“Ah, Mr. Thompson, sir, so good to see you – and the other members of the board as well. How are you? I hope I’m not too late. You know how it is, always running out of time.” Carl Kearsley could not have been more out of place among the dark suits and leather briefcases. He wore grease-stained jeans and a dirty lab-coat, clothes better suited for his messy workshop than a corporate board meeting. Even so, he shook every hand as vigorously as he could, hoping to convey a sense of confidence that inwardly he lacked. Mr. Thompson grunted...

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The duffel bag, slung over my left shoulder, was light. I’d get most of my working kit when I arrived at Mu Arae. I exited the transport hauler’s docking area and entered the Tau Ceti station concourse that was more empty than my duffel. But it was late shift station time. With no one around, I decided to walk to my next transfer instead of taking a tram. There might be a diner or pub open. The transport hauler’s cook didn’t deserve even that title. But, in my years of service I’d eaten worse. I walked the main area, avoiding...

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Both moons hung low in the sky as Corlis’ plane came in for a landing. At first glance, Walkara airfield didn’t look like much. Criss-crossed runways carved out of what had once been farmland, a taxiway to a cluster of buildings pressed into service as dormitories, offices, and a command post, the latter with a nest of antennas, radar domes, and a mismatched control tower spoiling its lines. A few prefab hangars were big enough for a dozen planes, plus the fuel trucks and crash wagons currently standing by outside. The transport touched down and taxied toward the maintenance hanger....

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Jacob Unger awoke with the ringing still in his ears. It wasn’t from the Howitzer explosions or the musket retort, all of that had stopped long ago; a horn had been blown. A heavy darkness now laid claim to the land, smouldering flames flickered here and there, filtering through a mixture of fog and heavy smoke which blanketed the many horrors that lay underneath. Men who had, only a few hours before, been singing the songs of Dixie as they marched in celebration on their way back from the Virginian front. A stiffness had molded itself to Jacob and only...

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Chapter 1 “Is this your real name?” the beefy port cop barked coldly, and Jas nodded with just the right amount of deference to be completely believable. It wasn’t his real name, not the name his long dead mother had given him. His real name was Chakravarthi Pararajasekarn after his ancient ancestor, King Singai Arya Chakravarthi Pararajasekarn, the original Tamil tiger and forefather of the greatest dynastic clan in the island state of Sri Lanka, perhaps the world. That illustrious name had been shortened by missionary school teachers, immigration officials and 600 years of declining family fortunes down to just...

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By the time Xi returned to the compound, it was well after full dark. Phile had tonight’s watch, and she opened the heavy durasteel doors to grant Xi entrance. “It’s unwise for you to have returned so late,” she admonished. “You should have been back here before sunset.” As soon as the doors were secured behind him, the heat closed in. Tiny droplets of condensation erupted along his metal frame, and his internal cooling fans whirred to life. Thirty-two-point-three degrees Celsius, Xi’s sensors told him. Far below the threshold of what he could tolerate, but he disliked having a damp...

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The fire above me raged, bringing my awareness to new heights. Soon enough I would have to run, but for now I could try to memorize every feature of our most sacred shrine before it disappeared forever. A hundred and seventy-two seasons of memory, as the mammals count time, had passed since the first mark on the Tree of Awakening. The first mark was nearly at ground level on the strangely smooth bark, about where one of the Ancients would have been able to reach with a foreclaw, about knee-high to one of us. Even as a hatchling, the Tree...

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A bright moon glistens in a velvet black sky. An unseen dog barks bloody murder as a Clean-Bot 2100 purrs its way through a wide and spotless street. Around the street there are no cars, no signs of life except for a lone woman. She frantically runs ahead of the Clean-Bot as if she fears it will suck her up like trash. The woman, her ginger hair swinging from side to side, reaches the end of the street where there is a tall water tower, at least fifty feet high. Painted on the tower’s side, in vibrant red and blue,...

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Samsara heard a knock on the gate. He sat up, wondering if he’d dreamed the sound. Midnight watch at the monastery gate was hard duty, but good meditation practice. Despite the unyielding wooden bench, he always struggled against the urge to sleep. At forty-five staying awake was harder than when he’d first joined the monastery a dozen years ago. Switching on the light over the gate, Samsara opened the door. A squat machine slowly rolled into the light. It stood a little higher than his waist, with a square, low-slung body. It had three arms. One contained a complex array...

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“I still don’t understand how you became captain.” “Acting Captain,” Day corrected Zunzheim. “Acting Captain.” Zunzheim rolled his eyes. “Because after the accident I was the only one qualified. I tried to turn it down. When all the dust settled, it was me, a nurse practitioner, three marines and half of the maintenance department left onboard. Maintenance didn’t want marines in charge, so it’s me. Boucher was the ranking marine, so she is first officer.” “Maintenance would rather have a suicidal, misanthropic captain than a marine?” “Maintenance is suspicious of authority figures,” Day answered. “They have their own informal command...

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