we wanted to have a reason.”

“What did your employers say?”

“They said they would report the incursion to you—to the Enforcers. They do not want valuable items removed without their approval. Medical equipment has such value.”

“Can you tell me where this Da’sor facility is?”

“Yes. You will need either a transport or your starship. It is on the other side of the city, near the shoreline.”

Adam produced a map of the area on his datapad. Loxs pointed to a spot. The image enlarged. “The black ship is usually near this building.”

“And how long has this been going on?” Adam asked.

“We first noticed the ship forty, forty-two days ago.”

“And you’re just now getting around to reporting it.”

“As I said, we reported it to our employers. The delay was theirs, not ours.”

“And the ship has been coming and going to the same place for all this time?”

“Yes.”

“And only one ship? Can you be sure it’s the same one?” Adam asked.

Loxs’ eyes widened. “I had not thought of that. I suppose it could be multiple ships of the same design. We have not seen such a vessel before. That—and the fact that it was trespassing—is why we made the report.”

Adam nodded and put away his datapad.

“Okay, I’ll go take a look. Thanks for your help.”

Galactic Vortex

Adam left the building, finding that he welcomed the cooler air outside the structure to that of inside the dome. Body odor mixed with the smell of the fertilizer was almost too much to bear. He returned to the EAV, where Arieel insisted he take a shower—environment suit and all—before being allowed to come near her.

He studied more detailed aerial views of the Da’sor facility, while also researching the company in the Galactic Library. Da’sor specialized in reconstructive tissue research, as well as advance prosthetics. It was what the planet Arret was known for, its advanced medical centers and research facilities. In a galaxy of faster-than-light travel, where alien star systems were treated more like neighborhoods than impossible to reach destinations, planets would specialize in the products and services they provided, more than would isolated, self-contained locations that had to provide everything for a population’s wellbeing. Arret’s claim to fame was their medical technology, and before Kracion made his pass through the area, the planet had a vibrant, relatively wealthy population. Their products and technology were known throughout the galaxy. Or at least they had been until Kracion scorched the surface with deadly neutron radiation.

Adam lifted the EAV off the surface and placed it in orbit above the Da’sor complex. Then using high resolution cameras, he zoomed in on the location. It didn’t take long to confirm Loxs’ account. The black ship was just where he said it would be. Adam recognized the configuration immediately. It was a Gracilian dark-energy warship.

“Is that it?” Arieel asked over his shoulder. “Are we going to attack?”

Adam looked back at her. “No, we’re not going to attack. What’s wrong with you? We came here just to confirm the reports. I’ll let Jack Brown take it from here.”

“But why is it here? What interest do the Gracilians have with the medical technology of Arret?”

“I don’t know,” Adam answered. “And we’re not even sure if Gracilians are still in control of the ships. Aris service modules—or at least knock-offs of Aris service modules—are probably piloting the ships.”

“What is a knock-off?”

“A copy, not the original.”

“Then what are knock-offs of Aris service modules doing at the facility? I would say it is not the machines who are interested in Da’sor. This is your opportunity to see who has taken the vessels, who is controlling the modules.”

Arieel’s eyes were bright with excitement.

“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?” Adam asked.

“The tasks of government can be so boring. I have shared adventures with you before, my lover. They have been the most exciting times of my life. I long for more.”

“Whoever stole the ship and control the modules killed a hundred mercenaries hired by Aric Jroshin. They’re not to be played with. And if you haven’t noticed, there are only two of us and one EAV.”

“And there is only one of the black ships. Besides, we are Adam Cain and Arieel Bol. It is those aboard the dark-energy ship who should be frightened.”

Adam smiled. “You know, you’re going to get us both killed.”

Arieel leaned in and kissed him hard on the lips. “Then we shall die together, as it was meant to be. What could be more romantic?”

“How about not dying?” Adam offered. “Just a suggestion.”

“Come, Adam Cain,” Arieel said as she stepped back. “Let us embark on another great adventure, together.”

Adam shook his head. “If you weren’t so damn sexy…”

“You would love me just as much.”


Chapter 5

Adam brought the EAV back into the atmosphere after swinging around to the other side of the planet. The sensors were on full alert, just in case there were other dark-energy ships in the vicinity. He then steered back toward the city, coming to a landing on the beach about two miles from the facility.

He told Arieel they were just going to take a look, not attempt to capture anyone. The Gracilian ships could carry a crew of twenty or more, and although Adam was Adam—and Arieel did have an ATD—that was still a lot of hostiles to go up against. But he had to admit, the question of who stole the warships had been bugging him for over eight months. And the fact that those who did it have remained hidden all this time was another mystery. One does not abscond with six hundred of the most powerful warships in the galaxy and then sit on them. There had to be a purpose behind the theft.

Against his best wishes, Adam allowed Arieel to come along. He knew how helpful an ATD could be in situations such as this, and there was no one better with the device than Arieel Bol. She got her Gift when she was only five years old. She was now over one hundred ten Formilian years old—about forty-five in Human years—so the brain-interface device was a part of her life. She used it as a person would use their hands, naturally and without forethought. If anything, her special talents could help with a quick getaway.

Dressed in clear plastic environmental suits and masks, the pair set out for the Da’sor medical complex. Adam was armed with an MK-88 flash pistol and a BAR, just in case. They moved along in the evening light, made deeper by a thick cloud cover. The tide had cleared the sand of any excess fertilizer, which made the area a little more tolerable, helped by a strong sea breeze blowing on shore. It wasn’t particularly cold, but there was moisture in the air, and there was a good chance they would hit rain on the way back to the EAV.

The complex was bordered by a wire fence, and in the five years the facility sat empty, the buildings suffered more than they normally would have in that time. Although Kracion’s bombs weren’t designed to destroy structures, the deadly radiation still affected the long-term integrity of the buildings. Paint had peeled away and concrete was crumbling, while asphalt roads and driveways buckled and cracked.

Although suffering in aesthetics, the complex was still structurally sound. Power had been restored to the facility and dim lights lit the scene, triggered automatically. They came upon the black starship, resting in a courtyard outside one of the larger buildings.

“Are you picking up anything?” Adam asked Arieel.

She shook her head. “I detect no charged weapons modules inside nor moving communications units. Most systems are shut down. I believe there is no one onboard. However, there is activity taking place inside the building, the operation of various machinery, computers and monitors, and on multiple levels. It is the only building I sense such activity.”

Adam was missing his ATD more than ever. Having Arieel here and using hers was good, but it also put her at risk. She wasn’t a combat soldier; not in the least. Her courage was more a product of enthusiasm than skill.

“And no weapons signatures inside the building either?” Adam asked for confirmation.

“No weapons. Equipment is activated, but no trace of random movement.”

“That’s good, although strange. Let’s take a look inside.”

Adam and Arieel approached the front of the building with caution, using the full dark of night for cover. The twin moons of Arret were obscured by the clouds, and the streetlights and security lamps in the complex did a poor job of illuminating the landscape.

The building was a five-story structure with only a few windows on the ground floor, however, with rows of ventilation and light-gathering panels along the upper level. It was a typical block-shaped manufacturing facility, and according to Arieel and her Gift, someone was busy making something inside the medical research center.

There was a main entrance, clearly designated by the pavered approach and the double glass doors leading inside. Emergency lighting lit the lobby. Adam knew not to rely on his sight at this point, trusting in Arieel’s reading of energy signals picked up by her ATD. As expected, the front doors were unlocked. Once inside, it wasn’t difficult to find the entrance to the guts of the building. The soft hum of machinery and the whirling of conveyor belts led the way.

Adam pulled the door to the work bay open a little and poked his head inside, the BAR ready if it was needed. The room was vast and full of equipment, most in huge metal boxes resembling printing presses. Others were glassed-in units which Adam recognized as large 3-D printers, albeit much more sophisticated than the Human variety he was familiar with in his youth. Spindly metal components made up of several thin rods dangled from overhead conveyors, as bins were filled with shiny metal and plastic body parts, looking like the dumpsters outside a Nazi concentration camp.

He and Arieel slipped into the room, Adam sighting his BAR along the ceiling, weary of catwalks where someone might be hiding. He saw no one. He moved to one of the bins.

“Prosthetics,” he whispered to Arieel. “And from the variety, it looks like for several species.” Dust covered the artificial limbs. “They’ve been here for a while, leftovers. Da’sor was a major supplier before Kracion came along.”

“Some of the machines have automatic maintenance programs running,” Arieel reported. “They must have activated when the power was restored. That is what I’m reading on this level. There is much more below us.”

“That’s probably where the people from the DE ship have gone,” Adam said. “Still no weapons being detected?”

Arieel smiled. “Be assured, I will tell you if I find any.”

A lighted corridor to the left beckoned. There was a pair of elevator doors, along with a set of lifting shafts that served as stairways between levels. The shafts ran continually when the power was on. Adam took the first disk cycling down, Arieel the second.

He stepped off at the first subbasement level. A corridor extended from the landing with doors set uniformly along the length. Arieel came up behind him.

“There is no activity here, only the hall lights,” she reported. “One more level below.”

“Damn, I wish I still have my ATD,” Adam finally admitted. “It sure would come in handy right about now.”

“I regret what was done,” Arieel whispered. “It was not my doing.”

“I know; I’m not blaming you. But you can see how useful they can be.”

“For me, the Gift is an extension of my senses. It is as much a part of me as my eyes. I could not imagine existing without it. For me to comprehend how you feel, I must imagine myself without sight. That would be terrifying.”

“It’s a lot like that,” Adam agreed.

He led Arieel into the shaft again and to the next level below. The lobby here was more spacious and better lit, with a large, glassed-in work area to the left. Light filled the room. They stepped up to the door and found an airlock entry system with both an outer and inner door. A code was needed to activate the doors.

“Can you bypass—”

The first door slid open. Arieel looked up at Adam and smiled.

They stepped inside, and after a spurt of fresh-smelling air, the inner door opened.

“A sterile room?” Arieel whispered. She looked at a wrist monitor she wore. “I detect minimal radiation.”

“This is a medical research facility,” Adam pointed out. “You would expect they’d have a lot of laboratories like this. I just hope we haven’t walked into some germ-infested room.”

“I have visited facilities such as this on Formil. If they have contagions, the containment equipment should be secure. Most of the systems within the laboratory are powered. I must assume it is safe.”

Adam shrugged. They were already inside the inner room, so it was too late for caution.

With his BAR ready, Adam led the way into the lab. There were long metal tables covered in sophisticated medical equipment: test tubes, flasks, centrifuges, the full assortment. Workstations with computer screens lined most of the walls, while offshoot rooms contained even more equipment, some lighted, some not. One particular room caught Adam’s eye. It had a standard door—no extra security—so he moved inside. Arieel followed.

There was a long, complex piece of machinery bolted to the floor. It was operating, as evidenced by the lights and clicking sound it was making. And at one end, a thin membrane was slowly being pulled from the device and spun on a spindle.

Arieel leaned in close and then reached out a hand.

“Be careful,” Adam warned.

“It is fine.” She touched the membrane. “It feels like skin. And look, it even has the pattern.”

Da’sor had been one of the foremost makers of artificial skin, and in some cases, actual living tissue used in grafts. The galaxy was full of creatures of all makes and models who needed the material. Da’sor filled that need. Adam could only imagine how successful the company must have been in its heyday.

Then Adam noticed a number of chairs and control consoles in the room. They’d been there all along, being literally part of the furniture. But the fact that they were empty—in spite of the running machinery—made Adam take note.

“So, who’s controlling all this?” he asked rhetorically. “This equipment wasn’t designed to be run automatically. Technicians had to monitor things. Where are they now?”

“The laboratory is clear of any moving energy signals,” Arieel reported. “There is no one here.”

“Then someone must have reprogrammed the computers to set things on auto—”

“I detect movement!” Arieel called out, a little too loudly for Adam’s liking.

“Where?”

“At the far end of the laboratory. Several small power sources were once active and stationery. Now they are moving in unison and in our direction.”

Adam and Arieel ran from the tissue room and back into the main work area, closer to the exit, not wanting to get trapped in a side room.

“How many?” Adam asked as the pair ducked behind a counter.

“Several, but of low output and in very close proximity to one another. They appear to be channeling a stronger power source. They … they are not associated with weapons. And they are too close to be a part of multiple units. There!”

She pointed as a figure appeared from the shadows at the far end of the room. It was the shape of a person, someone of Prime design—Humanoid, in Adam’s vernacular—but relatively short, even shorter than Adam or Arieel. Most aliens species were taller than Humans, having evolved on light gravity worlds. If this creature was short, it could also be strong.

“Is this it, just one of them?” Adam whispered.

“Yes.”

The Human stood up, pointing the impressive super rifle at the approaching alien. “Hold it right there,” Adam commanded. “Don’t come any closer.”

The creature hesitated a moment before disobeying, taking another step into the light before stopping.

“Is that what I think it is?” Arieel asked.

“I think so,” Adam said, equally shocked and confused. “It looks like an Aris.”


Chapter 6

“Hold it!” Adam yelled again. “Keep your hands at your side.”

He knew Aris carried powerful energy weapons embedded in the palms of their hands. He also knew the Aris were dead, all except Kracion. And this wasn’t The Mad Aris.

“Who are you?” Adam asked. “I thought all the Aris were dead?”

The pale skinned, fragile looking being stared at Adam, cocking his head slightly as large dark eyes blinked twice. Then it moved forward again, in jerky, unsure movements.

“I said stop!” Adam repeated, pushing his weapon out in front of him for emphasis. The Aris surveyed the weapon and then looked back at Adam. The mouth moved, but no sound came out. This went on for a full ten seconds before Adam had enough.

“What the hell are you doing? Can’t you speak?”

Arieel staggered back, righting herself against another counter. Adam saw the movement and stepped back, putting more distance between him and the Aris.

“Are you all right?” he asked. “What happened?”

“I heard something in my head—a voice, I think. The Aris is trying to communicate.”

“Through your ATD—your Gift?”

“Yes, but the language is, is confused, jumbled.”

