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Slow Bullets

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Slow Bullets

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Author: Alastair Reynolds
Publisher: Tachyon Publications, 2015

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Book Type: Novella
Genre: Science-Fiction
Sub-Genre Tags: Military SF
Galactic Empire
Alien Invasion
Avg Member Rating:
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Locus-winning and Hugo-nominated Novella

A vast conflict, one that has encompassed hundreds of worlds and solar systems, appears to be finally at an end. A conscripted soldier is beginning to consider her life after the war and the family she has left behind. But for Scur -- and for humanity -- peace is not to be.

On the brink of the ceasefire, Scur is captured by a renegade war criminal, and left for dead in the ruins of a bunker. She revives aboard a prisoner transport vessel. Something has gone terribly wrong with the ship.

Passengers -- combatants from both sides of the war -- are waking up from hibernation far too soon. Their memories, embedded in bullets, are the only links to a world which is no longer recognizable. And Scur will be reacquainted with her old enemy, but with much higher stakes than just her own life.


After I pushed the knife into myself there was an interval of darkness, and then I woke somewhere. It was cold and there was no light. I imagined that I might have blacked out from the pain and come around again only a few minutes later.

But once I was able to assess my condition I realised that there was no longer any pain anywhere in my leg. I felt neither the bullet nor my self-inflicted wound.

I was also not in the bunker.

I was still on a sort of bed but it was soft and it did not smell of piss. It felt as if it had been made for me, shaped exactly for the contours of my own body. I was thirsty, my throat uncomfortably dry, and I was cold enough to shiver. But I was not dead.

I was very glad about not being dead.

All the same, I had no idea of my whereabouts. Wherever I was, it was not quite silent. From a distance I heard a sort of continuous low drone, like machines. Once in a while, as I lay there, I thought I heard a human voice.

I reached out and felt curving surfaces of metal and plastic. They enclosed me like an egg. By then I was starting to guess what had happened. In the skipships we travelled in hibernation, what we called hibo, so that the authorities could squeeze more soldiers into one transport, without having to
worry about provisions and living space. This felt like a hibo capsule.

So I was being repatriated.

Soldiers must have reached me in the bunker, sent me to be patched up, then handed over to the peacekeepers. I was in one of their ships.

My egg--my hibo capsule--made a sudden noise and opened itself. It came apart in two halves and a red light shone through the widening gap. The light must still have been dim but I had been in the dakr long enough that I needed to squint.

I did not have my uniform or combat equipment on. Someone had dressed me in silver trousers and a silver top. The material felt strong and clean, but it was also very thin. The top had short sleeves and did up with a simple sash around the middle. I felt as if it was the sort of thing a child or a sick person would be made to wear.

It was useless against the cold.

Gradually my eyes began to pick out more details of my surroundings. My capsule was one of many in a long, curving corridor. Of course you know these corridors for yourself. When I say "curving", I mean that it curved up and out of sight in both directions. On the opposite wall of the corridor another row of hibo capsules. It was not only mine that had come open in two halves: there were about a third of them already open.

You may think I was instantly at home in the ship but it was not like that at all. I had travelled in skipships before, but I had never been awake for any part of the journey. I know it is hard for you to grasp the concept of there being more than one skipship, let alone thousands. But that it how it was before the wakening.

Copyright © 2015 by Alastair Reynolds


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