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On Mars, a scientist experiments with a new engine that will one day become the drive that fuels humanity's journey into the stars.
On an asteroid station, a group of prisoners are oblivious to the catastrophe that awaits them.
On a future Earth beset by overpopulation, pollution, and poverty, a crime boss desperately seeks to find a way off planet.
On an alien world, a human family struggles to establish a colony and make a new home.
All these stories and more are featured in this unmissable collection of short fiction set in the hardscrabble world of The Expanse.
The Expanse Short Fiction
The Butcher of Anderson Station
Gods of Risk
The Vital Abyss
The Sins of our Fathers
For more from James S. A. Corey, check out:
Acceleration throws Solomon back into the captain’s chair, then presses his chest like a weight. His right hand lands on his belly, his left falls onto the upholstery beside his ear. His ankles press back against the leg rests. The shock is a blow, an assault. His brain is the product of millions of years of primate evolution, and it isn’t prepared for this. It decides that he’s being attacked, and then that he’s falling, and then that he’s had some kind of terrible dream. The yacht isn’t the product of evolution. Its alarms trigger in a strictly informational way. By the way, we’re accelerating at four gravities. Five. Six. Seven. More than seven. In the exterior camera feed, Phobos darts past, and then there is only the star field, as seemingly unchanging as a still image.
It takes almost a full minute to understand what’s happened, then he tries to grin. His laboring heart labors a little harder with elation.
The interior of the yacht is cream and orange. The control panel is a simple touchscreen model, old enough that the surface has started going gray at the corners. It’s not pretty, but it is functional. Solid. An alert pops up that the water recycler has gone off-line. Solomon’s not surprised—he’s outside the design specs—and he starts guessing where exactly the system failed. His guess, given that all the thrust is along the primary axis of the ship, is the reservoir back-flow valve, but he’s looking forward to checking it when the run is finished. He tries to move his hand, but the weight of it astounds him. A human hand weighs something like three hundred grams. At seven g, that’s still only a little over two thousand. He should still be able to move it. He pushes his arm toward the control panel, muscles trembling. He wonders how much above seven he’s going. Since the sensors are pegged, he’ll have to figure it out when the run is over. How long the burn lasted and whatever his final velocity winds up being. Simple math. Kids could do it. He’s not worried. He reaches for the control panel, really pushing it this time, and something wet and painful happens in his elbow.
Oops, he thinks. He wants to grit his teeth, but that’s no more effective than grinning had been. This is going to be embarrassing. If he can’t shut off the drive, he’ll have to wait until the fuel runs out and then call for help. That might be problematic. Depending on how fast he’s accelerating, the rescue ship’s burn will have to be a very long one compared with his own. Maybe twice as long. They may need some sort of long-range craft to come get him. The fuel supply readout is a small number on the lower left side of the panel, green against black. It’s hard to focus on it. Acceleration is pressing his eyeballs out of their right shape. High tech astigmatism. He squints. The yacht is built for long burns, and he started with the ejection tanks at ninety percent. The readout now shows the burn at ten minutes. The fuel supply ticks down to eighty-nine point six. That can’t be right.
Two minutes later, it drops to point five. Two and a half minutes later, point four. That puts the burn at over thirty-seven hours and the final velocity at something just under five percent of c.
Solomon starts getting nervous.
He met her ten years before. The research center at Dhanbad Nova was one of the largest on Mars. Three generations after the first colonists dug into the rock and soil of humanity’s second home, progress had pushed the envelope of human science, understanding, and culture so far that the underground city could support five bars, even if one of them was the alcohol-free honky-tonk where the Jainists and born-again Christians hung out. The other four sold alcohol and food that was exactly the same as the stuff they sold at the commissary, only with piped-in music and a wall monitor with an entertainment feed from Earth playing on it all hours of the day and night. Solomon and his cadre met up at this one two or three times a week when the work load at the center wasn’t too heavy.
