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Out Past the Stars
By K. B. Wagers
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around February 23, 2021. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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When Hail finally confronts the Farian gods, she makes a stunning discovery. There are no gods—only the Hiervet, an alien race with devastating powers who once spread war throughout the galaxy long before humanity’s ancestors crawled out of the sludge of Earth’s oceans.
But this knowledge carries with it dire news: the Hiervet have returned, eager to take revenge on those of their kind who escaped. And they don’t care who gets caught in the middle of the battle—Shen, Farian, or Indranan.
Once again, the fate of the galaxy is on the line and Hail will have to make one final gamble to leverage chaos into peace.
Praise for The Farian War Trilogy:
"A fantastic send-off for one of science fiction’s most remarkable recent protagonists." —Publishers Weekly
"Action-and-emotion-packed, folding political tension, personal relationships, and trauma into a vivid space opera that does not pull any punches." —Library Journal (starred review)
"An exciting dose of space opera and political intrigue peppered with hard choices. Highly recommended!" —Booklist
The Farian War Trilogy
There Before the Chaos
Down Among the Dead
Out Past the Stars
For more from K. B. Wagers, check out:
Indranan War Trilogy
Behind the Throne
After the Crown
Beyond the Empire
All warfare is based on deception.
Sun Tzu wrote this millennia before I was old enough to read, long before my father pressed a book into my seven-year-old hands in a desperate attempt to distract me from picking on my sister.
Sun Tzu was, by all accounts, a masterful tactician, a great general, and though I know how badly legends twist our stories into something that fits the desires of the listeners—his words on warfare sank into my soul even at that tender age.
I have built my life on them, in one form or another throughout the years. I am not one to shy away from a fight, but I will choose the route of deception time and again if it is available to me. Especially if it keeps my people safe from danger.
Gunrunner. Empress. Star of Indrana. I am what the years of this life have made me and now at the end of it, I am faced with a choice—stand and fight or find a way to trick a bigger, stronger enemy into turning tail and running.
The fate of the whole galaxy hangs on my decision.
Welcome, Star of Indrana, we have been waiting for you.”
I stared up at the Farian god, lost in her golden eyes.
A moment before she’d appeared as the Dark Mother, as Kali, and folding my hands to bow at the awe-inspiring sight had been instinctive. Now she looked Farian, like Fasé, but taller, so much taller, and commanding in a way none of us could ever hope to match.
I had come to this place with Aiz Cevalla to speak with the Farian gods, or fight them if they would not listen, but I was thrown by their warm greeting, and the implication that they’d expected me was a heavy echo of Kasio’s words to me earlier.
The seer of the Council of Eyes had said the gods wanted to speak with me, and standing here now seemed to prove her words true.
“You’ve been waiting for me?” I asked. “Why?”
“Our people are coming for us. We need your help to stop them.”
“Oh Shiva,” I murmured as all the scattered pieces finally fell into place in my head. The aliens who’d attacked the Svatir, the hiervet sveta, the monsters of light. The prophecy and the magnitude of what I’d done, what I’d called down on this galaxy by my decision not to fight the Farian gods.
The light would swallow us all. For a moment I tensed, considering the violent option I’d worked so hard to avoid, but then Sybil’s words echoed in my head. “I saw a light that is not light spreading. We all fight—we will all die. We surrender—we will die.”
Fighting was the option that would kill us all, I didn’t dare let myself forget it. I dragged in a breath; the memories Dailun had shown me were suddenly clear in my head. “You’re the deserters they were looking for; you’re the Hiervet.”
Emmory and Gita moved in concert to my side, their weapons out. How they had crossed the sands so quickly to reach Aiz and me, I had no idea. But I was grateful now for the solid presence of my BodyGuards.
The image of the gods in front of me shifted again. The trio was now smaller, though still a good hand-span above me. They were pale and slender, bipedal, but with limbs longer than a human’s that ended not in hands but a split tentacle with a rough gray-blue surface.
The Farians, the Shen, even the Svatir looked and behaved enough like humans that it was comforting. The Hiervet decidedly did not look like us, so much so that it was going to take someone better with words than me to describe them properly.
