Book One in The Star Commandos Series Previously published in hardback by Archbooks Publishing New updated version 2012
Commando-Colonel Islaen Connor is working undercover to investigate an illegal colony on the planet Vishnu. Warned by her foremost opponent in the recent galactic War, War Prince and former Arcturian admiral Varn Tarl Sogan, the pair escape ambush and flee into the unexplored wild country beyond the young settlement. There, as they struggle to survive in a harsh, perilous land, they discover the living terror against which all Vishnu’s other life forms have been forced to adapt. Their presence unknown by interstellar authorities and, therefore, unsupported, the innocent colonists face certain and gruesome annihilation unless Connor and Sogan can raise the alarm in time and then conquer in the desperate battle they must wage to hold back and defeat a foe that they know to be of nearly elemental power in its hunger-driven determination and inconceivable numbers.
Her blaster was in her hand, discharging in short, rapid bursts. A gasping scream answered its first flash, but she concentrated on those still in the field against her and did not hear it reach its aborted climax.
Jake was shooting as well, each of his bolts counting even as did his Commander’s. His body twisted like a snake’s with his efforts to make himself an elusive target.
The speed and accuracy of the Commandos’ defense broke the initial force of the assault, but their respite was short-lived, scarcely a couple of breaths’ space. Their opponents were tough, the veterans of many a spaceport fight - some of more than a single murder. They knew both numbers and terrain were with them, and they had not been ignorant of the dangers inevitable to an attack on Patrol agents, as they believed these two to be. Permitting them to escape after the fight commenced would obviously be infinitely more perilous. They drew back, out of that portion of the street where their intended victims were still confined, and began to pour in bolt after bolt against them.
The pair separated—the force of the fire coming at them compelled that—and endeavored to sell their lives as dearly as possible since it was obvious they could not be preserved much longer.
Islaen snapped off another shot. They were fortunate none of the spacers had taken to the upper windows and roofs. They would both have been felled already had that been the case. Their enemies would have realized it as well, but access to the warehouses was not easily gained.
That was but a token nod by fate, irrelevant save it would allow them to take a few more of their opponents with them. The attack could not have occurred at a worse location. Its outcome was inevitable and would not be postponed much longer.
A cry of mingled grief and anger broke from her as she saw Karmikel crumple. He rolled toward the wall opposite her but did not move when he struck against it.
Connor had blocked her receptors at the fight’s start, knowing that the raw hate and lust for death pouring from their opponents would interfere with her reactions in the battle. She was thus spared the actual experience of her comrade’s death, but the sense of irreparable loss burning inside her could have been no sharper had she felt his fine mind vanish from the existence they knew.
Her bolt raced back along the path of that which had felled Jake Karmikel, and she saw it find its target with fatal effect.
The woman felt no satisfaction. Soon, her body would be lying beside her friend’s.
Her head jerked toward the place from which they had come. No blaster strike elicited that kind of agony!
A wall, no, a cone, of flame was boiling down the street, white fire of such intensity that it was incinerating anything coming too close to its fury. Her eyes could not bear the sight of it for more than the fraction of a second necessary to feed that much information to her mind.
Islaen cast herself back, throwing herself against the building nearest her. The searing doom did not fill all the space between the structures flanking it. A pathetically narrow lane remained free on either side. Perhaps she could survive the heat of its passing, escape with relatively light injury.
She gave no thought to her enemies. A blaster brought an easy death. This...
There was nothing to fear from the renegade spacers. Like the Commando-Colonel, they were either cowering against the unyielding stone or had fled up one of the cross streets, those near enough to escape that way. A couple, finding themselves in a doorway, tried to force their way inside, but abandoned the effort and flattened themselves against it. The time left to them was too short; they would not have been able to manipulate the latch even had it been unsealed.
The heat was already searing. The fireball was being propelled by some sort of vehicle—that much was apparent now—but she could not see through the glare to discover its nature or the source of the flame itself.
She cringed. Another second, and it would be upon her!
The fire vanished, quenched even as it reached the place where she was. A civilian flier braked to a stop. Its grim-faced driver kicked the door open.
Connor dove for the machine. Scarcely had she leaped into it than it shot forward again, once more preceded by its blazing shield.
The Arcturian thrust something into her hands. Dark goggles. There were two pairs, their straps slightly tangled. She quickly freed one and pulled it into place over her face.
Islaen sighed with relief. The heat was still nigh-unto unbearable, but at least, she could see clearly and without eye-searing pain.
Sogan, his own eyes screened, gestured toward the blaster she still grasped. “Get ready to use that. They will be at us as soon as we pass the cross street.”
So it proved, but the guerrilla officer fought as effectively from the racing vehicle as she did on foot, and those daring enough to strike at them were compelled to stay back out of prime range for the few moments needed to bring them past that first danger point.
There would be others, and soon they would likely have to face more than hand-held antipersonnel weapons. Only the shock and terror of Sogan’s sudden attack and the speed of it had saved them from that even this long.
The former Admiral was no less aware of their peril than was his passenger. He made a sharp right onto the next street, which led to the actual planeting field, demanding more and still more speed from the racing engine.
The spaceport was before them.
Too late! The ship he sought was lifting.
Varn glanced once at the woman. There was no time….