AN INTERSTELLAR TRAP:
A whole solar system has disappeared, wiped from the universe in an attempt to snare just one super-soldier like Cane. In an attempt to come to grips with her enemy, Morgan Roche and The Box travel willingly into the trap, but find themselves ensnared in ever-thicker tangles of deception and intrigue. Who is The Box, and is what its agenda, really? The answer will rock Roche’s world right down to the foundations.
“I'm not sure what an Evergence is, but finding out promises to provide hours of fun.” --Locus
“Genre-savvy and capably written, full of adventure and Asimovian imperial vistas” --Asimov's
“Full of adventure of Asimovian imperial vistas. Delivers tons of action…Offers wide-screen baroque plotting never out-of-control. With echoes of vintage Jack Williamson and Poul Anderson, as well as Niven, Asimov, and Vinge, Williams and Dix proudly continue a vital tradition in SF.” --Analog
Nominated for the Aurealis Award
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The Dying Light
Evergence: Book 2
By Sean Williams, Shane Dix
Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.Copyright © 2000 Sean Williams and Shane Dix
All rights reserved.
IND Ana Vereine '955.01.19 EN 0415
Alone but for the screaming wind, she fell. Her outstretched arms sought to find equilibrium, but to no avail. With nothing around for her hands to find purchase upon, her fall continued unchecked. The sickening sensation persisted in her stomach; the wind at her face and in her ears was relentless.
When exactly she had begun to fall she couldn't tell. Not that it mattered. Once she had been weightless, now she was falling; the only difference between the two was a matter of destination. Everything in the universe was just an orbiting body looking for something with which to intersect. If she had found her ultimate trajectory, then perhaps that was for the best. At least the waiting was over.
Suddenly from the darkness something touched her hand. She pulled away instinctively, sending herself into a spin. But the touch against her skin was persistent. It fluttered like a flesh-warm moth, moving along her wrist, her elbow, and finally settled on her upper arm.
She tried too late to pull away. Its grip tightened; slender, smooth digits dug deeply into her and tugged her forward. She called out in panic, but the blackness absorbed any sound she made.
When she flailed at the limb clutching her, her hand found skin. A hand. No fur, no scales, no chitinous exoskeleton; no claws, no suckers, no pinchers. It was a Pristine hand.
Cautiously, she explored the one that was falling with her. She moved her fingers along the person's wrist, elbow, and upper arm; her other hand found a smooth stomach, rib cage, and breast. Then, alarmed by the all too familiar terrain, she gripped the other person tightly. Wanting to push her away, instead she pulled her closer.
From the darkness she saw her own frightened face emerge; from the roaring wind she heard herself call out ...
* * *
Morgan Roche woke with a start and clutched her sweat-drenched sheets to her chest. A lingering vertigo made her giddy, and for a moment she didn't know where she was. The narrow bed, the dark room, the smell of deep-space service: she could have been anywhere, aboard any Commonwealth of Empires' vessel, on any number of missions for COE Intelligence.
Then, in the dull glow from the ceiling light, she saw the valise resting on a nearby table, and reality suddenly dispelled her confusion. She was in the second lieutenant's quarters of the Ana Vereine, a former Dato Bloc vessel now registered under her name, and she had no mission apart from the one she had given herself. Her indenture to COE Intelligence was a thing of the past —a memory returning to haunt her like the nightmare that had awoken her, and just as difficult to shake.
Rubbing at her arm, she vividly recalled the falling, the fear.
Then the flat echoes of an incident alarm wailing beyond her room goaded her to full consciousness. Disentangling her legs from the sheets, she climbed out of the bunk.
"Full lights." Squinting in the sudden glare, she amended: "Half lights, half lights!"
The glare dimmed as she stumbled to the cabin's small wardrobe. She grabbed the first shipsuit she saw. Standard dress for a Dato Bloc officer, it consisted of a unisex, form-fitting garment cut from rust-colored fabric, with black insignia at shoulders and waist. Active fibers tightened the weave around her limbs, guaranteeing a perfect fit every time.
As she dressed, she sent a subvocal inquiry via her implants to the transmitter on her left wrist:
The voice of the Box answered immediately, the AI's neutral tones coming from the tiny speaker beside the bed:
"We have completed our final jump, Morgan. The Ana Vereine entered real-space fifteen minutes ago."
At the end of the sentence, the sirens ceased.
Roche glanced at the clock beside her bed.
"Indeed. That was our original schedule." The Box paused before adding: "There has been an unusual development. Cane thought it best that you were here on the bridge."
"Nothing so dramatic, Morgan. Simply—perplexing."
She took a deep breath to hide her irritation. If the Box was perplexed, then she doubted she would be much help. What the most sophisticated artificial intelligence in the Commonwealth couldn't fathom, no mundane Human would have a chance of deciphering.
Still, tired or not, she had to keep up appearances. Sitting down on the bunk, she slid her feet into a pair of boots and fastened the ankle straps.
"Kajic and Maii are asleep. Haid is awake, but has not responded to my summons."
"In the rehabilitation unit."
