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SHIVA IN STEEL

 


















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SHIVA IN STEEL
by Fred Saberhagen
Published by TOR® Books
Copyright (c) 1998 by Fred Saberhagen
Jacket art by: Royo. Jacket design by Carol Russo Design.


In a sector of the galaxy occupied by Earth-descended people, one Berserker® computer has suddenly and mysteriously developed a tactical strategy unlike anything the human opposition has seen before. Shiva, like the Hindu god of destruction after which it was named, annihilates entire colonies with the help of its fiendish subordinates. Commander Claire Normandy struggles to prepare for Shiva's attacks, while Pilot Harry Silver realizes that he must deal with his own demons in order to help her. When the Berserkers approach, a decision is made to destroy the destroyer, whatever the cost. Neither side, however, is prepared for the incredible risks that emerge as the attack becomes imminent. Can Normandy, Silver, and their forces face the possbility that something wholly unexpected yet eerily familiar lies gnarled within the steel?

--From Cover blurb.


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Reviews



SHIVA IN STEEL
by Fred Saberhagen




Source: Kirkus Reviews
Date: July 15,1998;

Review: See amazon.com for this review and others.


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A brief excerpt



SHIVA IN STEEL
by Fred Saberhagen



Chapter 1

Five thousand light years from old Earth, on an airless planetoid code-named Hyperborea, inside the small Space Force base that was really a sealed fortress, unexpected visitors were rare, and even more rarely were they welcome.

The lone ship now incoming had been a total surprise to everyone on the base when it was detected about an hour ago, by the early warning net of robot pickets that englobed the entire Hyperborean system. Since that sighting, Claire Normandy had been fidgeting in her base commander's office, distracted from her other duties by watching the interloper's progress on the larger of her two office holostages.

Normandy was neat and slender,with straight black hair and coffee-colored skin. Her usual voice and manner were quiet. In her job she assumed authority, rather than continually strivingto demonstrate it. At first encounter most people tended to think her dull and colorless. Less immediately apparent was another tendency, a love of gambling when the stakes grew very high.

The commander's uniform today, as on most days, was the workaday Space Force coverall, suitable for wear inside space armor, when the need for that arose. Her age was hard to estimate, as with most healthy adults; and within broad limits chronological age was not a very meaningful measurement.

The unscheduled caller's reception at the base was not going to be particularly cordial. It had been tentatively identified as a privately owned spacecraft named Witch of Endor, engaged in mineral prospecting and a variety of other small business ventures, owner and operator Harry Silver. Once, some fifteen years ago, Claire had had a brief encounter with a man of that name, and she had no reason to doubt that this was the same man.

Informed of the Witch's approach by superluminal courier, just minutes after the far-flung robotic eyes of base defense had detected it at a distance of around a billion kilometers, Commander Normandy had opened communications with the pilot as soon as the distance delay for radio communication fell under a minute. When the visitor, speaking calmly enough, had pleaded recent combat damage and a need for repairs, she had ordered his ship to stand by for inspection. In a matter of minutes one of her patrol craft had matched velocities. Her people had gone aboard the Witch and one of her own pilots was now bringing the civilian craft in for a landing at the base.

Her alertness was heightened by a certain message that had come in by long-distance courier a few hours ago and been promptly decoded. Claire was still carrying the hard copy of that message in her pocket. For a moment she considered taking it out and looking at it again--but really there was no need.

It came from from sector headquarters on Port Diamond, and was signed by the chief of the intelligence service there. Below the usual jargon of routing and addressing, it read simply:

GOOD EVIDENCE KERMANDIE SECRET AGENT IDENTITY UNKNOWN
HAS TARGETED YOUR BASE FOR PENETRATION
OBJECTIVE UNKNOWN. YOU ARE DIRECTED TO APPLY
HEIGHTENED SECURITY MEASURES TO ANY RECENT OR NEW
ARRIVALS, PARTICULARLY CIVILIANS.


