Wing Commander: Pilgrim Truth
by Peter Telep

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Rear Cover

CIC Intro

Peter Telep

On the Olympus’s bridge, all hell had been pulling at its chains.
     Finally, it broke free.
     Dor-chaks buzzed as the emperor’s guards opened fire on the bridge crew.
     Broturs and sosturs fell to the deck, clutching wounds and choking from the stench of charred robes and seared flesh.
     Paladin seized Amity’s arm and dragged her down, behind the helm station. He crawled several meters to where Brotur Vyson had fallen on his stomach. Paladin rolled over the young Pilgrim and grimaced at what was left of Vyson’s head.
     Stray rounds continued to strike instrumentation, and one tore into the helm control a scant quarter meter from Paladin’s head. The dying unit’s hiss and snap punctuated Aristee’s shouts for the Kilrathi to hold their fire.
     Where the hell are the Marines? Paladin thought. There had been four posted on the bridge. He looked toward the lift and spotted two lying supine below the fog of dor-chak fire.
     “Self-destruct in T-minus five minutes,” the computer said evenly. “All personnel should immediately abandon ship.”
     Paladin had asked Vyson to give them fifteen minutes to escape, but the firefight--instigated by Aristee herself--had already wasted ten.
     Robbed of his prize, the Kilrathi emperor had decided to take Aristee, the protur, and Paladin into custody. Perhaps he thought he could learn how to build a hopper drive himself, gain knowledge of Pilgrim extrakinetic senses from the protur, and acquire secrets about Confederation Intelligence from Paladin. He had reminded them that even if they did escape from the Olympus, their vessel would be surrounded by Admiral Vukar’s fighters. The emperor had insisted that they depart in his shuttle, and that had brought Aristee to her breaking point. The blade of her Pilgrim cross had flashed. A Kilrathi guard had intervened, his dor-chak whining up to fire. Brotur Vyson had drawn his sidearm. A second guard had squeezed off a round. Sostur Charity at the radar station had found her own weapon and had taken down the guard nearest Aristee, but even as the cat had fallen, the second guard had answered Charity’s round. As she had slumped to her death, everyone had begun firing.
     “Hold,” the emperor roared.
     Only then did the Kilrathi Marines lower their weapons.
     Paladin rose furtively to his feet, wary of the twitchy cats and straining to see through the clearing smoke that burned his eyes.
     “We’ll go with them,” said the protur from behind.
     “No, we won’t,” Paladin countered, glancing sidelong to smirk at his long-haired eminence, the royal murderer Carver Tsu the Third.
     “Trust me, James,” the protur said, drawing uncomfortably close to murmur in Paladin’s ear. “And remember your patience.”
     “I think they’ve got us,” Aristee said in a shivery tone. “But we can’t let it end here.”
     “Oh, it won’t,” the protur said. “Our capture will only help.”
     Paladin stared incredulously at the man. “Help?”
     The protur offered no more than an enigmatic grin.

