Previously on Crownchasers

Chapters 1-4

Alyssa Farshot, explorer extraordinaire, awakes on her worldcruiser after an epic celebration party. She has no interest in talking to the lift ship hailing her…until it turns out to be the emperor’s chief envoy, aka Uncle Charlie. Alyssa and her engineer Hell Monkey bring Charles aboard, and he discloses that Alyssa’s uncle, Emperor Atar, is sick. As in, dying. And he wants to see Alyssa on the kingship immediately.

Geared up in one of her most commanding outfits, Alyssa goes with Charles down to the kingship, a castle inside a geodesic dome, floating over violent seas. She sits next to her uncle in the emperor’s sick room as he’s tended to by medbots. When she protests that she doesn’t want to be the next empress, Atar agrees. He tells her he can’t name her his heir without risking war (again), so instead he’s calling for a crownchase…and naming her to represent their family.

HEADLINES

EMPEROR ATAR FAROSHTI DEAD

The monarch lost his battle with a mysterious illness late last night, leaving his throne without an heir

KINGSHIP ANNOUNCES FIRST CROWNCHASE IN SEVEN CENTURIES

Imperial envoy Charles Viqtorial releases statement declaring the contest was Emperor Atar’s dying wish

 

ENKINDLER WYTHE TO ACT AS STEWARD OF THE EMPIRE

With the crownchase announced, Imperial Council elects a neutral party to hold the throne until a winner emerges

 

GAMBLING SURGES ACROSS THE QUADRANT

Bookie networks report overwhelming traffic as imperial citizens seek to place bets on historical race for the throne

CUT TO: EDGAR VOLES

Edgar Voles isn’t sleeping — he’s anxiously checking the presentation he’s scheduled to give to his father again and again. He knows his latest android design is innovative, but there’s a lot at stake: namely, the chance at finally proving his worth. NL7, a unique android designed by Edgar’s mother, enters to check on him — NL7 is Edgar’s best (maybe only) friend, and he feels more comfortable in its presence.

But then his father sends him a message. Emperor Atar is dead. A crownchase is imminent. And Edgar must win the crown.

FLASHBACK: 6 YEARS AGO

Twelve-year-old Alyssa sits in a schoolroom in the kingship, not even listening to her tutor. It’s a quarter-council week, when all of the prime families will gather on the kingship, and Alyssa will have an entire week off to play with the other prime family kids. She’s excited, distracted—and as soon as her Uncle Atar shows up to tell her that they’re here, she bolts out of the room.

Chapters 5-8

Alyssa is hungover again, this time while riding a hyperlight lane to their designated starting point for the crownchase. Her poor worldcruiser has been violated by all the contest mechanics who came to equalize her tech and fit her out with trackers and camera drones and JR426, a mediabot that will provide the rest of the quadrant with footage throughout the crownchase. She’s grieving her uncle and feeling trapped by this mess of a contest when the other chasers are announced and she spots a way out: her best friend — the charismatic media darling Nathalia Coyenne.

Down on the planet Gloo, Alyssa and Coy meet, and Alyssa lays out a brand-new plan: she’s not going to try to find the seal, she’s going to help Coy do it. That way she doesn’t have to be empress, but she doesn’t have a whole lot of guilt about not trying. Coy is delighted and more than willing to say yes. They decide to keep their partnership a secret, though, for the moment.

The crownchase officially starts. They receive a good luck message from Enkindler Wythe, and when Alyssa runs a scan on the message, she finds a secondary communication underneath it. To decode it, she and H.M. head to their ghostport, an abandoned spaceport they won off of pirates. But they’re not the only ones there: crownchaser (and Alyssa’s ex) Faye Orso has beat them there with her girlfriend Honor Winger. Faye and Alyssa trade verbal barbs, but Faye can’t outright harm Alyssa or H.M. without violating crownchase rules, so she locks them up to keep them out of the game.

HEADLINES

COYENNE JUMPS OUT AS EARLY FAVORITE

The media darling dazzles the public as the crownchase begins

FARSHOT ALREADY SIDELINED

Camera footage shows the explorer trapped in an abandoned spaceport by Faye Orso

 

WYTHE: “THE COURSE OF OUR FUTURE IS SUN-BLESSED”

Steward Wythe declares he will push forward with an agenda for the empire, not wait for the crownchase results

 

WHO IS EDGAR VOLES?

