Under Shadows, страница 1
Book Three of The Dome Trilogy
An imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd
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First published in Great Britain by HarperVoyager 2017
Copyright © Jason LaPier 2017
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Jason LaPier asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.
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Ebook Edition © July 2017 ISBN: 9780008121853
Table of Contents
About the Author
Also by Jason LaPier
About the Publisher
There was no doubt Jax had seen more in the past year and a half than he’d seen in his whole life, but in spite of all those new experiences, it seemed there were even newer sights waiting for him throughout the galaxy. Such it was that afternoon, when inside a half-constructed domed city on the third planet out from the star Epsilon Eridani, he found himself in a venue that was both a library and a bar.
“Welcome to the Bibliohouse.” The greeter was a pink-skinned young woman with a small smile and brown hair long enough to be tied into a tail. She wore a navy-blue suit that matched the color – and gloss – of the floor tiling. “Is this your first visit?”
Jax found it hard to speak as he gawked around the space. It was large and circular with a central bar that curved around for dozens of meters. The ceiling rose a good ten or twelve meters above his head, and along the outer walls stretched high shelves dotted with scores of books. Real, paper books, though the shelves were far from full.
His partner, Stanford Runstom, Public Relations representative for Modern Policing and Peacekeeping, answered the waiting question with an affirmative grunt.
“Delightful,” she chimed. “Are you here to write or to read?”
“Um, we just wanted to have a drink,” Runstom said.
“Well, naturally, sir,” she said with a cock of her head.
“What is this place?” Jax managed to blurt. “Is it really a library? And a bar?”
She smiled. “New to EE-3, aren’t you? Yes, the Bibliohouse is a library. I’ll put you in the reader section and set you up with the introduction.”
They followed her to the central bar, which Jax could see curved around in a full circle, but was only seated on the front half by well-padded stools. Every few seats there were short walls, like dividers, and affixed to these were page-sized datapads on thin, bendable arms. Past the bar, he could see the back half of the space was occupied by long tables, and seated sporadically at those were men and women of various backgrounds, tapping at keyboards, faces lit blue by screens.
Once they took a seat, the hostess tapped at a small wrist-pad and the screen next to Jax’s head lit up. He pulled it to get a better angle on it and started skimming through a document titled “Welcome to the Bibliohouse”.
“When you’re ready to order,” the hostess said, “just tap the icon at the bottom of the screen there and a bartender will come by.”
“Thank you,” Runstom said for both of them.
Jax was already nose deep into the intro. With all the new construction going on across the planet, it was important for everyone to document their work. Evidently, some visionary higher-ups also wanted stories collected as well, so that someday in the future, when some wealthy Double-E-Threer wanted to know the rich history of their world, they’d have a massive repository of materials to draw on.
Therefore, a percentage of every workday was dedicated to writing: either more formal documentation around the plethora of projects, or the informal recitation of interesting stories, tall tales, legends, and anecdotes. Workers were encouraged to do their writing wherever it felt comfortable, and the owners of this particular library thought some would find it comfortable to make their recordings in a place where they could access any information – technical, historical, biographical, and even fictional – about EE-3 as well as imbibe a well-crafted libation.
Clearly, they were onto something. Jax thought that if he ever made it back to Terroneous, maybe he’d try to convince the Stockton Public Library to allow him to open up a bar in the back.
“You fellas know what you’d like to drink?”
And with that, the magic of the place had worn off. It wasn’t the arrival of the bartender – Runstom must have hit the button on his pad already – but it was the thought of that little library back in Stockton. The thought of Terroneous, a moon orbiting a gas giant in the Barnard system, impossibly far away from this bar on a small planet in the Epsilon Eridani system. The only transportation they had access to was Runstom’s small ship, which was only capable of Warp; it’d take years for that thing to make it from Eridani to Barnard’s Star.
Of all the things they needed to figure out, the most important for Jax was getting back to Terroneous. How strange that such a place had become home to him. But he couldn’t have known it until they’d taken him from it. Had ModPol done him a favor by illegally extraditing him from the independent moon? Forcing him to realize his connection to that place? Maybe so. He didn’t care how it had become his home, just that it was. And he needed to get back there.
Back to her.
“Ale,” Runstom said. “The brown one.”
“Mucksucker Brown, comin’ up. And you, sir?”
