Last year, Tor.com Publishing introduced to Corey J. White, an exciting new voice in dark science fantasy. His novella Killing Gravity kicked off the Voidwitch series in weird style with a story of .
Later this month, Mars Xi returns in Void Black Shadow. The book isn’t out until March 27, but you can read an exclusive excerpt right now. Check it out below the official summary.
Corey J. White’s space opera Voidwitch Series continues: Mars Xi returns in Void Black Shadow, sequel to Killing Gravity.
Mars Xi is a living weapon, a genetically-manipulated psychic supersoldier with a body count in the thousands, and all she wanted was to be left alone. People who get involved with her get hurt, whether by MEPHISTO, by her psychic backlash, or by her acid tongue. It’s not smart to get involved with Mars, but that doesn’t stop some people from trying.
The last time MEPHISTO came for Mars, they took one of her friends with them. That was a mistake. A force hasn’t been invented that can stop a voidwitch on a rampage, and Mars won’t rest until she’s settled her debts.
All around me is black: that impossible nonspace inside of a wormhole. My chest rises and falls inside my space suit as I sit on the hull of the Mouse and stare at the hidden infrastructure of the galaxy itself.
“Heart rate is spiking,” Squid says, their voice coming through my earpiece from the cockpit. “Are you sure you’re okay out there?”
“I’m fine, Squid.” My heart’s thudding hard in my chest, but that’s normal. Staring into the abyss, I should be terrified, but honestly, all I can think about is where we’re heading.
Ocho squirms inside my suit and climbs into my helmet. She looks out, then turns to face me and makes an annoyed-sounding maow.
“You’re the one who wanted to come outside with me.”
She maows again, and crawls over my shoulder to return to the hood of the cloak I wore under my suit for her sake.
“Coordinates are locked in,” Waren says, voice coming directly from inside the comms system rather than through it, too clean, too close.
“I’m ready,” I say.
Squid sounds calm as ever when they give the order: “Hit it.”
My breath catches in my throat as we shunt through space-time. Wide swathes of flat color hang pixelated, then begin to crystallize. As clarity seeps in I see the planet Miyuki, its frozen surface glittering like a bed of precious stones.
“It’s beautiful,” Squid says over comms. They aren’t wrong.
There’s a small fleet in orbit around the ice planet, drifting serenely in the void—three frigates surrounded by a swarm of fighters.
As Waren brings us closer, the defense fleet rallies, exhausts glowing bright as starshine as they turn to face the Mouse.
“They’ve seen us,” I say.
“You need to deal with them quickly, Mars,” Squid says.
“On it. Waren, keep the ship steady for me.”
“I’ll do my best,” he says.
“That’s all I ask.”
The frigates loose a volley of missiles that streak through the space between us. I reach with my fingers stretched open, spreading my thoughts like a net. I grab hold of the projectiles and fling them back at the fleet. Explosions bubble in vacuum, fighters shatter into fields of floating detritus. One of the frigates lists to the side and tumbles toward Miyuki.
I grab the other two frigates, clench both fists, and feel the ships crumble, hardened chassis resisting for a short moment before the vehicles collapse.
The remaining fighters move in formation, speeding closer. Before I can crush them, the Mouse rotates hard to starboard and I’m thrown off the hull. I jolt to a sharp stop at the end of the polyplastic tether.
My mouth opens, abuse for Waren forming on my tongue, but I shut it when a white-hot blast of plasma from the planet’s surface streaks past. My helmet darkens in response and the Head-Up Display flashes heat proximity warnings.
“Good flying,” I say, winding the tether around my arm and pulling closer to the hull. With my other hand I grab three of the fighters and hurl them so they spin out of control, colliding with the rest of the wing. I reach out wide again, take hold of the ships, and crush. A sound builds in the back of my throat, the only noise in the silence of the void, as one by one the small crafts explode and compact into solid spheres orbited by specks of shrapnel.
Another blast of cannon fire burns toward us from below, and I hold tight as Waren strafes the Mouse out of the way.
“I don’t know how many more of those I can dodge, Mars,” Waren says flatly.
“I can’t crush them ’til I know where they are.”
“We need to get down there,” Squid says, “quickly.”
Waren zags to port and my arm throbs as I strain to hold the tether tight.
“Mars, we’re about to hit the atmosphere,” Squid says.
I start chanting “Fuck fuck fuck” as I unclip the tether and clamber across the hull, gripping handholds as the ship thrashes beneath me like a wild beast.
