Authors: Jacey Bedford
Rave reviews for Jacey Bedford and
Empire of Dust
“A well-defined and intriguing tale set in the not-too-distant future.Â .Â .Â . Everything is undeniably creative and colorful, from the technology to foreign planets to the human (and humanoid) characters. Author Bedford's worldbuilding feels very complete and believable, with excellent descriptions bringing it all to life.”
âRT Book Reviews
“Bedford mixes romance and intrigue in this promising debut, which opens the Psi-Tech space opera series.Â .Â .Â . Readers who crave high adventure and tense plots will enjoy this voyage into the future.”
“A nostalgic space opera.Â .Â .Â . Bedford's prose is brisk and carries the reader quite sufficiently along.”
“I'm very, very excited to see where this series goes next. The foundation that Bedford has laid has so much potential and promise. This is an author I will watch”
“Space opera isn't dead; instead, delightfully, it has grown up.Â .Â .Â . A fine example of a novel which has its roots in the subgenre but grows beyond it.”
âJaine Fenn, author of Principles of Angels
“The first of a new space opera series that delivers the goods and holds lots of promise of things to come.”
âSF Signal at kirkus.com
DAW Books proudly presents the novels of Jacey Bedford:
The Psi-Tech Novels
EMPIRE OF DUST
Copyright Â© 2015 by Jacey Bedford
All Rights Reserved.
Cover art by Stephan Martiniere.
Cover design by G-Force Design.
DAW Book Collectors No. 1701.
Published by DAW Books, Inc.
375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014
All characters and events in this book are fictitious.
Any resemblance to persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.
The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal, and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage the electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author's rights is appreciated.
Nearly all the designs and trade names in this book are registered trademarks. All that are still in commercial use are protected by United States and international trademark law.
DAW TRADEMARK REGISTERED
U.S. PAT. AND TM. OFF. AND FOREIGN COUNTRIES
HECHO EN U.S.A.
My thanks to all the team at DAW, to Josh Starr, and especially to my lovely editor, Sheila Gilbert, for her valuable input and for commissioning the fabulously talented Stephan Martiniere to do the cover. His artwork gave me a severe kick up the imagination. Thanks also to my agent Amy Boggs, and all at Donald Maass Literary Agency, for enthusiasm, expertise, and guidance.
I'm a great believer in peer-to-peer writers' critique groups.
went through the mill at both the annual Milford SF Writers' Conference and at several quarterly meetings of the Northwrite SF writers' group. The Milford writers and the Northwrite writers overlap considerably so some lucky folks got to critique the same bit more than once. Special thanks go to: Northwriters: Tina Anghelatos, John Moran (and his wife, Sara), Terry Jackman, Ian Creasey, Sue Thomason, Liz Sourbutt, Gus Smith, and Tony Ballantyne for their forbearance, especially when I was obsessing over Chapter One endlessly.
In addition I'd like to thank Milford attendees in 2013 and 2014: Guy T. Martland, Mike Lewis, Sue Oke, Phil Suggars, James Maxwell, Al Robertson, David Allan, Jim Anderson, Nick Moulton, Pauline Dungate, Vaughan Stanger, Jaine Fenn (and her husband, Dave Weddell), Bob Neilson, Matt Colborne, Heather Lindsley, Mark Bilsborough, Deirdre Saoirse Moen, Cherith Baldry, Tiffani Angus, and the ever helpful Liz Williams. Thanks, too, to Kari Sperring, N. M. Browne, and Karen Traviss for encouragement and words of sound writerly advice. All of these guys have books and short stories published. Do yourself a favor and seek them out. In addition I have to thank my singing partner in Artisan, Hilary Spencer, for her proofreading skills.
An extra-special thank-you and much love to my husband, Brian, offspring, Ghillan and Joe, and Mum, Joan Lockyer, just for being there and tolerating my obsessive, post-midnight keyboard pounding and other writerly foibles.
And lastly, thanks to you for buying, reading, talking about, reviewing, and recommending not just my books, but all books. Without you there would be no books. You rock! Keep up the good work.
Yorkshire, April 2015
T WAS ALL IN THE PLANNING.
Forcing people to go against their nature was almost impossible. The trick was to ascertain their true nature and allow them to indulge itâat the right time and in the right place. That was the art of the true puppet master. One of the problems with being so far from the action, however, was that once you set things in motion, you had to wait. And that was the hardest part.
Gabrius Crowder glared at the deepening purple sky outside his window, high up in the Trust's administrative headquarters. Arkhad City glowed bright in the distance, artificial light overtaking the natural as Chenon's fifty-hour day slid into its long dusk. Down in the compound below, tiny figures scurried between warehouses and the immense packing station next to the shuttle port, some on foot, others with float carts. Unobscured by trees or buildings, a kilometer of manicured, pink vegetation rolled to the perimeter, where a glistening curtain of pure power, beautiful but deadly, kept out unwanted visitors.
