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"Bedford builds a taut story around the dangers of a new world.... Readers who crave high adventure and tense plots will enjoy this voyage into the future." - Publishers' Weekly (Empire of Dust)
“A well-defined and intriguing tale set in the not-too-distant future…. Everything is undeniably creative and colorful, from the technology to foreign planets to the human (and humanoid) characters. Author Bedford’s world-building feels very complete and believable, with excellent descriptions bringing it all to life.” —RT Reviews
"The skill of this book lies in Bedford’s ability to seamlessly combine intrigue-heavy, multi-viewpoint plotting with human stories featuring characters you care about – a rare feat in this genre." - Jaine Fenn (Tales from the Garrett)
"Who doesn't love a far-future novel of evil megacorps and their telepathic agents? Nobody, that's who. In this one, there's a fun twist: the "Psi-Tech" implants drive you insane unless you stay connected to the company that put them in you. Until one agent, Cara Carlinni, figures out how to go rogue without losing her mind." - io9.com
"Cara and Ben are interesting and they're relationship isn't the standard relationship you'd expect. It starts out with lies on both sides--since they both have something to hide--and awkward sex. It has to recover from both of those before it can grow into something else, and the stress of running, hiding, and the new colony and its rather fractious settlers may not give it the chance to grow." - Joshua Palmatier, author.
"Empire of Dust, the debut novel from Jacey Bedford, published by DAW, is a fine example of a novel which has its roots in the sub-genre, but grows beyond it." - thebooksmusic.890m.com
"Bedford’s punchy, readable style propels the reader easily through the complexities of the well-paced plot, and her world-building, whilst utilising some tropes, also displays interesting and original touches which bode well for future novels." Jaine Fenn (Tales from the Garrett)
"A neat mix between telepaths and corporate intrigue across the stars." - Buzzfeed
"Author Jacey Bedford's world building feels very complete and believable, with excellent descriptions bringing it all to life." - RT Reviews
"Bedford's vision of the future is well thought out, cohesive, and populated with a strong cast of diverse characters. Highly recommended for readers who are fascinated with psionic powers in all permutations, who enjoy stories about exploration and colonization, and those who love a good plot riddled with skewed motivations." - April Steenburgh (Goodreads)
“A well-defined and intriguing tale set in the not-too-distant future…. Everything is undeniably creative and colorful, from the technology to foreign planets to the human (and humanoid) characters. Author Bedford’s worldbuilding feels very complete and believable, with excellent descriptions bringing it all to life.” —RT Reviews
“A nostalgic space opera…. Bedford’s prose is brisk and carries the reader quite sufficiently along.” —Tor.com
“The first of a new space opera series that delivers the goods and holds lots of promise of things to come.” —SF Signal at Kirkus
"A terrific book. It’s a page-turner and it’s particularly good on characterisation and plotting, with the story playing out to a satisfying conclusion." - Chris Butler
"The skill of this book lies in Bedford’s ability to seamlessly combine intrigue-heavy, multi-viewpoint plotting with human stories featuring characters you care about – a rare feat in this genre. The main ‘love’ triangle is handled particularly well. Note the quotation marks – this is anything but a standard romance, because we’re dealing with people who can alter memories and plant compulsions." - Jaine Fenn
Empire of Dust
By Jacey Bedford
Mass mkt pbk
ISBN 13: 9780756410162
ISBN 10: 0756410169
Amazon.co.uk | The Book Depository - These two are best for UK
Amazon.com | Amazon.com Kindle
Barnes and Noble (Pbk & Nook) | Books a Million | Indie Bound
Read the first chapter below...
I’m dead if I don’t get out of here. Cara Carlinni stared at the display on the public terminal. She gripped the edge of the console, feeling dizzy and sick. Too many cups of caff, not enough food.
Her fellow workers erupted from Devantec’s packing plant, one or two trying the other terminals in the bay just off the main walkway, and discovering, as she had when she first took the dead-end job, that this was the only functioning link.
She’d scooted out ahead of the crowd to grab it.
Good that she had. At least she was forewarned. What the hell was an Alphacorp ship doing here if not looking for something, or someone? What were the odds that someone was her?
