The Lost Stars: Imperfect Sword

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9780425272251: The Lost Stars: Imperfect Sword

The wait is over. New York Times bestselling author Jack Campbell continues his action-packed spin-off to The Lost Fleet series as the Syndicate’s civil war threatens to spread even farther into the final frontier...
 
President Gwen Iceni and General Artur Drakon have successfully liberated the Midway Star System—but the former rulers of the Syndicate Worlds won’t surrender the region without a fight. The dictatorial regime has ordered the ex–Syndicate CEOs terminated with extreme prejudice and the system’s citizens punished for their defiance.
 
Outnumbered and led by junior officers hastily promoted in the wake of the uprising, Midway’s warships are no match for the fleet massing and preparing to strike. But the Syndicate isn’t the only threat facing Iceni and Drakon. Another former CEO has taken control of the Ulindi Star System, the first calculated move toward establishing his own little empire.
 
With Drakon’s ground forces dispatched to Ulindi, Midway erupts in violence as Syndicate agents and other, unknown enemies stoke a renewed revolt against Iceni’s power—leaving both her and Drakon vulnerable to trusted officers just waiting for an opportune moment to betray them...

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About the Author:

“Jack Campbell” is the pen name of John G. Hemry, a retired naval officer who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis before serving with the surface fleet and in a variety of other assignments. He is the author of The Lost Fleet series (The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier: Steadfast, The Lost Frontier: Beyond the Frontier: Guardian) as well as the Stark’s War series (Stark's Command, Stark's Crusade) and the Paul Sinclair series (A Just Determination, Burden of Proof). His short fiction appears frequently in Analog magazine. Imperfect Sword is the third novel in The Lost Stars series (Perilous Shield, Tarnished Knight).

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

THE MIDWAY FLOTILLA

Kommodor Asima Marphissa, commanding

(all ships are former Syndicate Worlds mobile forces units)

ONE BATTLESHIP

Midway (not yet operational)

ONE BATTLE CRUISER

Pele

FOUR HEAVY CRUISERS

Manticore, Gryphon, Basilisk, and Kraken

SIX LIGHT CRUISERS

Falcon, Osprey, Hawk, Harrier, Kite, and Eagle

TWELVE HUNTER-KILLERS

Sentry, Sentinel, Scout, Defender, Guardian, Pathfinder, Protector, Patrol, Guide, Vanguard, Picket, and Watch

Ranks in the Midway Flotilla (in descending order), as established by President Iceni

Kommodor

Kapitan First Rank

Kapitan Second Rank

Kapitan Third Rank

Kapitan-Leytenant

Leytenant

Leytenant Second Rank

Ships Officer

LIKE a pack of immense sharks, warships of the rebellious Free and Independent Midway Star System roamed the dark emptiness of space, patrolling against any threats. At other stars, the crumbling but still-powerful and predacious empire of the Syndicate Worlds gathered forces and tried to stamp out revolution wherever it flared into existence. Midway, strategically positioned and a leader among the rebel star systems, knew it was only a matter of time until the Syndicate attacked again.

“I almost wish something would ha—”

Don’t say it.”

“I’m sorry, Kommodor. It’s just that there are few tasks more boring than standing sentry,” Kapitan Diaz said. “Especially deep in space far from any planet or orbiting facility.”

“And few things more dangerous than becoming bored or distracted as a sentry,” Kommodor Marphissa reminded him, her voice sharp. “Let alone jinxing us with careless wishes!”

“I was about to say how important it was to stay alert,” Diaz added quickly. He raised his voice for the benefit of the specialists on the bridge of the heavy cruiser Manticore. “If you’re on sentry and not paying attention, some enemy might sneak up and stick a knife in you.”

“Or one of your superiors might catch you napping,” Marphissa said. “If that happens, you’ll probably wish an enemy had killed you quickly instead.”

“That’s the Syndicate way,” Diaz agreed. “But we rebelled against the Syndicate.”

“And that’s why we’re on sentry duty,” Marphissa said. “The Syndicate wants this star system back under their control.” Her gaze shifted to the display before her command seat. The huge hypernet gate that helped make Midway Star System very important hung in space only ten light-minutes away, the massive structure seeming small and insignificant against a backdrop of endless stars. Space had a tendency to dwarf the mightiest human creations. The nearest ship traffic was almost a light-hour distant, a boxy freighter plodding steadily along toward the inner star system. President Iceni, the only one whose orders Marphissa would respect, was four light-hours away, on a planet orbiting only several light-minutes from the star. Marphissa’s warships were on their own out here, as was she.

“How long do you think it will be before they attack again?” Diaz wondered.

Marphissa shifted irritably in her own seat. How many times had they had this conversation? “Maybe next week, maybe next month, maybe in the next minute. The only thing we know for certain is that the Syndicate will be back, and they will be bringing a large enough flotilla to make us fight for our lives.”

