#1 in the Hell's Gate science fiction/fantasy series returns! Matched with new hardcover entry The Road to Hell, a popular series by internationally best-selling author David Weber continues!
They Thought They Knew How The Universes Worked—THEY WERE WRONG
In the almost two centuries since the discovery of the first inter-universal portal, Arcana has explored scores of other worlds . . . all of them duplicates of their own. Multiple Earths, virgin planets with a twist, because the ''explorers'' already know where to find all of their vast, untapped natural resources. Worlds beyond worlds, effectively infinite living space and mineral wealth.
And in all that time, they have never encountered another intelligent species. No cities, no vast empires, no civilizations and no equivalent of their own dragons, gryphons, spells, and wizards.
But all of that is about to change. It seems there is intelligent life elsewhere in the multiverse. Other human intelligent life, with terrifying new weapons and powers of the mind . . . and wizards who go by the strange title of ''scientist.''
The Hell's Gate Series:
Hell Hath No Fury
The Road to Hell
About Hell's Gate:
"Magic and high tech collide in this exciting military SF novel from bestseller Weber . . . The authors treat both societies sympathetically and realistically, with human vices and virtues evenly distributed."—Publishers Weekly
About the Author
With over seven and a half million copies of his books in print and eighteen titles on the New York Times bestseller list, David Weber is the science fiction publishing phenomenon of the new millennium. In the hugely popular Honor Harrington series, the spirit of C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower and Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander lives on—into the galactic future. Books in the Honor Harrington and Honoverse series have appeared on twenty-one bestseller lists, including those of The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and USA Today. While Weber is best known for his spirited, modern-minded space operas, he is also the creator of the Oath of Swords fantasy series and the Dahak saga, a science fiction and fantasy hybrid. Weber is has also engaged in a steady stream of best-selling collaborations including his Starfire Series with Steve White, which produced the New York Times bestseller The Shiva Option among others. Weber’s collaboration with alternate history master Eric Flint led to the bestselling 1634: The Baltic War. His Honorverse collaborations with Flint in the Crown of Slave series are also highly popular, with latest entry, Cauldron of Ghosts, becoming a New York Times bestseller. His planetary adventure novels with military science fiction ace and multiple national best-selling author John Ringo includes the March to the Stars and We Few. Finally, Weber’s teaming with Linda Evans and Joelle Presby produced the Multiverse series, including latest entry, The Road to Hell. David Weber makes his home in South Carolina with his wife and children.
In addition to coauthoring Hell's Gate and Hell Hath No Fury in the Hell's Gate series, Linda Evans is the author for Baen Books of Sleipnir, Far Edge of Darkness, and others, as well as stories in David Weber's World of Honor anthologies. She is the coauthor of several humorous novels with Robert Asprin, and The Road to Damascus with John Ringo
Read an Excerpt
By David Weber Linda Evans
Baen Publishing EnterprisesCopyright © 2006 David Weber & Linda Evans
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe tall noncom could have stepped straight out of a recruiting poster. His fair hair and height were a legacy from his North Shalhoman ancestors, but he was far, far away-a universe away-from their steep cliffs and icy fjords. His jungle camo fatigues were starched and ironed to razor-sharp creases as he stood on the crude, muddy landing ground with his back to the looming hole of the portal. His immaculate uniform looked almost as bizarrely out of place against the backdrop of the hacked-out jungle clearing as the autumn-kissed red and gold of the forest giants beyond the portal, and he seemed impervious to the swamp-spawned insects zinging about his ears. He wore the shoulder patch of the Second Andaran Temporal Scouts, and the traces of gray at his temples went perfectly with the experience lines etched into his hard, bronzed face.
He gazed up into the painfully bright afternoon sky, blue-gray eyes slitted against the westering sun, with his helmet tucked into the crook of his left elbow and his right thumb hooked into the leather sling of the dragoon arbalest slung over his shoulder. He'd been standing there in the blistering heat for the better part of half an hour, yet he seemed unaware of it. In fact, he didn't even seem to be perspiring, althoughthat had to be an illusion.
He also seemed prepared to stand there for the next week or so, if that was what it took. But then, finally, a black dot appeared against the cloudless blue, and his nostrils flared as he inhaled in satisfaction.
