Read Shadows of Golstar Online

Authors: Terrence Scott

Shadows of Golstar (7 page)



Sharné sat on a cushioned commode before a large
mirror framed in complex filigrees of gold and platinum. She was making final
preparations for the evening Service. The image in the mirror was striking. It
revealed a tall, tawny skinned, lithe young woman with auburn hair cascading to
her shoulders in waves.  She had light amber-green eyes, high cheekbones
and above a slightly pointed chin, a generous mouth with full lips. 

She stared intently into the mirror expressionless.
She was oblivious to the beautiful woman framed in its reflection. She pulled
back her hair severely and rolled the excess into a tight spiral on the back of
her head. She fastened it with numerous pins. Reaching to her side, from a
small table, Sharné retrieved the light, webbed platinum headpiece she was
required to wear during Service. A blue signet jewel sparkled at its center.
With practiced hands, she quickly donned the headpiece and made deft
adjustments until she was satisfied.    

Nodding to herself, she stood, straightened the plain
white under-dress she wore and walked over to one of her spacious walk-in
closets situated throughout her cavernous dressing room. She selected the
cream-colored robe of office, trimmed in gold and black. Sharné then carefully
stepped into the garment. She pulled the long, heavy garment up and onto her
shoulders. Methodically working from the waist up, she fastened each
gem-encrusted closure, ending with the final one at the robe’s high collar,
concealing her slender neck.  

Having completed this oft-repeated ritual, she turned
back to the mirror and checked to see that the headpiece had remained in
place.  A tiny frown creased her perfect brow, and she made one more
slight adjustment to the webbed cap in her hair. She finally looked at her appearance
in the mirror and nodded in satisfaction. She judged the image presentable.

As she readied to leave her rooms, she reflected on
her obligations of office. Sharné was not enthusiastic about evening Service
but as the Keeper of the Way, it was her obligation to lead the Inner
Congregation in the Litany of the Way. She had been performing this duty since
reaching her twenty-fifth birth year, almost three years before. It was not a
task that she particularly enjoyed, but one she dutifully performed, as had the
Keepers before her.

As she reflected on her many responsibilities, her
thoughts turned to the plan on which her father and Uncle Tal were now working.
She believed her father was right in his conclusions. His plan seemed to be the
only means to save their race and Way of life, but she was uneasy about the
part she would be required to play. She was told that she had a key
responsibility for the plan’s success and worried she wouldn’t live up to her
father’s expectations.

Thoughts such as these were unwelcome as they
distracted her from her more mundane duties. She took a deliberate, deep
calming breath, trying to set aside these off-putting thoughts. Until she knew
exactly what was to be expected of her, worrying about it was fruitless. She
redirected her mind to the immediate task at hand and made to exit her

The trip to her father’s receiving chambers would not
take long. Opening the gilded door of her palace suite, she entered into a
wide, extended hallway. As she walked towards its end, she couldn’t help but
glance up at the pictures filling the tall, wood-paneled walls lining the
hallway. The portraits were of members of the royal families dating back to the
Founding. As she progressed down the hallway, her pace began to slow. To the
left, near the end of the hallway and just before the two tall doors that
opened into the Hall of Greeting, a large portrait of a woman holding a baby
was hung.    

She stopped before it and gazed at the beautifully
rendered image. The woman in the portrait was dressed in formal robes of state.
The court artist captured the gentle smile, the mischievous twinkle in
sea-green eyes and shining cascades of auburn hair - her mother.
The baby in the portrait was Sharné at less
than a birth year old.  

Her mother had died nine years later. An accident, a
senseless accident had taken her mother away. They had been close. The loss of
her mother had been devastating to young Sharné and it had taken more than a
year for her to recover sufficiently to resume her place in palace life and
attend once more to her schooling.

Since then, she often came to the hallway to look at
the portrait and recollect those wonderful first years of her life when she and
her mother were together. The sight of this picture never ceased to move her
and somehow provide a small sense of comfort. It did so now. 

After a moment, her thoughts drifted to her father. He
had tried to bring her up on his own, but with his lofty position came great
responsibility. He spent as much time with her as he was able, though often she
found herself in the company of a governess for days on end. Fondly, she
remembered, when he was absent, he would send her regular messages telling her
about his day and assuring her she was always in his thoughts.  