When Claire had first laid eyes on the message, her first inner reaction had been: What civilians? There were seldom any here, and at the moment not even one. And her second reaction, not long delayed: What evidence?

She supposed she would never be given an answer to the second question. As for the first, about civilians, now it seemed that she might soon be going to find out.

When she tired momentarily of focusing her attention on the intruder, she turned, gazing out through a clear window at a dark horizon, the jagged line of an airless and uneven surface, only a fraction of a kilometer away, but five thousand light years from the sun whose light had nourished the earliest years of her own life--as it had, long ago, those of the whole race of Earth-descended humans. The rotation of the planetoid beneath her feet was swift enough to set the stars and other celestial objects in visible motion, rising in an endless stately progression from beyond that jagged line. Months ago she'd learned that she need only stare for a little while at that perpetually sinking horizon, to induce a feeling that the world was somehow giving way beneath her.

The whole cycle of rotation was several minutes long, and during various segments of that great circle, the light of distant galaxies predominated.




Looking out as it did over the landing field, the commander's office window offered a view of several robotic interstellar couriers, poised for quick launching. Each was sited in its own revetment, widely spaced along the near side of the artificially flattened surface which served the base as landing field. Half a kilometer away, on the far side of that field, set into a naturally vertical wall of rock, were the hangar doors through which arriving vessels were admitted to the interior docks and berths which had been carved out of rock on several subterranean levels of hangar space.

The Witch of Endor was going to touch down a couple of hundred meters from those doors, the first unscheduled visitor to land on or even approach this planetoid in more than a year. The ship's sole occupant before the Space Force had come aboard, the man identifying himself as the ship's owner, Harry Silver, had made no objection to being boarded, but rather had been relieved to hand over the controls.

Two days ago, or even yesterday, Commander Normandy would not have been made quite so edgy by an unforeseen arrival; but today she had been eagerly expecting quite a different set of visitors, vitally important ones; and they were already almost two hours overdue. Any suggestion that the day's schedule of events was going to be disrupted was most unwelcome.

In fact she was anticipating at every moment another signal from the robot pickets of her early warning array, giving notice of the arrival, in-system, of a task force of attack ships. If everything was going according to schedule, those six Space Force vessels, three light cruisers and three destroyers, should have been dispatched two standard days ago from Port Diamond, a thousand light years distant. It made no sense, of course, for her to be gazing with naked eyes toward the stars in that direction as if it might be possible to see the approach of the task force. But time and again she caught herself doing just that.

Commander Normandy's second-in-command was a diligent lieutenant colonel named Khodark, but her adjutant was an optelectronic artifact, a computer program, sometimes classified as an expert system, known as Sadie. Sadie's usual holostage persona had a vague, but no more than vague, resemblance to the commander herself.

At the moment Sadie's head was visible inside the larger office holostage, looking out with a certain expectancy in her pleasant virtual features, as if she could be curious as to why the Old Lady should be somewhat on edge today, and should stand gazing out the window at nothing much at all.

In fact, no one else on Hyperborea besides the base commander, not even virtual Sadie of unquestionable loyalty, knew that the task force was scheduled to arrive. Three light cruisers and three destroyers ought to create quite a stir among her people when they showed up. And that would be time enough for an announcement.




The transparency through which Commander Normandy stared at the universe was an extraordinary window, even for a port in space--it had been formed of statglass, ten centimeters thick with protective elaborations. And what it showed her was no ordinary view.

What she saw, in concrete, mundane terms, was the above-ground portion (which was less than half the whole) of a human outpost, set in rather spectacular surroundings, on a minor planet in orbit around a brown dwarf, which in turn was only the junior member of a binary star. The dwarf, not quite big enough or hot enough to be a real sun, had in the commander's view the apparent size of Earth's Moon as seen from the surface of the Cradle World. Its light, dull red, dim, and often depressing, came in some of the station windows--whenever, as now, anyone wanted to look at it. Generally the majority of the four dozen or so people on station preferred virtual scenery--green hills, tall trees, blue sky and shining water, easily generated on screen and holostage-- when they wanted any at all. For the past month most of them had been too busy with their jobs to give much thought to the esthetics of their environment.