     Admiral Vukar stroked his whiskers in curiosity as the emperor’s scout darted from the Olympus’s aft flight deck. Once the spear-shaped vessel had climbed away from the supercruiser, Vukar swung to face Comm Officer Ta’kar’ki. “Hail the emperor’s ship.”
     Ta’kar’ki drew back his head. “My Kalralahr, they’re already hailing us.”
     Vukar bounded for his command chair, sat, and tugged the comm screen’s swivel arm to glimpse the emperor, whose eyes glimmered with immense satisfaction. “Vukar, I leave you with the task of towing the Olympus home. I have her captain and several others aboard my scout. We’ll all meet at Kilrah, and your clan will receive what Sivar has destined for you.”
     “Thank you, my emperor, but the honor should be--”
     “No, Vukar. The honor is yours.”
     Overwhelmed, Vukar bowed, and when he looked up, the link had been broken and the emperor’s ship had dwindled to a saffron speck against the void.
     Tactical Officer Makorshk trudged before Vukar and stared with eyes that bore a ridiculous sheen, as though he were about to cry like a priestess whose children had been murdered. “The emperor lies.”
     Though Vukar had grown to tolerate Makorshk’s rash and radical behavior and had even rewarded him for his bold ideas, accusing the emperor of such an act in front of the entire crew warranted a severe response. Vukar rose, his hand poised on the hilt of his vorshaki dueling blade. “Lies? The emperor lies?”
     “Why do you think the hairless apes have abandoned the supercruiser?”
     “They’re trying to escape.”
     “Yes, they are--because that ship has been set to self-destruct. Come, my kalralahr. See for yourself.”
     Makorshk led him to the tactical station, where a combined emissions and infrared report indicated that the ship’s reactor was about to reach critical mass and that the ship’s ordnance, particularly its planetary torpedoes, had been set to explode in conjunction with the meltdown. A scan for biologics indicated that only a handful of Pilgrim apes remained on board.
     “Helmsman! Full impulse to the jump point!” Vukar ordered.
     “It’s too late,” Makorshk said, then lifted a crooked finger at the viewport.
     Internal explosions blew gaping rifts in the supercruiser’s hull. Debris carried on jets of escaping atmosphere spewed from the ruptures.
     Vukar stumbled closer to the viewport, realizing that within a few seconds the great ship would burst in a reaction so violent that its shock wave would take out every vessel within a thousand kilometers--and the Shak’ar’roc hovered only a thousand meters off the Olympus’s starboard bow.
     With a quick screech of metal on metal, Vukar withdrew his zu’kara blade reserved for ritual suicide. Seeing the admiral raise his blade to his throat, the other warriors rose from their stations and freed their own knives.
     “For the hrai,” Vukar began.
     “No,” cried Makorshk. “Let us embrace, my kalralahr. Embrace for the hrai and ourselves.”
     The young warrior stood proudly before Vukar, blade clenched in his fist.
     Vukar nodded.
     With a pair of smooth, fluid jabs, they slid their blades between the seams in each other’s armor and drove them deep to the heart.
     All of his life Vukar had imagined what it would feel like to die. How many of his senses would register the final moment? Now he knew that the hot pain flaring in his chest, the blue cloud that seemed to envelope the Olympus, the bitter taste of bile rising in his throat, and the collective gurgling of the warriors dying behind him meant that he would know death with all of his senses. He had but one regret: leaving his children behind.
     Pulling in a last breath, Vukar fell toward the viewport, and for a second, he thought he saw a magnificent vessel emerge from the blue cloud. No, it wasn’t the Olympus but a ship that resembled an azure sheet pulled in the wind. He squinted at the slow-moving craft and thought he saw himself crucified on its hull.
     He blinked.
     Then roared his last breath at a white-hot wave of oblivion.

     “You’ve been moping around in your underwear for five days,” Maniac said. “You look like shit, but I’ll bet you can fly. Why hasn’t your sweetheart bumped you back on the roster?”
     Blair stood at the mirror over his sink and tentatively touched the bruises on his forehead and face. Once a dark purple, they had turned yellow and slightly red. The medics had given him polisco to help the swelling and speed up the healing process, but the stuff stung like hell and Blair only used a dab each morning instead of the hourly applications recommended by the docs. He glanced at Maniac, who lingered near the hatch, about to head out on patrol. “Did I hear some noise come out of your mouth?” Blair asked.
     “Listen to me, asshole. I asked why you’re not on the duty roster.”
     “Because Gerald wants me on the bridge. A destroyer from the Altamonte battle group vanished here in Sirius, and they need a Pilgrim bloodhound.” Blair tightened his gaze. “And don’t call her my sweetheart. You will respect that woman.”
     “So you were listening. Tell me, does she point her toes?”
     Blair frowned.
     “You know, when you’re having--”
     “Get out.”
     “Zarya does. And I’ll have her toes in the air by midnight.”
     “I’ll mention that to her.”
     Maniac came forward, his cocky grin fading. “Hey, man, I’m just trying to... you know. If something like that had happened to me, I would--”
     “You don’t know shit.” Rage tightened every muscle in Blair’s body.
     “I know you want to pound the mothers who did this to you.” He stormed to his bunk, lifted his pillow in one hand, then punched it with the other. “I’d like to get those bastards myself,” he added, then delivered a roundhouse to his foamy opponent. “I’d make ‘em choke on their broken teeth. I’d jam their noses into their skulls, make the cartilage rip through their brains. I’d beat ‘em raw, burn ‘em, then piss on their ashes. Then I’d move on to their relatives.”
     Blair realized that he clenched his own fists. He relaxed, turned on the faucet, and splashed water over his face. “Just go, man. I have to get ready.”
     “Chris, if you need anything--”
     “God damn it, Todd, are you listening?”
     “Shit. Sue me. Hope you’re seeing your shrink today because your whining is starting to piss me off. They beat you. You were helpless. Get over it.” He opened the hatch and marched off.
     Blair went to his bunk, hauled off the mattress, then threw it across the room. He opened his locker and frantically ripped everything out of it, tossing boots, belts, uniforms, and bottles of cologne over his shoulder and sending them skittering across the floor. He wedged his fingers behind the locker unit and tried to send it smashing to the deck, but the damned thing had been bolted to the bulkhead. He charged to the latrine and pounded a boot on his mirror until it shattered. He ran back to Maniac’s bunk and tore off the mattress. He tugged Paladin’s Pilgrim cross from his neck, activated the blade, then dropped to his knees and stabbed the mattress again and again and again until his arm grew hot with exertion. He collapsed onto his back and screamed a curse at the top of his lungs.

