While Alien fans might be feeling a bit neglected in the aftermath of 2017's Alien: Covenant and no prospects for any silver screen incursions into that sci-fi territory coming anytime soon, those with an appetite for xenomorophs can take comfort that a fresh new prose novel is set to hatch from Titan Books titled Aliens: Phalanx (Feb. 25) — and SYFY WIRE is offering up an exclusive excerpt to ingest alongside comments from its New York Times bestselling author, Scott Sigler.
While most Alien Universe books are set in outer space and within some resemblance of what we'd essentially interpret as a futuristic outer space setting, Aliens: Phalanx is going off the grid by introducing the nasty extraterrestrial creatures into a fantasy medieval kingdom called Ataegina, bringing to mind a certain rutheless world created by George R.R. Martin.
This officially-licensed novel was composed by Scott Sigler (Earthcore, Infected), and expands the violent Alien canon into a remote realm teeming with medieval castles and colorful cultures. This thriving pre-industrial world is suddenly stricken with a vicious infestation of strange beasts sporting black insect-like husks, savage claws, spiked tails, and murderous "tooth-tongues" that rampage across the land and kill ninety percent of the planet's inhabitants. These insidious demons swarmed over Ataegina without cause or conscience, forcing survivors to flee and hide inside ruined mountain keeps and deep caves where they attempt to survive under harsh and horrible conditions.
Those deemed swift runners navigate the perilous paths between these mountain strongholds, spreading information and conducting trade while attempting to avoid the murderous monsters.
One of the fastest, Ahiliyah of Lemeth Hold, is a daring, courageous runner who continually risks her life to assist her people. When she and her two companions discover a strange and powerful new weapon, it might offer their best chance at eradicating the demonic plague forever. But to preserve humanity, the brave trio must battle their way to the dark tunnels of Black Smoke Mountain — the hidden lair of the mythical Demon Mother.
"I’m a die-hard fan of Alien, Aliens, the novels, the Dark Horse comics and more," Sigler tells SYFY WIRE. "In almost all of those stories, the humans have either a powerful firearm or no weapon at all. A single soldier with a spear and shield against a Xenomorph. Good effing luck, brah. But 10, 20, 30 trained soldiers, working in unison? That would be something to see.
"I also wanted to look at a large-scale Xenomorph outbreak, as compared to the isolated and contained stories that are the franchise’s bread and butter," he adds. "Alex White’s fantastic novel Alien: The Cold Forge, for example, uses the “get off the ship” plot device — but what do your characters do when there is nowhere to run?"
Sigler targeted his research on Sumerian, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman societies, and how military advances in technology and tactics in those cultures forever altered the path of history.
"A primary reference source was Myke Cole’s Legion vs. Phalanx, which is a deep dive into the dominance of phalanx formations and how those formations, in turn, succumbed to the more mobile legion tactics," he explains. "I should point out that this book is based on Alien and Aliens alone. The species’ biology was fairly definitive in those two amazing films — Aliens: Phalanx stays true to those visions.
"As for themes, Aliens: Phalanx follows an outbreak that drives the complete collapse of a pre-industrial civilization. In doing so, it asks a basic question — how fast might we as humans regress to a tribal, superstitious existence? What happens to our social structures when the only thing we have time for is pure survival?"
Now enjoy an exclusive chapter excerpt from Titan Books' Alien: Phalanx by Scott Sigler, with its marauding monsters and courageous medieval society trying to save themselves from extinction.
Stillness is strength.
The black demon came closer.
Ahiliyah stayed strong.
She breathed slow, steady, deep. The way Aiko had taught her.
Ahiliyah moved nothing, save for eyelids; she even blinked slowly, making no motion that might draw the beast’s attention.
Her gloved hand gripped the handle of her knife, the kind called little friend. Not a loose grip, where the knife might fall and make noise. Not a tight grip, either, where her hand might tire, start to shake, make her breathe faster.
The demon’s rigid belly stayed low to the ground, its four backsticks reaching up to the noonday sun. Its tail—a black spine as long as its body, ending in a vicious blade of bone—twitched behind it. A long, thin arm reached out, spindly hand silently resting on a rock. The big body moved forward, a silent shadow.
The demon stopped, still as the mountain itself.
Black lips curled back. Sunlight gleamed off metallic teeth. The jaws slowly opened; the toothtongue extended. It, too, opened— the demon let out a low, barely audible hiss. It angled its long black head left, then right.
It was hunting. If it found her, she would die.
Had it seen her? Had it seen Brandun or Creen? Ahiliyah didn’t know where her crewmates had hidden. She dared not move her head, even a inch. If the demon spotted big Brandun or little Creen, there was nothing she could do for the boys.
If the demon saw them, they had their own little friends.
She’d observed the black beasts dozens of times, usually from a great distance. This was only the fourth time she’d been this close, close enough to count teeth.
The first time, she’d been lucky—her crewmates had survived.
The second time, Heyran Bouchard had died.
The third time, Admar Polous had been carried off.
