Aurora Rising


By Alastair Reynolds

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Award-winning author Alastair Reynolds creates “a fascinating hybrid of space opera, police procedural and character study” (Publishers Weekly) with this novel set in the Revelation Space universe.

Tom Dreyfus is a Prefect, a law enforcement officer with the Panoply. His beat is the Glitter Band, that vast swirl of space habitats orbiting the planet Yellowstone, the teeming hub of a human interstellar empire spanning many worlds.

His current case: investigating a murderous attack against one of the habitats that leaves nine hundred people dead. But his investigation uncovers something far more serious than mass slaughter — a covert plot by an enigmatic entity who seeks nothing less than total control of the Glitter Band.



Thalia Ng felt her weight increasing as the elevator sped down the spoke from the habitat’s docking hub. She allowed herself to drift to the floor, trying to judge the point at which the apparent force reached one standard gee. Thalia hoped this was not one of those habitats that insisted on puritanically high gravity, as if it was somehow morally improving to stagger around under two gees. Her belt, with her whiphound and polling-core-analysis tools, already weighed heavily on her hips.

“Thalia,” Dreyfus said quietly as the elevator slowed to a halt, “try not to look so nervous.”

She tugged down the hem of her tunic. “I’m sorry, sir.”

“You’re going to do fine.”

“I wish there’d been more time, sir. To read up on House Perigal, I mean.”

“You were informed of our destination as soon as we left Panoply.”

“That was only an hour ago, sir.”

He looked at her, his lazy right eye nearly closed. “What’s your speed-reading index?”

“Three, sir. Nothing exceptional.”

Dreyfus took a sip from the bulb of coffee he’d carried with him from the ship. Thalia had conjured it for him: black as tar, the way her boss liked it. “I suppose it was quite a long summary file.”

“More than a thousand paragraphs, sir.”

“Well, there’s nothing you need to know that wasn’t covered in training.”

“I hope so. All the same, I couldn’t help noticing…”

“What?” Dreyfus asked mildly.

“Your name’s all over the summary file, sir.”

“Caitlin Perigal and I’ve had our fair share of run-ins.” He smiled tightly. “As I’m sure she’ll be at pains to remind me.”

“Count on it,” said Sparver, the other deputy field on the lockdown party.

Dreyfus laid a thick-fingered hand on Thalia’s shoulder. “Just remember you’re here to do one thing—to secure evidence. Sparver and I’ll take care of any other distractions.”

When the elevator doors puckered open, a wave of heat and humidity hit like a hard, wet slap. Steam billowed in the air as far as Thalia could see. They were standing at the entrance to an enormous cavern hewn into the rocky torus of the wheel’s rim. Much of the visible surface consisted of pools of water arranged on subtly different levels, connected by an artful system of sluices and channels. People were bathing or swimming, or playing games in the water. Most of them were naked. There were baseline humans and people very far from human. There were sleek, purposeful shapes that might not have been people at all.

Dreyfus pulled a pair of bulbous glasses from his tunic pocket and rubbed the condensation from the dark lenses onto his sleeve. Thalia followed his cue and slipped on her own glasses, taking note of the changes she saw. Many of the apparently naked people were now masked or clothed, or at least partly hidden behind shifting blocks of colour or mirage-like plumage. Some of them had changed size and shape. A few had even become invisible, although the shades provided a blinking outline to indicate their true presence. Luminous branching structures—Thalia couldn’t tell if they were sculptures or some form of data visualisation related to an ongoing mindgame—loomed over the complex of pools.

“Here comes the welcome,” Dreyfus said.

Something strode towards them, following a dry path that wound between the bathing pools. A pair of shapely, stockinged female legs rose to support a flat tray arrayed with drinks. High heels clicked as the legs approached, placing one foot before the other with neurotic precision. The fluid in the glasses remained rock steady.

Thalia’s hand moved to her belt.

“Steady,” Dreyfus breathed.

The servitor halted before them. “Welcome to House Perigal, Prefects,” it said in a squeaky voice. “Would you care for a drink?”

