Paradise Drift by Sherwood Smith




  PARADISE DRIFT

  SHERWOOD SMITH

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  This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this novel are either fictitious or are used fictitiously.

  GENE RODDENBERRY’S ANDROMEDA™: PARADISE DRIFT

  Copyright © 2005 by Tribune Entertainment Company and Fireworks Entertainment, Inc.

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form.

  “Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda” and all associated names, likenesses, and designs are trademarks of MBR Productions, Inc. All rights reserved.

  The “TRIBUNE ENTERTAINMENT” logo is a registered trademark of Tribune Entertainment Company. All rights reserved.

  This book is printed on acid-free paper.

  Edited by James Frenkel

  A Tor Book

  Published by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC

  175 Fifth Avenue

  New York, NY 10010

  www.tor.com

  Tor® is a registered trademark of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Smith, Sherwood.

  Paradise drift I Sherwood Smith.—1st. ed.

  p. cm.—(Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda)

  “A Tom Doherty Associates Book.”

  ISBN 0-765-30488-0 (acid-free paper)

  EAN 978-0-765-30488-9

  1. Spaceships—Fiction. I. Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda (Television program) II. Title. III. Series.

  PS3569.M5379764P37 2005

  811’.54—dc22

  2005010256

  First Edition: November 2005

  Printed in the United States of America

  0 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  To James Frenkel,

  who made our six books

  together fun projects

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  As always, grateful appreciation to Dave Trowbridge for his tech help. (Kewl tech ideas are his, oopsies are mine.)

  ONE

  Titles are shadows, crowns are empty things….

  —DANIEL DEFOE,

  CY 1701, EARTH,

  ALL SYSTEMS UNIVERSITY, SPECIAL COLLECTIONS

  From the slip point beyond the water planet Rigos, the top layers of Paradise Drift circling its gravity well looked like a glowing golden crown. Alphyra Kodos, human codirector of the Drift, so loved the image of a glowing crown—an appropriate metaphor, she thought it—that she often took a skimmer cruise out into space, ostensibly to view the planet below, but actually to look back with complacent pride at the brilliant glow of the Drift’s upper levels.

  The spires of the crown were where the directors lived and worked, and the base of the crown the exclusive gambling rooms that were the main draw for Paradise Drift across the Known Worlds.

  In the middle of the topmost spire Alphyra Kodos stood, looking out the vast meters-thick plazglaz windows. She did not spare a glance at the glorious blue planet below, with its swirling cotton tufts of weather systems passing over the graceful lines of volcanic archipelagoes. That was rare for her, not to look at the planet she loved; it was a measure of the importance of this moment that her gaze remained steady on the tiny pinpoints of light moving slowly toward the Drift.

  Her sister, Delta, stood next to her, the data port at the back of her skull interfaced as always with the Drift’s data system, sending a constant stream of information, some of it audio, some to the flexi she kept in one hand, along with a handsome Vedran stylus.

  Delta stood poised, ready for orders, switching her gaze between the planet’s distant beauty and the lights that indicating an approaching spacecraft.

  A tiny chime sounded in the room, and Alphyra, recognizing whom the complex tone signified, lifted a hand. Delta pressed a key on her flexi, opening the doors before Vandat, the Perseid director, had to slow his steps in his approach. It was good etiquette, one of the many little touches Delta quietly saw to.

  The tall, lean, gray-skinned Perseid scurried in, his age impossible to guess. Alphyra and he exchanged bows, both to the exact same degree.

  Then Vandat whirled, his robe swirling, and lifted his gray, bony chin as he gazed out the windows. “The Andromeda Ascendant” he said on a long, low note, almost an exhaled breath. “It is truly here.”

  Alphyra smiled. “And even more beautiful than I had imagined,” she responded, as the graceful curves of the warship slowly coalesced into clarity, highlighted by its own running lights.

  Vandat turned his head. “You find a warship beautiful?”

  Alphyra gestured, her filmy sleeve fluttering. “As a symbol of hope, of peace, of bonding for the common good.”

  Vandat let out another long breath. “Yes, I comprehend!”

  “As an artifact of the old Systems Commonwealth, it truly represents the hope of the new Commonwealth,” Alphyra went on. “To adapt an old Vedran quotation: As it was, joined by this ship and its captain with as it shall be. And we shall be a part of it. Is that not a beautiful prospect?”

  Vandat pressed his gray fingertips together as he gave a small bow. “You express it well,” he said.

  Alphyra sent him one of her smiles. She really was a beautiful woman; nanobots of course could eradicate the little signs of age in anyone, but that honey brown skin, the long bones, her high-bridged nose, all indicated the blessings of a fine genetic background.

  Vandat was immune to the sexual signals of humans, but he always noted them, for humans used them at important moments in their lives. He wondered if that subtle altering of her posture, the slim hand raised to touch a coil of her shining dark hair, was for his benefit or for the benefit of the as-yet unseen captain aboard the approaching vessel.

  Alphyra said, “Thank you. And you have my gratitude for your untiring work in bringing not just your Perseids to agreement with our invitation to Captain Hunt but for convincing our Than-Thre-Kull compatriots.”