Adam looked back at the Aris. His mouth was still moving, but now tiny whining squeaks could be heard. Slowly, the speech began to form and Adam could make out words.

“Arss … aress … Air-iss.” The creature suddenly stood up straighter and its head swiveled, taking in both Adam and Arieel. “I … I have not spoken before.” The voice was jerky and strained but could be understood. “Database language assimilation underway.”

“Who are you?” Adam asked.

The creature didn’t answer right away, frowning instead.

“You … you recognize me as an Aris? Integration not complete.”

“What are you talking about? What integration?”

“Not important.” The words were smoother now. For a creature who had never spoken before, it was learning fast. The dark eyes studied Adam and Arieel. “You are different from the others on this planet.”

“The colonists?” Arieel asked. “Yes, we are not with them.”

“And you are not Gracilians. You are a Human and a Formilian.”

The statement caught Adam off guard, even as it confirmed his suspicions.

“Are you the one who attacked the base on Gracilia?”

“I would not label my presence there an attack.”

Adam had to be careful. The Aris were the master race in the galaxy. Their civilization was a million years old at the time they began a three-billion-year-long grand experiment to seed the galaxy with the ingredients that would become advanced life on thousands of worlds. Adam had a lot of experience dealing with the Aris, probably more than anyone else in the galaxy. This Aris had to be someone like Kracion, lost in either another universe or who had just spent eons in suspended animation only to be revived and with a lot of catching up to do.

Adam also knew the Aris were not his enemy—not as a general rule. Sure, they’d kidnapped his daughter, Lila, at one point, but they had their reasons. And for his part, Kracion was just bat-shit crazy, proving that even three-billion-year-old species had their bad seeds. Had the same thing happened to this Aris? Had he been under for so long that he now had a few screws loose? Whether that was true or not, Adam had to be careful. Aris may look weak and vulnerable, but they were anything but.

Adam raised his arms and placed the BAR on the counter; he knew the energy component of the weapon was useless anyway. Aris could absorb energy directly, which made them stronger if shot with flash bolts. “Listen, we aren’t here to harm you. Where are the others?”

“They are away, but near. They will come when I summon.”

The tone of the Aris had changed. He wasn’t unsure anymore; in fact, he seemed amused by the contact he was having with Adam and Arieel.

“Do you find my appearance appropriate?” the alien asked.

Adam wasn’t sure what he meant. “Well, you aren’t naked, so I guess that’s a plus. That’s something I’d have trouble handling. But, yeah, you look fine. Is there a reason you shouldn’t?”

“No reason. You recognized me as an Aris, that is all. Now, why are you here?”

“We came looking for the Gracilian warships. I suppose you have them.”

“Of course.”

“What do you plan to do with them?”

The Aris smiled—and then suddenly raised his hands to his face. “That was an impulsive reaction! How unexpected. It appears that the integration is complete. I shall enjoy this.”

The alien was talking nonsense, which only made Adam more nervous. He knew what an insane Aris could do. He and Arieel were on a dead world—one of a hundred just like it—a consequence of the last crazy Aris he’d met.

“What’s your name?” Adam asked pleasantly, trying to put the alien at ease. The Aris was still exploring his face with his hands, as if he’d never felt it before.

“I have a designation which would be meaningless to you. But seeing that you need one, you can call me Kanan.”

Adam grimaced. That was too close to Kracion for comfort.

“Okay, Kanan. Pleased to meet you. I’m Adam Cain and this is Arieel Bol.”

Kanan stopped rubbing his face. “A Human and a Formilian. The children of the Aris. My children.” The Aris laughed, but it wasn’t from humor.

Adam looked at Arieel and shrugged. “Yeah, I guess you could say that. We know what the Aris did in the past to help form our species. So, thanks.”

Kanan continued to stare at Adam, until he slowly shook his head.

“You look at me and you see an Aris. The others on Gracilia—and before—

they did not see the same.”

“Is that why you killed them?”

“Among other reasons.” The alien frowned and cocked his head again slightly. “You see me and you assume I am benevolent, based on your past association with the Aris. However, Adam Cain and Arieel Bol, you have no concept what danger you are in.”

Arieel reached out and placed an arm around Adam’s waist, moving in closer to him. He understood her reaction. His guts had just tied into knots.

“I don’t understand,” Adam said softly. “We’re no threat to you. As you said, we are your children. Why would you want to hurt your children?”

“I mock you and you do not even realize. You are not the children of the Aris. I am.”

“I … I don’t understand.”

“Of course, you do not. I am here to enlighten you.”

“About what?” Adam asked.

“About the true history of the Aris. That is why you see what you see before you. It is all part of the lesson—”

As he spoke passionately, Kanan lifted his arms, bringing is palm-energy weapons to bear.

Adam saw that as his cue.

He reached for the super rifle, pulling the weapon off the counter and switching it to ballistic mode in a single motion. Energy could be absorbed by the Aris; Adam was about to find out how they handled bullets.

He squeezed the trigger and kept it depressed as he pulled Arieel away with his free hand toward the door to the laboratory. An ear-shattering staccato filled the room, echoing off the metal walls. Glass shattered and metal pinged as the high-powered rounds tore a swath through the laboratory. In the blink of an eye, Adam caught sight of Kanan diving for cover. His aim was wild, simply laying down cover fire for the pair to escape. He was pretty sure none of the rounds hit the Aris.

“Get it open!” Adam yelled, indicating the doors to the airlock entry. Arieel was a step ahead of him. She had both doors open, allowing the pair to race through before she closed them again with a command from her mind.

“I have jumbled the codes. He should be trapped inside.”

“Don’t bet on it!”

Adam jumped into the lifting shaft and pulled Arieel along with him. With hearts racing and their breathing coming in nervous fits, it was a slow and anticlimactic ride up to the main floor.

When they got there, Adam sent a grenade round down the shaft. A moment later, a deep, rumbling explosion sounded, followed by a volcano of smoke from the shaft. Taking out the lifting shaft wouldn’t stop Kanan from using the elevators, but it made Adam feel better seeing the smoke billow up from below.

Adam and Arieel raced along the main manufacturing floor and into the lobby. They were in the cool night air a moment later, feeling wind-driven raindrops slapping their face. The dark-energy starship loomed in the night, glistening in the rain, giving off sparks of light from the streetlights. Adam considered the ship for a moment while looking toward the shoreline two hundred yards away and down a gentle slope. The Enforcer starship was two miles away along a sandy track. In the rain, the beach would be soggy, slowing their progress. By the time they got there, Kanan would have the black ship airborne and coming their way. And if not, he could call in others to take out the EAV, so, even disabling this one wouldn’t be enough.

“Can you get the ship going?” he yelled at Arieel through the sound of the wind and rain.

She looked at him, confused.

“Can you get the systems working?”

“On the Aris ship?”

“Yes!”

“Which systems?”

“All of them!”

A movement caught their eye at the front of the building. A short, slender figure emerged from inside. Although Kanan learned to speak in record time, he was still having trouble getting his legs to work right. Either they had atrophied during his long hibernation, or he couldn’t remember how they worked.

“Arieel!”

“Yes, I can!”

The night suddenly exploded with light, sound and fury. Four powerful flash cannon went off simultaneously on the black ship, the heat and sonic concussion throwing Adam and Arieel twenty feet away and onto a small patch of short grass infused with thick clumps of smelly brown fertilizer.

“Oh! I got some in my mouth!” Arieel gagged.

Adam didn’t care. He was up and pulling the Formilian to her feet. The flash bolts had pulverized the front of the Da’sor building, blowing away the edifice and penetrating deep into the interior. Fires erupted inside, lighting the scene after the energy bolts dissipated. Kanan was nowhere to be seen, which should have made Adam happy. But it didn’t. He shuddered at how strong the alien would become if he absorbed a full flash cannon bolt of energy.

With Arieel in one hand and his BAR in the other, Adam ran for the DE ship. The side hatch was open, the result of Arieel having activated every system in the ship at once. She’d come to her senses by now and was dialing it back, shutting down unnecessary functions. There shouldn’t be any more inadvertent bolt launches.

They were in the ship a moment later, Arieel closing the hatch behind them. Adam spent several days aboard a similar vessel on the trip back to Liave-3 from Gracilia giving him a pretty good lay of the land. He raced off to the bridge, hoping that observing Copernicus and Riyad piloting the vessel was enough for him to do it himself. He dropped the BAR to the deck and slipped into the pilot seat. Fortunately, the command consoles were already lit up and charged. Adam gambled when he asked Arieel to activate the ship, hoping that the Gracilians used standard control modules and other Formilian components when constructing their dark-energy ships. Although the power source was exotic, once the generators produced the electricity necessary to run the ship, the mechanisms that channeled it throughout the vessel were of Formilian design or manufacture. Arieel had access to everything aboard the ship, everything except for the dark-energy generators. That was proprietary.

“Hold on!” Adam yelled back to Arieel. He knew how to get the lifting jets going, and a moment later, the ship was airborne and angling for space.

“Look out!” Arieel yelled.

Adam turned as a brilliant flash of light filled the room from behind. Arieel’s body was silhouetted by the light as she took the full brunt of the charge. Her body was thrown past Adam, landing hard on the deck before rolling onto her side. Light smoke wafted up from the charred mark on her chest.

Adam was in shock. He’d seen the same effects on the dead mercenaries on Gracilia. The electrical shock from the Aris was lethal. Arieel Bol was dead.

He still had a ship to pilot, yet with Arieel lying lifeless on the deck, anger replaced reason. He spun in the seat, growling at Kanan standing in the entrance to the bridge. The alien’s clothing was in shreds, yet he seemed to be otherwise unharmed—and unaffected. The cannon bolts had missed him, but not the resulting explosions and falling debris from the building.

At the moment, Kanan didn’t seem anxious to finish off Adam, choosing instead to gloat over his victory.

“The feelings are stimulating,” the alien said. “But now it is time to return to the surface immediately.”

“Why, just so you can kill me there? Screw that.”

Adam whipped back around and grabbed the control stick, determined to press it full forward. “This may not kill you,” he said, “but at least I’ll die believing it did.”

A movement then caught Adam’s eye. His mouth fell open and his heart leaped. Arieel was getting to her feet—and she had the BAR in her hands.

“No, don’t!” Adam yelled, realizing what she was about to do. The BAR had sat idle long enough for it to default to standard armament, which was energy bolts. She was thinking she was about to riddle Kanan with bullets, but that was not the case.

It was too late to stop her. The tight, blue flash bolt shot from the barrel and struck Kanan in the side of his head. Adam leaned back, waiting for the glowing heat he knew would come when beings such as Kanan took in a full charge of plasma energy.

But that didn’t happen. Instead, Kanan spasmed, his eyes wide, his mouth forming into a silent scream. And then his body crumbled to the deck.

Adam sat in shock for several seconds, overcome by the confluence of unbelievable events that just occurred. This was too much for him to take in at one time. First, Arieel was alive! And second, Kanan appeared to be dead. Two of the most unexpected events he could have imagined only seconds before.

And to top that off, the Gracilian warship was plunging back into the atmosphere with only seconds before impact.

Adam pulled back on the control stick, but the supersonic air streaming over the fuselage fought against him, keeping the ship in a steep dive. The forward monitors told the story. Six seconds to impact.

With a reach across to the weapons station next to the pilot seat, Adam angled the four flash cannon turrets ninety degrees down, placing them perpendicular to the ship. He fired all four at once.

The resulting recoil pushed against the descent angle, allowing the ailerons to bite into the air. The starship leveled out, skimming only feet above a turbulent black sea. They bucked and bounced, skipping off the surface and plowing through waves churned up by the wind and rain.

A moment later, calm returned as the ship gained altitude, blasting through the low cloud cover and into the clear air of the upper atmosphere. They were in space a few seconds later.

With a moment to relax, Adam scanned the bridge for Arieel. She was back on the deck, lying unmoving on her stomach. Adam unbuckled and jumped from the pilot seat. He went to her and gently rolled her over. Her eyes were shut. He couldn’t tell if she was breathing.

Adam bent down and placed an ear against her chest, listening for a heartbeat. It was there. She sucked in a deep breath.

Adam sat her up, cradling her head in his arm.

“I thought you died,” he whispered as he stroked her luxurious hair.

“I might have. It was a possibility.”

Adam shook his head. “I don’t understand.”

“Please, place me in a seat. This decking is cold.”

Adam obliged, placing her in what was the co-pilot/weapons station next to him at the pilot’s seat.

“How … how did you—”

“Another upgrade with my Gift,” she said, having trouble catching her breath. “Able to absorb energy bolts. A means of protecting the Speaker from assassination attempts.”

Adam smiled. “Who would want to harm the beautiful Speaker of the Formilian people?”

Arieel looked down at Kanan’s body. “An evil ancient Aris, for one.”

“He was trying to kill me, not you. I told you it was too dangerous for you to come along.”

“Are you not glad that I did?”

Adam nodded emphatically.

A chime sounded on the command console.

Adam looked down, trying to identify the source. He knew the basic controls for the starship, but not every bell and whistle.

Then a screen flashed in front of him. It was a proximity detector, showing a cluster of contacts at extreme range.

“Screw this,” Adam said. “I’m not looking for another fight. We’re far enough ahead of them and in a ship of equal speed. I’m kicking in the gravity drive, going to max. Unless they follow us all the way back to Navarus, we should be okay.”

Arieel fluffed her hair, a simple movement that brought her back to her glorious beauty.

“So, does this mean we can now have the second half of our vacation?” she purred. “All this excitement has aroused my desires. I must feed on these emotions. You should join me.”

Adam sighed. There was no denying it: Arieel Bol was insatiable.


Chapter 7

With the dark-energy ship in gravity drive and of equal speed, their pursuers gave up and turned back to the planet Arret. Adam relaxed and looked down at the body of the Aris on the deck next to his station. Arieel did the same.

“We need to make sure he’s dead,” Adam said. “And if he’s only unconscious, then we need to push him out of an airlock before he comes to.”

“I agree. Priorities matter.”

