+ Add to Library
+ Add to Library


Chapter One


He knew that sound. The sound of a small metal tube clattering where it shouldn’t, right before the incendiary chaos of an erupting fragger ripped through a nursery room full of headline-generating kids or the hall of an ambassador who wouldn’t toe the line. Hotels. Hospitals. What have you. A kill team would run in soon after.

It signaled doom. This time, his.

But not yet.

He dropped to the floor behind a shipping container just as the crash of fire and heat screamed through the warehouse. The solid steel blocked the worst of the explosion, but didn’t do anything about the blast rattling his eardrums.

How many of his team were lying on the concrete, disoriented or worse, he couldn’t tell. Too much smoke. And he couldn’t hear any approaching boots above the keening in his ears.

Nothing for it. Gun out, he peered around the corner in time to see the Sidonian Guard charge through the warehouse doors, the king among them. Not his target, but an acceptable substitute. Viper would disagree, but the crew chief wasn’t there to make the call.

He’d never had the chance to shoot a royal. This was his moment.

He locked eyes with his target and aimed, his finger squeezing the trigger. A bullet through the forehead ended the moment.


Vincent turned the body over with the toe of his boot.

“That’s the last of them, sire,” Guardsman Jones told him.

“Survivors?” King Vincent’s prosthetic hand twitched, the metal fingers flexing and straightening apparently of their own accord until he pressed the offending digits against his belt.


“Hard to interrogate a corpse.” The words warbled from Vincent’s cybernetic larynx. He nudged his throat with the knuckles of his non-cybernetic hand and cleared his throat.

When intel had informed him that terrorists were holed up in a warehouse in Spillover South, he’d handpicked his team and headed out, intending to bring the full force of the Sidonian Guard down upon their heads. But he wanted at least one alive for interrogation. Now the only information they’d get would be what they could find from in the shipping containers stacked against the far wall.

“Tear this place apart. Find me something,” Vincent said.

One year after the attack on the capital, the dome protecting the city had been rebuilt and the palace restored. It would take longer to restore the nation’s military structure. Most of his senior officers had been cut down in the rebel attack. Unlike walls, people were not easily replaced.

A clanging interrupted his thoughts. Greasy-faced Sanders pummeled a nearby container, beating the lock with a crowbar.

“Stop—Sanders, by the stars!” Vincent shouted as a guardsman pointed his sidearm at the lock.

“Yeah, sire?”

“Did you make a scanner capture yet?”

Sanders surveyed his colleagues, each caught in the act of trying to open a container. Not a single one had thought to bring out the bots meant to document the scene. “No, sire.”

“Procedure,” Vincent growled. “Follow procedure. Or is the plan to destroy any visual and DNA evidence that might be on the scene?”

“Yes, sire. I mean, no, sire.”

Guardsman Rivers darted outside to retrieve the scanners and Sanders hustled to join her. Vincent felt a headache developing and rubbed his temples. It was true his team was green and leaderless, but they should know the basics by now. He’d have to send them all back to training—again—and they didn’t have time for that.

He shouldn’t even be here. Raiding criminal hideouts was not the king’s duty, but he was the only one he trusted to do this work. Sidonia was fragile from the last attack and he couldn’t hide behind a crown and propriety. He should have been with the queen, preparing for the memorial service. But someone had to make sure the terrorist rats got rounded up and exterminated. The safety of the planet depended on it.

“Don’t touch anything,” Vincent reminded his team. Sanders returned with a couple of cases. Rivers popped the cases and soon had the spherical bots floating around the room, scanning every inch of space and recording an exact 3D image of the room, down to trace biological remains left on every surface.

In shimmering blue light, a holographic display of the room appeared above the pad Rivers held. “Got it, sire,” she said.

He nodded at his team and they set to work opening the shipping containers.

Jones swung open the doors of the nearest. “Looks like this’s how they got into Sidonia,” he said, surveying bunks and life support equipment built into the back. “Old-school human-trafficking technique. Bury your illegals deep in a cargo ship. Hope they can handle the tight quarters and the atmo scrubbers. Hold up.”

Sanders moved to climb in, but Vincent grabbed his elbow. “Forgetting something, Sanders?”

