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Forbidden System: A Benevolency Universe Novel (Fall of the Benevolence Book 1), page 1

 

Forbidden System: A Benevolency Universe Novel (Fall of the Benevolence Book 1)
 

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Forbidden System: A Benevolency Universe Novel (Fall of the Benevolence Book 1)


  Forbidden System

  Fall of the Benevolence

  David Alastair Hayden

  Contents

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Epilogue

  Afterword

  Also by David Alastair Hayden

  Chapter One

  Gav Gendin

  The Outworld Ranger, a sleek, Q34-C lightweight cruiser, dropped out of hyperspace on the edge of a remote, surprisingly uncharted system on the far fringe of the Krixis Empire’s sphere of control.

  Technically, the treelike aliens had ceded this territory after their last loss to the human-dominant Benevolency, but it was merely a gesture. There was no one out here to enforce the treaty. It seemed no one cared. The Benevolency hadn’t even bothered to send out a survey team. Rumors, those few one could find, said the Krixis had completely abandoned this system two millennia ago, for unknown reasons. But at the galactic scale, rumor was often wrong.

  As the shimmering halo of the stardrive’s hyperphasic bubble faded away, the quad-ion engines flared to life, propelling the cruiser toward the fifth planet in the system, a sandy-colored orb yet uncharted by the Benevolency.

  Seated in his command chair, Gav Gendin nervously ran his hands through his thick, unruly hair. It had begun to gray recently but, unlike most men his age, he hadn't fixed it. Shira had always said the distinguished look suited him better. Not that his looks mattered anymore.

  Gav took a deep breath, forcing himself to relax. He had long had a bad feeling about this venture, but that wasn’t going to stop him from carrying through with it. The important thing now was to stay calm so the others wouldn’t panic. He couldn’t afford for them to mutiny just because they might—potentially—be in a little more danger than normal. He’d worked hard to reach this point. He had to see it through.

  This discovery was going to propel him from being a noted and widely respected archaeologist to the most famous one in the galaxy. Assuming he had interpreted the Ancient star map fragment correctly. The notoriety actually didn’t matter that much to him. The money it could bring in to fund more expeditions, however, was essential. He didn’t teach enough classes or publish enough books to own an armed and well-stocked exploration vessel crewed by professionals and earn a decent living. And the government had always refused grants to fund research on the Ancients. So he depended on pushy sponsors with their own agendas and selling off the less historically significant artifacts he found to private collectors.

  What mattered to Gav Gendin above everything, save for his young son, was deciphering the mysteries of the Ancient civilization that had spread throughout much of the galaxy before collapsing over twelve thousand years ago. No one had the slightest clue what could have so completely eradicated such a powerful starfaring species.

  Enic Pith, a human with genetically gifted purple skin, hovered over the shields and sensors console in the fore of the cramped bridge. “I’m not detecting any ships or any signs of civilization whatsoever. Looks like the rumors were true. The Krixis have abandoned the system. If they were ever here in the first place.”

  Their brash, young pilot, Tal Tonis, shook his head, his long black hair swaying side-to-side. “I still don’t like being here. If the Krixis catch us…”

  “You’re always saying you’re the best,” Rina Bogs said with her usual sly smile. “If we run into trouble, you’ll finally get the chance to prove it.”

  Like Tal, Rina had the tall, lean frame of a spacer. Generations of her family had lived and worked on starships and space stations. Her slight build masked her surprising strength. She wasn’t great at her job at the weapons station, but like Enic, she had a degree in archeology.

  Tal glared at her icily. “I proved myself well enough against those pirates last month. Or we’d all be dead.”

  “Then why are you scared of an abandoned system?” Enic asked.

  “I’m not scared,” he replied. “I just don’t like entering enemy territory, especially in a system that seems perfect for a hidden military base. And if we run into a Krixis warship on patrol, or a couple of their interceptors, it won’t matter how well I can pilot.”

  The bio-formed Krixis ships were nasty enough to give their empire rule over the entire galaxy. But the Krixis couldn’t match the rapid manufacturing pace of the Benevolency, so they had always lost out when it came to numbers.

  Gav made no comment, but he shared Tal’s worries. The system harbored a habitable yet, apparently, abandoned world. Why had the Krixis moved on? Or had they ever occupied it at all? What did they know that he didn’t? What did the Benevolence know, given its lack of curiosity about the system?

  As always, though, his desire to know everything he possibly could about the Ancients outweighed his concern for safety. In the pursuit of that knowledge over the last twenty years, he’d run into pirates, greedy prospectors, unprincipled rivals, hurricanes, con artists, solar storms, aggressive alien beasts, and a host of minor dangers he hardly remembered.

  “Torus, what’s our ETA if we burn hot?” Gav asked his chippy, using a directed thought to silently voice the question. The window in the heads-up display beamed directly into his retinas was showing a seven-hour trip to reach the planet.

