The Big Sigma Series is a science fiction adventure written by Joseph R. Lallo, author of the Book of Deacon and Free-Wrench.
This anthology, set approximately four hundred years in the future, shows the state of the galaxy through the eyes of a marvelously skilled but terribly unlucky former racer named Trevor "Lex" Alexander. It collects three full novels of his adventures, describing his rise from the ashes of his own poor judgement to repeatedly become the lynchpin in missions with dire consequences for failure. The stories are often comic, sometimes dark, but always thrilling as Lex gets mixed up with the likes of mad engineers, quirky AIs, loose cannon mercenaries, faceless megacorporations, and organized criminals.
In The Big Sigma Collection: Volume 1 you get three full novels:
Bypass Gemini - In a distant future, Trevor "Lex" Alexander was shaping up to be the next great race pilot until a fixed race got him banned from the sport. Reduced to making freelance deliveries, he thinks his life can't get any worse. That's when a package manages to get him mixed up with mobsters, a megacorp, and a mad scientist. Now his life depends on learning what their plans are, and how he can stop them.
Unstable Prototypes - Eight months have passed since the Bypass Gemini incident, and Karter Dee - a brilliant inventor and dangerous sociopath - has been kidnapped by group of desperate extremists. To prevent the group responsible from unleashing Karter's lethal ingenuity, the inventor's quirky AI "Ma" convinces ex-Racer "Lex" Alexander to help assemble a team of former allies in order to mount a rescue.
Artificial Evolution - Third in the Big Sigma series, Artificial Evolution begins with our heroes facing the bureaucratic wrath of VectorCorp. Thanks to a vindictive corporate operative, Lex is without a reliable job and Michella's network won't support her investigations. Checking out a supposed alien seems to be the perfect cover for some subversive journalism, but it might turn out to be her biggest story yet.
In addition, you'll get three shorter works never before available:
Squee's Day Out – An unlikely short story about Squee the Funk's mischievous adventure while Lex and Michella are away.
Building the Perfect Pet – The untold story of how Solby the Funk came to be.
Beta Testers – A novella detailing the first time Garotte and Silo worked together in an unsanctioned military operation.
As I make new appearances in these bundles, I find myself uncertain how to handle the potential of a new reader picking up the bundle and finding to their dismay that there are volumes of material to purchase and read before they can enjoy the book they just bought. Fortunately, the solution this time around was easy, as I'd just finished writing some add-on stories to the Big Sigma setting. Thus, The Big Sigma Collection will fill in the history of the setting for new readers, and will give a few new stories to those who already owned the others. – Joseph R. Lallo
"This book was well written, had excellent pacing, and possessed enough dry wit and bad puns to have me laughing well past my bedtime."– Cassandra Davis (In Review of Bypass Gemini)
"The author does a wonderful job of creating fascinating characters. Each one has distinct personalities from the main character to the "pet" in the novel. I liked how each one also has flaws that make them less than perfect but there are also apparent gaps between them that doesn't create an invincible team with everyone's skill dovetailing together. Instead, there is a dissonant harmony between the character that gives the impression of chaos while still driving the plot forward."– t’Sade, Amazon Customer
"I have thoroughly enjoyed the Big Sigma series, and await the next installment with pleasure, knowing it is forthcoming. I have read other books by Joseph Lallo in the interim and have been following his ongoing serialized Wattpad story, Between. The man can write."– Caryn, Goodreads
Lex checked himself over before dropping the limo down in front of the hotel to wait for his passenger. He'd woken up a bit late and had only had time to shower, shove everything from the cargo pants into the tuxedo pants, and pick up the car. Time hadn't changed the limousine much, other than switching it from a wheeled vehicle to a hovercar. Hell, this one even had little vestigial swoops where the fenders would have been, if it had still been equipped with wheels. It was mostly just a very big, very black version of what everyone else was driving, with cushier seats and a bar. It wasn't one of the stretched monsters, partially because Lex felt like they were needlessly showy, but mostly because Lex couldn't afford one. The limo was one of the last big purchases he'd made before the bottom had fallen out of his previous career. He'd expected to be driven around town in it. Now he was doing the driving. As an owner-operator, though, he got to keep a much bigger slice of the fee. It just meant he had to wear his own tux, too. He took the good with the bad.
He pulled down the console to look up his fare. The kind of mid-level big spenders that tended to hire him liked it when he knew something about them. It made them feel a little more famous, and that meant a much nicer tip.
