Forgotten Worlds


By D. Nolan Clark

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“Unforgettable characters and is jam-packed with action [and] adventure. . . one readers will not want to miss.” — Booklist

“Gripping writing, a brilliantly realized future culture and sympathetic characters . . . an entertaining and compelling read.” — SFX Magazine

The sequel to D. Nolan Clark’s epic space adventure Forsaken Skies.

The battle is over. But the war has only just begun.

Aleister Lanoe has won a stunning victory against the alien armada that threatened Niraya, but it’s not enough to satisfy his desire for vengeance. He won’t rest until he’s located the armada’s homeworld and reduced it to ashes.

Yet his personal vendetta will have to wait. Lanoe now faces a desperate race against time, and the merciless Centrocor corporation, if he’s to secure the Earth’s future — and discover the truth he seeks.




Chapter One

Behind the wall of space lay the network of wormholes that connected the stars. A desolate and eerie maze of tunnels no more than a few hundred meters wide in most places. The walls there emitted a constant and ghostly light, the luminescent smoke of particle-antiparticle annihilations. This ghostlight provided little illumination and less warmth.

For more than a century humanity had used that web of hidden passages to move people and cargo from one system to another, yet the maze was so complex and so convoluted it was rare for one ship to pass another in that silent space.

It was even rarer, Aleister Lanoe thought, to find four cataphract-class aerospace fighters blocking your way. Rare enough that it couldn't be a coincidence.

"Those aren't Navy ships," Valk said. His copilot, currently riding in the observation blister slung under the ship's belly. "Look at the hexagons on their fairings. They're Centrocor militia."

Lanoe recognized their configuration. Yk.64s, cheap copies of Navy fighters with big spherical canopies. He'd faced down plenty of ships like that in his time, and he knew that while they couldn't match the performance of the Navy's best fighters, they still wouldn't be pushovers.

"Huh," he said.

Lanoe and Valk were still hours out from their destination, a long way from anyone who could come to their aid. They could try to punch through this formation and make a run for it, but their Z.VII recon scout was slow compared to the Yk.64s they were facing. It would be a long and nasty chase and it wouldn't end well. Fighting wasn't a great option, either. The Z.VII carried a pair of PBW cannon, as good as anything the Centrocor ships could bring to bear, but their vector field wasn't as strong. The Yk.64s could shrug off most of their firepower, while they would get chewed to pieces in a dogfight.

Lanoe tried opening a channel. "Centrocor vehicles, we need a little room here. Mind letting us squeeze by?" As if this were just a chance encounter on a well-traveled shipping corridor. "Repeat. Centrocor vehicles—"

"Lanoe," Valk cut in, "their guns are warming up."

About what Lanoe had expected.

Outnumbered four to one. Outpaced, outgunned, and no way to call for help. Well, if they had to fight, at least they had one advantage. The pilots of the Yk.64s were militia, hired guns working for the Centrocor poly. They'd been trained by a corporation. Lanoe was one of the best pilots the Navy ever had.

"Hold on," he told Valk. Then he threw his stick over to the side and goosed his lateral thrusters, throwing them into a wild corkscrewing dive right toward the wall of the wormhole.

The recon scout's inertial sink pulled Valk backward in his seat. It felt like someone was sitting on his chest, pinning him down. He was used to the feeling—without a sink, any pilot who tried a maneuver like that would have been crushed into pink jelly by the g forces.

It made it tricky, though, to reach the gun controls. Valk grunted and stabbed a virtual menu, bringing his cannon online. The ship's computer automatically swung him around to give him the best firing solution possible on the Yk.64 Centrocor ships. That meant he was flying backward, which in turn meant he couldn't see the wall of the wormhole looming up toward them. He was just fine with that. If they so much as brushed the wall—a curled-up tube of spacetime—the recon scout would be instantaneously disintegrated, its atoms torn apart down to the quark level.

Valk trusted Lanoe to not let that happen.

