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HUGO AWARD WINNER FOR BEST SERIES
An old enemy returns.
In the thousand-sun network of humanity's expansion, new colony worlds are struggling to find their way. Every new planet lives on a knife edge between collapse and wonder, and the crew of the aging gunship Rocinante have their hands more than full keeping the fragile peace.
In the vast space between Earth and Jupiter, the inner planets and belt have formed a tentative and uncertain alliance still haunted by a history of wars and prejudices. On the lost colony world of Laconia, a hidden enemy has a new vision for all of humanity and the power to enforce it.
New technologies clash with old as the history of human conflict returns to its ancient patterns of war and subjugation. But human nature is not the only enemy, and the forces being unleashed have their own price. A price that will change the shape of humanity — and of the Rocinante — unexpectedly and forever. . .
The Expanse Short Fiction
The Butcher of Anderson Station
Gods of Risk
The Vital Abyss
The Sins of Our Fathers
Chapter One: Drummer
The habitation ring of the transfer station at Lagrange-5 was three times the diameter of the one Drummer had lived in on Tycho, half a lifetime ago. TSL-5 had a small city’s worth of offices with the same fake-marble walls and soft, full-spectrum lighting as the one they’d given her, the same crash-couch beds and water showers as her quarters there. The air had a constant smell of terpene compounds, as if the station were the largest chrysanthemum in the universe. The dome in the center of the station had berths for hundreds of ships and warehouses that seemed so numerous and deep that filling them would leave Earth as empty as a squeezed-out bulb. All those berths and warehouses were at rest now, but starting tomorrow, that would change. TSL-5 was about to be open for business, and even as tired as she was, as annoyed as she felt at having to haul herself halfway across the system for what was ultimately a ribbon-cutting ceremony, there was also an excitement to it. After three decades of struggle, Mother Earth was open for business.
The planet glowed on her wall screen, whorls of high white clouds and glimpses of the still-greenish sea beneath it. The terminator crept across, pulling a blanket of darkness and city lights behind it. The ships of the Earth-Mars Coalition Navy floated around it, dots of darkness swimming on the high sea of air. Drummer had never gone down that well, and now by the terms of the treaty she’d signed on the union’s behalf, she never would. Fine with her. Her knees bothered her sometimes as it was. But as an objet d’art, Terra was hard to beat. Humanity had done its level best to kick the shit out of the slowly spinning egg. Overpopulation, exploitation, atmospheric and oceanic imbalance, and then three military-level meteor strikes, any one of which would have fucked up the dinosaurs. And here it still was, like a soldier. Scarred, broken, reimagined, rebuilt, and remade.
Time was supposed to heal all wounds. To Drummer, that was just a nice way of saying that if she waited long enough, none of the things that seemed important to her would turn out to matter. Or at least not the way she’d thought they did.
Time, plus the combined expertise of a Martian terraforming project staggering under the loss of its mandate, the ruthless administration of Earth’s political sector, and the huge market of thirteen-hundred-odd worlds all in need of biological substrates to grow food that people could actually eat had hauled Earth, slow and staggering, up to functional again.
Her system chirped, a polite little pop like someone snapping bamboo. Her private secretary’s voice followed like a drink of whiskey.
“Give me a minute, Vaughn,” she said.
“Yes, ma’am. But Secretary-General Li would like to speak with you before the ceremony.”
“The Earth-Mars Coalition can wait until after cocktails. I’m not opening this station by jumping every time the EMC clears their throat. Bad precedent.”
“Copy that. I’ll handle it.”
The system made the little woody tock that meant she had her privacy again. She leaned back in her chair, looked over at the images set into the wall behind her desk. All the previous Transport Union presidents before her: Michio Pa, then Tjon, Walker, Sanjrani, and her own thin, stern face looking back at her from the end. She hated that picture. It made her look like she’d just eaten something sour. The first version of it looked like something off a singles forum. At least this one was dignified.
For most of the Transport Union’s members, this image was all they’d ever see of her. Thirteen hundred worlds, and within a decade most if not all of them would have their own versions of the TSL-5. Hand-off stations that marked the bubble of void where the planet’s sphere of control ended and the union’s began. Anything that the colonies needed from humanity’s first home or from each other went up the gravity wells. That was the inner’s problem. Moving it from one system to another belonged to the Belt. Old terms. Inners. Belters. They stuck because language held on to things that way, even when the reality around them had shifted.
