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Authors: Mike Smith

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The Mandate of Heaven

BOOK: The Mandate of Heaven
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The Mandate of Heaven

Book One of The Redivivus Trilogy

 

By Mike Smith

 

Copyright © 2016 Mike Smith

 

All rights reserved.  Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the author.

 

All rights reserved.

 

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious.  Any similarity to persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

 

Cover image copyright ©
2016
Wei

 

 

“O conscience, into what abyss of fears and horrors have you driven me!”

- John Milton, Paradise Lost.

Prologue

 

Planet Osiris, Pegasus System, 2514

 

It was a perfectly clear night with not a cloud in the sky; light from the twin moons illuminated every surface with their ethereal radiance.  The light seemed to crystallise everything, making it glow with a ghostly visage.  All was perfectly still, frozen in time, content to bathe in that silvery glow against a backdrop of stars that glittered like diamonds scattered across the heavens.

That tranquillity was shattered only moments later by a shadow detaching itself from a wall and stealthily making its way through the extensive gardens.  It drifted like a wraith, cloaked in darkness, silently drifting around exquisite rosebushes and flowerbeds.  Frequently it stopped, as if waiting for some response, before resuming its soundless passage.

Ears straining, listening for the tiniest whisper, Alex Grey silently cursed to himself.  How could it be such a beautifully clear night?  A time for illicit lovers to be frolicking under the canopy of stars.  Where were the tempestuous thunderclouds? The jagged bolts of lightning? The rolling echo of thunder?  Wasn’t that the traditional weather associated with a person in the act of committing a vile deed?  He was sure that he had read it somewhere before.  After all, what greater act of evil was there than to deliberately take the life of another?

Murder.

The very word sent a shudder through him, taking up residence in the pit of his stomach, leaving nothing behind but a hollow void.  Once again he questioned his reasons for being there that night, but it was far from the first time he had committed such heinous crimes.

At thirty-nine, a bastard from Deneb, having already spent a number of years in prison, he was in no rush to return there, but what other options were open to him? Having spent most of his life in the military, serving High-Lord William Stanton, he had eventually achieved the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, a meteoric rise for someone who had started life so low.  Even he would agree that his fall from grace had been equally spectacular. Convicted, stripped of his rank, dishonourably discharged and then sentenced to many years’ incarceration for his crimes.  Even that hadn’t been punishment enough for his persecutors, condemning him to spend the reminder of his time in isolation and utter darkness, for the murder of two fellow convicts.  They had thrown him into the deepest darkest pit of Hades that they could find, confident that he would never again see the light of day.

Now with a lifetime of nothing but regrets, little prospects and a burning desire to never return to that hell-hole that he had crawled out from, he had come to realise that he had nothing else to lose, and this job would pay well, extremely well, being more than enough for him to retire on.

At least he had his gaolers to thank for one thing.  Having spent years in pitch black, his night vision was exceptional and he could see his surroundings with perfect clarity—including the guard that was sleepily continuing his rounds, oblivious to his presence.

Nothing ever happened on Osiris.

As the seat of-power for High-Lord Hadley and his scion, it was one of the more heavily defended planets in the Imperium.  Surrounded with sensor-nets and quantum entanglement scanners, nothing larger than a moderately sized speck of dust could approach undetected. If any vessel with hostile intent did ever approach, the massive orbiting ion guns, interceptors and missiles, and beyond them the ground-based laser batteries, would shatter any warship thousands of kilometres distant, long before it could even become visible to the impressive residence and pristine gardens, that comprised High-Lord Hadley’s bastion of power.

Past the gardens, the vista opened up and he could finally see his ultimate destination which stood four storeys high and built of white stone in the classic style. A single central entrance on the first floor dominated the façade and from this, twin-curving staircases descended to ground level.  In a sea of gardens, hedgerows and lakes, the building was a citadel, standing tall, alone and totally inaccessible.

