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Ascendant Sun

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Ascendant Sun

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Author: Catherine Asaro
Publisher: Tor, 2000
Series: The Saga of the Skolian Empire: Book 5
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
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Ascendant Sun is the direct sequel to The Last Hawk, in which Kelric, heir to the Skolian Empire, crash-landed his fighter on the Restricted planet of Coba. He was imprisoned by the powerful mistresses of the great estates - women who, over time, fell in love with him. After 18 years of living in their gilded cage, Kelric finally made his escape.

In Ascendant Sun, Kelric returns to Skolian space, only to find the Empire in control of the Allied forces of Earth. With little more than the clothes on his back, Kelric is forced to take work on a merchant vessel. But when that vessel enters Euban space, Kelric finds his worst nightmare realized: he becomes a slave to the cruel Aristos - humans who use torture and sex as the ultimate aphrodesiac.




Eighteen years after Kelric died, he came home.

The Holly Rotor, his star schooner, limped into port near the city of Porthaven, an isolated metropolis on the planet Edgewhirl. Kelric felt both tired and jubilant. His fatigue came from more than the days he had spent on board this starship with minimal supplies. Although he looked healthy, within his body he bore the effects of eighteen years on a planet that wasn't his own. His internal systems had long ago begun a slow breakdown.

Right now even that didn't matter. He was coming home. Home. His life would be his again. He would resume his position among his people. Most important, he would see his parents and siblings, the family he loved.

Deep in his pilot's seat, with its frayed exoskeleton folded around his body, he guided the groaning schooner into its berth. His comm crackled again, but he still couldn't make out the words buried in the static. Amber warning lights glowed on the panels arrayed around his seat. When docking clamps gripped the schooner, its hull shook.

A line of 3-D hieroglyphs formed above the speckled screen in front of him. The height and width of the glyphs conveyed a message from the Port Authority: Docking complete. Sending fee schedule. Their third dimension added nuances: the PA wanted payment now.

Their attitude troubled Kelric. Why the rush? And why didn't they ask for his ID? They hadn't even requested a government code for the ship. It didn't bode well; in his time, it was unheard-of for a PA to be so lax.

He sent access codes for the Holly's credit line. Eighteen years ago it would easily have rented this cheap berth and bought some repairs. The schooner had been on Coba even longer than Kelric, sitting in an abandoned port. Despite some automated upkeep, its condition was worn. Repair costs had probably increased, but the credit line had a good cushion built into it.

The fee schedule appeared.

Kelric stared at the screen. He didn't even have enough to land, let alone rent a berth. Repairs were out of the question.

The console beeped. Funds insufficient. Please transmit an alternate access code.

Neither the audio nor visual system on the schooner worked. So he typed at the antiquated keyboard: I don't have an alternate code.

How do you plan to pay your bill? the PA inquired.

This vessel is in military use. ISC will cover the fees.

That option is no longer available. The PA shaded its glyphs with impatience.

Kelric blinked. Imperial Space Command no longer covered its officers? He found that hard to believe. Contact ISC.

They have no representative available to contact about financial matters associated with this port.

Why not?


How could it be unknown? ISC was—or had been—the single most powerful force in Skolian life. Now he couldn't get enough credit to dock one old schooner? He had taken this ship from the planet Coba, where he had been imprisoned these past eighteen years while the rest of humanity believed him dead. As an ISC officer, he had the right to commandeer government property during an emergency. The schooner had made it possible for him to escape a war. Now, though, he wondered if he was landing in an even worse situation. He began to question the wisdom of revealing anything about himself.

What work options are available? he asked.

Unemployment in Porthaven is at 58 percent, the PA answered. Nor is a work contract likely to provide sufficient revenue to meet your obligation. Its nuances said he had less chance than an ice cube in hell of finding a job that would pay off his debt.

What about a loan?

We are willing to take your ship in lieu of payment. Do you consent?

Scowling, he almost refused. But what else could he offer? At least if he signed the ship over to the Edgewhirl PA, they would be responsible for its repairs. He debated options with himself, but in the end he answered, simply: Yes.

* * *

Dazed and tired, Kelric walked along the starport concourse with everything he owned—his clothes. His suede trousers and white silk shirt were hand-tailored, of the highest quality, but wrinkles creased the fabric and scorch marks darkened his sleeves. His slight limp had been with him for eighteen years. He walked in bare feet. He had nothing else to his name.

Except his gold and gems.

