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Placeholder image  Preview of Starman #10:

Master of Shadows

The following is an excerpt from one of the chapters of the tenth Starman book. Enjoy!

 

Starman Kathy Foster paid careful attention to the passing of time. If she were to return to the Raptor without cutting her air supply too closely, she had about three more hours to engage the computer system of the inner ring of the city. She was aware that she was becoming unnaturally tired, much more tired than she ought to have felt after only fourteen hours.

She pursued her exploration of the images that hovered in space around her, learning how to enter into them with her mind. Keeping her mind focused as she slipped into exhaustion became more and more challenging. As her mental faculties blurred with her fatigue, she found that she made unintentional contact with the images, and they dragged her through spaces she had no intention of following. To escape, she shook her head, refocused and slowly returned to her reality. She came to feel like a small child playing among potent wonders that could prove very dangerous. Her mind began to reel and sway, and her eyes kept watering and blinking.

Finally she ceased to concentrate and pulled back into herself. She shut her eyes and tried to think of something familiar. She made herself remember sensations and experiences from her daily life. Memories of her favorite foods came to her. Spaghetti with sautéed onions, meat sauce, herbs. She remembered the aroma. The memory of the distinct taste of freshly made garlic bread made her mouth water.

What is that? came the voice. Amazing! Something I don’t know. You intrigue me now, Starman Kathy Foster. Show me more.

Kathy felt too tired to resist the intrusive voice. It’s food. My favorite food, she thought. She shook her head and opened her eyes. She sat bolt upright and stared unseeing. Why am I here? she thought toward the voice. Why have you left me to wander through your inner city? What do you want me to find?

There was no answer. Suddenly she felt energized, even euphoric. Then she felt abject fear, and cried aloud. Then she felt a surge of adrenaline and a firm desire to act boldly. Then she felt hunger, hunger to the point of starvation. A pounding headache burst between her temples and she felt weak and faint. Next she felt completely sated. With panicky alarm she knew that she was being played like an instrument. The voice was tormenting her—or maybe merely exploring her psyche and physical reactions the way she was exploring the images in the room where she was sitting.

Stop it! she ordered vehemently. You have no right to use me like this!!

A feeling of curiosity wafted over her, a feeling she discerned as coming from beyond her. But no words accompanied the feeling.

If you want to show me something, show me! she ordered. Stop playing with me!

Immediately she felt a complete absence of any other being. An overpowering sense of wretched solitude swelled into her, of there being no other living, thinking, feeling entity of any kind for light years in every direction. She was pierced with an unfathomable dread as if plunged without warning into an icy, heaving ocean wave that was working to engulf her. But within a few seconds she had collected herself and calmed her gut reaction. Her months of battling loneliness on the Raptor had given her the resources for rebuffing the experience of absolute disconnection.

You intrigue me, Starman Kathy Foster. The words came into her mind with a slow deliberation. Now look, then, and you will see what you came after.

One of the images that was floating in the air around her came close and opened up. Helplessly, she drifted into it. She saw deep stone walls, black and sparkling, and then she passed through the space in between them until they fell behind her. She was floating in space. A swath of millions of stars, mostly white but also red and blue and violet and green, extended before her like a pathway, though it was light years below her feet.

She saw an armada of thousands of spacecraft coming toward her, spacecraft of advanced design that she knew she had never seen before, yet which looked familiar. With a sudden realization, she remembered that they were the ships whose ruins she had seen in the time stases that her modified reconobot had descried.

A startling and ominous vibration coursed through her body, and she felt energy pulse from somewhere behind her and move outward. Wave after wave of the ships of the armada disappeared as if caught by giant hands and drawn into oblivion.

When the armada was gone, she saw a planet sweep near, and she hovered over it, watching an enormous host of ships on the ground, surrounded by buildings of spectacular beauty set among meadows and groves. It was all suddenly frozen white and silver. The ground upon which it all lay heaved like a turbulent ocean, and then that too froze in place. And then a diaphanous silver veil drew over the scene. After a few moments in which Kathy puzzled over what she was seeing, there was an eruption of violent, swirling clouds and jagged light that filled her entire field of vision and obliterated all that she had seen before.

You know this planet, said the voice, though you have never seen it.

Then the planet disappeared under a fold of darkness, followed by another fold, and yet another.

Ah, said the voice. Next… A field of stars rushed under her and around her, followed by the deeps of interstellar space, and then more stars. And then one star became more luminous, and its surrounding stars faded and dropped out of view. With rapid heartbeat, Kathy recognized her own sun. Saturn flew past her, just barely recognizable before vanishing. And then she saw Mars, and then Earth. As she watched, both planets took on a silver tint as in the early stages of icing over.

She experienced the voice’s elation at precisely the moment she felt the billow of panic fill her.

 

For more information on this book, click here.

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© 2011 by David Baumann, Jonathan Cooper, Mike Dodd. All rights reserved.