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By Rachel Bach
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From the moment she took a job on Captain Caldswell’s doomed ship, Devi Morris’s life has been one disaster after another: government conspiracies, two alien races out for her blood, an incurable virus that’s eating her alive.
Now, with the captain missing and everyone-even her own government-determined to hunt her down, things are going from bad to impossible. The sensible plan would be to hide and wait for things to blow over, but Devi’s never been one to shy from a fight, and she’s getting mighty sick of running.
It’s time to put this crisis on her terms and do what she knows is right. But with all human life hanging on her actions, the price of taking a stand might be more than she can pay.
Table of Contents
A Preview of Ancillary Justice
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I've woken up in a lot of weird places in my life, but coming to in a xith'cal escape pod was pushing it even for me.
I woke with a start, jumping so sharply I would have put a fist through something if I hadn't had the foresight to lock my suit. Fortunately I had, so all I did was bang around a little.
I glanced at my cameras to see Rupert smiling over his shoulder at me. In the normal run of things, I would have counted waking up to an attractive man's smile as a plus, but my relationship with Rupert Charkov was a thorny, complicated mess at the moment, so I mumbled a hello and looked away, though not before I noticed that Rupert had shifted out of his symbiont scales and put on clothes while I was asleep.
I'll admit I was a little disappointed I'd missed that. I might have been infected with a crazy plasmex plague and generally confused about my situation, but I wasn't dead. At least, not yet, which was in itself nothing short of a miracle considering the events on Reaper's tribe ship and our subsequent crazy escape from the lelgis. But though I'd had one of my best nights ever celebrating not being dead with Rupert back on Caldswell's Glorious Fool, a lot had changed since then, so I forced my eyes off Rupert's admittedly lovely back and settled them firmly on my surroundings.
Surprisingly, it turned out to be worth the look.
"Wow," I breathed, craning my neck back. The sky outside the ship's tiny canopy was absolutely full of stars all crowded together against a rainbow of color that ranged from deep blue to brilliant pink. The combined light was so bright my cameras darkened to compensate, but even my suit couldn't dim the glare of the giant, golden gas planet we were currently orbiting, its swirling cloud cover shining like a second sun in the reflected light of the twin star system behind us.
"Where are we?" I asked, covering my eyes with my hand.
"The Atlas Emission Nebula," Rupert replied. "Birthplace of stars and, as you might have guessed from the name, a licensed territory of Atlas Industrial."
I whistled. "I know you Terrans give your corporations a lot of freedom, but this is ridiculous." Why would anyone give up a place this beautiful?
Rupert shrugged. "There are plenty who would agree with you, but at the moment the Terran Republic's policy of licensing unused space works in our favor. Every possible terraformable satellite in this sector has been turned into an Atlas cash development, which means we have our choice of places to set down, so long as we do it in the next thirty minutes."
"What happens in the next thirty minutes?"
Rupert turned back to the screen at the front of the ship. "If I'm reading this right, that's when we run out of fuel."
He said this so blithely I almost missed the doom inherent in that statement. "Hold up. You're saying we've got thirty minutes to safely land a xith'cal ship on a Terran colony?" He nodded, and I threw up my hands. "Why don't we just shoot ourselves down and save them the trouble?"
Rupert must have been breathing the xith'cal's poison air for far too long, because he actually laughed at that. "Everything will be fine," he said, pointing at the gas giant below us. "That's Atlas Fifty-Nine. It's got a regular trade route and ten moons we can pick from, any one of which is bound to have communications equipment and a hyperdrive-capable ship we can requisition. We'll be down and back up again before you know it."
I was about to ask where the hell he thought we'd be going since Caldswell—my only guarantee that I wouldn't be immediately tossed in a lab and ground into patties by scientists looking to extract my phantom-killing plasmex virus—was still lost in hyperspace, possibly forever. But I wasn't ready to start up that hill just yet, so I stuck to the more immediate problems.
"Have you been here before?" I asked. "Like, do you have any contacts you could radio not to shoot us?"
"I haven't been here personally, no," Rupert said. "But we've got a Republic military all-access code that will guarantee us safe passage. I just need you to radio it out from your suit, because I can't figure out how to send anything from this." He pointed at the xith'cal ship controls.
