Read Cobra Guardian: Cobra War: Book Two Online

Authors: Timothy Zahn

Tags: #Space warfare, #Space Opera, #General, #Science Fiction, #Adventure, #Fiction

Cobra Guardian: Cobra War: Book Two

BOOK: Cobra Guardian: Cobra War: Book Two
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COBRA GUARDIAN

COBRA WAR, BOOK TWO

TIMOTHY ZAHN

BAEN BOOKS by TIMOTHY ZAHN

Blackcollar: The Judas Solution

Blackcollar

(contains
The Blackcollar
and

Blackcollar: The Backlash Mission
)

The Cobra Trilogy

(contains
Cobra, Cobra Strike,
and
Cobra Bargain
)

cobra war

Cobra Alliance

Cobra Guardian

Cobra Gamble

Cobra Guardian

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.

Copyright © 2011 by Timothy Zahn

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.

A Baen Books Original

Baen Publishing Enterprises

P.O. Box 1403

Riverdale, NY 10471

www.baen.com

ISBN: 978-1-4391-3406-1

Cover art by David Mattingly

First printing, January 2011

Distributed by Simon & Schuster

1230 Avenue of the Americas

New York, NY 10020

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Zahn, Timothy.

Cobra guardian / Timothy Zahn.

      
p. cm. --(Cobra war ; bk. 2)

ISBN 978-1-4391-3406-1 (hc)

1.Space warfare--Fiction.I. Title.

PS3576.A33C568 2011

813'.54--dc22

                                                           
2010042440

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Pages by Joy Freeman (www.pagesbyjoy.com)

Printed in the United States of America

Dedication

To the men and women of the

United States Armed Forces.

Thank you for your service.

Chapter One

The first indication that it was going to be one of those days was when the cooker burned the leftover pizza Lorne Broom had planned to have for breakfast.

"Oh, for--" he choked off the curse before it could get out past his throat, old habits of propriety kicking in as he glared at the cooker. This was the third time this month the stupid thing had gone gunnybags on him, and with everything else weighing on his shoulders he had precious little patience left for balky appliances.

Or, better even than a curse, he could deal with the balky cooker once and for all. A single, full-power fingertip laser blast into the cooker's core would turn the thing into a conversation-piece paperweight. A shot with his arcthrower would send the cooker beyond paperweight status into a slagged heap that even the revivalist Earth artist Salvador Dali would have been proud of. Even better, a blast from his antiarmor laser--

Lorne took a deep breath, forcing down the surge of frustration. A blast from his antiarmor laser would not only blow a hole through the cooker, but also through the kitchen wall, the wall behind that, and possibly the wall beyond that into the building corridor. At that point, he could say good-bye not only to the cooker, but to his damage deposit as well.

With a sigh, he unloaded the burned pizza and pushed the cooker back into its niche at the back of the counter. The depressing fact was that Cobra salaries had been on a steady downward slide for the past two years, and even with the extra hazard pay he got out here at the edge of Aventine's expansion area, he simply couldn't afford to dump uncooperative appliances. Not when there was still a chance they could be repaired.

Unfortunately, he couldn't afford to dump a ruined meal, either.

He picked away as much of the blackened cheese as he could without giving up on the meal entirely. Then, taking the plate over to the breakfast nook, he keyed his computer for the news feed and sat down to eat.

The news, as usual, was right up there with the quality of his meal. The late-year election season was heating up, and puff ads by incumbents and hopefuls were starting to crowd out the usual selection of business and service commercials. Viminal, the latest addition to the Cobra Worlds, announced that its population had just passed the twenty-two thousand mark, and Governor Conzjuaraz was taking the opportunity to remind Aventinians that there was a world's worth of good land out there going cheap.

And right at the end, almost as an afterthought, came a report that there'd been another spine leopard attack at the edge of a settlement out past Mayring in Willaway Province. Five of the big predators had been involved, killing three settlers and injuring eight others. The local Cobras were already on the hunt in hopes of catching and killing the family-pack before it struck again.

The report was only an hour old, but already two of Aventine's most outspoken politicians had jumped on it with their usual and predictable stances as the news switched over into commentary. Governor Ellen Hoffman had gotten on record first, pointing to the incident as proof that the government needed to budget more money for Cobra recruitment and training. Senior Governor Tomo Treakness was right behind her, sympathizing with the victims while at the same time managing to imply it was partially their fault for moving out into the planet's wilderness areas in the first place instead of filling up the cities and farms the way good sociable people were apparently supposed to. He also made it clear that he would vigorously oppose pouring more money into the MacDonald and Sun Centers, declaring that the incident proved that an expansion of the Cobra program wasn't the solution.

By the time Lorne finally turned off the feed in disgust, the worst taste in his mouth was no longer that of burned pizza.

He loaded the dishes in the washer for later, giving the cooker a baleful look as he did so and wondering once again how long he could keep his shaky finances a secret from the rest of his family. His brother Merrick, who had been assigned to the small Cobra contingent in Capitalia, was paid even less than Lorne was, but the Cobra barracks attached to the MacDonald Center had rooms that went for a quarter of the price of even Lorne's miniscule apartment. Besides that, Merrick had parents and grandparents right there in the city with him, whose houses he could go to for meals on a regular basis. Especially since with his gourmet skills he could bargain for those meals with the offer to cook them.

Someday, Lorne vowed to himself, he really should learn how to cook something.

He was fastening his tunic and heading for the door when his comm buzzed. He pulled it out, frowning at the ID as he keyed it on. What in the Worlds was Commandant Yoshio Ishikuma calling for when Lorne would be there in another fifteen minutes? Keying it on, he held it to his ear. "Broom."

