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Veil of Shadows (Book 2 of The Empire of Bones Saga), page 1

 

Veil of Shadows (Book 2 of The Empire of Bones Saga)
 


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Veil of Shadows (Book 2 of The Empire of Bones Saga)


  Veil of Shadows

  Book Two of The Empire of Bones Saga

  by

  Terry Mixon

  Veil of Shadows

  It’s always darkest before the dawn!

  In Empire of Bones, Commander Jared Mertz and Princess Kelsey scored a stunning victory over the savage Pale Ones. Yet they paid a terrible price for it, one that left their ship crippled and changed the Princess forever.

  As Kelsey struggles to master the combat enhancements the Pale Ones forcibly implanted inside her and Jared works feverishly to resurrect an ancient battlecruiser, they discover the Pale Ones aren’t as defeated as they seemed.

  Jared and Kelsey race to unravel the secrets behind the ancient rebellion that destroyed galactic civilization and thwart unseen foes determined to take their new ship and their lives. If they fail, an entire planet dies.

  Works by Terry Mixon

  The Empire of Bones Saga

  Empire of Bones

  Veil of Shadows

  Command Decisions (December 2014)

  Anthologies Terry Has Work In

  Dirty Magick: Los Angeles

  Short Fiction

  The Man Who Stole History (Alternate History/Time Travel)

  War Fish (Military Science Fiction)

  Do you want Terry to email you when he publishes a new book or when one goes on sale? Go to TerryMixon.com and sign up. Those are the only times he’ll contact you. No spam.

  Veil of Shadows

  Copyright 2014 by Terry Mixon

  Published by Yowling Cat Press

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including information storage and/or retrieval systems, or dissemination of any electronic version, without the prior written consent of the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review, and except where permitted by law.

  This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination, or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  Cover design and composition by Donna Mixon

  Cover Image copyrights:

  Deposit Photos / Andreus (Andrea Danti)

  Deposit Photos / innovari (Luca Oleastri)

  NASA and NSSDC / Jeff Hester and Paul Scowen

  Print edition design and composition by John McCarthy

  Follow him on Twitter: @SurfsideJack

  He may be reached at: SurfsideJack@gmail.com

  Logo Design by Emily Karnes

  She may be reached at: SilkSpinner@ComplexActions.com

  Dedication

  This book wouldn’t exist without the support of my wife Donna and daughter Felina. I love you both very much.

  Acknowledgements

  First up, I want to thank my family for putting up with all my writerly nonsense. I know it can be difficult with a hermit clattering away on the keyboard in his own little bubble. Your support made this book possible.

  Next, many thanks to my podcasting co-hosts: Justin Macumber, Paul E. Cooley, and Scott Roche. Talking with you every week about writing helps keep me rolling. And thanks for holding me accountable for producing content. We all know that the biggest challenge in writing is getting your butt in the chair.

  Finally, to those who beta read this novel: Tracy Bodine, Michael Falkner, Cain Hopwood, Kristopher Neidecker, Bob Noble, Jon Paul Olivier, Felix R. Savage, Christa Wick, and Jason Young. I would look like such an amateur without your keen eyes and incisive commentary. Thank you so much.

  Special thanks go to John McCarthy for formatting the print version of this book. And for putting up with me. Seriously. Thanks also go to Tracy Bodine for making a final pass proofreading this book. I’m deeply indebted to you both.

  Numerous others have participated through comments in one way or another. Thank you.

  Chapter One

  Kelsey Bandar, second in line to the Imperial Throne of the Terran Empire, fell with a crash loud enough to turn every head in the physical therapy center. She lay there in the deafening silence, staring at the metal support bar in her hand. She’d ripped it completely out of the floor. And bent it.

  “Really?” The blonde noblewoman snorted bitterly and dropped the mangled bar. It landed with a substantial clang. She rolled onto her back and stared at the white-tiled ceiling.

  “That may be a first for me,” Doctor Lily Stone, Chief Medical Officer of the Imperial Terran Fleet destroyer Athena, said dryly. “Normally, the patient gives out before the equipment. You’ll forgive me if I don’t offer you a hand up.”

  “I suppose I can’t blame you for wanting to keep your arms attached to your body.” Kelsey stretched her back. The cool floor felt good. “How the hell do the Pale Ones learn to walk without someone helping them?”

  Those forcibly enhanced savages certainly had no problems walking. Or fighting. Kelsey was glad her friends had rescued her before the monsters turned her into one of them, but something wasn’t right with the old Empire equipment the bastards had put inside her. Even after a week, she still couldn’t do simple things without destroying everything around her.

  With a few exceptions, the hospital staff gave her a wide berth. Poor physical control and super strength didn’t mix. The damage she’d done to the bar proved their caution wise.

  The dark-haired doctor’s face showed her concern and sympathy. “They learn to walk the hard way, I’d imagine. Move before the others do horrible things to you.”

  “That would be a powerful motivator,” Kelsey admitted. “While I’m glad that isn’t one of my many problems, I’m beginning to suspect that last machine you saved me from did something to help them adjust more quickly. In addition to enslaving everyone it operated on, of course.”

