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Laura E. Reeve - Peacekeeper 03 - PathFinder

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Laura E. Reeve - Peacekeeper 03 - PathFinder

    Table of Contents Title Page Copyright Page Dedication Acknowledgements

    ? CHAPTER 1 CHAPTER 2 CHAPTER 3 CHAPTER 4 CHAPTER 5 CHAPTER 6 CHAPTER 7 CHAPTER 8

CHAPTER 9

    CHAPTER 10

    CHAPTER 11

    CHAPTER 12

    CHAPTER 13

    CHAPTER 14

    CHAPTER 15

    CHAPTER 16

    CHAPTER 17

    CHAPTER 18

    CHAPTER 19

    CHAPTER 20

    CHAPTER 21

    CHAPTER 22

    CHAPTER 23

    CHAPTER 24

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    ALSO AVAILABLE

    ALSO AVAILABLE

    THE ULTIMATE IN SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY!

    Praise for the Major Ariane Kedros Novels

    Vigilante

    “[An] intriguing ensemble cast . . . [a] nicely complex universe . . . in this entertaining

    second military SF adventure for Ariane Kedros, a secret agent of the Consortium of Autonomous

    Worlds. . . . Reeve immediately immerses the reader in her universe’s vernacular, acronyms,

    and back-story . . . most rewarding.”

     Publishers Weekly

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    Peacekeeper

    “An excellent debut novel. Peacekeeper is full of exciting, complex characters in a trulybyzantine universe where everything hangs in the balance. I can’t wait for Reeve’s next

    book.”

    —Mike Shepherd, author of the Kris Longknife series

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    “Reeve shows great promise.”

    —Darque Reviews

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    “Former USAF officer Reeve channels her flight experience into this crisp military SF debut. .

    . . Reeve drives the story at a breakneck pace, providing a fine mix of derringdo, honor, and

    courage, and the familial bickering and affection of a close-knit crew.”

Publishers Weekly

ALSO BY LAURA E. REEVE

Vigilante Peacekeeper

ROC

Published by New American Library, a division of

    Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street,

    New York, New York 10014, USA

    Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto,

    Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)

    Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

    Penguin Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2,

    Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.)

    Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.)

    Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park,

    New Delhi - 110 017, India

    Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632,

    New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.)

    Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, SouthAfrica

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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

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    First published by Roc, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA)Inc.

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    First Printing, July 2010

    eISBN : 978-1-101-18855-2

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    Copyright ? Laura E. Reeve, 2010

    All rights reserved

    Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may bereproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or byany means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the priorwritten permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

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    PUBLISHER’S NOTE

    This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product ofthe author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons,living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

    The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for authoror third-party Web sites or their content.

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    The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other meanswithout the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase onlyauthorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy ofcopyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

    http://us.penguingroup.com

To my parents, Gerry and Norma, who have never stopped exploring and learning

    ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

    Every novel has its quirky challenges, particularly when life intervenes. This one turned outto have more challenges than most, and I’m grateful for my husband, Michael’s, support, aswell as his encouragement and advice. I also thank the rest of my family for their patiencewhile I focused on this book. Special recognition must go to neurologist Dr. Randall Bjork, whofigured out how to treat my headaches while not turning me into a drooling (and nonwriting)zombie. Once again, I’m indebted to my critique partner, Robin Widmar, as well as firstreaders Summer Ficarrotta and Scott Cowan, for their reviews and editorial comments. Finally, Imust thank my fantastic agent, Jennifer Jackson, my editor, Jessica Wade, and the staff atPenguin Group for their work on this series.

    CHAPTER 1

    Did you rats sense the fracas in our newest solar system? G-145 went silent and Pilgrimage HQpanicked, sending out emergency messages. When G- 145 came back up and the Pilgrimage III

    said, “Nothing happening here,” did anyone believe them? Something happened, because net-

    think has Jude Stephanos, senior senator from Hellas Prime, hurrying off to G-145. . . .

     Dr. Net-head Stavros , 2106.051.22.04 UT, indexed by Heraclitus 12 under Flux Imperative

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    T he alien followed her, quiet as a whisper. As Major Ariane Kedros turned into the chapel, shecaught in her peripheral vision a glimpse of the tall, horned Minoan warrior. Perversely, sherefused to acknowledge who, or what , followed several meters behind her.

    Every day for the past six days, before her shift started, Ariane had stopped by the chapel ofthe Pilgrimage III . On the front wall, above the altar, was the list of recent fatalities.This list grew every day, as Abram’s attempted takeover of G-145—a takeover she had played alarge role in stopping—was converted from blood to dry data. Terran State Prince Hauser’sdeath put the number at more than two hundred.

