Excerpt: Out of the Deep


Pierce and the heroes of Gorgonbane defeated the subterranean conqueror Kash one year ago. Since then, monster infestations have increased a hundredfold. It’s good for business, but bad for the citizens of the reluctantly joined nations.
When a strange new entity crashes a dangerous extermination mission, everything falls into chaos.

Revelations about the world and whispers of a new form of magic litter the path from doom to an unexpected beacon of hope.

What is the Underlord Kash’s prophesied threat? Can Gorgonbane save the continent from destruction? And who will Pierce have a crush on next?
Find out in Out of the Deep – Hero’s Metal, book two.

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Excerpt: Out of the Deep

By T.J. Marquis

This excerpt is shared with the permission of the author.

“What’s that?” asked Sev. He pointed to the far side of the town. Everyone looked.

There was a ridge of towering, broken rocks there. Beyond, a diffuse yellow light grew, like plaque between a giant’s teeth. It wasn’t the yellow of life like the gloss of a bloodhoof’s coat, or the shine in Scythia’s eyes. It was something else.

The ulants on that side of Moni stirred, shuffling irritably away from the ridge. Pierce looked up at Sev, but the forgemaster shrugged. Yellow light peeked around each jagged stone.

“Does the ulant have any natural predators?” Scythia asked Deathgripz.

The stablemaster’s eyes were open wider than Pierce had ever seen them, but she shook her head. 

“None that I know of,” she said. “Like I said, they don’t taste good.”

“Wait, how do you know they don’t taste -” Pierce started. Axebourne waved him into silence.

“We’d better move,” said Axebourne. “We have to get between the light and Moni.” When no one moved, he raised his voice. “Now!”

Gorgonbane sprang into action. They circled the three wagons and left Sugar in charge, galloping their mounts southeast in a wide arc. The ground sloped downward and the eastern approach to Moni was hidden behind the town, so Pierce couldn’t see the ulants there anymore. But he could hear them now, uttering lame-sounding complaints in voices like bovine, uuuuuuuhhhooo.

Gorgonbane were forced further south to avoid the shuffling herd, and the yellow light grew. Pierce thought that each concentration of the light had a core of dimness, of grey, rather than white. Falselight.

“I see shapes in the haze,” Scythia called back from astride Nova.

A shape detached from the encroaching wall of yellow falselight and seemed to slide or hover across the rocky ground toward a lone ulant. The creature did not flee, for the shape betrayed no aggression.

Axebourne was in the lead. He leaned further into his flight and sped up. Everyone followed him – if Axebourne was in a hurry, something was certainly wrong.

An appendage reached out from the lone shape as if to pet the ulant. The creature uttered its pitiful call, loud enough to be heard above the rest of the herd. Gorgonbane could close the distance swiftly, but Axebourne came to a stop and held up a hand for everyone else to do likewise.

The shape touching the ulant stretched out a second limb. This close, Pierce could see that his perception of the creatures’ grey heart hadn’t been an illusion. Its core was dim, not bright. The ulant complained again, sounding uncomfortable now. Something kept it from moving away from the yellow shape, though. The being grew long, spindly fingers and took hold of the ulant’s hide. Now the creature struggled, but just a bit, six legs pushing away halfheartedly.

The ulant’s veins lit up orange – yellow light infecting its slow, red blood.

“We should flee,” said Sev. “Something is wrong.”

Axebourne kept his hand in the air, and he shook it once to silence any further talk.

The falselight faded from the ulant’s veins and its skin shifted from pink to yellow. Its legs twitched and its meaty abdomen dipped toward the ground. The yellow shape clenched its fingers tighter around the ulant’s hide and it screamed, a frantic version of its calmer complaints – uuuwhoo? Its veins lit up again, then its skin. Its form began to dissolve into sickly translucence. One final low from its toothy mouth, and the ulant went silent. It lit up more fiercely, bright yellow at the edges, grey toward the center of its mass. The falselight being released it and floated away toward the rocky ridge, melding back into the now still wall it had come from.