     Ten minutes later, Angel found him. He had not answered the intercom. Truth was, he didn’t give a shit about helping to find some ship or anything else. Well, maybe there was one thing. He thought of going down to maintenance himself and finding one of those welding masks to use as punching bag, but he figured that all of them would have already been confiscated by the JAG liaison who had asked him only a few question and had yet to provide a line up so that Blair could identify his attackers by their voices, muffled though they had been.
     “Oh my god,” Angel gasped as she took in his redecorating.
     “I tripped,” he said, still gripping the Pilgrim cross with mattress stuffing ringing its blade.
     She dropped to her knees and touched his cheek, trying valiantly to damn up her tears. “I’m sorry.”
     He ripped away from her and bolted to her feet. “I’m a goddamned Confederation pilot! And I’m a Pilgrim! Don’t feel sorry for me! I got power. I’m not weak!” He closed his eyes and jerked outside of himself, fleeing human bonds as though they were a disease. With extrakinetic senses, he picked up one of his berets and threw it across the room.
     And the effect of moving an inanimate object swept up his legs as though he had stepped on thin ice and now plunged into a wet, icy gloom. The sting drove him back to himself, to his world of helplessness and injustice.
     Angel eyed him with an expression that seemed part fear, part pity. “You’re needed on the bridge.”
     His gaze wandered over the freeway of uniforms, then he padded over to one and scooped it up. “I’ll meet you there,” he said darkly.
     “I’ll wait.”
     “I don’t need a babysitter.”
     “You need another psych session.”
     “Tell me how you feel, my shrinks says. Express your feelings. And I want to get out of that goddamned chair and drop kick her head across the room. Is that expressive enough, lady?”
     “Just get dressed,” Angel said, heaving a sigh. “We can’t do this without you.”

