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.
Mac scanned the route ahead from his position within the skidder. The cargo carrier was three times as large as a normal skimmer and twice as slow. But for today’s mission, it would suit their needs perfectly.
So far so good. We’ve passed several pods of dormant spooks and they haven’t sniffed us out yet. Mohammed’s suggestion to use the modified ammunition appears to be spot on.
They were coming up on two miles from target. As he had time, Mac decided to examine the special ammunition they’d be using today. While mundane manufacturing methods were forging ahead apace, Mohammed had urged the Special Forces team to use an alternate source until it could be ascertained how sensitive the Horde actually was to iron. This mission in particular depended on stealth, and so he had commissioned the production of over ten thousand rounds of crystal jackets. Fashioned by the Ardenese replicators, the batch had been produced in only half a day and were melded to glass tips, each of which had been dipped in iron.
Mac removed one of the new rounds from a spare magazine and rolled it back and forth between thumb and forefinger. Then he hefted it in his cupped hand. Clever idea. The weight and feel of them is superb. If these perform as expected, I’ll ask him to produce more. We can use them on ops where covert movement is essential.
Content, Mac turned his attention to their ‘present’ from Ephraim Miller.
The head of the technical division had excelled himself. Miller had been working on a device to destroy large numbers of the Horde without having to resort to energetic release. He had devised a cunning weapon that employed the use of an unstable micro gravity-well, sheathed within a vacuum. Programmed with an effective life of only three seconds, it was designed to activate and create a quantum vortex. If all went well, it would be able to crush their adversaries out of existence before it expired. As it was still in the experimental stage, it was unknown just how far its active field would reach, so Mac had volunteered to take a prototype with him on a trial run.
To maximize results, the dinner plate-sized device had been housed within its own null-point shield, and strapped to a fuel cell. In that way, once Mac chose to reveal its presence, he could be assured of attracting as many monsters as possible. Mac intended to activate it once the mission was over so they could assess its effectiveness from a safe distance.
It’s a heavy bugger. But then again, if it works, we won’t have to lug them about everywhere. We can use a skimmer to drop them off at strategic locations and detonate them when the time is right.
A barely audible chime sounded in his ear.
Time for final checks. Sitting forward, he activated the intercom-relay and spoke quietly and calmly into the microphone. “All squads standby for verbal checks.”
Pausing to allow everyone in the two craft to come fully alert, he continued. “Alpha, do you copy?” Stu Duggan, Sam Pell and Jumper Collins were traveling in the same vehicle as Mac; each gave him a thumbs-up.
Mac returned the gesture. “We are the fire-team. We will broach the perimeter, secure the hangar, and call in the skidder to help us recover the drones. Understood?”
Each man replied in the affirmative.
Mac turned to Stained-With-Blood and the rest of the Native Americans who sat opposite. “Stained-With-Blood? For the purpose of this mission, you will be Blood-one. Diving Hawk, you are Blood-two. White Eagle, Blood-three. Dancing Snake, Blood-four. You men will act in support. You will protect Ephraim’s ‘present’ and the perimeter breach to ensure our exit point remains free and unobstructed of the enemy. If an emergency arises, leave the device in situ, and fight your way to the RV point. We will activate the bomb remotely to create a diversion. Is that clear?”
“It is, Lieutenant,” Stained-With-Blood replied. The rest of his warriors looked on impassively.
Mac glanced across to the separate party traveling alongside in the other, smaller vehicle. He called, “Bravo, listen in. Mark, Sean, Fonzy, Andy. You are our cover-team. On the next marker, peel away as briefed and set up an observation and sniper post below the astrometrics observatory on Boleni Mount. Andy, Fonzy? You will partner up with the ANS-1X. Mark and Sean will move down from your position to provide midrange cover with the 420s. Roger so far?”
“Roger that,” Mark replied.
“Deploy Ullas and his Damonii around you on the hillside. They are your eyes and ears to danger. Any sign of trouble, get back to your sprinter and rendezvous at the spaceport breach. Confirm?”
“That’s a yes, Boss. All clear.”
Another gentle tone pinged out.
“That’s your signal, Mark,” Mac directed, “good hunting. Stay dark unless you need to update me urgently.”
The skimmer peeled away, and accelerated up the mountainside. Mac watched them go before diverting his attention back to the technicians within the primary skidder. He addressed the civilians. “People. Your job is to assist us in the loading of the drones. As long as you stay within the null-field, you will be completely safe. Remember, you have been equipped with pistols and drilled in their use, so you won’t be entirely defenseless. Does everyone know what they’re doing?”
Half a dozen anxious faces indicated their determination not to mess up.