The protectors of High-Lord Hadley and his family had made the fatal mistake of putting all their faith and trust in such distant defences, thinking it impossible that any ship existed that could slip through undetected.  A ship very much like the one that he possessed—unique.  The only one in existence, well at least according to its one and only previous owner.

While Alex had arrived unnoticed, he very much doubted that his exit was going to be quite as easy.  So he altered direction, following the path that the guard had walked, whilst slipping the fusion pistol from his holster.

The pistol, like his ship, was extremely rare.  Both cost more than he would earn in a hundred lifetimes and therefore were highly coveted, assuming people knew that he possessed them. It went without saying that he hadn’t purchased either of them as both were simply on loan to him. However, with their previous owners now deceased it was definitely a long term lease, most likely to last a lifetime, regardless of how many minutes, hours, days or years that might be counted in.

Alex caught up with the guard just as he disappeared inside the residence, being fortunate to slip through the door as it was still closing, with barely inches to spare on either side.  He assumed that generations of the Hadley family were turning in their graves at the ease in which he had penetrated their residence.

As if somebody had simply left the door unlocked, awaiting his arrival.

Shaking his head at the absurd idea, Alex made no sound as he sneaked across the grand entrance, perfect planes of mosaic marble cooling beneath his feet.  Great shadows and dull gleams highlighted the magnificent pillars, balustrades and now dormant chandeliers, making the space appear like a jewelled cavern.  High-Lord Hadley’s ancestral home rivalled Olympus: grand, consummately styled and free from the remotest hint of decay.  It put his own, far more modest estate to shame, but even then he would not exchange them, for something about his own home soothed his tortured soul.

Darting past the pillars, he became lost in memories of long forgotten times; imagining hundreds of blazing lamps, the glitter of jewellery and crystal-cut wine glasses.  In the silence, he could easily remember the music of a Viennese waltz competing with the buzz of a hundred voices gossiping and laughing.

A lifetime ago since he’d last attended such a ball.

The occasional recollection of better times cured his frustration of constantly skulking around dilapidated space-stations, averting his eyes to the corruption and greed so clearly evident in the vice-dens that he was now forced to frequent, whilst mumbling obedient niceties to fools that would gladly pay him well to fix their own reckless mistakes.

At the very last minute, when it had become obvious that the guard hadn’t noticed his stealthy approach, Alex slipped the pistol back into his holster.  One death tonight in this house was more than enough.  The guard was a man, just like himself, getting paid to carry out a job.

He didn’t deserve to die for that.

The guard never heard a thing. The first hint of danger was when a strong forearm wrapped its way around his throat, cutting off his windpipe, blocking the flow of oxygen to his brain, while at the same time not allowing any hint of alarm to escape past his lips.  Alex kept up the pressure for a few moments longer after he felt the man lose consciousness.  Then quickly glancing around to ensure that his actions had remained unobserved, he dragged the now limp body into one of the adjoining darkened rooms.

He would be long gone, or dead, before the body was discovered.

The sudden chiming of a clock startled him.  It shattered the stillness of the room, once, twice it struck, the sound resonating with other clocks, growing to a crescendo of noise, then suddenly all fell silent.  Their chimes echoed down empty corridors, until even these were consumed by the silence of the ancient home.  He glanced at the chronometer on his wrist, cursing when he noticed that it was running ten minutes slow.  While he could plot a course that spanned star systems, travelling dozens of light-years in the time it took to blink, he couldn’t even find an accurate timepiece.  He had lost count of how many of them he had discarded over the years.

Already behind schedule, he quickly took note of his surroundings deciding upon the best route; the detailed map of the residence was one of the few documents that he had studied closely.  It had been several years since he had last been here, back then in an official capacity.  At the time he had never imagined that years later he would return, skulking around in the dead of night, like a thief.

It was only a few minutes later that Alex eased himself into the darkened apartments.  He swiftly made his way through the combined living room and dining room, making his way towards the spacious bedroom on the far side of the suite.  So late at night, or early in the morning, depending upon which way you looked at it, it was unlikely that the owner of the rooms was going to be awake.  Still, he quickly checked each room as he passed through, as he hadn’t survived for so long by making such elementary mistakes.