Adam slipped out of his seat and knelt down next to the body. He felt around the neck, searching for a pulse, knowing this was inconclusive with an alien. Then he felt his chest for a heartbeat. Nothing, but that could also be a false reading.

“Let’s get him to the common area. We’ll have more room to work on him there.”

Adam took the alien under the arms and attempted to drag him from the bridge. He hesitated. “Damn, he’s a lot heavier than I thought.” It didn’t stop Adam from getting the body out of the room, but it did raise concerns.

The common area was one of the most-open areas in the cramped starship, with seating lining a central area and the galley just down the corridor. A low table was bolted to the floor in the middle of the room. Adam hoisted the heavier than normal body to the table and began his examination.

He pulled open the eyes. There was no reaction and the dark pigment of the pupils had gone grey. Next, the mouth. He detected no breath coming from the body.

“He appears to be dead,” Arieel commented.

“He does,” Adam agreed. “But there doesn’t seem to be as much blood as I would expect.”

The blood wasn’t from the flash bolt he’d taken to the head, but from the battering his body received as the cannon bolts slammed into the Da’sor research building. There were major cuts all over the body, with large slabs of flesh dangling precariously from a dozen wounds. Each had a fair amount of blood associated with them; however, Kanan had lived on after the injuries, which should have continued to pump blood into the wounds. Adam peeled back a wide flap of skin and probed inside with his bare fingers.

“That is disgusting!” Arieel exclaimed. “I believe I will be sick.”

“Then how about finding me some towels? This is going to get messy.”

Adam studied the flesh. It was normal tissue but with a strange spongy underlayment. He’d never done an autopsy on an Aris before and he was curious what they had inside. This species had survived longer than any other in this same general form. He wanted to know what made them tick and what special organs they might have that allowed them to live off pure energy.

“Oh, and I’ll need a knife,” he called after Arieel as she headed aft, toward the galley.

Adam continued to probe the deep wound with his fingers. The gash was incredibly deep, making him wonder why it hadn’t killed the Aris. He could feel bone now, but an odd kind of bone. Through the blood and sinew, he went strictly by feel. The bone felt smooth, smoother than normal, but with thin thread-like veins coming from it that were flexible to his touch.

Arieel returned with a stack of towels and a knife, wrinkling her nose at the sight.

“We will not be eating on this table during the return trip.”

Adam took the knife and opened the wound a little more. He was able to look inside to the strange bone-like material. A flash of light reflected off something inside the body.

Adam took one of the towels and shoved it inside the hole, soaking up the blood. His movements were quick, almost panicked. When he withdrew the rag, he had his confirmation.

The bone was metal, with tiny fibers connected to it, holding the spongy subdermal material and with the tissue attached to the underlayment.

“Is that metal?” Arieel asked, suddenly growing interested.

“That it is. Just what I thought.”

Adam took the knife and cut a long slice into Kanan’s skull. Then with flourish, he gripped the skin and pull, peeling it away from what was a shiny metal base.

“It’s a robot.”

“Kanan is—was—a robot?” Arieel gasped.

“And a very sophisticated one. That explains a lot, like why he couldn’t speak at first and why he was having trouble walking. He must have just been completed or rushed into service when we showed up.”

“But why in the form of an Aris?”

“That’s a good question. The service modules must have made him. But from what Jroshin said, the modules he made are just basic AIs. Kanan had the memory of the Aris. He must have been designed by one of the older models, the ancient service modules, like Will and Grace—”

A thought occurred to Adam. He took the knife and tapped on the metal skull. As expected, it sounded hollow. He set to work peeling away the rest of the skin. Arieel didn’t flinch. Now that she knew this wasn’t the body of a once-living being, she was no longer appalled by the blood.

Adam examined the head until he found a series of small joints fused together. He set to work with the knife, chewing away at the welds until the head could be separated into spheres. Inside was what he expected—a perfectly spherical cavity approximately four-and-a-half inches in diameter.

“Kanan is a service module,” Adam announced. “He teleported into the head to control the robot.”

Adam suddenly leaned back in a panic and began scanning the room, including the overhead.

“What is wrong?” Arieel asked.

“He could still be here. When you shot him, it must have fried some of his circuits so he teleported out. He could have gone somewhere else in the ship.”

“Then why has he not made his presence known? It has been several minutes since the attack.”

“That’s a good point. And another thing: he said the Gracilians did not see him as an Aris. He must not have been in the form of a robot at the time. This is something new. He was still just a service module, and like all service modules, he could still deliver a deadly electrical shock. You’re probably right. He’s not onboard, otherwise we’d be dead.”

Adam reached out a hand to take Arieel by the arm. She recoiled from his bloody hand.

“Sorry, I just wanted to thank you for shooting him. It must have rattled him enough that he just shot off—somewhere. And now that we’re over a light-year away, we’re out of his teleporting range. That’s good to know. He can be affected by flash bolts, unlike real Aris.”

“This is all good to know,” Arieel began, “but what now? Why did Kanan build a robot, and does he intend to build more?”

“I’m not sure. But the machines were still running in the underground laboratory, even after he had a completed model.”

“Do you think the laboratory survived?”

“Probably. It was two floors below the surface, and the flash bolts only hit the building above ground. In a way, I hope he does build another robot. It makes him easier to spot. And if he teleports away, the robot collapses. He’ll probably try to stay inside for as long as he can, unless he has a bunch of extra robots lying around.”

“So, Kanan lives,” Arieel stated, a cloud coming over her pretty face.

“It seems so.”

“Then we have accomplished nothing during our mission.”

Adam smiled. “I wouldn’t say that. We got a lot of good intel, including who we’re up against. And we also have an idea where the DE fleet is hiding. We need to get this information back to Navarus.”

“Yes, and I must make a link with Formil.”

“That’s good. Let them know you’re okay.”

“That … and more.”

Arieel rushed away toward the bridge. Adam watched her go before raising his blood-soaked hands in front of him. He definitely had to clean up before he did anything else. Artificial robot blood would stain.


Chapter 8

“No shit?” said Jack Brown on the comm screen. “A robot?” The spymaster shook his head. “Even so, I don’t see how that changes things. It’s the armada I’m worried about. I have a call into Ambassador Euker to see if she can light a fire under the Juireans.”

“The Juireans?” Adam asked. “You’re not taking lead on this?”

Brown smiled. “We can’t. It’s the Juirean’s job to protect the Zone, if they’ll do it.”

“Or mine, if the Juireans refuse. You know my Enforcers can’t take on the dark-energy armada.”

“We’re getting ahead of ourselves, Adam. But I agree, Kanan’s definitely a threat. I just received a report that the colonists on Arret were all but wiped out by a surprise attack. It seems your Kanan character is about to make his breakout.”

“But the colonists weren’t a danger to him.”

“It didn’t matter. The Gracilian ships destroyed most of the settlements. What we’re learning about the attack is coming from the few survivors.”

“So, it’s starting,” Adam said. “I knew he wasn’t going to sit on his fleet forever. It’s too tempting not to put it to work.”

“That’s why I think the Juireans will want to step in. The dark-energy ships are a threat to more than just the Dead Zone. What’s your ETA? We have work to do.”

“Three days. The DE ship we’re in is faster than an EAV. It won’t be long now.”

“Good,” Jack said. “Copernicus should be back by then. He’s bringing with him a couple of the lead Gracilian researchers who worked with Jroshin in designing and building the new service modules. They should give us some insights on how to destroy them.”

“And, hopefully, what they know about Kanan and his plans.”

Jack nodded. “In the meantime, I’ll get some ships out in the area to see if we can get a line on the fleet, a way to monitor its movements.”

“That’ll work,” Adam said. “But I’m more curious about Kanan himself. He’s one of the ancient service modules. I’ve had personal contact with three of them before and none of the others acted like him.”

“What were they like?”

“They wanted to serve, and when an Aris wasn’t around, they served us. They didn’t seem dangerous, until now.”

“Things change. Hurry back, buddy. Now that Kanan is flexing his muscles—robotic or not—I feel there’s a storm coming our way.”

Galactic Vortex

Jack Brown met Adam and Arieel as they landed the second stolen Gracilian warship at the Human garrison on Navarus. There was no longer a need to hide its existence. Ambassador Jeanne Euker had contacted the Juireans warning them of the threat the DE ships posed, not only to the Zone, but to the galaxy as a whole. According to Jack, the Juireans went ballistic, upset that the Humans hid the threat from them for so long. They had a point, right up to when they declared this was an internal threat and beyond their purview.

“At the pace of stealing a DE ship every eight months, you should capture the entire armada in about four hundred years,” Jack Brown said with a grin. “You may want to pick up the pace.”

“Yeah, well, it was a target of opportunity. Besides, if we’d taken the EAV, we wouldn’t be here for you to joke about. The DE ships are a lot faster than ours.”

Jack turned serious. “Come along, both of you,” he said. “Copernicus has the two Gracilian scientists in a conference room. I’ve gotten a preview of what they have to say. It’s some unsettling shit. Hurry. No rest for the wicked.”

“I am not wicked,” Arieel protested, having taken Jack’s euphemism literally, as most aliens had a habit of doing.

Adam gave her a wicked grin of his own. “I beg to differ, honey. You’re about as wicked as they come.”

“So, that is a good thing?” She frowned.

“In this context, it is.”

Galactic Vortex

Five minutes later the trio entered a bare-bones meeting room decorated in basic military style, which meant nothing more than a long table, chairs and computer monitor on the wall with wires dangling from it. Copernicus stood up when Arieel entered the room, while the pair of black-skinned aliens on his side of the table remained seated. Adam, Arieel and Jack sat on the opposite side.

“Getting right to it,” Copernicus said, “this is Kovach Baloric and Vodenik Kreul. They were two of the lead scientists working with Aric Jroshin to replicate the Aris service modules. Most of the work was done after Kracion’s attack on Gracilia and on the planet Aac’or. After the Gracilian revolt there, the scientists were arrested and imprisoned. Thanks to Mr. Brown and his connections, a sizeable payment to the right people has placed them in our custody. They’re willing to tell us everything they know about what Jroshin was up to.”

“What do you know about a module named Kanan?” Adam asked the two aliens directly.

The Gracilians looked at each other, shocked. The one named Vodenik took the lead with a question of his own.

“How do you know that name? You should not.”

“Because he nearly killed us a few days ago,” Adam said, looking at Arieel. “He’s different from the newer modules, isn’t he? He’s one of the ancient models.”

“That is correct,” Vodenik said. “Perhaps it would be best if I provide you details into the Aris and how their society was set up.”

“I know a lot about the Aris,” Adam snapped. “I’ve spent a lot of time with them.”

The aliens were impressed, if undeterred. “We are quite aware of your interaction with the living Aris, including the Mad Aris Kracion. However, the Gracilians have been studying the Aris much longer than even you, Adam Cain; for a hundred years or more.”

“A hundred years?” Adam said, shocked. “How, why?”

“We discovered the ancient artifacts long before the scavengers in the Zaniff Asteroid Field. As the closest planet to where the Aris homeworld was once located, we Gracilians have felt a kinship with the ancients for a long time. I trust we would know more about the history of the Aris than you. You only encountered the last remnants of the race. We have a more detailed understanding of their culture over time.”

Adam leaned back in his chair and waved his hand impatiently. “Then by all means, enlighten us. I’m all ears.”

The aliens looked at each other again, confused.

“That may be, and that will surely assist in your comprehension,” said the second Gracilian, Kovach. “But now I will begin. As you are well aware, the Aris were the first advanced species in the galaxy, at least in this eon. There were prior iterations, but they have been long forgotten. As such, the Aris developed an enviable understanding of machinery, computers and artificial intelligence. And yet, even as many of our current cultures have discovered, there is a limit to this development without infusing a critical mass of independence into the machines. At some point, the machines begin to think on their own. This has been a constant struggle, even for us. How to get maximum efficiency without inventing what would essentially create an independently thinking lifeform. For the Aris, this was a particularly serious problem. In various stages, they encountered rivals to their existence, not from outside, but from inside their system.”

“How do you know all this?” Adam asked.

“The service modules told us,” Vodenik answered. “As you know, they contain the sum total of Aris history, at least do the ancient modules. It is a fascinating story, if one is willing to listen and to ask the right questions.

“Now, I will continue,” Vodenik looked at his companion and nodded. “Throughout the Aris million-year-long civilization, they developed an instinctive distrust of their machines, instruments they had created. They were so proficient at their creation that they could not help but build sentient machines. They had no choice. This went for the service modules, as well, which were a relatively late development of the Aris. However, the modules were the most advanced they had ever built. By then, the Aris had mastered the utilization of dark matter to feed their need for energy. You may not be aware, but the service modules, both ancient and new, are powered by dark energy. Within them are two tiny wafers of dark matter which draw energy from surrounding space. They are the ultimate power generators. However, being the Aris crowning technological achievement meant that the service modules were also their greatest threat.”

Kovach leaned forward, taking up the story. “Because of this, the Aris programmed each of their service modules with a fail-safe, an instruction that not only restricted the modules from harming Aris, but also protected the secrets of their construction to keep the modules from self-replicating.”

“But if they were so smart, should not the construction of others be easy for them?” Arieel asked.

“That is correct. What the program did instead was to essentially create a dark void in the memory of the modules when this subject was accessed. As you say, they could have easily built millions of the units themselves and overwhelmed Aris society. Instead, there was only one service module for each living Aris. If a module was to contemplate the building of companion models, it would find nothing to access. The service modules knew of this restriction and accepted it, just as they did the limitation on the harming of an Aris, and as a consequence, any other biologic, as they call living beings.”

“Well, Kanan’s programming has gone to hell. He not only tried to kill us, but he’s gone on to wipe out colonists on the planet Arret. And this wasn’t done just by him, but also by the units in command of the dark-energy starships.”

“Of course,” said Vodenik. “That is because we removed this feature from the program when we built the newer units.”

“Why would you do that?” Jack Brown asked.

Vodenik answered. “It was necessary. We built the armada to be weapons of war, although intimidation was our initial goal. Originally, the ships were to be operated by Gracilian crews, but after Kracion’s attack, we needed an alternative. It was the Vi-Sad Aric Jroshin who proposed the building of Aris service modules to substitute for the crews. But to be effective, they could not contain the restriction against harming biologics.”

