Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

By Schism Rent Asunder: Prologue

       Last updated: Monday, October 8, 2007 22:12 EDT





David Weber and Linda Evans


    It was very quiet in the inverted recon skimmer.

    It tended to be that way in orbit, aside from the quiet chirping of an occasional audio signal from the skimmer's flight computers, and those only seemed to perfect the silence, rather than interrupt it. The man who had once been Nimue Alban leaned back in the pilot's couch, looking down through the clear armorplast of his canopy at the planet beneath him, and treasured that quiet, serene calm.

    I really shouldn't be here, he thought, watching the gorgeous blue-and-white-swirled marble of the planet called Safehold while his skimmer swept steadily towards the dark line of the terminator. I've got way too many things to be doing back in Tellesberg. And I've got no business at all hanging around up here, stealth systems or no.

    All of that was true, and it didn't matter. Or, rather, it didn't matter enough to keep him from being here, anyway.

    In one sense, there was absolutely no need for him to be up here physically. The Self-Navigating Autonomous Reconnaissance and Communication platforms he'd deployed were capable of transmitting exactly the same imagery to him, without any need for him to see it with his own eyes . . . if, indeed, that could be said to be what he was doing. And the SNARCs were far smaller, and even stealthier, than his recon skimmer. If the kinetic bombardment system that lunatic Langhorne had hung in orbit around Safehold really did have first-line passive sensors, it was far less likely to detect a SNARC than the skimmer, and he knew it.

    Yet there were times when he needed this silent, still moment, this vacuum-clear eyrie from which he could look down upon the last planet mankind could claim. He needed the reminder of who — what — he truly was, and of what he must somehow restore to the human beings thronging that planet so far below him. And he needed to see its beauty, to . . . cleanse his thoughts, recoup his determination. He spent so much time poring over the take from his network of SNARCs, studying the spy reports, listening in on the plans and conspiracies of the enemies of the kingdom he had made his home that it sometimes seemed that that was all there was to the universe. That the sheer weight of opposition towering up all about him was too vast, too deep, for any single creature to oppose.

    The people around him, the people he'd come to care for, were the true antidote to the despair which sometimes threatened him as he contemplated the enormous scope of the task to which he had been summoned. They were the ones who reminded him why humanity was worth fighting for, reminded him of the heights to which mankind could aspire, of the courage and the sacrifice — the trust — of which Homo sapiens was capable. Despite the way their history and their religion had been cynically manipulated, they were as strong and vital, as courageous, as any humans in the history of the race which had once been his own.

    Yet, even so, there were times when that wasn't quite enough. When his awareness of the odds against their survival, his sense of desperate responsibility, and the sheer loneliness of living among them but never truly being one of them, pressed down upon him. When the burden of his potential immortality against the ephemeral span of the lives to which they were condemned  filled him with an aching grief for losses yet to come. When his responsibility for the wave of religious strife even now beginning to sweep around that blue and white sphere crushed down upon him. And when the question of who — and what — he truly was filled him with a loneliness that sucked at his soul like the vacuum outside his skimmer.

    It was against those times that he needed this moment, gazing down upon the world which had become his charge, his responsibility. Needed to once more look upon the reality, the fledgling future, which made all the present's harsh demands worthwhile.

    It really is a pretty world, he thought almost dreamily. And looking at it from up here puts it all into perspective, doesn't it? Beautiful as it is, important as the human race may be to me, it's only one world among billions, only one species among hundreds of millions, at the least. If God can put that much effort into His universe, then I can damned well do whatever He demands of me, can't I? And — his lips quirked in a wry smile — at least I can be pretty sure He understands. If He can put all of this together, put me right smack in the middle of it, then I've just got to assume He knows what He's doing. Which means all I really have to do is figure out what I'm supposed to be doing.

    He snorted in amusement, the sound loud in the cockpit's silence, then shook himself and let the flight couch come upright once again.

    Enough planet-gazing, Merlin, he told himself firmly. It's going to be dawn in Tellesberg in three more hours, and Franz is going to be wondering where his relief is. Time to get your molycirc butt home, where it belongs.

    "Owl," he said aloud.

    "Yes, Lieutenant Commander?" the distant AI in the cavern under Safehold's tallest mountain replied almost instantly over the secure communications link.

    "I'm headed home. Run a hundred-klick sweep around the alpha base and make sure there's no one hanging around to notice the skimmer on its way to the garage. And take a look at my balcony, too. Make sure no one's in a position to see me when you drop me off."

    "Yes, Lieutenant Commander," the AI acknowledged, and Merlin reached for the skimmer's controls.

Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image