New Anthology Sample: Arrivals!

dome_cityI told you it’s been a busy time for the Yuva anthology, and not just for my venerable colleagues. In my case as well, I’ve made some headway on the short story Arrivals and thought it was time to share! For the last few samples, the story was focused on the goings-on of the Planetary Council once they had learned that a new convoy of ships was approaching the planet. As always, there were hard questions, fears and agendas at play.

For this part, I have chosen to shift the focus back to the person who noticed the new convoy of colonists (aka. the Second Wave) coming in the first place – Marcellin Strauss, a simple technician who toiled in anonymity prior to the detection of the approaching convoy that set everything on the planet in motion. Now, he finds himself being sought out by the Planetary Council, and told to report to strange location for reasons that are not shared. Hope you like the sampling, and stay tuned for more!

_____

Asteria Research Facility
Zarmina, Vogt

It was like looking at a still frame in some futuristic SenSim. The building had the appearance of a mushroom, an off-white, ground-hugging thing with just the slightest overhanging edges. And yet, its dimensions seemed unnaturally large for the setting, far bigger than anything he’d seen in an auxiliary dome, which this place certainly appeared to be.

As he disembarked from the transit car, Strauss consulted his Tab to make sure he was in the right place. The Council’s message had been somewhat short on explanations, but the directions had been quite precise. The private line he had taken to get here had deposited him at a stop just over a hundred meters away, and every building and laneway that sat between him and the mushroom cap seemed awfully quiet. As he looked around the expanse of the small dome, he got the strange feeling that he was very much alone… and being watched.

“Welcome resident! How may I assist you?”

Strauss almost jumped. He turned quickly to the right and noticed the transit chest sitting there. As always, this consisted of a squat red box with a tall display stand at the side. On the display screen, the words it had just uttered were displayed prominently; the happy, iconic face of Magid Mukhtari smiling as it repeated them.

“Welcome resident! How may I assist you?”

“I, uh…” he replied dumbfoundedly, and looked back in the direction of the far building.

“Will you be requiring personal transit on this trip?” the voice asked, suggesting the most obvious option. He considered the distance between him and his destination and judged that it was not an unreasonable suggestion.

“I guess so,” he said, and placed his Tab on his chest.

“Very good, sir. Please return the vehicle to one of several designated transit boxes on your journey when you are finished with it.”

The door on the box opened and a ground car presented itself to him. Stepping onto the foot rest, he placed his hands on the control ring and felt the car power up. The terminal in the middle came online and the face of Muhktari was there as well, giving him a quick tutorial.

“Just place your feet on the acceleration pads located at the front of the footrest to-”

Strauss didn’t bother to wait for it to finish. He had had enough experience driving himself around to know how the capitol cars worked. The face of the screen laughed as he took off, putting distance between himself and the stop.

“Whoa! I see you’ve done this before! Please exercise caution when driving amongst pedestrians and other vehicles. And remember to return the car to a designated transit chest when you are finished with it. Have a nice day!”

What pedestrians? he wondered, as he drove towards his destination. Several minutes passed as he closed the distance between the transit line and the far building. And at no point did he see anyone, nor any indication of people working inside the other structures. The feeling of isolation intermixed with the sense that he was being watched yet again, and it did not make for a happy state of mind.

He was just glad he wasn’t hungover as well, though a shot of liquid courage would certainly have been welcome! He did his best to focus on where he was headed and tried not to think of the eerie, empty buildings that were passing him by, or the distinct impression that they weren’t so much empty as containing spies who watched him from every window.

But on that front, things weren’t much better. At his current distance, the building seemed to loom much higher than before, forcing him to look up towards the dome’s roof to take it all in. This meant that the ceiling, with all it’s rigid struts and panels were now it’s backdrop. The strange, webbed pattern only served to make it all look somehow more… spooky.

As he got closer, he came to realize something else about the building. All along the façade, there were lines of various colors, but none of them seemed to correspond to a segment in the structure. As far as one could tell, the building was a single piece, no joints or seams to speak of. Such seemed unlikely, but the illusion was not dispelled with any decrease of distance.

That’s when every single device on his body began to signal to him. The sound was unmistakable, indicating that they were going into offline mode since there was no longer any bandwidth in this area. He came to a stop and pulled his Tab from his chest to confirm this. Sure enough, the Tab presented a topographical representation of the area that showed a large, circular dead zone emanating out from the mushroom-shaped building. Rather than having ventured beyond the range of the QIN’s wireless network, he was now entering an area where it was actively being denied.

He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Between his observations of the structure and this latest revelation, it seemed clear that whoever was inside was taking great pains to keep what they were doing in there a secret.

What am I stepping into here? he wondered. He scanned the outer edge of the building again, trying to see if he could spot any telltale signs of cameras or spy drones. There were none that he could see, but he sensed they were there… somehow, somewhere.

And yet, he found himself pressing the accelerator pedal again and driving closer. Whatever this summons was, whatever was going on inside that odd-looking building, he wanted to know. Besides, at this point, he was just about there. Might as well go all the way and see what all the hubbub was about.

“You have reached your destination,” the happy face of Mukhtari said once he came to  stop. “I am not picking up any transit chests at this location. If you would like to park this vehicle for later use, please say so now. If not, please tell this car to –”

“Return,” he ordered, stepping free of the footrest. The voice stopped in midsentence, having recieved the requisite order to head back to it’s last storage location. It did manage to issue a kind farewell as it zipped away along the street, moving in a perfect rectilinear fashion.

“We hope that you enjoyed your ride!”

Strauss chuckled to himself and looked towards the mushroom, which now had the appearance of being a big, white giant. He was tempted to walk up and touch it, thinking at this point that it had to be composed of some kind of ceramic or composite material.

However, in one spot there was an irregularity –  a sort of circular hole that was two meters high and less than a single meter deep. Inside, the same seamless ceramic material sat, solid and impenetrable. But this was the only thing that even resembled a door. Taking another deep breath, Strauss took a few steps towards it and steeled himself for a surprise, one way or another.

That’s when he heard a loud hiss and a high pitched squeal. Strauss’ gate came to an immediate halt and his heart began to beat overtime. He stood motionless for several seconds, worried that he had set something off, afraid to move lest he make it worse.

But the noticed, the circular opening was opening further. Inside, several small lines appeared on the circular surface, bisecting the door at cross-angles, and then began pulling it open. When they finally opened all the way, he saw a woman standing there, wearing a grey jumpsuit with the same strange color patterns he noticed on the building’s façade.

“You Marcellin Strauss?” she asked, sticking her head through the open doorway. He found himself scanning her suit still, wondering just what the hell section it represented. She wasn’t with Planetary, or Defense, for that matter. Neither the color nor the insignia patches matched. He then realized she had asked him a question and simply nodded, unable to form words at the moment.

“Good,” she said. “Get inside, we have a lot to cover and we’re running late.”

She turned back inside and clearly meant for him to follow. Strauss managed to find his voice and clumsily uttered the obvious question. “I- I’m sorry. Who are you?”

She turned back to him and raised an eyebrow, a reaction that let him know exactly how little she thought of the question. “Madeleine Hartberg, Yuva Cosmonautic Corps.”

“Cosmonau-” he stuttered. “I- I wasn’t aware there was one.”

She smiled sideways. “There is now. And there are people inside who would very much like to talk to you. Are you going to come see them, or stand there like an idiot all day?”

Strauss once again fell mute and couldn’t move. And whoever this woman was, she was clearly getting annoyed because of it.

“Look, Strauss, I don’t have time to explain everything right now. Bottom line is, you’ve been asked to participate in something bigger than anyone on this planet has known since we made ‘Fall. Now are you coming, or are you going to miss out on that opportunity?”

Marcellin’s voice didn’t respond, but his feet seemed to be in working order. He knew this, because he began to follow her inside.

“Good!” she said, ushering him in. “Now please move it. Thirty seconds of this and I’m already sick of you!”

Latest Anthology Sample: Ember Storm!

exoplanet_hotThe past few months have been a busy and productive time for the people behind the Yuva anthology. Not only did we take on a host of new writers who adventurously volunteered to join us and share their passion for science fiction, they even managed to produce some solid first and even second drafts. In addition, several members that have been with the project from the beginning have managed to do some final drafts which merit sharing right now!

