Following Pariah and Exodus comes Dominion, the explosive concluding chapter of the Eternity War trilogy, in which the fate of the Alliance – and the galaxy – rests in the hands of Lieutenant Keira Jenkins and her team of Jackals.
The sun relentlessly beat down on the city and its surrounding sectors. The marketplace – at the edge of the conurbation of human structures that made up Shangri Capital – seemed to catch its glare most of all.
There was no hiding from the sun. All day, every day. No night, ever. There the sun was: high on the horizon, so big that it almost filled the vista. It illuminated the world’s moons too, creating six burning discs in the sky. In the twenty days that Daneb Riggs had been on-world, he hadn’t seen a single cloud. It was an anomaly caused by the planet’s orbit, so Riggs had heard. One face was always to the local star, while the other was forever in darkness. Stable weather and a warm climate on one side. Constant night and erratic storms on the other.
The planet’s name was Shangri VI, which was a reference to some Old Earth religion – a supposed Utopia. That, Riggs figured, was typical of the parasitic mites that had colonised this world. When they’d first settled here, they had brought the baggage of their mythology with them. Riggs had been like them, once. His family – his old family – were Gaia Cultists. The tradition had been generations long by the time of Riggs’ birth. He hadn’t known any better, and so he’d gone along with it. That thought made him bristle, and he grabbed for the bottle of beer on the table in front of him. It was a local brew, weak and warm. He swilled it down with an unhealthy dose of vitriol. He was different now. He was a True Believer, and Warlord had shown him the way.
The planet was one of many Outer Colonies, a string of systems along the Former Quarantine Zone. Although many regarded Shangri VI as heaven, to Riggs the place was far closer to hell. He looked out across the street, across from the bar in which he sat, and pondered why he despised the place so much. Riggs’ feelings for Shangri VI were more complex than just about the world’s proximity to its local star. The sun illuminated everything, put the world into constant sharp relief. Nothing was hidden. The blazing light exposed all imperfections.
And Riggs had many, many imperfections. Like Shangri VI, Riggs had two faces. He had tried to forget one of them, to replace it with the other. But as with Shangri, in its tidally locked orbit, Riggs knew that was impossible.
Daneb Riggs was a traitor. A deserter. A renegade. One of the most wanted men in the thirteen Alliance territories. He had turned his back on the Army, on his training, on his people. On his own Christo-damned squad . . . The thought of his own betrayal kept him up at night, drove him to the brink of madness. Some nights, he managed to justify the actions that he had taken – the things he had done – to himself. He had done what Warlord had wanted him to do. He had only been carrying out orders. The Alliance deserved everything they got.
But other times . . . Others times he wasn’t so sure. There was still some shred of doubt in Riggs, and it niggled at him. A wound that wouldn’t heal, the edges always tender, the infection never quite gone.
Riggs’ hand, he realised, was shaking. He focused on the Spiral insignia tattooed on his forearm. It snaked around his data-port; the connection that would allow him to operate a simulant. The thought of making transition again – into a new body – pulled him back into the present.
Riggs’ post on the terrace overlooked the planet’s main spaceport. It was a decent vantage point, with a view across the landing pads. Further out, a refugee camp had grown up around the port. There were hundreds of tents and other temporary habitats. The noise and smell of the encampment had expanded with its size. Eager to flee from the encroaching Krell exodus, many families came to the Outer Colonies searching for asylum. There was very little assistance waiting for them, though. Resources were stretched. The military was already overworked, and aid agencies had long abandoned the worst choke points. Many refugees never left. There were stories of groups having camped in the shadow of the spaceport for months. Stranded, left behind. Forgotten. Such were easy recruits to the cause. Already, a network of Spiral agents had infiltrated the camp, and support was growing by the day. As Riggs watched, another civilian starship crossed the sun and landed on one of the pads. Riggs made a mental note of that. It was the thirteenth ship today. He had seen several hundred since his emplacement. Like many, this one was Russian. Probably another of the survival fleets from Kronstadt, from the Mu-98 system.
“Credit for the poor?” came a broken, parched voice. “Please, sir.”
