Text Excerpts

Last Updated 11/20/2008

From The Log of the Hellhound, Book IX, "Just Like A Woman":

Sevran sat crouched inside the big ventilator grill, slim wiry body tense, sitting just far enough back that a casual glimpse would not reveal his presence. He had long planned to hide out here and listen to "council," particularly when it was called "war council," and now was his chance. A message had arrived; everyone had been in a lather; and Blake had called a meeting. So far, Blake was the only one in the room, sitting at the circular table which, besides a computer terminal, was the only furnishing in the square, spartan room. He was leaning forward on his elbows, strong hands interlaced, looking down at a sheet of plastifilm, his heavy-featured face intent on reading.

Sevran liked Blake and respected him to a point past simple friendship. He was thirteen now, and for nine years he had been with Blake and his people; years spent on board the Hellhound, on the run; and on Cenemara, in hiding. Blake had been a constant in it all. He was always there, with time to talk and encourage; time to teach.

Often, Sevran had bit his tongue to keep from saying the words that he thought so often: "I wish you were my father."

The door opened and two more people entered: Dafydd Kildragon and Dayna Mellanby-Hendricks. Blake looked up.

"Heavy duty news?" asked Dayna.

"Pretty much so," said Blake calmly, gesturing them toward their seats.

Dayna was Sevran’s physical fitness and self-defense trainer. She could be hard and demanding, but Sevran never let on when he was tired. He wanted Dayna to be pleased with him. An "adequate" from her was worth an "excellent" from anyone else, and he knew it. He watched her take her seat, lean, dark and elegant, her hair pulled back in braided rows from her face, each braid tipped with a bead of gold.

Dafydd was probably the only one in the group on Cenemara who could equal Dayna’s abilities when it came to fighting hand-to-hand; the only one who could outrun her and outgun her consistently. Del Tarrant and Bev Hastings were also good shots, but not in Dafydd’s league. He could do all that because he was adapted, a mutoid, remade with drugs and surgery into something different, something more than human.

"Not quite a man," he had once said, somewhat bitterly. "More than one in some ways, less in others, and never the same again."

He looked vaguely different, too, Sevran thought. Lean and smoothly coordinated, with a taut physique and sinewy muscles that were stronger than the thicker, more visually impressive ones of Morten Hendricks, Dayna’s husband. His hair, long, thick and wildly curling, like that of his uncle, Roj Blake, framed a face singular in its expressions. It was usually cold and set, but there was always something moving beneath the irregular planes, something restless behind those green eyes.

Once Sevran had gotten over his fear of Dafydd, he had become madly worshipful of him. Dafydd was so strong, so impervious to pain, and sometimes it was better to be with someone who wouldn’t bother him with questions on feelings, who would simply listen, or just work beside him in companionable silence.

"Who did it come from?" asked Dayna, gesturing toward Blake’s plastisheet.

Blake shook his head, not ready to say yet.

Del Tarrant and Bev Hastings walked in next—the pirates, Sevran thought of them—an inseparable team, both handsome and handsomely dressed, wearing enough weapons on their persons to stock a small ship’s armory. They were more aloof toward Sevran than the others; he knew them mainly as the parents of Deetia, the child closest to his age. They weren’t up on his list of those he loved, but he trusted them well enough.

That left only one more, and Sevran had known he’d be late, he always was—saving it for the dramatic entrance.

Kerr Avon came in the door with a predatory look on his face. Sevran shuddered. When he was younger, he had hated Avon: Hated him because he made Steffany White, the woman who had to some degree replaced his mother in his affections, divide her attentions between the two of them and in his childish wisdom he had sensed that her bond to Avon was somehow stronger than her bond to him. He had also hated him because of his aloof, arrogant coldness: Sevran could tell that Avon didn’t really want him around at all.

But with time his feelings had become more ambivalent. Although he knew Blake was the ultimate decision maker, he had seen the others defer to Avon—even Blake, at times. He had seen Avon’s steely intelligence, realized that he was at least recklessly brave and decisive. And the boy felt an odd attraction to the man, a sort of kinship. Didn’t they both have explosive tempers? Weren’t they both absolutely brilliant? Sevran had a teenager’s exalted opinion of himself. If only Avon would show some sign of favor, some word of encouragement….

Because he looked splendid, dressed now in his impeccable oiled black leathers, cockscomb of graying hair combed back with the vivid white streak sweeping through it, hard face perfectly arrogant and totally under control.

"We are all here, Blake," Avon said, in his acidic voice. "What news do you have?"

