No, you didn’t fall into a time warp.
Since each volume of my story is divided into ‘books’, when there’s a new book the chapter numbering restarts.
This is the beginning of book three, titled “Let Slip the Dogs of War”, and you can probably guess the overall theme. That’s right, my old buddy Vasilia shows just how insecure and conniving she could be.
Adam’s got a new collection; isn’t the cover cool? He’s gathered the four volumes which contain the Artemis War, the prequel (telling how Cass and I got started on this crazy road), plus an exclusive novelette, The Martian Gambit, all in one place and then slapped a price of $9.99 on it all.
Personally I think he’s nuts, but hey, I just lived it.
If you want to order, click the cover image or the button below.
As usual, the audio for this installment is at the bottom, and you can also buy the book in any format by clicking the other button or any of the cover images.
“Captain, we’re approaching Proxima Centauri,” reported Cass, an edge of excitement apparent. They may have only been six hours from their departure, but it was the first non-Terran system any humans would see with their own eyes.
“Nicely done. Sanzari, are you prepared for system entry?”
“Aye, Captain, all systems report ready. Sensors read clear, shields at maximum.”
“Drop us out of warp, Mr. Kay. Let’s see where we are.”
“Drop out of warp, aye.”
The simulated view on the screen sandwiched into the bridge window faded into reality as the ship slowed below light speed.
“One half sublight power. Cassidy, Zihal, I want a full sensor sweep. Fold, spindle, and mutilate it.”
“Right away, Captain.” The two science officers turned eagerly to their task.
“Sanzari? Any threats?”
“Nothing within twenty light-minutes.”
“I recommend we lower shield and stand down from alert status, Captain,” said Stewart.
“Make it so. Sorry about taking over for the entry, Kiri. First new system and all that.”
Stewart grinned at Alley. “No problem, Captain. Next one’s mine, though.”
“Sanzari, stand down from system entry protocol.”
“Captain, we’ve located the planets,” said Zihal.
“Can you put it on the screen?” It was better if she thought of it as a screen only, and not a bloody damned window on a starship.
“Yes, Captain.” Part of the screen flickered, then resolved into two separate planetary images.
“What do we know so far?”
“The one on top is Proxima b; it’s a roughly Earth-sized planet, orbiting at about one-twentieth of an AU from Proxima. Orbital period is just over eleven days, and surface gravity is about 1.2g.”
“That’s awfully close, isn’t it?”
“Yes, only about 7.25 million kilometers. But Proxima’s a red dwarf; that puts b right in the life zone.”
“Yes, sir, but so far we don’t have any indications of a breathable atmosphere.”
“Pity. And the other one?”
Cass said, “That one is Proxima c. It’s a super-Earth, orbiting at 1.5 AU and has an orbital period of just over five years.”
“We’re still doing our sweep. Lots of junk: comets, asteroids, dust, minor planetary bodies. No Jovians, so we can’t dip into atmosphere for a refuel.” In the weeks of trials within the Solar System, they had discovered they could make a shallow pass across the upper atmosphere of any of the gas giants and “scoop” enough useful elements to refill both their He3 and annie bunkers.
“Captain, I’m getting an interesting reading from Proxima b,” said Zihal.
“I’m picking up an atmosphere.”
“That is interesting.”
Cass said, “Captain, I recommend concentrating our efforts on b. Proxima c is too massive and too cold to support life, but it’s a rocky planet. No useable gases.”
“You’re the science officers. XO?”
“Cassidy, what’s our distance to b?”
“We entered the system at ten AU, and we’re currently at 9.5.”
“Helm, maintain speed, set course for Proxima b.”
“Maintain one half sublight, aye. Set course for Proxima b, aye,” said Kay.
At one half sublight, the Enterprise covered the distance in just over three hours; a cautious approach, perhaps, but this was the first exoplanet they had encountered, in strange star system, and there was only one starship. Caution was indicated.
“Approaching Proxima b,” said Briana Chastain, who had taken over for Kay when his shift ended. Raynie Leard had taken over at Tactical for Sanzari, and Jess Morgan had taken the Engineering station. Neither science officer had moved, though, and the XO had remained on the bridge for the entire passage. Alley had forced herself to take an hour away, but had monitored the progress from her ready room.
“Slow to orbital speed,” ordered Stewart.
“Slow to orbital speed, aye,” echoed Morgan. The ship slipped gracefully into a ball-and-twine orbit around the planet, three hundred kilometers up, to enable a thorough examination of the surface.
“We’ve got liquid!” squealed Cass. “It’s water!” she exclaimed a moment later.
Without prompting, an image of b reappeared on the screen. “Magnifying.”
As the surface seemed to get closer, they could see sparkles of reflections from the sunlight side.
“And an atmosphere. I’m reading all sorts of organics,” added Zihal. “I’ve got indications of ethane, butane, propane, ammonia, as well as nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, carbon dioxide, a whole soup. I wouldn’t want to try to breathe that!”
“It’s not a deep atmosphere,” said Cass. “Only a few kilometers. That’s odd,” she continued, then stopped.
“What’s odd?” prompted Alley when the silence stretched out.
“Well, the atmosphere is thicker on the far side…oh, I’m an idiot. Of course it is!”
“Can you explain to us non-rocket scientists?”
“Proxima b is so close to its sun that the solar wind, even though it’s only 20 percent of Sol’s, pounds on the atmosphere. That flattens it on the near side, and stretches it on the far side.”
“And the chemical mix?”
“Proxima Centauri is a variable flare star, as well as a red dwarf. It gets brighter suddenly and then dims as pockets of instability form and lead to increased rates of fusion –”
“The planet gets blasted by heat occasionally. That heat causes some nasty chemical reactions and you get that kind of soup.”
“And the water just adds to that,” said Zihal.
“So not a vacation spot?”
“No, Captain. We could land a shuttle, no problem, and get around okay, but we’d need suits.”
“Okay. Your schedule called for twelve hours in-system before moving on to Alpha, and we’ve used three. Get as much data as you can. If you think it worthwhile, use a probe. No shuttle landings this trip, though; we can always come back.”
“Aye aye, Captain,” said Cass, already turning back to her instruments.
“XO, you have the conn. If you need me, I’ll be in my quarters.”