An inside look at the mysterious crownchaser and heir to an android empire

CUT TO: EDGAR VOLES

Edgar doesn’t follow the breadcrumbs or go chasing after clues. Instead, he disassembles his assigned mediabot in the privacy of his quarters and reassembles it with the core of his android NL7. He couldn’t even imagine being in the crownchase without it, and with NL7 at his side, he’s ready to execute a different plan.

FLASHBACK: 4 YEARS AGO

Coy and Alyssa sit in Alyssa’s room, surrounded by sweets and pastries as Coy tries to comfort Alyssa in the wake of being dumped by Faye Orso.

Chapters 9-12

The clock is ticking, and Faye smartly put Alyssa and H.M. in two separate rooms. Crafty pirate. Alyssa dislocates her shoulder and wiggles, hands still bound, through the access panels, crawling through the walls until she tumbles out into a corridor. She busts H.M. out of the lockup, and they promptly race back up to the command center…just as Faye and Honor are bogeying out. Faye lays down some suppressing fire to get her and Honor out the door, and then Alyssa and H.M. race forward, grab the decoded communication off the ghostport computer, and race back to the Vagabond Quick.

The comm turns out to be a fractal image that Alyssa manages to recognize after a bit of finagling: it’s a location on AW42, the high-tech home world of an alien race called blotinzoids. They’re basically almost like a Lego-world, and even the people themselves are made up of thousands of semi-organic building blocks that they can rearrange to make themselves look more familiar to whoever is visiting. Alyssa ducks into her quarters, the only room that doesn’t have mediabots recording things for the public, and sends a secure communication to Coy about where they’re headed. They figured out the clue quickly, so Alyssa thinks even with the delay, they could be the first there. But when they finally arrive, they’re not the first crownchasers in orbit.

Setter Roy, that gigantic buzzkill, beats the Vagabond to the planet and makes a break for the surface, with Alyssa hot on his heels. They find a beacon sending off a pulse—turns out that there’s more to this clue than just showing up. They have to basically run a naturally occurring obstacle course to get there. Though Alyssa is quick, Setter has a head start. She and Coy parkour across the landscape as more ships break atmo behind them—Faye, then another crownchaser named Owyn Mega—and just as they start to close the gap with Setter, Coy slips…falls…

HEADLINES

CROWNCHASERS REPORTED ON AW421979

Coyenne, Roy, and others spotted racing for the surface of the blotinzoid homeworld

EXPECTED FAVORITE OWYN MEGA TRAILS THE PACK

Pollsters pegged him as one to beat, but the Mega military heir isn’t showing much of an edge

 

STEWARD WYTHE MAKES A SURPRISE VISIT TO HELIX

The enkindler is scheduled to meet with the planet’s chairman, as well as multiple provincial boards on the economic powerhouse

 

ANTI-GOVERNMENT PROTESTS CONTINUE ON TEAR

Despite the ongoing crownchase, protesters march on local and national government buildings, vandalize public property

CUT TO: EDGAR VOLES

Edgar also lands on AW42, but not to run reckless across the landscape. Instead he and NL7 release spider-like devices that scramble over to each of the other crownchasers’ ships and infiltrate them, providing Edgar a direct line of sight on his competitors. Then he takes off.

FLASHBACK: 2 YEARS AGO

Alyssa sits, uncomfortable, in the cockpit of the Vagabond next to her new co-pilot and engineer: a guy named Hell Monkey. She’s not quite sure how much she has to behave around him yet, but when he casually suggests maybe they should take a dangerous, thrilling swing toward a flame tsunami, she knows she’s found a good crewmate.

Chapters 13-16

Alyssa catches Coy, hauling her back into the race. It costs them both, though, and it’s a scramble to stay ahead of Faye and Owyn. Alyssa is second to the beacon, which feeds her a digital imprint of the next clue. She and Coy race back to their worldcruisers, following Setter’s taillights back into the stars. As Alyssa feeds the new data into the Vagabond’s computer…the whole ship shuts down. No lights, no gravity—emergency power and air only and a readout on the viz screen that says power will be restored in one hour. They can only watch as Setter’s cruiser powers up and disappears in a blur of hyperlight.

Floating in zero-gravity is fun when you’re eight and have nothing else to do, but frustrating as shit when you’re trying to help someone win a crown. By the time the lights come back on, they have the joy of discovering that The Daily Worlds has started displaying public polls on who people want to win the chase. When Alyssa’s name appears at the top, she and Coy go public with their partnership, and Alyssa gets to work on the next clue.