Usually the group was some assortment of the same dozen people. Today it was Tori and Raj from the water reclamation project. Voltaire whose real name was Edith. Julio and Carl and Malik who all worked together on anti-cancer therapies. And Solomon. Mars, they said, was the biggest small town in the solar system. There was almost never anyone new.
There was someone new. She sat beside Malik, had dark hair and a patient expression. Her face was a little too sharp to be classically beautiful, and the hair on her forearms was dark. She had the kind of genetics that developed a little mustache problem when she hit about thirty-five. Solomon didn’t believe in love at first sight, but as soon as he sat down at the table, he was profoundly aware that he hadn’t brushed his hair very effectively that morning and he was wearing the shirt with the sleeves a little too long.
“Mars is America,” Tori said, waving his beer expansively. “It’s exactly the same.”
“It’s not America,” Malik said.
“Not like it was at the end. Like the beginning. Look at how long it took to travel from Europe to North America in the 1500s. Two months. How long to get here from Earth? Four. Longer if the orbits are right.”
“Which is the first way in which it’s not like America,” Malik said, dryly.
“It’s within an order of magnitude,” Tori said. “My point is that politically speaking, distance is measured in time. We’re months away from Earth. They’re still thinking about us like we’re some kind of lost colony. Like we answer to them. How many people here, just at this table have had directives from someone who’s never been outside a gravity well but still felt like they should tell us where our research should go?”
Tori raised his own hand, and Raj followed suit. Voltaire. Carl. Reluctantly, Malik. Tori’s grin was smug.
“Who’s doing the real science in the system?” Tori said. “That’s us. Our ships are newer and better. Our environmental science is at least a decade ahead of anything they’ve got on Earth. Last year, we hit self-sustaining.”
“I don’t believe that,” Voltaire said. The new one still hadn’t spoken, but Solomon watched her attention shift to each new speaker. He watched her listen.
“Even if there are a few things we still need from Earth, we can trade for them. Shit, give us a few years and we’ll be mining them out of the Belt,” Tori said, backing away from his last point and making a new, equally unlikely assertion at the same time. “It’s not like I’m saying we should cut off all diplomatic relations.”
“No,” Malik said. “You’re saying we should declare political independence.”
“Damn skippy, I am,” Tori said. “Because distance is measured in time.”
“And coherence is measured in beer,” Voltaire said, the cadence of her voice matching Tori’s perfectly. The new woman smiled at the mimicry.
“Even if we decided that all we had to lose was our chains,” Malik said, “why would we bother? We are already de facto our own government. Pointing out the fact is only going to stir up trouble.”
“Do you really think Earth hasn’t noticed?” Tori said. “You think the kids back at the labs on Luna and Sao Paulo aren’t looking up at the sky and saying That little red dot is kicking our asses? They’re jealous and they’re scared and they should be. It’s all I’m saying. If we do our own thing, the earliest they could do something about it still gives us months of lead time. England lost its colonies because you can’t maintain control with a sixty-day latency, much less a hundred and twenty.”
“Well,” said Voltaire drily, “that and the French.”
“And good damn thing, too,” Tori said as if she hadn’t spoken. “Because who was it that came in when the Nazis started knocking on England’s door? Am I right?”
“Um,” Solomon said, “no, actually. You just made the other point. We’re really the Germans.”
And because he spoke, the new woman’s gaze turned to him. He felt his throat go tight and sipped his beer to try to loosen up. If he spoke now, his voice would crack like he was fourteen again. Voltaire put her elbows on the table, cradled her chin in her dark hands, and hoisted her eyebrows. Her expression could have had This should be good as the caption.
“Okay,” Malik said, abandoning his disagreement with Tori. “I’ll bite. In what ways are we like a murderous bunch of fascists?”
“By-by how we’d fight,” Solomon said. “Germany had all the best science, just like us. They had the best tech. They had rockets. No one had rockets, but they did. Nazi tanks could destroy allied tanks at something like five to one. They had the best attack submarines, drone missiles, early jet aircraft. They were just that much better. Better designed, better manufactured. They were elegant and they were smart.”