She’d been barely one jump ahead of them on El Arish, and on Shalla colony she’d spotted wanted posters and moved on quickly, thankful that she’d ducked port immigration by hitching a flight with a smuggler.
She’d spoken to a man on Shalla who’d once been a low-grade psi-mech for the Rowan Corporation, and who was now living off the grid, with a new identity furnished by an organization that was definitely not the right side of legal. On his advice she’d come all the way out to Station Mirrimar-14 chasing rumors of a breakaway group of psi-techs, but she hadn’t found them. If they were here, they were well-hidden and well-shielded.
She swallowed bile and checked the screen again, focusing on the immediate problem—a light passenger transport—a ship design she recognized as an unmarked Alphacorp Scout. It threaded along the flight corridor toward the passenger terminal, past the heavy freighters lined up for docking in the space station’s commercial bays.
“Hey, Carlinni, you coming to Sam’s with the rest of us?” Jussaro, her packing line partner, broke his stride.
He was always friendly, but she kept her distance outside of working hours. A purple-black-skinned, genetically-engineered exotic from the Hollands System, he’d once been a high-grade Telepath until being busted for some misdemeanor he wouldn’t admit to.
They’d killed his implant. He was alone and silent.
He was the thing she most dreaded becoming.
She’d stepped out of line, bigtime, but they hadn’t caught her yet. If they did, she’d be damn lucky to end up like Jussaro. More than likely they’d just fry her brain from the inside out and have done with it.
“Not tonight.” She forced a smile and edged in front of the screen so Jussaro couldn’t see what she was checking.
“Why not? Got a hot date?”
“Ha!” His laugh was more like a bark. Then he frowned, the hooded ridges above his eyes drawing together in a serious case of mono-brow. “You in trouble, Carlinni?” He stepped closer and lowered his voice. “You are!”
Your average decommissioned psi-tech went nuts, but Jussaro was a rare survivor. Had he managed to retain his underlying telepathy? If so, that was a minor miracle in itself. Tonight he was entirely too quick on the uptake.
She curbed the need to switch on her implant. They could trace her as soon as she used it. Keep it powered down. She was so integrated with her tech that whatever natural talent she’d started out with had been subsumed. It might still be there, but she hoped she’d never have to find out the hard way.
“Quit my case, Jussaro. You’re not my dad.”
“Maybe I should have been, and then you wouldn’t be in trouble in the first place.”
“I told you, I’m not . . . I . . . Look, I can handle it. All right?”
“All right. All right. I get it. Keep my nose out.” He stepped away, both hands up in a gesture of surrender.
She shrugged. “Look, Jussaro, If ever I need a dad, I’ll adopt you, okay?”
“It’s a deal. Don’t forget.” He waved at her as he rejoined the flow of workers.
She returned her attention to the screen. The Scout had joined the docking tailback. That gave her a couple of hours at most. The temptation to pop a tranq prickled her scalp while she waited for the passenger manifest to load into the system. It flashed, and she pulled up the information. Rosen, Forrest, and Byrne—three names she didn’t recognize, listed as businessmen. She checked the crew. The pilot was Robert Craike.
Her heart began to race, and her skin turned clammy. To hell with it! She popped a tranq anyway, and felt it buffer the hunger to connect with her implant.
Shit! Shit! Shit!
She fought down panic. Avoiding Alphacorp’s regular security was one thing, but Craike was a psi-tech Finder.
There had to be a way out. Think!
“You finished with that terminal or do you want to marry it?” A dumpy woman in a red coverall had come up behind her.
“Finished. It’s yours.” Cara eased up on her death grip, blanked the screen, and turned toward the go-flow station, her thoughts firing in several different directions at once.
Craike was the brawn to Ari van Blaiden’s brain. Going up against him would be almost as bad as facing Ari himself. What were his orders? Would he be trying to kill her on-station, or would he be trying to take her back?
She had history with Craike—bad history. Torrence had called him a dangerous crazy, but that wasn’t the half of it. He might well be psychotic, but he certainly wasn’t stupid. If Ari had sent Robert Craike, she’d never get a fair trial.
Craike was bad news.
Had always been bad news.
She got his attraction to Ari. The emotions he thought he hid so carefully behind a tough scowl and a clenched jaw might fool most deadheads, but even though she barely scored on the empathy scale, she could read Craike. Most times she wished she couldn’t.