 

Coy holograms into her room, and they used their combined skills to figure out that it’s a big visual, Sudoku-like puzzle, using symbols that come from a specific planet in the Fyre system—Tear, a place that’s seen more than its fair share of struggle and political upheaval. The moment Alyssa slots in the last piece of the puzzle, there’s a jolt, and the Vagabond AI declares, “Course entered. Preparing to move to hyperlight.” And they’re off again.

HEADLINES

FARSHOT OFFICIALLY ENDORSES NATHALIA COYENNE

The Faroshti heir puts out a statement announcing that she’s supporting Coyenne’s bid for the throne

PRIME FAMILIES REACT TO CROWNCHASE SHAKE-UP

“Anyone who blows a shot like this was never fit for the throne anyway,” says patriarch William Voles

 

PUBLIC SPLIT ON THE COYENNE-FARSHOT PARTNERSHIP

Polls show an almost 50-50 division in those who support Farshot’s announcement and those angry at their preferred contestant taking herself out of the running

 

CHANCELLOR ORSED: “IT MIGHT BE TIME FOR A CHANGE”

The primary voice of the Coltigh system floats a radical idea for the future of the empire

CUT TO: EDGAR VOLES

Edgar watches his competitors through his spy feeds from the comfort of his ship. He doesn’t need to figure out breadcrumbs – he’s just following their leads and keeping himself a step ahead. Meanwhile NL7 disables all their trackers.

FLASHBACK: 1 YEAR AGO

Alyssa shows up to a nightclub on Planet Yasha where a life-of-the-party Coy is celebrating her birthday. Alyssa clashes with Setter Roy, who reminds her that they will all have to grow up and face their responsibilities someday. She says, Maybe, but not tonight.

Chapters 17-20

They enter orbit around Tear, Coy’s ship right behind them, and it looks like their combined skills did the trick. They’re the first there. A scan of the planet reveals a beacon on the sun-side, just like they saw on AW42, and they drop down to the surface in their worldcruisers, landing on the outskirts of a smallish town. Coy is anxious to track down the beacon, certain that it’s the same kind of challenge as last time, but Alyssa isn’t so sure. The people here are wary and even unfriendly. As they move through the town, Alyssa almost runs into a small child, but when she tries to talk to them, a Tearian woman appears, yelling at her to get the hell away. Coy keeps moving, but Alyssa stops to talk to the woman, who has a hell of a lot to say about an empire that takes their resources and an Explorers’ Society representative who took their artifacts. She keeps talking to them, and while the Tearian woman doesn’t seem to like her too terribly much still, by the time Coy runs back to drag Alyssa forward, she has managed one thing: she gave her their names.

Coy found the beacon and leads Alyssa to it. It’s just a straight walk to the other side of the town, no parkour or anything, but when Coy accesses the beacon, it asks him a question: to input the name of one person in the town. Alyssa has names, but she’s a little torn at first whether to just hand one over to Coy without his having earned it. She looks to H.M., who warns her that the others are coming, so she hands it all over and they get their next digital imprint. They see Faye and Owyn in the town as they race back to their ships, and then Alyssa sees Setter Roy, crouched on the edge of town, hands pressed to his face—like he’s having a telepathic headache from the wave of anger in the town. Alyssa pauses, goes to him, and tells him simply, “Just talk to them.” And then she runs off to the Vagabond.

HEADLINES

COYENNE-FARSHOT TEAM LEADS THE PACK

Public opinion swings in the Coyenne family’s favor after a run across Tear

DOES TEAMING UP OFFER FAMILIES AN UNFAIR ADVANTAGE?

Historians look at notable points in crownchase history where prime families chose to combine efforts and how it helped or hurt them

 

VOLES CONTINUES TO BE MISSING IN ACTION

Poll rankings for the Voles family plummet to only six percent after their heir fails to make an appearance on Tear

 

RENEWED OUTBREAK OF PROTESTS ON TEAR

Protest leaders release statement deriding the “increasingly invasive imperial presence” on the planet after it’s used for the latest leg of the crownchase

CUT TO: EDGAR VOLES

Edgar receives a communication from his father, who lays into him about the fact that he’s disappeared from the crownchase news, that he’s a failure, that he’s letting the whole family down. Edgar wilts under the disapproval, but he holds to his plan: he’s going to win.

