"We have come to a moment when what we know as goodness and mercy will not be enough to guide us any longer. Your loved ones may not ever understand what you did here today, but they need you to stand for all that is good in humanity."
With these words, war hero Benito Sandoval launched one of the most brutal massacres in human history, attacking the undefended colony of Guan-Yu and slaughtering forty thousand of the civilians he had sworn his life to protect. When humanity's fleet arrives, too late to stop the attack, all that is left is ruins—and the cryptic words of a lone alien survivor, warning humanity of the Henth, a race that has devoured everything in its path.
As the human fleet searches the stars for the Henth, they leave the ruined colony behind them. But the colonists have not been destroyed. They have hidden. They have survived. And they have sworn vengeance on the fleet that once came to destroy them.
Rich in mood and detail, CRUCIBLE begins with moments of extreme terror and dismay as we witness, through alien eyes, the annihilation of entire worlds. Genocide at the hands of humanity. The universe, cultures and other-minds are expertly written. The world-building is detailed and echoes to a past that lingers in the mind as one watches the story unfold. A slow-burn at first, this novel sets up its players with detailed care, nudging them into motion as the story develops. – Martin Kee
"Ms. Katson again creates a world, or in this case a universe, that you quickly feel like you've always known - no matter how different it is. … I'm trying hard not to use the word epic here, but it keeps coming to mind. I can't wait to see what happens next."– Amazon Review
"This is a terrific book that pulls you in from the first page. An exploration of two societies at different points in their evolution who collide with unexpected results, Crucible focuses more on the people than the hardware (though there is plenty of space ship stuff)—with stunning results. The language is sometimes dense, and the pacing isn't rushed: two features I very much appreciated in the work. Highly recommended for those who like substance with their adventure."– Amazon Review
"C. J. Cherryh-esque in its positioning of two very different societies at very different points in their development, Novum, Book I: Crucible, by Moira Katson, takes us on a ride alongside characters forced by circumstances to travel on divergent paths - explorations of strength and weakness, bravery and cowardice, skill and luck and horror and fate - which are destined to come crashing together. It's a story driven by classic misunderstandings, fueled by miscommunication, and powered by dangerous assumptions. … Crucible is a well-crafted, engaging story with conflicts that resonate with our search for who we are, our understanding of what it means to be alive, and our often painful discernment of right action."– Amazon Review
"I didn't plan on going out like this."
"You didn't?" But she could see that it was true. He was sweating, his pulse beating shallow at his throat against the desperate stillness.
"I always thought—you know." At her unhelpful silence, his face twisted. "That I'd be able to do things that didn't mean…" Dying. She looked down at her hands, and he let the rest of the words out in a rush: "The planes are fouled up. What if it's a sign? What if the admiral's wrong?"
A rush of bad temper. She hadn't planned to spend the last few minutes of her life talking sense into some panicked kid. She didn't want to admit that, because it seemed an awful lot like having regrets—and she refused to believe that she had any of those. Refused.
She had just wanted to sit, that was all. Sit and meditate, be calm in the certainty that this was right, until she could be in the cockpit and she could know that it was right. The bird would tell her. But if this stupid jock panicked, it would ruin the mission, and she had already staked her life on the belief that this must happen. She knew what the admiral would say, too: get it done. And this was what she needed to do.
She drew a breath to steady herself.
"A pilot like you, joining up right before this happens? Doesn't that seem like a sign, too?"
"They said at command that we shouldn't—"
"The admiral says we don't let them get away with this." Flat.
Hell of a thing for a kid to deal with, though. Must be twenty, at most. Transferred to the Minerva three days earlier, a kid they said to watch. Bright one, has a good future ahead of him. Well, not any more, he didn't. He could choose to die quick, out the airlock, or less quick, in this run, or slow—while they hunted the admiral down. The navy's flagship, he'd taken, no less. Jesus. And the admiral was seventy, wife dead and kids grown and not military anyway—he'd gamble more than this kid, for sure, who had everything still to do.
And so she tried not to wince when the boy nodded, but it was so damned hard not to feel cruel when he looked down at the floor.
"I hadn't thought of it like that." He was trying to be fair. She hated him for being so young, for that look in his eyes; she hated doing this to him. She didn't want it to be the last thing she did. But she didn't have a choice, did she? Not with what was going on down there. She'd spent her whole life waiting for a moment like this, and now that it came it was a shock.
He was too jittery for talk of glory, she judged. So was she.
"You can't imagine the horrors you'll put an end to," she said, as gently as she could. Which was not all that gently, but at least what she said was true; he probably couldn't. There were horrors that had already been, the admiral said, and horrors that were coming if these monsters were unleashed on the world.
"Really?" Desperate to believe it.
"Yes." Her voice was emphatic. She had seen, and this boy could not have the first idea of it: skin stretched over metal, bodies on slabs, men and women with dead eyes and twisted limbs. And others—they looked so normal. Things on the inside, though, the admiral said, viruses and machines. And mind games. Some of them wrong in the head, even if you wouldn't know it until…
Well, we don't mean to find out, the admiral had said, with finality. So you do what you have to do to remember they're not human. And don't let the kid get sentimental. And how was she supposed to do that?
"We can't heal them?" Of course he'd ask that.
