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HUGO AWARD WINNER FOR BEST SERIES
A thousand worlds have opened, and the greatest land rush in human history has begun. As wave after wave of colonists leave, the power structures of the old solar system begin to buckle.
Ships are disappearing without a trace. Private armies are being secretly formed. The sole remaining protomolecule sample is stolen. Terrorist attacks previously considered impossible bring the inner planets to their knees. The sins of the past are returning to exact a terrible price.
And as a new human order is struggling to be born in blood and fire, James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante must struggle to survive and get back to the only home they have left.
Nemesis Games is a breakneck science fiction adventure following the bestselling Cibola Burn.
The Expanse Short Fiction
The Butcher of Anderson Station
Gods of Risk
The Vital Abyss
The Sins of Our Fathers
Table of Contents
A Preview of Ancestral Machines
A Preview of Forsaken Skies
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Chapter One: Holden
A year after the Callisto attacks, almost three years after he and his crew had headed out for Ilus, and about six days after they'd gotten back, James Holden floated next to his ship and watched a demolition mech cut her apart. Eight taut cables anchored the Rocinante to the walls of her berth. Only one of many in the Tycho Station repair dock, and the repair section was only one of many in the massive construction sphere. Around them in the kilometer-wide volume of the sphere a thousand other projects were going on, but Holden only had eyes for his ship.
The mech finished cutting and pulled off a large section of the outer hull. Beneath lay the skeleton of the ship, sturdy ribs surrounded by a tangled confusion of cabling and conduit, and under that, the second skin of the inner hull.
"Yeah," Fred Johnson said, floating next to him, "you kind of fucked her up."
Fred's words, flattened and distorted by the comm system of their vacuum suits, were still a punch to the gut. That Fred, the nominal leader of the Outer Planets Alliance and one of the three most powerful people in the solar system, was taking a personal interest in his ship's condition should have been reassuring. Instead, Holden felt like he had a father checking over his homework to make sure he hadn't screwed anything up too badly.
"Interior mount's bent," a third voice said over the comm. A sour-faced man named Sakai, the new chief engineer at Tycho after the death of Samantha Rosenberg at what everyone was now calling the Slow Zone Incident. Sakai was monitoring the repairs from his office nearby through the mech's suite of cameras and x-ray scanners.
"How did you do that?" Fred pointed at the rail-gun housing along the ship's keel. The barrel of the gun ran nearly the entire length of the ship, and the support struts that attached it to the frame were visibly buckling in places.
"So," Holden said, "have I ever told you the one about the time we used the Roci to drag a heavy freighter to a higher planetary orbit using our rail gun as a reaction drive?"
"Yeah, that's a good one," Sakai said without humor. "Some of those struts might be fixable, but I'm betting we're going to find enough micro-fracturing in the alloy that replacing them all is the better bet."
Fred whistled. "That won't be cheap."
The OPA leader was the Rocinante crew's on-again, off-again patron and sponsor. Holden hoped they were in the on-again phase of the rocky relationship. Without a preferred client discount, the ship's repair was going to get noticeably more expensive. Not that they couldn't afford it.
"Lots of badly patched holes in the outer hull," Sakai continued. "Inner looks okay from here, but we'll go over it with a fine-toothed comb and make sure it's sealed."
Holden started to point out that the trip back from Ilus would have involved a lot more asphyxiation and death if the inner hull hadn't been airtight, but stopped himself. There was no reason to antagonize the man who was now responsible for keeping his ship flying. Holden thought of Sam's impish smile and habit of tempering her criticism with silliness, and felt something clench behind his breastbone. It had been years, but the grief could still sneak up on him.
"Thank you," he said instead.
"This won't be fast," Sakai replied. The mech jetted off to another part of the ship, anchored itself on magnetic feet, and began cutting another section of the outer hull away with a bright flash.
"Let's move to my office," Fred said. "At my age, you can only take an e-suit so long."
