By Jamie Sawyer
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The soldiers of the Simulant Operations Programme are mankind’s elite warriors. Veterans of a thousand battles across a hundred worlds, they undertake suicidal missions to protect humanity from the insidious Krell Empire and the mysterious machine race known as the Shard.
Lieutenant Keira Jenkins is an experienced simulant operative and leader of the Jackals, a team of raw recruits keen to taste battle. They soon get their chance when the Black Spiral terrorist network seizes control of a space station.
Yet no amount of training could have prepared the Jackals for the deadly conspiracy they soon find themselves drawn into — a conspiracy that is set to spark a furious new war across the galaxy.
THE ETERNITY WAR: PARIAH
I racked the slide on my shotgun. A reticule hovered on my HUD, superimposed onto the image outside. Suit and shotgun were slaved, working in unison.
“Right, let’s do it. Lopez, activate the charge. Feng, Riggs: cover the hatch. Novak: ready to clear the chamber on the other side.”
Novak’s shotgun was up and aimed at the circular hatch. “Just say word.”
“Charge armed,” Lopez said. She jumped back from the hatch, the rest of the Jackals falling into position.
The warning panel on the breaching charge turned amber.
“Don’t bug out on me,” I whispered over the comm.
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Riggs replied.
The charge activator flashed red.
The explosive detonated and the seam breached. The lock gave way to decompression. A localised hurricane of debris and dust temporarily clouding my sensor-suite.
Gunfire started a heartbeat later, and we got our first glimpse of the Black Spiral.
BY JAMIE SAWYER
The Lazarus War
Redemption (ebook only)
The Eternity War
“Try, die and try again.”
Alliance Army Sim Ops motto
“If a job is worth doing, it’s worth dying for.”
Popular saying among Sim Ops operators
When the call came, the captain was dreaming of his ex-wife. Of a cabin they had shared on Ganymede Docks; a tiny cubicle that Naval Logistics had audaciously called “shared accommodation”.
Katrina. That had been his wife’s name.
Captain Erich Doltrane was still his.
It was almost gut-wrenching how the gossamer blonde of Katrina’s hair – of a woman who had been dead for the better part of a decade – was replaced so suddenly with the austere grey of the starship’s interior. Doltrane found himself roused from a dream in which it had been warm and bright, and into the dark reality of the Alliance Navy battleship. And not just any battleship: his battleship, the European Confederation starship Hannover. That fact carried an extra weight to it, somehow, because he knew that as captain the welfare of every one of the two-thousand-strong crew aboard the vessel was his responsibility.
He had been expecting the call, but that hardly made it any less terrifying.
“I’m up,” he said, groggily. Knowing that the ship’s internal comms system would detect his verbal response. Added: “I’m awake.”
“Good morning, Captain Doltrane,” came the smooth tones of the ECS Hannover’s artificial intelligence programme. It sounded almost smug.
“Is it?” he replied. The AI was a personification of the battleship’s machine-mind, and Doltrane didn’t trust a machine that was so obviously far beyond his own mental capabilities.
He struggled to throw off the shroud of sleep, and swung his tired legs over the edge of the bunk. Rubbed callused fingers at his eyes. He made a conscious effort to avoid looking at the data-slates piled on his duty desk, each filled with weird geometric designs and gut-churning alien symbology. The ship’s warning siren wailed on and on in the background, echoing through the decks.
“There is an urgent alert from the command intelligence centre,” the ship’s AI said. “Alpha priority. Your immediate attendance is required.”
Doltrane thought about how similar the AI’s voice was to that of his ex-wife. Cold, calm, inexplicably collected. Both were, for all intents, dead.
“I did say immediately,” the machine insisted, an air of urgency in its modulated tone.
“You’re a bitch,” Doltrane said, as he thrust his feet into his deck-boots, fastened the lapel of his Alliance Navy uniform. “I’ve already said that I’m awake.”
“I do not understand your response, Captain Doltrane.”
“You wouldn’t. We’re out here in the unknown, and you don’t give a damn.”
