Chaos Vector


By Megan E. O’Keefe

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Dazzling space battles, intergalactic politics, and rogue AI collide in the second book in this epic space opera by award-winning author Megan O’Keefe.

Sanda and Tomas are fleeing for their lives after letting the most dangerous smartship in the universe run free. Now, unsure of who to trust, Sanda knows only one thing for certain — to be able to save herself from becoming a pawn of greater powers, she needs to discover the secret of the coordinates hidden in her skull.

But getting to those coordinates is a problem she can’t solve alone. They exist beyond a dead gate — a Casimir gate that opened up into a dead-end system without resources worth colonizing, and was sealed off. To get through the dead gate, she needs the help of the enemy Nazca. But some Nazca are only interested in the chip in her head — and they’ll crack her open to get to it.





It took twelve hours for the media to spin Sanda Greeve from war hero to murderess. False footage filled every feed, showing her push Keeper Lavaux out of an airlock when it’d been him trying to cut her skull open. Part of Sanda even liked the fake. It was deeply satisfying to watch herself shove Lavaux into hard vacuum with her own hands, even if it made her a criminal.

She could hide, ride it out. Wait until the investigation proved the footage was doctored and then come out of hiding. Her dad Graham had already arranged for them to lie low on Pozo, a half-forgotten moon in the Atrux system.

Pozo gave her a chance to scrub a little of the blood out. It would leave its mark, as blood always did, but she could live a quiet life there and slip back into military service when the heat cooled. Accept whatever rank General Anford decided she deserved and step in line until her reputation was less tarnished, if not shiny.

There weren’t any answers on Pozo, but there could be a life. One that looked a shade more like the one she’d planned before Bero had stolen her from between the stars and ripped her worlds apart. Going to Pozo, she’d never find her way to the coordinates hidden in her skull. On Pozo, she might be safe.

But safe couldn’t undo what she’d experienced. Safe couldn’t bring Bero back from his desperate flight for freedom. It couldn’t pluck the illegal Keeper chip with its hidden coordinates out of her head, or erase the fact that Keeper Lavaux had attempted to murder her to get those coordinates.

If she went to the planet of Atrux, she stood a chance of finding answers. From Atrux, Tomas could use his spy connections to discover the location of the coordinates without setting off any digital trip wires. Atrux was where the search for the secret in her head began.

Pozo was going into hiding. Atrux was going to war.

She typed the coordinates into the console, and Graham’s hauler deviated from its prefiled flight plan. Sanda’s heart was in her throat as the graphic display on the viewscreen showed them branching away from the predicted path to Pozo, out on the fringes, and banked hard for the space elevator that would take them down through the atmo dome over Alexandria-Atrux and into the city’s hangar.

The dash lit green, an incoming call from air traffic control.

“Hauler, this is Alexandria-Atrux dock central. You are off course.”

Graham leaned closer to the radio deck. “Control, we need medical assistance and cannot complete the trip to Pozo.”

“Hauler, do you require a medishuttle?”

“Negative, it’s not that bad. Just need a hospital sooner than the three weeks to Pozo will take.”

“Understood. Please enter approach sequence Falcon, the AIs will take you in.”

“Roger that, control.”

Tomas, Sanda, and Graham sat back in their inertia-damping seats and let out breaths heavy enough to fog the forward viewscreen. Graham punched in the approach path, and the ship’s AI gave way to the guiding hand of Atrux control.

“That wasn’t the hard part,” Tomas said.

“Spoilsport,” she said.

“He’s right, lass.”

“I’m not sure I can take you two ganging up against me for another twelve hours.”

“We’re not—” they said in unison. All three broke into anxious laughter.

“Okay.” Sanda pressed her palms against the arms of her chair, stretching tired muscles. The hauler vibrated as its guidance system began the braking procedure. “How are we going to explain away two people not on the hauler’s manifest, Dad? They’re gonna scan our idents, and I’m wanted for questioning in Lavaux’s death.”

Graham shrugged. “If anyone is even at the dock to ask, I’ll say you were last-minute hired hands because the pallet jacks broke and muscle is cheaper than new equipment on short notice.”

