Kevin J. Anderson's magnificent epic The Saga of Seven Suns and its sequel The Saga of Shadows has been called "A space opera to rival the best the field has ever seen" (SF Chronicle), ten huge novels that cover a future interstellar empire and a galaxy at war.
These two short novels, Veiled Alliances and Whistling Past the Graveyard, tell key parts of the saga. Veiled Alliances is a prequel to the entire series, describing the origin of the green priests on Theroc, the first Roamer skymining operations on a gas-giant planet, the discovery of the Klikiss robots entombed in an abandoned alien city, the initial Ildiran expedition to Earth, the rescue of the generation ship Burton and the tragedy that leads to sinister breeding experiments on Dobro.
Whistling Past the Graveyard is the connecting novel between the two series, lead-in to the Hugo-nominated novel The Dark Between the Stars. Trade Minister Rlinda Kett seeks to reestablish contact with lost human colonies that have vanished in the chaos after the elemental war nearly destroyed the cosmos. She travels to a planet called Happiness, site of an isolated neo-Amish colony where the treacherous Prince Daniel was exiled. As a civil war brews among the Roamer clans over the old ways versus new business methods, some brave clans venture back to skymining again, harvesting the restless clouds of huge gas giants—where the threat of the devastating hydrogue aliens always looms…
"A setting so rich and detailed that the reader will suspend disbelief and actually be there."– R.A. Salvatore
"Anderson has written bestselling Star Wars and Star Trek books and coauthored the expanded Dune series, so he's adept at handling big settings and complicated plots. Now, he's created a space opera saga, with the first three novels either published or about to be published. This book, billed as a prequel to that series, pictures a situation rich in tantalizing hints of intrigue."– Publishers Weekly
Chairman Malcolm Stannis
Alien ships filled the skies of Earth, like snowflakes in a menacing blizzard. With extended solar sails, weapons antennae, sparkling windowports, and anodized hull plates, the warliners looked like a school of fearsome fighting fish.
"We always knew the Ildiran Solar Navy would come," muttered Malcolm Stannis, Chairman of the Terran Hanseatic League. He stared up into the sky from a high balcony in the Whisper Palace. "But I never expected anything like this."
Beside him, his adviser, Liam Hector, spoke in a scratchy voice. Hector was middle-aged, with hair so short it was only a bristle of brownish-gray, and he had no charisma whatsoever. Hector would never be Hansa Chairman—very few people had the skill for that—but he was reliable. "From what we know of the Ildiran Empire, Mr. Chairman, the aliens are obsessive about pomp and showmanship. This is intended to impress us."
"Or intimidate us."
"That too, sir." The two men continued to watch, but further words failed them.
The Terran Hanseatic League, or Hansa, was so widespread and influential in the solar system that it had become the de facto government of Earth, the Moon, industrial outposts in the asteroid belt, settlements on several moons of Jupiter, and the military base on Mars. Since his election as Chairman six years earlier, Stannis had come up with so many plans for the future of human civilization that he kept a journal, jotting down his thoughts so as not to forget his best ideas. Now, if only he could implement them all.
The arrival of a dramatic and alien military force had not figured in even his wildest plans.
Malcolm Stannis was in his early thirties, only recently elected to the post of Chairman, the youngest person ever to fill that pos-ition. He was a handsome man with dark hair, olive skin, deep brown eyes. He had trained his lips to remain in a firm, unreadable line at all times. He frowned no more often than he smiled, since either expression revealed too much information about his inner thoughts. Though not vain, he dressed with care in impeccable dark suits that fit him like a glove and were as comfortable as any other man's casual clothing.
The people had applauded the unanimous vote that made him Chairman of the Hanseatic League. With all the politics, arranging that vote had been no small feat for Stannis, considering the others who vied for the position, the squabbling power brokers, the shifting alliances. Stannis had convinced many voting members to select him on the basis of his own merits; when that didn't work, he bribed the ones he could and blackmailed the remaining ones when he had to. Whatever the means, he currently led the Hansa, with all the power, prestige, and opportunities the position entailed.
The Ildiran fleet's arrival, however, changed everything. For the good of the Hansa, Stannis was glad the job had not fallen into the hands of one of his less-competent rivals.
Despite the fact that he was Chairman, Stannis rarely appear-ed in public. King Ben existed to serve in that capacity. And today, the figurehead King would certainly earn the high stipend the Hansa secretly paid him—if he did what he was told.…
From the Whisper Palace balcony, Stannis watched the ships in the air. Damn, this made him nervous. The Ildirans claimed to be friendly and had already helped some of Earth's far-flung generation ships, although the Chairman couldn't understand why. He disliked not understanding motivations, especially in such a dangerous and complex situation.
Per his orders, the Earth Defense Forces were on high alert, an entire "escort" fleet transferred here from the Mars base in anticipation of the Ildiran representative's arrival, but the ships were under strict orders to take no aggressive action unless definitively fired upon. The last thing Stannis wanted was an interstellar war started by some fool with an itchy trigger finger.
But they also had to be ready to defend Earth, to stand against a major sneak attack if the warliners should prove to be an invasion force. These Ildirans were aliens; anything could happen.
Hector pointed to the chaos of colorful warliners overhead, identifying one in particular. "There, sir. That will be the flagship bringing their military commander."
Stannis fixed his gaze on the vessel as it detached itself from the rest of the grouping and dropped toward the designated land-ing area in the Palace District. "His title is Adar," he corrected the aide, though he didn't know what the term meant in their lan-guage.
As it approached, the flagship warliner appeared to dwarf the Whisper Palace, though it was only a matter of perspec-tive—he hoped.
