Pocketbook, 320 pages
Four years after the end of the Brood War, Emperor Arcturus Mengsk has rebuilt much of the Terran Dominion and consolidated a new military force despite an ever-present alien threat. Within this boiling cauldron of strife and subversion, a young woman known only as Nova shows the potential to become Mengsk’s most lethal and promising “Ghost” operative. Utilizing a combination of pure physical aptitude, innate psychic power, and advanced technology, Nova can strike anywhere with the utmost stealth. Like a phantom in the shadows, she exists only as a myth to the enemies of the Terran Dominion.
Yet Nova wasn’t born a killer. She was once a privileged child of one of the Old Families of the Terran Confederacy, but her life changed forever when a rebel militia murdered her family. In her grief, Nova unleashed her devastating psychic powers, killing hundreds in a single, terrible moment. Now, on the run through the slums of Tarsonis, she is unable to trust anyone. Pursued by a special agent tasked with hunting down rogue telepaths, Nova must come to terms with both her burgeoning powers and her guilt—before they consume her and destroy everything in her path….
As soon as she felt Cliff Nadaner’s mind, Nova knew that she could destroy her family’s murderer with but a thought. She’d spent days working her way through the humid jungles of the smallest of the ten continents of Tyrador VIII. ‘Funny how I tried so hard to avoid this planet’s twin, and now I wind up here’, she had thought when the drop-pod left her smack in the middle of the densest part of the jungle—before the rebels had a chance to lock onto the tiny pod, or so her superiors on the ship in high orbit insisted. The eighth planet in orbit of Tyrador was locked in a gravitational dance with the ninth planet, similar to that of a regular planet and a moon, but both worlds were of sufficient size to sustain life. They also both had absurd extremes of climate, thanks to their proximity to each other—if Nova were to travel only a few kilometers south, farther from Tyrador VIII’s equator, the temperature would lower thirty degrees, the humidity would disappear, and she’d need to adjust her suit’s temperature control in the other direction.
For now, though, the form-fitting white-with-navy-blue-trim-suit—issued by her teachers at the Ghost Academy when her training was complete—was set to keep her cool, which it did, up to a point. The suit covered every inch of her flesh save her head. The circuity weaved throughout the suit’s fabric might interfere with Nova’s telepathy, and since her telepathy was pretty much the entire reason WHY she was training to become a Ghost, it wouldn’t do to interfere with THAT. This suit wasn’t quite the complete model she would be using when she became a Ghost—for one thing, the circuitry that allowed the suit to go into stealth mode had yet to be installed. Once that happened, Nova would be able to move about virtually undetected—certainly invisible to plain sight and most passive scans. But she wasn’t ready for that yet. First she had to accomplish this mission.
The suit’s design meant that sweat dropped into her eyes and plastered the bangs of her blond hair to her scalp. The ponytail she kept the rest of her hair in was like a heavy damp rope hanging off the back of her head.
“At least the rest of my body is comfortable”.
The suit’s stealth mode would probably have been redundant in this jungle in any case. The flora of Tyrador VIII was so thick, and the humid air so hazy, she only knew what was a meter in front of her from the sensor display on the suit’s wrist unit. Intelligence Section told her that Cliff Nadaner was headquartered somewhere in the jungle on this planet. They weren’t completely sure where—though still only a trainee, albeit not for much longer, Nova had already learned that the first half of IS’s designation was a misnomer—but they had intercepted several communiqu?s that their cryptographers insisted used the code tagged for Nadaner.
In the waning days of the Confederacy, Nadaner was one of many agitators who spoke out against the Old Families and the Council and the Confederacy in general. He was far from the only one who did so. The most successful, of course, was the leader of the Sons of Korhal, Arcturus Mengsk—in fact, he was so successful that he actually did overthrow the Confederancy of Man and replaced it with the Terran Dominion, of which he was now the emperor and supreme leader. Nadaner did somewhat more poorly in the field of achieving political change, though he was very skilled at causing trouble and killing people.
Days of plowing through the jungle had revealed nothing. All Nova was picking up was random black ground radiation, plus signals from the various satellites in orbit of the planet, holographic signals from various wild animals that scientists had tagged for study in their natural habitat, and faint electromagnetic signatures from the outer reaches of this continent or one of the other nine more densely populated ones. All of it matched existing Tyrador VIII records and therefore could be discarded as not belonging to the rebels. And now she was reading a completely dead zone about half a kilometer ahead, at the extreme range of the sensors in her suit.
