Welcome to the last Legion Bulletin of the post-season 1 splurge, where you can read the first chapter of Season 2 inside this Bulletin.
I did say I'll be sharing how to grab Insider Reader editions of the first four issues of Season 2. I'm not quite ready for that (another week or so). But if you are interested in getting involved as an insider, you can be sure to get all the skinny but either clicking on the 'update preferences' link at the very bottom of this Bulletin, or joining the Facebook insider group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/ChimeraCompany/
. Standby for instructions because they'll be coming soon.
Oh, and I wrote my first ever post-apocalyptic story yesterday. If it's accepted, it will go out in an anthology later this year. It has orcs! (But not as you've seen them before).
Season2 – What is Department 9...?
Another author I keep bumping into on social media and I hear exciting things about is Brandon Ellis. He told me the first four novels of his Mars Colony Chronicles series are available in a single volume for 99 pennies. I just bought it five minutes ago.
"Indiana Jones meets War of the Worlds," he says. Brandon sold it to me right there! You can grab the Mars Quadrilogy here
Chimera Company Season 2: Opening chapter
“Captain, the jump space tunnel… It’s closing. It’s going to bite our ass and spit us out across a light year of normal space.”
“It’s not closing,” Fitz studied the Klein-Manifold environment screen on a flight console screaming a cacophony of alarms. “No,” he said confidently, “Definitely not closing. The Phantom simply can’t keep up with that beautiful and highly valuable ship in front of us. Can anyone explain to me why the fastest free trader in the galaxy is being left for dust?”
His first officer spoke in a soothing voice, but this was not a calm-down-Fitz situation. He took a deep breath, mastered himself, and flashed his wife his I’m-in-command smile. “No,” he told her firmly.
“Our problem is drag,” said Catkins over the intercom.
Fitz wasn’t convinced the Gliesan chief mechanic understood the peril of their situation. Ensconced in his Engineering Compartment den, his mind tended to drift into theoretical physics during moments of crisis, an unfortunate side-effect of his antidepressant medication.
“Drag?” Fitz queried. “We’re flying through a tunnel between two points in normal space pulled together by the jump engines on that lovely ship. The one out there with the spiked tail that I’m being paid a life-preserving amount of money to follow. How can there be drag?”
Chief Mechanic Catkins took a moment to process Fitz’s simple question. “Oh! You thought I was being literal.”
The sea of visual alarms in front of Fitz’s pilot seat suddenly washed away. In its place the ship displayed a single warning that had triumphed in priority over all its rivals. Hull temperature beyond critical threshold. Catastrophic failure estimated in: 297 seconds… 296 seconds.
Fitz switched off the screen. There was no point in letting it worry him. Situation normal: they were all going to die. The only question was how.
Unless, that was, he pulled them out of the fire at the last moment as he always did. As he usually did. This time felt different, though. That smart idea that would save them at the last moment… it continued to elude him.
Maybe this was the near-certain-death adventure that no one would survive to brag about in bars.
“Fitz, trust me. I can do this.”
“We’re in no hurry, so let’s not be rash.” He smiled at Izza, but it was for his benefit, not hers: she could see right through his dashing demeanor. Always had done, ever since they’d met at a personal ‘interview’ with Nyluga-Ree, the linchpin of Smugglers Guild operations in this sector. Back then, Izza had been Nyluga-Ree’s personal pilot. Fitz had left that encounter with severely bruised ribs and minus his first ship, but none of that had mattered because he’d known he’d stolen her alien heart.
“We’ll all die within the next three minutes and you know it,” she pointed out.
“Precisely. We have plenty of time to think of something better than an emergency exit from jump transit.”
“Fitz, this is not one of those occasions when your bravado is attractive.”
“Name one example of a ship surviving the maneuver you’re proposing.”
Cut stems that were the Zhoogene equivalent of crewcut hair, flattened against Izza’s head.
Five Hells, but she was sexy when she was angry. He decided this was not the best time to point that out.
“Engineering,” he hollered, “why is my ship melting?”