The ulant bent its forelegs, using them as if to brush debris off its tiny head. It staggered to one side as if dizzy, righted itself, turned and moved toward one of its fellows. The other ulants edged away, unsure. More lows echoed off the stony ground, ulants opening their mouths wide. They champed irritably and bared their teeth, all of them white molars protruding from pink gums.

Pierce blanched again.

“Fly,” Axebourne said. “We have to get to the town. We shouldn’t have stopped. Sev, get back to my sister. Ready the wagons. Go!”

Coming soon: Dec 2021
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Excerpt: Nightland Racer


Reynard “The Fox” Douglas is an outlaw racecar driver who despises the government that jailed him, drafted him, and seized his money.

He’s also the only man who can pilot an experimental nuclear-powered supercar into the Zone, a realm of mists and monsters where nobody gets out alive.

The Zone is expanding…and eventually it will engulf the entire world. At the heart of the Zone is a singularity, a portal into other times and other places.

Transported into the distant future of Earth, Douglas has to fight his way across a landscape of alien cultures and bizarre life forms, in search of an ancient superweapon that can stop a sentient black hole from devouring the Earth.

Inspired by William Hope Hodgson’s classic THE NIGHT LAND (1912), NIGHTLAND RACER is an exciting and inventive tale, using Fenton Wood’s trademark combination of mythology and hard SF.

Ages 12 and up. Contains mild profanity and post-human monsters.

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Excerpt: Nightland Racer

By Fenton Wood

This excerpt is shared with the permission of the author. Hope you enjoy!


“I came to the Nightland by means which I still do not understand,” said Tao.

“My people were mighty sailors. We sailed the seas of the world-ocean in our sturdy ships that could run before any storm.

“One day, I became sick of the world and nothing was pleasing to me. I resolved to made a waka tiwai, a dugout canoe, with my own hands from the trunk of a totara tree, and to sail south as far as I could go, as one does when one is sick of the world. I would bring nothing but my harpoon, my paddle, a filter for making fresh water out of seawater, and a few odds and ends. I would travel from the Last Island, where the Loneliest Tree grows, to the shore of the Southern Waste, a distance of eight hundred miles. There I would hunt penguins until I was no longer sick of the world, and then I would return.

“On the twentieth day of my journey south, I awoke to find the world shrouded in mist from horizon to horizon. The mist seemed to glow with its own light, and the Sun was nowhere to be found. Not even my sunstone, which operates by the polarization of light, could tell me the direction of the Sun. I paddled for many days, hoping that I was keeping to a straight line, but the mist did not lift or change in any way.

“On the thirtieth day, I came to a barren shore. The shape of the land was hidden by the mist, and there was no sound in any direction. Even the waters were still, undisturbed by any tides. I thought that I must have entered the House of Death, the cave where Whiro dwells and devours the bodies of the dead until he becomes strong enough to break free from the underworld.

“With nothing else to do, I pulled my canoe onto the shore and left it behind. I walked into the mist, into the cold and silent land whose shape I could not see. There was no longer any night or day in this place. I slept whenever I grew weary, setting up my tent and using my body heat to melt snow from the ground so I could drink it. We do not carry great stores of food when we travel, relying on our skill to provide us with wild game. My food ran out after a few days, and there was nothing to hunt. I occasionally found driftwood, and I tried to light a fire to warm myself, but my flint and steel would no longer make a spark, as if its magic had departed.

“After walking for many days in this featureless place, I began to hallucinate. Driven mad by cold, hunger, and the monotony of the silent and featureless mist, my mind began to conjure shapes out of the mist, monsters and beasts and formless things. I slayed many of them with my harpoon, but I still do not know if they were real or only phantoms.

“At last, when I was near death, I emerged from the mist and beheld what lay on the other side. The air was thin and cold, the stars blazed down like merciless shards of ice, and there was no sun in the sky. There was only the Moon, grown terrifyingly close and carved into the image of a cruel and sinister face.