The figure to which the voice belonged was just as broken. A beggar. Black rags, typical of the underclass of Shangri VI, swathed the woman’s body. Beneath, she wore a battered survival suit, and her head poked out of the tattered collar. She had a weathered mask of a face, streaked by complicated tattoos that were sun- and age-bleached. She sat with her back hunched, hands outstretched to all that passed by. Many such beggars crowded the bars that surrounded the spaceport.
“Credit, sir?” she asked again, calling out to Riggs. Her eyes were bright jade, her dirty silver hair plaited down her back.
Riggs sneered. “Get out of here,” he mouthed.
The woman broke eye contact. She turned to easier pickings, as a group of refugees stumbled by. They looked dazed and shocked – were doubtless new arrivals. Riggs had seen that response before. It was a common reaction to the sort of horror that was enveloping this sector of the galaxy.
A shadow passed in front of the table, and Riggs looked up.
“Aren’t you worried that someone will recognise you?” the newcomer asked.
The man was taller than Riggs by a good degree, with a muscular bulk that verged on threatening. Without invitation, he pulled up a chair and sat opposite Riggs. He wore the full uniform of an Alliance Navy officer, a captain’s rank badge on his shoulder and a service cap tucked under his arm. He ran a hand over his bald head, wiped sweat from his pate.
“Not particularly,” answered Riggs. “No one cares, here. It’s been months since anyone saw the local governor. They say that he’s fled. Anyone who’s anyone has already left for the Core Systems. Law enforcement is gone, the Army’s going.”
“True enough,” said the officer. He waved over at the serving droid – a humanoid robot with a sleek metal shell made to mimic female anatomy. “Kronstadt vodka, on the rocks.”
The droid nodded and trotted back into the bar.
“You’re late,” Riggs muttered.
“We don’t work on your timetable, Disciple Riggs.”
The man’s body didn’t quite fit the uniform, and it showed – under the microscope, the disguise likely wouldn’t pass. There was, Riggs noticed, a bloodstain on the man’s sleeve. That was a reminder that the uniform hadn’t been given willingly, but had been taken by force. The man saw where Riggs was looking, and grinned. The expression made the skin of his cheeks crease unpleasantly.
“What should I call you?” Riggs asked.
“You can call me Captain Mikhailov,” he said. He wore photo-reactive lenses over his eyes, and they reflected Riggs’ image back at him. “It’s not my name, but it will do.”
“I’ve been waiting here for twenty days,” said Riggs. “What’s wrong with you people?”
The waitress delivered Mikhailov’s drink. He took it, knocked it back in one gulp.
“Since Kronstadt, military fill the space lanes,” he said. “Organising a ship took longer than expected.”
“But you have one now, I take it?”
“Of course. Why would I be here if not?”
“I have no idea.”
“Have you arranged the payment?”
“Of course,” mimicked Riggs.
He slid a universal credit chip across the table. Mikhailov glanced at it, then placed it under his glass. The chip contained a significant sum of money, and it had been burning a hole in Riggs’ pocket since he had been tasked with the mission.
“Exactly as we agreed,” Riggs said.
“Then we seal our bargain,” said Mikhailov.
“It had better be a good ship, given what we’re paying you.”
“It is. Fast Q-drive, well armed.”
“Why can’t you use the Warlord’s ship?”
“Warlord is . . .” Riggs paused, shook his head. “Otherwise engaged. Things are about to get interesting. Real interesting.”
Mikhailov grinned again. “Interesting, I like.”
There was a small tri-D viewer in the corner of the bar. The intense sunlight washed out the image it projected, but Riggs squinted to see the feed.
“. . . this is despite the unparalleled number of refugees throughout the Eastern Sector,” said the newscaster. “Alliance Command reports huge inroads at this point and suggests a potentially decisive response to the threat. Secretary Lopez has promised a press release, to explain his long-term plan for the region . . .”
The image showed ships advancing through a star system. Riggs recognised neither the ships, nor the sector. He’d heard rumours of the Navy repurposing fleets, but such talk was cheap. There was probably no truth in it. The news clip was as likely a stock image from the first Krell War, as evidence of a new deployment.
“This is your people, yes?” Mikhailov muttered.
“They’re not my people any more.”
“They say that Jenkins’ Jackals made it out of Kronstadt,” Mikhailov said. His accent was thick and Slavic, and every word that came out of his mouth had the edge of intimidation to it.