And this time, it’s Amber Iver’s and Goran Zidar’s Ember Storm, which they just put the final touches on. In this story, we see are given front row seats to a crisis in progress – as told from the points of view of two down and out maintenance workers, and a small family unit caught in the thick of things. Here’s a sample from the beginning, hope you all enjoy! And remember, there’s more where this came from once the book is published:

_____

“Hey, Charlie, do you hear that?”

“Leave me alone, Rhina,” Charlie grunted and pulled his cap down over his face. “I’m trying to sleep here.”

“The environmental alarm’s going off.” Rhina moved over to the console and brought up the display.

“So?”

Rhina studied the screen for a moment. “So it looks like there’s a storm coming.”

“Good.”

“Good?”

“Yeah, it means I’ve got nothing else to do but kick back and study the inside of my eyelids.”

“Wake up idiot,” Rhina tossed a PAD at her colleague’s supine form.

“Hey! What was that for?”

“Strap in. I’m taking us back.”

Charlie let out a huge sigh as he got to his feet and stumbled across to Rhina. She could smell the alcohol on his breath as he loomed over her and tried to get his eyes to focus on the screen.

“You won’t make it.”

“What do you mean?”

Charlie stabbed a finger at a coloured line on the screen. “Front’s coming in fast, it’ll hit before we reach the colony. We might as well just wait it out here.”

“Well I’m gonna try anyway.” Rhina reached forward and touched the ignition. “I don’t relish the idea of spending the next few hours with just your drunk arse for company.”

“That’s harsh.” Charlie’s face twisted in mock disappointment. “I’ll just be asleep on the floor. You won’t even notice I’m here.”

“Even asleep you’re crap company. Now strap yourself in, we’re leaving.”

*                    *                     *

“Good morning, Miss Siera. It’s time to wake up.”

“Just ten more minutes, please,” Siera said, sleep making her words run into each other.

The room was suddenly bathed in sunlight.

“Hey!” Siera was forced to shield her eyes from the bright light.

“Your mother’s instructions were quite clear, miss.”

Siera squinted as she threw the covers aside and strode across the room, snatching the PAD from David’s loose grasp. “Leave my PAD alone.” Her fingers danced over the screen and soon the light in the room dimmed to a more manageable level. “Why do I need to be up? It’s the weekend.”

“Isn’t this the day you’re to make lunch for your father?”

Siera sucked a breath, her drowsiness banished.

“Oh, no. I forgot.”

“That’s why I am here, miss.”

Siera smiled and leaned forward to kiss David lightly on the cheek. “What would I do without you?”

David raised a hand to his face, the latex skin of his cheek still warm where Siera’s lips touched him. “You’re appreciation is welcome but not necessary, miss. I am simply doing what I have been programmed to do.”

“If you’re going to look like a human being, I’m going to treat you like one.” She said as she scooped a bundle of clothes from the floor then ran to the bathroom.

“I am not responsible for my appearance. It was your father who constructed me. I had no say in the matter at all.”

Siera called from the bathroom. “None of us do, David. You’ve got more in common with humans than you realise.”

David shrugged. “I must say I don’t really think about it.”

Siera emerged from the bathroom. “Well you should. You’re part of this family, you know. You’re like the big brother I never had.”

“Well this big brother needs you to go to the kitchen.”

“Hang on a minute, I need my wrist com.”

Siera looked around the room quickly but couldn’t see the wearable communication device anywhere. She moved to the bedside table and rummaged through the drawer to no avail.

“Don’t just stand there. Help me find it,” she said, as she started tearing the sheets off her bed.

“When was the last time you saw it?”

Siera raised an eyebrow as she looked at David. “Are you kidding me?”

“You asked me to help.”

“How is that helping? Just look for it.”

David walked to the bathroom and returned a few seconds later holding the wrist com. “Here you go, miss.”

Siera ran up to him and enveloped him in a firm embrace. “Thank you, David. You’re a life saver.”

“As I said before, your thanks are not necessary.”

Siera clipped the device onto her wrist then looked at the mess she’d created in her room. “Oops … Mum’s going to kill me.”

“Don’t worry, miss. You go to the kitchen; I’ll stay and clean this up for you.”

Siera opened her mouth to say thank you, but David placed a finger on her lips. “Go. Your mother is waiting for you.”

Siera gave her untidy room one last glance then sped down the hall to the kitchen. The sound of pots and pans clanking told her that her mum and sister had started without her, and she hoped that she hadn’t missed too much of the preparation. Cooking with fresh ingredients, on an actual stove, like they did on Earth in the old days was a real treat, and one that didn’t happen very often.

Her mum, Tara, looked up as Siera entered the kitchen. “Good, you’re finally up. You can start by cleaning up Meghan’s mess.”

Her four year old sister, Meghan, sat with a broad grin as she stirred a bowl of dark coloured sauce. With each turn of the spoon, more of the sticky substance spilled on the bench and dripped onto the floor.

“Give the bowl to Siera, sweetie,” Tara said. “Then go wash your hands before we start on the next part.”

Meghan did as she was told, and Siera was left standing with a sticky mess to clean up. “I probably should have gotten up earlier, eh?”

Her mum glanced up. “I didn’t say a word.”

Siera set to cleaning the mess her sister created. “What’re we making?”

“It’s called Mongolian barbeque. The protein sequencer has replicated a few different kinds of meat, and I was able to pick up some garlic and onions from the market as well as something that tastes a bit like plum.”

“The sauce smells good.”

“Try some,” her mother suggested.

Siera dipped a finger in the sauce and placed it in her mouth. The sweet, spicy flavour of the fruit combined with the garlic and other ingredients exploded in her mouth.

“Oh my god, that’s amazing.”

Tara smiled. “Much better than synth food isn’t it?”

“I’ll say. Pity we can’t eat like this all the time.”

“It wouldn’t be special if we did it every day.”

“I suppose.” Siera took another taste.

“Enough of that, we’ve got a lot to do before your father and Joey get here.”

Siera placed the bowl of delicious sauce down on the bench and finished wiping the floor while her mother used a knife to cut the replicated meat into strips. When Tara was done she took the meat and placed it into the bowl of sauce using her fingers to knead the mixture together.

“What can I do now?” Siera asked.

“Can you ground some pepper in here while I do this? There should be some in the pantry.”

Siera opened the pantry door and hunted around for the pepper grinder. She picked it up and shook it. “I think we’re out of pepper, mum.”

“You’re sure?”

Siera rolled her eyes. “Yes, mum, I’m sure. Can we do without it?”

“It won’t be the same without pepper. I need you to run up to the market and get some.”

“Can’t David do it?”

Tara gave Siera a serious look. “I thought you wanted to help.”

“I do but–”

“Well this is helping. Take my chit and go to the market. Don’t worry; there’ll still be lots to do when you get back.”

Siera left their home, and walked along the open streets of the colony to the market. It was a clear day, and Yuva’s orange sun bathed the habitat with light and warmth, but this close to the light side of the planet, warmth was rarely an issue.

Their colony was built in the new style; a new style for Yuva.

The market and other amenities were located at the center of the colony, with the residential population surrounding it. It was a civic model that dated back to ancient times. No matter how far humanity had come, some things would never change.

People here lived and worked in detached buildings, with streets and walkways linking them together beneath a massive plasteel dome that shielded them from radiation and the elements. The terraformers had been able to make the air of Yuva breathable, but the planet’s ozone layer remained weak.

It was possible for a person to go outside the dome, but unless they wore a suit their skin would suffer from dangerous levels of ultra violet radiation.

Siera’s wrist com buzzed as she crested a rise in the street.

“Now what’s she forgotten?” she muttered as she checked the device.

LEVEL 5 STORM WARNING

Environment hazard protocols in place

Her heart raced and she lifted her gaze to look out past the colony’s dome. A thin line of grey marked the horizon. The storm was still a long way off, but she’d lived here long enough to know that it would be here in no time at all.

New Anthology Sample: Arrivals!

