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Shadow Masters
Shadow Gods Saga: Book Four
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ISBN-10: 1-55404-882-6
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy/SF
eBook Length: 329 Pages
Published: October 2011

From inside the flap

First Scout Terrllss-rr was glad to be away from Earth after the problematic mission to destroy an old scoutship found in Mexico. Deep in space, he is intercepted by an Orieli Technic Union survey cruiser. Their presence sends ripples of concern throughout the Serrll Combine, but there are those who seek to turn that to their advantage. The Orieli send an Observer to study Earth, but the mission goes horribly wrong. Terr and his Wanderer brother Dharaklin are set up as rogue cargo traders on Askaran in an attempt to establish a link between a raider network an the AUP Provisional Committee, engineering the Sargon/Palean merger. Before Terr can complete his mission, his cover is penetrated and Dharaklin is placed in mortal danger. To extricate themselves, both have to raise the hand of Death.

Reviews and Awards

Reviewed by Rita Vetsch for Readers Favorite: *****

Stefan Vucak’s passion for writing science fiction truly comes natural to him as he has written numerous intriguing novels involving extraterrestrials and space travel, and he also hits on the hot topics of politics and religion versus science. Stefan creates magic when the pen hits paper and he does not disappoint in Shadow Masters. It is an intriguing and adventurous story, which takes us throughout far off Serrll space. His imagination and creativity amaze me because his novels are like no others out there that I have read before; they are completely genuine and unique. I love the use of Stefan’s descriptive words and the depth of his characters. I could feel the suspense and terror all around me and could hardly set this book down. Even though it seems like a complicated book to read, I found the average reader can comprehend this novel very well as the plot flows smoothly from one chapter to the next. The reader will understand Shadow Masters better if he/she reads the Shadow Gods series books in order from beginning to end. I could easily see the Shadow Gods series as a SciFi television series show much like Star Trek, but completely different in its settings and characters.

Shadow Masters (Excerpt)

Chapter One

Sheeva broke through the dark cloud layer and buttery sunlight streamed into the nav bubble, bathing the command deck with a diffuse golden glow. Below them, bunched white cloudbanks cleaved the horizon beneath a brilliant blue sky. Sensing freedom the M-1 surged up, ripping the thin atmosphere blanket in its wake. There was no one to hear the rolling boom of its passage. A tinge of violet colored the planet’s curve before darkness descended and stars glared back with cold indifference. Earth rolled beneath them as the scoutship shifted course and accelerated toward a gray crescent moon.

Terr lounged back in his seat and let out a satisfied sigh. Everything was right with the world, almost. He had dodged the chop over the C-32 and his two unwelcome charges were safely back where they belonged. Admittedly, armed with knowledge of the Serrll, unavoidable under the circumstances, but all in all, not too shabby. Still, the Bureau of Colonial and Protectorate Affairs desk drivers might not view his actions in the same glowing light, but right now, he was not going to allow the prospect of possible future bureaucratic entanglements spoil his day. Besides, Anabb had forgiven him his little trespasses, however grudgingly. And right now that was the only thing that mattered.

Okay, nosing around that American carrier group might not have been the wisest thing to do, seeing how it got him shot down, but if Sariman had bothered to warn him of Earth’s bistatic laser radar capability, it would have avoided the ensuing complications. Anyway, the canal worm had gotten his butt in the crack properly when he violated the agreed comms protocols, which had inevitably led to all the subsequent unpleasantness. What did Sariman expect? That Dhar would leave Lauren behind to die at Comalcalco, with their primitive medical facilities to care for her? Because that’s what would have happened, had he not taken her. What his brother did was not merely correct, but honorable.

At any rate, Sariman had to know better than kowtow to someone like Laraiana with her caustic behavior and vindictive personality. Serves him right what that got him. He had forgotten that he was foremost a Scout Fleet officer and crawling to her only got him stomped on. The woman was an opportunistic user and did not care who got trampled along the way to her version of success, whatever that was.

Hindsight is such a wonderful tool.

With Earth shrinking behind him, Terr swiveled his seat and grinned broadly at Dhar. "I never thought that I would say it, Nightwings, but I am glad to be away from that nutty place."