I tried for a moment to return to the illusion of them as Farians and was surprised when I couldn’t. Now the only way to tell them apart was by the mark below their left eyes. On the Hiervet in the center it was a solid horizontal rectangle bisected vertically by a row of five dots. The other two had the same rectangle, but the one on the left had four dots and the one on the right had only three in the same flat black.
“We are as you say, Star of Indrana.” The slow baring of all-too-human-looking teeth by the creature in the center who moments ago had presented as a Farian woman was terrifying. “We should take this somewhere more pleasant, yes?”
A blink. A heartbeat. We were no longer in the arena but in a room that looked far more like something one would find on Indrana than in the hideout of an alien pretending to be a god. It was cozy, the windows reflecting a setting sun I suspected wasn’t real.
There was a fireplace and a table at one end of the long room. A trio of high-backed wooden chairs at the other looked just thronelike enough to make my eyebrow rise incrementally and my shoulders lock up.
Emmory’s quiet voice was a balm soothing the slight edge in my gut. I had so achingly missed that tone it was a wonder I didn’t break apart right there.
“I’m all right,” I murmured over our private com link and then aloud. “I think some introductions are in order.”
The Hiervet in the center smiled again. “I am Thyra.” They gestured to the right. “This is Priam.”
The Hiervet with four dots dipped their head briefly with a surprising amount of reverence.
“And Adaran. Welcome to Etrelia, Star of Indrana,” Thyra said with a sweep of their limb.
I recognized the name, remembered it from the negotiations and Adora spitting the challenge at Aiz: “You can have your father’s soul when the whole of the Pedalion lies dead and Etrelia is burning.”
“Welcome also, Mia Cevalla and Fasé Terass. The other sides, the ones who help keep the balance.” Those wide, black eyes turned to Aiz, and every muscle in their body tensed. “You slayed that which was ours, Aiz Cevalla.” Thyra’s voice held a wealth of anger, but Aiz was unmoved.
“I did it to save my people from your chains. The Star has convinced me not to fight, Thyra, but I won’t apologize for the choices I’ve made.” He dipped his head in acknowledgment. “I thought I killed you.”
“You almost did. Your sister saved me.”
“Why am I not surprised?” he replied.
“You should die for what you have done.” Priam snarled the words, but all three looked as though they were about to pounce.
“Careful,” I said, putting a hand across Aiz’s chest. “He’s my crew.”
“Is that so?” Thyra tilted their overlarge head to the side, vertical eyelids sliding shut once and snapping open again.
I met what I thought was a challenge with a smile. “It is.”
“You keep deadly company, Star of Indrana.”
“Oh, you have no idea.” I headed to my right, gesturing for Mia and Fasé to follow, and took the center seat of the row of ornate chairs.
It was going to take me a while to get a read on the Hiervet’s facial expressions, but I guessed the narrowing of eyes was a universal signal for annoyance.
Or it was possibly a response to my challenge; I had just sat in their chairs, after all. I crossed one leg over the other and studied the trio in front of me with all the poise of the empress everyone expected me to be.
“Well, you wanted me here. Start talking.”
The Hiervet started talking, but not to me. Instead a rapid-fire discussion in a language both lyrical and sharp as broken glass broke out among the trio.
“Sha zhu, perhaps do not taunt the gods.”
I glanced at Hao. He stood by Gita’s side with a hand on his gun. “They’re not gods,” I subvocalized over our private com link.
“You know I don’t believe in them, but they look a great deal like the Old Gods.”
I frowned. “The Old Gods, really? That’s what you see?” I switched to the main channel. “Everyone give me a read on what those three creatures look like to you.”
The answers from the others were predictable, split between the Indranan gods I’d seen initially and the Farian gods who’d appeared right after.
Johar, however, had a decidedly different take. “You know those really big wasps on Pintro XVI? They kinda look like the love child of those and the folks who live underground on Yuzin. All blue-gray pale and spindly, but everything is put together wrong.”
It was the same thing I could see, and I managed somehow not to turn my head to stare at her in awe.
