Monday, 6 April 2015

The enemy of my enemy...

The galaxy is a really big place, as Douglas Adams once pronounced. When thinking about it, you have to think really big, too. Most of the time people deduce from this truism that there might be other habitable, and inhabited worlds out there. That's not big thinking. That's like adding instead of multiplying. If there is even one more inhabited world out there, then using 'galactic statistics', there are probably thousands of such worlds. Why haven't we seen any other species? Take a look at the first sentence again.

It implies something else as well. Other intelligent species can have a very extreme range of emotions and attitudes. We can conveniently dump them into a continuum between good and evil, or more objectively, altruistic and hostile. Why? Because our survival will depend on it. Who we meet first is likely to be critical to the survival of the human race. In my Eden Paradox series, unfortunately, we are not lucky in this respect.

In fiction terms, the principle of 'thinking big' also means that no matter how evil we think a person may be, there will be someone - or something - far worse out there. Evil here can simply mean they do not consider us as having any rights, because they are far more advanced than we are, and they would slaughter us without any concern the way we kill sheep and cattle. This chilling disregard is for me best illustrated in the film Prometheus, when we finally get to meet one of the 'Engineers'.

In the Eden Paradox series there is a character, Louise, who quite a few of my readers have told me they would like to kill with their bare hands, because of what she has done. But in Eden's Endgame there is a character from another galaxy called Qorall who makes Louise look like a saintly nun. But because Qorall is a super-being, we don't get too close to him, because nobody does. However, there is the Q'Roth High Queen, who oversaw the attack on Earth at the beginning of the series. In this final book of the series, Louise meets her. The saying goes, 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend'. Louise's hatred of humanity would never allow her to go that far, but her encounter does trigger a reaction. And if you do get time to read the excerpt below, you'll realize something very strange - and very natural - is happening to the Queen...

