In James SA Corey’s nine-part space opera The Expanse, humanity has expanded outward into the solar system, but political tensions between the needs of Earth, Mars and the asteroid belt come to a head. The series was launched in 2011 with Leviathan Wakes, an ambitious yet gripping novel that introduces a vast group of characters with widely differing goals and intentions. The books have been adapted to a memorable, captivating TV series, which ran on Syfy for three seasons, then was picked up by Amazon Studios for an additional three-season run.
Authors Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham, who publish under the pseudonym James SA Corey, say season 6 of the vastness isn’t the end of the show, but it could be the end of its Amazon run. Season 6 launches on Amazon Prime on December 10. But that of Franck and Abraham Leviathan Falls is intended as a finale to the book series. It’s November 30th out of Orbit books. Here’s a preview of a chapter from: Leviathan Falls, finding the crew of the Rocinante on an infiltration mission:
Chapter One: Jim
“It pinged us,” Alex said. His voice was a light, almost lilting voice, which meant he thought they were screwed.
Jim, sitting on the operating deck with a tactical map of the Kronos system on the screen and his heart beating twice as fast, tried to disagree. “Just because he’s right doesn’t mean he knows who’s home. Let’s continue to behave as we do.”
The Rocinante behaved like a short haul freighter, a class of ships thick on the ground in the Kronos system. Naomi had tuned the Epstein to be just dirty enough to change their drive signature without generating too much extra waste heat. A set of extra plating welded to their hulls at a Harris System underground shipyard had changed their silhouette. A slow drop of liquid hydrogen pumped over the top of the ship, changing their thermal profile. When Naomi went through the plan to layer camouflage, it seemed comprehensive. Only the threat of violence left Jim feeling exposed.
The enemy frigate was called the black kite. Smaller than the Stormclass destroyers, it was still well armed and had the self-healing outer hull that made Laconian ships difficult to kill. It was part of a hunting group that scoured all inhabited systems in search of Teresa Duarte, runaway daughter of High Consul Winston Duarte, heir to his empire, and provisional apprentice mechanic on the Rocinante.
This wasn’t the first time they saw it. “Any sequel?” asked Jim.
“Just the ladar ping,” Alex said. “Do you think I should warm up the pea shooter, just in case?”
Yes lets do that was on the brink of Jim’s mind when Naomi’s voice answered instead. “No. There is some evidence that their sensor arrays can recognize next-generation rail-gun capacitors.” “That feels unfair,” Jim said. “What a crew does with their railgun capacitor in the privacy of their own ship should be no one else’s business.”
He heard the smile in Naomi’s voice. “While I agree in principle, let’s keep the weapons offline until we need them.”
“Copy that,” Alex said.
“Still no follow up?” Jim asked, though he had access to all the logs Alex had. Alex checked it anyway.
“Comms are dark.”
Kronos wasn’t quite a dead system, but it was close. The star there was large and burned quickly. There had been a habitable planet in the goldilocks zone at one point — at least enough that the protomolecule could have hijacked the biomass needed to build a ring gate. But in the strange eons since the gate’s formation and humanity’s stumbling into the alien ruins, the zone of goldilocks had shifted. The original life-bearing planet had not yet been completely engulfed by the star, but the oceans had boiled down to nothing and the atmosphere had disappeared. The only native life in Kronos was on the wet moon of a distant gas giant, which was little more than viciously competing sheets of slime mold the size of a continent.
The human inhabitants of Kronos were about ten thousand miners at seven hundred and thirty-two active sites. Corporations, government-sponsored advocacy groups, independent rock hoppers, and unholy legal hybrids of all three were stripping palladium from a pretty rich scattering of asteroids and sending it to anyone still building air recyclers or working on adaptive terraforming projects.
What everyone was.
Kronos had been the fringe of the Transport Union’s reach at the time, then the end of the Laconian Empire, and now no one really knew what it was. There were hundreds of similar systems, all through the gateway network: places that were either not yet self-sufficient or did not intend to become so, more focused on carving out their own small economic niche than any broader coalition. The kind of places the underground used to hide and fix their ships and plan for what was to come next. On the tactical map in the spring, asteroids marked by orbit, research status, composition and legal ownership swirled around the evil star as thick as pollen. The ships were clustered by the dozen around the excavation and research sites, and just as many more were on solitary passage from one small outpost to another or were on their way to collect water for reaction mass and radiation shielding.
The black kite had come through the ring gate three days earlier, torpedoed the subway’s radio repeater on the surface of the gate, then burned softly to stay in place like a bouncer at a pretentious nightclub. The ring gates did not revolve so much about the stars, but remained in a fixed position as if they had been hung from hooks in the vacuum. It wasn’t the strangest thing about them. Jim had been hoping that blowing up the underground pirate radio station would be the only solution… kite did. That the enemy would end his petty vandalism and f*ck off to cut the metaphorical telegraph wires on another system.
It stayed and scanned the system. Looking for them. For Teresa. For Naomi, functional leader of the underground. And for him.
The communications screen lit up green with an incoming broadcast, and Jim’s stomach tightened. At their current distance, the battle wouldn’t last for hours, but the adrenaline rush was like someone firing a gun. The fear was so present and overwhelming that he didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary.
“Broadcast,” Alex said above the ship’s commands and from the deck above Jim. “Strange it’s not a tightbeam…I don’t think he’s talking to us.”
Jim opened the channel.
The woman’s voice had a clipped, emotionless formality that resembled the accent of the Laconian army. “…as an offensive action and treated as such. Message repeats. This is the black kite to registered freighter Perishable harvest. At the behest of Laconian security forces, you interrupt the ride and prepare for boarding and the inspection. Refusal to comply will be considered an offensive action and treated as such. Message repeats…”
Jim filtered the tactical map. The Perishable harvest was about thirty degrees spinward from the ROCKS, and blazing toward the broad, angry sun. If they had gotten the message, they still wouldn’t have fulfilled it.
“Is that one of us?” asked Jim.
“No,” Naomi said. “It’s listed as owned by a David Calrassi from Bara Gaon. I know nothing about it.”
With a slight delay they should have received the black kite‘s assignment ten minutes before the Rocinante did. Jim imagined another crew panicked because they had received the message he feared so much. Whatever happened next, the Rocinante was out of sight for the time being. He wished he could feel the relief a little deeper.
Jim unfastened his belt from the crash bench and turned. The bearings hissed as it shifted under its weight.
‘I’m going to the galley,’ he said. “Get me a coffee, too,” Alex said.
“Oh no. No coffee. I might need some chamomile or warm milk. Something soothing and non-aggressive.”
“Sounds good,” Alex said. “If you change your mind and go get some coffee, grab me one too.”
In the elevator, Jim leaned against the wall and waited for his heart to stop beating. That’s how heart attacks came, isn’t it? A pulse that started quickly and never slowed down until something critical arose. That was probably wrong, but that’s how it felt. That’s how he felt all the time.
It kept getting better. Easier. The autodoc could have supervised the regrowth of his missing teeth. Aside from the humiliation of having to numb his gums like a toddler, that had gone well enough. The nightmares were now old acquaintances. He had gotten them on Laconia when he was a prisoner of High Consul Duarte. He had expected them to fade once he was free, but they got worse. Buried Alive was the most recent version. More often, it was someone he loved to be killed in the next room and unable to punch in the unlock code fast enough to save them. Or a parasite that lives under its skin and tries to find a way to take it out. Or the guards on Laconia who come and beat him until his teeth broke again. The way they had.
On the bright side, the old dreams of forgetting to put on his clothes or not studying for a test seemed to have stopped. His strangely vengeful dream life wasn’t all bad.
There were days when he couldn’t shake the feeling of threat. Sometimes part of his mind became entangled in the groundless and irrational certainty that his Laconian torture team was about to find him again. Others, it was the less irrational fear of things beyond the gates. The apocalypse that had destroyed the creators of the protomolecule and was on its way to destroy humanity.