Good. Here we go. “Fire-team? Final weapons check. Activate HUDs and bring personal shields online. Go to internals. Sam? Ensure the covert link plays through to the spare console so blood-units can keep abreast of the state of play.”
The craft decelerated as the outer perimeter loomed.
In bygone days, the steady ranks of brilliant white pylons arching off into the distance on either side would have been enhanced by a curtain of shimmering blue light. A necessary precaution, to protect the unwary from the energies being unleashed inside as star ships maneuvered to and fro prior to departure. Now, the force field lay dormant. All that remained was an inner, meshed fence.
Mac suppressed a giggle. All that advanced technology and they still find a use for good old chain-link. Please God, don’t let it be made of some unheard-of metal we can’t cut through.
The skidder glided to a halt. Like a well oiled machine, Mac and his men slid over the sidewall and dropped to the ground. Fanning out, they quickly ascertained the way was clear. Mac signaled to Stained-With-Blood and his warriors to join them.
Once everyone was ready, they edged forward and positioned themselves against the railing itself. Mac removed a small sachet from within one of his pockets and broke the seal on top of the spout. Selecting two areas spaced widely apart, he sprayed solvent from inside the pouch over the top links. A pungent aroma filled the air. It was closely followed by a faint sizzling sound. Acid ate through the resin-covered wire, its progress marked by faint wisps of smoke. Within moments, the entire section sagged forward, to be caught by the waiting teams.
Beckoning the skidder forward, Mac used hand signals to indicate that the mine should be lowered over the side. Taking possession of the device, he glanced about, and selected an area several yards outside the entry point to position it. The breach should siphon the bastards into a more concentrated knot before we blow it.
Mac stared toward the Garnet Mountains in the west. About an hour until sundown. Perfect. Time to get the ball rolling. Activating the internal system, he called, “All units, those with HUDs are to switch to rotating frequencies now. Primary pattern will be sonic motion diffusers. Infrared and ultraviolet will be set to secondary. Remember, until we retrieve the drones, stealth is of the utmost importance. Do not engage the enemy unless you have to. Once we have our consignment onboard, it’ll be gloves off. You know what’s expected. Good luck, everyone.”
With that, he turned and ushered the fire-team forward.
Mac had decided to avoid the terminal altogether and had fashioned their entrance in an area adjacent to the main building and opposite a vehicular subway. The plans indicated the four hundred yard long tunnel would give direct access onto the facilities service road.
Adopting a diamond formation, Mac led the way as they crossed into an outer zone that looked as if it used to be used for parking. The huge glass windows of the reception wing caught the ruby-red shafts of the setting sun and enhanced them. Reflected, they bathed Mac and his men in warmth and glory. Despite the danger, Mac felt an ineffable moment of peace and tranquility that made him yearn to stay in that one spot forever. He checked his step.
“Boss?” Stu queried.
“Relax, boys,” Mac replied, indicating the burnished image before them, “just enjoying the moment, and catching some rays on a beach somewhere.”
“Damn! And I forgot my sun block, too.” Jumper patted himself down in a mock effort to discover the elusive tube of cream.
Suppressed sniggers skittered back and forth over the airwaves. Dressed as they were from head to toe in protective armor, the quip wasn’t wasted on anyone.
“Okay, quiet down,” Mac said, “my bad. Stay sharp. We’ve got a job to do.”
Discipline restored, they pressed onward without incident until the tarmac began to fall away into the underpass. From his position, Mac could see the central roadway within was lined on either side by raised, gantry-style walkways. The angle of the sun created sharp contrasts between light and dark, and the interior soon became lost in shadow. Mac shut his free eye to help it adjust to the muted conditions they would find inside.
“Dust devil formation,” he instructed.
The team split into pairs. As they disappeared into the gloom, each soldier positioned himself back to back with his buddy. Advancing, they pirouetted around each other. Progress was slow but sure. High and low, left and right, every nook and cranny was scrutinized with professional objectivity.
Ebony stretched away before them, exacerbated by the glaring aperture presented by the other end of the tunnel. The rotational frequency displayed on their HUDs reduced the disparity considerably.
Something caught Mac’s attention. He froze. “Stop, stop!”
Scanning the causeways ahead, he could see an undulating distortion in the air. It was faint, but definitely something that shouldn’t be there. Horde?
“Take a knee,” he whispered. “Eyes on. Ten and two o’clock high.”
As he waited for the rest of his team to consider the anomalies ahead, Mac tried to define what he was seeing. He zoomed in. Yup, it’s them all right. At rest and in an almost catatonic condition. Ayria said they adopted this kind of state when they went inactive, but this is the first time I’ve really had a chance to study them asleep.