“That might get you out of being fined for flying without a souls-on-board manifest, but it does nothing about Sanda’s ident,” Tomas said.

“Hey, your ident is spoiled goods now, too.”

“Me?” He looked abashed. “I don’t know what you mean. According to this pad on my wrist, my name is Jacob Galvan. Luckily for us, Jacob Galvan is a titanium member of the Stellaris Hotel chain. We’ll have sweet dreams on real feather pillows once we get off this bucket.”

She narrowed her eyes. “All right then, work your spy magic on my ident.”

“No can do. I had this preprogrammed in case I needed to switch in the field. To make a new ident look authentic, I need access to a lot of databases. If I pull downloads from certain databases onto this ship, then it doesn’t matter what I do to cover the trail, it will get someone’s attention.”

“Biran will get that mess with Lavaux cleared up, just you wait.” Graham’s chair creaked as he reached over to squeeze her shoulder.

“Hands in line,” she said by rote. When she’d been trained to pilot her gunship, the order had seemed stupid. Keeping her hands in the shadow of the evac pod that encased all deck chairs was the kind of superfluous, worst-case scenario training that was enforced only when the safety inspectors came knocking.

At the time, she’d figured that if things had gone bad enough that her evac pod deployed around her chair, then losing a finger to it snapping shut was a small price to pay. She rubbed the end of her thigh, pinch-rolling the itchy flesh between two fingers. Didn’t seem so stupid now.

“Sorry, sorry.” Graham pulled his arm back and picked at the FitFlex suit clinging to his chest. He’d always complained about the way the tight material irritated his chest hair. She’d told him to get over it and suit up, because you never knew when hard vacuum would jump up and bite you in the ass.

“We’re all on edge,” Tomas said.

“Stop,” she said.


“De-escalating the situation.”

Silence. Shit. A few weeks ago, the chatter would have been a balm to her nerves; now she wanted to live in a sensory deprivation tank. Twelve hours. It’d been only twelve hours since she’d been spaced, said her goodbyes, and given up her body to the black. She should pull it together. She should be easier on herself. She should stop her thoughts ping-ponging back and forth quicker than a rabid squirrel.

Her thigh stung. She looked down to realize she’d rubbed the flesh red-raw and hadn’t even noticed. She needed a jumpsuit. Some barrier between her body thicker than the flimsy robe Graham had rummaged up out of an ancient crate of supplies.

She needed a lot of things, but the jumpsuit was something she could concentrate on.

“You sure you don’t have an extra FitFlex on board?”

“Sorry, lass, didn’t expect the company.”

“We’re coming in. You’ll get to change soon,” Tomas said.

Sanda’s fingers danced over the dash, wiping away the graphical readout to switch over to a real-time camera display of their approach to the elevator.

“Whoa,” she said.

Tomas grinned wider than the horizon. “Welcome to your first big city.”

Her home planet of Ada had been small enough that the shuttles from the station to the dwarf planet punched down through the atmo dome without an elevator’s assistance. But a planet like Atrux, nearly one and a half times the size of Ada and covered with a dome that housed millions of people, needed something a little bigger.

The elevator speared up through the navy-blue atmo stretched below them like a calm sea. The carbon-black materials of its body absorbed all the ambient light, and it would have blended completely into empty space if it hadn’t been for the status lights set into its body, a red-green-and-yellow smattering of freckles blinking out messages into the endless dark.

Shuttles of varying shapes and sizes swarmed around the thrust of metal, their systems guided in concert by the traffic-control AI. Even braking, the speeds the ships moved at were too fast for humans to pilot. In hard vacuum, where every axis was a possibility of travel, human eyes and reflexes lost all efficiency.

A massive yacht of a ship, painted stark white and lit up with external lights pumping out a rainbow pattern that flickered with the beat of unheard music passed above them, the bottom of the ship eclipsing Sanda’s forward view.

“Dios,” she said, “and I thought Lavaux’s ship was huge.”

“Prepare for capture,” a cool female voice said through the hauler’s speakers. Sanda nearly jumped out of her skin.

“What the—”

“Standard,” Graham cut in, “poor choice of words, considering the circumstances.”

His wry smile eased the tension in her shoulders.