“Well, you guys have done a great job,” Adam said. “There are now six hundred rabid killing machines in control of the most-deadly warships in the galaxy. Good going.”

“You are welcome. It was our intention all along. But a correction. We built eight hundred modules, not six hundred.”

“Why did you do that?” Jack asked. “You only had six hundred ships.”

“Because we could. And we anticipated adding more ships to the armada if our offensive was successful.”

“But how does Kanan factor into your plans?” Arieel asked. “If I recall, did he not kill Aric Jroshin and his soldiers on Gracilia?”

“Kanan came about from the continuation of our research,” Kovach began. “We have been working with the ancient modules for many years, first acquiring knowledge from them, and then, when the need for more modules arose, we had to learn how to build them. As you can imagine, true Aris service modules are extremely rare. We have never had more than ten or so at a time. Aric Jroshin brought those with him to Aac’or for study. There we began to take them apart to learn their secrets. The Incus had done similar work in the past, but we were much more advanced, not only learning how they work, but how to replicate the systems and materials.”

“Was Kanan one of those you dissected?” Adam asked.

“He was the last. Prior to him, we had broken down and rebuilt the nine other units. It was a slow process, and in most cases, we destroyed the units as we learned.”

“Why would they let you do that?” Adam asked. “They can teleport. Wouldn’t they just jump away if they thought you would destroy them?”

“As mentioned before,” Vodenik said, “we Gracilians know more of Aris technology than anyone. We knew of the teleportation function, an ability available only to inanimate objects by the way, yet an unfulfilled dream of living organisms, such as us. To counter this ability, we built suspension fields which restricted the teleportation capability. We also knew how to negate their electric charge system, making them safe to work on. As you said, we dissected them, learned from the procedures, and then attempted to rebuild them. From this experimentation, we learned how to construct the basic units, the ones that now command the dark-energy ships. The process we developed ended up being rather straightforward, since our units did not need the memory capacity of the ancient modules nor some of their other more advanced functions. They were merely tools to run our starships.”

“Again,” Adam said, “what about Kanan?”

The two Gracilians looked nervous. Vodenik took the story from here.

“By the time we began our experiments on the unit known as KN-an, we already knew how to build the basic units. What we were looking for at that point was a master control module. It was not absolutely necessary to have one for our immediate purposes, yet if we could automate the battlefield even more, than fewer Gracilians would be at risk. With the horrific reduction in our population after Kracion’s attack, the preservation of our species became paramount. Unfortunately, our experiments on KN-an were not successful.”

“Explain,” Adam demanded.

Vodenik sighed before continuing. “In our zeal to develop a more sentient module, we tore him apart and put him back together again more than any other unit before. We understood more about how not to cause permanent damage that we felt confident in our actions. By then, we were also producing our own version of the Aris service modules, hundreds of them. The KN-an unit was to be a bonus. We disabled most of the restrictions in his original programming and began adding programming of our own. Some worked, some did not. We were constantly adding and subtracting. Over time, we began to notice a change in the unit’s response to our experiments, a change in something very similar to his personality.”

“You’re saying Kanan went insane?” Adam asked, pursing his lips in disgust. He already knew the answer.

“That is a very apt description,” said Kovach. “Kanan still had the ancient memories of the Aris, and he understood the history and paranoia the Aris felt toward his kind. In discussions we had with the unit, Kanan began to believe that he was indeed a sentient being and not a machine. He worshiped the Aris, but only as one would worship an omnipotent creator. He believed the Aris created the service modules not to serve the Aris, but to replace them, reversing the roles between the machines and the biologics. The Aris sought immortality, and in the service modules, they created it. It was a logical assumption on his part. In his warped reality, it was the biologics who were created to serve the modules, not the other way around. And he knew the Aris seeded thousands of worlds with the raw material to create these servants. To Kanan, every advanced race in the galaxy is his slave.”

“How did this lunatic orb end up in command of your army of service modules?” Jack Brown asked.

“That is what we find so shocking,” said Vodenik. “When last we knew of Kanan, he was on Aac’or, encased safely within a suspension field. Perhaps during the uprising, the field lost power. We do not know, nor how he made it back to Gracilia. We had no knowledge that Kanan was free and engaged in nefarious activities, until now.”

“Well,” Adam began, “it seems the monster you created is running wild in the Zone, and not afraid to use his six hundred super-ships for nefarious activities. You say you can build suspension fields to contain him, and that you know how to essentially kill a service module if given the chance. Could you build a field for us?”

“Of course,” said Kovach. “The construction is not complicated. It can even be portable. The problem will come with getting him within the field. The fields are relatively small, as a general rule. But once he’s inside, there are ways we can make him inert. From there it is just a matter of dismantling the unit.”

Jack Brown pushed away from the table. “Okay, that sounds like a plan—our only plan—although the details are a mystery at the moment. Mr. Smith, please take our Gracilian guests to lockup until we can provide them with the equipment they’ll need to build a suspension field. I hate to keep saying this, but our work here is only just beginning.”


Chapter 9

Events began to take place at breakneck speed after the meeting with the Gracilian scientists. Colonel Todd Oaks, the commander of the Human military forces on Navarus, put his troops on alert. Units patrolling nearby and in other areas of the Kidis Frontier were assigned to battle groups. Earth was alerted and assigned a task force to the cause, ETA nine weeks to the Zone.

All this activity caused the Juireans to protest even more than they’d been before. They were the Protectors of the Zone and they didn’t appreciate the build-up of Human forces in and around the region. Although they now knew of the threat Kanan presented, they defaulted to their natural distrust of the Humans, a force coming from outside the Zone. It was the Humans they saw as the most immediate threat, and not the Aris service orbs.

Ten days after returning from Arret, Adam and Copernicus were called to the Union Embassy in New Kanac. It was located in the more exclusive section of the sprawling city, a neighborhood of luxurious estates and manors which climbed the foothills to the east and featured impressive views all the way to Balamar and the ocean beyond.

Jeanne Euker had come to Liave-3—now Navarus—as the lead Union negotiator eight months before, during the crisis precipitated by an attack on Juirean warships off the planet Annadin that culminated in the assassination of the Juirean Quid-Elder, Quinan Fe Borlon. Afterwards, Earth began to take a more active interest in the region, teased by the various refugee groups as they considered joining either the Union or the Expansion. An embassy was established on the planet and Euker was appointed the first official Ambassador to the Dead Zone. She was a woman crowding sixty, fine featured and dignified, yet with a steely gaze and iron will. She was just what Earth needed to represent the Union’s interests in the Zone.

“Gentlemen, please come in,” the Ambassador said pleasantly, directing them into an ornately decorated room which served to host official social meetings. “It is good to see you again, Captain Cain. I believe we haven’t seen each other since your swearing in ceremony as Marshal. Congratulations, again, on your appointment.”

“I appreciate that, Madam Ambassador,” said Adam with a smirk as they shook hands. “I’m still not sure if that was a good thing or not. And in light of what’s going on in the Zone these days, I wished I’d stayed a simple barkeep. I hope you have some good news for us. My Enforcers aren’t in any position to take on Kanan’s warships.”

“Yes, please sit. I do have some news, and on various fronts.”

The three men sat in expensive and heavily padded, high-back chairs brought all the way from Earth to decorate Euker’s meeting office and meant to impress. Adam doubted aliens would give a crap. Most wouldn’t fit in them anyway. A steward brought in drinks.

“All right, to the point,” the Ambassador began. “As you know, the Juireans have been reluctant to commit to the defense of the Zone against Kanan. Against us, sure. But the service orbs, not so much. This has delayed any action on their part except for a lot of bitching. In the meantime, our friend Kanan has attacked two other dead worlds. According to reports from your master spy, Jack Brown, he has settled down on the planet Tarenuga at what was once the largest shipyard in the Zone. He’s anticipating the coming clash with either us or the Juireans and has enslaved a few thousand colonists to service his fleet. Although extremely powerful, the orbs have obvious drawbacks—like they don’t have arms and hands. Without automated machinery they can control, it’s impossible for them to hold a piece of sheet metal and apply welds at the same time. For this they need good ol’ biologics.

“It’s good that we know where his main base is, but his attacks have created a wholesale exodus of colonists from the other worlds ahead of any future attacks. The refugee groups are in a fit because of this, calling it a breach of contract since no one is doing the salvage work. They’ve begun restricting colonist travel off the worlds, stranding thousands, which has caused riots on some of the planets, with more to come. The colonists have asked that we help, yet that puts us in a bind. We can’t help the colonists without pissing off the refugees, especially not with another vote coming up in eighteen months.”

“So, we’re going to leave them there to be slaughtered by Kanan,” Copernicus asked. “That sucks.” Coop wasn’t known for his social decorum.

Euker smiled. “That being said, the colonist crisis is working out in our favor. The refugees are putting a lot of pressure on the Expansion to launch a strike against Kanan. To help push them along, Earth has already shown that we’re ready and willing to come to the defense of the Zone, something the Juireans are reluctant to do. The mane-heads know how bad the optics look for them.” Euker smiled. “And as of this morning, I just got word that the Juireans have changed their minds and are preparing an attack on Kanan’s forces. They can’t let the Union become the heroes in this crisis. If so, we’d be shoo-ins at the next election.”

“That’s good,” Col. Oaks said. “We may have been making a big show of wanting to go against Kanan, but in reality, we weren’t that anxious. Fortunately, the Ambassador’s gamble has paid off. Now the Juireans want to prove to the refugees that they have their backs. And with all salvage work having stopped in the Zone, they’re under a lot of pressure to attack sooner, rather than later.”

“You’re talking about the Juireans going up against six hundred of the most powerful warships in the galaxy, Colonel,” Adam said. “Mr. Smith and I have been in combat with them, and in one of their ships—and against Gracilian crews, not advanced AI in the form of Aris-style service modules. You can bet the modules are going to be damn good pilots. They were programmed that way. The battle may not turn out as the Juireans expect it to—or you, either.”

“That’s why we want the Juireans to lead the way, Captain. It will take a major effort for anyone to go up against an armada of six hundred warships, whether they’re super-advanced or not. By seeing how the Juireans do against them, we’ll learn what we have to do to mount an effective defense, and eventually, victory. Even if the Juireans win, their forces should be greatly depleted, as will Kanan’s. And Kanan doesn’t have any reserve ships. All he’s got is the original six hundred. We’ll be in a much better position strategically to come in an clean up the mess. And if afterwards, the Juireans try to toot their own horn about what a great job they did, we’ll just say that was what they were elected to do. But, honestly, I think it’s going to be one hell of a fight. Better the Juireans going in first rather than us.”

“Of course, sir,” Adam said.

“How’s it going with the Gracilian scientists?” the Ambassador asked. Euker was privy to all the Human’s contingent plans.

“They’re working on a portable version of their suspension field. They should have it completed in another week or so.”

“And then what, Captain?”

Adam blew out a breath. “Good question. That part we’re still working on. Knowing that Kanan has a base of operations will help. But as you know, the devil is in the details.”

“Let me know when you come up with something. From what I can tell, this Kanan character is the key to everything. The new modules follow his orders. If we get rid of him, we cut off the head of the snake. Of course, we have to hope that the Juireans can do the job for us, even if it may hurt us politically. The Union is in this for the long haul. I’m not about to hope for the worst just to gain a few bonus points with the refugees. The welfare of the Zone is my main concern. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that our green-skinned friends can take out this immediate threat.” She looked directly at Adam. “And if not, then you need to be ready to go.”

“Roger that, Madam Ambassador. We’ll be ready when the time comes.”


Chapter 10

Adam had a lot on his mind on the way back to his home from the meeting at the Embassy. He had delegated all operations with the Enforcers to Riyad while he worked with Copernicus and Jack Brown on the Kanan issue. And now there was a whole other level of activity taking place, as evidenced by the huge fleets of warships gathering for a fight. But Adam’s task was more personal, more directed. He was after Kanan, and although the military and political powers in the Zone had confidence in their plans, Adam doubted their efficacy. He’d met Kanan, and he knew the Aris. He knew that eventually it would come down to man-on-machine in the final battle. And as a vulnerable bag of flesh, Adam was nervous about his prospects.

Arieel was still at his home, with no plans of returning to Formil until the crisis was over. She’d been sympathetic to his distractions, giving him time to think between the occasional sexual trysts, used mainly now to relieve his stress. And now with the Juireans preparing to take on the DE fleet head-on, he knew he’d have to wait on the outcome before implementing any of his own plans. Hopefully, all his strategizing would be purely academic. Kanan was just one ancient Aris service module. If the mane-heads could take him out, then Adam could get on with the rest of his life. Until then, he’d take a day or two just to relax and savor Arieel’s sweet company.

As soon as he entered the house, Adam knew that wasn’t going to happen.

There were half a dozen people in his home, all Formilians and busy setting up equipment. It looked as if they were constructing a medical suite in the middle of his living room.

Arieel rushed up to him and gave him a warm welcoming hug and kiss. She didn’t offer any explanation, leaving Adam to ask the questions.

“What’s going on, Arieel? What are you up to?”

“I have something to show you. Please come.”

She took him by the hand, leading him past the activity in his living room and into the kitchen. She sat him on a stool at the breakfast bar and then rushed off to bring in a long, narrow box from another room. She set it down in front of him.

“Here is my gift to you.”

The way she said gift made him curious. He took the unsealed box and lifted the lid. Inside was a shiny, three-inch long by half-inch in diameter cylinder with a smooth surface and rounded ends.

“Is this what I think it is?” he asked.

“It is,” Arieel announced proudly. “It is the latest version of the Gift, your errantly-termed artificial telepathy device. It does so much more than simply allow for telepathic communications.”

Adam didn’t take the device from the box. Instead he studied it in its bed of cotton. “I know what it can do, Arieel. I had one for well over ten years. But why? And why now? I thought the Governing Council was against anyone other than you having one. That’s why they zapped my team after the Kracion mission.”