Yuva_coverIt’s been awhile since I posted anything from my group’s upcoming Yuva anthology. But of course, there’s a reason for that. With time constraints and other commitments competing for our attention, my group and I have had little time for this ongoing project. But now that I’ve finished editing the preliminary draft of Papa Zulu, I’ve had some time on my hands and decided to rededicate it where its needed.

Below is the latest sample from my story Arrivals, the opening story for Part III of our anthology. As you may know, this story involves the colonists of Yuva, over a century after they first arrived, getting news that a Second Wave is on its way. In the last sample, the Planetary Council was discussing what to do, and a joint mission was proposed between the Ministry of Defense and Planetary Research to fly out and meet the ships while they were still in transit.

In this sample, another revelation is made, and it’s not very pleasant one! Read on to learn more…

*                     *                    *

Padda examined the design specs before her, the latest in a series of proposals from the joint task force charged with creating their diplomatic transports. It was now late afternoon and the sun was filtering in through the dome at a slight angle, lending a lovely glow to the arboretum’s generous supply of native specimens.

And in the cumulative radiance of the room, sunlight intermixed with neon-green and purples, the organic light of her Tab’s display glowed and showed her the Ministry’s latest design specs. As expected, the engineers had taken all possibilities to heart, and were producing endless iterations to ensure that the fleet that met the Flotilla would be prepared for any eventuality.

Well, almost any eventuality…

As Padda scanned through image after 3-D image of shuttles with double-hulls, upgraded thrusters, and upgraded acceleration cushions for its crew, she wondered if any amount of planning could prepare them for what they would be encountering soon. In her mind’s eye, she had run several scenarios, some practical and others fantastic. But all of them retained the same mix of awe and terror.

And in that, she knew she wasn’t alone. All over the planet, the spec and interact films were running sims that were based on the impending mission to meet the Second Wave. Word on the QIN had it that most of the simulations were nightmarish, finding an entire crew of dead colonists inside, the work of a hostile organism or a terrible disease. Others had it that the ships were a Trojan horse preceding an invasion, containing some kind of biological or nanotechnological scourge. People always loved to fantasize, and somehow, disaster scenarios remained a powerful draw.

And yet, the paranoid fantasies were not entirely unfounded. Three ships, coming from an Earth that had progressed a full century since Padda’s own ancestors had departed. And every indication they had told them that they were of greater sophistication than the ones that taken part in the First Wave. They had yet to meet them, and already one of their greatest concerns had been confirmed. Those that were on the way would be more advanced than those they were coming to meet.

Yes, despite their virtually identical genetic makeup, there was little doubt that the people they would be encountering on the other side of that airlock would seem very… alien to them. It was a thought that had crept up countless times in the past few months. And each time, she could not help but experience a slight shiver.

Finishing with her perusal of the latest draft plans, she gestured across the surface of her Tab to minimize these and call up the list of her latest messages. At the top of her Inbox, amidst countless requests, referrals, and questions regarding the latest in a million bureaucratic matters, was a message from Motlke. She called it up and looked directly head, preparing for her contacts to broadcast the video directly into her visual field.

She was surprised to see only a small text message appear as soon as it cued up.

My office, 1300 hours. Come alone.

Delete this message upon reading.

The directness and unmistakably clandestine nature of the message surprised her. Waving her hand across the screen, she quickly close and deleted the message, as instructed. Discreetly, she reattached her Tab to her suit, allowing the cells to draw power from her clothes, and left the arboretum.

___

“What are you talking about?” Padda asked, her face suddenly turning cold.

“I assure you, the information is legitimate,” Moltke replied. “My source in Defense says he’s seen all the schematics, even had the chance to peruse some documents on the stated purpose of the design. His exact words were ‘contingency situation’. That leaves very little doubt in my mind as to what it’s for.”

Padda placed her hands in front of her face in prayer fashion and took a deep breath. Though she knew Moltke well enough to give him the benefit of the doubt, her mind simply couldn’t accept what it was being told. She knew the people at Defense were in the habit of expecting and preparing for the worst. But this?

The sheer audacity and clandestine nature of it all, not to mention the severity…

“And he specifically said it was a weapon? There was no confusion on that point?”

“He was very clear,” Moltke said with a nod. Gently, he glided around to the other side of his desk, moving to the dispenser at the wall and requesting some refreshment. “Not only did the plans call for an unmanned craft, my source emphasized that a specific section was designated as ‘payload’. In the parlance of military planners, that means much the same as warhead.”

Padda took another deep breath and placed her hands on her lap. The dispenser began to buzz quietly and pour steaming tea into an awaiting pot, while another began to carefully print out biscuits onto a sheet. The noise suddenly made her realize that she had not eaten in hours and she was in fact quite hungry.

“And did he specify what nature the weapon would take?”

Moltke shrugged and then removed the teapot and biscuits from the dispenser, placing them all a small tray and bringing them over to his desk. He got to the next part as he poured the tea into two cups and handed her one.

“He could not be specific on that point. But, I did some additional checking, on a hunch, and I think I might have found out what Defense might be up to.”

Padda hummed receptively and smelled the tea. He had anticipated her desire correctly by ordering the Darjeeling. After blowing on it a few times, she took a tentative sip.

“And what did you find?”

Moltke took a sip himself and then exhaled hotly.

“Well, as you know, our high-energy labs have been working hard to produce all the antimatter we put in for. And that’s quite understandable, given the quantities that we stressed we would need. However, I placed a call to the labs to see if they had received any additional requests for fuel. As it turns out, the quantity they are now working towards is forty percent higher than what our initial projections called for. Obviously, this was no accident. I had to call in a few favors in order to get the details, but it seems a certain Councilor contacted them and put in for a greater requisition.”

“Let me guess…” Padda placed the cup down and folded her hands on her lap again. “Astrakhan?”

Moltke took another sip, chuckling to himself. “The order was not signed, but it was official and came directly from the Ministry. So between this requisition order, and the blueprints my source witnessed, I’d say it’s pretty obvious what they have planned.”

Padda shook her head. Yes, it was indeed obvious what they were up to. From all outward indications, they were prepping an antimatter warhead, something that could take out the entire Second Wave before it reached Yuva. Eliminate the potential threat before it had a chance to become a real one. But then again, Moltke’s source had used the words “contingency situation”. Was it possible Astrakhan and his colleagues would be giving them a chance to fail first? That seemed like the far more likely situation, and far less audacious. Her mind quickly began to embrace this more appealing of the two options…

“Is there any chance Defense could be planning to use this weapon as a ‘first strike’ option?”

“Possible,” Moltke conceded. “But if that is the case, he and his associates would have much to answer for once the dust settled on the whole affair. Mass murder is not something our people would look kindly upon, no matter how much he and his associates could stress that they did it to protect us.”

Padda accepted that. Granted, Astrakhan would not be the first man in history that was willing to sacrifice his career, even his life, in the name of protecting his people. But somehow, the Councilor just didn’t seem like the type to martyr himself, not when the danger was still so potential and nebulous.

No, she admitted to herself. There’s still time to do things our way.

“Assuming you’re right,” she said at last. “How do we proceed?”

Moltke shrugged again, draining the last of his tea. “I’m really not sure. Knowing doesn’t exactly change the nature of our situation right now, does it?”

Padda shook her head. “No, I guess it doesn’t. If we confront Astrakhan now, he’ll just deny it. I mean, we have nothing solid to charge with him. And if we tip our hand now, he and his people will no doubt just find a more clandestine way to prepare a ‘contingency’ weapon.”

Moltke raised his finger to her in pedagogical fashion. “Not to mention that it will let him know that I have sources within his Ministry. No, in the end, I’m afraid all we can do is… proceed with the plan we have and hope everything works out.”

“And by that you mean that we proceed with the rendezvous, and pray that our exploration teams don’t find something aboard those ships that will convince Defense that they need to blow them all to hell.”

Moltke chuckled. “Yes, that’s about right.” He looked to the biscuits sitting between them, noting that she hadn’t touched a one. “Now eat something, Anuja. You look absolutely famished.”

New Anthology Sample: Arrivals!

Yuva_coverWow, its been awhile since I’ve posted anything from my group’s Yuva anthology. But that’s been the nature of my writing in these past few weeks, picking up projects I haven’t been working on lately and getting busy on them! And one of the fruits of these labors is the next installment in the short story “Arrivals”.

