Book Three in The Star Commandos Series
A Novel by P. M. Griffin
Tags: Science Fiction, Adventure, Combat, Caves, Wildlife
Release: August 2012
Editor:Christine I. Speakman
Line Editor:Greta Gunselman
Cover Designer:Charlotte Volnek
Connor, Sogan, Karmikel, and Bandit are joined by demolitions expert Bethe Danlo on a mission which requires them to penetrate the vast underground caves of the planet Hades in order to capture a planetbuster, an ultrapowerful weapon left behind in the aftermath of the recent War and now in danger of falling into the hands of pirates who have discovered its existence and allied themselves with a traitor in order to seize it. Their own guide is violently anti-Arcturian and shows Sogan a considerable amount of hostility during the difficult and dangerous trek to their goal where a sharp fight and the peril of the armed planetbuster await them.
Islaen inched her way forward to the place where their path narrowed.
Terror closed her throat, all but choked her, as she started to move her foot onto the ledge. She stopped, momentarily frozen.
“Easy, Islaen. Take it slowly and use the rope for support. You have a spacer’s balance. Trust in that.”
Sogan severed the contact then, fearing to distract her or draw any of her concentration from the task ahead of her.
The colonel kept her body pressed against the cold, perpetually damp stone, taking as much support as she could win from it.
She slid onward with arms upraised and feet somewhat spread, giving herself four reasonably spaced points of contact with her support. The rope proved more helpful than she had originally imagined, for by thrusting her arms up through it, it served to hold her against the wall and made her feel less top heavy and likely to tip over despite the weight of her pack. She marveled at the stark courage and determination of those who had stapled it to this place and those who came here periodically to see to its maintenance.
She longed for a safety line. Larnse was a careful man, a professional in subsurface ways and work, but the use of such devices had apparently never become established on Hades, and he had not thought—maybe had not even known—to propose adopting them here. She knew enough from her mountain training and was well enough equipped to rig something up, but it would not have sufficed. Any such rope would have to be manually unfastened and moved over each of the staples, and she could not stand still in this place and fumble with it. She lacked the experience. She lacked the nerve.
On and on she crept, advancing scarcely an inch with each tense motion of her foot. Greggs was right. The ledge did widen a bit, enough to comfort her a little, although she doubted the improvement was sufficient to make much difference to either of her male comrades.
This easing of their way was only temporary anyway. Islaen realized that, and her fear escalated with each second that passed, each step that brought her closer to the trial yet to come, the one Larnse Greggs had described before starting off himself.
She came to it at last. Her heart slammed painfully as she felt her ankles turn, her feet slip a very little.
Tears of pure terror rolled down her cheeks, but she kept moving onward. There was no other choice but to continue. To freeze was to fall, and to go back, with the other three already on the ledge, was even more impossible. She would only succeed in bringing them all down if she tried that.
A single sob of relief broke from her as first one foot, and then the second, straightened once more. The ledge widened perceptibly and rapidly under her, and a couple of minutes later, a hand grasped her wrist, drawing her forward onto a broad, table-like structure a comfortable twelve feet in width.
Greggs slipped a steadying arm around her shoulders. “You handled that like a master, Colonel. Here, catch your breath for a moment, then we’ll get set to haul your friends in.”
The mention of the others whipped the woman out of herself. She stood frozen as she watched them crawl across the stone wall, feeling sick in every fiber of her being. While making the attempt herself, her attention had been fixed on the one spot over which she was passing, one tiny position ever shifting into another, equally tiny. Now she could see the whole, the width of it, the awesome blackness above which no light they had could penetrate, the flow of the sheer wall down to its base in the murky darkness four hundred feet below.
Her eyes closed. The ledge that was their path and their sole safety looked so minute when laid against such an unforgiving expanse as to seem not to be there at all.
A cold, all-encompassing fear forced her eyes open again. Varn Tarl Sogan had reached the worst spot.
It was five feet long—only five feet, she told herself—but it had felt like that many miles to her.
Varn must make it! He had to make it. If he did not, if she saw him plunge to those rocks below, she would complete her mission if the Spirit ruling Space and fortune allowed, but she would never again emerge as a living woman from Hades’ underworld. That, she vowed on her soul. His death would be her fault. She had permitted him to come here against her own judgment. She had allowed him to enter into this danger when her order would have kept him safe.
The Arcturian was across! She sprang forward, catching his hands as soon as he had reached the relative safety of the widening ledge and drawing him onto the haven the broad table provided.
He pressed her to him, holding her so tightly that the force of his arms was painful, for once openly asking comfort, sharing a terror as deep as her own had been.
Sogan held her but a moment. He stepped back after that, his control fully in place once more, although he kept one arm around her.
Bethe Danlo was approaching the deadly crossing. Her small size had worked for her, and thus far, she seemed to have had considerably less difficulty than either of the men. Her feet simply fit more securely on the tiny space available to support them.
She slowed significantly when the ledge turned down, as they all had, and continued on with ever-greater caution.
Suddenly, her lead foot skidded as she put her weight on it. The spacer fought desperately to recall the step, to regain some measure of balance, and succeeded enough to momentarily break her fall, but it was painfully obvious that her respite was only a brief one.
Her fingers had curled around the rope as she went down, and it was by their tips that she now clung, her grasp weakening with each agonizing microinstant that passed. All her weight was concentrated on her hands. Her legs were useless. The barest tip of one still pressed on the ledge but could not provide support, much less the leverage she needed to right herself. The other dangled helplessly against the unyielding wall.
The foot still in place started to slide.
About the Author:
Pauline (P. M.) Griffin has been writing since her early childhood. She enjoys telling a good tale, and since she always works with characters and situations deeply interesting to her, she finds the research as rewarding as the scribbling/keying.
Griffin’s Irish love of storytelling coupled with her passion for history, the natural world, and the above-mentioned research have resulted in seventeen novels and nine short stories, two Muse Medallion Award winners among them, all in the challenging realms of science fiction and fantasy.
She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her cats Nickolette, Jinx, and Katie and three tropical fish aquariums.