Many things about ship repair were made easier by the lack of gravity and atmosphere. The trade-off was forcing technicians to wear environment suits while they worked. Holden took Fred's words to mean the old man needed to pee and hadn't bothered with the condom catheter.
"Okay, let's go."
Fred's office was large for something on a space station, and smelled of old leather and good coffee. The captain's safe on the wall was done in titanium and bruised steel, like a prop from an old movie. The wall screen behind his desk showed a view of three skeletal ships under construction. Their design was large, bulky, and functional. Like sledgehammers. They were the beginnings of a custom built OPA naval fleet. Holden knew why the alliance felt the need to create its own armed defensive force, but given everything that had happened over the past few years, he couldn't help but feel like humanity kept learning the wrong lessons from its traumas.
"Coffee?" Fred asked. At Holden's nod, he began puttering around the coffee station on a side table, fixing two cups. The one he held out to Holden had a faded insignia on it. The split circle of the OPA, worn almost to invisibility.
Holden took it, waved at the screen, and said, "How long?"
"Six months is our current projection," Fred said, then sat in his chair with an old man's grunt. "Might as well be forever. A year and a half from now human social structures in this galaxy will be unrecognizable."
"If that's what you want to call it," Fred said with a nod. "I call it the land rush. A whole lot of covered wagons heading for the promised land."
Over a thousand worlds open for the taking. People from every planet and station and rock in the solar system rushing to grab a piece. And back in the home system, three governments racing to build enough warships to control it all.
A welding array flared to life on the skin of one of the ships so brightly that the monitor dimmed in response.
"If Ilus was anything, it was a warning that a lot of people are going to die," Holden said. "Was anyone listening?"
"Not really. You familiar with the land rush in North America?"
"Yeah," Holden said, then took a sip of Fred's coffee. It was delicious. Earth grown, and rich. The privileges of rank. "I got your covered wagon reference. I grew up in Montana, you know. That frontier shit is still the story the people there tell about themselves."
"So you know that the mythology of manifest destiny hides a lot of tragedy. Many of those covered wagons never made it. And more than a few of the people who did wound up as cheap labor for the railroads, mines, and rich farmers."
Holden drank his coffee and watched the ship construction. "Not to mention all the people who were living there before the covered wagons showed up and gave everyone a nifty new plague. At least our version of galactic destiny doesn't displace anything more advanced than a mimic lizard."
Fred nodded. "Maybe. Seems that way so far. But not all thirteen hundred systems have good surveys yet. Who knows what we'll find."
"Killer robot things and continent-sized fusion reactors just waiting for someone to flip the switch so they can blow half the planet into space, if memory serves."
"Based on our sample of one. It could get weirder."
Holden shrugged and finished off his coffee. Fred was right. There was no way to know what might be waiting on all of those worlds. No telling what dangers lay in store for the would-be colonists rushing to claim them.
"Avasarala isn't happy with me," Holden said.
"No, she is not," Fred agreed. "But I am."
"Look, the old lady wanted you to go out there and show everyone in the solar system how bad it all was. Scare them into waiting for the government to tell them it was okay. Put the control back in her hands."
"It was pretty scary," Holden said. "Was I not clear on that?"
"Sure. But it was also survivable. And now Ilus is getting ready to send freighters full of lithium ore to the markets here. They'll be rich. They may wind up being the exception, but by the time everyone figures that out, people will be on all those worlds looking for the next gold mine."
"Not sure what I could have done differently."
"Nothing," Fred agreed. "But Avasarala and Prime Minister Smith on Mars and the rest of the political wonks want to control this. And you've made sure they can't."
"So why are you happy?"
"Because," Fred said, his grin wide, "I'm not trying to control it. Which is why I'll wind up in control of it. I'm playing the long game."
Holden got up and poured himself another cup of Fred's delicious coffee. "Yeah, you're going to need to parse that for me," he said, leaning against the wall next to the coffee pot.
