Shi Jin is a rebel, the latest in a long line of those who have challenged the Borderless Empire and failed. Dropped with a crew of convicts on an uninhabited planet, Shi Jin - and mankind- encounter alien life forms for the first time.
She discovers that she is part of a much bigger game...one that will force her to decide between her desire to defeat the Empire and the future of humanity.
Bundoran Press was originally owned by Virginia O'Dine in Prince George, B.C. but when the press brought out its first novels in 2008, the books were by two writers from Ottawa, ON, more than 3000 km away. Those two writers were me and Matthew. As a result of being "stable mates," we spent a lot of time together doing launches and other public appearances and guesting on each other's blogs. When I took over the press in 2013, one of the first things I published was a novelette prequel to Fall from Earth called "The Salt and Iron Dialogues." – Hayden Trenholm
"Matthew Johnson is a consummate prose stylist. This book is worth reading for the beauty of the language as well as for the mind-expanding hard SF ideas and philosophical notions that he brings to his work."– Robert J. Sawyer
"A strong story, impressively well-crafted... thoughtful and clever."– Matthew David Surridge, Black Gate
"Matthew Johnson… has revealed as fresh and original a new voice as any in our field."– Rich Horton, Locus
"Planetfall in ninety seconds," the computer said.
The falling pod hit atmosphere, shook violently as the air pushed back against it. Any items the convicts had left unsecured bounced from wall to wall in smaller and smaller pieces; the pod itself seemed nearly as fragile, groaning from the stress. There was no guessing how old it was, part of a dropship probably built for the Corp Wars almost two double-dozen years ago. Of course, things aged more slowly in space, as Shi Jin knew. Her Nine Dragons, the ships she and Griffin had salvaged and used to start their rebellion, had been as old as this. She had studied enough poetry at the Academy to know irony when she saw it.
Jin closed her eyes, tried to relax before the landing thrusters kicked in. At thirty, her body was not quite as compliant as it once had been, but going limp was something it could still do. She tensed and relaxed her muscles from head to feet. Her grey hempen coveralls marked her for a convict, the black badge pinned to them for a traitor, and with the next ship not due for five years there was no chance of escape.
For as long as anyone could remember, most criminals had been conscripted into the Fleet, given the hardvack or Nospace jobs that warped genes and minds. She had changed all that. Most of the Fleet people who had sided with her during the rebellion had been just those draftees, people who had seen the Borderless Empire's failings firsthand, and now it was not considered safe to let convicts serve on Fleet ships. Instead they were used to prepare planets for colonization, clearing land and building roads, houses and sewers. But things had not been different, and it was her inability to pretend they were that had made her rebel, led her here. Despite everything, she did not think she would want to trade places with any version of herself that had made a different choice.
The roar of the landing thrusters was so loud Jin couldn't hear the other convicts screaming. Minutes later, the pod touched down with a shock, throwing her against her restraints. There was another rumble as the pod lurched a few degrees to the side, then silence.
"Planetfall achieved," the computer said at last. The restraints opened with a click and Jin and her cellmates rose unsteadily to meet their future.
In the ship above Griffin sighed, remembering his last conversation with Jin before the ship made orbit. "You don't have to do this," he had said, just before she boarded the pod. "If you stay, no one will be able to do anything about it."
He could not come with her, of course: having lived his whole life in zero-gee, he would probably not even survive the landing if he tried. But there was nothing keeping her from staying on the ship.
Jin turned away. "I know. But we're a month away from any other Empire world here. I can make new plans, find a way off this rock–"
He reached out to hold her shoulders. "Jin, it's over. If they thought there was anything more we could do, they wouldn't have let us live."
"They didn't think I could do anything the first time, either. This could be exactly the right place for me to be."
He shook his head, his shaggy brown hair and beard trailing slowly behind without gravity to keep them in line. "I wouldn't count on the other convicts lining up to join you. Most of these people are dissidents and petty crooks, not revolutionaries."
"You've never given up on me before. Don't start now."
The landing pod's airlock had opened then, the countdown to release begun. She had turned to look at him again and kissed him lightly on the cheek. "I'll be in touch. The pods have comm units so…"
He had nodded, pushed himself away, the reaction pushing her gently into the pod. She was right. Fool that he was, he was caught in her orbit. "Take care, plyemyanik."
Jin stood up, felt her legs fail beneath her, victims of more than a month at zero-gee. Steadying herself against the wall she moved slowly out of the room, leaving her three cellmates to find their planet legs and clean themselves off. She headed for the airlock, impatient to see her new prison. A few of the other convicts were already out of their cells, hunger and gravity conspiring to make their steps slow and unsteady. She ignored them, stepped into the 'lock and waited for it to cycle. A sour, rotten smell reached her as the outer door hissed open, overwhelming the stale recycled air.
They had landed in a long, broad valley bordered by hills on one side and a wide river on the other. All around were jagged blades of a stiff brown grass, and as the ground rose to the hills on the horizon it was covered with hundred of identical, stunted trees. The rotten smell was almost overpowering now, the sky above a sickly yellow.
Turning her head, Jin saw the other three pods scattered across the valley. She set off for the closest of them, about a li away, a few minutes' walk. The grass, as sharp and stiff as it looked, tore through the legs of her coveralls and drew blood. Halfway between the pods she began to feel dizzy, and sucked more air in. Her vision was starting to blur, her lungs to burn; she stumbled and felt the grass slice through the skin of her knee. How far was it to the pod—a hundred paces?
She tried to control her breathing, forced herself to keep going. Up ahead the pod's airlock was opening. She had no breath to spare but had to warn them to stay inside. No sound came out when she opened her mouth, and before she could do anything else the world went grey and slapped her, hard.