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Authors: William H. Keith

Battlemind

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WARSTRIDER

BATTLEMIND — 06

WILLIAM H. KEITH, JR.

AVON BOOKS  •  NEW YORK

If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as "unsold and destroyed" to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this "stripped book."

 

WARSTRIDER: BATTLEMIND is an original publication of Avon Books. This work has never before appeared in hook form. This work is a novel. Any similarity to actual persons or events is purely coincidental.

 

AVON BOOKS

A division of

The Hearst Corporation

1350 Avenue of the Americas

New York. New York 10019

 

Copyright © 1996 by William H. Keith.Jr.

Cover art by Dorian Vallejo

Published by arrangement with the author

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 96-96031

ISBN: 0-380-77969-2

 

All rights reserved, which includes the right to reproduce this hook or portions thereof in any form whatsoever except as provided by the U.S. Copyright Law, For information address The Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency. 548 Broadway. #5H. New York. New York 10012

 

First AvoNova Printing: August 1996

 

AVONOVA TRADEMARK REG. U.S. PAT. OFF. AND IN OTHER COUNTRIES, MARC A REGISTRADA, HECHO EN U.S.A.

 

Printed in the U.S.A.

 

RA    10  9  8  7  6  5  4  3  2  1

Contents

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

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Epilogue

TERMINOLOGY AND GLOSSARY

Japanese Words and Phrases

Prologue

The associative known as Sholai was the first to notice the Mailing Web.

One moment, there was only empty space, ablaze with thick-scattered stars and the hazy light-river of the Great Circle, with Tovan and Doval agleam like bright, close-set eyes, with Lakah’vnyu showing a slender crescent embracing the night glow of the vast Gr’tak cities. The next moment
it
was there, dropping out of nothingness, a slim, egg-smooth complexity of organic forms, colored an impenetrable and light-drinking black.

Sholai, for this cycle at least, was nine-in-one, two greaters, three lessers, two receivers, one deeper, and an artificial, the union of nine giving its associative a shared intelligence level of well over two thousand. It was currently patrolling a sector of space along the outskirts of the Doval-Tovan system’s primary ice belt, maintaining the old watch for comets or asteroids perturbed by the system’s dim, distant third member, bodies of a type that more than once in the Associative’s long, difficult history had bombarded the homeworld of Lakah’vnyu, in many cases wiping it nearly clean of life, in other, more recent catastrophes causing damage enough to blast newly risen civilizations back into unjoined barbarism. This was why Sholai’s motion detectors were set at full spread and receptivity, watching, waiting for anything on an orbital path that might eventually pose a threat to the Family.

Indeed, the ancient threat posed by the system’s numerous cometfalls was the primary driving force that had taken the Family into space in the first place, a step that had led, after another thousand circuits of Lakah’vnyu about Doval-Tovan, to the stars. Since the Gr’tak had finally achieved the age-old dream of spaceflight three hundred generations before, civilization had not fallen once, and all within the multiple collectives felt more secure knowing that even if a ten-kilometer chunk of ice did make it past Sholai and its share-companions, the Family was now firmly grounded not in one coastal swamp, but in a thousand.

The Family would survive.…

The target Sholai was tracking now was disturbing, however. It was certain that the object had not been there a moment before… and its surface was reflecting radar and laser energies in such a way as to suggest a smooth and sculpted outer surface, like polished ice, rather than the broken and rubble-strewn surface of a typical comet. The target was almost certainly artificial.

In size, the thing rivaled the largest of the Gr’tak space colonies, nearly eight
eli
long and massing well over three million
g’shah.
Something that large should have registered on Sholai’s instrumentation long before it had actually noted the thing’s presence, no matter how black it was. As Sholai considered this paradox, it arrived at the only conclusion possible, that the thing really had appeared out of nowhere… or, rather, that it had appeared out of someplace other than the normal continuum of time and three-dimensional space.

Sholai’s people had never developed a means of traveling faster than the speed of light—a velocity that appeared to be an absolute limiting factor in space travel. The fact that voyages to the stars required centuries at half of that speed, however, meant little to a species possessing immortality.

The Lakah’vnyud Cooperative of Sciences had long speculated about the possibility of circumventing the speed of light. Neither Sholai nor any of the associatives its individuals maintained membership in had ever explored the Science Cooperative’s discussions, but it was aware that the concept was at least theoretically possible… as it was aware of the theoretical possibility that there were other intelligences elsewhere in the universe. Sholai’s artificial engaged the library memory. Columns of text scrolled down the display screen in the pitch-verbalization script of the Family’s principal scientific language.

No… this object, whatever it was, was like nothing ever encountered or manufactured by the Family. Sholai had its artificial transmit a full report on everything noted so far. At this distance from Lakah’vnyu, the signal would take two hours to get there.