Indula wasn’t so controlled, and Iza elbowed him in the side with a muttered curse until he snapped his head back to the Hiervet. Thankfully our hosts didn’t seem to notice, though they did wrap up whatever argument they’d been having and turn their attention back to me, leaving me no time to ponder Johar’s revelation.
“Star of Indrana—”
I held up a hand. “Let’s get this out of the way first. I am Empress Hailimi Bristol, here to broker a peace between the Farians and the Shen on behalf of humanity. You three are a wrinkle in an already complicated situation, but I’m willing to see what I can do for you once the matter at hand is settled. In the meantime, you can address me as ‘Your Majesty.’”
Thyra studied me for a long moment. I wished I could somehow return to seeing them with the façade of more humanlike faces, and wondered if it would even give me an accurate sense of what they were thinking to see them that way.
Focus, Hail. You’ll want to learn to read their faces as is, and now’s as good a time for it as any.
“Why the Farian names?” I asked. “What are your real names?”
“These are our real names,” Thyra replied. “The names we chose when we arrived and the genders we picked when our images resolved to please the Farians. We had no names before and discarded the designations we were given a long time ago.”
“The images that resolved to please us? You pretended to be Farians. You landed on my planet and enslaved my people.” Fasé had finally recovered from her shock, and the venom in her voice startled me. I reached out and put my hand on her knee.
An identical expression flowed across the faces of all three. Embarrassment? They shifted as if they were in discomfort, tapping the splits of their top limbs together rapidly.
“You don’t know how lucky you are. The universe out past your stars is a dangerous place. No one comes to this corner, this desolate little galaxy. No one bothers you. It seemed the perfect place to hide. We wanted nothing to do with our creators and their endless wars. When we lost to the Svatir, my squad and I saw our chance.”
“Your chance to what?”
“To disappear. To live a life denied to us.”
“You are deserters,” I repeated, remembering the scene Dailun had shown us of the captured Hiervet and their desperate pleas that they were hunting criminals. “You ran from your people, set yourselves up as gods, and have been manipulating the Farians for years. All this after your people attempted to invade this galaxy and subjugate the Svatir. Tell me why I should help you with anything? When by all accounts if I kill you it will stop your people from declaring war on us.”
Thyra took a step forward and froze when the sound of weapons powering up suddenly filled the air. I didn’t tell Emmory to stand down, instead leaning back in the chair and waiting to see what the Hiervet’s reaction would be.
Mia gave an almost imperceptible gasp, and I imagined that if I could see the illusion of the Farian it would look as if Thyra were folding her hands together and bowing, but instead her overlong appendages were twisted together.
“None of what you believe is correct, Your Majesty. I need to show you the history of our people. There is too much to tell, too much that would be missed, but I can show you.” She extended one limb.
“Bad idea.” The warning came from Emmory, Hao, and Aiz at the same time.
They weren’t wrong, but this whole thing had been a bad idea from the very beginning. Still, I knew the value of trusting their judgment. We were in an unknown location with unknown adversaries and I wanted to retain the upper hand.
“I think, perhaps, it’s best if we return to the Pedalion first,” I replied. “You want my protection from your people? It comes with a price. You have to tell the Farians the truth of what you are and what you have done. You will help me broker this peace. You will let the Shen come home. You will let those Farians who wish to live and die do so. I am done with this charade of you as gods, are we understood?”
The noise that came from Thyra could best be described as a sigh. “I know, it does not make it any easier, Your Majesty. But we will do as you require.” She held out her limbs. “If you will all put your hands on each other, we will take you back.”
I shared a look with Mia as we got up from the chairs. Her face was carefully blank as she reached for Fasé, and I wished I knew what she was thinking.
All three Hiervet crossed their limbs over their narrow torsos and I tightened my grip on Mia when reality blacked out around us, resolving in between one heartbeat and the next as the now familiar white marble of the Pedalion chamber.
“Well, that is a neat trick,” I muttered. We were standing on the star in the center of the floor and I didn’t protest as Emmory moved us off it with a few quick steps to the side. “You can actually move locations, not just make things look different.”
“Short distances, Your Majesty,” Thyra replied. “Though if you had fewer people we could have gone farther.”