"Nicholas Patel," Lex said to the computer.
There were thirty-five pages of results. Super. He poked around the first few. One was an investment banker. One was some sort of entrepreneur. One ran a small contracting firm on a planet in a star system in the middle of nowhere. That one had a disturbingly large stack of news stories linked to him. They all said roughly the same thing—various media euphemisms for crime lord, and the catchy nickname "Diamond Nick."
"Diamond Nick. How come it's the criminals who get all of the good nicknames?" he muttered to himself, as a moving wall outside caught his attention.
When he turned to get a closer look, he realized that what had appeared to be a wall was, in reality, two very, very large men. They had the sort of build he would expect a paleontologist to be pulling out of the ground—about three hundred pounds of muscle with another fifty or so of flab for good measure. The word thug fit so well, he wouldn't have been surprised if it was one of their names. Lex scrambled to get out of the car and get the door, but a ham-sized fist grabbed the door handle and pulled it open to allow a slick, swarthy man to enter.
"Diamond Nick, I presume," Lex remarked.
"Heh, word gets around," Patel said with a grin. "Starport, please. Quickly."
Nick was a difficult man to place at first blush. He straddled a few categories. As a crime boss, he looked the part, with a suit that probably cost more than the limo, and hair styled to the point of being a fire hazard. His face was typically Indian, but his voice was completely unflavored by accent. That wasn't to say that he had an American or English or some other regional accent. He had no accent at all—the sort of diction Lex associated with newscasters and documentary narrators.
His men squeezed through the door and took seats on either side of him, filling the spacious vehicle almost to capacity.
"Sure thing," Lex said, easing the limo up.
Above them, a lane of traffic moved briskly along in a cordoned-off strip of the sky. Lex rounded the top of the strip and merged in from the top.
"So, what brings you to Preston City?" he asked.
"I stopped off on this little transit hub of a planet to talk to some folks about a deal I'm looking to close. Turns out you've got more than just a starport. You've got some damn good stellar analysts. Helped me make sure I wasn't being taken to the cleaners."
Now that he'd spoken a few more sentences, there was a hint of slurring and informality to his speech that implied he'd been doing some imbibing that morning.
"Sounds like you might have been doing some celebrating. I guess this deal of yours was pretty big?"
"The goddamned biggest deal of the goddamned century."
"Nice. What kind of deal are we talking about?"
"Any specific business, or the 'mind your own' variety?"
"Smart man. Say, don't I know you?" Patel asked, stretching to look at his chauffeur in the rearview mirror.
"I seriously doubt that."
"No, no. I never forget a voice. Dean, where do I know this man?"
One of the neanderthals shrugged. On a man that size, it was a veritable geological event. Patel snapped his fingers.
"I know it! Do me a favor. Say, 'I regret my actions at the Tremor Intersystem Grand Prix' or something to that effect."
Lex shot the man a sharp look. Patel grinned.
"I was right. You're that disgraced racer, T-Lex."
"Congratulations," Lex said bitterly. "It's just Lex now, by the way."
"My boy, I should buy you a drink. I made a killing off of that race."
"Naturally. The fellow who paid you to fix it was an associate of mine. He told me to put money down on number fifty-five. I tell you, it was a work of art the way you worked that race. Anyone can simply not win, but to coax another racer, a specific one, into first? Genius!"
For some, it was the birth of their first child. For others, it was the loss of a loved one. One day, everyone would have a burning hot memory that splits life into before and after. For Lex, it was two years ago.
He'd been on a meteoric rise in the racing circuit. Hovercars—or hoversleds, as they tended to be called in competition—were easily as fast as a fighter jet and, when their hoverpods were close to the ground, nearly as nimble as a dune buggy. It made for an exciting and therefore profitable sport, and Lex had been on the fast track to being one of its superstars. A life of fame and glory seemed like a foregone conclusion, so he decided to get a head start on the high life.
Unfortunately, his tastes outpaced his career; before long, he was neck-deep in debt with the wrong sort of people. The Tremor Intersystem Grand Prix looked like it could be his way out. If he won it, the prize money would kill easily half of his debts, and the endorsements would take care of the rest.
The lowlifes he'd borrowed from must have realized that he was about to get out from under their thumb and moved up the payment schedule. When Lex couldn't keep up, they offered a deal. The race's long shot was some nobody driver in the number fifty-five sled. Very long odds. If that man were to win, they would consider things square. He'd pulled it off, but the racing commission had smelled something foul. Eventually, they'd proved what he'd done and booted him from sled racing.
