Grace Gushiken and Nathan Chevell travel to Mercury. They seek the hub of AI civilization, and the intelligences that control it. The planet is in ruins, torn apart by civil war. The insect-like Ezeroc have corrupted everything.
Grace and Nate find the mind of the machine-world missing. The Ezeroc control the AI. Against the combined power of insect and machine intelligences, humanity is outmatched.
One shred of hope remains. The remains of the Ezeroc homeworld still smolders in the hard black. The AI control mind is there. If Grace and Nate can wrestle it from the enemy, the Empire may prevail. If they can’t, the universe will fall before the might of the insects.
Tyche’s Ghosts is the second book in Richard Parry’s gripping Tyche’s Progeny trilogy. If you like page-turning space opera with great dialogue and heart-pumping action, get your copy today! Check out the first chapter below…
Providence was in front of her personal console when the screen lit with an error. NETWORK CONNECTION LOST. She’d been studying, trying to catch up on Engineering homework. Her father had said she shouldn’t study so much, but she knew how hard he worked for her, and it wouldn’t be right if she didn’t do the same. Providence also knew he was surrounded by the best and the brightest every day and wanted her to have the chance to do great things.
Fixing a broken personal console wasn’t so much a great thing as maintenance, but what might make it greater was all the lights in the apartment going out too. Could be a blown breaker, taking down the building’s comm net along with the electricity. Dad said they’d get a better apartment when money wasn’t so tight, which she knew meant when he’d finished saving for school. It didn’t matter. Providence liked their little apartment, with its single 2D holo on the wall, cozy kitchenette and tiny dispenser, and a room for her father, Bing, and a smaller room for her. Just the two of them and that’s all they needed. It was low to the ground, which meant easy stairs when the elevators broke. Providence had gotten better at fixing them since building maintenance wasn’t — Dad’s words — for shit around here. But she could only fix the simple things that needed no parts. Providence hoped they’d be able to afford a small fab, but she’d been hoping that for a while without much result. Hope is not a strategy.
With the power out, the 2D panel died. She’d been using it as background music while she studied, the volume down low. It fell silent, the screen dark, and Providence had a moment to ponder what other than a blown breaker might cause an outage, when a gentle rumble shook the apartment. It wasn’t big, more of a nudge that made rings in the surface of her glass of water. Earthquake? A small one, if that’s what it was.
Providence stood, pulling back a blind to the outside. Windows were a luxury, but Dad had traded favors to get an apartment with a view. The north-facing window looked out on another couple buildings, a lot of people, and some graffiti, the fluorescing paint so tired the colors only shifted once or twice an hour now. The street below, a paltry five floors down, showed people stopped in their tracks. All faces turned as one toward the east. Providence tried to look, but even with her face against the glass she couldn’t see what was so interesting to them. She noted all power outside was out too, the building opposite dark, a blank face blind and mute. Providence felt the tickle of fear in her stomach and knew why. She couldn’t remember the power going out all at once before.
What are they looking at? She had to know. Providence grabbed her personal console, worrying the unit into a pocket of her plastic jacket. The material was a transparent purple, the console a dark rectangle inside. As she drank the last of her water, another question came to her. Something so obvious an apprentice Engineer should have considered it before. Why didn’t the console attach to the city comm net?
The block’s power being out was weird, but the city comm net was a blanket broadcast from the sky above. You’d need to take out a bunch of infrastructure for it to fail. Not just power but satellites out beyond where air became hard black. Providence pushed an arm through her jacket sleeve, then tried to leave the apartment.
The door wouldn’t open. The unit had failed into its locked state, like it was supposed to. Providence put her other arm through the jacket. Just as well this happened — it reminded her to grab her multitool. It was a small, cheap unit, and she’d swapped it for repairs down at Old Man Fernbird’s place. His dispenser had died, a blocked feed line. After she’d finished using his multitool to fix it, he’d told her to keep it. Old Man Fernbird had said, Providence McKinley, I don’t know which end of that goes where, but you clearly do, so take it, with thanks. It was lucky he had, as the multitool made short work of the door seals, the mag locks falling to the floor by her hand. She gave a cautious look around the apartment before stepping out, but nothing they had was worth stealing. People here weren’t so hard up as to need an old 2D panel or a cheap dispenser.
Out in the corridor, everything was in darkness. She used the multitool’s lamp to light her way. Everything was quiet, no one else in the corridor with her. Which wasn’t surprising, as they’d all be locked inside without the knowledge it would take to remove mag locks from a door. Providence could stay and get them all out, but there were hundreds of doors on this level alone, and she wasn’t sure whether wholesale vandalism was the kind of thing you should do when the power went out.
The floor shook, hard, and she fell against the wall opposite her apartment. Far off, alarms sounded, then went silent. Providence knelt, fingers against the aged carpet, and felt a tremor in the floor. Continuous now, a vibration without end.
She turned and ran, hitting the stairwell with her plastic jacket billowing like a cape. Down the first flight and around the corner, where she almost collided with Mrs. London from the floor below. Mrs. London had a bunch of groceries in her arms and a confused expression on her face. Providence skidded around her, shouting, “Sorry!” and kept going, because Mrs. London often asked for help with her groceries, and while that wasn’t a problem usually, today didn’t feel like a usually kind of day. Mrs. London could at least have held a light or something, the grime of the stairwell windows casting everything in a muddy gloom.
The remaining four flights passed in a clatter, her half height boots clip-clopping down the steps. Providence hit the main lobby at a breathless run. She saw five people she didn’t recognize, four in the dark green-black of Marines, and one in the pearlescent white of the Empire’s Bulwark. The Bulwark officer’s eyes were wide, her face wet with sweat. She grabbed Providence before she knew what was happening.
“Stop!” said the officer. “Not out there.”
Pant, pant. “Why?” Providence tried to catch her breath, sure this is why Dad said she should spend more time outside. “What’s happening?”
“Death,” said the officer. Her white armor gleamed like a promise as she let Providence go. “What’s your name?”
“Providence. Providence McKinley.” She frowned, breath steadying in her chest. “‘Death’ isn’t a super-specific statement. Seems like hyperbole.”
The Bulwark officer stared, but one of the Marines, a man with a scarred face, laughed. “She’s got you, Mansfield.”
“Okay,” said Mansfield. “Here’s what’s going on.”
Daisy Mansfield was young. Not young like Providence, but something told Providence Daisy didn’t want to be in charge of four Marines. The Marines were tough, hiding fear underneath weapon checks and banter. Gabby La Guma was stocky and loud. Alexander Buckland kept looking to the streets outside like he felt they should go that way but didn’t want to suggest it. Alan McDonald was quiet, soft-spoken, and Providence felt he shouldn’t have been a Marine. Like he should have worked in a pet store. Dustin Jacobi was angry, nostrils flaring, like he wanted to punch something all the time, and Daisy explained why.
“We were heading to the Guild Hall. Forradel and Karkoski wanted backup. Joined forces.” Daisy ran a hand through hair cut finger-length.
“Then we got fucked,” said Dustin.
“Jesus, Jacobi,” said Gabby, jerking her head toward Providence. “There’s a kid here.”
“We still got fucked,” insisted Dustin.
“Machines,” said Alan. “Machines like nothing I’ve seen before.”
“That’s not what fucked us,” said Dustin.
“No,” agreed Alexander. “It was the roaches.”
“Wait,” said Providence. “Roaches?” How could cockroaches be that big a problem?
“Ezeroc,” agreed Daisy. “They’re out there. Trying to get us.” She shook her head, hand going to the bracelet she wore.
“Ezeroc are here?” said Providence. “I need to get to my dad.”
She made to leave, but Alan put a hand on her shoulder. He shook his head, just once. “Not safe,” he said.
“He’s at the Guild,” said Providence, ducking away from Alan’s hand. She dodged Daisy’s grasp, tucked underneath Gabby’s two-handed lunge, and skipped around Alexander’s surprised expression. Providence made the street outside, and what she saw in the east stopped her cold.
The gravity elevator was falling. An angry red smear in the sky showed where the Guild station in geosynch was free-falling, the looped coils of the elevator tumbling below it. Lightning crackled around the cable as it fell. She was still staring, struck dumb, when Providence realized she was alone in the street. All the people were gone. Just like that, a busy street was empty. A dropped hat sat, forlorn, in the middle of the ceramicrete. Nothing else.
Nothing human, anyway. Across the street, something she’d only seen before in holos moved in the shadows. Two meters tall, like an insect centaur. An Ezeroc drone. Behind it, another scuttled, and Providence was sure the shifting gloom behind those two hid more.
“MOTHERFUCKERS!” said Dustin, shocking Providence. The angry man was at her side, a tube-shaped weapon on his shoulder. There was a ffffpunk sound, a bright contrail of fire, and the alley opposite exploded, rubble and pieces of Ezeroc showering the street. Dustin dropped his launcher, snared Providence by the elbow, and dragged her away. Back inside, door pulled shut behind them, Dustin leaned forward. “You see what’s out there?” At Providence’s nod, he said, “So don’t fucking go off alone. Get me?”
“Go easy, Jacobi,” said Daisy.
“That an order, Mansfield?” said Dustin.
“It’s a suggestion,” said Daisy. “She’s just a kid.”
“My dad’s at the Guild,” said Providence, wanting it not to be true.
“Well, he’s proper fucked then,” said Dustin.
“Secure that shit,” said Gabby, rounding on Dustin.
“Secure. That. Shit,” said Gabby, crossing the three steps to stand in front of Dustin. She stared at her fellow Marine. Dustin had the good grace to lower his eyes. “I figure you need to apologize.”
“Sorry,” said Dustin. He shook himself. “I mean, it’s been a day.”
“Day’s not going to get better by itself,” said Alan. “We need off this rock.”
“‘This rock’ is Earth,” said Daisy. “We need to protect it.”
“The five of us?” said Gabby.
“Six,” said Providence. Nobody laughed, so she continued, “If Dad’s still alive, he’ll come back here. Then we can go together.”
“If your dad’s alive, he’ll be evac’d,” said Daisy. “Protocol.” She cast a glance at the Marines, as if daring them to say something, but none of them spoke. “We’ll get you to an evacuation point. You can meet him in orbit.”
“Solid copy,” said Gabby.
“Righteous,” agreed Alexander.
“Feels the right thing to do,” said Alan.
“Let’s get the fuck out of here,” said Dustin.
The comm net was still down, all their personal consoles crying at a sky that no longer cared. The ground still trembled as the gravity elevator spooled down, windows rattling in frames and chips of ceramicrete falling from on high. The streets being empty meant there wasn’t a lot of confusion. “We need a car,” said Providence.
“We’ll double-time it,” said Gabby.
“No,” said Providence. “When the Guild station hits the ground, it will be like dropping a nuke.”
“You’re fucking kidding me,” said Dustin.
“I’m not kidding,” said Providence. “I’m studying to be an Engineer. The math says—”
“Let’s go,” said Daisy. She pointed at a stubby van. “That one.”
“Locked,” said Alexander, trying the door.
“I can, uh,” said Providence. She wasn’t sure if it was okay to do a bad thing, just this once.
“Kid?” said Dustin. “If you’re going to say, ‘I can break in,’ but are worried about legal consequences, let me assure you the total fucks given from us is zero.”
Providence nodded and pulled out her multitool. She began to work on the van’s door locks.
There was a crump-clank from down the street. Providence turned to look, a shower of rubble cascading out from where a small pod had impacted. As the stones bounced to a standstill, the still-hot pod door popped open, revealing a humanoid in metal armor. It leapt from the pod, but not before one of Dustin’s rockets hit. Fire billowed across the street, pieces of metal falling to the ground.