“It will not be the unknown for long, Captain. We have reached the coordinates.”
The cabin’s overhead LED lights flickered on as Doltrane stumbled to the mirror above a tiny sink in the corner of the room. Having his own wash facilities was one of the few perks of being captain of the European Confederacy battlecruiser.
“Herr Kapitän,” came another voice, interrupting the alert tone: this time recognisably human. “If you’re quite done sleeping, this cannot wait.”
That was Lieutenant Javovich, and she sounded excited.
“I’m on my way, Lieutenant,” Doltrane said.
He splashed warm recycled water over his face from the stagnant pool in the bowl. Confident that the comm connection was closed, he said, “This, Katrina, is what comes of chasing ghosts …”
He could swear that he heard his ex-wife’s voice through the airshaft above the sink: that shrill cackle of a laugh that had at one time amused him so.
The ship was by now light-years from the nearest human outpost; on the very brink of explored space. Three days had passed since the quantum-jump to the Hannover’s present location, and in that time Captain Doltrane had slept little. He couldn’t shake the feeling that this was verboten space: that this was forbidden.
The ECS Hannover was currently deep within the Maelstrom, in a sector of turbulent space that Science Division had labelled as “the Gyre”. Had it not been for the present Naval operation, Doltrane was quite sure that he would never have heard of the place. The Gyre was just one of so many stellar anomalies within the Maelstrom; statistically, a tiny and largely insignificant feature of the shattered realm occupied by the alien Krell. And yet, greater minds than Captain Doltrane’s had ordained that there was something out here worthy of investigation …
“But it isn’t the location that makes this wrong,” Doltrane whispered to himself.
It’s the mission, Katrina whispered back.
The lack of sleep was getting to Doltrane. When he was a younger man, he had been more capable of working such long watches without rest. Things were different now, and he found exhaustion affecting him in many ways. He had been hearing things. Sometimes, just occasionally, even seeing things.
The walk from Captain Doltrane’s cabin to the command intelligence centre wasn’t far, but it seemed that whatever Javovich had to tell him simply wouldn’t wait, and the younger lieutenant met him halfway. Pushing aside bustling sailors and over-amped Marines in full battledress, Javovich snapped a salute at the captain.
“Glad that you could make it,” she said, with a blistering smile. She spoke with off-world accented German; a sixth-gen immigrant to the Vega III colony. “The ship has been trying to contact you for several minutes.”
Javovich had a certain cold beauty to her features, and a caustic wit to match. She was impeccably clad, uniform immaculately pressed and pale blonde hair pulled tight beneath her service cap, despite the stressful circumstances. Doltrane found himself almost envying the younger woman.
“I’ve barely slept in three days,” Doltrane said, increasing his pace towards the command centre. “I think that I’m entitled to a little shut-eye before … before the event …”
Doltrane’s words trailed off. He realised, with some self-chastisement, that he was frightened. In some ways, being here, at the culmination of the battleship’s mission, should have salved his anxieties. Instead, knowing what they were about to do – having read the reports on the subject – it just made him feel so much worse.
If Javovich noticed his unusual reaction, she didn’t respond. Instead, the young lieutenant kept speaking. “We’re running green on all systems. Command staff are on standby. We’ve reached the coordinates.”
“As I expected,” Doltrane said. “And the readings are the same?”
Javovich handed him a data-slate, which twitched with complex holographic info-feeds. Doltrane gave the slate a perfunctory glance; truth be told, he didn’t understand much of what the Science Division team told him, but what he could absorb was bad enough. He handed the slate back to Javovich.
“They’re the same,” she said, referring to the readings. “Sixteen dead stars. Over a hundred dead planets.”
Doltrane swallowed. “Dead Krell planets.”
“Does that make it any better?” Javovich asked. “Planets are planets. Either way, the Gyre is dead.”
“Do we have visual yet?”
Javovich raised a thin eyebrow. “We do, and that was why I ordered that you should be roused.”