The demon started moving again, stop-starting its way across the fallen, bleached trunks of alkan trees, through the thick, crimson leaves of the caminus bushes, over the rain-streaked, moss-spotted grey boulders and jagged piles of broken stone.
She silently wished for the beast to move faster, to rise up on two legs the way they sometimes had when she saw them from far away, in the night when there were no clouds to block the glow of the Three Sisters. But this one, moving in daylight… so rare.
That was how it almost got them. They hadn’t been expecting it. She couldn’t say that Brandun and Creen had grown careless, but she could say they hadn’t been as careful as they should have been. Brandun had stepped on a stick, broken it, a noise so loud it echoed lightly off the mountainside. He and Creen had kept walking. They’d stopped only because Ahiliyah ordered them to follow Aiko’s rules: hide, listen, wait.
Brandun and Creen had both groaned. Creen complained that he’d been walking for days, he didn’t want to wait. It was daytime, and the demons rarely came out during the day. Brandun complained too, which he only did when Creen was around.
As the crew leader, Ahiiyah had pulled rank, threatened them with punishment if they disobeyed. They’d listened. Because of that, hopefully, they might survive.
Of the three, one had to make it back.
The demon crawled, stopped, crawled some more. Death, silent and sure. Not coming directly at her, but moving in her direction. They looked different in daylight. It wasn’t shiny, like getum bugs were, but sunlight did gleam from various areas. At night, the demons merged with the dark, were nearly invisible against a rock face or in the trees and bushes. In the day, though, they were far easier to spot.
For three years, with her first run coming at dawn on her sixteenth birthday, Ahiliyah Cooper had done her duty, making the long walks between the holds, always in daylight. While those hikes frightened her—frightened everyone with even an ounce of smarts—it was the long hours between sunset and sunrise that brought true terror.
Because the demons mostly came at night.
The black beast stopped again, sinuous left arm paused in mid-reach. The long head slowly turned her way. No eyes on that curved surface, but… was it looking at her?
A light breeze blew in, carrying its scent to her, strangely similar to the richness of damp moss peeled back from a wet rock. She could smell it—could it smell her? Two days since she’d last bathed, hiking and sweating during every minute of sunlight, sleeping in her unwashed clothes. She stank.
If the breeze changed, if it smelled her, would she die?
Ahiliyah realized she was clutching the knife handle too hard. She forced herself to relax, settling into that perfect balance between too strong and too loose. In that moment, the knife truly was her little friend.
If the demon came for her, would she have the will to use the blade?
In Heyran’s moment of truth, he’d done what Aiko had trained him to do. When the demon had come for him, Heyran drove the point of his little friend deep into the right side of his own neck, just below his jaw. He’d sliced outward, away from his body, worsening the cut.
Then, as now, Ahiliyah had been hiding. Hiding and watching. She’d seen Heyran’s blood spray across the demon’s horrid black head. In death, Heyran had helped his people by depriving the demons of one more crawling black spot of evil.
Heyran Bouchard had been strong—Admar Polous had not.
Admar ignored his training. Instead of using his little friend, he’d drawn his spearhead from its back-scabbard and tried to fight. She didn’t know if Admar had landed a blow or not. If he had, the spearhead hadn’t slowed the beast in the slightest. Black talons sliced through hidey suit, clothing and skin. Admar had screamed, just once, then the demon had carried him away, never to be seen again.
Would it soon be Ahiliyah’s moment of truth? If this demon came for her, would she be strong like Heyran, or weak like Admar?
It was only ten steps away now.
Moving, looking, hunting.
Her breath came slightly faster, perceptibly shallower—fear, taking control.
Silence is strength.
Ahiliyah forced herself still. All the training she had endured to learn how to control her breathing—Aiko screaming at her, beating her, drilling the mantras into her head—preparing her for a moment just like this.
Her breathing slowed, deepened, even as the demon crawled closer.
The beast hesitated, lowered the hand to the ground. Its head angled left, then right.
Had it heard her breathing? Was that what it had been homing in on?
Aiko wasn’t her only teacher—there was also Sinesh.
Sinesh Bishor never hit her, but his lessons were just as exhausting.
When death comes, see the beauty in life.
How many times had Sinesh told her that? How many times had he told her stories of his days in the shield line, of standing face to face with men who were trying to kill him, so close they could touch, so close they could kiss?
See the beauty. Ahiliyah did as Sinesh had taught. She widened her vision, took in all before her. The tans and grays of the mountain’s endless stone. The bleached tans of old logs. The deep crimson of the caminus bushes. The brownish-yellow moss. The pale green-white pokey plants that had managed to find a patch of soil. The blue sky. The mountain’s rich fragrance.
She felt… calm. Death was a few steps away, one sniff or one cough or one whimper away, and she felt at peace. It took another step toward her—her time had come.
In her mind, she walked through her training: lift her little friend, turn the blade, stab hard, not at her neck, but through it, then pull the blade out while pushing it forward. There would be pain—pain that would not last long.
Another step. The mouth opened again…