Read by Jefferson Mays
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HUGO AWARD WINNER FOR BEST SERIES
A revolution brewing for generations has begun in fire. It will end in blood.
The Free Navy — a violent group of Belters in black-market military ships — has crippled the Earth and begun a campaign of piracy and violence among the outer planets. The colony ships heading for the thousand new worlds on the far side of the alien ring gates are easy prey, and no single navy remains strong enough to protect them.
James Holden and his crew know the strengths and weaknesses of this new force better than anyone. Outnumbered and outgunned, the embattled remnants of the old political powers call on the Rocinante for a desperate mission to reach Medina Station at the heart of the gate network.
But the new alliances are as flawed as the old, and the struggle for power has only just begun.
Babylon's Ashes is a breakneck science fiction adventure following the bestselling Nemesis Games.
The Expanse Short Fiction
The Butcher of Anderson Station
Gods of Risk
The Vital Abyss
The Sins of Our Fathers
Chapter One: Pa
You have no fucking right to this!" the owner of the Hornblower shouted, not for the first time. "We worked for what we have. It's ours."
"We've been over this, sir," Michio Pa, captain of the Connaught, said. "Your ship and its cargo are under conscript order of the Free Navy."
"Your relief effort bullshit? Belters need supplies, let them buy some. Mine is mine."
"It's needed. If you'd cooperated with the order—"
"You shot us! You broke our drive cone!"
"You tried to evade us. Your passengers and crew—"
"Free Navy, my fucking ass! You're thieves. You're pirates."
At her left, Evans—her XO and the most recent addition to her family—grunted like he'd been hit. Michio glanced at him, and his blue eyes were there to meet her. He grinned: white teeth and a too-handsome face. He was pretty, and he knew it. Michio muted her microphone, letting the stream of invective pour from the Hornblower without her, and nodded him on. What is it?
Evans pointed a thumb toward the console. "So angry," he said. "Like to hurt a poor coyo's feelings, he goes on like that."
"Be serious," Michio said, but through a smile.
"Am serious. Fragé bist."
"In my heart," Evans said, pressing a palm to his sculpted chest. "Little boy, me."
On the speaker, the owner of the Hornblower had worked himself into a deeper froth. To hear him tell it, Pa was a thief and a whore and the kind of person who didn't care whose babies died so long as she got her payday. If he was her father, he'd kill her instead of letting her dishonor her family. Evans snickered.
Despite herself, Michio laughed too. "Did you know your accent gets thicker when you flirt?"
"Yeah," Evans said. "I'm just a complex tissue of affectation and vice. Took your mind off him, though. You were starting to lose your temper."
"Not done losing it yet," she said, and turned the mic back to live. "Sir. Sir! Can we at least agree that I'm the pirate who's offering to lock you in your cabin for the trip to Callisto instead of throwing you into space? Would that be all right?"
There was a moment of stunned silence on the radio, then a roar of incoherent rage that resolved into phrases like drink your fucking Belter blood and kill you if you try. Michio lifted three fingers. Across the command deck, Oksana Busch waved her own hand in acknowledgment and tapped the weapons controls.
The Connaught wasn't a Belter ship. Not originally. She'd been built by the Martian Congressional Republic Navy, and she'd come equipped with a wide variety of military and technical expert systems. They'd been on it for the better part of a year now, training in secret at first. And then when the day came, leading her into the fray. Now Michio watched her own monitor as the Connaught identified and targeted six places on the floating cargo ship where a stream of PDC fire or a well-placed missile would peel open the hull. The targeting lasers came on, painting the Hornblower. Michio waited. Evans' smile was a little less certain than it had been. Slaughtering civilians wasn't his first choice. In fairness, it wasn't what Michio would have picked either, but the Hornblower wasn't going to make its journey through the gates and out to whatever alien planet they'd thought to colonize. The negotiation now was only what the terms of that failure would be.
"Want to fire, bossmang?" Busch asked.
"Not yet," Michio said. "Watch that drive. If they try to burn out of here? Then."
