This is a sneak peek of my upcoming novel, The Crystal Helix.
The human race has always sought to expand. It has always felt entitled to do so, for in all the Earth, it was the superior species. A time came in its history when it was able to expand beyond the Earth, and it did, believing that if it were the most developed species on the planet, mustn’t it too be the greatest in the universe? It was not.
For a time the humans progressed, and for a time they were watched, before the beings of the planet Valhailia saw fit to send an envoy to greet the Earthlings at their most advanced outpost, on the planet the Earthlings called Mars. The Valhailians knew that the humans had forgotten them for the most part. Their most recent visit had been chalked up to primitive religious mythology by several generations of human civilization, but the prince of Valhailia, Loki, knew that the humans had always been unusually prone to conquest, and that could prove dangerous if their growth were left unchecked, and indeed it did.
Human history books maintain that the envoy crash landed on the planet Mars, but the chief engineer of Valhailia’s royal court, Aesir, insists to this day that the craft was shot down by the humans on Mars. It is not certain which account is true, but if the craft did crash due to a technological failure, then it was the first and the last of Aesir’s ships to do so. Human history books also maintain that the alien body found on Mars was deceased, but he was not.
Interstellar travel is a complicated thing, and the most efficacious way the Valhailians could find to accomplish it was a form of deep meditation. It enabled them to travel vast distances, at humanly impossible speeds, without the kinetic forces killing their bodies. It is not known why, but something happened when the envoy’s craft came down on Mars. It left him in a state of suspended consciousness. By all outward appearances, he seemed to be dead, but he was alive and completely aware of his surroundings.
The humans began investigating the envoy’s physiology in ignorance of his condition. They were so thrilled to have discovered a “humanoid” life form, that upon eventually observing life in the creature’s vital signs, they persisted in their undertaking. Abandoning their human sensibilities, they descended into unspeakable cruelty, in the name of scientific discovery.
Meanwhile, on Valhailia, the normally peaceful people were gearing up for battle. A sensitive link exists between the minds of all Valhailians, andaccordingly;each and every one of the planet’s inhabitants could feel the pain of the humans’ barbaric experiments on their ill-fated envoy back on Mars. The inevitable result waswar. So began the war.
In the Earthling’s year 2176 AD, they isolated the chromosome pair that distinguished them from their captured Valhailian. They dubbed it “The Crystal Helix”. Their scientists attempted many experiments with the gene sequence, trying to give themselves the natural capabilities of the young Valhailian. Every human subject of those experiments died painfully, until the year 2178, when the scientists had a new idea: they used the gene sequence, mixed with their blooming nano-bot technology to grow a groundbreaking organic armor, which gradually imparted pseudo-Valhailian characteristics and genetics to its user through osmosis. They named the new fighting force C.H.E.S.S. (Crystal Helix Enhanced Super Soldiers), and they dubbed each class of soldier after their own ancient strategy game of the same name. The national governments on Earth found the systems to be overkill for the combat to which they were accustomed, and the project was severely defunded.
In the year 2179, the first flotilla of Valhailian ships arrived at the Mars outpost and wiped out the astronauts there. The UN then issued an emergency order unifying global government into what they called The Terrestrial Federation, giving nearly unlimited authoritarian power to the only man competent to face the alien threat, President and CEO of King Group International: Mathias King. It was his private security firm that had developed the CHESS technology, and they had not abandoned it after it was turned down. His minions streamed in droves upon starships to do battle against the alien menace. King Group’s starships were also modeled after the captured Valhailian technology and were far superior to the clumsy shuttles and jet rockets that the earthlings had previously used. In the skies above earth, and on the sands of the moon the crafts met in battle for the first time. The battle goes on.
To the untrained observer, the men gathered in the chamber before Rook 1.07 would appear to be just that, men. Rook knew better, however. At the table before him was the most powerful being in the universe, and across from him were the strange humanoid entities that had very nearly brought Earth’s population to its knees. If it weren’t for the innovation of Rook’s leader, Mathias King, those creatures would certainly have decimated the human race. Rook stood now, shoulder to shoulder with his blood brother, Knight 1.11, standing guard over the person of Mathias King, and carefully watching the alien soldiers on the other side of the room. This was a negotiation, on presumably neutral ground. They were on Caltion, a small earth-like planet orbiting the star Betelgeuse. This was the approximatehalfway point between Earth and Valhailia, and it had been the site of some of the worst of the fighting before it was declared neutral ground for purposes of negotiation.
