Secrets of Rahjen – Second Excerpt

Secrets of Rahjen - Book Cover

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—”

“Speak English!”

“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. 

Secrets of Rahjen (Star Lawyers Origins Book 3)

Secrets of Rahjen (Star Lawyers Origins Book 3)

Friends & Lovers of Sci-Fi: Here’s a Shepherd-Blog special peek at the cover of the upcoming Star Lawyers Origins Book 3 : Secrets of Rahjen (release date Sept. 2019), plus an excerpt from the opening sequence. Get a cool drink, sit back, and stand by for a steamy opener. (Who says nerds can’t have a love life?)

Excerpt from Star Lawyers Book 1 – Jump Gate Omega

Matthews Trade Embassy

Suryadivan Prime – Near the Galactic Rim

22 March 3104

A double life-sized bronze image dominated the reception area, an African-Asian woman in lab coat looking upward through the glass wall at the city skyline and visible stars. She held an old-style clipboard under arm, and her hair was swept back into a ponytail.

“Tanella Jennings,” Tyler whispered, loud enough for J.B. to hear.

“A thousand years later,” his brother said, “and we’re still following in her footsteps.”

Tyler wandered through the crowd and touched the base of the bronze statue. The others joined him. “Ironic. She designed the first functional FTL propulsion system, but never left the Earth’s surface.”

“That’s controversial,” Demarcus Platte said. Tyler and J.B. laughed politely. Demarcus did not appear amused. “Boss, you never read the Palmer Journal? Her best friend claimed they were abducted by aliens when they were teenagers.”

Tyler shrugged. “No offense, Inspector, but nobody takes that story seriously.”

“Well, some people do,” Demarcus grumbled.

Rosalie studied the memorial. “Quite a woman. I’m glad Daddy sent her image out here to the Rim.”

“Not just Jennings—look.” Tyler gestured to a pair of bronze works farther down the glass-roofed lobby. Even from this distance, the subjects of the metallic statuary were unmistakable. One had a dog by his side. Tyler recited the names like a space-traveler’s prayer. “Aurelio Lupetti and Brian Brightstar.”

“Two greatest captains in human history.” J.B.’s voice quivered with emotion. “Commander of the first faster-than-light starship, side-by-side with the foremost deep space explorer of them all.”

Rosalie smiled. “And his pit bull, Riley,”

Tyler took a deep breath. “Hero worship is adjourned. Let’s focus on tonight’s mission.”

Note to readers of the Star Lawyers books:

Star Lawyers Origins tells the stories of those three pioneers in human exploration of the galaxy in three trilogies. The first set—Stardate, Bad Moon Rising, and Secrets of Rahjen—and features Tanella Jennings-Blake ad her friends. 

Star Lawyers Origins is a new series, which compliments the Star Lawyers books and brings a whole new set of voices from different eras along the time line in the Star Lawyers Universe. Not all Star Lawyers Origins will feature young central characters, but when the narrator or point of view character is a teen, I have downshifted the adult language and frank sensuality found in the Star Lawyers series to a “PG” rating, opening the first two Origins adventures to a wider set of readers. 

So far, the formula seems to work. Those first two books, Stardate and Bad Moon Rising, have received warm praise from readers literally from Middle School to retirement complex. As storytellers from Disney to Isaac Asimov to George Lucas and James Cameron have shown, there is something universal about an adventure tale well told. Perhaps you will find the Star Lawyers Origins books worthy of that great story-telling heritage. 

Now we move to Book Three of the spin-off series, The Secrets of Rahjen, which requires a caveat to readers who enjoyed Stardate and Bad Moon Rising. Although Book Three brings the central characters in the trilogy together again, seven years have passed and they are no longer middle schoolers but full adults. The language content and sensual interactions must shift accordingly.

Mark and Keshikka are lovers; Tanella Blake is no long a child prodigy but has earned a Ph. D. in theoretical physics and married Dr. Perry Jennings; and airhead Sally Ann Palmer has become a highly sought computer programmer. If the trilogy were motion pictures instead of books, parts One and Two would likely be rated PG, Book Three Secrets of Rahjen would be rated R due to factors (language, adult situations, etc.) which classify movies today.

Just like people do, the kids of Stardate and Bad Moon Rising have grown up. The next level is spicy, frisky, sexy, and sometimes a little naughty, as the adventure, humor, and romance continues during the early days of humanity’s march to the stars.

Welcome back to the expanded Star Lawyers Universe.