His jealousy had piled a personal grudge on top of everything else when she’d challenged his authority on Felcon.
When she closed her eyes, she could still smell the hot sand, taste the planet’s salt-caked air, feel its oven-intense heat through the sunblock on her face. Her rebellion had killed five people as surely as if she’d put a bolt gun to their heads herself, but she hadn’t known, then, how far Craike would go. The memory came back, vivid and painful. Torrence choking his life out, lungs all shot to hell.
Her fault. Her fault!
Craike pulled the trigger, but if it hadn’t been for her . . .
Don’t go there.
Was it the memory of Felcon that made her blood pound in her ears, or the thought of what was to come? The last time she’d seen Craike was down the barrel of a bolt gun. Now he was here on-station.
As she waited in line for the go-flow behind an elderly man in a technician’s coverall, her right hand closed involuntarily over the handpad on her left. If she wasn’t careful, the small, flexible sheet of film held her life—and possibly her death—within its memory. Ari’s files were as dangerous as a bomb on a short fuse. She’d had the opportunity and had grabbed them without thinking it through. If it had just been her, he might have let her slip away, but he’d never let her keep the files.
She rubbed her forehead to ease the headache and breathed away the faint feeling of dizziness. She’d rather not think about the files right now. She had them; she daren’t use them. Part of her didn’t even want to.
When she’d started to try and make sense of them, she’d realized that Ari was into all kinds of nastiness, but collating the data would be a massive undertaking. She had, however, found her own name on a red file. That had shocked her beyond measure. She’d seen that he’d personally scheduled her for Neural Readjustment on Sentier-4. She was lucky she got out before they’d taken her mind to pieces.
The man in front of her reached the head of the lineup, and with grace that showed he’d not slowed down with age, he hopped onto the last individual transfer raft. That left her no option but to climb into a transit pod with seven strangers. She eyed them suspiciously, but they all had the pale skin of long-term space-station residents, and the jaded air of tired workers heading home. As the pod carried them all toward the residential sector, she took a deep breath and considered her options. Going up against Craike, one on one, was suicide. She’d have to run, abandon the search for renegade psi-techs like herself, and find a flight. Any flight.
Destination? Away from here.
It should be possible. Security was patchy. Mirrimar-14 was big enough to have cracks that a desperate person could slip through, at least as far as the docks.
Space stations came in all shapes and sizes. Mirrimar-14, run by Eastin-Heigle, serviced only three jump gates and was happy to embrace any traffic that could pay the docking fees. That meant there would be independent captains she might bribe. Time to go to the transients’ quarter and see if she could find someone who was ready to ship out, someone who might take an unlisted passenger in exchange for credits or—she gritted her teeth—sex.
# # #
Ben Benjamin let the comm-link drop. Crowder was pissed with him again, but there wasn’t much either of them could do about the delay. Ben hadn’t been expecting to be recalled to take over the Olyanda mission. It would take at least four days to get back to Chenon, even presuming he could negotiate the inner system gates without getting stuck in a tailback. You’d think the vast deeps of space would be big enough to avoid traffic jams, but since everything funneled through jump gates, they were still inevitable.
It was a babysitting job for a new colony of back-to-basics Ecolibrians—hard-core separatists. Mixing psi-techs and fundies was a disaster waiting to happen. It had taken long enough for Ben to regain his commander’s pin. Refusing this job would sideline him, and failing would finish his career completely.
Rock, meet hard place. Hard place, meet rock. Was someone on the Board setting him up to fail? Could be. Better not fail, then.
The comm booth felt stuffy. He needed air, even space-station recycled would do. He leaned forward and swiped his handpad through the reader to register the transaction.
He’d trampled on some sensitive toes after Hera-3, probably enough to get himself retconned, or just plain killed, except for the fact he’d let it be known that he’d filed all his evidence with a certain body on Crossways which was virtually untouchable by any legitimate government or megacorp—at least not without a full-scale war. That evidence, mostly hearsay, might not be sufficient for a court of law, but it would be enough to spark inconvenient questions of people with reputations to protect.
For the past two years he’d lived with the possibility of someone high up in the Trust deciding he was too much of a liability. He could have walked away at any time, of course, but if he did that, he’d never find the bastards responsible. Crowder had stood by him, kept him on payroll. Without Crowder, he’d have been on the outside looking in. With so many of his regular crew dead and the survivors scattered to other teams, Crowder was the only constant in his life: boss, best friend, and sometimes stand-in for the father he’d lost so many years ago.
Musing on the value of friendship, Ben stepped out of the booth into the bland foyer of the visitor center and nodded to the desk clerk. Nice to see a real person in the job, not just a machine. He collected a hotchoc from the barista-bot and sipped it. It was thin and weak, almost tasteless except for the sugar, but at least it was warm and wet. He clipped a lid on the drink, grasped a handloop, and pushed off into the rising stream of the antigrav tube, balancing the cup expertly, He exited at the right floor, gaining weight again as his feet hit the hallway ceramic. He popped the top and sipped the hot liquid as he walked along to the dining hall.
It was early. The room was a sea of emptiness with only two tables occupied. A group of four earnest young men sat at one, and the other held the redhead who’d brought her courier vessel into port just after him, and had pushed in between him and the port controller as he tried to secure a next-day systems check. He’d been left fuming as she played the old buddies card and waltzed through the formalities, leaving him standing. She looked up, smiled broadly, and indicated the empty place by her side. No way. He retreated. Maybe he’d have a snack in Gordano’s. His belly rumbled. Two snacks.
# # #
Back in her cramped quarters Cara made another caff for herself, extra strong so she could almost pretend it was made from real coffee beans. Her hands shook as they clasped the mug. Of all the bloody stupid things, heading for the transients’ quarter desperate enough to latch onto the first captain of the worst bucket-of-bolts mining barge was barely one step up from suicide.
But staying was suicide.
Sex with a stranger might be the fastest way to get a favor, but she couldn’t stop her thoughts from turning in circles. There hadn’t been anyone since Ari.
She’d met him just after she’d been promoted to Special Ops and recalled to Earth, to Alphacorp’s facility outside the ancient city of York. Now second in command of a Spearhead Team, she was so proud that she’d broken her self-imposed silence and called her mom, only to be rewarded by nothing more than a vague that’s-nice-dear reaction. So much for trying to rebuild bridges. Dammit, it was a big deal for a twenty-three -year-old. Spearhead Teams were the first in to a potential colony world and, when necessary, Alphacorp’s troubleshooters.
She’d gone out and celebrated alone, but hadn’t stayed alone for long. She couldn’t even remember his name, now. He’d been keen, but she’d crept out of his apartment early in the morning without waking him. Relationships didn’t usually last beyond the next job, and she’d be leaving soon for Eritropea. Two months away for her, biological time, would be eight months for anyone left behind since this trip involved three months each way in cryo with the lumbering colony convoy taking forever to reach the outer system gates that handled the mass of an ark vessel.
She’d not been intending to hook up with anyone else, least of all her boss.
Cara took a shuddering breath and tried to relax away the adrenaline spike. She closed her mind to the past and concentrated on trying to make herself look good; bait the hook to catch a big fish. If she didn’t find a ride out of here tonight, she was dead or worse.
She swallowed hard and tried to ignore the churning in her gut, but it was no good . . . Halfway through applying blusher to her cheekbones she dashed to the sluice, hurling bile into the can and ruining her makeup.
She rinsed her mouth, cleaned her teeth and started again.
Despite everything, she didn’t want anyone except Ari. Been there, tried that, still hurt. She knew now why he had a neural blocker. He might look like an angel, but Ari scared her spitless. Even so, she couldn’t deny that she still felt . . . something. She couldn’t even name the emotion.
# # #
Crews couldn’t drink during flights and tended to let rip once they hit a station on shore leave. They wanted intoxication, entertainment, and sex, and Gordano’s catered to all three in equal measure.
Ben leaned against the bar in the time-honored way of travelers, squashed between a woman with Militaire veteran’s tattoos and a pale young man with the scaly skin of an exotic from the water world of Aqua Neriffe. His high-neck buddysuit almost, but not quite, covered his gill slits.
Wayside inn on a colony planet, or staging post at the arse-end of the galaxy, the routine was always the same. Gordano’s menu offered whatever could be imported cheaply or grown in hydroponics or a vat—standard space station fare.