"I've got Medina Station, a self-sustaining craft that everyone going through the rings has to go past, handing out seed packs and emergency shelters to any ship that needs them. We're selling potting soil and water filters at cost. Any colony that survives is going to do so in part because we helped them. So when it comes time to organize some sort of galactic governing body, who are they going to turn to? The people who want to enforce hegemony at the barrel of a gun? Or the folks who were and are there to help out in a crisis?"
"They turn to you," Holden said. "And that's why you're building ships. You need to look helpful at the beginning when everyone needs help, but when they start looking for a government, you want to look strong."
"Yes," Fred said, leaning back in his chair. "The Outer Planets Alliance has always meant everything past the Belt. That's still true. It's just… expanded a bit."
"It can't be that simple. No way Earth and Mars just sit back and let you run the galaxy because you handed out tents and bag lunches."
"Nothing ever is," Fred admitted. "But that's where we'll start. And as long as I own Medina Station, I control the center of the board."
"Did you actually read my report?" Holden asked, not able to keep all the disbelief out of his voice.
"I'm not underestimating the dangers left on those worlds—"
"Forget what got left behind," Holden said. He put down his half-empty coffee cup and stalked across the room to lean across Fred's desk. The old man sat back with a frown. "Forget the robots and railroad systems that still work after being powered down for a billion years or so. The exploding reactors. Forget lethal slugs and microbes that crawl into your eyes and blind you."
"How long is this list?"
Holden ignored him. "The thing you should be remembering is the magic bullet that stopped it all."
"The artifact was a lucky find for you, given what was—"
"No, it wasn't. It was the scariest fucking answer to Fermi's paradox I can think of. Do you know why there aren't any Indians in your Old West analogy? Because they're already dead. The whatever-they-were that built all that got a head start and used their protomolecule gate builder to kill all the rest. And that's not even the scary part. The really frightening part is that something else came along, shot the first guys in the back of the head, and left their corpses scattered across the galaxy. The thing we should be asking is, who fired the magic bullet? And are they going to be okay with us taking all of the victims' stuff?"
Fred had given the crew two suites in the management housing level of Tycho Station's habitation ring. Holden and Naomi shared one, while Alex and Amos lived in the other, though in practice that usually just meant they slept there. When the boys weren't partaking of Tycho's many entertainment options, they seemed to spend all their time in Holden and Naomi's apartment.
When Holden came in, Naomi was sitting in the dining area scrolling through something complex on her hand terminal. She smiled at him without looking up. Alex was sitting on the couch in their living room. The wall screen was on, the graphics and talking heads of a newsfeed playing, but the sound was muted and the pilot's head lay back and his eyes were closed. He snored quietly.
"Now they're sleeping here too?" Holden asked, sitting down across the table from Naomi.
"Amos is picking up dinner. How did your thing go?"
"You want the bad news or the worse news?"
Naomi finally looked up from her work. She cocked her head to one side and narrowed her eyes at him. "Did you get us fired again?"
"Not this time. The Roci's pretty beat up. Sakai says—"
"Twenty-eight weeks," Naomi said.
"Yeah. Have you bugged my terminal?"
"I'm looking at the spreadsheets," she said, pointing at her screen. "Got them an hour ago. He's—Sakai's pretty good."
Not as good as Sam hung in the air between them, unspoken. Naomi looked back down at the table, hiding behind her hair.
"So, yeah, that's the bad news," Holden said. "Half a year of downtime, and I'm still waiting for Fred to come out and say that he's paying for it. Or some of it. Any of it, really."
"We're still pretty flush. The UN's payment came through yesterday."
Holden nodded the comment away. "But forgetting money for a minute, I still can't get anyone to listen to me when it comes to the artifact."
Naomi gave him a Belter shrug of her hands. "Because this time it would be different? They've never listened before."