Technology doesn’t change who we are, it magnifies who we are. The good and the bad.

When your time comes, and it will, you’ll never be ready. But you’re not supposed to be. Find the hope in the unexpected. Find the courage in the challenge

You won’t be here for the end of the story.

Tim Cook, Appel CEO

Stanford University Graduation

Sunday, 16 June 2019 T.C.E.

11100010 10000000 10011100 01001110 01110101 01101000 00101101 01110101 01101000 00101110 11100010 10000000 10011101 00001101 00001010 11100010 10000000 10011100 01011001 01100001 01101000 00101101 01101000 01110101 01101000 00101110

Translation:

“Nuh-uh.”

“Yah-huh.”

Sally Ann Palmer / 16 June 2019

*        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *

Prologue: Scientific Union

Palo Alto, California

March 2018

Black sky wore its brightest stars like diamonds scattered across the roof of the city when Perry Jennings parked his dilapidated Mustang convertible on the top tier of the student parking facility. He turned to his date, the brilliant doctoral student Tanella Blake, and smiled slightly but made no move to open the doors or close the distance between them. They were platonic friends. So far.

Dr. Jennings turned in his seat but leaned back against the door, as though he wanted an escape hatch available. “You’re a lot of fun to be with, Tanella.”

“Fun?” She smiled slightly. “I’ve been accused of many things, but never that.”

“My internship is ending this term. I need to start teaching and doing original research.”

Her smile faded. “Will you be leaving?”

The physicist shrugged. “Should I stay?”

“Do you have the option?”

“I have an offer here at Stanford, another at Princeton.”

“So, you could stay here indefinitely.”

“Theoretically, yes. But I’ll become an instructor, which means we can’t continue these lively conversations over Pizza Hut fare.”

Now she frowned. “No fraternizing.”

“Correct.”

“Is there any way around the problem?” She pulled out her phone and Googled the specific policies they would be violating. “I could talk to Campus HR, write a release.”

He shook his head. “They won’t allow instructors to socialize with graduate students. Understandable in today’s Me, Too climate.”

“Our dinners infused with physics and politics have kept my sanity,” she said. “But I don’t want to damage your career.”

“Good. I have a workaround to propose.”

“Oh?” She perked up. “I thought you said we couldn’t—”

“Marry me.”

Tanella’s full lips opened but no sound came out. She turned away while Perry argued his hypothesis. “Stanford can’t object if you go to dinner with your spouse. And if we agree to cohabitate, it will save rent. Doesn’t that make sense? We’d make such a great team. Intellectually, I mean.”

“Intellectually?” Tanella stared out the windshield at the Palo Alto cityscape, avoiding his eyes.

“Yes! You’ll earn your Ph.D. next spring. Think of what we can accomplish as a couple if—”

“Marry you?” She glared at him. “You’ve never even kissed me.”

Now his mouth dropped open. “I… I always assumed you just wanted companionship. Someone who could usually keep up with your ideas, who understood the math.”

“Perry, you’re a good physicist, but not that good.”

“Why have you continued to have dinner with me—”

“Dinner? This isn’t dinner, it’s Pizza Hut!”

“If you felt that way, why have we—”

Tanella grabbed her head. “God! Do I have to write the algorithm for you?”

Perry cowered at the door, hand on the latch. “I don’t understand. I thought you wanted to talk physics, politics—”

“As the great American philosopher Sally Ann Palmer once said, ‘You are a fucking idiot.’” She grabbed his hand and pressed it to her breast, leaned against him and they kissed. Not a peck but a deep, tongue-tickling, heart-thumping Frenchie.

“My God, Tanella. Where did you learn—?”

“Extensive research in the literature of foreplay and coitus.”

“You read porn?” Perry stared at her, like he was seeing this lovely African-Asian, whom he had dated almost a year, for the first time.

“Steamy romances,” she said. “No fade to black.”

“But—”

“Enough theory. Let’s experiment.”

They kissed again and this time Perry caressed her boobs as she moaned softly. The kiss lasted through three changes of traffic lights on the street below. He finally gasped, coming up for air.

“Does that mean you accept my proposal?”

She jingled her apartment keys in his ear. “Ask me again after the honeymoon.”

Sometime in the night as they rested between sex, Perry rubbed her shoulders and whispered, “You were a virgin.”

“The sheets will wash.”

He slapped her bare bottom playfully. “How could someone as lovely as you—”

“Oh, pooh. Even I recognize that classic male strategy. Tell a smart woman she’s pretty and a pretty woman she’s smart.”

