Excerpt: The IX by Andrew P. Weston

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Andrew P. Weston
Andrew P. Weston

Andrew P. Weston has been a regular contributor to Amazing Stories for quite some time now.  A former UK Marine, he has retired to the Greek Isles, where, in addition to writing for Amazing and enjoying the deep blue Mediterranean , he has turned his hand to a rarely practiced sub-genre of the military science fiction novel – the mixed historical era, humans fighting for aliens tale. Perhaps best exemplified previously by Dr. Jerry Pournelle’s Janissaries and Alan Dean Foster’s The Damned series; for fans of military history and technology, there’s probably no better sandbox to play in than being able to pit an Alexandrian Phalanx against a WWII German Tiger tank, or a troop of equites romani against an SBS squad.

Andrew’s novel is described by Perseid Press as “Roman legionnaires, far from home, lost in the mists of Caledonia; a US cavalry company on a special mission for Presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln; and a Special Forces unit from the 21st century, desperate to prevent nuclear catastrophe:

Snatched away from Earth at the moment of death to a failing planet far away, these misfit soldiers must unite against a relentless foe, where the cost of victory may be more than they’re willing to pay.

How far will they go to stay alive?”

That roman legion mentioned?  It’s the titular IX or Legio IX Hispana. In our reality, the IX disappears from the rolls and the face of the Earth sometime in the first century AD;  the historical record suggests they might have ended up in York in 102 AD, or perhaps in the Bar Kochba revolt in Palestine around 136 AD…but Andrew knows what really happened….

The IX by Andrew P. Weston will be available from Perseid Press February, 2015.

IX cover

For as far as his eye could see, the endless tide of rabid hunger continued to advance. They came pouring into the valley from all sides, and the entire basin was soon filled with seething, shrieking monstrosities of every conceivable shape and form. Not one of them stood under two decans in height.

Nearing their goal, the leading entities of the Horde howled with malice and leaped forward. Dashing their bodies against the augmented might of the battlements seemed pointless to Sariff, for the attackers achieved nothing but to spend their vitality in a blaze of explosive fury. Yet the utter futility resulting from their lack of imagination did nothing to lessen their frenzy. Regardless of their comrades’ fate, wave after wave of them continued throwing themselves to their deaths in wanton abandon. So great did the overwhelming press of shadow and flame become that the repeated detonations of each attacker’s self immolation grew into one prolonged cacophony of light and heat. Despite its density, the entire breadth of the wall thrummed under the weight of the assault.

And still they come. Sariff blanched in the face of the onslaught, witnessed here on Arden for the first time. As First Magister of Rhomane City, he seized the opportunity to study the enemy closely, for his would be the deciding vote in a decision that would seal the fate of their people.

He shook his head in disbelief, for he could see no respite from the relentless storm threatening to engulf them. Thirty planets overrun in the space of just fifteen months. More than fifty billion souls lost. A history and a culture spanning more than twelve thousand years brought to this. It’s a bitter pill to swallow. And we risk it all on an idea . . .

What choice do we have?

Everywhere he looked, Sariff saw only the inevitability of death. Unless, by some miracle, Calen’s gamble paid off. That thought reminded him. I’d better get a move on.

So mesmerized was he by the display of savagery below, he almost collided with the duty commander, Sol Beren. Sariff hadn’t heard the soldier’s silent approach, but that was understandable. The veteran warrior was a skilled tracker, renowned for keeping his men on their toes by his sudden, wraithlike appearances at different stations along the wall. Everyone marveled how he could be seen taking the lead at one post only to be spotted minutes later on the other side of the city entirely, without having used the transport pads.

His face a mask of determination, Beren studied the conflict before him. A cold and empty gaze reflected the bitter frustrations of a man who had seen too many men die worthless deaths. Sariff wished there was something he could say to ease the commander’s burden. Instead, all he could ask was: “Will it hold?”

“Oh, it’ll hold all right.” Beren brushed the smooth texture of the defenses with his fingertips. “For now at any rate. It’s pure lydium, the densest known material in existence. A marvel of technological adaptation.” He glanced down again and almost to himself whispered, “It has to hold . . . .”

Sariff caught the hint of helpless acceptance in Beren’s voice. He thinks we’re doomed. Closing his ears to the baying howls of myriad atrocities, Sariff nodded stiffly, entered the portal and was instantly snatched from the reverberating terror of battle. Materializing moments later to deafening silence, he stepped down from the teleport dais and hastened into the sanctuary’s hushed interior.

Despite the emergency, no guards were posted. In their encounters thus far, the Horde appeared unable to use the matter transporters. Whether it was due to their biophysical properties or simple lack of understanding wasn’t known. Regardless, it was looked on as a blessing. And as this location had been positioned within a tear in the very fabric of reality, it was felt additional security was unnecessary, especially as the soldiers were needed at the wall.

That fact did little to stifle Sariff’s growing unease.

Automated sensors tracked his progress toward the Archive-Architect, a self aware AI construct of stunning complexity and one of their greatest achievements. If all went well, it would also serve as their last bastion of hope against total extinction.

