Stories from the edge of space to the edge of consciousness... DNA theft means death in a society where people live encased within individual energy suits... The only survivor in an alien attack, Reus must deliver intelligence to the Inner League planets. Stuck on an alien station, all he needs to do is survive to fulfill his duty... Spore is a penal planet inhabited by ruthless psychopaths and some of their descendents in "A Fistful of Tassels." When a spacecraft crashes onto the world, Ataki, born of a convicted criminal, rescues the sole survivor from the canibs. Is criminal tendency really a genetic trait passed down to offsprings? As Jon is the only innocent on Spore, Ataki wants him to survive the deadly conditions and contribute his genes to his Tribe... In "Tomb" explorers land on the planet of the same name and find an ancient menace that must be destroyed at any cost.
The Last Outpost and Other Tales by S. Z. Adani offers a baker's dozen stories, several of which unfurl in her Dhyani universe—a far future of accelerated evolution via genetic engineering in which augmentations and AIs have become advanced enough to attain Clarkean magical status. Yet at the same time the works remain hard science fiction: an unsettling, demanding mix of Peter Watts and unexpurgated myths with their ferocity still intact; of sentient planetary ring fragments, photosynthetic hair and fungal-human symbionts; of space stations that sell oxygen in Expanse/Total-Recall fashion, aliens with the habits and mores of terrestrial wasps, and danger-suffused ruins on desolate planets. – Athena Andreadis
As usual the first story Tomb is free and gives a taste of what's to come, while the rest of the stories have generous free excerpts. I have actually read that story in a superb small press anthology "Desolate Places" and if you like it, you may try the excellent "Ruins" anthology series from Hadley-Rille of which the above mentioned one is a part.– Liviu Suciu
"The ruins had laid untouched for several hundred millennia; but was the plague that devastated Tomb really dead, or just waiting?"
Highlight of the magazine and it's free to read! Archaeologists study a planet with mysterious remains of aliens dead some hundreds of thousands ago. The slow unfolding horror of the fate of the inhabitants intertwines with the fate of the expedition.
[Tomb is] dark, moody and excellent!– Liviu Suciu
"Saving the best for last, this issue offers up "The Head of Saint Mark" by Z. S. Adani. Reus is a human military member who might be the last survivor of a mysterious slaughter of human settlers on a distant land. His orders are to survive and take information about the attack, what little he has, back to the Inner Circle. But both tasks turn out to be harder than he expected when he ends up stranded at a space station and has to pay for the very air he breathes. Odd jobs take on a whole new meaning when most of the beings he's dealing with aren't even remotely humanoid. His attempts to get back into the realm of humans takes him to extreme places and permanently changes him in ways the humans will likely not like, and possibly not trust. A deeper theme—the way war changes soldiers, no matter what the circumstances—is subtly but strongly woven in, making "The Head of Saint Mark" the strongest tale, in both its horror and science fiction aspects, of the issue."– Michele Lee
I was sipping my drink and calculating the profit I would make the next day guiding the two Coalition scientists when something banged down on the roof of the Clover Leaf. The walls vibrated, and a few bottles fell to the floor and splashed booze on my face.
"Damned if another pylon broke loose," Stevon, the owner said. "Just paid off the repairs from the last damages."
With the back of my hand, I wiped my face and looked up at the ceiling, glad that the carbon alloy hadn't cracked. I took another sip of my drink and bit down on the tiny green worms, savoring their peppery flavor when a message icon appeared on my retinal screen, bearing the official seal of the Governor. The message was short: Governor Evans requests your urgent attendance at City Hall.
I cursed and downed my drink. Having just returned with a group of scientists, I was hoping to have a quiet evening before I had to deal with careless off-worlders again. I stood up and left.