It came after I finished reading over my friends’ proposal for another story – Amber Iver’s and Goran Zidar’s “Ember Storm”. Somehow, reading another’s work always seem to help stoke the creative fires. And since “Arrivals” has been sitting on my desk without improvement for months now, I figured it was time to dust it off and make some headway!

YuvaAs the story that starts off part III of the anthology, “Arrivals” deals with the Second Wave of colonists who come to the planet of Yuva some 200 years after the first Terraformers set foot on the planet. Naturally, this new group of settlers is fare more advanced than the first, and has made the trip in less time thanks to the superiority of their next-generation, interstellar space ships.

The first segment of the story, which I posted back in March, dealt with the signal from these distant ships being received. This second part deals with the repercussions, as the Yuvan authorities come to see the ships in distant space and realize they will be arriving in orbit within two years time. Preparations need to be made, and the possibilities need to be addressed.

Will these new “arrivals” be friendly, or hostile? Are they simply people looking to join the first wave in creating a new home, or are they intent on pushing them out of the way? And just as importantly, what news and developments are they bringing with them from Earth, a world the Yuvan people have not heard from in over two centuries?

Planetary Research Council
Zarmina, Vogt

Anuja Padda tapped the table before her, loud enough so that everyone arranged in the circle would hear her and come to attention. Slowly, the many conversations that were passing between the board’s various members came to an end and they looked in her direction.

“Good morning, all. I thank you all for coming, especially those who joining us from overseas. I think we can all agree, we meet here under some rather extraordinary circumstances.”

There were mumbles of agreement from all around the table. Padda continued.

“And though I’m sure everyone has had a chance to review the information, I know my colleagues won’t fault me for reviewing our situation for the sake of posterity. Future generations will certainly appreciate it.”

That got a few snickers, and some people looking around the expanse of the room. From multiple angles, holorecording devices were capturing their every word, gesture and nuance. Someday, posterity would be looking back on the recordings made, and she was determined to give them a good show.

She cleared her throat and started from the beginning. “Less then twenty-four hours ago, a remote monitoring station on the western coast on Bonfils reported receiving some anomalous readings. The station assessed the readings and determined that they were in fact a transmission, which appeared to be coming from an extra-planetary source.”

She paused for emphasis. The next segment of her introduction required a few seconds grace, given the heady nature of it all.

“Ever since we arrived on this planet almost two centuries ago, we’ve entertained the notion that one day, another flotilla would follow in our wake, bringing a second wave of colonists to this world. Yesterday, we finally heard from them. And today, we will receive our first glimpse of them.”

The room’s lights suddenly went dark and a million specks of light slowly began to appear around them and grow in luminosity. The image that was now filling the Council meeting room could be seen in every Planetary Research office on the planet, the video feeds that were being captured from orbit streaming in through their own holodisplay devices.

Raising her hands and the image responded, the holodisplay reading the embedded sensors in her fingertips and responding to her manipulations. The image began to move and zoom in on a particular region of space. Holding her left hand steady to prevent lateral movement, she pulled her right hand back several times, increasing the magnification on the desired region. Three grey blobs appeared in this area, indiscernible and bland, until the image improved the resolution.

What they saw then instantly amazed and left them all speechless.

There, at the center of the room and hovering above their heads, were the mottled images of three large space-born craft. Their edges were sharp, their profiles long and contoured. There was no mistaking them for asteroids or any other kind of stellar mass.

“The image quality leaves something to be desired, but as you can see, we are detecting three ships flying in a wedge formation.”

“In other words,” said Councilor Moltke from the other side of the room, “a formation and disposition which matches our arrival exactly.”

Padda nodded, as did numerous others who continued to watch with awe. Within seconds, questions began to follow.

“How long until they get here?”

“Our scopes indicate that at their present velocity, they will arrive in orbit of Yuva in just over two years’ time.”

“What was the message they sent?”

“We don’t know yet, as it was encrypted using a rather complex cipher. But our technicians are sure we can decode it before long. Most likely, it’s a message of greeting.”

“The ships they are using, they’re faster than the ones that brought us here, yes?”

Padda turned to address this question, though it was more of an observation. Given their apparent distance and the timeframe she gave them, one could not help but draw that conclusion.

“Yes, they do appear to be using a form of propulsion technology that is superior to the one that powered the Avincenna, , and . This should come as no surprise, given that they’ve had well over a century to refine their methods.”

“And what of their intent?”

Padda looked around the room to find the source of the question. It appeared to be coming from the back wall, an alcove which was temporarily shaded due to the display of lights above. As the speaker stepped forward, she suppressed the urge to sigh and greeted them politely.

“Minister Astrakhan, this is a surprise. We weren’t expecting a visitor from Planetary Defense.”

“Perhaps if you had invited us to this session,” he said dryly, moving closer to the center of the room. “Nevertheless, my question still stands. What is their intent?”

Padda cleared her throat. “We can’t be sure at this time. However –”

“All we really know is that have a flotilla of ships arriving in our system from Earth. They are more advanced than we are, they have sent a message we can’t interpret, and yet we assume that they are here bringing a new wave of colonists who plan to peacefully integrate into our society.” He stopped and looked at the display; nodded, as if appraising the image and finding something within it that he approved of. “Have you even considered the possibility that their intent might be hostile?”

Padda shook her head. She tried to respond, but incredulity prevented her from finishing her sentence. “I’m sorry, I –”

“It’s not unheard of for new waves of colonists to displace those that came before them,” he continued. “Or have you forgotten your Earth history?”

Padda’s face went warm. “I haven’t forgotten anything sir.”

“Ah, then you recall the last time in Earth’s history when exploration and colonization took place? During the 18th century, many waves of Europeans arrived on the shores of what they liked to refer to as ‘The New World’. In the north, settlers landed in large numbers along the eastern shores, and after clearing the lands of its native inhabitants, subsequent waves of settlers triggered a series of conflicts. Colonies switched hands as their respective nations demanded the right to control the lands that were already spoken for.”

Padda once again suppressed a sigh.

“You’re saying you think these colonists are here to push us out? Or demand we submit to their authority?”

“And why not?” he asked, turning around to face her. If they do possess superior technology, what’s to stop them?”

Low murmurs began to erupt around the room, growing in intensity as more people joined the chorus. It wasn’t long before she could hear remarks being shouted in Astrakhan’s direction. All the while, he continued to look at Padda, a cold stare on his face.

All too quickly, she remembered exactly why she hadn’t invited him to this meeting. She knew he would be likely to raise some pessimistic possibilities. Unfortunately, not inviting him had had the effect of exacerbating the situation. Amidst their awe and distraction, he had managed to sneak in and stir the pot even more.

“Excuse me, everyone!” she said finally. Slowly, silence returned to the room. “Let us not get carried away with speculation. Minister Astrakhan, it is your contention that we do not know what these ships and their crews are doing here, correct?”

“It is not my contention, Madame Councilor. It is a fact.”

She smiled. “Then it would be foolish of us to be taking an alarmist position, would it not? If we are indeed ignorant, we shouldn’t allow such ignorance to manifest itself in fear.”

No one chuckled, but she felt the room respond favorably to her remark. The only one who didn’t appear impressed was Astrakhan. Despite his next words, his face registered no reaction to her rebuttal.

“Indeed, Councilor. It would be foolish to assume the worse anymore than it would to assume the best. Perhaps we can agree then that more information is needed?”

Padda nodded silently. She sensed there was more coming, something she wasn’t going to think too highly of.

“A good first step would be to decode the message they sent. I recall you saying it had a rather advanced encryption?”

“That is correct. A quantum encryption that will take some time to crack.”

“Good…” Astrakhan brought his hands together in front of him. “Then might I suggest Planetary Defense and Resources arrange for a collaborative effort. Between our two ministries, we could be able to dedicate all our quantum processors to the task and break their codes that much quicker.”

Padda was about to respond in the affirmative, but was interrupted by Moltke.

“A valid suggestion, Minister. But might I suggest that we extend that collaboration to include all major settlements? Between all of us, we have over a dozen processors that could be networked and dedicated to the task.”

Astrakhan quickly turned around to confront Moltke. “That would require breaching whatever security we have in place with this matter. The entire planet would be made aware of the arrival of these ships.”

Stepping into the light, Moltke spread his hands in a gesture of defeat. “They are likely to have heard of it already, Minister. If we want them to remain informed and calm on the subject, I can think of no better idea than to get in front of the story. Besides, if Planetary Defense is determined to learn of their intentions is what we want, then any measure that could accomplish this task sooner is in order.”

Astrakhan bristled noticeably, then turned back to look at Padda. His face was still painfully neutral, but she could tell from his body language that Moltke had ruffled his feathers.

“I shall have to speak to my superiors, and of course the Planetary Council will need to be informed, and will retain final approval of anything we propose.”

Padda smiled, inwardly suppressing a sense of sardonic joy. “Yes, they will, Minister. I commend you and my colleague on the sensible recommendations made here today.”

Astrakhan left without further incident. The mood lightened the moment he was gone and the rooms main doors slid shut behind him. Within seconds, murmurs began to erupt again. It wasn’t long before questions began to be asked as well.

“There’s the matter of their arrival,” said another Councilor. “What shall we do to prepare?”

“A welcoming committee?” said another.

“What about a series of shuttles going into orbit to greet them?” said Moltke.

Several heads turned to him and began muttering curiously.

“An orbital meet and greet?” said Padda. “Not a bad idea, but we would still be waiting a full two years before they would be close enough for our standard aerospace jets to reach them.”

“Perhaps then we should prepare something with greater range and capability,” Council Mond suggested, their resident expert on aerospace. “If they are going to be two years in coming, we could dedicate the next year to developing shuttles that could meet them half way.” Everyone in the room began to voice their approval of this idea. Mond took that as an invitation to continue. “Until now, we’ve had no reason to build ships that were built specifically for space travel. But between the orbital stations and our resources here on the surface, we have the capability to build a series of shuttles that could be sent from orbit to meet them in space before they reach our world.

This produced additional hums and vocalizations of assent. Eventually, numerous people looked to Padda again to see if she agreed. After a brief consideration, she nodded approvingly.

“A good idea,” she said. “And one I’m sure Minister Astrakhan will be suggesting himself. No doubt he would emphasize that we need to get a look at these people before we allow them to set foot on our planet.”

“Looks like Planetary Defense and Research will be collaborating on something else.”

Everyone chuckled at Moltke’s remark.

New Anthology Sample: Arrivals!

Yuva_coverGood morning ladies and gentlemen, or evening depending on your time zone. As it stands, my cold endures, even after a whole week! I tell you, we need to learn how to weaponize little kids and use them in bio-warfare. No one will ever fire a bullet again because entire countries will be too busy nursing colds and flus to fight…

But I digress. One upside to this down time is that it has allowed me to catch up on some projects which have been sorely neglected of late. And one such project is my the anthology collection that my writing group and I are working on. After many months of recruiting and beating the bushes for more members, the authors and I decided to double up and take on some additional stories.

And I picked the story idea named “Arrivals”. Taking place in Part III of the anthology, Arrivals deals with the coming of the Second Wave of colonists, people who are at least a century more advanced than their First Wave brethren who left Earth some two hundred years beforehand. Naturally, there are some difficulties merging the new people in with the world, given that a great deal of time and space separates the two.

And what’s more, the new wave arrive telling stories of Earth, stories that aren’t exactly encouraging. It seems that amidst the Climate Change-fueled crises that was rocking the Solar System when the First Wave left, a new group of neo-fascists have taken power on Earth. A war was imminent between Earth and its Solar Colonies when they left, which is now believed to be underway.

Knowing that war is happening at home does not bode well for the colonists of Yuva, especially if the neo-fascists win and begin looking in Yuva’s direction. Anyhoo, here is the first sample of the story, an introduction for the story I intend to write. Enjoy!

*                    *                    *

Andrewartha Monitoring Station
New Darwin, Bonfils

He walked the length of the catwalk, his every step clanging loudly against the grating. Each one made the headache he was nursing that much worse, and every breath yielded the same taste of oxidized metals and machine lubricant. But it was better than the taste of grain alcohol that still lingered on his tongue.

All in all, it was a typical day for Strauss, tending to the machinery that kept an ear open on this half of the planet’s ecology after a night of hard drinking.

Rounding the corner and scraping his elbow against a pile of crates, he removed the Tab from his chest and checked the readout on it again. It took a second for the screen to power up, him having run down the cells last night listening to music and interfacing with his favorite virtual environments. After a few cups of hootch, he had been known to get a little too engaged in sensory simulations involving cowgirls and a little rolling in the hay.

And of course, he had been thoughtless, leaving it rather than sticking it in a window to draw some meager power from the sun, or attaching to the bulkhead to let it get a charge from an embedded circuit.

Luckily, the cells were in a forgiving mood and powered up. With the display now bright enough for him to read, he selected the message from PR central and gave it another read.

Anomalous readings reported on the following dates.

A series of numerics followed, indicating to the very second when the readings were recorded at Andrewartha based on Vogt Standard Time. The message continued thereafter:

Check comm array for possible malfunction. If specs green, consult relay nodule in 7-B for possible false readings.

Touching the screen with his finger, he drew a line through the first part of the message. The comm array was working just fine, according to his earlier diagnostic. Not that it mattered much, there was very little to report from this station at any given time. The most exciting readings they ever got where when the Bonfils Cluster emitted the high-pitched frequencies that seemed to accord to their mating cycle, right before they blew their stacks and sent embers every which way across the continent.

It was like clockwork too, given that the diurnal cycle had very little in the way of an effect this far south. In addition to being land-locked on this ball of rock, they were also tilt-locked, ensuring that the long nights and dim days barely ever got longer or brighter.

Which brought him to the second part of the message. Possible false readings… The implication being that the fault in the readings he’d sent was on his end. Assuming that the transmission hadn’t somehow garbled the data due to some solar interference or jamming, the techs back home could only assume that a glitch had to be the result of a defective scanner. Not until they ruled out all that would they be prepared to admit that maybe something was going on in the Bonfils plant community that they couldn’t account for. The arrogance of established minds!

Then again, he wasn’t too crazy about the idea of that being the case himself right now. Activity outside that was out of the ordinary could only mean something was up. Eerily, strangely, possibly dangerously up. There was so much they didn’t know about the Deveroza at this point, other than the fact that they could be most lethal when studied without the proper care. Any changes in their behavior could not be considered a good thing.

And until his year was complete at this outpost, he didn’t want anything to happen that would disrupt his schedule. Monotony by day, sound sleep at night, the occasional drunken release, and it would be over before he knew it. No, anything that altered his humdrum lifestyle and threatened to prolog his stay was surely less preferable than a mere technical glitch right now.

Strauss folded up his Tab up and placed it around the wrist of his uniform, knowing that he’d need at least one hand free for what he was about to do. And reaching the terminus of the hallway, he set his eyes on the pressure sealed door before him and took a deep breath. In order to keep the higher ups satisfied, he would once again need to conduct a little hazardous duty and do what he both hated and loved, which was to go outside.

Such was the nature of being confined inside a husk of metal like this one, forbidden to go outside for anything other than the most necessary of missions. He was sure someone back home ought to write a dissertation on it, how it conditioned a certain bipolar fixation among its attendants, making them both simultaneously claustrophobic and agoraphobic. Getting out was the only way to stave off insanity, but doing so required a level of daring and bravado that seemed borderline insane itself.

He would be sure to talk it over with some people in the Social Psych department when he returned home.

Detaching the mask from his belt and placing it on, he pulled the uniform’s hood segment over his head and waited for the seal to form. The goggles powered up next and indicated that he had a prefect pressure seal. Sighing happily, he spoke into his suit’s uplink.

“Andie, are you online?”

A moot question, as the station’s beta-level custodian was always online. Never farther away than a simple voice command.

“Of course, Marcellin. How may I assist you?”

“Need to go outside to reconnoiter,” he replied. “Can you open door 7-B for me?”

“Of course. One moment please.”

He heard a loud hiss coming from the door as inside, the pressure equalized with the station’s interior environment. On the status panel located next to the doorway, a light turned green, followed shortly thereafter by Andie’s chipper voice.