A flicker of confusion crossed his face before the scanners zipped past him and did their work, flashing red and green lights over bedrolls, stacks of rations, and water containers. One bot took its time analyzing a couple of rank chemical toilets.

The next container held more of the same, but the third held stacks of crates. One of the guardsmen used a crowbar to wrench open the first crate, revealing rows of gleaming plasma guns.

Sanders whistled. “Would you look at that. Can’t remember the last time I got my hands on a gun that fancy.”

“Lu Huo 13s, looks like. Serial numbers wiped.” Vincent inspected one. They were surprisingly light. “Make sure the scanners record everything, then get everything searched, packed up, and sent to the station for processing.”

Yes, there was definitely a headache coming on. Intel had indicated a couple of Aquitaine spies were holed up in this warehouse making explosives. So far, there were no explosive devices in sight. The guns suggested a much larger plot was afoot. And it meant his intel was incomplete. One more department he needed to set straight.

“DNA reports are up.” Rivers studied her screen. “The trace biological remains left on the scene match up with all the bodies except one.”

“One body doesn’t match the DNA left behind?”

“No, sire. There’s DNA here that doesn’t match the bodies. Someone’s missing. A man, by the genetic markers. Off-worlder.”

“So there’s another terrorist out there.”

“I’m afraid so.”

The day was only getting worse.


“You’re late,” Cosima hissed at her husband, beaming a smile at the camera hovering near them. They stood in a park in the heart of Sidonia City.

Vincent didn’t look too penitent. Nope. Just stoic, stolid. As usual. If she’d stopped to look more carefully, she might have noticed the dark circles under his eyes and the slight droop of his shoulders. But she was too pissed off to notice any of that. Besides, half the city had gathered in the park in front of them, all eyes on their king and queen while a band played the nation’s anthem. The king’s and queen’s images were holo-projected several stories high behind them.

“You didn’t say why you were late,” she said over the ponderous melody.

“No,” he replied, looking at the crowd, the trees, the buildings; anywhere but at her.

“Hey—is that blood on your sleeve?”

“Not mine. Don’t worry about it.”

“Don’t worry? You didn’t go on a raid again—without me?” She knew she was whining.

“Yes.” Finally, he looked at her, his good eye stern and his fake eye colder than ever. “It’s not safe, Cosima, you know that. How desperate are things if Sidonia’s king and her un-trained queen are both getting their hands dirty? Besides, you can’t be put at risk.”

“You’re out there. Does that mean things aren’t desperate?”

“It is my duty. Not yours.”

The way he talked to her infuriated her sometimes. She wasn’t a kid; she was his wife, blast it. Barely resisting the urge to stick out her tongue, she settled for staring daggers at his back as he walked up to the podium while the last echoing strains of the anthem died.

Even though she was miffed at him, she had to admit that he did look handsome up there. Twelve months ago, she practically had to drag him to the throne and force him to take on the role of king after his father and brother—well, both brothers, if you counted the evil, cruel one—died. Since then, he’d proved himself as a commander. Why couldn’t he see that he was the best man for the job all along?

His steady voice rang through the speakers and filled the planet’s capital, and the crowd listened, riveted to their king. The entire city had come to a standstill that day to remember their fallen, and for the first time since she’d arrived from Styria Space Station, the bustling metropolis was still.

In that stillness under the dome, not a hovercraft stirred nor billboard flashed, and the five superhighways looping through the city stood empty. The only sound was the faint whir of camera drones zipping by.

After his opening remarks, he stepped back from the podium and the band played again, this time a dirge.

The shimmering holo of Vincent’s face dissolved, replaced with an image from that day. Cosima flinched when she saw herself at her almost-wedding day, and then her red-faced, pompous would-be groom, Prince Francis. Ugh. If there’s one good thing about having your planet attacked by war bots, she thought, it was not having to finalize her marriage to that cretin… not that she’d wanted him to die.

The band played on through scenes depicting the war bot attack—wedding guests scattered and shrieking as metal monstrosities shot them down, the surprised Guard in initial disarray until Prince Vincent rallied a counterattack to take each bot down, one by one.

