Labyrinth of Night

Labyrinth of Night

by Allen Steele

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On Mars, a research team encounters an ancient puzzle that only a guitarist can solve
In 2029, an American research team ventures to Mars to investigate an astounding find: a labyrinth older than humanity itself, whose maze of rooms conceals the deepest secrets of the red planet. In the final chamber, strange music plays, as chilling as it is beautiful. It


On Mars, a research team encounters an ancient puzzle that only a guitarist can solve
In 2029, an American research team ventures to Mars to investigate an astounding find: a labyrinth older than humanity itself, whose maze of rooms conceals the deepest secrets of the red planet. In the final chamber, strange music plays, as chilling as it is beautiful. It will be the last thing the scientist who discovers it ever hears. As the music rises to a climax, the chamber door closes, leaving him to die in the pitch dark.
Where one explorer has failed, Ben Cassidy must not. An internationally famous guitarist, his music is the closest thing on Earth to Mars’s deadly hymn. The government sends him into space to solve a planetary mystery, but what Cassidy encounters is a team of researchers whose jealous competition is every bit as dangerous as the secrets of Mars.  

Editorial Reviews

Roland Green
Steele's fourth novel takes us to Mars. It features his usual well-drawn cast of interplanetary hard hats interacting with literate, gritty realism. It also involves them in the discovery of an insectoid alien race nicknamed the Cooties, who have vanished but left an artifact behind. This artifact is a maze equipped with lethal robot Cooties who become active when humans try to penetrate it. The resulting action is fast and furious, and the surviving humans learn more about both the Cooties and themselves in the process. This is new territory for Steele, closer to classic sf than to straight space advocacy, and he makes the transition with a skill and an ease that encourage one about his immediate future. Definitely recommended for most sf collections.

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Labyrinth of Night

By Allen Steele


Copyright © 1992 Allen M. Steele
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-3994-8


The Shinseiki

One and a half AU's from the Sun, Mars glides through space, a rust-colored desert world caught between the placid blue-green beauty of Earth and the immense, multicolored maelstrom of Jupiter. On Earth, it's early summer in the northern hemisphere, but for Mars summer has ended in the northern latitudes; frozen carbon-dioxide and water have caused the small white icecap at the planet's north pole to expand again while, south of the equator, it is high spring and the ice pack at the south pole has all but vanished.

As the sun rises over the central meridian, water vapor causes thin, filmy clouds to spawn in the vast canyons of the Valles Marineris, which are quickly evaporated by the new day. For a brief time the winds rise, kicking red sands into the sparse atmosphere before they reluctantly retire again, if only for a while. Mars is a slumbering world, gradually stirring from its rest; as autumn settles on the northern hemisphere and the days get colder, there will be fewer naps for the red planet. Soon the sandstorms will begin and vast curtains of scarlet, wind-borne sand will cloak much of the world, shrouding even the high caldera of Olympus Mons, the great shield volcano north-east at the Valles Marineris.

The Martian day lasts slightly longer than Earth's: twenty-four hours, thirty-nine minutes and thirty-five seconds. This is one of the few real similarities between the two worlds. Its atmosphere is composed principally of carbon-dioxide and has a density of seven millibars in the Amazonis Planitia, as compared to Earth's atmospheric density of one thousand millibars at sea level. Mars has no 'sea level'; its seas and oceans evaporated millions of years ago, and the lack of atmospheric pressure means that free-standing water simply could not exist. High summer at the Martian equator is when the ground temperature has risen to a sweltering 62 degrees Fahrenheit; during winter, the temperature can plunge to 172° below zero at the north pole.

A long time ago, an all-but-forgotten American vice-president named Daniel Quayle made the following observation about Mars during a TV interview: 'Mars is in essentially the same orbit. Mars is somewhat the same distance from the Sun, which is very important. We have seen pictures where there are canals, we believe, and water. If there is water, that means there is oxygen. If oxygen, that means we can breathe.'

Dan Quayle was stupid. Mars is not Earth's twin brother with a bad skin problem. This is a cold world. This is a harsh world.

But by no means is it a lifeless world.

Forty million miles from Earth, the NASDA/Uchu-Hiko cycleship SS Shinseiki coasted on the last leg of its outbound flight to Mars, gracefully spinning on its central axis like a three-vaned weathercock.

Nine months earlier, three interplanetary vessels had fired their nuclear-thermal engines and launched themselves from Earth orbit, following identical trajectories toward the red planet. Once having escaped Earth's gravity well, beyond the orbit of the Moon, the vessels had rendezvoused in deep space. The three ships linked together at the multiple-target docking adapter at each forward bow, so that each vessel lay 120 degrees apart from the other, forming a pinwheel 240 feet in diameter. Long heat radiators accordioned outward from the ends of each of the three arms, and reaction-control jets fired to spin the pinwheel clockwise to produce one-third Earth gravity within the two cylindrical habitation modules that lay behind the solar-thermal dishes on each arm.

In this way, once again, the Shinseiki was created, just as it had been twice already. Elsewhere in the vast distance separating Earth and Mars, its two sister cycleships were on other stages of the Mars Run; the USS Percival Lowell, the American ship operated by Skycorp, was on the long, lonely return flight from the red planet, and the SS Sergei Korolev, the CIS ship jointly operated by Glavkosmos and Arianespace, was being refitted for launch from the Mir space station in Earth orbit. Every five to ten months, depending on orbital conjunctions between the two planets, a different cycleship returns to Mars, with the three of them forming a long, cycling bridge between the worlds. This time, it was the Shinseiki's turn to visit the planet of the war god.

On this visit, though, the Shinseiki carried more than relief crews, consumables, replacement parts and mail. In hibernation deck-B of Module Two, five men were being administered drugs to wake them from their long sleep. Above them, on the other side of Arm Two's long truss and sheathed in layers of protective gold film, were the two aeroshells which August Nash had photographed in the payload bay of the Constellation many months earlier.

And on the opposite end of Arm Two, in a storage compartment in Module One, was a guitar.

Ten months after he had first spoken with Richard Jessup, Ben Cassidy found himself watching a cup of coffee spill in a way that he had never seen coffee spill before in his life. He had just settled into a chair in the cycleship's wardroom—a chair which pulled out along a slender, jointed rail from underneath the hexagonal table and unfolded like a boxtop—and the Japanese commander, Minora Omori, had placed the paper cup of coffee on the table near his elbow. Dick Jessup, who had taken a seat across the table from him, had held out a briefing folder to him; when Cassidy had reached to take the folder, his elbow knocked over the cup.

The coffee spilled in slow motion, as if caught by time-lapse photography. It tipped over at a weird angle and the coffee sloshed out at a slightly curving trajectory; like a blob of brown mercury the liquid seemed to follow a path of its own making, slopping to the left. Cassidy found himself staring at it as Jessup made a grab for a paper towel from the galley counter behind him. Jessup sopped up the mess before it reached Cassidy's lap, then looked up and noticed the dazed look on the musician's face.

'Coriolis effect,' he said. 'It's caused by the ship's rotation. Don't worry, you won't be here long enough to have to get used to it.'

'Oh,' Cassidy murmured. 'That's great.'

'How are you doing? Got your bearings yet?'

'Yeah. Sure. Doing fine.' Of course he was doing fine. He had just come to the realization that he was in a Japanese spaceship in orbit around Mars, about 40 million miles from everything he had ever known or loved, where even a cup of coffee doesn't spill right. And how are you doing today, Dick?

Cassidy watched Jessup as he got up and walked to the galley to throw the towel into the recycling chute. The first impression Cassidy had had of Jessup, when they had met in Waterville almost a year ago, was that the man was a suit and little more: tall, dark-haired, whipcord-thin, conservative in every sense, having little or no sense of humor and patronizing to an offensive degree. Another bureaucrat, indistinguishable from the average IRS accountant or post office clerk. Yet, while there was obviously more to Richard Jessup than met the eye, he was still an enigma to Cassidy. Of course, Cassidy had been asleep during most of their relationship, so maybe it was a little early to pass judgment ... but he didn't like Jessup during their first encounter, and he still had no reason to trust the man.

Behind him, he could hear the amused snickers of the Marines, two tough guys from the First Space Infantry who had been revived from the zombie tanks in the hibernation bay shortly before he had. Biostasis had been part of their training; anyone who had never before been in drug-induced suspended animation for nine months was obviously a woosie. So it was okay for them to laugh, these professional badasses leaning against the bulkhead in the subdued half-light of the wardroom.

'Got them zombie shakes,' he heard one of them whisper.

'Too much rock 'n roll, man,' his buddy replied.

Screw you both, Cassidy thought. To hide his embarrassment, he glanced up at the wraparound bank of screens suspended above the table. One of the screens showed a computer-enhanced image of Mars as captured by a camera at the Shinseiki's hub. As he watched, one of the cycleship's three spindly arms glided past the bloodshot-eye of Mars, surrounded by blackness and tiny blue readouts.

He blinked at it. Yeah, it was Mars all right. Now, what in the name of God was he doing here?

