NOTE: This is an unedited sneak peek at New Canaan. No part of this may be reposted, or copied without prior consent.
Interstellar space, one light-year rim-ward of Virginis
Tanis walked onto the Intrepid’s main dock and cast an appraising look at the two rows of cruisers nestled safely in its six-kilometer-long space. Directly in front of her sat the Andromeda, its seven-hundred meters of sleek, matte-black hull hunkered down in its cradle.
The warship was a thing of beauty, and possibly the only thing that gave her any competition for her husband’s affections. She passed a greeting to Corsia, the Andromeda’s AI over the Link, before stepping into a groundcar for the ride to her destination.
<How are you today, Corsia?>
<I’m well enough…for being cooped up in here. A bit jealous of Sabrina—what with her getting to head out and make a jaunt across the Arm,> Corisa replied, her steely blue avatar appearing in Tanis’s mind.
<Is she ready to head out alone?> Tanis asked as she settled into the car’s seat, shifting uncomfortably as the baby in her womb gave a solid stretch.
<She’s hardly alone. Piya, Hank, and Erin wills keep her company,> Corsia replied, referring to the AIs embedded with the crew. <We’ve given them the hardware to run their own small Expanse, one that they can keep hidden, or be destroyed if needs be.>
<You worry too much,> Angela added from within Tanis’s own mind. <Bob has pronounced the three of them fit. Don’t forget, Iris has joined with Jessica now. With her and Erin they have several of our AIs to guide them.>
<I’m glad Jessica agreed to go,> Tanis said. <She’s practically built out of solid determination, with her they’ll find Finaeus for sure.>
Angela’s laugh filled Tanis’s mind. <Oh, so that’s what she’s built out of…I thought it was just plastic.>
Tanis chided her internal AI, and noted that Corsia was smiling as well—something the Andromeda’s XO rarely did.
The groundcar rounded a mountain of crates and dock machinery, and Sabrina came into view. The yacht-turned-starfrieghter bore the same name as its AI, which could get confusing at times, though Tanis found how strongly the ship’s AI identified with its vessel to be endearing. After spending several months on Sabrina following her abduction by pirates, Tanis had grown especially fond of the ship and her crew.
Sabrina had changed since Tanis last saw her. The ship was still characterized by long, sleek lines, but it’s engine bulge was larger, enlarged to house the upgraded antimatter drive and the additional reactor needed to power the ship’s new stasis shields.
Other changes were visible, though they had been made to disguise the ship. After the Battle of Bollam’s World, the freighter was known across the Orion Arm. With its advanced stasis shielding, it would be the most feared and coveted ship in any system entered.
With the updated ident box that Tanis had provided, the ship could change its designation when desired. Currently, it broadcasted as the Eagle’s Talon—likely Sabrina’s choice, she had been all about claws and wings since her weapons upgrade in the Silstrand system.
The groundcar stopped beside the two-hundred-meter ship’s main cargo hatch, and Tanis opened the car door and eased herself off the seat.
A hand reached out to assist her and she looked up to see Sera’s smiling face.
“Thanks,” Tanis said with a smile as she carefully rose to her feet.
“You’re built for war, not babies,” Sera smiled. “Though motherhood does look good on you so far.”
Tanis’s hand absently strayed to her distended abdomen and she sighed. “I think I’m well into the get it out of me stage. I swear, the day after she’s born I’m going to go kick a training bot’s ass.”
Sera laughed. “I bet you will—though maybe you should give it two or three days.”
The two women turned and stared at the starship, both taking it in for a moment before walking toward the cargo hatch.
“I feel like I’m seeing her for the last time,” Sera said softly. “I know it’s not true, they’ll be fine, but I still can’t help it.”
Tanis took Sera’s hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. “They’re a good crew, they can do this. They’ll find your Finaeus and bring him to us—wherever we’ll be.”
“My guess is Messier 23 or 25. Probably 25. They have a number of systems with worlds wrapping up stage four terraforming there. It’s also close enough that it won’t take the Intrepid too long to get there.”
Tanis did the calculations in her head and came up with three years, depending on their exit velocity from Ascella.
“I guess not too long, given the fact that we’ve been out here for hundreds of years already. But do you think that’s far enough from the Inner Stars?” Tanis asked.
“It’s outside the Orion Arm,” Sera replied. “Inner Stars expansion hasn’t even reached the edge of the Arm in that direction, even if they go whole hog, there’s a big buffer there between us and them. It’ll take them hundreds of years, maybe thousands to get to M25.”
“If you say so,” Tanis said as they reached the lift within Sabrina that would take them to the bridge deck.
“I do say so,” Sera said with a nod. “The FGT is very skilled at hiding the planets they terraform. We’re a long way from most of humanity, but they can still see if planets move around in distant systems. Our engineers are very good at masking those movements, and our systems.”
The lift doors opened and they walked silently down the short corridor to the bridge where Sera stepped across the threshold, followed by Tanis.
What greeted them brought tears to Tanis’s eyes on behalf of her friend. Every member of Sabrina’s crew was standing on the bridge, smiles on their faces as they clapped for their former captain.
Cargo, Sera’s former first mate, and now captain of Sabrina, stood in front of his centrally located chair. His bright smile flashed against his dark skin and he stepped forward to take Sera in a fierce hug.
To his right was Jessica. Once a “reluctant stowaway” on the Intrepid, Jessica was now one of Tanis’s most trusted friends, and was filling in as first mate on Sabrina. She snapped off a crisp salute for Tanis, which she returned before stepping toward Jessica and wrapping her friend in a warm embrace.
“You guys are all going to make me tear up here,” Cheeky, Sabrina’s pilot, said.
“No chance of tears here,” Thompson grunted from where he leaned against the scan console. “Unless you’re counting tears of boredom after months of being cooped up on this ship.”
Flaherty elbowed Thompson and flashed a rare smile at Tanis and Sera. “What he means to say is that he’s going to miss the beer on the Intrepid. He doesn’t know it yet, but he’s ruined for that crap you get on most Inner Stars stations.”
“Is that why you’re staying behind with Sera?” Thompson asked.
Flaherty cast a dark look Thompson’s way, but didn’t respond.