Dharaklin checked the status displays with a quick sweep and leaned back into the couch. He was pleased that Sankri was happy, given the things that had gone wrong. He did not know which had been worse, downed by that Aegis cruiser’s point defense system or being recovered by the Russians. Both were grim items at many levels whose repercussions, he figured, were still to be fully resolved by everyone involved, including Earth. Territorial rivalries colored and absorbed so much of that planet’s energy. When he thought about it, were Serrll’s rivalries any different? Despite some difficulties the mission was done and they were going home. The future was now for them to write.

"I must confess to a level of relief myself, my brother," he said comfortably, his voice deep and resonant. "Although -"

Terr raised a hand and winced. "I know. You don’t have to remind me. As jobs go, it was not my finest moment ever, but postmortems can wait."

Dhar suppressed a smile. "Far be it for me to criticize my superior officer."

"Your unflagging support shall not go unrewarded," Terr said dryly.

"Comforting, but what I was going to say, my brother, bringing Lauren and Bill to the Moon Base was a grave breach of standing regulations."

"It was the right thing to do," Terr said promptly, giving Dhar a hard look. "Never doubt it. I would have been extremely disappointed had you done otherwise."

"It might have been the correct thing to do and I thank you for your words, but it caused you a major problem with Anabb."

"I wouldn’t fret it. He’ll get over it."

"I cannot put it out of my mind. Despite his assurances, there could still be trouble over this with the BCPA."

"Maybe, but I don’t believe it," Terr said with more assurance than he felt. The BCPA took its protectorate responsibilities seriously and Anabb’s Diplomatic Branch umbrella might not be wide enough to shield him should they decide to get unpleasant. Ah, to the pits with all of them. "Look at it this way. After cleaning up Tanard, we’re heroes, remember? It wouldn’t look good for the government to be messing with us right now."

Dhar raised a questioning eyebrow. "It might not look good, but that does not mean they wouldn’t do it. Besides, those Captal busybodies have long memories," he added darkly. "They’ll find a way to even the score."

"You worry too much. We’ll handle it, if and when," Terr growled and stretched his arms. "What can they do? Drum me out of the Fleet? Somehow, I don’t think so. Right now, all I want is to pack up our stuff and get back to Taltair. On the other hand, should those chair experts decide to give us trouble, I can always sweet talk my uncle into dropping the matter."

"Unless he is after your hide himself," Dhar commented candidly, but a twinkle of amusement lit his eyes.

Terr sighed and shrugged. "There is always that."

Dhar stared at his brother for a speculative moment, curious how Sankri could brush off the problem so easily, then turned to check their approach. At one-fifth boost the Moon was getting visibly larger. Not that there was any danger of them auguring in, SC&C would override if that were the case. He just did not want to appear sloppy.

Although Sankri appeared unruffled regarding the conduct of their mission, he suspected his brother secretly feared that Anabb would see it as a shoddy operation; certainly more so than worrying about any Bureau of Colonial and Protectorate Affairs repercussions. Dhar knew how important it was for Sankri to create a favorable impression with their boss. Regardless of any mitigating circumstances and Anabb’s forgiving manner, as a first field test the job left something to be desired.

"We did get the C-32," he said gently, reminding his brother that despite everything they have completed their mission. That had to account for something.

Terr gave him a wry smile. "So we did. Things can’t be all bad, even if we did leave a trail of confusion in our wake."

"And we learned something more of Earth’s detection capabilities. That should be good for a footnote somewhere," Dhar said gravely and Terr grinned at him.

"There you are! They’ll pin a medal on us. Still, if Anabb is going to have us doing more of these crazy stunts, I can see this undercover crap will take some time getting used to."

"You are not regretting joining the Diplomatic Branch, are you?"

"Tah, the gods will tell," Terr said gravely. "It is somewhat wrenching to realize that we are no longer Scout Fleet where the only thing I had to worry about was missing report schedules and bending Ramora. Although we did end up bending it pretty badly, didn’t we. I do miss her. She was a sweet ship. One thing, though, being with Anabb certainly beats the hell out of routine patrol duty." He cocked an eyebrow at his brother. "And you?"

"So far it has not been dull, I must give him that."

