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About The Author

Timothy ZahnTimothy Zahn

Timothy Zahn is the Hugo Award–winning author of more than thirty SF novels, including the first five Dragonback novels, as well as Night Train to Rigel, The Third Lynx, and Blackcollar: The Judas Solution. He has also written the all-time bestselling Star Wars spinoff... More

photo: Kent Akselsen

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EXCERPT

Chapter One

One month.

The words echoed through Draycos’s mind as he lay in his two-dimensional form against Jack Morgan’s back, arms, and  legs.
One month.

One month left until the refugee fleet carrying the remainder of his K’da people and their Shontine symbionts arrived here in
the Orion Arm of the Milky Way galaxy. One month until their long,wearying journey would be over.

One month until they flew into the ambush that Arthur Neverlin and the Valahgua were preparing for them.

Or perhaps even less than that. After two years in hyperspace, they could easily be a week or two early for their rendezvous.

Draycos raised his head a little from Jack’s shoulder, his eyebrow ridges and spiny crest pressing up against the boy’s
shirt. Through the windshield of the car Jack had borrowed from a used-vehicle lot, he could see the Brummgan town of Ponocce
City laid out in front of them. Its ugly color scheme, thankfully, was shrouded by the darkness of night and the city’s
mediocre streetlight system. Three miles straight ahead, its lights reflected against the low clouds, was the spaceport where
some of the enemy forces were even now being gathered together.

Draycos swiveled his head around, lifting his eyes over the back of Jack’s shirt. Directly behind the car, rising over the
low houses around it like a breaking ocean wave, was the tall ceramic wall that surrounded the Chookoock family estate.

There were some very unpleasant memories tied up with that wall and the evil people who hid behind it. Draycos could imagine
how Jack must be feeling right now as the memories of his brief time as a Chookoock slave were forced back upon him.

Draycos? Jack’s thought flowed into the K’da’s mind along the strange telepathic link the two of them had somehow developed.
You okay?

Yes, Draycos replied. Why do you ask?

You’re twitching your tail against the back of my knee, Jack told him. I thought maybe you were nervous.

Draycos hadn’t even realized he’d been doing that. My apologies, he said, bringing his tail to a halt.

No problem, Jack assured him. It tickled, that’s all.

In the distance behind them, Draycos caught a flicker of reflected streetlight from the gate set into the white wall. “The
gate’s opening again,” he said aloud.

“Got it,” Jack said, picking up the portable sensor he’d brought from the Essenay and pressing it against the side window.
“Geez, how many soldiers have they got in there, anyway?”

“Well, we’ve had around three hundred come through here, if that helps any,” Alison Kayna’s voice came from the comm clip
attached to Jack’s left shirt collar.

“Yes, thank you, I can do basic math,” Jack growled. “You want to keep it down?”

“Relax—they can’t possibly hear me,” Alison said. Her tone managed somehow to be reassuring and sarcastic at the same time.
“We’re all the way up at the top of the hangar on one of the loading-crane supports.”

“Good,” Jack said tartly. “Keep it down anyway.”

They’ll be all right, Draycos assured him.

I know, Jack said.

But the boy’s words couldn’t hide his tension. Especially since it was the same tension Draycos himself was feeling.

Because it should be him and Jack skulking around the Chookoock family’s main shuttle hangar. It should be him and Jack
watching the Brummgan mercenaries gathering for transport to the ambush point. It shouldn’t be Alison and Taneem.

Especially not Taneem. The young female K’da was intelligent and likable, and she’d certainly shown herself willing to put
herself at risk for Draycos and his people.

But she’d spent most of her life as little more than an animal. Her transformation to full, sentient being was less than two
months old. She still needed more learning and experience before she would be ready for even a normal K’da life.

And the circumstances she and Alison were in right now were anything but normal.

Restlessly, Draycos lashed his tail. He should have put all four feet down right from the start and insisted that he and Jack
take this part of the plan.

The problem was that Alison was just as stubborn as Draycos was. And, unfortunately, she’d also had logic on her side. She
and Taneem had already successfully opened one of the K’da/Shontine safes, and that experience was worth more than any
coaching that Alison could give Jack. Even Jack had admitted that. And to be fair, she had proved she was capable of handling
herself.

But all the logic in the universe didn’t help. Draycos’s emotional core was still tied up in knots of frustration and
concern.