They were all sitting down, hands upon the table, a glint in all their eyes—all save Blake’s. Even Sevran saw the difference in their looks: those who wanted peace tended to have a different expression than those who enjoyed war for its own sake.

"The Federation is building a new prototype heavy cruiser," Blake began slowly. "One fifth bigger than the marauder class, with almost a third more weaponry and twinned Star Drive capacity. They are calling it a ‘dreadnought.’ "

"And?" Tarrant asked.

"She’s being built inside Wolfram. It’s an artificial planet in the Dorsay system," Blake went on. "She’s near operational now. Within three standard months she’ll be ready. She’s being built under extreme secrecy because she’s supposed to be carrying Ingellan lasers."

"Impossible," said Dayna, with a snort of contempt. "No ship could power an Ingellan powerful enough for space battle. It can’t be done."

"Someone’s doing it," said Blake. "It could be dangerous for us all if this ship goes into service, and we and our allies have nothing comparable to it."

"We need another DSV," said Tarrant.

"We’d need more than one," said Blake. "Does anyone have an idea on how to face down this threat?"

"We take her," said Dafydd. "Can we?"

"We don’t have the men," said Tarrant. "We’d have to mop up all the shipbuilding crews on Wolfram, who’ll be armed and possibly guarded by Federation troops."

"I thought of that," said Blake. "So I spoke to Ral Peet on DorVail, to see how his commandos are coming along. He can lend us his men. He says that they’re dying to mix it up."

" ‘Dying,’ " said Avon, with a sneer. "How apt! Peet’s little rag-tag army against Federation troopers?"

"Since we were last on DorVail," Blake said, staring down Avon, "the commandos have been supplied by Siboire and the Malaren fleet. They’ve been trained and armed as Federation Shock Troopers are. They’re spoiling for a fight. What they need from us is help with planning the raid, the Hellhound as their escort, and Flame of the West as their troop carrier."

Dafydd nearly stood. "As troop carrier? Any old tub can do that, Roj!"

"Flame is not a fighter," said Avon.

"Close enough!" replied Dafydd, eyes blazing.

"That’s why we could use her," Blake said patiently. "She’s big enough for Peet’s commandos and fast enough to get out of a tight place. Well?"

"Show us what Wolfram’s security looks like," said Avon.

Sevran watched this avidly. He was interested in strategy, but even he became bored at the numbers flung about and the arguments Tarrant, Avon and Dafydd pitched at each other. But a consensus was reached: they could do it.

"Good," said Blake. "Bev, Tarrant, Dayna, Morten, and Avon will crew Hellhound. We’ll take along Steffany and Fen; we’ll probably need them. Dafydd, you, Bo, Vila and myself will go with Flame. We’ll need Vila for any locks on the dreadnought…."

"He’ll just love that," said Tarrant, under his breath.

"We’ll pick up Peet’s people and proceed to Wolfram within the week," Blake said. "Agreed?"

"Agreed," said Avon.

And, as usual, theirs were the two voices that counted.

Sevran smiled. Which ship will I stow away on?

From The Log of the Hellhound, Book IX, "So Close and Yet So Far":

Roj Blake kept his mare down to a walk, his improvised saddlebags bulging with tools and his hat pressed firmly over his thick graying curls. He was "riding fence"—at least that was what Vila, who had some experience with ancient genre novels—called it. Up ahead of him, he could make out a swift moving splotch of brown and blue that was Sevran and his horse. The boy was a much more confident rider than Blake would ever be, as he’d practically grown up doing it. Sometimes Blake wished heartily for an all-terrain transport, and once he’d even suggested that they use the teleport for trouble shooting on the range.

Avon had been amused. "Rather a waste of resources, isn’t it? Particularly when time is one thing we don’t need to save. Besides, you were the one who wanted the horses."

He’s the one who likes having horses, Blake thought. He’s the one who likes to saddle that nasty tempered stallion, Sultan, and ride off for hours at the time. But he had to admit that he took some pleasure out of using the primitive, animal-powered methods of farming that they had adopted. It satisfied him to walk behind their big draft horse, Lionheart, as he pulled the plow through the rich dark soil of Cenemara. Probably his ancestors had tilled the rocky soil of Wales in the same way.

Riding out like a cowboy was less fulfilling, although Avon wasn’t the only one who seemed to like it. Aidan and Blood had become avid horsemen, and Sevran seemed to be intent on following in their hoofprints. If Avon saw anything in the fact that the boy shared his interest, though, he never said. Blake wondered now long they could keep up the charade.

Sooner or later we’ll have to tell him. What will happen then?

Sevran had stopped, and he and his horse were waiting by one of the fence posts. "You could give her a kick!" he shouted to Blake, but the joking tone of his voice told Blake he wasn’t expecting it.