"Coming in, seven o'clock high," Valk called, and tapped another key to bring up a virtual Aldis gunsight, a collimated reticule that moved around his canopy to show him where his shots were likely to hit. It jumped back and forth as the computer tried to compensate for Lanoe's spinning dive and the movement of the four targets. Valk cursed the damned thing and switched it off. He was going to have to do this manually. "I think they're angry," Valk said.

Streamers of PBW fire like tiny burning comets flashed across the recon scout's thrusters as the enemy opened fire. Lanoe twisted them around on their positioning jets and most of the shots went wide, only a few sparking off their vector field.

"That was a warning shot," Lanoe said. "You think they want to take us alive?"

"Why don't you pull over and ask them?" Valk replied.

Lanoe actually chuckled at that one.

The recon scout shook and groaned as Lanoe threw them to one side, narrowly avoiding the looming collision with the wormhole's wall. Valk realized why Lanoe had cut it so close—hugging the wall kept the enemy from getting around them. The recon scout's top side was vulnerable to attack, and Lanoe wanted to make sure they couldn't get a bead on it. This did mean that Valk, in his observer's blister, was right in the line of fire.

Wouldn't be the first time. He swiveled around to face the closest Yk.64 and squeezed his trigger. The PBW fire tore off one of the enemy's airfoils, but the bastard didn't need them—there was no air inside the wormhole, so he could afford to lose a wing. Valk started to line up another shot when his view swung around and suddenly he couldn't see the enemies at all. Lanoe must have pulled some fancy maneuver without warning him.

"Give me something to shoot at, at least," Valk called.

"Don't worry," Lanoe replied. "You'll get another chance."

In the pilot's cockpit at the front of the recon scout, Lanoe worked his boards with one hand while the other stayed tightly wrapped around his control yoke. On a secondary display he saw a three-dimensional view of the four militia fighters with their projected courses streaming out before them like ribbons of glass. The four of them were cruising along well behind and above him, lined up in a textbook formation. They had him boxed in, at a distance where they never came close enough to get a good, clear shot at him. It was a solid play—they were keeping their distance because they knew time was on their side. They could afford to pepper him with long-distance shots, knowing they only needed one lucky hit to disable his engine.

He couldn't outrun them. If he tried to fall back, to let them get ahead of him, they could just close the distance and then they could carve him up or just shove him into the wall of the wormhole, and that would be that.

Militia pilots weren't, as a rule, all that talented. The Navy aggressively recruited promising young talent—by law, they got the first pick of recruits—and the polys had to make do with whatever was left. Some were cadets who washed out of the Navy and found the only job they could get was flying for a poly. Others were recruited from the civilian population, given ten hours in a flight simulator, and sent out to do their best. This batch, though, were clearly a cut above—smart, adaptable. Patient.

He very much wished he knew who had sent them. And why they wanted to capture him.

If he was getting out of this trap, he was going to have to get reckless. "Valk," he called, "don't worry about wasting ammunition. When I pull this next trick, you hold down your trigger and don't stop until your gun overheats, okay?"

"Wait," Valk said. "What are you about to do?"

Lanoe didn't waste time answering. He punched in a sequence of burns on his thruster board, then yanked his stick straight back and simultaneously kicked open the throttle.

The Z.VII had been built for long-distance patrols. It carried an impressive package of sensors and a very energy-efficient fusion engine. All that extra equipment made it bulky and slow to respond to commands, though. It had never been designed for close-in fighting, and definitely not for stunt flying. The complicated maneuver Lanoe executed just then ran the risk of tying its frame in knots. He could hear its spars groan as the ship twisted around nearly 180 degrees on its long axis. It took more strain when the dozens of jets and miniature thrusters built into its nose and sides all fired in a complex rhythm. If Lanoe was unlucky, they might have torn themselves right out of their mountings.

Luck was on his side. Everything held together. It only appeared that he'd lost all control and sent his ship into a wild, uncontrolled vertical spin.