    Ignoring the Minoan behind her, Ariane selected the front bench. She sat with her back straightand stiff, her hands gripping the cool, hard surface beneath her. She started at the top andread every name. As always, she paused when she came to Colonel Elene Dokos.

    It took physical effort to move past that name. They killed her in front of me, and I

     . The edge of the bench dug into her fingers as her grip tightened.couldn’t stop them

    “You did the best you could.”

    The voice made her start. Justin Pilgrimage, the communications officer for the Pilgrimage ,

    stood beside the bench with his head cocked in question. When she nodded, he sat down besideher, although he jerked his head toward the back of the chapel.

“Don’t look now, but a Minoan’s back there watching you,” he murmured, leaning close.

    “Warrior Commander’s been following me around for days,” she replied in a flat tone. Minoantechnology exceeded theirs by so much that there was no chance of hiding their conversation.

    His eyes widened. “Does this have anything to do with them calling you ‘Breaker ofTreaties’?”

    His reaction made her pause. She’d become blasé, almost numb, to the aliens that had givenhumans faster-than-light travel more than a century ago—and indifference was dangerous. TheMinoans carried weapons that boiled people from the inside out and they had organic ships withdirected-energy weapons, all of which were beyond humanity’s comprehension.

    The Minoans didn’t think like humans. There was no gray area for them, particularly whenfollowing laws or dispensing justice. They’d committed “delayed genocide,” using mysteriousgenetic weapons, upon a tribe as punishment for piracy and terrorism. They’d followedinterstellar law to the letter, of course, and no government had the balls to protest thatattack. While it led to a decades-long lull in piracy, it also caused festering resentment— and we were the ones who suffered from Abram’s vengeance .

    “Does it follow you everywhere?” Justin pressed.

    “I’m given privacy for my work, but not in public places such as this.” She glanced around,noting that repairs had started on the shrine at the front. Someone found the original goldstatue of St. Darius, in a helmetless environmental suit, holding out only one hand inbenediction because his other arm had broken off.

    This suddenly seemed ludicrous as well as heretical—having a Minoan, who probably wasn’t evena Gaian-based life-form, inside a place where people venerated Gaia’s servant St. Darius.Swallowing the hysterical giggle that rose in her throat, she said, “Luckily, they have nointerest in my hygiene habits. Warrior Commander follows me only in public areas of the Pilgrimage , not onto my ship.”

    “Why?”

    “I’ve asked questions, with no success.” She forced her hands to rest in her lap rather thanballing up into fists of frustration. “He— it —has been following me ever since the sun

    calmed down.”

    “About that.” He smiled. “I wanted to thank you. It’s beyond rumor now. We all know yousaved us from becoming another Ura-Guinn.”

    She flinched and went still. She should have anticipated the comparison, even though G- 145’ssun hadn’t suffered a full temporal-distortion wave because she pushed the weapon into N-spaceas it detonated. Of course, Justin couldn’t know she was also responsible for Ura-Guinn’s

    devastation; her apparent age didn’t make her a likely candidate for detonating the only othertemporal-distortion weapon ever used. That detonation was sixteen years ago, during the warbetween the Terrans and the Consortium of Autonomous Worlds, and that fatality list couldeventually number over four billion souls. Saving the several thousand souls inside G-145 wasalmost immaterial by comparison.

    Due to the vastness of space, proof of the survival of Ura-Guinn’s star had taken this long toget to civilization. Now the Feeds screamed with each new guess of Ura-Guinn’s fatalities,using clues stitched together by the Epsilon Eridani antenna telescope, which couldn’t evensee the man-made structures in Ura-Guinn. Each report from the Feeds resurrected her nightmaresand reanimated the accusing ghosts in the back of her mind.

    “We’re all grateful you got rid of the weapon before it did much damage.” Justin hadn’tnoticed her stiffness, and his voice was warm. Friendly. What would he think of her if he knewher real history? Justin’s gaze sharpened, focusing on the top of the list displayed on thebulkhead next to the shrine. “I always stop here, for Dan’s sake.”

    She nodded, and her relief at the change of topic almost made her dizzy. The top name on thelist was Daniel Pilgrimage. Dan had worked beside Justin on the control deck, and he’d been

the first to die when Abram arrived.

    Justin looked down at his hands, which he tensely kneaded. “My shirt was covered with hisblood. I looked at it for days, building up rage. I thought it would dishonor him if I threwthe shirt in the disposal. This morning, I realized I could honor him, yet lose the rage, so Ithrew the bloody thing away.”

    Her throat was so tight, she could barely swallow. “I can’t,” she finally said.

    “Can’t what?”

    “Lose the rage. I hate the monster that did this.” Her hand swept through the air, motioningtoward the damaged shrine. “I’m glad he’s gone, and I hope the rest of those isolationist

    bastards are put away for as long as possible.”