The scene coalesced into the faces of the fallen, a hundred times larger than life. Starting with the late king and Prince Francis, then on to honor the Guard—Colonel Pavel Stolzoff and Major Volenz, both looking stern and commanding. Face after face, guardsmen and women of the lower ranks with expressions noble, hopeful, proud, and young—all of them far too young to have had their lives snuffed out.

Finally came the face she was waiting for. She knew it would, but it still sent a shock: Paul Remi. A powerfully built man, tall in his matte-black Guardsman uniform, wearing the calm expression she knew so well. He’d never deviate from his duty, even if it cost him his life. And in the end, it did. But if it hadn’t… how might her life have been different?

She felt sick. She had to leave.

Tears stung her eyes, but before she could move, someone touched her arm. Lana Erbach, her handmaid, joined her. “Be strong, my lady. See it through,” she whispered. “For Sidonia.”

The handmaid gave her a reassuring look. Sometimes Cosima felt like the older woman could read her thoughts. This was one of those moments.

“If you say so,” she gave in, and turned back to the crowd.

Behind her, the holos resumed streaming the monarchs, and if the three-story-tall Queen Cosima looked as pale as a sheet, the viewers credited her with mourning the nation’s loss, rather than her own.

“Seeing these faces hits hard,” Vincent said. “I know. It does for me too. These were our brothers and sisters, our fathers, mothers, husbands, wives. Our children.” He let that sink in. “Our home was attacked by an inhuman evil, war machines sent by their corporate overlords on a single mission, the domination of our homeland. And when your home is attacked, you can choose to run, you can choose to hide…surrender your lives and your liberties…or you can choose to fight back. These brave men and women of the Sidonia Guard chose to fight back, and that choice cost many of them their lives. It’s a sacrifice and a debt of honor that we can never repay, but one we will never forget.

“If their sacrifice has taught us anything, it taught us this: we are stronger together. Sidonia isn’t strong because of her technology. She isn’t strong because of her wealth or opportunity. She’s strong because of the valor of her people, a people who will never surrender.

“In the twelve months since that terrible day, we have rebuilt. The palace and city’s defenses have been reconstructed, young men and women are being trained in the Guard, and our nation has come together under a common cause, to build a star gate to the Gaia Worlds.

“After months of planning and execution, our space engineers—working hand in hand with the Chaebol Corporation—have nearly completed their task. Within a few short weeks, the gate will be operational and ready to send Sidonia’s first exploratory mission to a new system—an undertaking with unlimited potential for our kingdom.”

Squinting, Cosima couldn’t make out the Styria Station in the blue skies above their heads, but she knew it was there, and the new star gate beyond that. What would it be like to be part of the crew on the first ship to the Gaia system? Astrogators said the system had four planets, all with perfect conditions to sustain life. What would explorers find when they arrived? She’d give her right arm to see it for herself.

“Sidonia’s enemies have done their best to shut us down. And I’m going to be honest with you, they’re not done fighting. But neither are we. Yes, we’ve suffered losses. Loved ones we’ll never meet again. But we can’t forget that the reason they died was to protect us, to give us the chance to live to see another day. When their moment came, they ran toward the fight, not away.”

Vincent was not a man easily swayed by emotion. He tried his best to make decisions based on reason, a skill that kept him and his soldiers alive under fire. Cosima both admired his self-control and hated it sometimes. So when he gripped the podium in an effort to keep the tears in check, even though she was mad at him, something inside melted. Just a little.

“Let’s not run away from the fight. This memorial is to remember the dead…and to celebrate our victory that day. Our fight is to make it to the Gaia system and discover the new opportunities that await us there, and we are nearly there.”

Golf-clapping with the rest of the cheering crowd, Cosima thought, Well, that was a nice speech, but you’re not off the hook.

He’d gone on another raid without her, without even the common courtesy of warning her he was about to be in danger, and left her behind to pick out table settings and flower arrangements for the dumb memorial banquet. Not that banquets were dumb—food was never dumb—but honestly, at least a hundred women on their staff cared more about flowers than she. What she really wanted was a job where her skills could be put to use. How could she get her husband to see that? He appreciated everyone in the kingdom except her. So what was she going to do about it?

Libre Baskerville
Gentium Book Basic
Page with