I couldn't help smirking at that. "Powered armor comes through again," I said. "But why didn't you wake me before we entered orbit? They could have shot us already."
Rupert flashed me a smile. "You looked like you needed the sleep, and no one puts long-range missiles on a cash colony."
It was a fair point. I pulled up my suit's com with a thought and flipped to an open channel. Since I don't make a habit of getting stranded in ships that don't have communications equipment, I didn't actually have a lot of experience with open-space frequencies. Subsequently, it took quite a bit of fiddling before I figured out how to send a message.
But while my Lady has many strengths, she's not much of a broadcaster, and even after I put all her power into it, my signal was still pretty weak. Fortunately, the com chatter in this sector of space was almost dead silent, which meant even a weak message could get through. I just had to figure out where to send it.
"You were right about having our pick of landings," I said, looking over the half dozen different colony identifiers my suit was picking up. "I've got a fix on all six Atlas Fifty-Nine moons. Any preference?"
Rupert glanced at something on the complicated screen in front of him. "Whatever's closest would be best, I think."
That didn't sound good. I picked out the strongest of the signals, but as I tried to compose a Mayday that wouldn't be taken for a xith'cal trick, something made me pause. The list of planetary identifiers on my message screen was giving me the strangest sense of déjà vu. This, in turn, was enough to seriously piss me off, because I'd thought I was done with this missing-memory bullshit. But a quick search of my contacts list proved I was overcomplicating things. The call sign looked familiar because it was, and my anger vanished as my face broke into a huge smile.
"Oh man," I said, putting in the familiar code. "You are so lucky you have me."
I expected Rupert to laugh at that, but all he said was, "I know."
The quick response threw me off balance, and I turned back to my screens before he caught me blushing like an idiot. I wrote my message and sent it off, then crossed my fingers. When we didn't get anything back for several minutes, I started to worry my signal was too weak even in the silence. Before I could work myself into a panic, though, a man's gruff voice sounded in my ear.
"Unidentified xith'cal ship," he said in heavily accented Universal. "I don't usually give warnings, but since you were either kind enough or stupid enough to call in on a Paradoxian ID, I'm giving you ten seconds to explain why I shouldn't shoot you out of the sky."
I'd turned on my external speakers the moment the hail came in so Rupert could hear as well, and the look on his face was priceless when, instead of answering, I pursed my lips and whistled a piercing shriek into the com. It was so loud Rupert actually jumped, but by the time I finished, the man on the other end had changed his tone completely.
"Well met, Blackbird," he said in his native King's Tongue. "How can I help? Are you a xith'cal prisoner?"
"Not hardly," I answered in kind. "Nice to hear your voice, Hicks."
There was a pause, and then the man on the other end burst out laughing. "Deviana Morris, I don't believe it. What the hell are you doing on a xith'cal ship?"
"Trying to get off it," I said, grinning. "Can you get us a safe landing spot? Preferably somewhere that doesn't involve missiles?"
"For you, baby, anything," Hicks cooed. "I'm messaging the tower right now. Give me five minutes and I'll have a beacon for you."
"Copy that," I said. "Thanks, Hicks, see you in a few."
The connection cut off with a click, and I looked up to see Rupert glowering at me. "Baby?" he repeated, arching an eyebrow.
I did not like the implication in his voice that I needed to explain myself, but since Rupert was the one who was going to be landing us, I did it anyway. "Hicks and I go way back," I said, switching to Universal again. "He was my first squad leader in the Blackbirds before he landed a cushy corp job as head of security on some nowhere colony." I'd thought he was crazy for doing it, too, but Hicks had always liked money more than glory. "Never thought I'd be visiting, though."
Rupert's scowl didn't fade. "And the whistle?"
"Well, we were Blackbirds," I reminded him.
"I never heard a bird make that awful sound."
"You've never heard about Paradoxian blackbirds?" I asked, looking at him sideways. "Black feathers, ten-foot wingspans, teeth like saw blades, hunts in packs?"
Rupert made a face as he turned back to the controls. "From that description, I'm glad I never encountered one."