If all goes well.

Snorting at that unlikely outcome, Sariff paused before a concealed entrance and allowed himself to be scanned. Within moments an archway appeared, etched within a glowing framework of light. As it solidified, hidden doors glided back into invisible recesses on either side. A sentinel appeared in midair before Sariff. Looking much like a tiny, concentrated ball of plasma it thrummed with power, and the crisp, cheery voice of the Architect rang from it. “Welcome, First Magister Sariff. Chancellor Calen awaits you within. You will find him completing the final calculations required to activate the Ark.”

Of course I will, he never leaves anything to chance. Aloud Sariff replied, “Thank you, Architect. Is he alone?”

“Yes, First Magister. The rest of the Senatum await you both within the council chambers.”

“I see. Please advise them we will be there shortly. One way or another, this issue must be decided today.”

“Certainly.” The glowing sprite winked away, leaving Sariff alone to ponder the unenviable choice he faced.

But what will I decide? Shaking off the doubt still threatening to cloud his judgment, Sariff crossed into the inner sanctum. As the doors closed behind him, he swore he could hear faint cries from the conflict over a league above, filtering down through the intervening layers of rock. Suppressing a shiver, he quickened his pace, and almost ran the rest of the way along the arterial corridor.

Calen looked up from his work as Sariff burst into the control room. A look of mild amusement creased the scientist’s face. “In a hurry, Sariff?”

Ignoring the jibe, Sariff cast one last glance over his shoulder and threw himself into the nearest available chair. “I just want this matter resolved,” Using the back of his sleeve, he wiped the perspiration from his brow.

Adopting a more serious mien, Calen stood and made his way around to the other side of the console. Sitting back across the desk, he crossed his arms. “Well, that decision now lies with you, old friend. Remember, the Senatum is tied. Your vote will decide whether we fight to the last man or —”

“Or put trust in your schemes,” Sariff cut in.

Looking past his friend, Sariff had to admit the Ark was an impressive concept. He and Calen sat at the top of a borehole that cut straight down for over two leagues through the planet’s substrata. Within that shaft, millions upon millions of genetic samples had been placed in storage. Preserved for a future time when they could be automatically released into a safe and sterile environment to reseed a ravaged world. The only part that stuck in his craw was the fact that none of the Ardenese would be there to actually see it. Their culture would be embryonic; they would have to crawl their way back to the stars all over again. Furthermore, they’d have to rely on outside help for the plan to stand any chance of success.

Struggling to quell his doubts, Sariff asked, “Are you sure this strategy of yours will work?”

“I’m positive. It’s our only real option.,” Activating one of the groundside monitors, the scientist brought the full horror of the siege to bear. “Look at them, Sariff. Just look at them. When we unearthed their hibernation grounds, waking them from slumber, how could we know what we’d unleash on the galaxy?”

They watched silently as the devastating crush continued. Nightmare apparitions in a million different guises continued to expend themselves against the wall without thought or remorse. So driven were they by their urge to feed on life force that they appeared lost to any other consideration.

Calen nodded toward the screen. “Three of the outer colonies fell before we even realized the extent of the danger. A further five when they sent rescue ships. Then ten more when they responded to calls for assistance. We never contemplated the possibility we would ever meet a force sufficient to overwhelm us. Why would we, considering all we have achieved? Our science. Our might. Yet one by one our settlements fell. And each life lost provided our enemies the puissance they needed to overwhelm us.

“Stripping everything of life, the Horde allowed the survivors to flee. In our arrogance, little did we realize the danger. Hiding away among our refugees, the Horde gradually worked its way here, to the richest feeding ground of our civilization. And now, of the eight billion souls once filling Arden with life, only eighty thousand remain, trapped within this city’s confining walls.”

Turning to face his friend, Calen concluded, “If we continue to fight, there will be nothing left. They have followed us here, to home world, and here they must stay. In denying them the opportunity to spread, we consolidate our only real hope for the future.”

Sariff’s face was pale. “So it’s only a matter of time before they breach our defenses and consume us all?”

“As dense as it is, I fear the lydium simply won’t hold. Oh, it may take millennia, but one day those fiends will find a way to negate the electron instability, and when they do . . .” As an afterthought, Calen added, “Of course, without access to supplies or transport, we’ll all be dead long before that. So, we’ve got to make sure we employ an alternate, more radical option, yes?”

“The gateway and the Ark?”

“The gateway and the Ark. I know many will view it as a defeat, Sariff, but my strategy will preserve the seeds of our culture intact . . . And even bless it.”

Sariff sat forward. “Remind me again how it will work?”

“Come and see.” Calen invited the magister across to a larger console and activated a wall screen. An overview of the entire facility bloomed into view, reminding Sariff just how immense the structure was. Constructed from the same fermionic matter as the walls, the Archive existed within a fabricated tear in space-time. Termed rip-space, there was only one way in and one way out. Manipulating the controls, Calen zoomed in on a vast chamber occupying almost the entire bottom floor.