The rippling curtains had no defined parameters, and seemed content to etch the darkness in shivers. A baffling amalgam of substance and texture, the proximity of each specimen couldn’t be clearly defined. Yet every so often, one of them released a pulse of electric-blue desire which skittered off through their collective consciousness. As it did so, rumbles of protest and outbursts of lurid scarlet energy split the air, distinguishing an alarming array of horns, talons, and fangs, all packed tightly together.
There must be hundreds of them.
“No second-guesses required then?” Sam said as another plasma ribbon crackled through the right-hand mass. Arching across the subway, the discharge danced through the sleeping essences lining the opposite catwalk, almost rousing them from slumber.
Waiting patiently for the disturbance to subside, Sam offered his opinion. “Boss, they’re obviously in some form of suspended animation or sleep-like condition. Most probably to conserve strength while there’s nothing about to feast on. But look at them. From the way they’re acting, it appears to me as if some of them are dreaming.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Remember our last op, where some of the Horde tried to ambush us? They’d hidden themselves under the ground and reduced their auras so they were practically indistinguishable from their surroundings.”
“Much like what we have here.”
“Yes, but we didn’t see any of these static flares. They were awake, they were lucid, and in control. They were making a deliberate attempt to increase the element of surprise. This is something different. They’re not expecting any action whatsoever. In fact, they’re so chilled, they’ve flaked out. And what happens when a cognitive mind falls asleep?”
Realization sent a thrill along Mac’s spine. It dreams! What the hell would monsters fantasize about? Hang on! But that would mean these sneaky buggers are . . .“Jesus, we’ve got to make sure this intel gets back. Guys, take things nice and steady. There’s more to these spooks than we think. Don’t do anything that might wake them up. Once we exit the tunnel, I’m going to relay a message back to Commander Cameron. Some egghead ought to be able to make sense of all this.”
Glancing ahead, Mac could see where some of the Horde had spilled over the railings on both sides of the subway, only to lie inert on the tarmac.
Fortunately for us the road is so wide.
Tightening formation, they crept forward again. Mac advised, “Use your cold lights to mark the edge of the mass. Err on the side of caution. Give the driver at least a yard’s grace on either side.”
One by one, each team member removed a number of small plastic tubes from a special pocket on the side of his belt. The sticks looked inconspicuous until they were bent into an inverted V shape and shaken roughly. That procedure broke a small chamber in the middle of the rod that allowed two inert chemicals to mix together. Once combined, the liquid glowed with a soft, red phosphorus radiance. Designed to last close to twenty minutes, they would provide a safe channel for the skidder to navigate without having to resort to lights.
Slowly, arduously, the team picked their way through the slumber party from hell. Leaving their beacons every five yards or so, it took them just over ten minutes to emerge into the cool dusk air.
Adopting a defensive arc, each soldier scanned the vicinity. The dwindling light cast a spectral shroud over the scene. To one side, for almost as far as the eye could see, the silhouettes of a multitude of spacecraft in all shapes and sizes haunted the launch and standby zones. Further along, closer to the terminus, mystery hulks peeped out from the ranks of pens and hangars edging the field, hinting at further mysteries within. Witnessing the number of liners now lying abandoned chilled Mac to the bone. He recalled Saul’s words from the briefing of only a few weeks previously. “How about that,” he murmured. “Marie Celeste doesn’t do it justice. It’s a ships’ graveyard.”
“Yeah, except that these skeletons will probably still work when you crank them up,” Sam ventured. “If they’re powered by aqua-cells as the commander hinted, we could have an alternate escape route off this rock, right there in front of us.”
“Link your HUDs together,” Mac directed, “capture everything you can. The guys back at base need as much live-time information as possible for an accurate review once we’ve wrapped things up here.” That reminds me.
Mac’s com-set was strapped to the inside of his left forearm. Using the keypad, he compressed the data into a condensed file, and prepared to send it back to Rhomane. Had he been on Earth, Mac would only have needed to enter the command ‘send’ and a satellite link would have completed the rest of the task. Here, he would have to transmit the information via the skidder parked out at the entrance.
He hailed the driver of that craft. “Nick? Can you hear me?”
“Yes, I’m here,” an anxious voice replied. “Do you . . . do you want me to come on through now?”
“In a moment. I’m sending you an important document for the operations room. Relay it on to them immediately. Once they’ve confirmed its receipt, you can join us.”
“Okay. You . . . you’re sending it now, yes?”
“It’s on the way,” Mac replied, as he pressed the button.
“Got it.” There was a slight pause as Nick transferred the information on as requested. “All done,” he confirmed. “S . . . so I can drive the skidder through now?”