"Just once I'd like to be rewarded for my optimistic view of humanity."
"I made coffee," she said, pointing at the kitchen with a tilt of her head.
"Fred gave me some of his, which was good enough that I am ruined for lesser coffees from now on. Yet another way in which my meeting with him was unsatisfying."
The door to the apartment slid open, and Amos stomped in carrying a pair of large sacks. A curry and onion scent filled the air around him.
"Chow," he said, then dumped the bags on the table in front of Holden. "Hey, Cap'n, when do I get my ship back?"
"Is that food?" Alex said in a loud, groggy voice from the living room. Amos didn't answer; he was already taking foam cartons out of the bags and setting them around the table. Holden had thought he was too annoyed to eat, but the spicy smell of Indian food changed his mind.
"Not for a long time," Naomi said to Amos around a mouthful of bean curd. "We bent the mount."
"Shit," Amos said, sitting and grabbing a pair of chopsticks. "I leave you guys alone for a couple weeks and you fuck my girl up."
"Alien superweapons were used," Alex said, walking into the room, sleep-sweaty hair standing out from his skull in every direction. "The laws of physics were altered, mistakes were made."
"Same shit, different day," Amos replied and handed the pilot a carton of curried rice. "Turn the sound up. That looks like Ilus."
Naomi turned up the sound on the video feed, and the voice of a newscaster filled the apartment. "—partial power restored, but sources on the ground say this setback will—"
"Is that real chicken?" Alex asked, grabbing at one of the cartons. "Splurgin' a bit, are we?"
"Shush," Amos said. "They're talking about the colony."
Alex rolled his eyes, but said nothing as he piled spicy strips of chicken on his plate. "—in other news, a draft report detailing the investigation into last year's attack on the Callisto shipyards was leaked this week. While the text is not finalized, the early reports suggest that a splinter faction of the Outer Planets Alliance was involved, and places blame for the high casualty—"
Amos shut off the sound with an angry stab at the table's controls. "Shit, wanted to hear more about what's going on with Ilus, not some dumbass OPA cowboys getting themselves blown up."
"I wonder if Fred knows who was behind that," Holden said. "The OPA hardliners are having trouble getting over their 'us against the solar system' theology."
"What did they want there anyway?" Alex said. "Callisto didn't have any of the heavy munitions. No nukes. Nothing worth a raid like that."
"Oh, now we're expecting this shit to make sense?" Amos asked. "Gimme that naan."
Holden sighed and leaned back in his chair. "I know it makes me a naïve idiot, but after Ilus I actually thought we might get a moment's peace. No one needing to blow anyone else up."
"This is what that looks like," Naomi said, then stifled a burp and put her chopsticks down. "Earth and Mars are in a prickly detente, the legitimate wing of the OPA is governing instead of fighting. The colonists on Ilus are working with the UN instead of everyone shooting each other. This is as good as it gets. Can't expect everyone to be on the same page. We're still humans after all. Some percentage of us are always going to be assholes."
"Truer words were never spoken, boss," Amos said.
They finished eating and sat in companionable silence for several minutes. Amos pulled beers out of the small refrigerator and handed them around. Alex picked his teeth with his pinky fingernail. Naomi went back to her repair projections.
"So," she said after a few minutes poring over the numbers, "the good news is that even if the UN and the OPA decide that we're responsible for our own repair bills, we'll be able to cover them with just what we have in the ship's emergency fund."
"Lots of work flyin' colonists out through the rings," Alex said. "When we're flyin' again."
"Yeah, because we can stuff so much compost in our tiny cargo hold," Amos said with a snort. "Plus, broke-as-hell-and-desperate is maybe not the customer base we should be chasing."
"Let's face it," Holden said, "if things keep going the way they are, finding work for a private warship may get pretty tough."
Amos laughed. "Let me get a preemptive I-told-you-so in here. Since when that turns out not to be true, like it always does, I might not be there to say it."