He watched the dot sweep steadily closer, losing altitude as it came, then lifted his helmet and settled it onto his head. He bent his neck, shielding his eyes with his left hand as the dragon back-winged in to a landing. Bits of debris flew on the sudden wind generated by the mighty beast's iridescent-scaled wings, and the noncom waited until the last twigs had pattered back to the ground before he lowered his hand and straightened once more.
The dragon's arrival was a sign of just how inaccessible this forward post actually was. In fact, it was just over seven hundred and twenty miles from the coastal base, in what would have been the swamps of the Kingdom of Farshal in northeastern Hilmar back home. Those were some pretty inhospitable miles, and the mud here was just as gluey as the genuine Hilmaran article, so aerial transport was the only real practical way in at the moment. The noncom himself had arrived back at the post via the regular transport dragon flight less than forty-eight hours earlier, and as he'd surveyed the much below, he'd been struck by just how miserable it would have been to slog through it on foot. How anyone was going to properly exploit a portal in the middle of this godforsaken swamp was more than he could say, but he didn't doubt that the Union Trans-Temporal Transit Authority would find a way. The UTTTA had the best engineers in the universe-in several universes, for that matter-and plenty of experience with portals in terrain even less prepossessing than this.
Probably less prepossessing, anyway.
The dragon went obediently to its knees at the urging of its pilot, and a single passenger swung down the boarding harness strapped about the beast's shoulders. The newcomer was dark-haired, dark-eyed, and even taller than the noncom, although much younger, and each point of his collar bore the single silver shield of a commander of one hundred. Like the noncom, he wore the shoulder flash of the 2nd ATS, and the name "Olderhan, Jasak" was stenciled above his breast pocket. He said something to the dragon's pilot, then strode quickly across the mucky ground towards the waiting one-man welcoming committee.
"Sir!" The noncom snapped to attention and saluted sharply. "Welcome back to this shithole, Sir!" he barked.
"Why, thank you, Chief Sword Threbuch," the officer said amiably, tossing off a far more casual salute in response. Then he extended his right hand and gripped the older man's hand firmly. "I trust the Powers That Be have a suitable reason for dragging me back here, Otwal," he said dryly, and the noncom smiled.
"I wish they hadn't-dragged you back, that is, Sir-but I think you may forgive them in the end," he said. "I'm sort of surprised they managed to catch you, though. I figured you'd be well on your way back to Garth Showma by now."
"So did I," Hundred Olderhan replied wryly. He shook his head. "Unfortunately, Hundred Thalmayr seems to've gotten himself delayed in transit somewhere along the way, and Magister Halathyn was quick enough off the mark to catch me before he got here. If the Magister had only waited another couple of days for Thalmayr to get here to relieve me, I'd have been aboard ship and far enough out to sea to get away clean."
"Sorry about that, Sir." The chief sword grinned. "I hope you'll tell the Five Thousand I tried to get you home for your birthday."
"Oh, Father will forgive you, Otwal," Jasak assured him. "Mother, now ..."
"Please, Sir!" The chief sword shivered dramatically. "I still remember what your lady mother had to say to me when I got the Five Thousand home late for their anniversary."
"According to Father, you did well to get him home at all," the hundred said, and the chief sword shrugged.
"The Five Thousand was too tough for any jaguar to eat, Sir. All I did was stop the bleeding."
"Most he could have expected out of you after he was stupid enough to step right on top of it." The chief sword gave the younger man a sharp look, and the hundred chuckled. "That's the way Father describes it, Otwal. I promise you I'm not being guilty of filial disrespect."
"As the Hundred says," the chief sword agreed.
"But since our lords and masters appear to have seen fit to make me miss my birthday, suppose you tell me exactly what we have here, Chief Sword." The hundred's voice was much crisper, his brown eyes intent, and the chief sword came back to a position midway between stand easy and parade rest.
"Sir, I'm afraid you'll need to ask Magister Halathyn for the details. All I know is that he says the potential tests on this portal's field strength indicate that there's at least one more in close proximity. A big one." "How big?" Jasak asked, his eyes narrowing.
"I don't really know, Sir," Threbuch replied. "I don't think Magister Halathyn does yet, for that matter. But he was muttering something about a class eight."
Sir Jasak Olderhan's eyebrows rose, and he whistled silently. The largest trans-temporal portal so far charted was the Selkara Portal, and it was only a class seven. If Magister Halathyn had, indeed, detected a class eight, then this muddy, swampy hunk of jungle was about to become very valuable real estate.
