A company of Army Rangers are sent on an interstellar colony ship to secure a foothold on a dangerous, alien planet through violence of action. Leaving behind a warring Earth flung headfirst into a conflict of mutual assured destruction, the Rangers and the accompanying crew of first colonists are guided on a 40-year journey by an unprecedented artificial intelligence.
But when they emerge from the frigid embrace of cryosleep, they awake to a nightmare, finding themselves greeted by the same ruthless enemy that brought about the ruin of Earth. Alone on a dangerous, alien planet and with no hope of rescue or relief, the military colonists are forced to finish the war they thought they'd left behind.
And in an unknown galaxy, friends and enemies alike prove to be much more than they seem.
Wayward Galaxy is an explosive military science-fiction adventure featuring defective AIs, valorous soldiers, a brilliant scientist, and gritty combat written by Jason Anspach (Associated Press best seller and cocreator of Galaxy's Edge) and J.N. Chaney (USA Today best seller and author of the Renegade series).
Release date: September 29, 2020
Publisher: Variant Publications
Print pages: 536
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Listen to a sample
“Still awake, Doc?” asked Jared Reach as he entered the forward observation room. The lights were off, as they should be, but the room wasn’t empty, and that wasn’t right. Everyone except Mission Command was supposed to be tucked away in their stasis pods, nice and safe for the long trip. Even the pilots had taken the freeze.
Dr. Kenneth Roman, the brains behind the mission, sat in a launch chair poring over a handheld tablet and whispering to himself. He raised his index finger, aware that he was no longer alone in the room.
Reach suppressed a half-smile. Dr. Roman was an eccentric. Something of an internet celebrity back on Earth… before the whole world started to come apart at the seams.
“Sorry,” Roman finally said. “Working on a few last-minute things. Something wrong with the civilian stasis pods?”
Civilian. Reach hadn’t quite adjusted to that word yet. He had served six long years with the United States Marine Corps. He’d seen combat in the sandbox and decided against another tour because it was obvious his marriage needed him home. That lasted a month.
And now… well, he couldn’t possibly get much farther from a world that had been falling apart for him long before the papers started saying so definitively.
He took in a breath. “No. They’re fine. The rest of the crew are already in their stasis pods. Autopilot has us on our way. Captain Bosa asked me to verify all non-military personnel were in the chillers.”
“Are they?” asked Roman, a devilish twinkle in his eye.
“Except for you and me.”
Roman smiled and went back to his tablet. “Well, the mission protocols did require that all civilian personnel enter stasis prior to our leaving Earth’s orbit. But those protocols hadn’t figured on the RUPAC troop movements and missile launches.”
Reach inclined his head. This was the first he was hearing of RUPAC—the Russo-Chinese Pacific Alliance—jeopardizing the mission. Or even knowing about it.
“Missile launch? Doctor, are we in danger?”
“Tremendous amounts!” Roman lifted his head toward the viewport, the only transparent metal on the ship. “But likely not from the missile launch. I have other suspicions there. But yes, danger. Where we’re going, what we plan to do… we’re venturing into the unknown, Jared. It’s wonderful. And terrible.”
Reach looked out the viewport at Earth, which was receding into a colorful blue, white, and green orb hanging from nothing among the stars. It appeared quiet and peaceful. So different from what was happening on the surface. You would have no idea of the destruction…
“It’s a shame what the world has come to,” Roman said, guessing Reach’s thoughts. “Did you know mankind has only managed to inhabit about fifteen percent of the land on the entire planet? Science has brought us to the cusp of greatness—of ending hunger and poverty, of giving every person on the planet non-carbon emitting shelter—and we still fight over things someone else has. In a decade—maybe two—we could have solved every conceivable problem mankind has faced since first climbing out of the trees and picking up a stone to use as a tool.”
Reach waited for him to continue for a few moments before speaking. “Well, Doc, people suck. Pretty sure that first rock our ancestor picked up was used to club someone else over the head. It’s the way things have always been. Fighting, making war, I think it’s our default setting.”
Roman frowned. “That’s a horrible thought. But, you may well be right. It brings up another question. Should we even be attempting to save mankind? Or, should humanity go the way of the dodo?”
