Read an excerpt from Descendent Machines

We are pleased to share with you an excerpt from The Descendant Machine by Gareth L. Powell, published April 11th by Titan Books.

Nicola Mafalda is deeply traumatized by the drastic action she took to save her life when her scout ship was attacked. Months later, when an ex-lover comes to her for help, she realizes she must find a way to forgive the ship and her ex-lover. Reckless elements are trying to restart a giant machine that has been dormant for thousands of years. To stop them, Nikolai and her crew must put aside their differences, sneak aboard a massive alien megaship, and try to survive long enough to prevent the destruction of the galaxy.


Betting the Farm on Intuition
Nicola Mafalda

As we leave the atmosphere and the Frontier Chic pushes up, a local gunboat beckons us.

“Hi,” I texted in the local language. “I’m honored. I didn’t expect you to pull out your big guns just to say goodbye.” Though lacking interstellar capabilities, the Zatian gunship was easily twice our size. It was bulky and utilitarian in appearance, and the builders bolted it together with little regard for aesthetics. The hull is a metal cube with a bundle of large-diameter thruster nozzles at each apex. Weapon emplacements and aiming sensors scab over five of its six faces. “Nicolas Mafalda?” replied the gunboat commander. “This is not a ceremonial visit. There is a member of our diplomatic service on board.”

I checked the list. “Indra Petrok? Yes, she is joining the Jzat Ambassador’s delegation to the contiguous fleet.” “Please note that we wish to detain your passengers.”

“Has she committed a crime?”

“It’s none of your business.” The gun carriage spun around to aim at us. “You have one minute to show your submission.”

“excuse me?”

“Fifty-five seconds.”

“Are you threatening me?” I couldn’t contain the anger in my tone. “seriously?”

Me and Frontier Chic are here to pick up our passengers. The ruler of Jazat allowed a physicist from the Ark Continuation to visit and study the Mechanism. This will be the first time Jzat has allowed humans to come within 100,000 kilometers of the object, which is obviously a huge honor.

The physicist was a young protégé named Orlando Walden. Out of my kindness, I allowed Jezat to be on the command deck as we approached – he seemed fascinated by the images of the mechanism displayed on the various monitors and screens on the bridge.

“What do you think, Walden?”

The child turned to look at me. He’s tall but thin, and his sunken cheeks are accentuated only by dark eyeshadow and black nail polish. He wore a collarless charcoal jacket and his long, dirty blond hair was pulled back into a ponytail. He has smart tattoos on the back of his hands that simultaneously display news, monitor vital signs, play various computer games and simulations, and predict local weather conditions in Jzat.

“It was fun,” he said, trying not to stutter.

Born and raised on the Ark Serial, he claims that this is his first trip beyond the confines of the fleet, and that it will be his first experience of natural gravity and natural sunlight when we land on Earth. After landing we handed Orlando Walden over to a delegation of Jzat scientists who were eager to take him to work on their big hoops. The poor child’s eyes were wide as saucers.

Afterwards we stayed for a few more days to arrange our return journey. Then, once Petek and a few other passengers were on board, we started the return journey, taking them back to the fleet, where they would take over from Jazat as ambassador for the continuation of humanity. It’s not a glamorous assignment for us, but working for the Vanguard isn’t all adventure and excitement; it’s fun. Sometimes, you just have to let go of your pride and act like a taxi service.

“We cannot allow those involved to continue her journey. If you do not surrender her, we will eliminate you.”

“Now, wait a minute—”

“Forty-five seconds.”

“You know who I represent, right?”

“You represent continuation.”

“Yes, continuation.” I spoke as if I were addressing a particularly aggressive child. “A thousand arks, each the size of a small country, each armed with enough defensive firepower to destroy a planet. More specifically, the planet.”

“Nevertheless, we must persevere. We cannot allow Ambassador Petrok to contact Ravna Abelisk.”

I’m about to ask who Rav’nah Abelisk is when Frontier Chic’s sensors register a massive gravitational pulse. It moves across the galaxy like ripples from a boulder dropped into a pond.

“What’s this?” I traced it to its source. “Is this from the mechanism?”

I concentrated the sensors on the research vessel, and they swarmed like mosquitoes around the mechanism’s black sphere and its accompanying ring. Jzat has been studying the artifact since its inception, and has several historic scientific stations scattered around its 470-kilometer circumference. “Have you idiots finally figured out how to activate it?”

“Uh…” The officer’s confidence was shaken for a moment. Then he cheered up and said: “Our activities have nothing to do with you. Have you responded to our request?”

“I have.”

“What about your answer?”

“You should get out.”

“Very well. We noticed your intransigence. Fire the missiles.”


“The missile flew away.”

Alarms sounded as torpedoes locked onto the hull of the Frontier Chic. The captain’s warning was merely a formality; I’m sure his orders had been to eliminate me, and he would use the transcript of our conversation as a way of disguising himself in the ensuing investigation.

“You’re such a jerk,” I texted. “You know that, right?”

The weapon’s outline suggests it’s a fusion warhead, but I don’t want to hang around to see if that guess is correct. I had Frontier Chic activate his flick generator, and he opened a wormhole in the substrate. Silver orbs flickered between his bow and incoming missiles, blocking view. Momentarily disoriented, the weapon swept its sensors across the sky in an attempt to relocate – but we’d already plunged into the fiery flames of the basement and let the portal collapse behind us.

Unfortunately, we can’t go fast enough. As my eyes gazed at the churning chaos and my brain began feeding data into the navigation array, a nuclear-tipped missile slid past the collapsed jump point and exploded a few meters from our ship’s stern.

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