Title: The IX – Exordium of Tears
Author: Andrew P. Weston
Genre: Science Fiction
Fight or Die
That simple yet brutal philosophy is the tenet by which the refugees from Earth – including the fabled lost 9th Legion of Rome; the 5th Company, 2nd Mounted Cavalry Unit; and the Special Forces Anti-Terrorist Team – have been forced to live while the Horde menace existed. Believing that the threat is over, the survivors now yearn to settle down, start families, and reclaim the lives stolen from them.
But such aspirations might remain beyond their reach, for a shadow looms on the rose-tinted horizon of new beginnings.
The release of the re-genesis matrix has done much to foster a restoration of exuberance across Arden. Along with resurgence in floral and faunal diversity, comes the results of splicing the Ardenese and human genomes: transmutation; a metamorphosis of stunning magnitude that not only affects the living, but those still is stasis as well.
Recognizing the emergence of a new hybrid species, the Architect – the arcane AI construct tasked with the preservation of the Ardenese race – responds by unlocking previously hidden and inaccessible areas of the city. It also releases an archive of sealed state records.
Those secrets are pounced on and eagerly perused, whereupon a shocking discovery is made.
Prior to the fall, it was common knowledge amongst the Senatum – the highest levels of Arden’s government – that not all the Horde had joined in the rabid exodus toward home world, and the belief persisted that their enemy survived amongst the outer colonies.
Realizing the peril might still exist, the newly reformed administration elects to respond. Accessible resources are utilized, suitable candidates are chosen, and a flotilla of ships is sent out to secure, quarantine, and reclaim the outer colonies. A mammoth and hazardous undertaking. And nowhere more so than at the planet from where the outbreak was known to have originated – Exordium – for there, the ancient Horde are not only supremely evolved and highly organized, but are capable of a level of lethal sophistication, the likes of which has never been witnessed before.
It is into this kiln of incendiary potential that the cream of Arden’s fighting force is deployed.
Worlds are torn asunder, suns destroyed, and star systems obliterated. Yes, tragedy is forged anew, in a universe spanning conflict which proves once again that…
Death is only the beginning of the adventure.
Wilson stirred. The deep, penetrating ache radiating through his shoulders and arms reminded him he was still tethered to the ceiling by chains. Sure enough, when he focused on them he could feel the telltale throb in his hands getting worse by the second.
A recurring problem, since he’d been bound so that his feet only just reached the flagstones. When exhaustion claimed him, his knees folded and his full weight pulled on his limbs, cutting off his circulation. Within minutes, the growing pain would tug him back to the misery of consciousness.
Although dry and free of decay, the cell stank of feces and urine. He opened his eyes to see a rare glimmer filtering through a small barred grill high in the door opposite him and illuminating the rest of the chamber. By its scant light Wilson could see Harper and Stark were still absent. Their manacles hung open, mocking him, foreboding.
His skull pounded as if a stage coach had been driven across his head. He took a few deep breaths, trying to clear his mind.
Screams from farther along the corridor outside dragged his sluggish consciousness back to his predicament. He straightened his legs and pain radiated through his joints, reminding him how badly his muscles had cramped. Before he could stop himself, he moaned aloud.
Wilson bit his lip, trying to stifle the noise, but blood rushed to fill the capillaries of his fingers and caused him to groan even louder.
No! If they heard that they’ll know I’m awake and . . .
A buzz issued from beyond the doorway. Ponderously heavy, the hatch cracked open. A wedge of light intruded, bathing him in light and making him squint.
Two forms flew through the air to land in a heap nearby. Wilson was horrified. His fellow prisoners had been only slightly older than he, yet the skeletal hands of decrepit old men now protruded limply from their ragged sleeves. Hollow eyes peered at him from blackened sockets. He glanced between them, their faces pleading for release with heartrending desperation. Moments later, both men gasped and flopped down onto the cold hard floor, where they lay still.
Harper! Stark! My God, what have they done to —?