“My lungs labored, drawing in great draughts of air that was too thin and had too little oxygen. I fainted many times, but I always awoke and kept going.

“I was captured by the Machine People. If there is anyone crueler, I do not know of them. They experimented on me and made me as I am now. They intended to program me, to make me like them. But my will was stronger than theirs. I resisted and I escaped.”

“What was the world like, in your time?” said Douglas. “You said something about the oceans rising.”

“The oceans covered ninety percent of the Earth’s surface,” said Tao. “The continent you call North America was divided by a great inland sea. Large portions of the other continents were underwater as well.”

“What happened? Was there a nuclear war? I thought it was supposed to cause a nuclear winter, but some people said it would cause a runaway greenhouse effect instead.”

“No, it was a natural process. It started around half a million years before my time.”

“What happened to Europe? To the United States?”

“Those nations are unknown in my time. What was left of North America was inhabited by wild men.”

“Were they white men, like me?”

“There were brown, red, yellow, black, and bronze men in my time, but there were no men who looked like you.”

“What happened to them?”

“I do not know. There are no records of white men, either wild or civilized.”

“But our cities, our technology. Something must have survived.”

“My time was roughly half a million years after yours. No artifact could survive that long. I don’t know what happened to your people, any more than I know what happened to mine. Your land sunk beneath the waves a hundred thousand years before my time. But my ocean has been gone for longer than that.”

“Maybe they left for another planet,” Douglas said, not listening. “That’s exactly the kind of thing they would do. When one place got too crowded, they set off for new lands where they could live in freedom. Maybe they’re still out there somewhere, on a planet of their own.”

Tao shook his head. “Men cannot live in space. The men of the Fourth Spacefaring Age learned this when they sent manned spacecraft past the edge of the Solar System. All of space is pervaded with death-energy, which they named the Great Pain of Space. Only the emanations of the Yellow Sun, and other stars like it, keep it at bay. Even if a suitable planet were found, how would men reach it? In order to cross interstellar space, they would have to enter a state of living death, or suspended animation. When they emerged from it, they would no longer be human.”

“Death-energy,” Douglas repeated. “But the Sun is gone. What keeps the death-energy from descending upon the Earth and killing everything on it?”

“Only the stored energy of the Sun, soaked up over millions of years by living things, and weakly emanated by the layers of decayed organic material that cover the land and the beds of the oceans,” said Tao. “But even dead hydrocarbons cannot maintain their structure forever. When the last of the Sun’s energy has faded, the cold of space shall descend upon this world, and the things that live in the outer dark shall feast upon the remains.”

“I was sent on a mission. I was supposed to find the singularity and destroy it. But you said it’s impossible.”

“There may yet be a way to fulfil your mission. There may be a way to destroy the Black Sun itself. The Nightland holds many secrets, the ruins of a thousand ancient civilizations. I have everything in here.” He tapped his skull. “In the cybernetic implant the Machine People gave me.”

“They just told you all their secrets?”

“No. I broke into their mainframe room and stole the information. But it’s far from complete. A great deal was left behind in the evacuation of the Lesser Redoubt, which had a library of its own. It is there that we must go.”

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Excerpt: Vatican Championship Wrestling

Publisher's Description:

Dropkicks, Demons, and DDTs!

A Vatican exorcist fighting for survival in the world of Pro-Wrestling.

After a potentially demonic incident at the largest wrestling event of the year, the Vatican sends exorcist Gabriel Blackwell to infiltrate the company. Blackwell has a complicated history with the wrestling business and must adapt or die while fighting for his very soul on pay-per-view.

The first 100% Kayfabe novel. VCW is bringing professional wrestling and pulp fiction together, a fantastic and entertaining read for both wrestling fans and readers.




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Excerpt: Vatican Championship Wrestling by William Hastings

This excerpt is shared with the permission of the author.