"You left your apartment yet?" Ishikuma asked.

"Just heading out now," Lorne assured him.

"Well, when you hit the door, break left instead of right," Ishikuma said. "There's an aircar coming in from the Dome to get you."

Lorne felt his stomach close into a hard knot around his breakfast. "What's happened?"

"No idea," Ishikuma said. "But they're not coming with an armed guard, so whatever you've been doing in your off-hours you can relax about."

"Like we actually have any off-hours," Lorne said, trying to sound his usual flippant self even as his stomach tightened another couple of turns. Had something happened to his father or sister on Caelian? On that hell-world, death could come in a splintered heartbeat, and from any of a hundred different directions.

Or could someone have found out where Lorne's mother and Merrick had disappeared to?

"Just remember that it could always be worse," Ishikuma said. "You could be on burial duty in Hunter's Crossing."

"Yes, I heard about that," Lorne said grimly. "We sending anyone to help in the hunt?"

"So far, they haven't asked," Ishikuma said. "But it might not matter. If Willaway is getting an uptick in spiny activity, we could see the same thing here by the end of next week. So whatever the fancy desks in Capitalia want with you, close it down fast and get your tail back out here."

"Don't worry," Lorne promised. He pulled open the building's front door and turned left toward the airfield eight blocks away. "By the way, if they're calling me in to tell me they want to shower us with new funding, how much do we want?"

"Chin-deep ought to do it," Ishikuma said. "No need to be greedy."

"Chin-deep it is," Lorne agreed. "See you soon."

"Just watch your back," Ishikuma warned. "These days, every Cobra in the Worlds has a bull's-eye tattooed there."

"Understood," Lorne said. "I'll be back as soon as I can." He keyed off the comm and picked up his pace.

It was definitely going to be one of those days.

* * *

The aircar waiting on the field had Directorate markings on it, which meant the vehicle and its driver were attached to the fifteen most powerful people in the Cobra Worlds. Given the violent political polarizations currently swirling around those fifteen people, Lorne expected the driver to present as neutral and nonaligned an attitude as it was possible for a human being to achieve.

Sure enough, the other greeted Lorne with exactly the correct degree of cool courtesy as he ushered him into the passenger section. He quickly and efficiently got the vehicle into the air, and then spent the next two and a half hours saying absolutely nothing.

They put down in the private landing terrace behind the Dome, the two-decades-old governmental building that had been named after the much larger and more dramatic structure in the main governmental center of the distant Dominion of Man. Lorne had always thought the name here to be more than a little pretentious, given that the Dominion held sway over seventy worlds--possibly more than that now--while the Cobra Worlds numbered a paltry and underdeveloped five.

Still, it could have been worse. They could have named the center after one of the previous governor-generals, very few of whom had been worth naming anything significant after. At least, not as Lorne read his family's history.

The driver had called ahead, and there was a young woman with a red-and-white shoulder band waiting when Lorne emerged from the aircar. "Cobra Lorne Broom?" she asked briskly.

"Yes," Lorne confirmed, slightly taken aback by her open face and genuinely pleasant smile. Either her job was secure enough that she didn't have to worry about keeping her head below the political firestorms, or else she hadn't been at the Dome long enough to have learned the driver's studied caution and neutrality.

"Welcome to the Dome," she said, holding out her hand. "I'm Nissa Gendreves, secondary assistant to Governor-General Chintawa."

"Nice to meet you," Lorne said, taking her hand in a brief handshake. The woman had a good, firm grip. "What exactly does a secondary assistant do?"

"All the unpaid, unglamorous, and dirty jobs no one else wants," she said straightforwardly and unapologetically, her friendly smile going a little dry. "Though I think that in this particular case someone must have slipped up." She gestured to a door behind her, flanked by two Cobras in semidress uniforms. "If you'll follow me, the governor-general is waiting."

She led the way through the door into a nicely appointed hallway filled with other governmental types. The older ones--the governors, syndics, and top bureaucrats--mostly moved at sedate walks, as befit their noble status and venerable ages. Those of Nissa's age or slightly older moved much faster on apparently less dignified errands. Most of the latter group, Lorne noted, had assistant or aide shoulder bands of various colors. "What did you mean that someone must have slipped up?" he asked as they headed toward the center of the building.

"I meant that acting as your escort is hardly one of the dirty jobs," Nissa said. "You're something of a celebrity, you know. Or at least your family is."

"Was," Lorne corrected. "Not so much anymore."

"Perhaps, but they certainly were once," Nissa conceded. "I read about your mother when I was a little girl, the first female Cobra and all. Even if the Qasaman mission didn't come out the way everyone hoped, she was still the first woman to step up and take the challenge. That makes her someone special."

"I've always thought so," Lorne murmured, wondering what Nissa would say if he told her that the official history of the Qasaman mission was pretty much a complete and bald-faced fabrication. Wondered what her response would be if he told her that his mother had actually succeeded in every damn thing they'd sent her to Qasama to accomplish, and a whole lot more.

But it wasn't worth the effort. Nissa was young and idealistic, and that sort of revelation would either upset her or simply convince her that Lorne was a biased and untrustworthy observer. Nissa had passed through the Worlds' school system, and as he himself had learned, that system never let truth get in the way of the official line. "So what am I doing here?" he asked instead.

"I really don't know," she said. "But Governor-General Chintawa seemed very anxious to see you."

"So it's just the governor-general who's waiting for me?" Lorne probed gently.

BOOK: Cobra Guardian: Cobra War: Book Two
3.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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