Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Eden's Endgame - Xmas Teaser...

I already have a number of people hassling me for the final book in the Eden Paradox series, so here is something to read in the meantime. It will probably be the first chapter. I say probably because in all three of the books so far, editorial decisions have swapped the first few chapters around. In any case, here it is, and Happy Xmas to all my readers!

Jen and Dimitri freefell towards the planet, helmeted heads first, like two silver bullets. Jen read the purple timer in the right corner of her visor ten minutes already since they'd shot out of the Ice Pick parked safely above them in orbit, another ten till touchdown. Ukrull had refused to land, and as usual had refused to explain why. At least there was no atmosphere to worry about.
To one side there were no stars whatsoever. On the other a bright swathe of stars blazed; she was on the galactic rim. Her heart beat harder whenever she stared towards the galactic equivalent of an abyss, so she focused instead on their destination below. The planet was dark, even though this was the side facing the systems red dwarf star. As she tried to make out details, her helmet sensors registered the ocular effort and zoomed in via her visor. But there were no distinguishing marks, only a flat plain of grey dust, an ocean of iron filings. It was all that was left of the Xera, the hyper-intelligent machine race that had almost taken over the galaxy two million years earlier. The other inhabitants in the galaxy had barely survived, but had finally put the Xera down, leaving nothing but this tomb planet, ten kilometres deep with metal ash. It was a memento, a shrine, and above all a warning. And now she and Dimitri were there to find a machine remnant, and wake it up.
As the planet grew large beneath her, so that the terrain below stretched far and flat in all directions, she took one last look towards inter-galactic space. She and Dimitri knew pretty much nothing about the machine race; apparently such intel was only fit for Level Fifteen and above. When theyd arrived, however, shed asked how the machine race had started at the galactic rim; it seemed unlikely. Ukrull had replied, Before machines, galaxy bigger. She reckoned the machine race had somehow chewed up entire star systems and planets for resources. Either that or the purge of the machines at the end of the war had necessitated a clean-up operation of unimaginable scale. She felt chilled inside her suit.
            Jen glanced across to her lover and former mentor Dimitri, his bulkier space suit looking awkward, his arms wavering as if to stabilize himself, when there was as yet no appreciable gravity. Fingers inside his gloved hands splayed as if for protection against an imminent fall. His helmet, like hers, only showed from half-way up the nose to the eyebrows, through an almost invisible visor, but she could see his eyes were wide.
Are you okay? she asked.
            She knew him better than that. While she was enjoying the ride, he was clearly terrified. This was taking too long. Pierre, how close are we? I cant see the entrance. She waited, wondering if Pierre and Ukrull sitting in the Ice Pick in geo orbit were paying attention, or were involved in some deep discussion about tactics in case Qorall had tracked them.
Twenty klicks to the right, Jen. Pierres voice still sounded synthetic, though he mostly had his humanity back. Im vectoring your suits that way. When we blasted the drop-shaft there was some blowback debris. Should be safe now.
            Should? She knew Dimitri could hear Pierre, too.
            Ukrulls growly voice sounded loud in her helmet. Safe.
            The altitude readout in the corner of her visor said one hundred twenty klicks. Abruptly her suit-thrusters kicked in, and her head and internal organs squeezed to the left as she and her lover tacked to the right. Within thirty seconds she saw the gaping hole in the dust-sea, blacker than its surroundings.
After seven minutes she felt the top of her head press against the helmet as they began to decelerate. Lights, please, she said.
            Either Pierre or Ukrull activated the drones sent down earlier, and the ten-kilometre chasm beneath them lit up like a glistening, bottomless coal shaft. Piece of cake, Dimitri, she said.
            He grunted something. Dimitri was normally loquacious. Shed thought the light might help, but it only emphasised how fast and deep they had to go. The decel continued as they plunged into the borehole lasered by the Ice Pick, thirty metres across, a perfect cylinder, its cauterized wall a black mirror reflecting two blurred shapes tearing downwards. She tried to breathe normally. Dimitris arms started to flail. Pierre, can you slow us right down?
            Were on a tight schedule, Jen. You know as well as I –”
            Pierre, just do it.