If you enjoy, please consider supporting the publication of this work through the indiegogo campaign (ends Aug 31, 2020): https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/vatican-championship-wrestling-fantasy-pulp-novel/#/


It was the opening sting of his music that always set his heart aflame. Standing back in gorilla position waiting to hit the ramp and hear the roar of the crowd. There was no feeling on this earth like it. Jack Blines burst out from behind that curtain with all the energy he had in his body.

The screams met his ears, bringing that same energy back inside of him. That noise that made him feel as though he could do anything. Whether they loved him or they hated him, and Jack had plenty of both over his career. He’d wrestled so many matches it was impossible for him to even ballpark it anymore. Over the course of his twenty year career, that ring, the squared circle, had been his home.

He had changed a lot over those years, but it never had. Three ropes, twelve turnbuckles, twenty feet by twenty feet of canvas and pine. He was always happy to see it.

Rings like that hadn’t changed since the sport began, at least not in Voltare Championship Wrestling. VCW was the oldest and largest company in the business. Only they could put on a show like this.

A sold out capacity crowd for the biggest show of the year, Unibrawl XXXI. Even if someone didn’t know what wrestling was all about, they would’ve heard of Unibrawl. In his career, Jack had the privilege of main eventing the legendary pay-per-view five times. Not counting tonight.

As he strode down the ramp to the ring, a sign caught his eye. Jack stopped halfway through his entrance, cutting a path over to the barricade and shaking the sign holders hand. The man had his son with him. It was the little guy’s first show. Jack could always tell, you could always see the wonder in their eyes. Jack removed his wristband and tossed it to the kid, giving him a toothy smile and a fist bump to the delight of the crowd, before returning to the ring at a sprint and sliding under the bottom rope.

The canvas was already worn and tired from the twelve matches that had gone before them, but Jack kissed it all the same. He always did, before springing to his feet to another burst of noise from the crowd. He met the thousands of eyes on him. He was invincible.

As his music at last began to die down, Jack retreated into his corner. And the lights dimmed all throughout the arena. Jack didn’t know much about his opponent. He’d seen the guy in the locker room dozens of times but they’d never really spoken. He was one of the newer talents, from the independant circuit. He’d arrived at VCW a little over a year ago and just tore through everything in his way.

A low piece of classical music began to play throughout the darkened arena, it fluttered up and down on the keys of the piano until suddenly transforming into a deafening guitar riff. As it changed, so did the lights. Bright red filled every corner of the stadium. As if it has been smeared with blood.

Fire erupted on stange as his opponent emerged from gorilla position. He was a smaller man, in the ring he did’t stand out, but his entrances were a thing to behold. He wore a black cloak with spiked pauldrons over his gear, striding down past the fire as the crowd recoiled in excited fear.

He didn’t slide under the bottom rope like Jack. He took the stairs, one at a time as if he was relishing every moment the crowd spent under his spell. When he stepped between the ropes, the lights returned to normal and George Ruthaford the ring announcer hurried into the spotlight, microphone in hand.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your main event for this evening.” An overweight man in his sixties with a low booming voice, George had been with the company almost as long as the owners.

“The following contest is scheduled for one fall” Ruthaford continued.

“One fall!” The crowd screamed back.

Jack smiled. That was his favorite part about this sport. The fans were a part of the show, it wasn’t like football or hockey, the fans controlled the pace and flow of the matches. Their cheers spurring on the competitors, their apathy bringing out frustration. They had more power than even they realized.

“And it is for the Kingmaker Glove!”

More cheers. It was the first time a match for the Kingmaker Glove would be main eventing Unibrawl. Ordinarily the VCW World Championship held this spot. But, in another indication of the audience’s power, the championship matches, more specifically the champion, had been getting less and less of a reaction over the past few months. They were losing interest in him, and so the decision had been made to slide him down the card to prevent fans from leaving early.

“The competitor in possession of the Kingmaker Glove, is entitled to a world championship match at the time of his choosing, anytime over the next year.”