Chapter Two: Alex
The thing Alex Kamal liked most about the long haul was how it changed the experience of time. The weeks—sometimes months—spent on the burn were like stepping out of history into some small, separate universe. Everything narrowed down to the ship and the people in it. For long stretches, there would be nothing but the basic maintenance work to do, and so life lost all its urgency. Everything was working according to the plan, and the plan was for nothing critical to happen. Traveling through the vacuum of space gave him an irrational sense of peace and well-being. It was why he could do the job.
He'd known other people, usually young men and women, whose experience was different. Back when he'd been in the Navy there had been a pilot who'd done a lot of work in the inner planets, running between Earth, Luna, and Mars. He'd transferred in for a trip out to the Jovian moons under Alex. Just about the time an inner planet run would have ended, the young man started falling apart: getting angry over trivial slights, eating too much or not at all, passing restlessly through the ship from command center to engine room and back again like a tiger pacing its cage. By the time they'd reached Ganymede, the ship's doctor and Alex agreed to start putting sedatives in the guy's food just to keep things from getting out of hand. At the end of the mission, Alex had recommended the pilot never be assigned a long run again. Some kinds of pilots couldn't be trained as much as tested for.
Not that there weren't stresses and worries that he carried with him. Ever since the death of the Canterbury, Alex had carried a certain amount of baseline anxiety. With just the four of them, the Rocinante was structurally undercrewed. Amos and Holden were two strong masculine personalities that, if they ever locked horns, could blow the crew dynamic apart. The captain and the XO were lovers, and if they ever broke up, it would mean the end of more than just the job. It was the same sort of thing he'd always worried about, whatever crew he was with. With the Roci, it had been the same worries for years now without any of them ever being how it went off the rails, and that in itself was a kind of stability. As it was, Alex always felt relieved to get to the end of a run and he always felt relieved to start the next one. Or if not always, at least usually.
The arrival at Tycho Station should have been a relief. The Roci was as compromised as Alex had ever seen her, and the shipyards at Tycho were some of the best in the system, not to mention the friendliest. The final disposition of their prisoner from New Terra was now soundly someone else's problem, and he was off the ship. The Edward Israel, the other half of the New Terran convoy, was burning its way safely sunward. The next six months were nothing but repair work and relaxation. By any rational standard, there should have been less to worry about.
"So what's bugging you?" Amos asked.
Alex shrugged, opened the little food refrigeration unit that the suite provided, closed it, shrugged again.
"Something's sure as shit bugging you."
The lights had the yellow-blue clearness that mimicked early morning, but Alex hadn't slept. Or not much. Amos sat at the counter and poured himself a cup of coffee. "We're not doing one of those things where you need me to ask you a bunch of questions so you can get comfortable talking about your feelings, are we?"
Alex laughed. "That never works."
"So let's not do it."
On the burn, Holden and Naomi tended to fold in on each other, not that either of them noticed doing it. It was a natural pattern for lovers to take more comfort in one another than in the rest of the crew. If it had been different, Alex would have been worried about it. But it left him and Amos with mostly one another as company. Alex prided himself on being able to get along with almost anyone on a crew, and Amos was no exception. Amos was a man without subtext. When he said he needed some time alone, it was because he needed some time alone. When Alex asked if he wanted to come watch the newly downloaded neo-noir films out of Earth that he subscribed to, the answer was always and only a response to the question. There was no sense of backbiting, no social punishment or isolation games. It just was what it was, and that was it. Alex wondered sometimes what would have happened if Amos had been the one to die on the Donnager, and he'd spent the last few years with their old medic, Shed Garvey.
It probably wouldn't have gone as well. Or maybe Alex would have adjusted. Hard to know.
"I've been having dreams that… bother me," Alex said.
"No. Good dreams. Dreams that are better than the real world. Where I feel bad waking up from them."
"Huh," Amos said thoughtfully and drank his coffee.
