Gareth L. Powell, author of the Embers of War series, has a new space opera coming out next year that’ll kick off a new series. It’s called Stars and Bones, and io9 has the exclusive cover reveal and an exciting excerpt to share today.
First, here’s the official description for some context.
Seventy-five years from today, the human race has been cast from a dying Earth to wander the stars in a vast fleet of arks—each shaped by its inhabitants into a diverse and fascinating new environment, with its own rules and eccentricities.
When her sister disappears while responding to a mysterious alien distress call, Eryn insists on being part of the crew sent to look for her. What she discovers on Candidate-623 is both terrifying and deadly. When the threat follows her back to the fleet and people start dying, she is tasked with seeking out a legendary recluse who may just hold the key to humanity’s survival.
And here’s the full cover, designed by Julia Lloyd, followed by the excerpt. Talking space cat incoming, along with a rather terrifying black hole!
“Are we going to die?” it asked, eyeing the churning destruction ahead.
“Oh.” It licked a paw and wiped behind its ear. “Well, I’m not going to lie, I’m a little disappointed.”
I heard a grinding crash to aft and a red light told me we’d just lost one of our stabilisers.
“I suppose you could do better?”
The cat looked up. “Of course I could.”
“I can see a way out of this.”
The animal stretched. “Trust me, I’m a cat. I climb things. I catch birds and fish. I’m all about spatial awareness.”
“Then, what do you suggest?”
“Get the Ocelot to dream-link to me.”
“You’d need an implant.”
“I’ve got an implant. How do you think this collar works?”
We were getting close to the maelstrom now. X-rays bombarded the hull, and the very fabric of space and time were being warped by the singularity at the black hole’s heart.
The Ocelot said, “It might be possible.”
The bridge lights dimmed as the ship diverted all available power to strengthening the molecular bonds in the hull.
I said, “But, can’t you figure a way through?”
The Ocelot was silent for a moment. Then it said, “I can compute a trajectory likely to bring us out the other side. But we are talking about taking a close pass around a mathematical singularity dense enough that its gravity interacts with the substrate. I would prefer to have a navigator hooked-in should we hit any unpredictable quantum fluctuations.”
“And you think the cat can do it?”
“Much as it pains me to admit, I believe he can.”
The cat regarded me with its yellow eyes. “Well?”
I sat back in my couch. “I must be going crazy.”
“Is that a yes?”
“Yes, do it. What have we got to lose?”
We were about to hit the outer layer of the infalling disc. Something tugged at my insides. I could feel the entity’s incorporeal fingers pulling at my ribs, threatening to rip me apart as it had ripped apart my sister.
Then, in the depths of my mind, I sensed a new presence, as lean and hungry as a coiled spring. Sam’s mind had joined our consensus.
Lateral thrusters fired, throwing the Ocelot into a spin. At the same time, our nose dipped towards the event horizon itself. We were going to strike the black hole a glancing blow, right where the star’s burning material hit the point of no return.
That’s it, I thought. We’re dead. Nothing could pass through an event horizon and emerge from the other side. The gravity within that boundary was so fierce not even light could escape.
That’s the last time I trust a fucking cat.
Sam stretched again, seemingly unconcerned by the doubt leaking through the link from my mind to his. “Have the jump engines ready to go.” The little prick was actually purring.
The Ocelot said, “Ready on your mark.”
Tail flicking, Sam crouched, as if about to spring. His eyes were like saucers. His ears were tipped forward, and his paws were kneading the deck. I’d never seen a cat concentrate on anything so keenly. A blinding curtain of death rushed towards us. The forward screen had dimmed so much to protect our eyes, it was practically black.
“Full thrust,” the cat said, and the room lurched so hard I was thrown onto my back. The claws of the alien were digging into my lungs. I could feel my ribs starting to flex. I was going to be burned and eviscerated all at one. We reached the point where the molten cascade impacted the event horizon. All the alarms on the ship went off. The Ocelot’s prow stretched like drawn taffy. My fingers streamed out like spaghetti. We were stretched until I thought we were about to snap apart.
And then, we were whole again, but everything moved in slow motion, as if we were underwater. The light outside looked strange. I don’t think it even was light, not in the way we understand it, and yet somehow, I could still see. The sound of my breathing roared in my ears. My skin itched and prickled in unfamiliar ways as my nerves fired off in random sequences. Time and space pressed in against me like air, and I realised we were inside the event horizon.
I… I could feel the dead around me. Shay and Snyder, my parents, my grandparents. Everyone I’d ever lost. The past, the future. They were all there in that moment, inseparable in the liminality between the real and the unreal. I felt the heat of their love. My ears rang with their half-heard pleas and warnings. My arms ached at my inability to hold them. Somewhere, a child cried. A dog barked. Footsteps echoed along the length of an aluminium air vent. I thought I heard a choir singing and caught a whiff of vinegar and burned toast. Angels of the Benevolence whorled before me, mirroring the larger spiral of the galaxy, which in its turn formed part of the greater revolution of the Local Group. My perspective broadened to eternity. The universe shrank to an echoing nutshell containing infinite space and bad dreams, and I realised my lungs weren’t working. I hadn’t taken a breath since we crossed the threshold. I hadn’t moved so much as an eyelid.
I knew little about the physics of black holes, but I’d once read how the ferocious gravity would cause time to slow as you approached the singularity at its centre—until finally you’d be trapped like ghosts in an eternal, unending moment, as trapped as flies in amber.
But then the jump engines fired.
The Ocelot dropped into the substrate and skipped out of the black hole like a fork being bounced from a spinning garbage disposal.
The clawing sensation evaporated from my chest. The damage to the ship ceased.
We were free.
Excerpt from Gareth L. Powell’s Stars and Bones reprinted by permission. Copyright Titan Books.
Gareth L. Powell’s Stars and Bones will be released on February 15, 2022; you can pre-order a copy here.
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