False Colors is a science fiction novel set in the universe of Origin Systems' computer game Wing Commander. Published in 1998, the book was written by Andrew Keith and William R. Forstchen, though William H. Keith (Andrew's brother) was incorrectly credited on the front cover.
False Colors is set in the years between Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger and Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom, and revolves around a handful of well known Confederation personnel who join the ranks of the Free Republic of the Landreich in an attempt to prevent an ambitious Kilrathi warlord from starting a second Terran-Kilrathi war.
This novel was supposed to be the first part of a trilogy, but Andrew Keith died in an accident before he had time to begin work on the other books.
The opening chapter centers on Commander Donald Graham, Chief Engineer of a Confederation cruiser, the TCS Juneau. She and her sister ship, the TCS Dover, are hotly engaged with the Kilrathi carrier KIS Karga, a Bhantkara-class super-carrier, whose group has launched a retaliatory strike against the Landreich. The Colonials and "Confees" together have succeeded in destroying most of the battle group, with the Karga retreating towards a backwater star system called Vaku, where the Juneau and Dover catch her. The Dover is lost and the Juneau crippled in weapons and engines, but the Karga is doomed: her shields are knocked out, consigning her crew to death from the Vaku system's bizarre high-level radiation. Admiral Largka Cakg dai Nokhtak of the Karga activates his ship's self-destruct and gives orders to ram the Juneau, hoping for an honorable end. The Juneau is crushed, with her surviving crew evacuating, but the Karga's main computer suffers a massive failure. The Kilrathi survivors commit zu'kara (ritual suicide), save a small team of specialists whom the Admiral evacuates aboard the only available shuttle. Murragh Cakg dai Nokhtak, nephew of the Admiral, is assigned as the group's leader. In the end both groups of survivors head for the only habitable planet of the Vaku system...
Back on Earth, Jason "Bear" Bondarevsky, now a retired Commodore of the Terran Confederation Navy, is waiting for an upcoming meeting with Admiral Vance Richards, a well known Confederation Intelligence officer who has recently joined the ranks of the Free Republic of Landreich Navy. He is meeting with Richards to join the Landreich himself. In the company of Richards, Janet "Sparks" McCullough, who has faithfully taken care of Bondarevsky while he recuperated from the wounds suffered when the TCS Coventry was hit during the Behemoth mission, and a young Landreich officer by the name of Aengus Harper, Bondarevsky embarks for his new assignment with the FRLN. Along the way they are joined by Admiral Geoffrey Tolwyn who also accepts to serve for the FRLN, albeit he is not fully committing to the Landreich, preferring to remain a Confederation officer.
Once the group reaches the capital of the Landreich, they are welcomed by President Max Kruger who wastes no time in enlisting the former Confed officers into a secret effort he has nicknamed "Project Goliath." Tensions are growing between the Landreich and the nearest Kilrathi province, whose governor, Ukar dai Ragark, seems to be ambitious enough to start a new war against humanity. With this in mind, Kruger wants to salvage the derelict hulk of the KIS Karga, which his forces have recently discovered, and refit it for service in the FRLN. This mission is top secret, as Kruger wants to keep it secret from internal opposition who may hamper his attempt to recover the Karga.
The Goliath team leaves for Vaku with the FRLS Independence carrier battle group, escorting a factory ship and a tender that will help salvage the Kilrathi carrier in deep space. Onboard the Independence Bondarevsky meets his former comrades Etienne "Doomsday" Montclair and Kevin "Lone Wolf" Tolwyn (the latter being Independence's Wing Commander) and also discovers that Independence is actually the TCS Tarawa, now recommissioned with the FRLN.
In Kilrathi space, Ukar dai Ragark is introducing to his brethren the plan for the renewal of the conflict with the humans. He will unleash his fleet against the Landreich and then move to Earth to achieve what Thrakhath never did: destroy the Confederation. To reach this goal, Ragark has a secret weapon of sorts in Captain Dawx Jhorrad and his ship, the powerful dreadnought KIS Vorgath. To complicate matters, Terran "Peace Commissioner" Clark Williams is plotting alongside a number of other conspirators to restart the conflict: his "Belisarius Group" seeks to gain power through a military coup against the Confed government. They will launch their coup once Belisarius manages to have the Landreich crushed by Ragark's fleet under the civilian government's nose.
