The Szuiltan Alliance (The Szuiltan Trilogy)

BOOK: The Szuiltan Alliance (The Szuiltan Trilogy)
11.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

 

 

 

THE SZUILTAN ALLIANCE

 

Neil Davies

 

 

Book One of

 

The Szuiltan Trilogy

 

Copyright © 2012 Neil Davies

 

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publishers, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed in a newspaper, magazine, or journal.

 

 

Kindle version 2012

 

 

Cover image by Steve Upham
http://www.screamingdreams.com

 

Prologue

 

"Are we losing control?"

"I see no immediate cause for concern."

The first speaker sat forward, ignoring the soft vibrations of the emotion-sensitive chair as it tried to massage the tension from his muscles. The room was dark, the only light flickering and shifting from an open fire that danced shadows across the faces of the two men as they faced each other across a table set with wine and two half-full glasses.

"They're acting independently. Surely that's cause for concern?"

The second man turned his gaze to the fireplace, an ancient anachronism on a planet that lived and breathed technology. He had granted this private audience because the man sitting opposite was an old friend, a colleague who had started alongside him in the research laboratories all those years ago, a scientist who had never seen beyond the science to the power and influence it offered. Now he saw him as a fool. Worse. A loud fool who was becoming an irritation.

"You are talking about the greatest advance in artificial intelligence ever attempted. Of course they're acting independently. Anything less would be failure!" He made no attempt to hide the anger in his voice.

"But Thomas, we were always meant to have ultimate control, the final veto on their actions. Now they're making contact."

Thomas
. No one else would dare call him by his first name. His title was Director and it galled him to be addressed as anything else, even in a private audience, even by an old friend.

Why do I suffer this presumptuous fool?

When he spoke his voice remained calm, detached from the anger that seethed inside him.

"Initial contact was made some years ago. It was agreed by committee. You were there."

"But now they demand more. Not ask. Demand!"

"They're following their programming."

"They're
exceeding
their programming. I fear they have altered the ultimate goal without consultation."

The Director sighed. "This project has been decades in the making. It's not surprising that elements should change. If those elements are changing themselves and others around them, then it is an even greater success than originally hoped for. I still see no cause for concern."

"Then I regret I must take this to the committee. It must be stopped."

Enough!

The Director leaned forward, firelight sparking off the knife that slipped from his sleeve into his hand. He drew the edge sharply across the other man's throat.

He placed the bloody knife on the table and lifted a glass of wine to his lips. He eased himself back into the chair, smiling as the vibrations began, massaging the tension from his shoulders. Sipping the wine, he watched the final spasms of his old friend in the chair opposite, saw the darkness of blood down his tunic, on the arms of the chair, pooling on the carpet.

I can replace it tomorrow.

He savoured the taste of the wine and stared once again into the flames of the fire. He closed his eyes and fell into a light, relaxed sleep.

 

 

PART ONE

 

THE TREATY

 

 

Chapter 1

 

Morning sliced through the slatted window blinds, stretching across the bedroom, laying stripes of gold across the pale skin of the woman on the bed.

She was beautiful, lying asleep on top of ruffled bedclothes, blonde hair straggling across her face, tangling over her shoulders to almost cover the slight swell of her breasts, peaked by nipples soft in the warmth of the morning. She moaned softly and rolled onto her side, the light stroking up the back of her thigh, over the curve of her buttocks and along her spine, sparking highlights off the silver speared circle surgically implanted in the back of her left shoulder. It was the mark of her position. The badge of a courtesan. An official mistress.

The old man sitting opposite watched her, his eyes lingering on the silver emblem. She was his. He owned her. Yet there were times when he felt so helpless. As he watched her sleep he felt, again, the empty sensation in the pit of his stomach, the creeping melancholy that told him he could do nothing to
truly
have her. When they made love there was something detached inside her, closed-off to him, smothered by her words, her actions, but undeniably there. Her submission to him was an illusion, and yet he continued the charade. He needed her. He
loved
her.

Angrily he reached for the remote control at his side and pressed the button. The morning light switched off, the sun and clouds outside the window blinked and disappeared, the blinds rolled up into the ceiling and the overhead striplights flickered into cold harsh life. He threw the remote down.

Another illusion. My life is full of illusions.

The wallscreen flashed erratically, settling into the true image fed to it by the outer cameras. The old man stared into the depths of space and shivered. Interstellar travel unsettled him, but this was one ceremony he had to attend in person. If a treaty was finally to be signed between the warring worlds of Earth and Aks then it was only right that he, James Carlton, Leader of Aks, should be present.

Wincing at the pain shot through him by arthritic fingers and knees as he pushed himself to his feet, he wondered once again whether he should reconsider and take his doctors’ advice. They told him to have replacement surgery, that robotic knees and fingers were so commonplace in men of his age and the operation so routine that there was no danger and no stigma attached.

He was 75 years old and was grateful for the medical science that gave him at least another forty years before old age really set in, but he balked at the idea of sacrificing parts of himself to robotics. He believed that he would be somehow less of a man if he allowed the surgery to take place. He believed that once he took the first step, it would not be long before he was more machine than Aksian.

He suffered for his beliefs.

