Semper Human

Semper Human

Book Three of the Inheritance Trilogy

Ian Douglas

For Brea, as always, my patient and loving muse

Contents

Prologue

Some three hundred fifty light years from the exact center…

1

Marine General Trevor Garroway felt the familiar jolt and retch…

2

Trevor Garroway leaned back in a reclining seat grown by…

3

“According to this,” Garroway said aloud, “the Xul have been…

4

“The Xul,” Garroway said, startled, “are acting in a coherent…

5

Garroway tried to make sense of what he was seeing.

6

“Gentlebeings, we have a problem. A big problem.”

7

“Now reveille, reveille, reveille! All hands on deck!” Marine Master…

8

“The bastards!” Lieutenant Bollan said, quietly, but with deep and…

9

“Too bad Misek didn't want to come down here,” Maria…

10

The Marine OM-27 Eavesdropper Captain Ana McMillan, code-name Zephyr, forced…

11

Master Sergeant Nal il-En Shru-dech completed a final run-through, checking…

12

General Garroway watched the unfolding battle as a fast-flashing series…

13

Hugin and Munin were figures out of ancient Norse mythology,…

14

For an instant, the sky burned a dazzling, searing white…and…

15

It was a long, long drop.

16

“Gentlemen, ladies, electronics,” Garroway said to the group assembled in…

17

Time flows at different rates in different circumstances. It crawls…

18

Lieutenant Garwe applied full lateral thrust to his Starwraith as…

19

Lieutenant Garwe emerged from the fog of the illusion, shaking…

20

“It's not just some kind of projected illusion,” Janis Fremantle…

21

“It's a kind of an attack,” Garroway told Ranser and…

22

“You want us to what?” Nal was thunderstruck. The bastards…

23

“Translation into the Quantum Sea in one minute, thirty seconds,”…

24

Within the throat of the funnel-shaped pit beneath the Xul…

Epilogue

The Marine Corps would continue.

Years before present

50,000,000–30,000,000:
Galaxy dominated by the One Mind, sentient organic superconductors with hive mentality. They create the network of stargates across the Galaxy, and build the Encyclopedia Galactica Node at the Galactic Core.

30,000,000–10,000,000:
Dominance of Children of the Night, nocturnal psychovores. They replace the One Mind, which may have transcended material instrumentality.

10,000,000 to present:
Dominance of the Xul, also known as the Hunters of the Dawn. Originally polyspecific pantovores, they eventually exist solely as downloaded mentalities within artificial cybernetic complexes.

Circa 500,000
B.C.E
.:
Advanced polyspecific machine intelligence later called variously the Ancients or the Builders extends a high-technology empire across a volume of space several thousand light years in extent. Extensive planoforming of Chiron, at Alpha Centauri A, of Mars in the nearby Sol System, and of numerous other worlds. QCC networks provide instantaneous communications across the entire empire. Ultimately, the Builder civilization is destroyed by the Xul. Asteroid impacts strip away the newly generated Martian atmosphere and seas, but Earth, with no technological presence, is ignored. A Xul huntership is badly damaged in the battle over Mars; it later crashes into the Europan world-sea and is frozen beneath the ice. Survivors of the Martian holocaust migrate to Earth and upload themselves into gene-tailored primates that later will be known as
Homo sapiens
.

10,000
B.C.E
.–7500
B.C.E
.:
Earth and Earth's Moon colonized by the Ahannu, or An, who are later remembered as the gods of ancient Sumeria. Around 7500
B.C.E
., asteroid strikes by the Xul destroy An colonies across their empire. Earth is devastated by asteroid strikes. One colony, at Lalande 21185, survives.

Circa 6000
B.C.E
.:
Amphibious N'mah visit Earth and help human survivors of Xul attack develop civilization. They are later remembered as the Nommo of the Dogon tribe of Africa, and as civilizing/agricultural gods by other cultures in the Mideast and the Americas.

Circa 6000
–
5000
B.C.E
.:
N'mah star-faring culture destroyed by the Xul. Survivors exist in low-technology communities within the Sirius Stargate and, possibly, elsewhere.

1200
B.C.E
. [S
PECULATIVE
]:
The Xul revisit Earth and discover an advanced Bronze Age culture. Asteroid impacts cause devastating floods worldwide, and may be the root of the Atlantis myth.

700
C.E
.:
The deep abyssal intelligence later named the Eulers fight the Xul to a standstill by detonating their own stars. This astronomical conflagration of artificial novae is seen in the skies of Earth, in the constellation Aquila, some one thousand two hundred years later.

The Heritage Trilogy

2039–2042:
Semper Mars

2040:
1st UN War. March by “Sands of Mars Garroway.” Battle of Cydonia. Discovery of the Cydonian Cave of Wonders.

 

2040–2042:
Luna Marine

2042:
Battle of Tsiolkovsky. Discovery of An base on the Moon.

 

2067:
Europa Strike

2067:
Sino-American War. Discovery of the Singer under the Europan ice.

The Legacy Trilogy

2138–2148:
Star Corps

2148:
Battle of Ishtar. Treaty with An of Lalande 21185. Earth survey vessel
Wings of Isis
destroyed while approaching the Sirius Stargate.

 

2148–2170:
Battlespace

2170:
Battle of Sirius Gate. Contact with the N'mah, an amphibious species living inside the gate structure. Data collected electronically fills in some information about the Xul, and leads to a Xul node in Cluster Space, thirty thousand light years from Sol. A Marine assault force uses the gate to enter Cluster Space and destroy this gate.

 

2314–2333:
Star Marines

2314:
Armageddonfall

2323:
Battle of Night's Edge. Destruction of Xul Fleet and world in Night's Edge Space.

The Inheritance Trilogy

2877:
Star Strike

2877 [1102
M.E
..]:
1MIEF departs for Puller 695. Battle of Puller 695 against Pan-Europeans. Contact with Eulers in Cygni Space. Battle of Cygni Space. Destruction of star in Starwall Space, eliminating local Xul node.

 

2886:
Galactic Corps

2886 [1111
M.E
.]:
Raid on Cluster Space by 1MIEF. Discovery of stargate path to major Xul node at Galactic Core.

2887 [1112
M.E
.]:
Operation Heartfire. Assault on the Galactic Core.

 

4004:
Semper Human

3152:
Volunteer elements of the Marine third Division enter extended cybernetic hibernation.

3214:
Formation of the Galactic Associative.

4004 [2229
A.M
.]:
Dahl Incursion. Contact with the Tarantulae. Attack on Xul presence within the Quantum Sea. Xenophobe Collapse.

4005 [2230
A.M
.]
Re-establishment of the United States Marine Corps.

Some three hundred fifty light years from the exact center of the Milky Way Galaxy, the Marine OM-27 Eavesdropper
Major Dion Williams
forced its way through the howling storm.

The howl, in this case, was purely electronic in the vacuum of space, a shrill screech caused by the flux of dust particles interacting with the
Williams'
magnetic shields. But since the tiny vessel's crew consisted of uploaded t-Human minds and a powerful Artificial Intelligence named Luther, all of them resident within the
Williams'
electronic circuitry, they “heard” the interference as a shrieking roar. The tiny vessel shuddered as it plowed through the deadly wavefront of charged particles.

“Sir! There it is again!” Lieutenant (u/l) Miek Vrellit indicated a pulse of coherent energy coming through the primary scanner. “Do you see it?”

“Yeah,” Captain (u/l) Foress Talendiaminh replied. “Looks like a gravitational lensing effect.”

“Yeah, but it's not noise! There's real data in there!”

“What do you make of it, Luther?”

“Lieutenant Vrellit is correct,”
the AI replied, as the data sang across the ship's circuitry.
“There is data content. I cannot, however, read it. This appears to be a new type of encryption.”

“But the signal's coming from inside the event horizon!” Talendiaminh said. “That's impossible!”

“I suggest, sir,”
the AI said,
“that we record what we can and transmit it to HQ. Let them determine what is or is not possible.”

“Agreed.”

But then, as seconds passed, Vrellit sensed something else. “Wait a second! Anyone feel that?”

“What?”

“Something like…”

And then circuitry flared into a white-hot mist, followed half a second later by a fast-expanding cloud of gas as the
Williams
began to dissolve.

The monitor's faster-than-light QCC signals were already being received some twenty-six thousand light years away, on the remote outskirts of Earth's solar system. The last transmission received was Lieutenant Vrellit's electronic voice, a shriek louder than the storm of radiation.

“Get! Them! Out! Of! My! Mind!…”

 

“Star Lord, you are needed.”

Star Lord Ared Goradon felt the odd, inner twist of shifting realities, and groaned. Not
now
! Whoever was dragging him out of the VirSim, he decided, had better have a
damned
good reason.

“Lord Goradon,”
the voice of his AI assistant whispered again in his mind,
“there is an emergency.”
When he didn't immediately respond, the AI said, more urgently,
“Star Lord, wake up! We need you fully conscious!”

Reluctantly, he swam up out of the warmth of the artificially induced lucid dream, the last of the sim's erotic caresses tattering and fading away. He sat up on his dream couch, blinking against the light. His heart was pounding, though whether from his physical exertions in the VirSim or from the shock of being so abruptly yanked back to the rWorld, he couldn't tell.

The wall opposite the couch glared and flickered in orange and black. “What is it?”

“A xeno riot, Lord,”
the voice told him.
“It appears to be out of control. You may need to evacuate.”

“What, here?” It wasn't possible. The psych index for Kaleed's general population had been perfectly stable for months, even with the news of difficulties elsewhere.

But on his wall, the world was burning.

It was a small world, to be sure—an artificial ring three thousand kilometers around and five hundred wide, rotating to provide simulated gravity and with matrix fields across each end of the narrow tube to hold in the air. Around the perimeter, where patchwork patterns of sea and land provided the foundation for Kaleed's scattered cities and agro centers, eight centuries of peace had come to an end in a single, shattering night.

The wall revealed a succession of scenes, each, it seemed, worse than the last. Orange fires glared and throbbed in ragged patches, visible against the darkness of the broad, flat hoop rising from the spinward horizon up and over to the zenith, and down again to antispin. Massed, black sheets of smoke drifted slowly to antispin, above the steady turning of the Wheel, sullenly red-lit from beneath. That he could see the flames against the darkness was itself alarming. What had happened to the usual comfortable glare of the cities' lights, to their power?

“Show me the Hub,” he ordered the room.

Cameras directed at Kaleed's hub fifteen hundred kilometers overhead showed the wheelworld's central illuminator was dead. The quantum taps within providing heat and warmth had failed, and the three extruded Pylons holding the Hub in place were dark. There appeared to be a battle being fought at the base of Number Two Pylon, two clouds of anonymous fliers, their hulls difficult to see as their nanoflage surfaces shifted and blended to match their surroundings, were swarming about the base and the
column, laser and plasma fire flashing and strobing with each hit.

Damn it…who was fighting who out there?

“Administrator Corcoram wishes to see you, Lord,”
his assistant told him as he stared at the world's ruin.
“Actually, several hundred people and aigencies have requested direct links. Administrator Corcoram is the most senior.”

“Put him through.”

The System Administrator appeared in Goradon's sleep chamber, looking as though he, too, had just been roused from sleep. His personal aigent had dressed his image in formal presentation robes, but not edited the terror from the man's face. “Star Lord!”

“What the hell is going on, Mish? There was nothing in the last admin reports I saw….”

“It just came out of nowhere, sir,” Mishel Corcoram replied. “
Nowhere
!”

“There had to be something.”

The lifelike image of Kaleed's senior administrator shrugged. “There was a…a minor protest scheduled for nineteen at the public center in Lavina.” That was Kaleed's local admin complex.

Eight standard hours ago. “Go on.”

“Our factors were there, of course, monitoring the situation. But the next thing socon knew, people were screaming ‘natural liberty,' and then the Administrative Center was under attack by mobs wielding torches, battering rams, and weaponry seized from Administratia guards dispatched to quiet things down.” The image looked away, as though studying the scenes of fire and night flickering in the nano e-paint coating Goradon's wall. “Star Lord…it's the end of Civilization!”

“Get a hold of yourself, Mish. Who are the combatants? What are they fighting about?”

“The stargods only know,” Corcoram replied. He sounded bitter. “Reports have been coming in for a couple of hours, now, but they're…not making much sense. It sounds like
r-Humans are fighting s-Humans…and both of them are fighting both Dalateavs and Gromanaedierc. And
everyone
is attacking socon personnel and machines on sight.”

“A free-for-all, it sounds like.”

“Pretty much, yeah.”

Goradon shook his head. “But why?”

“Like I said, Lord. It's the collapse of Civilization!”

Which Goradon didn't believe for a moment. Mish Corcoram could be hyper-dramatic when the mood took him, and could pack volumes of emotion into the utterly commonplace. He was a good hab administrator—the effective ruler of the wheelworld known as Kaleed—but Ared Goradon was the administrator for the entire Rosvenier system…not just Kaleed, but some two thousand other wheelworlds, cylworlds, rings, troider habs, toroids, and orbital cols, plus three rocky planets, two gas giants, and the outposts and colonies on perhaps three hundred moons, planetoids, cometary bodies, and Kuiper ice dwarfs. His jurisdiction extended over a total population of perhaps three billion humans of several subspecies, and perhaps one billion Dalateavs, Gromanaedierc, Eulers, N'mah, Veldiks, and other nonhuman sapients or parasapients.

He could not afford to become flustered at the apparent social collapse of a single orbital habitat.

“Star Lord,”
his AI assistant whispered in his ear.
“Other reports are beginning to come through. There was some transmission delay caused by the damage to the Hub. It appears that similar scenes are playing out on a number of other system habs.”

“How many?”

“Four hundred seventeen colonies and major bases so far. But that number is expected to rise. This…event appears to be systemwide in scope.”

On the wall, a remote camera drone captured a single, intensly brilliant pinpoint of light against the far side of the Wheel, nearly three thousand kilometers distant…perhaps in Usila, or one of the other antipodal cities. Gods of Chaos…
he could see the shockwave expanding as the pinpoint swelled, growing brighter. Had some idiot just touched off a
nuke
?…

“Star Lord,”
his assistant continued.
“I strongly recommend evacuation. You can continue your duties from the control center of an Associative capital ship.”

“What's close by?”


The fleet carrier
Drommond,
sir. And the heavy pulse cruiser
Enthereal.”

Seconds ago, the very idea of abandoning Kaleed, of abandoning his home, had been unthinkable. But a second nuclear detonation was burning a hole through the wheeldeck foundation as he watched.

The fools, the bloody damned fools were intent on pulling down their house upon their own heads.

“Mish, on the advice of my AI, I'm transferring command to a warship. I recommend that you do the same.”

“I…but…do you think that's wise?”

“I don't know about wise. But the situation here is clearly out of control, yours and mine.”

“But what are we going to—”

The electronic image of the Kaleed senior administrator flicked out. On the wall, a third city had just been annihilated in a burst of atomic fury—Bethelen, which was, Goradon knew, where Mish lived.

Where he
had
lived, past tense.

Goradon was already jogging for the personal travel pod behind a nearby wall that would take him spinward to the nearest port. He might make it.

“What I'm going to do,” he called to the empty air, as if Mish could still hear him, “is call for help.”

“What help?”
his AI asked as he palmed open the hatch and squeezed into the pod.

“I'm going to have them send in the Marines,” he said.

It was something Goradon had never expected to say.

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