“We are flying through our target’s jump tunnel, but how it’s being created is a complete mystery to me.” Fitz could hear the depressive Gliesan whistling – lost deep in thought. Over the years he’d learned that it was a bad idea to rush the ship’s chief mechanic, no matter how catastrophic the crisis. “The jump distortion ratio is too high,” Catkins pronounced. “It’s the tidal forces, you see. Phantom’s not rated to cope with them. Not even close.”
“Tidal forces? You mean we’re going to be torn apart like a stale cake by a mob of hungry urchins?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that, Captain. Phantom’s hull will protect us from any shearing forces.”
Fitz swiveled his chair around to face the two unwanted passengers on the flight deck: Arunsen the bearded Militia trooper, and Sybutu the legionary so far out of his comfort zone he might as well be swimming through the Klein-Manifold Region in nothing more than a sparkly bikini.
“You see, gentlemen?” Fitz boasted, raising an eyebrow. He felt a pang of regret that he’d given up cigars, because if this wasn’t the moment to jam a fat robusta between his lips, he didn’t know what was. “The Phantom is not merely another deep space free trader in need of a lick of paint and a recalibration of her heat deflection shields. She is so much more.”
Over the intercom, the chief engineer continued his diagnosis. “The problem lies in the vibrational energy of the lattice composite material used in the hull’s ribbing. They’re soaking up these abnormal tidal forces like an antenna. That means heat, Captain. First, we’ll roast alive. Then the ship will melt. And finally–”
“I’m not ready for ‘finally’s, Catkins. Do you have a solution?”
The voice of the ship’s logistics manager, Justiana Fregg, added itself to the intercom. “It’s getting mighty hot in Hold Three,” she warned. “I had to seal and evacuate the air. I’m beginning to think it would be more useful to evacuate the air in your mechanic’s sodding eerie, Catkins.”
“Well…” Catkins continued, not registering Fregg’s threat. “If I kill every safety protocol, I can re-purpose the primary KM horns to absorb energy from jump space. This excess energy can be rerouted and dumped directly through the secondary horns into the Klein-Manifold Region.”
“Yeah, yeah, but how long will this take to set up?” asked Fitz.
“Oh, I’ve already done it. I just needed to say it out loud to hear whether it sounded plausible.”
“Catkins!” Fitz yelled, but he fell silent when a green hand rested over his.
“Relax, Fitz,” whispered Izza. “Very well, Chief Mechanic. Proceed with your plan to reroute the excess energy.”
“Aye, ma’am. Attempting a miracle… Now!”
“It’s working, Captain. It’s actually working! It’ll take a minute or so for me to optimize the flow rate.”
“Very good, you do that, Catkins.”
Yes! Subdued by the presence of visitors on the flight deck, Fitz resisted the urge to fist pump. Inside his head, though, it was all fireworks, balloons, and expensive celebratory cocktails. He’d pulled it out the fire once more.
Fitz’s hand hovered over the flight console, but he thought better of reactivating his screens.
No need to tempt fate.
“What the hell’s going on?” enquired the ship’s new Viking.
“Hey!” admonished his legionary counterpart. “You’ve obviously never served as a marine or made planetary assault drops. You talk to the pilot before the mission and after, but never during. All our lives rely on them doing their job right. Don’t disturb them.”
Interesting. At least one of the bickering brothers had marine experience. That could prove useful.
“Like I said,” Arunsen insisted. “Would you mind explaining what the in the Five Hells is going on, Captain, if you’re not too busy.”
Fitz nodded Izza’s way. She was better at explaining this kind of thing. “Lieutenant Zan Fey, would you oblige our passenger?”
“Imagine space-time as a black latex sheet,” she said. “Use specks of white dwarf metals and neutronium to represent planets and stars, dimpling the sheet. The Indiyan jump drive grabs two dimples beneath the latex.” – She demonstrated with her hands, pinching with thumb and forefinger. – “And pulls them together to form a jump tunnel we can pass through.”
“Latex is an intriguing material in many ways,” said Fitz. “For one, it resists stretching. Spacetime does too. You can pull two gravity wells together, but only if they’re close to begin with. Try for a longer jump, and the universe resists more aggressively. The longest jump ever officially recorded was 7.2 light years. The longest jump ever not recorded – but I happen to know this is accurate – is 8.9.”