"They try to burn on that busted cone, we can save the ammunition," Busch said, derision in her voice.
"There's people counting on that cargo."
"Savvy me," Busch said. Then, a moment later, "They're still cold."
The radio clicked, spat. On the other ship, someone was shouting, but not at her. Then there was another voice, then several, each trying to cut above the others. The report of a gun rang out, the sound of the attack pressed thin and nonthreatening by the radio.
A new voice came.
"Connaught? You there?"
"Still here," Michio said. "To whom am I speaking, please?"
"Name's Sergio Plant," the voice said. "Acting captain of the Hornblower. I'm offering up our surrender. Just no one gets hurt, okay?"
Evans grinned their triumph and relief.
"Besse to hear from you, Captain Plant," Michio said. "I accept your terms. Please prepare for boarding."
She killed the connection.
History, Michio believed, was a long series of surprises that seemed inevitable in retrospect. And what was true of nations and planets and vast corporate-state complexes also applied to the smaller fates of men and women. As above, so below. As the OPA and Earth and the Martian Congressional Republic, so with Oksana Busch and Evans Garner-Choi and Michio Pa. For that matter, so with all the other souls who lived and worked on the Connaught and her sister ships. It was only because she sat where she did, commanded as she did, and carried the weight of keeping the men and women of her crew safe and well and on the right side of history that the smaller personal histories of the Connaught's crew seemed to have more significance.
For her, the first surprise in the many that had brought her here was becoming part of the military arm of the Belt at all. As a young woman, she'd expected to be a systems engineer or an administrator on one of the big stations. If she'd loved mathematics more than she did, it might have happened. She'd put herself through upper university because she thought she was supposed to, and failed because it had been a horrible fit. When the counselors sent her the message that she was being disenrolled, it had been a shock. Looking back, it was obvious. The clarifying lens of history.
She'd fit better with the OPA, or at least the arm of it she'd joined. Within the first month, it became clear that the Outer Planets Alliance was less the unified bureaucracy of the revolution than a kind of franchise title adopted by the people of the Belt who thought that something like it should exist. The Voltaire Collective considered itself OPA, but so did Fred Johnson's group based on Tycho Station. Anderson Dawes acted as governor of Ceres under the split circle, and Zig Ochoa opposed him under the same symbol.
For years, Michio had styled herself as a woman with a military career, but with an awareness in the back of her mind that her chain of command was a fragile thing. There was a time it had made her reflexively protective of authority—her authority over her subordinates and the authority of her superiors over her. It was what put her in the XO's chair of the Behemoth. What put her in the slow zone when humanity first passed through the gate and into the hub of the thirteen-hundred-world empire to which they were heir. It was what had gotten her lover, Sam Rosenberg, killed. After that, her faith in command structures had become a little less absolute.
Once again obvious in retrospect.
As to the second surprise, she couldn't have said exactly what it was. Falling into a collective marriage or her recruitment by Marco Inaros or taking possession of her new ship and its revolutionary mission with the Free Navy. Lives had more turning points than seams of ore, and not every change was obvious, even looking back.
"Boarding team's ready," Carmondy said, his voice flattened by the suit mic. "You want us to breach?"
As the leader of the assault team, Carmondy was technically in a different branch of command than Michio, but he'd deferred to her as soon as he and his soldiers had come aboard. He'd lived on Mars for a few years, wasn't part of the plural marriage that formed the core of the Connaught's crew, and was professional enough to accept his status as an outsider. She liked him for that, if little else.
"Let's let them be nice," Michio said. "If they start shooting at us, do what needs doing."
"Savvy," Carmondy said, and then switched channels.
Both ships were on the float now, so she couldn't lean back in her crash couch. If she'd been able to, she would have.
When the news had come out that the Free Navy was taking control of the system and that the ring gate was closed to through traffic, the fleet of colony ships on the burn for the new worlds beyond faced a choice. Stand down and give their supplies over for redistribution to the stations and ships most in need, and they would be allowed to keep their ships. Run, and they wouldn't.
