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       The Gap Into Madness: Chaos and Order, p.1

           Stephen R. Donaldson
 
The Gap Into Madness: Chaos and Order


  Praise for

  Chaos and Order

  “The action moves forward like a juggernaut…. Offers plenty of thrills and an exciting finish that will leave [readers] eager for the fifth and final novel.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “Wonderfully complex and compelling. Donaldson’s ability to build plot and character are undiminished by the shift from magic to galactic war.”

  —The Sunday Oklahoman

  The Gap into Madness

  A master storyteller, Stephen R. Donaldson established a worldwide reputation with his unforgettable, critically acclaimed fantasy series The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. Then, with The Real Story, Forbidden Knowledge, and A Dark and Hungry God Arises, he launched a thrilling new science fiction series. Now the galactic adventure continues in …

  CHAOS AND ORDER

  They are a handful of fugitives from an outlaw world, old enemies trapped on a renegade spaceship in a desperate bid for survival. Among the unlikely crew of Trumpet are Morn Hyland, once a UMCP cop, now a prisoner of the electrodes planted in her brain; her son, Davies, “force-grown” to adulthood by the alien Amnion; the amoral space buccaneer Nick Succorso; and the unstoppable cyborg Angus Thermopyle. Locked in a lethal battle for control of the ship, they are also the target of the police ship Punisher. But Punisher’s human captain is torn between duty and sympathy. She’s been ordered to kill everyone aboard Trumpet—everyone except for the one whose blood carries the key to the ultimate alien triumph: the ability to appear perfectly human.

  In Chaos and Order, Stephen R. Donaldson’s epic and utterly compelling masterwork hurtles forward toward its shattering conclusion.

  OTHER BOOKS

  BY STEPHEN R. DONALDSON

  THE GAP SERIES

  * THE GAP INTO CONFLICT: The Real Story

  * THE GAP INTO VISION: Forbidden Knowledge

  * THE GAP INTO POWER: A Dark and Hungry God Arises

  * THE GAP INTO RUIN: This Day All Gods Die

  THE CHRONICLES OF THOMAS COVENANT

  Book One: Lord Foul’s Bane

  Book Two: The Illearth War

  Book Three: The Power That Preserves

  THE SECOND CHRONICLES OF

  THOMAS COVENANT

  Book One: The Wounded Land

  Book Two: The One Tree

  Book Three: White Gold Wielder

  DAUGHTER OF REGALS AND OTHER TALES

  MORDANTS NEED

  Volume One: The Mirror of Her Dreams

  Volume Two: A Man Rides Through

  * Available from Bantam Books

  Contents

  Cover

  Other Books by this Author

  Title Page

  Dedication

  Chapter 1 - Min

  Chapter 2 - Hashi

  Chapter 3 - Ancillary Documentation: Gap Travel

  Chapter 4 - Sorus

  Chapter 5 - Angus

  Chapter 6 - Davies

  Chapter 7 - Davies

  Chapter 8 - Davies

  Chapter 9 - Angus

  Chapter 10 - Min

  Chapter 11 - Ancillary Documentation: Gap Courier Drones

  Chapter 12 - Warden

  Chapter 13 - Warden

  Chapter 14 - Sixten

  Chapter 15 - Ancillary Documentation: Matter Cannon

  Chapter 16 - Min

  Chapter 17 - Angus

  Chapter 18 - Morti

  Chapter 19 - Davies

  Chapter 20 - Davies

  Chapter 21 - Angus

  Chapter 22 - Ancillary Documentation: Symbiotic Crystalline Resonance Transmission

  Chapter 23 - Darrin

  Chapter 24 - Min

  Chapter 25 - Davies

  Chapter 26 - Morn

  Chapter 27 - Nick

  Chapter 28 - Sorus

  Chapter 29 - Mikka

  Chapter 30 - Morn

  Chapter 31 - Ancillary Documentation: The Amnion Language and Intelligence

  Chapter 32 - Hashi

  Chapter 33 - Sorus

  Chapter 34 - Mikka

  Chapter 35 - Darrin

  Chapter 36 - Davies

  Chapter 37 - Sib

  Chapter 38 - Sorus

  Chapter 39 - Ancillary Documentation: Warden Dios Background Information

  Chapter 40 - Hashi

  Chapter 41 - Min

  Chapter 42 - Morn

  Chapter 43 - Darrin

  Chapter 44 - Morn

  Chapter 45 - Angus

  Chapter 46 - Davies

  Chapter 47 - Angus

  Chapter 48 - Morn

  Chapter 49 - Min

  Chapter 50 - Sorus

  Chapter 51 - Davies

  Chapter 52 - Sorus

  Chapter 53 - Min

  About the Author

  Copyright

  TO

  HOWARD MORHAIM:

  a good friend,

  a great agent,

  and a hell of a Ping-Pong player.