     Blair stood at the Tiger Claw’s forward viewport, reaching out into what Paladin had called the Tanque Dimension, what Karista had called the quilt, and what he now dubbed a dreary stretch of void absent of Pilgrim scripts and of any other life save for the Confederation vessels. In fact, Blair had never felt a region more barren than this one. He didn’t know why, but he sensed that someone did not want him there, that coming had been mistake, that he needed to learn patience.
     “Anything yet, Mr. Blair?”
     “Sir, you can’t interrupt him while he’s doing it,” Angel reminded the captain.
     Gerald released a faint snort, and he probably thought Blair had not heard it.
     “There’s nothing here,” Blair called back. “Nothing at all, sir.” He opened his eyes and faced Gerald with a bored expression.
     “Well that destroyer went somewhere, Lieutenant.”
     “Yes, it did, sir.”
     “Admiral Tolwyn assured me that you could help us locate that ship,” Gerald said, scrutinizing the viewport as though he thought he could spot the Horatio Marx himself. “What’s your problem, Mr. Blair? You’re supposed to have some kind of Pilgrim ability that allows you to feel things or something. Are you still too weak to sense--”
     “No, sir! I’m fine. The ship is not here. I don’t know where it is.”
     “Speculate on its destination.”
     He shrugged. “It could be anywhere, sir.”
     Gerald threw up his hands. “We jump across the sector for this.” He cocked his head to Comm Officer Zabrowsky. “Mr. Z? Get me Captain Winnagard.”
     “Aye, sir,” replied the lean redhead.
     Then he directed his glower at Blair and added, “I have to tell her that we won’t be any help in locating that destroyer.”
     Blair lifted his shoulders, ready to salute and be dismissed, but Gerald let him stew a moment before finally cutting him loose.
     Angel slipped into the lift with Blair, and he swore under his breath. “I’d like to be alone.”
     “That’s nice. But you won’t be. Not until this over.”
     “So for the past week you’ve been my guard?”
     “You wouldn’t appreciate a Marine tagging along. We can’t leave you. Not unless you’re in your quarters.”
     “Why don’t you just put me in a glass case? Mount it up on the bar. Have everybody come down to gawk at the freak.”
     She stopped the lift before it reached the pilots’ quarters. The door opened, and she stepped out and into a corridor that would take them to the captain’s suite and the XO’s quarters. “Come on.”
     “Where are we going?”
     “I want you to become reacquainted with someone.”
     He rolled his eyes and followed. His curiosity piqued as they reached the XO’s door.
     “Commander?” Angel called.
     Obutu’s voice came crisply through the intercom. “Oh, it’s you, finally.”
     The hatch opened, and Angel led him into a spacious but barely decorated living area. Obutu either did not have the time or the desire to loan his personality to the suite.
     But something did catch Blair’s eye and immediately summoned up an image of Paladin. On the bulkhead above Obutu’s sofa hung a tattered and yellowed star chart, one that appeared amazingly similar to the maps Paladin had shown Blair during his first ride aboard the Diligent. Blair went immediately to the chart and ran his fingers over the parchment. “This is Pilgrim.”
     “So’s he,” Angel said.
     Blair craned his head as Obutu stepped into the living room. Then he looked to Angel, confused. “Ma’am?”
     “You like that map, Lieutenant?” Obutu asked. “It was my grandfrotur’s. I just hung it yesterday.”
     The revelation of Obutu’s heritage left Blair feeling hollow and betrayed. He shook his head at the XO. “Why haven’t you told anyone? And better yet, how did you manage to hide something like this from the Confederation?”
     Obutu averted his gaze. “Hiding my roots was easy, but living with the secret? That’s been something else.”
     “Aren’t you proud of who you are?”
     “Yes, I am. But the military hasn’t learned to appreciate us yet. My father kept the secret, as did his father. I didn’t know I was a Pilgrim until I entered the academy. My father was dying, and he thought I deserved to know. He told me not to worry. The records would never reveal anything.”
     “And you kept the secret because you thought being a Pilgrim might affect your career,” Blair concluded. “So you’ve shielded yourself with lies.”
     “Blair,” Angel warned.
     “It’s okay,” Obutu assured her. “The lieutenant is right. It’s taken an incident like this to make realize that I can’t do this any more. Command means nothing if I keep lying.”
     “I always liked you,” Blair said. “You seemed quiet and honest. But you’re neither. The lies kept you quiet. And now you think the truth is going to set you free? It’ll probably get your ass kicked. Sir.”
     Angel stepped between them. “Lieutenant, I didn’t bring you here so you could debate the commander’s decision to reveal his heredity. We think we know who did this to you. And we’re going to set them up for a fall.”
     “With me as bait,” Obutu added. “But it’ll take some time, and we could use your help.”
     “Who was it?”
     Obutu looked to Angel, who pursed her lips. “We can’t tell you,” she said.
     “Because you and Maniac will find them, return the beating, and get yourselves thrown in the brig.”
     “If you don’t tell me, I won’t help.”
     Obutu sighed and regarded Angel. “We’ll do it without him. But it would be so much easier if--”
     “When Mr. Blair realizes that the only way these scumbags will pay is through us, he’ll come around. Isn’t that right, Lieutenant?” She cocked her brow.
     The discussion of his attackers already had Blair’s pulse racing, and a surge of anger ripped up his spine and bolted into his arms. He stood there, wanting very badly to dismantle her argument but unable to ignore the simple fact that without the names, he could do nothing. Sure, he would help them set up his attackers, but once those bastards were in custody, he would see to it that they got everything they deserved.
     “Isn’t that right, Lieutenant?” Angel repeated.
     He turned away and huffed. “What’s the plan?”