Few of the jobs on this base were routine, and all of them were demanding.

Even as she watched, she saw the flicker across a portion of the sky that meant another robot interstellar courier coming in. The traffic was so frequent that on an ordinary day she would scarcely have given the sight a thought.

Complications, always complications.

On the large chronometer set into one wall of Commander Normandy's office, a certain unmarked deadline was drawing near--now no more than seven standard days away. If everything went according to plan, today's expected visitors, the six ships and crews of the task force, were going to be departing Hyperborea again before that deadline. Then they would be lifting off on the last leg of the journey that would take them to their objective. The schedule did allow a little spare time for the unexpected things that always came up--but spare time was a precious commodity that should never be squandered pointlessly. Even two hours lost at the start was enough to create the beginning of concern.

Only this morning the commander had issued an order canceling the passes of three people who had been scheduled for a weekend of such recreation as they might be able to find down on Good Intentions, so everyone on the base knew that something special was up, though not even Sadie knew what it was.

If all went well, and the crews of the task force completed their mission successfully, they were going to kill a thing that had never been alive. Their mission called for them to demolish a brutally efficient form of death, which was also a master of strategic thinking. A spiritless thing that nevertheless made deep plans, and moved and struck with the power of a force of nature. It was a terrible foe, the mortal enemy of everything that lived.

Humanity called it a berserker.

For centuries now, Galactic life had been engaged in a great defensive war. The death-machines that Solarian humans called berserkers had been designed ages ago by a race now remembered only as the Builders, because so little else was known about them. Demonstrating great cleverness, and the absolute reverse of wisdom, the Builders had gone all-out to win an interstellar war by creating an ultimate weapon, meant to eliminate all life from the worlds held by their antagonists.

The ultimate weapon had done its job to perfection, but any rejoicing among the Builders must have been short-lived indeed. Berserkers had proven to be more easily launched than recalled. The race of their creators had been the next to disappear, processed efficiently into oblivion by the remorseless death machines. Only very recently had stark evidence surfaced, strongly suggesting that at least a few members of the Builders' race were still alive--but only in the depths of the Mavronari Nebula, effectively out of touch with the rest of the Galaxy.




Now, hundreds of centuries later, the mechanical killers still fought on, endlessly replicating and redesigning themselves for greater efficiency, steadily improving their interstellar drives and weaponry. Even finding possibilities of improvement--as they saw it--in their own programming. Whatever the precise intent of their original designers, the berserkers' goal was now the abolition of all life throughout the Galaxy.

Humanity--organic intelligence, in all the biological modes and manifestations that phenomenon assumed on various worlds--was the form of life assigned the highest priority in the great plan of destruction; because human life was the only kind capable of effective resistance. The only kind capable of fighting back with purpose and cunning and intelligence.

And of the several known varieties of Galactic humanity, only the Solarian, the Earth-descended, seemed capable of matching the berserkers' own implacable ferocity.

For ages the conflict had dragged on, often flaring into all-out war. It pitted Galactic life--which in practice meant Solarians, the sons and daughters of old Earth--against the machines which had been programmed ages ago to accomplish the extermination of that life. From time to time the conflict died down in one sector, while both sides rebuilt their forces, only to burst out in another. If annihilation of the berserkers seemed an unattainable dream, at least there was every reason to hope that they might be prevented from achieving their programmed goal.

Two personal holograms, one mounted on Claire Normandy's desk, the other on her office wall, beside the big chronometer, showed a smiling man of an age as indeterminate as her own, in the company of one obviously young adult. The suggestion was that the commander was certainly old enough to have a grown child somewhere. And in fact she did.

