The comparative utopia of twenty-third-century Earth is about to go dreadfully awry when a seemingly benign alien race is abruptly revealed to be one of the worst threats humanity has ever faced. Driven by an intense religious extremism, the Olyix are determined to bring everyone to their version of God as they see it. But they may have met their match in humanity, who are not about to go gently into that good night or spend the rest of their days cowering in hiding. As human ingenuity and determination rise to the challenge, collective humanity has only one goal—to wipe this apparently undefeatable enemy from the face of creation. Even if it means playing a ridiculously long game indeed.
But in a chaotic universe, it is hard to plan for every eventuality, and it is always darkest before the dawn.
June 25, 2204
The warm twilight sky roofing London was a gentle strata of pastel colors: a rose-gold horizon washing up to deeper cerise that swiftly drained down to star-clad darkness at the apex. Ollie Heslop had to squint into the fading sunlight as his boardez carried him west along Plough Lane, leaving the old Wimbledon Stadium behind. Big hologram hoardings were shining from the stadium walls, their consumer products twisting and turning to display many stylish elements. The last one featured Sumiko, advertising her new drama game. She wore a plunge-necked scarlet silk dress, her divine three-meter-high face smiling down in slow-mo as he slid past. PAK virals spilled out of the hazy glow, pinging Tye, his altme, with the game’s trailers. Ollie had to grin back at that bedtime come-and-get-it look she bestowed on anyone passing below. It was an omen, he decided; he’d had a crush on the Hong Kong actress for years. At fourteen he’d covered his bedroom walls in mov-i posters of her. And now here she was, the goddess of photons, blessing him as he made his way to the raid.
A happy smile lit his face as the hologram slipped away behind him, and he focused on the darkening pavement ahead as Tye blocked the PAKs. Shadows were growing deceptively deep amid the big plane trees, whose century of growth had turned the road into a major urban greenway. Tye had to trigger a visual enhancement routine, feeding Ollie’s tarsus lenses with an amplified image so he could sashay the boardez around paving slabs shifted and elevated by the tree roots. Nothing he could do about the board’s powerful little wheels fantailing damp pavement algae across his boots, though. He’d chosen those boots specifically for this raid; shin-high black leather, laced tight with sunglo orange straps—pumping the cool factor hard. They were paired with glossed leather crotch-gripper trousers, a snow white t-shirt—tight to show off toned abs—and a scuffed green jacket that came down to his knees. Sleeves with purple sparkle piping were crumpled back to his elbows. Reproduction antique smart-Cuffs rode both wrists, containing his darkware. A Leninist Worker’s cap in dusky gray felt with a prominent enameled red star completed his image: poised, youthful good looks, riding the boardez with a strut, radar gaze scanning around, always challenging, telling the world to stand back for the hot street playa. The only thing he wasn’t showing was his own face. A fleshmask adhered to his skin, darkening his pigmentation and rounding out his cheeks.
Ollie was taking point for his crew, his mates, his blood-brothers, who called themselves the Southwark Legion. It was a name known to weary social workers and community police from back in the day, when Ollie was at the borough’s state academy trying to pass his National Digital Industry exams. They’d stuck with the handle after they left and the changes began. Some of the original crew had drifted away into jobs and even careers; others had started to hang when their own crews were broken up. Now there were the six of them remaining—hardcore on multiple levels and still in their twenties… though Piotr was pushing twenty-eight.
Tye splashed a scan on Ollie’s lenses, and he checked the Legion’s positions. Not too close to one another, but tight enough to pull off the timing that the raid demanded. He’d spent a week planning this out, determining everyone’s positions and timing down to the last decimal. Every action interlocked, and for every possible glitch a counter-move. It was his thing, designing and refining, coming at the problem from every angle to try to find the flaws before they happened.
So now orchestrating their deployment was down to him, too.