“And?” Doltrane said, with a sharp intake of breath that was completely autonomic.
Fear, Katrina whispered. It’s called fear.
“And you need to see this for yourself,” Javovich said.
Doltrane pounded into the command centre, registering the fully manned terminals and primed weapons stations. He passed an eye over the holo-displays, watched the tightly disciplined crew work. All had been handpicked by him for this operation.
Meanwhile, the command centre’s view-ports were open, displaying the near-vista of the Maelstrom. Although stars twinkled and shone out there, even Doltrane recognised that there were not as many as there should have been. The captain tried to dismiss that thought as ridiculous – because such an evaluation could surely not have been made with the naked eye – but it was pernicious and invasive.
Doltrane paused at the tactical display. The view-ports could only tell part of the story, and the ship’s scopes had assembled the rest as a holographic projection; refined the unexplained horror of it all down to green wireframe images. Sterile and simple.
“As I said,” Javovich muttered, “I thought that you would want to see this for yourself.”
Sixteen stars had been extinguished in as little as a month. Sixteen living, breathing stars. The classification and other technical data pertaining to them scrolled across the holo, confirming that those suns had not died naturally. Each was now in the throes of a fast and painful demise: burning up their cores, sheeting out vast coronas of exotic energy, consuming what should’ve been millennia of power in a galactic instant …
“Good morning, Captain,” said Science Officer Heath, standing at Doltrane’s shoulder.
The old captain almost jumped at the voice. “Morning, Herr Heath.”
“Welcome to the Gyre. It is wondrous, isn’t it?”
The Hannover’s computer had plotted the anomaly in great detail. The worlds that had once orbited those dying stars had been rearranged. The dead nubs of rock were in a pattern, swirling inwards: like a huge spiral.
“I do not find it so,” Doltrane replied, still staring at the images.
The crew were mostly Euro-Confed, and as many as Doltrane could justify were from German home-colonies. There was no prejudice here but Doltrane liked to be surrounded by a crew that reminded him of home. Science Officer Heath stood out as the only American – specifically, of Proxima Centaurian descent – among the command cadre. He was also, by far, the most unpopular senior official aboard the Hannover: a man whom Doltrane had fought to have removed from the expedition, to no avail.
The captain slipped into his command throne, and Javovich took her seat as executive officer beside him.
“Latest readings to my terminal, if you will,” Doltrane said.
“Aye, Herr Kapitän,” Javovich replied.
“They are most interesting,” Heath pitched in. “The stars in question, had they naturally aged, would surely have become neutron stars or black holes …” Heath shrugged. “This was a deliberate act.” There was now a fixed grin on his thin lips. “Someone did this.”
“Or something …” Doltrane said.
“Can you imagine the power required for such an accomplishment?” Heath muttered. He shook his head in amazement. “And at such speed …”
“That is what concerns me,” Doltrane said.
It’s as though those stars were murdered, Katrina taunted.
Doltrane ignored his dead wife and instead examined the starship’s flight data. As he expected, the Hannover was currently cruising towards the heart of the Gyre, taking readings from whatever was attracting the planets. Doltrane felt that gnawing inside of him again; a black hole forming in his stomach.
You shouldn’t have come here, Katrina whispered.
“You think I don’t know that?” Doltrane hissed by way of reply.
“I’m sorry, Herr Kapitän?” Javovich asked.
“I wasn’t talking to you, Lieutenant.”
“Are you feeling well, Herr Kapitän?” Javovich said. “Perhaps I should summon medical attention—”
Her voice was swallowed by the wail of a siren. Doltrane caught Heath’s face – fatted by a lifetime of work in the labs, of a career spent safely in the Core Systems – dropping.
“Holy Gaia!” someone exclaimed.
“Stations!” Doltrane yelled, superfluously.
The tactical display snapped into focus. Space seemed wrong: as though its established limits had somehow been warped, been modified. Scanner returns began to pour in, began to – inexplicably – confirm the existence of the enigma.
Then he saw it.
