Ix Incursion: The Chaos Wave Book 2, страница 1
Other Books by James Palmer
Into the Weird
Archer of Venus
Gideon Cain: Demon Hunter
Blackthorn: Thunder on Mars
Mars McCoy: Space Ranger vol. 2
Tales of the Rook vol. 2
The Amazing Harry Houdini volume 1
Legends of New Pulp Fiction
Betrayal on Monster Earth
The Chaos Wave
A Mechanoid Press Book
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are either products of the authors' imagination or are used fictitiously.
IX INCURSION: THE CHAOS WAVE BOOK TWO
Copyright © 2017 James Palmer
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portion thereof, in any form, save for brief passages to be quoted in reviews.
A Mechanoid Press Book
Sign up for the mailing list and read the prequel for free!
Reka awoke with a start.
Was the faint boom she heard stray fireworks? The Ratification Day festivities had been over for hours. It could have been the vestiges of a half-remembered dream. She lay there in the dark, listening.
There it was again. A little louder this time, closer. Whatever it was, she knew it wasn’t fireworks.
She pushed herself up in bed, swung her feet out and to the floor. There was another one, smaller, a good distance to the east. She went to her window and looked up and out. The night sky was alive with fire.
“Ships,” she whispered to the empty room. She saw their lights as they flew through the black sky on gouts of blue ion flame. They weren’t Navy ships, or private craft. Her father had served in the Solar Navy, had fought the Dragons as an infantryman until one of them had nearly torn off his right leg. He had taught her well. She knew all about the vehicles the military used. These weren’t any craft she had ever seen before.
She ran from her room screaming.
A deafening concussion slammed into her like a giant hammer, knocking her backwards. When she sat up, sputtering, deafened, she blinked away tears to see the front half of her printed plastic home turned to glowing slag. “Father!” she called, but she knew it was no use. Her parents were dead, killed by whomever piloted those black ships that buzzed about like angry neo wasps.
One of them wheeled overhead silently, raining particle beam death onto a house across the street. Reka knew she had to move, had to get up, had to run from that place. But she stayed rooted to the spot.
With a final effort she heaved herself up and broke into a run, shards of glass and cooling plastic piercing the soles of her bare feet. She hurt all over, and felt something warm on the back of her head. She touched it and brought back slick black blood.
She ran, panting. She had no idea where to go, sought only to get away from the black ships. The smell of burning reached her nostrils. The skyline was orange with flame.
Reka ran, crying, her mind racing with questions: Why was this happening? Who would do something like this? Was it the Dragons? She wanted her mother. She wanted her father.
Reka broke through a stand of brush and saw a group of people emerging from their homes and running up the street, people she recognized. Children from her class, one of the teachers. They were being escorted by some of her father’s friends, weapons in their hands, their faces soot-stained and grim. She ran to catch up, screaming for them to wait, but the sounds of the enemy’s searing energy weapons drowned out her voice. She waved her arms, and one of the men saw her. He was wide-eyed and fearful, looking over her head and past her. Reka realized he wasn’t looking at her.
She glanced over her shoulder. Coming up the street behind her was a phalanx of glittering, shimmering forms. They looked like giant metal insects with glowing red eyes. They walked on two legs, the knees bent backwards, and their metal feet tramped loudly up the nighttime street toward them. In their hands they held weapons of sweeping, curved metal that glowed with a faint blue light. They raised them as they moved forward, and the men started shooting at them, heedless of Reka’s presence. She dived to the right, cowering behind a parked scrambler, its carapace melted by one of the enemy ships’ strange energy weapons.
Reka watched fearfully as the men’s weapons had no effect on the marching alien soldiers, their powerful slugs and flechettes bouncing harmlessly off their metal skin. The advancing marauders fired now, searing blue beams ripping through the darkness to strike with keen precision. The men screamed as they fell, their bodies blackened, burned.
Their blue beams bit into the crowd now, and Reka curled into a ball and squeezed her eyes shut, hoping this was just a nightmare and she would wake up soon. Long seconds passed. When she dared open them again, she saw a trio of metallic horrors standing over her. It was the last thing she ever saw.
Captain Noah Hamilton took a sip of water as he stared up at the row of admirals who had been grilling him for what seemed an eternity. His cochlear implant chimed the hour. How much longer was this going to take?
“Captain,” said Admiral Clarke, staring down at Hamilton from the center of the long, raised table. One too many de Gray treatments had given his skin the appearance of sandblasted brick. “You testified earlier that Admiral Sheldon was working with Straker on this conspiracy.”
“That is correct,” Hamilton replied, leaning into the hair-thin microphone in front of him as he spoke.
“Do you know of any other associates of Straker’s?”
