Read Shadows of Golstar Online
Authors: Terrence Scott
The shroud of mystery that cloaked Golstar would certainly
capture the chosen man’s imagination. His profession and experience had turned
out to be fortuitous and should work in their favor. This discovery had added
an unexpected but essential element that would contribute to the plan’s
ultimate success. The chance of success had increased two-fold in the Grand
Patriarch’s view, though failure still remained a real possibility. However, he
fervently wished that he could be as sure of its success as he had represented
it to Talin.
He suddenly roused, realizing that he had been silent
for an uncomfortable length of time. He said briskly, “We only have an hour
before Sharné arrives to join us for Service. Let us use that time to our
advantage. Have you reviewed the personal background files I forwarded to you
this morning? Can you see the advantage presented to us?”
Talin, now fully composed, nodded. “I believe so. His
quite interesting. I
too can see some possible advantage to be gained. But his background
information is not what first struck me.” He paused, “Rather, it is the medical
data that I found truly intriguing; his profile is almost too good to be true.
It is hard to believe that the genetic parameters appear to be an exact match.
Truly, I would not have thought it possible.”
The Grand Patriarch waited for him to continue.
“But of course, you know this, as well as I. Coming
back to your question regarding the man’s background, although there are still
some holes in the subject’s personal history, I must admit that I do feel more
comfortable having this additional insight into the man’s character. I believe
that his professional history may actually help forward the plan.”
“Excellent. I too believe his background can work in
our favor.” The Grand Patriarch smiled, “But going back to our earlier
discussion, I can still appreciate your concerns, especially as they relate to
Sharné interacting with him, a member of our historical enemy. Fortunately, the
files indicate he is an honorable man.”
The Grand Patriarch then spoke to Talin’s earlier
comment, “You know... I too was intrigued by the biological data. Indeed, you
are right to conclude an exact match is more than we could have hoped. Have the
labs re-certified the key compatibility factors? We must have that
confirmation. It is critical we be absolutely sure in this.”
“I just received the answer before I joined you.
Incredible as it still seems, it was yet again confirmed. He is the one,
apparently the only one that matches our exact requirement,” Talin answered
grudgingly. “But may I ask, how was the original information gathered? I do
pray that the procurers of those files remain discrete.”
“Oh, I am quite sure that they will,” the Grand
Patriarch replied. “Indeed, I chose two of my most trusted personal
guards to complete the task of retrieving the files. They performed their task
Talin raised his eyebrows. “You actually sent them out
of the system? I… what if they had been discovered? The consequences…” He
squelched his growing anger. If he had not broached the subject, he wondered if
the Grand Patriarch would have told him.
“I know. I know,” the Grand Patriarch interrupted. “I
took great pains to ensure they would not be discovered. They were carefully
disguised and equipped with a Reaper. As loyal protectors of my office, they
were prepared to use it if it became necessary,” the Grand Patriarch
Talin shuddered at the mention of the Reaper. Small
enough to fit in a hand, the Reaper was a “clean” atomic device outlawed
centuries ago on old earth. It used reverse shield technology to constrain a
limited nuclear explosion. When triggered, anyone or anything caught within the
50 meters of its flashed shield enclosure was instantly vaporized. Designed to
destroy mobile artillery, the device could also be used as a very effective
instrument for self-destruction. Stripped down to their component atoms, there
would not be anything left of the two guards for a DNA tag analysis. Even
equipped with such a safeguard, Talin was still taken aback by the risks raised
by the physical incursion into Confederated Planets’ territory, not to mention
the Grand Patriarch’s failure to consult him before taking such a dangerous
The Grand Patriarch, oblivious to the Guardian’s
discomfort, continued with some satisfaction, “But everything went well and
such draconian measures were not required. My guards were able to penetrate the
designated facilities with little trouble. Not surprisingly, Confederated
Planets are complacent in their security measures and were not prepared for
our... ah... unique approach.”
Talin bowed his head and said a silent prayer of
“So, now after all of these efforts, it has
finally been confirmed that he is the one,” the Grand Patriarch beamed.
Talin suppressed a sigh, “Yes, as I said, the second
analysis was completed just this afternoon and the results do not differ from
the first. The preliminary and final screens all indicate a positive match with
a ninety-nine, point nine percent confidence level.” Talin replied. “But
you do understand that we are relying on an outside contractor for the final
confirmation. We simply no longer have the resources in-house to do the job
within our limited timeframe.”
Nodding, the Grand Patriarch said, “I know that we
have little choice in the matter, but I am confident that the cover story and
false documentation will hold up under the minimal level of scrutiny it is
likely to receive. Neither the Council nor the Assembly will ever hear of
The Grand Patriarch stretched and then said with a small
yawn, “I am increasingly optimistic. We have been fortunate indeed to find this
man. I could not have asked for a better candidate. And his background only
strengthens the logic of the plan’s working framework.”