            She thought she heard Ukrulls grunting laugh, like breaking rocks, but there was no other response. They began to brake hard. Firing her micro-thrusters she drifted towards Dimitri, within arms length. The halo of small helmet lights around his face accentuated his dark bushy eyebrows, those wide, generous eyes, but covered his dark moustache and goatee. He looked shaky. She activated suit comms so Pierre and Ukrull would not hear. Take my hand, please, she said.
            He stared straight down, his eye-brows connected. I am fine, my love, its just –”
            Im not. Please, take my hand.
            He turned to her, and she stared into those large, normally laughing eyes, now wild, like a cornered animal. He reached out and grasped her hand hard. She didnt flinch, though it hurt at first. She saw him blink hard.
            I must seem a big fool to you.
            She said nothing, the best way to get him to talk.
            Im afraid of heights, my one weakness.
            She laughed, not unkindly. But you lived on Santorini, high above the waves. And for the record, you have plenty of other weaknesses.
            He let out one short staccato laugh. I left as soon as I could, to Athens. 
            Were nearly there, she said.
            Its okay, Im feeling better, we can go a little faster. Pierre is right, were on a tight schedule.
            Just because Pierre is never wrong, doesnt mean hes always right. She flicked a comms switch at her waist. Pierre, half-speed, please.
            Jen gazed downwards, into the blackness. She tried to suppress a gnawing intuition that this was going to be a one-way trip, and squeezed Dimitris hand, glad he was with her.
            Suddenly two steady blobs of light appeared below; their reflections. "Pierre!"
            Decel was severe this time, her head rammed into the top of her helmet. At first she flailed her arms as Dimitri had earlier, then she punched the thruster controls on her heels, flicking herself upright, awkwardly, till they auto-stabilised. With relief she saw Dimitri had also executed the same manoeuvre, but they were still dropping too fast, their reflections still a blur on the sides of the shaft. "Pierre, dammit!" She felt Dimitri's arm tug around her waist. pulling her against his larger frame, trying to protect her. Abruptly their suits fired with a blaze of blue flame, Jen feeling herself sinking inside her suit, compressing towards her heels. Dimitri let go; just as well if they were not to begin an uncontrolled tumble. A second later she hit the ground, attempted to roll to absorb some of the kinetic energy, but instead sprawled, her visor whacking against the smooth metal floor, banging her forehead hard against the padded interior of the helmet. She ended up on her back. At least the visor hadn't cracked. Her partner loomed over her, holding out his hand. You're tougher than you let on, Dimitri. Accepting it, she got to her feet, checked herself. Nothing broken or sprained. Dimitri was smiling, probably grinning, now that they'd landed and he could go play the explorer. But Jen wasn't smiling.
            "Fucking hell, Pierre, you almost -"
            "Jen, are you both alright? There was an energy surge down there, off the scale, blocked us for a minute."
            The concern in his normally unemotional voice stalled her anger. "So, we're not alone then," she said. The weight of what they had been sent to do finally hit her. She'd thought it a probably a dead end, the galactic equivalent of an urban myth. How could the other species not have finished the job two million years ago?
            Jen nodded to Dimitri. "Okay, Pierre, we're going in."
            This way, Dimitri said, his voice regaining some of its customary exuberance. He pointed, and she saw the circular tunnel off to the left. Ukrulls precision never ceased to amaze her: thirty thousand kilometres up, hed sunk a hole ten kilometres deep to exactly where hed detected the network and a single, very faint, heat signature. Inside she felt a shiver again; the machines had been supposed long dead, but the tunnel entrance looked fresh. There should have been no tunnels, no heat signatures, no power surges. Jen wished she'd brought along a tactical nuke.
            Lets go, my sweet! Dimitri said, and went bounding towards the tunnel's mouth.
            She smiled, happy with his return to form as an enthusiastic explorer, but then pursed her lips; she knew how often it got them into trouble. Wait for me, Dimitri. Jen ran after him, the low grav allowing her to take long leaps as he disappeared from view. She flicked on the finder, but it registered nothing. That didnt sound good. Hey, I said wait up!

Merry Xmas everyone

The Eden Paradox Series:
The Eden Paradox  where we are betrayed...
Eden's Trial   where we are judged...
Eden's Revenge  where we fight back...
Eden's Endgame  where it all ends... (available Spring 2014)

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