“No. Just the Draconi captain of the Razor, now deceased, Sergeant Dutton, and those Straker commanded aboard the Armitage, chiefly Weber and Tucker.”
“What about Lieutenant Commander Niles?” asked Clarke. “She worked closely with Straker for many years.”
“Commander Niles has been cleared of any wrongdoing,” said Hamilton, testily. “She escaped from Straker, and was later kidnapped by him. She was vital in providing us with intel that led to the reprogramming of the Swarm probes, as well as uncovering Straker’s plot. She—”
“Easy there, Captain,” said Admiral Sutter, a woman sitting to Clarke’s left. She was about twenty years older than Hamilton, her platinum hair wound in a tight bun. “You’re making this personal, and it isn’t. We have a serious problem on our hands, and it is one of the jobs of this inquiry to root out any other members of Straker’s little cult.”
“I realize that, Admiral, but we’ve gone over this before.”
“And we’ll go over it again if we have to,” finished Sutter. “Especially since Colonel Straker isn’t here to answer these charges.”
A slightly younger man on the far left end of the table raised a hand. Hamilton remembered his name was Benson. “I’d like to ask a question about these Swarm probes. Are you certain that they were rendered harmless?”
“They have been restored to their original programming,” said Hamilton, “which is merely to explore. They reproduce when needed by making copies of themselves using raw materials from lifeless planets and asteroids.”
“Is that the extent of their abilities?”
“No,” said Hamilton. “They have also shown themselves to be highly intelligent, perhaps even sentient.”
A low rumble went up through the audience assemble
“I do not.”
More gasps of surprise. Clarke banged his gavel for silence.
Hamilton braced himself for another round of questions when something caught the admirals’ attention. One by one their heads cocked to the left, the telltale sign that their cochlear implants had chimed with an incoming message, and all at once.
They appeared to listen, nodded, spoke under their breaths, and began conferring with each other in whispers. After a long moment, Admiral Clarke banged his gavel. “Due to unforeseen circumstances we must call a recess to these proceedings.”
Hamilton pushed himself back from the table and stood, happy to stretch his legs. He was also happy to get out of there, whatever the reason, but he knew it couldn’t be good.
Hamilton headed for the two huge plastic doors, ignoring questions from the voyeurs who were covering the proceedings. He swatted a swarm of gnat cams out of his face as he exited the room.
He faced a wide hallway that was mostly empty. A few people milled around or sat waiting on wide benches, engrossed in their slates or staring out narrow viewing ports at the planet below. Hamilton started off down the hallway, ignoring calls from the voyeurs as they exited the hearing room, hanging a left and disappearing through a little known service corridor and down a flight of stairs. He came out in the observation lounge, a wide, round room ringed with windows looking out onto deep space. He looked around until he spotted a familiar face among the half dozen or so officers and civilians that were looking out at the stars.
“Penny for your thoughts?” he said as he stepped up behind her, his face reflecting in the thick duraglass of the viewport. Commander Leda Niles turned toward him and smiled, then focused her attention back on the sea of stars.
“How’d it go in there?”
“Well,” said Hamilton, “considering they asked the same dozen or so questions, I have absolutely no idea.”
Leda uttered nervous laughter and continued staring through the viewport. “How long do you think this will take?”
“I don’t know,” said Hamilton. “I’m hoping not too much longer. The admirals all got a call just now, then called recess.”
Hamilton nodded. “I wonder what’s going on.”
“I want to be out there,” said Leda after a long moment. “We’ve done nothing but stay cooped up here answering their questions.”
“I wouldn’t say the Citadel is exactly cramped,” said Hamilton with a grin. The Citadel was the largest space station ever constructed by human hands, measuring more than three miles long from the observation blister where they stood to the huge docking ring where their ship, the Zelazny, waited. Only the Progenitor Archives dwarfed it in size.
“You know what I mean.” She scratched at her right temple. “We should be out there, doing something.”
“I know. And we will. The admirals just have to get all their ducks in a row first, come up with a clear plan. They’re dealing with high treason here, and everyone they’d like to court martial is either dead or missing.”
“What did they ask you about this time around?”
Hamilton shrugged. “A lot of different things. They wanted to know more about Straker’s associates, and the Swarm.” He left out the part about them questioning her allegiance.
“You think Straker is still alive,” he said. It wasn’t a question.
“I don’t think they’d be asking so many questions about him if he was dead,” she said. “They searched the wreckage of the Armitage. His personal ship—my old ship—the Warsprite, was missing. It had been launched before the ship was destroyed.”
“Someone else could have taken it,” offered Hamilton.
Leda shook her head. “It was keyed to Straker’s biometrics. He reprogrammed it after I took the job as his assistant.”