  MIN

  Battered, weary to the bone, and profoundly baffled, Min Donner joined Punisher shortly after Warden Dios returned to UMCPHQ from Holt Fasner’s Home Office. She hadn’t slept since the day before her visit to Sixten Vertigus, hadn’t eaten since her ride back to UMCPHQ from Suka Bator. A headache like a threat of concussion throbbed in her forehead. Occasionally her hearing buzzed like neural feedback.

  She felt that her whole life was being rewritten around her; reinterpreted to mean something she hadn’t chosen and couldn’t understand.

  Why was she here?

  In some sense, Warden had answered that question. The last time she’d spoken to him, he’d told her, to her utter astonishment, I have reason to think Morn Hyland may survive—Even though he’d convinced her long ago that Morn was being abandoned, that he’d sold her body and soul, he’d said, If she does, I want someone to make sure she stays alive, someone I can trust. That means you. For that reason—apparently—he was sending Min away from her duties at UMCPHQ.

  Nevertheless his reply explained nothing. All she really knew was that she was here now because he’d lied to her earlier; lied to her systematically and incessantly for months.

  What in God’s name was going on?

  His signal of farewell reached her as she rode her personal shuttle out toward the gap range where Punisher had already turned and started preparations for an outbound acceleration; but she didn’t answer it. She had nothing more to say to him. Instead of returning some vacant acknowledgment or salute, she replied to the questions of her crew by shaking her head. Let Warden Dios take her on faith, as she was required to take him. He’d left her no other way to express her galling confusion—or her blind, baffled hope.

  With as much of her accustomed grim determination as she could muster, she put kazes and assassinations, treachery and intrigue behind her, and concentrated instead on the job ahead.

  Her orders were superficially simple. She was instructed to take command of the first available UMCP warship—in this case, Punisher—and go immediately to the Com-Mine asteroid belt. Under cover of the belt, she was supposed to “watch for and respond to developments” from the direction of Thanatos Minor. In other words, to observe and presumably deal with the outcome of Angus Thermopyle’s covert attack on Billingate.

  That was plain enough. But why was it necessary? After all, at Fasner’s orders human space along the Amnion frontier—especially in the broad vicinity of Com-Mine Station and the belt—was being webbed with the most intensive communications network ever deployed. Any decipherable information from the direction of Thanatos Minor would reach UMCPHQ in a matter of hours, whether she was present in the belt or not.

  What kind of
developments” did Warden expect? Angus Thermopyle—Joshua—would either succeed or not. If he succeeded, Nick Succorso and the danger he represented would be finished. Min’s suspicions of Milos Taverner would come to nothing. And Morn might—conceivably—survive. On the other hand, if Angus failed, everyone and everything would be lost. Morn would be just one more casualty.

  Either way, there would be nothing for Min to do, except possibly pick up survivors—or warn off an Amnion pursuit. Com-Mine Station could have done that. Punisher herself, despite her battle-worn and depleted condition, could have done it. Min Donner was the UMCP Enforcement Division director: she belonged elsewhere. Back at UMCPHQ, rooting out kazes and traitors. Or even down on Suka Bator, helping Captain Vertigus prepare and present his Bill of Severance. She had no reason to be here.

  No reason, that is, apart from Warden’s desire to get her out of the way—to dissociate her from the fatal game he played with or against Holt Fasner. And his unexpected assertion that Morn might get away alive.

  If she does, I want someone to make sure she stays alive—

  Was that the truth? Or had Warden said it simply to ensure that she obeyed him?

  She didn’t know; couldn’t know. But in the end, his orders were enough. She obeyed because she had sworn that she would.