“Here they come,” Jack said. “Looks like just three vans in this convoy. Uncle Virge?”

“Ready, Jack lad,” the voice of the Essenay’s computerized personality came from the comm clip.

The first van reached their position. Jack held the sensor steady against the window as it rolled past, followed closely by
its two companions. “Okay,” he reported as the vehicles’ taillights continued down the dimly lit street. “Uncle Virge?”

“First one seems to be all personnel,” Uncle Virge said slowly as the computer sifted through the data Jack’s sensor had sent
it. “Looks like our standard fifteen armed Brummgas.”

Draycos grimaced. Alison’s theory was that the Patri Chookoock’s role in this conspiracy was to supply Brummgan soldiers to
crew the ships that would be attacking the K’da and Shontine refugees. Apparently, she’d been correct.

The Patri Chookoock was donating the soldiers and crews. Arthur Neverlin, once chairman of the board of the megacorporation
Braxton Universis, was supplying the planning. Later,when the K’da and Shontine were all dead, he would probably also provide
the marketing system they would use to sell the technology from the looted refugee ships. The Valahgua, deadly enemies from
the K’da and Shontine’s own far distant part of the galaxy, were providing their horrible and unstoppable Death weapon.

That left only the attack ships themselves. Presumably, Colonel Maximus Frost of the Malison Ring mercenaries would be
supplying those.

And all that the unsuspecting refugees had standing between them and genocide were Jack, Draycos,Alison, and Taneem. Two
young humans, and two K’da.

And a single month of time.

“Bingo,” Uncle Virge’s voice cut into Draycos’s thoughts. “Second van has five armed Brummgas, plus one very big chunk of
metal.”

Draycos felt Jack’s muscles tighten beneath him. “How big?” the boy asked.

“A little shorter than you and quite a bit wider,” Uncle Virge said. “And I’m getting an unknown on the particular alloy.”

“That’s it,” Alison said positively. “That’s the safe.”

Draycos lifted his head again to look at the vans’ retreating taillights. Each of his advance team’s four ships had had one
of those safes aboard, a safe that had contained the location of their planned rendezvous with the incoming refugee fleet.

But Neverlin’s ambush of the team had killed all the K’da and Shontine except Draycos, leaving all four safes in his hands.
Two had been wrecked when Neverlin’s men attempted to open hem. Alison, under threat to her life, had opened the third for
them.

Three safes down. One still left.

And the final safe had at last been brought out from behind the protection of the white wall and was heading toward the
hangar where Alison and Taneem were waiting.

“Don’t sound too eager,” Uncle Virge warned. “The third van has another fifteen Brummgas.”

“Not a problem,” Alison said. “I’ve got enough sopor mist canisters planted to blanket the whole hangar. I just need to make
sure all three vans are inside before I trigger them.”

“Just make sure they don’t have gas masks on before you do it,” Jack warned.

“You want to walk me through it, just to make sure I do it right?” Alison asked tartly. “Relax, will you? I know what I’m
doing.”

“I hope so,” Jack muttered as he set the sensor on the seat beside him and started the car.

They’ll be all right, Draycos reassured him as the boy pulled out into the Ponocce City traffic.We’ll be only a few minutes
behind this last group. If there’s trouble, we’ll be in position to help.

Sure, Jack said. Help me watch for cops, will you? I’m going to see if I can get a little more speed out of this crate.
 
There was a distant, muted thunk. Across the hangar from where Taneem and Alison crouched on the wide crane supports, the
large doors on the north wall began to roll up. “This should be them,” Alison murmured.

Taneem didn’t answer. Her heart was beating rapidly, a cold sense of dread twisting like morning chill through her. Very soon
now, the waiting would be over.

And she was terrified.

She’d been in dangerous situations before, certainly. Several of them, in fact. But never had she found herself facing the
sheer numbers of Brummgas wandering restlessly around the hangar floor below them. There were twenty-three of the
aliens—Taneem had counted them five times—all of them carrying guns and wearing thick body armor. If Uncle Virge was right,
the vans outside those opening doors carried another thirty-five of the aliens.

“You all right?” Alison’s soft voice asked into her thoughts.

With an effort, Taneem lifted her silver eyes from all those guns and focused on Alison’s calm face. An odd thought ran
through Taneem’s mind: a girl of Alison’s mere fourteen years had no business being so calm in the middle of this much
danger. “Yes, I’m fine,” she said, trying to keep her voice from shaking.