The Z.VII tumbled up and backward, right into the path of the pursuing militia fighters. They reacted quickly, breaking formation to make room and avoid a full-on collision. Quickly, but not flawlessly. One of them sideswiped a second in a great shower of sparks as their vector fields fought to shove each other away. A third pilot started to bank, to try to get a shot in as Lanoe's ship went cartwheeling past. It would have been an easy hit, and it would have ended the battle as quickly as it had started.

If Valk hadn't already started shooting anyway. He'd done as asked, releasing a wild spray of PBW fire that lit up the canopy of the Yk.64. The militia pilot inside probably didn't have time to scream. The shot tore the Yk.64 fighter to pieces, and the three remaining militia pilots had to scatter farther to avoid the superheated debris.

Lanoe pulled the recon scout out of its tumble and leveled out, skating along just a few dozen meters from the wall of the tunnel. They weren't out of the woods yet. He opened his throttle as far as it would go and burned for speed, headed in exactly the wrong direction.

Chapter Two

Valk rotated his observer's blister around 180 degrees. Behind them, through the haze around their thrusters, he could see the remaining Yk.64s banking hard, regrouping to chase after them.

"You know the Admiralty's the other way, right?" he asked.

"They're not going to let us get to the Admiralty. Not today," Lanoe answered.

Valk switched off the intercom so Lanoe wouldn't hear him cursing. He tried focusing on the pursuit, tried lining up a long, impossible shot on one of the fighters, but there was no point. He switched the intercom back on. "Lanoe, you promised me. You said we would go to the Admiralty and download all this stuff in my head. And then you would let me—"

"I didn't forget," Lanoe replied.

There was no point in arguing. Valk could see perfectly well how things were stacked up against them. "Ignore that last comment," he said. "What's the new plan?"

"Get out of this in one piece, if we can. Listen, we've bought ourselves about fifteen seconds' worth of a head start. There's still no way we can outrun them. So I need you to keep them off balance—lay down suppressing fire as soon as they get close, keep them from forming up again. Got it?"

"Yep," Valk said. He brought up his weapons board. There was still plenty of ammo in his cannon. He checked his other displays and nodded to himself. "Mind if I get a little creative? I might have a few surprises for them."

"Whatever you can do, do it," Lanoe told him.

Valk tapped a few virtual keys. This might be interesting, he thought. If they could stay alive long enough to see it.

The wormhole stretched out before Lanoe, its walls snaking back and forth, spitting out ghostly fire. He brought a display up into his main view, showing a camera feed from directly behind them. The Yk.64 Centrocor pilots hadn't expected his crazy maneuver and it was taking them a little time to get themselves turned around.

Not as much time as he might have liked. One of them pulled a perfect half loop, a maneuver that was a lot harder to do in vacuum than inside an atmosphere. The other two banked and rolled, slower but safer. Behind them light flashed again and again, sudden and bright as lightning, as debris from the downed ship touched the walls. Those little annihilations would give off a lot of gamma rays, but it was too much to hope that any of the remaining pilots would be fried.

The ship that pulled the half loop burned hard in pursuit, enough so that Lanoe could see the ion trail of its wake as if the Yk.64 were standing on a pillar of fire. Valk put a couple of pointless PBW shots across its nose and its airfoils but it didn't even bother rolling to evade.

The Yk.64's powerful engines ate up the distance. Any second now the militia pilot would be close enough to get a perfect bead on Lanoe's main thruster and then it would all be over. Lanoe considered a couple of different tricky maneuvers, just to make it harder for the pilot to get that shot, but any deviation from their course right now would slow the Z.VII down, and he would still have the other two pursuers to worry about. They weren't far behind.

"Valk," he called, "if you've got something—"

"Close your eyes," Valk said.

"I'm a little busy flying this crate," Lanoe pointed out.

Valk reached for his sensor board. His finger hovered over a virtual key.

"Damn it, Lanoe—close your damned eyes."

He stabbed the key.

The Z.VII came with a whole suite of advanced sensors and communication gear. Included in that package were several hundred microdrones—basically satellites no bigger than Valk's thumb. Each of them contained a camera, an antenna, and a tiny thruster. There wasn't room for anything else. In normal conditions these would be released one at a time as the recon scout made a long patrol across a battlefield, stringing them out like a trail of breadcrumbs. They were designed to work together to create a distributed communications and imaging network, providing a comprehensive picture of a massive volume of space.