“My situation isn’t exactly something the sensitivity testers would know to look for.”

Graham’s smile wiped away, replaced with a faraway look. The hauler finished its braking cycle, relying on conserved momentum to float the rest of the way into the elevator. An articulated mechanical hand reached out, plucking the hauler out of space. The ship vibrated, a few indicators on the dash flashing off a complaint at losing their autonomy, but the piloting AI quieted them.

“Welcome to Alexandria-Atrux,” a cheery voice said through the speakers, stripped down to gender-neutral tones like the welcoming voice used for the Ada shuttles. It started piping in the annoying welcome jingle for the city. Graham swiped the volume down.

“Are all welcome AIs the same?”

“All the ones I’ve heard,” Tomas said, “and thanks to the Nazca sending me all over the universe, I’ve heard a lot.”

“Wait.” She scrunched up her nose. “While out on all those missions, have you figured out if they’re the same AI system, or are they individual instances that have been given the same vocalization pack?”

“Why does that matter?” Graham asked, bewildered.

“It… it just does.” She closed her eyes and pressed a thumb into the space between her eyes. “Never mind. Forget it.”

Tomas gave her a look that he’d developed in the last twelve hours that somehow conveyed You’re thinking about Bero again, aren’t you? without saying the words. She crossed her arms and scowled at the viewscreen, pretending not to have noticed.

In the corner of her eye, Tomas’s arm tensed as he started to reach for her but stopped himself. She wasn’t sure if it was more, or less, annoying that he’d surmised keeping his hands in line with the pod chair was more comforting to her right now than attempting to soothe her. Dating anyone was complicated. Starting a relationship with a man who’d been trained for emotional manipulation via the best spy agency in the universe was going to cause her the migraine to end all migraines.

The hand brought them in tight to the elevator’s body and spun them around so they’d be faced the right way at the hangar, then began the slow, silky-smooth descent into the atmo dome. Even though the viewscreen was a camera feed and not a real window, Sanda still leaned forward, almost pressing her nose against the glass. Alexandria-Atrux sprawled below, spilling across the land so far and wide that Sanda couldn’t make out the curved boundaries of the atmo dome.

The sky above shaded to night-simulation, the city a kaleidoscope of lights and textures and movement. Cyan and gold streaked the streets, rivers of humanity pulsing to and from their daily tasks. Even from on high, she could see the purple-green-red-white chaos of advertising drones, tempting the people of Atrux into spending their basic, and then some.

A grip of skyscrapers pierced the center of the city, faced with nonreflective materials to keep the ad drones from bouncing their lights off of them. As if the wealthy in those knifelike towers were immune to the constant ploy of commerce on the streets. Probably they owned half the drones. Agricultural domes pockmarked the edges of the city, environments within the greater hug of the atmo dome, cycling to their own weather and circadian rhythm.

“How many people?” she asked.

“Millions,” Graham said, “though you’d have to ask the net for the exact count. Atrux was once a system with a lot of promise. It has two gates—one to Ordinal, one to Ada. The Keepers hoped that once they punched through to Ada, there’d be another multi-gate system waiting on the other side. It could have been a major thoroughfare.”

“But Ada could only support the one gate.”

He nodded. “It was a huge disappointment.”

“Which is why a lot of your early settlers went off to found Icarion,” Tomas said.

“Disappointments all around,” Sanda said.

Gravity pressed them down, reminding Sanda how empty her stomach was. She hadn’t even thought to ask for food after she’d come out of the healing goop of the NutriBath.

“I would kill for a raw nutriblock right now.”

Tomas gagged. “I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that.”

“Don’t worry, I know a great noodle place,” Graham said. “We’ll get you stuffed soon.”

The hauler shuddered as the arm slotted it into place. Graham flicked up the volume, and the annoyingly cheery welcome tune of Alexandria-Atrux was replaced with a solemn announcement.

“Your vehicle has been docked in hangar bay eleven, slot 32A. Please press accept on your wristpads to guarantee future access.”

On each of their pads, a green box with the symbol of a keycard flashed. Sanda pressed accept and got a rustle of wind chimes in response.

“Why is everything so goddamn happy around here?”

Tomas said, “Smile hard enough and you might start to believe it.”