The Earth-Mars Coalition had been the center of humanity once—the innermost of the inners. Now it was an important spoke on the wheel whose hub was Medina Station. Where the weird alien sphere sat in the middle of the not-space that linked all the ring gates. Where her civilian quarters were when she wasn’t on the void cities. Where Saba was, when he wasn’t on his ship or with her. Medina Station was home.
Except that even for her, the blue-black disk of Earth on her screen was home too. Maybe that wouldn’t always be true. There were kids old enough to vote now who’d never known what it meant to have only one sun. She didn’t know what Earth or Mars or Sol would be to them. Maybe this atavistic melancholy just behind her breastbone would die with her generation.
Or maybe she was tired and cranky and needed a nap.
The bamboo broke again. “Ma’am?”
“I’m on my way.”
“Yes, ma’am. But we have a priority message from traffic control on Medina.”
Drummer leaned forward, her hands flat against the cool of the desk. Shit. Shit shit shit. “Did we lose another one?”
“No, ma’am. No lost ships.”
She felt the dread loosen its grip a little. Not all the way. “What, then?”
“They’re reporting an unscheduled transit. A freighter, but it didn’t have a transponder.”
“Seriously?” she said. “Did they think we wouldn’t notice it?”
“Couldn’t speak to that,” Vaughn said.
She pulled up the administrative feed from Medina. She could get anything from her realm here—traffic control, environmental data, energy output, sensor arrays in any slice of the electromagnetic spectrum. But light delay made all of it a little more than four hours old. Any order she gave would come through eight, eight and a half hours after the request for it was made. The vast alien intelligence that had engineered the ring gates and the massive ruins in the systems beyond them had found ways to manipulate distance, but the speed of light was the speed of light, and seemed like it always would be.
She scrolled through the logs, found the relevant slot, played it.
Medina here. Conferme. Traffic Control’s usual calm.
The responding voice had a little interference. An artifact of the gates. This is the freighter Savage Landing out of Castila on approach, Medina. Transferring our status now.
A new window popped up. The ship status of a light freighter. Martian design. Old, but not antiquated. It took a few seconds for Traffic to come back.
Visé bien, Savage Landing. You are clear to transit. Control code is—fuck! Abort, Savage Landing! Do not transit!
A sudden spike on the safety curve and the alarm status blinked to red. A new drive signature appeared on Medina’s control board, the plume sweeping through the starless dark of the slow zone.
It was done. All of it over with hours ago, but Drummer still felt her heartbeat pick up. Traffic was shouting for the new ship to identify itself, the rail-gun emplacements clicked to active. If they’d fired, everyone on the unauthorized ship was dead already.
The safety curve decayed, the disruption created by mass and energy passing through the ring dropping until it passed the threshold. The intruding ship spun, burning hard, and zipped through a different gate, kicking the curve back up again as it escaped.
Traffic cursed in several languages, sending stand-by messages to three other inbound ships. The Savage Landing was quiet, but the feed from their system showed a bruisingly hard burn as they peeled away, breaking off the approach to the Castila gate.
She rolled back, the near calamity reversing itself. The reckless asshole had come in from Freehold and passed out into Auberon. Because of course it had. The leaking radiation from the Auberon gate showed that the ship had made it. As close as it had cut the safety curve, it hadn’t gone dutchman. But if the Savage Landing had gone through as scheduled, one or both ships could have vanished into wherever ships went when their transits failed.
In the short term, it would mean slotting Savage Landing in later. There’d be a bunch of pushbacks. Maybe dozens of ships that had to change their burns and coordinate new transits. Not a threat, but a pain in the ass.
And not a good precedent.
“Should I respond,” Vaughn asked, “or would you rather deal with this personally, ma’am?”
It was an excellent question. Policy was a ratchet. If she pulled the trigger, gave the order that the next unauthorized ship through was going to be turned into scrap metal and regrets, it wasn’t something she could pull back from. Someone much better at this than she was had taught her to be very careful doing something if she wasn’t ready to do it every time from then on.
But, Christ, it was tempting.
“Have Medina log the transit, add the full cost to Freehold and Auberon’s tabs, and penalties for the delays they caused,” she said.
“Yes, ma’am,” Vaughn said. “Anything else?”
Yes, she thought, but I don’t know what yet.
The conference room had been designed for this moment. The vaulted ceiling looked as grand as a cathedral. Secretary-General Li of Earth stood at his podium, shifting his grave but satisfied countenance out at the cameras of dozens of different, carefully selected newsfeeds. Drummer tried to do the same.
