Praed uses his abilities to run a covert operation on an alien planet. But when his control turns traitor, Praed is captured, tortured and traded back to CIS.
Vowing to track down his betrayer, he transfers to the counterterrorist task force where he is teamed with operative Alexandra Lansing, a beautiful but by the book veteran.
On a routine surveillance operation, Praed finds it difficult working with his new partner. Can he learn to trust Alex? Can he share his past with her? Ask for her help? Or will his personal vendetta destroy them both?
Targeted Age Group:: 18+
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I am interested in character-oriented stories in all genres and wasn’t finding it in SF, so I am writing the type of stories that appeal to me. The book is the first in a series of at least five novels.
How is writing SciFi different from other genres?
SF allows my imagination to run wild in ways it couldn’t in other genres. Suspension of disbelief doesn’t need to apply in SF.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
My characters have been in my mind for a number of years. Getting them onto paper and then letting them evolve was the hard part.
Robert Fitzhugh was cautious as he wound his way down the steep, spiral staircase. Cautious because the ambient light was murky in the best of spots and completely nonexistent in others. Also the stone steps, slick from the sodden atmosphere, were worn smooth by the thousands who had been herded down them. Fitzhugh could imagine the long file of war prisoners as they were marched deep into the bowels of the fortress. He could almost feel the press of unwashed bodies, hear the pleading of the wounded and dying, smell the bitter stench of their terror as they waited to suffer their fate. Some five hundred years after the occupants had annihilated each other in a bloody civil war, their buildings remained most of them intact and habitable.
The dungeons of Brelinta although intact, were not habitable, at least not by human standards, and the current owners had done nothing to improve the property. Rounding the last turn Fitzhugh reached the bottom step and hesitated as he peered around. In the flickering light from a malfunctioning Terson the walls seemed to pulsate with a life of their own. But after a moment he realized it was only water trickling down the lichen covered stones. The fetid air was heavy with moisture. During the rainy season the entire level was under water.
He drew back with a startled gasp as something ran over his foot and scuttled away, hissing as it went. He caught a glimpse of a brush tail and heard the click of sharp claws on the stone. It had been a pfen, a particularly nasty species of scavenger that fed on decayed and rotting flesh. The thought of the thing touching him made his skin crawl, and he shuddered with a chill that was only partially due to the temperature. He unwrapped a slitzer, a sort of hard candy, and slipped it into his mouth, savoring its spicy, cinnamon-like taste. This place could make even the most fearless tremble. He understood the despair, the creeping dread those early prisoners must have felt when they were brought here. Was his prisoner experiencing it? He hoped so. His work would be that much easier.
There was no guard at the cell, inside or out, and even though it was prescribed by his new superiors Fitzhugh considered it unnecessary. There was after all, no escape from Brelinta. He pulled the triangular key from his jacket pocket and inserted it, numbered tip first, into the locking device. There was an audible click as the mechanism disengaged and he tugged on the metal ring. The heavy door swung outward reluctantly, its rusty hinges groaning in protest.
Still unconscious, Fitzhugh’s captive was an untidy heap in the far corner, his clothing torn, his dirty face battered and bruised from the rough handling. Fitzhugh had been there when the leader of the raiding party reported on the capture.
“Even after we took the female he resisted,” Group Leader Gentrille said. His agitation was manifested in the jerky motions of his elongated fingers, and in the way his copper colored eyes darted from his superior to Fitzhugh and back again. It was an unusual display from a member of the Ludmalian Security Service. Normally they kept their emotions hidden from outsiders. Fitzhugh had trouble retaining his poker face.
“We outnumbered him six to one but foolishly, he refused to surrender. He fought back as if he had no regard for his own safety.”
That was undoubtedly the case Fitzhugh was certain, but he kept the thought to himself. Group Captain Veristi indicated for Gentrille to go on.
“You didn’t say he would be dangerous,” Gentrille complained, his voice so tight it was hard for Fitzhugh to follow his Ludmali. “Our orders were to take him alive, but you should have given me more information. You didn’t say he would fight like . . . a Ludmalian warrior. Had I known I would have gone in better prepared, with more men. When the charge ran out on his Brolley, he attacked and killed one of my men with his bare hands before we could stun him.”
