Authors: Gary Gibson
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Marauder is set a few centuries after the events described in
Empire of Light
, and is a standalone work.
HISTORICAL ARCHIVES SUBSECTION C/5 category ALPHA
[From the offices of the Corso Institute of Non-Human Languages & Ciphers, in collaboration with the Accord Stellar Archaeology and Weapons Research Division. Presented by the
Department of Alien Affairs during a plenary session of the Accord Central Chambers of Government at Ymir in 2745.
Please note this document contains restricted information and is rated PRIORITY RESTRICTED ACCESS.]
The first Nova War of record is known to have taken place a hundred and sixty thousand years ago in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf galaxy orbiting the Milky Way. This
conflict, which is believed to have lasted millennia, was made possible by the same ‘nova drive’ technology that enables our own starships to travel at faster-than-light speeds. The
Magi, a multi-species collective that then dominated the LMC, had discovered that the nova drive was also a weapon of enormous destructive power – one capable of obliterating entire star
systems, and billions of lives, at a single stroke.
Fragmentary Shoal records show that the nova-drive technology originated not with the Magi, but with a far older alien civilization known as the Makers, who appear to have been responsible for
seeding caches of this and other advanced technologies throughout both the LMC and our own Milky Way. No other species is known to have independently discovered a means to travel faster than light,
and attempts by Accord researchers to reverse-engineer existing drives have so far met only with failure.
Our extensive analysis of recovered historical records, several hundreds of thousands of years old, lends credence to the idea that these caches were intended as a kind of trap, albeit of a
highly sophisticated nature. Any species sufficiently advanced to develop interstellar civilizations without the benefit of faster-than-light travel, so the thinking goes, would naturally exploit
the contents of any Maker cache they might stumble across in their process of expansion. Given sufficient time to discover the drive’s inherently destructive properties, they would ultimately
destroy themselves either through internal unrest or during conflict with other species.
Following the cessation of this earliest known Nova War, the surviving Magi built fleets of autonomous starships and directed them to seek out Maker caches and destroy them. The majority of
these ‘Magi ships’ were later destroyed by the Shoal Hegemony who, forewarned by events in the LMC, created a stable empire controlling interstellar traffic throughout much of our own
Milky Way – until they, too, were destroyed by internal factionalism and an aggressive territorial war conducted with a neighbouring species two centuries ago.
The Shoal Hegemony’s departure from the greater galactic stage has since allowed for humanity’s rapid expansion, by making use of nova drives recovered either from derelict Shoal
craft or from the Maker cache in the Tierra system. Such rapid growth, however, makes it difficult to keep track of the devices – and, given their hugely destructive potential, we recommend
prioritizing the acquisition
by any means necessary
of all extant nova drives, including those recently recovered by independent human colonies such as the Three Star Alliance.
Taking control of this technology is therefore an essential step towards preventing the occurrence of another Nova War.
We do, however, anticipate strong resistance from the Three Star Alliance in particular, and a draft proposal has been prepared regarding the possibility of military action should current
negotiations fail to reach a satisfying conclusion.
June 2763, 82 Eridani System (the present)
Megan Jacinth watched as the ship that had carried her down to Avilon’s surface lifted up once more, its drive-fields flickering as it passed through the former
asteroid’s atmospheric containment field. She had been the only passenger.
The stars overhead were still in visible motion, unsurprising given that Avilon had only jumped into this system within the last few hours. Avilon was a boosted world, after all – a
landscaped rock barely a few hundred kilometres in diameter, with a gravity engine at its heart and a containment field to keep its atmosphere from dissipating. Light and heat came from fusion
globes, orbiting outside the containment field like tiny suns.
She looked around at the wide, dusty plain on which she now stood. The horizon appeared so close that it made her feel as if a single step might send her toppling over its edge.
She reached into the satchel slung across her shoulders and pulled out a band, using it to tie back her shoulder-length dark hair, flecked here and there with silver. Then she started to
Megan hadn’t been walking for much more than an hour before some instinct caused her to glance up. She glimpsed a black outline occluding the stars and growing larger by
the second as it descended towards her. It appeared that her arrival had not, after all, gone unnoticed.