The Hornblower—like who knew how many others—had done the calculation and decided the risk was worth the reward. They'd killed their transponders, spun their ship, and burned like hell, but briefly. Then spun again, burned again, spun again, burned. Hotaru, they called it. The strategy of going bright only for a moment, and then going dark in hopes that the vastness of space would conceal them until the political situation changed. The ships had enough food and supplies to last the would-be colonists for years. The volume of the system was so massive that if they avoided detection at the front, finding them later could be the work of lifetimes.
The Hornblower's drive plume had been detected by Free Navy arrays on Ganymede and Titan both. The thing she hated most was that the chase had led them up out of the plane of the ecliptic. The vast majority of the sun's heliosphere extended above and below the thin disk where the planets and the asteroid belt spun in their orbits. Michio had a superstitious dislike of those reaches, the huge emptiness that, in her mind, loomed above and below human civilization.
The ring gate and the unreal space beyond it might be stranger—were stranger—but her unease about traveling outside the ecliptic had been with her since childhood. It was part of her personal mythology, and a herald of bad luck.
She set her monitor to show the boarding team's suit cameras and play soft music. The Hornblower, as seen through twenty different perspectives while harps and finger drums tried to soothe her. A dark-skinned Earther was in the airlock, his arms spread wide. Half a dozen of the cameras were locked on him, barrels of their weapons visible. The others shifted, watching for movement on the periphery or coming from outside the ship. The man reached up and used a handhold to flip himself around, putting his arms behind him for the zip-tie restraint. It had a sense of practice that left Michio thinking that Captain Plant—if that's who this was—had been forcibly detained before.
The boarding team moved into the ship, its eyes and attention shifting down the corridors in teams. Movement on one screen mapped to a figure seen in another. When they reached the galley, the crew of the Hornblower floated in ranks, arms out, ready to accept whatever fate the Connaught had in store for them. Even at the very small size the individual panes had taken to fit her monitor, she could see the clinging sheen of tears creeping over the captives' faces. Grief masks formed of saline and surface tension.
"They're going to be fine," Evans said. "Esá? It's our job, yeah?"
"I know," Michio said, her gaze fixed on the screen.
The boarding team moved through the decks, locking down control. Their coordination made them feel like a single organism with twenty eyes. The group consciousness of professionalism and drills. The command deck looked ill kept. A hand terminal and a drinking bulb on the float had been sucked against an air intake. Without thrust gravity to coordinate them, the crash couches lay at a variety of angles. It reminded her of old videos she'd seen of shipwrecks back on Earth. The colony ship was drowning in the endless vacuum.
She knew that Carmondy would be calling her before he did it, and drew the music gently down. The request came through with a polite chime.
"We've taken control of the ship, Captain," he said. Two of his men were watching him say it, so she saw his lips and his jaw making the words from two angles even as she heard them. "No resistance. No trouble."
"Officer Busch?" Michio said.
"Their firewalls are already down," Oksana said. "Toda y alles."
Michio nodded, more to herself than to Carmondy. "The Connaught has control of the enemy ship's systems."
"We're setting a perimeter and securing the prisoners. Automatic check-in set."
"Understood," Michio said. Then, to Evans, "Let's pull back far enough to be outside the blast range if it turns out they're hiding nukes in the grain silo."
"On it," Evans said.
The maneuvering thrusters shifted her against her restraints, not even a tenth of a g, for the burn's scant handful of seconds. Taking the things that other people thought they deserved to keep was dangerous work. The Connaught would watch over the boarding team of course, the ship's gentle fingers on all their pulses. And in addition, Carmondy would ping every half hour using a onetime pad protocol. If he failed to check in, Michio would turn the Hornblower into a diffuse cloud of hot gas as a warning to the next ship. And a few thousand people on Callisto, Io, and Europa would have to hope the other Free Navy conscription missions came through.
