Niles Gule, vampire hunter of Baltimore, must confront and kill another vampire in his job working for the Baltimore PD
Source: Gule’s 20th Kill
Niles Gule, vampire hunter of Baltimore, must confront and kill another vampire in his job working for the Baltimore PD
Source: Gule’s 20th Kill
For the third time, Ellison fell to his knees, but this time he didn’t try to struggle back to his feet. Exhausted, he knelt in the deepening snow with his head bent into the wind and his hands clenched against his chest in a vain attempt to bring feeling back to his frozen fingers. This is not good, Eli, he mumbled through lips caked with the hoar frost of his breath. If what he faced was evening, imagine midnight. The howling wind and whipping snow battered him and in desperation he struggled onto his frozen feet and lurched forward again. With his back bowed to shield his face from the blinding snow, he trudged on, seeing nothing but his inadequate clothing snapping in the frosty air and his lifeless toes plowing through the ankle deep snow. He heard nothing but the hiss of the wind and his own labored footsteps.
Ellison cursed his deficient clothing, which had seemed warm enough before he landed here. They said Ariane would be cold, he grumbled, blaming himself for getting into this mess. But damn it! I never thought they meant cold!
The unforgiving, empty night stretched before him, and Ellison wondered with more than a little despair if he was as lost as he suspected he was. All around him menaced wilderness without sign of human habitation, nor had he seen any since his landing. What little he could make out in the dwindling twilight showed him craggy hills worn down by the wind and tattered plants clinging to a meager existence between the stones. He hoped he hadn’t wandered off the road. The first time he’d done that, he’d floundered over rocks hidden in the snow and tumbled down an embankment. The snow down his back hadn’t improved his mood.
Of all the places to die, he thought dismally, certain now he would never find Edenwald. Of all the places he’d ever been, of all the troubles he’d ever surmounted, he never thought he’d end it here, all alone on Ariane.
He stumbled again and dropped to his knees, unwilling and unable to go on. With fingers so numb he could barely feel them he scrambled through the pack Hurley had given him which should have contained all he’d need to survive on this world, and drew out the map of the area. It crackled and fought him in the wind and with so little light he couldn’t make out what was scribbled there. He swore. So what was the purpose of it, he demanded of the night.
He wished he possessed something as simple as a flashlight, but even that had been denied him. Nothing with which to start a fire either, he thought, not that he believed he could force one of these ice stunted trees to burn. Rummaging through the insufficient sack, he came upon a small pack of food and a bottle of water. Nothing more.
I’m going to die, he sighed at last. May as well face the facts.
He hesitated. Was that the jiggle of bells? He twisted his head to catch the fleeting sound, but it eluded him, lost to the sighing of the wind. It wouldn’t be the first time he caught himself hearing things. They’d warned him as they’d blasted away, that Ariane did things to a man’s mind, and they’d chortled as they’d said it, deriving great glee from his uneasiness. True humanitarians, Hurley and his crew. True humanitarians.
The faint sound of ringing came again, from somewhere to his right. No, his left. Ellison climbed wearily to his feet and tried to make sense of the sound which the wind swirled around him. There, clearly, from behind him, and praise God, it was coming closer!
Half fainting with relief, Ellison waited while the gentle jingle of little bells came ever closer. Ellison squinted into the darkness of the road down which he had come and saw a shadowy form emerge from the night. It materialized into a creature like none he knew. A bulky beast with four legs, it trotted ponderously beneath a mantle of red-brown fur which hung in mats down to the ground. Though Ellison suspected its head was somewhere in front of it, he could not identify such a structure, buried as it was beneath the long hair and a rich blanket of snow, but snorting clouds of steam indicated something breathed beneath the fur. The creature towed a sled piled high with cargo while a heap of furs mounded at the front appeared to handle the reins.
Ellison jumped into the middle of the road, waving his arms and pleading for the driver to stop. The driver did so, and from out of the furs, two eyes gleamed.
Ellison stumbled over to the side of the sled and gazed up at what little he could see of the driver. “Could you give me a lift?” he asked. “I’m trying to get to Edenwald.”
The eyes blinked at him. A frown of confusion settled between them. “Can’t,” came a rumbling reply.
The driver looked around uncomfortably, as if frightened that someone might catch him talking to a stranger. “This is the masser’s sledge.”
Ellison also looked around but only snow met his eyes. “I’ll get off before the prison. No one will ever know.”
Ellison growled in frustration. “If you don’t help me, I’ll freeze to death out here.”
“Masser Ariane will give me whooping,” the reluctant driver wavered.
Ariane! Ellison pounced on the name, amazed that of all the people he’d happen to meet, the first would be Jaq Ariane’s driver. Hurley had suggested Ellison seek out Ariane. He was a man of some importance Ellison gathered, though Hurley wouldn’t explain just who Ariane was, or why he’d borrowed his name from the planet on which he’d been imprisoned.
“It’s Ariane I’m trying to find,” Ellison wheedled. “I’m sure he’ll reward you from bringing me to him.” So what was a little lie between criminals?
The driver continued to vacillate.
“Please!” Ellison begged.
“You newcomer,” the driver mumbled, taking note of Ellison’s less than adequate attire and the Edenwald stamp on his shoulder declaring his possessions government issue.
“Yes.” Ellison saw no point in arguing the obvious.
Still the driver made no move to let Ellison join him.
“Is Edenwald far from here? Am I on the right road?”
“Only one road in Arcane.”
Ellison fought to hold his temper.
“So can I walk to Edenwald? Am I going in the right direction?”
“Don’t know no Edenwald.”
Ellison nearly tore his hair out in frustration. “It’s the prison! I was supposed to report there hours ago. Doesn’t anyone keep track of incoming inmates?”
“Don’t know nothing bout no ims’mates,” the driver protested. “This is the road to Lichenwald. Ain’t nothing else on it but that.”
Ellison forced himself to patience. “So can you take me to Lichenwald?”
“Why not?” Ellison sighed.
“This is the masser’s sledge.”
Which puts me right where I started, Ellison fumed. He paused and formulated a new attack. “Mr. Ariane has requested to see me. He wants you to take me to him.”
“Masser Ariane don’t jake no newcomers,” the driver replied. “That’s Warden’s job.”
Ellison didn’t comprehend the usage of “jake” but he pounced on the word warden. “Then take me to the warden.”
“Why not? No, don’t tell me! It’s the masser’s sledge.” Ellison sighed. But at least his blood was pumping.
He tried again. “How far is it to Lichenwald?”
“Juss through the forest.”
“And how far ahead is the forest?”
“Hundred yard, maybe less.”
“Can you take me just through the forest?”
The driver peered at him. “You sure Masser Ariane wants a jake you?” he asked.
“Absolutely!” Ellison wondered what he’d just affirmed.
The driver hesitated again. Then he held down a great, fur mittened hand. “Come up. I’ll take you.”
Half wanting to hug the man, Ellison snatched up his pack and allowed himself to be pulled into the sled. The driver dumped him unceremoniously atop the mound of furs, cracked the reins and sent his animal trotting down the road.
Snuggling gratefully into the furs, which he ascertained protected the cargo as well as the driver, Ellison asked. “Do you have a name?”
“Masser calls me Tom Fool,” came the reply.
“How fitting!” Ellison murmured and settled down for the drive. “I’m Ellison,” he offered, but Tom Fool ignored him.
From the warmth of the sled Ellison studied the wizened trees and rocky hillocks through which the road made its sinuous way. Where the wind swept the earth clean of snow, Ellison saw no sign of grass or small plants. Just earth and stones and desolation. Then, abruptly, they entered a thin forest, which by the standards of Ellison’s adopted forested home of Korrisa was nothing more than a weedy patch. Stunted to a height of perhaps ten feet, the twisted trees grew no greater than a foot around, their leafless branches reaching out into the darkness like tortured arms lifting to capture the falling snow. No bracken filled the empty spaces between them. They stood as silent sentinels in a sea of snow.
“Lichenwald Forest,” Tom Fool commented.