“Apart from the whole racial cleansing genocide thing,” Julio said.
“Apart from that,” Solomon agreed. “But they lost. They had all the best tech, just like we do. And they lost.”
“Because they were psychopathic and insane,” Julio said.
“No,” Solomon said. “I mean, they were, but there have been a lot of fascist psychopaths that didn’t lose wars. They lost because even though one of their tanks was worth five of the other guy’s, America could build ten. The industrial base was huge, and if the design wasn’t as good, who cared? Earth has that industrial base. They have people. It could take them months, maybe years, to get here, but when they did, it would be in numbers we couldn’t handle. Being technically advanced is great, but we’re still just building better ones of the stuff that came before. If you want to overcome the kind of demographic advantage Earth has, you’ll need something paradigm-shiftingly new.”
Voltaire raised her hand. “I nominate paradigm-shiftingly as the adverb of the night.”
“Seconded,” Julio said. Solomon felt the blush creeping up his neck.
“All in favor?” There was a small chorus. “The ayes have it,” Voltaire said. “Someone buy this man another drink.”
The conversation moved on, the way it always did. Politics and history gave way to art and fine-structure engineering. The great debate of the night was over whether artificial muscles worked better with the nanotubules in sheets or bundles, with both sides descending in the end to name-calling. Most of it was good-natured, and what wasn’t pretended to be, which was almost the same. The wall monitor switched over to an all-music feed out of a little community on Syria Planum, the wailing and brass of rai juxtaposed with classical European strings. It was some of Solomon’s favorite music because it was dense and intellectually complicated and he wasn’t expected to dance to it. He wound up spending half the night sitting beside Carl talking about ejection efficiency systems and trying not to stare at the new woman. When she moved from Malik’s side to sit next to Voltaire, his heart leaped—maybe she wasn’t here with Malik—and then sank—maybe she was a lesbian. He felt like he’d dropped a decade off his life and was suddenly stuck in the hormonal torture chamber of the lower university. He made up his mind to forget that the new woman existed. If she was new to the research center, there would be time to find out who she was and plan a way to speak with her that didn’t make him look desperate and lonely. And if she wasn’t, then she wouldn’t be here. And even so, he kept looking for her, just to keep track.
Raj was the first one to leave, the same as always. He was on development, which meant he had all the same burden of technical work plus steering committee meetings. If, someday, the terraforming project actually took hold, it would have Raj’s intellectual DNA. Julio and Carl left next, arm in arm with Carl resting his head on Julio’s shoulder the way he did when they were both a little drunk and amorous. With only Malik, Voltaire, and Tori left, avoiding the new woman was harder. Solomon got up to leave once, but then stopped at the head and wandered back in without entirely meaning to. As soon as the new woman left, he told himself. When she was gone, he could go. But if he saw who she left with, then he’d know who to ask about her. Or, if she left with Voltaire, not to ask. It was just data collection. That was all. When the monitor changed to the early morning newsfeed, he had to admit he was bullshitting. He waved his goodnights for real this time, pushed his hands into his pockets, and headed out to the main corridor.
Between the engineering problems in building a robust dome and Mars’ absolute lack of a functioning magnetosphere, all the habitats were deep underground. The main corridor’s hallways had ceilings four meters high and LEDs that changed their warmth and intensity with the time of day, but Solomon still had the occasional atavistic longing for sky. For a sense of openness and possibility, and maybe for not living his whole life buried.
Her voice came from behind him. “So, hey.”
She walked with a comfortable rolling gait. Her smile looked warm and maybe a little tentative. Outside of the dimness of the bar, he could see the lighter streaks in her hair.
“We never really got around to meeting in there,” she said, holding out her hand. “Caitlin Esquibel.”
Solomon took her hand, shaking it once like they were at the center. “Solomon Epstein.”
