Here’s another excerpt from work-in-progress Star Lawyers Origins Book 3 – Secrets of Rahjen. To be released October 2019. (Exact date and pre-orders TBA.)
See the first excerpt of Secrets of Rahjen if you missed it!
In this passage, top-notch code writer Sally Ann Palmer and her married physicist friends Tanella and Perry Jennings are looking for exculpatory evidence to exonerate Tanella, Sally Ann and Mark Bricchetti, collectively charged with murdering Prince Ebbot, the Lutzak heir. Their search takes place in a dimensionally enhanced rainforest on the planet Rahjen, within the Estates of Warden Tall of Kina-Reilon. The first-person narrator is the loquacious Sally Ann.
Just because the Estates had this incomprehensible ability to expand without moving its outer walls doesn’t mean the ecosystem was a glorified video game. It was real and multiple-canopied, full of birds, bugs, and bonobo equivalents, with all the chattering sounds and pungent scents of a jungle on Earth. Like my first visit, the musty smell of decaying vegetation rose from the forest floor around me. Leaves and branches had begun to glow like sleepy fireflies, but soon the lightshow would commence in earnest.
With handheld datacom scanners bombarding them with data, Tanella and Perry Jennings had trouble focusing on the job we came here to do.
“Look, Perry! This forest is rife with biodiversity. And here’s something bizarre. I’ve isolated a grove with the exact chemistry and characteristics of Dracaena cinnabari, the ‘dragon blood tree’ of Socotra Island off the coast of Yemen. Sap of dark red resins, canopy like an open umbrella. To the left of the trail, see them? Not bio-luminous.”
“I see them.” Perry adjusted his glasses and squinted into a dark patch of the glowing woods. “Off the coast of Yemen, you say?”
“Yes, yes.” She nodded, her dark curls bobbing. “Socotra Island, called the most alien-looking place on Earth.”
“Maybe now we know why.”
“I wonder,” Tanella said. “Geologically, Socotra qualifies as one of Earth’s oldest islands. Did the specimens Dracaena cinnabari originally come from Rahjen, or did an Imperial starship take samples before H-sapiens left the trees?”
“Uh, excuse me?” I said. “Really hate to drag you guys away from the Nature Channel, but Tanella and me have a date with the hangman if we don’t find evidence from that squashed disruptive device.
“I’m sorry, Sally Ann,” she said. “You’re right of course.”
“Good. We find the evidence and use these datacoms to call Warden Taal’s people for a hop back to his teleport station. Now, if you’ll—”
“Perry, look!” Tanella’s nose bent to the datacom.
I groaned. “Quit playing with your smartphones and help me!” My God, I sounded just like my mom.
Tanella ignored my plea. “I’m getting a reading of high grade silicon with traces of gold, copper, nickel, cadmium, and germanium. Also half a dozen elements which don’t appear in the Periodic Table.”
“Halloo?” I said. “Did anybody hear what I said? Me likey jungle planet, Memsaab, but no want die here.”
Perry pointed to his datacom. “Essay, these readings could be residual signatures of a high-tech device. She’s found it.”
“For real?” I perked up. “Where, where?”
“If I’m correctly deciphering this Miyosian direction-finder,” Tanella said, “traces of the disruptive device should be 605.2 meters, that way.” She plunged into the underbrush, holding the datacom before her like a magnetic compass.
“Don’t be so sure about the distance,” I said. “The dimensions of this whacky woods expand like a clown car. And there’s a lot of thick underbrush.”
I followed her and Perry into the glowing foliage. We hiked for about half an hour, stopping frequently while the physicists recalculated a Northwest Passage around impenetrable walls of vegetation. Of course, every new direction meant finding our way over leaf litter, rock outcroppings, broken branches, and your occasional curtain of vines stout enough to swing a dozen Tarzans.
Somewhere I took a wrong turn and lost track of the diligent duo, and for a few minutes it was me and Robert Frost, admiring the woods with promises to keep, minus a snowy evening.
When I caught up, they had stopped abruptly at a small clearing with a natural spring. Tanella was squatting by the clear water Asian-style, something she learned as a toddler from her late mom. (I can’t do it, neither can Perry.) I figured they’d paused to get a drink.
“Did you find the high-tech wreck?” I said.
“Shhh!” She held a finger to her lips and pointed to a furry lump near the water’s edge. It stretched four limbs and rolled into a fetal position, still asleep.
