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!
2. Eyana Ora
187 years ago…
Infiltrator Eyana Ora, a captain in the Empathic Services, crept silently through dense, alien foliage on Morat VII, a Krixis world on the edge of Benevolent Space. By treaty, the Krixis were set to abandon the planet in two years. Losing Morat VII was far from the worst sting of their defeat, though. The dying world only had a decade or so left before its entire ecosystem would fail.
Millions of Krixis were piling into starships and heading off to newer worlds. Their chaotic departures provided the perfect cover for an infiltrator, especially one equipped with the best gear the Benevolency had to offer.
Eyana kept hidden from view using an RC-4 refraction cloak, a hand-sized unit attached to the bottom of the sensor array mounted on the back and shoulders of her battlesuit. The system emitted a localized energy field that at full-strength could render her practically invisible, while lower, power-sustainable settings delivered a chameleon effect, subtly blending her into her surroundings.
The AND Scrambler mounted beside the RC-4 jammed sensor sweeps, fuzzed recordings, and dampened every sound she made by ten decibels. Eyana hardly needed the sound dampening function, though. She had always taken pride in moving swiftly and silently, no matter the environment. It was a combination of careful footfalls, perfectly tuned antigrav assistance, and, to be fair, probably a good bit of instinct.
This was an easy day for sneaking around. A strong wind fanned across the forest, whipping the treetops and scattering slender, pink leaves. The Krixis, with their rudimentary ears, would never hear her. The only worry she might have was running into one by accident, but that was where her ScanField-3 Sensor Array came in. The lightweight, shoulder-mounted sensor pack could pick up the presence and exact location of individuals hundreds of meters away.
Eyana implicitly trusted her tech and her skills, honed over many grueling hours of practice. She had never believed in talent, with one obvious exception: her empathic psychic ability. Being an empath was something you either could or couldn’t do.
Without that talent, she wouldn’t even be an infiltrator.
The military and all special service branches were manned by sentient androids with enhanced speed, strength, and toughness far exceeding what biological humans could achieve, even through modified genetics. This was coupled with an unbreakable loyalty to the Benevolency at the core of their service programming.
Empathic Services was the lone exception, because no android, no matter how well crafted, could do what Eyana did.
“You know,”her chippy said, “it’s not too late to change your mind, Ana.”
“I’m doing this, Silky. Get over it.”
“Your death, Ana.”
“Hey, I’m a survivor, baby.”
Eyana stifled a laugh. Silky always knew how to make her feel more at ease. He was also good at keeping her from taking too many risks, which she was naturally prone to do.
Normally, she’d have agreed with him on this one. Getting this close to a squad of Krixis soldiers was too risky, and her mission protocol only required her to observe from a distance. But this…this was different.
She had spent the two weeks since she’d dropped onto the planet scouting small military bases. The war was over, for now, but learning about one’s enemies never stopped, especially given the inscrutable Krixis and their telepathic language. The mission had been routine until she had picked up a strong reading on this group, and from a surprising distance, as they exited a decommissioned bunker.
That reading had made the hairs on the back of her neck stand out and her stomach knot with worry. There was something off about them, and they were definitely more dangerous than any of the other Krixis soldiers she’d scanned. So she’d followed them, staying at a relatively safe distance. Along the way she’d continued to get vibes from them, and none of what she picked up had made her feel any better.
Eyana had no idea what they were up to, only that it was big and it was bad. They could be plotting against the Benevolency, but as far as she could tell it was just as possible that they were conspiring against their own people. There was no way to know from a safe distance. If she wanted to figure out what they were up to, she had to get closer.
“Cloaking field status?”
“You are fully invisible, ma’am.”
“You’re not sorry.”
“That’s true, Ana. I’m not.”
“I can’t believe you’re still annoying me by saying ma’am, going on…”
“Forty-seven years, and you haven’t aged a day.”
“Youth restoration treatments will do that for you. Is the empathic booster online?”
“Check, Ana. Or as checked as it can be. I’ve still got a lot of doubts about it.”
“It worked great on the test runs. Remember that creepy dude in Special Ops? I knew vividly what disturbing thoughts he was thinking.”
“Ana, Icould’ve told you what he was thinking.”
“That Krixis family I watched for two days, I could practically hear them speak! And how else would I know these soldiers were up to something?”
“I know, Ana. I know. But the more I examine its schematics, the more I think it’s bound to fail, sooner rather than later. You just can’t trust experimental tech units.”
“You are an experimental tech unit.”
“And you just proved my point, Ana.”
“Silky, you’ve never failed me. Not once.”
“Fail you? Never. But I’m not supposed to have so much personality. That’s a defect.”
“That defect is why I love you.”
“Yes, Ana, but if this empathy unit also has ‘personality’ then…” He sighed.“I don’t really know why I still bother arguing with you.”
“Beats me. I always win.”
The Krixis communicated with one another strictly through telepathy. They had no vocal chords, and only a rudimentary written language, primarily numeric. Yet they were a spacefaring species of considerable power. The genetic and cultural differences between humanity and the Krixis were extreme. That humans and the Krixis couldn’t communicate with one another whatsoever had in no small part lead to two protracted wars.