He yawned again, “I confess that I grow somewhat
weary. I am not ashamed to admit that I am beginning to feel my years.
Therefore, let us continue this discussion in a more comfortable venue.”
Stifling a yawn of his own, the Keeper of the Way nodded his agreement and they
made their way to the adjoining
They entered the large room that was used for meetings
with dignitaries and governors of the numerous provinces that comprised
Golstar’s ruling hierarchy. Polished stone panels, gray with faint marbling of
beige and white lined its walls, each intricately carved bas relief depicted a
momentous point in Golstar history. The fine, detailed sculptures started with
the founding of the first colony on Berralton and ended with the final closing
of Golstar’s borders.
They walked across thick carpeting. Their footsteps
were muted by the densely woven Rock Sheal wool, colored in hues of tan, red
and gold, bordered in black. They sat down in tall comfortable chairs
upholstered in rare patterned leather of Grayland Serpent hide, a reptile
native to the great desert on Berralton in the southern wastelands of the Gray
continent. Lighting was provided by massive chandeliers wrought of native
metals crafted with Victorian-like artistry.
They faced each other, sitting at a massive table made
of dense dark woods imported from Berralton’s sister planet, Dante. Its surface
was broken by ornate patterns created from crystal inlays mined from Berralton
quarries. Ignoring their surroundings, they began to discuss the remaining
issues each thought important for the success of the plan. As they talked, a
concealed device transmitted their words to a listener hidden in a remote and
● ● ●
Fifty floors beneath the Grand Patriarch’s receiving
room in the Capital Palace, the listener had heard enough. Her assignment was
completed. She would soon send her assessment to the Council.
She removed the tiny receiver from her ear,
unplugged the hair-thin wires and tucked them behind an old empty storage
To the casual eye, the wires were
virtually invisible and although primitive, the simple little hardwire device
evaded the palace’s more sophisticated sensors.
She separated the three components that made up the receiver
and then replaced them in her personal entertainment module. The components
were of standard design and used in numerous commercial devices. There was no
discernible way to tell if the components were used for anything other than
their original purpose. She returned the entertainment module to her clutch
She looked around the room once more, checking
to see she if had forgotten anything. Satisfied that nothing was amiss, she
pulled her nondescript day robes about her and patted her wig to make sure it
was still in its proper position. The listener then gently slit-opened the
storage room’s manual door and carefully checked for unexpected visitors. She
looked out into a dim, empty hallway lit only by the intermittent light globes
that remained operational even after so many years of neglect.
As she expected, there was no one in sight. The
area that had been chosen for her to conduct the surveillance was deserted and
had been sealed off from the main palace long ago. She quietly entered the hallway,
carefully keeping to old gray, threadbare floor runners to conceal any
footprints, not that she expected anyone else to venture into this
long-abandoned area. She wrinkled her nose in reaction to the heavy musk of
mildew and dust. Traversing passages unused for decades, the listener
cautiously made her way out of the Capital Palace into the cool, clear evening
and headed towards her temporary quarters just inside the urban limits of the
Viewed from high above, the city’s surface traffic
flowed like the lifeblood of some great beast. Multi-colored corpuscles pushed
along branching arteries feeding the buildings that sustained the sprawling
metropolis. On closer examination, the corpuscles resolved into
brightly-colored transports traveling along the wide polymer-ceramic paved
Though an older model, the dark-blue transport was
sleek and fit in well with its fellow vehicles gliding on invisible fields,
inches above the damp pavement of the bustling city. Heading for his temporary
office for the last time, Owens settled back in the plush, cushioned seat of
his Rialto. The transport’s Artificial Intelligence adjunct efficiently piloted
the Rialto through the city’s maze of surface streets, avoiding traffic
blockages as it headed for its programmed destination.
He looked around the transport’s cabin in
appreciation. Although the vehicle was not new, it was still in first-rate
condition, showing little sign of wear. The previous owner obviously took
excellent care of it.
Prior to the assignment on Genhome, Owens had never
seen a need to own a personal surface transport. Public transportation was
always plentiful, fast and reliable on his previous assignments. The citizens
of Genhome, however, didn’t see the need for such services. With a
relatively small population base, they relied almost exclusively on personal
vehicles to get around the planet’s only large city and outlying areas. A small
number of shuttle taxis were available for limited transportation to and from hotels
and the planet’s single spaceport. And so, he’d been forced to procure a
vehicle for his transportation needs soon after his arrival on the planet.