Valk released all of them at once. They burst out of panels recessed into the Z.VII's hull, flaring away on their tiny thrusters, headed in every possible direction, a whole cloud of them zipping away and behind like chaff. They would ruin the Yk.64's ability to get a clear lock on the Z.VII's thrusters, but it would only take a fraction of a second for the pursuer's computers to compensate. That wasn't what Valk was after.

Nor did he hope they would hit the Yk.64 enemy ship. They would make lousy projectiles—too slow and too small to do any damage, and anyway the Yk.64's vector field would just shunt them away.

No, Valk had fired off all his microdrones for another reason. He had disengaged their standard programming, specifically the collision avoidance algorithms. One by one, then in great numbers, they shot away from the Z.VII on perfectly flat trajectories that had them smash right into the walls of the wormhole.

They were annihilated instantly, torn apart and converted into pure energy. Hundreds of impacts all in the space of a half second, each one giving off as much light and radiation as a nuclear blast.

"Hellfire!" Lanoe shouted, which was apt whether he'd meant it to be or not. "Valk—I can see that right through my eyelids! What did you just do?"

The pilot of the Yk.64 hadn't been warned ahead of time to close his eyes.

The Yk.64 was a smart machine. A microsecond after the flareup, its canopy polarized until it was completely opaque, blocking out every bit of that horrible light.

It was an open question whether the pilot was permanently blinded before that happened. An academic question—with the canopy opaqued, there was no way he could see anyway. For about nine-tenths of a second, he was flying blind.

Plenty of time for Valk to line up a good, solid shot, even at a distance. Of course Valk had been facing the light-blast, but unlike Lanoe or the pilot of the Yk.64, he didn't need his eyes for what came next. He reached out into the raw code of the Z.VII's sensors, synthesized the ones and zeroes into a perfect firing solution. He didn't need to be able to see his hand to pull the trigger.

PBW fire hit the Yk.64 enemy machine dead-on, cutting right through its vector field. The fighter broke into pieces, airfoils and weapons and thrusters all tumbling away from each other as the particle beam cut them apart like a scalpel.

"Got another one," Valk said.

"As soon as I can see through all the spots in my eyes," Lanoe told him, "I'd love to know what just happened. That was a great trick."

"Yeah," Valk said. "Too bad I can only do it once."

Lanoe blinked and squinted and shook his head to clear the tears out of his eyes. The tunnel ahead of them was as crooked as a dog's leg and he was taking it at top speed. If he wasn't careful he'd brush the walls and finish the enemy's work for them.

Not that they needed much help. The remaining two fighters were catching up with them, fast. Lanoe had been lucky so far—well, he'd been lucky enough to have Valk crewing the guns for him—but the law of averages was running after them just as fast as their enemies. The two Yk.64s were firing indiscriminately now, wasting ammo on long-range shots that had very little chance of hitting the Z.VII as it wove through the corridors of the maze.

"There was a side passage, back this way," Lanoe said. "Remember?"

"No," Valk said.

Lanoe laughed. "Yeah, well, it's there. No idea where it leads but if we can get out into open space we can at least maneuver a little more. I'm going to make a hard turn in a second here. It might hurt a little."

"I'll survive," Valk told him.

Lanoe nodded. Well, the big guy was probably right about that. He could take a lot more g forces than Lanoe could, after all.

Still, this was not going to be fun.

Most people thought of the wormhole network as a kind of superhighway system, a grid of streets that connected all the stars in human space. Pilots knew better. The system was a chaotic mess at best, a tangled and endlessly branching collection of tunnels with no clear semblance of order. Wormholes crossed each other at junctions, split off into dead ends and long loops that doubled back on themselves. Making it worse, there was no real map of the entire system, because it changed over time—only the widest and most heavily traveled routes stayed constant for long, and even those twisted and knotted themselves up when nobody was looking.

