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The Third Lynx

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The Third Lynx

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Author: Timothy Zahn
Publisher: Tor, 2007
Series: Quadrail: Book 2
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
Sub-Genre Tags: Galactic Empire
Space Opera
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(12 reads / 3 ratings)


Former government agent Frank Compton foiled a plot to enslave the galaxy in Night Train to Rigel. But the Modhri, an ancient telepathically linked intelligence, has walkers, unwilling hosts that can be anywhere, anything…and anyone. And Compton is the only man who knows how to fight them, as they wage a secret war against the galactic civilizations linked by the Quadrail, the only means of intra-galactic transit.

Accompanied by Bayta, a woman with strange ties to the robot-like Spiders who run the Quadrail, and dogged by special agent Morse who suspects him of murder, Compton races the Modhri from station to station to acquire a set of valuable sculptures from a long-dead civilization. What the Modhri wants with them is anybody’s guess, but if Compton can’t outwit it, the whole galaxy will find out the hard way.


Chapter 1

From the Stars’ End sector of the Filiaelian Assembly to the Darmisfar colony worlds of the Bellidosh Estates-General, the one thing everyone in the galaxy agrees on is that the best thing about traveling between the stars via Quadrail is the food. The Spiders who operate the vast system of trains and Tubes and stations have made a point of seeking out the very best recipes and cuisine from each of the twelve star-spanning civilizations and making them available for their passengers’ enjoyment. It’s like visiting the Alien Quarter of any of a thousand cities, only you get to travel while you do it.

Even in the second/third-class dining cars the food was delicious, intriguing, and eclectic. Here, in first class, where it was now my privilege to ride, it was all that and more.

And I was ready. More than ready. I’d suffered through a wearying twenty-day round-trip torchcruiser voyage across the Yandro system, living on ship’s rations the whole time, followed by the much shorter fourteen-hour Quadrail ride from Yandro to Terra Station, most of which I’d spent sleeping. Now, with a sizzling plate of artistically arranged Shorshic pili tentacles in front of me, I was finally going to get a decent meal.

“Mr. Frank Compton?”

I sighed. And the other thing everyone in the galaxy agrees on is that one of the greatest frustrations of Quadrail travel is some overly jovial fellow passenger interrupting you in the middle of your meal.

Reluctantly, I looked up. The man standing over me was Human, in his fifties, with blue eyes and white-streaked brown hair. As befit his first-class Quadrail passenger status, he was dressed in a quiet but expensive traveling suit that had been tailored within a millimeter of its life. Also as befit the average first-class passenger, he had the steady gaze and solid manner of someone used to having his every word listened to and obeyed.

And his expression was anything but jovial. The man was worried. Seriously worried.

“Yes, I’m Compton,” I confirmed. “And you?”

“My name’s Smith,” he said. His voice carried a slight central EuroUnion accent. “I wonder if I might have a moment of your time.”

I glanced across the table at the dark-haired young woman seated there. Bayta had been my sort-of-informal partner for the past several months, ever since I’d gotten myself involved in this strange twilight war between the Spiders and the group mind known as the Modhri. She was looking up at Smith, her face showing her usual wariness of strangers but nothing that might indicate she knew anything more ominous about the man. “Fine, but only a moment,” I told Smith. “As you can see, we’ve just started dinner.”

“My apologies for that,” Smith said. Pulling over a chair from the unoccupied table beside us, he sat down. “To put it bluntly, I’m on my way into a situation that might require a man of your abilities and experience. I thought I might be able to persuade you to join me.”

“What specific abilities and experience are you referring to?” I asked.

He smiled. “Come now, Mr. Compton, let’s not be modest. Your record of service in Western Alliance Intelligence speaks for itself.”

“You might possibly have missed the last page of that record,” I suggested. “The page where Westali summarily booted me out.”

Smith snorted in a genteel sort of way. “For your very proper attempt to alert the world to the Yandro colonization boondoggle,” he said. “Personally, I consider that a point in your favor.”

“Nice to see someone appreciates it,” I said. “Unfortunately, as to your job, I’m afraid I’m otherwise engaged at the moment.”

“This would take very little of your time,” he assured me. “I’m on my way to Bellis to negotiate the purchase of a small but very valuable item.”

I felt my ears prick up. As it happened, Bayta and I were also on our way to Bellis, the capital world of the Bellidosh Estates-General. “What sort of item?”

“A piece of artwork,” he said. “I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to say anything more right now. I assure you, though, the transaction will be completely legal.”

“I’d certainly hope so,” I said. “And my part in this transaction would be . . . ?”

“I merely want someone competent and trustworthy at my side,” Smith said.

I nodded toward his fancy suit jacket. “It seems to me a man of your means should be able to hire carloads of extremely competent people.”

His lip twitched. “The competency part isn’t the trick,” he said. “And you come highly recommended.”

“Really,” I said, intrigued in spite of myself. There were very few people out there these days who would recommend me for any job higher than that of chief sewage handler. “May I ask by whom?”

He considered, then shrugged. “I suppose it’s not really a secret. Deputy UN Director Biret Losutu.”

I looked again at Bayta, saw my own surprise reflected in her eyes. “Interesting,” I said.

“Isn’t it?” Smith agreed. “Especially since I would have expected your part in the Yandro affair to have earned you a certain degree of hostility from him. You must be very special for his opinion to have turned around that completely.”

He had that right, anyway. My whistle-blowing on the Yandro affair three years ago had made me an enemy in Losutu’s eyes. A few months ago, when we’d next met, that status had eroded to the point where I merely qualified as an irritant.

But that was before Losutu himself had been dragged into this quiet war.

The fact that Smith had dropped Losutu’s name made this a shade more intriguing. Unfortunately, there was no way of knowing whether or not he was telling the truth about Losutu having recommended me to him.

Even if he was, there was the whole question of whether I was willing to trust either of them. “You and Director Losutu are very kind,” I said. “But as I said, I’m otherwise engaged.” I picked up my fork, trusting Smith would take the hint.

He didn’t. “Mr. Compton, let me put my cards on the table,” he said, making no move to get up. “I postponed my trip to Bellis in hopes of linking up with you. In fact, I ended up staying on Terra Station for an extra six hours waiting for you to get back from wherever it was you were.”

I eyed him closely, the hairs at the back of my neck doing a gentle tingle. I had in fact been almost exactly six hours off my original timetable in returning to Terra Station, a timetable Losutu was very much aware of. That part, at least, checked out.

Problem was, Losutu wasn’t the only one who would have known the timing on that mission. “Sorry for the inconvenience,” I said.

“Oh, I wasn’t blaming you,” Smith hastened to assure me. “I was simply pointing out that the delay made the whole thing a bit more awkward. Especially since Losutu wouldn’t tell me where you were coming in from, but only when you were expected back. That meant I had to keep an eye on every incoming train.”

“You’re lucky you found me at all,” I said. If, of course, it had been luck.

“Yes, indeed.” He nodded to Bayta. “I’d just spotted you and your lovely companion and was on my way to talk to you when you got up and headed to the platform for this train. I was barely able to get a reservation in time to make it aboard myself.”

“You’re obviously a very lucky man,” I commented.

“In my experience, luck comes to those who don’t rely on it,” he said. “The point is that I want your help.” He raised his eyebrows slightly. “And as you suggested earlier, money’s no object.”

There it was: the end point I’d been waiting for. Eventually, if you waited long enough, it always came down to money. “I’m sure it’s not,” I said. “But as I said, we’re busy.”

For a moment he studied my face. “May I at least ask you to think it over?” he said. “Feel free to drop by my compartment if you’d like more details.” He glanced around. “With more privacy, I can be a bit more open.”

“We’ll see,” I said noncommittally.

“Please do,” he said, finally standing up. “Compartment eleven. Drop in anytime.”

With another nod at Bayta, he returned his chair to the other table and made his way through the room to the corridor bordering the dining area. Turning left, he disappeared toward the first-class car in front of us and the compartment car beyond that. “His compartment’s right across from yours,” I commented to Bayta, finally slicing off a piece of pili. “Handy.”

“I wonder if that’s a coincidence,” she said, scooping up a bite of her own meal. “What do you think?”

“About Smith? Or about Smith’s offer?”

“Either. Both.”

I shrugged. “He personally is probably legit. His little transaction is more doubtful. Either way, it’s kind of ir...

Copyright © 2007 by Timothy Zahn


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