FLASHBACK: 3 YEARS AGO

Alyssa stands in the imperial throne room alone at night, staring, unimpressed, at the throne. She hates it and everything about it. Uncle Atar appears, gently encouraging her to sit in it, to consider her responsibilities, but she refuses and stalks away.

Chapters 21-24

Coy is first to load the digital imprint and shoot off, and Alyssa and H.M. wait out their hour in her quarters. Alyssa’s brain is even heavier after Tear, weighing just what it means to compete over something as important as the role of emperor. When the power comes back up, they load up the digital imprint, which turns out to be a ringing sound so sharp and resonant it goes right down your damn spine. They also get a message from Coy: This clue sucks. The Vagabond AI runs through all the known music in the empire, comparing the sound, with no luck, so H.M. suggests a non-musical source for it. Turns out it resonates with the particular crystals that grow in an asteroid belt known as the Ships’ Graveyard, which is located in the same system as the Megas’ homeworld. They take off in that direction.

Missing her uncle, feeling lost, Alyssa contacts her uncle Charles, the only person who’s grieving as much as or more than her. But because of his position, the call is not private, an enkindler looming in the background, and they’re forced to talk around pretty much everything until Alyssa gets frustrated, tells the enkindler to get bent, and signs off.

 

They drop out of hyperlight near the Ships’ Graveyard and find a welcoming committee. The Mega family has set up an array of ships to make a posturing display, looking almost like a blockade. Alyssa takes point, throwing her ship out in front of Coy’s and calling their bluff right, making sure it’s on blast for all the mediabots to see. The Vagabond runs the line, making a few ships scramble to get out of her way, leaving a hole behind her for Coy to move through.

HEADLINES

MEGA FAMILY EXACERBATES CROWNCHASE TENSIONS WITH BLOCKADE

Mega spokesperson calls it a “prescheduled training exercise” but others decry it as a “full-scale intimidation tactic”

 

EXPLORERS’ SOCIETY LAUNCHES INTERNAL INVESTIGATION

Executive chairwoman Wesley releases statement declaring an investigation will look into accusations of artifact stealing and other violations of Society laws

 

MARKETS BOOMING IN THE WAKE OF THE CROWNCHASE

Experts say high levels of excitement across the empire are driving big economic growth, even as the chase enters its second week

 

FOLLOWING THE GALACTIC MONEY

A multipart look at the Orso family’s meteoric rise to prime status after centuries of piracy

CUT TO: EDGAR VOLES

On the outskirts of all of this, Edgar is the only one well-positioned to spot it: a stealth ship coming from the far side of the Ships’ Graveyard asteroid belt, but moving toward the beacon like everyone else. It has no identification or calling card, and its makeup is consistent with huffar design, an extremely neutral race that took no sides in the Great Strife. There’s no reason for it be here—or, that is, no good reason—and NL7 asks if Edgar would like to open a comm channel and notify the crownchasers in the belt. Edgar declines.

FLASHBACK: 4 YEARS AGO

Alyssa works in the kingship hangar, trying to clean up a waveskimmer ship she damaged. Enkindler Wythe turns up, and they clash—him sneering at her as young, reckless, and troubled, and her, disliking him intensely in return.

Chapters 25-28

They follow the beacon through the Ships’ Graveyard, an asteroid belt that several centuries ago was the site of an epic battle. Little pieces of debris still float around, but creepier still are the much bigger pieces, almost entire ships, that fused with asteroids during the carnage and are now frozen inside them, surrounded by rock and mineral, half-construct, half-crystal. It’s to the biggest one of these—a ship known as the Defiant—that the beacon leads to. The Defiant is barely visible from the outside, but a touchy landing on the asteroid, and you can find a way down into the corridors of the old ship. Just make sure you’ve got a survival suit. Coy and Alyssa work their way inside as two other liftships draws near.

It’s like a maze inside the Defiant, and creepy to boot. Coy splits off of Alyssa to cover more ground, trying to find a beacon that seems to keep moving. There are strange echoes and ringing notes, and the whole place feels haunted, made all the worse by the corpses of former crew members occasionally visible, frozen inside the Defiant’s crystalized walls, preserved for eternity. In all the twists and turns, Alyssa runs right into Faye, and then Owyn runs right into them.

A masked, armored figure appears and fires on the three of them, and a shoot-out ensues, with it seeming like the odds are in the crownchasers’ favor. But the figure has a lot of firepower, and the crownchasers fall back. Alyssa sends a comm to H.M., telling him to find Coy, make sure she’s safe, but when she turns back, the figure is gone. She and Faye and Owyn tighten up, backs to each other, on the lookout… But the figure phases out of nowhere and drives a plasma blade right into Owyn’s chest.