Several people clustered outside, looking up at dozens of Rings sailing above Pylon City. Sunlight reflected off the crystalline Rings as they flipped to a horizontal position, assembled into a cylinder, and then disassembled again into solitaries and scattered in a crazed pattern. Some dived low and zigzagged between the pillars and webworks. Citizens dispersed in a hurry, ducking into alleys and alcoves. Others scurried toward the stairways leading to Undercity, where the poor lived.
"What the hell?" a man said. "Something's rattled the Rings."
Darin, there's a Fhra warship in low orbit, Viane sent through my MemBrain interface, on my customer channel. She stepped out from the bakery, face composed, but her gold-speckled eyes conveyed unease. The Fhra is a member species of the Sentient Species Alliance.
An SSA warship. My stomach clenched, but I refrained from asking questions. Instead I turned and headed toward the east tram. Viane matched my stride. Her face was flushed, from anger or fear, I guessed, and her white hair stood erect, eyes glazed over, as no doubt she communicated with someone.
We passed the rhomboid and pyramidal domiciles of the wealthy, grown from expensive house seeds, bucky glass surfaces glinting under the late afternoon sun. Fluted columns, arches, and balconies graced some ancient designs that resembled old Earth style. Built on the foundation of native ironwood, tall pillars supported numerous walkways and floors, a lacy structure stretching into the distance. All would be pounded into dust if the Fhra decided to attack the city.
Eateries emptied along our way, and people exiting shops along our path looked up and nervously hurried on their way. A series of low vibrations transmitted up through the soles of my boots, shaking dust from every surface. Moments later, a segmented tram pulled up. Commuters got off, and we boarded in silence.
A Space Force ship has just passed Rhiane's orbit, Viane sent. It'll be here in six hours.
Would it be enough to hold off the Fhra warship?
She nodded. Let's hope it will not come to that.
I didn't consider Viane a friend—she had been Janice's friend. Janice, whom I had lost for a Ring fragment. I turned away as the memory of the bluebone's proboscis piercing Janice's body flashed before me.
We got off at the downtown stop, dodging pedestrians as we crossed the park. Earth palms lined the walkway, genenged to withstand the abundant sunlight of Prism, blue-green fronds swaying in the hot breeze.
I motioned for Viane to enter. We then took the lift to the third floor, stopping short at the sight of a two-meter tall, pink alien visible beyond the open door of the Governor's Office.
"Come in and close the door," Governor Evans said. He gestured to the alien. "This is TveLon, a representative of the Sentient Species Alliance. He's a Sxaleti."
TveLon inclined his large head, then turned his back and looked out the window.
Evans grimaced and continued the introductions, addressing the Sxaleti's back. "Viane Butler is a technical advisor to the Governor's office, and Darin Cleary is our best expedition guide." He brushed pudgy fingers through his silver hair, then motioned to vher-hide formchairs. "Sit."
"I'll stand." I eyed the Sxaleti. He was clad in a tight, one-piece garment that outlined long limbs jointed at three places.
Viane shook her head and began pacing, every turn taking her closer to the Sxaleti, hair sensors erect and analyzing the alien pheromones.
Evans shrugged and remained standing. "Station alerted me to the Fhra warship several hours ago." He turned on the wall screen and the image of a black spacecraft appeared, knobby weapons ports and odd protrusions gleaming ominously. "It has arrived since then and parked itself in a low orbit. The Rings don't like that." He raised his voice, making sure the Sxaleti heard, but the alien just stood there. Evans threw up his hands, frustration clearly written on his face. "All I know is, and this is from Fletcher at the station, that Defense and Intelligence had no ships nearby, but they were able to divert a Space Force ship from another mission."
"Why the warship?" I shifted from one foot to another, trying to remember which guides were out beyond the Barren. Most of them couldn't afford a CC interface, a communication link that would put them in contact with Pylon City and warn them about irate Rings.
"Apparently, the SSA wants us off Prism," Evans said.
"Really?" I looked at the Sxaleti now. "Prism is not in any of the SSA star sectors. And humans aren't part of the SSA yet." I hoped we never would be.