The negotiations were conducted in English, because the aliens could understand human languages, though the humans could never comprehend the means by which the Valhailians communicated among themselves. Rook 1.07 tolerated the sleight, because he knew that the alien genes in his suit gave him an intimate awareness of his teammates. A normal human could never understand this connection, and Rook had no doubt that the aliens had an even more potent link. They probably never spoke except to the Earthlings, and indeed their voices were hoarse, as though from disuse.
“The Terrestrial Federation is willing to agree to a ceasefire, so long as our sovereignty is not violated. We would keep the systems from Earth to Caltion, and leave for the royal court of Valhailia the whole of the cosmos from Caltion to Valhailia, with Caltion as agreed neutral ground, on which both powers may leave military installations to monitor traffic between the two zones,” King declared. Rook 1.07 was amazed at his poise; King hated the aliens more than even the Rook himself. King’s son had died in the Mars massacre, where the aliens had landed, unprovoked, and killed twenty-seven human astronauts. Rook watched his leader with extreme admiration, before looking up at the prince of Valhailia with disgust.
When the prince spoke his voice cracked, “You would claim planets and stars in the name of your barbaric people? Even we of Valhailia make no such claims. We live on our planet, and we explore others looking for friends in the universe, but you… you look for spoils. How can a race so weak have aspirations so grand? You believe you are special, but I would inform you otherwise. The most vile beast on my home planet is wiser than your eldest sage!” The prince spat. His English was pretty good, Rook thought. The humans stared at the alien. They knew why they hated him, but they were not sure why he hated them. He spoke again after a while, “Your people are so frail, and their lives so short, that you do not remember me. My name is Loki, and when I was young, I visited your planet, and taught your ancestors, and the stupid fools tried to worship me as a deity! I left them, and waited a thousand of your years for your people to mature before I sent my next messenger, my nephew, and you killed him. Moreover… you made him suffer!” The alien monarch was struggling to contain his emotion, and Rook 1.07 could tell. He stiffened, and in the corner of his eye he saw Knight 1.11 touch the hilt of his Nanoblade.
Mathias King looked at the alien for a long moment before he answered. “We discovered the remains of one of your men on Mars, but we certainly did not kill him. We merely used his body to learn more about you.” A bead of sweat trickled down King’s brow. He watched Loki closely.
“Is that what your propaganda told your weak-minded subjects?” Loki interrogated. “It is little wonder why they serve you so blindly. They have been lied to from their very birth. Your lies fall on deaf ears, King. For while your scientists were desecrating my nephew… I heard his screams!” The prince stood, brilliant white wings springing from his shoulders, and the pawns behind Mr. King raised their guns at him, causing the alien soldiers to draw their Nanoblades. Rook 1.07 released a small swam of Nano-bots from the repositories on his shoulders and they formed a shield around King, while Knight 1.11 drew his own blade and stood at the ready. For a split second, Rook .07 and Knight 1.11 looked at each other. A single thought passed between them: could it be true? Could the alien have been discovered alive?
“Enough!” King ordered from within his Nanite cocoon. The pawns hesitantly lowered their weapons, but Knight 1.11 and Rook 1.07 remained unmoved. The alien soldiers dropped their weapons to their sides, but did not sheath them. Rook opened a hole in the Nanoshield so that King could look at Loki, and slowly, agonizingly, Loki sat.
“As official representative of the royal court of Valhailia, I hereby reject your armistice offer, Earthling, and dismiss you from my presence,” The alien barked. Rook took such exception to the alien’s tone that his nano-bots actually seemed to bristle. King rose and walked out of the room with the pawns encircling him. Knight and Rook were the last to leave, walking backwards so that they saw every move of the aliens.