This was why the Hannover had been sent out here. This was the objective. So vast and alien that Doltrane couldn’t look directly at it. His eyes couldn’t comprehend the enormity of it.
“It’s firing on us!” Javovich said. Then, because even under pressure she was still a damned good officer, into her console she declared: “All hands, brace! Enigma is conducting offensive action—”
“Null-shield up!” Doltrane shouted back, knowing that he was giving the command too late.
The Hannover shook.
“The shields aren’t responding,” someone replied. “Something inside the Gyre – or perhaps some weapons we haven’t seen before – is interfering with our systems—”
Another impact cut off the response. This was stronger, and damage readings filled Doltrane’s console: a hull breach in the aft, a vented fuel cell on the engineering deck.
There are people on those decks, Doltrane thought.
Correction: There had been people on those decks.
“Weapons systems online,” another officer declared. “Taking defensive action.”
The command centre shuddered around Doltrane. He saw the Hannover’s plasma warheads igniting in space ahead; saw exotic gases chain-react to the explosions. Maybe, just maybe, they had caught something, but Doltrane wasn’t sure at all.
Javovich pulled him back into the room, as another impact hit the Hannover. “Herr Kapitän! We must sound the mayday!”
Doltrane shook himself awake. “Execute that command.”
There was a deafening boom as something inside the Hannover’s spaceframe gave way. The scent of fire carried on the air.
“Why is this happening?” Heath yelled, spinning past Doltrane, scrambling for purchase in the evaporating gravity. “It wasn’t supposed to be active!”
“We were wrong,” Javovich spat back.
“This ship is no longer viable,” said the AI, voice carrying above the developing chaos aboard the battlecruiser. “All personnel are to take immediate safety precautions, and abandon this ship. Evacuation pods are available on all decks.”
“Go!” Doltrane yelled to Javovich. His eyes were pinned to the view-port, at the shape forming there.
“I can’t leave you, Kapitän!”
“That’s an order,” he replied, with no conviction at all.
“We have to send a transmission!” Heath said, snagging the corner of the tactical display: floating there. “Someone has to know what happened out here—”
“Just go!” Doltrane shouted. “It doesn’t matter any more!”
Javovich grappled a console, hauling herself away from the command terminal at which Doltrane still sat.
Another impact shook the spaceframe.
The thing outside had grown in proportion, had become so massive that it seemed to absorb space around it …
“You were so right, Katrina,” Doltrane whispered.
JACKALS AT BAY
I collapsed into the cot, panting hard, trying to catch my breath. A sheen of musky sweat – already cooling – had formed across my skin.
“Third time’s a charm, eh?” Riggs said.
“You’re getting better at it, is all I’ll say.”
Riggs tried to hug me from behind as though we were actual lovers. His body was warm and muscled, but I shrugged him off. We were just letting off steam before a drop, doing what needed to be done. There was no point in dressing it up
“Watch yourself,” I said. “You need to be out of here in ten minutes.”
“How do you handle this?” Riggs asked. He spoke Standard with an accented twang, being from Tau Ceti V, a descendant of North American colonists who had, generations back, claimed the planet as their own. “The waiting feels worse than the mission.”
“It’s your first combat operation,” I said. “You’re bound to feel a little nervous.”
“Do you remember your first mission?”
“Yeah,” I said, “but only just. It was a long time ago.”
He paused, as though thinking this through, then asked, “Does it get any easier?”
“The hours before the drop are always the worst,” I said. “It’s best just not to think about it.”
The waiting was well recognised as the worst part of any mission. I didn’t want to go into it with Riggs, but believe me when I say that I’ve tried almost every technique in the book.
It basically boils down to two options.