“This ship we’re following,” said Izza. “It’s jumping farther than 8.9 light years. Much farther. We need our jump drive to keep the tunnel stretched together, but it can’t. The tunnel’s going to snap.”
When she put it like that, the outlook for Catkins’ plan didn’t look so good.
Fitz reactivated the screens on his pilot console.
It was good news. They weren’t about to die. But… The secondary horns weren’t dumping the energy quickly enough into the K-MR, the Klein-Manifold Region. It was a higher dimension of space that he’d made good use of for years, but never managed to fully understand. Maybe he should have tried harder, but it was just as well that he’d added that battery of energy sinks on their last trip to Loralys Delta, because it was buying them precious time.
He swiped through to the energy sink status display, which was buried under the ‘experimental’ section of the main ship systems menu. He’d hidden many extras there.
No. No no no no no! That’s not good.
Izza leaned toward him. “Now will you trust me?”
He rubbed his chin. The energy sinks weren’t nearly enough. He guessed they had eighty seconds before they vaporized.
Plan A had failed, but it had always been risky. It was time for the considerably riskier Plan B.
“My lady, as the ship’s captain, I was obliged to observe the formalities of appearing to consider other options. Of course, I trusted you from the beginning. Please, Izza, get us out of this mess.”
She smiled – a green cat who just won a lifetime’s supply of cream – and addressed the ship.
“All hands. Brace. Brace. We’re about to exit jump space.” To Fitz, she queried, “Ready?”
“No.” Fitz was running practiced fingers across the Phantom’s controls. “I’m retracting our footprint from the K-MR. Too fast and we’ll get blowback. Too slow and we’ll vaporize. Wait for my mark.”
“Hold Two is on fire, Captain,” reported Fregg. “Hold Four is melting. We’re going to die, aren’t we?”
“Situation normal, Able Spacer Fregg. Exit to normal space, if you please, Lieutenant Zan Fey in three… two… one… Hit it!”
Izza brought them out of the jump tunnel.
Fitz felt nothing. No stomachs leaped out of throats. No sounds of shearing metal came from the Phantom’s frames. The only indication that anything strange was happening were the automatic blast shutters that slammed down over the flight deck windows and the tactical map that had gone offline along with his flight controls.
Many times he had considered installing control yokes, throttle levers and analog dials to give these moments the sense of drama they properly deserved.
There was drama aplenty, though. But most of it was going on inside Izza’s head, which was locked in concentration on the touch screens her fingers were flying across. As he watched her, the warm feeling in his soul spread like infectious honey.
His pride in her floated on a volatile sea of anger, because her own people had rejected Izza Zan Fey. They called her mutant, half-human, a throwback freak, and much worse.
Fitz didn’t call her any of those things.
He called her special.
Even when they’d first met, and she’d looked on as Nyluga-Ree’s heavies were expressing their boss’s disappointment onto his ribs, Fitz had told her she was special. Told her he understood her.
Of course he did. All his life, he too had been called a mutant freak. In his case by the humans.
The words had tumbled out as a groaning whisper while he’d taken his beating, but her Zhoogene hearing was acute, and Izza had given him a conspiratorial nod. He’d had to turn away then, to suppress his smile, because he’d known he’d won this encounter with Nyluga-Ree.
Ignorance and jealousy. That’s what made the norms so spiteful. Izza could make reliable jump calcs in her head. No one else could. No one in the whole galaxy. They should have built statues to her across the Zhooge system if her people had any sense, not cast her out.
Skragg-frakks the lot of ‘em.
One day, though, those statues would get built. Fitz would make damned sure of it.
Suddenly, his stomach seemed to rise up his throat and his mind was stretched into impossible dimensions.
He heard a banging noise in the overhead. It began bellowing smoke.
Then another cracking sound of important systems breaking as the artificial gravity failed, sending Arunsen and Sybutu crashing into the smoking overhead.
The A-grav came back on and they thumped down to the deck.
While the two soldiers were hopefully learning why you shut up and strapped in on a maneuvering starship, Phantom shot out of the jump tunnel like a juicy pip squeezed between two fingers, careering through the deep void between the stars, light years from anywhere.