In the Vaku system, Bondarevsky and the Goliath team investigate the remains of the Karga: the ship is badly damaged and will require a great deal of effort to make space-worthy again. Just as the team discovers some evidence of the battle's survivors, an unidentified ship appears nearby. After a few tense moments, the craft is found to be a Confed shuttle from Juneau, carrying both human and Kilrathi survivors: apparently the two groups managed to cooperate for survival on Vaku's marginally habitable world thanks to the efforts of their leaders, Commander Graham and Murragh. The survivors alert Bondarevsky that the carrier was rigged for explosion and reactivating the ship's computer will likely restart the self-destruct sequence; this convinces Richards and Bondarevsky to scrap the whole refit operation. Admiral Tolwyn doesn't agree and has Kruger back him up, ordering the Karga refitted, no matter the danger. Bondarevsky confronts his old mentor who reveals him the reason behind his decisions: shortly after the Battle of Earth he was approached by Belisarius, but declined to join their ranks. Instead Tolwyn tried to end the war with the Kilrathi as fast as he could, removing Belisarius's only excuse for conspiracy against the civilian government. Tolwyn believes the refitted Karga they will scare Ragark into behaving, keep the Landreich intact, and ruin Belisarius' plans once more. Bondarevsky is still dubious, but with Murragh's help, the Karga's self-destruct sequence is terminated and the refit begins in earnest.
Back on Landreich, Commissioner Williams finds out about the "Goliath project" and arranges a raid against the Karga: Zach Banfeld, the leader of the Guild (an association of merchants/pirates), will attack with his makeshift carrier and fighter squadron. They will only disable the tender that provides shielding for the Kilrathi derelict, however, meaning Vaku's radiation, not human hands, will bring an end to the Colonials. Confident that Karga's engines are offline, Banfeld mounts an ambush on the carrier. While his forces succeed in destroying the tender, Karga was, by coincidence, testing its combat shields, and its crew is saved. Landreich fighters repel the Guild forces and the refit goes on.
Banfeld then decides to travel to Baka Kar, the capital of Ragark's province, to convince the Kilrathi to attack. Once there, however, he notices the dreadnought KIS Vorgath and flees back to Landreich with the Kilrathi in pursuit. He stumbles upon an FRL battle group, which convinces the Kilrathi to retreat. Badly injured, Banfeld still manages to warn Kruger of the threat from the dreadnought.
Kruger needs to take the Vorgath out of action, but Ragark is threatening an attack against a distant outpost of the Landreich and Kruger must stay there to meet the Kilrathi armada. In the end it is decide that the newly refitted Karga, now FRLS Mjollnir, disguised as a returning Kilrathi ship, will have to infiltrate Baka Kar, attack and cripple the Vorgath and escape back to Landreich. Under Tolwyn's command, Mjollnir manages to successfully disable the Vorgath and damage the orbital docking station, ruining Ragark's and Belisaruius's plans in one fell swoop. However Mjollnir and its fighter wing are trapped in the system by the return of Ragark's fleet; the Kilrathi despot has returned to investigate rumors about the returning Karga. All seems lost, but at the very last moment Kruger leads the whole FRLN fleet to Baka Kar; outmaneuvered, Ragark is forced to let the humans retreat safely.
In the epilogue, Bondarevsky decides to remain in the FRLN aboard Mjollnir while Tolwyn returns to the Confederation after he has been appointed Chief of the "Strategic Readiness Agency". The Admiral hints at his secret "Black Lance" project, but feels Bondarevsky would not want to be part of it and decides not to tell him the whole truth.
- Commodore Jason "Bear" Bondarevsky: introduced in WC2 - Special Operations 1, Bondarevsky became one of Tolwyn's protégés and served aboard the Concordia, then took command of the Tarawa during the famous "Raid on Kilrah". Later he was appointed captain of the destroyer TCS Coventry which was badly damaged during the "Behemoth Operation". He ended the war recovering from injuries and retired with the rank of Commodore.
