Table of Contents
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First published by Roc, an imprint of New American Library,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
First Printing, October 2008
Copyright © Taylor Anderson, 2008
All rights reserved
Photo of the author taken on the Battleship
(BB-35) State Historic Site—3527 Battleground Rd., La Porte, Texas 77571, with the permission of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Dept.
REGISTERED TRADEMARK—MARCA REGISTRADA
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
Crusade : Destroyermen, book II / Taylor Anderson. p. cm.
eISBN : 978-1-440-64066-7
1. World War, 1939-1945—Fiction. 2. Time travel—Fiction. I. Title.
salka, Imperial Regent-Consort and Sire of all India, lounged on his padded, saddlelike throne. The throne was raised upon a triangular platform in the center of a vast oval-shaped stone chamber. An arched ceiling left most of the chamber in shadow for much of the day, and flowering ivies transplanted from the dark jungle floor all. Only above the throne was there always sunlight. It beamed through a large, ingeniously mirrored opening in the center of the ceiling, and the warm, sensuous rays caressed and illuminated the regent with their favor.
Tsalka idly stroked a small, squirming miniature of himself as it chewed on his long finger-claw. Its sharp teeth were like little needles and its claws and flailing tail tickled his palm. A basket of its nest-mates wobbled near the throne. The tiny mewling growls of the occupants struggling with one another provided amusing distraction from thoughts of the disquieting interview he expected. Word had already reached him that a hunting-pack had been thwarted in some way and he awaited details. Details he might have to convey to the Celestial Mother herself. The first reports hinted that the pack had fallen prey and, deep down, a predatory quickening stirred.
He shouldn’t have cared less, o
n a personal level. He was of the Hij, the elevated, and the primordial impulses no longer held sway. He was one of the few who, through birth and achievement, were allowed to advance beyond the Uul, or warrior/worker stage of life. Not many did, and he had few peers. It was from the Hij alone that the
Celestial Mother and her sisters took their consorts and provided a gentle stream of hatchlings that might one day gain the awareness to aspire to elevation themselves. Some became engineers and shipwrights. Others became generals, planners, navigators, or scribes. Still others oversaw the making of arms. Some few, like him, became administrators and viceroys of conquered lands. All were ancient by the standards of the Grik. Tsalka was close to forty and a few Hij even labored to the impossible age of sixty or more.
That was the blessing—to continue to exist and achieve a level of awareness the Uul could never fathom. It was necessary that some should do so, and the responsibility for guiding the Uul and shaping a world for them to enjoy was immense. That was also the curse. The Hij could no longer surrender themselves to the joy of the hunt and the ecstasy of battle. Theirs was the role of organizer—gamekeeper, if you will—and they paid for their elevation by stepping aside to let their charges have all the fun. Sometimes, the burden of the curse was heavy indeed.
The philosophy of the Grik was simple: the Great Hunt was the justification for all existence—to chase prey and devour it, ultimately across the world. One is either predator or prey. Only the predator survives and thrives and it must always hunt. Other predators may join the Great Hunt, but if they refuse, they are prey. Worthy Prey perhaps, but still prey. There are no old Grik, besides the Hij. When they slow down, they become prey and are killed by their young. And so it had ever been.
Because of the blessed abundance of prey upon the world, there had also been an exciting variety of predators. Some were merely animals, but others were quite cunning. Grik histoy. Wy Prey, are they not?”
Tsalka snorted noncommittally. “Perhaps, but I have never spoken to any prey—regardless how worthy it might be.”
Esshk replied with a hint of humor. “I beg to differ! Did you not just speak to Righ? Was he not made prey? Besides, what is the difference between Worthy Prey and our very pack-mates? One has joined the Hunt; one has not. That is all.”
Tsalka regarded the general with keen speculation. “You’re a philosopher, General Esshk. I have long thought it so. No wonder you’re so popular at court. But that is . . . a dangerous thought. I urge you to keep it to yourself.”
They were startled when the filthy, talking prey suddenly made a strangled cry and flailed madly against its restraints. In its weakened condition, it was quickly reduced to a sobbing, sagging shell; until then, it at least showed some courage. They realized it was the sight of the New Hunters that upset it.
“Well!” hissed Tsalka, pleased. “It must know the New Hunters after all! It reacted as prey to its natural enemy! Fascinating!” He paced to the edge of the balcony, clasping his hands behind his back, tail swishing speculatively. The Grik vessels looked tiny compared to the massive, dark gray ship the New Hunters called their home. It was nearly as large as one of the ridiculous Homes of the Tree Prey. Only
ship was iron, he was told, and bristled with huge, magic weapons. He wondered what its flag signified—the curious white flag with bloodred streaks radiating outward from the center.
“What do they call it?” asked the general.
“Hmm? Oh, the ship? I’m told it is called
. . . whatever that means!” They both hissed amusement.
he morning general quarters alarm woke Lieutenant Commander Matthew Reddy, and he automatically reached for the little chain beside his sweat-soaked bunk and pulled it. The cramped stateroom was bathed in a harsh white light as he sat up, rubbing his eyes. Awareness came quickly, not instantly. He always took a mome to get his bearings when he’d been having the Dream, and he’d been right in the middle of it. The same one. It came almost every night and he knew it at the time, almost consciously, but he could never remember it when he woke. He just knew he’d had it again. Even while he dreamed, his subconscious seemed to blot out each sequence of events as soon as they occurred so he was aware only of what was happening at that very moment and, of course, the crippling dread of . . . something he knew was yet to come. Sometimes, like now, if he was disturbed before the Dream reached its horrible, inevitable conclusion, he’d carry a sense of it with him for a while. But, as usual, details vanished as soon as he opened his eyes, like roaches when the lights came on. Even now, the last vestiges of . . . whatever the Dream was diminished like a wisp of smoke in a gale. All he really knew for sure was that the Squall was involved. The Squall that had somehow delivered them from destruction at the hands of the Japanese, but only by marooning them in this twisted, alternate . . . alien world. A world geographically little different from the one they knew, but utterly different in every other conceivable way.
For a while he sat there, struggling to classify the dark, lingering emotional perceptions and taking inventory of the things he knew. They were under way; he could feel the vibration of the warm, dank deck beneath his bare feet. The unusual strain he perceived in the fibers of the ship indicated the “prize” was still under tow. Th determination to help their friends resist the Grik beyond even their earlier determination to resist the Japanese. After all, the Japanese—hated as they were—didn’t eat those they conquered. With the discovery of a human skull on the Grik ship, a skull that could have come only from
the war against the Grik became an American war as much as a Lemurian one. That they were the only Americans around, besides those they hoped still survived aboard
would lead the struggle. The weary iron ship and her tired iron crew would drag the Lemurians out of the Bronze Age and build an army and whatever else was needed to take the fight to the enemy. Some progress had already been made, but much more would be required before they were ready to begin the crusade Matt had in mind.