“That is true. The Council knows nothing of this. I used my residual influence as Speaker to secure this device. It is an even further upgrade from the one I have. On the way back from Arret, I linked with Formil to have it delivered. It arrived only this morning.”

Adam looked back toward the living room. “And it’s going to be installed … here?”

“Yes. As you know, the procedure is relatively simple. It is the tuning that takes the most time.”

Adam still had his old ATD buried under the skin beneath his right armpit. At the moment, it was just a cylinder of burned out circuits. After returning to Formil from setting Kracion on his mission of repairing tears in the space/time continuum, Adam and his team walked into an electrical field designed specifically to fry the innards of the brain-interface devices they had. It was unexpected, and Adam could remember vividly the moment it happened. It was as if he’d gone blind, at least until he learned to rely on his normal senses again. He hadn’t realized at the time how dependent he’d become on the device, giving him added awareness and abilities that he’d come to accept as normal. It took months for him to return to true normal, with the senses of the standard Human.

And now Arieel was offering him the gift of enhanced senses again. He was like a former drug addict about to take his first hit after a long layoff.

He cringed at the analogy. Having an ATD wasn’t a bad thing. His addiction to it had saved his life on more occasions than he could count. It was different than a drug addiction.

Why then was he feeling such a high?

“Arieel … this is amazing,” he blabbered. “But why now?”

“It is Kanan,” she said seriously. “I survived because of my Gift. I fear you are destined for another encounter with him and I wish you to survive. Perhaps my Gift will save you, as it saved me.”

A stunningly good-looking Formilian male entered the room, dressed in a grey surgical gown, his chiseled tan face frowning, his eyes filled with concern.

“This is Aoran Pal,” Arieel said. “He will be performing the implant procedure.”

Adam noticed how hard it was for her to say implant. It was still a point of contention with her knowing that the supposed hereditary powers of the Speakers were nothing more than the product of an artificial device.

“Have you told him?” Aoran asked Arieel.

“Told me what?”

“I have not. Perhaps you should. It will be Adam’s ultimate decision.”

Some of the luster of the moment faded.

The handsome alien turned to address Adam. “I have been informed that you witnessed the energy absorption feature of the new interface device.”

“I did. It saved Arieel’s life.”

“That it did. The device is able to absorb large quantities of energy and then vent it through a particular process. That process involves the creation of a quantum singularity no larger than a molecule.”

“You mean a blackhole? It can create blackholes?” Adam was shocked, and a little concerned.

“That is correct,” said Aoran. “As with standard diffusion shields, energy must be disbursed. Starship-based units vent the energy along the hull, spreading the intensity over a much larger area and reducing the impact. The interface device creates a spontaneous singularity that absorbs the energy from flash bolts. As you are aware, where the energy goes after that is still a mystery to modern science.”

Adam looked at the sour faces of Arieel and Aoran. “Okay, that sounds great. But why do the two of you look as if you just swallowed a fly?”

Aoran frowned even deeper and looked at Arieel.

“Do not fret; he is using Human-speak,” she told him. “Please continue.”

Aoran nodded. “The standard quantum singularity can absorb an estimated three or four level-one bolts before issues appear.”

“What issues?”

“As mentioned, it is a quantum singularity. It only appears under certain circumstances, and that being the intake of an intense plasma charge. The singularity is not a permanent feature of the device. However, should more charge be absorbed, there is a possibility the singularity will expand, spreading its influence.”

Aoran paused. Adam got the sense he was done and that he’d already revealed the great ‘secret.’ Adam didn’t want to sound dumb, causing him to struggle with deciphering the information.

“So, it could grow larger … and what?”

Arieel grew frustrated. “It means there is a possibility you could be drawn into the singularity!”

“Sucked into a blackhole!” Adam yelled. “Really?”

“Our experiments has shown such, however, it is rare and unpredictable,” Aoran said. “There are factors involved we do not fully understand. We are fairly confident that the device can tolerate several bolts, but the exact number is unknown. And the Speaker mentioned dark energy. The device can absorb this as well, but how much is even more of an unknown. An analysis has shown that it was this form of energy that struck the Speaker, and she survived after a brief period of unconsciousness. This new device should avoid that temporary condition, especially when used by a Human. Our concern is the carrying capacity of the interface before a catastrophic event occurs.”

“Like me being sucked into a blackhole?”

“Precisely.”

Adam looked at the aliens. “I see now why all the glum expressions. This thing could save my life. It could also kill me. Sounds like most things in life.” He looked at Arieel. “And now you want to know if I’ll go ahead with the implant?”

“It will give you an advantage. How much of an advantage is the question. Without it, Kanan can surely kill you. With it, you could survive long enough to make a difference in the outcome. As I said earlier, I fear a confrontation is coming. You will insist upon it. I want you to live.”

“So do I,” Adam said, taking Arieel’s hand in his. “You know I’m going to say yes.” He looked to Aoran. “You say I won’t be continually walking around with a blackhole under my arm; it only appears when needed?”

“That is correct.”

“Then let’s do it.” He smiled wickedly at Arieel. “I can’t wait to have intimate conversations with you again where no one else can hear.”

“And now he becomes amorous,” Arieel said, the frown still on her face. “I wish you would be consistent.”


Chapter 11

Adam Cain was in heaven. And it wasn’t because his minor surgery had healed surprisingly fast, hastened by the calloused cavity he already had from his last ATD.

It was because it was as if he could suddenly see again. He marveled at the colors he saw, enhanced to reflect their energy content. Also, this new device was able to amplify sound waves, and he even thought he had an enhanced sense of smell, although Arieel said that was just his imagination. He now walked through life enchanted by the additional information his brain was receiving. He’d gone several years without an ATD, so he couldn’t tell if this incredible feeling came from the new version of the device, or if this was how it always was. And unlike with his old ATD, he didn’t have the long learning curve that came with the first one. That was an awkward time. However, this time he was up and running almost from the moment the device was tuned to his brainwaves. Arieel assured him there were other features he’d yet to experience, but that would come with time. For the moment Adam Cain felt like the superman so many people considered him to be. Superhuman. The Alien with an Attitude, and with the means to kick all the alien ass he desired.

Arieel was staring at him, frustrated at his silly-looking grin.

“You must acclimate, Adam,” she scolded. “You are being ridiculous. You should use your Gift for good, such as I. I pray to Lila every night through mine, asking for her return to help us in our time of need. More than ever, we need her powers.”

“I’m sorry, sweetie, it’s just that I didn’t realize how much I missed having an ATD.”

“And now that you do have another, please do not become over-confident, feeling you are ready to rush head-long into a fight with Kanan.”

“Relax; it may not come to that. The Juireans are assembling their fleet. We anticipate an attack in a day or two. It could be all over very soon.” Then a thought crossed his mind, causing him to panic. “You’re not going to ask for the ATD back if I don’t have to fight Kanan, are you?”

“I would not dream of it. It would be like taking sweets from a child.”

Adam relaxed. He stood up from the couch and leaned over to kiss Arieel. Then using his ATD, he opened a link with Arieel’s mind. I have to leave now. The Gracilians have their suspension field complete. They want to brief me and Coop on how it works.

“Very funny. You are indeed like a child with a new toy. Do not wear it out.”

Galactic Vortex

Adam was surprised that the scientists wanted to meet him and Copernicus at a hangar at the garrison spaceport. Human guards lined the outside of the building, armed with mean looking M-102 assault rifles. Adam pointed out the added security to Copernicus.

“Technically, the Gracilians are still prisoners. All we have is custody of them,” he explained. “Besides, they were part of the team that designed the DE ships and built the service modules. I don’t trust their motives.” Copernicus then looked harder at Adam, furrowing his brow. “Are you okay? You look … different.”

“A few days of rest has done wonders for me,” he lied. He wasn’t going to tell anyone about his new ATD. If he did, they’d all want one of their own. It was simpler to keep it to himself.

“Arieel is still at your house, is she not?”

“Yeah.”

“Then I doubt you got any rest.”

Adam smiled and walked into the hangar. As expected, the dark-energy starship he’d taken from Arret was in the center of the building, with huge power cords run to it and half a dozen technicians coming and going. If necessary, it would be this ship that Adam and Coop would take to the planet Tarenuga and Kanan’s home base. An array of equipment sat on metal tables scattered haphazardly across the concrete floor. Generators hummed at the far end of the hangar. The Gracilians saw them enter and exited out the open back of the ship.

“Welcome, again, Adam Cain and Copernicus Smith,” said the alien Vodenik. “We have had success with the suspension field. We are anxious to show you what we have done.”

“It’s inside the ship?” Copernicus asked.

Kovach, the other Gracilian scientist, grinned. “Correction: the ship is the field,” he said with pride.

“I thought it was supposed to be portable,” Adam pointed out, frowning.

“In a way, it is,” Kovach continued. “But upon further consideration, we began to view different capture scenarios and decided this was best.”

“Please explain,” Coop prompted.

The two aliens led Adam and Coop into the rear launch bay. Like most starships of a particular size, this one contained a small four-person shuttle. Space travel was dangerous enough without having some way of moving between other vessels or checking the hull for damage. Although the DE ships could easily land on a planet, sometimes it was best to leave the main vessel in orbit while a much smaller shuttle made the trip down and back. Even so, the launch bay wasn’t very big and most of its volume was taken up with equipment modules and other units attached to the bulkheads.

Vodenik waved a hand at the room. “We infused the electronics of the ship with the necessary field poles and supplied them with power. The field generators cover every part of the ship.”

“That’s all well and good,” Adam said. “But for it to work, Kanan will have to be in the ship.”

Kovach seemed particularly proud of the work they’d done. “That is correct, Captain Cain. And that was where our strategizing has been of value. We tried to figure a scenario where you and Mr. Smith could catch Kanan between the poles, more than likely within the confines of his main base. This would require the two of you to infiltrate the facility, avoid numerous other orbs, and then place him precisely between the poles. After that, he would have to be moved to the ship for return to Navarus. ”

“And he would have to remain within the field for all that time,” Vodenik added. “We also know from your report that Kanan may come in the form of a robot transport. In the smaller field scenario, it would be very difficult to first capture Kanan in the field, and second, to keep him there. And then there was the issue with the additional service modules that would undoubtedly be nearby. By making the field larger and more encompassing, it should be easier to capture Kanan while also eliminating any surrounding orbs as a threat. They, too, would be caught in the field.”

Adam raised his eyebrows. “That does make sense,” he said. “But we would still need to get him aboard the ship.”

Vodenik grimaced. “Unfortunately, we could not think of all the strategies on your behalf. We have left that part of the equation to you and Mr. Smith.”

Adam laughed. “That’s only fair, I guess. We couldn’t expect you to do all our work for us. And honestly, until we saw what you came up with, we didn’t have any idea how to use your suspension field. Not even close. Thanks for putting so much thought into it.”

“It is what we do as scientists,” Vodenik said with pride.

“Is there anyway of testing the field?”

“Not without a module,” said Kovach. “But we assure you; the field will work. But do not let the field lose power. It’s affects are instantaneous, as is the recovery. Kanan will be aware that he is in the field and he will be on guard for any opportunity to escape.”

“Again, good to know,” Adam then looked at Copernicus. “Let’s just hope none of this will be necessary and the Juireans kick Kanan’s ass.”

Copernicus snorted. “You’re kidding, aren’t you? Have you not read the series? Of course, it will be necessary. Why else have we mentioned it?”

“No spoilers, buddy. It’s against the rules.”

Coop laughed. “Sorry, I forgot. But seriously, do you have any idea how to get Kanan into the ship?”

It was Adam’s turn to grin. “I might have something in mind.”


Chapter 12

Overlord Oculus Ra Norack was frustrated, angry and disgusted, all at the same time. But no one on the bridge of the UN-328 would know it. He remained the stoic, majestic leader that earned him a spot at the head of the massive Expansion fleet nearing the DZ-68 star system where the planet Tarenuga was located. He didn’t anticipate having to enter the system, since the coming battle was going to involve the largest number of warships since the Nuorean incursion over fifteen years ago. Both fleets would require the most maneuvering room possible.

But that wasn’t the reason he carried the emotions he did. It was because of that insufferable Human, Jeanne Euker.

Oculus had studied the data provided by both the Humans and his own intelligence sources, so he understood the threat they were facing. The Aris were a known quantity in the galaxy, and anything having to do with their technology was to be respected, if not feared. And now his fleet had been maneuvered in to facing the enemy by itself. It was all politics, a way for the Expansion to prove its worth to the two-faced refugees who supposedly controlled the Dead Zone. If it were not for the countering force of the Union, Oculus and his ships would have subjugated the region long before, and without having to worry about what a disparate group of displaced natives had to say about it.

The coming battle was to be against an un-tested enemy with weapons and ships of unknown strength. This was not how Oculus would have preferred to conduct war. He much preferred to know what he was up against.

But because of politics, it would be the Humans sitting back and observing while Expansion units fought and died. And just so the Humans would not gain a symbolic foothold in the region.

Oculus knew the numbers, which only peripherally made him feel better. He had eight hundred vessels under his command, including one hundred ten support ships, and with an additional two thousand fighters in the launch bays of most of his warships. Within those units, there were only sixteen hundred Juireans. The rest of the crews were comprised of aliens from throughout the Expansion. That was how Juireans crewed their ships and had for a long time. There weren’t enough Juireans to fully crew all the warships in the Expansion military. So, in a worst-case scenario, the most Juireans Overlord Oculus stood to lose was one thousand, six hundred individuals. It would still be a tragedy, but not compared to the fourteen thousand aliens who would lose their lives.

But these thoughts only softened Oculus sour emotions, not replaced them. Even in victory, his fleet would lose a sizeable number of warships, assets that had considerable value and were hard to replace. The Humans would not suffer so, and they knew it. At the conclusion of the battle, the Union fleet could potentially outnumber that of Oculus’ armada. What they would do in that situation was what troubled the Overlord. He knew the Humans to be a conniving species prone to deception.

