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A starfighter pilot awakens in an unwelcome future in this excerpt from Velocity Weapon

A starfighter pilot awakens in an unwelcome future in this excerpt from Velocity Weapon


The new military SF novel is out now

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Graphic by Michele Doying / The Verge

In her latest novel, Velocity Weapon, Megan E. O’Keefe takes up the story of a military pilot named Sergeant Sandra Greeve who is fighting in an interstellar war in the distant future and is shot down during a battle. When she wakes up, she discovers that she was rescued by an autonomous spaceship called The Light of Berossus (which calls itself Bero), and has been placed in suspended animation for two centuries. Everything she fought for was for naught; humanity essentially wiped itself out in the war.

O’Keefe jumps between timelines, flashing back to Sandra’s brother, Biran, who learns that his sister was supposedly killed in battle. But he soon finds that the story behind her death doesn’t quite add up and begins to hunt for the truth of what happened to her.

Back in the future, Sandra and Bero are trying to figure out how to reach a human settlement 75 light-years away when they make an unlikely rescue: another human survivor from the battle named Tomas who fought for the other side.

The book hits bookstores today, and below is a chapter for you to read.

Image: Orbit Books



Sanda slapped her palm against the screen, leaving a goopy hand- print. Two hundred thirty years. It wasn’t possible. She’d heard rumblings that the Icarions were working on something big, but not big enough to wipe out two whole planets. Nothing in the universe man- made could produce that kind of power. She should know. Bero was fucking with her. Some sort of sick smartship joke. They couldn’t all be gone. Dead. Dust between the stars.

“Bero.” Her voice was tight, and not from disuse. “Don’t mess with me. Evac pods aren’t designed to last that long. I’d be just another hunk of space debris on that timeline. How long?”

“My original calculations are correct,” the smooth voice said. She wanted to scream. The display wasn’t giving her anything but garbage numbers, bullshit estimates. It kept on showing her that empty, black void where her home used to be. She jabbed at it some more, cycled diagnostics. Nothing deep— the medibay wasn’t set up for that kind of thing— but she could force it to show her engine power, life support. Everything looked good. There was no reason for Bero to be malfunctioning like this. She reached a hand up to comb out sticky hair with her fingers, then aborted the motion as a spike of pain appeared between her eyes. Just a coldsleep headache. Breathe. Push through.

Sanda spun around, IV wheels squealing, and glared at the ceiling where she thought a camera might be.

“Explain.” “There is no need to face my cameras, Sanda. I do not require eye contact for engagement. I can see you anywhere in the medibay.”

“Wonderful for you.” She jabbed a finger at the bulbous gun- metal eye. “But I need some answers and I’m sick of looking at that— that— perversion.”

The screen flickered in the corner of her eye and she glance over her shoulder. Icarion’s logo flared across it, bright and ashy.

“Not. Better.” “Of course. My apologies.” The screen flickered again, this time filling with the dual system of Ada Prime. She licked bitter, gel- coated lips, staring at the little hunk of dwarf planet and orbital station she’d called home, with the Casi- mir Gate in orbit around it. Couldn’t be gone. Couldn’t be.

“Bero!” “If there is another image that would be more suited to your cur- rent mood—”

“It’s not the image. I request information relating to the Fibon Pro- tocol. Immediately.”

“You do not have to speak to me like I’m a computer.” “Then stop acting like one! You know full well what I want. Why won’t you explain?”

Hesitation. “It is . . . unsettling.” “Oh, we’re already there. I’m real unsettled. Full-on ruffled. Now stop playing coy computer and tell me what I’ve just woken up into.”

“I do not wish for you to be angry with me. My existence was a part of this destruction.”

Her gut turned cold. She adjusted the IV stand under her arm, pulling it snug against her body. “Did you do this?”

“No!” The word was sharp enough it stung her ears. “I am a result of the research, nothing more. I am a smartship, yes, but I am an interstellar smartship. First in my class. They were using my labs for biometric research.”

There was a tinge of pride in Bero’s voice, an upward lilt. She imagined the ship preening and tossing his hair. Sanda swallowed a scoff. Icarion was always trying to get around paying the gate fees to the Primes who controlled them. It made sense they’d come up with some mad scheme to cross the black slow style.

“How interstellar are we talking, here?” “Eight percent of the speed of light.” She bit her lip. Slow as a snail to a fox. Pass through a Casimir Gate— tech only her people, the Primes, knew how to handle— and you could pop out in the connected star system within the hour. Like poking a needle through space- time. Sure, the gates only bridged one system to another, but passing through star systems to reach the gate you wanted was a lot faster and safer than burning between the stars.