The humanoid was hit in the blast but not destroyed, the top half of it tumbling across the road. It scrabbled toward their group. The Marines opened up on it, blaster fire raking the street, and Providence hunkered down, screaming. She covered her head with her arms, trying to be small.
Daisy was at her side. “Get the van open. Get it open, or we’re dead.”
A shriek followed Daisy’s words. Providence saw Alexander on his back. The humanoid, glowing with heat, had scuttled onto him with lightning speed. Alexander’s flesh smoked. One of the humanoid’s arms pulled back, a long blade at the end, and it stabbed the Marine through the head. A moment later, both Alexander and the humanoid were destroyed as a rocket hit their location.
Providence expected someone to shout at Dustin, but no one did. The angry man stared at his launcher like he couldn’t believe what happened. Daisy crouched next to Providence again, holding Providence’s chin in her hand. “Providence, we’ve got to go. Can you get this open?”
Nodding, Providence turned back to the door. With a chime, the van opened. “Inside,” said Gabby. She slung herself behind the driver’s controls, nodding at Providence to join her up front. Dustin held the back open while Daisy climbed in. Providence was sure they were about to go as Alan gave a last look around the street. A manhole cover beside him popped up, grasping Ezeroc claws reaching up. He gave a yell, firing into the hole with his weapon, before being dragged down. The Marine was still fighting, then looked right at them. His eyes seemed to say not like this.
“Jacobi!” shouted Gabby.
“No shot,” said Dustin.
“Fuckit,” said Gabby, pushing the van’s throttles to their stop. The electric motor accelerated like a blender, driving over the top of Alan and his Ezeroc, and with a crunch and a spray of red on the windscreen, another Marine was gone. Just like that, a gentle man who should have been selling cats or goldfish was taken away.
“And then there were three,” said Dustin. Providence thought he looked like he wanted to be sick, but didn’t because he wanted to hit things more.
“Four,” she said.
They hurtled through the streets at breakneck speed. The van’s engine whined, but not loud enough. Providence knew the math. They had minutes before the station crashed into the city, the kinetic promise of a twenty-deck facility enough to raze all life here in the blink of an eye.
She popped the front of the van’s console off, exposing electronics. She pulled the wedge of her personal console from her pocket, the plastic of her jacket crinkling, and connected the van’s diagnostic port to her device.
“What the hell are you doing, kid?” said Gabby.
“Making us go faster,” said Providence.
“Solid copy,” said Gabby.
Providence pulled up the diagnostics. The van was a freight unit, designed for a high load at lower speeds. The motor inside was connected to the drivetrain through gearing designed for torque. The beauty of electric motors was they could be encouraged to ever greater feats of speed, right until they passed their engineering tolerance and died, sometimes with catastrophic results.
Nothing could be more catastrophic than a station crashing on top of you, so Providence told the machine that no, safety limits were more like friendly advice. The van clunked, then the motor’s whine turned into a scream. Providence was pushed back in her seat as the machine whizzed along the deserted streets. The odd other vehicle was stopped along their way, but Gabby piloted them around without even swapping paint.
“You’re a good driver,” said Providence.
“Used to race the derby,” said Gabby.
“Okay,” said Providence. “What’s a derby?”
“Tell you later,” said Gabby, eyes on the road.
The interior of the van smelt like ozone and burnt plastic, but ahead buildings gave way to an expansive area, a series of small shuttles waiting. “Did we expect to be evacuated?” said Providence. “Why did no one tell my dad?”
“Military facility,” said Gabby, as if that explained everything.
Daisy leaned forward. “This base has shuttles ready for lifting cargo,” she said. “We’re going to be a different kind of cargo, is all.”
“Where are all the people?” said Providence. Everyone should be here, getting off the planet. Like us.
“Best not to ask,” said Dustin, from the back of the van. “The answer isn’t going to fill you with warmth and happiness.”
Gabby pointed the van at the open gates of the facility, sending them inside in a screech of smoke from tires never designed for this kind of abuse. The van’s HUD blinked then went dark, the machine whining down. “What’s happening?” said the Marine.