Heavy gold guards circled his wrists and ankles, the metal engraved in a language no one spoke anymore. The guards were old. Ancient. So were the gold bands under his shirt, on his biceps, six on one arm, five on the other. Eighteen years ago the guards and bands would have summoned a fortune, more for their archaeological value than for the gold.

The innocuous pouch hanging from his belt contained dice. But no ordinary dice. Diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, opals, more: it held a glittering rainbow of wealth. Their worth didn't lie so much in rarity; perfect gems could easily be made, using molecular assemblers to place atoms in crystal lattices. The value of these came from their authenticity. They had been formed by eons of geological processes, rather than in a lab, and they were almost flawless. It gave them a worth well beyond their mundane synthetic counterparts.

He had no idea of the current value for his riches, but it made no difference. He never intended to sell them. They were his only link to the wife and children he had been forced to leave on Coba, the family he would never again see.

So he continued along the wide, vaulted concourse. People thronged the area, a bustling, shoving, humming crowd. For the first time in eighteen years, he walked free. No guards watched him. No one tried to stop him. No political powers controlled his actions. Despite his towering height, massive build, bare feet, scorched clothes, and gold metallic coloring, no one spared him a second glance.

He soon saw why.

Edgewhirl was a small, backwater planet, yet citizens from all over the Skolian Imperialate crammed its port. Within that vast, varied throng, he simply didn't stand out.

Then he saw them: a group of young people wearing overalls with the insignia of the Allied Worlds of Earth on their shoulders. Stunned, he looked around, trying to clear his mind and concentrate. Now that he paid more attention, he saw them everywhere, citizens from the Allied Worlds freely mixing with his people, the Skolians.

In his time, the visas and permissions required for Allied citizens to visit Skolian worlds had been so extensive, they kept most of them out. Now Allieds were everywhere, not only civilians, but military personnel as well. What power shifts had taken place? His unease increased. His family exerted—or had exerted—a great deal of influence within the hierarchy of Skolian power. If the political situation had changed, what did that bode for him?

He became aware of someone behind him. A hand was closing around his pouch. Before his mind fully registered what was happening, his body toggled into combat mode. He whirled around with enhanced reflexes and punched the chest of the man trying to rob him. No, not man. Youth. Lanky and ragged, the boy was about nineteen, with straggly brown hair.

It didn't matter that Kelric's internal biomech systems were damaged. His hydraulics still had enough control over his body to respond to commands from the computer node implanted in his spine. Even with his enhancements at diminished power, he had twice the normal human strength and reflex speed.

Fortunately his node worked well enough to moderate his response so it fit the situation. He only knocked the thief away, into a group of startled tourists. The boy stumbled backward, scattering people, and thudded into a column. He slid down the column until he was sitting on the ground. The young man stared up at Kelric, his face turning as pale as a trapped snow-ferret.

Kelric stopped, dismayed. He waited to make sure the youth was all right. Then he left, letting the thief go. A ring of onlookers had formed, but they jumped out of his path now. He stalked away, angry at himself for causing the scene. Had he been in better condition, he wouldn't have struck the boy. Just turning around fast would have been enough. The youth had no idea how lucky he had been. If Kelric's node hadn't controlled his reflexes, that boy would be dead.

As Kelric's adrenaline surge eased, his body switched out of combat mode. He once more became aware of the low-level nausea that was almost always with him now. His fatigue had grown worse. Using his enhanced systems for such a brief time shouldn't have drained him this way. His physical resources were far too diminished.

The concourse opened into a huge rotunda, the open space in its center circled by five levels of balconies. Kelric found himself on the third level. He glanced across the rotunda—and stopped.

Taskmakers. Three of them. They were threading their way through the crowds down on the second level.

Taskmakers. Trader slaves.

Three interstellar powers vied for control in settled space: the Skolian Imperialate of Kelric's people, the Allied Worlds of Earth, and the Traders. The Traders called themselves the Eubian Concord, a euphemism Kelric found the ultimate in double-talk. Their citizens had no choice but to be in "concord" with their conquerors.

Taskmakers made up the bulk of the Trader population, over a trillion strong. Providers, the valued pleasure slaves, were rare and had far less freedom. Taskmakers lived fairly normal lives. Some were well off in their own right and exerted a degree of authority among other taskmakers. For all that, they were still slaves. But no one owned these taskmakers anymore. Under Skolian law, any slave entering Skolian territory became free. How had these three escaped to Edgewhirl?

Except it wasn't only three.

Now that Kelric looked, he saw other taskmakers...

Copyright © 2000 by Catherine Asaro


Ascendant Sun

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