“This is starting to get frustrating”.
She had completely lost track of time. Had it been four days? Five? Impossible to tell, since this planet’s fast orbit gave it a shorter day than what she was accustomed to on Tarsonis, with its twenty-seven-hours day. She supposed she could have checked the computer built into her suit, but for some reason she thought that would be cheating.
“Let’s see, I’ve got enough rations for a month, which means ninety packs. I’ve been eating pretty steadily, more or less on track for three squares a day, and I’ve gone through fourteen packs, so that makes—“
Then, suddenly, it hit her.
“A dead zone.”
She adjusted the sensors from passive scan to active scan. Sure enough, they didn’t pick up a thing—nothing from the satellites, nothing from the animal tags, nothing from the cities farther south.
Nothing at all. Nova smiled. She cast her mind outward gently and surgically—not forcefully and sloppily, the way she always had back in the Gutter—and sought out the mind of the man who killed her family. In truth, Nadaner had not personally killed her family. That was done by a man named Gustavo McBain, a former welder who was working a construction contract on Mar Sara when the Confederates ordered the destruction of Korhal IV—an action that killed McBain’s entire family, including his pregnant wife Danielle, their daughter Natasha, and their unborn son. McBain had sworn that the Confederacy of Man would pay for that action. However, instead of joining Mengsk—himself the child of a victim of Korhal IV’s bombardment with nuclear weapons—he looked up with Cliff Nadaner’s merry band of agitators. Nova learned all that when she killed McBain. Telepathy made it impossible for a killer not to know her victim intimately. McBain’s last thoughts were of Daniella, Natasha, and his never-named son. Now, three years later, having come to the end of her Ghost training, her “graduation” assignment, which came from Emperor Mengsk himself, was to be dropped in the middle of Tyrador VIII’s jungle, and to seek, locate, and destroy the rest of Nadaner’s group. Mengsk had even less patience for rebel groups than the government his own rebel group had overthrown.
Within five minutes, she found the mind she was looking for. It wasn’t hard, once she had a general location to focus on, especially since they were the first higher-order thoughts she’d come across since the drop-pod opened up and disintegrated. (Couldn’t risk Dominion tech getting into the wrong hands, after all. If she completed her mission, they’d send a ship to extract her, since then they could land a ship without risk, as Nadaner’s people would be dead, and her suit was designed to do to her what was done to the drop-pod if her life signs ceased. Couldn’t risk Dominion telepaths getting into the wrong hands, either, dead or alive.)
It was Nadaner. Also about a dozen of Nadaner’s associates, but their thoughts were focused on Nadaner—those that were focused at all. The man himself was chanting something. No, singing. He was singing a song, and half his people were drunk, no doubt secure in the kinowledge that no one would find them in their jungle location, with its dampening field blocking any signals. It probably never occurred to them that an absence of signals would be just as big as a signpost.
“Complacent people are easier to kill”, she thought, parroting back one of Seargent Hartley’s innumerable one-sentence life sessions.
She was to kill them from a d
That was the mission. For the next two hours, Nova ran through the jungle, getting closer to her goal. After her “graduation”, the suit would be able to increase her speed, allowing her to run this same distance in a quarter of the time, but that circuitry hadn’t been installed, either.
“The hell with the mission. That bastard ordered McBain and the rest of his little gang of killers to murder my family. I want to see his face when I kill him right back.”
Soon, she reached the dead zone. She could hear Nadaner’s thoughts as cleary as if he’d been whispering in her ear. He’d finished singing and was now telling a story of one of his exploits in the Confederate Marines before he got fed up, quit, and started his revolution, a story that Nova knew was about ninety percent fabrication. He had been in the Marines, and he had been on Antiga Prime once, but that was where his story’s intersection with reality ended.
With just one thought, she could kill him. End him right there.
“That is the mission. You don’t need to see his face, you can feel his mind! You’ll know he’s dead with far more surety than if you just saw him, his eyes rolling up in his head, blood leaking out of his eyes and ears and nose from the brain hemorrhaging. Kill him now.”
Suddenly, she realized what day it was.
“Fourteen packs, which means the better part of three days. Which means today’s my eighteenth birthday. It’s been three years to the day since Daddy told me I was coming to this very star system.”
She shook her head, even as Nadaner finished his story, and started another one, which had even less truth than the first.
A tear ran slowly down Nova’s cheek. “It was such a good party, too…”