“What is it?” Perry said, kneeling to look closer.
“Huffik Horror,” I whispered.
“This is your monster?” Perry said.
“Must be a baby Horror.”
“He doesn’t look horrifying at all,” Tanella said softly.
“How did it get here?” Perry
“Maybe we misunderstood where his daddy lives,” I said.
At first, Elya thought they were extinct. Then she assumed the Huffik Horrors roamed the Imperial protected lands beyond the walls of Kina-Reilon Estates. So much for her venerable Ziahra clairvoyance. This tiny terror could not have climbed the barrier and eluded security alone. Maybe a whole tribe of them lived in the Warden’s expandable sanctuary, or maybe a family figured out how to overnight here behind Taal’s forcefields to keep their infant safe from predators. Which meant his parents were frantically searching for their missing baby.
Weird. It was like I could feel Huffy’s shaggy presence, somewhere out there. Maybe all this stumbling around a psychedelic forest on another planet was turning me into a New Ager. Or a Witch! That I could get into.
“We should leave him,” Perry said. “Continue our search.”
“Yeah, he’s okay inside the compound,” I agreed. “Which way to the evidence?”
Tanella stood and checked her datacom. “We’re there.”
“There where?” I glanced around the little clearing, half-lit by pink and yellow neon bushes that surrounded the bubbly pool. “This ain’t the place where I found the Lutzak doohickey. It’s missing a big-assed, horizontal tree trunk.”
“You’re sure there was a fallen tree?” Perry said.
“I fell over it.”
Tanella raised the datacom and swept all directions. “No tree, but given your peregrinations and the aberrant readings indicating—”
“The evidence is here, Sally Ann.”
“Where?” I said.
She squatted beside the little Horror again. “He’s collected it.”
I squinted in the tree-glow until I could make out a dark red chunk of the disrupter box clasped in the little Horror’s hand.
“That’s it!” I said. “Well, maybe. It was night. The box was dark.”
Perry tapped his datacom. “Tee, I’m reading a thermoset polymer with a familiar molecular structure. Look at its primary resin.”
“Holy fuck,” Tanella gasped.
I blinked. “Did you just say—?”
“Straight from Dracaena cinnabari,” she said.
“The dragon blood tree?” I said.
“Somebody brewed that instrument package to read like it originated on Earth, then stuffed it full of Lutzak tech,” Tanella said.
“Somebody with access to this compound,” Perry said. “Somebody who knew a distinctive tree from Earth grew here.”
“Alien tech in a Terran wrapper,” Tanella said.
“Why would somebody that?” I said. “It incriminates everybody.”
Perry said, “Not enough data points to form a hypothesis yet, Essay.”
“We need to retrieve that chunk of the disruptive device.” Tanella glanced at me. “Can you do your Huffik-whisperer trick with the baby Horror?”
I knelt beside the little guy, feeling the soft compost of the forest floor squish beneath my romper-clothed knees. The chimp-sized, dark red primate’s rhythmic breathing meant he was sailing the clouds of dreamland with that chunk of vital evidence gripped in his hand.
“Huffy Junior…” I sang to him and petted his head. “Wakey-wakey.”
But he was either a phenomenally deep-sleeping creature or totally exhausted, because the four eyes remained tightly shut and his deep breathing continued. Before we ventured into the wilds, I had scored a handful of Miyosian protein bars. Drawing on lessons learned on my first trip, it occurred to me this babe-in-the-woods might wake up for a midnight feeding. So, I pulled one finger-sized doggie treat from the pocket of my green romper and waved it under his nose.
The four eyes squeezed tight, then curled opened a bit, like lids to pull-tab cans. His nose widened as he sniffed the protein bar, and so did his eyes. A pink tongue jutted from dark red lips, jabbed the edible, and snapped back into his mouth. The cheeks rose and fell as he chewed placidly, so I got a second bar ready.
Now he was fully awake and trained all four eyes on the blonde furless ape in dark green clothing who hand-fed him. He made a little whining sound, and I felt the conflict within him. Hunger and confusion, fear and hope, above all a yearning to be comforted.
So, like I did with his daddy, I reached out and offered the second treat, which he eagerly grabbed by tongue. While he was chewing I rubbed his tummy, which brought a response I’d never anticipated. Huffy Junior slid forward and snuggled against me, burying his head against my tummy.
I put my arms around him and rocked the baby, who still clutched the chunk of plastic and circuitry from the disruptive device.