Fitzhugh ignored Gentrille’s anger. The alien was upset because as leader of the raiding force, the warrior’s well-being was his responsibility which meant a portion of the widow’s annuity would come out of his own pocket. There might have been one or two things that he, Fitzhugh, could have told the group leader before the raid but really, in the end, the man had been taken and that was all that mattered.
Now, Fitzhugh gazed down at his captive. The man had been fettered like a ginderbete, a Ludmalian canine that couldn’t be domesticated. Wrists, ankles, and neck were encircled with steel and linked with heavy chains. It was the prisoner’s inclination for stubbornness rather than a violent nature that made chains a necessary precaution.
Fitzhugh crouched next to the younger man and shook him. It was some time before he got a response but he waited with unusual patience. At length the chains rattled, echoing dully around the stone chamber as the prisoner changed position, moving sluggishly onto his back. His head turned slowly, and eventually, reluctantly, he opened his eyes.
In the feeble light cast by the small Terson lamp on the opposite side of the cell, Fitzhugh saw what he expected, indeed hoped, to see. The man’s eyes changed color. His irises went from sea-green to a deep, vast blue in the space of a heartbeat. Fitzhugh felt his spirits rise, but schooled his features into an expression of concern.
Staring up at him the prisoner didn’t immediately speak, his confusion apparent. Fitzhugh knew from experience the symptoms a Brolley stun could produce: the disorientation and lightheadedness, the tingling in the hands and feet, the nausea. He propped the young man into a sitting position with the damp, stone wall at his back.
The silence lengthened, and Fitzhugh found it difficult meeting the eerie blue gaze of his former subordinate, Mark Praed. He retreated a step, letting his eyes drop. Praed could make the first move.
But Praed continued to stare with wide, unblinking eyes. Fitzhugh refrained from shifting his feet. Maybe he’d have to initiate the interview after all. Then finally Praed took a careful breath. “Robert. Where are we?”
It wasn’t really necessary to respond. Praed had surely guessed, but it might be gratifying to confirm it for him. “Brelinta,” Fitzhugh said, watching the other man closely for any telltale signs of dismay or fear.
But although his lids lowered momentarily, Praed’s pale face was expressionless. He fixed his gaze on Fitzhugh. “Tell me you’ve come because Anya and I are to be released.”
Fitzhugh kept his eyes on the other’s face. The implications of the situation had hit home, but clearly Praed was not yet willing to accept them. “Anya is dead.”
As expected, Praed regarded him with something less than credence, his eyes narrowing. Fitzhugh realized what he was attempting and moved quickly to produce the one piece of evidence he’d believe. From a pocket in his jacket he withdrew a thin band of gold and held it out. Praed sucked in a lung-full of air, his eyes growing even larger and more unfocused. He swallowed audibly.
“While they were having their fun with her,” Fitzhugh began, “the Security Service told her you were dead. At some point—no one is sure of the exact moment—she took an ilysium grenade off one of the men and detonated it, killing herself and six soldiers. The explosion took out the roof and parts of two walls. Group Captain Veristi is not pleased since the cost for repairs will be deducted from his salary.” He paused watching the younger man with clinical interest. Praed was so still he didn’t even blink. Had the words gotten through?
“The escape route is blown,” Fitzhugh continued. “Everyone has been killed or captured except for the pilots. They’re the only ones still at large. You must tell me who they are and the identification numbers of their ships.”
Praed didn’t respond. His face was peculiarly devoid of life, his eyes vacant, and Fitzhugh worried that it was all too much for him. Then his jaw tightened, his eyes hardened, and with a clatter and clank of the chains, he held out his dirty hands for the ring. Fitzhugh moved closer but held it just out of reach.
“Mark, for your own sake: be sensible. You have to tell me what you know.”
Praed did not drop his hands. With satisfaction Fitzhugh noted that they were shaking with the effort, but Praed’s stony expression did not alter. His bizarre eyes practically seared Fitzhugh with their intensity. “So you can inform on them as well? Not bloody likely.”
“You don’t understand.” It was like explaining something to a small child and it tried Fitzhugh’s patience. He forced himself to inject a greater note of reason into his tone. “I can’t protect you from the Security Service. Give me something to tell them, and I’ll see if I can’t convince them to forego the execution and send you home instead.”
