For my father--who I lost this past year, I wish I had been as good to you as you were to me. Twenty-twenty hindsight can be a horrible and haunting thing. I can only hope and pray that you could see beyond my youth, see the man, and know in your heart I tried to be the best I could be.
For Roxie--a cousin, now a sister, for enduring the unendurable, the loss of a child, it should happen to no one in the entire world. My heart is broken for you.
For Maribeth--to the ghosts of youth, may we forever be haunted and happier for it.
To the United States Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Army; for the assistance in the writing of this novel, you have my deepest thanks.
To the United States Geological Service and the help that was given on theory and science. The assistance rendered was far beyond anything and I am grateful.
For Pete Wolverton, who always reminds me I can be better than the first draft (and sometimes better than even the second).
The council elder sat alone in the darkened chamber. His mind focused on the empire's dire situation and the harsh judgment that history would render upon his great civilization. The cruelty they had shown against the lesser peoples of the world was now coming back a thousandfold to haunt the ringed continent. This judgment, this disaster, had begun three years earlier, with the rebellion of the barbarian nations in the outer empire, north and south.
When the elder closed his eyes, he thought he could actually hear the far-off cries of citizens and soldiers alike as they prepared for the final defense of what the barbarians thought of as Olympus and the very gods they once worshiped. While he sat secure inside the Empirium Dome, safe behind the eight-foot-thick triangles of crystal that made up the geodesic bubble, the rest of his world stood unprotected against the onslaught of the allied barbarian nations assaulting the empire.
He opened his aged, half-blind eyes and looked at the order that the Empirium Council had written out only an hour before condemning not only the barbarians but
Androlicus reached out and with a shaking and age-spotted hand removed the silk wrap that covered the huge diamond before him. He stared deep into the immense blue gemstone for a moment and then allowed his fingers to touch the deep and swirling tone grooves etched into its surface by their finest scientists. There were two more Keys such as the one before him--precious stones that had taken fifty lifetimes to find and half as much to engineer, and were the secret at the heart of the Great Sound Wave.
One Key was being prepared even now, far below the earth. The second was hidden in the land of the hostile Nubians, many hundreds of kilometers to the south in the farthest reaches of the empire. The third sat before him, identical in shape and design and meant to control the uncontrollable.
The great doors of the Empirium Chamber swung open, bathing the room in bright sunlight, dispelling the long shadows that had so long held the elder prisoner. The old man closed his eyes against the brilliance of the day as he heard the general march quickly into the chamber and directly to the council table.
'By your leave, Great Androlicus.'
The old man finally opened his eyes to give the general a sad, knowing look before throwing the silk over the three-foot-diameter blue diamond on the chamber table.
'General Talos, I have called you away from the empire's defenses for this.' The old man tapped the document with his aged hand. 'It is here with my mark upon it as the Empirium Council has demanded, thus completing my culpability in the extinction of our empire.'
Talos's eyes darted to the marble tabletop. He slowly reached for the handwritten document, but Androlicus gently laid the full weight of his hand and arm down upon the scroll. He pulled it back as if to withhold it, stopping the general short.
'Our time is at its zenith, My Lord,' Talos said. 'Our forces on the western and northern peninsulas are close to being overwhelmed, our defenses breached by the combined might of the Macedonians, Athenians, and Spartans. We must act soon or all will be lost. Even now, the Thracians and Athenians are loading the allied states' full invasion force on the Greek mainland. They have drained citizens from as far away as Mesopotamia.'
'With my sign upon this order our demise has already come to pass even as we stand here,' Androlicus replied. His eyes went from the general to the silk-covered diamond.
'My Lord?' asked Talos, confused.
Androlicus smiled sadly and nodded his head, his long white hair and thinning beard shimmering as the sunlight played on his face.
'We are set upon a course that is far more deadly than those hordes of barbarians we fear so.'
'The Science Elders and Earth Council have assured--'
'Yes, yes, yes,' the old man said, cutting short the general's response. 'We have all been assured the technology is foolproof.' He pulled the document back to him and looked at it. '
'My Lord, to delay--'
Androlicus suddenly stood, the action so fast that it belied his 107 years.
'To delay is to continue thinking! To delay is to devise another way of ending this! To delay is to stop fools who think more violence delivered from untested theory is the answer to our woes!'
General Talos straightened, standing at attention and staring straight ahead as if suddenly transported to the parade ground. His bronze helmet was crooked under his left arm and his right hand stayed at his ivory-handled