Of course. His toy comforts him.
Tanella smiled. Perry nodded. They kept their distance. Huffy chewed a third protein bar, clinging to me with his free arm. Then he sniffed at the datacom in my hand, so I showed it to him. He made a gurgling sound and started poking at the lighted squares but never released the chunk of red plastic.
I waited while he played. Sooner or later, I had to wrest that evidence from his grasp, but how could I steal toys from a baby? And then a cold chill rippled through me. What if his parents were dead? The world beyond the Estates was a wilderness preserve where creatures fended for themselves. I had no idea what combinations of giant insects or meat-eating predators roamed those lands. What would we do with an orphaned beastie like Huffy Junior? Surely Warden Taal must have employees or droids to—
Three swirls of light appeared opposite the spring, and when the teleported figures materialized each wore black body armor with visors down. They carried heavy blast weapons pointed in our direction. An electronically disguised voice spoke to me.
“Move away from the animal.”
Huffy Junior yakked in baby-babble, hopped to tottering feet and tried to hide behind me. He took my datacom and his plastic toy with him.
“Miss Palmer, step aside or die.”
“Kiss my Norwegian ass!” Well, I could’ve chosen the words better, considering they had space guns.
“I will not warn you again. Move or die.”
“Drop the weapons!” Perry’s arm flashed forward with a silvery blaster in his grip. Don’t ask me how he got it. “This is set to full kinetic.”
“You are outnumbered, Dr. Jennings.” Two of the bad guys pointed their rifle blasters at the Jennings family. “Shall we kill your wife, or will you cooperate?”
Tanella side-stepped away from Perry. “Take out the leader with your first shot.”
“This is pointless,” the spokesperson in black said. “All we want is the missing piece.”
But I knew in my soul they were going to kill us, including little Huffy. When Perry relaxed slightly, looking to his beloved Tanella, the intruders moved to shoot us down. Reflexively, like defending against a punch, my hands jerked up, and when the killers opened fire so did I.
To my utter astonishment, light blazed from my upraised palms, deflecting their blaster shots. I watched myself hurl thunderbolts which struck the three attackers and froze them in place. Actually, I’d lifted them a yard off the forest floor, stiff as three life-sized statues. My limbs trembled from the flow of raw energy, and I knew it would be easy to crush these vermin with a thought but I controlled the murderous temptation.
“How did you do that?” Tanella gasped.
“No fucking idea.” I lowered them to ground level and asked Perry to collected the weapons from their immobile hands. He tossed the deadly blasters one by one to Tanella, who laid them on the forest floor. Perry searched the containers along the legs and back of their body armor for other arsenals. He came up with clamshell-shaped devices like none of us humans had ever seen before. Perry handed the strange items to Tanella, who popped them in her pantleg pocket and zipped it.
Tanella asked Perry for the hand-held blaster and examined it gingerly. “Where did this come from?”
“Mark Bricchetti,” he confessed. “He showed me how to adjust it from stun to lethal settings.”
She shook her head. “Mark gave you a gun?”
“A weapon,” Perry said indignantly. “You recall, I served with the Air Force in Afghanistan.”
“You were in data processing at Bagram Air Base! You enlisted for the GI Bill.”
Meanwhile, I had held my arms up for several years now and was getting tired. “Hey, Jenningses? I’m not the Energizer bunny. What do you want me to do with the bad guys?”
Tanella snorted. “Send them deep into the wilderness preserve.”
I laughed sarcastically. Then rainbow colors flashed from my fingers and the men in black went away. Disappeared. Vamoosed. Okay, that spooked me. But Huffy Junior squealed with delight and hugged my legs.
“Essay, how did you do that?” Perry said.
“How did she do any of it?” Tanella said. “Sally Ann, before today I was skeptical of your stories about Elya. Now you’ve displayed massive psionic powers without her help.”
“Elya’s consciousness was inside my head. Some of her powers must have stuck,” I said. “Does that make any scientific sense?”
“No, I think we’re in Arthur C. Clarke territory,” Tanella said.
When my nose wiggled with confusion, Perry explained. “Science fiction writer. Clarke said, ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’ Like the Ziahra, Duchess Eyla. Whatever science she taps into won’t make sense to us.”
“Like FTL?” I said.
“No, that’s one nut I’m going crack,” Tanella declared.
Watch for Star Lawyers Origins – Book 3 – Secrets of Rahjen release date early in October. Preorders available late September.