During a test flight for the world’s first warp engine, Major Noah Gantz is set to go down in the history books.
Despite years of training, the mission goes sideways, and instead of a quick trip to the moon and back, Noah's ship is transported across the universe to stars unknown.
Stranded in space and on the brink of death, Noah is rescued by a sentient starship and its captain. To save his life, the ship’s own biomatter must replace his failing cells.
Now , Noah is different. Stronger, faster… and there’s a voice in his head.
The voice of the ship itself, and its name is Kayan.
With no way to return home, Noah must adapt and rebuild his life in this unfamiliar corner of the universe. And as he does, he discovers a looming threat in the far reaches of space, growing in power, and set on capturing Noah and his ship.
Worse still, this new enemy knows about Earth. . . and it has big plans.
Release date: May 7, 2023
Publisher: Variant Publications
Print pages: 488
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Homeworld Lost, Book 1
By JN Chaney and Scott Moon
Five minutes passed in slow motion. Every atom of my body felt energized, like I could do the impossible. Crossing the walkway to my ship felt like it had happened years ago, though it was all I could think about now that I was strapping in. No one without the highest security clearance would see my cinematic-worthy hero walk.
How uncool was that? Freaking top-secret protocols.
This was the most advanced ship of United Earth, one of two that had been built in secret. The first had exploded eight hundred million kilometers from home. Experimental backup ships were always more reliable than the primary, right? That’s what I’d heard. No worries.
This was my moment to shine.
For authorized eyes only.
With complete government and corporate deniability.
My brain flicked to the two hundred page non-disclosure agreement I’d signed. I pushed the thought away and focused on systems checks. Flipping switches felt more satisfying than tapping touch screens, though I did plenty of that as well. Numbers scrolled up the right panel, then turned green one after another.
After a successful test and return to the Sol system, my parents, and my aging grandfather, who always wanted someone in the family to be an astronaut, would know the Gantz family showed up and showed out. Represent, Pops. We’re in the history books now.
One way or another.
My heart pounded. Cascading physical energy that had felt good before worried me now. What was this, a cage fight? Hell no. This was fucking science. There were rules.
My annoying brain pulled up the clause about covert disposal of my remains if this went bad.
Well, that’s fantastic.
I’d watched the first attempt at faster-than-light travel. No more partial light-speed attempts. This was the real deal. We were going there, even if the truth had just a little more to do with quantum physics than I understood.
Lieutenant Colonel Tate Collins had become the fastest human in history by about a hundred orders of magnitude, then vanished in an explosion that had appeared only on top secret video feeds. The public would never glimpse evidence of the incident. There weren’t even remains to covertly bury.
Laughing hysterically might have been okay because there was no one here but me, and I had complete control of my helmet mic. I tempered my mirth for the sake of personal dignity. Pops, the most notorious prankster in the Gantz clan, had taught me how to laugh at myself without being the joke. It’s all about dignity, Noah. Never pass up a chance to laugh, but don’t be a clown by accident.
Was it wrong that I loved that old hard-ass more than anyone in the world? Freaking hero to me.
My focus returned like a laser beam. The energized feeling came back but was under control now. This was happening, and everything was going to be fine.
“Nice hero walk, Major Noah Gantz,” Major Kenneth Britz said through the radio.
“Glad someone saw it.” We’d been using our full rank and name since the promotion ceremony last year. It was one of those private jokes no one else got. Absolutely hilarious.
He chuckled. “There are over a hundred people in this room, including three presidents, a prime minister, and the King of Belgium. And they’re all impressed.”
“Belgium has a king?” I studied power readings that I’d already checked three times. At what point did attention to detail become diagnosable? I pulled back my hands and exhaled.
“I’m subscribing you to Audible when you get back. Maybe you can listen to a book since you can’t be bothered to read one.”
“Hey, I’m a veritable bookworm. See there, that was a big word. Get off my back, Britz.”
“Ouch. We’re doing last names only again. Harsh. What was the last book you read?”
“A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.”
“That was an assigned book in high school. You’re hopeless.”
Reading lists weren’t high on my priorities. I was probably going to die in an explosion millions of kilometers from Earth. My friend’s efforts were appreciated. No one else from mission control seemed to care. The ship—hell, a piece of this ship—was worth more to them than I was.
“Listen,” Britz said. “This is about all the time we have to shoot the shit. So I’ll wrap up. You’re going to rock this mission, buddy. I personally went over everything that could have gone wrong with the Collins fiasco. Our team has improved fifty percent of the components on your version of this ship. No problem was too small to get a complete overhaul. This thing is like new.”
“You mean never been tested.”
“Well, yeah. If you want to be negative.” He paused. “Big shots are lining up at the comms station and main view screen. Stop picking your nose or whatever. This will work. Just like Collins.”
“What?” My heart sped up.
“That came out wrong. Relax. You shouldn’t be worried at all. Trust me. My security clearance is higher than yours.”
“That means what?” I asked, really not feeling this turn of the conversation. We should have stuck to jokes and ribbing. “He’s not actually dead but living in some decadent resort community for intergalactic test pilots? Come on. You can’t say crap like that. Now I’ll have nightmares about it.” I’d seen the video. Lieutenant Colonel Tate Collins was definitely dead. Last time I checked, ships exploding did that to people.
