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Cook, Glen - Starfishers 3 - Stars End

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Cook, Glen - Starfishers 3 - Stars End

STARS’ END

    by Glen Cook

    Book 3 of

    The Starfishers

Star's End

    Author: Glen Cook

    First time published: August 1982, Warner Books

    Synopsis

    The Fortress On The Edge Of The Galaxy...

    was called Star's End, a planet built for death -- but by whom? It lay on the outermost arm of the Milky Way, silent, cloaked in mystery, self-contained and controlled -- tantalizingly close to the harvesting Starfishers.

    If they could gain control of that arsenal, the Starfishers need never fear the Confederation's navy nor the forces of the human-like Sangaree.

    But intelligent life everywhere now needs the might of Star's End -- and the know-how of agents Storm and BenRabi. For in the midst of the Sangaree wars, a far more sinister enemy approaches from the depths of the galaxy, in hordes as large as a solar system.

And its mission is only to kill...

    TABLE OF CONTENTS

STARS’ END

    by Glen Cook

    Book 3 of

    The Starfishers

    TABLE OF CONTENTS

    Book One THE HIGH SEINERS

    One: 3049 AD The Main Sequence Two: 3049 AD The Contemporary Scene Three: 3049 AD The Main Sequence Four: 3049 AD The Main Sequence Five: 3049 AD The Contemporary Scene Six: 3049 AD The Main Sequence

    Seven: 3049 AD The Main Sequence Eight: 3049 AD The Contemporary Scene Nine: 3049 AD The Main Sequence Ten: 3049 AD The Main Sequence Eleven: Christmas 3049 AD The Contemporary Scene

    Book Two THE BROKEN WINGS

    Twelve: 3050 AD The Contemporary Scene Thirteen: 3050 AD The Main Sequence Fourteen: 3050 AD The Main Sequence Fifteen: 3050 AD The Contemporary Scene Sixteen: 3050 AD The Main Sequence Seventeen: 3050 AD The Main Sequence Eighteen: 3050 AD The Main Sequence Nineteen: 3050 AD The Main Sequence Twenty: 3050 AD The Main Sequence Book Three STARS’ END

    Twenty-one: 3050 AD The Main Sequence Twenty-two: 3050 AD The Main Sequence Twenty-three: 3050 AD The Main Sequence Twenty-four: 3051 AD The Contemporary Scene Twenty-five: 3050-3052 AD The Main Sequence

    Book One

    THE HIGH SEINERS

    One: 3049 AD

    The Main Sequence

    The death cry of an exploding sun illuminated a starfleet the likes of which few men had ever seen. There were six great starships in the convoy. The smallest was forty kilometers long. No drive glow enveloped those ships. No ion wake marked their passing. They were drifting. But they met the flash front of the nova with an inherent velocity approaching three tenths the velocity of light.

    Each of those starships looked like a mobile created by a sculptor, looked like someone had visited a planetary junkyard, had welded scraps together, and then had flung the results at the farthest star. Those ships were all angles, tubes and planes, globes, cubes, and what appeared to be silver sails. Whole forests of antennae bristled on the humped mountains of their backs. Random chunks of debris accompanied the ships, thrown out from jagged wounds in their flanks. Wisps of atmosphere leaked from those great rents, twinkling in the nova light. Smaller ships, like blowflies, fluttered around the rawest injuries. There had been a battle. A battle at Stars‟ End. Its fury and magnitude would have beggared the imagination of men who hadn‟t ever been out among the stars.

    These limping, crippled starships were the survivors. The great lens of the Milky Way sprawled before the starships, cold and silver and bright. Their noses were aimed toward its heart. Like a dying man crossing a desert, the starfleet was dragging itself toward healthier climes.

    A patch on the smallest ship began to glow, throwing color back into the ocean of night. It was not a happy color. It was the dull, dark red of venous blood, the red of senescent suns. It brightened, became more intense.

    The other ships drifted away. Fate had overtaken their little sister. She was about to lose control of her fusion plant. They did not want to be too close to the explosion. The smaller blowfly-vessels flitted away, carrying evacuees.

    For a moment the smaller starship yielded a light which rivalled that of the nearby nova. Fragments as big as pyramids hurtled outward, adding to the clutter traveling with the fleet. The remainder of the ship began tumbling slowly, now little more than a disemboweled corpse. The little ships darted in again, swarmed

    around the remains. Signals leapt across the ether. Any survivors? Anyone at all? There was no answer from the wreck. But the little ships went in anyway.

    Moyshe benRabi slapped the withdrawal switch beneath his left hand.

    Agony smashed into his head. A demon slapped a pair of icehooks into his temples and yanked. He screamed. “Clara! Shot!”

    He did not feel the needle bite his arm. Its prick was too tiny a pain. He knew it had happened only because blessed relief hit him seconds later.

