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Authors: Robert Cham Gilman

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The Rebel of Rhada

BOOK: The Rebel of Rhada
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THE REBEL OF RHADA
Robert Cham Gilman

 

The second book in the Rhada series

For Ann and Trey, who have been Sharane and John Carter

 

Copyright © 1968 by Robert Cham Gilman

All rights reserved. First edition

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 68-13369

 

1

 

--dielectric interphasers stabilize primary spatiotemporal valences, making access to the engine cores unnecessary-- and extremely hazardous. Core servicing will be performed
only
by qualified personnel in Imperial Naval Starship Facilities (Class A7 or above). However, since the estimated service life of the stellar drive unit has been computed to be 10
6
Earth Standard Years, it is extremely unlikely-- --speed of star class vessels may be varied from 0 kps (hovering atmospheric flight) to 10
9
kps (intersystem transit). Crew training has been simplified to an extreme--

Golden Age fragments found at Station One, Astraris

 

‘Ware the spirit of sin that lives within
The strength of the god that holds the rod
In the ship that can fly
To the end of the sky
Never seek WHY or you will DIE!

Chant from the
Book of Warls,
Interregnal period

 

Though our knowledge is faulty and our resources meager, yet, brothers, the starships live and they are our trust. What the ignorant call sin men once called science, and we will recover it one day for all mankind.

Attributed to Emeric of Rhada, Grand Master of Navigators, early Second Stellar Empire

 

The starship was ancient: no one knew how ancient, yet the mysterious force magically generated within the core drove it across the starry darkness with immense speed.

The interior of the great vessel was close and smoky, for the only light came from gymballed lamps and torches. These were kept low, but they still slowly fouled the air. Once there had been light without fire in the thousand-meter-long hulls, but the life-support systems--which were not one with the magical force that drove the ships--had failed time out of mind. Deep in the hull, near the keel, the chambers housing the inoperative systems were stables for the muttering war mares.

These animals were accustomed to star travel, and the small detachment of Rhad warmen aboard tended them well. But they complained and were restless in their confinement.

Forward, in that part of the starship forbidden to any but consecrated Navigators, two novices and the priest chanted the position and queried the ship’s computers. This was ritual. At intervals of six Standard Hours, each member of the Order of Navigators, if he was in space, must sing his calculations. At this moment, across the galaxy, separated by parsecs of emptiness, perhaps a thousand Navigators, all who were traveling at a given moment in time, were busy with positions and agreements.

The starship fled through a strange environment that was space become fluid time. Though the men who controlled its movements did so by rote, not understanding what they did or why, the vessel moved at many times the speed of light, and this caused strange effects: the stars ahead clustered in a pulsing violet ellipsoid. Those behind were deep red. This was The Mystery of the Red Shift. Since the founding of the Order, Navigators had composed canticles and convened synods to ponder this miracle. But no learned priest had ever explained it.

On the control deck, position was sung to completion and compared with the archaically phrased information given by the ship. The Navigators made the sign of the Star in thanksgiving for an agreement with the ship, and the ritual came to an end. The watch could now change hands.

The priest Kalin surrendered his place to Brother John, the senior of the two novices, and with a last glimpse at the violet stars ahead and the red stars astern, left the control deck.

The priest was a young man, his figure running a little to plumpness under his robes and mail; but his face had the clear, rather melancholy features of the noble house of Rhad, for he was blood cousin as well as bond-priest and Navigator to Kier, the warleader of Rhada.

He walked familiarly through the maze of companionways toward the living spaces of the ship. Occasionally, his weapons would strike the walls, and they would ring like bells, for they were fashioned of god-metal. It was his right as a member of the ruling family of the Rhadan worlds. Other men might carry implements of base iron, but not the Rhad.

Kalin was thinking of the starship’s destination-- Earth, and the imperial city of Nyor. Though Kalin was noble, he had never seen the fabled city between the two rivers on the brow of Tel-Manhat. The priest’s youth had been spent on Astraris and his young manhood on Algol Two, in the Theocracy, where the Navigators’ cloister had stood for a thousand years.

His duties after ordination had taken him to a half dozen of the Rim worlds, but he had never seen the Empire’s Inner Marches. He looked forward to Earth with excitement.

He considered himself favored to have been bonded to his cousin Kier. Navigators had no nationality, of course. This was the will of God. But even the beatified Emeric had never forgotten that he was once a noble Rhad.

Kalin, young as he was, had already served rulers whose service he was pleased to leave. To be bonded to his cousin Kier of Rhada was a far greater piece of luck than he had dared to wish for. Yet here he was, Navigator in command of a Rhadan starship, and best of all, headed for Imperial Earth, where his cousin had been summoned by no less a personage than Torquas Primus, Galacton, King of the Universe, Protector of the Faith, Defender of the Inner and Outer Marches, Commander of the Starfleets, and who could remember what other magnificent titles.

As he drew near the living spaces now, he encountered groups of warmen lounging, gaming, or caring for their weapons. And as he passed, they stood to salute him--not with the sign of the Star due a priest-Navigator, but with the military salute given only to members of the ruling house of Rhada.

He should have reproached them for lack of piety, but he could not resist the urge to be pleased at their recognition of his family rank. He sighed and told himself that he would have to allot himself a proper penance for his pride --five hundred logarithms (he hated reciting logarithms) or perhaps fifty Ave Stellas.

In the starkly bare and cavernous compartment near the center of the ship, Kier, warleader of Rhada, was also thinking of Imperial Earth, Torquas Primus, and pride.

The warleader was a young man, too, hardly months older than his cousin the priest-Navigator, but he seemed older.