“Price of being in charge,” I replied. “You get used to it.”
The chamber was empty, silent, but that didn’t last for long. Emmory moved at the shouting, stepping in front of me and bringing his gun to bear on the guards who rushed in.
It was unnecessary. They took one look at the Hiervet standing beside me and dropped to their knees.
Rotem and Sou followed, the pair skidding to a stop with simultaneous gasps before they, too, went to a knee. They managed it with slightly more decorum than the guards, bowing their heads and holding their hands out, palms up at their gods.
There was a moment of silence. Nobody moved.
I suddenly had little patience for this display of obeisance, especially as unearned as it was for the Hiervet.
“We’ll be here all day at this rate,” I muttered, then said louder, “Rotem, get up. Where are the others?”
“Did I stutter?” I waved a hand and crossed to them. “Get these guards out of here, get the rest of the Pedalion. We need to talk.”
I folded my arms over my chest, watching his gaze flick to Thyra before he scrambled to his feet and started issuing orders.
“When’s the last time they saw you?” I murmured to Thyra.
“Not since the early days, Your Majesty, and for many they have never looked upon us.”
“Shit, I ruined a moment there, didn’t I?” It was an unrepentant apology and I watched an expression I was willing to bet was disapproval flicker across Priam’s face.
I heard Hao unsuccessfully muffle a laugh behind me. Thankfully it was lost to the rush of the guards as they left with Sou following behind. Rotem pressed his hands to his heart as he approached.
“Anemi.” He bowed low.
“Rotem.” Thyra reached a limb out and put it on the back of his head. “It is so good to see you.”
I felt a little pinch of guilt. I was about to change their lives. The Farians would be irreversibly altered by the knowledge that their gods were not gods after all. The fallout would be huge.
However, it was the right thing to do. I knew that without a doubt.
“Your Majesty.” Rotem’s eyes were shining with unshed tears as he straightened. “I don’t know how to thank—”
“You’re not going to want to,” I said as gently as I could, and he frowned in confusion.
“I don’t understand.”
A second commotion echoed through the chamber as Sou returned, dragging a protesting and cuffed Adora, Yadira, and Delphine. The Council of Eyes trailed behind, all of them in jet-black veils and spiked silver headpieces.
Of course they knew what was coming.
“That’s interesting. I am a bit surprised to see Adora in cuffs; do you think it was her threatening to kill me that finally did it?” I said to Aiz as Thyra and the others moved forward to meet the Pedalion.
Adora had thought she’d bested us and turned Sybil to her cause before we’d all been thrown into the well of souls. It appeared that her behavior just prior to that moment hadn’t gone over well with the rest of the Pedalion.
“Maybe,” he replied, shaking his head. “You’re going to let them make fools of themselves before you tell them the truth?”
“It costs nothing to give them this.”
“I hope you are right.”
“They’re about to lose the foundation of everything they believed in, Aiz. You made your peace with what the gods were a very long time ago; give them this moment.”
“It’s a curious thing where you find compassion in a world so intent on beating it out of you.”
“Practice,” I replied, with a slight smile that faded with my next words. “Though the truth is, this is less about compassion and more that I recognize that the Farian leadership will remember how I chose to destroy their faith.” I gave him a steady look. “I need their support. You need their willingness for peace. Fasé needs them to listen. And none of that will happen if this moment goes poorly.”
“That’s incredibly mercenary of you. I don’t know why I continue to underestimate you, Hail.”
“Me either.” This time my smile lasted. “Though to be honest, thinking strategically is a skill set I had long before we met.”
“That’s the truth,” Hao muttered from behind us, and I swallowed back the laugh that threatened.
“I made your life easier, Hao, and you know it.” I lifted a shoulder, watching as the members of the Pedalion clustered around their surviving gods.
I had a sudden memory of my sisters and me greeting my father after he’d returned from a tour off-planet. The grief that followed was muted somewhat from the razor-sharp pain that I was used to feeling. Unlike Hao and the others, my family was truly dead and gone, though their ghosts had haunted me on Sparkos along with the others.