Captain Omori, the Shinseiki's commanding officer, carefully placed another cup of coffee on the table in front of Cassidy and unfolded his own chair at the table. Jessup sat down at the table again, cleared his throat, and flipped a page on his clipboard. 'Thank you all for being here,' he said. 'Like you, I'm still recovering from the tanks ...'

One of the Marines snickered again. 'Tanks for nuthin',' he said.

The squad commander, Colonel Carter Aldiss, had taken the fourth seat at the table. He was a middle-aged man with a greying crewcut and a perpetual don't-fuck-with-me look in his eyes; like the two other Marines, he wore a blue jumpsuit with the embroidered eagle-and-starscape patch of the First Space Infantry on his chest. He glanced up from his papers and coffee and muttered, 'Shaddup, Spike.'

'Yessir, Colonel.'

Jessup nervously cleared his throat again. 'So I'll turn over the floor to captain Omori, who'll update you on our mission profile. Captain?'

'Thank you, Dr. Jessup.' Minoru Omori was a heavy-set, round-faced man who looked as if he smiled once a year, just for kicks. 'Welcome to the Shinseiki, gentlemen. My two crewmen, first officer Massey and Executive Officer Cimino, extend their best wishes and also their apologies that they are not here to greet you personally, since they are otherwise involved on the bridge. Ms. Cimino wishes for me to tell you, though, that she enjoyed looking after you while you were in biostasis, and that she's looking forward to doing so again during the return leg of our voyage.'

Unexpectedly, Omori grinned and laughed. Jessup responded with a polite, uncertain smile. 'Maybe she enjoyed asking us to cough,' one of the Marines whispered.

'Cut it out, Goober,' Aldiss said.

'Yessir, Colonel.'

'To continue ...' Omori, formal again, pulled a datapad from his jumpsuit pocket and tapped in a couple of commands. The overhead screens blinked and replaced the TV images from the outer hull with a computer-generated diagram of the Shinseiki's approach to Mars. 'The outermost curve represents our present trajectory. When we reach the periapsis at seventeen-hundred hours, Landers One and Two will be launched. The landing party for Lander One needs to be at airlock One-Two-Delta at fifteen-thirty hours for suitup and boarding.'

'That's us, Ben,' Jessup murmured. Cassidy nodded. He was still thinking about the spilled coffee.

'The relief crew for Arsia Station, the main base near the Noctis Labyrinthis region, will be boarded on Lander Two at fifteen-forty-five hours from airlock Two-Two-Charlie,' captain Omori went on. 'These people are unaware of your presence, since they're secluded in another part of the ship. Before then, at fifteen-hundred hours, the outbound landers will be launched from Arsia Station. They will intercept the Shinseiki at eighteen-hundred and will dock for the return voyage. By then, of course, both of our landers will have been launched and will have completed aerobraking and landing maneuvers. During a normal timetable, we would execute periapsis burn for Earth encounter thirty minutes later, at eighteen-thirty, but for this mission we will have a minor glitch in the targeting computer, causing a disagreement in the primary AI interface.'

A smile touched the edges of Omori's lips. 'It will be nothing critical, naturally. The targeting computer will have simply told the firing system that the course is in error and the major system will go down, aborting the burn. An unforeseen accident. It will cause us to fire the OMS for an emergency low-orbit insertion. This will give us enough time to question the main AI neural-net and sort out the problem without losing our REO window. Both Arsia and Cydonia commands will be apprised of the unfortunate circumstances for the delay.' Omori's smile grew broader. 'Of course.'

Cassidy, confused by the explanation, heard the Marines chuckle and saw Aldiss stretch back in his chair in satisfaction; Jessup tried to hide a smug grin. Cassidy ignored the soldiers and stared straight across the table at Omori. 'Excuse me, captain,' he said softly, 'but what the hell are you talking about?'

Omori stared back at him and became taciturn once more. 'An unforeseen occurrence, Mr Cassidy. Nothing which should concern you.'

'Nothing which should concern me. Right.' Finally, his mind had started to clear. He had been warned that an aftereffect of biostasis was mental numbness. The frontal lobes were the last part of the brain to recover from the pharmaceuticals—clinically derived from the herbs that Haitian houngan had once traditionally used to sedate and enslave people as zombies—now used for deep-space hibernation. But it was not unlike the cerebral fuzzout of a cocaine high. In fact, you could almost enjoy the buzz ...

Cassidy shook his head: Stop that. Questions which over the last few hours had lingered unspoken in the back of his mind now galloped to his attention. He looked at Jessup. 'Who are these guys?' he asked, cocking a thumb at the Marines lurking behind him. 'You told me that there was going to be a science team on this ship. Where are they?'

