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Command Decision

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Command Decision

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Author: Elizabeth Moon
Publisher: Del Rey, 2007
Orbit, 2007
Series: Vatta's War: Book 4
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
Sub-Genre Tags: Military SF
Galactic Empire
Space Opera
Avg Member Rating:
(30 reads / 11 ratings)


With the Vatta’s War series, award-winning author Elizabeth Moon has claimed a place alongside such preeminent writers of military science fiction as David Weber and Lois McMaster Bujold. Now Moon is back–and so is her butt-kicking, take-no-prisoners heroine, Kylara Vatta. Once the black-sheep scion of a prosperous merchant family, Kylara now leads a motley space force dedicated to the defeat of a rapacious pirate empire led by the mysterious Gammis Turek.

After orchestrating a galaxy-wide failure of the communications network owned and maintained by the powerful ISC corporation, Turek and his marauders strike swiftly and without mercy. First they shatter Vatta Transport. Then they overrun entire star systems, growing stronger and bolder. No one is safe from the pirate fleet. But while they continue to move forward with their diabolical plan, they have made two critical mistakes.

Their first mistake was killing Kylara Vatta’s family. Their second mistake was leaving her alive. Now Kylara is going to make them pay.

But with a “fleet” consisting of only three ships–including her flagship, the Vanguard, a souped-up merchant cruiser–Kylara needs allies, and fast. Because even though she possesses the same coveted communication technology as the enemy, she has nowhere near their numbers or firepower.

Meanwhile, as Kylara’s cousin Stella tries to bring together the shattered pieces of the family trading empire, new treachery is unfolding at ISC headquarters, where undercover agent Rafael Dunbarger, estranged son of the corporation’s CEO, is trying to learn why the damaged network is not being repaired. What he discovers will send shock waves across the galaxy and crashing into Kylara’s newly christened Space Defense Force at the worst possible moment.


Nexus II

Rafael Dunbarger landed at Nexus Center Port as Genson Ratanvi, a staid, slightly paunchy middle-aged businessman in food service with a Cascadian identity. His tidy gray beard and gray-streaked hair, his padded cheeks and aged skin, his sober business suit with a few lines of Cascadian green through its subtle gray plaid all fit this image. Customs and Immigration passed him through, as his bioassays all matched his identity--as well they should, Rafe thought. Short-acting DNA subs programmed with his alter's bioassays might give him a temporary headache, but that was a price he could pay. He had obtained this first false ID at Cascadia more than a decade before, and he'd used it here several times, on visits his family hadn't known about.

The trip from Cascadia had been no worse than usual; he had spent the twenty-nine days chatting with other business travelers, exercising in the business-class gym, reading in the business-class lounge, avoiding the gawking tourists and the family groups as his persona required, and carefully not thinking about Ky or Stella Vatta. Ky was beyond his reach, probably dead; he could not tease Stella now, not until she reached some equilibrium with her new identity.

Instead, he toyed with ISC's problems. How had so many ansibles gone bad all at once? Surely not chance . . . who had done it? Why was repair so slow? If he himself could restore function in a few hours, why weren't ISC's repair teams making more headway? How deeply had the pirates infiltrated ISC?

Landing on Nexus II--he carefully did not let himself call it home--Rafe pushed that puzzle aside. Genson Ratanvi needed to find a way to contact Rafe's family, discreetly.

First he headed for the Ambisor, a commercial hotel frequented by business travelers where he had stayed before; his minimal luggage trailed him on a rented hoverpad. Once installed in his room, he first dealt with the hotel's surveillance system and then installed his own unique gear. The hotel's system would now inform the hotel that Genson Ratanvi came in, bathed, slept, and went out, on a reasonable but not too rigid schedule; it would believe anything he sent it, including remotely from his implant. Pseudo-calls would be noted; pseudo-messages would be sent. Then Rafe called up the business directory on the room display, marking the sorts of businesses he should, in this persona, mark, then tapping the key to collapse the rest of the directory.

What he really wanted to know, he had noted in passing: ISC headquarters still had the same public access number. Not that Genson Ratanvi had any reason to call there.

After a mediocre meal at the hotel's cafe, Rafe headed out into the city. It was autumn in this location, just after midday, local time. He drew a deep breath, anticipating and then enjoying the familiar fragrance, childhood-deep in his memory. His favorite time of year, with apples ripe on the trees and the autumn mushrooms mingling their scent with that of fallen leaves, even here in the city's commercial district. Probably every world had its characteristic scents, but he spent nearly all his time on ships and stations. He felt a strange mix of nostalgia and fear: this was home, and home could be deadly.

The Number 161 tram still ran from the spaceport hotel district out to the northern suburbs; Rafe rode it to the last stop, seeing little change from the last time he'd been here except that the long-delayed northern extension of the freight monorail was finally in place. He got off in the bustling little market, now full of schoolchildren buying treats after school, and women--mostly employees, he knew--buying fresh produce and meat for dinner.