“Thanks,” Thalia said, “but we should—”

Dreyfus put down the coffee bulb and dithered his hand over the tray. “What do you recommend?”

“The red’s acceptable.”

“Red it is, then.” He took a glass and lifted it towards his lips, just close enough to sniff the aroma. Thalia took a glass for herself. Only Sparver abstained: his metabolism couldn’t cope with alcohol.

“Follow me, please. I’ll take you to the matriarch.”

They followed the legs through the cavern, winding between the pools. If their arrival had gone apparently unnoticed, that luxury had passed. Thalia could feel the back of her neck prickling from the uneasy attention they were now warranting.

They climbed to one of the highest pools, where four ornamental iron fish vomited water from their gaping mouths. Three adults were floating in the water, up to their chests in perfumed froth. Two were men. The third was Caitlin Perigal, her face recognisable from the summary file. Her muscular shoulders and arms tapered to elegant webbed hands with acid-green fingernails. A peacock’s feather adorned her hair. Green nymphs and satyrs buzzed around her head.

“Prefects,” she said, with all the warmth of superfluid helium.

“Matriarch Perigal,” Dreyfus said, standing with his feet a few centimetres from the edge of the pool. “My companions are Deputy Field Prefects Sparver Bancal and Thalia Ng. We’ve met, of course.”

Perigal turned languidly to her two companions. “The sleepy-looking fat one is Tom Dreyfus,” she explained.

One of them—an aristocratic man with long, white hair—examined Dreyfus through clinical grey eyes. His plumage rendered him in impressionist brushstrokes. “Your paths have crossed before, Caitlin?”

Perigal stirred, breaking the water with the muscular fluked tail that had been grafted on in place of her legs. Thalia touched the stud on the side of her shades to verify that the tail was real, not a hallucination.

“Dreyfus’s function in life seems to be finding obscure legal channels through which to harass me,” Perigal said.

Dreyfus looked unimpressed. “I just do my job. It’s not my fault that you keep being a part of it.”

“And I do, don’t I?”

“So it seems. Nice tail, by the way. What happened to the legs?”

Perigal nodded at the walking tray. “I keep them around as a conversation piece.”

“Each to their own.”

“Yes, that’s the general principle.” Perigal leaned forward in the pool, her voice hardening. “Well, pleasantries over with. Make your inspection, do whatever you have to do, then get the hell off my habitat.”

“I haven’t come to inspect the habitat,” Dreyfus said.

Thalia tensed despite herself. This was the moment she had been both dreading and quietly anticipating.

“What, then?” Perigal asked.

Dreyfus removed a card from his tunic pocket and held it up to his face, squinting slightly. He glanced briefly at Thalia and Sparver before reading, “Caitlin Perigal, as matriarch of this habitat, you are hereby charged with a category-five infringement of the democratic process. It is alleged that you tampered with the polling apparatus, to the intended benefit of your house.”

Perigal stuttered something, her cheeks flushing with indignation, but Dreyfus held up a silencing hand and continued with his statement.

“While the investigative process is in operation, your habitat is to be placed under lockdown. All physical traffic between House Perigal and the rest of the system, including Chasm City, is now suspended. No incoming or outgoing transmissions will be permitted. Any attempts to break these sanctions will be countered with destructive force. This is final and binding.” Dreyfus paused, then lowered the card. “The state of lockdown is now in effect.”

There was an uneasy silence, broken only by the gentle lapping of water against the side of the pool.

“This is a joke, isn’t it?” the grey-eyed man said eventually, looking encouragingly at Perigal. “Please tell me it’s a joke.”

“So it’s come to this,” the matriarch said. “I always knew you were dirty, Dreyfus, but I never thought you’d stoop quite this low.”

Dreyfus placed the card beside the pool. “This is a summary of the case against you. Looks watertight to me, but then I’m only a lowly field prefect.” He touched a finger to his chin, as if he’d just remembered an errand. “Now I need a small favour.”

“You’re insane.”