"What, you didn't think we were named after those sissy Terran birds, did you?" I scoffed. "Please. Blackbirds were the reason no one lived above the snow line until the first Sacred King appeared and gave us back technology. Good-sized flock can pick a grown man down to his skeleton in fifteen seconds, and their scream…" I shuddered. "Turn your bones to water. My whistle ain't nothing to the real thing."
"The joys of Paradox," Rupert muttered. "Though I still don't see why we have to go through this man. I could have used my security clearance to get us landing permission."
"Well, now we get the personal touch," I said, though that was only part of it. Honestly, I felt a lot better having an inside man. Hicks was a flirt and a flake of the worst order, but he was still a Blackbird and a Paradoxian, both of which I trusted way more than Rupert's clearances. Especially on a little dirt ball corp planet where it was easy to cover things up. But as I was setting up my com to receive Hicks's landing beacon, I noticed the time stamp on his transmissions.
"Rupert?" I said weakly. "Remember when we first came out of the jump? When you said we lost some time?"
He nodded. "How much did we lose?"
"Eight months, twelve days, five hours," I read off, heart sinking. Eight months galactic was almost a year on Paradox. A whole year gone, just like that. Rupert didn't seem to share my concern, though.
"That's not so bad," he said. "I was braced for far worse, though it does make me worry about Caldswell and the others."
That snapped me out of my self-pity. "Why?"
"The jump from Reaper's tribe ship to here was barely five minutes, and we had the tribe ship's gate to help," he said. "The second jump they made to escape the pursuing lelgis was far more reckless, and much, much longer." He looked up at the star strewn sky. "Dark Star Station is nine hours from here by hyperspace, but on a jump so wild, the time dilation is almost random. They might end up coming out seconds after they went in."
"Or they might come out a thousand years from now," I finished for him. "That would suit Caldswell's terrible luck."
Rupert glanced back at me. "You know, among the Eyes, Caldswell's actually known for his unusually good luck. Though the captain always says that only fools count on being lucky."
I chuckled. "Guess that explains the name of his ship."
Rupert's voice went suddenly serious. "Actually, I believe Caldswell named the Glorious Fool after himself. A long time ago, he told me only fools gamble what they can't afford to lose."
"What does that have to do with Caldswell?" I asked. "He's not exactly a reckless gambler."
"I believe the name is meant as a reminder of what not to be," Rupert said quietly.
Not for the first time, I wondered what a man like Caldswell could have gambled and lost that hurt him so badly he'd name his ship after it as a warning. I was still puzzling it over when Hicks called me back with our landing.
I'd never been to a cash planet before. The Sacred King had banned them in Paradoxian space, and Terrans didn't bother hiring elite mercs to guard such low-margin operations. Considering what I'd heard, though, I'd always pictured them as barren wastes, hunks of rock stripped of everything valuable by their greedy corporate overlords, so you can imagine my surprise when Atlas 35 Moon E turned out to be actually sort of beautiful.
It was about half the size of Paradox, a bright green and blue ball basking in the intense combined light of the double star and the reflected brilliance of Atlas 35's golden clouds. The place had clearly been terraformed within an inch of its life; there was just no other way continents ended up perfectly square. There were only two seas, both wrapped in rings around the north and south poles, leaving the equator and everything north and south of it for thousands of miles as a huge, flat, uniform tract of arable land covered in a forest so green I had trouble looking at it directly.
As we entered the atmosphere, I realized the brilliant green that covered every inch of the planet's surface wasn't actually forest. Or, rather, it was a forest, just not of trees. The green came from rows and rows and rows of soypen. Some genetic monkeying must have been going on, because the stalks were enormous, easily ten times bigger than anything I'd seen back home. Even the smallest ones had truck-sized, neon-green leaves spread wide to catch the bright light that shone from every direction.