On the other side of the chronometer hung a silent holographic recording of a man--not the one who smiled in the other picture-- giving a speech before an enthusiastic crowd, some of whose heads showed blurrily in the foreground. The speaker was dressed in a distinctive costume, a long shirt of fine material, secured with a leather belt over trousers of the same thin stuff. His name was Hai San, and everyone who knew anything about Kermandie, or about history in this sector, knew who he was. Hai San had been killed, martyred, by the Kermandie dictatorship six or seven years ago.




The junior officer she'd sent to pilot in the Witch of Endor was calling in now from aboard the approaching ship, a young man's head and shoulders showing in a solid-looking image on the small office holostage. He reported briskly that there were no problems, and landing was now only a couple of minutes away.

Tersely Commander Normandy acknowledged the communication.

There was still no sign of the task force of ships she had been expecting. More to relieve her own growing tension than for any other reason, she swung open a door and left her office, striding purposefully down the narrow, slightly curving corridor outside. Other uniformed figures passed her, walking normally. Inside the walls of the base an artificial gravity was maintained at the usual standard, near Earth-surface normal.

Most of the station's interior was decorated in tasteful combinations of green and brown and blue, streaked and spotted here and there with contrasting hues of brightness, imitating the colors of Earthly nature. Here and there people could look out through statglass windows, which in time of trouble could be easily melded into the walls. Corridors were seldom wider than was necessary for two people wearing space armor to pass, while living quarters tended to be relatively spacious. Given several cubic kilometers of rock to work with, and a generous budget, the diggers and shapers who built the base had not stinted on creating habitable space.

She filled her lungs appreciatively. Today's scent in the corridors, chosen by popular vote a few days in advance, was fresh pine.

As Claire Normandy walked, she cast a security-conscious eye about the interior of the station, trying to see whether there was anything in plain view, at this level, that a casual visitor should not be allowed to see. Nothing leaped out at her.

The commander used her wrist communicator to make a general announcement to everyone aboard the station. "Your attention, this is the commanding officer. We are going to have a civilian visitor coming aboard in a few minutes. We will not, repeat not, be giving the gentleman a tour of the base. But I don't know how long he may be with us, perhaps several days. So I want you all now to take a look around your immediate environment, wherever you happen to be, with security in mind, and do whatever may be necessary to tighten things up."




The strongest source of natural illumination for several light years in any direction was a small white sun, the dominant member of the binary star in terms of illumination as it was in terms of gravity. Now, as a consequence of Hyperborea's rotation, this real sun's harsh light, as it rose on the opposite side of the installation, carved out stark shadows on the planetoid's black rock.

All in all, this place seemed an inconspicuous corner of the Galaxy, so out of the way that the garrison could still nourish hopes that the berserkers hadn't spotted them in the two or three standard years since the base had been established.

Reentering her office, she looked again at the holocube on her desk, and the two recorded images within looked back at her.




"Got our visitor on visual, commander." That was from the officer who today happened to have the duty of handling traffic control on the small landing field. He sounded moderately excited, which was only natural. For several months now the job had entailed nothing but the dispatch and recovery of robot couriers.

Normandy turned back to her holostage, and made adjustments to get a closer look. Harry Silver's ship, Witch of Endor, now close enough for the telescopes to show what looked like recent damage, at least superficial battle scars, marring the smooth shape, approximately that of a football, in ghostly silver. In another minute it was settling gently toward a landing, outlined against angles of dark rock that had never known air or moisture. The patrol craft that had intercepted the visitor came into view a little behind it, following it down.

A panel at the bottom of the holostage was now displaying what modest amount of information the base's extensive data banks contained on the Witch's owner of record. Usually the dossiers made available in this way were fairly accurate. This one was short and obviously incomplete, but perhaps it would be helpful. A quick look confirmed what she was able to remember about the man. Claire Normandy was not particularly perturbed by what the record told her--but neither was she greatly reassured.

