Free Worlds Book 1: Deadly Fathoms
The glory days are long past for Colonel Dane, longer than expected, over 100 years longer in fact.
Deadly Fathoms snippet –
Darkness stretched on for more than a lifetime. Then, light.
George Dane didn’t want to go into that light. He feared what it meant. He still had work to do. He had lost so many people in the war, and he didn’t want to join them. Not yet. He might be approaching sixty, but that didn’t mean what it used to with the rejuvenation treatments the Space Force had developed. The Alliance of Democratic Nations had defeated the Coalition, but considering the state of the world, there was no guarantee peace would last. He shouldn’t have retired. He could still help…
“Colonel Dane! Time to wake up…er, sir!”
The light grew brighter. Dane had to face it. Funny, he thought the afterlife would be more chill.
Knuckles rapped on glass, immediate and uncomfortably present.
“I’m going to open the pod.”
Memories swirled in Dane’s head. Alone in the cockpit of a tiny star fighter, dogfighting in microgravity and zero atmosphere. A medal being laid on his neck for the people he couldn’t save in those damned unnecessary skirmishes. Standing on the bridge of what the grunts in the Space Force called a rock dropper, knuckles white as he stared down the captain of a Coalition ship built for the same distressing purpose. Another medal, this time for the millions of people who had lived, thanks to him.
Still, there were craters where cities had been. Ash choking out cropland. Both sides had suffered too many losses. Dust in the atmosphere blocking out the sun and making climate change go the other way. Wearing a jacket in July and complaining about the cold. His retirement announcement. The media wanting to talk to him. Politicians wanting him not to talk. Laying his gloved hand on the hull of the ADN Cosmos before it got underway.
A hiss of air, the smell of coffee, and the light strengthened.
“You’re going to feel disoriented for a while. That’s normal.”
He knew that voice now that it was less muffled. It belonged to a man named Eric Winters.
George Dane opened his eyes. The lid of his hibernation pod rose, and the gasses inside spilled out onto the floor of the first colony ship humanity had ever built. He took a deep breath and filled his lungs with the artificial atmosphere of the ADN Cosmos. His head still swam with memories, but the relatively fresh air helped. Though he could have used another few seconds to collect his thoughts before Winters popped into view.
“Vitals are looking good, sir. Not that we should be surprised about that, of course. Give yourself a minute, then try to step from the pod. I have some fresh clothing for you when you’re—”
Dane stepped from the pod. There was a slight resistance as the various pieces of monitoring equipment suction cupped to his chest and neck popped loose, then a decidedly more uncomfortable tug as the needle in his arm reached the end of its tether.
He gritted his teeth and pulled the IV out of his arm.
“Protocol is to leave that in for a few minutes, but I guess I should have told you that sooner,” Winters remarked with a wry smile. Dane knew Winters well, though at times, he felt the XO knew him better than he knew himself. If Winters had told him not to touch the needle, he would immediately have grabbed for it. If the XO truly didn’t want him to take it out, he would have explained its purpose.
“Where are we?” Dane asked, trying to force his mind from the past and into the present.
“I’m pleased to say humankind’s first foray into the stars was a success, sir. We have arrived at Teegarden’s Star, twelve-point-five light years from Earth. We’ve been braking for a while and should be dropping into orbit before too long.”
“Twelve and a half years? Shit. Does that mean I’m technically seventy-three now?”
Winters bit his lip for a second. Laser eye surgery had rendered glasses irrelevant, but Winters still wore a pair. They no doubt had a heads-up display. Yet Winters removed them and polished the lenses on a corner of his shirt. “There’s bound to be some confusion. You might want to get dressed before I attempt to clear some of that up.”
Dane grabbed pants and pulled them on. He reached for a shirt and caught his reflection in the glass of another sleeping pod. His broad chest and shoulders had not atrophied despite being asleep for more than a decade. The rejuvenation treatments helped prevent decline, but an affinity for resistance training laid the foundation for a healthy physique. Though he might have preferred his chest hair to remain black instead of peppered with gray.