  The chippy, a personal computer system housed in a socket in his left temple, connected directly to his brain via DNA nanotubes. Everyone had a chippy of some sort. The poorest of the poor had 2G models, and even luddites sported 1G’s. Gav’s was a fairly advanced 6G, which was more than adequate for his needs. He couldn’t rationalize the expense of a newer 8G, despite the benefits.

  His chippy responded through the neural interface, so that only Gav was able to hear it. “Three hours and forty-six minutes, sir. You’d burn one hundred and seventy-three percent more energy. And you’d have to refuel in approximately—”

  “Would there be enough fuel to race back out of the system at the same speed and return home?”

  “Yes, sir, but with only a little to spare. The cost would be—”

  “Money isn’t important right now. I don’t want to be here any longer than necessary.”

  “Understood, sir. Might I recommend running the ion-drive at eighty-eight percent? That would decrease your speed into the system by only five percent while improving safety and fuel economy.”

  Gav nodded along. “Tal, boost the quad-ion to eighty-eight percent.”

  “Gladly,” Tal replied. “You should take a nap, Gav. You don’t have to be on the bridge right now. And you’re going to need your wits studying these ruins. You may not have as long there as you might like.”

  “I’ll take you up on that.”

  Gav grasped a copper, half-moon circlet on his head. The studs at each end of the device locked onto his temples, the left one connecting to his chippy. Tal, Enic, and Rina also wore circlets, but theirs only linked with a sin
gle system. Gav’s was a CInC, a command interface circlet. It linked a captain to the AI control systems so that in a crisis he could lend support to other stations, work secondary systems, or even take over other stations if necessary.

  The Outworld Ranger, like all advanced-AI Benevolency starships, could operate itself without any human assistance. The only function a ship could not do on its own was jump into hyperspace. But a ship’s AI lacked adaptability and true intelligence. While the AI relied on precise calculations, battle-tested routines, and probability equations beyond human capability, it still couldn’t match good old human instincts and ingenuity. A good pilot or gunner, using his instincts and creativity in concert with the AI, could achieve spectacular feats. And a good captain who understood all the workings of a ship could mentally boost the entire system, helping everyone.

  Gav removed the CInC and placed it in its dock on the command console. He stood and stretched, then headed toward the captain’s quarters. The tiny apartment took up one side of the hallway leading from the bridge. On the opposite side of the hallway was a cramped private room, typically reserved for the ship’s pilot, and four bunk spaces built into the wall and stacked together and arranged two-by-two. The bunks were tall enough for an average spacer to sit up in without hitting their head. Everyone except the captain shared a communal shower and locker area.

  “Torus, wake me when we arrive.”

  A trill of beeps woke Gav. He stared up into the bulbous eyes of his insectoid cog, Octavian, and cringed. The robot had been with him for a decade now, yet its appearance still sometimes frightened him. Octavian maintained the ship, performed all the heavy lifting, and made emergency repairs, even in zero-g. Octavian spent most of his time cleaning and fussing over the ship, making certain everything was kept up to a standard that would make an admiral blush. It was an annoying personality quirk, but a good one. The ship was always in tiptop condition.

  Gav groaned. “What is it?”

  Octavian, his eyes glowing a calm blue, responded with a series of bleeps and squawks.

  “Sir, Octavian wants to know how many days of food to pack with your survival gear.”

  “As many as I can carry.”

  More beeps led to another translation. “He’s not sure how much weight you wish to—”

  “Can you coordinate this for me, Torus?”

  “Of course, sir. I will calculate the ideal load based on previous—”

  “Yes, of course. Do so.” Gav glanced at the time in his HUD. “Why did you let bulb-eyes wake me?”

  “It took all I could do to make him wait until the appropriate time, sir.”

  That figured. Octavian had proven such a pain that Gav had nearly sold him off after the first month. But it had been hard to argue with the cog’s results, so he had compromised by turning off Octavian’s vocal system, leaving him only able to respond in cog-speak. Annoying sounds and chippy translations were far more tolerable than having to listen to Octavian’s fussing in Terran.

  Gav ate a chocolate protein bar and downed a glass of port for luck, which was a tradition he had inherited from his mentor. Then he joined the others in the bridge. Everyone but Tal had taken turns napping at their stations. That wasn’t a problem, though. Tal was the only member of the crew who had no training or interest in archaeology. He just wanted to fly a top-notch ship into exciting locales. So once they touched down, he would nap in the ship while the sensors scanned for any signs of trouble.

  They were now in orbit around the fifth of twelve planets. And it was more desolate than expected. Outside of the planet’s three small oceans, there was nothing more than low mountain ranges, deserts, and a few scrub plains veined with thin rivers.

  Rina frowned at him. “Sorry, boss, but it’s definitely a former Krixis world.”

  Gav plopped down into the command chair with a sigh. He donned the circlet, and it connected immediately. Images of the world along with temperature and atmospheric readouts appeared in his primary HUD window. The air was thick but breathable, a little heavy in oxygen but nothing too problematic. The climate was exceedingly dry, with temperatures ranging from cool to frostbite cold.