Option One: Find a dark corner somewhere and sit it out. Even the smaller strikeships that the Alliance relies upon have private areas, away from prying eyes, away from the rest of your squad or the ship’s crew. If you’re determined, you’ll find somewhere private enough and quiet enough to sit it out alone. But few troopers that I’ve known take this approach, because it rarely works. The Gaia-lovers seem to prefer this method; but then again, they’re often fond of self-introspection, and that isn’t me. Option One leads to anxiety, depression and mental breakdown. There aren’t many soldiers who want to fill the hours before death – even if it is only simulated – with soul-searching. Time slows to a trickle. Psychological time-dilation, or something like it. There’s no drug that can touch that anxiety.
Riggs was a Gaia Cultist, for his sins, but I didn’t think that explaining Option One was going to help him. No, Riggs wasn’t an Option One sort of guy.
Option Two: Find something to fill the time. Exactly what you do is your choice; pretty much anything that’ll take your mind off the job will suffice. This is what most troopers do. My personal preference – and I accept that it isn’t for everyone – is hard physical labour. Anything that really gets the blood flowing is rigorous enough to shut down the neural pathways.
Which led to my current circumstances. An old friend once taught me that the best exercise in the universe is that which you get between the sheets. So, in the hours before we made the drop to Daktar Outpost, I screwed Corporal Daneb Riggs’ brains out. Not literally, you understand, because we were in our own bodies. I’m messed up, or so the psychtechs tell me, but I’m not that twisted.
“Where’d you get that?” Riggs asked me, probing the flesh of my left flank. His voice was still dopey as a result of post-coital hormones. “The scar, I mean.”
I laid on my back, beside Riggs, and looked down at the white welt to the left of my stomach. Although the flesh-graft had taken well enough, the injury was still obvious: unless I paid a skintech for a patch, it always would. There seemed little point in bothering with cosmetics while I was still a line trooper. Well-healed scars lined my stomach and chest; nothing to complain about, but reminders nonetheless. My body was a roadmap of my military service.
“Never you mind,” I said. “It happened a long time ago.” I pushed Riggs’ hand away, irritated. “And I thought I made it clear that there would be no talking afterwards. That term of the arrangement is non-negotiable.”
Riggs got like this after a session. He got chatty, and he got annoying. But as far as I was concerned, his job was done, and I was already feeling detachment from him. Almost as soon as the act was over, I started to feel jumpy again; felt my eyes unconsciously darting to my wrist-comp. The tiny cabin – stinking of sweat and sex – had started to press in around me.
I untangled myself from the bedsheets that were pooled at the foot of the cot. Pulled on a tanktop and walked to the view-port in the bulkhead. There was nothing to see out there except another anonymous sector of deep-space. We were in what had once been known as the Quarantine Zone; that vast tranch of deep-space that was the divide between us and the Krell Empire. A holo-display above the port read 1:57:03 UNTIL DROP. Less than two hours until we reached the assault point. Right now, the UAS Bainbridge was slowing down – her enormous sublight engines ensuring that when we reached the appointed coordinates, we would be travelling at just the right velocity. The starship’s inertial damper field meant that I would never be able to physically feel the deceleration, but the mental weight was another matter.
“Get dressed,” I said, matter-of-factly. “We’ve got work to do.”
I tugged on the rest of my duty fatigues, pressed down the various holo-tabs on my uniform tunic. The identifier there read “210”. Those numbers made me a long-termer of the Simulant Operations Programme – sufferer of an effective two hundred and ten simulated deaths.
“I want you down on the prep deck, overseeing simulant loading,” I said, dropping into command-mode.
“The Jackals are primed and ready to drop,” Riggs said. “The lifer is marking the suits, and I ordered Private Feng to check on the ammunition loads—”
“Feng’s no good at that,” I said. “You know that he can’t be trusted.”
“I didn’t mean it like that,” I corrected. “Just get dressed.”
Riggs detected the change in my voice; he’d be an idiot not to. While he wasn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the box, neither was he a fool.
“Affirmative,” he said.
I watched as he put on his uniform. Riggs was tall and well-built; his chest a wall of muscle, neck almost as wide as my waist. Hair dark and short, nicely messy in a way that skirted military protocol. The tattoo of a winged planet on his left bicep indicated that he was a former Off-World Marine aviator, while the blue-and-green globe on his right marked him as a paid-up Gaia Cultist. The data-ports on his chest, shoulders and neck stood out against his tanned skin, the flesh around them still raised. He looked new, and he looked young. Riggs hadn’t yet been spat out by the war machine.