“I don’t know, Winters. I don’t think I look that bad for a seventy-three-year-old.”
“Fair enough, but you look positively fantastic for someone poised to celebrate his two hundred and tenth birthday.”
Dane chuckled at the odd compliment before the gravity of the statement made him sit back down on the edge of the sleep pod.
“What are you saying, Winters?”
“Teegarden is twelve and a half light years from Earth, sir, but the ADN Cosmos can’t travel anywhere near as fast as light. Even with the nuclear pulse engines performing better than expected, it took us one hundred and forty-eight years to arrive.”
“One hundred…forty-eight?” The number took Dane’s breath away, but even as he struggled to comprehend it, he remembered agreeing to it. He remembered the speeches, the promise of their mission, and making contact with Earth after reaching their destination in two hundred years. With so much of the Earth devastated by the war, everyone needed something to look forward to.
The Alliance of Democratic Nations had promised several things. New food technologies for the colder world, to share the rejuvenation treatments those in the Space Force had needed simply to maintain their bodies for extended times in zero-G, and to do something with their fleet of spacecraft besides knocking things down onto Earth. They had even promised an end to warfare, though that last one had been tricky considering the political clout of the world’s most famous war hero.
Dane had understood all this. He had seen the writing on the wall despite a lifetime devoted to the military. He had first met Eric Winters after agreeing to serve as “security chief” for the Cosmos. The role seemed a little symbolic and mostly like a decent way to get rid of a political pawn who’d nearly reached the end of the board. Dane had half-expected never to wake up from the sleeping pod. But now, one hundred and forty-eight years in the future, he had.
“I know it’s a lot, and I’d say you’d get used to it, but I certainly haven’t yet. Though there is coffee, which helps.” Winters raised a cup and took a sip. Dane remembered liking the XO and being especially impressed with how quickly he learned people’s working habits. He likely remembered exactly how Dane took his coffee and that he would be desperate for a cup of it.
So Dane reached for his shirt and pulled it on.
“This way to the bridge.” Winters gestured.
“That’s where the coffee is?”
Winters nodded. “Also where you’ve been ordered to go once capable.”
“Well then, by all means.” Dane followed Winters on shaky legs that had not been used for nearly fifteen decades.
He followed Winters across floors made of metal lattice to save weight, past sleeping pods still foggy with the mix of gas needed to protect human lungs. He marveled as Winters led him down a ladder. He had traversed these pathways before, but never in gravity.
The Cosmos had been built in orbit to save the fuel costs of launching it. Dane had been given a tour and even made token recommendations about offensive and defensive capabilities, but all that was accomplished in free fall. Now that the ship had activated its engines, there was the impression of gravity. It made the ship feel like an entirely new space.
“This is my first time actually walking these hallways,” Dane announced.
Winters nodded. “I know. Walking in a spacecraft feels weird to me, too. I’d say it gets better when you realize our feet are actually pointed at the planet right now, and the ship is actually decelerating, but that would be a lie.”
“We’re slowing down?”
“Have been for years. Only way to trim the speed and not crush all of us squishy humans.”
Dane had not even begun to fully wrap his head around the geometry of the situation before they reached the bridge.
“Colonel Dane, good morning, and welcome to the bridge,” the ship’s captain, Kelly Adams, greeted over a cup of coffee. “This is Darrin Thompson. Former Space Force pilot and the best helmsman we have. Don’t let his age fool you.”
“Oh, and how old are you, Thompson?” Dane asked.
Thompson glanced up from the screen and control panel in front of him. “One hundred and seventy-four, sir.” He looked young enough to be a cadet, though his hair was completely shaved.
“There’s coffee in the pot.” Captain Adams gestured toward a machine with a mostly full pot of coffee steaming happily. “I’m about an hour ahead of you coming out of the pod. Believe me, the coffee will help.”
“You take it with one sweetener, sir?” Winters checked, already shuffling over to pour a cup.