She decided that she wanted to see Silver with a minimum of delay. She instructed her virtual adjutant, Sadie, to ask Mr. Silver to step into her office as soon as he had come aboard.

"I know him," she then remarked aloud--more to herself than to anyone else, since only an artificial intelligence happened to be listening.

Though there were no actual criminal convictions listed in Silver's record, when read by an experienced eye seeking enlightenment between the lines, the document suggested that Silver had been involved in interplanetary smuggling in the past, in the nearby Kermandie system and elsewhere. The printout Commander Normandy now held had nothing to say regarding exactly what the man was supposed to have smuggled, but she thought there could hardly be much doubt on that point--illicit drugs were the usual contraband.

The presence of any civilian on base just now was somewhat upsetting--and yet, there was something attractive in the prospect of simply talking for a while to someone from the outside. Like the people under her command, the commander might have chosen to spend an occasional day or two on the system's other world of Good Intentions--but she had chosen not to do that.

Of course, the demands of security came first. How convenient it would be to simply order Silver to remain aboard his own ship for the next few hours, keeping him out of the way--but such a course would certainly alert anyone to the fact that something out of the ordinary was taking place on Hyperborea Base. Besides, from his ship he'd certainly be able to get a good look at her expected visitors when they came in--as surely they must, within the next hour or so.




Claire Normandy was trying to recall the details of her only previous meeting with Harry Silver. At that time, fifteen years ago, she had been newly married, and fresh out of the Academy. There was no doubt it was the same man, though changed from how she remembered him. Today when he finally walked into her office his dark eyes did not seem to have much life left in them.

Silver, now being ushered into her office, was a man of average height and wiry build; what she could see of his hands and hairy forearms, below the rolled-up sleeves of a standard ship crew coverall, suggested superior physical strength. Looking around the carefully designed room, he ran a hand through moderately short and darkish hair. He was not Claire's idea of a handsome man, partly because of a nose that had at some time been pushed slightly sideways. "Maybe my nose has changed since last we met. Could have it fixed, but it's probably going to get hit again. This way it doesn't stick out so far."

Silver's story, as he had already told it to the crew of the patrol craft, made him, like several thousand other people, a refugee from the adjoining Omicron Sector. The gist of what Silver had to say came in the form of an urgent warning: not only had the berserkers over in Omicron defeated humanity there, but they had been ahead of us in tactics, in overall planning, at every turn.




Claire got the definite impression that this man had forgotten their previous meeting more thoroughly than she had. At first glance, she found in his appearance and manner none of the uneasiness or furtiveness that in her mind would have suggested the criminal--not that she had wide experience in making such determinations. She decided not to mention their earlier encounter, unless he brought it up.

Invited to sit down, Silver did so, and with the movement of a tired man put his booted feet up on an adjoining, unoccupied chair. Then he said: "Thought I better put in at the handiest system and try to find out what's going on--and also get my ship checked out. That last blast might have strained the hull more than's good for it. Things were knocked loose. I lost a chunk of fairing when your pilot put the brakes on here for landing--not that I'm blaming him.

"We'll do what we can for your ship. First, Mr. Silver, if you don't mind, I'd first like to hear more of what's been happening in Omicron Sector. Not only to you, but events in general."

"Sure. Our side's been getting its rear end kicked, over the last three, four standard months."

"Have you any theories about why?"

"Probably none worth debating. In hardware it's about even, as usual, between us and the damned things. And I don't think our fleet commanders were idiots . . . though they were made to look that way a couple of times."

"How about your own personal experience?" She could have asked him, coolly, How are things on Kermandie, Mr. Silver?, just to see what kind of a response she got. She had no real experience in such matters, but it seemed to her that surely no real secret agent would be so easily caught. And above all, she had enough to do already, and more than enough, without trying to conduct any kind of investigation.