“Not a chance. Is this place so shitty it needs all this mood-boosting?”

“Stop jawing and let’s go find out.” Graham undid his harness in one expert twist and stood, stretching so hard his head almost scraped the ceiling of the command deck.

Sanda popped her harness and hesitated. “Where’s Grippy?”

Tomas stood and slung an overstuffed duffel across his back. The repair bot’s rectangular outline bulged against the thick canvas. “In here.” He patted it. “Grippy took some damage when you were both spaced. I want to get a closer look at his battery pack before we boot him back up to make sure power won’t make his situation worse.”

“Good,” she said. “That bot saved my ass. Twice. We fix him, no matter what.”

Pounding on the airlock shocked Sanda’s ears, still sensitive from being spaced.

“Hauler, this is Atrux SecureSite, please open and disembark immediately,” a woman said.

Sanda closed her eyes and dug her fingers into her temples. “That was quick.”

“Easy,” Graham said, “they’re not guardcore or fleet, just local security. Let’s see what they want.”

Tomas got an arm under Sanda’s, hefting her to her foot. Light-headedness pressed in, fuzzing the edges of her vision. She shook her head and breathed deep, forcing her mind to clear.

Graham flashed his wristpad over the airlock panel and the double doors slid open in unison, sensing the human-survivable atmo on the other side. A woman stood at the apex of a triangle of tough-looking officials.

The toughs had their stunners out but pointed at the ground, and the woman held nothing but her wristpad, turned so that Graham could read the screen. The woman’s ident was pulled up, a headshot of her staring down the camera like it’d insulted her mother, sitting next to a paragraph of text with all her official powers laid out.

They wore heather-grey FitFlex with lime-green stripes, not a hint of the Prime Inventive logo anywhere to be found. These people worked for Atrux, and Atrux alone.

“I am Detective Mari Laguna. Is this the complete crew of this hauler?”

“Yes, sir, and I captain this ship. Is there a problem?” Graham leaned against the airlock frame, keeping his hands loose at his sides while Tomas and Sanda moved up behind him. Laguna barely glanced in their direction.

“Please identify yourself, Captain.”

Graham flicked up his personal ident and turned his wristpad around for her to see. “Good?”

“Yes. Graham Lucas Greeve, you are being detained for questioning. Any attempt to resist detention will result in arrest. Please come with me.”

Laguna flicked a glance at Sanda and spoke over her shoulder to one of the toughs. “And will somebody please get that woman a fucking wheelchair?”




A bitten snake will not retreat, Keeper Shun had once told Biran. It bites back, no matter how grave the wound. Biran didn’t have a lot of experience with snakes—most of Earth’s old terrestrial animals hadn’t made it into the stars with humanity—but he had a feeling he was getting firsthand experience now.

The leadership of Icarion would not come to Prime, and Prime would not show weakness by going to them. So, for the first time since the war went hot, the heads of Ada and Icarion met face-to-face in a virtual room designed to look like a boardroom.

Pleasant views stretched beyond the false windows, a meadow dappled in perfect Earth-like sunlight. Prime had done studies to devise the most calming visual space possible for these kinds of meetings. Everything from the warm wood table down to the textured stucco walls was preprogrammed by Keeper specialists to make the members of the room relaxed, willing to deal.

But people weren’t parts, swappable and replaceable, and from the way General Negassi kept glaring at the soft light through the windows, Biran had a pretty good idea that the researchers hadn’t extended their test pool outside of Prime people. Possibly not even outside of Keepers.

“I hardly see,” Icarion President Bollar said, “why losing one little moon base means we should bow our heads to Prime and give up Icarion’s rightful bid for independence. We do not wish to be a part of Prime. We are not the only people to make that call for themselves. You have no right to dictate our preferred form of governance.”

“Please dispense with the bullshit,” General Anford said. Bollar’s eyebrows shot up, but both Biran and Director Olver let the general go about her crass way of managing this meeting.

She wasn’t one to needle people without reason. If she felt this tactic was best, then it was. Biran trusted her instincts, and so did Olver; otherwise she wouldn’t have been invited into this room in the first place.