Dane blinked as he watched the XO. Now that was something he had never seen. A liquid being poured inside a spacecraft. The Cosmos really was something special. When he had worked on the rock droppers, coffee came in bulbs with straws. There was certainly no adding sweetener or whitener if you picked the wrong bulb.
“Thank you, Winters.” Dane graciously accepted the steaming cup. “And thank you, Captain, for brewing enough to share.”
The captain dismissed his gratitude with a curt gesture. “I didn’t summon you up here to talk coffee. I need you at your sharpest.”
From what Dane’s still-hazy memory could recall about the captain, she was always at her sharpest. She wasn’t former military, but she had a decade of experience at NASA as an astronaut before the war. Once the fighting broke out, she managed to get elected and worked as a politician throughout those troubled times. Dane couldn’t remember if she was a senator, a congresswoman, or what, but he remembered she was one of the few politicians who wouldn’t shy away from talking about the big losses.
Not that her rhetoric had ever been particularly friendly toward the military. He recalled her giving an impassioned speech from Miami, or from where Miami had been, anyway. There had been talks of her running for president or chief of the ADN, which was arguably becoming more powerful than the president.
Becoming more powerful, Dane thought bitterly. It was a hundred and forty-eight years later on Earth. They must have settled that particular squabble for power long ago.
Dane recalled that her authority extended beyond the Cosmos, though. She would be the colony's first governor and would serve until they set up elections, which would take…some time. That was the best Dane’s brain could currently give him.
She needs you at your sharpest, his brain told him. That meant bad news.
“What seems to be the problem, Captain?” Dane asked.
That earned him the tiniest of smirks from Adams. “First, the good news. We didn’t miss the planet.”
Dane had taken a sip of his coffee and thus had the honor of performing the first spit-take under simulated gravity on a spaceship.
“We didn’t miss?”
“I know you were brought on as chief of security, so I’m not sure how much you actually read about the mission's logistics. The engineers gave us a three percent chance of missing our destination completely.”
“But we didn’t.”
“Correct. Better yet, our readings of the atmosphere look good. The long-range scopes put our target world’s atmosphere as mostly nitrogen with plenty of O2. They were right about that. Should be breathable down there.”
“So the planet’s there, and we can live on it. Compared to those issues, we should be able to solve the bad news easily enough.”
Adams frowned. “It’s difficult to tell at this range, but it appears this world is covered by water. We can’t be certain yet since we’re still too far out. We have already determined that there are no large continents. When we get closer, we’re hoping to find some islands, but we need to prepare for the possibility that there is no land. We may have arrived at a true water-world.”
“What’s the plan for that?”
“Well, step one was to have Winters wake you up. I want your help to come up with one.”
“And all the colony’s senior staff. After everyone is up and adequately caffeinated, we’ll discuss options. I want you to consider as many as you can.”
“Along with the security implications of each one, of course.”
The captain’s expression possibly said he was too paranoid, but that might have been the lack of caffeine.
“The first thing that comes to mind is going home. Has Thompson run calculations for using the sun as a gravitational slingshot to send us back to Earth? We should be able to get close enough to the planet for a good look, and we could bake in an exit strategy.”
Captain Adams clenched her jaw and glanced at Winters before answering. When she spoke, she chose her words carefully.
“I know you just woke up, and the doctors said it could take up to seventy-two hours to get back all of your memories. You should know the one thing we can’t do is go back. Not easily, anyway. The ship was a one-way trip, despite what you heard on the news or from my political allies before we left. The sleeping pods worked better than expected, even for the people who rotated through waking up to run maintenance. Maybe we could put ourselves on ice for another hundred and fifty years. To do that, we’d have to find a fuel source and mine enough of it before we could even begin to plan a return voyage. Not simple or easy.
“I’m saying this is our new home, Colonel Dane. I would like your help figuring out how we can enjoy it without having to wear a swimsuit.”
Earth is not an option, leaving is not an option, moving forward is the only choice. Get ready for Free Worlds Book 1: Deadly Fathoms. Coming January 4th, 2023. Until then head over to Amazon and download today, you wont want to miss it!