Alyssa watches Owyn fall as the figure raises its gun to her face, but—BAM! Faye shoots the figure and the shot goes wide, catching Alyssa in the shoulder instead. She and Faye turn on the figure, gunning it down, and Alyssa jumps on it as it falls, ripping off the mask, demanding to know who it’s working for. But it has no face. And even as she seizes it, angrily, wanting answers, it pulls out a blade and kills itself.

HEADLINES

TRAGEDY IN THE SHIPS’ GRAVEYARD

A hail of gunfire and confusion in the asteroid belt leaves crownchaser Owyn Mega dead

GRIEF, SHOCK, AND ANGER: THE MEGA FAMILY REELS FROM THEIR SUDDEN LOSS

How the loss of their prime heir will affect the family’s future in the empire

 

WYTHE CALLS FOR CALM IN THE WAKE OF CALAMITY

The steward of the throne vows to convene a committee and review all available evidence to determine the cause of Mega’s death

 

WHEN COMPETITION TURNS DEADLY

What it means for the empire if it turns out that one of the crownchasers snapped and made a horrific, bloody decision

CUT TO: EDGAR VOLES

Edgar watches as the news of Owyn’s death rolls across the media, across the empire, across his fellow crownchasers. He watches them grieve and feels something twist inside him as well. But when NL7 asks if he's ready for the next part of their plan, hesays that of course he is.

FLASHBACK: 7 YEARS AGO

Alyssa stands in the schoolroom, watching a holographic recording of her mother’s final speech. She died when Alyssa was a baby, killed by an old landmine leftover from the wars. Uncle Charlie comes to collect her for dinner, offering eleven-year-old Alyssa extra dessert.

Chapters 29-32

It’s a few hours later, back on the Vagabond. Alyssa lets H.M. patch up her shoulder wound, staring at her bloodied clothes on the floor. Coy got the next digital imprint from the beacon and sent it over before hyperlighting away. But Alyssa refuses to look at it and ignores all of Coy’s attempts to communicate. Instead she sets the Vagabond on a course for home—or, at least, the place she tends to consider home these days. It’s a hodgepodge space station—less an official installation and more just a bunch of homely ships that linked themselves together in a circle in orbit around a lovely green planet and made a community. It’s where Alyssa and H.M. first met, and she hides at the space station, determined to just let the crownchase run its course without her. Maybe Coy will win; maybe she won’t. But she 100% will get to keep her life just the same if she just refuses to play in the first place. She tries to drink and hang out with all her usual crew, but there’s a gap there that wasn’t there before. It’s a lot harder to pretend you’re an everyman after you’ve been made a crownchaser.

H.M. and Alyssa have a talk—about her past, about his past, about their future. He comes from a poor planet and a poor background, not unlike the people they saw on Tear in the village, so his feelings about the empire and the prime families skew negative. He doesn’t want her to sit on the throne and become a part of that system, but he knows she won’t be unless she sees this thing through. Alyssa calls up Coy, finally, and makes her promise she’ll do right by these people, all these people. She promises she will, sincerely. And Alyssa is back in the game.

HEADLINES

ALL CROWNCHASERS CLEARED IN MEGA’S MURDER

Kingship confirms body of unidentified figure captured in the released drone footage was found at the scene

 

WHO’S BEHIND THE DEFIANT ASSAULT

Authorities struggle to uncover any clues as to the identity of the murderer or what they were

doing in the asteroid belt

 

KINGSHIP REJECTS MEGAS PUSH FOR A SPECIAL INQUIRY

The prime family has asked for an independent investigator, but kingship officials say that everything that can be done is being done

 

CHEERY COYENNE ANNOUNCES RELEASE OF “OWYN MEGA: A RETROSPECTIVE”

The executive editor says many of the crownchaser’s closest friends and family contributed to the memorial show

CUT TO: EDGAR VOLES

Edgar tries to contact the Megas after Owyn’s death, form an alliance, but they won’t be swayed. He feels his father’s lack of faith in him, how desperately he needs to find the seal. And then he’s contacted, somehow, by a hooded figure who looks exactly like the faceless assassin that killed Owyn Mega. It offers to assist Edgar in the crownchase—and Edgar agrees.