"A strange first assignment, all right," Terr agreed moodily. "Second if you count Zavian and bagging Tanard. He is some piece of work. You know, I almost feel sorry for him."

"He took out his M-3 and wiped out innocent merchant ships, my brother," Dhar reminded him sternly.

Terr nodded. "Yes, he did. And what’s more, I can understand why he did it."

"There is a world of difference between understanding and condoning. And that’s what the Paleans were doing, condoning open piracy."

"Well, he’ll have plenty of time to reflect on Cantor. And talking of reflection, we left Earth with plenty to reflect over as well."

"The C-32’s data? Hard to imagine that somehow we left the ship behind," Dhar mused and shook his head in wonder.

Terr grinned. "Yeah, and there’s no one left to blame now. I wonder what Earth will make of their download? They’ve got so much potential, yet still so tribal and territorial."

"Not like us at all, are they?" Dhar added softly, pointing out the illogic of Sankri’s argument.

Terr could not say anything to that, afraid if he started picking at it, examining the rivalries between the Servatory Party and the Revisionists, the looming Sargon/Palean merger, Deklan religious fundamentalism, raiders plaguing shipping corridors, he would not like the inevitable conclusion. Technology always magnifies a society’s moral and ethical shortcomings.

Surface Command and Control guided them in and the little scout glided over jagged peaks that hid the Serrll Moon Base in perpetual northern polar darkness. With the base installations spread across the crater floor like a toy erector set, the ship hovered for a moment, then settled on the softly glowing landing ring beside a brooding M-3. An access tube immediately slid from a gray wall and connected with a muffled clang when the clamps engaged.

Terr slapped his thighs and stood up. "Might as well get this over with. We could get lucky and leave without being noticed."

"I like your optimism," Dhar said, doubting that they would be able to simply slink away, but the prospect of leaving the Moon Base and its internal byplays felt good. He looked forward to an assignment where they would not need to use the hand of Death, provided Anabb kept them together. It would be unsettling working without his brother at his side, although he knew a day would come when that might be necessary. He had thought about it, but never quite got around to deciding how he will react. It wouldn’t be pleasant, he knew that much.

Tah, whatever the gods decided.

They took the cable-tube down to the main deck and proceeded to the access tube hatch. It was a short walk through the brightly lit tunnel to the other end. Standing at the entrance, Terr tapped a brown sensor pad. It pulsed and the hatch opened at the SMB’s launch level. Sweet, acid, rancid smells assaulted him as he strode into the base and his face wrinkled with distaste. He still found it hard to ignore the ambient odors. A familiar figure waited for them in the corridor.

"Sir!" the young Deklan officer barked and stood to.

Terr smiled affably at the boy’s stiff features. The kid had gone through a lot and probably enjoyed little of it.

"Doing penance, Mister?"

Dreading this meeting, Third Scout Tembel allowed himself a small grin. "No, sir. The executive officer has requested that you see him at your convenience."

"First Scout Patrlin?"

"Yes, sir." Tembel tried to cover his embarrassment and his face colored. "With Master Scout Sariman under close arrest, Mr. Patrlin is in temporary command."

"I see. Very well. This is a convenient time as any. Lead the way."

Tembel’s blush deepened and he cleared his throat, wishing that he were someplace else. If only the deck would open up and swallow him.

"Sir ... I want to extend my personal apology to you and Mr. Dharaklin for everything." The image of two humans sauntering into the chamber that housed the C-32 and Sariman suddenly standing behind him, quietly ordering him not to report it, still haunted him. It was wrong, he knew that, but Sariman was his superior officer and he was a lowly Third Scout. He was carrying out orders! That had not helped him sleep better.

Terr patted the boy’s shoulder. "Don’t worry about it. It wasn’t your fault."

"That’s the point, sir. I think it was," Tembel said miserably, his large wide-set eyes tragic and lost. Mr. Terrllss-rr had ended up gravely wounded as a direct result of what he did and the Earth woman almost died. He shuddered to think of the political consequences set into motion by his seemingly innocuous act.

"It took courage to say what you did, Mr. Tembel," Terr said softly, sympathizing with the boy’s dilemma. "If you are ever placed in a similar position again, you will know how to refuse an illegal order."