  Gav pulled up the image of the star map fragment he’d recovered years ago at an Ancient dig site on a remote, now-uninhabitable world. A basic image of the planet, with scant features showing, had accompanied it. He superimposed the image onto the planet they orbited. Obviously, a lot could change in twelve millennia, especially on a world the Krixis had exhausted, and they didn’t have much to work with, but it was worth a shot.

  “Torus…”

  “Processing, sir.”

  Gav could have left the comparison up to Torus, who was obviously much better at it than him, but he wanted to examine it himself, just in case he spotted something an advanced computer system might never consider relevant.

  “Enic, report.”

  “Not much vegetation, sir,” Enic answered. “Almost all the animal life, and there’s not much, is in the oceans. What’s on land is small and sporadic.”

  “People?”

  “No signs of Krixis or any other known sentients on the world currently. I can’t yet rule out any tiny, scattered populations though.”

  “Opinion?”

  “It’s a typical post-Krixis world,” Enic said, and he had a good eye for such things, “though it appears to be far along in recovery. Given a few more millennia or a bit of terraforming, it would make a good colony world.”

  “That explains why they gave up this system in the treaty,” Rina said. “They bled it to death a long time ago.”

  Enic nodded. “I’m betting it was one of their earliest worlds.”

  “Structures?” Gav asked, hope fading.

  Enic cringed. “Still decaying remnants from a few massive Krixis bio-structures but…nothing solid like an Ancient would build. I’m certainly not finding anything like the temple you’re looking for. But I’ll keep scanning.”

  “Still decaying?” Tal asked incredulously. It was his first visit to a former Krixis world.

  “Some of the bio-structures they build dwarf our largest cities in size,” Rina replied. “It can take a forever or two for that much high-density biomass to decompose.”

  “Increase ground penetration to twenty meters,” Gav said. “The remnants of the temple could be buried under centuries of Krixis detritus.”

  Assuming the Krixis hadn’t destroyed the Ancient site. There was no way of knowing whether they would do such a thing, since they didn’t discuss such matters with the Benevolency, but Gav had long suspected the Krixis worshiped, or at least revered, the Ancients, so he had hope the temple remained.

  The Krixis were decidedly more alien than any other sentient species humans had so far encountered, or created. While Krixis minds were somewhat similar to those of humans, their bodily composition was entirely different.

  Despite having a basically humanlike structure, with heads and arms and legs, they were more like trees than animals in terms of biology. Depending on the requirements of their biological birth caste, they varied in size from one meter to three and sometimes had additional appendages and other physical benefits like poisonous claws. All of them had tough, bark-like skin and giant, dark eyes. They lacked mouths, so they absorbed water, nutrients, and sunlight for sustenance and communicated through telepathy.

  Their telepathic language naturally made communications with them nearly impossible, and all formal relations with them were conducted entirely through symbols and mathematics. Attempts at making a formal language for diplomatic purposes had failed. The Krixis simply weren’t interested in communicating with humans anymore than absolutely necessary.

  The Krixis’s biological and technological needs far outstripped what most worlds could offer. No one knew for sure how long an inhabitable planet could sustain them, but it was definitely somewhere between three to five thousand years, perhaps less so as the needs for fueling their spacefaring society continued to increase.

&n
bsp; “Wait,” Enic said, “I’m picking up something in the scans…”

  Gav leaned forward, bringing up Enic’s station feed into the primary window of his HUD.

  “…it’s a wrecked warship.”

  Gav flopped back into his seat. “Origin?”

  “Krixis, sir. Based on how much sand it’s buried under, I’m guessing it’s a remnant from the last war.”

  “Are you sure that’s a standard warship?” Rina asked. “Looks more like a research vessel to me.”

  “You…you could be right,” Enic said. “It’s hard to tell with it partially submerged like that. Whatever it is, it wasn’t left behind when they abandoned this world. It’s too new for that.”

  “The government pays a lot for Krixis salvage,” Tal said. “That ship could more than cover your expenses for coming out here.”

  Gav nodded. Tal wasn’t wrong. He returned to examining the map. “Anything else showing up in the scans?”

  Enic shook his head. “Sorry, boss.”

  “Sir, I have completed my comparison. This could be the correct world.”

  Gav straightened. “Could be?”

  “There are similarities, sir. I cannot rule it out.”

  Gav relayed the information. “Rina, what makes you think it’s a research vessel?”

  “I took a class on the Second Krixis War at university. My professor was obsessed with Krixis ship designs. This reminds me of a military research vessel he showed us. It’s not an exact match, mind you, but it looks more like it than most of the warships of similar size.”

  “Why would a Krixis research vessel be stranded out here?” Enic asked. “I’m not picking up remnants from any other ships. In fact, based on the scans, I think the ship was damaged before it landed.”

 
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