The object, meanwhile, was doing a most uncometlike thing. It was accelerating,
hard,
boosting at an incredible three hundred gravities toward the inner system. Sholai fired its thrusters, seeking to bring its ship into an intercept orbit, but in seconds the stranger had passed sunsward of it, still accelerating, moving too fast now to catch.

Still transmitting, Sholai turned its ship and decelerated to kill its momentum and drop it into a sunsward vector, trying to follow the stranger anyway. The alien spacecraft—that
had
to be what it was—had passed twelve thousand
eli
distant, yet the magnetic fields that seemed to be a byproduct of its propulsion system had registered hundreds of
gan.
And now, something strange was happening to the alien ship.…

Chapter 1

 

Humankind has suffered a long and sometimes humiliating chain of displacements throughout the course of history. It is, perhaps, to his credit that he has continued pressing out, seeking to explore the universe about him, despite these repeated blows to his pride. In the sixteenth century, the Copernican Revolution started things rolling with the demonstration that Earth was not the center of the universe. In the early twentieth century, Shapley showed that Earth’s solar system was not even located

as had been assumed from the more
or less even distribution of the Milky Way across the sky

at the center of the Galaxy, but was instead positioned off in the suburbs, some 25,000 light years from the core.
Contact with non-human intelligences

the Naga, in particular, in their original, if mistakenly presumed, guise as “xenophobes” bent on destroying Man

completed the toppling of humanity from its pedestal of arrogance. There were creatures

things

abroad in this our Galaxy capable of eradicating Mankind completely… and of not even being aware that they had done so.


The Human Perspective

P
ROFESSOR
D
WIGHT
E
VERETT
M
ARTIN

C.E
. 2566

The Great Annihilator dominated a sky crowded with suns and light. It hung suspended within the cavern of stars and thronging nebulae, an immense, ragged-rimmed pancake of incandescent gas, a tight-packed spiral of star stuff grinding into ultimate and utter destruction as it whirled in toward the intensely hot, dazzling core of light at the center.

It doesn’t
look
black,
Captain Kara Hagan thought with a wry flash of irreverence. But, of course, the black hole itself, squirreled away at the center of that sweeping, in-spiraling accretion disk, was invisible at this distance of some hundreds of light years, lost in the glare spilling from the annihilation of suns. So vast was the scale of that accretion disk that its outer arms appeared motionless; and even toward the center, where friction and radiation drove the temperature of the in-falling mass into blue-white fury more dazzling than a lightning stroke, Kara could only just make out the lazy drift of vast clots of gas and dust and starcore debris. Like searchlights, actinic, blue-white beams cast ghostly pillars of hazy radiance light years out from the black hole’s poles. The energies represented by those ghostly beams, Kara knew, were awesome. An analysis of their light would indicate the unmistakable 511-keV signature of positronic annihilation, the telltale gamma-ray deathscream of anti-electrons shrieking into oblivion as they plowed through an electron sea.

Elsewhere, Heaven was Cold, unwinking flame. Stars thronged in unnumbered hosts across a vast and gently curving wall shot through with twisted filaments of gas and knotted, tangled nebulae—a vast cavern walled with stars and ringed by multihued clouds of molecular gas. Within, space itself seemed to glow with the harsh illumination of ionizing radiations that would have reduced any unprotected and merely human body to a charred cinder in the blink of an eye. Kara, however, was well protected at the moment, her body the egg-smooth, night-black ovoid of one of the new Naga-grown warstriders in its space-traversing mode, hurtling through the void at the Galactic center.

It would be so easy to lose all sense of scale here,
she thought. Galactic surveys made from afar indicated that this cavern at the Galaxy’s heart measured a thousand light years across… but there was no way the human eye or mind could comprehend such distances. That wall of glowing suns, that band of red and blue and silver-tinged nebulae could be a few kilometers distant, so far as her senses were concerned.

There were times when human senses, even augmented by sophisticated electronics and bioprostheses, were laughably inadequate.

She couldn’t see them, but scattered out to either side across a crescent five hundred kilometers across, forty-seven other Mark XC Black Falcon warstriders were pacing her, matched perfectly to her course and speed. Designated as First Company, the Black Phantoms, of the First Battalion, First Confederation Rangers, they were organized into four squadrons of twelve, the first under Kara’s direct command, the other three commanded by lieutenants. Deployed as a reconnaissance patrol, they were moving swiftly and in near-invisible stealth, the nanotechnic outer layers of their hulls set to absorb every photon of radiation, whether at radio, radar, visible light, or gamma-ray wavelengths, rather than allowing even a flicker of reflection to give them away. Commo chatter had been subdued since they’d entered this region, not so much from fear of the enemy overhearing—the new commo modes made eavesdropping impossible—as because of the oppressive scale of the space they were traversing.

“My God in heaven,”
she heard someone say over the tactical link. Her comm control program identified the speaker as Sergeant Deke Kemperer, in Second Squadron.

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