To solve this communication problem, the Benevolency had spent centuries studying the most empathic humans it could find. Using that data, it had manipulated the genetics of unborn children belonging to promising parents, enhancing their empathy. Those people had continued to pass the traits along until the first real empaths were born. Now, everyone within the Benevolency possessed some latent empathic ability. However, there were still very few actual empaths. And telepathy itself remained out of reach.
Eyana’s gift was stronger than that of most since she was a true empath, third generation, advanced. After many competitive tests amongst empathic agents, she’d qualified to do a trial run of an emppy, a technological device designed to boost an empath’s abilities, extending range and enhancing clarity.
The emppy was installed in the same manner as a chippy, only with the socket on her right temple. It held the promise that one day they’d be able to not only pick up emotions and intent but pick up language, and maybe even send thoughts much as a chippy could project information into a user’s brain.
This was her first proper in-field test of the equipment.
Effectively invisible, Eyana carefully slid between thorn-tipped bushes, ducked under the low-hanging branches of a poison-coated tree, and crept silently to within a dozen meters of the thirteen Krixis soldiers. She paused for a moment within a deep pool of shadow while Silky adjusted the light-filtering levels on her smart lenses.
The Krixis stood in a circle, facing one another. In this fading light, they looked almost like a cluster of gnarly, leafless trees. They were all dressed the same, save for one with bright orange trim along the seams of his uniform. He was a highly ranked officer, perhaps a starship captain.
While Krixis faces were generally expressionless, Eyana had learned through thousands of hours of empathic observation and study to read a number of other, more subtle cues: how straight they stood, how they held their arms, if their heads were cocked to one side, which direction they leaned, who they did or didn’t look at, how much their fingers flexed, and so much more—to the point where it had become instinctual.
The lenses adjusted to the twilit forest. Then, with three long blinks, Eyana tripled the lenses’ zoom function to the max setting, revealing every bump on the bark of their skin, every silk thread in their uniforms, every speck of amber in their eyes.
These thirteen showed all the telltale signs of Krixis soldiers preparing to go to war: wide stances, uplifted chins, hooked fingers, shifting their weight from one leg to another. And yet…there was something else there, something unfamiliar…something she couldn’t pick up through observation alone.
“Prep the emppy.”
“Emppy in standby, Ana.”
Eyana took deep breaths and opened her mind to the intents and feelings projected by the Krixis. At the same time, she suppressed her own thoughts and emotions by reciting the Fibonacci sequence, starting at one and going as high as she could without losing track.
Uncharacteristically, Silky remained silent, knowing it was important not to distract her.
The Krixis could pick up strong emotive waves coming from an empath at approximately the same range from which an empath could get a read on them. But the emppy could provide a basic read from far enough away that a Krixis would only detect them if they were using their telepathic ability to actively scan for empaths. In this case, though, Eyana needed to be as close as possible.Accuracy was more important than safety.
She listened but didn’t try to focus on the actual conversation. With thirteen Krixis communicating at once, their discussion hit her as a wave of jumbled thoughts and emotions. She needed a few moments to orient herself to the gist of things and pick out individual voices.
Krixis tended to talk over one another, thoughts zooming by almost simultaneously, making it difficult to follow their conversations. Of course, humans did the same thing, communicating through facial expressions and gestures while talking.
Taking soft, purposeful steps, she eased to within ten meters of the Krixis. Invisible or not, she was too near them for safety. She knew what Silky would say scoldingly, what her commanding officer would say with a stern reprimand, but she had a hunch and had to follow her instincts.
The emppy had another feature, one that she had yet to try out. Her commander had wanted it tested on her last day, against a couple of children or a lone citizen, so if things went wrong, she’d have a good chance of escaping unharmed. The emppy could project a field that would dampen her emotive signature, like empathic camouflage. That was the theory anyway. It worked against human empaths. And most of the time it worked in computer simulations.
Eyana stopped, having gone as close as she dared. She blinked her smart-lens zoom back to normal. Then, as she recited the Fibonacci sequence, she listened carefully to their conversation. She had no idea what words they used precisely, or if ‘words’ was even an accurate way of describing how they communicated. But the scroll of general ideas and emotions was clear enough: Shame…betrayal…righteous anger…revenge…desperation…a fervent call to action…
By tapping her right thumb to each finger on her right hand, she triggered the emppy. Despite having used it dozens of times now, she was still surprised by its effects. A momentary pulse of vertigo swamped her, and her own emotions washed back onto her. As a young girl, she’d liked to go sledding in winter. If her normal talent was like sliding down a safe, kiddy slope, then this was like zooming down from a sixty-degree angle.
Eyana knew better than to fight it. She waited patiently, taking deep breaths, until the side effects gave way.
The boost had worked flawlessly. She could sense the thoughts of the Krixis warriors with such clarity that she could almost picture what they were saying and hear the phrases they used. Her empathy had never been so precise, and the clarity increased rapidly as she listened and began to discern individual voices.