“President Drummer!” one of the reporters called, lifting a hand for attention the same way people probably had in the forums of Rome. Her podium told her the man’s name was Carlisle Hayyam with Munhwa Ilbo’s Ceres office. A dozen others had started clamoring for her attention too.
“Hayyam?” she said, smiling, and the others quieted down. The truth was, she sort of liked this part. It appealed to some long-forgotten ambition to perform on a stage, and it was one of the few places where she felt like she was actually in control. Most of her work felt like she was trying to stuff air back into a leaking balloon.
“How do you respond to Martin Karczek’s concerns about the transfer station?”
“I’d have to listen to them,” she said. “I’ve only got so many hours in my day.”
The reporters chuckled, and she heard the glee. Yes, they were opening the first hand-off station. Yes, Earth was about to stagger up out of years of environmental crisis to ramp up its active trade with the colonies. All anyone really wanted was a couple politicians being snippy at each other.
And that was fine. As long as they kept looking at the little stuff, she could work on the big things.
Secretary-General Li, a broad-faced man with a lush mustache and a workman’s callused hands, cleared his throat. “If you don’t mind,” he said. “There are always people who are wary of change. And that’s a good thing. Change should be watched, moderated, and questioned. But that conservative view shouldn’t rein in progress or put a damper on hope. Earth is humanity’s first and truest home. The soil from which all of us, whatever system we now inhabit, first grew. Earth will always, always, be central to the greater project of humanity in the universe.”
Whistling past the graveyard. Earth was celebrating a huge milestone in its history, and that was maybe the third most important thing on her agenda. But how do you tell a planet that history has passed it by? Better to nod and smile, enjoy the moment and the champagne. Once this was over, she’d have to get back to work.
They moved through the expected questions: would the renegotiation of the tariff agreements be overseen by Drummer or former president Sanjrani, would the Transport Union remain neutral in the contested elections on Nova Catalunya, would the Ganymede status talks be held on Luna or Medina. There was even one question about the dead systems—Charon, Adro, and Naraka—where ring gates led to things much stranger than goldilocks-zone planetary systems. Secretary-General Li fended that one off, which was just as well. Dead systems gave Drummer the creeps.
After the Q-and-A was done, Drummer did a dozen photo ops with the secretary-general, high-level administrators from the EMC, and celebrities from the planets—a dark-skinned woman in a bright-blue sari, a pale man in a formal suit, a pair of comically identical men in matching gold dinner jackets.
There was a part of her that enjoyed this too. She suspected that the pleasure she took in Earthers clamoring to get mementos of themselves with the head of the Belters spoke poorly of her in some vague spiritual way. She’d grown up in a universe where people like her were disposable, and she’d lived long enough for fortune’s wheel to lift her up higher than Earth’s sky. Everyone wanted the Belt for a friend, now that the term meant more than a cloud of half-mined-out chunks of debris trapped between Mars and Jupiter. For children born today, the Belt was the thing that tied all humanity together. Semantic drift and political change. If the worst that came out of it was a little schadenfreude on her part, she could live with that.
Vaughn waited in a small antechamber. His face was a network of crags that would have done credit to a mountain range, but he managed to make it work for him. His formal jacket was cut to echo old-style vac suits. The marks of their oppression remade as high fashion. Time healed all wounds, but it didn’t erase the scars so much as decorate them.
“You have an hour before the reception, ma’am,” he said as Drummer sat on the couch and rubbed her feet.
“Can I get you anything?”
“Encrypted tightbeam and privacy.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said without missing a beat.
When the door slid closed behind him, she turned on the system camera and composed herself. The plan that had been forming in the back of her head all through the ceremonies was in place. All the bits and pieces she’d need to make it happen. And sooner was better than later. Punishment worked best when there wasn’t a gap between misbehavior and consequences, or at least that was what they told her. But there was also a real advantage in giving the offender time to savor their regret.
Best of all was when she could do both.
She hit Record.
“Captain Holden,” she said. “I’m linking you through to the data on an unauthorized transit from Freehold to Auberon that occurred today. I’m also giving you access to the security review of the Freehold system. It’s not much. One habitable planet a little smaller than Mars, another one that’s exploitable as long as you don’t mind too much nitrogen and cyanide in your air. The governor of Freehold is named ….”
She checked the records and coughed with contempt and laughter.
“Payne Houston. I’m assuming that’s his own choice and not what his mommy called him. Either way, I’m sending you under an executive mandate so that you can get going right now. I’ll get Emily Santos-Baca and the security committee to genuflect over this well before you get there, so we’ll be fine with that.
“Your official mission is to carry the message that Freehold’s repeated violations of Transportation Union guidelines have triggered punitive action, and that I’m banning all traffic in and out of Freehold for three years. When he asks whether it’s Earth years, the answer is yes. He’s going to make a point of that, because that’s the kind of idiot he is.
“Your unofficial mission is not to hurry. I want Freehold and all the systems like it to see a gunship moseying toward them for weeks without knowing what it’s going to do when it gets there. I’ll have my staff draw up the usual work agreement. If you can’t take the job, let me know as soon as possible. Otherwise, I’ll have you on the roster to fuel up and make transit in the next fifteen hours.”
She reviewed the message, then sent it out with a copy to Ahmed McCahill, the chair of the security committee. Then it was an executive request to push the Rocinante to the head of the resupply and transit authorization queues. And then Vaughn was knocking discreetly at her door.
He took her grunt as permission to come in, which it was.
“Secretary-General Li is asking whether you’re indisposed, ma’am,” he said. “He’s getting concerned.”
She checked the time. Her hour’s respite had ended twenty minutes ago.
“Tell him I’m on my way,” she said. “And do I have a change of clothes?”
“In the closet, ma’am,” Vaughn said as he slipped out the door again, quiet as a phantom. Drummer changed quickly, shedding the formal jacket and slacks for a bamboo-silk blouse and self-tailoring skirt with a neural net woven into it that was about as intelligent as an insect just to keep the drape right. She considered herself in the mirror with a certain satisfaction. She only wished Saba were here to accompany her. But he’d probably make too many consort-of-the-queen jokes. She shut down the mirror, its screen defaulting back to the image of Earth.
The planet was over half in darkness now, a crescent of white and blue. Belters had tried to kill the Earth, but here it was still spinning. They’d tried to burn the inner planets’ ships, and here was the EMC navy, scraped back together and flying.
And on the other hand, Earth had tried to choke the Belters under its boot for generations, and here was Drummer. Time had made them allies in the great expansion of civilization out to the stars.
At least until something else changed.
Chapter Two: Bobbie
The transit from the slow zone was behind them and Freehold was still weeks away, but an atmospheric landing in a ship as old as the Rocinante wasn’t the trivial thing it had once been. Age showed up in unexpected ways. Things that had always worked before failed. It was something you prepared for as much as you could.
Bobbie squinted at a wall panel on the engineering deck and watched as a long list of data scrolled by, ending with the ship’s reassurance that it could handle at least one more descent without burning up.
“All greens on the atmospheric braking thrusters,” Bobbie said.
“Hmmm?” Alex’s sleepy drawl replied from the panel.
“You awake up there? This is your damn landing prep list. I’m down here doing the work. Could at least seem interested.”
“Yeah, not sleepin’,” the pilot replied, “just got my own list of shit to do.” She could hear his smile.
Bobbie closed the diagnostic screen. Verifying the status on the thrusters was the last item on her work order. And short of putting on a suit and climbing outside to physically look into the nozzles, there wasn’t much more she could do.
“I’m going to do some housekeeping, then head up,” she said.
Bobbie put her tools away and used a mild solvent to wipe up some lubricant she’d spilled. It smelled sweet and pungent, like something she’d have cooked with back when she’d been living alone on Mars. Anxiety pushed her toward preparing more for the mission even after she was prepared. In the old days, this was when she’d have cleaned and serviced her power armor again and again and again until it became a kind of meditation. Now, she went through the ship the same way.
She’d lived on the Rocinante for more years now than anyplace else. Longer than her childhood home. Longer than her tour in the Marines.
The engineering deck was Amos country, and the mechanic kept a tidy shop. Every tool was in its place, every surface spotless. Other than the oil and solvent, the only other smell in the compartment was the ozone scent that hinted at powerful electricity coursing nearby. The floor vibrated in time with the fusion reactor on the deck below, the ship’s beating heart.
On one bulkhead, Amos painted a sign that read:
SHE TAKES CARE OF YOU
YOU TAKE CARE OF HER
Bobbie patted the words as she walked by and climbed onto the ladder lift that ran up the center of the ship. The Roci was at a very gentle 0.2 g braking burn, and there had been a time when riding the lift instead of climbing the ladder would have felt like admitting defeat, even if the ship was burning ten times that hard. But for the last couple years Bobbie’s joints had been giving her trouble, and proving to herself that she could make the climb had stopped mattering as much.
It seemed to her that the real sign you were getting old was when you stopped needing to prove you weren’t getting old.
The hatches separating each deck slid open at the lift’s approach, and then quietly closed after she’d passed. The Roci might be a decade or two past her sell-by date, but Clarissa tolerated no sticking or squeaking on her ship. At least once a week, Claire made a complete pass through every environmental system and pressure hatch. When Bobbie had mentioned it to Holden, he’d said, Because she broke the ship once, and she’s still trying to fix it.
The lift hummed to a stop on the ops deck, and Bobbie stepped off. The hatch up to the cockpit was open. Alex’s brown and almost entirely bald head poked up over the back of the pilot’s crash couch. The crew spent most of their working time in Operations, and the air felt subtly different. Long hours spent in the crash couches meant the smell of sweat never entirely went away, no matter how hard the air recyclers worked. And, like any room James Holden spent a lot of time in, the comfortable scent of old coffee lingered.
Bobbie ran a finger along the bulkhead, feeling the anti-spalling fabric crackle under the pressure. The dark-gray color had faded, and it was getting harder to tell where the fabric didn’t match because it had been damaged and patched and where it was just aging unevenly. It would need to be replaced soon. She could live with the color, but the crunching meant that it was losing its elasticity. Getting too brittle to do its job.
Both of Bobbie’s shoulders ached, and it was getting trickier to tell the difference between the one that had been explosively dislocated during hand-to-hand training years before and the one that just hurt from decades of not being gentle with her body. She’d picked up a lot of battle scars during her life, and they were getting harder and harder to differentiate from the normal damage of wearing out. Like the discolored patches on the Roci’s bulkheads, everything was just fading to match.
She climbed the short ladder up through the hatch into the cockpit, trying to enjoy the ache in her shoulders the way she’d once enjoyed the burn after an intense workout. As an old drill sergeant had told her, pain is the warrior’s friend. Pain reminds you that you aren’t dead yet.
“Yo,” Alex said as she dropped into the gunner’s chair behind him. “How’s our girl look?”
“Old, but she can still get around.”
“I meant the ship.”
Bobbie laughed and called up the tactical display. Off in the distance, the planet Freehold. The mission. “My brother always complained I spent too much time looking for metaphors.”
“An aging Martian warrior living inside an aging Martian warrior,” Alex said, the smile audible in his voice. “Don’t have to look too hard there.”
“Not too agéd to kick your ass.” Bobbie zoomed in on Freehold on their tactical screen. A mottled marble of brown continents and green oceans, with the occasional white swirl of cloud. “How long?”
“We’ll be there in a week.”
“Talk to Jizz lately? How’s my future baby daddy doing?”
“Giselle is fine, and she says Kit is doing great. Picked planetary engineering as his major at Mariner Tech.”
“It is the hot job market right now,” Bobbie agreed.
She’d been Alex’s best man when he’d married Giselle, and she’d waited at the hospital on Ceres when Kit had been born thirteen months later. And now Kit was going into upper university, and Alex had been divorced for over a decade. He was her best friend, but he was terrible husband material. After his second failure at it Bobbie pointed out that if he just wanted something to hurt, she could break his arm for him and save everyone time.
But for all the unnecessary drama, Alex and Giselle’s short-lived trainwreck of a marriage had produced Kit, and that made the universe a better place. The boy had all of Alex’s laconic charm and all of his mother’s regal good looks. Every time he called her Aunt Bobbie, she wanted to hug him until his ribs cracked.
“When you reply, make sure to tell Jizz I said ‘fuck off,’” Bobbie said. The failure of the marriage wasn’t entirely Giselle’s fault, but Bobbie had picked Alex in the divorce, so acting like she blamed his ex for everything was part of the best-friend pact. Alex pushed against it, but she knew he also appreciated her saying all the things that he couldn’t.
“I’ll send Giselle your love,” Alex said.
“And tell Kit that Aunt Bobbie says hi, and I want new pictures. Everything I have of him is a year old. I wanna see how my little man is filling out.”
- "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
- "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 authors 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
- On Sale
- Dec 5, 2017
- Page Count
- 560 pages