An ancient power unleashed from its prison.
Fleets summoned by oaths old and new alike.
A rising tide of war that may consume the galaxy!
Captain Morgan Casimir’s mission to stop a war has ended in a nightmare. In the heart of an ignored nebula, trapped behind a ring of newborn stars, she has awoken a creature of another time: the horde of biological starships who call themselves the Infinite.
Fifty thousand years ago, the Infinite drove the galaxy’s Alavan Precursors to a grave mistake that destroyed all that was. Unleashed once more by the very people Morgan Casimir sought to stop, the Infinite now threaten an entirely new era. The only thing standing in their way is a fragile alliance of old enemies, determined to keep them contained in the Astoroko Nebula.
But when that ancient prison fails, the galaxy must stand together—or watch the beginning of a golden age dissolve into apocalypse…
There are no pleasant final duties of a starship’s Captain. The best-case scenario was surrendering command to another. The worst-case scenarios were far more permanent.
“Scan complete,” a borrowed technician told Captain Morgan Casimir. “There are no life signs aboard Defiance.”
“What resolution did we run at?” the blonde officer asked. Morgan was in her mid-thirties, her promotions accelerated by a combination of war and her stepmother, the Duchess of Terra.
She’d spent most of her adult life aboard warships of one kind or another. First as part of the Duchy of Terra Militia, and then, after the first war she’d served in, as an officer of the A!Tol Imperium that ruled humanity.
The ! was a glottal stop, humanity’s pale attempt at the beak snap of their conquerors-slash-uplifters. The “A-tuck-Tol” were spacegoing squids—large and intimidating creatures like the technician she’d borrowed from Squadron Lord Tan!Stalla.
“Resolution was set at one-point-three kilograms,” the tentacled technician told Morgan, the translators both of them wore handling the unit conversion. “The ship’s working animals would have been detected.”
“Good,” Morgan agreed with a nod. She’d been surprised to realize how common having a dozen or so animals—dogs and cats aboard a human-crewed warship like Defiance—was aboard a warship.
Pests, however, appeared to be a universal factor.
The A!Tol technician was silent, turning back to her consoles aboard the shuttle orbiting Morgan’s cruiser. The once-elegant starship was a broken wreck. Her flared wings were missing. Her spine was broken.
Morgan’s command wouldn’t have been reparable even if they were closer to home…and Tan!Stalla’s fleet was positioned next to the Astoroko Nebula, on the far side of the Laian Republic from the A!Tol Imperium.
The Republic were allies, but Morgan had found something in the heart of Astoroko. Until someone else was in position to secure the Nebula, Tan!Stalla’s thirty-two capital ships were the only shield the galaxy had against that threat.
And Morgan was wasting time.
“Fire in the hole,” she whispered, tapping a command on her personal tablet.
Eight one-gigaton antimatter charges detonated simultaneously. Placed inside Defiance’s compressed-matter armor, the scuttling charges incinerated her interior systems instantly. The almost-unbreakable armor plates, robbed of their supports, scattered into space a few moments later.
And with that, Morgan’s command was gone. With Defiance’s death, Morgan no longer had a duty station. Given the fleet of insane bioships she’d discovered inside the Astoroko Nebula, though, she doubted she was going to get time to cool her heels.
“Take us back to Jean Villeneuve,” she ordered. “I have an appointment with the Squadron Lord.”
Jean Villeneuve was named for Morgan’s honorary uncle, the French Admiral who had commanded Earth’s defense against the A!Tol—and then commanded a mixed Militia-Imperial force to defend the system against two later attacks before his death.
Given everything Jean Villeneuve had been, Morgan agreed with the decision to make his namesake part of the five percent of the Imperial Fleet that had mixed-race crews. Squadron Lord Tan!Stalla was an A!Tol—the Tan! marked her as a relative of the Empress—but even her command staff had members of three races in it.
Her chief of staff, for example, was Ivida. Prott was short for his race, with darker red skin than most, but he had the unmoving facial features and double-joint limbs of his people.
Prott was the one responsible for leading Morgan to meet Tan!Stalla as she returned from scuttling her ship. He seemed to understand roughly where Morgan was mentally and didn’t attempt to engage her in conversation as he led the way through the superbattleship.
Finally, the Ivida stepped aside, ushering Morgan into Tan!Stalla’s office. She took a regulation four steps into the room and crisply saluted the Squadron Lord.