Piotr was twenty meters back, hands clasped urbanely behind his back as he rode his boardez in an impeccably straight line. His chosen fleshmask gave him a vampire pallor, but even so he looked polished in clubbing threads: red shirt, gloss-black lace tie, slick snakeskin gray waistcoat, and navy trousers. He hadn’t gone overboard muscling up, but the civilians on Plough Lane that evening instinctively knew what a total hardarse he was and parted obediently for his humming boardez. Piotr was the Legion’s sort-of leader. He knew people in London’s underworld who pulled in contracts and favors, earning the Legion some decent respect among the major families and gangs—the ones they were so desperate to be accepted by.
Piotr’s bagez wasn’t tagged to his altme—at least not if anyone ran a forensic audit—and it trailed him by a good hundred and fifty meters. Like most London streets, Plough Lane had a perpetual swarm of bugez and trollez trundling after their owners, and more of the little vehicles chasing down the central clear path on delivery routes, both legitimate and otherwise. Nobody kept track of them, or cared. Why would you? Traffic management was the job of the G8Turings. The bagez slowed as it wound around a particularly tall plane tree, immersing itself in the deep shadows underneath. Piotr triggered the release. A small hatch opened on the base, and three creeperdrones scampered out. They looked like pygmy possums, measuring nine centimeters long and weighing in at forty grams, with an agility equal to the rodents they mimicked. Tronde Aucoin, the Legion’s Lord of Printing, had spent a couple of days assembling them, extruding components from phials of exotic, expensive crudes. Works of art, Ollie acknowledged, even though it was his own customized code that animated their artificial muscles, giving their sleek bodies a fluid motion indistinguishable from living creatures. And all for the few seconds’ exposure before they went underground.
The tiny creeperdrones dived down a pavement grill and wriggled their way through cracks in the ancient drain walls to reach the utility ducts that ran under the street. If any person or any program did notice them in those precious moments, they must have passed as real. Tye reported zero alerts in the local civic nodes.
Piotr’s bagez traced a slow curve across the road and trundled off to the Julan Finance office, farther back along Plough Lane.
“Two minutes,” Ollie announced. He saw Lars Wallin grin in anticipation, teeth barred like a jungle predator cat snarling as it approached its prey. Lars was ten meters away, on Ollie’s left—a hulking twenty-two-year-old who always wore a gym singlet to show off his physique. Some of the muscles that were straining the fabric were genuine, pumped by weights and steroids; the rest were Kcell grafts. His nose was mashed flat against his face, and both hands had heavily scarred knuckles from more fights than even Ollie could remember. Even now, after a couple of years in the Legion, Lars made Ollie nervous. If you gave the IQ tree a good shake, it wouldn’t be Lars who fell out of the topmost branches, and he took a couple of nark capsules most days to keep his aggression in check. But he’d been cold-turkey for thirty-six hours now.
The tactical scan showed Ollie their taxez approaching from the opposite direction. He was proud of that taxez. It was darkware he’d tailored that had pirated the vehicle from the Heürber Corp, a business that had captured the majority of London’s private passenger vehicle franchises. Further tailoring made the taxez the Legion’s bitch. Tonight it carried Tronde and Adnan; the interior cameras revealed them sitting next to each other on the curving faux-leather bench, looking absurdly relaxed, as if they were heading out on a double date. Ollie disapproved of that stance, worried they might have taken a nark to beat back the nerves that were jabbing up his own spine. Except Tronde never took nark; he even refused to eat printed food, despite or perhaps because of working with printers all day long. Ever since a nasty outbreak of pustulant hives—a bad reaction to the enhancement he’d made to his dick—he’d rejected modern medicine to become a true vegan health freak, and now had homeopathic remedies for every ailment. Tonight he was dressed in jeans and a black t-shirt under a jacket that looked two sizes too big and wore a fleshmask that had African-black pigmentation. As Tronde’s family roots were pure Nordic, Ollie wondered if that mask could be considered racist—a particularly stupid thought given what they were about to do. Nerves.