She translated the storm of Krixis thoughts to Silky, who recorded them silently:
“Our leaders have pulled their punches yet again,” one of their number said, “betraying all of us who honor the true faith, all of us who keep the ancient Goddess of Knowledge and Benevolence in our hearts. But things can change. Following the plan Four outlined, we can exact revenge against the humans and thus honor our goddess as she demands.”
The Goddess of Knowledge and Benevolence? That was new information! Scholars had long believed the Krixis worshiped some sort of feminine primal force, perhaps nature itself. But they’d had scant evidence to work with, given that the details of their religious beliefs were almost impossible to pin down through empathic scans. Normally, only the strength of the beliefs could be discerned.
“The Benevolency must die,” said another speaker. “Without their interference, we could spread our seed and the true faith across the galaxy, and properly prepare ourselves to face the Ones from Darkness.”
One of them nodded and proclaimed loudly, “The shadows from beyond will come again.”
The Ones from Darkness? That was new as well. Eyana was shocked by the clarity the emppy provided. This single recorded conversation was going to revolutionize their understanding of Krixis culture, perhaps lead to better relations and maybe even prevent another war that would cost millions of lives.
“If only our leaders had possessed the will to win, we would not have lost two wars to the chittering humans,” the officer said. “But we are not weak. We are strong. We will seize the great weapon the Ancients left behind, the weapon our leaders are too timid to use.”
One of the Krixis, anxious and worried, voiced his concern. “We are going too far. This weapon would not wage war solely against the Benevolence’s military but against their women and children. It would destroy their entire civilization. Trillions upon trillions might die.”
“That is the point. With a single strike onto a single planet, we can ruin them all.”
A great weapon that could ruin the entire Benevolency with a single strike against a world? Eyana would’ve thought this nothing more than wild speculation except for the conviction in the speaker’s voice.
“It is too much,” the dissenter said. “I have changed my mind. I cannot go along with it. My brothers, we cannot do this. It is wrong.”
The others radiated confusion then disbelief…camaraderie…anger. The officer with the orange-trimmed uniform drew his blaster and shot the dissenter. The hot acid pulse struck the Krixis soldier, burning a hole into his forehead. He dropped, and the only sound was the sizzling noise the acid made as it melted his head into a puddle of goop.
The others expressed worry…fear…then acceptance. The path was chosen. They would fall in line.
Their leader holstered his pistol and swept his arm out, pointing into the forest, away from Eyana. “To the ship. It is time.”
As they walked away, one of them paused and stared directly at Eyana. She blanked her mind and tried not to read him. He cocked his head, seemed to shrug, then lumbered away with the others.
“I recorded their crazy conversation, Ana, all of it. The emppy worked wonders.”
“Feeling better about it now?”
“Worse, actually. I’m preparing an echo space communication pulse.”
Humanity depended on a number of higher dimensions: hyperspace for faster-than-light travel, wraith space for harvesting power pack crystals, flux space for harnessing energy, and the ultra-compact echo-space for communicating rapidly across vast distances. Ana carried inside her shoulder pack a rare, miniaturized echo-space relay module. Each use of the device drained an entire power pack, and she only had three extras with her.
“Hold back on it for now.”
“If they really have a weapon that powerful, Ana, then the Benevolency needs to know about it.”
“The signal might be detected.”
“That’s not necessarily a bad thing, Ana.”
“Yeah? Well, I don’t want to be captured and killed.”
“Of course not! But the Krixis Empire will be just as interested in stopping these insurgents as we are.”
“All the same, I’d prefer to wait.”
“You want me to send it once we’re in orbit?”
“Yes, but not in the way you think.”
“Ana, no! Don’t do it. I’ll summon your starship.”
“Sorry, Silky, but we don’t know where this group is heading or if help can arrive in time.”
“The ship could be here in six hours, Ana.”
“That’s not soon enough.”
“I’ll call for it anyway.”
“If you want, but I’m sneaking onto their ship. You know you can’t talk me out of this.”
Silky sighed dramatically.“So, what’s the plan?”
“You don’t have to sound so defeatist.”
“Sorry, Ana, I was aiming for realist.”
She rolled her eyes. “I want you to send the message the moment before they jump to hyperspace. They’re not as likely to detect it then.”
“And once we reach the destination, we will send another signal to let the Benevolency know the location.”
“Still sounding reasonable, Ana.”
“Then I will sabotage their ship and do whatever it takes to make sure they don’t get their hands on this all-powerful weapon.”
“Ah, so you do plan on dying after all?”
“Silky,” she said sternly.
“Sorry. It sounds like a great plan. I am certain that we will succeed, and that you will survive.”
“Ass. Power down the emppy and pull up a local scan. I’m going to need a technical readout on their ship.”
As you can see, both storylines are packed with action. Can’t wait to read more? I don’t blame you. Buy (or read for free with Kindle Unlimited) Forbidden System and the rest of the Outworld Ranger series here: