For generations, the solar system Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt was humanity's great frontier. Until now. The alien artifact working through its program under the clouds of Venus has appeared in Uranus's orbit, where it has built a massive gate that leads to a starless dark.
Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are part of a vast flotilla of scientific and military ships going out to examine the artifact. But behind the scenes, a complex plot is unfolding, with the destruction of Holden at its core. As the emissaries of the human race try to find whether the gate is an opportunity or a threat, the greatest danger is the one they brought with them.
Abaddon's Gate is a breakneck science fiction adventure following the critically acclaimed Caliban's War.
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By James S.A. Corey
OrbitCopyright © 2013 James S.A. Corey
All rights reserved.
When he'd been a boy back on Earth, living under the open blue of sky, one of his mothers had spent three years suffering uncontrolled migraines. Seeing her pale and sweating with pain had been hard, but the halo symptoms that led into it had almost been worse. She'd be cleaning the house or working through contracts for her law practice and then her left hand would start to clench, curling against itself until the veins and tendons seemed to creak with the strain. Next her eyes lost their focus, pupils dilating until her blue eyes had gone black. It was like watching someone having a seizure, and he always thought this time, she'd die from it.
He'd been six at the time, and he'd never told any of his parents how much the migraines unnerved him, or how much he dreaded them, even when things seemed good. The fear had become familiar. Almost expected. It should have taken the edge off the terror, and maybe it did, but what replaced it was a sense of being trapped. The assault could come at any time, and it could not be avoided.
It poisoned everything, even if it was only a little bit.
It felt like being haunted.
"The house always wins," Holden shouted.
He and the crew—Alex, Amos, Naomi—sat at a private table in the VIP lounge of Ceres' most expensive hotel. Even there, the bells, whistles, and digitized voices of the slot machines were loud enough to drown out most casual conversation. The few frequencies they weren't dominating were neatly filled in by the high-pitched clatter of the pachinko machines and the low bass rumble of a band playing on one of the casino's three stages. All of it added up to a wall of sound that left Holden's guts vibrating and his ears ringing.
"What?" Amos yelled back at him.
"In the end, the house always wins!"
Amos stared down at an enormous pile of chips in front of him. He and Alex were counting and dividing them in preparation for their next foray out to the gaming tables. At a glance, Holden guessed they'd won something like fifteen thousand Ceres new yen in just the last hour. It made an impressive stack. If they could quit now, they'd be ahead. But, of course, they wouldn't quit now.
"Okay," Amos said. "What?"
Holden smiled and shrugged. "Nothing."
If his crew wanted to lose a few thousand bucks blowing off steam at the blackjack tables, who was he to interfere? The truth was it wouldn't even put a dent in the payout from their most recent contract, and that was only one of three contracts they'd completed in the last four months. It was going to be a very flush year.
Holden had made a lot of mistakes over the last three years. Deciding to quit his job as the OPA's bagman and become an independent contractor wasn't one of them. In the months since he'd put up his shingle as a freelance courier and escort ship, the Rocinante had taken seven jobs, and all of them had been profitable. They'd spent money refitting the ship bow to stern. She'd had a tough couple of years, and she'd needed some love.
When that was done and they still had more money in their general account than they knew what to do with, Holden had asked for a crew wish list. Naomi had paid to have a bulkhead in their quarters cut out to join the two rooms. They now had a bed large enough for two people and plenty of room to walk around it. Alex had pointed out the difficulty in buying new military-grade torpedoes for the ship, and had requested a keel-mounted rail gun for the Roci. It would give them more punch than the point defense cannons, and its only ammunition requirements were two-pound tungsten slugs. Amos had spent thirty grand during a stopover on Callisto, buying them some after-market engine upgrades. When Holden pointed out that the Roci was already capable of accelerating fast enough to kill her crew and asked why they'd need to upgrade her, Amos had replied, "Because this shit is awesome." Holden had just nodded and smiled and paid the bill.