- Captain Etienne "Doomsday" Montclair: a self-described manic-depressive, Doomsday spends most of his time moaning about how he's probably going to die soon. After the "Raid on Kilrah" with the TCS Tarawa and the end of the war, Doomsday has gone over to the Landreich where he is a squadron leader of the FRLS Independence flight wing.
- Commander Kevin "Lone Wolf" Tolwyn: one of the Admiral's only remaining blood relatives, he serves in the military because the Tolwyns have done so since time immemorial. Sent by the Admiral himself to join the Landreich, Lone Wolf is the Wing Commander aboard the recommissioned Tarawa, now known as Independence.
- Lieutenant Aengus "Bard" Harper: a young Landreich officer who is a skilled and professional pilot in spite of all his bantering. Bondarevsky takes him in his Flight Wing aboard the recommissioned Karga.
- Commander Alexandra "Amazon" Travis: a designated squadron leader under Bondarevsky's command, Travis grows to become a possible love interest for Bondarevsky.
- Chief Petty Officer Janet "Sparks" McCullough: another Concordia and Tarawa veteran, she is appointed master crew chief, of the recommissioned Karga's flight wing, operating both human and Kilrathi craft.
- Rear Admiral Geoffrey Tolwyn: once one of the Confederation's most respected admirals, Tolwyn has lately fallen into disgrace after the failure of his "Project: Behemoth." He goes over to the Landreich to help Kruger with the refit of the Karga, but doesn't resign from the Confed Navy.
- Admiral Vance Richards: once head of ConFleet signal intelligence experts, now he serves a similar role in Kruger's Landreich Navy.
- President Max Kruger: elected government officials are immune to arrest and trial, making it problematic that Kruger, a deserter, is a convicted felon. Holds a healthy disdain for the Confederation after their "strategic withdrawal."
- Commander Donald Scott Graham: the former Chief Engineer of the TCS Juneau, Graham is the leader of the human survivors after the battle with Karga. He manages to strike a deal with Murragh, the Kilrathi leader, so that both groups cooperate to survive the crisis and later becomes a close friend of Murragh.
- Commissioner Clark Williams: officially Williams is the local liaison to the Confederation Peace Commission on Landreich, the man who should watch over the compliance of both humanity and the Kilrathi to the agreement that ended the war. Unofficially he is a member of the "Belisarius Group", the organization that is conspiring to heat a new war between the Confederation and the Kilrathi, in order to organize a coup against civilian authorities and raise to power.
- Guild Leader Zachary Banfeld: Banfeld is the leader of a loose association businessmen and ship-captains from various frontier worlds that calls itself "The Guild". Ostensibly they are civilians who banded together for the benefits of mutual protections, however they are also involved in black market activities, smuggling and pirate raids. Banfeld also works as a freelance agent for the "Belisarius Group": the conspirators’ objective to spark a new war perfectly agrees with the needs of The Guild, which can raise its profits if a new conflict arises.
- Admiral Largka Cakg dai Nokhtak: commander of the Karga squadron, sent by Thrakhath to attack the Landreich. Once his ship is doomed he commits Zu'kara.
- Prince Murragh dai Nokhtak: nephew of Admiral dai Nokhtak he is evacuated from the doomed Karga. Being a distant relative of the Kilrathi ruling family he is possibly only heir to the Kilrathi throne still alive.
- Ukar dai Ragark lak Haka: a limping, but ambitious warlord controlling the Kilrathi province nearest to the Landreich. He seeks to become the new Emperor by conquering the Landreich and getting the support of all other clans.
- Dawx Jhorrad: a "Kilra'hra", a commoner with no noble origins, whose half face is covered by a prosthetic plate. He is the captain of the KIS Vorgath, one of the dreadnoughts Thrakhath built for his final confrontation with humanity. Dawx Jhorrad refused to surrender to Chancellor Melek and took his ship across the remnants of the Empire to find a new lord: in the end he swears loyalty to Ragark.
- Forstchen, William R., and Keith, Andrew. False Colors. New York: Baen, 1998. ISBN 978-0-671-57784-1 .