“Kindly issue a priority interrupt to all your citizens and guests. Tell them that a lockdown is in force, and that they’re about to lose contact with the external universe. Remind them that this state of affairs could last for anything up to one century. Tell them that if they have thoughts or messages to convey to loved ones beyond House Perigal, they have six hundred seconds in which to do so.”

He turned to Thalia and Sparver and lowered his voice, but not so low that Perigal wouldn’t have been able to hear him. “You know what to do, Deputies. If anyone obstructs you, or refuses to cooperate, you have clearance to euthanise.”

The rim transit moved quickly, its motion counteracting the centrifugal gravity of the slow-turning wheel. Thalia sat next to Sparver, brooding.

“It isn’t fair,” she said.

“What isn’t?”

“All those people stuck here by accident, the people who just happened to be visiting.”

“Sometimes the only workable solution isn’t a fair one.”

“But cut off from the Glitter Band, from Yellowstone, from friends and family, from abstraction, from their medical programmes… some of them could actually die in here before the lockdown’s over.”

“Then they should have thought about that before. If you don’t like the idea of being caught in a lockdown, do the homework on your habitat.”

“That’s a very callous outlook.”

“They screwed with democracy. I’m not going to lose much sleep when democracy screws them back.”

Thalia felt her weight returning as they neared their destination and the transit slowed. The two prefects disembarked into another cavern, smaller and brighter than the first. This time the floor was an expanse of interlocking black and white tiles, polished to a luxurious gleam. A cylindrical structure rose from a hole in the centre of the floor, wide as a tree trunk, its spired tip almost touching the ceiling. The cylinder’s black surface flickered with schematic representations of data flows: rapidly changing red and blue traceries. A railingless spiral staircase wrapped around the pillar, offering access to the stump-like branches of interface ports.

A man in beige uniform—some kind of technician or functionary, Thalia decided—stood by the base of the trunk, his face a study in suspicion.

“Don’t come any closer,” he said.

Sparver answered him. “Didn’t Perigal make it clear we were on our way, and that we weren’t to be hindered?”

“It’s a trick. You’re agents of House Cantarini.”

Sparver looked at him sceptically. “Do I look like an agent of House Cantarini?”

“An agent could look like anyone.”

“I’m a pig. How likely is it that they’d send an ugly specimen like me when there was an alternative?”

“I can’t take the risk. You touch this core, I lose my job, my standing, everything.”

“Step aside, sir,” Thalia said.

“I’m sorry. I can’t let you any nearer.” The man opened his hand to reveal a matt-silver device cuffed to his palm, inset with a red firing stud. “There are weapons already trained on you. Please don’t make me use them.”

“You kill us, Panoply will just send more prefects,” Sparver said.

Thalia’s skin prickled. She could feel the scrutiny of those hidden weapons, ready to wipe her out of existence at the twitch of the man’s thumb.

“I won’t kill you if you turn and leave.”

“We’ll leave when we have the evidence.” Sparver’s hand moved to his belt. He unclipped the handle of his whiphound and flicked it to deploy the filament. It cracked as it spun out to its maximum extension, lashing the floor.

“He’s right,” Thalia said, fighting to keep the tremor from her voice. “We’re Panoply.”

“Please.” The man’s thumb caressed the firing stud. “I’ll do what needs to be done to protect the core.”

Sparver released the whiphound. The handle remained at waist height, supported by the coiled extremity of its stiffened filament. It swayed from side to side with the questing motion of a snake. Then it curled around and aimed itself at the man.

A bright red dot appeared on his Adam’s apple.

“I need you to answer a question for me,” Sparver said. “How attached are you to your fingers?”

The man inhaled and held his breath.

“The whiphound has a mark on you now,” Sparver continued. “If it detects hostile intent—and it’s very, very good at detecting hostile intent—it’ll be on you faster than a nerve impulse can travel down your arm. When it reaches you, it’ll do something quite nasty with the sharp edge of that filament.”

The man opened his mouth to say something, but all that came out was a dry croak. He spread both his hands, opening his fingers and thumbs as wide as they would go.

“Sensible,” Sparver said. “Now hold that pose, but step away from the core.” He nodded at Thalia, giving her the go-ahead to start securing the evidence. The whiphound stayed by his side, its blunt head tracking the man as he inched away from the central column.