“The waiting’s always the hardest part,” Alison told her. “But try to relax. If this goes down like it’s supposed to, neither
of us will have to do any fighting.”

And if it doesn’t go down like it’s supposed to? Taneem wondered. But there was no point in bringing that up.

The doors below finished opening, and three vans pulled inside. They rolled past the milling Brummgas and pulled up behind
the two shuttles waiting by the much larger doors at the south end of the hangar. There had been ten such shuttles when
Taneem and Alison had first arrived, which had left the hangar in pairs as each group of new passengers arrived and was
loaded aboard.

At first Taneem had hoped the shuttles might provide the answer to their problem. Alison had brought along the transmitting
device that Colonel Frost had used to track the Essenay to Rho Scorvi, and Taneem had hoped she and Alison could plant it
aboard one of the shuttles and find the refugee rendezvous point that way.

But Alison had explained that the shuttles would simply be taking the Brummgas to another ship or group of ships waiting out
in deep space. Those ships would then continue on, while the shuttles returned to Brum-a-dum.

Across the hangar, the doors closed again with another thunk. On the floor below, the van doors opened and the Brummgan
soldiers began filing out. “Okay,” Alison said, getting a grip on her remote trigger. “Here we go.” Flipping up the
protective cover, she pressed the button.

Nothing happened.

“Alison?” Taneem asked anxiously, looking down at the Brummgas still filing out of their vans.

“It’s okay,” Alison assured her. “This is a Type Four sopor. Takes longer to start working, but also keeps them asleep longer
after the mist dissipates.”

Taneem flicked her tail. Certainly Alison ought to know how her own weapons worked.

And then, all across the hangar, the Brummgas went limp and collapsed onto the floor.

“See?” Alison said as she pulled on her full-helmet gas mask and tossed a coil of rope over the edge of the track. “Here we
go. Stay here until I call you.” Getting a grip on the rope, she rolled off the support and started sliding down.

Taneem watched her go, scratching her claws nervously against the metal of the track support. If the Brummgas down there were
faking . . .

But no one moved or opened fire, and a few seconds later Alison was safely down. Drawing her small Corvine pistol from its
holster, the girl dropped the backpack off her shoulder and pulled it open. “Clear,” her muffled voice came from the comm.
clip fastened to Taneem’s ear. “I’ll get the MixStar started.”

Alison headed toward the middle van. Taneem watched her go, thinking about her MixStar safecracking computer. She’d seen the
device in action, and it still amazed her that such a powerful device could be concealed inside a belt and a pair of shoes.
Alison reached the van, peered into the open door, and disappeared inside.

“Taneem?” Draycos’s voice came softly. “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” Taneem assured him. “The sopor mist seems to have worked properly.”

“Keep an eye on the Brummgas anyway,” Draycos said. “Watch for twitching or movements like someone might make in their sleep.
If you see anything like that, let us know immediately.”
 
“They’ll be fine,” Alison said before Taneem could answer. “Okay, the MixStar’s running. I’ll go find a spot for the tracer.”
She reappeared from the van and jogged over to the rear of the nearest shuttle, ducking beneath its engine section.

This was the part that Taneem still didn’t quite understand. The tracer would do them no good attached to the shuttle. Jack,
Alison, and Draycos all knew that. So, presumably, would Colonel Frost.

Yet Alison seemed to think Frost might not think Jack and Alison knew that. She had tried to explain that Frost might
therefore believe that was the reason why she and Taneem had invaded the hangar this way.

It would be simpler if they never knew Alison and Taneem had been here at all. But Taneem had to admit that was probably
impossible. Not with the Brummgas having been put to sleep this way.

There was so much she still had to learn.

“Alison!” Jack’s voice snapped with sudden urgency in Taneem’s ear. “More traffic heading your way.”

“I thought Uncle Virge said there were only twenty-five vans on the Chookoock grounds,” Alison said.

“These aren’t vans, they’re cars,” Jack gritted out. “Four of them, loaded to the gills with humans.”

“And,” Draycos put in tautly, “Frost and Neverlin are among them.”

Excerpted from DRAGON AND LIBERATOR by Timothy Zahn.
Copyright © 2008 by Timothy Zahn.
Published in June 2008 by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to
reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

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