"Understood." Again the Box hesitated, as though it was about to debate her assumption that it didn't rate as a crew member. But all it said in the end was: "I shall wait until you have arrived before taking any action."
* * *
The Ana Vereine, first of the new Marauder-class combat ships to roll off the Dato Bloc production lines, was designed to hold a full complement of three thousand crew members. Its size reflected that—uncomfortably at times. Currently carrying a crew of just five, its labyrinthine holds were sealed; active life support was restricted to officers' quarters, the bridge and a handful of essential areas; major accessways were dimly lit and cool, filled with nothing but the gentle susurrus of hundreds of cubic kilometers of moving air.
Sometimes it seemed to Roche, as it did now, on her way to the bridge, that she had been swallowed by a vast, metal beast. That at any moment the ship would spring to life, shrug free of its carbon-based passengers and head off on its own adventure. And perhaps it would serve them right if it did; they were so far from realizing its true potential.
In the eighteen days since leaving COE Intelligence HQ, they had traveled a highly circuitous route. Fearing a double cross from Page De Bruyn, head of Strategy and Roche's former employer, the Box had plotted an untraceable course to Walan Third, where they had surrendered Makil Veden's body to the Commerce Artel. That small but necessary detour cost them time: although they remained at the Eckandi base for less than a day, their total on the run had already reached eight by the time they left.
From Walan Third the Ana Vereine headed toward Baeris Osh, a Surin territory, before abruptly changing course for the Handrelle System. Every time they completed a hyperspace jump, Roche half-expected to find an ambush waiting for them. The chances of De Bruyn second-guessing their path were practically zero, since it was impossible to predict the destination of a ship once it entered hyperspace, but the fear was hard to shake. Only on the last two jumps, when they finally angled back toward the border of the Kesh N'Kor Republic and their original destination, had Morgan begun to believe that she was actually safe, that she might yet outrun her past.
Still, there was always the future to worry about. If an ambush was what De Bruyn intended, Palasian System was the obvious place to stage it. Only a stubborn belief—based mainly on recent experience—that COE Intelligence would never do anything quite so obvious kept her from losing sleep over that possibility. Page De Bruyn had revealed herself to be a far more cunning and deceitful opponent than that.
Besides, it wasn't what she was running from that most concerned Morgan, but what she was running to. The Box had said that the alert had nothing to do with the Sol Wunderkind in Palasian System. A gut instinct told her that that was not the whole truth.
Rounding the last corner on her approach to the bridge, Roche felt the peculiar hopelessness of her dream return with a vividness that stung. She slowed her pace and took a few deep breaths, wanting to regain her composure before she stepped onto the bridge to join the others.
The last time she'd had that dream had been the night before taking the Armada entrance exam on Ascensio, many years before. But why had it returned now, on this, her nineteenth day free of COE Intelligence? She was at a loss to understand the connection. The dream spoke of her deepest fears: of failure, the future, and ... freedom?
She shook her head to rid herself of the discomforting notion. She was glad to be free of COE Intelligence, wasn't she? She didn't like to think that even the smallest part of her might be having regrets.
When her mind was relatively still, if not entirely clear, she took another deep breath and stepped through the open portal and onto the bridge.
* * *
The bridge was not the largest room on the Ana Vereine, even though it felt as if it could have been. The main chamber was roughly heart-shaped, with a single holographic screen dominating the left lobe, more specialized displays in the right, and various officer stations sweeping in three arcs toward the rounded base. A smaller, circular room at the base of the heart was the captain's private chamber. This chamber, plus the shape of the bridge itself, lent the entire floor plan a passing resemblance to the Mandelbrot Set, with the captain's podium located at the intersection of X and Y axes. Except that on the Ana Vereine, there was no captain's podium. There was just a large hologram projector occupying its usual spot.
Tempering the bewildering array of displays and control stations, the walls bore the colors of late sunset with the occasional tapestry to blunt sharp corners. The lighting was muted, and brightened only under battle conditions.
One person occupied the vast area. He was leaning against the astrogation officer's station with his arms folded, the shipsuit he wore emphasizing his supple strength.
"Sorry to disturb you," said Cane, straightening as Roche entered. His dark brown skin and bald skull made him seem Exotic, subtly alien, and the little Roche knew about his origins didn't help shake that impression.
"That's okay," she said, wishing she could emulate his alertness. Not for the first time, she cursed the modified genes responsible for his extraordinary resilience. "What's the situation?"
"We found something." Cane nodded at the main screen. "Or at least, the Box did."
She crossed the bridge to the first officer's chair as he talked. "Show me," she said, sitting.
"Well, that's the strange thing," Cane said. "There's nothing to show."
Roche, frowning, swiveled in her chair to face him. Before she could speak, Cane added: "At least, nothing I can see."
"The phenomenon we have encountered is not visible in the physical universe," explained the Box, its voice issuing from speakers at the base of the holographic projector.
Roche shifted her attention back to the main screen. The only thing it revealed were the cold specks of distant stars.
She sighed, impatience rising within her again. "Is someone going to explain what's going on here?"