  The doctor glanced at the two Imperial marines standing nearby. “Gentlemen, if you’d be so kind as to get the Princess back into her grav chair.”

  Kelsey held out her arms and the two men moved her into the floating chair with no trouble whatsoever. At barely one point five meters, Kelsey wasn’t hard to move. Astonishingly, the full-body modification had only brought her up to fifty kilograms, though she wasn’t sure she should count it as part of her real weight.

  Grav chairs normally had a small control for the patient to direct their own movement, but Lily had removed it after a hand spasm had sent Kelsey into a wall. Technically, Kelsey had removed it herself. Much like she’d uprooted the support bar. Lily promised they’d reinstall the controls once Kelsey’s fine motor skills improved. If they ever improved.

  Since the Pentagarans hadn’t managed to miniaturize the requisite grav drives, the supply of grav chairs was limited to what the Terrans had brought with them. Kelsey hoped they could fix the one she’d broken.

  Lily used a remote to send Kelsey floating out of the physical therapy center and into the halls of Capital Hospital. The Pentagaran doctors in their bright white smocks, and the nursing staff in a much wider spectrum of colors, nodded and smiled politely as they passed. On the other side of the hall.

  “I know it seems like this is taking forever, but you’re improving at an incredible rate. You couldn’t even stand two days ago. Today, you’re walking.”

  “For certain values of walking, I suppose,” Kelsey grumbled.

  “You fell because you yanked too hard on the support bar. Once you can stay upright, you’ll be walking without any problems.”

  “It sounds so simple when you say it like that. I ripped a metal bar right out of the floor. I laugh at the though
t of ever handling eggs again.” Her gaze slid over the marines accompanying them. “Or any other…delicate objects.”

  “And yet you will,” Lily said firmly. “It’s all a matter of re-learning control. I’m sure that the old Empire marines had no problems with their fine motor skills. We’ll get you back in shape. Just look at how quickly your vision recovered.”

  That was true. Kelsey’s vision had stabilized in less than a day. And, honestly, she was improving. She could stand on her own. Mostly. The problems started when she tried to move around on her own. The artificial muscles woven into her natural ones jerked and exerted more force than any five men could bring to bear.

  Lily took Kelsey to a room she’d never visited before. It smelled as though someone had been doing construction. That made her wonder again why her eyes had given her trouble, but her senses of hearing and smell hadn’t.

  The old Empire surgical machine had put three cranial implants in her head, all connected by thin wires that ran throughout her brain like a roadmap. Her eyes had artificial lenses, and her nose and ears had some kind of modifications. Yet, her senses of hearing and smell seemed normal. What made them different? Just one more question she might never know the answer to.

  Kelsey looked around the new room curiously. Someone had laid the room out much like the medical center on Athena, but the high ceilings and wide windows common in Pentagaran architecture added a sense of space. Their peoples’ styles complemented one another well.

  Several people from Athena stood waiting. She saw members of the medical staff and scientific teams present. At their sides were what she assumed to be their Pentagaran counterparts.

  A week in the company of their new allies had been educational. They still had so much to learn from one another. One thing was clear, however. Many of the Pentagarans—most really—seemed like wonderful, caring people that were intensely grateful Athena had stopped the Pale Ones’ invasion of their solar system.

  The price tag had been hideous. Dozens of Fleet personnel and marines killed, hundreds wounded, and Athena crippled. Kelsey still couldn’t imagine how they were going to get home, even with the help of their new friends.

  From her hospital bed, Kelsey had finalized the official alliance between the Terran Empire and the Kingdom of Pentagar. They’d share every bit of technical data they recovered from the wreck of the old Empire battlecruiser Courageous in exchange for the Kingdom’s support. She knew any number of people back home wouldn’t be happy that she’d been so trusting, but the move had felt right.

  And, of course, their alliance had a military aspect. No one knew how many systems the Pale Ones occupied. The pre-Fall Terran Empire had been vast before the genocidal civil war that had almost exterminated humanity. The corpses of countless worlds no doubt filled the void once occupied by the greatest civilization that had ever existed.

  Jared Mertz, their mission commander and her half-brother, had brought their science ship, the converted freighter Best Deal, through the flip point to take a herd of Pentagaran scientists back to study the derelict. The old Empire Fleet battlecruiser was a treasure trove of technology far beyond what either of their civilizations could now manage.

  After drifting disabled in space for half a millennium, the ship was slowly coming back to life. Kelsey had heard they’d repaired one of her fusion plants and that the ship was operating under her own power again. Dennis Baxter, Athena’s Chief Engineer, had been chortling about it the last time he’d come to visit.

  She was glad he had something pleasant to focus on. There were pitifully few of those moments these days.

  Kelsey took a deep breath and pushed her dark thoughts away. She’d already flogged herself over the damage she’d caused. Now she had to move on and make up for it.

  And to do that she needed to be able to walk. Back to her current problems.

  She smiled at the people she knew and nodded to those she didn’t. “It looks like you have a new medical center, Lily.”

