Megan E. O’Keefe’s upcoming 2019 Velocity Weapon is the first volume in her projected Protectorate series.
In the 22nd century, Alexandra Halston’s invention of Prime gave humanity the Casimir Gates and access to the stars. By the 36th century, Prime spans many systems. Prime’s Keepers carefully maintain the network and all that is necessary to create more gates, in return for which they impose tariffs on the goods shipped from system to system. Everyone who matters agrees that this is a just arrangement — save for the planet of Icarion.
Icarion, located in the backwater Cronus system, objects both to the tariffs and the Keeper monopoly on gate technology. Accordingly, the Cronus system has been home to an ongoing, low level war between the loyalist world of Ada Prime and its sister world Icarion. It’s annoying. However, Icarion has access to part of one stellar system; the Keepers have access to the whole of the settled galaxy. This does not seem a top priority crisis. Or at least it didn’t.
Icarion may not be able to reverse engineer the gates but they’ve had considerable success in other fields. Icarion gives a hint as to the nature of its researches when they suddenly and quite unexpectedly obliterate Ada Prime’s forces at Dralee with a WMD of great power (and unknown mechanism).
The Keepers are alarmed and consider abandoning and isolating Cronus.
Sergeant Sandra Greeve piloted a loyalist ship at Dralee. As far as her brother Biran (a newly minted Keeper) knows, Sandra died with her fellow soldiers. When he is told that some evac pods survived the extraordinary event, that there are signals hinting that some of those written off as dead are preserved in cold sleep, awaiting rescue, he ignores his superior’s objections and alerts the public.
Nobody on either side can foresee the consequences of Greeve’s survival.
Greeve wakes in an unfamiliar medibay. Clawing her way out, she discovers that she is on the smartship The Light of Berossus or Bero for short. Although initially reluctant to explain just what is going on, the cruiser provides Greeve with a series of increasingly disquieting revelations:
Bero is an enemy ship.
Greeve is the only human on board.
In fact, thanks to the effectiveness of Icarion’s “Fibon Protocol”, whatever that is, Greeve is the only human alive in the system. Both Ada Prime and Icarion are rubble. No help can be expected from either world. Since the Cronus gate was destroyed, no help will be coming from outside the system either.
One last surprise: It has been a quarter of a millennium since Icarion inadvertently depopulated Cronus.
It’s not all bad news, however. The same technology behind the Fibon Protocol allows Bero to traverse the gulf between the stars. The nearest populated system, Atrux, is just six light years away. With Greeve’s help, Bero can reach Atrux.
There’s just one catch: Bero is a sublight starship. The six light years will take seventy-five years to cross. If Greeve is not to die of old age in mid-trip, she and Bero will have to salvage supplies from the remains of the system.
There’s an entire subplot I haven’t mentioned, involving a caper gone horribly wrong in a distant star system. The reason I left it out is that that subplot, while related to the main plot in various ways I cannot go into without spoilers, doesn’t connect directly to the events in the Cronus system until the very end. (The decision to have two plot lines that don’t really intersect reminded me of This Alien Shore .)
Biran and Sandra Greeve, on the other hand … their decisions and their lives are inextricably linked. Biran’s decisions shape the reality that Sandra faces so many years later,
When Sandra wakes, she finds that Prime has maintained its monopoly on the gate technology for fourteen centuries. Seriously? No one has reverse engineered the gates in all that time? I’m not convinced.
But this is space opera and implausible culture stability is just one of the standard tropes, right up there with interstellar empires, space battles, and plucky protagonists who manage to have an effect on history well out of keeping with their social status. O’Keefe’s novel raises more questions than it answers — it is the first book of a series — but it also delivers a tantalizing mix of post-holocaust struggle to survive, conspiracy thriller, and caper gone horribly right.