That was a blatant lie. The Ludmalians would never consider such a thing. But Fitzhugh was confident he could get away with the falsehood. Surely the Brolley blast combined with the shock of the girl’s death had eroded Praed’s abilities. Although, he realized with a start, it didn’t matter now. He didn’t care if Praed knew he was lying. He wanted the names of those pilots and he wasn’t bothered how he came by them.
Praed must have realized it as well. “I’m not going to help you make nice to Premier Gosti by telling you anything.”
It was not unexpected, but Fitzhugh wouldn’t waste any more of his time until specifically requested. “Very well. You’re on your own.” He pocketed the ring with an exaggerated flourish and left.
A commander representing Premier Gosti and the Ludmalian government made the journey from the capitol city of Amaris, and after a swift and cursory interrogation went again. It was after all, little more than a formality. There was no value in pumping Praed for information about the Commonwealth Intelligence Service since his position was less important to that of Fitzhugh’s. He was however, the only person who knew the identification of the guilty pilots, and he was keeping his mouth tightly shut.
Fitzhugh was secretly gratified when he was given the responsibility of forcing from his former subordinate this last bit of valuable information.
“Your help in uncovering those elements seeking to overthrow the government will be looked on very favorably,” he was told. “Premier Gosti is anxious to crack down on those citizens unwilling to accept his authority.”
Equally anxious to impress his new employers with his devotion to their cause, Fitzhugh jumped to the task like a zealous convert to a new religion. His just happened to be Ludmalian interrogation procedures.
The door stood ajar. “Subcommander Fitzhugh?” said Commander Symon Penrith.
When there was no response Penrith, the second in command of the Ludmalian Security Service pushed open the door further and entered the room, surveying it with a quick and expert eye. It was a small office with the usual furnishings: a battered table that had seen countless years of hard use, a small credenza, and a curiously empty bookcase. But books in general, particularly books in any Terran language, were hard to come by on Ludmalia. The rough stone walls, painted innumerable times with a dull, institutional beige, were bare of any decoration. No holo-images or paintings, no plaques or certificates, nothing that might give a clue as to the occupant’s personality.
The human Fitzhugh was sitting behind the desk, bent over a piece of equipment. He was concentrating with such intensity that he hadn’t heard him enter.
“Subcommander Fitzhugh?” he repeated, louder.
The man started, blinking in surprise. “Commander Penrith,” he said in Ludmali, getting hastily to his feet. “I thought you had returned to Amaris. What brings you back to Brelinta?” He was wearing the gold tunic and breeches that made up the uniform of the Security Service, but neither the style nor the hue suited his broader human frame and pale coloring.
Penrith waved Fitzhugh back to his seat and closed the door. Sitting in a chair across from him, he slowly removed the gloves from his long fingers. “We will speak English, yes?” he said in that language with only a slight accent. “I get so few chances to use it.” He didn’t add that he found Fitzhugh’s Ludmali deplorable. The man had been on the planet for a solar year and had not bothered to learn the language properly. It was both unprofessional and distasteful.
But then, when he thought about it, he found everything about Fitzhugh distasteful. Penrith disliked using traitors and double agents. It was somehow . . . immoral. Intellectually he knew that they were a necessity in the game of espionage, but he also knew that using their services was dangerous. It was dangerous for Premier Gosti to reward this human for betraying his employers because someone else might come along and give him a greater reward to betray the Ludmalians. Greed was no basis for trust, and Penrith didn’t trust Fitzhugh, even if his information had put the Security Service one-up on Commonwealth Intelligence. And awarding the man the rank of subcommander in the Service as an inducement to remain left a distinctly sour taste in his mouth.
But Premier Gosti had uses for Fitzhugh so he stayed, and Penrith kept his opinions carefully hidden. He settled back in the chair. “How goes the interrogation of your former subordinate, Mark Praed? You’ve had charge of him for fourteen days now. Has he provided any information regarding the escape line?”
“No,” Fitzhugh said with scowl. “He refuses to name the pilots. In fact, he hasn’t spoken a word in over a week.”
It wasn’t news. Penrith had gotten a good deal of information already from Group Captain Veristi but he wanted to see if the human would have the audacity to lie to him. “What methods are you using?”
Fitzhugh indicated the thing on the table. Penrith leaned forward to have a closer look. He recognized the device immediately, although he had seen its like only once before in a museum. It was a Ludmalian goading stick, used by the original inhabitants of the planet to torture their prisoners of war. A long, hollow tube of selandrite alloy, it had a diameter of less than six centimeters. At one end was the grip that contained the rechargeable power source. It could send a concentrated energy charge down the tube into the victim’s body with the slightest touch. Effective in its day, but the Security Service no longer resorted to such harsh treatment. Penrith refrained from commenting, but didn’t bother to mask the disapproval on his face. He sat back. “Drugs?”
Fitzhugh lifted his shoulders in his peculiarly human way. “I started out with the usual truth serums, but Praed is half-Kyreen. He obviously has the ability to shield his mind against the effects.”
Hence the goading stick. Penrith nodded, keeping his face blank. “Go on.”
“I even tried bliss along with the truth serums, hoping it might inhibit the ability.”
“Was that successful?”
“It might have been, given more time, but while hallucinating—”
“He slashed his wrists,” Penrith interjected and couldn’t quite keep the derogatory tone out of his voice. The human missed it.
“Yes. He nearly succeeded in killing himself. There was blood everywhere.” Fitzhugh’s own tone indicated a reproach.
“I have read the physician’s report.” Penrith knew what Fitzhugh’s criticism was. If Ludmalia practiced Terran-style medicine, Praed wouldn’t have needed the hasty transfusion. Blood replacement could have been achieved within his body using drugs. As it was, the synthetic blood product pumped into him was only just compatible with his alien blood-type.
But if Fitzhugh had left a guard in the cell as required by Security Service procedures the suicide attempt would never have been possible. Praed would not have shattered a drinking vessel and used the shards to rip down the veins of both wrists and forearms. As a human, it wouldn’t have occurred to Fitzhugh that Praed might be driven to annihilate himself as the only means of escape, but on Ludmalia, suicide was expected. Even before enlisting in the Service, Penrith had been trained even brainwashed with the idea that a good warrior would destroy himself rather than allow his captors to gain a single iota of information. It was considered a moral duty. Perhaps Praed was made of the same stuff, or maybe he’d learned it here. Penrith remembered that he’d been living with a Ludmalian female.
It came to him suddenly, that he had more respect for the prisoner than for his keeper. He allowed the silence to drag on then stood abruptly. “I wish to see him. Take me.”
Fitzhugh led him farther down the same corridor and opened a heavy door with an electronic key produced from his uniform pocket. Penrith watched critically as the Earthman returned it there with a covetous gesture before stepping aside, allowing him to enter first.
It was unexpectedly not a cell, but a small office once used by some petty bureaucrat. Fitzhugh must have moved Praed here after the suicide attempt. There was even ironically, a guard inside. A meaningless precaution that was too late to be of any real value. Two days of interrogations had been lost while Praed recovered his strength.
The guard, a yeoman, saluted Penrith smartly. He waved the female outside then stood in the doorway, gazing around the room. The furniture was gone, replaced by a single straight-backed chair where the prisoner sat. Unlike most of the upper floors of Brelinta, the room was chilly and drafty, the only source of heat being a brazier that gave off more smoke than warmth. Its acrid smell permeated the room. Penrith paced over to it. Along with the language, Fitzhugh hadn’t learned how to stack the local blue coal to achieve a proper fire. Using the poker artfully, Penrith probed the smoldering fuel, and was soon rewarded with an outburst of heat and flames. Leaving the tool in the regenerated fire, he turned to the prisoner and standing to one side, studied him.
The man’s tightly bandaged wrists were pulled together behind his back and affixed to the center slat with an electronic restraint device. His lower limbs were stretched to the outer edges of the seat and likewise attached to the chair’s legs. Penrith could see the results of Fitzhugh’s goading stick. Fiery red blotches spread over the man’s naked torso, thighs and genitals, and his head drooped on his chest.
Although the prisoner had not stirred, Penrith had the impression he was conscious and aware of the scrutiny. To prove his theory, he grasped a handful of sweaty, tangled, dark hair and pulled. Heavy lids opened and green eyes, bloodshot with smoke and fatigue, gazed into his. Within a microsecond, their color deepened then changed to dark blue. Penrith stared, fascinated. He’d never encountered a Kyreen before, although he’d heard the rumors about their supposed abilities. He continued to watch as the prisoner closed his eyes in weariness and pain then opened them again with resignation.