You passed junctions and new tunnels all the time. Pilots had learned not to go exploring, in case they found themselves in a wormhole that went nowhere, or, worse, one that narrowed down until it was too tight a squeeze for even small ships like the Z.VII.

Of course, sometimes you just had to take a chance.

The two Yk.64s were almost on them. Valk laid down salvo after salvo of suppressing fire, but the fighters had velocity to spare—they swung and jinked back and forth as they came on, refusing to let themselves be decent targets. Lanoe studied the tunnel ahead, looking for the side passage he vaguely remembered. If it was farther down the tunnel than he thought—

No. There it was. The ghostly vapor that steamed from the walls grew thicker up ahead. The sign of a junction. Lanoe pulled up his engine board and scrolled through a menu to the gyroscopic control settings. He had to confirm twice that he was really sure he wanted to disengage the rotary compensator.

He was sure.

"Hang on!" he said, and stabbed the virtual key.

The recon scout twisted ninety degrees to the right in the space of a few milliseconds. The fuselage groaned under the stress as the engine tried to rip its way off its own mountings. There was a good reason you had to confirm twice to pull this stunt—there was a very real chance it would tear your ship in half.

The effect on a soft human body could have been much worse. Lanoe's inertial sink slammed him down as if he were being hammered into his seat. He couldn't breathe. The blood in his body stopped moving and for a split second he went into cardiac arrest. Even his vision blurred to nothing as his eyeballs were flattened inside his head.

Then the compensators snapped back on as alarm chime blared in Lanoe's ears and his heart thudded in his chest as it started beating again. He made a horrible choking, gasping noise as his lungs reinflated.

Up ahead of him, through his canopy, he could see the side passage. It wasn't very long. He goosed his main thruster and sent the Z.VII rocketing down the tunnel, barely worrying about twists and turns.

"Valk, you okay back there?" he called.

There was no answer.

Right behind him the two Yk.64s copied his turn perfectly. They didn't so much as skid as they twisted around to follow him.


He would have to worry about Valk later. For the moment, all he could do was fly fast. Something he was very good at.

Up ahead the tunnel ended in a lens of pure, unadulterated spacetime that looked like a glass globe, through which he could see only darkness. A wormhole throat—one of the exits from the maze. Lanoe had no idea what lay beyond. It could be a star with nice planets to hide behind, or it could be some forgotten corner of deep space, light-years from anything. It could open out into the event horizon of a black hole.

Lanoe would have to take his chances. He punched through the lens—it offered no resistance—and into bluish-white light. His eyes adjusted and he saw stars, stars everywhere—speckles of white on a black background.

Real, normal space. The kind that made up most of the universe. The void.

For a fighter pilot like Lanoe, flying free through open space was the closest he ever felt to being home.

He wasn't safe, though. Right behind him, the two Yk.64s shot out of the throat side by side, their weapons still glowing in the infrared. They converged on him, a classic pincer maneuver, and then—

They stopped. For a second they just hung there behind his shoulders, ready to blast him to smithereens. Then they twisted around and shot back through the throat. Back into wormspace.

A second later Lanoe realized why. A green pearl appeared in the corner of his vision, his suit telling him he had an incoming call.

"Reconnaissance scout, please identify. This is a Naval installation and off-limits to unauthorized personnel. Repeat, reconnaissance scout, please identify. This is …"

Some of those twinkling lights all around him weren't stars after all. His displays showed him magnified, light-enhanced views of dozens of spacecraft, all of them military. Patrol ships, command vessels, destroyers, and cruisers. Plenty of cataphract-class fighters, all of them painted with the three-headed eagle of the Navy of Earth. Clearly, Centrocor's pilots had no interest in tangling with that much firepower.

He couldn't remember the last time he'd been so happy to see his own people.

Chapter Three

There wasn't enough air.

The planet wasn't habitable, not by civilized standards. Little water, very little infrastructure. The air was so thin Ashlay Bullam needed to sip at an oxygen pipe just to keep her head from swimming.

A dusty little world orbiting a dim little star. A hundred thousand people lived on Niraya, but she was damned if she could figure out why.