After that, no legitimate racing promotion would have him—too much like letting a jewel thief work at a jewelry store. And going underground? He wasn't stupid enough to try that. Careers tended to end swiftly and suddenly in those places.
"That's a part of my life I don't like to reflect on," muttered Lex.
"How much did they pay you, anyway?"
"They let me keep my thumbs."
"Good price. So you were in debt?"
"Up to my eyeballs."
"I trust they wiped it all out."
"Yeah, but that didn't get the legitimate bill collectors off my back."
"Oh, yes. Well. That's the way it goes, isn't it? The only difference between organized crime and organized business is that with crime, there aren't any pretenses. You should have . . . What the hell is that?"
"That? That's rush hour."
There had been the belief that once science had fulfilled the long-held promise of flying cars, traffic jams would be a thing of the past. Those who held this belief clearly had never spoken to an air traffic controller. Airplanes could fly, after all, and while they didn't have to deal with stop-and-go traffic, they did have to cope with holding patterns and painfully bureaucratic procedures and routes. The current state of things split the difference. Highways had been replaced with skyways, carefully delineated corridors in the sky, traced out by hovering pylons and laser fences. They were a few cars wide and a few cars tall. And when they got clogged? It wasn't just a traffic jam. It was six traffic jams, stacked one on top of the other.
"How long until we get to the starport?" he asked flatly.
"Assuming it breaks up when it usually does? About three hours."
"The elevator to my flight is at 3:05 . . ."
Lex glanced at the clock in the dash. 2:48.
"Well, that's the way it goes, isn't it?" Lex quipped.
Patel growled and checked a watch that could probably finance a college education.
"When is the next flight that will get me to Operlo?" he rumbled.
After a few taps at the console in the dash, a list of ships heading to the tiny system on the fringe of the populated portion of the galaxy scrolled across the display.
"6:45," Lex said.
"That's tolerable. As long as it gets me there by Monday," Patel said.
"Sorry. That's a class two transport. It's half the speed of the 3:05 . . . yep. It looks like the earliest you'll be getting there is Wednesday morning, if you take the 11:50."
"No . . . No, that's not acceptable. I need to be back by Monday. I have an exceedingly important business meeting that must be face to face. This deal falls through if I don't shake hands with these weasels. They'll give bandwidth rights to the miscreant on the other end!"
"Well, I'm sorry to hear that, sir, whatever it means. I'm afraid you should have planned for traffic, chartered a direct flight, or at least sprung for a temporary express to the starport."
That was one of the nice parts about the skyways. Since they were only marked by pylons, for a fee the skyway service would toss a few dozen extra into the sky to map out a direct road from where someone was to where they wanted to be. Even now, he could see a swarm of them tracing off a web of personal roads for big shots looking to avoid the rush.
"Too late for any of that now, though. We won't even get to the next designated off-ramp by the time your flight leaves."
"This is a problem."
"My heart goes out to you, Mr. Patel, but there's nothing we can do now, so just relax and enjoy a complimentary beverage."
"You know . . . if you were to somehow get me to that flight on time . . . I would be inclined to show my gratitude."
Lex's eyes shot to the rearview mirror, his hand slowly working toward an innocuous piece of the dashboard.
"How much gratitude are we talking about?"
Diamond Nick snapped his fingers and one of his henchmen dug into a pocket, dumping a handful of colorful plastic discs into his open hand. They looked like poker chips, because that's what they were. These days, gambling, like any other business, was franchised. Betting parlors were as common as tanning parlors, and they all used the same chips. The rise in popularity of the miniature corporate and privately-owned casinos coincided almost perfectly with the rise of the credit system. Direct-linked bank accounts and universal "credits" had replaced cash entirely, making all transactions quick, easy, and traceable. The chips had a set credit value, were nearly impossible to counterfeit, and were untraceable. They filled the void left by paper money, and were legitimate enough that some people actually paid their employees in chips. It was a handy way to keep things off the books, and it was just a quick trip to the casino to turn them into spendable credits.
Patel held up six blue chips. Ten thousand credits each.
"I could lose my license if I don't do this right, Mr. Patel. I'm going to need a little more gratitude than that."
"I love a man who knows how to negotiate," he said with a grin, swapping blue for red.