The Sxaleti turned. "The Noninterference Laws state that no world can be colonized if there are native species present, unless the natives agree to such thing. The SSA has no records showing that the Rings have agreed to human presence." The chirping voice sounded impatient, but the large violet eyes seemed to convey fear. Or what fear would be if he were human, I thought.
"TveLon," Viane said abruptly, as though savoring the name. She dipped her head as if he hadn't been ignoring them and held out her hand in greeting. "It's nice to meet you."
He stared for a moment, confused, but then he reached out with his own hand, covered by a shimmering suit field.
Viane nodded. "The SSA Noninterference Laws, interesting. And you're interfering on a human colony, you and the Fhra." Her voice was a low purr without any hint of an accusation, just a simple stating of the facts. "Aside from that, I'm sure the Coalition supplied records on all our colony worlds before the negotiations for joining your SSA began."
"They did. But the Fhra is a brash young species. They think the Rings may need protection."
"Protection?" I asked.
"To enforce their rights, because the first settlers—how shall I phrase this so as not to offend—well, they have been thrown off the world."
I snorted. "We would all be dead if the Rings didn't want us here." The anger in my voice annoyed me, so I took a breath and continued, "The Rings attacked my ancestors because they didn't want any structures sitting directly on the surface of Prism, hence we all live in Pylon City."
Evans pointed out the window. "And the Rings gave our ancestors the ironwood to build the city."
"I know all that from the Coalition files," TveLon said. "But I must satisfy the Fhra, because once they're on the warpath . . ." All twelve of his long fingers fluttered before him like helpless pink snakes.
"Don't worry, TveLon," Viane said. "Space Force will hold off the Fhra warship." But not indefinitely, she sent to me.
The Sxaleti nodded in a human manner and dropped his hands to his sides.
Evans turned to me. "Darin, tomorrow I need you to take a small group to the mineral spirals and try to make the Rings assemble."
I'd suspected that that was coming but it still took me by surprise. There had been no full assembly of the Rings since after their attack on the first settlers, over four centuries ago. Some people who studied the Rings, like Janice, had witnessed partial assemblies from which she had formulated her theories on the Rings and Prismatrix, but even those were rare. I wasn't sure if we could make the Rings assemble. But judging by the Rings' behavior, set off by the low-orbiting warship, an assembly was the easiest way to defuse the situation. Leaving Prism was unthinkable; it was my home. And besides, Janice was here, and even though she was dead, I could never abandon her.
"Tomorrow is too soon," I said. "The training for off-worlders is two or three days."
"No time," Evans said. "This situation is urgent."
"A small group - who?"
Viane smiled. "I, of course, will be going. And one crewmember from the Space Force ship."
"And TveLon must go," Evans said. "To record what the Rings say."
"Viane can do that."
Evans shook his head. "An SSA representative must record it. The Fhra insist."
"Really?" The word came out a snarl, and I temporarily lost all the diplomatic skills I had worked so hard to acquire. "And who the hell are the Fhra that they come here to bully us?"
"They're from a high-gravity world," Viane said and looked at the Sxaleti. "And I believe not too long ago, before they joined the SSA, they'd subjugated a couple of species."
TveLon dipped his head, as though in resignation. "To invite them into the SSA was the only way to stop them from preying on weaker species. Their warcraft—"
I made a chopping motion. "That's another reason humans shouldn't join the SSA. You question our colonization records, but you allow felons to run your Alliance."
The large violet eyes of the Sxaleti looked down on me. Imploring? Placating? "The Fhra do not run the SSA, but every member species has a say in important matters."
And this is important. I knew it was only a matter of time before the SSA would become interested in the Rings. But if I could prove Janice's theory, that the Rings were components of a planetary AI system, then perhaps Janice wouldn't have died in vain.
Evans sighed. "You must leave in the morning, Darin."
"Fine, but brief TveLon on the dangers, or he'll likely get himself killed."