Sometimes to reach light we must brave shadows.
Shomoro’s alliance has plucked Mose from the Project’s grasp, but her work is just beginning. Now she must find a way to free him from the nano that keeps him chained—and keep him out of the hands of Council factions who want to experiment on him once they discover his true nature.
Mose wants nothing more than to help her. He sees the glimmer of a new life beyond the horizon of freedom. But even if Shomoro succeeds, the Project may pull him back in.
Because trouble is brewing in Diego Two: under Gau’s command in all but name, the Djandjer-Pralsh faction is building toward their most ambitious strike at the heart of the Church. And what they uncover will send shockwaves through the Expansion and beyond.
Get the third book in the Expansion series, where the deals made in the dark will give shape to the light.
Read an excerpt of Chapter One below!
The room revealed when the opaque lid of Mose’s conveyance lifted did not look much like a prison cell or an interrogation room. It looked like an apartment. He tried to use this fact to slow the beating of his heart, taking slow, shallow breaths to prevent hyperventilation.
The oskven—Shomoro Lacharoksa—stepped toward him. Her white mane shone against the dark, wide window at the back of the room. Beyond it he could make out the dark skyline of what must be a city, or at least a very large complex of buildings. But dark, all dark. They must be kilometers underground.
He took all this in automatically, the way he noted how many people were in a room and where the exits were. The main part of his attention was on Shomoro. The sensitive nostrils under her long dark snout flared as she said, “Do you know who I am?”
The tension in his jaw made his words a hiss. “Shomoro Lacharoksa.” The avatar of his nano-induced dreams, whom he’d first seen as a mental projection from the Drevl Char who’d turned out to be her agent. The same Drevl Char who had held out the impossible hope of rescue, if only Mose trusted the two of them …
He’d followed that promise all the way to Teluk, a hidden undercurrent pulling him along even as his mission pushed him in the same direction. Now, not for the first time, he considered that that promise could have been a lie: a hook to lure him here and eliminate him at little to no risk to herself. He was the seph-hunter, after all. What seph wouldn’t kill him, given half the chance? And he’d given her that and more.
“Are you going to kill me?” he asked. Maybe she’d release him from the prison of spitstone the Veert had entombed him in first. Let him die on his feet.
But even as he pondered what reason Shomoro could have to show him even that small mercy, she laughed. “Not at all. In fact,” she added with a grin, “if I’m right about you, I’m going to set you free.”
Mose stared at her for long enough that he knew he was being rude. He blinked, swallowed. “You … what?” So Pri was telling the truth? “Why would you help me?”
Shomoro tilted her head and narrowed her eyes. “I understand your caution,” she said. “Why would a seph help another seph sent on a mission to kill her?”
Mose tried to dip his torso in a shrug, as if to say Precisely. But the spitstone constricting his body truncated the movement. Shomoro still seemed to understand.
She crouched down so he no longer had to crane his neck to look at her, resting long arms on her front set of knees. “It has to do with a mission of my own,” she said. Her gaze slid away from his for a moment, as though weighing what she should say next. When her eyes met his again, she went on. “If you knew where to find me, then you must have seen my message.”
Mose was puzzled; Shomoro’s agent Pri had contacted him directly, but he hadn’t learned where Shomoro was based until the Project briefed him.
His confusion must have registered, because she elaborated. “The one I planted on Skraal-Teklan’s data net? Seeking other sephs of Za?”
“That was you?” Mose blurted. Shomoro blinked, confusion curdling her scent. It wasn’t until it changed that he became aware of her default scent: smooth like moistened sand, with a very slight pungent spiciness. The same scent Pri had used to fool him on Greenwich Hub, but this time it was real. He pushed it to the back of his awareness, like a face already memorized.
Shomoro stood back up. “It was,” she said. In a lower tone she added, “And I can guess how you encountered it.”