Even after the initial giddy rush of spending, they had enough to pay themselves salaries that were five times what they'd made on the Canterbury and keep the ship in water, air, and fuel pellets for the next decade.
Probably, it was temporary. There would be dry times too when no work came their way and they'd have to economize and make do. That just wasn't today.
Amos and Alex had finished counting their chips and were shouting to Naomi about the finer points of blackjack, trying to get her to join them at the tables. Holden waved at the waiter, who darted over to take his order. No ordering from a table screen here in the VIP lounge.
"What do you have in a scotch that came from actual grain?" Holden asked.
"We have several Ganymede distillations," the waiter said. He'd learned the trick of being heard over the racket without straining. He smiled at Holden. "But for the discriminating gentleman from Earth, we also have a few bottles of sixteen-year Lagavulin we keep aside."
"You mean, like, actual scotch from Scotland?"
"From the island of Islay, to be precise," the waiter replied. "It's twelve hundred a bottle."
"I want that."
"Yes sir, and four glasses." The waiter tipped his head and headed off to the bar.
"We're going to play blackjack now," Naomi said, laughing. Amos was pulling a stack of chips out of his tray and pushing them across the table to her. "Want to come?"
The band in the next room stopped playing, and the background noise dropped to an almost tolerable level for a few seconds before someone started piping Muzak across the casino PA.
"Guys, wait a few minutes," Holden said. "I've bought a bottle of something nice, and I want to have one last toast before we go our separate ways for the night."
Amos looked impatient right up until the bottle arrived, and then spent several seconds cooing over the label. "Yeah, okay, this was worth waiting for."
Holden poured out a shot for each of them, then held his glass up. "To the best ship and crew anyone has ever had the privilege of serving with, and to getting paid."
"To getting paid!" Amos echoed, and then the shots disappeared.
"God damn, Cap," Alex said, then picked up the bottle to look it over. "Can we put some of this on the Roci? You can take it out of my salary."
"Seconded," Naomi said, then took the bottle and poured out four more shots.
For a few minutes, the stacks of chips and the lure of the card tables were forgotten. Which was all Holden had wanted. Just to keep these people together for a few moments longer. On every other ship he'd ever served on, hitting port was a chance to get away from the same faces for a few days. Not anymore. Not with this crew. He stifled an urge to say a maudlin, I love you guys! by drinking another shot of scotch.
"One last hit for the road," Amos said, picking up the bottle.
"Gonna hit the head," Holden replied, and pushed away from the table. He weaved a bit more than he expected on his walk to the restroom. The scotch had gone to his brain fast.
The restrooms in the VIP lounge were lush. No rows of urinals and sinks here. Instead, half a dozen doors that led to private facilities with their own toilet and sink. Holden pushed his way into one and latched it behind him. The noise level dropped almost to nothing as soon as the door closed. A little like stepping outside the world. It was probably designed that way. He was glad whoever built the casino had allowed for a place of relative calm. He wouldn't have been shocked to see a slot machine over the sink.
He put one hand on the wall to steady himself while he did his business. He was mid-stream when the room brightened for a moment and the chrome handle on the toilet reflected a faint blue light. The fear hit him in the gut.
"I swear to God," Holden said, pausing to finish and then zip up. "Miller, you better not be there when I turn around."
He turned around.
Miller was there.
"Hey," the dead man started.
"'We need to talk,'" Holden finished for him, then walked to the sink to wash his hands. A tiny blue firefly followed him and landed on the counter. Holden smashed it with his palm, but when he lifted his hand nothing was there.
In the mirror, Miller's reflection shrugged. When he moved, it was with a sickening jerkiness, like a clockwork ticking through its motions. Human and inhuman both.
"Everyone's here at once," the dead man said. "I don't want to talk about what happened to Julie."
Holden pulled a towel out of the basket next to the sink, then leaned against the counter facing Miller and slowly dried his hands. He was trembling, the same as he always did. The sense of threat and evil was crawling up his spine, just the same way it always did. Holden hated it.
Detective Miller smiled, distracted by something Holden couldn't see.
The man had worked security on Ceres, been fired, and gone off hunting on his own, searching for a missing girl. He'd saved Holden's life once. Holden had watched when the asteroid station Miller and thousands of victims of the alien protomolecule had been trapped on crashed into Venus. Including Julie Mao, the girl Miller had searched for and then found too late. For a year, the alien artifact had suffered and worked its incomprehensible design under the clouds of Venus. When it rose, hauling massive structures up from the depths and flying out past the orbit of Neptune like some titanic sea creature translated to the void, Miller rose with it.
And now everything he said was madness.
"Holden," Miller said, not talking to him. Describing him. "Yeah, that makes sense. You're not one of them. Hey, you have to listen to me."
"Then you have to say something. This shit is out of hand. You've been doing your random appearing act for almost a year now, and you've never said even one thing that made sense. Not one."
Miller waved the comment away. The old man was starting to breathe faster, panting like he'd run a race. Beads of sweat glistened on his pale, gray-tinged skin.
"So there was this unlicensed brothel down in sector eighteen. We went in thinking we'd have fifteen, twenty in the box. More, maybe. Got there, and the place was stripped to the stone. I'm supposed to think about that. It means something."
"What do you want from me?" Holden said. "Just tell me what you want, all right?"
"I'm not crazy," Miller said. "When I'm crazy, they kill me. God, did they kill me?" Miller's mouth formed a small O, and he began to suck air in. His lips were darkening, the blood under the skin turning black. He put a hand on Holden's shoulder, and it felt too heavy. Too solid. Like Miller had been remade with iron instead of bones. "It's all gone pear-shaped. We got there, but it's empty. The whole sky's empty."
"I don't know what that means."
Miller leaned close. His breath smelled like acetate fumes. His eyes locked on Holden, eyebrows raised, asking him if he understood.
"You've got to help me," Miller said. The blood vessels in his eyes were almost black. "They know I find things. They know you help me."
"You're dead," Holden said, the words coming out of him without consideration or planning.
"Everyone's dead," Miller said. He took his hand from Holden's shoulder and turned away. Confusion troubled his brow. "Almost. Almost."
Holden's terminal buzzed at him, and he took it out of his pocket. Naomi had sent DID YOU FALL IN? Holden began typing out a reply, then stopped when he realized he'd have no idea what to say.
When Miller spoke, his voice was small, almost childlike with wonder and amazement.
"Fuck. It happened," Miller said.
"What happened?" Holden said.
A door banged as someone else went into a neighboring stall, and Miller was gone. The smell of ozone and some rich organic volatiles like a spice shop gone rancid were all the evidence that he had been there. And that might only have been in Holden's imagination.
Holden stood for a moment, waiting for the coppery taste to leave his mouth. Waiting for his heartbeat to slow back down to normal. Doing what he always did in the aftermath. When the worst had passed, he rinsed his face with cold water and dried it with a soft towel. The distant, muffled sound of the gambling decks rose to a frenzy. A jackpot.
He wouldn't tell them. Naomi, Alex, Amos. They deserved to have their pleasure without the thing that had been Miller intruding on it. Holden recognized that the impulse to keep it from them was irrational, but it felt so powerfully like protecting them that he didn't question it much. Whatever Miller had become, Holden was going to stand between it and the Roci.
He studied his reflection until it was perfect. The carefree, slightly drunk captain of a successful independent ship on shore leave. Easy. Happy. He went back out to the pandemonium of the casino.
For a moment, it was like stepping back in time. The casinos on Eros. The death box. The lights felt a little too bright, the noises sounded a little too loud. Holden made his way back to the table and poured himself another shot. He could nurse this one for a while. He'd enjoy the flavor and the night. Someone behind him shrieked their laughter. Only laughter.