Cheers again. True to it’s name, if you won the glove, it didn’t matter how low you were on the card, next day you could be world champion. Jack had won it twice before. Once it had sent him to a six-month long reign as champion. The other . . . Well he didn’t like to remember the other.

“In this corner, weighing two hundred and ninety-five pounds, from East Rutherford, New Jersey. Jack Blines!” Jack posed for the crowd again, bathing the cheers.

“And his opponent. Weighing one hundred and ninety eight pounds, from Sao Paolo, Brazil. Victor Hernandez!”

Boos from the crowd came spilling into the ring but Victor paid them no mind. He tossed his cloak over the top rope and began to stretch. He has the simplest gear, just black trunks, kneepads and boots, nothing fancy. And Jack could respect that. He’d wrestled in something similar back at the start of his career.

The referee was muttering something to both of them Jack had stopped listening to them on his second or third week in the business. He knew the rules and so did Victor. Pin the man or make him submit. Ropes break pinfalls and submissions. No grabbing hair if they had it. If you’re out of the ring for a count of ten you lose. And they weren’t technically supposed to be on or in the ropes while they were fighting but that rule wasn’t really enforced anymore. It was a relic from a previous age, when closed fists were illegal.

Better days, thought Jack with a smile as the referee called for the bell.

It had barely started ringing before Victor launched himself at Jack, nearly knocking the referee over. Those old closed fist rules would’ve helped against someone like Victor. He was a striker, trained in Brazilian Jujitsu before traveling to Japan and learning the hard hitting and legendary Japanese Strong-Style. This was not a man who was going to use wrist-locks or hip-tosses. Victor Hernadez would beat you until he got bored, and then pin what was left.

Jack sidestepped the charge and Victor went crashing into the turn buckle. Stumbling back, dazed from the impact. Those buckles were steel, pad or not you were gonna get a little dizzy.

Jack didn’t waste the opportunity, he darted forward and locked his arms around Victor’s waist. Heaving the smaller man up over his head, Jack delivered a perfect german suplex.

As he hit the move and felt Victor crumble, Jack extended his toes, bridging into a cover. He didn’t expect to win here, but Victor would have to expel more energy to kick out of the pin attempt. And the more energy Victor expelled the closer Jack came to winning. Jack wasn’t the greatest technician in the sport, nor the greatest striker. But his stamina was unrivaled. His longest singles match clocking in a record fifty-five minutes and fifty-three seconds. That was admittedly ten years ago, but Jack still had gas in the tank.

The ref slid in to count the fall. And Jack listened to the roaring fans count along with him.



Victor kicked out, throwing Jack off his feet. Victor was hurting, and was slow to get to his base, Jack was up and locking his arms around Victor’s waist for another suplex when he spun around, sweeping Jack’s legs out from under him.

Jack crashed to the canvas, feeling the shock run through his entire body, it never got any softer. Victor leapt onto the second rope and attempted a springboard moonsault. Jack rolled away, and Victor smashed into the ring.

Taking advantage of his opponents momentary dazed state, Jack locked in his famous hold. A variation on the crossface, he wrapped his hands around Victor’s face and pulled, putting as much weight on the smaller man’s back as he could. He’d won more matches with this move than he could count, it had been the signature of his trainer Buddy Blackwell, who had passed it on to him as well as given it it’s new name. The Blineside. 

In any other position this might have been the end of the match. The pressure on Victor’s neck and lower back were almost unbearable and if Jack kept it up it could do serious damage.

But it seemed he’d barely even gotten the hold synched in before the referee was beside him ordering him to break it. Victor has grabbed the bottom rope.

Jack swore under his breath and broke the hold, backing up to the opposite corner. The commentators would call it a rookie mistake, even question his ring IQ, but Jack had been taught that even if you couldn’t win him the match now, every move drained more and more energy from his opponent.

He glanced up at the lights.

Hope you’re watching this old man.

