Authors: Ian Douglas
Book Two of
The Legacy Trilogy
who's helped me with my own battlespace.
Lance Corporal Lynnley Collins, UFR/US Marines, drifted free within inexpressibleâ¦
Visual: A heavy Trans-Atmospheric Transport slowly descends through a nightâ¦
“So what's the dope, Gare?” Lance Corporal Roger Eagleton asked.
The magflier public transport deposited them on the landing shelfâ¦
Hospitalman Second Class Phillip K. Lee was trying to runâ¦
“All right, Marines. Listen up!”
Colonel Ramsey floated in noumenal space, watching the bulk ofâ¦
Hospitalman Second Class Phillip Lee sat huddled in almost totalâ¦
“So?” Ramsey asked. “What went wrong?”
For another three weeks, preparations were made for the MIEU'sâ¦
Cassius was not so much the pilot of the Starhawkâ¦
“Admiral Harris,” Dominick said, “I suggest we deploy for combat.”
“The fighters are on the way in,” Ricia Anderson said.
This time it was different.
HM2 Phillip Lee dropped toward the stargate, trying to keepâ¦
“Here they come!” Gunny Dunne yelled. “Check your CCN locks!”
Lee froze, staring at the hovering war machine. The onlyâ¦
“Recon Company, First Platoon! Saddle up, boys and girls! We'reâ¦
Space and time, Alexander knew, were two faces of theâ¦
The armored form continued to advance until it was fiveâ¦
Kat was completely familiar with the idea of a chainâ¦
According to his implant, this was his second day ofâ¦
“One of the Marine pilots of 5-MAS,” Cassius went onâ¦
Fire in the night.
How long had it been since he'd slept last? Garrowayâ¦
Wings of Isis
1550 hours, Shipboard time
Lance Corporal Lynnley Collins, UFR/US Marines, drifted free within inexpressible beauty.
From her vantage point, she seemed to float in the depths of space, but a space turned glorious by the blue-silver-white beacons of two nearby stars: gleaming Sirius A and its tiny white-dwarf brother, Sirius B.
The Sirius system was thick with dust and debris that caught the starlight and twisted it into hazy knots of pale color. The noumenal display revealed the hard radiation searing the encircling sky as a faint purple background glow.
âsuch a bland and uninformative description of the sheer miraculous. If a phenomenon is something that happens in the world around us, within that collection of events and happenstance and knock-on-wood solid matter humans are pleased to call reality, then a
is that which happens within a person's mind.
Thought, wonder, visualization, imaginationâ¦such are the bone and sinew of the noumenal. With the appropriate nanochelates forming hypolinks and neural access stacks at certain points within the sulci of the brain, with implanted
microcircuitry and perhaps twenty grams of other hardware grown nanobit by nanobit into key nerve bundles to provide sensory input, a human could link in to the data feed from a computer or an AI and become an organic SUI, a sensory user's interface, experiencing downloads not on a computer monitor or wallscreen, but as unfolding visual and aural imagery within the mind itself.
Lance Corporal Collins, then, was not
adrift in open space, bathed in the fiercely radiant glare of Sirius A. Remote cameras and other sensors on the hull of the explorer ship
Wings of Isis
provided the cascade of data flooding through her brain by way of the ship's communications systems. The sky around her was dramatically, impossibly beautiful, bands of dust and gas aglow in actinic Sirian light. Sirius A was distant enough that she didn't even show a disk, yet still was so brilliant that even within the artfully massaged illusion of the noumenal sensorium it was difficult to look at the star directly.
Closer by some hundreds of millions of kilometers, Sirius B radiated its own hot light, illuminating the stellar debris within which it was imbedded in blues, silvers, violets, and harshly glaring white. A white dwarf, a shrunken star the size of Earth and so dense that a teaspoonful possessed the mass of a good-sized mountain, Sirius B was too small even at this relatively close range to show as more than a blinding spark embedded in its glowing cloud of dust.
Lynnley was not watching the stellar panorama, however. Opposite the two arc-brilliant sunsâand harshly illuminated by themâdrifted the Wheel.
Ten kilometers away from
Wings of Isis
, and at least twenty kilometers across, the thing was clearly an artifact, something deliberately created by intelligence, a hubless wheel of roughly the same proportions as a wedding band. Under magnification, the outer surface was black, cracked, and broken, which might indicate that the Wheel had been
constructed from asteroidal debris. The inner surface was smooth, almost polished, marked by geometric shapes and lines, and here and there lights glowed like neatly ordered stars, indicating power usage and the possibility of life. Gravitometric readings, however, teased and confused. If they could be believed, the Wheel was incredibly dense, the mass of a large planet collapsed into an enigmatic, clearly artificial hoop.
In fact, there were no planets in the Sirian system. Sirius A was far too hot and bright a star to allow for a comfortably Earthlike planet, and it was young, too young for life to have evolved, even had there been such a world; once Sirius B had been nearly as bright as its big brother before it had vomited part of its mass and collapsed into its present shrunken state. The background radiation, barely held at bay by the
's magnetic screens, would have fried any unprotected life-form in seconds. Whoever had built that structure had come here from somewhere else.
