This exciting prequel book tells two different Silky stories. One is the story of how Gav and Silky meet and team up. The other is the story of Eyanna Ora, Silky’s first human companion. They are told concurrently but actually happen over 100 year apart. Enjoy!
1. Gav Gendin
The Outworld Ranger, a sleek, Q34-C lightweight cruiser, dropped out of hyperspace on the edge of a remote, uncharted star system. As the shimmering halo of the stardrive’s hyperphasic bubble faded away, the quad-ion engines flared to life, propelling the cruiser toward the sandy-colored, fifth planet in the system.
Armed for skirmishing, stocked for long journeys, and set up to ferry a few tons of cargo along with a small crew, the Outworld Rangerwas the perfect ship for a smuggler or, in this case, an archaeologist with more equipment than caution.
Seated in his command chair, Gav Gendin nervously ran his hands through his thick, unruly hair. It had grayed recently but, unlike most men his age, he hadn’t gene-fixed it. His wife, Shira, had claimed the distinguished look would suit him better. Not that his looks mattered anymore.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” he muttered.
Gav took a deep breath, forcing himself to relax. He wasn’t going to let his fear about this venture stop him from carrying through with it. The important thing now was to stay calm so that the others wouldn’t panic. He couldn’t afford for them to mutiny just because they might—potentially—be in more danger than usual. He’d worked hard to reach this point. He had to see it through.
This discovery was going to propel him from being a noted and widely-respected archaeologist to the most famous in the galaxy. Assuming he had interpreted the Ancient star map fragment correctly. The notoriety didn’t matter much to him. The money it could bring in to fund more expeditions, however, was essential.
Gav didn’t teach enough classes or publish enough books to own an armed andwell-stocked exploration vessel crewed by professionals andearn a decent living. And the government had always refused grants to fund research on the Ancients. So he depended on pushy sponsors with their own agendas and selling off the less historically significant artifacts he found to private collectors.
What mattered to Gav Gendin above everything, save for his young son, was deciphering the mysteries of the Ancients who had spread throughout much of the galaxy before collapsing over twelve thousand years ago. No one had the slightest clue what could have so thoroughly eradicated such a dominant starfaring species.
The Outworld Ranger’sbridge was small but functional with three crew stations and a command chair. Pale gray fabric covered padded seats. The walls and ceiling were white, the floor charcoal. The screens on the black consoles at the crew stations used minimal colors. A large viewport looked out straight ahead; smaller ones peered to each side and above.
Enic Pith, a human with genetically-gifted purple skin, hovered over the shields and sensors console. “The long-range telescope readings were correct. I’m not detecting any ships or signs of civilization whatsoever. Looks like the Krixis abandoned the system long ago. If they were ever here in the first place.”
This system was on the far fringe of the Krixis Empire’s sphere of control.The treelike aliens had ceded this territory after their last loss to the human-dominant Benevolency, but it was merely a gesture. There was no one out here to enforce the treaty. It seemed no one cared. The Benevolency hadn’t even bothered to send a survey team.
Their brash, young pilot,Tal Tonis, shook his head, his long black hair swaying side-to-side. “I still don’t like being here. If the Krixis catch us…”
“You’re always saying you’re the best,” Rina Bogs said with her usual sly smile. “If we run into trouble, you’ll finally get the chance to prove it.”
Like Tal, Rina had the tall, lean frame of a spacer. Generations of her family had lived and worked on starships and space stations. Her slight build masked her surprising strength. She wasn’t great at her job at the weapons station, but like Enic, she had a degree in archeology.
Tal glared at her icily. “I proved myself well enough against those pirates last month. Or we’d all be dead.”
“Then why are you scared of an abandoned system?” Enic asked.
“I’m not scared,” he replied. “I just don’t like entering enemy territory, especially in a system that seems perfect for a hidden military base. And if we run into a Krixis warship on patrol or a couple of their interceptors, it won’t matter how well I can pilot.”
The bio-formed Krixis ships were nasty enough to give their empire rule over the entire galaxy. But the Krixis couldn’t match the rapid manufacturing pace of the Benevolency, so they had always lost out when it came to numbers.