Emerging into precisely nowhere.
“All hands,” Fitz told the ship’s crew, “sound out with your status.” He’d muted Hold One where most of the passengers were strapped in. They weren’t on fire. Anything else they had to say could wait.
As the crew reported a catalog of minor damage and assorted grievances, Fitz kept his attention on the tactical map where the Phantom’s sensors were building up the picture of the local region in space. He desperately needed it to find a star, or even a rogue planet. Any miracle would do him so long as it had sufficient mass.
But with every second, the scans confirmed with ever more confidence that they had indeed washed up in the depths of deep nothingness.
Lost in thought, he hadn’t noticed Arunsen get out of his seat and stand over the flight console.
“Chimera Company, can you hear me? This is Sergeant Arunsen.”
Izza felt sorry for the big human and switched on the link to Hold One. Sounds of arguing and shouting emanated from the flight console speaker, which was precisely why Fitz had muted their passengers in the first place.
Arunsen tried again and managed to fashion the stream of abuse from Hold One into meaningful information.
It was like the Five Hells in there, they reported. Dangerously hot. There was a wounded trooper who had passed out. Others would soon follow.
“Why are they locked in the hold?” Arunsen growled at Fitz.
“For safety purposes,” said Izza.
Her face was slick with sweat.
He looked at the back of his hands. They were dripping too.
Fitz didn’t need Catkins to explain the problem this time. One of the ironies of space flight was that even though it was deadly cold outside the hull, radiating heat away from the ship was extremely difficult. The KM horns were the primary means of dumping excess heat, but they were off-line, and Phantom’s hull was still hot enough to flash-fry eggs into ash.
Fitz switched off the intercom and swiveled around to face the two men who loomed by his seat, apparently on the edge of committing violence against their brave and hard-working pilot. “You two, soldier boys, do your people have EVA experience?”
“Yes,” reported the legionary.
“No,” said the Militia trooper. “Why?”
“Because we going to take a little trip outdoors. We need to let the air heat up until it’s roasting, on the verge of catching fire, and then we vent our atmosphere. That should let us bleed off enough heat to come back inside and suck on our auxiliary air while we consider our next problem.”
“There’s no gravity well here, is there?” said Sybutu, the legionary. At least he’d had the decency to listen to Izza’s earlier explanation. “The Indiyan jump drive has nothing to work on. I need to report in, dammit. But we’re stranded, aren’t we?”
“No,” Fitz insisted. “Not stranded. Delayed.”
“How long to get to the nearest planet?” asked Arunsen.
“Still working on it,” said Izza. “Current best estimate, 157 years. And we won’t even make that if we roast to death first. I want each of your legionaries, Sergeant Sybutu, including yourself, to be responsible for two individuals without EVA experience. They are to suit them up, check seal integrity, and tether together as teams. My crew will be very busy with critical tasks. I don’t want you to be a distraction.”
Sybutu looked unconvinced.
“I thought Chimera Company was a team,” Fitz reminded the Legionary. “Didn’t we go back for your comrades in that burning city?”
“Our comrades who had abandoned us. Yes.” Sybutu sighed, ignoring Arunsen who was bulging his fists, and then started talking into the intercom, organizing the passengers in Hold One.
Izza gave Fitz a nod, her golden eyebrows pinching beneath a furrowed brow beading with sweat.
He knew that look. She did not approve of Sybutu, and Izza’s first impressions rarely changed. People Izza did not approve of had a habit of becoming dead people.
“Good.” Fitz flashed everybody in the flight deck a soothing smile. “Everyone’s happy. Let’s suit up and we can chat over coffee and biscuits later.”
Izza wasn’t buying it.
She stretched her arms out like a cat, clenching and unclenching her fists and rolling her shoulders.
Hidden within her stretch were secret gestures in Guild Cant. Meet me by the starboard horns.
Fitz sucked in roasting hot air. Now he was in real trouble.
I hope you enjoyed this opening look at Season 2. And a reminder: if you were interested in checking out Brandon Ellis's pulp Martian adventure, you can tap on the image above (which was illustrated by the wonderful Christian Kallias).
Thanks for your support.