Riggs knew that the man was trying to aggravate him, and he wished that it wasn’t working. “There’s no proof of that.”
“They escaped at Darkwater too, as I hear it.”
“That wasn’t my fault.”
“But Warlord blames you, yes?”
“It isn’t like that,” Riggs said, although he knew that in truth it was exactly like that. One hand dropped to his data-ports, and he felt the urge to get into the tanks once again. He’d make this good. He’d solve this.
“Now Alliance say they can turn war. Is this right?”
“It’s propaganda,” Riggs declared. “Pure propaganda. They’re losing, and they know it.”
“Hmmm,” said Mikhailov. “There are a lot of ships in this sector. Many come here.”
“That doesn’t mean anything.”
“This is different. They are definitely planning something.”
“They plan, we plan,” Riggs said, with a feigned air of nonchalance. “That’s the way it works. But are we going to sit around here all day, or get on with this? Time’s wasting.”
“Very well. Major wishes to see you.”
Riggs exhaled through his nose. “Good. That’s good.”
He stood from the table. Rearranged his atmo hood, so that it covered almost all his face. Despite Riggs’ bold talk of the Spiral’s control over Shangri VI, he would rather avoid capture if at all possible. Mikhailov smoothed down his uniform but otherwise didn’t move.
“You want to watch that neckline,” Riggs rebuked. “Your gang markings are showing.”
Mikhailov nodded and pulled at the collar of his uniform. The tip of a tattoo was visible there. Crude, not a powered marking like many proper soldiers had. Words in Cyrillic script. Riggs had seen those markings before and knew exactly what they meant. SONS OF BALASH: that was what the text translated as. Leon Novak – a member of Riggs’ former squad – had once been a Son of Balash. Membership of the organisation was prohibited throughout the Alliance, and their leader had become infamous in certain circles. Riggs was eager to meet her.
“So where is she?” Riggs asked, confused by the fact that Mikhailov still sat at the table.
“She’s here,” Mikhailov said.
The whir of an old exo-suit’s motor touched the air, and Riggs felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. Something animated from the corner of his vision.
“Disciple,” came a grating old voice.
The beggar from the street corner shuffled up to the table. Except that she wasn’t the beggar any more. Now she stood straighter, taller. Something altogether darker replaced the lost expression on her face. The transformation was remarkable. Frightening, even.
Mikhailov’s smile broadened. He appeared to be enjoying Riggs’ reaction.
“I introduce the Major Mish Vasnev to you, Disciple Riggs,” he said.
The old woman looked Riggs up and down. Her gaze was almost wilting in effect.
“You are younger than I expected,” she said. “This is surprising.”
Riggs swallowed. “Warlord wants to know that you can do this,” he started, finding his voice. “He wants to know that he isn’t throwing this money away.”
“Since when do Spiral care for money?” the woman said.
“Why didn’t you tell me you were already here?” Riggs countered. “I’ve been waiting for the last twenty days. I’ve seen you every day!”
Vasnev’s face barely moved. “We make checks. My Sons, they do not work with just anybody.”
“You . . . you could’ve been captured,” Riggs said.
“Hiding in plain sight,” said the old woman. “This is sometimes best way to be.”
Riggs wanted to be angry, wanted to argue, but there was something completely disarming about the woman’s aura. He was almost speechless in her presence. A tight knot formed in his stomach. This was what doubt felt like. But he knew that there was no going back now. The deal had been done, and whether Riggs wanted to work with these people or not, the Spiral’s plan needed them. This was one pact, with one organisation. Across the Alliance, other such agreements were being made, by other Spiral agents.
It’s all for a purpose, Riggs thought. All for the greater goal. He felt the swell of determination in his chest, and it finally swallowed his doubt. This was the only way. He was going to show Warlord what he was capable of. He was going to show them all.
“The starship is not far,” Vasnev said. She placed a battered old forage cap on her head, the Russian military badge on the front polished to a sheen. “We go now.”
“Come,” said Mikhailov.
Major Mish Vasnev, head of the Sons of Balash, turned into the street. Mikhailov and Riggs followed in her wake. The trio disappeared into the crowd.