    Hans pulled his helmet. The youngster‟s face was drawn. Clara

    patted sweat from his face with a towel. “Bad, Moyshe?” she asked.

    “The worst. I can‟t reach him anymore. He‟s out there without protection . . . And we just lost Jariel. They couldn‟t contain the

    anti-matter leak. The Service Ships went back . . . I don‟t think

    they‟ll find anybody to evacuate.”

    Hans asked, “Drink, Moyshe?” The youth‟s voice was tremulous. He had had a sister on Jariel.

    “Something. Please. I must have sweated a couple of liters. They get through to Gruber yet?”

    Clara shrugged. “I haven‟t heard.” She was a plump, grandmotherly, graying woman with rosy cheeks. Her appearance reflected her personality. She was a book which could be read by its cover. BenRabi was in love with her, in a filial way. “We‟ve got to have help. We can‟t hide in this nova storm

    forever. The particle wave is on its way. It‟ll shred our screens.”

    “Payne says we‟re going out. Soon as Jariel is evacuated. The

    sharks will have to take their chances.”

    “Oh, damn.”

    “What do the starfish say?” Hans asked, returning with a fruit

    drink. He was putting on a brave face. He had been in the fleet long enough to learn how to wait for good news or bad. They would let him know about his sister.

    BenRabi swung his feet to the deck. “Like I said. I couldn‟t get through. Too far.”

    “Maybe somebody else did.”

    “Somebody with more experience? I don‟t think so.”

    Hans was just nineteen, hardly out of creche. He had not yet hardened to all the realities of the harvestfleet.

    “Well just have to do it Payne‟s way. Fight our way through.” BenRabi began shuddering as his body reacted to the massive dosage of anti-pain drug. Clara swept a blanket around his shoulders. It did not lessen the chills.

    They still did not know for certain that they had won the battle of Stars‟ End. They knew only that Payne‟s Fleet had held the battle space, had survived, and had begun making its way home. They had not been attacked again, yet, but it was only a matter of time till the struggle resumed.

    “Look at me,” benRabi whispered. “I can‟t stop shaking.”

    “Go home,” Clara told him. “Get some sleep.”

    “We might break through. They might need me to go on minddrive. Just let me stretch my legs.” He picked at his arm where the needle had broken his skin. The strain of the emergency had begun to show on his flesh. He was getting tracks. He collapsed when he tried to stand.

    “Take him home, Hans,” Clara told the youth. “Lester. Help Hans load Moyshe onto a scooter, will you?”

    “What‟s going on?” benRabi demanded as Hans halted the flatbed electric truck outside his quarters. For a moment he did not know where he was. “Why did you? . . .

    “What happened?” a woman demanded. Worry strangled her voice.

    “He passed out,” Hans replied. “Just needs rest.”

    “I told him . . . ”A thin, pale, nervous face outlined by the short blonde hair entered Moyshe‟s vision, peered down into his eyes. “What‟s the matter with you, Moyshe? You think you‟re a superman? Give me a hand with him, Hans. I‟ll tie him in bed If I have to.”

    “Somebody‟s got to . . . ” benRabi protested.

    “You aren‟t the only somebody on Danion. There‟s nobody like a

    new convert. I love him, but sometimes he drives me up the wall.”

    “Take care of him, Amy.”

    “Don‟t worry. I‟ve got too much invested in this idiot.”

    They dropped benRabi into his bed. It surrounded him with a womblike comfort. He felt vaguely guilty. He shouldn‟t be sleeping while other mindtechs were still trying to make contact. Amy sat on the edge of the bed. He was asleep long before she finished cussing him out for not taking better care of himself. She was still hovering around when, six hours later, the cabin comm buzzed. She answered, “Amy Coleridge, Security.”

    A grey-framed face appeared in the little screen. “Good morning, Lieutenant. Is benRabi there?”

    “Commander. Sir. Yes sir.” Her voice dropped an octave and seemed to snap to attention. “He‟s sleeping, sir. But I can wake him if you really need him.”

    “No. Don‟t. I wanted to speak to you, Lieutenant. I‟m on my way down to see you.”

    Two minutes later there was a knock on the cabin door. The Commander must have been on the way when he‟d called her.

    “I‟ve just read your report on benRabi.”

    “You did? Why? It was just a routine report.”

    The Commander brushed her question aside. “We may need him for something more than Contact. Coleridge, I want to ask you a question. I want a considered answer.”

    “Sir?”

    “Is your report honest? Did you let your feelings affect it?”

    “No sir. Yes sir. I mean, it‟s honest, sir.”

    “You‟re sure he‟s become a Seiner without reservation?”

    “He has a few. He grew up different. But he‟s committed, sir.

    Almost too much. That‟s the way he is.”