"No." She looked over. "You gotta put that out of your head. They're not alive, not like we'd think of it. They don't have souls." He just looked at her, her words too far beyond for him to believe any of it.
"But what if they are? What if they do?"
"They don't." God in heaven, she could not deal with this. An alarm sounded: ships ready. "So are you coming?" Harsh; he looked like she'd hit him. These would be some of the last words he would ever hear, and that cut her up inside. Damn it. So she held out her hand, helped him up. "You're a good man, Rios. Hell of a pilot. It's an honor to fly with you."
His hand was warm, his grip firm. One of the last moments she would ever have. All over soon, and right and wrong were turning over in her head, sin floating away into meaninglessness; he was beautiful.
Just a grab at life. She took her hand back, put on her helmet. Her hands were shaking now, and sweaty. She could feel her heart pounding against her chest. She had to concentrate to climb the ladder to the bird; light-headed, the spikes on the rungs biting into her palms.
The reserve pilots were watching them go, waiting by their tubes—some wishing they were her, some hoping she'd do what she had to so they didn't have to go out. Most people weren't made for combat, they said at the Academy, even fighter pilots. Crew of five thousand, they were bound to have a few. The admiral liked to mutter that peace was fine, only now he had a crew with no notion of war.
A measure of peace descended upon her in the cockpit. She had always felt most at home here. Tears stung her eyes; she could truly cry with how sure she was now, how relieved she was to know that.
"Everett." A voice in her earpiece. "Are you ready?"
A moment to press her lips together. "Yes, sir."
"No time for second thoughts." Of course he would hear it in her voice. We have come to a moment, he told her in the still of the hallway, when what we know as goodness and mercy are not enough to guide us any longer. Your loved ones may not ever understand what you did here today, but they need you to stand for all that is good in humanity. Courage, Everett. Ours is a path of darkness and doubt, do not waver or all will be lost. And she believed him.
"No second thoughts, sir."
He accepted that without comment. "How's the kid?"
"Good. And Everett—"
"See you in hell."
"Yes, sir." And she pressed the button, was sucked back into her seat as the bird hurtled out into the black—
Her hands were light on the controls, the familiar joy rising up, near to choking her as the bird banked smoothly down towards the curve of the planet. If she had to die somewhere, damn, she was glad it was here. Here, where she was more than she ever had been on two feet. Dawn was breaking against the black, a flood of light on oceans, mountains casting long shadows across the waves. A nimbus cloud piled high as she arced away and sped into the darkness, the ship slicing through the air like a knife.
Her radio had a sudden burst of chatter. Pilots, to your ships.
"Why are they loading up? He said it was one run, and back to the ship." The kid's voice was panicked.
"Stick to the mission, Rios."
Something rocketed past the bird.
"Fuck!" Echoing in her earpiece. The kid, voice raw. "What the fuck was that?"
"Keep it together, Rios."
"That was a fucking missile!"
And, in perfect time, an explosion of static on the comm, another shape hurtling towards her, and she was swerving desperately. "Command! Come in!"
"—Blew a hole in my goddamned ship!" The admiral's roar, shouts in the background.
"Everett…" Panic rising in the kid's voice. Her wing was trailing smoke now, how was she going to get back up through atmo?
Not a problem for right now. That was wavering.
"Listen to me. I'll stay on course, you peel off. Swing around and attack from the north."
"They're attacking the ship!"
"And the only thing we can possibly do to stop that is to hold to the mission. Do you understand me?" The silence stretched so long that she peered out into the darkness, looking for the spiraling shape of a downed bird. Then she saw him drop away, down, speed increasing. "What are you doing?"
"Ending this." She might never have heard that voice before. "We can't afford to focus on the farms. Not with these missiles. We have to take the base out."
"Our strike crews on the ground—"
"Do you really think they're still alive?" He'd gone cold.
"If we speed up, I think we can get to the heart of that command center. Take out the side towers, anywhere with a strong heat reading—then that main command post. They said it was down in, we'll need to save fuel to drive at it." And he was gone, his ship like an angel in flight, catching the first rays of the far-off dawn, drifting gently around the missiles that roared towards them.
Hell of a pilot. She'd meant that.
And so she followed him down. It was what she'd been going to do; what, had she hoped he'd survive if she sent him north? Survive for what? The command ship was crippled. None of them were coming out of this alive; she'd only just realized that the admiral had guessed that all along. She'd known it, too. Probably even the kid had known it. Whatever the aliens had here, they wanted it bad. They wouldn't just let the human fleet blow in and take it out. The admiral had known that—he'd kept saying not to worry about their fleet, hadn't he?
The city was rising up in her view, the tower a beacon with its golden minaret, a spear of static on her computers. Silence on the comm. She did not look back to see the ship behind her in its last moments. She would be gone by the time it came tumbling from the sky, out of the silence of space, and at sunlight, there would be the tangled skid of it. Not now. Now there was only darkness, and missiles, and the streaks of their ships trying to bring her down and she would not be brought down. Not now. Not by them.
"For us." Did she hear the kid echo her words? She knew he was there, locked on with her. The city was rising up in her view, towers and walls, and she wrapped her hands around the controls and closed her eyes. Her ship arced through the light of the missiles hurtling past, twisting as it sped down toward the towers ahead.