In the beginning, when she was too young to read some
of the more difficult words but old enough to understand them, her governess
would read his notes to her. After she grew older and could read for herself,
she would look forward to each day when a messenger would arrive bearing a new
message from her father.  

He also frequently sent her presents to help make up
for his absences. And although they were quite nice and often extravagant, his
messages were what she treasured the most. She had saved every note and still,
on occasion, would reread some of them with fond recollection.

When he was able to spend time with her, her father
gave her all of his attention. Their time together, though often limited, was
precious to her nonetheless. She sighed. Truly, she had nothing to regret, yet
when she viewed her mother’s picture, she still felt a small ache of longing
for what might have been, what might have been had her mother lived.

She looked at the beautiful woman in the portrait. And
then, as she often did, Sharné reached out and reverently touched the bottom of
the gilded picture frame, closing her eyes for a moment in silent prayer. Until
we meet again in the Light, she thought. She straightened her shoulders, then
turned and resumed the path to her father’s receiving chambers. 

Along the way, she passed numerous dignitaries, palace
staff and military personnel, all striding with a purpose to some meeting, task
or assignment. The contrasts between their colorful uniforms often reminded her
of actors scurrying to the stage in preparation for some classic play about to
begin. She smiled at the activity. The palace’s beehive environment was a
familiar, comforting backdrop to her life. Its bustling activity was infectious
and without realizing it, she increased her own pace.

A short time later, ignoring the two hulking sentinels
standing rigidly at each side of the great, carved doors, she briskly walked
through the entrance of her father’s main receiving room. Pausing at the open
door to the negotiation room, she could hear the voices of her father and Uncle
Tal in quiet, earnest discussion. At first, she hesitated, not wanting to
disturb what seemed to be a serious exchange. However, then remembering the
lateness of the hour she entered, cleared her throat and announced in a ringing
voice, “The time for evening Service is fast approaching, and it is time for
you two old conspirators to change into proper attire.”

Her father looked up and smiled. “We will be with you
in a moment.” He hesitated, and then said, “Our plans are still coming
together. But soon, the preliminaries will be completed and your first
briefings will begin.  I trust that you are prepared?”

Her stomach fluttered with her father’s announcement,

“Soon, but exactly when I cannot say,” her father

“So, you cannot say how much more time may yet be
required before my preparation begins in earnest?”

“A few weeks at most,” he frowned at her phrasing and
the tone of her voice. He asked, “Is something wrong? You are harboring some

She responded quickly, “No, no, not at all. The news
is unexpected but welcome. I am proud you trust me to be the liaison, and I am
truly elated the time to carry out the plan is so near.”  

“Well, the plan still has a few minor details to be
resolved before we can finalize it, so the next phase for preparation cannot be
started for a little time yet, but as I said, the time to begin the real work
is rapidly approaching.”  

She redirected the conversation away from her, “So,
you have found the one we require?”

Her father was not fooled for a moment, but his smile
broadened. He said, “Yes. We have narrowed our search from a number of
excellent prospects down to one man who particularly stands out from the rest.
There is still a little more to do, but I am confident we have found the one we
have sought for so long.”

She said, “That is wonderful Father. I am so happy you
found him.”

“As am I, daughter,” he beamed. “Of course the final
verification of the candidate remains to be completed. However, we are quite
optimistic. A number of parameters have already been re-verified. At this
juncture, I do not believe we will have to select another.”

“That is good news, indeed.”

He nodded. “Rest assured you will be apprised of the
timetable as soon as these few final steps are completed. You have no need to
worry. You will have more than sufficient time to prepare.” He stood up. Talin
quickly followed.

“Thank you, Father; now that your good news has been
disseminated, there still remains the question of the lateness of the hour. The
Grand Patriarch has never been late to a Service.”

The Grand Patriarch chuckled, “One cannot argue with
the Keeper of the Way. We will leave for our quarters without further delay and
change into something more appropriate. Tal and I will meet you at the Hall of
Passage within the quarter hour.”

