Risingshadow has the honour of participating in Gareth L. Powell's Stars and Bones Blog Tour.
About Gareth L. Powell:
Gareth L. Powell was born and raised in Bristol, and his early mentors included Diana Wynne Jones and Helen Dunmore. His novels have twice won the BSFA Award, and been finalists for both the Locus Award in the US and the Seiun Award in Japan. He is probably best known for his acclaimed Embers of War space opera series, which includes the novels Embers of War, Fleet of Knives, and Light of Impossible Stars. He is a popular guest and speaker at conventions and literary events, and can often be found on Twitter @garethlpowell giving free advice to aspiring authors.
Click here to visit his official website.
About Stars and Bones:
A new adventure begins…
From the multi BSFA award-winner of the critically acclaimed Embers of War trilogy comes a stunningly inventive, action-packed science-fiction epic adventure. This is the start of a brand-new series that will delight fans of Becky Chambers, Ann Leckie and Adrian Tchaikovsky.
Seventy-five years from today, the human race has been cast from a dying Earth to wander the stars in a vast fleet of arks—each shaped by its inhabitants into a diverse and fascinating new environment, with its own rules and eccentricities.
When her sister disappears while responding to a mysterious alien distress call, Eryn insists on being part of the crew sent to look for her. What she discovers on Candidate-623 is both terrifying and deadly. When the threat follows her back to the fleet and people start dying, she is tasked with seeking out a legendary recluse who may just hold the key to humanity’s survival.
Star and Bones is the first book in a new space opera series.
An excerpt from Stars and Bones by Gareth L. Powell
“They get everywhere,” the Furious Ocelot moaned, speaking to me via the main console rather than through a physical envoy. “And you should see the state of some of their quarters. Clothes and empty plates all over the place. It’s disgusting.”
The Ocelot was a trailblazer. His job was to scout a path for the Thousand Arks of the Continuance. He was not— and he had taken every opportunity to point this out over the past few days—a passenger vessel. Usually, it was just the two of us out here among the unnamed stars, exploring the territory ahead of the main fleet. Having another three bodies aboard made the place seem overcrowded. Once we’d located Shay and her ship, I wouldn’t be sorry to say goodbye to this crew and reclaim my solitude.
From my seat on the Ocelot’s bridge, I stared out at the swirling, unreal light of the substrate. I knew Shay was out there somewhere, and I was going to find her. In the days since her ship’s disappearance, I’d lobbied hard to be allowed to lead this follow-up mission. I’d called in favours and banged on desks, and finally been given the assignment—on the strict condition I also bring a team of experienced search and rescue personnel. But the Ocelot didn’t like hauling passengers, and he made no secret of the fact.
“I’ll have a word with them,” I promised. “And ask them to pick up after themselves a bit more.”
Green readouts on the windshield told me all the ship’s systems were operating within normal parameters. Despite his bitching, the Ocelot and I were still in synch.We were still functioning as an effective partnership. He remained the same old ship I had known for so long. I revelled in the familiar smell of the grease on the hydraulic arms supporting the cargo ramp, the clang of our footsteps on the metal gratings set into the decks, and the ever-present grumble of the engines.
The evening before our arrival at the Couch Surfer’s last known position, we gathered in the Furious Ocelot’s crew lounge for a final briefing from Tom Snyder, the ranking leader of the expedition. Food printers and a sink were set into one bulkhead, and a large screen into another. The rest of the wall space had been given over to equipment panels and overhead lockers. A hexagonal table took up one corner of the room. It doubled as an eating space and conference table. I sat with my hands curled around a coffee cup. The Ocelot’s envoy sat to my left. He was a heavy-set, bald, blue-skinned man in a three-piece suit the same colour as his complexion. Although physically human, he had no independent mind of his own, and it was the Ocelot that looked out from behind those cobalt eyes. The xenologist, Li Chen, sat beside him, with her back to the wall. She was somewhere in her twenties, and slightly built, with purple hair and contact lenses to match. Alvin Torres, the skinny paramedic, sat opposite me, and Tom Snyder occupied the stool to my right. With all five of us in there at once, the lounge felt cramped.
“Okay, listen up, folks.” Snyder had dark skin and a grey beard. “As you know, six days ago, one of our long-range scouts went missing. What you don’t know is that according to its last transmission, it ran through an emissions shell originating in this system.” The table surface cleared to reveal a map of nearby space. Snyder tapped one of the points of light. “More specifically on this planet here, which we’ve designated ‘Candidate-623’. It went to investigate, and it hasn’t been heard from since. Our job is to locate the missing ship and retrieve its crew, including Eryn’s sister.”
The Ocelot put his pudgy hand over mine. The others wouldn’t meet my eyes.
After an awkward moment, Chen cleared her throat. “I’m sorry, did you just mention an emission shell?”
Snyder enlarged the picture of the planet. “It’s coming from a single source, located in the southern hemisphere.”
“One of ours?”
“Not as far as we can tell.”
“Then what is it?” Torres demanded.
Snyder shook his head. “We have no idea. But I guess we’ll find out when we find the Couch Surfer.”
Torres was about to respond but Snyder held up a hand to stop him. “You’re all here because you’re the best in your fields,” he said. “I’ve seen your work. You’re conscientious, highly knowledgeable, and still young enough to be open-minded.”
“But why didn’t you tell us this was more than a straight rescue?” Torres was clearly unhappy. “Why weren’t we told up front about this signal?”
“Because the Vanguard decided to keep this mission as classified as possible. It didn’t want any rumours leaking into the general population, in case anyone else decided to hop in a scout ship and come trampling all over our investigation.”
Snyder glanced at me, and then looked away. “She’s here because her sister was on the ship that made the discovery, and because she called in a lot of favours to be assigned.”
My head felt hot and dizzy. My pulse thumped in my ears. I pushed the coffee away, feeling suddenly woozy. “So, they haven’t just disappeared? Something might have got them?”
Snyder looked uncomfortable. “Yes.”
“And you didn’t tell me?”
“I wanted you to be able to concentrate on your job.”
I opened and shut my mouth. Certain things were only now falling into place. For instance, the journey to the Couch Surfer’s last reported position had so far taken four days, and I’d spent most of that time hoping I might receive a substrate message from Shay saying she was back on our home ark and fine. When the signal didn’t come, I had resorted to touring the ship, inspecting all the fixtures and fittings. The Ocelot had just undergone an unexpected refit, so there were new scuffs and scrapes on the walls and equipment; a new aircon system had been bolted to the corridor ceiling; and the rusty ladder from the cargo bay to the crew area had been replaced with a bright new one.
The Furious Ocelot was a blunt-nosed wedge with large engines and four sturdy, retractable landing legs equipped with heavy-duty shock absorbers. Following the refit, a cluster of new blisters disturbed the lines of his lower hull. One housed a full-spectrum mil-spec sensor suite, which had been installed to aid our search for the missing ship. If there was anything larger than a hydrogen atom floating around out there, we were going to be able to spot it. The other blisters contained ship-to-ship beam weapons, and a complement of semi-autonomous combat drones. When I’d first seen them, I had been confused. “That’s more firepower than I expected.”
The Ocelot’s envoy dabbed his forehead with a blue handkerchief. “It’s just a Vanguard thing. They want us to be prepared for all eventualities, however unlikely.”
And now I suddenly understood what those eventualities were.
Snyder said, “You’re upset.”
“Of course, I’m fucking upset. You just told me my sister vanished while investigating an alien beacon. Now, I don’t know what to think.”
Fighting my queasiness, I watched dust motes drifting through the beam of an overhead spotlight, borne aloft on the warm air. “Tell me what happened. I want to know everything.”
“I can’t really say. We don’t know much, and what we do know is classified. All I can tell you for now is that they put down on the planet designated Candidate-623, as I said, and we haven’t heard from them since.”
“That’s pretty fucking vague.”
“At the moment, vague is all we have.”
Into the ensuing silence, Torres said, “You knew there was a possibility they might have been lured into a trap, and you thought it would be a good idea for us to follow them?”
Snyder clasped his hands together. “Hence the combat drones and weapon upgrades.”
Chen rolled her eyes and let her head fall back. “Oh, fucking hell.”