"In that case, Chief Sword," he said mildly after a moment, "I suppose you'd better get me to Magister Halathyn."
* * *
Halathyn vos Dulainah was very erect, very dark-skinned, and very silver-haired, with a wiry build which was finally beginning to verge on frail. Jasak wasn't certain, but he strongly suspected that the old man was well past the age at which Authority regs mandated the retirement of the Gifted from active fieldwork. Not that anyone was likely to tell Magister Halathyn that. He'd been a law unto himself for decades and the UTTTA's crown jewel ever since he'd left the Mythal Falls Academy twenty years before, and he took an undisguised, almost child-like delight in telling his nominal superiors where they could stuff their regulations.
He hadn't told Jasak exactly why he was out here in the middle of this mud and bug-infested swamp, nor why Magister Gadrial Kelbryan, his second-in-command at the Garth Showma Institute, had followed him out here. He'd insisted with a bland-faced innocence which could not have been bettered by a twelve-year-old caught with his hand actually in the cookie jar, that he was "on vacation." He certainly had to the clout within the UTTTA to commandeer transportation for his own amusement at that was what he really wanted, but Jasak suspected he was actually engaged in some sort of undisclosed research. Not that Magister Halathyn was going to admit it. He was too delighted by the opportunity to be mysterious to waste it.
He was also, as his complexion and the "vos" in front of his surname proclaimed, both a Mythalan and a member of the shakira caste. As a rule, Jasak Olderhan was less than fond of Mythalans ... and considerably less fond than that of the shakira. But Magister Halathyn was the exception to that rule as he was to so many others.
The magister looked up as Chief Sword Threbuch followed Jasak into his tent, the heels of their boots loud on its raised wooden flooring. He tapped his stylus on the crystal display in front of him, freezing his notes and the calculations he'd been performing, and smiled at the hundred over the glassy sphere.
"And how is my second-favorite crude barbarian?" he inquired in genial Andaran.
"As unlettered and impatient as ever, Sir," Jasak replied, in Mythalan, with an answering smile. The old magister chuckled appreciatively and extended his hand for a welcoming shake. Then he cocked his canvas camp chair back at a comfortable, teetering angle and waved for Jasak to seat himself in the matching chair on the far side of his worktable.
"Seriously, Jasak," he said as the younger man obeyed the unspoken command, "I apologize for yanking you back here. I know how hard it was for you to get leave for your birthday in the first place, and I know your parents must have been looking forward to seeing you. But I thought you'd want to be here for this one. And, frankly, with all due respect to Hundred Thalmayr, I'm not sorry he was delayed. All things being equal, I'd prefer to have you in charge just a little longer."
Jasak stopped his grimace before it ever reached his expression, but it wasn't the easiest thing he'd ever done. Although he genuinely had been looking forward to spending his birthday at home in Garth Showma for the first time in over six years, he hadn't been looking forward to handing "his" company over to Hadrign Thalmayr, even temporarily. Partly because of his jealously possessive pride in Charlie Company, but also because Thalmayr-who was senior to him-had only transferred into the Scouts seventeen months ago. From his record, he was a perfectly competent infantry officer, but Jasak hadn't been impressed with the older man's mental flexibility the few times they'd met before Jasak himself had been forward-deployed. And it was pretty clear his previous line infantry experience had left him firmly imbued with the sort of by-the-book mentality the Temporal Scouts worked very hard to eradicate.
Which wasn't something he could discuss with a civilian, even one he respected as deeply as he did Magister Halathyn.
"The Chief Sword said something about a class eight," he said instead, his tone making the statement a question, and Magister Halathyn nodded soberly.
"Unless Gadrial and I are badly mistaken," he said, waving a hand at the letters and esoteric formulae glittering in the water-clear heart of his crystal, "it's at least a class eight. Actually, I suspect it may be even larger."
Jasak sat back in his chair, regarding the old man's lined face intently. Had it been anyone else, he would have been inclined to dismiss the preposterous claim as pure, rampant speculation. But Magister Halathyn wasn't given to speculation.
"If you're right about that, Sir," the hundred said after a moment, "this entire transit chain may just have become a lot more important to the Authority."