“No one in this room is operating under the illusion that the moon base The Light of Berossus destroyed was a simple researcher station. You lost your weapon. You lost the ability to build another. These are the only facts of relevance to this discussion.”

Inwardly, Biran winced, but he held his expression neutral and waited a beat to watch the ripples her words caused. Bollar’s lips pressed together. Negassi clenched his fists and tightened his jaw. These were all digital projections of their bodies, and someone particularly adept in traveling within net spaces could adjust their avatars to display body language they were not, in fact, experiencing. But Icarion did not have the net.

Oh, they had their own watered-down version, but Prime controlled the vast expanse of digital space, and they’d revoked Icarion’s access long ago. These two, politicians though they were, could not have had the practice needed to make their bodies lie in digital space.

“I understand your frustrations,” Biran cut in smoothly when Bollar’s lips relaxed again, signaling he was ready to offer a rebuttal. “Bero was an impressive creation, and it must hurt to have lost him and the ability to build another like him. We are not here to take you to task now that you are weakened.”

“I have a difficult time seeing the sincerity in that statement,” Negassi said, “when your gunships circle our territories like sharks. You have ramped up your patrols.” He cut a sharp look to Anford. “Why would you do such a thing, if you claim we are weakened?”

Jessa’s smile was kind, but if Biran ripped his net goggles off right then and looked at her across the table in the war room, he was certain he’d see a heavy scowl on her face. “We have added patrols across the entire system, not just around your borders—which we have not crossed. Lest you forget so quickly, The Light of Berossus was not so much lost as fled. Your weapon was not stolen, General. You lost control of it. I have the safety of this entire system to keep in mind. That includes Icarion and its holdings. Anywhere humanity dwells around this star is my responsibility.”

“We are perfectly capable of managing our own borders,” Negassi said.

“You lost your biggest weapon. Forgive me my caution.”

“To your operative,” he spat out the word.

Biran, very carefully, did not react. “Your ship took Major Greeve captive, General. Do not pretend you believe otherwise, or this conversation will go nowhere.”

“That woman killed one of your Keepers, did she not? Talk about losing control of a weapon.”

“Esteemed colleagues,” Director Olver said, spreading his hands expansively. “Please, let us not devolve into bickering. We are here to build a bridge of peace between our peoples so that no more may die. This bloodshed is most unbecoming of a society so advanced as ours.”

Bollar snorted. “Advanced? You may have the technology, Jian, I grant you that, but the choke chain of the Keepers holds your people in line.

“Icarion may not have your weapons or your net, but we have people free to research as their hearts desire. That was how we brought about the weapon you so feared—through free experimentation. Nothing held sacred, nothing allowed to a tiny pool at the top alone. And it is that freedom we mean to maintain.”

“Your freedom to research,” Anford said, “nearly got this whole system killed. There are reasons—very good ones—that Prime Inventive has the laws it does. Not only did your experimentation in non-gate FTL travel destroy your own research station, but you created an artificial intelligence that turned against you. Your people, more than any, should understand why we have these laws.”

“The laws of Prime are Prime,” Bollar said, shaking his head. “We have not forgotten this. Do you expect us to believe there will be no punishment for our perceived crimes if we rejoined your society? The Light was a public spectacle. You could not avoid having to make an example of us to discourage other ‘splinter’ societies from indulging in similar paths of research. We’ve proven general artificial intelligence is possible. You cannot put that genie back in its bottle.”

“No, we can’t,” Biran said, “but you’ve also proven the point of our laws by demonstrating that such a creation is inherently dangerous and uncontrollable. You’ve done our work for us.”

Bollar’s smile turned into a sneer. “Is that the story you would tell on your ‘news’ channels? Poor Icarion reached too close to the sun and got burned? How sad for them, and how magnanimous of Prime to welcome their wayward children back into their fold? No, don’t answer that. I can already see your face during the address now, and it makes me ill, Speaker.”

“Don’t get ahead of yourself,” Biran said. “This is an olive branch, President Bollar.”

“Ah,” he said with a soft sigh and looked down at the digital table. “You threaten prettily, Speaker. But tell me, while you hold out the branch, what weapon waits in the hands of the general at your side, should we turn it down?”