Bullam had been forced to bring all her creature comforts with her. A table in her cabin had been laden with a variety of foodstuffs for her to choose from. "These," she said. She jabbed one gold-encased finger at a tray of canapés. Locally sourced meat wrapped in lettuce that had to be shipped in from another planet, because of course Niraya couldn't support real agriculture. Well, the dainties she'd picked weren't completely inedible. The drone zipped away and Bullam walked out onto the open deck of the yacht where her guest was waiting.

Niraya didn't have a functional government. No bureaucracy to work with, no local warlord to flatter or threaten. Religious officials were the closest thing to actual leaders on the backwater world. So Bullam was forced to deal with a woman named Elder McRae, who represented the Transcendentalist faith. It wasn't going to be easy doing business with that sort, but Bullam was very good at her job.

The Elder stood at the wooden railing, looking down. At the moment the yacht was just drifting along, twenty meters above the only real city on the planet, a place called Walden Crater. Just like the Nirayans to name their capital after a hole in the ground.

"Elder McRae," Bullam said, putting on the smile she used for people she wished to show official deference. "Thank you so much for agreeing to meet with me. I apologize—do you embrace on Niraya, or shake hands? So many different planets, you know, each with its own customs. I do like to get them right."

The old woman turned from the railing and looked at Bullam without any sign of emotion. She wore a simple tunic and skirt and she could have been a thousand years old or only sixty. A religious functionary, from an order that rejected any kind of cosmetic therapy. On another world that lined and craggy face might have frightened children, but here it was apparently a sign of wisdom and restraint.

Bullam wondered how the Elder must see her, in her fractal lace dress and her gold finger stalls. She had sculpted her features until she looked just like she had at twenty-five, and had her hair streaked with white and blue. Most likely the Elder would see a decadent plutocrat. Well, if the woman underestimated her, that could be turned to Bullam's advantage.

"I would think," the Elder said, "that you would have been briefed before you came here. We shake hands."

Bullam laughed and held out her right hand. The Elder grasped it for a moment, then released it. "Of course, but there's so little time in the day. I just had so many things to do I couldn't get through the whole file on Niraya. There were other parts of it I found much more interesting. It's not every planet I visit that's been attacked by aliens."

The Elder shook her head. "Alien drones. There's a difference."

"Certainly. Will you sit and have some refreshment?" Bullam led the Elder to a low table at the prow of the yacht. Together they sat down on cushions and took flavored water and little nibbles. The Elder ate sparingly. "You'll be wondering why I asked for this meeting, I'm sure."

"I imagine I have a good idea. You're a Centrocor executive. Customer relations?"

Bullam demurred by lowering her chin. "My position is a little more fluid than that. You could say I'm the poly's head troubleshooter. I do odds and ends, but if you like, today I'm speaking to you as a customer support representative. Centrocor has a deep interest in keeping you happy."

"Centrocor has the monopoly on Niraya's resources and products. For many years your poly ignored us as an unprofitable investment of little value or interest."

"Come now," Bullam said. "We've provided you with everything you needed for terraforming your world. We've shipped you food when you couldn't grow enough on your own, provided you with construction equipment to improve your infrastructure—"


  • No less intriguing and action-packed than its predecessor. Here, sci-fi tropes such as AI and space aliens are turned into something entirely thoughtful and original.—RT Book Reviews
  • "Unforgettable characters and is jam-packed with action [and] adventure... one readers will not want to miss."—Booklist on Forsaken Skies
  • "About as exciting an action story set in space as any this reviewer has seen in print in quite some time. It is worth the read... a terrific and thrilling novel."—SciFi Magazine on Forsaken Skies
  • "Gripping writing, a brilliantly realised future culture and sympathetic characters . . . an entertaining and compelling read."—SFX Magazine on Forsaken Skies

On Sale
Apr 18, 2017
Page Count
624 pages

D. Nolan Clark

About the Author

D. Nolan Clark is a pseudonym for an acclaimed author who has previously published several novels in different genres.

Learn more about this author