Thalia walked to the core. It was a standard design, installed within the last twenty years, so she knew exactly where to start.

“This is Deputy Field Prefect Thalia Ng,” she said aloud. “Confirm recognition.”

“Welcome, Deputy Field Prefect Ng,” it replied, in the neutrally sexless voice common to all cores. “How may I assist you?”

Thalia brought to mind the one-time code with which she had been briefed after the cutter’s departure from Panoply. “Acknowledge security access override Narcissus Eight Palisander.”

“Override confirmed. You now have six hundred seconds of clearance, Deputy Field Prefect Ng.”

“Disable two-way access to the exterior abstraction.”

“Access is now blocked.”

The red lines vanished. Now the pillar showed only blue traffic. No signals were reaching or leaving the habitat. Almost immediately the blue traffic intensified as the citizenry began to panic, sending emergency queries to the core.

Thalia glanced at the man Sparver’s whiphound was still detaining. For the first time in his life, his implants would no longer be in constant communication with the informational matrix beyond House Perigal. It must have felt like the drop of a guillotine.

She returned her attention to the core. “Prepare me triplicate physical summary packages for all data traffic in and out of this habit in the last thousand days.”

“I am preparing the packages. Please wait a moment.”

Thalia reached up and touched her throat microphone. “Thalia, sir. We’re securing the evidence now. We should be back with you within ten minutes.”

There was no response. She waited a few moments, giving Dreyfus time to activate his own microphone, but still nothing came.

She shot a look at Sparver. “I’m not getting anything.”

“The boss man could be preoccupied,” Sparver said.

“He should have answered by now. I’m worried. Maybe we ought to get back there, see—”

“We need those summary packages, Thalia. In five minutes you’ll be locked out of the core again.”

Sparver was right. The one-time code—good for ten minutes of unrestricted activity—would not buy her access to the core a second time.

“Hurry up,” she said, through clenched teeth.

She tried Dreyfus again, but still there was no reply. After what felt like an eternity, the core ejected the summary packages from a slot near its base. Thalia clipped together the thick diskettes and then secured them to her belt. Absurd as it was, she swore she could feel the weight of the information inside them. It would have taken days to squeeze that amount of data across a beam.

“You done?” Sparver asked.

“This is all we need. We can leave the local abstraction running.”

“And if they try to get around the block you just put in?”

“They’ll have a dead core on their hands. They’ll be lucky if life support still works after that, let alone abstraction.” Thalia turned back to the core and authorised it to rescind the Panoply access privilege it had just granted her. “That’s it, then,” she said, feeling an unexpected sense of anticlimax.

“There. Wasn’t so hard, was it?”

“I’m worried about the boss.”

“It’s just the rock this thing’s made of, blocking our signals.” Sparver smiled at the technician again. “We’re done. Can I trust you not to do anything silly if I pull the whiphound off you?”

The man swallowed painfully and twitched his head in a nod.

“I’ll take that as a ‘yes,’” Sparver said. He reached out his hand and beckoned the whiphound. With a flick of its tail, the weapon sprang its handle into Sparver’s grip, the tail whisking back into the housing with a lashing sound.

Sparver patted the handle and reattached it to his belt. “Let’s go check on the boss man.”

But when they rode the rim transit back to Dreyfus, they found him standing alone and still, amidst a scene of almost unspeakable carnage. He held his glasses in one hand and the whiphound in the other.

Thalia snatched off her own glasses so that she could see things as they really were. People were screaming, scrambling and splashing to get away from the prefect and the objects of his attention. Caitlin Perigal’s two male guests were both slumped in the pool, in water that was now bloodstained pink. The man with the grey hair had lost his forearm: it was lying on the marble poolside, the hand pointing accusingly at Dreyfus. Behind the wrist, the skin bulged as if a bone-grafted weapon had been trying to push its way through to the surface. The other man, trembling as if in the throes of a seizure, had blood running from both his nostrils. His eyes were wide open, fixated on the ceiling. Three or four nearby guests were nursing wounds of varying severity. With all the blood in the water—draining from pool to pool via the waterfalls and sluices—it was difficult to be certain how many people had been hurt. Medical servitors had already arrived and were attending to the most seriously injured, but even the machines appeared confused.