Reach looked back to the room’s entrance, half-expecting to see the captain, or worse, First Lieutenant Sherman, showing up to ask him what the hell the holdup was.
But it was just them. Scientist and… civilian.
“Above my pay grade, Doc.”
“Still… it does make one wonder.” Roman was transfixed by the philosophical question, but he made no move to get up from his seat.
“You okay, Doc?” Reach asked, moving closer to the man and squatting low to look into his eyes. “I mean… you feelin’ all right?”
Roman gave another of those smiles. “It’s this war. Just when things seemed like they were about to turn a corner and the RUPAC was about to return to the negotiation table—this happens.” He waved his hand toward the western hemisphere of Earth, just coming into view.
RUPAC had been posturing, expressing a desire to de-escalate the proxy fighting happening among its allies in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and the Ukraine, while in reality they were moving their traditional warfighting assets around. Playing for time. Playing off the Western governments’ desire for peace. When the real war started—and what was it, other than World War Three?—the stage was set for hard times and an even harder fight.
Combined RUPAC forces blitzed through Alaska and British Columbia, driving into the United States and Canada, while the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans became naval battlegrounds. Europe and Asia were in flames. The Middle East was in anarchy, with power shifting from one faction to the next like desert sand in the wind.
“Don’t misunderstand,” Roman continued. “I have full faith in the ability of the US government to make miracles happen, given enough time and money. But it seems they’re going to be low on both. I’m genuinely surprised I haven’t seen the flash of nuclear blasts yet. I suppose that’s what I’ve been sitting in this room waiting for.”
He again gazed out the viewport at the planet they knew as home. A home they’d never return to.
“What are they waiting for?” he said. “They’ve been threatening to glass each other for weeks now.”
“World War Three aside, Doc … you’re supposed to be in your pod.”
“I appreciate that, Mr. Reach. But I’m… not quite ready for bed yet.”
Reach wasn’t exactly excited about going under freeze for the next several decades either. But he had chosen to be here. He had volunteered to be one of the first colonists on a new planet. And in addition to all that, he was needed. He had military training, survival skills, and real-world political experience that the mission planners felt would be crucial. It would be his job to establish a civilian leadership structure from day one, working in tandem with the military assets on board to create the smallest of American territories. If all went well, they’d establish a standard of living that would make things much easier for the waves set to follow behind.
You’re a negotiator, Reach reminded himself. So negotiate your way into getting this guy where he’s supposed to be before the soldiers come and do it for you.
“I’m sorry, Doc, but—”
Roman cut him off. “There are some last-minute adjustments I need to make. Projects I de-prioritized to ensure CENTCOM could get us going as quickly as they wanted. I’m sure you understand something of that? I know well enough from talking with Captain Bosa and Colonel Landry that the military planning was anything but thorough. My things… still need doing. The mission will be better off for it.”
Reach sighed. Things weren’t exactly what you’d expect for a mission of this magnitude. It all felt thrown together. “How long do you need?”
Roman lifted his eyes from his tablet. “Not long. And you don’t need to hold up your own stasis for me. I designed the pods; I know how to operate them. I can slip into bed as soon as I’m finished.”
Unless you slip and can’t get up. In which case we’ll find your corpse on the other side of all this.
A gruff voice snarled from the hatchway. “What’s the holdup? We’ve got word RUPAC is climbing up our asses. Let’s go.”
Reach straightened. “Lieutenant Sherman, I was speaking with Dr. Roman about—”
“We need to move, Mr. Reach,” Sherman said. “That’s why the captain sent you here. To account for your charges. You were a marine. You know the drill. I expected a bit more from you.”
Sherman crisply turned his gaze to the scientist. “Dr. Roman, we need you in your pod so we can get the hell out of here before RUPAC nukes us. They’re still trying to beat us to the colony on Amir, right?”
“As best we know of, yes, and understanding that, I maintain my position,” Roman said, sounding flustered. “I need to be allowed to work.”
Sherman nodded. Not unkindly, but certainly all business. “Well, all due respect, but unass yourself so we can check all the little boxes that get this boat moving to the colony. Before RUPAC.”