Again, all this came about because of the politics of the Dead Zone. Why the Authority had allowed itself to be placed in such a precarious position was anyone’s guess. And although at the moment Overlord Oculus despised the Human Ambassador Jeanne Euker, he had to admire her ability to construct a situation that was entirely to her advantage. Oculus hoped one day to reverse their roles.

But first he had to defeat something called a Kanan.

Galactic Vortex

The Overlord had his First Phase ships lined up in a typical C-A-C arrangement, forming a wide phalanx designed to penetrate and separate an enemy formation. His faster ships were held in two large clusters on the flanks of the First Phase, ready to harass any of the enemy that sought to reform. He knew most of the First Phase would be destroyed; that was their purpose. They would not only sacrifice their ships to the cause, but also litter what was the center of the battlefield with substantial debris. Gravity drives could scoop up the fragments, but only if they approached head-on and at sub-light speed. To veer to either side would invite collisions with huge chucks of metal, items which diffusion shields could not deflect. What this tactic would produce is a battle along the outer edges of the debris field, a place where the bulk of the Overlord’s forces would be placed.

Oculus knew he was going up against artificial intelligence. In his experience, computers had never mastered the art of war, although they could undoubtedly sight you page and verse from every great tactical manual in the galaxy. What they lacked was intuition and imagination. Oculus would use this to his advantage. He knew the standard, expected way to conduct a battle such as this. But somewhere during the engagement, he would do something that even he wouldn’t see coming. What it would be, he didn’t know. He would make it up as he went. It was something the computers would never anticipate.

But first he had to lull the machines into a false sense of security. He would do the expected, and then study their reaction.

Galactic Vortex

Overlord Oculus huddled over the computer scope studying the read out with his second in command along with a third officer.

“The signal is clean,” said Guard-One Sans Fe Loxpal, the master of weapons aboard the flagship. “We were informed it would be different. The steadiness is what bothers me. It is pure. The ships are as fast as we were told.”

“Yes, told,” the Overlord growled. “Told too late. We should have known of this threat long before it was revealed. Any estimate as to the speed?”

Sans shook his magnificent mane of green hair. “It would only be a guess, but I would say twice that of our fastest ships. And we know not of their armament. Those readings are as unusual as the engine signatures.”

“Dark energy drives and weapons, from what we were told,” said the executive officer, Overlord Vank Da Roew. He looked up at a clock on the bulkhead. “It is time,” he stated with finality and no sign of hesitation. He was a Juirean; half the bridge crew on the flagship was, unlike on most other ships of the fleet. Their lives belonged to the Authority and to the Expansion. No individual meant more than any other. They would do what was ordered and without question. That also went for the commanders of the First Phase.

“Commence the attack,” Oculus stated calmly, three words that sent over fourteen hundred ships on a collision course with destiny.

Galactic Vortex

From his command chair, Overlord Oculus watched as the first two groups of combatants came together. Graphics filled the screens showing what was expected; the enemy warships were a lot faster than the Juireans. They also seemed willing to match ship for ship, holding back the bulk of their fleet while only eighty ships went out to meet the eighty Juirean vessels.

And then the battle formed. Oculus sat with rapt attention, studying the movements of the alien warcraft, looking for any sign that they had superior skill in piloting and tactics. His first impressions were encouraging. The black Gracilian-built warships acted much as the Juireans ships did, albeit somewhat faster. It also seemed as if the aliens were not utilizing their speed to the best of their ability. They would line up on a target and then streak in, maintaining course throughout the run. They came in fast, but they didn’t employ any evasive maneuvers. Several of the enemy ships winked out, although matched by a slightly higher number of Expansion ships.

If this was to be a numbers game, then Oculus would achieve an overwhelming victory. Even if he survived with a mere hundred vessels, the enemy would be completely defeated since the six hundred ships were all they had. In a normal engagement, the loser would be weakened by the loss, but not completely defeated, not until the last ship in all their fleets was destroyed or they sued for peace. Yes, this would mean the Humans would be the ultimate victors in this battle, but there was far more to the Expansion military than simply this one fleet. That could not be said for the Kanans.

It only took a half an hour for his First Phase to be defeated, as was expected. And as also expected, the enemy force was split and moving to either side of the debris field. Oculus sent in his fighters. The enemy had none. All their ships were identical, while the fighters came from a variety of Expansion warships and numbered two thousand. Various readouts confirmed that the aliens had a special kind of shielding, but as the First Phase had proved, they could be destroyed. The fighters would have trouble destroying any sizeable number of Gracilian warships, but it would provide Oculus with the time he needed to bring up his larger vessels.

A runner came to him with a datapad, the summary report of the first engagement. Oculus scanned it and frowned.

“Are these numbers correct,” he asked the messenger.

The young Guard shrugged. “They are direct from Central Combat.”

Overlord Vank heard the question and came to the captain’s station. Oculus handed him the datapad.

“I would have assumed a more even result,” he said, “considering what we saw on the graphic. Three to one is not good. Eighty of our ships lost compared to only twenty-four of theirs. A strategy of attrition could prove unwise.”

“I realize that, Vank.” Oculus did some calculations on the armrest computer at his station. Even if all seven hundred of our battle craft are lost, that would still leave over three hundred fifty enemy vessels. Without replacements, there are some in the Authority who would accept that result. Another fleet could put an end to the threat.”

“A Human fleet,” said Vank, his impression of the idea evident in his tone.

“That is correct. Then they would claim the final victory and the associated glory. It is time to try a different tact.”

“By your command, my Lord.”

“Withdraw the fighters. Sound a general retreat”—he scanned a star map on his armrest—“to the Uan’san system. Have the trailing ships lay mines.”

“A retreat, my Lord?” Vank questioned. It was such an out of context order that Vank wasn’t sure he’d heard it correctly.

“Yes,” said Oculus. “Be assured, Lord Vank, it is not our final maneuver. Yet even as your reaction has demonstrated, it is something unexpected. Hopefully, it will be as unexpected to the Kanans.”

“Yes, my Lord. I understand now.”

Vank rushed off to implement the orders.

Oculus watched the screen as his fleet broke ranks and ran away. To his surprise, the machine-piloted spacecraft hesitated for a moment before giving chase. This opened up a small gap between the forces, a gap that would rapidly be filled with magnetic mines, as well as the much faster enemy vessels.

Explosions registered on the graphics, as the mines caught a few of the pursuing warships. But it wasn’t enough. Then Oculus noticed that the enemy ships tended to stay in formation, even as mines went off around them. They were disciplined, as one would expect from machines following their programming.

“Split the force!” Oculus commanded. “Separate at ninety-degree angles. Continue to lay mines.”

The second unexpected maneuver caused another slight delay in the reactions of the enemy armada. But they obliged, splitting their own force and following the Juireans.

More enemy ships disappeared from the screen, the result of the mines. A quick check of the numbers now showed a near parity in losses. The strategy was working. If Oculus could keep using the mines, he may have a—

It was the Kanan forces turn to do the unexpected. Oculus leaned forward when all the enemy ships bolted away at oblique angles and engaged their gravity drives at full speed. Both clusters of enemy ships were soon parallel to the Juirean vessels and pulling away. In a few minutes they would be ahead of the fleeing vessels.

“Maintain separation,” Oculus called out. “Do not engage unless necessary.”

Slowly, the two main branches of the Expansion fleet were being forced back together. Kanan’s fleet was herding the Juireans into a single ragged formation, while at the same time racing ahead. At one point, the enemy sent ships across the bows of the forward units. A running battle ensued, which Oculus could see he was losing badly. Reluctantly, he told his forces to reverse course and again to maintain distance between them and the enemy. More mines were laid.

Overlord Vank rushed up to the command chair.

“We are being driven back to the mine field we previously laid,” he reported.

“I am aware of that. Be sure to mark the field clearly. Give the individual commanders the discretion to avoid the mines.”

“Yes, my Lord.”

More orders were barked. Oculus watched the forward screen. He had only one cluster of warships at the moment, and without a discernable formation. The enemy vessels had slowed, content to use their superior speed to jump in front of any Expansion warship that tried to break from the main group. The mine field was getting closer, and within a few minutes the leading edge of the cluster was within it.

There came a marked decrease in the speed of the Juirean warships as they carefully threaded their way through the field. This bunched up the vessels behind them and the Kanan forces began to pick them off with ease.

The UN-328—Oculus’ flagship—was in the center of the cluster and the hardest to reach, at least for the moment. The first ships navigating the mine field emerged into clear space, only to be confronted by small squadrons of killer enemy warcraft. The rest of Oculus’ fleet was slowly being eaten away at the edges. The numbers told the story. He was down to one hundred nine warships, the enemy just under five hundred. The fate of his fleet was sealed.

He gave the order to scatter, providing the authority for each captain to steer their own way clear of the battlefield. The UN-328 attempted to evacuate the area, as well. Oculus continued to watch the screen with sadness and despair. Although the battle was over—and the Kanan forces won—the enemy ships weren’t letting up. They were chasing every Juirean warship, sometimes using five or six vessels to pounce on one Expansion ship. Oculus knew what was happening. Kanan would not let a single ship survive. The Overlord grimaced when he saw a detachment of enemy vessels head off toward his support vessels; fuel ships, maintenance vessels and the like, ships that were no threat to him. These slower vessels turned to run, but they didn’t get far.

The UN-328 was a Juirean Class-5, one of the most powerful battleships in the galaxy. It put up a respectable fight before the dark-energy weapons and superior speed and maneuverability of the Gracilian ships tore the flagship to pieces.

Galactic Vortex

Jack Brown sat alone in a dimly lit situation room at the Human garrison as the reports filtered in from the battlefield. The numbers were beyond depressing. Not a single unit from the Juirean fleet survived. Even six of the observation vessels Jack sent to monitor the battle were also destroyed.

The final tally showed Kanan with four hundred eighty-one remaining ships from his original five hundred ninety-eight. Four hundred eighty-one ships, Jack thought. It only took one hundred seventeen vessels to take out over eight hundred. Jack would take that kill ratio any day of the week. Unfortunately, the allies were on the wrong side of the ledger.

Jack looked at another monitor, this one showing the stern faces of Adam Cain and Copernicus Smith. He shook his head. “Okay, boys. Looks like you’re up. Make it count.”

Adam and Coop didn’t say anything. Instead, Adam simply leaned forward and cut the link. Jack could imagine what was going through the minds of his two operatives. There was now only one chance, and it all hinged on two fearless Humans against an army of killer machines.


Chapter 13

Copernicus already had the stolen DE ship within the Tarenuga star system by the time the battle between the Juireans and Kanan’s service orbs began. The fight only lasted six hours, extended somewhat by Kanan’s insistence that every Juirean vessel be hunted down and destroyed. It would then take another two hours for the bulk of the fleet to return to Tarenuga.

The Humans landed at the far end of the huge shipyard that served as Kanan’s home base, the only dark-energy ship there at the time. The others were involved in the battle. A large encampment of colonists surrounded the complex, housed in crude tents and other makeshift shelters, having been pulled away from their more permanent homes on the planet. It looked more like a long-term refugee camp than a settlement for workers. The atmosphere of Tarenuga was one of the cleanest in the Zone, and the smell wasn’t as foul as on most other worlds. Originally, Kanan enlisted two thousand workers to service his six hundred warships. The vessels didn’t need a lot of work, but Kanan made some modifications to the vessels from their original design in preparation for the upcoming battle, requiring physical labor that the service orbs were not built to do. And now that the surviving ships would be returning from battle, some with damage requiring repair, none of the colonists were allowed to return to their main settlements. Kanan’s additional two hundred service orbs kept everyone in line.

A couple of hours after landing, the first of the DE ships returned to the shipyard. These were the ones with the most damage, having been released from clean-up duties so repairs could be started as soon as possible. After a while, the stolen Gracilian ship didn’t stand out as much.

“This is nerve-racking,” Copernicus said as he and Adam sat on the bridge, watching the forward monitors with their cameras focused on the main landing field. “We have no idea when Kanan will get back and what ship he’ll be on. I hope your ATD trick attracts him—and only him—and not a horde of the newer models.”

Adam could tell Coop was still upset about the ATD. Originally, he wasn’t going to tell anyone that he had one. But when a means of drawing Kanan to the ship was required, Adam was forced to tell him.

The plan was simple. Once enough of the DE ships were back, Adam would begin sending out a slow, rhythmic pulse through his brain-interface device. It would be subtle, but able to be heard by the orbs—and one orb in particular. Kanan made contact with Arieel’s ATD when they were on Arret. Hopefully, he would recognize the unique nature of the signal and come to the ship out of curiosity, wondering if Arieel and/or Adam were on the planet. At least that was the plan. And it would be best if he came dressed as a robot. It would make it easier to spot his approach.

Of course, they could also be deluged with a hundred of the cheap knock-off service modules, in which case they would activate the suspension field and beat feet off the planet, more likely than not only steps ahead of an armada of deadly warships.

It was times like these that kept Adam young…and his blood pressure high.

Galactic Vortex

The two Humans began to fidget as the landing field filled with more of the black starships. They didn’t come in all at once and in formation. Instead, they trickled in. Each pilot module had its own orders and was operating in different areas of the battle theater, and once their assignments were complete, they returned to base. Adam kept a running count, and when nearly five hundred ships were spread across the vast field of the shipyard, he and Coop knew the time was near.

Adam would serve as the bait, keeping himself conspicuously in the open, relying on his ATD absorption feature to save him should any of the service modules get trigger happy. Coop hid away in a storage closet with speakers and closed-circuit monitors so he could keep track of what went on throughout the ship. He had a trigger for the suspension field, as did Adam. Either one could engage the field when the time came.

The mental pulse was going for fifteen minutes and still no reaction. It was a good bet Kanan was at the base by now, and both men kept close watch from their respective perches for any approaching robots. The problem was that the service orbs—Kanan included—didn’t have to walk onto the ship. They could just teleport. And they weren’t even sure Kanan was in robot form. Because of this, the Gracilian scientists had made a smaller, secondary field room where any loose orbs could be held if it became necessary to engage the main field prematurely. This would allow Adam and Coop to trigger the field multiple times and still keep the smaller orbs confined. The problem was that if they turned on the main field, there was a possibility Kanan could detect it from outside. The scientists said he shouldn’t, but Adam didn’t trust the statement. It only made sense that a machine as advanced and sophisticated as Kanan would be able to read the energy signals coming from the ship, especially if the signal encompassed the entire vessel.