In English, Penrith spoke to him. “Why won’t you cooperate with us? Why not give us the names of the pilots who smuggled the humans and traitorous Ludmalian rebels off this planet? The identification numbers of their spacecrafts? It is such a small thing. Tell us what we want to know and you’ll be released.”
The man gazed at him blankly for a full minute then swallowed with an effort. Through dry, cracked lips he croaked, “Esav bey.” Fuck off.
Penrith opened his hand and the head lolled forward again. He suppressed a smile. Praed’s use of idiomatic Ludmali was far better than that of his former superior.
“You see?” Fitzhugh said. “He refuses to co-operate. He’ll never come through with any information.”
“You wish to terminate him?”
“And send his body back to Commonwealth Intelligence piece by piece. He’s outlived his usefulness.”
“Not quite yet.” Penrith faced Fitzhugh, taking on the manner he used when disobedience of his orders would not be tolerated. “My men are removing him from Brelinta. He’s being traded for one of our agents captured on Earth. You will cease your interrogation.”
“No!” Fitzhugh’s face had turned an unpleasant shade of red. “You don’t understand—”
How dare this human raise his voice to him, much less contradict him? “No, you don’t understand.” Penrith stepped forward, and caught the scent of slitzer, a sweet used by Ludmalian mothers to calm their young children. Somehow it seemed appropriate that this human would find comfort in a child’s treat. He poked the human hard with his long forefinger, but did not raise his voice. “You understand nothing. Commonwealth Intelligence wants you, not Praed. Did you really think we wouldn’t inform them of your indiscretion with their secrets? How else could we guarantee your loyalty? Naturally, they want revenge, and candidly, I would prefer to send you back to Earth.” He was inwardly satisfied when Fitzhugh’s eyes widened and he backed away. He followed him. “I would like to be there, watching, while you try to explain to your own species the reasons for betraying them. But for some reason, Premier Gosti thinks you may be of value. Personally, I have my doubts. At any rate, he wants you here, so Praed goes in your place. I want him ready to travel within the hour. Do you understand? Within the hour.” He stood his ground a moment longer then swept from the room, the door crashing behind him.
Fitzhugh slammed one fist against the door, a wordless sound escaping him.
From behind him, came a hoarse chuckle. He whirled around to see Praed’s eyes, gently chiding him, their color belying his tone.
“Temper, temper, Robert. It’s too bad the lads back home spoiled your plans. But cheer up. Perhaps Premier Gosti will give you that prime posting you’ve always wanted. A sewage processing plant in the Felonith Wasteland would certainly be the appropriate selection.”
They were the first words Praed had spoken directly to him since the suicide attempt. Fitzhugh growled in the back of his throat and wildly, looked around for something with which to strike out, cursing himself for leaving the goading stick in the office. His eyes caught sight of the poker where Penrith had left it, still resting in the brazier. Fitzhugh seized it, the tip glowing dully with heat, and stood looking down at Praed.
“Take this message to the group back home.” He pressed the poker into the flesh of Praed’s chest. Praed’s body stiffened and a strangled cry escaped him.
Fitzhugh held the poker to Praed’s skin until his head slumped forward in complete unconsciousness.
“Tell them they’ll never get me back.”
About the Author:
For P. E. Sibley (a.k.a. Pat Sibley) writing is a passion, or perhaps a compulsion.
She was born, raised, and educated mostly in Orange County, California. A voracious reader as a child, she became interested in writing early on. She wrote her first short story in second grade about an ant. It ended rather abruptly when the ant was smashed by a foot.
By the time she reached her mid-twenties, she was living a near-gypsy existence, moving from one city to another. She traveled to Europe several times (Scotland is the preferred destination) and to the Middle East, and tried numerous occupations including climbing telephone poles, picking oranges on a kibbutz in Israel, and managing a bookstore. She went back to school for a Teaching Credential from Cal State University, Long Beach, doing her student teaching in Hampshire, England.
She moved numerous times more—mostly eastward and northward to San Francisco and then Sierra Nevada mountains—and now resides in rural Eastern Washington State with her husband, a wolf-canine mix, a cattle dog, and a cat that believes she is really a dog.
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