Perigal was still alive, albeit breathing heavily. A vivid gash cut her across the right cheek, running from the corner of her mouth to her ear. She breathed heavily, her eyes wide and white with fury and fear.

“You’re wrong about this,” she breathed. “You’re wrong about this and you’re going to pay.”

Dreyfus turned slowly at the approach of Thalia and Sparver. “Got the packages?”

Thalia’s mouth was dry. “Yes,” she said, forcing the word out, striving to maintain professional composure.

“Then let’s go. We’re done here.”


Dreyfus had closed half the distance to the middle of the supreme prefect’s office when the safe-distance tether jerked him to a halt. For a moment Jane Aumonier appeared unaware of his presence, absorbed in one of her wall displays. He coughed quietly before speaking.

“If you want my resignation, it’s yours.”

Aumonier turned her head to face him, without moving the rest of her body. “On what grounds, Tom?”

“You name it. If I committed an error of procedure, or was guilty of improper judgement, you only have to say the word.”

“If you committed an error, it was in not going far enough to defend yourself and your deputies. What was the final body count?”

“Six,” Dreyfus said.

“We’ve done worse. Perigal was always going to be a tough nut. A single-figure body count strikes me as entirely acceptable, given all that we could have expected.”

“I was hoping things wouldn’t get quite so messy.”

“That was Perigal’s call, not yours.”

“I still don’t think we’re finished with her. What she said to me…” Dreyfus paused, certain that Aumonier had enough to worry about without being burdened with his doubts. “I feel as if a debt has been settled. That isn’t a good way for a prefect to feel.”

“It’s human.”

“She got away with it in the past because we weren’t clever or fast enough to audit her before the evidence turned stale. But even if we’d been able to pin anything on her, her crimes wouldn’t have merited a full century of lockdown.”

“And we don’t know that it will come to that this time, either.”

“You think she’ll slip through again?”

“That’ll depend on the evidence. Time to make use of that bright new expert on your team.”

“I have every confidence in Thalia.”

“Then you’ve nothing to fear. If Perigal’s guilty, the state of lockdown will continue. If the evidence doesn’t turn anything up, House Perigal will be allowed re-entry into the Glitter Band.”

“Minus six people.”

“Citizens panic when they lose abstraction. That isn’t our problem.”

Dreyfus tried to read Aumonier’s expression, wondering what he was missing. It wasn’t like her to need to ask him how many people had died during an operation: normally she’d have committed the figures to memory before he was back inside Panoply. But Aumonier’s emotionless mask was as impossible to read as ever. He could remember how she looked when she smiled, or laughed, or showed anger, how she’d been before her brush with the Clockmaker, but it took an increasing effort of will.

“Pardon me,” he said, “but if this isn’t a reprimand… what exactly do you want me for?”

“The conversation? The banter? The warmth of human companionship?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Something’s come up. The news broke while you were outside. It’s as delicate as the Perigal affair, if not more so. Urgent, too. We need immediate action.”

Dreyfus had not heard of anything brewing. “Another lockdown?”

“No. There wouldn’t be much point, unfortunately.”

“I’m sorry?”

Aumonier extended a hand to the wall, enlarging one of the display facets. It filled with an image of a spherical habitat, a grey ball blurred with microscopic detail, banded by tropical sun-panels, with an array of vast mirrors stationed at the poles and around the equator. The scale was difficult to judge, though Dreyfus doubted that the habitat was less than a kilometre wide.

“You won’t recognise it. This is a recent image of the Ruskin-Sartorious Bubble, a fifth-magnitude shell habitat in the high outer orbits. It’s never fallen under Panoply scrutiny before.”

“What have they done wrong now?”

“Here’s a more recent image, taken three hours ago.”