Enlarging the interior of that vault, Calen said, “Following my successful adaptation of the rip-space theorem, I wondered what might happen if I phased the targeting nodes through the DNA buffer of the Ark, and meshed them with the harmonics of the shield. After all, if we’re going to make this grand gesture to deny the Horde, we still need to be able to attract the right caliber of assistance. Look what the test runs revealed.”

He let the simulation run.

Sariff watched as the drama played out. Each time the artificial singularity coalesced, it tore a void through the fabric of subspace, and the telltale corona of a stable wormhole appeared. Even though he wasn’t a scientist, Sariff had witnessed the spectacle often enough to understand what he was looking at. He recognized what Calen was alluding to, for he could plainly see something that shouldn’t be there within the swirling vortex. Every time a link was established, an additional skein of energy materialized, lining the inner fabric of the quantum tunnel itself.

“What’s that?” he gasped, intrigued by the sight of the unexpected phenomenon.

That,” Calen replied, “is what might save us.” Amplifying the area of the event horizon, he continued, “As you noticed, each time we activate the portal, we manage to generate a stable tunnel. It leads to the same place. However, that sub matrix you’re seeing within the bore, the one shimmering through all the colors of the rainbow, that’s something else entirely.”

“What do you mean? Does it go somewhere else?”

“Not somewhere else, Sariff. Somewhen.”

“What?”

“It’s an unexpected chronological or time-related component, which I think has been added by what I call the death factor.”

“Death factor?” Sariff was confused by a term he’d never heard before.

“Yes, my friend. Remember, to activate this gateway we need to energize the matrix with life force. Ours to be exact. Now, as I say, some look on this as a defeat. But in sacrificing ourselves to the Ark, I’ve become certain that we not only deny the Horde our essence, but ultimately guarantee our eventual salvation. And these tests confirm it.”

“How?”

“Well, from what I’ve been able to determine, the sum of our surrendered soul energies will cause a subtle variation in the equation every time a conduit is established. While it won’t affect the geophysical focus, it will influence the temporal manifestation site. In effect, we’ll be looking at a bridge that will flick across time, in its search for . . . a corresponding frequency — a mortality signature if you like — to lock-on to.”

Comprehension dawned. “But . . . but that means the candidates it selects won’t be missed! Nobody will come looking for them.”

“Precisely! The flux will allow the Architect to choose those poor unfortunates who are about to die, and bring them here.”

“But Calen! That can’t be ethical? To snatch someone from the jaws of death, just so they can give their lives here in a hopeless venture on our behalf? It . . . it . . . .”

“They’re dead anyway, Sariff. At least here they might have a fighting chance.”

Both men stared at each other for a while, daunted by the scope of the undertaking before them, and the fact it might actually work. Eventually, Sariff expressed a question he’d forgotten to ask. “So where does the gateway lead?”

Calen had anticipated the request. Flicking a switch, he brought a holographic image of the galaxy to life in the air about them. As it rotated in majestic grandeur, Sariff could see two points within it had been highlighted, respectively, by glowing blue and green discs. Both were connected by an effervescent thread which obviously represented the wormhole.

Sariff knew the position of Arden and all her colonies intimately. Pointing to the green light, he said, “That’s home world, obviously. And the other?”

Walking slowly across to the very edge of one of the galactic spiral arms, Calen used a remote control to enlarge that area of space. A small solar system appeared, centered upon an unimpressive yellow star. The image shimmered again, elaborating the third planet out from the sun in greater detail.

Looking at it, Sariff couldn’t help but voice his thoughts. “It’s certainly a beautiful little world, Calen, but are you sure the Architect has chosen correctly? I mean . . . look at it. They’ve only recently ventured into deep space. How could they possibly hold the key to our salvation?”

“That, I don’t know, my friend. I merely asked the Architect to guarantee, beyond any doubt, that it would select the best possible candidate to ensure our race’s survival. It came up with this. Don’t be fooled by first impressions. Remember, the gateway is temporal. Who knows what surprises this civilization may possess in their future that might turn the tide in our favor?”

“So what do they call it?”

“I’ve been listening in to their radio and microwave chatter for a while now. Evidently, the citizens of this planet like to call it ‘Earth.’”

“Earth?”

“Yes, and she really is our greatest hope for the future.”

They were interrupted by the arrival of a sentinel. “Magister, Chancellor,” it chimed merrily, “the Senatum awaits your presence.”

“We’re coming, Architect,” Sariff replied. “Tell them we’ll be there in a few minutes and they shall have their answer.”

“Very well, good day!” The construct disappeared, leaving the two men to deliberate in private.

Sariff couldn’t tear his eyes away from the image of the tiny blue-white globe. It’s so small and inconspicuous to carry the hopes of our future. And yet . . . .

“So, you’ve made up your mind,” Calen stated flatly.

Turning to his companion, Sariff straightened his back, adjusted his robe, and took a deep breath. “Yes, my friend. Let’s go and get this started.”

© Copyright of this material belongs to Perseid Press – 2015

Author – Andrew P. Weston

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