Thanks to its pale yellow clouds, Atlas 35's reflected light shone down on the farming moon even brighter than the twin suns did. Even after we'd cleared the reflective upper layers of the atmosphere, the glare was almost unbearable. But when I looked up in disbelief that anywhere could be so bright, I realized I could still see the stars overhead. Even through the hazy atmosphere and the blinding light, the Atlas nebula shone clear through the deep blue sky, creating a star-spangled high noon that would have been amazingly pretty if my visor hadn't had to go almost black to let me look at it without burning my eyes. I was still trying anyway when we reached the coordinates for Hicks's beacon.
Though the planet had looked like nothing but plants and water from the air, Hicks's signal had directed us to a small city. As we got closer, though, I realized "city" was probably the wrong word. There were a lot of buildings, but I didn't see any sign of people. No houses, no shops, no civilian ships, just loading zones, shuttle tracks, and huge packing machines gleaming in the harsh sunlight. No one even came out to gawk as Rupert set us down on one of the huge, open loading areas stacked high with crates of soypen flour, which seemed very odd considering we were landing a xith'cal ship smack-dab in the middle of a Terran colony.
The escape pod set down with a clunk and a shudder it would probably never recover from, but even so, I couldn't help being impressed. The little thing had put in a fine show for what was basically a lifeboat. I could shoot a lizard every day of my life and feel just lovely about it, but damn if they didn't build nice ships. Rupert had just reached up to unlock the canopy when I spotted Hicks jogging toward us across the white paved landing.
At least, I assumed it was Hicks. I couldn't see his face since his visor was blacked against the blinding sun just like mine, but I couldn't believe there'd be anyone else on this dirtball wearing a Count-class suit of Paradoxian armor. I waved to him when he got close, hopping out of the pod just in time to get swept into a bear hug.
"Devi!" Hicks shouted, picking my armored body up and swinging me around without missing a beat. But then, of course, Count armor like his could lift a tank. "By the king, woman, call ahead next time. I almost hit the guns when I saw your lizard can."
"Just working with what I had," I said, wiggling free. "Thanks for guiding us down, and for not shooting. Always a pleasure not to be shot."
"Must be a change of pace for you, certainly," Hicks said, stepping back to look up at Rupert, who was pulling my armor case out of the cockpit. "Who's your friend? Another merc?"
I bit my lip. I didn't actually know how to explain Rupert. Considering he spoke perfect King's Tongue, I could try passing him off as an official from the Royal Office, which wouldn't be too far from the truth. Before I could get a word out, though, Rupert answered for himself in his usual softly accented Universal.
"I am not a mercenary," he said, handing me my case before grabbing his own bag and dropping down seven feet to land neatly beside me on the blinding white cement. "I am Devi's escort."
That stopped Hicks cold. I still couldn't see through his blacked helmet, but I could feel his questioning stare just as a private channel opened to my com. "Is this idiot for real?"
"It's a long story," I said, but before I could explain further, Rupert reached into his bag and pulled out a badge. It wasn't a Royal Warrant, but it must have been serious business, because the moment he opened it, Hicks shut up.
Rupert's smile was polite as always, but I knew him well enough now to catch the smug turn at the edge of his mouth as he closed the badge and tucked it into his jacket pocket. "Mr. Hicks, correct?"
"Captain Hicks," Hicks replied in Universal. At Rupert's raised eyebrow, he added a grudging, "Sir."
Rupert nodded. "I need immediate access to your communications drones. I'm also going to need your fastest hyperdrive-capable ship ready to launch as soon as possible. The Atlas Corporation will be compensated in full for the loss, of course."
"You want a ship?" Hicks said, though from the tone of his voice, you'd have thought Rupert had asked for a unicorn. "Um, sir, this here is a cash colony. We don't have hyperdrive-capable ships."
"Are you kidding?" I asked before Rupert could.
Hicks threw out his arms. "Look around. This entire place is an automated farm. There's like, thirty of us on the whole planet. My job is to run the security drones. Hell, I only put my armor on because I thought you'd need help."
"So you don't have a ship?" Rupert clarified. "Nothing with a hyperdrive?"
Hicks shook his head.
"But," I said, "how do you get off-world?"
"On the freighter," Hicks replied, pointing at the wall of shipping containers behind us. "See those crates? Corporate sends a continent freighter around to pick them up every month."
I blinked. "Continent freighter?"