Jax looked at Runstom, then at the bartender. The man could’ve been the brother of the hostess, he looked so similar. Perhaps it was a family-owned place; or maybe it was just the identical glinting blue suit. Jax had no idea what to order, just that he needed something with alcohol in it.
“Brandy?” he said, then added, “If you have it?”
The bartender cracked half a grin, then glanced at the rounded wall behind him. There were shelves reaching as high as the bookshelves around the outer wall, but these were populated by bottles of all shapes and colors. Jax flinched as
“We’ve got some,” he said, still looking up. “Not easy to get out here, but we have some fine brandy imported from Poligart.”
“Oh, uh,” Jax started. He felt like an idiot when it came to money anymore, never having any for one, and never knowing what anything cost anyhow.
“Go for it,” Runstom said, laying out a card. “Someone told me I need to get better at spending the company money.”
The bartender let the rest of the smile appear. “Comin’ right up,” he said, then left them.
Jax could only imagine what they looked like to these people: a tall, lanky man from the domes of Barnard-4 with skin as pale as the foam head on the beers they were drinking, and his companion: the broad-chested, oddly well-dressed Runstom, whose skin was dark olive in color. No one here was from “around here”, because they’d all arrived within the last decade or so to begin construction and pick up other necessary jobs to support the development of a new civilization on the once primordial planet. But Jax had learned that he would be an outcast among outcasts anywhere he went that wasn’t Barnard-4. The domers on the planet of his birth never left home, and there was little chance of encountering one in his travels. Likewise, Runstom never really fit in anywhere he went. He was just too weird.
Plus he had the green skin.
“Alright.” Runstom’s tone pulled Jax’s attention away from the deliciously information-dense pad. “So where the hell is my ship?”
Runstom’s company-issued ship, a luxury thing called an OrbitBurner-something-or-other, hadn’t been at the docks. The issuing company being the same Modern Policing and Peacekeeping that had wrongfully extradited Jax from Terroneous. Though technically Runstom worked for the Defense division, his ties with Justice strained.
Jax blew out a long sigh, trying to determine the best way to break the news about Runstom’s ship, then just decided to blurt it out. “Dava took it.”
“But she’ll bring it back.” Jax leaned in a little closer. “Look, Stan, I know you’re going to be pissed about this. But I promise you, they’ll bring the ship back.”
“They?” Runstom’s eyes burned and his lips drew taut. “How many are there?”
“Just three,” Jax said quickly. “They stowed away. Look, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you before. Please understand – I just didn’t want any more violence. They promised me they’d keep to themselves.”
Runstom looked down and away. “Violence.”
The drinks arrived and Jax knew he’d have to sit in silence for a few moments while Runstom processed this. He always had a way in his head, a way that things should be done, and when they weren’t done that way, he had to reason out why. In this case, he probably felt that Jax should have alerted him right away that there were stowaways on board, so that he could summarily arrest them. But that’s not what happened. Jax knew that Runstom would have to ponder why things didn’t go the way they were supposed to, and that it meant he would have to take a moment to see it from Jax’s perspective. But he would, eventually. Or at least he’d try.
Jax took a sip of his brandy. It was like sweet fire in his throat. It reminded him of the last conversation he had with Dava, stowed away and pilfering Runstom’s liquor supply. Threats had been exchanged, but they were all just trying to survive. Despite Space Waste being a pack of bloodthirsty gangbangers, he owed them. Sort of. When ModPol had picked him up on Terroneous, it was Dava and her crew that had intercepted him. Rescued him from wrongful imprisonment, but not to grant him his freedom; instead to recruit him for their own purposes. A harrowing experience, if temporary.
“Three of them and two of us,” Runstom said. “If you hadn’t made a deal, they’d have taken it by force.”
“Probably,” Jax said after a burning swallow. He decided not to remark that two of us was an exaggeration, given his uselessness in any such altercation. None of the various custodian, technician, and operator positions he’d held in the domes required anything remotely resembling combat training, and even during his short time on Terroneous, he’d stayed as far away from trouble as possible. Or had tried to, anyway.
“And they were supposed to disappear once we landed.”
Jax frowned and nodded. “Well, that was the deal.”
“What makes you think they’ll be back?”
He shrugged. “That OrbitBurner doesn’t have a Xarp drive, so no FTL. Space Waste has zero presence out here in Eridani, and these three are on the run. So they’ll need another way back to Barnard or Sirius.”