She stumbled backwards as a machine came thudding down onto the cracked dirt before her. Starlight glittered from its glassy black skin and armour-plated struts. Judging by the markings on its
carapace, it was one of Avilon’s security mechs, set to guard against unauthorized intrusions.
Megan stared at it in shock. Even though she’d been prepared for something like this, actually coming face to face with such a deadly machine was another matter. Her body instinctively
wanted to turn and run, but she was all too aware of just how much firepower the mech was carrying. She’d be dead before she could take a single step.
Moving with exaggerated care, she reached inside her satchel and removed a stubby tube made of copper-coloured metal and dark plastic. She held it out towards the mech, at the same time pressing
a small switch on the side of the device.
She waited for something to happen – but nothing did. She stared at the mech, dry-mouthed and unsure of what to do next.
The mech began to probe the machine part of her consciousness with informational feelers, looking for possible points of entry. It had already detected the cerebral implants she used to
interface with starships. A brilliant white light flared out from the mech’s torso, dazzling her. Then a sudden gust of air from its turbo jets sent her coat flailing around her legs.
She kept the override unit held out before her in one trembling hand. But suddenly the idea that this little box – this cheap, prefabbed gizmo of hacked-together circuitry and stolen
override codes – could possibly protect her seemed utterly futile. She was outclassed, and she knew it.
Kazim had assured her endlessly of the device’s efficacy, but at that moment she found herself wondering whether she might have made a terrible mistake by relying on him. It had since
occurred to her that if anything were to happen to her, all those contacts she had so carefully built up over the years would have no choice but to deal with him directly – and then
Kazim’s profits from the illegal exportation of
sans de sezi
, out of Corkscrew, would surely increase by a not inconsequential margin.
The machine’s servos whined faintly, its carapace splitting apart to reveal intricate glittering machinery underneath. It was, she realized to her further dismay, focusing its attack
systems directly on her.
At the same time, a low rumble built up somewhere deep within the machine’s core, building towards a crescendo.
The paralysis that had gripped Megan until that moment suddenly slackened. She stumbled backwards, preparing to take her chances and run . . .
The noise cut off abruptly, the machine’s attack systems folding themselves away and the carapace closing back over them once more.
She felt suddenly numb with relief. Maybe Kazim hadn’t been lying after all—
A flickering beam of energy shot out at her from another section of the mech, propelling a flood of fire through her nerve endings. She fell backwards, slamming the rear of her skull on the
ground, her jaw clamped in a rictus grin as her body twitched and shuddered.
She caught sight of the mech leaping back into the sky, like some oversized mechanical locust, before rapidly vanishing out of sight amidst the stars.
With an extreme effort, she was just about able to turn her head to where she could see Kazim’s override unit lying near one outstretched hand.
I’ll kill you
, thought Megan, in those last moments before consciousness slipped away.
I should never have listened to you, Kazim, you lying piece of shit.
Megan finally came to again some hours later, the grass feeling cool and damp beneath her cheek. Beside her knelt a heavily muscled man with intricate tattoos on his neck and a
look of deep concentration as he searched through the contents of her satchel. She instantly noticed he had a rifle slung over one shoulder.
She tried to say something, but her tongue felt sluggish and unresponsive. Even trying to form a few words made the muscles in her throat ache, and she could barely feel her arms and legs as she
tried to move them. Nevertheless, a faint tingling in her extremities suggested the return of sensation, though she could no more command them to obey her than she could sprout wings and fly
She glanced beyond the man and saw a spider-truck parked nearby, with two headless and bare-chested figures standing next to it. These were bead-zombies, she realized, their bodies controlled by
microscopic devices implanted in the nub of spinal column that protruded from the healed-over stumps of their necks. Each carried a long, curved sword in one hand and a pistol in the other.
Bead-zombies were, she knew from experience, incapable of feeling pain. Taking them on in a fight was a good way of getting yourself sliced into chunks, regardless of how much damage you might
inflict on them in the meantime.