"An industrial ship too large to enter orbit," Rupert said. "Usually loaded by space elevator. The corps use them for planetary scale transport."
"Basically a giant moving space station," Hicks finished. "Only it holds cargo instead of people. The automated harvesters pick the soypen and load it onto the trains, which ship the beans here from all over the planet. Every month, the freighter comes and picks up the harvest. At that point, if you want to get off-planet, you just go up with the produce. The freighter makes a few more stops after us, and then it uses its internal gate to jump back to the Atlas distribution facility in the core worlds. Once you're there, you can get a flight anywhere you want."
"Hold on," I said. "So this freighter has a gate inside itself?"
Hicks nodded. "Told you it was big."
"How long until the next freighter arrives?" Rupert said.
" 'Bout two weeks galactic," Hicks said with a shrug. "Give or take a week."
Rupert did not look happy about that. "Can't you signal it here now?"
"I can't," Hicks said. "I'm just security. The freighter's route is determined by corporate, but I could get you the contact info for Atlas Industrial Farming Division."
Rupert turned away, and I would have sworn he cursed under his breath. Still, he was all politeness when he turned back around. "That won't be necessary, Captain Hicks. We don't have time to cut through corporate red tape. I'll be putting in for our own pickup, which means I'll still need to use your communications drone, but now I'll also require lodging and supplies for myself and Ms. Morris until our ship arrives."
Hicks sighed. "Well, about that. We don't exactly have a hotel here. I'd offer to let you stay with me, but I'm married now and I don't think my wife would like it."
"You got married?" I scoffed. "Woman must be nuts."
Hicks chuckled, and then he snapped his fingers. "I know! You can stay at the colony manager's house. It's a nice little place, and he's been off-world all year."
"Fine," Rupert said, though I could tell he was starting to get very annoyed. "And the communications drones?"
"Right over there," Hicks said, pointing across the landing zone at something that looked more like a jury-rigged water tower than a communications facility. "Our com guy's an antisocial bastard and prefers to run things from the southern hemisphere, but just flash your badge at the camera and he should give you full access. Meanwhile, Devi and I'll bring the car around."
Rupert nodded, and then, before I could even think about dodging, he leaned in and pressed a kiss to the side of my helmet. "I won't be long."
When I turned to glower at him, Rupert was already jogging away at a brisk but still acceptably human pace across the blinding expanse of sunny cement, his bag hooked over one shoulder. Hicks watched him go, whistling softly. "God and king, Devi, you're slumming with Terrans now?"
"Shut up," I muttered, suddenly furious, both at Rupert for setting me up like that and at myself for kind of liking it. "Let's get out of the sun."
"How the mighty have fallen," Hicks said, motioning for me to follow him.
By the time we'd finished crossing the two hundred feet of blinding white cement to the garage at the landing's edge, I was good and sick of this bright, sunny place, beautiful day stars or no. Hicks, on the other hand, seemed far more at ease now that Rupert wasn't around, and he showed it by talking nonstop about the life he'd built here. By the time we got inside, I'd heard all about the crazy money he was making and how he'd married the lady who supervised the automated soypen trains.
"Honestly, if it wasn't for her, I'd have invited you to stay with me instead of sticking you out in the manager's place," Hicks said as we entered the blissful dark of the shaded garage. "But I'd rather deal with him than my wife. She worries I only married her because there are only five women on the whole planet."
"Did you?" Because that was totally something Hicks would do.
"Sort of," he admitted, taking off his helmet. My first sight of his face shocked me a bit, mostly because he looked so much older than I remembered. Apparently, the year I'd lost had been a doozy. "I also might have told her a bit about you."
I rolled my eyes. Hicks and I had slept together once or twice while we'd been out on assignment. It was good fun at the time, but he'd gotten on my nerves after a while, mostly because he did stupid shit like this. "Why would you tell your wife something like that?"
He shrugged and walked over to a truck that looked like a cross between a tank and a tractor. "She asked."
I decided it was time to change the subject. We spent the ride over to the communications tower talking about the planet's crazy sunshine. Apparently, with two suns and the bright gas giant of Atlas 35 acting like a mirror, the colony never actually got dark. The closest thing they had were two hours of dusk out of every forty.