    “Will he stay committed? Under pressure? He‟s changed allegiances before.”

    “Before? When, sir?”

    “When he left Old Earth.”

    “That‟s not the same thing. Earth is part of Confederation. He just joined the Navy.”

    Danion’s commander reflected. “True. But, considering the way Old Earthers look at these things, it indicates a flighty nature. All right. Enough about benRabi. What about his cohort?”

    Amy‟s colorless eyebrows crinkled over her pale blue eyes. “That‟s more difficult, sir. Mouse is more complicated.”

    “Are you sure you‟re not projecting a lack of understanding? His psych profiles make him look pretty simple. Almost black and white. He seems to have hung his whole existence on his hatred for the Sangaree.”

    “Then why did he stay here? He could‟ve gone back to Confederation with the others. He can‟t fight Sangaree out here.”

    “I‟ve been wondering. That‟s why I asked.”

    “I can‟t tell you, sir. He‟s all facade to me. All charm and silliness. I can‟t tell when he‟s serious and when he‟s joking. The only feeling I get is that the man I‟m seeing isn‟t the real Masato Storm.”

    “Are you involved with him, too, Lieutenant?”

    “Sir!”

    “Answer me.”

    “No, sir! I am not involved with Mr. Storm.”

    “Makes you part of a vanishing breed, then. Seems he‟s bedded half the single women on Danion.

    “He attracts a certain kind of woman.”

    “Oh?” The caller smiled. “But not you?”

    She was a long time answering. “The temptation is there. He has an animal magnetism. There‟s curiosity about what everyone

    else sees in him. But nothing is going to happen. I don‟t like him very much.”

    Her answer seemed to satisfy the Commander.

    “We‟re entering a new era, Lieutenant. A time of changes. Our isolationism is under attack. The sharks are wearing us down. The Stars‟ End idea was a debacle. We‟re going to have to adjust. Either that or bend over and kiss our tails good-bye. Those two might be useful. They have unusual backgrounds. We don‟t have a secret service to speak of. They could build one. But that would mean trusting them. And they weren‟t born Starfishers.”

    “A lot of us weren‟t, somewhere along the line. My father . . .

    “I know. We‟re all refugees. Thank you, Lieutenant. Consider this discussion exclusive. Don‟t mention it to anybody. And if you learn anything that might have a bearing on the matter, call my office. I‟ll have your name red-tagged to my personal recorder. I‟ll

    call you back.”

    “Yes sir.”

    The Commander left as quickly as he‟d arrived. Amy sat and stared into the shadows of the room.

    After a while she lifted her thin frame and drifted into the room where benRabi was sleeping. She stared down at him with an expression approaching awe.

    She had never seen or met the Ship‟s Commander before, except in public address announcements.

    Her Moyshe, her last chance man . . . He might amount to something after all.

    She would not have become involved with the foreigner at all had her self-image not been pit-deep. She could not make herself believe that she deserved a good man, a real Starfisher. She had expected to watch her life drift away from the foot of a social and career ladder.

    The Commander‟s call changed everything. She would have to get Moyshe moving. And make sure his friend Mouse did not lead him astray.

    The differences between the Confederated life that benRabi had chosen to leave and the lives of the Starfishers were deep. The Starfishers, the High Seiners, spent their adult lives aboard these vast harvestships, drifting the deep-space hydrogen streams, gleaning the droppings of an almost intangible spacebeast they called a starfish. A whole ecology existed in the interstellar rivers. It was vast and slow, in keeping with the low random collision of the molecules from which their type of life had gradually evolved. That life was invisible to the eye or radar. The atoms constituting the “bodies” of the interstellar creatures could be scattered over cubic kilometers.

    Starfish were more vast than harvestships, yet the matter in them could be compressed into a volume smaller than that occupied by the body of a ten-year-old. The atoms were as much foci for forces as part of the life process itself. And most of the creatures of the ecology existed, in part, in hyperspace and another, congruent universe.

    At the starfish‟s heart a tiny fusion flame burned.

    Starfish swept up hydrogen and random molecules and

    occasionally passed a node of hard waste. The nodes were incalculably precious.

    The Starfishers called them ambergris. Ambergris was the foundation of their economy.

    The nodes were used in instel communicators. There was no substitute. The Seiners controlled the only supply, and, consequently, the market and price.

    Countless were the organizations which would pay almost any price for near-instantaneous communication across interstellar distance.

    Moyshe benRabi and Masato Storm had been sent among the Seiners to try to find a way for their employers, Confederation Navy, to seize the harvestships and ambergris industry. They had succeeded and failed. They had found the information . . . And had elected to become Starfishers themselves.

    The hydrogen streams boasted a complex ecology. It included the predatory “shark,” which subsisted principally upon starfish.

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