The Belt had finally shrugged off the yoke of the inner planets. They had Medina Station at the heart of the ring gates, they had the only functioning navy in the solar system, and they had the gratitude of millions of Belters. In the long term, it was the greatest statement of independence and freedom the human race had ever made. In the short term, it was her job to see the victory didn't starve them all to death.
For the next two days, Carmondy and his men would see that the would-be colonists were sealed on secured decks, where they could ride out the transit to a stable orbit around Jupiter. Then make a complete inventory of what had been gained by the taking of the Hornblower. Once they were done, it would still be a week before the salvage drives were in place. In that time, the Connaught would stand as guard and captor, and little enough for Michio to do but scan the darkness for other refugees.
She wasn't looking forward to it, and she was sure the others in her marriage group weren't either. Still, there was more than that in Oksana's voice when she spoke.
"Bossmang. We got confirmation from Ceres."
"Good," Michio said, but with an uptick in her inflection that meant she'd heard whatever Oksana wasn't saying. Oksana Busch had been her wife almost as long as the group had been together. They knew each other's moods well.
"Got something else too. Message from himself."
"What does Dawes want?" Michio asked.
"Not Dawes. Big himself."
"Inaros?" Michio said. "Play it."
"Under captain-only encrypt," Oksana said. "I can pipe it to your cabin or your terminal if—"
"Play it, Oksana."
Marco Inaros appeared on the monitor. From the drape of his hair, he was either on Ceres or under burn. There wasn't enough visible background behind him to say if he was on a ship or in an office. His smile was charming and reached his warm, dark eyes. Michio felt her pulse step up a little, and told herself it was dread and not an attraction. For the most part, that was truth. He was a charismatic bastard, though.
"Captain Pa," Marco said. "I'm glad to hear you took the Hornblower cleanly. It's another testament to your ability. We were right to have you in command of the conscription. Things have gone well enough, we're ready to move on to the next stages of our plan."
Michio glanced over at Evans and Oksana. He was plucking at his beard, and she was trying not to look at Michio.
"We'll want to route the Hornblower directly to Ceres," Marco said. "And before that, I'm calling a meeting. Strictly inner-circle. You, me, Dawes, Rosenfeld, Sanjrani. At Ceres Station." His grin widened. "Now that we're running the system, there are some changes we should make, eh? The Pella says you can make it there in two weeks. It'll be good to see you in person."
He made a sharp Free Navy salute. The one he'd come up with. The screen went blank. The mix of confusion and distress and relief that flooded Michio's gut wasn't easy to make sense of. Having her mission change like that, so quickly and with so little explanation, left her on the wrong foot. And going into a meeting of the inner circle still had a little of the sense of danger that it had before the Free Navy had announced itself. Years of moving in shadows left habits of thought and feeling that were hard to step out of, even if they'd won. But at least they'd be back in the plane of the ecliptic, and not high up in the black, where ominous things happened. Bad things.
Things, a small, still voice in her head said, like being called to an unexpected meeting.
"Two weeks?" Michio asked.
"Possible," Busch answered almost before the question was out. She'd already run the plan. "But it'll mean burning hard. And no waiting for the Hornblower."
"Carmondy won't like that," Pa said.
"What's he going to say?" Oksana said. "It's himself giving the order."
"It is," Michio agreed.
Evans cleared his throat. "So we're going?"
Michio held up a fist. Yes. "It's Inaros," she said, ending the coming argument by invoking his name.
"Well. Bien," Evans said, but the tone of his voice said something different.
"Something?" Pa asked.
"Just isn't the first time plans changed," Evans said, his face wrinkled with worry. He wasn't as pretty that way, but he was her newest husband, so she didn't point it out. Pretty men could be so fragile.
"Continue," she said instead.
"Well, there was the money thing with Sanjrani. And the Martian prime minister wound up making it safe to Luna when half the Free Navy was trying to take him out. And I hear we tried to kill Fred Johnson and James Holden both, and both still breathing and walking free. Leaves me wondering."
"Like maybe Marco isn't as infallible as he plays?" Michio asked.