FLASHBACK: 2 YEARS AGO

Alyssa sits at a card table at Station Shisso, lamenting with her tablemates about scaring off her latest engineer when a big guy appears next to her chair. He tells her his name is Hell Monkey and he’ll report for duty as her new engineer in the morning.

Chapters 33-36

Back on the Vagabond, Alyssa and H.M. catch up on the crownchase as it stands now. The next clue is a string of 32 numbers: 04371922516236093888293777016354 and a phrase: “From the crown, I see.” That’s it. Alyssa runs the number string through the Vagabond AI, but it’s coming up with nothing. Something about the first set of 16 numbers keeps drawing her eye, though, so she breaks it out and plays with it in a projected image, pulling out numbers here and there, until she finally jogs her memory. They look like celestial coordinates. The kind the Explorers’ Society hands out when they’re directing you to a brand-new planet. There’s a time of day to orient you: 04:37 AM; the right ascension: 19h 22m 51sec; and the declination: +62 degrees, 36’ 09”. But you still need a planetary starting point. Coy nails it quick, translating the mysterious phrase: it’s the kingship on Apex. With all that information, the Vagabond can calculate the celestial body the coordinates are pointing to: planet Deoni. They take off toward it.

Alyssa spends some of the journey in her quarters. She finds an old message from Uncle Atar that she never watched and sets up, staring at his hologram as he tells her that he loves her and that raising her was the most important thing he and Charlie ever did.

 

They drop out of hyperlight only to spot another crownchaser in orbit around Deoni: Edgar Voles. It’s the first time he’s shown his face in the contest, and Alyssa tries to reach out to him over the comms. He doesn’t take the bait, but his sudden appearance makes her suspicious and they discover Edgar’s spider device on board and destroy it.

 

Meanwhile, H.M. is scanning for the beacon but is getting nothing. It’s their high summer season, which means a lot of nasty dust storms all over the planet making orbital scans tough. H.M. points out Voles is probably having trouble as well, and Alyssa says they have one big advantage over him: “No godsdamned sense of self-preservation.” And then she takes the Vagabond right down into the atmosphere.

HEADLINES

CROWNCHASERS CONVERGE ON DEONI

Latest development marks the return of Farshot and a growing lead in the polls for Coyenne

VOLES VISIBLE FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE THE CHASE BEGAN

Ardent crownchase watchers spotted signs of his worldcruiser in Deoni orbit hours before other chasers arrived

 

JENNA MEGA: “WHERE IS OUR JUSTICE?”

The Mega family matriarch releases an impassioned statement as the investigation into her son’s death seemingly goes dark

 

ROY FAMILY REACTS TO HEIR’S STEADY SUCCESS

Insiders say the family sees Setter’s position at the top of the polls as a good sign that public opinion on the Roys has shifted since the end of the Twenty-Five-Year War

CUT TO: EDGAR VOLES

If only all the clues had been like this one, Edgar would have been the clear winner from beginning to end. It would’ve been his name at the top of the leaderboard. But it only really matters who’s at the top of the board at the very end, when they’re standing on the kingship. And he’s been here for hours already, methodically establishing where this beacon leads and laying his next plan.

FLASHBACK: 1 YEAR AGO

Alyssa goes to the Voles’ family headquarters to pick up something for the Explorer Society and runs into Edgar. She’s unnerved to see some of the designs he’s working on for the family business—brutal looking droids designed to suppress crowds and control people. She beats a quick escape.

Chapters 37-40

It’s a rough ride, but worth it when they get clearer readings and can confirm that there is only one set of coordinates that’s showing a beacon. Alyssa flies her ship to the location in question. Hovering on the edge of an enormous, churning wall of a dust storm, they find not find the beacon surrounded by a net of hovering minefields. H.M. also detects a probe disappearing through the energy signature in the middle of the minefield. Alyssa ties it all to Voles; he’s got a major head start on them without ever leaving orbit. The dust storm would be hard enough to hold a course in alone, but with the minefield, it’s a death trap. As Coy, Faye, and Setter enter the Deoni atmosphere, Alyssa hails both of them with a plan: everyone joins forces, everyone gets through. It’s time to implement Operation: Fuck Over Edgar Voles. They basically harpoon themselves together, heat up the cannons on their cruisers, and head into the storm.

 

Alyssa takes point, using her fast-flying skills to blast a path through and avoid the beacons, dragging the other three with her, but there’s a team effort to destroy incoming debris and keep damage from hitting the ships. It’s a rough ride, and it’s rougher still when they get to the other side. The energy signature turns out to be a wormhole, projected in midair, hundreds of feet above the planet’s surface. There’s an explosion of words across the comm link as the crownchasers debate what to do, but Alyssa doesn’t pause, doesn’t listen to any of them. She just barrels them all right into the event horizon.

HEADLINES

IS THE END IN SIGHT?

As the polls tighten, experts say the crownchase may be entering its final stages

 

WHAT IS HAPPENING ON DEONI?

With four crownchasers now down on the storm-riddled planet, we analyze what outcome viewers should expect to see

“JUSTICE FOR OWYN” PETITION ROCKETS TO 3 BILLION

The kingship responds with a statement declaring that “policy will be dictated by the needs of the empire, not the will of a mob”

WEAPONS MANUFACTURER MISSING ITEMS, POSSIBLE THEFT

Reports say that at least one ship and an array of other potentially dangerous devices have disappeared from a Mega facility on Rava VI

CUT TO: EDGAR VOLES

He jumped to hyperlight before they even entered the minefield, heading for the coordinates where his probes ended up. He won’t beat the other crownchasers there if they actually manage to make it through the wormhole, but then again, if he didn’t have a backup plan, he wouldn’t be a Voles. He transmitted the initial coordinates hours ago, as soon as the first drone made it through, to his newest ally.

FLASHBACK: 5 YEARS AGO

A young Alyssa and the other prime family kids (except for Edgar) hover at the edge of a fancy reception. Faye dares Alyssa to go steal a bottle of champagne, and as she tries to get it, she runs into Edgar’s father, William Voles, who expresses his dislike of her. She dumps a plate of canapes on him and runs off.

Chapters 41-44

It’s quiet on the other side of the wormhole, and the crownchasers all drift at first, ships offline, the connecting lines between them ripped free in the transport. Then the power comes back up, and Alyssa and H.M. are able to get a read on the situation around them. The four worldcruisers are all relatively unharmed and so are three remote drones that are holding nearby, sending a repeating signal out into the universe. Calling Voles to their position. Faye blasts all of them into nothing.

They’re floating on the edge of the Emoa system on the outskirts of the empire, one that’s been only roughly mapped by the Explorers’ Society. There are two terrestrial planets here—Viola and Calm. And there’s a crownchase beacon on Calm…

 

The comm links go dead as the other crownchasers shoot off toward the beacon, competitors once again, which means they don’t hear H.M. when he spots something new on their scans: a warship, coming in hot on an intercept course. Alyssa tries to catch up with Coy, who’s out in front, but the Vagabond sustained some engine damage and she can’t gain enough speed. She hails the warship, trying to draw its attention, and it gets a holographic message from the faceless assassin on board in return, promising that it has enough ammo for all of them. Then the warship fires on Coy, sending her crashing down toward the planet.

 

Alyssa fires on the warship as it turns toward the other crownchasers. Faye and Setter team up with her to take it on, but a warship is no joke and worldcruisers are built for speed and exploration, not a fight. Setter gets disabled, then Faye, and Alyssa’s quick flying is the only thing keeping the Vagabond clear. But she’s got to do something more than just run and dodge because the warship is aiming to finish off the other two.

 

Alyssa sends H.M. to prep two survival suits, three escape pods (one for their mediabot JR426). Then she programs a maneuver into the Vagabond, kisses the dashboard of her baby, and bolts for the pod. As she and H.M. shoot through space toward Calm’s surface, she watches the Vagabond rush toward the warship and then self-destruct, exploding both in a ball of fire against the backdrop of stars.

HEADLINES

CHAOS OVER CALM

At least two crownchaser ships appear to go down in a fierce firefight in the remote Emoa system

ATTACKING WARSHIP FLOWN BY UNIDENTIFIED PILOT

The Mega facility on Rava VI confirms the warship matches the one recently stolen, but authorities have no clues as to who flew it

 

WYTHE ISSUES BLISTERING CONDEMNATION

The steward denounced the violence reported near Calm, but refrained from drawing further conclusions as to what sparked the firefight

 

WHAT HAPPENS IF NO ONE WINS THE CHASE?

Crownchasers have died trying to find the seal before, but experts say there is no precedent for a full competitor wipeout

CUT TO: EDGAR VOLES

By the time he reaches Calm, Edgar sees the last part of the battle. He sees the warship go up in flames, he sees the escape pods head toward the surface, he picks up a worldcruiser signature already on the planet. It turns out he underestimated Alyssa; he underestimated all the crownchasers. But the game isn’t over until someone reaches the kingship…

FLASHBACK: 3 YEARS AGO

Uncle Atar and Uncle Charlie bring a blindfolded Alyssa to the kingship hangar and surprise her with her very own worldcruiser—an older, slightly used model that she immediately falls in love with. She names it the Vagabond Quick.