    “You’ll get your wish.” The corners of Justin’s mouth quirked upward. “The Terran StatePrince has already boarded and your senator arrives tomorrow, so the Tribunal—whatever it’scalled—can start.”

    “The Interstellar Criminal Tribunal,” she said hollowly.

    “Yeah, for war criminals.”

    “They’re being tried for crimes against humanity , not as war criminals. They weren’t part

    of an armed conflict between states.” The difference was important, but not to the ghostsshrieking in her head. She pressed the heels of her hands against her eyes, trying to blur theimage of Terran agent Nathanial Wolf Kim as he tortured her, saying, “Four billion peoplegone. Admit it—you’re a war criminal.”

    She didn’t know how much of the war Justin remembered, since he had been born shortly beforethe generational ship Pilgrimage III embarked on the G- 145 mission twenty-six years ago. Hewasn’t used to military uniforms, however, and as her hands dropped into her lap again, hegestured at her attire. “I almost didn’t recognize you from the back.”

    She wasn’t wearing her normal crew coveralls with the Aether Exploration logo, because she wasstill on active duty. Her black uniform with light blue trim was crisp and clean, appropriatefor a golem from the Directorate of Intelligence, under the Armed Forces of the Consortium ofAutonomist Worlds. She ran her fingers through her dark hair so it curled under at the ends,shortened to collar length to meet AFCAW uniform regulations.

    Justin went quiet and made the universal gesture for wait-I’m-taking-a-priority-call. Helistened while his finger drifted to press behind his jawbone, acknowledging the call.

    “Needed on control deck?” she asked.

    “Yeah.” He gripped her forearm and gave it a reassuring squeeze. Crèche-get, those born andraised on generational ships, tended to be sentimental and demonstrative, so she resisted theurge to pull away. “I know you feel guilty,” he added.

    “Excuse me?” The words came out sharper than she intended.

    “You just couldn’t save everyone, Ariane. It’s time to forgive yourself.”

    “Oh, so that’s my problem.” She smiled, hoping she looked natural. “Thanks for theamateur psych eval.”

    “Hey, I just saved you a trip to Mental Health.” He winked as he stood. She watched him hurrydown the wide aisle. He took care to step down one side, away from the still figure of WarriorCommander seated in the exact middle of the last bench on the left.

    After Justin left, her gaze lingered a last time on the list. Her mouth hardened as sheconsidered the two latest entries. State Prince Hauser hadn’t been able to recover from a rarereaction to the prophylactic radiation drugs. More tragic, Major Phillips of the Terran SpaceForces had gone beyond the radiation exposure point of no return while retrieving victims whohad been spaced alive, in environmental suits, by Abram’s men. The fatalities continued longafter Abram’s defeat and death.

    This list didn’t include the other victims, such as AFCAW Master Sergeant Alexander Joyce, whohad barely lived through face-to-face combat with Abram; or Danielle, the pilot raped byAbram’s nephew Emery. Yet more justification for leaving Emery to die in N-space. I’m not

     . N-space, or nous-space-time transit, was the only way to traverse space insorry I did that

    faster-than-light fashion, but entering it without having a buoy lock meant the ship was lostforever. The passengers would be insane after a couple of hours without D-tranny in theirbloodstream. Although that might have been too good for Emery, by only adding disassociativepsychosis to his sadistic sociopathy. The lack of delta tranquilizer, however, wasn’t whatmattered most; going into N-space without locking onto a buoy meant you could never return toreal-space.

    Standing, she smoothed her black uniform. Her shiny boots made light taps on the deck as shewalked down the aisle. She paused before passing the dark figure with tall horns that wassitting quietly. She sighed. This seemed too much to ask of her, considering her pay grade. Atleast the warrior didn’t have a guardian escort, like a red- robed emissary Minoan, or she’dbe leading around a whole parade of aliens. She made a tight gesture toward the hatchway. “Areyou ready, Warrior Commander? Another day, another drachma, as we say.”

    Warrior Commander’s horns dipped slowly in a nod and she moved on, knowing she’d get no otherresponse. She no longer watched the tall figure in billowing robes rise and mysteriously fitwithin the Pilgrimage ’s decks.

    Why are you following me? The unanswered question stoked her glowing ire and resentment. Herpace was solid, with purposeful cadence, as she strode through a spoke hall toward herdestination: the brig.

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    “Sorry, Matt. There’s nothing I can do.” In the view port, Carmen’s head bobbed on hertreadmill at Athens Point, more than seven hundred light-years away from G-145. “I can’tfind anyone with enough balls to sign off on extending your line of credit.”