  “Almost.” The dark-haired doctor stopped the grav chair beside a piece of equipment that Kelsey knew all too well. The old Empire medical device that had mapped her body before the Pale Ones’ implant procedure. Beside it sat the tank that had cut her open and installed everything.

  Actually, procedure was too antiseptic a term. It had cut her open while she lay there screaming. She’d passed out before it put all her new hardware inside her, but she still woke from horrible nightmares every night. She suspected the memories would haunt her dreams for the rest of her life.

  She mentally shook herself. The third piece of equipment they’d recovered was missing. The one she presumed was supposed to reprogram her implants so that they controlled her, rather than the other way around.

  Doctor Jerry Leonard and his graduate student, Carl Owlet, stood beside the old Empire equipment. The elderly scientist was the expedition’s cybernetics expert. The younger man was a programming genius. At the tender age of sixteen, he was also the youngest member of the Imperial exploratory expedition.

  Leonard smiled benevolently down at her. “It’s good to see you up and about, Princess. Allow me to say that you’re looking much better than when I saw you last.”

  She certainly hoped so. She’d seen the images from before they’d put her into the regenerator. The Pale Ones had gone most of the way toward turning her into one of them, complete with hideous scarring across most of her body. Thankfully, that was one thing modern medicine could fix.

  Kelsey smiled, covering her inner turmoil. “Thank you. You obviously have some plans for me. Might I ask what we’re doing today?”

  Lily put her hand on Kelsey’s arm. “We won’t be doing anything invasive.”

  Kelsey hadn’t realized she’d tensed up until she looked down and saw that she’d cracked one of the hand rests on the grav chair. She took a deep breath and forced herself to relax.

  The damage she’d caused was not lost on the scientists. Leonard stepped back nervously. “Nothing to worry about, I assure you. We’ve been going over the hardware we recovered from the old Empire marine and Pale Ones bodies. We wanted to bring you up to speed with our progress and perform a few tests.”

  “What kind of tests?” She heard the suspicion in her voice. She wasn’t sure she’d ever trust a medical procedure again. “Where is the third piece of equipment? The one that would’ve overrode my implant’s programming?”

  “It’s elsewhere. We’re trying to extract its data and determine how it can overwrite the implant’s control code. We absolutely will not be exposing you to any danger,” he stressed. “Shall we start with our findings?”

  At her nod he continued. “On the hardware side, we’ve completed a detailed examination of all your implants. We believe them to be standard old Empire designs without modification. That’s excellent news, as we know many marines lived and worked on Courageous with exactly the same enhancements as you yourself possess.”

  Their successes somehow failed to make her feel any better about her own condition. “How many marines did they have aboard Courageous?”

  The older man’s expression turned somber. “Of the five hundred and eighty-five frozen bodies we recovered, one hundred and seventy-eight had the same extensive implants as you do now. That’s a significantly higher ratio than on Athena. Our marine complement is about ten percent of the crew. Courageous’ marines made up thirty percent of her crew. I suppose that makes sense. They had a lot more space for people on Courageous and they were at war.”

  The low numbers still surprised Kelsey. “I have trouble believing that they crewed that massive ship with so few people.”

  “That is an amazing feat,” he agreed. “The précis of the latest reports from Courageous indicate that the ship used significant automation. The systems also seem to be very sturdy. Some of them have come back online without intervention. Commander Baxter suspects there is some ability for the systems to self-repair.”

  “You mean the ship might be able to fix itself?”
The thought boggled her mind.

  “Perhaps to a degree. They’ve restored power to all systems. In fact, power came online even in some systems that no one has worked on yet. I just heard that they’ve found some small remotes repairing power connections and replacing damaged cabling and components.”

  That set her back on her heels, metaphorically speaking. The wreck of the old Empire battlecruiser had been tumbling frozen in space for more than five centuries. Other than one dangerously unstable fusion plant, all its systems had seemed dead.

  “Even with all the legends,” Kelsey said at last, “I never expected anything like that. If it could fix itself, why hadn’t it done so before now?”

  The scientist shrugged. “I have no idea. Perhaps we’ll discover the answer to that once we can access the ship’s computer. Right now, I’m more interested in you.”

  “I can see some similarities between Courageous and you,” Lily said. “I put you in the regenerator and removed the worst of the scar tissue. That left a significant amount of micro damage that I figured would take several months to heal fully. Yet, in less than a week, it’s all gone. Did you have any injuries as a child?”

  “I broke my arm doing something silly. I also had my appendix removed by microsurgery.”

  Lily nodded slowly. “I noted both those items when I gave you your physical just before we arrived in Pentagaran space. In addition, I saw a deep cut that had healed well on your left leg. With the sheathing on your bones, I can’t scan for the break, but I can tell you that the residual scaring from the other injuries is completely gone. You don’t have an appendix, but it might as well have never been there.

  “Your body’s ability to repair damage seems to have been significantly augmented. I saw no indication of anything like that with the Pale Ones. I’d like to have a better idea of what’s going on inside you.”

 
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