But the universe had given me back my brother and my Trackers along with everyone else I’d feared dead from the embassy explosion.
“No!” Adora’s cry dragged me back to the present. I felt Aiz stiffen at my side as we looked to the group of Farians and Hiervet.
My BodyGuards formed up around me, hands tight on their still-drawn weapons. Aiz cursed softly and I knew that everyone could now see the Hiervet for what they truly were.
Adora was attempting to scramble backward, her efforts hampered by her bound hands and Sou’s grip on her shoulder. The others stared at the Hiervet with expressions on their faces that ranged from confusion to outright horror. Sybil merely looked resigned and met my eyes with a shake of her head.
“What have you done?” Adora demanded. Her head swung wildly between me and the Hiervet. “What have you done to our gods?”
“The Star is the one who can see through the light. The one who calls out the rot from its beautiful façade.” Sybil’s voice rose above the noise in the room like a chant, echoed by the other seers.
“No!” Adora shouted. “I refuse to believe it. I warned you all this would happen! The Shen have corrupted your precious Star and she in turn has murdered our gods and replaced them with these things!”
Out of all the accusations I’d expected from Adora, that was not one of them. And it was a good one, just the right amount of doubt into an already tense situation. People believed what they wanted to, not necessarily what was true.
I arched an eyebrow, keeping my protest to myself. At this point it wouldn’t do me any good if the other Farians decided to believe her accusation.
“I want everyone to be ready to move if this goes sideways.” Emmory’s order over the com was a wash of cool wind in a heat wave. “Hao and Gita, you’ve got Hail. Johar, you’re on point. Everyone else will cover the retreat. Make for the ship.”
The ease with which he tasked out me running for my life while they stayed to die was something I hoped I never got used to, but I didn’t interfere and instead kept my eyes locked on the drama playing out across the floor from us.
Thyra made a tsking noise, reaching out and tapping a limb to the center of Adora’s forehead. The Farian went limp, nearly sliding to the floor before Sou got a better hold on her.
“A crisis of faith is a difficult thing,” Thyra said, looking in my direction. “Your Majesty, do you mind if we deal with this?”
“Not at all,” I replied. I felt a sudden need to be back on the Hailimi Bristol. I’d gotten Rotem to declare my ship as Indranan soil, and it was the only place of guaranteed safety on this entire planet. If this went badly there was nowhere else I wanted to be. “We’ll go back to our ship and discuss things while you handle this. Have someone contact me when you’re settled.”
I shared a look with Emmory and headed for where I thought the door was without waiting for a reply from Thyra, but I could feel the eyes of Farian and Hiervet alike boring into my back.
Emmory and Zin, as well as Aiz and Mia, were walking backward with their gazes locked on the group at the far side of the chamber.
“Star of Indrana.”
I stopped just short of the blank white wall at Sybil’s call and turned. “Yes?”
She crossed to us, her pale silver eyes unreadable, and folded her hands together as she bowed to me. “I will come see you on your ship later?”
“Yes, I think we need to have a conversation.”
She nodded as she straightened, reaching past me and tapping twice on the wall. The door ground open and I didn’t look back as I left the Pedalion chamber and the Hiervet behind.
The ready room of the Hailimi Bristol was filled with a cacophony of voices in a dizzying mixture of languages. I should have been more relaxed back in the safety of the ship, but it was taking more effort than I wanted to admit not to tell everyone to shut up.
I stood in the wash of it; most of these languages I spoke to some degree or another, but it didn’t stop my auto-translation function on my smati doing what it could to sort the words out in my head.
Hao and Dailun were having a rapid-fire conversation in Cheng with Alba tossing in a comment here and there. That bit was easy for me to follow; the surprising part was that Alba also appeared to be speaking in Cheng, not in Indranan.
Emmory and Gita were having a quick meeting in the back corner with the other BodyGuards. Mia, Aiz, and Talos were in the opposing corner from them and my ears kept picking bits of their Shen out of the mess.
Fasé was in a discussion with three Farians who’d met us en route to the ship, and I couldn’t even begin to make out what was going on there beyond a solid guess that Fasé was telling them what the gods truly were. Their exclamations had been angry enough to make Emmory pause, but Fasé had waved him off before he could cross to her.
