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Authors: Edward Willett

Lost In Translation

BOOK: Lost In Translation
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Table of Contents
 
 
 
Then, with no signal at all, the Hunters dropped from the trees.
 
Black as night against the bright green, blue, and yellow of the tents, they swept in a hundred-strong flock across the camp and back, firelances lacing the ground below with blood-red beams. Tents blossomed into orange flame that brought aliens naked and screaming into the light, hair ablaze, skin blackened, only to be cut in two by the next wave of Hunters. A half-dozen aliens close to the ship made it inside, but others had time for only one startled look, time to open their mouths wide, before the beams found them and sliced them apart.
In two passes, the Hunters utterly destroyed the camp and every alien in it; but with an ear-hurting whine, the sliver ship came to life, rising into the air, its lifters sending the smoke of the burning camp twisting and dancing across the carnage. One Hunter, more brave than wise, dove toward the ship, beam reaching out to caress the silvery skin, but the lance didn't even mark it. Other Hunters followed the first, but suddenly the ship's whine turned to fang-rattling thunder, white flame exploded underneath it and it rocketed into the sky, vanishing in a matter of seconds. In its fiery wake, the Hunter who had first attacked it fluttered to the ground like a burning leaf.
We won
, Jarrikk thought fiercely.
It's over!
Two days later, when the first S'sinn warships arrived and the fortification of Kikks'sarr began, he knew he'd been wrong.
It wasn't over at all.
It was just beginning.
Copyright © 2005 by Edward Willett.
All rights reserved.
 
Originally published in 2005 by Five Star Publishing.
 
 
DAW Book Collectors No. 1379
 
DAW Books are distributed by Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
 
All characters in this book are fictitious.
Any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental.
 
 
The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal, and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage the electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author's rights is appreciated.
eISBN : 978-1-101-09859-2
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
First Paperback Printing, October 2006
DAW TRADEMARK REGISTERED
U.S. PAT. OFF. AND FOREIGN COUNTRIES
—MARCA REGISTRADA
HECHO EN U.S.A.
 
 
S.A .

http://us.penguingroup.com

Prologue
Jarrikk watched the humans crossing the polished black basalt floor of the Great Hall of the Flock as closely as if they were prey, hearing their strange footsteps echoing back from the distant walls. Spidery red columns, studded with perches and platforms, soared to the haze-hidden roof, S'sinn clinging to them in dozens and hundreds. Jarrikk could feel his people's hatred of the humans beating down like desert sun, hot enough to turn the bitterness in his own hearts into bloodfury were he to allow it.
His crippled left wing ached, ached as it had not since the day of his injury, the pain throbbing in the withered flight muscles in his shoulder and chest and into his left arm. Humans! The plague of his childhood, the cancer that had eaten away the best parts of his life, the poison that now threatened the Commonwealth itself. He had first seen the ugly, flightless, four-limbed creatures twenty years past. War had followed. He would gladly have gone another twenty without seeing them again, but the Translators' Guild had called him to this duty.
These negotiations had almost not happened at all. Without Full Translation, they would be impossible. S'sinn Translators were few and far-flung among the Seven Races; at this time and this place, he was the only one available, though he had never Translated with humans before.
He wished that could have remained true, but his Oath bound him. He would do his duty.
If war came this time, it would not be
his
doing.
 
The giant hall whispered with the rustlings of the S'sinn, here stretching batlike wings, there yawning to display gleaming white fangs or grooming themselves with their ventral arms, but mostly just staring, staring with the blood-red eyes of a thousand nightmares.
The damp chill and near-choking scent of musk pervading the Hall of the Flock might have come from those same dark dreams, Kathryn Bircher thought, shivering in her sleeveless Translator's uniform. As might the sense of foreboding that gripped her. For a moment, she envied Ambassador Matthews and his aides, cut off from the seething sea of alien emotion she'd begun to feel the moment she stepped out of the shuttle. She knew the other five races of the Commonwealth considered humans and S'sinn primitive, almost barbaric, barely free of their animal pasts. Maybe that was why she could read the aliens so clearly, with very little effort, as clearly as she could read Matthews himself, his cold, passionless soul a spire of ice among the smoldering red fires of the aliens' hatred.
Or maybe it was because the last time she had been exposed to the raw emotions of the S'sinn, her world had shattered.
She stared ahead at the waiting S'sinn leaders on the small, circular dais, still impossibly far away. The fires of rage in this room could shatter a great deal more than just her world; they could shatter a thousand.
She wondered if anyone could stop them.
 