Crowder turned and gazed at the holographic galaxy hovering in the middle of his ops room. Tiny pinpoints of white light marked the Trust's colonies while the jump gate hubs blinked rhythmically in green. The platinum-producing
planets glowed blue. Not enough of them. Never enough. The jump gate network devoured platinum as fast as the megacorporations could refine it. Platinum, or lack of it, was the curse of the interstellar age.
He reached into the display and touched Olyanda, platinum rich and almost in the bag for the Trust.
The puppets were in the theater, the show had begun.
He put his hand to the dressing covering his ear. Itching was a good sign, wasn't it? He pressed gently with his palm, releasing a small dose of topical anesthetic until the fierce itch faded to a mild annoyance.
If his plague had done its job, they'd all be dead by now: Benjamin, Carlinni, the psi-techs and settlersÂ .Â .Â . even Ari van Blaiden. He squashed the flutter of guilt. He was a compassionate man, fond of cats and small children, but he couldn't afford to let sentiment get in the way of platinum.
Getting rid of van Blaiden along with the rest would be a bonus. A dangerous enemy, an even more dangerous business partner, co-conspirator, frenemyâwhatever. Crowder's relationship with van Blaiden had been complicated.
He strode through to his office and dropped his ungainly bulk into the float chair which dipped and swayed before stabilizing beneath him. The backrest molded to his lumbar region and cradled his spine.
He'd always thought of himself as a good man, a moral man. Had that changed? No. A general who sent troops to die in a war was not a murderer. Sometimes you had to do the expedient thing for the greater good. He was fighting a war on behalf of the Trust. An undeclared war, maybe, but a war all the same, not only against Alphacorp, the Trust's closest rival, but also against the other megacorporations, singly and together. The Trust was on top of the heap, but they couldn't afford to get complacent.
His holo-screen showed a direct call waiting. It was Bibby, one of his insiders in Alphacorp. A man with expensive tastes in chemical relaxation.
“Bibby, what have you got for me?”
The first page of a report flashed up in front of him. He spotted the words Olyanda and van Blaiden before Bibby snatched it away again.
“This is big news, Mr. Crowder. It's worth five thou.”
“Your grandmother isn't worth five thou.”
“Six thou. Every time you hesitate the price goes up. It's an eyes-only data package forÂ .Â .Â .” He flicked his gaze upward to indicate it was for the very highest authority. “I could sell it to any one of the megacorps for double.”
“Not unless you want to spend the rest of your lifeâyour much shortened lifeâon a penal colony.”
What had happened? Van Blaiden's name linked with Olyanda on a report intended for Alphacorp's CEO was a potential disaster. Crowder's considerable belly churned. “Has she seen it yet?”
“I'm good, but I'm not that good. This is a copy.”
“Six thou, all right.”
“Seven.” He'd get back at the little shit later. For now, the report was what mattered.
Bibby smiled and nodded. Crowder docked his handpad with the reader on his desk and his slush fund was instantly seven thousand credits lighter.
The report appeared on his screen. Bibby's image shrank to a pinpoint and vanished.
Crowder read, the hairs on the back of his neck standing to attention. He could almost feel his blood pressure rising.
It was a fiascoâa fucking fiasco. Olyanda was lost. There were survivors. Any survivors were bad news. Benjamin and Carlinniâthat was a disaster.
He'd paid a million and a half for that plague. What in all-hell had gone wrong?
He read on, sweating over what would happen first. Would the news break like a tsunami across the space-logs, or should he expect silence and a visit in the middle of the night?
He was going to have to scramble to minimize the damage.
At least Ari van Blaiden was dead, that was one blessing; a dangerous connection dissolved. He frowned. The report revealed that Alphacorp had been watching van Blaiden. How much did they suspect? How much did they know for sure?
He checked the report's author, but the name Kitty Keely didn't mean anything to him. It was probably an alias anyway. No one was really called Kitty Keely.
Despite the climate control in his office, a bead of sweat trickled down Crowder's face from forehead to jowls. If Alphacorp had proof of his involvement they'd use it not just against him, but against the Trust. That was a given.
He swallowed hard to dislodge the lump in his throat.
Hold steady, don't panic. It's a setback, it's not the end of the road.
The Trust had lost a prime platinum resource to the mobsters on Crossways. That was bad enough, but the psi-techs, once his own employees, now knew that he'd tried to wipe them out along with the settlers.
It was only a matter of time before someone came after him.
Crowder rubbed his hand over his ear, resisting the temptation to poke his finger through the dressing. They were still growing him a replacement, and the new eardrum graft was delicate. Benjamin could easily have killed him, probably would if they met again. That must never happen.
He took a deep breath. First things first. Slap Benjamin and the psi-techs on the Monitors' most-wanted list. He knew one Monitor in particular who had a personal grudge against Benjamin. It was time to feed Alexandrov the relevant information. He attached an unsigned message to a transfer of funds.
Benjamin heading for Chenon. Apprehend.
That would be enough.