He rolled her over and they kissed. “I surrender. No strategies. I’ve loved you from the first day you bounced across my vision field, bent on capturing a Stanford doctorate single-handedly. I thought, ‘She must be dating somebody…’ So it took me months get up the courage to suggest physics-talk over pizza.”

“I never found any men to talk with. Sure, I was approached frequently. But they were all undergrads who couldn’t—I don’t want to sound dismissive… But they couldn’t communicate with me.”

“Didn’t you want a boyfriend for something other than communication?”

“Tell you the truth.” She propped herself up on one elbow. “Many a night after studying all day I would pick up a lusty-busty romance novel and dream about alternative realities. Some Universe where I’d march into an off campus bar, pick up a guy, and give it up. But I never did. Couldn’t make the math work.”

“Glad you waited?” he said.

“I am still testing that hypothesis, but the results are encouraging.” She touched his cheek. “I’m so incredibly comfortable with you. Here we are, jaybird naked, and it feels… natural.”

Perry entwined his fingers with hers. “‘Come, my queen, take hands with me, And rock the ground whereon these sleepers be.’”

She laughed. “Playing the Shakespeare card already, Professor? Out of fresh ideas, or catching your breath?”

“None of the above,” he said as they came together again.

Perry and Tanella made love in her single bed until dawn, then slept past noon and missed classes and assignments. She had never ditched before in her long years as a student. Perry was a good lover, and they found they were compatible in more ways than intellectually.

“You feel so good,” he said as they coupled yet again in early afternoon. “Why did we wait so long?”

“Run that Sally Ann quote in your head,” she said, wrapping her legs around his lean body. “And keep screwing me.”

They were married two months later under the domed ceiling and stained glass windows of Stanford’s Memorial Church with a few hundred friends, family, students and faculty in attendance. Her father, Dr. Nathaniel Blake, gave the bride away, and lifelong best friend Sally Ann Palmer was Tanella’s bridesmaid. Perry asked his younger brother to take a break from Harvard Law to be his best man.

Life seemed perfect. She was ABD for her doctorate, Perry’s star was rising among the physics interns, and she had received a few indications Stanford was interested in her research proposals.

As she planned her final days as a graduate student over Perry’s superb triple cheese omelets, newlywed Tanella Jennings was not aware of the order issued by the Lower Horde of the Lutzak Eparchy condemning her to death. While she reviewed the final proofs of her dissertation, a platoon of Lutzak assassins boarded an assault frigate for the journey to Earth from a ringed world in a star system eight thousand light years Rimward of the Terran sun.

Life in the Bay Area was too good to think about anything but years of married love and physics research ahead. Besides, even if Tanella had been told of the danger, she would not have believed it. She had demonstrated by her Ph.D. studies that Faster Than Light travel was impossible.

Motto of the Ounta-Kadiis League

Star Lawyers

“Let justice prevail, and the divine plan forever endure.” Motto of the Ounta-Kadiis League, 18K light years from the galactic core

The Ounta-Kadiis call themselves Firstborn Children of the Universe. Until 3099 T.C.E., five years before the Star Lawyers series begins, the O-Ks thought they were the only intelligent life in the Universe. For a look at this “new” species, here is a slice from The Stellar Light Conspiracy. The Henry crew (those not already at the OK League with Tyler’s brother J.B.) has assembled at the M-double-I underground habitat north of Tucson. Noah Matthews moved Corp HQ to this secondary site after Hideki Tsuchiya attacked and destroyed most of downtown Kansas City.

First Lieutenant Oliver Brisbane-Smith, an Australian officer with the Terran Commonwealth’s Deep Space Rangers, is speaking.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is Ryde-Harkos, homeworld of an ancient spacefaring civilization, today known as the Ounta-Kadiis League. Ryde-Harkos lies Coreward along the Norma arm, eighteen thousand light years from the center of the Milky Way.

“These blokes have been knocking around awhile. The Okie-Dokes were among the eleven founding star nations of the old Galactic Empire. FTL capability on their planet goes back 400,000 years. That is twice as long as H-sapiens has existed, mates.

“Fast forward about 300-K years. The O-K culture is no longer okay. Their society begins to collapse. Maybe because of war, political intrigues, economic dysfunction. Nobody knows. Took a long time, but they crashed hard. First they lost Faster Than Light, then all spaceflight, then aerial travel. A global, agrarian culture struggled to feed itself. They went back to fossil fuels and poisoned their planet to the brink of extinction.