Stepping across the threshold of the bedroom, Alex paused, just inside the room.  His gaze was drawn to the open windows, where a warm, gentle breeze caused the curtains to billow inwards.  The gap caused by the curtains permitted moonlight to filter into the room, easily illuminating the massive bed—and the outline of a body, fast asleep, underneath the pristine white sheets.  Quickly glancing around to ensure that they were alone, Alex replaced his pistol, instead withdrawing a long knife.  The blade glistened in the moonlight, making the razor-sharp edge appear to glow.  Taking a deep breath, he took a step forward until he was standing next to the bed, looming over the slumbering occupant.  Raising the knife high over his head, Alex wavered a moment, before letting the blade fall.

He couldn’t do it.

While he had killed countless times before, he had never stabbed anybody in the back, always looking his antagonist in the eye, letting him, or her, know the reason for their death.  He just couldn’t murder another person while they slept.

Keeping a tight grip on the knife, he lowered himself until he was seated on the very edge of the bed, with his victim’s back to him.  Perhaps unconsciously his victim felt the dip in the bed as he rested his weight on it, and rolled over, coming face-to-face with him.

Alex’s breath caught in his throat, as the moonlight illuminated her face.  She was even more striking in person than the picture that he had been given.  For the picture of Lady Jessica, eldest daughter to High-Lord Hadley was an official one; her face had been haughty, displaying the self-important arrogance of her rank and position.  Yet sleep had softened those features, making her appear younger than her thirty years.  He had found himself spending an inordinate amount of time reading about her person, far more than mere curiosity permitted.

As he stared at her with rapt attention, he could not help himself, when, as if by its own accord, his hand slowly crept up to hover over her.  He extended one digit to stroke her face in a feather like caress, pushing back a lock of her shoulder length, chestnut brown hair, which had fallen across her brow, before continuing its slow journey down along her cheek.

Her skin felt like the softest silk, warm to the touch, a delicate rose that he might bruise if he dared press any harder.  She sighed softly in her sleep and seemed to lean further into his caress.  Alex wondered what she was dreaming, who she might be dreaming of, immediately jealous of any other man.  Continuing to stare at her, drinking in every facet of her face, he came to realise that this was the real reason that he had come.  To see this woman in person who had so bewitched him from her pictures, to touch her, to prove to himself that she was real, but now he was at an impasse—what to do now?

He looked at the knife, still clutched in his fist, his knuckles straining white with the force that he was exerting on the handle.  He had to consciously release his grip, telling himself, repeatedly, that he had no plans to harm her.  No matter how much he desperately needed the money.

Part of him knew that he had to leave.  Immediately and never to return.

But another part, long locked away and now struggling for freedom, had him rooted to the spot.  To never see her again, not to be able to touch her?  The thought was excruciating.  Anyway, shouldn’t he at least warn her?  After all, somebody had offered him an indecent amount of money to kill her, what was to stop this person trying again?

So instead of retreating, he rubbed his thumb across her ruby red lips, wondering what it would be like to kiss them and have her kiss him in return.  How would it feel?  He imagined that it would be like heaven.  She would then open those beautiful blue eyes, the colour of a sunlit sea, looking at him with such love and desire—

But there was no love and certainly no desire, in the depths of her eyes that he suddenly found himself staring into, only shock and surprise.

“Who are you?  What are you doing in my room?” she whispered hoarsely, in a voice still heavily laden with sleep.

Alex could only stare at her speechless, glancing quickly at the knife still in his hand, he lowered his arm so it was now out of sight.  He had no desire to frighten her any more than he already had, but what to reply?

He could hardly tell her the truth.

“Hush,” he whispered back, softly, reassuringly, the way one might sooth a restless child.  “Go back to sleep, you shouldn’t be awake yet.”

BOOK: The Mandate of Heaven
6.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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