Runstom seemed to turn that over in his mind, then he took a pull of his dark beer. “That won’t be easy.”
“No, I don’t suppose so.”
“What’s the other reason?”
Jax hadn’t alluded to a second reason, but Runstom wasn’t going to let him get off that easily. “I gave them something.”
“You gave them—” Runstom started, then stopped and his eyes narrowed. “You mean information.”
“Yes,” Jax said. “On our way to the docks, you were telling me about something your mom said. About someone going into Space Waste, someone who was undercover.”
Runstom flinched slightly at the mention of his mother. They’d only talked to her a few hours ago, and it had definitely changed the man. Jax was pretty sure they hadn’t seen each other in several years, at least in person. And with her being in some kind of witness protection relocation deal, the communication between them had been poor to say the least. Her name was Sylvia Runstom, though she was now going by Sylvia Rankworth, and she was Assistant Director of Agricultural Systems on Epsilon Eridani-3. Jax got the impression that she still kept up with some of the networks she’d acquired while she did undercover work herself, back before her son Stanford was born, well over three decades ago.
“Yes,” Runstom said, glancing over his shoulder. “You said you might be able to identify one or two Wasters that didn’t fit in.”
“There was definitely one guy who was up to something,” Jax said. “His name was Basil Roy. He was a programmer – not an operator like me, but a real engineer.”
“Doesn’t sound the gangbanger type.”
“No, he wasn’t.” Jax took another sip, hoping the brandy would lubricate his memory. “They were having him write software to interface with this special detection equipment. Stuff they lifted from somewhere.”
“What? Yeah, that sounds familiar. What’s Vulca?”
Runstom sighed. “One of the moons around Sirius-5. There’s a big research base there. And I was there when Space Waste attacked it.”
“What, really? You – were there? Doing what?”
He nodded. “Same thing I’m doing here. Selling ModPol Defense services.” Before Jax could ask more, Runstom waved dismissively. “I know, Sirius-5 is already a ModPol subscriber. But ModPol wanted to force the moon – Vulca – to get a separate contract. Figured they had money to spend with all the research funds pouring into their facility.”
“And did they?”
Runstom looked at Jax in silence for a moment. “Well, yeah. After Space Waste attacked them, they realized the value of having ModPol around. We had a trial unit of Defenders there. Not a large one, but enough to rout the Wasters.”
“I see,” Jax said. “But not before they made off with some equipment.”
Runstom laughed for the first time all day, though it was more of a short huff than anything. “All this new equipment. The techs just installed it. They put the old gear in the empty boxes so they could ship it out for resale.”
Jax thought about it. “So the Wasters stole what they thought was brand-new equipment, and what they got were new boxes with old stuff in it?”
“So it was never going to work,” Jax said. “Which didn’t matter, since Basil Roy s
Runstom took another quiet pull. “There’s still a question of why.”
Now it was Jax’s turn to huff a laugh. “To make them think they could get the jump on the ModPol transport. They thought the stolen tech helped them zero in on it when it Xarped into Eridani space. The Wasters thought they had the easy score, but they were walking into a trap.”
Runstom’s brow furrowed. “I should feel good about that. That gang has taken a lot of lives. Civilian and ModPol. People I worked with. Friends of mine. I should be saying, lock them all up, whatever it takes.”
“But you don’t feel good about it?”
Runstom sighed. “Something doesn’t sit right. I’m glad we made so many arrests, of course. But it was …”
“It was bloody,” Jax said. “A lot of people died.”
Runstom nodded. “On both sides.”
He went quiet and Jax tried to figure out what was going through his head. He had no love for Space Waste, there was no doubt about that. So what if someone went in undercover and tricked them into walking into an ambush? Even as vile as those gangbangers were, it was still a crude trick. Dishonorable even. Did that matter to Runstom?
“It wasn’t justice,” Jax said.
Runstom’s head picked up and he met Jax’s eyes. “No. It wasn’t justice. It was closer to … to war.”
And there it was. Stanford Runstom worked in the Defense division of Modern Policing and Peacekeeping, but his heart was where he started, in Justice. Jax knew his friend would always have the mind of a cop. And part of that meant that he wanted things done by a certain code of conduct, by a procedure. That there was a fair way and an unfair way, and even the lowliest of criminals deserved the fair way. If they were guilty, it should be determined by a trial.