Silver, though not openly reluctant to talk about his recent adventures, was vague about the details of the skirmish that had come so close to demolishing his ship with him inside it; nor had he much to say about how he had managed to get himself and his own small ship out of the doomed Omicron Sector. Normandy had already had a report from her own techs, saying the Witch's weapon systems and shields had badly needed repowering when it landed at Hyperborea. "The work on your ship will have to wait a little while, I'm afraid."

"Oh? Why's that? Your docks didn't look busy."

"We have certain maneuvers scheduled." At the moment all base docking and repair facilities were being held on standby, ready to minister at a moment's notice to the slightest need of any of the ships of the incoming task force.

Again Harry Silver declined to talk much about the details of his escape. "You can check out my black boxes about that," he'd said, meaning certain recorders on his ship--and the technicians of course had been doing do. In general their findings confirmed his story.

There were other matters that Silver was much more willing to discuss, especially the terrifying effectiveness of the berserker tactics he'd just experienced.




"Let's get back to the big picture." Adjusting the controls of the large holostage that dominated one side of her office, the same instrument wherein Sadie most often appeared, and on which she'd marked the approach of Harry's ship, Commander Normandy now called up a solid-looking schematic, representing about a third of the territory which had been explored with reasonable thoroughness by Earth-descended humans, and in which Solarian settlements had been established. One third of Solarian territory equaled no more than two per cent of the Galaxy's mind-boggling bulk. A mere two per cent of the Galaxy still comprised billions of cubic light years, and the display showed only a representative few hundred suns, an infinitesimal fraction of the billion stars within that selected volume.

The territory made visible was arbitrarily divided into sectors, according to the system devised by strategists at Solarian headquarters. Near the center of the display was the sector in which Hyperborea was located. One of the adjoining sectors was code-named Omicron.

Commander Normandy moved a finger, causing the location of the Hyperborean system to light up, in the form of a tiny green dot. "How did you happen to bring your ship here, Mr. Silver? I mean, given that you were fleeing Omicron Sector, why choose to come out in this particular direction?" Now the wedge-shaped space designated as Omicron glowed transparent green. Given his stated position within that wedge at the start of his escape, it might have been more logical for him to head in another direction.

Silver claimed that he'd latched onto and followed the tenuous old trail left in flightspace by some now unidentifiable Solarian scoutship. According to this explanation, it was sheer chance as much as anything else that had brought him to Hyperborea. "I remembered about the settlement in this system, and I expected my ship was going to need some dock time."




Adjutant Sadie had been listening in, and now a graphic version of her head, reduced in size, appeared to assure the commander that if Harry Silver had indeed been using the standard charts and autopilot programs, it was quite likely they would have brought him to the Hyperborean system.

As far as the standard charts were concerned, which almost never showed military installations of any kind, the system contained only the old civilian colony.

He said he'd preferred not to check in at the Kermandie system, if he could avoid it. "Those people can be hard to get along with, sometimes."

Claire Normandy nodded in agreement. It was a sentiment shared by the great majority of people. "You didn't stop there at all, then?"

"No." Silver looked at her blankly for a moment, then went on. "I remembered the co-ordinates of your system here, and the civilian colony on the other planet--of course this base wasn't here last time I passed through." He gazed around him at the solid new walls. "That must have been five standard years ago--no, a little more than that."

"No, we weren't here then."

When he'd emerged into normal space, Harry told her, out on this system's fringe, he had been surprised to detect not only the expected evidence of life and commerce on the small world called Good Intentions, nearer the brown dwarf sun, but also signs of active Solarian presence on Hyperborea. Naturally he'd signaled, and soon discovered that he'd already been spotted, and a patrol craft was coming to check him out.




Silver's dossier showed that he was, or had been, a berserker fighter of considerable skill and experience. The record was sketchy, and even left room for speculation as to whether he might once have been a Templar.