“The battle cruiser should be operational again soon.”

“It needs to be operational now, along with our battleship,” Marphissa grumbled, lowering her voice so only Diaz could hear. There were some things the specialists should not listen to. “We’ll be sitting ducks if the Syndicate returns with a battleship of their own, and all we still have in fighting condition are these cruisers and Hunter-Killers—”

An alert blared, causing everyone on the bridge to jerk to full alertness and frantically focus on their displays as a new symbol sprang to life near the hypernet gate. Ten minutes ago, something had arrived at the gate, the light from that event one hundred eighty million kilometers away only now reaching Marphissa’s own flotilla. Boredom and irritation vanished in a flare of excitement and fear as Marphissa waited for Manticore’s combat systems to identify the new arrival.

“We’re getting a Syndicate ID on it,” the senior watch specialist reported, drawing a curse from Kapitan Diaz.

Marphissa had once envied those who commanded flotillas, imagining them free of the day-to-day responsibilities that kept lesser souls in constant labor and worry. But she had already learned that the burdens of being in charge, of having no one else to turn to for orders and guidance, were as heavy as a neutron star and as unforgiving as the pull of gravity from a black hole.

And Marphissa would have to make all of the decisions. It would be almost four more hours before President Iceni even saw that a new Syndicate ship had arrived in this star system.

THERE were times when President Gwen Iceni regretted having learned that not every problem could be solved by ordering someone to be killed.

This was one of those times.

Because at this moment she really, really wanted to kill someone.

“We know that the next Syndicate attack could come at any time,” she told General Artur Drakon in what Iceni thought a remarkably well-controlled voice. The way his defensive glower deepened at her words led her to suspect that her voice might not be as controlled as she thought. “There are unknown forces moving against us within this star system, though we’ve managed to keep the citizens quiet for now by giving them some voice in their own affairs. Supreme CEO Haris at Ulindi might try attacking us again. And, of course, we never know when the enigmas might return and wipe us all out. Did I forget any problems we currently face?”

He met her eyes, defiant despite the obvious guilt he felt. “We can’t entirely trust each other.” Drakon paused, then added more in even darker tones. “We can’t entirely trust our own closest subordinates.”

“Then you agree we had more than enough things to worry about before this.” Gwen sat back, sighing heavily. “Why do I trust you at all, Artur Drakon?”

“Because you have to. The same reason that’s always been there.”

“No. I could have tried to have you killed. Where is she now?”

“Colonel Morgan? In her quarters.”

“Her quarters.” Iceni let the two words hang for a long moment. “After she exploited her position as one of your closest aides to betray you, that’s all you’re going to do?”

Drakon ran one hand through his hair, looking away. “I haven’t decided. I told you. There are complications—”

Whatever Drakon had been about to say was interrupted by a high-priority alarm. Iceni tapped acknowledge, hoping her jerk of surprise hadn’t been apparent to Drakon. “What is it?” she snapped as the image of her personal aide/bodyguard/assassin Mehmet Togo appeared beside her desk.

“A ship has arrived at the hypernet gate—” Togo began, his voice and expression both as placid as if nothing could ever unnerve or even annoy him.

“One ship? Why is that so critical?”

“A Syndicate ship.”

Iceni felt a chill at odds with the earlier heat of her anger at Drakon and Morgan. “Just one? Did the Syndicate send an unescorted battleship to attack us this time?”

“The ship is a courier vessel,” Togo continued. “It informs us that it carries one passenger, CEO Jason Boyens. The courier ship is en route this planet. Even though it is identifying itself as under official Syndicate control, it claims to be operating independently.”

“Boyens? Alone?” She looked at Drakon, who frowned again.

“What the hell does he want?” Drakon growled. Boyens was known to both of them from his long service with the old Reserve Flotilla, but after going to the Syndicate supposedly to negotiate an end of hostilities, he had instead returned to Midway in command of a Syndicate flotilla attacking this star system. Timely assistance to Midway from Black Jack’s Alliance fleet had forced Boyens to flee that time, but now he was back without any warships.

“Whatever it is, he’s putting himself into our hands.” She sat back, pushing aside her anger at Morgan and at Drakon, letting Boyens’s sudden reappearance filter through the Machiavellian paths that experience in the Syndicate system had worn in her mind.

“Do you want to kill him?” Drakon asked.

“Do you?”

Drakon grinned ferociously. “Not right away.”

“Agreed. Let’s see what he can tell us, first,” Iceni said. She didn’t want to pursue further the topic of Morgan’s treachery at this moment, so did not object when Drakon made a quick departure to make his own preparations for dealing with whatever news Boyens was bringing.

FIVE minutes after Drakon returned to his headquarters, Iceni forwarded a message from Boyens that she had just received.

Colonel Bran Malin began backing out of Drakon’s private office. “I will leave you to discuss the matter with President Iceni, General.”

“Hold it.”