  Nevertheless she couldn’t shake the dark feeling that she was doomed; that between them Warden Dios and Holt Fasner were about to cost her everything she had ever believed in or trusted.

  At last her shuttle thunked against the docking port in Punisher’s side; grapples jerked home. Min nodded to her crew and stepped into the shuttle’s airlock as if she didn’t care whether she ever returned.

  The bosun commanding the honor guard which greeted her inside the ship’s personnel bay looked as worn-out and abused as she felt. Min winced inwardly at the sight: she hated seeing her people in such bad shape. However, she kept her chagrin and anger to herself while she returned the bosun’s salute.

  “Captain’s apologies, Director Donner,” he said. He sounded even worse than he looked—a young officer who had been under too much pressure for far too long. “He can’t leave the bridge. We weren’t expecting to head out—he hasn’t had time to get ready—” The bosun caught himself, flushed like a boy. “You already know that. I’m sorry.

  “Captain will see you whenever you want. I can take you to your quarters first.”

  Min had scanned Punisher’s reports before leaving UMCPHQ. The cruiser had just come home from a bitter struggle with fifteen or twenty illegal ships which had turned Valdor Industrial’s distant binary solar system into a virtual war zone.

  Because of the kind of mining, processing, and heavy manufacturing carried on by the station, Valdor and the traffic it serviced were rich with prizes. And like most binary systems this one was a maze of orbits—masses of rock revolving around each other in patterns so complex that they defied mapping by anything less than a megaCPU. The pirates were entrenched among the almost innumerable planets, planetoids, and moons cycling around the twinned stars called Greater and Lesser Massif-5.

  Over a period of six months, the Scalpel-class cruiser had engaged in dozens of pitched battles, weeks of pursuit. And all to little avail. Two pirates had been destroyed, one captured. The rest had fought back with such concerted ferocity, or had fled with such intimate knowledge of the system’s hiding places, that no mere cruiser could have hoped to deal with them all.

  No wonder the bosun was exhausted. No wonder the faces of the honor guard ached with despair at the prospect of another mission. Punisher needed rest, deserved rest. The UMCP were spread too thin; would always be spread too thin, simply because the gap drive made available more space than any police force could control. Not for the first time, Min thought that as long as the threat of the Amnion endured—as long as forbidden space offered wealth in exchange for stolen resources—her people were doomed to fail.

  As usual, she kept that idea to herself. Instead she told the bosun, “I’ll go to the bridge.” Then, before he could give any orders himself, she dismissed the honor guard. In general she disliked the formalities of her position; and in this particular case she actively hated wasting the energy of these weary men and women on ceremonial duties.

  Momentarily flustered, the bosun began, “Director, Captain ordered—” But an instant later he swallowed his discomfiture. With a salute, he let the guard go. “This way, Director.”

  Min knew the way. On any ship the UMCP had commissioned, she could have found the bridge blindfolded. She let the bosun guide her, however. She’d already undercut him enough by dismissing his honor guard.

  By the time she left the first lift and headed forward through the ship’s core, she knew Punisher was in trouble. Because of the recent damage to her eardrums, she still couldn’t hear clearly enough to pick up the cruiser’s characteristic hums and whines. But she could feel centrifugal g through the soles of her boots; she could sense vibrations with the nerves of her skin. Subtle stresses reached her like undamped harmonics.

  “You’ve got internal spin displacement,” she commented to the bosun. “Bearings are grinding somewhere.”

  He gaped at her sidelong. “How—?” She was the ED director, however: he wasn’t supposed to question her. With an effort, he mastered himself. “Forward,” he answered. “We took a hit that knocked the whole core off true. But that’s not all. We’ve got micro-leaks in some of the hydraulic systems. Several doors stick until the pressure rectifies. Half a dozen bulkheads don’t quite seal. And we’ve been holed twice. We’ve kept integrity, but we lost the conduit to one of the sensor banks. Captain has men outside right now, trying to jury-rig leads before we go into tach. For the rest—

  “Director, we haven’t had time to trace those leaks or patch those holes. We’ve been at battle-stations for most of the past six months. And only a shipyard can fix internal spin.”

  The young officer sounded so raw that Min frowned to herself. “No criticism intended, bosun,” she told him quietly. “It was just an observation.”