Red chips were fifty thousand credits each, for a nice, even three hundred thousand. The number sounded more impressive than it was. Inflation and such meant that a decent cup of coffee would run you four or five hundred credits. That said, three hundred thousand would be enough to cover his rent and maybe take the heat off from some of the more vigorous bill collectors.
"Get me to that space elevator in time to board the flight and it is all yours."
Lex's eyes shot from the mirror to the dashboard to the traffic, and back to the mirror. Finally, he dug out a piece of gum and popped it in his mouth.
"Strap in," he said, adding, "you hereby absolve Lex Express and its parent company Milton Livery Limited of any liability for laws broken or trauma endured. Thank you."
Three taps to an out of the way part of the dash caused the console to flash and reveal a rather crude and pixelated set of controls. He slid his finger along a color slider, then checked two boxes.
"What was that?" Patel asked, craning his neck to see the panel.
"We just became a cream-colored limo with a nonsense license plate and the transponder code of an ambulance."
As he spoke, the black finish visible on the hood of the limo patchily gave way to off-white. Generally speaking, the hot-swap paint system was supposed to be only for display cars, but certain less-than-scrupulous mechanics would install it for anyone looking to change their vehicle's color on a whim. The transponder spoofer and license scrambler were hand-me-downs from a certain other enterprise Lex was involved in.
He maneuvered the limo up and to the left. There wasn't enough space between vertical lanes to slip through, and there wasn't nearly enough between horizontal ones, but at the right angle, he could j-u-u-st thread the needle in the catty-corner space. He found the groove and accelerated. If life was simple, he could have just done that the whole way. As it happened, people liked to drift in and out of their lanes, change lanes in hopes of gaining a few car-lengths, things of that nature. That didn't even account for the people who liked to impose the rules of the road by purposely moving just enough to block the way. Finding a safe route required a very specific skill set and razor-sharp reflexes. The sort of things a racer might have.
Lex wove his way recklessly through the traffic, gaining speed all the way. He pitched and tilted the limo, swooping up and over low-profile cars, twisting sideways between narrow ones, and slicing through openings a fraction of an inch larger than the car itself. In the back, his passengers were getting rather severely shaken up as they fumbled for the five-point restraints. The sturdy, well-designed buckles and straps were the modern replacements for seat belts, which basically meant that they were ignored until right after they were needed.
"What the hell are you doing?" Patel objected.
"Merging. Aggressively. I told you to strap in," Lex said, pulling hard to the right to catch the turn for the starport.
"I thought you were just going to leave the skyway! Go straight there!"
"No, sir. Crossing the edge of the skyway would trigger all sorts of traffic alerts. Cops would be on me in fifteen seconds and we wouldn't be going anywhere. Nope, the secret is to cut right through the middle. That way, even if they see you, they have to get to you, so you—"
"Never mind the explanations, kid, just pay attention to where you're going!"
Despite having the same operating principles, there were subtle differences between the hoversleds found on a race track and the hovercars on a skyway. For one, a car in general—and a limo in particular—didn't have very much need to adjust pitch. The barrel roll wasn't a standard maneuver during a commute, after all. That meant that rather than being incorporated into a joystick or flight yolk-style controller as in a sled, a car manipulated such things with hard to reach switches and knobs. Pulling off the acrobatics Lex was achieving required constantly moving hands from this control to that and back again. The ex-racer did so flawlessly, his hands darting with the frantic grace of a sideshow freak juggling broken bottles.
As the clock on the dash bleeped for the three o'clock hour, flashing lights showed up in the mirror. Three boxy police cars drifted up along the outside of the skyway, and an angry voice croaked across the radio.
"You are driving recklessly. Leave the skyway and remand yourself and your vehicle to—"
Lex tapped a button on the display and the transmission was swallowed by stuttering digital distortion.
"Well, would you look at that. Radio's on the fritz."
Ahead, cars began to bunch up, pulling over to allow the cops to enter. Rather than ride the wake right into some sort of an intercept maneuver, Lex managed to shove himself ahead of the wave of shifting cars, squeezing between traffic and the lower corner of the skyway.
"You sure you know what you're doing?" Patel asked as the bottoms of cars whipped by his window close enough to rattle the panes.
"Oh, sure. We're heading down now. Once this baby gets her repulsors dug into the ground, I can really start moving."
Right on cue, the ground came whipping up beneath them. No longer simply held aloft by anti-gravity units, the vehicle's futuristic replacements for wheels could be put to work. Bigger, beefier versions of the same things that made his delivery bike work, the repulsors used the interplay between two tangible energy fields to create a synchronized wave pattern capable of instituting temporary charge differences between the vehicle and road surface for the purposes of facilitating the attraction and repulsion necessary to maintain an approximately constant distance.