Their cochlear implants chimed in unison, and they glanced at their wrist slates.
“We’ve got orders,” said Hamilton, relieved he wouldn’t have to sit through another hearing.
Leda was smiling, but that smile turned to a frown as she read the message that scrawled across her slate. “Oh no.”
“The Vargas colony has been wiped out,” said Hamilton, looking up from his slate. “We’re to head there at once to investigate, but not to engage.”
“Makes sense,” said Leda. “We still don’t know what we’re up against. Are they sure it wasn’t the Draconi?”
Hamilton consulted his slate. “Says here the entire planet has been rendered uninhabitable. Good Lord.”
“The Chaos Wave,” Leda said. “It’s here.”
“Looks that way. Let’s get to the Zelazny.”
“After you, Captain.”
Draconi Science Liaison Drizda lay upon her heated rock and breathed a heavy sigh. Her duties had been many as of late, and she was elated to finally have a moment all to herself. She glanced at her slate, which was held suspended from an adjustable armature that she had positioned at eye level. Now she could read while the heat from her electric rock seeped through her scaly skin and into her bones, warming and relaxing her.
She spoke a single word in Draconi, and her slate awoke, displaying a portion of the Progenitor Epics she had been working on for the longest time. She had always been a casual student of the Epics, but her experiences aboard the Onslaught combating the Swarm had renewed her interest in them. And with the Chaos Wave probably on its way, Drizda wanted to see if she could unlock another of the Epics’ secrets.
She read through a familiar passage once more. This portion of the Epics had been translated into Standard; the Draconi had refused to study anything created by what they deemed a “lesser race,” and what translations in Drizda’s tongue that existed were sparse and contained added and unnecessary obeisances to the Egg Mother. Besides, much of the Progenitor’s musical language wasn’t translatable into Draconi in the first place. The humans had done a much better job.
Finishing the last line, Drizda shifted slightly on her rock and read it once more. This particular passage concerned something the Progenitors called the Light of Ages. Various theories had sprouted among both human and Draconi kind about what it could mean. Many humans thought it was some sort of limitless power source. The Draconi believed it was some sort of weapon that the Egg Mother created so that they could defeat their enemies. Drizda knew this was ridiculous, of course, but she still leaned toward it being a weapon, though what form it took she had no idea.
Of course, it could just be something of profound cultural or religious significance to the Progenitors and nothing more. Maybe it was something that didn’t translate well into Standard or Draconi, and its origins were entirely innocuous.
But Drizda didn’t think so. She held on to the belief that it was a weapon, and if she could find it, she could help the Solar Navy stop the Chaos Wave once and for all.
Helping the humans. It would be enough to get her cast out again in certain circles. But their two races had to work together or they were all doomed. That was something too, she knew. How many other races there might have been in the distant past, they had died alone when the Chaos Wave rolled through. This time, they knew the Wave was coming. This time they would be ready. This time they had each other.
If Drizda could find the Light of Ages.
She read a bit further. “You will find the Light of Ages between the seven stars,” she read aloud. Clearly these were directions, but could it be more vague? Which seven stars? Also, between was a highly relative term when you were dealing with astronomical distances. And also, she wasn’t sure “stars” was the right word. The Progenitor used a different word for star, and this wa
She breathed heavily and pushed the slate away. She blinked twice with her nictitating membranes to clear her dry eyes, then sat up. Another snippet of xenoarchaeological lore came to her. It was believed, commonly among artifact hunters, that there was an object called the Progenitor Icon that would lead the finder to the exact location of the Light of Ages. The only problem was it was shrouded in more superstition and legend than the Light of Ages itself. No one knew if it really existed, and hoax versions of the fabled artifact popped up all the time, created by nefarious traders hoping to make a quick buck off the gullible. But what if there was a grain of truth to that story as well?
Drizda couldn’t find one mention of it in the Epics, though the Progenitors would have likely called it something else.
Drizda got up from her rock and growled low in her throat. By the twin suns of the Homeworld, she would not spend her time chasing after myths and legends. She was a scientist. She must remain guided by the truth.
She knelt and removed the slate from the armature’s cradle. The truth told her that there was something to the Progenitor Epics. The truth told her that the Light of Ages was real.
And she, Science Liaison Drizda of the Draconi Science Academy, was going to find it. The fate of worlds depended on it.
Commander Leda Niles stood in the center of the padded fighting arena and watched as her five opponents faced her, forming a wide semicircle around her. She eyed each of them carefully, wondering which one of them would make the first move. They looked at her warily, their eyes hooded under their protective gear. A tall, muscular black woman stepped forward first. Leda gave a sly grin. It was Corporal Johnson, one of the Marines serving on board the Zelazny.