"Have you ever had dreams like that?"
"The thing is, Tali's in all of them."
"Yeah," Alex said. "She's always there and things are always… good. I mean, not like we're together. Sometimes I'm back on Mars. Sometimes she's on the ship. She's just present, and we're good, and then I wake up and she's not here and we aren't. And…"
Amos' brow lowered and his mouth rose, squeezing his face into something smaller and thoughtful.
"You want to hook back up with your ex?"
"No, I really don't."
"No, they're not sex dreams."
"You're on your own, then. That's all I got."
"It started back there," Alex said, meaning on the other side of the rings, orbiting above New Terra. "She came up in conversation, and ever since then… I failed her."
"She spent years waiting on me, and I just wasn't the man I wanted to be."
"Nope. You want some coffee?"
"I really do," Alex said.
Amos poured a cup for him. The mechanic didn't add sugar, but knew to leave a third of the cup for cream. One of the little intimacies of crew life.
"I don't like how I left things with her," Alex said. It was a simple statement, and not revelation, but it had the weight of a confession.
"Nope," Amos agreed.
"There's a part of me that thinks this is a chance."
"The Roci being in dry dock for so long. I could go to Mars, see her. Apologize."
"And then ditch her again in order to get back before the ship drive goes back online?"
Alex looked down into his coffee. "Leave things in a better place."
Amos' shrug was massive. "So go."
A flood of objections crowded his mind. The four of them hadn't been apart since they'd become a crew, and splitting the group now felt like bad luck. The repair crew on Tycho might need him or want him or make some change to the ship that he wouldn't know about until it became a critical point somewhere down the line. Or worse, leaving might mean never coming back. If the universe had proved anything in these last few years, it was that nothing was certain.
The chime of a hand terminal saved him. Amos fished the device out of his pocket, looked at it, tapped the screen, and scowled. "I'm going to need a little privacy now."
"Sure," Alex said. "Not a problem."
Outside their suite, Tycho Station stretched in long gentle curves. It was one of the crown jewels of the Outer Planets Alliance. Ceres was larger, and Medina Station held the weird null-zone between rings, but Tycho Station was what the OPA had taken pride in from the start. The wide sweeping lines, more like a sailing ship than any actual craft that she served, weren't functional. The station's beauty was a boast. Here are the minds that spun up Eros and Ceres; here is the shipyard that built the largest vessel in the history of humanity. The men and women who, not so many generations ago, had braved the abyss beyond Mars for the first time were smart and powerful enough to make this.
Alex made his way down a long promenade. The people who passed him were Belters, their bodies longer than Earth standard, their heads wider. Alex himself had grown up in the relatively low Martian gravity, but even he didn't quite match the physiology that a childhood rich in null g gave.
Plants grew in the empty spaces of the wide corridors, vines crawling up against the spin gravity as they would have against the normal pull on Earth. Children scampered through the halls, ditching school the way he had back in Londres Nova. He drank his coffee and tried to cultivate the peace of being on the burn. Tycho Station was just as artificial as the Roci
- "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
- "High adventure equaling the best space opera has to offer, cutting-edge technology, and a group of unforgettable characters bring the third installment of Corey's epic space drama (after Caliban's War and Leviathan Wakes) to an action-filled close while leaving room for more stories to unfold. Perhaps one of the best tales the genre has yet to produce, this superb collaboration between fantasy author Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck should reawaken an interest in old-fashioned storytelling and cinematic pacing. Highly recommended."—Library Journal on Abaddon's Gate
- "Literary space opera at its absolute best."—io9.com on Abaddon's Gate
- "[T]he authors are superb with the exciting bits: Shipboard coups and battles are a thrill to follow."—Washington Post on Abaddon's Gate
- "Riveting interplanetary thriller."—Publishers Weekly on Leviathan Wakes
- On Sale
- Jun 2, 2015
- Page Count
- 544 pages