Now for the second thing: so far the space-logs had been silent. Of course, it had only been a few days. There was still time. If Bibby's report was correct, most of the survivors had been evacuated to Crossways already and might be sending trouble his way at any time. The S-LOG network was slow between systems. Transmission of data packets through the jump gates was bound by the laws of physics. The tel-net was faster: short messages passed from Telepath to Telepath across space and then fed into local networks. Once a message hit the planetary net it could go viral in minutes, handpad to handpad. Crowder couldn't do anything about the tel-net, but he might be able to silence Crossways' direct chatter by pinching it off at the jump gates.
“Stefan,” he yelled for his secretary. “Put in a call to Legal.” He hoped the tech guys could block a route as quickly
as Crossways' hackers could open one. Crossways housed any number of resourceful criminal gangs.
With van Blaiden dead, Crowder could probably shift blame and retain plausible deniability for himself and the Trust. He had a breathing space, but he needed to make full use of it.
In his head he was already concocting a press release. A headline, something like:
Olyanda Plague Survivors Break Quarantine
, followed by a scare article.
Threat level red. All planets should deny landing rights to colonists from Olyanda or vessels from Crossways, where plague carriers have taken refuge.
That should do it.
Quarantine notices and warrants wouldn't be enough, though. He needed to deal with Benjamin and Carlinni immediately and with extreme prejudice.
Good thing he knew the right someone on Crossways.
Ben Benjamin eased the
into realspace with only a faint shimmer in the flight deck air. His version of reality resumed, though the dizziness took a few moments to subside, as usual. The transition was as smooth as it could be, which meant his connection with the ship was functioning damn near perfectly.
AndÂ .Â .Â . relaxÂ .Â .Â .
It was a good day. Ben counted the ways.
One: Ari van Blaiden was dead. Two: Ben's psi-tech crew had survived the Olyanda mission and they were all individually rich, or would be as soon as the platinum mines on Olyanda started to produce, which admittedly might take some time yet. Three: they had allies on Crossways, home to some of the most talented criminals in the known universe. Four: the spaceship he'd stolen turned out to have teeth. And, best of all, five: Cara Carlinni, love of his life, had not tried to kill him today.
Not yet, anyway.
He took stock. Five of them on the flight deck, pilot, copilot, comms, systems, and tactical. One by one the other four nodded back to him.
“Ship status?” he asked.
Cara relayed his question telepathically and cut him in on the reassuring responses from the crew in medical and engineering as well as from those off-duty in their cabins.
“Time?” He turned to Wenna at the systems monitoring station. Unflappable, dependable Wenna, his second during the Olyanda mission.
“Subjective time in the Folds: three minutes fifteen seconds.” She swiped her left hand across her hard-screen, favoring it above the biosynthetic right, despite having been right-handed when both her arms were her own flesh and bone. “Objective elapsed time in realspace: two hours forty-three minutes.”
Ben worked it out roughly in his head. Seventy seconds had passed in realspace for every one in foldspaceâa much higher ratio than when transiting via jump gates.
was one of those rare vessels with her own jump drive, which made transiting foldspace simultaneously less restrictive and more dangerous. They were still trying to figure out her parameters. The time differential could be fluid. You couldn't predict, you just had to go with it, though the longer you stayed in the Folds the less likely you were to get out again.
Ben subscribed to the theory, unpopular in Academy circles, that once you entered foldspace you ceased to be real in any accepted sense of the word.
He glanced across to where Cara sat at the comms station.
“How are you?” he asked her softly.
“Holding up.” Her short fair hair couldn't hide the thundercloud bruise radiating across her cheekbone, and she held herself stiffly. He guessed her rib was still sore despite the fancy bone regeneration equipment in
's sick bay.
He flexed his shoulder, knowing that only the drugs from his buddysuit dulled the pain of his healing burn. Neither of them had come through their trials on Olyanda without injury, but they were both still alive and upright, and that was what counted.
Cara's scars were more than physical, however. Broken bones and blistered skin healed faster than the deep mindfuck Ari van Blaiden had administered.
But that was over now. He, Cara, and the rest of his crew were still flying.
He turned to the newest member, still unproven, in the copilot's chair. She was supposed to be, like him, a psi-tech Navigator, but he'd felt her doubt herself during the foldspace transit. “Kitty?”
“Sorry, sir, I froze.” Kitty Keely combed her fair, shoulder-length hair off her face with her left hand and scrubbed at the back of her neck with hooked fingers to massage out the stiffness.
She looked drained. Flying the Folds was tricky at best, deadly at worst.
“It happens,” Ben said, remembering his first time flying a jumpship. “We'll try it again another time. And I already told you, no need to sir me. We're not in the service nowâunless you want to go back to Alphacorp. I can still arrange that if you do.”
“Uh, no thanks, siÂ .Â .Â . erÂ .Â .Â . Boss. I've had enough of big business.” She shuddered.
And enough of the likes of Ari van Blaiden, Ben guessed. Cara had never told him the worst of van Blaiden's excesses, but he'd seen enough. Young Ensign Keely had been sucked into van Blaiden's plans just as Cara had been. She was in an impossible situation. He was almost obliged to offer refuge.
That Cara had eventually come out of it sane was almost a miracle in itself.
He glanced sideways at Cara again. Well, at least she seemed sane.