Victor Hernandez was on his feet again, his breathing more labored than it had been. Even these indie guys had their breaking point. Jack flashed another toothy smile at the crowd, prompting a barrage of new cheers.

This seemed to insense Victor and he met Jack in the middle of the ring, locking up once more. He tried to use his power to bring Victor to the ground but the smaller man broke the hold and darted back, hitting the ropes. Jack grabbed him on the rebound and irish whipped him to the opposite side of the ring. Going in for a clothesline, Jack swung but Victor slipped under his legs. An explosion of pain erupted in Jack’s ankle, the chop-block bringing him to his knees.

Victor kicked him in the side of the head so loudly that it drew gasps and screams from the crowd. All the lights in the stadium seemed to go out for Jack in that moment, replaced by a barrage of incomprehensible color and sound. Somewhere through this haze, he felt the weight on his chest, the familiar vibration of the ring resounding with every count of the referee.



Jack kicked out, rolling through the pinfall and locking his arms around Victor. Hoisting him over his head Jack spun into a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker, bringing Victor spine first onto his knee.

Jack floated over into a cover. The referee was in the perfect position to count the fall.



Victor kicked out with such incredible force that Jack was thrown back into the ropes. Momentarily stunned at the display of strength, Jack was in prime position for the clothesline.

Victor hit him with such force that he felt his head snap back. He flipped over the ropes and off the ring apron to the floor. Gasping for breath, Jack fought his way back to his feet, looking from the ring to the crowd in astonishment. If the ropes hadn’t been there, he might’ve wound up in the third row. Where was Victor getting this new strength from?

Not finding his opponent in the ring, Jack looked up to see Victor soaring through the air in a perfect moonsault. No time to dodge this one. Jack gritted his teeth, planting himself as Victor came crashing down upon him.

The force of the fall was immense, but somehow he was able to stay on his feet, locking his arms around Victors waist, Jack slammed him with all his might into the apron, the hardest part of the ring.

Victor bounced off with a thud, crashing to the ground in a heap. Letting himself fall back against the barricade, Jack took a moment to catch his breath. The fans weren’t used to that kind of brutality from him, and some of them seemed shocked, even angry that he would use a move like that. But that hardly mattered now, Victor wasn’t going to afford him the same luxury.

Jack seized his unmoving opponent and rolled him back into the ring. He made sure that Victor was in the absolute center of the ring before locking in the Blineside once again.

The referee was beside them now, Jack could hear him asking Victor if he wanted to quit. If a person didn’t have the energy to tap, they could verbally submit. Or, if it came to it, the referee could stop the match if they were unresponsive.

This was precisely what Victor was. He didn’t answer the referee’s questions, didn’t say a word. So the referee needed to determine if he could continue.

Taking Victor’s hand, the referee lifted it up. If it fell back to the canvas, that was it. Jack had won the match. The referee let the hand go. But it didn’t fall, instead Victor’s head turned around  one hundred and eighty degrees to look Jack in the eyes.

There were screams and gasps from the crowd and Jack broke the hold, stumbling back in horror. For a moment he thought something had gone wrong, that he’d somehow broken Victor’s neck. But nobody’s neck could be broken like that.

Victor got to his feet as well. He spun around, his head sliding back into place as he leered at the frightened crowd.

 Jack looked at the ref but the ref had scuttled back out of the ring in a panic. Jack had only turned away for a second but when his eyes flashed back to the ring, Victor was nose to nose with him.

“Hoc autem regnum meum.” He snarled in a voice that was not his own. He seized Jack by the throat and lifted him up with one hand.

Then the ring burst into flame.

Fire erupted from the turnbuckles, from the apron the ropes, everything, sealing Victor and Jack within a cage of white hot flame. Jack struggled for air, Victor’s grip was like a vise. What was happening? Had something gone wrong with the pyro?

Bathed in the firelight strange markings began to appear all over Victor’s body, runes and symbols Jack had never seen before. Save for the one on his chest, a gigantic pentagram.