He was tall, slender, with the muscular figure of a man trained from infancy for war. His hair was dark and cropped to be worn beneath a helmet. His polished mail gleamed in the lamplight, and his sword and weapons, though plain, were well cared for. Only the fur edging on his cape marked his rank, for he was a son of Aaron the Devil, an austere man who taught his son that wealth was land and fighting men, not fine harness.

Kier had spent his cadetship in the service of Willim of Astraris, a Rhad, but no pamperer of royal cubs for all of that. A second cousin of old Aaron, Willim held Astraris

and Gonlan, the two outer worlds of the Rhadan Palatinate. Under his guidance, young Kier had learned to read and write, to study some history and the old legends from his own warlock, and to fight.

He had learned first to handle his weapons and a war horse, then to lead small formations of warmen, and finally--when Willim thought proper--to lead armies as large as five and six thousand men. When all this was done, Kier’s education was considered complete, and he was returned to his father’s court. And none too soon, for Aaron, spent with the constant warfare of the Rim worlds, died shortly thereafter and left the kingship of the Palatinate to Kier.

The Palatinate was a turbulent confederation of ten planets circling four Rim stars. Kier spent his first years of kingship fighting rebellious nobles, then hopeful invaders from the Inner Marches, and finally the enemies of Glamiss of Vyka, the man who became the first to hold the title of Galacton.

Interspersed with these legitimate battles, Kier fought enough skirmishes with the authorities of the Empire over taxes and land rights to earn the nickname of Rebel.

Yet the Rhadans were generally loyal to the Second Empire; indeed they had helped to establish it. Kier had led a division of mixed Rhadans and Astrari in Glamiss’s army at the Battle of Karma, and he had stood at the Emperor’s right hand when Casso the Pretender met the ax.

At twenty-three, Kier had been leader of his people for five years. There were eighteen million Rhadans thinly holding their ten worlds. Of necessity life was hard in the Palatinate, and all the men (and most of the women, too) were warriors. The young ruler must therefore be severe, and so he was by heredity and training. But in the company of friends, the forbidding manner of the professional war-man vanished, to be replaced by a warm and generous charm. His warmen, accustomed to sharing their hardships with him, were loyal. It was they who called him The Rebel, because though he served the House of Vyka as all the star kings were required to do, he would defy all the Empire to protect his own.

In spite of this, Kier considered himself a loyal captain of the Vykan Emperors.

At this moment, however, his loyalty seemed in doubt. The great noble whom the priest Kalin thought of as Torquas Primus, Galacton, King of the Universe, and so on, was, in fact, a twelve-year-old boy surrounded by plunderers. He was a sprig of the old oak, Glamiss the Magnificent, but showed no promise of growing into half the man his father had been--or, for that matter, of growing up at all.

In the three years since the Emperor Glamiss’s death in some out-world brawl, the court favorites and the Empress-Consort, wife of the boy ruler, had fastened onto him. They seemed set on milking the vassal worlds of everything of value, and the Rim worlds seethed with revolt.

It seemed to Kier that Imperial oppression and greed would soon, if allowed to continue, destroy Glamiss’s work and tumble the Second Stellar Empire into a black age

more terrible than the unnumbered centuries that had followed the collapse of the First.

The Empress-Consort Mariana and her warleader, Landro, had come to know Kier’s opinions, it seemed.

Kier sat on the high seat and stared in moody silence at the shadowy hall hung with ornamental war gear. He was alone in the great compartment except for Gret, the creature who had been his father’s fool.

Gret was a Vulk, a member of the only other intelligent race men had ever found in all the vast reaches of space. Humanoid, small of stature, with an eyeless face and an immense head, he resembled nothing in all the experience of men but what he was--a Vulk.

Vulks did not
see
or
hear
as men did. They reacted to things and beings around them in some impossible Vulk way, as though they responded to some aura or essence that stimulated the very special Vulk mind.

A Vulk might “see” a beautiful woman and know her ugly or a fierce war horse and know him gentle under his fear. They could turn their blind faces to complicated masses of wreckage, machinery of the Golden Age, and divine the purpose for which the machines were built. Warlocks said that with their powers they could rule the galaxy. But they were a race without ambition, as humans know ambition. And to their cost they were a race without violence. The savage human tides that surged through space during the Black Age and in the time of the Interregnal Wars had exterminated them in hundreds of thousands. The mobs who followed the armies burning witches and warlocks and sometimes priests and rulers also butchered Vulks wherever they could be found. By the time of the Vykan Reconquest, the Vulk colonies that had spread throughout the galaxy under the protection of the Golden Age emperors were no more.

The few aliens who survived the pogroms found refuge in the courts of the out-land rulers of the Rim worlds, who valued them for their strange ways and skills.

Gret could sing with the voice of an angel, human melodies and mystically beautiful Vulk laments. He could recite all the ancient battles and guest songs, play musical instruments, and tell many strange stories of worlds no man ever knew. And it had always seemed to Kier that Gret owned a wisdom that was more than human, though it took peculiar and oddly disturbing forms.

The young warman turned now in his seat to look at his companion, who sat on the deck at his feet, toying with a stringed instrument.

“Gret,” he said quietly, “do Vulks die?” He was thinking that he could not remember a time when Gret was not near, and in his father’s time, too, it had been so.

The Vulk stirred. “You know that they do, King.” The eyeless, pale face glistened in the lamplight. “You have seen them dead in plenty.”

“I have seen them killed,” Kier said. “I asked you if Vulks died.”

“Everything under the stars, or among them, dies, King. Sometime,” the Vulk said with a ghostly smile. “We need never ask
if
--only when, King.”

BOOK: The Rebel of Rhada
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