  Vandat bowed and smiled again, thinking: You do not comprehend that their distrust is based on fear. You humans have betrayed us before, and they fear you will again.

  Vandat kept to himself his own fears. He had his own reasons for supporting this negotiation.

  Delta, listening to the stream of communication between the warship’s AI and Drift’s docking authority, thought sympathetically of the two Than who were probably standing two levels below, in the dark so that their compound eyes would see the approaching ship better, without the distraction of room lights. One insectoid with a decorated green carapace indicating her caste as warrior leader (and chief of the Drift’s security), Blossoms on the Wind, would be speaking to her littermate and colleague Reflections of the Sun, whose decorated crimson carapace indicated his caste as a technician and builder. Delta suspected that the Than directors had fewer misgivings about the promises of this new Commonwealth, as offered by the human captain of this single warship—relic of the old Commonwealth—than they did about Alphyra’s reasons for wanting to join. “Too many humans,” she’d heard, over and over again. “It can only mean ill.”

  But the Than had still agreed, and Delta did not, as yet, know why. Their agreement had been so abrupt, she was still afraid they’d disco
vered some secret something that frightened them even more than the prospect of a new Commonwealth run largely by humans—but Alphyra had assured her they had just needed time to listen to reason. “Hive beings are reasonable beings, after all,” she’d said, “or they would not flourish in such a communal structure.”

  Delta wished suddenly that she were with them, alone. Maybe they would talk to her if no one else was by. But now was not the time. Alphyra had summoned her, and anyway the two Than would not just stand idly watching the starship; they would be monitoring the security scramble that was standard operational procedure as soon as any ship emerged at the Slipstream point.

  Delta glanced at the orderly stream of fighter craft that had taken up honor guard position along the way (ready at an instant to reform into combat mode), then she glanced at her sister, who watched the warship with avid attention.

  Delta sensed tension, and realized that Vandat, whose mellow voice was almost never silent when they were all together, did not speak.

  That meant, despite his work in bringing about the three-way agreement, he had misgivings, too. The question was, were they the same ones the Than had?

  Alphyra had dismissed all this conjecture in private converse. “Captain Hunt is human,” she’d said, as if that explained everything.

  Delta had not argued. She never argued. She just hoped her sister would keep the promise she had made to the other two directors: that all three species’ directors must be present at any negotiation.

  Two levels beyond the silent Than, in one of the spacious lobbies along the main concourse that circled the entire Drift, a cluster of extravagantly dressed humans stood at one of the huge bubble-shaped observation windows, all of them watching the massive battle cruiser approach. For once the scene outside was more interesting than all the recreation levels below; the quiet buzz of conversation was mostly amazement, speculation, hope of perhaps getting a glimpse of the famous High Guard captain who had been stashed beyond time for three hundred years. Everyone seemed to know the Andromeda, and the few who didn’t were rapidly filled in on its amazing adventures. Some of what was said was even true.

  At opposite ends of that observation bubble two individuals stood, each silent, listening to the talk and laughter and gossip around them, but not participating. One, a young woman with a scarred face and a tough exterior that had warded the more perceptive thieves and rollers on Drifts across space, smiled thoughtfully.

  The second, a tall, muscular man with black hair and eyes, skin the color of copper, and a wide, sardonic mouth, transferred his gaze from the warship to the flexi in his hand, which was no more than a brief communication that had arrived just days before with a communications packet:

  Please obtain a new supply of AP tanks for RV, who will pay the usual rate. AA on the lookout for Vedran artifacts for the university.

  Bland words, meaningless, except for two sets of initials: AA, for Andromeda Ascendant, and BV for Beka Valentine.

  TWO

  The good of subjects is the end of kings.

  —DANIEL DEFOE,

  CY 1701, EARTH

  ALL SYSTEMS UNIVERSITY, SPECIAL COLLECTIONS

  “We are in contact with Paradise Drift Port Authority,” the brisk female voice of Andromeda Ascendantes AI stated. “Escort on approach. Docking information incoming.”

  “Damp it, Rommie, unless there’s something you think we ought to hear,” said Captain Dylan Hunt, his narrowed gaze on the big Command Deck viewscreen.

  “Standard,” replied the AI, nicknamed Rommie.

  The Andromeda had shed its velocity on emergence from the weird dimension known as the Slipstream, finding itself surrounded by a phalanx of fast single-pilot Than slip-fighters in escort formation. Now they approached at a very sedate pace, the escort matching speed with precision.

  All as it should be—as long as no one did anything unexpected.

  Dylan gazed at Paradise Drift as they approached at the mandated speed, slow enough to avoid accidents. Even armored Drifts such as Paradise were relatively fragile; a warship big enough to carry a crew of four thousand could do tremendous damage with nothing more than the kinetic energy of its tremendous mass, even at a relatively low velocity.

  “They’ve offered a datalink into their guest database,” Rommie went on. “Any questions?”

  Captain Hunt sat back, arms crossed. He was wearing his High Guard uniform, because he knew that that was what potential signées to the new Commonwealth expected to see. “Cut to the chase, Rommie?”