 He smiled, revealing pointed teeth. “Et hic est tuum.”

Victor slammed Jack down with such force that Jack felt the canvas and the boards give way, but it didn’t stop there, he was falling, falling into a pit of endless darkness. The sliver of light he’d crashed through growing smaller and smaller. The last thing Jack Blinds heard before he lost consciousness was Rothaford’s voice.

“Your winner! And new holder of the Kingmaker Glove! Victor Hernandez!”

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Excerpt: Uriel’s Revenge

Publisher Description:

Small-time privateers battle death cults and demons at the edge of the Solar System! 

Brian Zaks had enough on his plate: developing his skills as a spacecraft pilot and combat maneuvers specialist for Elwood’s Privateers–a small-time Martian defense company–and helping Evvie Evans, fellow privateer and his ex-lover, manage her nocturnal hallucinations of a raven-headed demon.

When Elwood’s “treasure hunting” hobby uncovered the lost secrets of an ancient cult, Brian and Evvie were thrust into the center of an interplanetary conflict between the cult’s present-day branches that threatened to upend human civilization.

Uriel’s Revenge is a sober, fantasy-tinged science fiction adventure.



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Excerpt: Uriel's Revenge by David Roome

This excerpt is shared with the permission of the author.

Disclaimer: David Roome is associated with Periapsis Press.

They paused before entering the cavern. It was illuminated with white light, and Brian double-checked the environmental readings from the limited set of sensors on his communicator for signs of moving people or machines, but there were none.

“The air is breathable and pure, and it’s forty-seven degrees Fahrenheit,” he said.

“Light and atmosphere must be from the probe.” Elwood looked up from his own com, and detached his helmet. “Might as well save on suit oxygen. Mmmm…smells just like Micah’s basement!”

Brian ducked beneath a row of wavy obsidian stalactites and followed Elwood and Evvie into the cavern. In a few seconds, his eyes adjusted to the bright light cast from the interior of the probe overhead by six arrays of floodlights. The wide ring, thirty feet across and lined with jagged teeth, emerged from the center of the ceiling like a monstrous chandelier. The cavern itself had an irregular shape, about sixty feet wide at its widest point, and a few corners evaded the floodlights behind walls of cracked pillars of rock.

Evvie pulled off her helmet, and she shook her hair free as she set it on the ground near the base of a pillar. Brian removed his own. The wet air and had no odor beyond the static smell that always accompanied running fields, and a warm current blew from the opening in the ceiling. Far above, in the black space behind the floodlights, the probe’s secondary hummed.

Evvie’s voice echoed from behind a dark corner. “What the hell? Another body.”

Between Brian, Elwood, and Byrd, the other edges of the cavern had been examined and found empty, so they gathered around the place where she crouched.

The body was thawing in the warm air, but it had been well-preserved until this point, frozen and dry. Its skin was taut, but intact, and its eyelids and mouth were closed gently as if it slept peacefully. The squareness of the jaw and frame indicated that it was a man. He wore a short tunic, boots made from unpolished leather, and a hooded cloak. Wisps of light hair emerged from the hood around his forehead.

Elwood held the edge of the cloak between his fingers. It was stitched with a pattern an inch wide that at first glance resembled a Greek meander, but the square segments of the pattern varied with differing heights, missing edges, and rounded or diagonal corners.

“These are runes of some kind,” Elwood said. “The only one that I recognize is the death rune.” He pointed to a character like an inverted Y with the center line extended to the length of the arms. It recurred every few inches in the sequence of runes.

Evvie levered the corpse’s pelvis aside. “He’s lying on something.” She reached underneath him and extracted a short sword. The blade was less than three feet long and straight-edged before angling a few inches from the point. It had a guard barely wider than the blade instead of a crossguard, and the pommel and blade were inlaid with bronze-colored runes. Its clean, burnished blade shone pale in Brian’s wrist light.