Blake smiled and kept coming at the same rate. Marguerite, the mare he was riding, didn’t like to trot unless her head was facing the direction of the stables. She continued without enthusiasm.

Sevran dismounted as Blake approached. He was tall for his age and slender, but he didn’t look gawky or unfinished, as Blake remembered looking at his age. His thick, wavy chestnut brown hair was combed back off his face and tied at the nape, and the face beneath his widow’s peak looked older than his years. Blake supposed he couldn’t help it, since he’d been raised almost solely around adults—the younger children had just reached an age when they were nuisances to him.

Sevran was already taking the faceplate off of the force field fence post, his hands steady and skilled. "I bet it’s a fault in the synchronization circuits," he said as he worked.

"Probably, given the way the readings are fluctuating," said Blake, climbing down from the mare and walking along in front of the malfunctioning section of fence.

"I wonder if they have this kind of fence on DorVail," said Sevran, his voice much too casual. Blake looked over at him, one brow lifted. Sevran looked back and sighed. "I was thinking."

"Dangerous, that," said Blake.

"Odd thing for you to say. You’re the one who’s always telling me to think for myself," the boy answered.

"You’ve got me there. What have you been thinking? Something about DorVail?"

"I was thinking that perhaps I could go there and visit Reeve," said Sevran, in a rush. "He asked me to. I’d be safe there. General Butcher is his stepfather. I wouldn’t stay long. I’d be back in time for harvest. Or he could come here, if they’d let him. Could we ask?"

"I don’t know," said Blake, looking back at the small screen in front of him.

"I get tired of it here. There’s no one my age," Sevran continued. "Reeve’s my friend. Other people get to see their friends. They go places and visit them. Cassilda even comes here to see Fen…."

"That’s different," said Blake, who knew full well that what Sevran thought was "visiting friends" was usually a dangerous mission into Federated space.

"Why, because she’s his lover?" said Sevran, misunderstanding.

"I don’t mean that. I’m just not certain that it would be…a wise thing to do."

"It wouldn’t be dangerous, or anything," Sevran scowled. "DorVail is our ally against the Federation. Don’t you trust General Butcher?’

"Of course I do," said Blake evenly. "But I don’t know if we could spare someone to go with you, and we have a responsibility to look after you."

"Reeve’s mother and stepfather could look after me." The scowl on the handsome, bony young face deepened, and Blake could see an unsettling similarity to Avon’s expression there.

I can’t explain to him why the thought makes me uneasy. I can’t tell him that we’re hiding him from his mother. He still mentions her sometimes. He thinks that she’s one of us, because I told him once that we were taking care of him until she could be found. No telling what kind of fantasies he’s woven around her.

"We’d have to think on it. Discuss it."

"Discuss it with who? You’re the leader. You’re Blake."

"The others," Blake said, walking toward the fence post.

"Avon," said Sevran darkly. "He’s the one you’d have to talk to. The only one who counts." He stepped back to let Blake have a look at the innards of the post. "He hates me. When I stowed away on the mission to Wolfram, he hit me."

Blake bit his lip. He’d been told about how Avon had lost his temper with his son, and he knew what had triggered it: the boy’s shouting that Avon hated him. Avon had very strong feelings about Sevran, and Blake was sure that hate wasn’t one of them.

"He doesn’t hate you," Blake said patiently. "He’s simply not…one to suffer fools gladly. And he felt that you were very foolish to have stowed away."

"You always defend him," said Sevran. "I don’t understand. He’s a bastard."

"Sevran." Blake gave the boy a severe look. "I don’t want to hear you talk like that. You have to treat the adults here with respect."

"Not him! He hit me!"

"I’ve already told him what I thought of that."

"He didn’t apologize."

"No. He probably never will."

"Then why do I have to treat him with respect?" Sevran’s voice was angry, willful. "It’s not fair!"

"Life isn’t fair," said Blake.

"You always say that. Everyone says that."

"Because it’s true. Listen to me." Blake put a hand on Sevran’s shoulder. "Avon has had a very painful life, worse than most people. His father abandoned him and his mother, and no one took his place. His older brother…was cruel to him. Very cruel. It made him the way he is. You have to understand this. You can’t control what he does, but you can control the way you react to him."

"My life hasn’t been easy, either!" Sevran said angrily. "I never had a father, and my mother is off somewhere missing, maybe dead!"

"You have me. You have all of us here," Blake replied.

"So does he."

"Not like you do," said Blake. "Because he won’t let it happen. He won’t let anyone love him."

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