Sitting beside Tronde, and immune to his friend’s new politically incorrect features, was Adnan. The Legion’s tech-head was dressed in a plain white thobe with a long checkered keffiyeh headdress to complement his minimal fleshmask, which had given him sunken cheeks and a sharp-pointed beard for the evening. A wide, silvered shade band covered a third of his fake face; he wore it to hide his eyes. Adnan had gone for a complete refit and now had metallic orbs that offered wide-spectrum reception. They allowed him to see node signals, and even tagged the emissions, so he could read the digital code directly, via his altme: Ramoos. Ollie thought that was extremely cool, although he held back from committing himself. There was something about having his eyes taken out that chilled him at a primal level.
“Get ready,” Piotr warned them.
Ollie watched a green-and-gray light amplification visual from the creeperdrones as they wriggled their way along the utility duct. It was jammed with dozens of cables, all encrusted with decades of dirt and rodent droppings, which rubbed off on the creeperdrones’ fur as they pushed forward.
“Load the packages,” Ollie ordered Tye. The altme splashed a yellow-and-purple data grid, showing his darkware packages loading into the solnet nodes along Plough Lane.
Gareth had coded most of them; the Legion’s nethead nerd, who knew more about software than Ollie, Tronde, and Adnan combined. Appropriately enough, given Ollie thought his personality must have been written by a Turing. Right now Tye was showing Gareth sitting cross-legged on a low wall close to their target office, which was not where Ollie’s plan had positioned him. Gareth had serious issues with following basic instructions. Ollie just hoped he hadn’t been sitting there for too long; the police Turings would pick up on that. Which Gareth would know better than anyone…
Ah, fuck it.
Ollie closed in on the rendezvous point. The way he swerved around people with micro shifts of his weight was second nature. He’d been riding boardez since he could walk, and it was all he could do to hold back on powercurves up the wall and angled skid-brake twists to curb-hop. But the Legion was on a raid: serious shit. The majors wouldn’t appreciate someone still living his youthful moves in the middle of a job.
The creeperdrones were crawling over the power junction relay that supplied the commercial buildings he was sailing past. Piotr and Lars were closing in on him as he neared the Klausen Nutrition offices just before the junction. The taxez was visible up ahead, trundling carefully along Plough Lane’s central clear path.
“Another house has been placed on the market,” Tye announced.
“Now?” Ollie asked—not that he was surprised a house had come up, but he clearly hadn’t organized Tye’s priority ratings properly. This wasn’t the time to be splashing results from the search patterns he’d loaded. Even so, images zipped across his tarsus lenses: a wonderful old French house in lush gardens, atop a rock cliff, the Mediterranean sun sparkling on the waves below. Steps carved into the rock switchbacked down to a small private cove. The asking price was seven point two million wattdollars.
“The deal has been closed,” Tye said. “Bidder paid eight point three.”
Ollie checked the elapsed time. Twenty-seven seconds. “Way too much anyway,” he muttered. But it looked perfect. One day…
He made an effort to focus on the job, replacing the dream house with a splash of the schedule. Everything was running smoothly.
“Ten seconds on my mark,” Ollie announced. He could feel his heart rate bumping up. Excitement was fizzing around his veins, better than any nark hit. This was what he lived for. The money was only a small part of the deal—okay, essential for him, but still small. Yet the feeling he got from this kind of raid was like nothing on earth.
The creeperdrones spread themselves wide on the relay casing, tiny claws holding fast. Tye triggered the first darkware package: a basic sensor hijack. The civic surveillance sensors along Plough Lane either started relaying a mix of adverts or powered down. It meant the borough’s cybercop G8Turing would be focusing on the area, running diagnostics and using killswitch blockers on Ollie’s darkware. “Go for the diversion,” he told Tye.
Another batch of darkware went active inside the nodes. These were coded to infiltrate Julan Finance with ransomware. It started to spread through the company’s office network.
The creeperdrones exploded. All the streetlights went out, along with most of the hologram hoardings—including Sumiko. Green emergency lights in the commercial buildings started to come on, as if Plough Lane were suddenly dressing up for Halloween.