Jessup shrugged innocently. 'Module One, the other side of the ship,' he said with unruffled complacency. 'They're the ones on their way down to Arsia Station. Why?'

'Why? I was told they were coming with us to Cydonia Base. You said that yourself back at the space station.'

Jessup blinked. 'I told you that nine months ago, Ben. Things have changed since then. That's a completely different team ...'

'Okay, so where's my team?' he insisted. 'The guys I met before they stuck a needle in my arm and told me to count back from one hundred.'

The Marines chuckled again; Cassidy found himself getting mad. 'What're the Marines doing here? And what's this shit about unforeseen accidents and delayed burning, uh ... return retroangular whatever the hell you call it ...'

'Yeah,' said the Marine whom Aldiss had called Spike, a skinny guy leaning against the hatch. 'It's rectal return burn, man.'

Cassidy turned around in his seat and stared at the kid, who was still laughing at him. 'You're in the Marines, right?' Spike, grinning hugely now, nodded his head. 'Guess you know a lot about having a burning rectum, don't you?'

As the other Marine broke up, Spike's face melted into an angry glare. The musician ignored him and switched his attention back to Jessup. 'What's going on here?' he demanded.

'Well ...' Jessup sighed and looked down at his hands. 'As I was saying, there was a change in the mission which you were not informed about before we left Earth. Security considerations ...'

'Screw that. You got me out here on the pretense that I was to be part of a scientific expedition. Now I suddenly find I'm the one-man Marine Corps Band for a bunch of grunts.' Cassidy angrily shook his head. 'I don't know much about how these things are arranged, but I can figure that this was planned well in advance. You've been yanking me along, haven't you?'

'Ben, I ...' Jessup shut his eyes and blew out his cheeks. 'Okay, I'll admit it. You were kept in the dark about certain aspects of this mission, and now it's time to let you in on it. Most of it, at least.'

Cassidy started to object, but Jessup raised his hand. 'Wait. Let's get through this first. Colonel Aldiss, this is as good a time as any to brief your team and Mr Cassidy here.'

Aldiss nodded his head. 'Spike, Goober, you can open your orders now.'

While the Marines peeled open the seals on the folders they'd been issued upon entering the wardroom, Aldiss continued. 'Last January, while this mission was still being prepared, the Russian cycleship Sergei Korolev entered Mars orbit and dropped supplies to Cydonia Base. It was a scheduled run, but what was unexpected was that one of their cargo landers contained two AT-80 Bushmaster autotanks and one combat armor suit. Big surprises, needless to say.'

Captain Angelo 'Spike' D'Agostino whistled softly. 'Bushmasters are nasty business, Colonel. And what kind of CAS?'

'New type, so there's not much info on it. Adapted for Mars environment ... the Bushies were modified the same way ... but the suit looks like a variation on the Hoplite I armor which the First Space used during the Descartes Station raid a few years back. Probably a little less swift on its feet, considering the higher gravity ...'

'Higher gravity than the Moon?'

'Right. Check your material. The CIA specs are all in there. In any case, those are the first weapons to be mobilized on Mars, and they came complete with a Russian military advisor, Major Maksim Oeljanov ... you'll want to read the dossier they've got on him, too. Of course, Minsk has claimed that the armor is there in case there are any surprises from the Cooties. But we're not taking any chances on the Russians wanting to force a takeover of Cydonia Base ...'


Excerpted from Labyrinth of Night by Allen Steele. Copyright © 1992 Allen M. Steele. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Before becoming a science fiction writer, Allen Steele was a journalist for newspapers and magazines in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Missouri, and his home state of Tennessee. But science fiction was his first love, so he eventually ditched journalism and began producing that which had made him decide to become a writer in the first place.

Since then, Steele has published eighteen novels and nearly one hundred short stories. His work has received numerous accolades, including three Hugo Awards, and has been translated worldwide, mainly into languages he can’t read. He serves on the board of advisors for the Space Frontier Foundation and is a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. He also belongs to Sigma, a group of science fiction writers who frequently serve as unpaid consultants on matters regarding technology and security.

Allen Steele is a lifelong space buff, and this interest has not only influenced his writing, it has taken him to some interesting places. He has witnessed numerous space shuttle launches from Kennedy Space Center and has flown NASA’s shuttle cockpit simulator at the Johnson Space Center. In 2001, he testified before the US House of Representatives in hearings regarding the future of space exploration. He would like very much to go into orbit, and hopes that one day he’ll be able to afford to do so.

Steele lives in western Massachusetts with his wife, Linda, and a continual procession of adopted dogs. He collects vintage science fiction books and magazines, spacecraft model kits, and dreams. 

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