Mac could hear how nervous Nick was. They’re not used to this kind of pressure. I’d better get them busy and take their minds off things. Aloud, he replied, “That’s right Nick. If you would be so kind as to take charge of your crew? Make sure they have their weapons ready, just in case, but leave the safety catches on for now. Fingers are to remain alongside the guard unless you know you need to fire. That’s not going to happen, though. The only Horde we’ve passed are all dormant within the confines of the subway, up on the gantries. A few have spilled out into the road, so travel slow, and keep between the flares.”
“Will do. I’m on my way.”
Mac had an idea. “I’m sending Jumper and Stu back down the tunnel to meet you. Their stealth armor will be active, but we’ll get them to trigger a green-colored glow-rod to mark their positions. They’ll walk you through the rest of the way.”
“Thanks, Mac. Much appreciated.”
Mac nodded toward his comrades, and they scuttled back into the underpass. Once they had disappeared from sight, Mac spoke quietly with Sam Pell. He indicated the second building along the eastern quarter. “That’s our target. The way looks relatively clear, so I don’t want to go snooping about in there until we have to. We’ve got a few minutes, how about we check out the nearest ship?”
“What, go off mission?”
“Not exactly. After all, we are here to gain intelligence as well.” Mac set his sights on a small shuttled-sized vehicle parked only fifty yards away. The front side hatch was open and a short platform had been lowered to the ground, presumably by its previous occupants. Directing Sam’s attention toward it, he continued, “It’s close. It’s open, and we only need take a look. If we can record the state of the interior and what controls it employs, someone back at base might know how to power it up and fly it. Just think of the tactical advantage it would give us. We’ll be in and out before Nick and the rest rejoin us.”
“What the hell,” Sam replied, “let’s do it.”
Scampering forward, the two men quickly closed on the abandoned craft. When they were ten yards from it, Mac made a looping gesture with the index fingers of both hands. They split up. Advancing in opposite directions, they commenced a slow circle of the ship.
Spinning constantly, Mac surveyed the area about him. The silence was otherworldly, and he had to fight down the feeling that something was going to jump out on him at any moment. The sensation increased as he met up with Sam below the open door. So where the hell are they? “Anything?”
“Not a squeak, Boss. For a place that’s supposed to be overrun with Horde, it’s a bit of an anticlimax.”
“Unless they’re taking shelter? Like back in the tunnel?”
“There’s only one way to find out for sure.”
“I’ll leave my camera on the rotating bandwidth,” Mac cautioned. “You switch yours to lowlight. Take in everything you can.”
Side by side, the specialists crept their way up the tiered ramp. Entering through the hatch, they emerged inside what appeared to be a reception area. A swift check determined the front compartment housed a spacious flight deck, while the first rearward section contained the crew’s quarters. A heavily armored archway led through to the back hold.
After ensuring to record anything that might be of value, Mac decided it was time to check out the cargo area. “C’mon, let’s get this finished and meet up with the others.”
Stepping forward, they discovered the huge doors were automatic. As he passed through, Mac staggered, overcome by sudden vertigo. Next to him, Sam also stumbled. Urging his colleague into a kneeling position, Mac whispered, “Check your radiation monitor. Something’s not right here.”
Glancing at his own patch, Mac could see the indicator was still showing green. Strange? Peering forward, he noticed the interior of the storeroom was masked by a large container. Squeezing Sam by the shoulder, he said, “You go left, I’ll go right. Complete a figure-of-eight sweep of what’s on the other side and then we’ll get out of here, just in case we’re being dosed with something that doesn’t show up on our monitors. Agreed?”
With infinite care, the two men shuffled forward.
Mac skirted the edge of the barrier and felt a tingling sensation in the air. He flicked his weapon’s safety to the off position. Discerning that nothing else was moving within the compartment, he lingered for a moment to take stock before pressing on. As Mac maneuvered past the crate, he was presented with a confusing spectacle.
A gray void hung in midair. An asperity, rent through the specifics of reality. Mac backtracked and hissed, “Sam, retreat now. Get out, get out.”
He’d only managed to take a few steps when the gyre flared, and a wave of dizzying proportions radiated from the anomaly. A sudden vacuum sucked the air from his lungs, and he was crushed to the floor. Forced to crawl, Mac scrambled into a corner and raised his machine gun into a firing position.
What the fu . . . ?
He froze as a shadow cast by an alternate dimension canted his senses like a ship in a storm. A twelve foot high apparition appeared. Sheathed in purple-blue radiance, and with a dancing coronet of violet and crimson flames above its head, it took a moment to gain its bearings before stomping toward Mac like an auger of doom.
© Copyright of this material belongs to Perseid Press – 2015
Author – Andrew P. Weston