"It may," Magister Halathyn agreed. "Then again, it may not." He grimaced. "Whatever size this portal may be-" he tapped the crystal containing his notes "-that portal-" he pointed out through the open fly of his tent at the peculiar hole in the universe which loomed enormously beyond the muddy clearing's western perimeter "-is only a class three. That's going to bottleneck anything coming through from our putative class eight. Not to mention the fact that we're at the end of a ridiculously inconvenient chain at the moment."
"I suppose that depends in part on how far your new portal is from the other side of this one," Jasak pointed out. "The terrain between here and the coast may suck, but it's only seven hundred miles."
"Seven hundred and nineteen-point-three miles," Magister Halathyn corrected with a crooked smile.
"All right, Sir." Jasak accepted the correction with a smile of his own. "That's still a ridiculously short haul compared to most of the portal connections I can think of. And if this new portal of yours is within relatively close proximity to our class three, we're talking about a twofer."
"That really is a remarkably uncouth way to describe a spatially congruent trans-temporal transfer zone," Halathyn said severely.
"I'm just a naturally uncouth sort of fellow, Sir," Jasak agreed cheerfully. "But however you slice it, it's still a two-for-one."
"Yes, it is," Halathyn acknowledged. "Assuming our calculations are sound, of course. In fact, if this new portal is as large as I think it is, and as closely associated with our portal here, I think it's entirely possible that we're looking at a cluster."
Despite all of the magister's many years of discipline, his eyes gleamed, and he couldn't quite keep the excitement out of his voice. Not that Jasak blamed him for that. A portal cluster ... In the better part of two centuries of exploration, UTTTA's survey teams had located only one true cluster, the Zholhara Cluster. Doubletons were the rule-indeed, only sixteen triples had ever been found, which was a rate of less than one in ten. But a cluster like Zholhara was of literally incalculable value.
This far out-they were at the very end of the Lamia Chain, well over three months' travel from Arcana, even for someone who could claim transport dragon priority for the entire trip-even a cluster would take years to fully develop. Lamia, with over twenty portals, was already a huge prize. But if Magister Halathyn was correct, the entire transit chain was about to become even more valuable ... and receive the highest development priority UTTTA could assign.
"Of course," Magister Halathyn continued in the tone of a man forcing himself to keep his enthusiasm in check, "we don't know where this supposed portal of mine connects. It could be the middle of the Great Ransaran Desert. Or an island in the middle of the Western Ocean, like Rycarh Outbound. Or the exact center of the polar ice cap."
"Or it could be a couple of thousand feet up in thin air, which would make for something of a nasty first step," Jasak agreed. "But I suppose we'd better go find it if we really want to know, shouldn't we?"
"My sentiments exactly," the magister agreed, and the hundred looked at the chief sword.
"How soon can we move out on the Magister's heading, Chief Sword?"
"I'm afraid the Hundred would have to ask Fifty Garlath about that," Threbuch replied with absolutely no inflection, and this time Jasak did grimace. The tonelessness of the chief sword's voice shouted his opinion (among other things) of Commander of Fifty Shevan Garlath as an officer of the Union of Arcana. Unfortunately, Sir Jasak Olderhan's opinion exactly matched that of his company's senior non-commissioned officer.
"If the Hundred will recall," the chief sword continued even more tonelessly, "his last decision before his own departure was to authorize Third Platoon's R&R. That leaves Fifty Garlath as the SO here at the base camp."
Jasak winced internally as Threbuch tactfully (sort of) reminded him that leaving Garlath out here at the ass-end of nowhere had been his own idea. Which had seemed like a good one at the time, even if it had been a little petty of him. No, more than a little petty. Quite a bit more, if he wanted to be honest. Chief Sword Threbuch hadn't exactly protested at the time, but his expression had suggested his opinion of the decision. Not because he disagreed that Fifty Therman Ulthar and his men had earned their R&R, but because Shevan Garlath was arguably the most incompetent platoon commander in the entire brigade. Leaving him in charge of anything more complicated than a hot cider stand was not, in the chief sword's considered opinion, a Good Idea.
"We'd have to recall Fifty Ulthar's platoon from the coast, if you want to use him, Sir," the chief sword added, driving home the implied reprimand with exquisite tact.
Excerpted from Hell's Gate by David Weber Linda Evans Copyright © 2006 by David Weber & Linda Evans. Excerpted by permission.
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