Title: The IX
Author: Andrew P. Weston
Genre: Science Fiction
Roman legionaries, far from home, lost in the mists of Caledonia. A US cavalry company, engaged on a special mission, vital to the peace treaty proposed by Presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln. A twenty-first century Special Forces unit, desperate to prevent a nuclear catastrophe. From vastly different backgrounds, these soldiers are united when they are snatched away from Earth at the moment of their passing. Thinking they may have been granted a reprieve, imagine their horror when they discover they have been transported to a failing planet on the far side of the galaxy, where they are given a simple ultimatum. Fight or die. Against all odds, this group of misfits manages to turn the tide against a relentless foe, only to discover the true cost of victory might exact a price they are unwilling to pay. How far would you be willing to go to stay alive? The IX. Sometimes, death is only the beginning of the adventure.
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, almost running 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?”
What’s the first binge-worthy book you read and why was it a must-read?
There are several that I remember with equal fondness. One that comes to mind is “Lord Foul’s Bane” by Stephen Donaldson. I came across it quite by chance in a bookstore and ended up reading almost a third of the book before I left . . . with purchase in hand! It captured my imagination from the outset as it was so different to anything I’d seen in a long, long time. A must read, because Donaldson is a superb world builder and master wordsmith. Try his work. You’ll see.
What makes your featured book a binge-worthy read?
There’s something there for everyone who loves sci-fi. Roman legionaries; Celtic warriors; cowboys and Indians; modern-day Special Forces and the terrorists they are sent to eliminate. And they’re all thrown into a smelting pot of having to work together to stand a chance of surviving a fiendish foe intent on consuming all life in the universe. And our heroes don’t get it all their own way either. . .
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Andrew P. Weston is a Royal Marine and Police veteran from the UK who now lives on the beautiful Greek island of Kos with his wife, Annette, and their growing family of rescue cats.
As creator of the critically acclaimed IX Series, along with Hell Bound, Hell Hounds, and Hell Gate, (novels forming part of Janet Morris' Heroes in Hell universe), Andrew has the privilege of being a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, the British Fantasy Society, and the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers.
When not working, he also devotes some of his spare time to assisting NASA with one of their remote research projects, and writes educational articles for Astronaut.com and Amazing Stories.
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