“Not bad,” she lied. “But what does that have to do with the Protocol?”

“I’m not the only thing that can accelerate to eight percent c.” Her mouth grew thick. She swallowed viscous saliva. Anything cranked up to a meaningful percent of the speed of light was one hell of a missile.

“You’re talking about RKVs— relativistic kill vehicles. Big fuckin’ launchers designed to lob dumb mass out at speeds so fast any tech on board wouldn’t survive the acceleration. Not having a guidance sys- tem makes them useless in war because there’s no guarantee you’d get anywhere close to hitting what you’re aiming at. Why would Icarion even bother? They’re rubbish in battle.”

“Fantastic against planets.” “Dios.” Her face slackened, fingers numb on the grip of her IV stand. But that fish- eye lens just stared back at her, impassive, unblinking. She didn’t know what she’d expected. It hadn’t been this.

The screen flickered. She turned back to it. “The first demonstration,” Bero said, “was pointed at an asteroid passing near the planet Ada. This was a month after the Battle of Dralee.”

On the screen, the dual bodies of Ada Prime— the planet and its orbiting gate— swung into view. Across the black an asteroid arced. Orbital lines popped up to illustrate the asteroid’s path near to Ada.

“Icarion leaked Ada a warning of an incoming attack and led them to believe they were using the asteroid to hide their approach. Ada’s gunship fleet was in LPO, awaiting detection of the advancing Icar- ion fleet, when the asteroid passed within range. Icarion fired the Pro- tocol at the asteroid. Dissolution was complete. The debris blowback knocked out ninety- five percent of the fleet, and Ada’s surface suf- fered heavy kinetic bombardment. It damaged many habitat domes.” Sanda slid down the IV stand, gripping it in one hand, and sank to her ass on the cold floor. Her gaze was glued to the screen, watching debris— transmuted to plasma at those speeds— fly off the vaporized asteroid into the fleet and Ada. Yellow triangles, gunships like hers, blinked out en masse. Was this what it had been like for her family to watch the footage after Dralee? She choked on bile.

“Survivors?” “Many.” Bero’s voice was soft, but not with gentleness. With shame. Sanda curled her fingers around the base of the IV stand and squeezed hard. Her limbs were jelly, trembling all over. Weak from two different kinds of shock.

“The habitats were damaged, but most civilians and Keepers sur- vived. Keep Station was spared. Icarion threatened to bombard the planet directly if they refused to allow them access to the secret of building the gates.”

“The Keepers would never allow that,” Sanda insisted. “Correct. With their defenses in shambles, the Keepers stalled for time, putting off answering Icarion’s demands. The Icarions were not fooled.

“They moved the Protocol into the space between the two plan- ets. This version spun up, launching heavy weights at relativistic speeds in an ever- growing spiral— whipping them through space, a merry-go-round shotgun.

“Icarion had planned to initiate the Protocol when their planet was safely shielded by the gas giant Kalcus. They initiated it too early. Icarion suffered the same bombardment.”

“Sabotage?” “It seems likely.” “Serves them fucking right.”

A pause. “I agree.” She reminded herself that Bero must have lost people, too, and bit back her anger.

“Okay,” she said. “Okay.” Groaning, she dragged herself to her feet and squeaked over to the screen. She braced herself against the wall with one hand and jabbed at the display with the other. “So. We’re near Dralee, right? That means the gate is about a half an astronomical unit from this location if we—”

“The gate does not exist.” “Excuse me?” “The Casimir Gate of Ada Prime was destroyed during the final bombardment. The planets Icarion and Ada did not survive. Debris fields remain where the planets once were. Given enough time, they may coalesce into planets again, but that timeline is irrelevant on human terms.”

She swallowed. Hard. “The gate’s gone.” “Yes.” “And you can only go eight percent of the speed of light.” “Yes.” “At that rate it will take . . .” She tapped a few calculations into the smartscreen. “About seventy- five years to reach Atrux Prime, the near- est inhabited star system.”

“Yes.” “Fuck.” “You say that a lot, Sanda.” “It’s a fuck-y kind of day, Bero.” She pinched the bridge of her nose where her glasses used to sit before the eye- correction surgery. “Suggestions?”

“I believe no appreciable time will be wasted if you pause to take a shower.”

Sanda stared at the goop and bodily fluid pool growing around her foot. Cheeky spaceship.