  Rommie’s digital persona appeared on a side screen in uniform, because her captain was in uniform. She was a young woman with short dark hair, a beautiful face and body, her dark, slanted eyes alert and very, very intelligent. “Same general history we received in the invitation communiqué. The Drift was originally Perseid core ships, joined by Than who functioned as builders and security when the Drift was an outpost of the All Systems University, research division. At some point—I suspect this part of the databank was programmed by Perseids for it uses the same diplomatic language as the communiqué to tell us what happened but not why—they teamed up with a human group from the planet Rigos below, which, it seems, was first settled by the Kodos family. Subsequent to the human arrival the university withdrew its Special Collections branch here, and about twenty years ago the Drift reinvented itself as a recreational facility. The Than revamped the defensive structure and arrangements so that the Drift could defend itself, the Slipstream portal, and the planet; it was the human director, Alphyra Kodos, who oversaw the overall redesign. Apparently they weren’t very successful until she came onboard, and after her overhaul, it became the success story we see before us now.”

  “‘Teamed up.’ Wonder what they’re not saying,” commented Beka Valentine, who had been silent since their emergence from the Slipstream. Even as brilliant a pilot as she required some recovery time.

  “No evidence of major wars or invasions, any kind of trouble?” Dylan asked, glancing over at Beka’s cool profile, emphasized by her long pale blond hair. He’d discovered that she was a good weather-vane for possible trouble.

  Rommie said, “Nothing since the fall of the Commonwealth. At least, in this part of the database they are offering.”

  “Wonder why it looks like a gigantic building, instead of a Drift?” Beka murmured.

  Dylan grinned. “You can’t guess?”

  Beka snorted. “Because this Kodos who had the cash, or the power, to dictate overall design was a mudfoot?”

  Dylan spread his hands. “I, originating on a planet through no fault of my own, prefer a more neutral term than mudfoot, but yes. That would be my guess.”

  Rommie gestured. “We’ve been directed to Docking Bay One. Shall I continue to handle that on autopilot?”

  “Yes.”

  The door to the Command Deck opened with a hiss, and Seamus Harper lounged in, lithe, blond, and insouciant. “That would be the diplomatic hoochie-koo we’re getting, right? Docking Bay One?”

  Dylan Hunt grinned, remembering a time that, to him, was not so very long ago when no one dressed in baggy, rumpled, engine-part-stained pants and a loud shirt evoking the beach cultures of old Earth would have been permitted past the vigilant guards onto the holy Command Deck of a High Guard warship. Not so long ago by his view, but three hundred years ago to these others.

  Three hundred years ago he’d commanded four thousand dedicated Commonwealth warriors. Now his crew numbered five, including himself: Harper, his engineer; Beka Valentine, his number one; Trance Gemini whose realm was life, whether medical or hydroponics; and perhaps the most surprising of a very surprising crew, seated at the weapons console Tyr Anasazi out of Victoria by Barbarossa—a Nietzschean.

  Not that there hadn’t been Nietzscheans in the Commonwealth High Guard. There had. Dylan’s first officer just before disaster struck the Commonwealth—and the Andromeda—had been a Nietzschean.

  Gaheris Rhade had also been his best friend. Who had betrayed
him, and nearly assassinated him just before the Andromeda was caught on the event horizon of a black hole for three hundred years…

  Dylan gave his head a shake, and returned his attention to the viewscreen, on which the Paradise Drift was now close enough to show details. It was obviously a construct made of many ships, but unlike most of the drifts they were used to seeing scattered through Known Space, which were largely space trash welded haphazardly, this Drift had as its center six huge Perseid cargo ships welded together in pleasing geometric exactitude. From that core various constructs had accrued: neat, orderly, the complicated design what Rommie called Byzantine, a reference to old Earth’s history that nowadays usually suggested the characteristic stately yet complex Perseid intricacy: a contrast with the angular Than weapon emplacements and heavy armoring that revealed the military aspect of the Drift, as did the escorts flying in sedate formation at either side of the Andromeda.

  Rommie’s voice interrupted his thoughts: “They are offering an index of what they call their paradises.”

  Harper sauntered across the Command Deck to hang over one of the arms of the pilot’s seat, a can of Sparky Cola in hand. “Paradises! Now, that sounds like something that Seamus Zelazny Harper absolutely has to hear about. Let ’er rip, Rom.”

  Rommie’s crisp voice took on a shade of amusement. “All 9,483 of them? Or shall I do some sorting?”

  Beka Valentine sent Harper an amused glance. “We already know what Harper would want: my guess is, beautiful women would be the first priority in the search parameters. How about a general look?”

  Harper shrugged. “Hey—either way, I’m easy! Just as long as I get to meet some of the abovementioned beautiful women.”

  Beka laughed and sat back in the pilot’s seat, her hands near the controls in case of an emergency, which was seeming more and more unlikely; there was no need for hotshot piloting at this slow speed. In fact, if the chatter whispering over the datalinks was anything to go by, Paradise Drift was appreciative of the fact that an AI was guiding the battle cruiser in to its bay, rather than a human pilot, who might have…quirks.

 
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