“Solomon Epstein?” she said, walking forward. Somehow they were walking side by side now. Together. “So what’s a nice Jewish boy like you doing on a planet like this?”
If he hadn’t still been a little drunk, he’d just have laughed it off.
“Trying to get the courage to meet you, mostly,” he said.
“Sort of noticed that.”
“Hope it was adorable.”
“It was better than your friend Malik always finding reasons to touch my arm. Anyway. I’m working resource management for Kwikowski Mutual Interest Group. Just came in from Luna a month ago. That thing you were saying about Mars and Earth and America. That was interesting.”
“Thank you,” Solomon said. “I’m an engine engineer for Masstech.”
“Engine engineer,” she said. “Seems like it ought to be redundant.”
“I always thought thrust specialist sounded dirty,” he said. “How long are you staying on Mars?”
“Until I leave. Open contract. You?”
“Oh, I was born here,” he said. “I expect I’ll die here too.”
She glanced up his long, thin frame once, her smile mocking. Of course she’d known he was born there. No way to hide it. His words felt like a weak brag now.
“A company man,” she said, letting it be a joke between them.
The cart kiosk had half a dozen of the cramped electric devices ready to rent. Solomon pulled out his card and waved it in a figure eight until the reader got good signal and the first cart in line clicked from amber to green. He pulled it out before he realized he really didn’t want to get in.
“Do you—” Solomon began, then cleared his throat and tried again. “Would you like to come home with me?”
He could see the Sure, why not forming in her brain stem. He could follow it along the short arcing path to her lips. It was close enough to pull at his blood like a moon. And he watched it turn aside at the last moment. When she shook her head, it wasn’t a refusal so much as her trying to clear her mind. But she smiled. She did smile.
“Moving a little fast there, Sol.”
Speed isn’t the problem. Unless he runs into something, velocity is just velocity; he could be weightless going almost the speed of light. It’s the delta vee that’s hurting him. The acceleration. The change. Every second, he’s going sixty-eight meters per second faster than he was the second before. Or more. Maybe more.
Only the acceleration isn’t the problem either. Ships have had the power to burn at fifteen or even twenty g since the early chemical rockets. The power is always there. It’s the efficiency necessary to maintain a burn that was missing. Thrust to weight when most of your weight is propellant to give you thrust. And bodies can accelerate at over twenty g for a fraction of a second. It’s the sustain that’s killing him. It’s going for hours.
There are emergency shutoffs. If the reactor starts to overheat or the magnetic bottle gets unstable, the drive will shut down. There are all kinds of shutoffs for all kinds of emergencies, but nothing’s going wrong. Everything’s running perfectly. That’s the problem. That’s what’s killing him.
There is also a manual cutoff on the control panel. The icon is a big red button. A panic button. If he could touch it, he’d be fine. But he can’t. All the joy is gone now. Instead of elation, there’s only panic and the growing, grinding pain. If he can just reach the controls. Or if something, anything, could just go wrong.
Nothing is going wrong. He is struggling to breathe, gasping the way the safety instructors taught him to. He tenses his legs and arms, trying to force the blood through his arteries and veins. If he passes out, he won’t come back, and there is darkness growing at the edges of his vision. If he can’t find a way out, he will die here. In this chair with his hands pinned against him and his hair pulling back his scalp. His hand terminal in his pocket feels like someone driving a dull knife into his hip. He tries to remember how much mass a hand terminal has. He can’t. He fights to breathe.
His hand terminal. If he can reach it, if he can pull it out, maybe he can signal to Caitlin. Maybe she can make a remote connection and shut the engines down. The hand laying across his belly presses hard into his viscera, but it’s only centimeters from his pocket. He pushes until his bones creak, and his wrists shift. The friction of skin against skin tears a little hole in his belly and the blood that comes out races back toward the seat like it was afraid of something, but he does move.
