When a star thirty-four light-years away vanishes, leaving the infrared signature of a Dyson sphere inexplicably built in one week, Supreme Commander Jack Commer readies the untested Typhoon V for the star Iota Persei, roping in a talented replacement engineer doubtful of Jack’s command capabilities, and cajoling a navigator beset by decades-old combat trauma into postponing his retirement for one last risky mission.
The Wounded Frontier, Book Five of the Jack Commer, Supreme Commander series, is now republished by Sortmind Press.
Replacement engineer Laurie Lachrer, shown on the cover, was a minor character in Book One, The Martian Marauders. An Airman First Class technician assigned to service Jack’s 2034 ship, by 2075 the rejuvenated Laurie has become the foremost physician/engineer in the United System Space Force.
The working title of the book was a mouthful, Outcurve: Legends of the Stellar Trolls. I can’t really recall what “Outcurve” was supposed to mean, but I postulated a race that would lurk under our superspace bridges (just like the troll in The Three Billy Goats Gruff!) to block our way to further exploration.
We’ve always longed to reach those impossibly distant lights, and so concepts of superspace and wormholes, either human-generated or else just existing for us to discover and exploit, have formed the backbone of so much science fiction. But what if we encounter something that decides to block those journeys?
The Wounded Frontier was originally published in 2018 by Double Dragon Publishing, and the republished novel has, like the previous four in the series, undergone some editing clean-up while retaining identical plot and characters. Since the Double Dragon publisher had outlined that every new book in one of his published author’s series would also be published as long as it met high standards, The Wounded Frontier was the first novel which I knew would be published before I even began outlining it. That was a very interesting and also sobering experience. Though it’s the fifth book in the series, I’d already completed the first three novels and finished Draft One of the fourth book at the time the first novel, The Martian Marauders, was accepted for publication in 2011. Therefore I approached the composition of Book Five with a mixture of confidence and awe, determined to make it even better than the previous four.
The first hint of the Wounded:
“Hey, Jack, this is Lee,” came over the intercom.
Jack slammed his fist on his armrest. “Dammit, senator, are you quitting too?”
“Huh? What’s going on, Jack? I just got this message from Marsport.”
Jack shook his head. “You don’t know that Draka and Will both just quit the USSF? Just like that?”
“No, wow, I had no idea! I’ll have a talk with ’em if you want. But really, this is more important.”
“What’s more important, dammit?”
“Look, I just got a call from Ranna.”
Joe swiveled at the mention of his wife’s name. “So why’s she calling you?”
“And how is she calling you?” Then Jack remembered Borman’s new Senator Comm equipped with superspace radio. Although events a few weeks ago had forced Jack to shatter Borman’s specialized comm, Borman had asked Joe to bring a new one when the Typhoon III came to pick up the IV crew.
“It came on the official business circuit. Ranna said the Time Committee was in emergency session, and she had to get right back to it. Said she was sorry she didn’t have time to chat with you, Joe.”
“Politics,” Jack muttered. “I thought the damn Time Committee was wrapping things up now.” Joe’s wife Ranna was the Chronology Coordinator on the Time Committee and was number two in the organization behind Dar, but now that Dar had retired, who knew how the Committee would fare? But with the end of all Heuristic Time Transitions on May 29th, which finally closed the 2013-2075 time disturbances created by the Alpha Centaurians, wouldn’t the Committee just be studying the whole phenomenon from a historical perspective?
“Well, the thing is, Jack, the Time Committee got involved because there’s really no other explanation that anyone can see.”
“Well, this star just disappeared. Well, not exactly disappeared, but–”
“Iota Persei. It just suddenly disappeared. They don’t know exactly when, because it’s not like we’re monitoring the damn thing every second. It was there a few days ago as far as they can piece it together, then a few hours ago an astronomer noticed it was gone.”
“Gone? How can that be?” Jack pulled out his comm to refresh his memory. They were all supposed to know all the stars within fifty light-years of Earth, but it was a long list and it was difficult to keep them straight. He scanned the first couple lines:
Iota Persei. Yellow-orange main sequence dwarf star. 1.3 mass of Sol. Distance from Sol: 34.36 light-years. Age: approximately 8.1 billion years.
“We can’t do any fine observations with our sensors while we’re in Star Drive,” Joe pointed out, “but as soon as we’re out we’ll run some.”
“That’s fine. Lee, did you say the thing disappeared? Not a supernova?”
“That’s the thing Jack, it just winked out! As far as visible light, that is. They started measuring the infrared, and Jack, they say it’s totally consistent with a Dyson sphere!”
Jack’s mind raced. A giant shell around a star, capturing all its energy, except for that infrared leak. “That’s not possible! It’d take thousands of years to build one, and the engineering problems, the orbital mechanics, would rule that out.”
“Jack, all Ranna’s saying is that our measurements point to a Dyson sphere.”
“It can’t be!”
“Unless it is,” Joe put in. “Who are we to say it can’t be done just because we can’t understand the orbital mechanics? All they need is smart enough computers.”
Nobody had ever considered that the fascist Alpha Centaurian Grid, linking twenty trillion citizens of the seventeen suns of the Alpha Centaurian Empire to their psychopathic Emperor, might have had an important benefit to Sol. Now the United System Space Force embarks on exploration beyond Alpha Centauri only to encounter a far worse predator that, unknown to anyone, has been kept at bay for thousands of years by the Centaurian Grid. What exactly lies outside our comfortable circle of firelight?
Copyright 2020 by Michael D. Smith