Unable to rent a vehicle that would accommodate his
size, he had been obliged to purchase the Rialto outright. He was fortunate to
find a transport in such a good condition and at a surprisingly reasonable
price, two months before. To accommodate his large frame, he was forced to have
the transport modified from four to two-passenger seating. The Rialto had the basic
amenities and a few of the nicer upgrades. Although it lacked some of the newer
innovations incorporated in later models, in its new spacious reconfiguration
the Rialto provided everything Owens required.
He had considered selling it before he returned to his
home base of operations; however, over the length of time he had spent on his
current assignment, he had become used to the unique luxury of ground transport
ownership. He knew he would want one when he returned home. When he figured in
the cost of a new transport, customized to his needs, he decided he could hang
on to this old model for at least a few more years. Transporting it back
wouldn’t be a problem because he owned his own starship. In his line of
business, having ready access to interstellar transportation was a
Had he thought about it further, he would have
admitted that he had also grown somewhat attached to the Rialto’s crusty AI
personality. All the AIs he had encountered before the Rialto’s had possessed
the same basic, helpful, solicitous personality interface. All had voices
of human timber, but with inflections and emotional responses that could not be
mistaken for human. The programmed personality of a typical AI had all the
charm of an eighteenth-century English butler. The Rialto’s AI didn’t come
remotely close to this classification. The past owner had obviously spent some
time tinkering with the Rialto’s AI program. Owens still wasn’t sure what to
make of the results.
Interrupting Owens’ thoughts, the AI abruptly announced
in a distinctly irritated tone, “The damned traffic is blocking Cell Avenue…
The AI’s gravelly baritone and
swearing were definitely not in the factory specs.
“It looks like I’m going to have to use the
levee road access.” The AI continued, “Sorry, this is going to add about ten
minutes to your travel time.” The AI paused, and then grumbled, “The loose
debris around that route always plays havoc with my impeller fields.”
“I’m not in any hurry,” Owens replied, pointedly
ignoring the complaint about the condition of the road. He had learned
the lesson early on, not to respond to any of the AI’s complaints. Doing so
would often open the conversational door to an in-depth dissertation on the
sterling qualities of the Rialto and the constant abuse a simple AI had to
endure when attempting to perform its duties on “a poor excuse for a civilized
planet.” The AI, seeing that no other response would be forthcoming from
its owner, lapsed back into a sulky silence.
Owens yawned and turned, looking through the vehicle’s
clear-sided canopy. Although it was still early in the morning, crowds of
workers were already beginning to clog the entrances to slow-moving
inter-building transport ribbons. From a distance, they looked like ants
clustering around stacked pieces of candy. As usual, a good number of the
commuters nearest the street were facing his direction. They were staring at
his physical presence on display through the Rialto’s transparent passenger
compartment as it slowly made its way through the traffic.
Sensing that its owner wasn’t comfortable with all the
eyes focused in his direction, the AI asked, “You want the panels changed to
s okay. I prefer an open view.”
He should be used to being the object of stares.
At just over two hundred centimeters tall, weighing in at close to a hundred,
forty-six kilos (none of it fat,) he was indeed a rare sight. A person of his
stature was regarded as an anachronism by the good citizens of Genhome. On
Genhome, the site of his current assignment, the standard height of the human
population ranged somewhere between ninety and a hundred, twenty centimeters.
This had long been considered normal by Genhome’s citizens.
The physical modifications had been brought about as
the result of the industry for which the population was principally engaged.
For generations, the dominant occupations on Genhome were associated with
genetic sciences and included research, product development and production.
Over time, based on their contributions and familiarity to that field of
science, the population allowed itself to be genetically altered. The average
human stature was reduced in order to more efficiently work and comfortably
live on the limited land surface of the planet.
At his size, it was easy for him to see that he would
attract curious stares from the “normal-sized” onlookers as he traveled through
the streets of Pannon City. In fact, he drew the attention of many citizens of
other planets, as it had become popular to “optimize” the human populations to
reduce the burden on planetary and interstellar transport resources.
size was easily explained, if not generally accepted. He had been born on Lode,
a heavy mineral mining planet located at the outer rim of the Seafarer Nebula.
The small population of Lode was principally involved in mining and export of
metal ores vital to the space transport industries. Lode was
three-quarters of earth-normal in size, but due to its density, its gravity was
close to twenty-five percent above earth-standard.
people of Lode were one of the few pockets of humanity scattered throughout the
stars that resisted the current popular trend of rampant genetic manipulation,
especially for the sake of convenience or superficial cosmetics. They actively discouraged
any enhancements aimed at changing physical appearance for the sake of some
preconceived, constantly changing standard of beauty.
than some initial tinkering when the planet was first settled, they now only
allowed bio-genetic surgery and restrained DNA manipulation to cure or prevent
disease and permitted a limited form of pre-natal intervention when physical or
mental defects were clearly diagnosed. It was a matter of pride for most Loders
that they remained unique and relatively ‘unmodified’ although it could be
argued that living on Lode was a form of continuing genetic modification, in
and of itself.