  He swallowed hard. “Thank you, Director.” Until he blinked them clear, his eyes were perilously moist.

  Punisher was desperate for rest.

  Full of outraged protectiveness toward her people, Min thought harshly, Fuck you, Warden Dios, and the horse you rode in on. You had goddamn better know what you’re doing.

  The ship was a swarm of activity. Men and women hurried in all directions, rushing to and from the hundreds of duties required by a new mission. The few who recognized Min Donner paused to salute; but most of them were concentrating too hard—focused by fatigue and urgency—to notice her. Scalpel-class cruisers carried a crew of sixty-plus, but Punisher didn’t have that many to work with. Her reports had cited four dead and eleven confined to their quarters or sickbay by injuries or battle-shock: fifteen crewmembers lost across the four watches. As soon as Min had received Warden’s orders, she’d dispatched a provisioning shuttle to meet the cruiser; but in the time available Punisher couldn’t be adequately resupplied. No wonder the captain was too busy to leave the bridge. Damaged, shorthanded, and ill equipped, his command was a poor candidate for any important assignment. Punisher’s best hope was that this mission proved to be as trivial as Min feared.

  With one palm she stroked the butt of her handgun to steady herself as she accompanied the bosun forward.

  Aside from weight, armament, and crew, one of the differences between a cruiser like Punisher and a destroyer like Starmaster was that Punisher’s bridge occupied a command module which could be detached from the main ship to function separately. If Captain Davies Hyland had had a vessel like this, he might well have survived Starmaster’s destruction; survived to keep his daughter out of Angus Thermopyle’s hands. That was another detail for which Min blamed herself uselessly, despite the fact that she herself had approved Starmaster’s construction and had selected Davies Hyland as captain.

  None of that showed on her face, however, as she
went with the bosun—ahead of him now—through the aperture which linked the rest of the ship to the command module. She encountered Punisher’s captain and bridge crew with her features set in characteristic lines, stern and unreadable.

  Almost instantly all movement on the bridge stopped: techs working on the screens and boards froze; the bridge crew—helm, targ, data and damage control, communications, engineering, scan—hesitated momentarily, their hands poised on their stations, their faces tense.

  Their attention made her feel that she deserved her reputation as Warden Dios’ executioner.

  But then the captain, Dolph Ubikwe, broke the pause by swinging his g-seat toward Min. In a granite rumble, he said stolidly, “Director Donner. Welcome aboard.”

  At once the bridge crew rose to salute. The techs moved out of Min’s way as if they believed—or wanted to believe—that they were beneath her notice.

  There was no welcome in Captain Ubikwe’s voice, however. It seemed to pulse from his chest like the cut of a subsonic drill. Even if Min had been deaf, she might have been able to hear him through the bones of her skull. Ensigns under his command often said that his voice could strip paint at twenty paces.

  He was a large man—almost too large to pass the UMCP physicals—with a heavy mass of muscle hidden under his fat. Too much strain and too few showers caused his black skin to gleam in the featureless light. Red rimmed his bloodshot eyes; they appeared to bulge in their sockets. Fists as heavy as cudgels rested on the arms of his seat.

  “Thank you, Captain.” Min didn’t expect welcome. “At ease,” she told the bridge crew without shifting her gaze from Dolph Ubikwe. As they resumed their g-seats, she asked him, “How soon can you go into tach?”

  His fists tightened slightly. “Depends on whether that’s a request or an order. You order it and we’re gone. All we need to know is where. But if it’s a request”—he lifted his heavy shoulders—“we can probably be ready in three or four months.”

  In another place, at another time, Min might have smiled. She knew this man well. He had first come to her attention in the Academy ten years ago, when his air of insubordination and his poor grades had threatened to deny him a commission. She had overruled the Academy commander in person to make Dolph Ubikwe an ensign. Despite his resistance to discipline, which had showed in his sloppy classroom work as well as his excess weight, she had sensed a fettered emotional power in him, a charisma similar to Warden’s. It might make him an effective leader—if he ever learned how and when to unleash it. Since then, he had vindicated her judgment by rising swiftly to the command of his own vessel. Under other circumstances, she would have had no qualms about using him to carry out Warden Dios’ orders.

 
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