As they entered the hallway leading out of the chamber, Bishop 1.19 and Queen 1.03 turned off their nano-cloaks and became visible. They had been in the room with guns trained on the prince for the whole conversation. Bishop 1.19 was the unit’s sniper, and Queen 1.03, who bore the abilities of both Bishop and Rook, was the team leader. Rook watched as Bishop wiped sweat from his forehead. He did not envy the duties of his teammate. Bishop was by far the most vulnerable, as he lacked the shields of the heavy infantry Rook, and the agility of Knight. His invisibility was his only defense, and he was almost never in such close quarters as that chamber. He was accustomed to fighting from miles away with a rifle, or else by piloting a battle craft. Rook 1.07 put his hand on Bishop 1.19’s shoulder. He had done well enough, Rook 1.07 assured him through their neural link. Queen 1.03 and Knight 1.11 agreed.
The team boarded the Star Ship Behemoth at the dock, and it took off to orbit the neutral planet until the next session of negotiations.
Rook 1.07 and his teammates walked up the brushed aluminum passageway of the Behemoth towards their quarters. To their left and right pawns and even other advanced CHESS soldiers were saluting them. Rook was a member of squad 1, as denoted by the first digit in his name. CHESS soldiers were taken as pawns between the ages of twelve and fifteen, and their memories were wiped. They knew nothing of their time before the force, not even their name. Each squad contained one member of each advanced class, and six pawns. When an advanced class position opened, a pawn or lower ranked advanced unit was selected to fill the hole. Rook was the seventh Rook to hold the position in Squad 1, hence 1.07. When he died, his replacement would be Rook 1.08, and so on. The lower ranked Rooks looked up to 1.07 as a hero. He had the highest kill count of any Rook in history. Prior to his promotion to the Rook class, Rooks served only a defensive role, milling around key strategic positions deploying Nanoshields. Rook 1.07 changed that. He not only defended his brothers skillfully, he would harness his will to bring walls of Nano-bots down on his adversaries, destroying alien and starship alike.
Rook 1.07 and his team entered the ornate automated door at the end of the hallway and sat around a rare mahogany table in the common area of their quarters. Wood furniture this far from Earth was scarce indeed, a reward for the most elite fighting force the Federation could muster. They sat in silence for a long time, each one quietly wrestling with the same conflict.
“You don’t think they really killed the alien specimen, do you?” Bishop 1.19 asked at last, breaking the silence. The rest of the team looked at him. They all had the same question, and unfortunately, they all had the same answer. From their experience with the abilities given to them by the Crystal Helix, it was highly likely that the Valhailians could indeed have felt the experiments that had been done on the first specimen, and there was no reason to doubt the truth of the accusations. They all sat in horrified acceptance. The very same group ofpeople, who had given them their powers and defended the human race from annihilation, had probably started the war in the first place.
“We didn’t start this war,” Queen said. She was beautiful. Not all Queen class soldiers were female, indeed most of them were not, but Queen 1.03 was not discriminated against for her gender. She had proven to be one of the most effective killing forces in the whole war. Her predecessor Queen 1.02 had disappeared mysteriously on the ice planet, Xyan, and in an emergency session, Mathias King himself had promoted the two surviving Pawns from that mission: Knight 1.11 and Queen 1.03. Rook had been there that day. He had witnessed the battle that killed Queen 1.02. In fact, Knight 1.11, then a mere pawn, had saved Rook’s life, and it was for that reason that no one but the three of them knew what really happened to Queen 1.02.
“We may well have,” Knight answered.
“No… you misunderstand. The Federation may have started the war by its experiments, but we, the four of us, did not. If the Valhailians will judge our whole race for the actions of a few, then we cannot show them mercy because of things done when we were mere children.”Queen stopped after she spoke, and she and Knight had a moment of strained eye contact. Their affair was one of the most poorly kept secrets of the war, and Rook knew that even when they disagreed their love for each other was more potent than any he had ever seen, except perhaps the brotherly love he himself held for them both.
“Then we will not change our stance,” Knight stated, “Regardless of the truth or falsity of the alien’s accusations. We will defend our people and our King without fail.”
“Agreed,” the rest of them affirmed, but each carried their own doubts with them to their bedchambers. What would they have done if they had felt what the aliens felt being done to one of their brothers?