“You may step in when ready.” The door let out a loud thud, the seals opening only with serious force. “Be advised, the pressure change will be noticeable and is considered unfit for human exposure. Advise you have you suit done up in advance.”

“Already done,” he said with mild annoyance, and stepped inside. The door slid shut behind him, the hissing noise returning as the room changed its pressure once again. He got the strange feeling of wind blowing around him, the feeling of sudden cold as outside air filled the room and prepared him for what was to come. When it stopped abruptly, Strauss took another deep breath.

“Pressure equalized with external atmosphere. Have a nice day.”

The outer door opened. He set his boot onto the outer surface and stepped out…

It was like walking into some kind of surreal or psychedelic work of art. At this altitude, the sky was in a perennial state of twilight, never quite day or night, just different shades of dawn or dusk. And the embers against that sky, they made it look as though the entire horizon had been set ablaze. Strauss would get the oddest feeling sometimes, looking out at this sky. It was as if it were speaking to something deep inside him, a memory buried deep within his cellular memory.

His boots became magnetized the moment he began moving across the external surface, a precaution against getting blown away by the high winds that were so prevalent at this altitude. Each step was labored and slow as the magnets kept pace with his movements, anchoring his each step but releasing when he commanded his leg to move. All the while, he could feel the outside wind tugging on his getup and the tiny sparks flying by.

His goggles beeped at him, feeding climatological data directly into his sensory cortex. He could tell without needing to check any instruments that the ambient temperature was well below human comfort levels, that the air pressure was slightly lower than what the average human body was accustomed to, and that the concentrations of ember pollen were normal given recent activity. Everything seemed in the green, an appraisal which didn’t change when he finally reached the array.

He brushed at the main panel when he arrived, removing half an inch of dust and caked embers from the surface. Accessing it from the Tab now wrapped around his wrist, he punched in the command to open it. The panel made a loud clunk as the door slid free, revealing a large compartment filled with various electronics. Peering inside, he found the port he wanted and detached a small strand from his Tab, waiting for it to form into a coupling cable that could be patched in.

Activating his comm, he called on Andie again to assist.

“Andie, pal, you still with me?”

With the exception of a few clicks, his voice came through his sensory link, loud and clear:

“I am here, Marcellin. How may I assist you?”

“Prepare transmission for Planetary Research, care of Doctor Gordian.”

He connected the Tab’s cable into the port inside and waited for it to finish interfacing. It was also a second more before Andie was finished moving the transmission dish into position and connecting to the PR band at Zarmina. He chimed back when all was set.

“Transmission link established.”

“Good, now link up to my Tab. All data provided here is to be attached with the diagnostic performed on the main dish earlier. Merge both into an attachment and include it in the transmission. Ready?”

“Ready, Marcellin. Recording now and preparing all data. Do you wish to add a personal message?”

Turning to his cuff, he took a gander at the diagnostic readings coming through. He tapped at it a few times to enter in some parameters, selecting the readings that fell within the dates specified. Even unrefined, the diagnostic search seemed to be reporting nothing out of the ordinary. Day after day, week after week, month after month since he’d been here, the array reported a solid line of green functionality.

It was more than a little depressing to see the time which he had spent here summed up so succinctly. Had it really been that long?

“Gladly, Andie. Begin recording, audio only, please.” He cleared his throat and began speaking slowly and deliberately. “Doctor Gordian, this is Marcellin Strauss. Further to your transmission regarding anomalous readings, I have performed the requisite diagnostic checks and am pleased to announce that there are no technical glitches on this end. Both the signal dish and the scanning arrays are functioning well within established parameters. Whatever you noticed, it must be at your end, or due to something else entirely.”

He waited for a second for Andie to sense his intent and stop recording.

“Are you finished, Marcellin?” he asked.

“Yes, Andie. Send it now.”

“Right away.”

Detaching the cable from the inside, Strauss retracted it into his cuff and closed the panel shut. Within seconds, a new layer of sparkling dust was forming and he was already well on his way inside.

On his way back, his headache let up long enough for him to have a single lucid thought. What if the signals they were reading weren’t coming from the fields and field of Deverosa located inland? What if it were coming from somewhere else entirely, a transmitter or a beacon somewhere outside Bonfils? That would certainly explain the duration and intensity of the signals the scanners had picked up. Short and focused, like nothing the flora ever put out.

He paused at the airlock and considered it a second longer. As much as he hated the prospect of making any additional work for himself, he couldn’t deny that the thought was proving quite intriguing. Already it was burning through his hangover and threatening to bring something akin to clarity to his mind.

“Andie, are you there?”

“I am,” the computerized voice said. “Are you wanting to come back in?”

“Uh, yes, Andie. Please open the door. But while you’re doing that, can you access those readings specified in the original message from Gordian? I want to run some tests on those.”

“Certainly. What would you like me to look for?”

He thought that one over for a second as the door opened to admit him and he stepped inside. As Andie cycled the air and conducted decontamination procedures, he did his best to remember all the elementary lessons he had received back in primary. At some point in his youth, he had heard how the Flotilla had used a free-space optical communication system when they first made to the trip from Sol. Such methods were not used since planetfall, but if it someone were out there trying to make contact…

It was a long shot. But if correct, it would certainly payoff, maybe even get him a transfer sooner than expected.

“Structure,” he said finally. “Isolate the readings and assume they represent an optical transmission. I think someone out there might be trying to talk to us down here.”

New Anthology Sample!

gliese 581Hi folks. Life has been pretty busy and distracting of late, but after a few busy weeks I find myself with some time on my hands once again the freedom with which to write. And so I have, specifically on my second contribution to the Yuva Anthology – the Prologue known as “The Torch”. Though the story is not yet complete, I am finally reaching the climax of the tale, where the main character Magid Muktari is arriving to meet his benefactor and the man who intends to make sure his dream of exoplanet colonization becomes a reality.

But of course, there is still the question of terms to consider, some details that need to be ironed out, and an explanation or two as to why this is all happening. But I won’t bore you with a big summation. Instead, I present you with the latest installments in the story where Muktari takes his first commercial flight into space and doesn’t much enjoy it! Relying on research I’ve been doing on Virgin Galactic, the “Skylon” engine, and other sources, this is basically my take on what commercial space flight will look like in the near future.

What’s more, the chapter includes some ideas on the subject of orbital living pods, habitation complexes, and private space stations which may also become a reality in a few decades. Yes, as the technology improves and more and more people find themselves going into space, to the Moon, and beyond, Earth’s orbit could become the new international waters, where just about anything is legal, people do their “off-world banking”, and the rich live and play in low-gravity environments. Enjoy the chapter and please feel free to offer any and all constructive criticisms or comments…

skylon

“Treat” was hardly the word Muktari would have used. After a strenuous take off, the plane pulled into a sharp ascent, engaged its hypersonic engines, and was soon breaking the sound barrier several times over. Thus far, the trip was conforming to his expectations, which could only mean things would get worse before they got better. For the duration of their ascent, he had only one thought on his mind.

Why am I doing this? Was entertaining a possible job offer really this important to him? Would a few years in Oslo and the North Atlantic be so bad by comparison? Of course it would, but that didn’t make this personal first any more pleasant.

Of course, it was obvious why Harding had such a place available to him. More and more, one heard of corporate offices being placed in orbit, where the laws were laxer and off world authority was still being established. Most financiers found that they had at least another few decades before the law caught up to them and some interplanetary body would be created that could monitor their floating financial holdings or havens.

Nevertheless, the idea of breaking orbit and enduring near-weightlessness was not something he thought too highly of. Heights had been known to give him vertigo. How would standing above an entire planet feel in comparison?

Things did not improve until they hit atmo, at which point, weightlessness returned all of the blood which had been pooling in his legs to his head . He grunted loudly as the transition hit him, making his headache feel all the more noticeable.

“Don’t drink much do you?” asked Natalia, seated across from him.

“No,” he replied heavily. “Ironically, I think I could use a drink right now.”

She smiled. Pressed the button on the side of her seat. “What can we get you? This flight comes with a full refreshment service.”