Tan!Stalla’s office was odd-looking to human eyes. Even for A!Tol, it seemed unusual to Morgan. There were sprayer systems set up along the walls, constantly misting the space with water. When Morgan had served as Tan!Stalla’s executive officer, her office hadn’t had those.
The A!Tol’s old office had shared the massive array of screens and controllers that covered one wall, allowing the Squadron Lord to survey every aspect of her fleet as she managed systems with her sixteen manipulator tentacles.
“Captain Morgan Casimir, reporting, sir,” Morgan said crisply.
“Have a seat, Morgan,” Tan!Stalla replied. A manipulator quirked and a chair emerged from a wall, trundling over to Morgan on powered wheels. “I’ve reviewed your report and we’ve discussed this, but…”
The A!Tol shivered, her skin darkening. The species wore their emotions on their skin, the colors shifting with their moods.
A tentacle flickered at the display.
“Your opinion on our ability to maintain containment, Captain,” the Squadron Lord asked calmly. “Sixteen Galileo-class superbattleships and sixteen Bellerophon-C-class battleships against what you saw.”
Morgan looked at the screens, picking out the warships of Tan!Stalla’s command. A surprisingly large amount of Imperial warship design had taken place in Sol over the last thirty years, with the Imperium using technology they’d begged, borrowed, and stolen from across the galaxy to rapidly upgrade their military.
Ton for ton, the Galileos could stand against any other fleet in the galaxy, and the Bellerophon-Cs weren’t far behind them…but…
“Our best guess is that there were at least fifty Alavan mothership shells still present in the nebula,” Morgan noted quietly. “Each of those was at least one thousand kilometers in diameter…and appeared to have been completely subsumed by an Infinite bioform.”
That was what the creatures had called themselves. The Infinite.
“Scans suggested the presence of somewhere in excess of ten thousand other bioforms of various sizes,” she continued. “We did not have time to resolve distinctions between bioforms other than the apparent main form in the eye of the nebula, but all of the bioforms demonstrated an unknown reactionless engine and the ability to organically produce plasma weaponry comparable to our plasma lances.”
She shook her head.
“The largest had the ability to produce targeted microsingularities at high percentages of lightspeed,” she finished. “The threat parameter of the overall Infinite fleet is difficult to judge, and there is an open question of how many bioforms they will be able to equip with hyperdrives, but…”
“Our chances are low,” Tan!Stalla concluded.
“I will need to run more numbers based on our scan data, sir,” Morgan admitted. “But my expectation would be that even one of the bioforms wearing an Alavan compressed-matter-armor shell could take on this entire fleet.”
“You will need to run those numbers,” the Squadron Lord agreed. “We have data from the Laians on what one of their mobile shipyards should be carrying, but…”
“Do we know what this one was carrying?” Morgan questioned in the silence Tan!Stalla left.
Builder of Tomorrows was the Laian mobile shipyard in question, an FTL-capable space station designed to repair the Laian Republic’s two-hundred-megaton war-dreadnoughts on the move. Accompanied by a mixed force of Laian and Wendira capital ships, its owners had been trying to provoke a war between those two Core Powers.
Their plan had been to use the war as cover to find a semi-mythical fleet of ships belonging to the long-dead Alavan Precursors. They’d succeeded in finding that fleet…and might have just doomed everyone.
“Not with certainty,” the Squadron Lord admitted. “You will have access to all of the data we possess. I need some idea of what’s coming at me, Captain, and that will be your task.”
“My task, sir?” Morgan asked.
“I have a full staff, but they have not encountered these Infinite,” Tan!Stalla told her. “I am adding you to my staff as a special advisor on this threat. I recommend you pull together a team of tactical and engineering specialists.
“I want you to go over everything you learned and put together a threat assessment. A realistic one, even if I expect that to be utterly terrifying.
“We know very little about what we have found—but without knowing more, all we can do is stand guard where we know the conspirators entered the nebula and hope the idiots managed to wipe their navigation databases.”
Tan!Stalla’s skin was a gray-black color that Morgan had seen before—but only during the darkest hours of the first campaign they’d fought together.
“Give me answers, Captain Casimir,” she ordered. “And let us hope that your friend Rin Dunst is successful in convincing our Laian allies to take the threat seriously.”