In James S.A. Corey’s nine-volume 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 are coming to a head. The series launched in 2011 with Leviathan Wakes, an ambitious but gripping novel that introduces a sprawling group of characters with widely varying goals and intentions. The books have been adapted into a memorable, engaging TV series, which ran for three seasons on Syfy, then was picked up by Amazon Studios for an additional three-season run.
Authors Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham, who publish under the James S.A. Corey pen name, say season 6 of The Expanse isn’t the end of the show, but it may be the end for its Amazon run. Season 6 launches on Amazon Prime on Dec. 10. But Franck and Abraham’s Leviathan Falls is intended as the finale for the book series. It’s out Nov. 30 from Orbit books. Here’s an advance look at 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 singsong that meant he thought they were screwed.
Jim, sitting on the ops deck with a tactical map of Kronos system on the screen and his heart going double time, tried to disagree. “Just because he’s knocking doesn’t mean he knows who’s home. Let’s keep acting like what we’re acting like.”
The Rocinante was acting like a small-haul freighter, a class of ship thick on the ground in Kronos system. Naomi had tuned the Epstein to run just dirty enough to change their drive signature without generating too much extra waste heat. A set of extra plating welded to their hull at an underground shipyard in Harris system had altered their silhouette. A slow dribble of liquid hydrogen was pumping out across the top of the ship and changing their thermal profile. When Naomi had gone over the plan to layer on camouflage, it had seemed comprehensive. It was only the threat of violence that made Jim feel exposed.
The enemy frigate was called the Black Kite. Smaller than the Storm-class destroyers, it was still well armed and had the self-healing outer hull that made Laconian ships hard to kill. It was part of a hunting group scouring all the inhabited systems for Teresa Duarte, runaway daughter of High Consul Winston Duarte, heir apparent to his empire, and, for the time being, apprentice mechanic on the Rocinante.
This wasn’t the first time they’d seen it. “Any follow-up?” Jim asked.
“Just the ladar ping,” Alex said. “Think I should warm up the peashooter, just in case?”
Yeah, let’s do that was on the edge of Jim’s mind when Naomi’s voice answered instead. “No. There’s some evidence that their next-generation sensor arrays can recognize rail-gun capacitors.” “That feels unfair,” Jim said. “What a crew does with its railgun capacitor in the privacy of its own ship shouldn’t be anyone else’s business.”
He could hear the smile in Naomi’s voice. “While I agree in principle, let’s keep the guns offline until we need them.”
“Copy that,” Alex said.
“Still no follow-up?” Jim asked, even though he had access to all the same logs Alex did. Alex checked anyway.
“Comms are dark.”
Kronos wasn’t quite a dead system, but it was close. The star there was large and fast-burning. There had been a habitable planet in the goldilocks zone there at one point—at least enough that the protomolecule had been able to hijack 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 goldilocks zone had moved. The original life-bearing planet hadn’t quite been engulfed by the star yet, but its oceans had been boiled to nothing and its atmosphere stripped away. The only native life in Kronos was on the wet moon of an outlying gas giant, and that wasn’t much more than viciously competing continent-sized sheets of slime mold.
The human inhabitants of Kronos were around ten thousand miners on seven hundred thirty-two active sites. Corporations, government-sponsored interest groups, independent rock hoppers, and unholy legal hybrids of all three were stripping palladium out of a nicely rich scattering of asteroids and sending it out to anyone still building air recyclers or working on adjustment-terraforming projects.
Which was everyone.
Kronos had been the edge of the Transport Union’s reach back in the day, then the ass end of the Laconian Empire, and now no one really knew what it was. There were hundreds of systems like it, all through the gate network: places that either weren’t self-sufficient yet or didn’t plan to be, more focused on digging out their own little economic niche than any broader coalition. The kinds of places where the underground could usually hide and repair their ships and plan for what came next. On the tactical map, asteroids marked by orbit, survey status, composition, and legal ownership swirled around the angry star as thick as pollen in springtime. The ships were clumped around the excavation and survey sites by the dozen, and as many more were on lonely transits from one little outpost to another or on errands to gather water for reaction mass and radiation shielding.
The Black Kite had come through the ring gate three days before, torpedoed the underground’s radio repeater at the surface of the gate, and then burned gently to remain in place like a bouncer at a pretentious nightclub. The ring gates didn’t orbit the stars so much as remain in fixed position as though they’d been hung on hooks in the vacuum. It wasn’t the strangest thing about them. Jim had let himself hope that blowing up the underground’s pirate transmitter would be all the Kite did. That the enemy would finish its little vandalism and fuck off to cut the metaphorical telegraph wires on some other system.
It had stayed, scanning the system. Looking for them. For Teresa. For Naomi, functional leader of the underground. And for him.
The comm display lit up the green of an incoming transmission, and Jim’s gut knotted. At their present range, the battle wouldn’t come for hours, but the rush of adrenaline was like someone had fired a gun. The fear was so present and overwhelming that he didn’t notice anything odd.
“Broadcast,” Alex said over the ship comms and from the deck above Jim. “Weird 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 was like the accent of the Laconian military. “…as offensive action and treated as such. Message repeats. This is the Black Kite to registered freighter Perishable Harvest. By order of Laconian security forces, you will cut your drive and prepare for boarding and inspection. Refusal to comply will be viewed as an offensive action and treated as such. Message repeats…”
Jim filtered the tactical map. The Perishable Harvest was about thirty degrees spinward of the Roci, and burning toward the wide, angry sun. If they’d gotten the message, they hadn’t complied with it yet.
“Is that one of ours?” Jim asked.
“Nope,” Naomi said. “It’s listed as property of a David Calrassi out of Bara Gaon. I don’t know anything about it.”
With light delay, they should have received the Black Kite’s command ten minutes before the Rocinante did. Jim imagined some other crew in a panic because they’d received the message he’d been dreading. Whatever happened next, the Rocinante was out of the crosshairs for the moment at least. He wished he could feel the relief a little more deeply.
Jim unstrapped from the crash couch and swung around. The bearings hissed as it shifted under his weight.
“I’m heading down to the galley for a minute,” he said. “Grab a coffee for me too,” Alex said.
“Oh no. Not coffee. I’m maybe up to some chamomile or warm milk. Something soothing and unaggressive.”
“Sounds good,” Alex said. “When you change your mind and get some coffee, grab one for me too.”
On the lift, Jim leaned against the wall and waited for his heart to stop racing. This was how heart attacks came, wasn’t it? A pulse that started fast and then never slowed until something critical popped. That was probably wrong, but it felt that way. He felt that way all the time.
It was getting better. Easier. The autodoc had been able to supervise the regrowth of his missing teeth. Apart from the indignity of needing to numb his gums like a toddler, that had gone well enough. The nightmares were old acquaintances by now. He’d started having them on Laconia while still a prisoner of High Consul Duarte. He’d expected them to fade once he was free, but they were getting worse. Being buried alive was the most recent version. More often it was someone he loved being murdered in the next room and not being able to key in the lock code fast enough to save them. Or having a parasite living under his skin and trying to find a way to cut it out. Or the guards on Laconia coming to beat him until his teeth broke again. The way that they had.
On the upside, the old dreams about forgetting to put on his clothes or not studying for a test seemed to be off the rotation. His weirdly vindictive dream life wasn’t all bad.
There were still days when he couldn’t shake the sense of threat. Sometimes a part of his mind would get trapped in the unfounded and irrational certainty that his Laconian torture team was about to find him again. Others, it was the less irrational dread of the things beyond the gates. The apocalypse that had destroyed the protomolecule’s makers and was on the path to destroying humanity.