Chapters 45-48

Alyssa crawls out of her escape pod and finds H.M. and her mediabot. H.M. crashed hard and is badly injured, they’re miles away from the beacon on a planet that pours acid rain, and the Vagabond is just a shower debris in the atmosphere. It’s looking pretty shitty. And it gets worse when H.M. admits that he only had time to fully charge one of the survival suits with air: hers. He’s probably only got 10 minutes of oxygen left.

The minutes tick by, and it looks dire, but then a scorched worldcruiser appears in the gloom. It’s Coy, who managed to pull out of that deadly dive and stabilize her ship. She and Alyssa hustle H.M. into the med bay, and then they race off to the beacon. Together, after everything, they follow the signal and find the seal, sitting in its hiding spot, putting out a steady energy signature. As Coy and Alyssa stand in front of it, she actually gives Alyssa a chance to renege, to claim the seal after all, and she pauses for a moment before saying no, she doesn’t want her mother’s place, she wants to be her own person. So Coy takes the seal.

 

They ride Coy’s ship out into the stars toward the edge of the Emoa system, and as Alyssa patches up H.M. in the med bay, there’s a sense of relief between them. It’s over. They can start thinking about their future. Which is exactly when the engines power down and the emergency lights flicker on. Alyssa runs toward the bridge, and finds Edgar and NL7 on board. They’ve locked down the area so it’s just them and Coy, with Alyssa trapped on the other side of a force field. She can’t hear anything; she just sees them arguing and gesturing. There’s a struggle, blaster shots—and Edgar kills Coy. She drops in a bloody pool and Alyssa screams and screams. Edgar looks pale, shocked, but he takes the seal off Coy’s body. He looks up, locks eyes with Alyssa, and then NL7 drops the force field and stun guns her into unconsciousness.

HEADLINES

HAS THE SEAL BEEN FOUND?

Experts say there’s cause to think the crownchase has ended, but a winner has yet to emerge

WYTHE: “WE WILL NOT RECOGNIZE A FALSE CLAIMANT”

The steward of the throne releases a statement vowing to fully verify any declared winner before ceding the power of the throne

 

WILLIAM VOLES CALLS EMERGENCY IMPERIAL COUNCIL MEETING

Prime family patriarch says, given the multiple interferences in the crownchase, they must convene to discuss viable paths forward

 

ORSO, ROY REPORTED AT A VIOLA HOSPITAL

The two crownchasers are both said to be stable and healing from injuries sustained in the mysterious firefight over Calm

CUT TO: EDGAR VOLES

Back on board his ship, Edgar stares at the seal, guilt-ridden, trying to wash Coy’s blood from his hands. NL7 points out a loophole: the rules state that crownchasers can’t harm each other in the course of the race, but there’s nothing about after the seal is found. Edgar straightens, feeling better. It’s time for the Voles to take the throne again after all these centuries.

FLASHBACK: 8 YEARS AGO

Ten-year-old Alyssa hides out on the observation deck of the Coyenne family star-yacht, staring out at the stars. Coy finds her and curls up beside her, teasing her for avoiding the party downstairs, and they promise that they will always have each other’s backs.

Chapters 49-50

Alyssa wakes with her limbs are on fire. H.M. jammed her full of adrenaline to wake her up because Edgar—or Edgar’s shitty little robot—set the self-destruct. She sends H.M. off to seal the ship up and hauls herself into the captain’s chair, but the ship’s AI doesn’t recognize her authority. She needs Coy’s handprint. Gagging a little, she drags her friend’s body to the console, presses her bloody hand to the pad, and gets the self-destruct cancelled with seconds to spare.

Hours later, Alyssa rolls out from under the dashboard on the bridge. Coy’s dried blood is still on her hands, now mixed with grease from the ship’s gears, but her body has been moved, put into a stasis chamber until Alyssa can bring it home to his mother. H.M. comes in, having fixed some of the damage in the engine room, and he stands at her back, a wall for her to lean against—just for a moment. Then she straightens and lays in their next coordinates: an intercept course for Apex, maximum speed. Edgar Voles hasn’t seen the last of her yet.