The King's residence, the lavish seat of power from which the Hansa monarch issued the statements and rulings that were carefully written for him, had been designed to inspire awe. The cost of the Palace had been historic, nearly incalculable by any traditional economic formula, but the Terran Hanseatic League had experienced record profits. To demonstrate the Hansa's continued success, Stannis's predecessor had broken ground on another wing, expanding the gigantic structure; for the past decade, the Palace District had been a constant bustle of construction.
Even with its tall towers, gold-plated cupolas, multilayered fountains, fairy-work bridges, and banners flapping from every spire, the Whisper Palace did not seem as impressive as those exotic alien ships.…
Crowds had gathered to stare in terror or elation at the Ildiran fleet. Wearing crisp, bright blue uniforms, the Royal Guard fanned out to impose order, herding the public into a designated safety zone as the flagship warliner came down. Though the Royal Guard put on regular parades for King Ben's benefit and had drilled for the arrival of the Solar Navy, many of the soldiers' faces were turned up to the sky, eyes wide, mouths open, gawking at the giant warliners just like any other civilian. The Chairman made a mental note to pass along his criticisms to the Guard Administrator … but only after all this blew over.
Stannis touched the bug-mic in his ear as the Royal Guard Captain transmitted on his private channel, "Mr. Chairman, the plaza landing area is cleared and secure. Royal Guard in position and ready to receive the Ildiran Adar."
Stannis acknowledged. "Nothing sloppy, Captain. This is going to be the most important hour in your life."
"I understand that, sir." Muffled in the voice pickup, the captain snapped to his troops, running them through their paces.
Smaller Ildiran ships flurried around the descending warliner, while the rest of the ornate battleships remained overhead, like peacocks loaded with exotic weaponry. Malcolm Stannis reserved judgment, for the time being. He still didn't know what to make of the benevolent Ildiran "rescue" of the Earth generation ships, or what the aliens wanted from the human race.
Almost a century-and-a-half before, a tired and crowded Earth had dispatched eleven massive, slow-moving ships out into the starry emptiness—more emptiness than stars—like arks for the human race, searching the Spiral Arm for new habitable planets. When Malcolm Stannis reviewed the old history and understood the ships' vanishingly small chances for success, he was amazed that investors and governments had been convinced to fund the project at all. Carrying optimistic (or perhaps naïve and reckless) colonists, those eleven ships had plodded off in different directions like messages in bottles tossed out into a vast, empty sea.
The generation ships flew out on a one-way trip, and Earth had never expected to hear from them again. For 144 years, they were all but forgotten. And then five years ago, one of those wandering generation ships had blundered into a scout from the Ildiran Solar Navy—humanity's first contact with any intelligent alien race. Taking pity on the tired and bedraggled colonists-without-a-colony, the Ildirans rescued them, delivering that first ship, the Caillié, to a habitable planet.
After settling the colonists, the Solar Navy dispatched search parties to follow the last known courses of the human generation ships, and sent a contact mission to inform an astonished Earth what they were doing. In short order, they found ten of the eleven lost vessels, and now, finally, the Ildirans had sent a formal delegation to Earth.
Chairman Stannis realized that such a world-shaking event could cause economic and political upheaval across the Hansa, but he preferred not to panic. Instead, he saw it as an opportunity. And there could be many more to come.
But what did the Ildirans want?
"I'd better give King Ben a refresher briefing," he said to Hector, "make sure he is clear on how to act and what to say. He's never had to do anything like this before—I bet he's about to wet himself." Stannis drew a deep breath and turned away from the view of the alien ships. Good thing he was there to make the decisions. The Hansa needed a strong leader right now.
He hurried down the steps.
King Ben paced nervously in his opulent dressing room, a huge chamber with polished stone floors and veined marble columns supporting a ceiling ten meters high. His quarters were larger than a town meeting hall.
While waiting for Stannis to come for him, the King had done a decent job of dressing himself. He already wore his elaborate ceremonial crown, but the Chairman fussed over the long purple cape the old man had draped over his slumped shoulders, when the blue tunic had not proved loose enough to hide Ben's rounded potbelly. With his flowing beard, plump face, apple cheeks, twinkling blue eyes, and grandfatherly air, King Ben bore a strong resemblance to Father Christmas. He had a deep, rumbling laugh, a warm smile. The public loved him—as they were meant to.
Stannis leaned close to the King's ear. "Remember, say nothing important and agree to nothing. After we hear what the Ildirans have to say, I will write your reply."
As the Chairman arranged the folds of purple fabric and brushed the old man's beard for him, King Ben said, "What if I'm not ready for this, Malcolm?"
"You have to be." He stepped back, tugged down on the cape, and gave a nod of approval. "Today's events will forever change the human race. Those new stardrives the Ildirans promised us will open the whole Spiral Arm to colonization, and the resources will be a glorious boon for the Hansa." He wasn't sure the aliens even knew the value of what they were offering. Stannis narrowed his eyes. "You'd better not botch this."
King Ben drew a nervous breath, pressed his lips together as if practicing his expressions. Stannis watched the process as the old man composed his face, reviewed his lines, and got back into his character. "You can count on me. I may have been an unknown actor when your predecessor chose me to fill this ceremonial role, but I've done it well for the past few decades, haven't I?"
"Adequately," Stannis said. The King had outlasted two Hansa Chairmen before him.
"I know what's at stake today. I promise you, this will be my best performance ever."
"It better be." He shooed the King out of the dressing chamber. "Now get going—it's time for you to meet the Ildiran Adar. And don't forget your lines."