“It’s a Roman gladius,” Byrd said. “I wish Sarah could see this; she would know what era this design is from.”

Elwood peeled open the cloak. “There’s the scabbard!” He unbuckled the belt and slipped it off the body’s waist. The sheath was made from the same rough leather as the boots, and it had no decoration beyond the death rune engraved in the bronze mount and tip. He gently wrapped the belt around the scabbard and tucked it into his backpack.

“How old is that?” Evvie frowned. “If that’s an ancient Roman weapon…has he been here for twenty-six hundred years?”

Byrd laughed. “Obviously not. Even if it’s real—heck, even if the body is that old—it must have been brought on the utility miner. How else would it have gotten in here?”

Brian’s communicator vibrated at his hip, and Elwood’s beeped.

“Oh shit.” Elwood drew a quick breath. “RI is here.”

Brian paged through Martin Luther’s mapper readouts on his own communicator. A declaring ship—RI Panlong, operated by Rousseau International Water Mining Division—had appeared.

Byrd scanned the readouts. He whistled, and the sliding pitch echoed from the stone walls. “Big son of a gun.”

The reconstruction didn’t make sense at first. It showed a civilian design, some kind of freighter or carrier, but the mapper insisted that it had an enormous number of weapons: six streamer turrets, ten railguns, and racks of MIRVing microfusion missiles. Brian felt certain that the systems had analyzed the scan incorrectly—probably as a result of the strange noise around the moonlet—until he magnified the model and saw the rows of weapons himself. It was a mere five miles away, decelerating to dock on the probe.

“What the hell is a civilian ship doing with that loadout?” Evvie shouted.

“This was fun while it lasted,” Elwood said as he illuminated the corpse with his wrist light and snapped a series of photos with his communicator. “Time to leave.”

The whir of a fan echoed from the interior of the probe, and a ring of light just inside the metal opening flashed on. A thin, colorless mist flowed in front of the ring and dissolved into the cavern air. It smelled faintly sweet and fruity, like someone had opened a can of pear halves.

Byrd flipped on his helmet and lifted his com, then gave a thumbs up. His tinny voice came from Brian’s helmet on the ground. “Water vapor carrying organic compounds. Nothing obviously toxic.”

As they gathered at the opening of the passage, Brian realized that things were happening to his vision. Bright flecks of noise in the shadows grew larger until they blended together. He became aware of his focus jumping from object to object—the probe ring, the light reflecting from the edge of a pillar, Elwood’s face—and each jerk of his eyeballs came with resistance, like slogging through mud. Specular highlights on the probe’s cutting teeth left a network of black trails across his view. But the mist behind it moved. He fixated on the oval of light, and as the color returned, the noise warped and structure appeared: long fingers and claws receding inch by inch.

A hand touched his shoulder, and he heard Elwood’s muffled voice. He turned away from the center of the cavern, and the afterimage of the portal throbbed like a halo over Evvie’s head. Her eyes were red, and she stared into the mist. He lost his balance and fell onto his knees. A white flash engulfed his vision, and as it faded slowly, rows upon rows of geometric runes remained lit, lining the cavern walls ceiling to floor. There was another flash and the motion of a struggle in his peripheral.

Evvie’s voice cut sharply, unimpeded by the electric blanket over his senses. “But look at it!”

Someone thrust his helmet onto his head, and after a few seconds breathing pure air, his senses had defogged.

“My vision…what happened?” Brian wondered aloud. Elwood was trying to pull Evvie back into the passage, but she was framing a third shot with her favorite film camera.

After a final flash, she thrust her camera back into her pack and scooped up her helmet. The runes still glowed in the mist behind them as they climbed into the passage. Before he could confirm what he had seen with the others, the walls rumbled beneath his feet and fingertips, and wave of dust rippled past them.

Byrd stopped and raised his eyebrows as he read his communicator. “Well, that was the sound of the Saturn Systems utility miner breaking into a million pieces. We’re not getting out the way we came.”

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