The alien followed her, quiet as a whisper. When Major Ariane Kedros turned into the chapel, she caught a glimpse of the tall, horned Minoan warrior in her peripheral vision. Perversely, she refused to acknowledge who, or what, stayed several meters behind her.
Every day for the last six days, before her shift started, Ariane stopped by the chapel of the Pilgrimage III. On the front wall, above the altar, was the recent list of fatalities. This list grew every day, as Abram's attempted takeover of G-145 was converted from blood to dry data. Terran State Prince Hauser's death put the number over two hundred.
Ignoring the Minoan behind her, she selected the front bench. She sat with her back straight and stiff, her hands gripping the cool hard surface beneath her. Her eyes started at the top and she read every name. As always, she paused when she came to "Colonel Elene Dokos."
It took physical effort to move past that name. They killed her right in front of me, and I couldn't stop them. The edge of the bench dug into her fingers as her grip tightened.
"You did the best you could."
The voice made her start. Justin, the communications officer for the Pilgrimage, stood beside the bench with his head cocked in question. When she nodded, he sat down beside her, although he jerked his head toward the back of the chapel.
"Don't look now, but a Minoan's back there watching you." He leaned close and murmured low.
"Warrior Commander's been following me around for days." She replied in a normal tone. Minoan technology so exceeded theirs, that there was no chance of hiding their conversation.
His eyes widened. "Does this have anything to do with them calling you ‘Breaker of Treaties’?"
His reaction made her pause. She'd become blasé, almost numb, to the aliens that gave humans faster-than-light travel more than a century ago--and indifference was dangerous. The Minoans carried weapons that boiled people from the inside out and they had organic ships with directed-energy weapons, all of which were beyond humanity's comprehension.
The Minoans didn't think like humans. There were no gray lines for them, particularly when following laws or dispensing justice. They'd committed "delayed genocide," using mysterious genetic weapons upon a tribe as punishment for piracy and terrorism. They'd followed interstellar law to the letter, of course, and no government had the balls to protest that attack. While it led to a decades-long lull in piracy, it also caused festering resentment—and we were the ones who suffered from Abram's vengeance.
Justin didn't notice her brief hiatus. "Does it follow you everywhere?"
David Ray sat down across the bench from Ariane. Having caught his breath, he leaned over and whispered, "They have a good sense for drama, don't they?"
She nodded. By now, humankind assumed the Minoans chose to mimic a bygone civilization on ancient Earth. However, they didn't have to wear horned headdresses with cascading jewels, or flowing robes. Perhaps the cold air that moved their clothing was necessary, but they could just as easily walk about with tanks. But that wouldn't make the same impression, would it?
"You may record this, since this information will be verified in the Builders' records on Priamos. This is not privileged information." Contractor Director allowed them to switch on recorders in their slates.
"We began observing the culture you call the Builders about sixty thousand U.T. years ago, when—"
David Ray's arm shot up for a question, and Ariane felt her life regress to secondary school. The familiarity deepened when Contractor Director sternly said, "Questions will be entertained later, General Counsel for Aether Exploration."
David Ray lowered his arm with chagrin, as the Minoan began again.
"We waited about thirty-two thousand years to make contact with them and to forestall further questions, we will provide exact timelines to your xenologists."
She watched David Ray, with a twist of anguish on his face, make notes on his slate. He probably wanted to explore each statement in depth. There was much more to ask the Minoans, now that they could compare humankind's progress with another sentient species. The ramifications, to net-think and popular culture, were both horrifying and exhilarating. This generated more questions: How long had the Minoans existed? How many species had they seen evolve to sentience? How had the Minoans managed to survive over such a long time? After all, the universe was a very dangerous place.
"Mistakes were made with the Builders," the Minoan continued. David Ray was almost vibrating in his seat. "Over thousands of years, the Builders became hostile and what you define as 'xenophobic.' We watched their decline begin thirteen thousand years ago. They eventually withdrew from their outposts, such as this one here in G-145, to their home world systems. In an attempt to cut off contact with us and other possible space-faring species, the Builders damaged the fabric of space and time."
"Meaning what?" David Ray couldn't stand it any longer.
Contractor Director's head turned to observe Ariane and David Ray. She shifted uncomfortably under the Minoan's silent scrutiny as previously unrelated facts crashed together in her brain.
"Temporal distortion," she whispered, her mouth dry. "They pushed temporal distortion waves into N-space."
"They destroyed their own buoys?" David Ray sounded incredulous.
"No." She cleared her throat, staring at Contractor Director. "They damaged nous-space itself. That's why you can't travel to their worlds anymore."
The shock in the room was palpable. After a quiet pause, Contractor Director dipped its horns toward her.
"Correct," the Minoan said. "We could not survive the nous-transit, but you could, with the enhancements we provide."
"Go ahead, while I call maintenance. His room's around that corner and at the far end."
Ariane walked in the direction the medical technician pointed and found a long corridor with an exit beside Sergeant Joyce's room at the end. The technician wasn't correct in assuming he was awake, because he didn't answer his chime. After two tries, she opened the unlocked door and peeked in.
Something was wrong. Joyce lay in an awkward position, obviously unconscious, amid rumpled bedclothes. Even though the monitor beeped quietly and cheerily at the foot of his bed, his breath was shallow, his skin was pale and had a light sheen of sweat. She stepped to the foot of the bed and examined the monitor, started tracing the leads under the top sheet to where they connected to—
The monitor leads disappeared under the bed frame, instead of plugging into Joyce's implants. A whispering sound at the door made her look around; Warrior Commander stood there with a slightly cocked head, as if homing in on a sound beyond human senses.
A frigid breeze brushed her and she stepped backward. The Minoan was suddenly kneeling beside the bed, reaching under it. When Warrior Commander stood, it held out its gloved hands. On the right hand rested a tiny sensor pad that connected via thin wire to a small cylindrical device in the left hand. Her throat tightened: a Terran antipersonnel genade. An old but reliable device used by TEBI during the war, designed to maim and wound. A device that couldn't be separated from its sensor without causing detonation.
She whispered, "Don't break the wi—"
Warrior Commander closed long inhuman fingers over the two devices and pulled. She heard the wire snap as she threw herself on the bed to cover Joyce.
Pathfinder is number five on Galaxy Bookshop Bestsellers, 7/17/2010
Pathfinder makes #20 on Amazon's Hot New Releases in Science Fiction (first seen 7/31/2010, updated hourly). Pathfinder also pops onto Amazon's Kindle Top 100 Bestsellers in Science Fiction (updated hourly) for several months.
Pathfinder is a riveting, action-packed space adventure which I highly recommend. Peopled with interesting characters, unusual political situations, and twists and turns, this book will keep the reader enthralled. —Leanne Davis, Fresh Fiction, 9/15/2010
Laura is a great world builder. Her Minoan Space is greatly influenced by Greek culture and the alien are alien. I really like the characterization in her books too. It took me a while before I started reading her first book Peacekeeper, the cover and everything said yet another military science fiction with the usual female protagonist, love story, alien artifacts, and bad memories from the war, misunderstood and under appreciated military until I started reading. Her books are nothing like that, her characters are real people and the society around them is plausible in a refreshingly new way. —Cybermage, 07/28/2010
To her partners at Aether Exploration, Ariane Kedros is the daring pilot of their prospecting ship. She is also a reserve major in the Consortium of Autonomous Worlds—accepting mysterious assignments to fulfill her duty. To the Terran Expansion League, she is a war criminal—guilty of piloting a ship on a mission that obliterated an entire solar system.
Major Ariane Kedros needs a shot at redemption—and the mysterious aliens known as the Minoans need an extraordinary human pilot with a rejuv-stimulated metabolism such as Ariane for a dangerous expedition to a distant solar system. But there's a catch: The Minoans have to implant their technology in Ariane's body, and it might not be removable. Ariane is willing to take the risk, but as she begins the perilous journey, she is unaware that hiding within the exploration team, there is an old enemy who is determined to see that this mission will be the major's last.