    “But I have a low risk rating.” This situation seemed entirely illogical to Matthew Journey,majority owner of Aether Exploration. Why should the rules change so suddenly?

    “I know. It’s just that G- 145 is anathema to the financial sector right now.”

    “Government contracts are still funded,” Matt said, “and the Terran League is moving moneyfor their contractors.”

    “From what I hear, they’re stretched to cover the rise in hazard pay that contractorsdemand.” Carmen stopped bouncing and moved to pick up a towel, the cam-eye panning andwidening the view. She dabbed at the sweat between her breasts, her athletic cleavage separatedand firmed by space-age materials in her bra as well as her body.

    “But nothing has changed. The Builders’ ruins Ari and I discovered are an engineer’s wetdream, with the possibility of re-creating those materials. There’s an inactive buoy—apotential gateway to Gaia knows how many worlds. G-145 has the same resources it had a monthago.”

    “More than a dozen contractors have pulled out of their leases on Beta Priamos. They’re beingsued, or are under risk of suit.”

    “They have insurance—”

    “Their insurers are reeling from payouts. I’m sympathetic to those who lost their loved ones,truly, but the claims and lawsuits are overwhelming the financiers. That Abram fellow caused acrisis in what used to be a well-oiled economic machine that drove our space exploration.”

    He nodded numbly, having run out of challenges. The smug voice in the back of his head, the onehe never liked, pointed out that Carmen hadn’t asked about his safety nor expressed concernfor his welfare, nor for that of any other “crisis” survivors.

    “Sorry, sweetie, but I don’t see this problem blowing over quickly. Forget about G- 145 andconcentrate your efforts somewhere else for a while.” She twirled the towel and laid itaround her neck.

    “That’s difficult. As second-wave prospectors, we depend upon third-wave exploration anddevelopment to make back our expenses. Anyway, there isn’t another solar system opening up forseveral years.”

    Everyone should diversify.” Carmen’s cheek dimpled as she flashed a smile, too bright andhard to ever be innocent. “You’ll find something else; I have faith in you. Call me when youget a line on work that’s not connected to G-145.”

    “Sure thing.” He projected confidence. He had to; investors, even those specializing in smallbusinesses such as Carmen, were pack predators. First, they couldn’t deviate from packgroupthink, and second, they must never see weakness in their victims—er, clients. They’d

    devour him and pick his bones clean.

    “Look me up when you dock in Athens Point.” She winked and the call was over, a blessing dueto the high cost of bandwidth through the Pilgrimage -controlled buoy.

    Sure thing, Carmen . After a moment, he cleared the bulkhead display of recent reports fromlessees of his claims. In theory, all he needed to do was sit back and wait for his percentage.Reality, unfortunately, required operating funds from the constipated CAW space exploration andexploitation system. No money was flowing, and he needed funds now .

    Carmen was usually his financial ace, his best chance for credit when his need was dire. Hestared at the blank wall for a moment and sighed. It was time to look into the offer from theMinoans, as they were the only ones in this solar system holding any money.

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    The legend beside the door, MENTAL HEALTH FACILITIES, was lined through and OUR HELPFUL BRIG

    had been added. Ariane grinned. Someone had been bored enough to hack into title storage, butthe delinquency was harmless.

    After she opened the door, the dichotomy indicated by the changed legend was obvious. On herleft, an ugly temporary bulkhead ran straight through the facility. It was raw nano-manufactured ultrapure steel, new enough to emit a metallic smell. On her right was theoriginal waiting room for the “touchy- feely” sessions, as Matt called them. Sincegenerational ship folk, or crèche-get, preferred monochromatic interiors without high contrast,the walls, deck, and furniture made for a soporific environment with their slightly differentvalues of beige.

    Two crèche-get, although that name wasn’t always considered tasteful, were waiting for psychsessions. They ignored Ariane as she walked along the dividing bulkhead. A woman watched Feedson the wall while a young man tapped through articles displayed on the coffee table surface infront of him.

    She looked back over her shoulder when she heard the door open again, seeing Warrior Commanderdip its tall horns to enter. Warrior Commander chose a solitary seat. Suddenly the two waitingclients were tapping frantically and canceling their appointments, having much better things todo. Nothing could empty a waiting room like a Minoan warrior.

    Just past the check-in counter and to the left was a door in the dividing bulkhead. Arianeknocked and entered.

    “Good to see you, Major.” Pilgrimage security officer Benjamin looked up from his small desk,his sharp eyes scanning her uniform. His husky build, an anomaly among generational types, whogrew tall and willowy under the one gee boundary, had singled him out for this new securityposition.

    She glanced around, noting he was alone. Commander Meredith Pilgrimage, the senior shipcommander of the Pilgrimage , had finally convinced the Minoans to recall their guardians. It

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