“Nothing, please. I doubt I could keep it down right now.” He raised his hand as he said this. The effort to bring it to face height was incredibly easy, and he began to stare at it and everything around him as the ship coasted into the upper atmosphere. Everything that wasn’t anchored in place seemed to be floating carelessly, as if underwater. The sight of it seemed ethereal, almost entirely incorporeal.

He looked out the cabin window and spotted the thin blue layer of the upper atmosphere that was slowly pulling away from them. He had heard of the effect of seeing the great blue marble from orbit, but had imagined it would feel somewhat differently. Looking down at it all, he did not feel particularly grandiose or tiny, as he’d been told to expect. He mainly felt empty, as if some sense of pathos was struggling to be realized within him. He didn’t understand why, nor did he particularly want to think about what it meant…

“Folks, we’re about to engage the third stage drive. Please hang on and remain seated.”

“Oh dear,” Muktari breathed, tightening his grip on the arm rests. Natalia raised her voice to be heard over the sound of the gentle warning bell that began to fill the cabin with its chimes.

“Don’t worry. It’s nothing like breaking orbit. You’ll barely feel it at all.”

She was right too. It was marginally better. As soon as the noise died down, they felt a push that pushed Muktari into his seat and pulled Natalia against her restraints. But the force was relatively calm compared to the concerted effort it took to get them from the ground into the lower atmosphere. It almost felt soothing by comparison, and ended quicker too.

When the engine cut out, they began to coast again and things once again seemed to float everywhere. Muktari leaned back once more and took a deep, cleansing breath.

“Better?” she asked.

“Oh, yes. I love the irony of it too.”

“Irony? What irony?”

He opened his eyes, saw the look of genuine confusion on her face. He considered explaining it to her, how the very man who seemed to be proposing that some segment of humanity break the bonds of Earth and travel to the stars was terrified of doing it himself. That in itself seemed like irony enough, but the deeper implications of that were not something he felt like discussing. It was not simply a joyous experiment, he knew, but a possible necessity.

Mankind would either slip the bonds of Earth forever, or risk perishing below as it became less and less hospitable.  How could he explain that to one such as her, someone still young and from all outward appearances, happy to be alive in her time?

“Never mind,” he said. “It’s a moot point. All that matters is, you’re father wants to see me and I’m obliging him. As I imagine all people do.”

“He does seem to have that effect on people.”

Muktari hummed thoughtfully. “And does he make them all go through the effort of coming topside to see him or does he deign to travel to meet them from time to time?”

Her eyes grew distant and she looked away as she answered. “Not for some time now.”

It was Muktari’s turn to look confused, but nothing more seemed forthcoming and he didn’t feel like asking. He was sure all things would be made plain enough once they reached Harding’s particular module. Then he could marvel over the engineering achievement of such a thing and stroke Harding’s ego by telling him he had never seen one up close. He was sure he would find that flattering enough, and might even choose to intrigue Muktari by describing it’s construction in detail to him. He was sure he would find any discussion of a module’s internal ecology quite interesting to.

After a moment of strained silence, Natalia smiled to him again and retrieved her Flexpad. For the duration of the flight, they said nothing more to each other. Only the occasional corrective burst from the retro rockets seemed to break the smooth monotony of their course. Earth disappeared out the port side window too and all he could see after that was a background of stars. Looking at the rotating star field was likely to trigger vertigo, so he simply closed his eyes and tried to rest until they arrived.

It wasn’t until sunlight broke through the window that he chose to open them again.

“Oh! Oh my!” he said, shielding them from the harsh light. Once more, he was suffering terribly from the effects of a single night of irresponsibility.

“Are you alright?” she asked.

“Yes, just let me know when the window’s adjusted.”

He heard her giggle. “It already has, so you’re safe. And you really should look. You can see it from here.”

“See what?”

“Curiosity,” she said plainly. That brought his eyes open. Anything with such an abstract name was something he had to see. Straining to adjust his eyes, he looked out the tinted window and waited for something other than the glowing ball in the background to become apparent to him.

And then it came to him. Twinkling in the night, it’s solar arrays stretching to the side like long, shining filaments, the small satellite hung before them. He could make out the hub in the center of it, discernible by its flashing status lights. As they neared, this bulbous middle section elongated and became a cylindrical structure, the lights flashing on it surface indicating that it was rotating. Only a small band at the very center of it remained steady, where the long arrays were mounted.

Towards the bottom end, where they seemed to be heading, a large aperture loomed. Bright lights shined out from within, and more blinking lights moved before his eyes as the doors on which they were mounted seemed to be sliding open to admit them.

Some more corrective bursts, and the entire thing shifted towards the nose of their craft. Slowly, Earth filled the window again and its yellow and green continents and shimmering skies were all that they could see. Another burst pushed him forwards against his restraints, and he felt them slowing.

And then, his window went grey. A long wall overtook them, metal, lighting and composite materials swallowing their ship and closing in behind them. More bursts, more corrective movements, and then a loud clang reverberated through the hall and he felt them come to a stop.

He felt blood trickle back into his feet and was struck by a slight dizziness. He lifted his arm again and noted the return of gravity, albeit just by a fraction. Clearly, the station was simulating barely a quarter g, if that much at all. He would find walking quite disorienting at first, then perhaps a bit adventurous. He would have to be careful.

Natalia’s voice was like a trumpeter call when she announced that it was time.

“Come on. I’ve arranged a short tour before we see my father. You’ll be quite interested to see what Curiosity has to offer.”

Muktari’s ears registered her voice like a harsh disturbance. At the moment, they were attuned to every noise in the ship, every din coming through the walls from the outside.  He could hear the sound of buzzing and whirring at work, coming through the walls fro somewhere to their fore. No doubt, a docking collar was extending from somewhere inside the bay and was busy mounting itself on the ship’s hatch.

“Are you coming?” she said, getting to her feet.

He very carefully undid his restraints, raised himself to his feet, and then sat back down.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“I think I’ll wait. Don’t want to exit too soon. Decompression and all that.”

She didn’t laugh or giggle this time. After dealing with all his other hang ups, she appeared to be getting just the slightest bit tired of him. She extended her hand and addressed him the way a mother might address a child.

“I assure you, Doctor. No one is going to let you step off before the collar is fully fixed and pressurized. No one has ever died or suffered from asphyxiation while in my father’s care.”

She imbued his title with some degree of emphasis, he noticed. Perhaps she was seeking to remind him he was a man of science and such behaviors were supposed to be beneath him.

He shook his head. “Even so…”

She sighed once more and took hold of his hand. “Don’t worry,” she said calmly, but firmly. “I’ll be there with you in case anything bad happens. But I promise you, nothing will.”

He looked down at her hand, touching his, then to her face. Her eyes were insistent, but still soft and charming. And her hand felt warm against his, quite warm. Suddenly, he forgot about his dizzy spell and the remote chance he might die as he stepped off the craft. Even his headache seemed a distant memory right now…

New Anthology Sample!

gliese 581Boy, its been awhile since I posted anything from my group’s anthology. But, since it is something I am committed to do doing on my site, I always feel the need to post sample updates whenever they become available. And here is the latest from one of my own contributions to the anthology (titled “Yuva”), the fourth installment to be exact. I imagine there will be two more like it before the story has reached fruition and “The Torch”, as it is called, will be complete.

Hope you all enjoy it, and I really hope people will come on out to support Yuva once it too is completed and available for purchase/download. I’m hoping to make it available in both paperbacks and ebook format, and of course, there will be promotional discounts. But that’s another day and we still need more contributors before it can happen. If you’re an indie, there are still a few spots open…

*               *               *

The door slid open, admitting the faint light of the room’s nighttime bioluminescent units. Muktari stumbled in, his eyes set on the desk at the far side of the room, where his satchel and compad rested It was a bit of an effort to make it there without knocking anything over, and yet he found his way to his chair within a few minutes.

Muktari had been drunk exactly three times in his life. The first two occurred in university while studying abroad. Being in the company of some many young men who were either not members of the faith, or who had turned their backs on its more rigorous elements long ago, had sufficed to get him to indulge then. But after discovering there was little in inebriation, he had quickly put a stop to that.