For a moment, he didn't answer. She thought he might not. "Something like," Evans finally said. "But even thinking like that feels like it might get sticky, no?"
"Something like," Michio agreed.
Chapter Two: Filip
There was no one he hated more than James Holden. Holden, the peacemaker who'd never made peace. Holden, the champion of justice who'd never sacrificed anything for justice. James Holden, who crewed up with Martians and Belters—with one Belter—and moved through the system as if it made him better than everyone else. Neutral and above the fray while the inner planets shoved humanity's resources out to the thirteen hundred–odd new planets and left the Belters to die. Who, against all odds, hadn't died with the Chetzemoka.
Fred Johnson, the Earther who'd gone native and started speaking for the Belt, was a close second. The Butcher of Anderson Station, who'd made his career by slaughtering innocent Belters and continued it by patronizing them all into an arc that led toward their cultural and individual deaths. For that he deserved hatred and disdain. But Filip's mother hadn't died directly because of Johnson, and so Holden—James pinché Holden—owned first prize.
It was months since Filip had beaten his hands against the inner door of the airlock while his mother, her mind twisted by too much time in Holden's cultlike presence, had spaced herself and Cyn along with her. Stupid deaths. Needless. That, he told himself, was why it hurt so much. That she hadn't needed to die, and she'd chosen it anyway. He'd broken his hand trying to get her to stop, but it hadn't helped anything. Naomi Nagata had picked a bad death in the void over a life with her true people. It was proof of how much power Holden had had over her. How deeply she'd been brainwashed, and how weak her mind had been from the start.
He didn't tell anyone on the Pella that he still dreamed about it every night: the closed door, the certainty that something precious—something important—was on the other side of it, and the sense of vicious loss that he couldn't make the door open. If they knew how much it haunted him, he'd seem weak, and his father didn't have room for men who couldn't do their part. Not even his own son. Filip took his place as a Belter and a man of the Free Navy or he found a place on a station and stayed there as a boy. He was nearly seventeen now; he'd helped to destroy the oppressors on Earth. His childhood belonged in his past.
Pallas Station was one of the oldest in the Belt. The first mines had been there, and following them, the first refineries. The newer facilities had followed, because this was where the industrial base was. And because it was easier to use the older, unretired crushers and spin separators as overflow capacity. And from habit. Pallas had never been spun up. The gravity it had was the naturally occurring microgravity of its mass—two percent of Earth's full g. Hardly more than a persistent direction of drift. The station swooped above and below the plane of the ecliptic, like it was trying to elbow its way out of the solar system. Ceres and Vesta were larger and more populous, but the metal for ship plating and reactors, for station decks and shipping containers, for the guns that studded the Free Navy's liberated warships and the rounds that they fired all came from here. If Ganymede was the breadbasket of the Belt, Pallas was its forge.
It only made sense that the Free Navy should pass through there in its constant voyage through the liberated system, and that it should make sure to leave no resources behind.
"S'yahaminda, que?" the harbormaster said, floating in the meeting room's wider end. It was a Belter room. No tables, no chairs. Little reference to up or down in its architecture. After so long in a ship built with thrust gravity in mind, Filip thought it felt like home. Authentic in a way that the Martian-designed spaces never could.
The harbormaster himself was the same. His body was longer than someone who'd spent their childhood with even low, intermittent gravity. His head was larger compared to his body than Filip's or Marco's or Karal's. The harbormaster's left eye was milky and blind where even the pharmaceutical cocktail that made human life in freefall possible had been insufficient to keep the capillaries from dying. He was the kind of man who would never be able to tolerate living on a planetary surface, even for a short period of time. The most extreme end of the Belter physiological spectrum. He was exactly who the Free Navy had risen up to protect and represent.
Which was likely why he seemed so confused and betrayed now.
"Is it a problem?" Marco said, shrugging with his hands. The way he said it made emptying the warehouses into the void seem like an everyday thing to ask. Filip hoisted his own eyebrows to echo his father's disbelief. Karal only glowered and kept one fist on his sidearm.
