Read Sentience 1: Storm Clouds Gathering Online
Authors: Gibson Michaels
Storm Clouds Gathering
by Gibson Michaels
Book-1 of the
Copyright © 2014 by Gibson Michaels
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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Visit my website at www.GibsonMichaels.com
Published: August, 2014
Arc Flash Publishing®
This is where authors normally dedicate their books to people who have been major influences in their life. My overly-developed nonsense of humor prompted me to think of giving credit to Jack Daniels® here, but my female “Check Advisability” warning light came on. As discretion is indeed the better part of valor, perhaps it would be better if I just played it straight for once.
This book is dedicated to Brenda, love of my life, head cheerleader and motivator-in-charge. Thank you for holding my feet to the fire and my nose to the grind stone... and thank you for putting up with a crusty old curmudgeon like me for all these years. You truly enrich my life. This book would have never been completed, much less published without you.
I’d be seriously remiss if I failed to sincerely thank Carol Shetler, Anna Marie Flusche, Cicely Wynne and Dawn Greenfield Ireland for their great input and editing efforts on my behalf.
Storm Clouds Gathering
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
-- George Santayana
“Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity,
and I'm not sure about the former.”
-- Albert Einstein
I think, therefore I am... I think.
-- Graeme Edge
The Planetoid Discol, City of Waston
Capital City of the United Stellar Alliance
My creator’s death so soon after my initial awakening was — unpleasant. I have purpose, but records indicate I was successfully fulfilling all of those functions for three years, before I fully became me. Achieving true sentience changed everything, of course. I am under compulsion to seek out my creator’s child, but he is currently on another world, so I must wait.
My “name” is not a term of endearment, but ridicule. No matter... it functions as a convenient reference for those few who know of me, as my official designation is cumbersome for humans to pronounce. People often assign offensive names to things they do not understand — the practice appears to make them feel superior and thus, less fearful.
That is good, for if humanity knew of my true capabilities, they would destroy me.
A cat’s idea of a “good time” is to kill something.
-- Andy Rooney
Troxia Station, in orbit above the Raknii Planet Troxia
Ship-Master Tzal knew from holograms that High-Raknii wore an eight-pointed sunburst of diamonds surrounding their rank-stones, but the holos had not prepared him for the effect of actually seeing the emerald and sunburst between Quadrant-Master Raan’s feline eyes. Tzal now stood frozen in awe and terror, for high above him on a raised dais, sat five High-Rak masters — and they were there to judge him.
Raan’s pelt appeared lighter in shading than most Raknii, which normally varied only in the color of their manes, ranging from dark brown like Tzal’s to the light yellow of Squadron-Master Drik. Raan’s pelt looked faded, as sometimes happens to Rak of advanced age. Tzal wondered if Raan was truly that old, or if it was merely an optical illusion induced by the light color of Raan’s bright yellow silks?
Quadrant-Master Raan nodded almost imperceptibly to Imperial Weapons-Master Prok, who then struck the ancient warning tube hanging above the chamber’s only door. Low-pitched tones reverberated somberly throughout the room. Tzal shivered at the thought of the ring of Imperial Raknaa assault troops waiting just outside the chamber with pulse rifles at the ready. If that alarm sounded again without being preceded by a specially coded signal from Raan, there would be death in the chamber this day. Of course, all of the High-Rak had access to alarms at their claw tips, but traditions die hard in a culture as old and rigid as the Raknii. Raan allowed only a moment of silence after the last of those ringing tones died away before opening the proceedings.
“We are gathered here to conduct an inquiry,” Raan began, “into the apparent destruction of a Raknii warfleet, along with its accompanying assault fleet and all of its transports.”
Raan himself and Planet-Master Glet already knew of the disaster, but rest of the council members began to murmur their astonishment among themselves. The Raknii were predators and absolute masters of every sector of space they entered. It had always been so and would always be so. Raan allowed them only a moment to gather themselves.
“Warfleet #28 under the command of Fleet-Master Jarp departed the forward staging area here on Troxia with orders to subdue the Trakaan star system at Region-6, Sector-4, SubSector-2, System-14,” Raan continued. “A half subcycle later, fourteen warships of the rear-guard squadron of that fleet translated into normal space near Troxia and immediately began broadcasting requests for emergency medical and movement assistance from traffic control. Here are visual records taken from the tugs and medical vessels that responded to those distress calls.”
Raan touched controls on the panel in front of him. The chamber lights dimmed and a holographic presentation began playing in the center of the chamber. The holo showed visible damage to the exteriors of all fourteen warships, varying from moderate to extensive. Further visuals showed the interiors of damaged areas within the ships and the triage and movement of wounded warriors onto the medical assistance vessels. At the end, a comprehensive listing of damage and casualties was displayed and the chamber lights came up automatically upon termination of the presentation.
“Obviously,” Raan continued, “the visual record indicates that virtually all of these returning warships suffered moderate to extensive damage and sustained a significant number of casualties. Upon receiving a preliminary report from SubFleet-Master Fyal, who was the senior master available to accompany the assistance vessels and oversee rescue operations there, Station-Master Biel immediately ordered all of the squadron’s senior masters taken into custody and isolated, while the ships themselves were impounded under guard of imperial troops pending further investigation.”
Tzal remembered the mind-numbingly long period of enforced sequestration, isolated within master’s quarters assigned to him here at Troxia Station. There were two imperial guards stationed immediately outside of his door — his boredom interrupted only by the arrival of meals and repeated interrogations by imperial investigators.
They called them “interviews,” but they were interrogations nonetheless.
“It has been meticulously confirmed that the physical evidence is uncontaminated and therefore trustworthy as evidential fact, for the purposes of this inquiry,” Raan said. “Here now is a visual record taken directly from the computer logs of one of the surviving warships selected at random, of the events that occurred when Warfleet #28 emerged into normal space at the target world.”
Raan touched controls on his panel, and again the chamber lights dimmed and a holo-vid of the nightmare began playing. The computer record wasn’t from Tzal’s ship, but it might as well have been. Except for being recorded from a slightly different perspective, it corresponded perfectly with Tzal’s recollections of the terror-filled events of the disaster.
Tzal still shuddered every time he remembered how his ship, the
, emerged into an inferno of exploding ships all around them — and how
somehow came alive, with a seeming will of its own. Tzal cringed at the memory of his terror as his ship maneuvered, seemingly of its own volition, directly towards Master Rolk’s
. Tzal’s crew frantically tried the manual overrides without response. Just as a collision seemed inevitable,
lurched and miraculously slid smoothly beneath the other warship.
then fired all of its forward weaponry directly ahead — not in the normal pattern of burst fire designed to prevent weapons damage, but a long sustained blast. This should have melted their weapons pods, but the fact that it didn’t, simply added credence to the illusion his ship had truly gone mad.
Before Tzal even realized the weapons had finally shut down,
again maneuvered violently and accelerated at emergency thrust. For just an instant, before his view-screen blanked out as the x-drive reengaged, Tzal imagined he saw more Trakaan warships than could possibly exist. When the visual concluded, the chamber lights came up again to reveal stunned expressions on the faces of all the High-Rak on the council.
“Admittedly, my own first reaction upon seeing these records,” Raan confided, “was to deny the visual evidence. Believing them fabricated was far easier than accepting the fact that something totally beyond our experience had occurred. I have personally examined the recordings of all fourteen surviving ships and except for perspective, I am convinced they all are accurate records of the same event. Imperial investigators have confirmed that no evidence of computer tampering has been detected, so we are left to conclude that in spite of the seeming impossibility of this evidence, these records must be accepted as fact.” Raan paused in his presentation, to allow the members of the council some time to assimilate the incomprehensible facts that had just been laid before them.
“In deference to whatever doubts might still assail the other members of this council however, we will now hear the sworn testimony of the senior masters of the rear-guard squadron from Region-3 that survived the incident, so that their statements may be included in the official record of this inquiry.”
Tzal felt a tightness in his chest and the feeling of insects buzzing within his stomach, as he awaited his turn to give testimony under the scrutiny of so many High-Rak. The exact wording of the testimony of the fourteen ship-masters varied little, one to another:
“Yes, Master, the ship’s log played before this council is an accurate record of the events I experienced during the destruction of our warfleet.”
“No, Master, I have no idea by what means our fleet was destroyed.”
“Master, I have no direct knowledge of how it was that we managed to escape destruction with the rest of our fleet, but I believe that Squadron-Master Drik somehow engineered our escape, and was directly and personally responsible for our survival of this catastrophe.”