The Ruskin-Sartorious Bubble had been cut open, sliced along its midsection like an eyeball gouged by a razor. The cut had almost split the habitat into two hemispheres. On either side of the cut, the habitat’s fabric had been scorched to a crisp midnight black. Structures inside were still glowing cherry-red.

“Casualties?” Dreyfus asked, holding his horror at bay.

“Last census put the population at nine hundred and sixty. We think they all died, but we need to get a team in and make an immediate physical inspection. Survivors can’t be ruled out. At the very least, there may be beta-level recoverables.”

“Why isn’t this all over the Band?”

“Because we’re keeping a lid on it. This doesn’t look like an accident.”

“Someone will have noticed Ruskin-Sartorious dropping off the networks.”

“They only participated in abstraction at a shallow level, enough that we can continue to simulate the existence of the fully functional habitat for the time being, using our network privileges.”

“And the time being… would be how long?”

“Best guess? Less than twenty-six hours. Thirteen might be nearer the mark.”

“And when the story breaks?”

“We’ll have a major crisis on our hands. I think I know who did this, but I’ll need to be absolutely certain before I move on it. That’s why I want you to get out to Ruskin-Sartorious immediately. Take whoever you need. Secure evidence and recoverables and get back to Panoply. Then we’ll hold our breath.”

Dreyfus looked again at the image of the wounded habitat. “There’s only one thing that could have done that, isn’t there? And it isn’t even a weapon.”

“We see things similarly,” Aumonier said.

The walls of the tactical room were finely grained teak, varnished to a forbidding gleam. There were no windows or pictures, no humanising touches. The heavy, dark furniture was all inert matter: grown, cut and constructed by nature and carpentry. The double doors were cased in hammered bronze, studded with huge brass bolts, each door inlaid with a stylised version of the raised gauntlet that was Panoply’s symbol. The gauntlet was supposed to signify protection, but it could just as easily be interpreted as a threatening fist, clenched to smash down on its enemies or those who failed it.

“Begin please, Ng,” said the man sitting opposite Thalia, Senior Prefect Michael Crissel.

She placed the recovered diskettes on the table’s edge, almost dropping them in her nervousness. “Thank you, Senior Prefect. These are the triplicate physical summary packages from the Perigal polling core.” She nodded at the clockwork-gear shape of the Perigal habitat, imaged as a tiny representation in the tactical room’s Solid Orrery, enlarged and elevated above its real orbital plane. “The data has now been copied into our archives, all one thousand days’ worth of it. I’ve verified that the three triplicate summaries are consistent, with no indication of tampering.”

“And your findings?”

“I’ve only had a few hours to look into things, which really isn’t enough time to do more than skim—”

Senior Prefect Gaston Clearmountain growled his impatience. “Cut the blather, Ng. Just tell us what you have.”


  • "This is solid British SF adventure, evoking echoes of le Carre and Sayers with a liberal dash of Doctor Who."—Publishers Weekly on The Prefect
  • "Absorbing...gripping in the extreme...A fine provocative portrait of utopia on the brink. The relentless narrative momentum it employs simply underscores the pertinent urgency of that topic. The resulting mixture of space opera and police procedure is sublime entertainment."—Locus on The Prefect
  • "[A] magnificently imagined world."—Booklist on The Prefect
  • "Alastair Reynolds has developed real skill in mixing a detective investigation mystery with a background that is as thoroughly hard science as anybody's...Eminently satisfying."—SF Site on The Prefect
  • "An adroit and fast-paced blend of space opera and police procedural, original and exciting."—George R. R. Martin

On Sale
Oct 6, 2020
Page Count
512 pages

Alastair Reynolds

About the Author

Alastair Reynolds was born in Barry, South Wales, in 1966. He studied at Newcastle and St. Andrews Universities and has a Ph.D. in astronomy. He stopped working as an astrophysicist for the European Space Agency to become a full-time writer. Revelation Space and Pushing Ice were shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award; Revelation Space, Absolution Gap, Diamond Dogs, and CenturyRain were shortlisted for the British Science Fiction Award, and Chasm City won the British Science Fiction Award.

Learn more about this author