Reach held out an arm, seeking to lighten the building tension. Roman looked no closer to obeying Sherman than he had Reach. And Reach didn’t wonder whether Sherman, who had the authority to do so, wouldn’t just arrest Roman and force him into the pod.
“Lieutenant Sherman,” he said, “I think it may be helpful to hear what the doctor is saying. He designed this ship and most of the tech and insists there are some last-minute items to take care of for the good of the mission. I think we should listen.”
Sherman made a dramatic show of rubbing his temples. “Dr. Roman. Is whatever last-minute stuff you’re working on likely to end the mission if you were to enter your pod within the next thirty seconds?”
“End the mission? No,” Roman said, sinking deeper into his seat. There was no patronizing smile on his face this time. Not for Sherman. “But with regard to long-term mission success—”
“It sounds settled to me,” interrupted Sherman. He seemed agitated. Much more high-strung than Reach had ever seen him before. And with what was happening on the planet down below, there was little wonder why. “We have orders, and those orders are to get asses to cryopods. Come on, Doc. We need to get this show on the road!”
Roman shot to his feet and whirled on the lieutenant. “I am perfectly capable of finding my way to my pod and initiating stasis by myself. I designed the machine! You want the Boone to get moving? Then get it moving! Alexa will do it. She’s the reason we cut out nearly all the Space Force flight staff. More room for equipment. More room for you Rangers. More civilian colonists! I’ve put a lot of thought—a lot of my life—into this mission, into this moment. And I assure you, there is no need to wait for me.”
Sherman shot a don’t-just-stand-there look at Reach, who shrugged in response.
“Dr. Roman,” Sherman began again, leveling his voice to be as diplomatic as possible without losing his forcefulness. “We have our orders. Let’s not start this mission by openly defying them.”
Roman pinched the bridge of his nose and let out an exasperated sigh. “All I want to do is take care of some last-minute things. There’s no need for this. The ship can leave right now, if you like. I can order Alexa to get us moving.”
“You’ve said that, and I appreciate that,” Sherman said, “but you need to get in your pod.”
Roman folded his arms. “I’ll be blunt. Not happening, Jarhead.”
“Excuse me?” Sherman stepped forward and gave a fractional shake of his head. “First of all, I’m a United States Army officer. A jarhead is a marine—like Reach here was—and other than him, a former marine, the rest are all back on Earth, fighting RUPAC and waiting to load onto the next colony ship to Amir. Which is why you need to be in your pod so we can work on getting Amir nice and pretty for their arrival.”
A new voice spoke from outside the observation room’s door. The captain, wearing a robe that hung on him like a karate uniform. He had been ready for cryo, it was clear.
“What’s the noise about? Why is Dr. Roman still out of his pod?”
“That was my question, Captain,” Sherman said, glowering.
Roman smoothed out imaginary wrinkles on his flight suit. “Captain Bosa, I’m sorry, this is my fault. The war back on Earth sped up our timetable and I had to change priorities around. I’ve put some minor things off—nothing too important—but I don’t want to go into stasis until I’ve taken care of them.”
“Such as?” asked the captain, though his eyes weren’t on the doctor. He was observing Reach and Sherman, trying to get a feel for the situation from the two men he’d sent to make sure all hands were in stasis.
“Ah, that’s a longer explanation than we have time for given certain… developments. Rest assured, they’re not mission-critical, but they’re going to be useful once we get to Amir and finish setting up the colony. Things designed to make life a bit easier is all. Better to have them finished when we arrive than make that the point of starting our preparations.”
Captain Alan Bosa looked to his lieutenant. “Sherman?” he said slowly, drawing out the man’s name.
“What did the doctor say when you reminded him of our mission procedures?”
“Sir, he refused to comply.”
Bosa nodded. “Am I safe to assume the doctor’s stance on the issue was the same for you, Mr. Reach?”
“Yes, Captain. The doctor explained his reasoning to me prior to Lieutenant Sherman’s arrival.”
“And did that reasoning sway you?”
“Do you, as the civilian liaison between the colonists and their army protectors, think the good doctor ought to be allowed to stay up past his bedtime?”