The taxez braked sharply outside their actual target, the Klausen Nutrition office. Its doors sprang open. Ollie, Piotr, and Lars rode their boardez right up to the vehicle and jumped off. The boardez folded themselves up. Ollie picked his up off the ground and slipped it into his belt pouch. Tye showed him a flock of police drones closing on the Julan Finance offices four hundred meters away. Underneath the drones, the pedestrians and board riders along Plough Lane had stopped to look around in confusion as power and digital connectivity was taken from them—basic human rights since before they were born. Sickly green luminescence revealed the unease manifesting on their faces.
“Lars,” Piotr snapped. “Door.”
A grinning Lars stepped up to the Klausen office’s sliding glass door and quickly rolled the flat purple charge tape across the glass.
They all turned their backs and hunched down.
“Ollie,” Piotr said. “Entry.”
Ollie gave Tye the go-ahead. Malware overloaded the Klausen Nutrition office network, while in the distance Piotr’s bagez fired eight micro missiles at the Julan Finance office. Their solid rocket exhausts made a high-pitched thunderclap of noise as they accelerated hard, producing dazzling plumes that streaked out across Plough Lane, cutting straight through the leafy plane trees. Too late, the police drones started to scatter. Lost amid the terrific noise, the charge tape detonated. The door’s glass shattered, showering the steps with sharp crystalline gravel. An alarm block high on the wall started shrieking, its red strobe blazing. Piotr raised an arm, and there was a small blue flash from inside his cuff. The alarm fell silent, its fragments raining down.
“In,” Piotr commanded, scanning the street to see if anyone was paying attention. As they hurried through the broken door, the Legion’s taxez drove away.
It was dark inside. Tye increased the resolution on Ollie’s visual enhancement routine, allowing him to see the blank, bland corridors with their identical doors leading to identical offices. The buzz had started for real now. The thrill of being in the office building, of making the play, was overwhelming, magnifying every sight and sound ten times above normal. Ollie never wanted the thrill to end.
Piotr led them toward the back. The storeroom’s thick carbon door filled the end of the corridor. Ollie scanned it with the sensors in his smartCuffs. “Deadlocked,” he said. “The alarm system has backup power, but my darkware is blocking it. You’ll have to reset the system after the power is restored before you can get the bolts to withdraw. Their electromagnets are dead.”
Piotr nodded and crooked a finger. “Lars.”
Lars grinned and eyed the door as he would a late-night challenger in the pub. The rest of the Southwark Legion flattened themselves against the corridor walls. Lars ran at the door, lowering his shoulder.
Ollie raised his eyes in dismay as Lars ran past, yelling wildly. The door could have been opened with ten minutes of delicate instruments, fiber-optic cable grafts, power line splices…
Lars hit the door, shoulder flesh thudding into carbon.
“Not bad,” Adnan admitted grudgingly as his cyborg vision measured the door quivering in its frame.
Lars backed up the corridor. Then he charged again.
The third charge saw the bolts tear free of the frame, and the door burst open. The carbon fascia was undented. Lars would be wearing his shoulder bruise medals for a week, but he grinned his champ grin as he led the Legion into the storeroom.
Ollie had to admit, sometimes you just need to go basic.
The storeroom was full of metal racks, floor to ceiling. Aisles were barely wide enough to walk down. Loadez had stalled at the end: sad plastic cylinders with three robot arms hanging limply. Tiny red LEDs glowed forlornly on their upper casing—a paltry glow that shimmered off the tall designer bottles of nutrient crude and vitamin pastes destined for exclusive food printers.
Piotr stared around in approval. “Tronde, Adnan, take ’em out.”
Tronde and Adnan stood at the end of the storeroom. Both of them struck the same pose: arms down, held away from the hips. Bomb drones modeled on spiders emerged from folds in their baggy clothes. In the storeroom’s gloaming, it looked as if the pair of them were dripping big globs of fluid. The little machines had a dark composite casing, with no attempt to make them appear authentic.