“The Ounta-Kadiis rebooted slowly. Rediscovered FTL about two thousand years ago. Expanded into the stars again. But no ancient star charts or records of alien civilizations survived, so the buggers thought they were alone.”

“So did humans before Aurelio Lupetti and the Victoria,” Noah added.

“Yes, sir,” the lieutenant said. “Like Polynesians paddling out to sea from an atoll in Oceania, the Okey-Dokes sailed into the Never-Never. Started new colonies on uninhabited Terra-class worlds, explored thousands of systems, had a rip-snorter of a walkabout in unclaimed space. With a hundred billion stars near the GC, they didn’t cross paths with another spacefaring society until three years ago. Fortunately, pink penguin tradies were carrying on a brisk biz in the—”

“Excuse me?” Tyler said.

Suzie translated. “Traders from the Carrooban Flock, luv. Working their business routes.”

“I’ll be stuffed!” Lt. Smith laughed. “A pommie who speaks ‘Stralian?”

“Fair dinkum, mate,” she replied.

“Oh, God.” Tyler closed his eyes.

Oliver Brisbane-Smith continued. “Anyway, when the Commonwealth heard about this unknown humanoid race, we sent First Contact teams and began negotiations for cultural, scientific, economic and political cooperation. The Ounta-Kadiis have claimed over a thousand star systems in their immediate neighborhood, within two thousand light years of the homeworld. Plenty of worlds to colonize.

“And the bloody ‘roids! The Okey-Doke fossickers have found—uh, sorry. Fossicker means prospector in Terran Standard. So, their mining ships and exploration drones have tagged at least ten-K ‘roid fields. Chockers with rare ores.”

“Lieutenant, what is the latest threat assessment for the OK League?” Noah said.

Brisbane-Smith shook his head. “No naval forces. No technology to weaponize starships. Not even forcefields. Blooming joey in the pouch.”

“Again like Lupetti,” Noah said.

Susie said, “When you’re the lone dingo prowling a sterile outback, I fancy you don’t worry about predators.”

The motto of the Ounta-Kadiis League is, “Let justice prevail, and the divine plan forever endure.” A cryptic, Orwellian meaning hides within this simple declaration.

The “Firstborn Children” have endured isolation long enough to develop a quirky caste system where everyone knows their place. And beneath all the Naturals who are born, a vast clone substructure supports the humanoid public with specialized professions, menial labor, and domestic servitude.

There is a desperate need for these clones, without whom the whole species would cease to exist in a few generation. For some reason O-K science is yet to detect, only one in ten thousand Ounta-Kadiis are born female. The condition developed thousands of years ago, driving O-K medical science into a frenzy of experimental programs to overcome the deficiency, none of which worked.

Finally, organic chemistry developed a solution, clone females. They had all the features of humanoid existence and could be programmed with skill sets and physical traits as needed by each generation. They were sexually compatible with Naturals and became mated for life with millions of males who had not attracted a rare Natural female spouse. Clone women could bear implanted embryos to term, nurse and raise them the same as Natural women. The only difference was the clone inability to conceive.

As the centuries passed, the Ounta-Kadiis social system developed into a caste system, and clones also had ascending value assigned to them, one through eight. All unmated clone women were required by law to provide sexual services to any Natural male who requested them. Some higher level clones—six thru eighth castes—were reserved for upper tier Natural males.

There were a few male clones produced to perform duties requiring more physical strength and stamina, and although those models were not eunuchs they were strictly forbidden from engaging sexually with Natural or clone females.

Clones were “born” full-grown with an expiration date the equivalent of forty Terran years. At that time, their neck tattoos changed color from dark blue to red, and they were expected to report to the Recycling Plants where they were executed. Their bodies were processed as food supplements to enrich the protein diet of Naturals.

The only exception to this scheme were the members of the College of Jaleema Virgins, clones presided over by an almost immortal High Priestess. The current High Priestess Kalei Kyte-Dezion is eight centuries old and looks like a woman in her early thirties.

And then there is the Stellar Light trade… But let’s save something for the novel.

Watch for Star Lawyers Book 5 – The Stellar Light Conspiracy this summer.

And don’t forget the Star Lawyers series is now available on Audiobooks. Star Lawyers 1 – Jump Gate Omega is already on the market. Star Lawyers 2 – Forbidden Sanctuary is scheduled for release in the next few weeks.

Tom Shepherd

Tucson, AZ