"Of course," said the Box. The view on the main screen changed, became the route plotted by Roche and the Box while refueling at COE Intelligence HQ. "Our original course from Walan Third consisted of fourteen hyperspace jumps across the Commonwealth of Empires, culminating in one final jump to the anchor point of Palasian System. We traveled entirely without incident until this last jump." An arrow skittered through the depths of the screen, settling upon a point almost at the end of their route. "Here. Four hours into the jump, sensors aboard the Ana Vereine detected an anomaly in our vicinity."
The screen displayed complex diagrams representing the distorted topology of hyperspace—that strange realm where even the basic laws of physics could not be taken for granted.
"The disturbance lay directly in our path," the Box continued, "although its distance from us in physical terms was difficult to determine. My one attempt to change course around it was unsuccessful, perhaps because of the influence it was—and is still—exerting over our navigational data."
"What sort of influence?" Roche asked.
"A type I have never encountered before, Morgan. Our course became increasingly uncertain the closer we approached it. By attempting to go around it, we ran the risk of passing through it instead. Eventually the potential hazard became so great that I decided to return prematurely. We had nearly completed the final jump by that point, so I thought the loss in time would be offset by the chance to see what awaited us."
"And?" Roche watched in guarded fascination as the main screen changed again; n-dimensional mathematics was not her specialty, but she assumed the Box knew what it was talking about.
"The source of the disturbance remains a mystery."
"So? As long as we don't hit it, we can still make it to Palasian System, right?"
"If only it were that simple, Morgan." The screen returned to the picture it had displayed when Roche had entered the bridge: stars, none so close as to be remarkable, and nothing else within the external scanners' fields of view.
"Where's the primary of Palasian System?" she asked, frowning.
"We can't find it," Cane said. "That's the problem."
Roche's frown deepened. "We're lost?"
"If anything," said the Box, "it is the system itself that is lost." A navigation chart appeared on the screen. "If you study the data, you will see that we have arrived with the correct orientation one light-week short of the terminus of our original jump, two light-weeks from Palasian System. Star charts confirm this. What we are seeing is what we should be seeing, except for one important detail: Hintubet, Palasian System's primary, appears nowhere within the starscape before us."
"I find that hard to believe. It has to be here somewhere—"
"None of the stars in this region produce a spectral match. Neither do any within a fifty light-year radius." The Box paused before pronouncing its conclusion: "Palasian System is patently not where it is supposed to be."
Roche found her sense of fatigue quickly fading. "That's impossible. The disturbance must have knocked us more off course than you thought."
"Not by so great a margin as to lose an entire star, Morgan."
"Then the star charts must be wrong."
"They aren't. Apart from a few slight discrepancies, every other navigational marker in this region matches."
"Well, what then?" She shook her head in annoyance. To come so close to her destination only to find that it had been snatched away from her was like something out of a bad dream—another one. "A system can't just disappear without a trace!"
"I agree that it is improbable," said the Box, its tone mollifying. "But the only conceivable alternative is that it has been destroyed."
"How?" She automatically glanced at Cane. No one knew exactly what the genetically modified clone warriors made by the Sol Apotheosis Movement were capable of—possibly not even Cane, who was one of them. "Surely not even a Sol Wunderkind could do that."
"It would seem unlikely that the entire system was destroyed," agreed Cane. "But when you consider that the only alternative explanation is that it has been moved, you have to admit—"
"This is a rhetorical point," the Box cut in. "We lack data, Morgan. What measurements I can make from this distance are hampered by the fact that light from the region is at least one week old. I have found no evidence to suggest any sort of event sufficiently calamitous to destroy a star without leaving any trace of stellar wreckage—but I may be missing something. We need to go closer to find out."
Her eyes narrowed suspiciously. "I thought you said the disturbance posed too great a risk to navigation."
"Not necessarily. Long-distance jumps through this region of space are likely to be perturbed. I suggest instead that we approach the vicinity of where Palasian System used to be by increments, studying the anomaly as we go. Should the risk increase further still, we can come to a halt again and consider other courses of action."
Excerpted from The Dying Light by Sean Williams, Shane Dix. Copyright © 2000 Sean Williams and Shane Dix. Excerpted by permission of Open Road Integrated Media, Inc..
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.
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This i might read!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Morgan Roche was an intelligence operative for the Commonwealth of Empires. Now she has taken command of a spaceship in order to seek out an ancient enemy which presents a danger to her universe. It is a clone warrior called the Sol Wunderkind, truly the stuff of legend. Roche, along with her odd crew which consist of a human clone, a reave, a 'box,' and a scarred warrior, find themselves surrounded by mysterious entities, any of whom could be friend or foe. When Morgan discovers that Adoni Cane, the clone, is a Wunderkind, she is tasked with finding out what is fact and what is fiction, which is truth and which is legend. She must figure out exactly what the Sol Wunderkind are, where they came from, and where they belong. The Dying Light is the second of Williams and Dix's Evergence military SF Evergencenovels. Evocative and full of inventive new terms and concepts, The Dying Light is well worth the read, although it would be worth while to read The Prodigal Sun first. Rickey R. Mallory