As Sharné made to leave, the Grand Patriarch turned
and reached across the table and took up a sheaf of documents resting in the
center and carefully tucked them under his arm. Gazing at his daughter’s
retreating back, he said quietly, “The time is finally drawing near. The
characters have been chosen. It is now time to finish fleshing out the plot
line.  Do you not agree?”

Talin kept his reservations to himself, knowing they would
not be well received.  Instead, he only nodded, “As you say, the
characters have been chosen.”  



Owens shrugged and said to Hec, “I’m not really sure
why, maybe it’s because there’s something familiar about you. I can’t put my
finger on it; perhaps it’s your irresistibly charming personality… Hell. I
honestly don’t know, but whatever is the case, I’ve decided to stick my neck
out. I won’t to report you to the authorities.”

“Thank you.”

Owens continued, “Instead, if you’re interested, I’m
still willing to take you with me. My business takes me to different planets
across Confederated Planets’ territory. They’re not all exotic, but I do travel
to some interesting locales, often in the fringe territories.

“That’s unexpectedly generous of you.”

“Well, it’s not going to be a free ride. I’ll expect
you to earn your passage. And if you agree, there are a few conditions

Hec remained quiet. 

“First, and most important, you will not reveal to anyone
else your true nature. You’ll continue to act as a class A6 general purpose AI
module when anyone is present other than me and I, in turn, will act
accordingly. Second, in fair exchange for passage, I’ll expect you to work for
me and when on duty maintain an employee/employer relationship. Third, when
you’re on your own time, I’ll expect you to take every precaution to prevent
discovery of your true nature when you access the public data and entertainment
grids. If that isn’t agreeable, I’ll go ahead and sell the Rialto through an
agent here on Genhome. Perhaps you can work out other arrangements with a new

“You won’t have to sell the Rialto. I accept all your
conditions, and thank you,” Hec quickly responded.  

“Okay, then it’s a deal,” Owens said briskly. “Our
launch window is getting close. The sooner we get off this planet, the better.
It’s not too soon for you to start earning your keep. I assume that you’re
capable of piloting my ship? It’s a decommissioned 203 series, class LRS.”

“Shouldn’t be a problem Boss,” Hec enthusiastically
answered. “I have all the standard hardware interfaces and some custom upgrades
that can handle anything up to delta class ships. I should be able to access
all the dumb peripherals; nav-comp; sys-comp; env-comp; sec-comp, the works.
Just plug me in and I’ll supply the brains to the outfit.”

Owens asked, “What about def-comp?”

Hec’s voice expressed surprise, “You’re packing
military hardware, as in weapons? Are they legal?”

“A pair of mounted T-Bird Mark III
, a convertible ‘98 Bergman rail gun, a half dozen Sunflower cluster
mines, and thrown in for good measure, military class A and C shields. 
They’re all legally registered. They may be a little outdated, but they’re
still serviceable.”

Hec whistled through the Rialto’s speaker, “I’m

“You should be,” Owens agreed. “Plus, I took all the
required training and actually passed the license requirements. I’ve kept up
with my weapons qualifications and license renewals since. Of course being an
ex-cop and pulling a few strings with a couple of ex-clients that have some
clout with the Defense Registry didn’t hurt either.” Owens grinned. “I’ve never
had to use them, but you never know in my line of work.”

“Then in answer to your question, as there’s not much
difference between the peripherals, the def-comp weapon’s interfaces shouldn’t
be a problem either,” Hec said.

“Great.” Owens signaled to the ship’s
soon-to-be-replaced AI, and then said, “Time to get started. I’ll have the
on-board AI get the Rialto stowed and powered down. Once it’s secure, I’ll
personally handle the transfer of your module to the ship’s control receptacle.
I’ll put the old AI on standby, and once we get back home, I’ll store it. If
you work out, I won’t need it.”

The transfer of the vehicle into the storage hold went
smoothly and soon Hec was connected to the ship’s control nerve center. The old
AI rested in its storage cradle next to the powered down Rialto. On verifying
that his interface connections to the ship were secure, Hec immediately got
down to business and began the systems check routines. After certifying that
all the ship’s systems were nominal, Hec then began to trade data with the
spaceport’s launch control AI. Soon, the
Sherlock Holmes
was ready for a
planet-side departure.  