The third time was tonight. After the first drink with Mazzini, he had quickly found his way back to the front where the company shuttle was awaiting him. After hopping in the back and ordering the automated driver to take him home, he had indulged heavily in the private stock that was kept in the back. There was no trace of the whiskey Mazzini had coaxed him into drinking, but he found plenty of another generic variety to sip on. No soda water was needed, as he wanted the full, punishing effect of it.

It was somewhere between the old opera house and his hotel he realized the true purpose of such poison. The use was to be found in its abuse. The infliction of pain and torture upon oneself, not to alleviate pain or worry, but to punctuate and drive it home. He had to admit, it was genius, in a bleak and sardonic sort of way.

But were human beings if not lovers of irony and masochism?

Setting his eyes on his satchel, he pulled out his compad and flexed it a few times to activate its bio cell. The light came on and the image of its welcome screen was projected into his visual field.

Meşale, he typed on the virtual keyboard, and was rewarded with a desktop. He called up all his files on his presentation and eyed them despondently. The images of the five planets arrayed from left to right suddenly seemed like a terribly lost cause, a fool’s hope that he made the unfortunate mistake of sharing with others. Running his hand over the screen, he took the entire file in hand and began drifting it towards the icon of the trash in the lower right corner. It hovered directly above the icon, darkening it… and there it waited.

He wanted so badly to destroy it all, to remove all traces of the proposal and all the difficulty such ideas was bringing him. He wanted to forget about everything that had happened in the last week, to start fresh and stop feeling like a fool who was shouting at the rain. He was so tired of staking everything – his life, his job, his reputation, his future – on gambits that got him nowhere.

Really, what made him think that Zimmerman, or anyone for that matter, would have taken it seriously? Could it have been the fact that after years of doing the same thing, over and over, that he was beginning to suspect there was no future to be had here at home? Was it that deep down inside, all empirical evidence pointed towards the same outcome and all attempts to defer or delay it seemed futile? Was it really so absurd, with all he saw happening around him on daily basis, to plan for the worst? And who could fault him for looking further, given the audacious but still limited plans for Solar Colonies?

In business school, they still taught young academics that ambition and initiative were the keys to the success. Was it so wrong to think that that still applied? Would he be calling them tomorrow and demanding that they revise the curriculum to teach conformity and affability instead?

His nerve faltered and he pulled the file away from the trash. Taking a deep breath, he did his best to get his head together and proceeded to the lavatory. Some cold water on his face, and some mineral water in his belly, and he was sure to feel better. He also needed to get out his night clothes, as they were ruffled and beginning to stink of self-pity.

The door chimed. His head snapped around in a hurry and he felt his heart leap. Between the fatigue and alcohol, he was in no shape to be startled. Sighing, he proceeded to the room’s common area and approached the front door. It chimed again…

“Who’s there?” he asked irately.

“An interested party,” came a female voice through the comm. Muktari frowned. What could possibly the meaning of this, he wondered.

When he reached the door, several possible answers came to mind. It slid open to reveal the woman from earlier, the one he had left Mazzini with at the afterparty. At the time, he had suspected her of being an industrial spy, or possibly a professional. He now suspected the former, as there was little chance she had passed on Mazzini in order to seek him out. Mazzini was not known to turn his nose up at a fine lady who would deign to ask for money before performing an act he held so dear.

“Magid Muktari?” she said.

“Yes,” he replied, putting his arm to door frame, blocking her entry. “How may I help you?”

“Actually, I was thinking it was I who could help you.”

“I’m not sure what you’re selling, but I can tell you I’m not interested.”

She smiled at that, exposing to perfectly ordered rows of white teeth. Another very impressive and pretty feature she boasted. It was little wonder she was sent out to deliver messages.

“I can assure you, I’m not here to solicit anything. I’m just here to relay a proposal.” She looked past him into the common area. “May I come in?”

Muktari looked behind him to the couch and considered his options. He could slide the door shut, leaving the lovely lady out in the corridor. Or he could invite her in, hear her out. Aside from being rude, the former option seemed downright needless seeing as how he had nothing else planned. And an offer might be just what he needed, given his prospects.

Stepping out of her way, he ushered her in and made his way over to the dispenser in the far corner of the room. “Can I offer you something? Coffee? Tea? Mineral Water? Perhaps some poison?”

“You look like you’ve had your fair share yourself,” she said, sitting on the couch and getting comfortable. Muktari shook his head, began filling two glasses with mineral water and some ice cubes.

“So… what’s so important that you chose to bother me at this late hour? Was my friend not entertaining enough for you?”

That made her smile again. He had to admit, she had a very pretty smile, and the way she was seated right now showed just enough leg to intrigue him. Perhaps it was the alcohol thinking for him. He offered her a glass and sipped from his own.

“Oh, Mazzini is quite charming. But I didn’t come to this city to enlist him. It was your presentation that I wanted to hear.”

“You mean the lecture on Oceanic Enhancement?” he said, shrugging and taking a sip from his glass. “Not my work, specifically. I merely presented the relevant findings, based on the company’s ongoing efforts.”

“Not that one,” she said. “I was referring to the one you presented to your boss, Mr. Zimmerman, less than a week ago.”

Muktari stopped in the midst of sip. He was worried he might choke. He stared over the edge of his glass for a few seconds and carefully lowered it. The lady smiled again and placed her glass down on the table in front of her.

“Ah, I see you I have your attention now. I can imagine you’re also wondering how I knew about it?”

 Muktari cleared his throat. “The thought crossed my mind.”

“Our sources are very good. And company gossip has always been a prime source of intel. One scarcely needs sources at all when people speak so freely.”

Muktari wasn’t sure how to respond. He shuffled awkwardly and cleared his throat.

“What was not being spoken of so freely was the fact that you are also scheduled to be transferred to Oslo. That information came at a price, but it was a good investment, in my employer’s opinion.”

Muktari saw where this was going now and saw an opportunity to respond.

“And who is this employer, pray tell?”

She reached into a small fold in her dress, invisible to the naked eye, and pulled out a card. She laid it down on the table carefully and slid it in his direction. Muktari snatched it up in his left hand and held it up, depressing one corner to activate the display chip within.

A small presentation video began, colorful graphics dancing around and showing a name.

Harding International, it said. Muktari’s eyes widened and his mouth fell open a few centimeters. When he looked back at the lady before him, he glared intently at her, a frown forming on his face.

“Who are you?”

Again, that smile. “Seriously, you don’t recognize me? Don’t you read the trade pages?”

He frowned harder. It was a rhetorical question largely, just about everyone was familiar with the Harding family and their holdings. And aside from the slight tan she had picked up, it was not hard to see the resemblance to her father.

“Not that ones that deal exclusively in global capital and investment,” he said firmly. “Why would your father be interested in exoplanet colonization?”

She spread her hands before her. “He likes to think he sees things in people, in ideas. It’s what built our family empire after all. And he also liked to enlist people who can do the same, who see potential in things down the road.”

She let that linger in the air for a moment, during which time, Muktari could think of nothing to say. He was hit by a wave of self-satisfaction and found he couldn’t speak. Naturally, he did his best not to show it, but knowing that a corporate headhunter was interested in his work could not help but inspire a certain sense of self-satisfaction. He had to wonder if Zimmerman had sources of his own implanted in Harding, whether or not they would get wind of this and wonder if it was an indication to start taking his proposals more seriously…

But alas, such feelings were tempered by the fact that he knew nothing about what Harding or his people had in mind here. What’s more, he knew enough not to trust any offer at face value. Regardless of how bleak his future looked with Zimmer and Associates, he still needed to proceed as if he were in a position of strength, unwilling to settle too quickly or easily.

“So what does your… father want of me?” he asked firmly. “Is this to be a matter of intellectual property, buying up and patenting an idea so it can be turned into cash once it becomes profitable?”

She didn’t smile this time. Instead, she rose to her feet and extended her hand to him.

“Nothing so crass. But if you’re interested in making your proposal again, to someone who is genuinely interested and willing to listen, then I’ll arrange a meeting?” She looked to her hand, back at Muktari. “Sound fair?”

Muktari looked at her hand as well, cautiously, and then took it in his. “Alright. I will meet with him. But no guarantees. I hear Oslo is very nice this time of year.”

“It is,” she said, smiling very broadly. He was almost dazzled by her two rows of impeccable teeth.