"Per es esá mindan hoy," he said.
"I know it's everything," Marco said. "That's the point. So long as it's all here, Pallas will be a target for the inners. Put what you have in containers, fire them off, and only we will know their vectors. We'll track where they are and salvage what we need when we need it. It's not just keeping it out of their hands, it's showing that the station warehouses are empty before they even reach for them, yeah?"
"Per mindan …" the harbormaster said, blinking in distress.
"You'll be paid for it all," Filip said. "Good Free Navy scrip."
"Good, yeah," the harbormaster said. "Aber …"
His blinking redoubled and he looked away from Marco as if the admiral of the Belters' first real armed force was floating half a meter left of where he was. He licked his lips.
"Aber?" Marco prompted, matching his accent.
"Spin classifiers v'reist neue ganga, yeah?"
"If you need new parts, then buy new parts," Marco said, his voice taking on a dangerous buzz.
"Aber …" The harbormaster swallowed.
"But you used to buy from Earth," Marco said. "And our money doesn't spend there."
The harbormaster lifted a fist in acknowledgment.
Marco's smile was gentle and open. Sympathetic. "No one's money spends there. Not anymore. You buy from the Belt now. Just the Belt."
"Belt don't make good parts," the harbormaster whined.
"We make the best parts there are," Marco said. "History's moved on, my friend. Try to keep up. And package everything there is for push-out, sa sa?"
- This is a high-octane continuation of a series that has quickly become the biggest thing in science fiction.—The B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog on Babylon's Ashes
- "The science fictional equivalent of A Song of Ice and Fire...only with fewer beheadings and way more spaceships."—NPR Books on Cibola Burn
- "Combining an exploration of real human frailties with big SF ideas and exciting thriller action, Corey cements the series as must-read space opera."—Library Journal (Starred Review) on Cibola Burn
- "The Expanse series is the best space opera series running at full tilt right now, and Cibola Burn continues that streak of excellence."—io9 on Cibola Burn
- "Corey's splendid fourth Expanse novel blends adventure with uncommon decency."—Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) on Cibola Burn
- "A politically complex and pulse-pounding page-turner.... Corey perfectly balances character development with action... series fans will find this installment the best yet."—Publishers Weekly on Abaddon's Gate
- "It's been too long since we've had a really kickass space opera. Leviathan Wakes is interplanetary adventure the way it ought to be written, the kind of SF that made me fall in love with the genre way back when, seasoned with a dollop of horror and a dash of noir. Jimmy Corey writes with the energy of a brash newcomer and the polish of a seasoned pro. So where's the second book?"—George R. R. Martin on Leviathan Wakes
- "An excellent space operatic debut in the grand tradition of Peter F. Hamilton."—Charles Stross on Leviathan Wakes
- "High adventure equaling the best space opera has to offer, cutting-edge technology, and a group of unforgettable characters bring the third installment of Corey's epic space drama (after Caliban's War and Leviathan Wakes) to an action-filled close while leaving room for more stories to unfold. Perhaps one of the best tales the genre has yet to produce, this superb collaboration between fantasy author Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck should reawaken an interest in old-fashioned storytelling and cinematic pacing. Highly recommended."—Library Journal on Abaddon's Gate
- "Literary space opera at its absolute best."—io9.com on Abaddon's Gate
- "[T]he authors are superb with the exciting bits: Shipboard coups and battles are a thrill to follow."—Washington Post on Abaddon's Gate
- "Riveting interplanetary thriller."—Publishers Weekly on Leviathan Wakes
- "A standout tale of violence, intrigue, ambition, and hope. ... Corey cranks up the tension relentlessly in this fast-paced story of heroes and rebels fighting for freedom. With enough thrills and intrigue for three Hollywood blockbusters, the novel stands alone nicely, making it easy for new readers as well as diehard series fans to dive right in."—Publishers Weekly on Nemesis Games
- On Sale
- Dec 6, 2016
- Hachette Audio