Embers of War by Gareth L. Powell was one of the science fiction highlights of 2018 and the good news is that Fleet of Knives, the follow up, was published by Titan Books earlier this month. I’ve read it and it is fantastic – spaceships as much dog as they are machine, aliens (some of whom are the stuff of nightmares), battles, crew members we care about fighting to stay alive, and an enigmatic lethal force in the Galaxy that threatens billions. All this and more and I couldn’t read it fast enough. My review will follow shortly but, in the meantime, I’m delighted to post here an extract from early on in Fleet of Knives. And it’s one of my favourite bits! Sal Konstanz, Captain of the Trouble Dog, has discovered that she has more crew members than she might have thought, thanks to her multi-legged engineer Nod.
“What the hell was that?”
“What was what?” The Trouble Dog spoke via the bead in my ear. “Are you all right, Captain? Your pulse and respiration are spiking.”
“You’re damn right they’re spiking!” My mouth was dry. I could almost hear my pulse. I took a couple of wary steps back towards the exit, keeping my attention rigidly fixed on the hole into which the creature had disappeared. “There’s something loose down here.”
“Could you be more specific?”
“I only caught a glimpse.” I paused and swallowed, wishing I had some sort of weapon. “But it looked kind of like a spider.”
“A big spider. Tarantula-sized.”
The ship was silent for a moment.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I should have told you they were aboard.”
At her words, I felt a cold prickle run the length of my spine. “They? There’s more than one of those things down here?”
“There are eleven of them in your immediate vicinity. Two more elsewhere on that deck.”
I heard skittering footsteps and whirled around, just in time to see another of the creatures dart through the door, into the access way beyond. Now, if I wanted to retreat, I’d have to do so knowing there was at least one of them blocking my path.
“What are they? Where did they come from?”
“I think you should speak to Nod.”
“It brought them aboard?”
“In a manner of speaking, yes. I’ve signalled it, and it should be here momentarily.”
I was trying to look in every direction at once, hands raised defensively in case one of the critters leapt at my face.
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Nod should be the one to explain.”
A limb appeared over the wiry rim of Nod’s nest, and I swallowed back a surge of panic. I’d never been particularly susceptible to arachnophobia—but then, I’d never previously been stuck in a hot, noisy and cramped engine room with eleven tarantulas.
“It’s all right. It’s nearly with you.”
“But there’s one climbing out of the nest. It’s—” I stopped speaking as the little creature heaved itself up onto the lip, and I got my first proper look at it.
The thing stood on five limbs. A sixth was raised in my direction, the fingers splayed like the petals of a flower. Leaning close, I could just about make out tiny, coal-black eyes regarding me from the centre of the palm. A little slit of a mouth opened and closed soundlessly.
“It’s a baby Druff!”
The youngster flinched at the sound of my voice. Its scales glistened like oil on water. It looked me up and down several times, as if trying to decide whether to investigate further or flee.
I spoke quietly, so as not to startle it. “Where did we get thirteen baby Druff?”
When she replied, the Trouble Dog managed to sound both amused and embarrassed. “Nod gave birth last night.”
“Gave birth?” I shook my head, feeling absurd. “You’re telling me our engineer got itself knocked up, and popped out thirteen little copies of itself?”
“I believe it happened the last time we were on Camrose.”
A grating swung aside on well-oiled hinges, and Nod slunk into the room. At the sight of it, the little one squeaked, and ran over to wrap four of its arms around one of its parent’s ankles.
“Captain.” Keeping its head low, it looked up at me.
I crossed my arms. “I think you’ve got some explaining to do.”
I’m delighted to post this extract as part of the blog tour. For more stops on the tour, please do take a look at the poster below.