A few minutes later, Naomi appeared, stepping out of the bustle and chaos like serenity in a female form. The half-drunken, expansive love he'd felt earlier came back as he watched her make her way toward him. They'd shipped together on the Canterbury for years before he'd found himself falling in love with her. Looking back, every morning he'd woken up with someone else had been a lost opportunity to breathe Naomi's air. He couldn't imagine what he'd been thinking. He shifted to the side, making room for her.
"They cleaned you out?" he asked.
"Alex," she said. "They cleaned Alex out. I gave him my chips."
"You are a woman of tremendous generosity," he said with a grin.
Naomi's dark eyes softened into a sympathetic expression.
"Miller showed up again?" she asked, leaning close to be heard over the noise.
"It's a little unsettling how easily you see through me."
"You're pretty legible. And this wouldn't be Miller's first bathroom ambush. Did he make any more sense this time?"
"No," Holden said. "He's like talking to an electrical problem. Half the time I'm not sure he even knows I'm there."
"It can't really be Miller, can it?"
"If it's the protomolecule wearing a Miller suit, I think that's actually creepier."
"Fair point," Naomi said. "Did he say anything new, at least?"
"A little bit, maybe. He said something happened."
"I don't know. He just said, 'It happened,' and blinked out."
They sat together for a few minutes, a private silence within the riot, her fingers interlaced with his. She leaned over, kissing his right eyebrow, and then pulled him up off the chair.
"Come on," she said.
"Where are we going?"
"I'm going to teach you how to play poker," she said.
"I know how to play poker."
"You think you do," she said.
"Are you calling me a fish?"
She smiled and tugged at him.
Holden shook his head. "If you want to, let's go back to the ship. We can get a few people together and have a private game. It doesn't make sense to do it here. The house always wins."
"We aren't here to win," Naomi said, and the seriousness in her voice made the words carry more than the obvious meaning. "We're here to play."
The news came two days later.
Holden was in the galley, eating takeout from one of the dockside restaurants: garlic sauce over rice, three kinds of legumes, and something so similar to chicken, it might as well have been the real thing. Amos and Naomi were overseeing the loading of nutrients and filters for the air recycling systems. Alex, in the pilot's seat, was asleep. On the other ships Holden had served aboard, having the full crew back on ship before departure required it was almost unheard of, and they'd all spent a couple of nights in dockside hotels before they'd come home. But they were home now.
Holden ran through the local feeds on his hand terminal, sipping news and entertainment from throughout the system. A security flaw in the new Bandao Solice game meant that financial and personal information from six million people had been captured on a pirate server orbiting Titan. Martian military experts were calling for increased spending to address the losses suffered in the battle around Ganymede. On Earth, an African farming coalition was defying the ban on a nitrogen-fixing strain of bacteria. Protesters on both sides of the issue were taking to the streets in Cairo.
Holden was flipping back and forth, letting his mind float on the surface of the information, when a red band appeared on one of the newsfeeds. And then another. And then another. The image above the article chilled his blood. The Ring, they called it. The gigantic alien structure that had left Venus and traveled to a point a little less than 2 AU outside Uranus' orbit, then stopped and assembled itself.
Holden read the news carefully as dread pulled at his gut. When he looked up, Naomi and Amos were in the doorway. Amos had his own hand terminal out. Holden saw the same red bands on that display.
Excerpted from Abaddon's Gate by James S.A. Corey. Copyright © 2013 James S.A. Corey. Excerpted by permission of Orbit.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This
It's been too long since we've had a really kickass space opera. LEVIATHAN WAKES is interplanetary adventure the way it ought to be written, the kind of SF that made me fall in love with the genre way back when, seasoned with a dollop of horror and a dash of noir. Jimmy Corey writes with the energy of a brash newcomer and the polish of a seasoned pro. So where's the second book?