Why? What was the ring for?
And who had built it, here in the harsh and deadly glare of the Sirian suns?
Unseen, but sensed in the imaginal space at her side, Sergeant Paul Watson watched and wondered with her. Paul was a shipboard lover, but, more, he was a friend, a bulwark against the loneliness. John Garroway, the man she loved, was another Marine, one now even more distant from the
Wings of Isis
than was Earth. As much as she liked Paul, she wished John was here now instead.
“My God!” Paul said suddenly, his voice sharp in her mind.
“Look! There in the center. You'll need to magnifyâ¦.”
She set her attention on the center of that massive Wheel, giving the mental command to narrow in on the field of view. Yes, she saw it nowâ¦something drifting out from the center of the artifact. If the known diameter of the Wheel was
any indication, the object must be a couple of kilometers long at least, as slender as a needle and gleaming in the hard starlight like pure gold.
“Whatâ¦is it?” she said.
“A ship!” Paul replied in her thoughts. “Obviously, a ship!”
“Why obviously?” Lynnley said. “We don't know who these people are. Or what they are. We can't take anything for granted!”
“Bullshit,” Paul replied with a mental snort. “It's a
. That Wheel must be some sort of enormous habitat or space station. I think we're about to meet Berossus's friends!”
. The phrase at once chilled and excited.
Wings of Isis
had voyaged to Siriusâ8.6 light-years from home, on a long-shot gamble. Berossus had been a Babylonian historian living about three centuries
. Only fragments of his writings remained, but from those fragments had come the story of Oannes, an amphibious being who'd appeared at the headwaters of either the Arabian Gulf or the Red Seaâthere was some confusion as to whichâand taught the primitive humans dwelling there the arts of medicine, agriculture, writing, and of reading the stars. Oannes, Berossus insisted, was not a god, but one of a number of beings he called
or “animals with reason,” intelligent beings like men, but not human. The Greek word he used for them was
, “the Repulsive Ones,” and they were said to have the bodies and tails of fish with the heads and limbs of men.
The tale, like so many other fragments of lost or nearly lost history, from Quetzalcoatl to Troy to the Iberian Bronze Age copper miners of Lake Superior to the nuclear holocaust described in the
to lost Atlantis, had long been relegated to myth. The twenty-first-and twenty-second-century exoarcheological discoveries on the moon, Mars, and Eu
ropa, however, had demonstrated once and for all that many such myths were history in disguise.
The rise of human civilization was
what it long had seemed.
The Annedoti of Berossus were associated with the star Sirius, having claimed to come from there. The Nommo of the myths of the Dogon tribe in Mali also purportedly hailed from the Sirius system, which the primitive Dogon had described in intriguing, impossible detail. The Dogon traditions were so anachronistically detailed in fact that even in the twentieth century some writers had speculated that the Nommo might represent memories of an encounter between early humans and visiting extraterrestrials.
The only problem was the fact that Sirius couldn't possibly have planets.
Wings of Isis
had departed Earth orbit late in the year 2138 and traveled for ten years, objective, most of that time at near-
. For the 245 men and women onboard, 30 of them the UFR/US Marines of the Shipboard Security Detachment, relativistic effects reduced ten years to four, and they were unaware even of that passage of time since they were in cybernetic hibernation in order to conserve food, air, and other consumables. Awakened out of cybehibe as they approached the Sirius system, most of the men and women not actively on duty at the moment were gathered now in noumenal space, linked in through the ship's comm network, watchingâ¦and wondering.
“I hope they're friendly,” Lynnley said after a moment. “The
Wings of Isis
wouldn't make a decent lifeboat for that thing!”
they're friendly!” Paul replied. “All the legends about gods from Sirius emphasized that they were friendly, taught humans how to plant crops, that kind of thing. They're just coming out to greet us!”
The shipboard alert clamored in their minds.
this, now hear this
, intoned the voice of the Marine detachment's resident AI.
Battle stations, battle stations. All hands man your battle stations.
A precaution only,
she thought. Here, almost nine light-years from what was known and understood, it paid to be doubly cautious.
“I hope to the Goddess you're right, Paul,” she said. “But whoever they are, they must be damned old, and someone once said that the old are often insanely jealous of the young. Andâ¦there are the Hunters of the Dawn, remember?”
She felt his noumenal touch. “Nah. It's Oannes's descendents, and they're coming out to see how their offspring have done. Everything'll be fine. You'll see.”
“Damn,” she said. “I sure hope you're right.”
She began to disconnect from the noumenal feed. Battle stations for the Marines was in the squad bay aft, suited and armed, ready to repel an attack on the ship or to deploy planetside in their TAL-S Dragonflies to meet an enemy. There was no planetside here, and the golden ship, or whatever it was, had made no hostile moves as yet, had it?
Just a precautionâ¦just a precautionâ¦.
Then something made her hesitate, to look again at the approaching golden vessel.
And then she felt her soul and mind being dragged from her bodyâ¦.
She began screamingâ¦.