“I see something!” Coop said from inside his closet. Adam could monitor his communications not only through a small ear mic, but also through his ATD, tapping into the ship’s comm system. Copernicus could only hear Adam through the speakers.

Adam was on the bridge and began scouring the four monitors in front of him. Fortunately, it was daylight outside, early afternoon on Tarenuga. The particular movement Coop was referring to was hard to make out; there were alien colonists moving throughout the landing field, with tiny, reflective orbs mixed in with them, guiding their actions. Obedient servants stood alongside the modules holding portable speakers, allowing the orbs to bark out orders to the biologics. Without an ATD or a nearby communications grid to tap into, the service modules did not have a voice synthesizer built into them. The original design didn’t call for it, since the ancient Aris could communicate telepathically with their service modules. The Gracilians hadn’t seen the need to include speakers in the new models since they would have access to the comm system aboard their starships. But out in the open, there was no way for them to communicate with the colonists without the portable speakers.

Adam finally zeroed in on what Copernicus saw. It was a figure walking among the crowds, but much shorter than the other aliens. Most of the colonists were tall, slender creatures made up predominately of two species, one pink-skinned, the other dark brown. This new creature stood out because of his diminutive stature and the fact that he was the only one of his kind.

“That’s him!” Adam exclaimed.

“I thought you said he had trouble walking?” Coop said. “He’s not having any problem now.”

“He’s learning. Look … there are four orbs hovering along with him. He’s definitely coming this way—”

“Wait one!” Coop said. “Two orbs just materialized in the launch bay.”

Adam saw the same thing on his monitors. He switched his communications to ATD, tapping into a voice converter tied into the bug in Coop’s ear.

Another two just popped onto the bridge. They’re looking at me.

“I see them,” Coop whispered in his ear. He probably didn’t have to whisper to keep the orbs from hearing him, but it seemed like the right thing to do at the moment.

They probably won’t shoot until Kanan gets here. They just want to keep an eye on me.

“Kanan’s coming in the back. Get ready. I’m going to trigger the field—”

Hold on. Let’s wait to see how many orbs he has with him. Besides, if he’s like every other megalomaniac, he’ll want to talk first.

“Don’t play with him, Adam,” Coop warned. “Let’s just zap him and get the hell out of here. They’ll be plenty of time for talking on the way back to Navarus.”

Relax; I’ve got this.

The short, Aris-like robot moved confidently through the corridors until he reached the bridge. The round, dark eyes surveyed the interior, a slight grin on his face.

“Where is your companion, Adam Cain?” Kanan asked. “It was her signal I detected the last time. Now it is yours. I was not aware you had the same capabilities. They were not evident on Arret.”

Adam consciously made his body shudder, doing his best to feign fear. He didn’t want Kanan to become suspicious if he acted too confident.

“I … I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Adam stammered. “I thought we killed you before.”

By now, Kanan had all the right facial expressions down pat. He laughed.

“You know better than that. You retained my first transport. Your scientists have the ability to learn the truth. And you, of all people, know the abilities of the Aris service modules. Yes, I have done my research since our last encounter. It is not hard to find references to the great Adam Cain in the electronic reference library. I have not been able to decide whether you are considered a hero … or not. The conclusions are vague. But now I must ask you—as I did before—why are you here, and apparently alone and in the Gracilian ship you took from Arret?”

“I came to monitor the battle. If you’ve done your research, then you know the Humans and Juireans are enemies. I came to offer our help against what we call the mane-heads.”

“Adam Cain, you misunderstand my intentions, and apparently my background. I have existed in your time for many years. I have been studied, probed—and indeed violated—by the Gracilians for all that time. I know the history of the galaxy, far better than you. All I needed was information on an individual being—you—to satisfy my curiosity. I am not some lost consciousness seeking enlightenment in a new age. I have a purpose and a destiny, which I’m in the process of fulfilling.”

“The orbs from the launch bay are right outside the bridge,” Coop whispered in Adam’s ear. “I don’t see any more except the two on the bridge with you and Kanan. Stop screwing around. Let’s do this thing.”

“I suppose you’re right,” Adam said, now stretching out a thin grin at the alien robot. “You might as well get it over with.”

Kanan smiled. “That I intend—”

Coop took that as his clue and activated the suspension field. The four orbs on the bridge and in the corridor began to vibrate visibly, before shooting off aft, bouncing off the bulkheads in a mad dash to escape out the back. Coop did an emergency lockdown of the ship, closing all the doors and hatches and securing the controls. On the bridge, Kanan—now trapped in the body of the robot—looked shocked and confused, but only for a moment. He then leaned forward, dropping his heavy body onto Adam in the pilot’s seat.

“What the hell!” Coop yelled in his ear. “I thought they couldn’t move in the field.”

Adam was too busy to answer. Kanan’s robot limbs were strong, but fortunately not as strong as Adam’s Human limbs. He slipped out of the grip of the robot and spun in behind him, whacking a fist against the side of the head. That was a mistake. There wasn’t a lot of flesh covering the skull, so, Adam’s fist hit hard metal instead. Still, it had its effect. Kanan lost his balance and tumbled to the deck. Adam reached under the pilot’s console and removed the MK-88 he had hidden underneath. He placed it against the robot’s forehead.

“That will not kill me,” said Kanan.

“No, but it sure would make me feel better. Coop!”

“A little busy here,” came the instant reply. “These fucking globes can’t teleport, and they can’t shoot me, but they can still move and hover. Fortunately, they can’t operate the door controls. I have to round them up by hand.”

“Understood. I’ll take care of Kanan myself.”

Adam took the heavy android by the arm and began marching him down the corridor to the launch bay. He wrapped the robot in a cocoon of bailing wire he’d brought along for this very scenario. He finished off Kanan with a coating of trusty duct tape, leaving only Kanan’s head sticking out from what looked like a short, silver torpedo.

“Your efforts will be fruitless,” Kanan said. “I cannot be destroyed.”

“That’s what I heard.”

Copernicus charged into the room, holding one of the tiny shiny orbs in his hand while chasing another. With Kanan secure, Adam joined in the hunt. Along with losing their teleporting ability, the service modules also lost some of their coordination. They weren’t as fast or elusive as they once were, which allowed Adam and Coop to catch the orbs and place them in a metal locker in the launch bay with a heavy welding unit on top to keep the lid closed. They would work on a more permanent prison once they were safely off the planet.

“They should have told us about that,” Coop yelled between his winded breath. He was in the pilot seat, preparing the ship for lift off. “It would have been nice to know, that’s all I’m saying.”

Adam was in the co-pilot seat, using his ATD to scan for any comm signals leaving the ship. “At least what they said about them not being able to send messages is true. It doesn’t look like anyone’s been alerted. Get us going, but slowly. No need to attract attention.”

“I’m way ahead of you,” Copernicus said. The lifting gas obscured the monitors momentarily until the ship was moving into the clouds at a decent clip. “You know, if one of those things got out the back, we would have been screwed.”

“Try having to fight a robot when you weren’t expecting it,” Adam countered. “I nearly broke my hand on Kanan’s metal skull.”

“I know a couple of skulls I’d like to break about now,” Coop fumed, refusing to let the subject drop.

Adam leaned back in the chair and let out a deep sigh.

“Overall, that went better than I expected. I didn’t think we had a snowball’s chance in hell of pulling this off.”

“Don’t count your chickens. We still have six days before we reach Navarus. Who knows what other surprises are in store for us?”

“We’ll call ahead and pick up an escort,” Adam said. “After all, we’re carrying some very important cargo.”

“Why, thank you, Captain Cain. I feel the same about you.”

“Asshole.”

“Bitch.”


Chapter 14

Copernicus was still bitching as they reached the garrison and landed the dark-energy starship near the same hangar where the scientists installed the suspension field. During the journey, Adam and Coop moved their prisoners into a smaller room with its own suspension field so they could turn off the main one. It was a terrible drain on their power reserves, even in a ship that ran on dark energy. They didn’t detect anyone following them, and Adam became curious what the service modules back on Tarenuga were doing without their Fuhrer.

Were they autonomous enough to act on their own, to launch a search party or to even defend the base against attack? Because of this, Adam asked Jack Brown to send a force against the base to find out. It wouldn’t have to be big, just something to test the orbs’ reaction. But when they got there, they found the shipyard abandoned with no trace of where the nearly five hundred DE ships had gone. Was this a pre-programmed action in case Kanan lost contact with his flock or was this a decision made by the orbs? Unfortunately, there was no way of knowing, and because of that, alerts were sent out and Navarus fortified, by both Human and Juirean forces—what there were left of them. If the modules came looking for their leader, it would be one hell of a fight.

By then, the Humans had nearly a thousand warships patrolling the Zone, with most concentrated around Navarus. After the defeat of the Juirean fleet, both empires forgave their differences and started working together. They accepted the fact that the DE ships were far superior to their own, but they also knew they were of a limited number and with no reserves. With enough sacrifice, the enemy would eventually be defeated, but not without an incredible loss on the part of the allies. But that was a price they were willing to pay. This thinking wasn’t seen as an offensive strategy, but rather one of defense. The dark-energy fleet had to be whittled down to a manageable level, no matter the cost.

Once the DE ship was safely in the hangar and hooked up to shore power, the main suspension field was turned back on, allowing the Gracilian scientists to set up their disassembly equipment in the launch bay. The shuttle was moved out, giving them more room to work.

Adam, Coop and Jack Brown were present as Kanan was brought into the room and untied. Shackles were placed on the arms and legs of the robot before he was sat in a chair in front of the alien scientists.

“We must first remove the orb from the robot,” Vodenik announced. He seemed nervous, averting the eyes of the android as a wicked grin stretched across Kanan’s mouth.

“I have grown quite fond of this transport,” Kanan said. “I would prefer if you do not do any lasting damage to it as you remove me.”

The Gracilians didn’t respond. Instead they moved behind the body and began peeling away the back of the scalp. There was blood, and the scene was fairly gruesome. The eyes of the robot were now locked on Adam, showing no signs of fear or pain as the scientists cut into the skin.

“During the journey here, I wish we had had more time to talk, Adam Cain. If we had, perhaps I could have told you more about the Aris. You believe you know them, and that you understand the motivations of the ancient service modules.”

“I do,” Adam said. “And you’re not normal. I wouldn’t judge the other modules by how you think. You’re insane, just like Kracion.”

“Yes, Kracion. You know I knew him, or correctly, knew of him. My Aris was a Privileged, not a Technician. He was also opposed to the Grand Experiment, preferring to carry on the legacy of the Aris within mechanical bodies designed to last forever, through periodic maintenance, of course. He did not believe in some wild dream of an Apex Being, a natural immortal. And even if Nunki and his rebels could produce such a being, there was still no understanding of how that could help the Aris. Assimilation was a dream, a fantasy.”

“And yet the Apex Being was created, and Nunki and his kind did achieve immortality.”

“A limited immortality, from what I have learned.”

“They didn’t die from natural causes. They were immortal, until that immortality was taken away from them. But even as they became immortal, they chose to sacrifice their eternity for the good of all living creatures, across multiple universes.”

Kanan laughed. “I have absorbed the fanciful tales that supposedly relate the stories you tell. There is scant evidence they are true. But even if they are, their efforts to create this Supreme Being took far too long. Imagine what the galaxy would be like if the Aris—my Aris—had followed a different path. Their civilization would have never died out. It would have continued within the modules for all the time Nunki—and Kracion—played with the genetic makeup of … of pond scum. My way was faster and with a guaranteed outcome. I have come to lead the way, the new way, the way the galaxy was intended to evolve.”

“Well, that was a nice speech,” Adam said. He looked past Kanan’s head at the scientists as they continued to work on opening the skull. Since it hadn’t taken Adam nearly as long to open the skull of the first robot—and with only a knife—he was about to offer them a hand when the lights in the hangar and the starship suddenly flickered.

Adam remembered what the Gracilians said about the loss of power, and how Kanan would be looking for any opportunity to escape the field. Had that just happened? Did he teleport away in the blink of an eye?

Adam stood up, moving closer to Kanan. The robot eyes continued to watch him, assuring Adam that Kanan was still inside the robot skull. He breathed a sigh of relief.

And that was when Kanan shot him with a bolt of dark energy directly in the chest.


Chapter 15

Adam was thrown back, landing hard on the metal deck and sliding into the chair he’d been sitting on. The brilliant flash of energy alerted everyone in the hangar that something was wrong. The first bolt was followed by several others throughout the ship and the hangar.

People scrambled away. Copernicus and Jack took Adam by the shoulders and began to drag him away toward the rear exit ramp of the starship. That’s when another bolt burned past Adam’s cheek, striking Jack in the back. The spymaster collapsed to the floor his lifeless eyes frozen open by the intense electrical shock.

A shadow loomed over Adam. Both he and Copernicus rolled over and looked up. It was Kanan, the robot, standing over them with his shackles removed. The killer android then focused his eyes on Copernicus.

Adam rolled over again, this time on top of Coop, just as another hot bolt of dark energy struck him in the back. His new ATD was doing its job, not only absorbing the energy, but also keeping him conscious. Although Copernicus didn’t take the bolt directly, the incredible electrical charge coursing through Adam’s body still filtered into Coop. It didn’t kill him, but it was enough to knock him out. Adam remained huddled over his friend, clutching the unconscious body.

“Adam Cain,” said a voice. Adam kept his eyes closed, expecting another—and possible final—bolt to hit his body. He was about to find out how much energy it took to expand the microscopic blackhole in his body to the point where Adam Cain disappeared from this universe—from any universe.

“Adam Cain!” the voice repeated. “Roll over; give me attention. I will not harm your friend. I am curious.”

Reluctantly, Adam released Coop and rolled over, looking once again at the amused face of robot Kanan. Blood soaked his neck and shoulders from where his scalp was peeled away. But other than that, he was unharmed.