In other words, he had traction now.
Traction meant sharper turns, quicker stops, and generally more room for suicidal stunts. The ground also meant that the cops would have things like buildings and pedestrians to worry about. Lex would have to worry about those things too, of course—but as the pursued, he had the benefit knowing where he was going. Right now, that was a sharp right into the entry tunnel to the lower levels of the starport.
"That's arrivals! We want departures!"
"Yes, Mr. Patel. I'm familiar with how starports work," Lex said calmly, watching the clock roll over to 3:02. He throttled down until they were actually moving slightly slower than the surrounding traffic. Behind them, the police were held up in the bottleneck of the tunnel's entrance. "Do me a favor and push your head and neck firmly against the headrest."
The departure and arrival tunnels ran side by side in opposite directions, with the usual sections of wall removed to allow easier access for maintenance and emergency crews. Lex juiced the repulsors, lurching the limo upward, then flipped them off. This sent the ponderous luxury vehicle into a graceful leap. He then twiddled a knob and pulled hard at the wheel, pivoting the vehicle so the bottom aligned with the narrow edge of the gap in the wall. He flipped another switch, maxing out the repulsors again, and slowly eased them down as they approached the wall. They came to a stop halfway up the wall, with the bottom of the limo inches away from it. He then juiced the repulsors once more, sending the limo springing off again. The end result was a bizarre mixture of stunt driving and parkour. It took moments and shifted the car from keeping up with traffic in one direction to keeping up with traffic in the other, with a wall jump in between.
"Gotta love the luxury class models. Inertial dampeners for a smoother ride. Try that sort of thing in an economy model and we're looking at concussions and/or paralysis."
He eased the limo into a lane, flipped the plate and transponder back to the way they ought to be, and returned it to an unremarkable black color. A few moments later, 3:03, he pulled up at the appropriate gate. There was a little bit of a commotion in the tunnel behind them as the handful of drivers who witnessed the stunt made their way out of the snarl it caused, but when something like that happened, the other drivers almost always, in Lex's experience, fixated on the event itself rather than where the thing went afterward or whether it had changed color. And everyone on foot seemed to be distracted by a tight huddle of bodies off to the side, surrounding some bright lights and flashing cameras.
"Bags!" Nick barked at his men as they stepped out of the car on wobbly legs.
Lex got out of the driver's seat and held the door in standard chauffeur fashion.
"Thank you for choosing Lex Express. First class boarding line is right over there, Mr. Patel. The time is . . . 3:04:12. Best hop on," he said, holding his white-gloved hand in the universal sign for "Tip me."
"You crazy bastard," Patel said with a smile and a shake of his head, as though it was princely praise. "Here's your money, and well earned. If you ever need a decent job—"
"I'll stop you right there," Lex said, holding up a hand. "I've had enough of those kinds of jobs."
Diamond Nick pulled the hand down by the wrist and gave it a bone-crushing shake.
"Even so, drop me a line, madman."
When he took his hand away, he left behind a business card. He then followed his muscle into the elevator a few moments before they shut the door. Lex looked the card over. An honest to goodness business card. Printed on paper. It was charmingly anachronistic, like sending a postcard written in fountain pen. The fact that it left no electronic trail probably helped. It left a paper trail, sure, but computers couldn't search a paper trail. Slipping it into an inside pocket, Lex leaned against the limo and let the aftermath of the rush roll over him, admiring the place as he did.
The starport was like any transport hub—magnified a few dozen times. It was big, open, and crowded. Half of the place was devoted to arrivals; the other, departures. Along with a shopping mall full of overpriced shops, there was a massive, matte black cable in the center, a space tether. The thing stood like a sequoia, extending up and out of sight. It was joined by about three dozen others of various sizes, each anchored in the center of a near identical cluster of shops and gates, all lined up along a twenty-mile stretch of the planet's equator. Technically, the entire row taken as a whole was a single starport, but locally and professionally, the tethers were treated as different facilities. It made sense, since each one led to a stardock devoted to a different quadrant of space.
Flashing lights at the corner of his vision caught Lex's attention. Across the port, police were going over the arrivals area with a fine-tooth comb. True, they would be looking for the wrong color, but even so, it was likely not the best time to be standing next to a limo. He climbed in, smiled, and headed off to redeem his tip.