I swing into the open air lock and punch the controls, then listen to the thu-thump of my heart as I wait for the air lock to cycle. When the light over the interior door turns green I duck through the opening and spot Pale. He’s strapped to the wall of the vestibule beside the air lock, dressed in a gray space suit too large for him, eyes barely visible over the lip of the helmet.
The ship shudders with an echoing dhoozh, and running lights switch from white to red: we just lost atmosphere. I cross the ready-room and check the clasp on the neck of Pale’s suit.
“Wait here; keep your helmet on and don’t undo these straps, no matter what.” His eyes are stuck fast to me, but slowly he nods. His face is blank and I can’t tell if it’s catatonic terror or simple serenity. He’s not much for vox at the best of times, so I don’t bother asking.
“We’re gonna be okay,” I say. I leave him and head for the cockpit.
The floor pitches beneath me. I’m tossed forward, but break my fall with a little telekinetic push. I cut Pale out of the comms circuit and say, “What the fuck is happening?”
“I need you up here now, Mars. We have multiple hull breaches, and we just lost power to the engines,” Squid says. “Waren still has thrusters, but that won’t be enough to stop us crashing into the planet’s surface.”
“I’m on my way. Trix, get to the ready-room and wait with Pale.”
“Already moving,” she says, rounding the corner to head back the way I came. She’s wearing her red and black exoskeleton over her space suit, with a hefty-looking lasrifle clipped to the exo’s frame. The ship shakes again, but the gyroscopes in Trix’s exoskeleton keep her steady while I slam into the wall. I stay there hugging it so Trix’s artificially broad frame can push past me.
I keep rushing for the cockpit, progress stunted by the ragged rhythm of the Mouse falling down and apart. I pass a viewport and glance outside. The sight is split between void-black and the blue-white of Miyuki’s atmosphere, with the glowing orange re-entry burn fluttering past.
When I reach it, the cockpit door slides open for me and I find Squid in the pilot’s seat, face slack as they interface with the Mouse via skullstack pilot augmentations.
“Squid, I’m here now. I need you to open the blast shield.”
They don’t say anything, but the shield slides away, revealing a wide stretch of Miyuki’s endless white plains.
Puffs of smoke billow as the surface cannons unleash another volley. I grab the back of the pilot seat and, with my other hand, scatter the incoming plasma: balls of superheated matter roiling like living things within my grasp.
“Was that you?” Squid asks, voice coming through comms while their mouth stays static.
“Yes,” I yell as I brush the next attack aside. My eyes struggle to focus as the ship shudders against the friction of re-entry.
“If you keep that up we might just make it,” Squid says.
There’s a squirming between my shoulder blades and Ocho maows hopelessly. I ignore her and stagger from behind the pilot’s seat over to the front viewport and lean with both palms flat against the void-proof glass.
“We’ve lost the last of the thrusters,” Waren says, with artificial calm. “We are now in free fall.”
What I wouldn’t give for an AI’s lack of fear right now.
Ocho’s latest incarnation is still only juvenile, so she doesn’t hinder my view too badly when she maneuvers into the helmet of my suit. She stares down at the rapidly approaching surface and makes a curious-sounding trill.
“Don’t worry, little one: it’ll take more than gravity to do us in,” I say. Ocho stays in my helmet, with her tail flicking my cheek and a paw pressed against the glass like she’s mimicking me.
We’re close enough now that I can see the plasma cannons: matte-white shapes on the planet’s crystalline surface. In the distance a tall dark stack rises out from a melted patch of snow, the ground almost black beneath all that white. I inhale deep, focus on the cannons, and strike. Masses of snow leap into the sky, forming temporary clouds that clump, scatter, and fall back to the ground. When it settles, huge indentations mar the ice, like some cosmic god is having a fistfight with the planet.
I concentrate on the palm of each hand, drawing strength from every part of my mind. My fingers are splayed on the viewport, digits touching the surface of Miyuki and pushing, slowing our descent as my throat burns and my ears fill with the sound of my shouting.
My eyes sting, lids forced open so I can see; see the looming planet and our fate if I don’t stop this fall.
The re-entry burn stops, but the ground is still coming up fast, too fast.
I reach down deep, deeper still, to that reservoir in the furthest part of myself.
Arm muscles burn as I push against the force of a whole planet, push against this falling gravity. The shout becomes a scream and the planet a tear-blurred field of white.
The Mouse creaks loudly, metal twisting as I adjust our trajectory. I picture a stone skipping across water and lift the ship’s fore; atmosphere shifts around us and we hurtle forward, still rushing at the ground.
“Squid! Get out of here! Go back to the others.”
“No!” they yell. “There’s no time!”
I form the largest barrier I can and hold it in front of the Mouse. I watch the ground fly up to meet us as the planet punches back.