Fleet of Knives: An Embers of War
by Gareth L. Powell
I’d been climbing since first light. The high desert wind’s thin fingers kept snatching at my cape. I had a scarf wrapped across my mouth and nose to keep out the swirling sand and ash, and wore dark goggles to protect my eyes from the glare.
“I know.” The Trouble Dog’s voice came via an implant in my right ear. “I’m monitoring your position, and your vital signs.” She sounded impatient, but I didn’t have the breath to respond. The Temples of the High Country stood on an imposing mesa, high above an arid wasteland, and the only way to reach them was via steps carved into the side of the mesa’s rust-coloured cliffs.
“I still think it would have been quicker for me to drop you at the top,” she said.
“You know that’s forbidden.” The steps had been smoothed to a shine by the millennial action of wind and sand, and the tread of countless feet—both human and otherwise. My lungs and thighs burned from the ascent. I spoke between laboured breaths. “And besides, it’s kind of missing the point. Climbing the steps is part of the experience.”
Altogether, it had taken me three hours. I had camped at the foot of the cliffs and set out in the chilly pre-dawn light, determined to reach the summit before the midday heat made such effort even more arduous.
“If you say so.”
The Temples of the High Country were some of the oldest alien ruins known to mankind. They were a spiritual and archaeological treasure beyond value—but I hadn’t climbed all this way just to look at a few crumbling sandstone walls. I unslung my pack and let it drop to my feet. Set against the antediluvian backdrop of these ruins, my own problems seemed minor and ephemeral, my own worries petty and futile. I crouched beside the pack and withdrew a black long-stemmed rose from a side pocket. Its silk petals fluttered in the wind.
“A couple of paces to the left,” the Trouble Dog said. Although she was currently languishing in a parking orbit, forty thousand kilometres above this desert, her sensors could still resolve and locate surface features to within a micron.
I shuffled position. “Here?” I looked at the ground between my feet. Fifteen years ago, at the outbreak of the Archipelago War, Gunnery Sergeant Greta Nowak had died defending the top of this great stone staircase. “Are you sure?” The tactical computers overseeing the battle had logged her exact position at the moment of her death—but now, a decade and a half later, nothing remained to mark the spot, not even a stain on the exposed, wind-scoured rock.
About the Author
His alternate history thriller Ack-Ack Macaque won the 2013 BSFA Award for Best Novel (tying for first place with Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice), and was a finalist in the best translated novel category for the 2016 Seiun Awards in Japan.
About the Book
Fleet of Knives: An Embers of War novel
by Gareth L. Powell
From award-winning author Gareth L. Powell, the second book in the critically acclaimed Embers of War space opera series.
The former warship Trouble Dog and her crew of misfits is called upon by the House of Reclamation to investigate a distress call from the human starship the Lucy's Ghost. Her crew abandon their crippled ship and seek refuge abroad an abandoned, slower-than-light generation ship launched ten thousand years before by an alien race. However, the enormous ship contains deadly secrets of its own.
Recovered war criminal, Ona Sudak, faces a firing squad for her actions in the Archipelago War. But, at the last moment, she is smuggled out of her high security prison. The Marble Armada has called for her to accompany its ships as observer and liaison, as it spreads itself across the human Generality, enforcing the peace at all costs. The alien ships will not tolerate resistance, and all dissenters are met with overwhelming and implacable force. Then her vessel intercepts messages from the House of Reclamation and decides the Trouble Dog has a capacity for violence which cannot be allowed to endure.
As the Trouble Dog and her crew fight to save the crew of the Lucy's Ghost, the ship finds herself caught between chaotic alien monsters on one side, and on the other, destruction at the hands of the Marble Armada.