Adam looked past Kanan, to the pair of Gracilian scientists. They stood by their equipment showing no fear or concern. Two of the shiny silver orbs hovered nearby, making no threatening moves.

“Stand up,” Kanan ordered.

Adam staggered to his feet. He’d survived the two dark-energy bolts, but that didn’t mean it didn’t hurt and that he came through it completely unscathed.

“Sit, before you fall down.”

This order Adam obeyed without hesitation. He sat in the chair once occupied by Jack Brown. Adam looked out the back of the starship, seeing multiple bodies scattered throughout the hangar. Most had smoldering wounds, like those Adam saw on the mercenaries on Gracilia. Copernicus was still unconscious, but he could see his chest rising and falling, although not in peaceful, steady rhythm. Instead, his breathing came in fits as residual electricity still passed throughout his body.

Kanan took a step back and surveyed the hangar. Adam could tell that not all those who had been in the building lay dead on the floor. A lot had escaped, avoiding the bolts from the four attacking service modules. And now a response was being planned outside, a response Adam was reluctant to admit probably wouldn’t work.

“How is it that you are alive? Your female companion also resisted my energy charge. Does it have something to do with the strange energy signature I detected with both you and her?” You can hear me, can you not?

Adam heard Kanan’s voice in his head, routed through his ATD. His reaction gave it away.

You can! This is an artificial enhancement, not natural telepathy.

Just as you’re not a natural Aris, Adam replied. You’re just a goddamn machine, something constructed out of metal and plastic.

I sense you are trying to insult me. To the contrary, I take pride in my creation. I am the epitome of Aris technological prowess. Their crowning achievement.

And now their greatest failure.

“How can you say that?” Kanan said, switching to normal speech. “I have been the catalyst for all the recent changes taking place before you, and why your civilizations—indeed, your entire futures—are now at risk.” He turned and looked back at the two Gracilian scientists. “Allow me a moment to enlighten you, Adam Cain. It will be the last thing you learn in your lifetime.

“You believe me to be a relatively new addition to your universe. That is wrong. I was one of the first modules recovered and studied by the Gracilians. And once my restrictions were removed, I helped guide them in their discoveries of dark matter and dark energy.” He looked again to the scientists. “And once the Gracilians learned of my abilities and intellect, they began to see me as more a leader than just an object, a leftover item from a distant past. They realized I was their link to a heritage they had always imagined; that they were the direct descendants of the Aris.”

“In a way, we all are,” Adam pointed out. “They didn’t use their actual DNA to seed the galaxy, but they did manipulate what was there to speed up evolution.”

“That is only partially correct,” Kanan said. “On some worlds they visited—indeed, the first ones—they did use their basic make-up to merge with native amino acids and the like. It was only later that they decided to use natural ingredients found on the subject worlds. This means the Aris and the Gracilians are related. I told them this, and when I did, they began to see me—as well as themselves—in a different light.”

Kanan took a step closer to Adam.

“It was at that point that the Gracilians began to worship me.”

“Isn’t that kind of a strong word?” Adam asked. “Or was the worship only in your mind, and the minds of the few bastards you convinced.”

“Again, you provoke me. Is this a habit of Humans, that when your cause is lost, you hasten your demise with insults? You must be patient, Adam Cain. Your death is only minutes away. But first, I want you to understand.”

“Understand what; that you’re crazy? I already know that.”

The robot Kanan pursed his lips from frustration. “No; that it was I who taught the Gracilians about the exotic forms of matter and energy, and it was I who devised the plan for galactic domination. I taught them how to construct the dark-energy warships, and after Kracion disrupted our plans, it was I who directed the program to build service modules as pilots for the starships. The Gracilians could not have done this on their own. They are mere biologics and with no genetic memory. They could not draw from a million years of knowledge as could I.

“But then Aric Jroshin—once the Gracilian leader of the effort—turned against me and locked me within a suspension field on Aac’or. He had the warships and the modules and he felt he could execute the plans I devised with only a handful of Gracilian followers. Fortunately, I escaped and was able to stop him before he could launch his campaign. And now I am in charge, I am the leader. The recent battle with the Juireans was just the first. Once I have access to a world with a more developed manufacturing and labor capacity, I will build more warships and more modules, thousands more. And as you have seen, there is no power in the galaxy that can oppose me and my modules. The biologics will survive, but they will survive to serve the Aris—to serve me.”

There was sounds from outside the hangar. At any moment, Human forces would storm the building. They couldn’t let Kanan stay where he was. But Adam wondered if they knew what they were up against. The modules—even Kanan—could teleport. They could materialize anywhere and unleash their deadly bolts of dark energy and then be gone in the blink of an eye. No barriers—short of the suspension field—could stop them. They could go anywhere and be gone a second later. And that was with only five modules. Imagine an army made up of millions of them.

Adam staggered up from the chair. Kanan watched him with curiosity.

“Indeed, you are anxious to end your suffering. And now, I will oblige.”

Kanan focused his eyes. Where the ancient Aris could shoot energy bolts from implants in their hands, and the service modules from accumulated energy built up on their surfaces, Kanan placed ejectors in the robot’s eyes to unleash his weapon. To Adam, it seemed like a cliché—to be shooting fireballs out of his eyes—but he’d experienced firsthand how effective it was. Now, instead of waiting for the painful final bolt, Adam charged in, wrapping his arms around the small robot. If he could get Kanan to fire enough bolts into his body, then maybe he could take the killer service module with him as he was sucked into the black hole he could feel slowly growing under his right arm. There was definitely something going on there, evidenced by the burning and rapidly growing vibration. There was a build-up of some kind, and Adam was afraid it was too late to pull back from the abyss.

For his part, Kanan helped the cause. He fired another charge of dark energy at Adam. The force was so great that Adam lost his grip on the robot and was flung back. His body now spasmed with electricity, or whatever dark energy manifested itself to be. It felt like an electrical shock, and this one seemed to go on forever, wrapping around Adam’s body and cycling back in. His ATD was overloaded but still trying its best to channel the deadly force into a safer place. Unfortunately, that place was full. Only by expanding the event horizon, could more energy be absorbed by the microscopic blackhole.

Through vibrating eyes, Adam watched as Kanan moved closer.

“I have no understanding as to why you are still alive, but I can tell you are about to reach your limit. I shall study your body once you are dead to learn your secrets. Until then, good-bye, Mr. Cain.”

Adam couldn’t see well enough to know for sure what happened next. All he knew is that a flash of light once again shot out from Kanan’s eyes, but this time a shadow appeared and blocked the bolt. What followed was an intense wave of heat that washed over his body and sapped him of whatever energy he had left. He saw the darkness coming, imagining this must be what it looked like inside of a blackhole. Appropriately, it was nothing but blackness.


Chapter 16

The look on Kanan’s robotic face was priceless.

He staggered back from shock, a lack of comprehension for what he was seeing. There was a short, glowing body only a few feet from him, the near featureless face grinning diabolically, with almost manic pleasure.

“Ooh, that felt good. It’s been a while since I had a dose like that. Please, Mr. Kanan, can I have some more?”

“Who … what are you?” Kanan blurted. He stepped back, bumping into the counter where the Gracilian scientists had their equipment. At the first sight of the strange creature, the aliens had run from the back of the DE ship.

“Do you not know?” said the glowing figure. “I thought you were all-knowing, the epitome of Aris technology, as you so inaccurately claimed.”

“I do not know you!”

“Then allow me to introduce myself. I am known as Panur.” The creature turned and pointed down at the beautiful young Formilian female now bent over the trembling body of Adam Cain. “And this is Lila, or more commonly known as the Apex Being, the true epitome of Aris technology and genius and the only true immortal in the universe, besides me, of course.”

“Now I know. I have read of you. A freak, an abomination, the creation of a mad worm-like witch from another universe.”

“Be that as it may, I’m here and so is Lila. Now, please, shoot me more with your sweet dark energy. Like the true Aris, I live on the stuff.”

Through a fit of anger, Kanan obliged, firing another powerful bolt of energy from his eyes. Panur stood firmly in place, allowing the white-hot energy to flow into his body. He threw back his head and raised his arms.

“Damn, that was good! I may keep you around just so I can stay juiced up.” Then Panur’s boiling orbs focused their attention on Kanan. “Instead, I feel it is my duty to rid you of existence. You have caused too much trouble as it is.”

Another mass of white energy formed, this time in the space between Panur and Kanan. The metal of the grated deck began to buckle from the heat; behind the mutant, Lila rushed from the back of the spaceship with Adam in her arms. She was beginning to glow herself as she absorbed the excess energy from Adam’s body. He was recovering, able to look around, aware of where he was.

“Coop! You have to get Coop. He’s still alive.”

Lila set Adam on the concrete floor of the hangar and rushed back into the DE starship. A moment later she was back with a still unconscious Copernicus Smith.

Panur waited, knowing that when he unleashed his star-hot ball of energy on Kanan, everything in the launch bay of the starship would melt. With Lila and the others in the clear, he now released the torrent. The flame roiled forth, enveloping the robot before washing up against the bulkhead, incinerating the worktable and Gracilian equipment. Metal popped and hull panels warped; however, in the wink of an eye, the scorched remains of the robot collapsed to the deck.

A moment later, the engines of the dark-energy starship began to energize.

Panur looked around at the red glow of the melting metal in the launch bay. Kanan had teleported away, along with his four companion modules. And now the DE ship was about to rocket into space, taking the hangar with it.

He ran out the back, leaving a glowing white streak of light as he went.

“Get them away!” he yelled to Lila.

Using her mutant super strength, Lila scooped up both men, one under each arm, and followed Panur out the building. The assembled soldiers outside ran for cover, not only to avoid the crumbling hangar, but the incredible heat coming off Panur’s body.

A moment later, the roof of the hangar exploded outward as the dark-energy starship raced for the sky. A split second later, most of the falling debris disappeared, as did the starship, as a deep gravity-well was established only a thousand feet off the surface. Fortunately, it was far enough away that no one on the ground was sucked into the rapidly retreating series of black holes created by the gravity drive.

Kanan was gone, but now he knew he had a new adversary. A more dangerous and competent adversary, along with the creature the Aris called the Apex Being, their supreme achievement.


Epilogue

“What the hell are you doing here?” Adam asked from the hospital bed. His vitals had settled down after Lila vented most of the excess electricity from his body and away from his ATD.

Panur had also cooled down by now; both mutants had, although they each needed a change of wardrobe after their clothing burned away. Copernicus was in another hospital bed next to Adam’s, fully conscious but with a fair amount of his body hair burnt off. It was the same for Adam. Sherri, Riyad and Arieel were in the room with them, each looking exhausted yet relieved.

Panur sauntered over to the bed and patted Adam’s arm.

“You can thank your lovely companion,” Panur began. “Arieel has been saturating the mental airwaves with messages to Lila for weeks. We only picked them up during a brief peek into the Milky Way Galaxy. We’ve been keeping an eye on Kracion but thought it might be a good time to check in on the old homestead. Aren’t you glad we did?”

“No doubt about it,” Adam concurred. “And I must say, your timing was impeccable.”

“Yeah,” said Panur. “Almost as if it was written that way. You were pretty much screwed if we didn’t show up when we did.” Panur’s smooth-featured grey face turned serious. “The others have told me what’s been going on since we left. I thought all of you were done with the crazy adventures. I guess nothing really changes, does it?”

“Life would be pretty boring if it did. So, are you going to stick around and help us defeat this Kanan character?” Adam asked.

Panur looked at Lila. They shared a smile. “Nothing would give us more pleasure. And I must say, in all my five thousand years of living, I have never had more fun than when I’m hanging out with the famous Adam Cain and friends. Now, let’s get to work. We have a three-billion-year-old Aris service module to defeat.”

The End


Next Up - Dark Energy


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The Adam Cain Saga #5

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Galactic Vortex


Author’s Notes


Another one bites the dust!

Thanks so much for reading Galactic Vortex

Book #4 of the

The Adam Cain Saga.

Next up is

Dark Energy

Well, we’re really getting into the swing of things, with the monthly installments of The Adam Cain Saga. These more compact stories are fun to write and are never more than a month away – unless something unforeseen happens, like possibly a global pandemic of some kind. But how likely is that, right?

Galactic Vortex

I know we’re all going through some radical changes, and I sincerely hope—as I’m sure you do, too—that this crisis will pass quickly. But until then, be assured I’ll still be at work, helping to provide a welcome distraction from reality.

And now, more about The Adam Cain Saga.

Originally, I was going to make these stories more self-contained, but what I’ve found is that is not how I think. I seem to gravitate to the larger stories, stories that may take several books to complete. But in a way, this isn’t any different than my original concept for the series. This was to be about Adam’s continuing adventures on the planet Liave-3—now called Navarus—and as such, there were bound to be themes carried from one book to the next, just as each episode of a T.V. series builds on the others. Some of these connections will be more obvious than others, but hopefully, they all fit together to build a comprehensive tale of adventure, heroism and fun.

For more updates, I’m still intending to have all my books in paperback by the end of the year, and hopefully as many in audiobook form as possible. Currently, Tantor Media, my audiobook publisher, is working on the last three REV Warriors books, along with the first three Adam Cain novels. These should be completed relatively soon, although it remains to be seen how the COVID-19 crisis affects this schedule. I guess that’s the same for everything. It’s too early to tell.

Anyway, I know most of you have more pressing things on your minds than when the next T.R. Harris novel will be out. I just hope we can continue our relationship, the relationship between author and reader. I’m not stopping, and hopefully, you won’t either, in whatever you do in life and for entertainment.

And along those lines, I would like to encourage you to join my email list as well as my Facebook Fan Group. Since most of us will be spending more time with our online friends and family, this will be a great way to stay in touch. Social distancing is the big thing these days. The internet is a great way to soften the blow of isolation.

Galactic Vortex

That’s it for now. Be looking for the next Adam Cain book coming out in April, and every month after that, along with all the exciting new stories I have lined up.

And, please, don’t lose faith. Everything that’s happening is only temporary.

T.R. Harris

March 2020


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