Louise stayed perfectly still. One of the Q’Roth High Guard stood by her side with his mid-claw lightly closed around her throat. She avoided gulping; any sign of weakness might trigger a nervous twitch and end all her plans. The High Guard were taller than normal warrior Q’Roth, reaching four metres, and rarely left the Queen’s side. Louise had learned that there were two types of Queen; those who journeyed out into the galaxy and set up hives, and the homeworld-based High Queen, supreme leader of all Q’Roth tribes. She was the one Louise had dared ask to see. But as soon as she had landed on the northern ice cap of the Q’Roth home planet, Korakkara, her ship had been impounded. Louise had been stripped and decontaminated, and made to stand naked for two hours with her neck on the line.
            She felt cold. One of her calf muscles began to tighten, as if it might cramp. She breathed deeper, willing her muscles to relax, so she could remain still – after all, the guard hadn’t moved a millimetre, and Louise was sure she was being watched for any sign of weakness, at which she might be killed; they had the tech to extract the deal offered by Qorall from her dying mind, at least they thought they did.
            At last she heard a rhythmic thumping sound, compounded by a dragging, scraping noise, like a horse dragging a sack of rocks along the floor. She’d never seen the High Queen; few had. She was brown, and there was a pungent smell like rotting fruit that caught in Louise’s nostrils. But it was the Queen’s girth that surprised Louise, the swollen ribbed belly that rippled with internal movement. Not eggs, that was for sure. Louise lifted her gaze instead to the Queen’s head, an inverted triangle tapering to a sturdy neck. At the other end was a lizard tail with mace-like clumps at its end. They looked lethal, and although the Queen’s movements seemed sluggish, Louise had no doubt this five-metre Q’Roth could react with lightning speed.
The Queen took up a standing position between two metal pillars, leaning on them with her upper claws. That was when Louise noticed something else, ultra-thin folds of skin tucked away below her armoured shoulder blades, stretching down behind her belly. So, the legend was true.
            “State your proposal,” the Queen said, each Q’Roth syllable razor-sharp.
            The claw around Louise’s throat loosened, allowing her to speak clearly.
            “Level Sixteen Nchkani tech and weaponry in exchange for tactical support in the battle to be fought at Hell’s End. After victory, the Q’Roth will be upgraded six Levels and become overlords in this galaxy.”
            The Queen’s belly stirred, something writhing inside. Louise tried not to stare, and waited for the response to her proposal.
            “Qorall’s recode strategy is failing. The tide will turn. His Orbs have all been destroyed by the Machines.” Her triangular head leaned forward, her six eyes flared. “He is losing.”
            Louise raised her voice. “Hellera alone cannot defeat Qorall. The Tla Beth are few, the Rangers inconsequential. The recoding by the Orbs was a ruse, an experiment, nothing more. When Hellera is defeated, and you have Nchkani ships, Qorall will rule this galaxy the traditional way, a strong hierarchy, with the Q’Roth keeping everyone else in their place.”
            “Why us?”
            “Despite considerable losses during the war, your Q’Roth warriors have time and time again proven their worth, often against Level Nine or even Level Ten species with far superior technology. Q’Roth resilience and tactical ingenuity are both legendary and feared.”
The Queen didn’t seem convinced. Louise remembered something else she had told Qorall about the Q’Roth. “You are also the species whose character is most like his own.” She could go further, that the Q’Roth and Qorall were both defined by malice, and an unquenchable thirst for aggression, in Qorall’s case forged through aeons of bitterness and a need for revenge, and for Q’Roth intentionally bred into them by the Tla Beth, and ultimately the Kalarash. What goes around, comes around.
            “Tell me of Qorall's galaxy-destroyer.”
            “All I can tell you is that it exists, and it is located in the galactic core. A super white hole will ignite, and will burn its way through this galaxy, devouring all star systems.”
            “At the speed of light. We are very far from the core. It will not reach here for thousands of years. Why should we care now?”
            Louise had asked the same question, though Qorall had inflicted severe pain in exchange for an answer. She’d barely grasped the math.
“Transpace carriers, subspace harmonics. Shockwaves, ripple effects. I already forwarded the simulation to your fleet Admiral in orbit. The galaxy will be gone in a year.” And the Alicians along with it. Qorall had to be stopped, but if no one was up to it, he had to be helped in order to avoid his terrible endgame, equivalent to tossing the entire chessboard into the fire. There was a third way, of course, but she dared not even reflect on it in front of the Queen.
            Something moved violently inside the Queen’s belly, a savage kick. The Queen’s head rolled back a moment as she emitted a hissing sound, then pitched forward again. There was a splitting noise emanating from the Queen’s loins. Louise tried not to watch as something dark and gelatinous began to emerge from between the Queen’s lower legs. She was giving birth.
“Why you?”
            The question took Louise aback, but she knew she had to answer immediately, even as a body slumped to the floor, twitching inside a transparent sack. She saw a mustard-coloured claw stretch the interior of the sheath and pierce it.
“I am but a messenger. I proved useful to Qorall before, and I am part-Q’Roth.” Louise left out the fact that this switching of allegiances was her idea.
The Queen paid no attention to the hatchling. Louise wondered what it was. There was something different about it. Louise felt a shiver run down her spine. Hatchlings needed to feed almost immediately. The guardian’s claw was still around her throat, and she had no weapons.
“The Nchkani fleet is destroyed,” the Queen said, a nonchalance in her tone, as if the interview was boring, irrelevant, coming to a close, and the real purpose of Louise’s presence about to be revealed. The hatchling, yellowish in colour, tried to get to its feet, and slipped in its own amniotic fluid. Its clawslooked sharper than usual.
Louise watched the hatchling. It had a longer belly than a warrior, and was taller than normal, its mid-legs also longer, more spindly. With a gasp, Louise realised it was a Queen. No one – even Q’Roth she had worked with – knew where the Queens came from, the assumption being that they hatched from eggs like all other Q’Roth. The Queen who had given birth to this one must be special, and possibly very, very old. The new Queen stood awkwardly on its six legs, and faced Louise. It staggered a step towards her. The mother leaned forward, eager to watch her offspring take its first feed.
“The Nchkani had a secret process they called Resurrection,” Louise said. “I can bring back the Nchkani ships, give you a fleet of them. Today. In your system.” She glanced at the new-born. “Or not.”
The claw tightened around her throat, almost choking her.
The Queen lurched forward from the pillars and landed right in front of Louise, pounding into the floor, making it shake. Her left mid-leg grabbed the hatchling at the neck, holding it in place. It acquiesced, and became docile.
“If you are lying, I will extract your mind before my new-born feeds on your carcass, and leave you in a torture loop for millennia. You will drown in your screams for eternity.”
            Louise had heard of this process, reserved for traitors and those who fled from battle; one reason the Q’Roth warriors were so disciplined and ready to die rather than suffer defeat.
The claw eased off a little so Louise could speak. “I never bluff. I carry the re-genesis material on my ship, but it needs my codes, cross-correlated with sixteen random memory fragments.” You won’t get all of them by post-mortem memory extraction, and you’ll have nothing. “The sixth planet in this system will serve for re-genesis purposes.”
The Queen lowered her head close to Louise’s face, her six eye-slits waxing the colour of congealed blood. Then she lifted away again, shepherding the infant Queen to Louise’s left. Louise heard the sound of feet. She tried to see, but could barely turn. Three chained, naked Alicians came into view, a male and two females. They had not been treated well. She recognised the male, Astara, the commander of the space station that had been tethered to Savange. These three must have been aboard the Q’Roth warship that escaped when Micah attacked the station. Astara’s eyes locked onto hers.
“Ustraxia,” she said. It was the name of a place from Alician history, a famous battlefield. Astara and the others stared a moment, then one by one nodded to Louise.
The Queen released her child who pounced on the trio. They did not defend themselves, nor resist, understanding Louise’s command. The young Queen fed on them one after the other, its mouth clamping onto the top of Astara’s skull first, sucking the life force out of him. The two women waited their turn. There were no screams. Louise watched till the last was taken. Her remaining human hand trembled, and Louise found she couldn’t stop it, until the last was dead. The new-born Queen tilted its head back, and Alician blood sprayed from its mouth as it roared, its bellow echoing throughout the chamber. It departed.
The Queen returned her focus to Louise. “You have twelve hours. If you attempt to jump out of system, we will track you down, as well as your Alician refugees, and feed on you all.”
“You will have your ships,” Louise said. “I will go with your fleet to Hell’s End.”
The Queen’s triangular head tilted in front of Louise. “Why is your face wet?”
Louise kept her voice steady. “Sweat. It’s hot in here.”
The Queen raised herself and strode out of the chamber, her belly dragging on the floor as before. The guardian released Louise.
She walked to the three corpses and stood over them. She had never been religious – Alicians weren’t, believing there was nothing afterwards – but she began to intone the Alician death ritual, then said it aloud, then louder, until it echoed around the chamber.

The Eden Paradox Series, available in paperback and Kindle
The Eden Paradox - where it all begins - "Best scifi of the year"
Eden's Trial - where we are judged - "Terrific action and battle scenes"
Eden's Revenge - where it gets personal - "Masterful science Fiction"
Eden\s Endgame - where it must all end - "An awesome,epic, grand finale"

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