The smoky blue walls, subtle lighting, and the mist effect made the perfectly clean atmosphere in the crowded bar look thick enough for privacy. They’d tried to make it seem like a dirtside roadhouse, but they couldn’t hide what it was.
A honey blonde in a blue dress that clung from throat to hip and then swung to mid-calf eyed him. She wasn’t showing everything that was on offer, so she was probably not one of Gordano’s girls. He nodded politely and turned back to the bar. Out of the corner of his eye he saw her slide into a booth and begin to check the screen built into the table. She drew his gaze. He took another sideways look and saw that she was just looking away. Pity he was only passing through.
He turned to the bar and ordered the house gold, expecting it would be as tasteless as speed-ale usually was. When it came, it was better than he’d been expecting and he took a second pull.
An argument was brewing at one of the tables. Angry voices cut through the general hubbub, but Ben couldn’t make out the words. Maybe some long-term shipboard resentment fueled by a fresh infusion of alcohol. He didn’t worry about it. Places like this always had their own security to damp down arguments before they got out of hand.
Or maybe not.
The row erupted. Chairs crashed backward. Two men, one at least a decade younger than the other, launched into each other across a table and crashed to the floor, kicking and punching. A space grew around them, penning them inside a ring of onlookers. Though the older guy had at least ten kilos on the younger one, the fight looked about even, one with a split lip, the other with a bloody nose. Two of Gordano’s bouncers closed in on the wrestling pair.
The situation nose-dived when the younger of the two brawlers, Split Lip, flashed a knife. How the hell had he managed to get that onto the station? Only licensed enforcers carried weapons legally, and security was tight. From this distance Ben couldn’t tell whether it was a handspan of carbon-steel or a power-enhanced parrimer blade, but it took barely a few seconds to become obvious. The man took a wide swing at his opponent, missed, and instead sliced across the belly of the nearest bouncer who went down in a spray of blood and a whiff of burned meat.
The second bouncer pulled a sidearm and the onlookers, intensely aware that they’d turned from voyeurs into potential collateral damage, began to scatter. Ben found himself in the front row and noticed the blonde in the blue dress hadn’t moved away either. She was now standing, half-hidden from the combatants, by the booth back.
Briefly surprised that his weapon had connected, Split Lip hesitated for long enough to give Bloody Nose the opportunity to grab the blade and they rolled together, leaving the bouncer no clear target.
Ben curled his fingers to stop them twitching toward where his own sidearm wasn’t. He would have taken out Bloody Nose, the man currently with the knife, not Split Lip, but the bouncer was indecisive. The two scrappers broke apart. Bloody Nose staggered to his feet barely an arm’s length in front of Ben. Seeing the bouncer take aim and not wanting to get caught by a wide shot, Ben stepped in close, grabbed Bloody Nose’s knife hand, twisted hard, and immobilized him, making sure he kept the man between himself and the bouncer.
It was over in a moment.
The bouncer grabbed Split Lip, slapped ferraflex restraints on him, and then came to relieve Ben of his prisoner.
Ben turned to the fallen man, but the woman in the blue dress was already down on her knees beside him. She had the man’s own emergency pack from his belt and was holding the wound closed with a clean dressing.
“Your crew?” Ben asked, peering at what she was doing and noting that she was following battle-wound procedure like a veteran.
She shook her head and looked up. “Yours?” She had stunning gray-blue eyes fringed with long dark lashes despite the blonde hair.
“If I had crew, they wouldn’t be so stupid.”
A siren outside announced the imminent arrival of medics and the law. She glanced around as if sizing up the exits.
“Looking for a back way out?” he asked.
“Imagine the hours of interviews and incident sheets to write up,” she said.
“Civic duty?” He wondered just how badly she needed to get out before the law arrived.
“I doubt they’ll lay on a decent meal, and I haven’t eaten yet.”
“Point taken. We can always volunteer our services tomorrow.”
“Of course,” she said, her voice completely lacking sincerity.
“Come on, then, I’ll buy you dinner.”
As the crash team hustled a gurney through the front door of Gordano’s, Ben exited the back with the honey blonde.
<End of Chapter One>