“General,” Malin said, “I fully understand that your confidence in me has been damaged and that I cannot expect to be given the same access to critical issues until your concerns regarding me have been resolved.”

“You’re right that I’m going to be watching you more in days to come,” Drakon said. “But recent revelations about you and Morgan do not alter the fact that I have come to value your insight and opinions. Let’s both see what Boyens has to say.”

Even Malin could not help a very brief smile at Drakon’s words, but all he said was, “Yes, sir. You won’t regret it, sir.”

The image of CEO Jason Boyens appeared, looking confident but also regretful. “I won’t insult you,” Boyens began, “by pretending I don’t realize that I am now the one who needs to make a deal for my own survival. I want you to realize how much I can do for you. The last time I was in this star system, I may have looked like I was in charge of that Syndicate flotilla, but I wasn’t. There was a snake CEO at my back, literally at my back, almost every moment. The slightest misstep would have resulted in my death, and you at the mercy of a snake CEO instead of a friend like me.”

A friend? Drakon thought. Does he expect me to believe that he’s now a friend?

“I have information that you need,” Boyens continued. “I could have gone to a lot of different places when I escaped from Prime. I came here. Give me a chance to show you how I can help you. Boyens, out.”

Drakon glanced at Malin. “Well?”

Malin considered the question, his head tilted slightly to one side. “His story is plausible, General. Having a senior Internal Security Service agent monitoring his every move would have been a reasonable precaution for the current Syndicate government.”

“Because they couldn’t trust Boyens, either.”

“Yes, sir. But he may know some very important things if he has been at all aware of what the Syndicate is planning.” Malin nodded toward where Boyens’s image had been. “He appears to have intended that message solely for President Iceni.”

“I noticed.” Iceni was clearly telling him that they remained allies despite recent discoveries about problems among Drakon’s closest aides. “All right. We’ve seen that message and talked about it. Now, let’s talk about you.”

Drakon drummed the fingers of his left hand on his desk as he eyed Malin. He had been granted very little time to absorb the news of Malin’s true relationship to Morgan, the huge secret Malin had kept from him and everyone else. On the other hand, if my mother was Roh Morgan, I doubt that I would want anyone knowing, either. “Never mind CEO Boyens. Can I still trust you?”

Malin usually struck people as reserved to the point of coldness, but now he seemed frozen inside at the question. “I . . . General, I will not betray you. I never have.”

“Are there any more secrets that I should know?”

“No, sir.”

The multitude of hidden sensors focused on Malin provided their verdict on the surface of Drakon’s desk, the words polarized so as to be invisible to Malin himself. No deception noted. But Malin was as well trained as anyone could be in fooling the sensors that measured signs of dishonesty. “I want the simple truth out of you, Colonel. Where does your loyalty lie?”

The question puzzled Malin. “With you, General. I am loyal to you above all others.”

No deception noted. “Have you been working with Colonel Morgan in any way I am not aware of? Engaged in any projects I did not order you to pursue?”

“No, sir.”

No deception noted. “Any other person in my position would have you shot. You know that, don’t you?” Drakon demanded. “You’ve been one of my closest assistants, you know just about everything about my forces and contingency plans, and you kept that kind of secret from me. You know too much for someone who misled me.”

“The same could be said of Colonel Morgan, sir,” Malin said, his words coming out as carefully as if they were footsteps through a minefield.

“I agree. Why shouldn’t I have both of you shot?”

Malin gazed at him, his face rigid. “You have always been able to count on me, sir. Give me any task, and it will be done.”

“That much is true,” Drakon admitted. “And I will admit that is also one of the reasons I’m wondering if I can afford to trust you any longer. You’re too damned good at getting things done. I need to be sure you’re only acting for me.”

“I am, General. At this moment, you have a very important task facing you. If you are going to let Morgan live, then you need me to protect you from her.”

“You’re no match for Morgan. You couldn’t stop her if she tried to kill me.”

Malin made a self-deprecating gesture. “Not if it was a direct attack, no. But she won’t do that, General. She is intensely loyal to you even though that loyalty is warped. Morgan won’t try to physically harm you, but that doesn’t mean she won’t do other things. I can monitor her, watch for schemes, plots, and unauthorized activities. I can identify anyone who contacts her, no matter the means.”

Drakon considered the alternatives, then nodded. Until he knew more about what Morgan was up to, there was no one better suited for discovering her secrets than Malin. “Do not make me sorry for giving you another chance,” Drakon said, his own words as cold as Malin’s eyes. “There will not be any more chances after this.”

“I understand, sir. Thank you for the opportunity to prove my continued loyalty to you.” Malin saluted, then left.

Drakon sat watching the sealed door after Malin had departed, wondering if he had just made a deal with one devil in order to frustrate the plans of another. But Malin had been invaluable in the past and, aside from the secret regarding his real mother, had never shown any signs of disloyalty or unreliability. In all ways, Malin had always appea...

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