Catching the unwelcome sight of himself in the full-length mirror, he sighed. The face was old and wrinkled, older than his age would suggest. It was a face that had borne much stress and worry over the years. There had been no easy route for him to the position of Leader. He had struggled and fought every step of the way and he was proud to have succeeded, but the struggle showed in the prematurely grey hair and the heavily gouged lines of his face. Most with his power and wealth would have opted for surgery, but he was determined to remain true to his humanity, even through the depression it brought him.

He was less unhappy with his body. He exercised regularly, ate the healthy diet prescribed by his doctors, drank infrequently and, when he did, only a little. He had not even succumbed to the various Dream Enhancement drugs that so many of his people used to escape the rigours of every day life. As a consequence, there was only a trace of fat beginning to show around his middle, and everywhere else was trim and muscular. He was happy with his physique and, glancing back towards his sleeping mistress, he was happy with his potency.

He pushed a veined hand through his hair, stepping towards the wall at the side of the mirror, the concealed door sliding open, allowing him into the bathroom alcove. The overhead light flickered on as the door closed with a gentle hiss behind him.

 

Carina Burfield yawned, opened her eyes and pushed herself up on her elbows. She was alone. It took a moment for that to register in her tired mind. He was gone. She fell back onto the bed and smiled.

She had made him happy last night, submitting to his every whim, his every fantasy, with an enthusiasm that was as pleasing to him as it had been false to her. She would do anything to keep him happy. The luxury and security her position afforded were worth the hours of sexual drudgery and frustration.

She swung her legs over the side of the bed, noted absently that the wallscreen was showing space and not its usual image of home, shrugged and crossed to the full-length wall mirror. Her skin was smooth, pale, unblemished. Expensive cosmetic procedures ensured her perfection, as they had done from an early age. She had never suffered acne, oily skin, embarrassing spots. Her parents had prepared her for this role from birth, knowing it provided a future for their daughter. All their savings, grown through years of backbreaking menial work, had paid for the medical and scientific processes that ensured superficial attractiveness, muscular tone, fitness and high mental alertness. Private tutors had schooled her in politics, diplomacy and sexual technique. Her parents had died from poverty and exhaustion before she had achieved her full potential, but they did so confident that their daughter would never have to work as they had, struggle as they had, die as they had. She fingered the silver speared circle implanted in her shoulder, knowing that her parents would be proud of her, and that one small surgical imperfection was a small price to pay for being the official mistress of the Leader of Aks.

She was startled as the bathroom door slid open, recovering her poise quickly and smiling as Leader Carlton stepped out.

"I thought you'd left. You made me jump."

Carlton glanced at the light above the concealed door.

"Isn't that thing working again? I'll get maintenance onto it as soon as I leave."

She kissed him and gently placed her palm against his cheek.

"Don't worry about it. Get it fixed later."

He twisted his fingers in her tousled hair as she bent her head to his ear.

"Thank you for last night," she whispered, "It was wonderful."

He smiled. He had thought the same but it was pleasing and exciting to hear her say it.

"Thank you Carina. It was nice to be able to forget about this treaty for a short while."

She eased away from him and reached for the brush on a small shelf by the mirror. As she pulled the brush through her hair she smiled at his reflection.

"That's why I'm here Jimmy. If you never get a break from thinking about work it's not good for you. You know what the doctors said."

"I know what the doctors said," he snapped, cutting in on her irritably.

She stopped brushing her hair and turned to him, an expression of hurt sculpted on her face.

"Don't snap Jimmy. I'm worried about you. So are the doctors. You've got to take things easy, try and relax, take your mind of work for a while every now and then. That's what they said, and that's where I hope I can help, at least a little."

He reached out and ran a gentle finger over her shoulder and down her arm.

"You do help. I don't think I could get through this without you." He closed his eyes and sighed. "It's just that so much depends on this. If this backfires then I'm lost. I've gambled my whole leadership on this treaty. If it fails..."

"I'm sure it won't Jimmy." Carina had returned to brushing her hair. "You've thought this through carefully. I know. I've been there. And I'm sure the Earth Controller has just as much resting on this. Nothing will go wrong."

Carlton had glanced at his watch and was now pulling his clothes on.

"I've got a meeting with my advisors in twenty minutes, I'll have to rush."

Pulling her hair aside, he kissed her on the neck and smiled.

"I just wish I had your simple optimism. See you later."

She watched him leave and then angrily threw the brush down onto the floor.

Simple optimism? The arrogant bastard! Being a courtesan does not make me some brainless whore.

She spent much of her time between his visits studying, reading every report she could access, and there were few who would deny anything to the Leader's official mistress. She had no intention of slipping into obscurity when he tired of her or, more likely, when he was usurped as Leader. This treaty was a risk, a greater risk than even the Leader suspected. She had found that many experienced, cautious politicians, conscious of every word they spoke in front of each other or the press, would nevertheless relax and speak openly in her presence. Perhaps they
all
thought of her as some brainless whore? If so, it allowed her an insight into the true feelings and thoughts of those both close to and opposed to the Leader.

BOOK: The Szuiltan Alliance (The Szuiltan Trilogy)
11.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Edge of Heaven by Teresa Hill
Stars & Stripes by Abigail Roux
Ordinary Light A Memoir (N) by Tracy K. Smith
Against the Heart by Kat Martin
23-F, El Rey y su secreto by Jesús Palacios
A Chorus of Detectives by Barbara Paul
Iron Winter (Northland 3) by Baxter, Stephen
Snowbound (Arctic Station Bears Book 1) by Maeve Morrick, Amelie Hunt