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Authors: Ralph Kern

Erebus

BOOK: Erebus
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This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialog are products of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Copyright © 2015 Ralph Kern

Published by Tickety Boo Press Ltd

www.ticketyboopress.co.uk

Edited by Jennifer L Carson

Cover Art by Gary Compton

Book Design by Big River Press Ltd

 

Erebus

by

Ralph Kern

Book Two

Sleeping Gods

Published by Tickety Boo Press Ltd

 

Acknowledgements

I have many people to thank for helping me to write this book.

The first goes to my long-suffering editor, Jennifer, who has shown immense patience and skill in the hard work she has put into this novel.

Caroline, who has learned the hard way about putting up with an author.

Andy, a constant reminder that in order to have a healthy mind, one needs a healthy body.

James, who really should take up a job as an agent.

Allison, who did a fine job of proofreading on horribly short notice over the holidays.

The many beta readers who test drove the novel and provided constructive critique.

The good people of the SFF Chronicles, a fantastic forum for authors both established and budding to bounce ideas off of each other.

And last, but definitely not least, the readers of
Endeavour
, who have been both supportive and patient.

 

 

 

Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable…Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.

Martin Luther King, J

Prologue

“Just what the hell is that?”

Jerry Mitchell knew the first sign of madness may well have been talking to himself, but he considered it a prerogative of being a deep-space service tender pilot to be a little crazy. After all, who else would want to spend weeks in a ship with as much volume as your average bathroom? Seeing things, though? Now that was a stage too far, even for him.

He pulled himself into his seat in the cramped cockpit of the
Longhorn
and played with the controls on the main view screen, trying to get what he’d glimpsed into sharp focus.

“Dammit,” he grunted. The
Longhorn
had moved relative to the tiny rock and the…thing had swept out of view, rotating to the other side of the potato-shaped asteroid-moon.

“Okay, not a problem.” He reached over his shoulder and felt for the harness strap. Finding it floating behind him, he clicked the fitting into place.

Wrapping his mitten-clad fingers around the joystick, he yawed the tiny craft around, hearing the bangs of the thrusters. Through the cockpit window, the bloated purple world of Akarga swept across his view, the vast gas giant’s rings set at an angle from his position. Steadily, Iwa, a captured asteroid-turned-moon, appeared in the center of his screen.

“There you are. Okay, okay, let’s go take a look.”

Jerry fired a positioning laser at the rock and squinted at the stream of numbers on his heads-up display. The HUD showed relative velocity, distance, and revolutions of the rock. Yeah, he could make the rendezvous easily enough. The main reason he had come so close to the rock was that someone back at Twilight Garden had figured that the asteroid with Akarga in the background would make a good photo opportunity. Now he’d just get a little closer than expected.

He rubbed his mittened hands together, excited to be doing something—and off schedule, too; it was a rare experience in the tightly controlled world of deep-space exploration.

The
Longhorn
began thrusting slowly toward Iwa. With one eye watching the numbers, Jerry grunted in satisfaction as they reached the expected values, which showed that he was on track.

“Here, I think.” The
Longhorn
had settled in, following in the asteroid-moon’s orbital track as it endlessly circled Akarga. Jerry fired the forward engine, bringing the ship to a halt relative to Iwa. Now he just had to wait a few minutes for the rock to rotate.

Leaning back in his seat, he began drumming his fingers, squinting at the monitor image from his small telescope. Then he saw it on the horizon of Iwa: a tall building—a tower, maybe? No, more like one of those oriental buildings…what did they call them?

Pagodas.

Jerry gave a long, low whistle. A pagoda on an asteroid orbiting a gas giant that circled Sirius, a star eight light-years from Sol. An asteroid that no one had ever visited before.

***

The flight deck recording of the
Longhorn
’s mission to Akarga turned off. The men and women seated around the conference table, some of the most powerful people in the Sol system, looked at each other with the piercing, glowing eyes of the Enhanced.

“Fascinating,” Patrice said finally. She had been gripped by the recording, but her face took on a troubled expression, and not just because she, the Voice of the Linked, had voluntarily vaulted herself from the rest of her people for this meeting. “However, the time stamp indicates this is from 2156. I have to ask, has this just come to your attention, or have you been sitting on this for the last forty-six years?”

The host turned from the window where he stood looking over the darkening skyline of superscrapers and regarded her with his electric-blue eyes before letting them wash across the boardroom.

The fact that these people were here by his request testified to his own political power. But like all such things, he could lose that power in a heartbeat. And being implicated in one of the greatest conspiracies in history? That could easily prove his undoing.

“Yes, Voice Patrice. I knew about this only eight years after it was discovered, the earliest I could know about it.” The volume of the murmuring from around the table rose.

Patrice’s voice rose above the others. “Keeping quiet the discovery of the first technological alien artifact is a gross violation of the Outer Space Treaty—something you can spend a long time in jail for.”

The man held his hands out and the noise subsided. “I’ve cashed in on many favors to get you into this room. I need you to hear the whole story before you start talking about arresting me.”

“You have asked me to keep this meeting private from the Link,” Patrice snapped. “I am going to struggle, in good conscience, to do so.”

The host settled into his chair and looked at her earnestly. “Let me finish my story, Voice. Then, by all means, you and everyone in this room can do with the information what you will.”

Patrice leaned back and looked at him calmly. “As you say, you’ve cashed in many favors to get us into this room. We will hear you out, but you do know this cannot be kept secret?”