The debrief had seemed like a good idea given the quickly shifting landscape, but now I was regretting my decision. I wanted to be in the quiet of my room, not trapped in this too-small space with far more people than was comfortable.
Even if I did trust all of them with my life.
“Majesty.” Admiral Hassan leaned against the wall next to me, her arms crossed over her chest and her brown eyes sweeping over the room with the same assessing gaze I knew I’d been using moments before.
“So, not gods.”
“Not gods,” I replied. “Just aliens with delusions of grandeur. If you can fucking believe it.” I blew out a breath as the noise continued to grate on my nerves and shifted. “Sybil basically told me that information and I just let it slide.”
I knew that Emmory was watching me out of the corner of his eye. He shared a look with Zin and I found myself wishing the others would follow their example of a silent conversation.
“Hail.” Emmory’s voice was suddenly in my head over our private com link. “Hands.”
I uncurled my fingers from the butts of my guns, very deliberately not looking at my Ekam.
“And breathe.” That order was more gentle.
I dragged air into my lungs. It wasn’t a surprise I was on edge after the last twenty-three hours of one adrenaline-spiking moment after the other. I hadn’t truly been expecting the gods to be willing to talk. I’d been expecting a fight. A fight I’d spent months training for. The fact that it had been taken away from me had unsettled me completely.
I really needed to hit something.
“Everyone be quiet.”
I didn’t raise my voice. I didn’t have to. The room fell silent at my order.
“I’ll be honest, that whole thing didn’t quite play out the way we expected.” Laughter filled the room. It eased some of my tension, reminded me that whatever else, I trusted these people just as much as they trusted me. I rubbed my thumb against my lower lip, my mind flipping through the options and possible ways this could all go sideways on us in the blink of an eye. “I expect that the coming days will be equally chaotic; however, peace between the Farians and the Shen is still the priority.”
The surprised look on Aiz’s face was predictable, but he didn’t interrupt.
“I’ve leveraged at least part of that through the Hiervet Farian gods.” I frowned at the cumbersome description. “But you three are going to have to do the real work. Aiz.” I turned to the Shen. “Have you updated your people on what happened?”
“We sent a message that we were safe but no details. I’d like to tell them the entirety of it face-to-face.”
“Get with Admiral Hassan. I don’t want to risk sending you off-planet, but you can speak with the fleet over the coms. Will that work?”
“Fasé, you’ll spread the word with your people, but I need you to wait until I give you the go-ahead. I don’t want Adora’s faction to latch onto the fact that the news is coming from you.”
“I agree. We will revisit our demands for peace from the meeting on Earth,” she replied with a look at Aiz, who nodded.
“Can you give me rough numbers on your people?” I asked.
- "Action- and emotion-packed, folding political tension, personal relationships, and trauma into a vivid space opera that does not pull any punches."—Library Journal (starred review) on Down Among the Dead
- "Twisty and clever and magnificent, full of political maneuvers, space action, and genuine feeling. The end broke my heart in the best sort of way. I cannot wait for the next book."—Beth Cato on There Before the Chaos
- "Wagers achieves a rare balance of action... tension, and quiet moments, keeping pages turning while deepening the portraits of Hail and the friends and foes around her. Fans of the original trilogy will welcome Hail's return, and any space opera reader can easily jump in here."—Publishers Weekly on There Before the Chaos
- "A perfect blend of political intrigue and realistically-conveyed action.... Kick-butt women, space battles, complex relationships, and fiendish plots abound."—Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog on There Before the Chaos
- "This series launch provides an exciting dose of space opera and political intrigue peppered with hard choices. Highly recommended for fans of science fiction with assertive female characters."—Booklist on There Before the Chaos
- "Perfectly executed.... Science fiction with brains, and a buckload of heart.... K. B. Wager's latest novel manages the trickiest of tasks, deftly moving from galactic spanning space opera to insightful character piece and back again without missing a single beat."—The Eloquent Page on There Before the Chaos
- On Sale
- Feb 23, 2021
- Page Count
- 400 pages