A hot twist of guilt coiled Mose’s stomach, undiluted by the years. He’d tracked down Vorl Yureshenka by eavesdropping on that message. Vorl had recognized him, trusted him—and Mose had killed him.
“I thought it was Gau,” he said. “All this time I thought it was Gau Shesharrim.”
The pale horizontal pupils of her eyes widened in surprise at the name. Of course she recognized it: Gau Shesharrim was the most well-known of the sephs who fought for Za. He’d been a hero by the war’s end, and then—
“You’ve been looking for Gau, haven’t you?” Shomoro asked softly.
“For fifteen years.” The answer was instant. It was one thing he knew, the thing that had kept him alive as everything else dropped away. A thought occurred to him. “Pri must have told you why. She was your agent, right under Gau’s snout.” A bitter laugh trickled out of him. He’d had a healthy respect for the Project’s intelligence division, and they hadn’t been able to get him close to Gau until he was on the verge of committing a major crime on Terran soil. It seemed Shomoro’s intelligence network put the Project’s to shame. She’d been able to implant a shadow agent in the midst of Gau’s team without him suspecting a thing.
“She told me what she overheard,” Shomoro said, “but I want to hear it from you.”
Mose breathed against the constricting spitstone, trying to steady himself. He had no way to make her believe him; all he had was the truth.
“Gau betrayed Za. He knew of the nanovirus attack beforehand—intelligence he chose not to share with the colony’s government.” The words spilled out almost faster than he could enunciate, leaving no room for an interruption. “Gau was the reason we lost the war.”
Mose waited for Shomoro to say that he was wrong, that he had to be wrong. That it couldn’t be Gau, the hero of Za, who’d left the city to its doom.
His stomach sank as her silence lengthened. But then she broke it.
“I know.” Her snout shifted away, averted from looking at him head-on in chagrin. “Pri discovered as much when I set her on Gau’s trail.” She crossed her arms over her chest, scratching absently at the blade sheath under one arm. “I’d meant to recruit him, too,” she added in a near whisper.
“And then you learned the truth,” Mose said. A loosening went through his aching muscles; belatedly he realized it was relief. Until this moment, he hadn’t fully believed that she wasn’t working for Gau. “I have obeyed the orders of the Terrans’ Project, become their seph–killer, because it was the only way I could see Gau punished for his crime.”
She pinned him with a hard stare again. Moment of chagrin over. “Why? Why help the Project hunt us down?” The “us” stabbed like a blade between his ribs. Mose wondered if she meant to include him with the sephs who had been his prey, or if the “us” only applied to the rest of them.
Shame tightened his chest, and he had to force the next words out. “I had no choice.”
She crouched again. Curiosity enlivened her scent with saline notes. “What do they have on you?” Eagerness he wondered at colored her voice.
“It’s what they have in me.” He tried to raise a hand to his chest to indicate the Terran-controlled nanites that swarmed there, but his spitstone sheath ended that impulse.
“What they have in you?” she repeated.
“I was there the day Za was destroyed,” Mose said. “My bio-implants were broken down like the others. I was suffocating in Olios 3’s oxygen atmosphere when the Project found me. They used a nanoswarm to save me—a nanoswarm they control.”
Her eyes widened in comprehension and, quick on its tail, apprehension. “Is the Project listening to us right now?”
“No …” Mose said. The internal structures the nanites had built inside him weren’t that complex—mostly medical monitors and programming terminals by which Terran technicians could give them new instructions. At least, that was what Vernsky had told him. “I don’t know.” He shrugged helplessly against the spitstone. “But they know approximately where I am right now. There are internal monitors, plus more in the armor.”
“Even this far underground?” she asked.
“RD transmitters,” he said. Regular radio transmissions could be blocked by bedrock, but there was nothing that could block Relativity Defiant hyperwave, as far as he knew.
Shomoro sprang to her feet and spoke to a point over his head—to the Veert who’d brought him to this hideaway. He’d almost forgotten they were there.
“Lab,” she said. “Now.”