Gav made no comment, but he shared Tal’s worries. As always, though, his desire to know everything he possibly could about the Ancients outweighed his concern for safety. In the pursuit of that knowledge over the last twenty years, he’d run into pirates, greedy prospectors, unprincipled rivals, hurricanes, con artists, solar storms, aggressive alien beasts, and a host of minor dangers he hardly remembered.
“Torus, what’s our ETA if we burn hot?”Gav asked his chippy, using a directed thought to silently voice the question. The window in the heads-up display beamed directly into his retinas was showing a seven-hour trip to reach the planet.
Thechippy, a personal computer system housed in a socket in his left temple, connected directly to his brain through a neural web. Everyone had a chippy. The poorest of the poor had 2G models, and even Luddites sported 1G’s. Gav’s was a reasonably advanced 6G, which was more than adequate for his needs. He couldn’t rationalize the expense of a newer 7G or 8G, despite the benefits.
His chippy responded through the neural interface so that only Gav was able to hear it. “Three hours and forty-six minutes, sir. You’d burn one hundred and seventy-three percent more energy. And you’d have to refuel in approximately—”
“Would there be enough fuel to race back out of the system at the same speed and return home?”
“Yes, sir, but with only a little to spare. The cost would be—”
“Money isn’t important right now. I don’t want to be here any longer here than necessary.”
“Understood, sir. Might I recommend running the ion-drive at ninety-four? That would decrease your speed into the system by only six percent while greatly improving safety and fuel economy.”
Gav nodded along. “Tal, boost the quad-ion toninety-four.”
“Gladly,” Tal replied. “You should take a nap, Gav. You don’t have to be on the bridge right now. And you’re going to need your witsfor studying these ruins. You may not have as long to spend there as you might like.”
“I’ll take you up on that.”
Gav graspedthe copper, half-moon circleton his head. The studs at each end of the device locked onto his temples, the left one connecting to his chippy. Tal, Enic, and Rina also wore circlets, but theirs only linked with a single system. Gav’s was a CInC, a command interface circlet. It connected a captain to the AI control systems so that in a crisis he could lend support to other stations, work secondary systems, or even take over other stations if necessary.
The Outworld Ranger, like all advanced-AI Benevolency starships, could operate itself without any human assistance. The only function a ship could not do on its own was jumpinginto hyperspace. But a ship’s AI lacked adaptability and real intelligence. While the AI relied on precise calculations, battle-tested routines, and probability equations beyond human capability, it still couldn’t match human intuition and ingenuity. A good pilot or gunner, using his instincts and creativity in concert with the AI, could achieve spectacular feats. And a good captain who understood all the workings of a ship could mentally boost the entire system, helping everyone.
Gav removed the CInC and placed it in its dock on the command console. He stood and stretched, thenheaded toward the captain’s quarters. The tiny apartment took up one side of the hallway leading from the bridge. On the opposite side was a cramped private room, typically reserved for the ship’s pilot, and four bunk spaces built into the wall and stacked together and arranged two-by-two. The bunks were tall enough for an average spacer to sit up in without hitting their head. Everyone except the captain shared a communal shower and locker area.
“Torus, wake me when we arrive.”
A trill of beeps woke Gav. He stared up into the bulbous eyes of his insectoid cog, Octavian, and cringed. The robot had been with him for a decade now, yet its appearance still sometimes frightened him. Octavian maintained the ship, performed all the heavy lifting, and made emergency repairs, even in zero-g. Octavian spent most of his time cleaning and fussing over the ship, making sure everything was kept up to a standard that would make an admiral blush. It was an annoying personality quirk, but a good one. The Outworld Rangerwas always in tiptop condition.
Gav groaned. “What is it?”
Octavian, his eyes glowing a calm blue, responded with a series of bleepsand squawks.
“Sir, Octavian wants to know how many days of food to pack with your survival gear.”
“As many as I can carry.”
More beeps led to another translation. “He’snot sure how much weight you wish to—”
“Can you coordinate this for me, Torus?”
“Of course, sir. I will calculate the ideal load based on previous—”
“Yes, of course. Do so.”Gav glanced at the time in his HUD. “Why did you let bulb-eyes wake me?”
“It took all I could do to make him wait until the appropriate time, sir.”
That figured. Octavian had proven such a pain that Gav had nearly sold him off after the first month. But it had been hard to argue with the cog’s results, so he had compromised by turning off Octavian’s vocal system, leaving him only able to respond in cog-speak. Annoying sounds and chippy translations were far more tolerable than having to listen to Octavian’s fussing in Terran.
Gav ate a chocolate protein bar and downed a glass of port for luck, which was a tradition he had inherited from his mentor. Then he joined the others in the bridge. Everyone but Tal had taken turns napping at their stations. That wasn’t a problem, though. Tal was the only member of the crew who had no training or interest in archaeology. He just wanted to fly a top-notch ship into exciting locales. So once they touched down, he would nap inside while the sensors scanned for any signs of trouble.
They were now in orbit around the fifth planet. It was more desolate than expected. Outside of the planet’s three small oceans, there was nothing more than low mountain ranges, deserts, and a few scrub plains veined with thin rivers.
Rina frowned at him. “Sorry, boss, but it’s definitely a former Krixis world.”
Gav plopped down into the command chair with a sigh. He donned the circlet, and it connected immediately. Images of the world along with temperature and atmospheric readouts appeared in his primary HUD window. The air was thick but breathable, a little heavy in oxygen but nothing too problematic. The climate was exceedingly dry, with temperatures ranging from cool to frostbite cold.
Gav pulled up the image of the star map fragment he’d recovered years ago at an Ancient dig site on a remote, now-uninhabitable world. A simple illustration of the planet, with a few features showing, had accompanied it. He superimposed the image onto the planet they orbited. Obviously, a lot could change in twelve millennia, especially on a world the Krixis had exhausted, and they didn’t have much to work with, but it was worth a shot.
Gav could have left the comparison up to Torus, who was much better at it, but he wanted to examine it himself, in case he spotted something an advanced computer might never consider relevant.
“Not much vegetation, sir,” Enic answered. “Almost all the animal life, and there’s not much, is in the oceans. What’s on land is small and sporadic.”
“No signs of Krixis or any other known sentients on the world currently. I can’t yet rule out any tiny, scattered populations though.”
“It’s a typical post-Krixis world,” Enic said, and he had a good eye for such things, “though it appears to be far along in recovery. Given a few more millennia or a bit of terraforming, it would make a good colony world.”
“That explains why they gave up this system in the treaty,” Rina said. “They bled it to death a long time ago.”
Enic nodded. “I’m betting it was one of their earliest worlds.”
“Structures?” Gav asked, hope fading.
Enic cringed. “Still decaying remnants from a few massive Krixis bio-structures but…nothing solid like an Ancient would build. I’m certainly not finding anything like the temple you’re looking for. But I’ll keep scanning.”
“Still decaying?” Tal asked incredulously. It was his first visit to a former Krixis world.
“Some of the bio-structures they build dwarf our largest cities in size,” Rina replied. “It can take a forever or two for that much high-density biomass to decompose.”
“Increase ground penetration to twenty meters,” Gav said. “The remnants of the temple could be buried under centuries of Krixis detritus.”
Assuming the Krixis hadn’t destroyed the Ancient site. There was no way of knowing whether they would do such a thing since they didn’t discuss such matters with the Benevolency, but Gav had long suspected the Krixis worshiped, or at least revered the Ancients, so he had hope that the temple remained.
The Krixis were decidedly more alien than any other sentient species humans had so far encountered or created. While Krixis minds were somewhat like those of humans, their body composition was entirely different.
Despite having a basically humanlike structure, with heads and arms and legs, they were more like trees than animals in terms ofbiology. Depending on the requirements of their biological birth caste, they varied in size from one meter to three and sometimes had additional appendages and other physical benefits like poisonous claws. All of them had tough, bark-like skin and giant, dark eyes. They lacked mouths, so they absorbed water, nutrients, and sunlight for sustenance and communicated through telepathy.
Their telepathic language naturally made communications with them nearly impossible, and all formal relations with them were conducted entirely through symbols and mathematics. Attempts at constructing a language for diplomatic purposes had failed. The Krixis weren’t interested in communicating with humans any more than necessary.
The Krixis’s biological and technological needs far outstripped what most worlds could offer. No one knew how long an inhabitable planet could sustain them, but it seemed to be between three to five thousand years, perhaps less so as the needs for fueling their spacefaring society continued to increase.
“Wait,” Enic said, “I’m picking up something in the scans…”
Gav leaned forward, bringing up Enic’sstation feed into the primary window of his HUD.
“…it’s a wrecked warship.”
Gav flopped back into his seat. “Origin?”
“Krixis, sir. Based on how much sand it’s buried under, I’m guessing it’s a remnant from the last war.”
“Are you sure that’s a standard warship?” Rina asked. “Looks more like a research vessel to me.”
“You…you could be right,” Enic said. “It’s hard to tell with it partially submerged like that. Whatever it is, it wasn’t left behind when they abandoned this world. It’s too new for that.”
“The government pays a lot for Krixis salvage,” Tal said. “That ship could more than cover your expenses for coming out here.”
Gav nodded. Tal wasn’t wrong. He returned to examining the map. “Anything else showing up in the scans?”
Enic shook his head. “Sorry, boss.”
“Sir, I have completed my comparison. This could be the correct world.”
Gav straightened. “Could be?”
“There are similarities, sir. I cannot rule it out.”
Gav relayed the information. “Rina, what makes you think it’s a research vessel?”
“I took a class on the Second Krixis War at university. My professor was obsessed with Krixis ship designs. This reminds me of a military research vessel he showed us. It’s not an exact match, mind you, but it looks more like it than most of the warships of similar size.”
“Why would a Krixis research vessel be stranded out here?” Enic asked. “I’m not picking up remnants from any other ships. In fact, based on the scans, I think the ship was damaged before it landed.”
“Are you sure it was damaged?” Tal asked. “Oh, never mind. I just saw the gaping hole in the side.”
“Why would they return here?”Gav thought too strongly, not meaning to send the message to his chippy.
“Most likely the ship was damaged in battle, sir, and this was the nearest world where they could crash-land and make repairs.”
Gav zoomed in on the ship wreckage. “That’s a lot of conjecture.”
“We don’t have much to go on, sir. But damage from a battle seems most likely.”
A research vessel on a world that could host the Ancient temple he was looking for? It was time for some human intuition.
“Enic, route all available power into a targeted sensor sweep and check everything within two kilometers of the wrecked ship, to a depth of one hundred meters.”
“We won’t be able to maintain our passive sensor sweeps of the system,” Tal warned.
“Or finish mapping the rest of the planet,” Enic added.
“It won’t take long,” Gav said. “And I don’t think there’s anyone out here but us.”
“Rerouting all sensor power,” Enic said. “Time to completion…twenty minutes.”
Nervously trailing his fingers along the controls on the command console, Gav waited on edge. It only took ten minutes for the scan to find what he was after.
Enic clapped his hands together. “You nailed it, boss! I’m detecting an underground structure…stone walls…the general layout in keeping with an Ancient temple.”
Gav sighed with relief. At last.
“I’m reading something odd here…” Rina added. She had been helping Enic with the scan. “A repeating distress signal…very faint.”
“I’m not familiar with the signal method or frequency,” Enic said, “but it’s definitely Benevolent in origin.”
“Any sign of life?” Gav asked.
Rina shook her head. “Just a basic SOS.”
“Return the sensors to regularoperation mode,” Gav said. “We can look into this signal when we get down to the—”
“Sir, I’m detecting a power source within the main temple building. I’ve never seen anything like it before. The readings don’t make sense. And the inner walls of the temple are not only stone in composition. I’m reading diamondine, graphene, and perhaps another substance.”
Gav’s eyes widened with amazement. “A power source within the—”
A buzzing alarm went off in the ship, accompanied by a flashing yellow light above them. With its passive sensor sweep restored, the shiphad detected a threat.
“Shit,” Enic said, reading the sensor data. “We’ve got trouble.”
He didn’t say what type. He didn’t need to. They were all seeing the same emergency alert in their HUD’s. A ship had entered the system, and not just any ship.
A Krixis destroyer was burning toward them at full speed.