“Don’t worry about it. I know you’re going to be okay. Take my word for it, brother.”
“Fine.” He had to evoke the bond between pilots. There was no way to argue now. And he was right. This ship, and my training, cost trillions of dollars. Everything that could be done to make it safe had been done.
“Major Gantz, are you there?” The program director’s voice was as deep and smooth as ever.
“I’m here, sir. Is it too late to hit the head? Three cups of coffee is one too many, apparently.”
He chuckled without really seeming to feel it. “The suit can handle that, Major. Stand by for final checks and the countdown. Our launch window is closing. It’s game time.”
“Yes, sir.” I listened to flight control and did my job. One switch at a time, the second-best experimental FTL ship in human history fired up its engines.
I was launching from the surface of the desert for one reason. The amount of energy required to create a warp bubble was almost unimaginable. My ship’s fusion plant was unequaled. This one-person vehicle could power a small nation for two months, which was why it was bigger and uglier than anything we’d created before this program. In theory, it could create the field needed for FTL by itself, but this was a government project, and they didn’t want a public failure at any cost. So they stacked the deck with terrestrial based fusion complexes. Success if it kills us, that was their mantra.
That left the ship with enough juice-generating capacity to come back twice. Because that made sense to someone above my pay grade. I wasn’t complaining. Who had two thumbs and didn’t want to be lost in space?
“Control is ready.”
“Gantz is ready,” I replied. Every part of me was cool, almost disassociated from the process now. By the numbers, that’s how we did this.
“Prepare for countdown. Countdown underway. Ten, nine, eight…”
* * *
My ship shook like a landslide as it climbed into the air, then forced its way free of both gravity and atmosphere. Two screens displayed my acceleration. Others showed structural integrity, weather, worldwide air traffic, and the position of every satellite in orbit.
All of that was behind me now. There was no chance of collision. A hundred miles around the launch pad had been cleared of observers. Exactly eleven months prior, the first FTL attempt had the same security in place around the exclusion zone around the platform. The importance of this mission was finally sinking in.
I saw Earth falling away with impossible rapidity. That view wasn’t supposed to be there. All the psych advisors warned against it, but I’d convinced Britz to include a shot of home. The guy was solid. Always willing to help a brother out.
Call me sentimental. Gazing on the brilliant blue sphere was the most fulfilling experience of my life. No matter what happened, I always had that.
“This is for you, Pops.” I held the controls. Every part of my body was locked into the seat, all the way up to my wrists. This wasn’t a test of strength. Nothing had been left to chance. Yet I couldn’t let go if I wanted to. Not now.
Because I just exceeded point one light speed. Only three other humans had done that. Two of them had occupied positions of honor on my teenage poster wall.
Both acceleration monitors displayed dots from left to right, then all the way down in a continuous flood of nonsense. “Hey, what’s up with my readings?”
No one answered. No one could answer. I knew that. Talking was a reflex, a human need not to be alone when the shit was hitting the fan. Something wasn’t right.
Collins. Why didn’t you warn me?
I shook away the irrational complaint. We’d never known each other, not really. And how would a ghost get clearance with the United Earth Deep Space Program—unless he knew the King of Belgium.
“Initiating sensor reboot. Systems check in progress.” I went through emergency procedures with calm efficiency. Years as one of the UE’s most prolific test pilots had taught me how to handle a crisis. Today was a bit outside the norm. My thoughts had been wandering. Now was the time to take charge of my emotions and just do the work.
The results came back blank. I tried another subroutine, then unfastened my arms to allow greater mobility. A touch of a button removed protective gear from my upper body that was not supposed to come off. No one expected me to do this much work after launch. I should have been a glorified passenger. Instead, I had to be pilot, copilot, navigator, and engineer at the same time.
So basically, this was just another day as a test pilot—stressful, but still better than combat. The only life on the line now was my own, and I had volunteered.
Pops seemed to be watching. It was an illusion. I allowed it. He both calmed me and inspired me to be the best version of myself. A tear ran from one eye as I realized with the white-hot intensity of a true epiphany how much I wanted to make him proud.
A tremor I hadn’t initially noticed decreased. For several seconds, the ship raced across the void of space with no apparent resistance. That seemed fair since there wasn’t atmosphere, only radiation and widely dispersed space dust. At this speed, even a speck could end the mission. I hoped the shield and armor held.
Was this what light felt like as it flashed across the galaxy?
I laughed and didn’t care who heard me, now or later when the flight recorder was reviewed. I was moving fast enough to pierce a warp bubble!
Vision distorted. I couldn’t feel my body. Thinking was impossible. My laughter probably sounded like the shrieks of the damned now.
Sensation returned, though it seemed like I was in someone else’s form, getting shaken apart. A tiny voice in my head said I was going around light speed, not exceeding it.
Terror like I’d never imagine seized me. Existential mind trip or not, this was real, and I didn’t want to die.
My vision returned in time to see a flash of light. Heat burned my soul. My warp-field-distorted senses thought my flesh was melting off my body.
And maybe it was.
Pain didn’t mean what it used to. My mind went anywhere but here. I would really need to give Britz shit for blowing smoke up my ass. That wasn’t what hurt. He’d meant well. My real pain came from the total failure this moment proclaimed. I’m sorry, Pops. My best wasn’t good enough today.
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