“So we’re being deployed against the Black Spiral?” he asked, velcroing his tunic in place. The holo-identifier on his chest flashed “10”; and, sickeningly enough, Riggs was the most experienced trooper on my team. “That’s the scuttlebutt.”
“Maybe,” I said. “That’s likely.” I knew very little about the next operation, because that was how Captain Heinrich – the Bainbridge’s senior officer – liked to keep things. “It’s need to know.”
“And you don’t need to know,” Riggs said, nodding to himself. “Heinrich is such an asshole.”
“Talk like that’ll get you reprimanded, Corporal.” I snapped my wrist-computer into place, the vambrace closing around my left wrist. “Same arrangement as before. Don’t let the rest of the team know.”
Riggs grinned. “So long as you don’t either—”
The cabin lights dipped. Something clunked inside the ship. At about the same time, my wrist-comp chimed with an incoming priority communication: an officers-only alert.
EARLY DROP, it said.
The wrist-comp’s small screen activated, and a head-and-shoulders image appeared there. A young woman with ginger hair pulled back from a heavily freckled face. Early twenties, with anxiety-filled eyes. She leaned close into the camera at her end of the connection. Sergeant Zoe Campbell, more commonly known as Zero.
“Lieutenant, ma’am,” she babbled. “Do you copy?”
“I copy,” I said.
“Where have you been? I’ve been trying to reach you for the last thirty minutes. Your communicator was off. I tried your cube, but that was set to private. I guess that I could’ve sent someone down there, but I know how you get before a drop and—”
“Whoa, whoa. Calm down, Zero. What’s happening?”
Zero grimaced. “Captain Heinrich has authorised immediate military action on Daktar Outpost.”
Zero was the squad’s handler. She was already in the Sim Ops bay, and the image behind her showed a bank of operational simulator-tanks, assorted science officers tending them. It looked like the op was well underway rather than just commencing.
“Is Heinrich calling a briefing?” I asked, hustling Riggs to finish getting dressed, trying to keep him out of view of the wrist-comp’s cam. I needed him gone from the room, pronto.
Zero shook her head. “Captain Heinrich says there isn’t time. He’s distributed a mission plan instead. I really should’ve sent someone down to fetch you …”
“Never mind about that now,” I said. Talking over her was often the only way to deal with Zero’s constant state of anxiety. “What’s our tactical situation? Why the early drop?”
At that moment, a nasal siren sounded throughout the Bainbridge
- "A gripping read that moves at warp speed."—Jack Campbell on The Lazarus War: Artefact
- "Gripping, gritty and unsentimental - Sawyer shows us how perilous future war can be."—Michael Cobley, on The Lazarus War: Artefact
- "A hostile race of alien biomechs somewhat in the mould of H. R. Giger aliens . . . terrorism, subterfuge and traitors . . . starships sporting particle beam weapons, railguns the size of skyscrapers, laser batteries, missiles . . . And then there are the uber-human super-soldiers clad in powered armour and wielding plasma weapons . . . Is that enough for you? . . . This, dear readers, is the good stuff. Recommended."—Neal Asher, author of the Agent Cormac novels, on The Lazarus War: Artefact
- "A highly promising science fiction debut - a fun, gripping adventure story, with a mystery at its core that kept me turning the pages."—Gary Gibson on The Lazarus War: Artefact
- "An adrenaline shot of rip-roaring military SF packed with cinematic action sequences and tightly drawn characters."—Stephen Deas on The Lazarus War: Artefact
- "Hyper-speed entertainment from a new master of science fiction!"—William C. Dietz
- "This novel is fast-paced and stimulating, grabbing the reader at the beginning and never letting go."—Booklist
- On Sale
- Sep 26, 2017
- Page Count
- 480 pages