Claire shot one more glance at his dossier, visible only on her side of the holostage, where virtual Sadie was holding it in readiness for her. There was nothing at all, unless you counted a definite tendency to rootlessness, to suggest that the man before her might now be employed by the Kermandie dictatorship.

"Given your military record, Mr. Silver, we are taking your information very seriously. Thank you."

Her mind would not, could not, let go of the possibility that his apparently fortuitous arrival had some connection with the great secret project under way--she had to make it a conscious decision that she could safely dismiss that possibility.




When the talk lagged for a moment, Silver had a question of his own. "So, you're running a weather station here, hey?"

"Yes." The commander didn't elaborate. The official purpose of the base on Hyperborea was to keep track of Galactic "weather," a matter of some importance to military and civilian spacefarers alike. It was a valid function, and some such work was accomplished, but the real effort here went into the refitting and support of certain recon craft--most especially for the super secret ships and machines of the mysterious branch of military intelligence known as Hypo, or its twin the Earth-based group code-named as Negat.

"Wouldn't have thought that a weather station here would be of a whole lot of value. Not that much traffic."

"There's enough work to keep us busy."




Commander Normandy couldn't decide at first whether it would be a good idea or not to raise with her visitor any questions on the shadier portions of his record, as it lay before her.

Eventually she decided not to do so. The man was, after all, just passing through. For a moment she allowed herself to dream that it might be possible to order him locked up for the next few hours--maybe on some pretext involving quarantine? But no, she really had no justification for any such drastic course of action. Neither could she very well try to persuade him to leave within the hour, not with his ship damaged as it was.

Obviously Silver's dossier as it lay before her was incomplete, recording only fragments of his past. And there was no reason to suppose that it was up to date--her data banks held those of perhaps a billion other Solarian humans, chosen for a variety of reasons, and many of the records of course were old, and some doubtless inaccurate. Keeping up those kind of records was not a high priority here.




Meanwhile the commander had delegated to her inhuman adjutant, Sadie, the task of assigning Mr. Silver temporary quarters. Ordinarily finding space would be no problem, for the facility had been built with the possibility of rapid expansion of its staff in mind, and there were numerous spare rooms. Today, however, the crews of six ships were coming, and it would be convenient for some of them at least to bunk aboard the base, brief though their stay would be.

When she returned from her short absence, her visitor was sitting with his eyes closed, and she wondered if he could be actually asleep. In a few moments she was convinced: Silver had apparently dozed off in his chair, facing the window and its jagged horizon of black rocks, stabbed at by sharp, steadily shifting light. The interior illumination of the office was soft just here. Well, that would be convenient, if he would go to his room and just sack out for the next eight to ten hours. After a brisk skirmish and a long flight he might be ready to do just that.

She kept trying to remember what she might have learned about him at the time of their meeting fifteen years ago, what estimate she had formed then. So far, she wasn't having much success.

The next thought that crossed Commander Normandy's mind as she stood looking at her visitor was: This man's life has not been dull, whatever else one might be able to say about him. For a moment she knew a kind of pointless envy. By any ordinary standard, the word could hardly be applied to her life either.

Was Harry Silver a spy, or was he not? She couldn't really believe it. Not for Kermandie. And spies, she supposed, didn't fall asleep on the job--not in a room where there might be useful information to be gathered. But whether she was right or wrong about the man in front of her, what would any Kermandie agent be after here?

Whatever he's been up to, he must be very tired, she thought, and somehow the fact of obvious weariness tended to allay the vague doubts she had been feeling about him.

In slumber her visitor's face was almost unlined, looking more youthful than before; but there was something in the way the vintage light of the remote galaxies fell upon his countenance that suggested that he was very old.

After she had watched for a while, a strange idea drifted up to the forefront of the woman's consciousness: a large component of that light had been on its way here, to this precise time and place, heading unerringly for her window and Harry Silver's face, for something like two billion years.


END OF CHAPTER ONE
Taken from SHIVA IN STEEL by Fred Saberhagen, May, 1998, TOR.


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