Hec signaled over the ship’s PA that a “green-go”
launch was ten minutes away and counting down. Hearing Hec’s announcement,
Owens finished stowing the remainder of his gear in his quarters and headed for
the ship’s bridge.  

Crossing the final bulkhead and stepping over the
emergency lock’s threshold, Owens entered the bridge and headed for the
oversized pilot chair. He sat down and allowed the self-adjusting cushions to
conform to his large frame. Telltales on the wide console arcing in front of
him indicated the passive restraint system was already activated. He looked up
at the bank of holo-screens arrayed above the console. A bright patch-quilt of
colored readouts blinked and scrolled continuously. With a practiced eye, Owens
quickly verified that all ship systems were in the green.

“Well Hec,” Owens said, addressing the AI by name for
the first time. “It looks like you’ve everything under control.”

“Damn straight,” Hec growled. “By the way, your ship,
she’s a beauty. I’ve never seen a surplus military ship in such good condition
and in my past lines of work, I’ve seen a few. The modifications are really
first-class. The retrofit must have cost you plenty. Oh, seven minutes to
launch and counting,” Hec added as though an afterthought.

“Yeah, it wasn’t cheap.” Owens tapped the manual
confirmation pad that delegated control of the launch to Hec. Slip seventeen
then gave up its charge. Still connected to the mobile docking gantry, the
began its short five-minute trip to the launch apron.  On
reaching the edge of the apron, the gantry released the ship and began its trip
back to the slip. The ship was slowly lifted by the launch facility’s repeller
fields and was precisely positioned on the apron for launch. Owens experienced
a floating sensation as the powerful fields gently cradled his ship in final
preparation for launch.  

The countdown displayed on the main holo-screen
strobed down to 30 seconds. Owens watched as the launch countdown finally
ticked down to zero. The
Sherlock Holmes
was then pushed upward from its
pad by the repeller fields and immediately began its acceleration to escape
velocity. The inertia dampers strengthened to prevent Owens from feeling the
building G-forces. He could only tell by observing the holo-screen that the
ship had transitioned from planetary launch-assist to the ships own
normal-space drive.

“Escape velocity has been achieved,” Hec
“The conventional thrusters
are nominal. We are now heading out-of-system.
Subspace drive condensers are fully charged. Main engines are on-line
and ready to pulse. Everything looks good for switch–over.
We’re approaching the safe system egress
point for first subspace emersion. Course is calculated for nine subspace entry
points and our flight plan is on-file with the Space-Flight Agency. Our current
estimated flight duration is twelve standards. SFA has given us permission to
engage drive at the first jump point in twenty-three minutes. It looks like a
milk run to me Boss.”

“Good,” Owens replied, rising from his seat, “Set the
ship’s gravity to Lode normal. I had to wear this damn gravity compensator
on-planet, and I’ll be glad to take it off.” Owens felt the gravity increase.
“I’m heading back to my quarters now. I’m going to take a hot shower and then
try to catch up on some correspondence. You can activate the intra-ship
com-links, but unless there’s an emergency, I’ll expect some peace and quiet
until I give you the green.”

“You got it,” Hec said.

Owens left the bridge and headed for his
stateroom.  He walked down the main corridor and approached the entrance
to his quarters. The pressure door quietly slid into its casement as he
neared.  He paused at the threshold, looked around and sighed contentedly.
He entered and took a deep breath; the comforting aroma of oiled leather and
old polished wood greeted him. He smiled to himself. It was good to be home
again. He had furnished the stateroom with recreations of furniture from the
early 1900s of old Earth. He appreciated its solid construction and
craftsmanship of the ancient design.

Owens made his way toward the stateroom’s bathroom. He
adjusted the shower settings, and then cast aside the gravity harness, disrobed
and stepped into the enclosure. Wrapped in his robe minutes later, feeling more
relaxed than he had anytime on Genhome’s surface, he sat down in an antique oak
desk chair and swiveled around to face a matching roll-top desk with an ancient
keyboard resting on its scarred writing surface.  

He activated the communications console hidden in the
desk and a holo-screen popped into existence, hovering over the retracted
roll-top. Foregoing the verbal interface, he entered his personal code on the
keyboard. Message listings began to scroll across the screen. Well, he thought,
back to work, and began to scan his messages.


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