He reached behind him and took out a lantern. Though it must have been burning all during the journey, Tom Fool had buried it so that it gave off no light. Tom hung it from a lantern hook and set the flame up high. Ellison curled his nose. Some sort of tallow affair, he decided, though it smelled better than either the sled animal or Tom Fool.
The lantern cast its gleam only a yard or so into the forest, illuminating the smooth silver bark of the leafless trees. The snow sparkled in the light as they passed.
“What’s the lantern for?” Ellison asked, seeing no reason for it, since Tom seemed to know the road in the dark.
“Lichenshades,” Tom Fool answered and he pointed with a mittened hand.
Curious, Ellison’s eyes traced the direction of Tom’s mitten and saw little shadows dancing just at the edge of light. Whether something actually flitted there or if the shadows were merely a trick of the light glancing off tree trunks Ellison couldn’t be sure. But Tom Fool seemed afraid enough. He snapped his animal into a faster trot.
“They eat things when they have a mind,” Tom said, nodding sagely at his guest. “Don’t go into Lichenwald Forest. Never without a light.”
Ellison filed that for later consideration.
The forest ended as abruptly as it began and they entered an open field. Here the wind died and the snow swirled lightly in the void. Ahead a dull glow lit the clouds. A great plume of steam hung illuminated from below and silhouetted towers and walls. Ellison blinked. Edenwald Prison. The massive outer guarding wall stood before them at the far end of the field and it was this that blocked the wind. Two huge towers that marked the front gate loomed up into the night, cold, lifeless and unlit. From the glow on the steam that welled up beyond the towers, Ellison could see that the tower to the right had a hole in its roof. The wall, too, was starting to decay. The great iron gates stood open. One still clung to its hinges, but the other had been propped up against the wall. The first creaked with the pain of rusting joints when the breeze shoved it. And on the wall beside the gate hung what was left of the prison sign. Barely discernible through the snow that caked it, Ellison read Edenwald Prison and Internment Camp. See the Warden upon admission. The sign was marked with the shield symbol that graced any property belonging to the Federal Law Enforcement Agency, the authority that ran Irae’s prison system. But next to it, Ellison saw something else, a plaque engraved with the letter V with a dot beneath it. And next to that was a trident symbol. Ellison recognized the V. It belonged to the National Science Consortium, although why it had been placed there upon a prison wall, he didn’t know. What the secretive quasi-governmental society was doing at Edenwald prison he couldn’t imagine. The trident symbol was a mystery, belonging neither to FLEA nor the NSC at least as far as he knew. His uneasiness continued to grow. There was something very wrong about this place, this mission. There was something very important Hurley had failed to tell him.
What did I do now Daj wondered when the PA system ordered him to report to his boss’s office the moment he entered the building. He repeated his lament when he arrived at the dean’s office to find his white faced superior Roger Bradstreet standing at what could only be called attention. The reason for the man’s unease stood on the far side of the desk, two officers looking grim in blue Interplanetary Fleet uniforms. Daj swallowed, his mind replaying the last anti-Fleet protest he’d joined on campus a few weeks ago. I guess they figured out who wrote “don’t dump human stupidity on the Universe” across the recruiting office window, he thought with a sigh.
“Morning, Daj,” Bradstreet greeted him quietly. He gestured to a chair in front of his desk.
Eyeing the two uniformed men, Daj chose to remain standing. Somehow, he thought, if he was going to be arrested for protesting his political views, he wanted to take it like a man.
Bradstreet tried to give him a bracing smile but failed, not that Daj had any chance of reading his expression. The dean was standing in silhouette in front of panoramic windows ablaze with early morning sunlight. In odd contrast to the tense silence of the dean’s office, the beautiful view of Indiana farmlands and St Joseph’s Lake on an early summer morning should have been soothing. It wasn’t.
“Please sit down,” Bradstreet insisted. He settled himself into the overly large leather chair that seemed so at odds with the stark modernity of his acrylic desk. The dean toyed with his coffee cup, mocha java with a shot of cinnamon and espresso, venti. It never changed. Daj could smell the brew wafting from the steaming cup, an aroma that would forever remind him of his boss.
Rather than sit he challenged the two officers. “Good morning.”
What he guessed was the senior of the two, a gentleman with patches of silver beneath his kepi and numerous bars and stripes on his shoulders, extended his hand with his fingers curled. Daj accepted the courtesy by touching the officer’s knuckles with his own.
“Please sit, Professor Dimarco,” the man suggested. He tried to work some life into his strained face but the crinkles of worry made that impossible.
Now convinced he’d been caught on video, Daj plopped unceremoniously into the chair. Without thinking, he snatched Bradstreet’s venti and chugged a gulp, not even noticing the searing heat of the coffee as it burned his mouth. He knew this was bad when Bradstreet didn’t protest he’d stolen the dean’s morning ritual.
“Daj,” Bradstreet said, “this is Major Hans Uistert. Major, Adagio Dimarco.” The dean made no attempt to introduce the second officer.
“Adagio,” the major said with a vague smile. “An interesting name.”
Daj sighed. “It means to play slowly in a music score.”
“Your parents are both musicians,” Uistert commented, now lowering his tall, painfully thin frame into a second chair. The adjutant continued to stand.
“Yes.” Why do I suspect they know the color of the underwear I put on this morning, Daj thought?
“I once saw Francesca Dimarco perform at La Scala,” the major stated. “A magnificent violinist to be sure. Your father’s the conductor of the London Symphony, isn’t he?”
Daj fought to keep from rolling his eyes. Yep, they knew his underwear. “Yes. For three years.”
Uistert’s vaguely pleasant expression remained fixed like a plastic mask. “You chose a different path in life. Linguistics.”
Daj nodded. He clutched the venti like it would save his life. His hands were trembling. Not surprising. He’d lost the ability to deal with authority when he’d been tortured in an African prison as a young man. He still got the shakes whenever he dealt with men in uniform. So why, oh why do you insist on tweaking their noses when you know this could be the result?
Maybe if I throw this coffee in the major’s face I can run for it, he thought. Although if the man was with the Union Fleet there really wasn’t anywhere he could go. Out into the cornfields of Indiana? Scurry into a hole under the golden dome of Main? Maybe there was a dormitory packed with students where he could hide. Nah. Notre Dame’s student population wasn’t particularly radical. Now if he’d had the sense to work at Kent State!
“Professor Dimarco has been with Notre Dame for eight years,” Bradstreet stated. “He chairs the linguistics department.”
“You speak five languages fluently and can read nine.” This was a statement.
“Also done work for the Space Service in cryptology.”
Daj swallowed. That one surprised him. He’d assisted in dealing with an encryption problem for the Space Sciences Department two years ago on what had been supposedly a black project. According to those who’d recruited him, they hadn’t used his real name in their records. Daj was beginning to suspect not only did Uistert know what underwear he was wearing but how many holes there were in it. Two.
Daj had reached his limit. Having decided these people weren’t going to arrest him because if they were they wouldn’t have been so polite, Daj went on the attack. “What’s this about?” He glanced at his watch. “I have a staff meeting in twenty minutes.”
“You’re going to miss it,” Uistert stated. “We need you to come with us immediately.”
Daj’s mouth dropped. He stared first at the major then at Bradstreet.
“Take it easy, Daj,” the dean said. “This isn’t what you think.”
“How do you know what I’m thinking?” Daj demanded. He thumped the stolen coffee cup on the desk sloshing its contents over the clear plastic surface. “You order me to your office first thing in the morning to be interrogated by a couple of army snots…”
“You’re hardly being interrogated,” Bradstreet reproved. “And they’re fleet snots, not army snots.”
“Professor Dimarco,” Uistert said quietly. “Please calm down. The Union Fleet simply needs your assistance in something quite important.”
“Needs assistance sounds like you’re asking,” Daj snorted. “I don’t hear anyone asking anything.”
The major’s face tightened. “Professor Dimarco, I can assure you this is of utmost importance. You’ll understand as soon as you’re apprised of the situation. For now, you have to come with us.”
“Come with you? Where?”
“To New York.”
Daj’s mouth dropped again. “New York! I can’t go to New York. It’s finals week for God’s sake!”
“Not for you, sir.” Uistert stood up.
Daj turned frantic eyes to his boss. “Roger?”
“You have to go, Daj,” Bradstreet said with a sigh.
“Do you know what this is about?”
“No, but I received a communique from the State Department last night demanding the university’s cooperation in releasing you.”
Daj’s mouth flapped again. “Releasing me? Am I being fired?”
Bradstreet wilted. “Of course not! Daj, just go to New York and see what Fleet wants. As soon as you settle whatever this is, come back.”
“It’s finals week!” Daj complained like it was incontrovertible truth.
“I’ve already arranged things with Marvella and Chad. They’ll grade your finals for you.” Bradstreet stood up. He gestured that Daj was to also rise. “Please, Daj. You’re just making this difficult.”
Daj wanted to say something about a university standing up for its professors, but one look at Bradstreet’s face told him he was wasting his time. Whatever this was, it was bigger than the crypto project. Way bigger.
Frustrated, he rose but jerked his arm free when Uistert tried to take hold of it. “I can walk myself,” he growled. “I’m only thirty-seven, which makes me at least fifty years younger than you.”
“Daj!” Bradstreet warned. “Please!”
Uistert brushed off the jibe. “I was told you’re a bit of a free spirit. Comes from being raised on two continents by a couple of wild musicians, I suppose.”
Daj blinked, stunned at the description of his parents. Anyone but anyone who knew the Divine Dimarcos knew the last thing either one could be called was a wild musician. As a pianist, a composer and finally a conductor, his Italian father was a world spanning giant. His mother was nearly as famous. The two fabulously talented and beautiful people had married after a scandalous two week affair that lit up every tabloid on the Continent. The inconvenience of a child appearing a year later hadn’t slowed them down, only taught them the importance of certain medical treatments in order to avoid the problem recurring. Their precious little Adagio had been dragged from one end of the world to the other. He’d visited the finest cities and met with the most important of the world’s notables. He was the crown prince in a musical royal family.
Uistert was in a hurry. Before Daj could even catch his breath or grab a jacket, the man hauled him from the Language Arts Building, shoved him into a limousine which raced through the soaring towers of twenty-second century South Bend and delivered him ten minutes later to the train station. The major didn’t stop for a breath even there. Daj was hustled through the station at a breakneck pace and he wondered what all the rush was about. There wasn’t anything in the world of linguistics that required rushing. No one had mentioned that to Uistert however. Daj was tugged onto a waiting maglev and ordered to sit. He’d barely dropped into one of the plush seats when the train began its slow, smooth acceleration. Stunned by the major’s ability to sweep aside all of mankind, Daj watched out the window as the train gained speed leaving the station, a crowd of confused east bound riders wondering why the train had left with only three men on board.
Two and a half hours later they were in New York City. Before Daj could even move, his escorts were on their feet. He was hustled onto the platform where curious New Yorkers stood watching in wonderment as only three men disembarked from the entire length of the Keystone Western, normally one of the most crowded trains on the continent. As he was shoved through the crowd, Daj decided there were going to be some very angry people waiting a long time for their relatives to arrive from Chicago.
A short ride in another limousine sent Daj whirling through the city. To his amazement, an escort of police on motorcycles cleared the way so that the limousine never stopped. Having not enjoyed such luxury since the days of traveling with his parents, Daj breathlessly peered out at the towers flashing by and wondered as he had for the entire trip what in God’s name was going on.
The car pulled to a halt before a familiar building. Immediately, the driver hopped out and opened the door for his passengers. The sounds of the city hit Daj for only a moment, the beeps of horns, the squealing of tires, the clash of metal as two vehicles collided, and the screaming of curses in that most American of accents, Brooklynese. Then he was inside and the city disappeared behind him. He took a second to glance at his watch. Two hours and fifty minutes from South Bend to Manhattan. Damn! A man couldn’t fly commercial that fast.
Still the pace didn’t relent. Daj was granted the briefest of glances at the atrium as he was led to the elevators. A reception desk ran the complete length of the building and there were five very lovely young ladies of various races stationed at strategic points along it. Behind them hung the two hundred and twenty-eight banners of the States of the World Union hung in politically correct alphabetical order. Daj blinked when he realized he recognized the parade of banners. He was inside the Union Administration building itself. He must have seen that atrium a million times on news feeds when prominent government officials chose the space for their interviews. Jesus, this was serious.
The ride up was so quick, Daj was sure he’d left his stomach on the first floor. He was in one of the express elevators and they were going very high. Did high mean important or merely out of the way? What was he doing here?
When the doors opened Uistert led Daj through a hall even more hushed than the atrium below. A handful of people moved about but most had intense, worried looks on their faces and none bothered to give the breathless, untidy man from Indiana a glance. When he passed a glassed office, Daj used the surface as a mirror as he smoothed his fractious dark locks, a gift from his Italian father, and rub some color into his pale face, a gift from his Scottish mother.
At the end of the hallway, Uistert ushered him into a reception area where he left his charge without a word. Bewildered by the speed of his journey, Daj stood abandoned, uncertain what he should do. He’d had runins with the Union government in the past and had heard the Fleet could be heavy handed, but he’d never experienced it like this before.
A door opened and a tall, thin man wearing a white lab coat approached him with a smile and an outstretched fist. Daj accepted the bump of knuckles politely while he struggled to comprehend what was coming next.
“Professor Dimarco, it’s a pleasure!” the man said. His voice was accented. German. “I’ve read quite a bit about you.”
Daj raised his eyebrows. In his humble trade of college professor he found it hard to believe anyone had read anything about him at all, including his students. “I wish I could say the same.”
The German’s smile broadened. “Ah yes! My apologies. It was a rather rushed trip.”
“I woke up in South Bend three hours ago,” Daj grumbled. “I missed a staff meeting.”
“I don’t! Who are you?”
“I’m Dr. Wolfram von Granau of the Space Administration. The director of the xenobiology department.”
“Well that certainly makes sense,” Daj groused. He stood with his arms folded while he blinked at the German who clearly didn’t understand the sarcasm.
“I apologize for rushing you, but we must have a decision, Professor Dimarco,” Granau said. “It’s of utmost importance that you join the group immediately.”
Daj took a step back. “What decision? What are you talking about? No one’s told me anything.”
Granau sighed and gestured in a very Teutonic fashion. “Yes, I see. I understand.”
“Well I don’t!” Daj realized in his nervousness he was shouting. “What in the name of God is going on?”
The German motioned to a small conference table where Daj noticed a plastic thermal pot holding something that might be coffee. There were two plastic cups overturned next to it.
“Will you please sit down?” the man asked pleasantly. “We must go over all of this very quickly. The group is already in session.”
Deciding he needed to do something to slow this train down, Daj dropped into one of the chairs then twisted the lid off the pot and sniffed. Ah, coffee! He poured himself a cup.
“I’m sorry about the rush,” Granau stated. He ignored the coffee. He sat watching Daj expectantly with his handsome blue eyes.
Daj took the longest, slowest sip in his life.
“We need an answer, Herr Dimarco.”
Daj set the cup down with great deliberation. “What exactly am I deciding?”
Granau’s face tightened. “Have you ever considered space travel?”
The laugh that burst from Daj almost made him spit coffee on the esteemed doctor. He sat staring blankly at the man, slow to realize Granau was being completely serious. He frowned and scratched his chin. “I can’t say as I have. I mean I think everyone fantasizes taking a trip to Mars or Titan, but I haven’t considered anything more than that. Why do you ask?”
“What about Olegi Five?”
Daj felt the blood wash from his face. “Olegi Five?” he sputtered. “That’s… that’s… way out there.”
Granau nodded. “It is indeed. Three years standard travel. The very frontiers of human expansion.”
“It’s a one way trip!”
“Given our technology it can be.”
Daj shoved the cup of coffee away. His nerves weren’t helping his trembling and he didn’t want to spill anything on Granau. It would be a shame to ruin that whiter than white lab coat. “Why would anyone want to take a one way trip to the end of civilization?”
“Because it’s not the end of civilization,” Granau commented. “It’s the beginning, Herr Dimarco.”
Daj twitched a brow while he contemplated that. “I suppose you mean the nomen.”
“I see you view the news.”
“It’s considered de rigeur when you’re a professor.”
“Ah.” Granau sat waiting.
“I thought the rumors about something bumping in the night were just the wild imaginations of people out in space too long. Tabloid stuff. Are you saying the nomen are real?”
Granau didn’t reply.
Daj lifted his brows.
“What’s your answer, Herr Dimarco?” the doctor asked. “Will you travel to Olegi Five?”
Daj tapped his fingers on the conference table wondering how to say No Fucking Way politely. “Why would I?”
“Because the fate of humanity may very well rest on your decision.”
This time Daj couldn’t keep himself from bursting out laughing. “Oh come on! You sound like one of those late twentieth century serials that my students like to scorn. Dr. Who.”
Granau shook his head. “This is very serious, Herr Dimarco. The team needs you.”
“What team? What’s going on? You’re asking me an irrevocable decision with absolutely no information.”
The German looked pained. “I’m afraid I can give you very little information. If word of what’s been happening leaches out, panic will erupt in the streets. We’ll have chaos.”
Daj caught his breath, his dark eyes planted on the German’s blue ones while he digested the comment. “What’s going on out there?”
Granau blinked wordlessly.
Daj sat in winded silence while he contemplated the coffee pot. Finally he looked up. “I have to know what you’re asking me to do.”
“I’m afraid I can’t tell you that. You have a choice. You may join the team and all will be answered, or you must leave this office immediately and return to your uninspiring little life in South Bend Indiana.”
Daj frowned. “Why do I suspect you’re telling me my life will become far worse than uninspiring? This is serious, isn’t it?”
“Let’s say I opt to go back to South Bend,” he tried. “Would I be able to live a long and happy life?”
“Which one wouldn’t occur?” Daj asked in alarm.
“Holy Mary Mother of God, you’re not kidding!” Daj exclaimed.
Granau shook his head.
In his panic over the thought of taking such a tremendous risk, Daj sought an easy way out. “Let’s say I decided to go. What about my life?” he asked. “My dogs?”
“You don’t have any dogs.”
“Okay, my houseplants.”
“You don’t have any of those either.”
“They can live without you. It’s all been arranged with the university.”
Daj glared at him. “My parents?”
Granau smiled thinly. “If you love your parents you’ll join the team.”
“Are you implying even my parents won’t have a long and happy life?”
Granau shrugged. “Probably not.”
Daj felt his body sink into the chair so great was the weight that seemed to press down on him. What had the Union government been hiding from everyone? What nasty things were going on out there in the Great Dark?
Granau rose. “I’m going to run a quick errand while you decide. Time is short, Herr Dimarco. Very short. Think hard on this.” Granau rose and strode quietly from the room on rubber soles.
Daj was left shell shocked at the conference table. For a long time he thought about absolutely nothing. Then images of his students and his apartment came rushing to him and he felt a sense of homesickness even though he was only three hours from home. He had work to do. He was fiddling with a new theory regarding the rongorongo tablets of Easter Island and twice planned a trip there that he never took. He was chairman of the languages club and they met at his place once a month. And the Voynich manuscript still hadn’t been decoded. He had to get a girlfriend, any girlfriend.
Daj stood and began to pace. After the initial panic wore off, he seriously considered what he’d leave behind if he accepted this insane offer. An apartment on the seventeenth floor of the Littleton building with access to laundry in the basement. A job that paid his bills but didn’t fulfill him. A handful of casual friends among the faculty but no one he considered a soul mate. It was all so very… predictable. Daj thought about his life in his twenties. It had been exhilarating, terrifying, inspiring, anything but predictable. Protesting wars and fighting in one, working for peace in the halls of world government, swimming with sharks in the Coral Sea. Somehow he’d become lazy. The easy life at Notre Dame had swallowed him up and made him just one more middle income middle American living in the middle of middleness. Dear God it was depressing.
Come on, Daj, he scolded himself. Olegi Five? Was Granau kidding? That newly discovered R3O class planet was a thousand fucking light years away! Even in the fastest interstellar ship the trip took three years, assuming the ship even made it. Daj had heard of ships failing to hit their skips and flying off into God only knew what hyperdimensional dragon maw existed out there. Flying commercial, assuming such a thing even existed, the trip would be a daunting five or more years.
Then there was the question of the nomen. Daj didn’t know much about them, only what was presented on the news feeds. Prospectors and adventurers claimed they’d encountered some sort of intelligent alien life out there and initial contact had been made. Most of the stories were downright bizarre, the same old kidnapping stuff of time immemorial. No actual evidence seemed to exist and the folks on terra firma considered it a hoax. Tabloid journalism at its best.
And yet. What if there actually was something out there? Something intelligent? Could he allow the first contact between humans and aliens to be handled by Fleet snots? What sort of message would that send to the cosmos? The thought of being one of the first to encounter an alien life form filled Daj’s head with all sorts of ideas. Much as he hated the fact that humanity was exporting all its ills into the universe, Daj admitted this was an opportunity of a lifetime.
Daj got no further in his musings. The door opened and Wolfram von Granau returned. He smiled pleasantly as he closed the door.
“So do you have an answer?” the doctor asked.
“You’re trying to decode the noman language, aren’t you?” Daj ventured.
Granau refused to answer. “Yes, or no, Herr Dimarco? Do you go with us to Olegi Five?”
Daj nodded and folded his arms. “Yes, damn you! Just as you knew it would be yes.”
Granau nodded and the tightness in his shoulders relaxed. “I didn’t know but I suspected. One had only to look at your life to know you are a frustrated man. This is your chance, Herr Dimarco. I hope you don’t screw it up.”
Mercenary Murray Ellison volunteers to be arrested and dumped alone and unarmed on the frozen prison planet of Ariane. His mission is to locate a downed cargo vessel, repair it and escape with nothing more than his wits. Unfortunately, Ellison lands in the middle of a murder investigation. Worse he learns that Jaq, the man he seeks as a guide, is not only a brothel owner but also the prime suspect in the murder. When Jaq is poisoned and nearly dies, the prison warden orders Ellison to protect him. Now an unwilling bodyguard, Ellison discovers Ariane is a woman who escaped a death sentence for murder by disguising herself as a man. For her part, Jaq wants nothing to do with Ellison. Her assailant tries twice more to kill her however, and an old enemy blackmails her. Knowing she must escape her prison, Jaq allies with Ellison. The two adversaries travel into the frozen wilderness to find the wreck, but it’s a trap set by Ellison’s employers who want Ariane dead. The two become pawns in a greater game pitting two powerful governments against each other. In order to survive Jaq faces the impossible choice of abandoning everyone she has always sworn to protect or killing the only man who’s ever touched her heart.
Somewhere in the Great Dark the nomen are lurking. Unprovoked, this faceless, violently aggressive life form is slaughtering the few adventurous humans willing to venture so far into deep space. Language master Daj Dimarco joins a team of scientists, sociologists and xenobiologists to discover how to communicate with the nomen and find peace before war erupts between the species. On route to noman’s land, Daj’s Rosetta Stone mission is viciously attacked. Betrayed by factions within his own Union government, Daj is thrown into space in a life pod and captured by the nomen. Can Daj learn enough of the noman language to keep the aliens from dissecting him? Can he become the bridge between the species and end a war before it begins?
Greetings fellow adventurers,
Welcome to the Worlds of Mel Lee Newmin! If you enjoy a rousing romp around the universe with or without a space craft, this is the place for you. Enter if you dare and meet
More worlds are taking shape with every day that passes. Visit often to see how all my various creations evolve and grow. Check in on the lives of your favorite people and leave your thoughts of where you think they should go next.
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