An indistinct figure entered the cell, and Wilson cringed in horror. Roughly humanoid in shape, its pale sweating skin billowed and warped as if a ghost caged within was struggling to get free. When it undulated closer, Wilson was shocked to recognize this surging apparition was Joseph Mitchell, Second Company’s sergeant, and Houston’s ever-present minion. Or had been, once: whatever menaced Wilson wasn’t entirely human.
“Joe? What the hell happened to you?”
The scar on Mitchell’s cheek gave him a demonic air as he closed the gap between them.
Wilson could see that Mitchell’s eyes were black and wild; his hands opened and clenched repeatedly; he gasped to catch every breath.
“Are you all right, Joe?” Wilson was frantic to connect with anything that might still resemble camaraderie within the stricken soldier. “Is there anything I can do for you?”
“As a matter of fact, Lieutenant, there is.”
Mitchell’s hand snaked out and grabbed Wilson by the hair, yanking him forward and lifting him clean off the floor, tearing open the scab from the wound on the back of his head in the process. Wilson whimpered in distress.
Jesus Christ! What is this freak going to do to me?
The next thing Wilson knew, something slammed against his ribs and fire erupted in his chest. He howled, long and hard.
“Stop now or die!”
The command was barely more than a rasping exhalation. Nonetheless, it had the desired effect, for Mitchell released his hold. Relief flooded Wilson’s system, only to be replaced by agony as the chains pulled taut, twisting his arms cruelly behind his back.
“I’ve told you before,” the voice continued, “he is off limits. How can we hope to fulfill our objective if we waste the advantage so recently gained?”
The former sergeant backed away and hissed in defiance.
“Don’t be stupid,” the unknown entity warned, “you’re nowhere near strong enough to challenge me. If I were you, I’d go help the others prepare for our departure. We have a narrow window of opportunity, and I can’t waste time in ill-disciplined charades.”
The mutated trooper moved toward the exit.
“But understand this. Ignore my orders again and you will be . . . removed. Now get out before I change my mind.”
Mitchell snarled in suppressed rage before fleeing the cell in a tumbling mass of shadows.
Wilson stared wide-eyed toward the doorway where his savior hovered.
It appeared to be studying him closely and chuckled quietly, a forced sound, devoid of warmth or humor. Darkness congealed around it in concentric waves, and Wilson was fascinated by the way its extremities flared and faded from sight in a confusing contest of refracted light and dense obscurity.
“How are you managing, my boy,” it crooned? “I do hope this current arrangement isn’t too restrictive?”
Recognition coursed along Wilson’s spine. “Uncle James? Is that you?”
“It is. Or at least, it was. Now, I do believe I’m on my way to becoming someone else entirely; someone better, in fact.”
“What are you talking about?” Wilson was puzzled. “Anyone can see you’re ill, contaminated by something.” Rising panic clutched at his bowels, and he glanced toward his fallen comrades on the other side of the cell. “Are you going to try to infect me, like them and all the rest?”
“Oh no, no, no, dear boy. You’re far more valuable to me alive, healthy and intact.” Houston edged closer, a dreadful manifestation no longer a man. “Once you’ve served your purpose, however, I can’t honestly say what will happen to you, as I don’t think that will be up to me anymore.”
Andrew P. Weston is Royal Marine and Police veteran from the UK who now lives on the beautiful Greek island of Kos with his wife, Annette, and their growing family of rescue cats.
An astronomy and law graduate, he is the creator of the international number one bestsellers, The IX, and Hell Bound, (A novel forming part of Janet Morris’ critically acclaimed Heroes in Hell shared universe). Andrew also has the privilege of being a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, the British Fantasy Society and the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers.
When not writing, Andrew devotes some of his spare time to assisting NASA with two of their remote research projects, and writes educational articles for http://Astronaut.com and Amazing Stories.
Social Media Links:
Andrew P. Weston Blog: http://theix.blogspot.gr/
The IX Blog: http://theix.blogspot.gr/