Jarrikk focused on the human Translator, sharpening his gaze to hunting mode. He could see every strand of her blond hair, every tiny imperfection in her pale skin, could even count the stitches that held the triangle-within-a-circle-within-a-square symbol of the Translators' Guild in place above the curve of her left breast. He raked his eyes over her figure from a distance of fifty spans, memorizing every claw's-breadth of her within the space of five of her steps. Within that time he knew how she walked, how she breathed, which hand she favored, and where her uniform chafed her. Within minutes, he would know her interior landscape just as perfectly.
He didn't even notice his claws gouging splinters from the golden wood of the dais.
 
Feeling that she carried not only her small metal Translator's case but also the weight of a thousand S'sinn, and the lead ball and chain of her own nightmares, Kathryn stumbled as she mounted the platform. Ambassador Matthews steadied her with a strong hand. It was all she could do to keep from flinching; she could shut out much of the hatred beating down on her from the S'sinn, but touch strengthened empathy a hundredfold, and for that moment of contact, his little candle of hatred burned brighter than all the red eyes of the S'sinn—and he held the fate of negotiations in his hands as much as she did.
She pulled free, took a deep breath, straightened, and looked around. The dais bore a black, glass-topped table and metal chairs for the humans and, for the S'sinn, the padded resting racks called
shikks,
which to Kathryn looked more like torture devices than comfortable body supports, even for creatures with two wings in addition to the normal complement of arms and legs, and bizarre musculature to match. Matthews and his aides sat at the table; a female S'sinn, already reclining on one of the shikks, watched them in silence. Three others stood just behind her.
Each S'sinn wore only a broad metal collar, marked with a sign. The female on the shikk, on whose red-gold collar a sapphire-studded lightning bolt slashed across a spiral of rubies, would be Akkanndikk, the Supreme Flight Leader. The other two, male and female, would be her Left Wing and Right Wing, her aides and bodyguards. On their copper collars, dull red stones picked out the spiral, minus the lightning bolt. As Matthews sat down, they spread their arms and their wings, revealing the insignia repeated in metallic red on the black, leathery membrane.
The fourth S'sinn also unfolded his arms and wings in greeting, but though his arms moved normally, only his right wing extended fully; the left opened only halfway, and Kathryn glimpsed lurid purple scars zigzagging across it. On his silver collar and on his one good wing gleamed a triangle inside a circle inside a square.
Translator.
Kathryn felt him trying to read her empathically, and blocked frantically, instinctively, though the effort made her head throb. By Guild etiquette that was unforgivably rude, but she couldn't help it. Facing the S'sinn Translator, all she could think of was the first time she'd seen a S'sinn this close, and the memory threatened to send her screaming from the room.
Yet now she had to get even closer. Now, she had to Link.
 
As the human blocked his polite probe, Jarrikk growled deep in his throat.
How dare she!
What it had cost him to make the effort, she could never know . . .
Except she would know, in a moment. His anger dimmed slightly, damped by curiosity. Why block the initial contact when the deeper contact was heartbeats away? Did she fear it as much as he? Was fear the sharp smell that mingled with the humans' strange salty stench?
Fear or not, the Link could not be avoided. They were sworn to Translate, and that meant they must Link.
It seemed the human recognized that fact as well as he; she stepped to the center of the dais, set her case on the floor, opened it, and took out the injector, a small glass cylinder with an absurdly tiny needle.
Is human skin really so thin?
Jarrikk wondered. He stepped forward with his own case, removed the much larger metal injector, and without giving himself time to think, drove it into his left arm.
As the warm tingling of the Programming spread through his blood, he looked at the human. She still held her tiny syringe in trembling hands, staring at it as though it might explode, and the sharp scent was strong in the thin film of moisture that had suddenly covered her skin; but then her strange blue eyes came up to meet his gaze, and with a jerky, ungraceful motion, she stabbed the little needle into her arm. The syringe still shook in her hand as she returned it to her case.
BOOK: Lost In Translation
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