Anford said without inflection, “We could cut you down at any moment. Negassi, you know this. You have known this. The only reason the stalemate dragged on for so long was because of the weapon. That piece has been removed from the board. Your only saving grace, in this moment, is that I do not want the body count any higher. My superiors will not allow me this indulgence much longer.”

Bollar started, his gaze flicking to Director Olver. “Is this true, Jian? Does Okonkwo and her High Protectorate thirst for our blood?”

“President Bollar,” Olver said. Biran was proud his director would never use the president’s first name, as Bollar so often did to Olver. “In your decision to leave Prime’s governance, I believe you have an innate understanding of its crueler side. Existence in space is a fragile thing. Prime’s laws have allowed humanity its dominance of the universe, but not without having been honed into a sharp edge. Your AI research, your FTL research. Both of these things constitute a potential existential threat to humanity. The Prime Director will not suffer your disobedience much longer.”

“I see,” Bollar said. He matched gazes with Anford. “Then I am sorry, General, that you will have to lower yourself to bloodying your hands. We crave our freedom. And you and I know it is not only that. This system is a gate dead end, low in natural resources. We do not wish to die, but we are not fools. If we capitulated, things would go back to the way they were generations ago, if not worse. Yoked by Prime, we would receive only necessary supply shipments. Everyone at this table knows that such shipments are never enough. We must be free to develop our own research and to seek resources we control.”

“If it’s a matter of materiel,” Biran said, “then negotiations can be made.”

“With Icarion negotiating from a place of weakness, against a state that has no reason to negotiate in good faith. There’s not enough to go around in this star system, Speaker. Even if we came to an accord, that fact would not change. No, we must always be free to reach other systems that the gates cannot. We need FTL, slow as our current efforts are. Humanity needs another way to live between the stars, even if it’s harder.”

“General Negassi,” Anford said, “please remind your president that he cannot win this war.”

Negassi lifted his chin. “Icarion knows the price of independence.”

“And your people?” Biran asked. “Are your people, your everyday citizens, aware of this price? Are you willing to let civilians die for one nation’s pride?”

It surprised Biran to find Bollar’s smile was genuine. “They are aware. Maybe someday, Speaker, you’ll understand the real value of humanity’s pride. We will not bend. Good day, all of you. Stars keep you.”

The Icarions cut their feeds.

Biran lifted his net goggles off and rubbed his eyes until he saw stars, then blinked them open in time to see Anford rip her goggles off and stop herself just short of throwing them against the wall.


  • "Meticulously plotted, edge-of-your-seat space opera with a soul; a highly promising science-fiction debut."—Kirkus on Velocity Weapon
  • "Velocity Weapon is a spectacular epic of survival, full of triumph and gut-wrenching loss."—Alex White, author of The Salvagers Series
  • "Velocity Weapon is a roller-coaster ride of pure delight. Furious action sequences, funny dialog, and touching family interactions all wrapped up in a plot that will keep you guessing every step of the way. This is one of the best science fiction novels of 2019."—K. B. Wagers, author of the Indranan War Trilogy
  • "O'Keefe delivers a complicated, thoughtful tale that skillfully interweaves intrigue, action, and strong characterization. Themes of found family, emotional connection, and identity run throughout, backed up by strong worldbuilding and a tense narrative. This series opener leaves multiple plot threads open for further development, and readers will look forward to the next installments."—Publishers Weekly on Velocity Weapon
  • "Full of twists, feints, and deception, O'Keefe's latest presents a visionary world rife with political intrigue and space adventure."—Booklist (starred review) on Velocity Weapon
  • "Velocity Weapon is fast-paced, twisty, edge-of-your-seat fun. Space opera fans are in for a massive treat!"—Marina J. Lostetter, author of Noumenon

On Sale
Jul 28, 2020
Page Count
592 pages

Megan E. O’Keefe

About the Author

Megan E. O’Keefe was raised amongst journalists, and as soon as she was able, joined them by crafting a newsletter which chronicled the daily adventures of the local cat population. She has worked in both arts management and graphic design, and has won Writers of the Future and the Gemmell Morningstar Award.

Megan lives in the Bay Area of California.

Learn more about this author