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Author: Gordon R. Dickson
David W. Wixon
Publisher: Tor, 2007
Series: The Dorsai / Childe Cycle: Book 12
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
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Gordon R. Dickson's "Childe Cycle" of novels depicting the future of the human race has been one of the grand epics of science fiction. At the time of his death in 2001, Dickson was writing Antagonist, the tale of Bleys Ahrens' turn toward darkness. Now Dickson's assistant David W. Wixon has brilliantly finished the long-awaited book, working from Dickson's copious notes. Antagonist is a fitting capstone to one of the most ambitious series in SF history.

The Childe Cycle is the story of a new human evolution: the development of a real, hardwired sense of "responsibility" shared by all human beings. Donal Graeme was a Dorsai, a mercenary soldier, and also a mutant gifted with insight into the path forward for the human race. Through his gifts Donal would come to bend time and live three lifetimes-and, in the process, run into problems he had not expected: first, his own flaws, and second, the existence of another mutant, Bleys Ahrens.

Following Young Bleys and Other, Antagonist advances the story of the formidably powerful Bleys Ahrens. Bleys is a man with a clear vision of the struggle in which he's involved -- but an increasingly deficient sense of human values. He and his organization, the Others, are tracking down an elusive interplanetary opposition. Meanwhile, Bleys' own intricate conspiracies and devisings, and his quest for power, which began with the best of motives, have become something darker and fiercer.

He's committed to his plans. They may bring about the advent of Homo superior. And they may destroy the human race.


Chapter One

From where he knelt on the dirt floor, Bleys could see the soldier's body up against the far wall of the roughly dug, timber-framed bunker. Its uniformed back was to Bleys, but he felt that the body was that of a tall, thin young man—and he found himself thinking about a raccoon that, as a boy on a brief visit with his mother to Old Earth, he had seen lying dead along a rural road in a part of the mother planet where wheeled vehicles could still be found. This body before him had that same curled-inward shape that spoke of a being that, able to accomplish some slight movement before death came, huddled into itself to seek what comfort it could find in the face of its fear and pain. . . .

Abruptly, Bleys was torn out of his near-trance as something pulled at his right hand, and he realized he had been holding someone else's hand—a hand that had just jerked slightly in his.

I must have had another blackout.

He still got them periodically, as his medician, Kaj Menowsky, had warned him would happen. They were one of the by-products of the damage caused by the genetic invader the rulers of Newton had injected into him, in their attempt to get him under their control, back when they still opposed him, a few months ago. The blackouts were becoming less frequent since his body began to recover from both the invader itself and the medician's countermeasures that had killed it; but he had apparently just gone through one.

This experience was alarmingly different, however; he usually came out of his blackouts in his sleep.

The medician had warned him that stress would make a blackout, or any of his other symptoms, more likely; but Kaj had also said that every human body was slightly different, and reacted to a given stimulus in a slightly different way than any other human body. So perhaps it was also true that the same human body would react differently to different levels of stress.

Bleys could immediately pinpoint one apparent difference between this blackout and his previous blackouts: he seemed to be experiencing some form of amnesia . . . at least, he thought so, since he had the feeling that he was missing a period of time longer than his normal blackouts. In fact, he could not seem to pin down exactly when this particular sequence had started. Always before there had been a clear point prior to which he could, later, remember everything—and after which he could never remember anything, up until his awakening.

Looking about guardedly, to try to learn what had been happening, he saw that the bunker was occupied by a small group of soldiers—and it came back to him that he was on Ceta, that large planet where he had been on a tour of areas where units of Friendly troops were leased out to one or another of the many Cetan states. As First Elder of the government of the two Friendly planets, Harmony and Association, Bleys could find good cover for his visit to this planet, in a junket to visit those troops—a visit the most cynical of observers would believe sufficiently explained by the political need of a Friendly politician to assure the fervently religious folks back home that their leaders cared about their sons in uniform.

The visit might have been less congenially received had his hosts realized that Bleys' interests extended far beyond the Friendly worlds, all the way to their own governments.

The soldiers in this bunker, he saw, were not wearing the black uniforms of the Friendly troops; so he guessed they must be native Cetans. Several were lying about wounded, in addition to the one whose hand he was holding. Toni was nearby tending to one of them. But all of the unhurt soldiers—seven, he counted—were in two groups on either side of the bunker's only entrance.

From where he knelt he could not actually see that entrance, since it had apparently been built on the other side of a barrier wall intended to prevent direct access into the bunker from outside; anyone trying to attack into the room would be slowed by the need to turn either left or right as soon as they came through the doorway. The soldiers were up against the sandbag-reinforced bunker wall in which the actual entrance was cut, and thus a little farther from him than was the barrier wall.

Those soldiers were silent, but they appeared tense as they crouched low against the wall beside the entrance, their eyes flickering between the interior of the bunker, their comrades and the entrance—but always returning to a leathery-looking, brown-skinned man, perhaps in his mid-thirties, whose short, roughly cropped dark hair protruded a little from beneath his fiberglass helmet. The man wore the insignia of some kind of noncommissioned officer—a sergeant of some grade unknown to Bleys—and he was noticeably less nervous than his men. At least, he showed it less.

Looking again at the man whose hand he was holding, Bleys saw that he was somewhat better dressed than the other soldiers, and that his collar bore the tabs of a junior officer. Also, Bleys saw, he was now dead. The blood-soaked bandages across his chest and stomach showed that his wounds had been severe—Bleys' eye caught movement, and he shifted his focus to catch Toni looking up and across at him.

"He's dead," Bleys reported. "Just now."

He saw the noncom look across at him bleakly.

"There was no way to stop it," Toni said. "Not with those wounds." She paused, and her tone changed.

"How are you doing?" she asked; and he felt the hidden meaning in her words. Antonia Lu was one of the few who knew of the attack on his DNA, and of the occasional relapses he experienced as his body slowly recovered; and although he seemed, when in a blackout state, generally not to show many signs of that state to others, he was not at all surprised to guess she was sufficiently attuned to him, after all these years together, to know when he might be in such a condition.

"I'm all right," he said. "Do you need any help?"

"No," she replied. "There's nothing more we can do until we can call for help." She paused a brief moment, before continuing, almost cheerily.

"Of course, we're cut off, and surrounded, and our communications are totally jammed. I'm pretty sure this isn't the local war heating back up. I think it's an assassination attempt aimed at you." Her blue eyes were looking into his calmly.

The noncom looked at her curiously, as if wondering why she was rehearsing what they all already knew. But Bleys knew she was using the apparent babble as a way to fill him in on events he might have lost while in his blackout.

She never lost her nerve, he thought.

Chapter Two

Dahno Ahrens, Bleys' older half-brother and the nominal head of the Others, the organization of crossbreeds from the major Splinter Cultures that the two of them had led into positions of leadership on five of the Younger Worlds, had objected more than a little when Bleys decided to travel to Ceta—a world not yet under the control of their organization—and check on the situation there. Bleys, Dahno objected strongly, had had them traveling almost nonstop for months now, orchestrating the political alliances that had opened the doors to their control of the latest three of those five and cemented their position on the two Friendly worlds. Moreover, Dahno pointed out, Bleys was still recovering from the effects of the Newtonian Council's attack on his DNA, and was only recently recovered from wounds received during their escape from that planet.

"Why?" Dahno asked again. "Why do you need to do this now? I'll admit you've taken us farther and faster than I ever had dreams of, but don't we have our hands full with consolidating our control of Newton, Cassida and New Earth? And for that matter, there's always work to be done here on Association, and on Harmony as well. You've got this Hal Mayne fellow on the brain!"

Dahno was being as open about his feelings as was possible to him, Bleys thought, which could be a bad sign. Bleys was glad Toni had left before Dahno arrived, because his brother was usually a good deal more circumspect when Toni—or, for that matter, anyone else—was around, and Bleys preferred it when his brother was more open. Still, Bleys wondered if Toni might be listening, somehow . . . he would have been.

"Perhaps," Bleys replied to his older, larger sibling. "But he's a dangerous man, I've told you that before."

"Yes, you have," Dahno said, "but how much of a danger could he really be? He's only one man, and a young one—he's not even in his mid-twenties yet!"

"True," said Bleys. "But you were around that age when you started to take over the Others social group here on Association, and change it into a tool you could use for your own purposes."

Dahno had raised his left arm from the elbow in a short, dismissive wave. "You know perfectly well, brother, that I was a special case—as, for that matter, are you."

Copyright © 2007 by Gordon R. Dickson

Copyright © 2007 by David W. Wixon


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