Reach swallowed, then committed. “Captain, I’m inclined to allow the doctor to stay up as long as he needs to in order to take care of things he deems important. Nobody knows this ship like he does. He designed nearly everything on it. If RUPAC is trying to beat us to Amir, I’d rather Dr. Roman have the opportunity to put us in the best position to be successful in our operation. Especially given the haste involved in all planning elements to date.”
Captain Bosa’s eyes settled on the doctor. Reach could hear the man’s feet shift uncomfortably under the commander’s penetrating gaze. “And what say you, Doc?”
“Ah, yes,” replied Roman. “As I’ve told the lieutenant, I can get myself into my pod when my tasks are complete. I won’t hold up the mission. We can leave right now, in fact. If you like, I can even set an alarm to wake one of you up in twenty-four hours just to check on me. Cryo is a repeatable process, after all.”
Bosa studied the man’s face for a long time before speaking. “Very well, Doc. Do whatever it is you need to do, but get this ship moving. It’ll be a short, failed mission if the RUPAC manages to nuke us before we leave orbit.” He turned to the others. “Sherman—get to your pod, pronto. Reach—make sure the doc has everything he needs, then get to your pod, too.”
“Yes, sir,” both men answered.
Captain Bosa and Lieutenant Sherman departed the room together, leaving Reach alone with Sherman.
“Thanks for that,” Roman said, and he sounded like he meant it. “And… sorry about that.”
“As long as it’s all as important as you say it is, I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
“I promise you, this is important,” said Roman, turning back toward the window and the blue planet that filled most of it. “I’m afraid we’re going to be the only hope humanity has. I don’t want to leave anything to chance. Nothing.”
“I believe you, Doc,” Reach said, joining him in his vigil at the window. It didn’t move him, seeing Earth from this vantage point. It was an image he’d seen countless times in movies, books, photographs. Or maybe it was just him. Something broken inside him that didn’t cause a rush of emotion upon seeing his planet, his home, one last time. “I think we’re all feeling the pressure. Once we get to Camp Ohio, things will calm down.”
The two men stood in silence for a long moment before Reach spoke again. “I’ll head to my pod now. You’ll get the ship moving?”
“Oh, right. Alexa?” He smiled at Reach. “Bezos and I never got along. I decided that taking my Alexa out into the galaxy first served as a fitting, final, ‘Top that.’”
A soft chime sounded through the subdermal implants behind their left ears.
“Alexa,” the doctor said. “Take us to Amir.”
That seemed to Reach a rather lax way of initiating a forty-year voyage through the stars.
The AI had a problem with it as well. “Error,” replied a soft female voice. “I am detecting four people out of their cryopods. Please confirm mission initiation.”
“I confirm,” Roman said.
“Mission initiation confirmed. Setting acceleration at twenty-seven percent until all crew are in cryopods. Permission to exceed maximum speed to compensate for any time lost while a crew member remains outside of stasis?”
“Granted,” Roman said.
“She’s going to go faster than she’s supposed to?” Reach asked. “Is that safe?”
“Nothing to worry about,” Roman said easily. “I know this ship. She can travel about forty percent faster than what the mission briefing says. I don’t plan on staying awake long, so a few percent faster than mission protocols called for won’t make a difference. Plus, we’ve got two standby reactors and enough fuel to last a thousand years.”
Reach studied the man’s face for several seconds. “Okay, Doc. Not really equipped with the rocket science brainpower to argue. Just don’t stay up too late.”
Roman waited until Reach was out of the room and the Boone vibrated with the activation of its thrusters.
“As long as it takes,” he whispered to himself. “As long as it takes…”
Reach coughed, almost retched, then gulped huge, shuddering breaths of icy-cold air.
“Emergency stimulation protocol complete,” said the voice of Alexa through his subdermal implant. “Welcome back to the Boone, Mr. Reach.”
“Thanks,” he mumbled, wiping sticky fluid from his face. He couldn’t see anything through the foggy canopy glass of his cryopod.
“I do apologize, but Captain Bosa has ordered all personnel awakened with as much haste as possible. Therefore, I have initiated the emergency animation protocol. As part of the protocol, your body has been injected with several hormones and chemicals designed to assist your recovery from cryostasis. You may experience bouts of nausea, accompanied by headache, shivering, a crawling sensation on your skin, and several other minor symptoms.”
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