"How the hell do you live out here?" I asked. "Nothing to do, no night, and no way off. I'd go crazy."
"You get used to it," Hicks said, slowing down as we approached the tower where Rupert was already waiting for us, standing in the sliver of shade provided by a tiny metal overhang. "Devi," Hicks said, dropping his voice to a whisper even though we were talking through our suits. "Are you really okay? I don't know who that Terran is, but—"
"I've got it covered," I said, cutting him off. "This is me we're talking about, remember?"
Hicks shot me a look. "That's what I'm afraid of. I mean, you don't exactly have the best record when it comes to staying out of trouble."
I couldn't help laughing at that. "Thanks for the sentiment," I said as we rolled to a stop. "But everything's fine. I just want to get to wherever you're taking us so I can get some real sleep. You would not believe the week I've had."
Hicks shot me a sideways look, but with Rupert climbing into the backseat, he didn't press. We drove in silence after that, speeding through the huge, empty streets of the loading facility. I hadn't fully appreciated just how big the place was from the air, but it took us nearly fifteen minutes to get away from the buildings and into the fields. Once we did, though, soypen was all I saw.
At first it was kind of neat to be surrounded by enormous versions of plants I was used to seeing in shoulder-high rows, but soon it just got confusing. The fields were laid out for automated harvesters running on a maximum-efficiency pattern, not for human navigation. There were no signs either, and by the fifth turn, I was completely lost. Fortunately, Hicks seemed to know the way by heart, or at least his suit did, because half an hour later he slowed down and turned us off the dirt road onto a paved drive that stopped abruptly at a wide front porch.
Even though we were only a few feet off the main harvester corridor, the manager's house had the feeling of being buried deep in the forest. The cinderblock construction and boxy design should have made the two-story structure look cheap, but the little house was painted a very soothing shade of deep green that blended into the leafy shadows of the soypen stalks. The soldier in me didn't like that the fat waxy leaves pressed right up to the windows, providing excellent cover for anyone who might try and sneak up on us, but the rest of me thought the sheltered house was charming, like a bird's nest hidden in tall grass.
As soon as the car stopped, Hicks hopped out and did something to the keypad by the door that turned all the lights green. "There you go," he said, putting up his visor as he turned back around to face us. "There should be plenty of food in the deep freeze and there's a satellite uplink on the roof that'll keep you connected to the planet's com system. I live about thirty minutes down the road, so just call if you need anything."
"Thanks, Hicks," I said, lifting my own visor to give him a grin. "You're a lifesaver."
He winked at me and hopped back into his truck. He didn't salute Rupert as he left, but I don't think Rupert noticed. He was too busy opening up the house.
- "If you liked Star Wars, if you like the Kate Daniels series, and if you are waiting for Guardians of the Galaxy to hit the theaters, this is your book."—Ilona Andrews on Fortune's Pawn
- "This book kicked ass...I LOVED IT!"—Felicia Day on Fortune's Pawn
- "Great space battles, awesome shootouts and enough betrayals and alliances to rival A Game of Thrones."—Washington Post on Honor's Knight
- "Fun, with phasers on lethal."—Kirkus on Honor's Knight
- "Rachel Bach's Fortune's Pawn is based on a fascinating premise and launches what looks to be a superb military science fiction series."—Eric Flint
- "Rollicking space opera starring a tough, sexy, armor-clad space chick...Lots of fun."—Kirkus on Fortune's Pawn
- "Fans of Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series and David Weber's Honor Harrington novels should enjoy starting another potentially long-running SF military saga."—Library Journal on Fortune's Pawn
- "Bach's space opera is a fantastic, action-packed and accessible exploration of deep space. Devi is hands-down one of the best sci-fi heroines I've read in a long time."—RT Book Reviews on Fortune's Pawn (4 1/2 Stars)
- "Like Firefly told by Lois McMaster Bujold."—io9.com on Fortune's Pawn
- "The narrative never quite goes where you expect it to, in a good way... Devi is a badass with a heart."—Locus on The Paradox series
- On Sale
- Apr 22, 2014
- Page Count
- 400 pages