He pushes again. A little closer. The blood is a lubricant. The friction is less. His hand moves farther. It takes minutes. His fingernails touch the hardened plastic. He can do this.
Power and efficiency, he thinks, and a moment’s pleasure passes through him despite everything. He’s done it. The magic pair.
The tendons in his fingers ache, but he pulls the cloth of his pocket aside. He can feel the hand terminal begin to slip free of his pocket, but he can’t lift his head to see it.
Three years after he met her, Caitlin showed up at the door to his hole at three in the morning, crying, frightened, and sober. It wasn’t the sort of thing Solomon expected from her, and he’d spent a fair amount of time in her company. They’d become lovers almost seven months after they’d met. He called it that. Becoming lovers wasn’t the kind of thing Caitlin said. With her, it was always something crude and a little raunchy. That was who she was. He thought it was a kind of emotional protection that she was never exactly sincere. It was a way to control fear and deny anxieties. And really as long as she still wanted to come share his bed some nights, he was fine with that. And if she hadn’t wanted to anymore, he’d have been disappointed, but he still would have been fine with it. He liked the way she smirked at the world. The confidence she carried herself with, especially when she was faking it. He liked, all in all, who she was. That made everything easier.
Twice, her contract had ticked past its automatic renewal dates without her exercising the option to leave. When he’d taken a position with the functional magnetics workgroup, one of the issues he’d considered was whether the extra time he took with it would alienate her. Neither of them had made any sexual or romantic connections with other people at the center. Everyone treated them as if they were each other’s tacit property, and so even though they’d never made any explicit promises, Solomon would have called them de facto monogamists. Certainly he would have felt hurt and betrayed if she’d been sleeping with someone else, and assumed she’d feel the same about him.
But sex and companionship, as pleasant as they were, didn’t mean a great deal of vulnerability. So he was surprised.
“Did you hear?” she asked. Her voice was ragged and low. Fresh tears ran down her cheeks, and her mouth pulled in and down at the corners.
“I don’t think so,” Solomon said, standing back to let her past. His hole was a standard design: a small multipurpose room at the front with enough resources to cook simple meals, a quarter-sized wall monitor, and space for three or four people to sit. Behind it was the bedroom. Behind that, a storage closet and a bathroom. On Mars, the joke went, a man’s hole was his castle where values of castle approached dorm room. She sat heavily on one of the benches, and wrapped her arms around herself. Solomon closed the door. He didn’t know whether to talk to her or hold her or both. He started with holding her. Her tears had a smell to them; salt and damp and skin. She wept into his shoulder until curiosity and distress drove him past the consolation of being her soft monkey. “So. Did I hear what, exactly?”
She coughed out a phlegmy laugh.
“The United Nations,” she said. “They invoked the breakaway province rule. Their ships have already done their acceleration burns. Forty of them. They’re already ballistic.”
“Oh,” he said, and she started weeping again.
“It’s those fucking secessionists. Ever since they published their manifesto, people have been acting like they’re serious. Like they aren’t a bunch of short-sighted assholes who’re in it for the attention. Now they’ve started a war. They’re really going to do it, Sol. They’re going to drop rocks on us until we’re just a carbon layer ten atoms thick.”
“They won’t do that. They won’t do that,” he said, and immediately regretted repeating himself. It made him sound like he was trying to talk himself into it. “Every time the breakaway province rule’s been invoked, it’s been because the UN wanted to grab resources. If they break all our infrastructure, they can’t get the resources. They’re just trying to scare us.”
Caitlin raised one hand like a schoolgirl asking to be recognized. “Working. Scared now.”
“And it isn’t about the secessionists, even if that’s what they’re claiming,” Solomon said. He felt himself warming up now. He wasn’t repeating sentences. “It’s about Earth running out of lithium and molybdenum. Even with the landfill mines, they need more than they’ve got. We have access to raw ore. That’s all it is. It’s all about money, Cait. They aren’t going to start dropping rocks. Besides, if they do that to us, we’ll do that to them. We’ve got better ships.”
“Eighteen of them,” she said. “They’ve got forty coasting toward us right now, and just as many playing defense.”
“But if they miss one,” he said, and didn’t finish the thought.
She swallowed, wiped her cheeks with the palm of her hands. He leaned across the room and plucked a towel out of the dispenser for her.
“Do you actually know any of that?” she said. “Or are you just talking a good game to calm me down?”
“Do I have to answer that?”
She sighed, collapsing into him.
“It’ll be weeks,” he said. “Minimum. Probably months.”
“So. If you had four months to live, what would you do?”
“Crawl into bed with you and not come out.”
She reached over and kissed him. There was a violence in her that unnerved him. No, that wasn’t right. Not violence. Sincerity.
“C’mon,” she said.
He woke with his hand terminal buzzing in alarm and only vaguely aware he’d been hearing the sound for a while. Caitlin was curled up against him, her eyes still closed, her mouth open and calm. She looked young like that. Relaxed. He shut off the alarm as he checked the time. On one hand, he was egregiously late for his shift. On the other, another hour wouldn’t be particularly more egregious. There were two messages from his team lead queued. Caitlin muttered and stretched. The motion pulled the sheet away from her body. He put the hand terminal down, pushed his hand under his pillow and went back to sleep.
The next time he woke, she was sitting up, looking at him. The softness had left her face again, but she was still beautiful. He smiled up at her and reached out to weave his fingers with hers.
“Will you marry me?” he asked.
“No, really. Will you marry me?”
“Why? Because we’re about to get into a war that’ll kill us and everyone we know and there’s nothing we can do to affect it one way or the other? Quick, let’s do something permanent before the permanence is all mined out.”
“Sure. Will you marry me?”
“Of course I will, Sol.”
“The stories are creative and inventive, packing the same character driven emotional power of the novels… This collection is a welcome capstone to mark the conclusion of arguably the best space-opera series written in the past few decades.”
- "Corey deftly weaves multiple points of view to create a dense and colorful tapestry of political intrigue, personal relationships, and sophisticated technology that bursts with action but also delivers an introspective view of the characters as they age and reflect on their purpose and the value of their lives."—Booklist (starred review) on Tiamat's Wrath
"A standout tale of violence, intrigue, ambition, and hope. ... Corey cranks up the tension relentlessly in this fast-paced story of heroes and rebels fighting for freedom. With enough thrills and intrigue for three Hollywood blockbusters, the novel stands alone nicely, making it easy for new readers as well as diehard series fans to dive right in."
—Publishers Weekly on Nemesis Games
"The science fictional equivalent of A Song of Ice and Fire...only with fewer beheadings and way more spaceships."
—NPR Books on Cibola Burn
"Combining an exploration of real human frailties with big SF ideas and exciting thriller action, Corey cements the series as must-read space opera."
—Library Journal (starred review) on Cibola Burn
"The Expanse series is the best space opera series running at full tilt right now, and Cibola Burn continues that streak of excellence."
—io9 on Cibola Burn
"Corey's splendid fourth Expanse novel blends adventure with uncommon decency."
—Publishers Weekly (starred review) on Cibola Burn
"A politically complex and pulse-pounding page-turner.... Corey perfectly balances character development with action... series fans will find this installment the best yet."
—Publishers Weekly on Abaddon's Gate
"It's been too long since we've had a really kickass space opera. Leviathan Wakes is interplanetary adventure the way it ought to be written, the kind of SF that made me fall in love with the genre way back when, seasoned with a dollop of horror and a dash of noir. Jimmy Corey writes with the energy of a brash newcomer and the polish of a seasoned pro. So where's the second book?"
—George R. R. Martin on Leviathan Wakes
"An excellent space operatic debut in the grand tradition of Peter F. Hamilton."
—Charles Stross on Leviathan Wakes
- On Sale
- Mar 15, 2022
- Page Count
- 432 pages