He headed for Luce's, sat down at an outside table, and ordered a slice of honeycake and tea with lime. The lime came partly pared, a curl of peel holding it to the rim of the glass. He stared at it a moment. Where was Ky by now? Off on that idiot attempt to build a fleet out of a bunch of untrained privateers? His shoulders twitched. Dead. She must be dead by now; he was not going to think about her.

Except that she had shipboard ansibles and intended to use them. That, he had to think about, and carefully, before he told his father. ISC must not decide she was an enemy. He owed her that much, just in case she was still alive.

His portable security system informed him that--aside from the general surveillance designed to notice and focus on suspicious activity--he was not observed. Humans were inattentive witnesses anyway, and no one really cared about a middle-aged, slightly paunchy man quietly eating honeycake and drinking tea. Nor would they care if he appeared to be talking to himself; almost everyone had an implant, and most of those had skullphones.

He activated his own skullphone and called his father's private number. His father might be in a meeting, might not answer at once, but--

"This number is no longer available. Please check the number you are calling and try again."

Rafe sat very still, then made himself breathe normally. It had been years; the number was in his implant files, but perhaps he had flicked the wrong one. That could happen. He entered it again.

"This number is no longer . . ."

He closed the connection and took a bite of honeycake. His father's number was no longer available? Had he changed it for some reason? That could be awkward; Rafe's business persona had no reason and no influence to get access to ISC's chief executive. Surely his father hadn't . . . died. Someone would have told him. His mother would have, surely . . .

He activated the table's local information file. His family's home number would not be listed in such a public place, but he remembered a lot of local numbers and he could see if there had been an overall change. No. He did not have his mother's private skullphone number, nor his sister's, and he had not wanted to call the house . . . all calls were recorded, and why would Genson Ratanvi be calling that number? Call ISC headquarters? Use one of his other names? One of the names known to ISC's internal security? Very dangerous if someone there was crooked.

He found a useful number only two digits off his home--Flasic's Bakery Supplies--and marked it on the table's list. Then he entered his own home's number--a simple mistake, if anyone asked.

"Please state your name and reason for calling." That was not a voice he knew, none of the household he recognized, though his parents could have hired new servants since his last visit home. But the hair rose on his arms. The link was hardbound, so that he could not simply cut off the call.

"This is Genson Ratanvi, just arrived from Cascadia," he said in Genson's voice, a prissy, plummy version of a Cascadian accent. "I'm trying to reach Flasic's Bakery Supplies . . . you are a purveyor of custom-designed commercial bakery equipment and specialized mixes, are you not?"

"You have the wrong number," the voice informed him. "Where are you calling from?"

It had to be official. Something was very wrong indeed. "From a place . . . er . . . Luce's? . . . they have honeycakes and lime tea."

"And when did you say you arrived?"

"A few hours ago; my ship from Cascadia docked at Nexus Station yesterday."

"Do not attempt to end this call. Just a moment." The connection hummed and hissed. Rafe finished his honeycake and sipped tea while he waited.

The voice came back, a little less strained. "You entered the wrong number, a seven instead of a five. We have confirmed your arrival today. You may end this call now."

"What is this about?" Rafe asked. "Is something wrong?" Genson would ask that.

"It is no affair of yours," the voice said; the connection broke.

"Would you like something else?" Luce's proprietor, whom Rafe had known since childhood, stood by the table, looking at him with suspicion but no recognition.

"It's very good," Rafe said, waving his hand at the crumbs on his plate. "But this is confusing. I need to contact Flasic's Bakery Supplies, and I entered the wrong number and someone was very rude to me."

"We aren't as formal as you Cascadians," Luce said, picking up the plate. "Don't assume we're rude if we're not all flowery."

"No offense intended," Rafe said. So Luce knew he was Cascadian? Who had told him? "I was just surprised. Do you know where Flasic's Bakery Supplies is? Perhaps I should walk there instead of trying to call. I don't want to make more mistakes."

Luce smiled. "I can take you there myself; I was going over to get the estimate on a new oven."

Rafe doubted that, but he was willing to let Luce walk with him the several blocks to Flasic's. Anything to convince the ants' nest he'd kicked that he was harmless and forgettable. On the way, he was able to convince Luce that he knew something about bakeries; Luce didn't seem to realize that it was mostly Luce's own knowledge that Rafe had picked up as a boy, being fed back to him in handy snippets.

Once in the store, he invented a problem with oven manufacturers on Cascadia, and inquired soberly about the possibility of importing high-volume, precise-temperature-control ovens from Nexus. He had shipping costs at his fingertips; he ran over the figures with the enthusiasm and thoroughness of any businessman, and finally shook his head. "I'm afraid not," he said to the sales representative who was talking with him. Luce, he noticed, was still hovering across the room, trying to pretend a serious conversation with another man. "It's simply too expensive, even if we went straight to your manufacturers. Perhaps we can hire some of your experts as consultants instead. I know ovens are supposed to be simple, mature technology, but every time we try to scale up bakery output, we end up with infe...

Copyright © 2007 by Elizabeth Moon


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