Providence held up her personal console, the display also dark. “Um,” she said.
Daisy’s head was cocked to one side like she was listening. “EMP,” she said. “Up there.”
“Okay,” said Gabby. “Then we’re on foot.” She kicked the door open, hefting her plasma rifle. She fired an experimental shot toward the sky. “Weapons are still good. Must have been the for-kids edition of an EMP.”
Providence slipped out of the van, joining Gabby on the ceramicrete. The shuttles were maybe five hundred meters away. Too far away to walk and have any chance of getting clear. “Run,” she suggested, then took her own advice, plastic jacket crinkling as she ran.
Gabby kept pace with her, Dustin running ahead to take point. Providence saw Daisy was behind them on rear guard duty, a small blaster pistol held ready.
From the right, a horde of Ezeroc burst from a low-slung building. They didn’t use the door, just tearing through the walls, six legs bringing them closer with frightening speed. Providence tried to run faster. Plasma fzzzt-cracked across the ceramicrete, turning the insects into stumbling pyres. But there were so many of them.
Ahead, the safety of a shuttle loomed. It was a small unit, not much bigger than the van, stubby wings jutting out from the fuselage. Dustin was almost there when another pod cracked down off their left. The Marine turned and fired his launcher, the pod exploding into fragments. Another pod impacted near the ruins of the first, but when it landed Providence saw the door was already missing.
Where has the humanoid inside gone?
The question was answered by the humanoid crunching on top of Dustin, compacting the human beneath it in a shower of gore. Gabby fired her plasma rifle at the humanoid, but it was like she was stuck in slow motion, the figure moving around like a trick of the light. So fast. It’s so fast.
There was a pink-chunk, and Gabby was gone, a haze of red mist where she used to be. Tatters of her Marine armor clattered to the ground, a trail of smoke wisped away by the wind. Providence had a moment to consider what kind of weapon had the kinetic potential it took to not only set the air on fire but also to turn a human into a haze before Daisy pushed her into the waiting shuttle. The Bulwark officer turned, facing the humanoid, then raised her hand, curling fingers into a fist.
The humanoid’s arms were pulled close to its side as if invisible strings were tightening. Daisy gave a half-yell, half-scream, and the humanoid figure was tossed through the air to land fifty meters back. Daisy stepped into the shuttle, took a glance outside, then shook her head. “Okay,” she said. “Okay.” Like she was trying to convince herself of something.
“Come on,” said Providence. “We’ve got to go.”
“Yeah. Only, we don’t make it off this crust if that fucking machine isn’t dealt with,” said Daisy. She tapped on the console inside the shuttle’s airlock. “Good luck, kid.” She stepped outside, airlock hissing closed behind her. Providence stood inside the otherwise empty shuttle as Endless fields engaged, lifting her off the deck. Autopilot. She’s put this on autopilot.
Face pressed against the airlock glass, Providence watched the Bulwark officer, white armor gleaming in the sun, face the approaching Ezeroc horde. Daisy yelled at them as they came, a blade in one hand, a blaster in the other. Providence hammered at the glass, wanting Daisy to hear her. To not have thrown down her life for someone who wasn’t even an Engineer yet.
The humanoid machine was racing forward, weapon pointed at the shuttle. Providence saw the moment Daisy made the choice to buy the shuttle one more second of time. The Bulwark officer could have held off the Ezeroc, or she could have controlled the machine again. Not both.
The humanoid machine raised its weapon to fire, then was knocked off its feet. The round went wide, missing the shuttle, which turned its fusion drives toward the ground. Providence lay against the rear airlock as the Ezeroc boiled over the top of Daisy, then felt the shuttle roar its defiance. Fire blazed against the ground, immolating all below as it clawed for the sky.
Tears streamed from Providence’s eyes, pulled against the airlock glass. She couldn’t look away, hard thrust holding her in place as fire bathed the grave of a brave woman who wouldn’t let the enemy take a child.