Owens was typical of male Loders.
He was a product of the initial modifications
made by the early settlers and continued honing by the environment through
natural evolutionary mutation.
were denser to anchor the larger, more developed muscles that were stronger
than those of most other branches of humanity.
They were essential to sustain living, working and playing on a planet
with gravity well above earth normal.
His heart, lungs and other organs also were bigger, with increased
capacity over those of other humans living in less harsh environments.
With his height and build, Owens stood out
from most people he encountered outside his home system.
Owens was thankful he wasn’t from one of the “heavy,”
higher gravity planets ranging towards a 150% of earth-normal. Humanity had
found it could not readily adapt to such environs without more significant
genetic modification. The wear and tear on the body was simply too great. Major
gene-engineering was required to enable humans to live and work in the high
Genetic engineering and artificially accelerated
evolution produced a race with squat, blocky physiques, supported by
incredibility thick bones and knotty muscles. With the need for increased
oxygenation to power the massive musculature, the ribcage was expanded to
accommodate oversized lungs and the nostrils were flared to ancient comic-book
proportions. Beings who lived and thrived under high gravity conditions
resembled creatures fantastically described in old fairy tales. Being a Loder
wasn’t so bad, Owens thought. He still looked human, but just on a larger scale
than was currently in vogue.
Ignoring the staring faces, he turned and gazed up
through the vehicle’s clear dome. Overhead, blotchy gray cotton clouds
stretched across the sky with darker patches in the distance, bordering on
black. The sky was heavily overcast as usual.
In Pannon, it rained 250 days out of the 295-day solar cycle. Genhome
was almost 80% water. The founding fathers, a group of geneticists and their
families, chose the planet for this very reason.
Genhome, with its vast ocean, teaming with aquatic
life, and the single, lush jungle landmass with a surprising amount of diverse
life forms, made a perfect laboratory to advance their science. Over the past
two centuries, Genhome became the principal center in this sector for lower
animal and plant-related genetic research and their product off-shoots.
Although not their primary area of study, Genhome's scientists and engineers
contributed to the advancement of human genetic research as well.
He looked down at the blue-glow readouts scrolling
environmental data on the main screen of the transport’s console. It was
turning out to be a typical day in Genhome’s only major city; temperature 90
degrees; humidity 88 percent with an 85 percent chance of rain in the early
afternoon. He sighed, and then remembered it would be for just one more
The ten-minute delay stretched out to a half-hour
before he finally arrived at the SolGen building. His Rialto smoothly entered
the underground parking complex and dutifully found a slot closest to the east
Owens quickly headed to the mag-lift that would take
him to his office on the 81
floor. Without noticeable
acceleration, the lift noiselessly carried Owens to his destination within a
few seconds. He was thankful for the inertia-canceling field surrounding
the lift’s car. Without it, he mused, he would reach his floor passed out on
the bottom of the lift with a few contusions thrown in for good measure.
Someone not of Owens’ heritage would suffer far worse injury. The system had
long been perfected and with triple redundant backups, there hadn’t been a
reported failure in over fifty years. Operating flawlessly, it silently opened
its doors and he stepped out of the lift.
Entering the narrow hallway, he resisted the
instinctive urge to crouch. As it was, he was still forced to slouch a little.
The ceiling was much lower than to what he was normally accustomed. He ignored
the claustrophobic hallway and quickly headed in the direction of his temporary
office. It was the only one with a floor-to-ceiling door installed specially by
his client to accommodate his height (otherwise he
be forced to
crouch low to enter.)
On his way, he encountered a tiny woman exiting an
office door into the hallway. At around a hundred and ten centimeters tall, she
was nonetheless perfectly proportioned, beautiful by any standard. She looked
up at his approach and gave him a dazzling smile. He returned her smile and
said, “Good afternoon, Ms. Penman. Calling it a day?”
“Hello, Mr. Owens. As a matter of fact, it’s a little
past quitting time. I’m joining some friends to engage in a little fun.” She
paused, her smile turning mischievous, “You’re welcome to join us, if you’d
“Thank you for the invitation. I would enjoy a night
out, but unfortunately, duty calls,” he said, feigning regret. “I’m sorry, but
I have a meeting with your boss that will probably last well into the evening,
but thanks for the invitation.”
Her smile faded a bit and she gave a tiny sigh of true
regret, “Well, if your plans change, you can find us at the Pedigree Lounge