“Thank you, and I know.” The host nodded at her in gratitude. “For you to understand everything I am going to tell you, I need to give you context. I am sending you another file. It is the recording from one Layton Trent’s HUD. Some of you may know him as being one of the investigators of the Io Incident of 2183.”

“The Io Incident? What has that to do with this…artifact?” one of the men at the table asked, confusion in his tone.

“As I say, my friend, context.”

And if you didn’t like the violation of the Outer Space Treaty,
the host thought,
you’re going to hate this next part.

PART ONE 2183 CE
Chapter 1
2183 CE—Sahelia, the Karen Cole Hospital

Murder is easy. It’s just the pull of a trigger, the thrust of a knife, or the push of a button. Yes, murder is definitely easy. It’s the getting away with it that’s hard. It’s my job to make sure bad people don’t get away with it.

I knelt down in the dust next to the charred remains of the body, the stench of burnt flesh in my nostrils. The bandits in this area couldn’t take on a combat-enhanced UN peacekeeper in a straight fight, so they’d become creative. A wire net had been thrown over Corporal Tenby, connected up to a power source they’d salvaged from some old vehicle, and they’d let it fry his armor. Then they’d cooked him, literally, with gasoline and home-brewed thermite. He would have had long minutes to realize what was happening. Sometimes it was a curse how well modern combat armor could protect you.

Death hadn’t been the end of it, either. Not by a long shot. They’d butchered Tenby. His implants had been crudely carved out of his body and his weapons stolen.

His teammate had suffered a similar fate. The final two members of his squad had been taken out in their sleep in their sparse quarters. Hopefully that was quicker than what had happened to Tenby.

“You okay, Dev?” I asked, squinting up to where my partner stood over me. Jacques Deveraux was a veteran police officer, like me. But he was newly attached to War Crimes and the brutality and callous horrors of these kinds of places.

Dev rubbed the designer stubble coating his chin, which had, in the last day, grown out a bit more than was fashionable. “Yes, it’s just different to home, you know?”

“I know.” It was indeed. This was Dev’s first field deployment for The Hague. It didn’t get much more different from the cosmopolitan streets of Paris than this. “Come on, we’ve got a job to do.” I stood up from the sandy floor and dusted my knees clean. Squinting from the brightness of the oppressive African sun, I looked over at the gutted shell of what would have been loosely called, in its heyday, a hospital.

Our liaison came out of the hospital, picking her way through the still-smoldering, blackened, rib-like spars of the single-story building, calling orders at her troops before walking over to me. Her armor’s active camouflage blended with the background, adapting as she moved. The effect was surreal, like watching a disembodied head balanced on a figure-shaped heat shimmer.

“They’re inside?” I asked, knowing the answer already but needing it confirmed.

“Yes, Inspector Trent. Everyone is accounted for. Seven staff, four patients, and the UN troops, of course.” Captain Ava Phillips’s voice had an Australian twang, the kind that made you think of beaches and surfing. She deactivated her camouflage, revealing pristine dark battle armor. I nodded and gave the ruined corpse at my feet a final look. The soldier had died a long way from home in a land that people were calling more and more to be left to its own devices.

I activated my link, requesting my boss, Captain Giselle Allard, back at The Hague. I saw her face appear on the HUD of my eye implants. “Morning, Giselle,” I said. I couldn’t keep the edge from my voice. “It’s confirmed. We’ve got fifteen here. Their kit and implants have gone, too. If it’s not all on the black market yet, it soon will be.”

“Christ, Layton, how the hell did they get the drop on these guys?” the neatly suited officer asked, her silky French accent not quite masking the cool anger of her tone. Behind her, I could see The Hague office walls.

“I’ll send you the pics. It was an ambush. Looks like they disabled the troops’ armor with some kind of contraption they jury-rigged together. I’m guessing they got the idea from the Hypernet then they torched them.”

“Okay,” she winced. “What do you need?”

“We’ll start with the basics. Do we have a forensics team in this neck of the woods?”

“Stand by.” She went quiet on me, looking down at something out of my view. “The closest we’ve got is back here, and they have a pretty full workload. Would you be happy with some local talent? I hear Cairo has some pretty decent folks.”

I mulled it over a second, trying to dredge up from memory whether I’d seen them in action. I couldn’t recall if I had. “Could they take something like this on?”

“Yeah, they’re good. I’ll make sure I get you someone who’s qualified on our forensic procedures.”

As long as they were cross-trained in FOREC, the international forensic standard, then it shouldn’t make that much difference. “Main thing I need from you guys is a review of the local satellite coverage. I want to see if we can get a track on the bandits’ movements around the time all this happened. It can’t hurt to check the local Hypernet listings, too. Have a look and see if anyone’s trying to sell weapons or technology that looks like it belongs to our victims.”

“I’ll get right on it, Layton. I’ll link you back when I have something.” Her face disappeared from my view.

Dev and I, together with Captain Phillips, walked into the smoky, gutted shell of the hospital. In the reception area a malfunctioning hologram flickered, showing a life-sized, dark-haired Karen Cole, the doctor this place was named after. She had been the second person to set foot on Eden in the Tau Ceti star system. After returning home, she had come here to “find herself” and spent months working in this hellhole before setting off thirty-five years ago on another trip to some other star. Karen Cole was an impressive woman and a living legend.

“What do we have here, Captain?”

“What you would expect.” She gestured around with her gauntleted hand. “The pharmacy is cleared out. Any portable equipment of value has been taken, and the bastards ripped the implants from the people before torching the whole place.”

BOOK: Erebus
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