The bomb drones scuttled along the aisles and started to climb the racks, clinging to the shelf supports. Piotr watched until he was satisfied they were positioning themselves correctly.
They hurried down the length of the storeroom to the one-meter cargo portal, used to transport products from the main Klausen factory. The portal door itself was dark, the entanglement still active but not open. Beside it was a physical door to the narrow road behind the building, with an emergency fire exit bar across it. Piotr shoved the bar, and the door opened easily.
They piled out into the dark road. Their taxez was there, waiting for them. It was a tight squeeze with all six of them squashed onto the circular bench, but they were all giddy with the adrenaline rush. As the taxez began to drive away, Piotr said: “Blow it.”
Ollie nodded, and Tye sent the signal to the bomb drones. Everybody squinted through the taxez’s curving transparent bodywork as the bomb drones detonated in a single synchronized blast, as unspectacular as he’d hoped it would be. There was a brief, gloomy flare of yellow light from inside the storeroom, and the fire door flapped about from the pressure wave, but that was it. Inside, the racks would be crumpling as their support legs were severed by the tiny, precise charges, collapsing like giant dominos to send the precious bottles smashing into one another and the floor, their contents ruined.
“Oh, yeah,” Tronde grunted. “Champion, us.”
Ollie could see how happy Tronde was that his devices had done their job and grinned, giving his friend a big thumbs-up. “Nice work.”
“My man,” Tronde said appreciatively.
The taxez turned out of the road and began to pick up speed.
“I don’t get it,” Lars said. “Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it, like. But what’s the point of just smashing stuff up? Why’s Jade paying us to do that?”
“It was a protection job, Lars,” Ollie said. “Klausen didn’t pay what they owed to Jade and Nikolaj, and whatever the hell they’re part of—”
“One of the major North London families,” Adnan said quickly. “It has to be. They got so many contacts.”
“Whatever. The raid was the point, see. We cost Klausen big tonight. Not going out of business big, but enough to make them sit up and take notice. Next time Jade or someone turns up asking for a little insurance payment, they know she’s not all piss and farts, and they cough up the readies.”
“It’s more than that,” Piotr responded smoothly. “We showed Jade we can deliver on a contract, that we’re reliable people. That’s the real point.”
Lars stuck out his lower lip. “Yeah, okay, got it.”
“We came together tight, tonight,” Piotr said. “There aren’t many crews who could pull this off. We just made the majors sit up and take notice.”
Ollie grinned at his friends, seeing plenty of happiness in the taxez. This is why Piotr is in charge; he knows how to pull us together.
“You think after this Jade is gonna give us the gig for the power relay station?” Adnan asked, unwinding his keffiyeh headdress. Sweat glinted in his slicked-back ebony hair.
“Could be,” Piotr said.
“Come on, we showed her we can pull off a decent gig. She’s got no reason to keep it from us anymore,” Ollie grunted, only half bitter. The big deal of the relay station had been dangled in front of the Legion for over a year now. Jade and Nikolaj always said there would be bigger jobs once the Legion showed what they were capable of—jobs that never quite materialized. In his mind, Ollie had these scenarios of old-time heists playing out: breaking into bullion vaults or diamond merchants. The kind of thing that used to happen a hundred years ago, before asteroid mining and starflight turned rare materials into just plain old materials.
“Not up to me,” Piotr said. “But I’ll make it clear to her how much we want it.”
“Not too much,” Gareth said. “Don’t make us sound desperate.”
“Like I don’t know how to handle a contract,” Piotr shot back.
Ollie grinned and settled back on the taxez’s curving bench, glad to be out clean, and sad that the buzz was starting to fade. But this was them, the Legion, his friends: the banter, hot nightlife, boys, girls, being playas. Everything life could give, he was taking it.
Excerpted from SALVATION LOST by Peter F. Hamilton. Copyright 2019 by Peter F. Hamilton.
Excerpted by permission of Del Rey, an imprint of Penguin Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher