Future Days Released!

Future Days Released!

Good news everyone! The anthology known as “Future Days” – a collection of 17 short stories by Castrum Press’ sci-fi authors – has just been released. And in honor of its release, the book is on sale now for $0.99 (£0.99 pounds in the UK). As I’m sure I’ve mentioned, one of the short stories is by yours truly. It’s titled “Jericho”, and its set in the same Universe as The Cronian Incident.

The plot revolves around a generation ship and a crew of settlers who are on their way to a distant planet. This planet has already been seeded by a breed of nanotechnology known as Seedlings, which terraform planets and build the colonists’ infrastructure in advance of a colony ship. But of course, some surprises are waiting for the colonists when they arrive!

The book is available on Amazon and will be on sale until August 31st! As of September 1st, it will be $2.99, so you better hurry!

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Cover Art Reveal for the Future Days Anthology!

Behold! When the anthology drops, this will be the beautiful artwork that adorns the cover! This anthology is a collection of short stories by Castrum authors and is being released in advance of a number of new books by said authors (one of which is the second installment in my Formist Series – The Jovian Manifesto). My wife thinks there’s a strong resemblance between the child wearing the jet pack and yours truly. Yeah, I suppose I can see it too! 🙂

For those interested, my own contribution is the story Jericho, a story that takes a look at a generation ship that arrives at its destination many centuries from now. The colonists are what are known as Seedlings, people who use advanced nanotechnology to seed and terraform other worlds in advance of colonists. When they arrive, their homes, cities, streets, industries, and all the basic amenities are already built. All they need to do is take their places among the colony and get things working.

This story takes place in the same universe as The Cronian Incident, thought not the same time frame. Speaking of which, stay tuned for cover art for the second installment in that series, The Jovian Manifesto!

Two Bits of Good News!

Two Bits of Good News!

More good news, folks! As I announced a few weeks ago, The Jovian Manifesto came back from Castrum Press with a number of editing suggestions. This book is the sequel to The Cronian Incident and the second book in the Formist Series. After incorporating their edits, I also included ones provided by my darling wife (she’s such a good editor!).

And now, the manuscript is back at the Castrum getting a final read-through before going to print. According to the publisher, the book should getting a mid-summer publication. Naturally, I am quite excited that the sequel is being published roughly nine months after the first novel. While the publisher and I were hoping to get it out sooner, one simply can’t rush the creative process. Believe me, I’ve tried!

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Credit and Copyright: Castrum Press/©Duncan Halleck

In the meantime, my publisher and I have been talking about releasing an anthology of my short stories. These stories are actually a collection I’ve been hoping to publish for some time; but somehow, I never got around to it. I’m lousy at self-editing and of course, I have been busy with other projects. In any case, many of the stories were originally written as part of the 2013 April A to Z challenge while others were added afterwards.

Originally, I had planned to release this anthology under the title Flash Forward. However, I never managed to get through the lengthy editing process so the stories were never published. However, one of the stories, titled Jericho, will be included in Castrum’s upcoming release – Future Days! As for the other short stories, that remains to be seen…

This summer will be a busy one and will involve multiple releases. And if there’s any time to spare, perhaps the wife and I will take a much-needed vacation. Stay tuned for more news!

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!

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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!”

2014’s Master To-Do List

Colourful 2014 in fiery sparklersWith this year in full swing and the events of 2013 now a memory, I thought it was high time to take stock of everything I need to do in the coming twelve months. As always, I got a lot of projects in the works and plenty of things I want to get done, some of which I was supposed to be finished with already. And I seem to recall mentioning a few of these items in the course of my New Year’s resolutions…

So here goes…

1. Finish Editing Papa Zulu and Release It:
Now this is one I’ve been letting linger for quite some time! Originally, I had hoped to have this book ready a year ago, but editing has proven to be a more arduous process than previously expected. However, I got my trusty and professional editor (hi Leslie!) in my corner, and she’s editing both it and Whiskey Delta. So sometime before the Spring season hits us, I plan to release the one and re-release the other. It will be a kind of one-two, launch/relaunch combo!

2. Edit Fast Forward and Release it:
Back in April of 2013, I penned a number of short stories for the A to Z Challenge. Since that time, I’m coalesced the best stories, added a few extras from over the years, and created a volume of futuristic tales that I named “Fast Forward”. And with my membership over at Shutterstock.com, I also prepped a new and eyepopping cover that I think will get some attention once its published. But before that can happen, I need to go through it again and make sure its all cleaned up.

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3. Bring Yuva Anthology to Completion:
Khaalidah and I – a friend and fellow indie writer over at Writer’s Worth – started this anthology of space travel and colonization two years ago. At first, we found ourselves joined by several friends and respected colleagues who also wanted to see the project come to fruition. But after several months of initial progress, things began to slow down and linger.

But I’m pleased to say that in the past few weeks, things have really picked up again. Owing to a full-court press to recruit new talent, we have just about all our stories accounted for and I’m waiting for drafts from all the participants. It would be really nice if we could get this book – a tribute to Ray Bradbury and a tale that is more relevant than ever now – finished by the end of the year.

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4. Finish Reading List and Review Them:
Yeah, my reading list is, as always glutted and filled with stuff I was supposed to have finished a long time ago. It seemed to take me forever to finish reading World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, by Max Brooks. And now that that’s finished, I am hoping to finish the last three books that I have started but not finished, and then move on to the many other novels on my nightstand.

These books include Accelerando by Charles Stross, a story about this century that is required reading for anyone trying to write about the Technological Singularity; We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, the quintessential dystopian tale about social engineering, failed utopias, and the inspiration behind such classics as 1984 and (arguably) Brave New World. And last, but certainly not least, The Quiet Game: Five Tales To Chill Your Bones by Rami Ungar.

we_zamyatinAnd when I’m done all those books, which I’ve been reading simultaneously and in bursts, I can move on to Ready Player One, The Giver, and Back To The Front, an account of one man’s walking tour of the battlefields of World War I. Hey, I don’t just deal in science fiction, you know!

And with all that done and put away with, maybe the wife and I can finally find a bigger place, which is something we’ve been working on for some time. And of course, there will be the walking tour that we will be doing with my family this coming April. I need to do some research to prepare for that, and you can bet your bottom dollar you’ll be hearing about it too!

So yeah, 2014 is shaping up to be an eventful year. I hope it proves to be as productive and enjoyable as I hope, and that you all get what you want from it as well. Take care and Happy New Year!

News from Space: Full Model of Exoplanet Created

gliese_581gEver since the Kepler space probe began finding hard evidence of the existence of exoplanets – i.e. planets orbiting suns outside of our Solar System – scientists have been working hard to determine what conditions on these worlds must be like. For instance, it is known that planets that orbit closely to their red dwarf parent suns are tidally locked – meaning they do not rotate on their axis.

This, in turn, has led to the proposal that any watery worlds in the vicinity could form what’s called an “Eyeball Earth.” Being directly under the local star, with one side perpetually facing towards it, the light would be intense enough to melt a circular patch of water, while the rest of the planet would remain locked in a deep freeze. In short, not an ideal situation for supporting life.

eyeball_earthHowever, a new three-dimensional model has been created, thanks to the efforts of two researchers at Peking University. In their research paper, they suggest that ice and oceans on these planets would be dynamic, which is both good and bad. Basically, it means an Eyeball Earth has a narrower habitable zone, but that more of the surface has the potential to support life. It also means that the “eyeball” looks more like a lobster!

This paper represents the next step in scientific analysis of exoplanets. Initially, estimates of habitability – i.e. temperatures that could allow liquid water on the planet surface – were based on a single analysis of the planet’s atmosphere to see how much light reaches the surface. But, in the real world, atmospheres form clouds, distribute heat through winds and convection, and exhibit other sorts of complex behavior.

eyeball_earthThese are the sorts of things that are handled in the full, three-dimensional climate models built to study the Earth. Hence, the Peking research team adapted these same models to handle exoplanets that differed significantly from Earth. But these models didn’t capture a critical part of the distribution of heat on the Earth: the ocean circulation. Instead, it treated the entire ocean as a two-dimensional slab.

The new study corrects for that by using a coupled ocean-atmosphere climate model, the Community Climate System Model version 3. For their study, they used Gliese 581 g, a potentially Earth-like planet orbiting in the habitable zone of an red dwarf star 20 light years away. This planet, coincidentally, is ranked by NASA as being the most Earth-like exoplanet yet seen in the known universe.

Gliese_581_-_2010Critically for the model, it’s close enough to its host star to receive 866 Watts/square meter at the top of its atmosphere (whereas the Earth receives 1,366). Since it is not yet known what Gliese 581 g’s atmosphere looks like, the authors assumed an Earth-like composition, but varied the amount of CO2 to change the intensity of the greenhouse effect. From all this, the planet was assumed to be covered in a deep ocean.

After giving the model 1,100 years to come to equilibrium, the authors sampled a century of its climate. With carbon dioxide concentrations similar to the Earth’s (330 parts per million in the model), the “eyeball” vanished. That’s because ocean currents formed along the equator and brought in ice from the west that split the eyeball into two lobes that flanked the equator – which resemble the claws of the lobster.

eyeball_earth1The currents then transferred heat to the eastern portion of the planet, which melted the ice to form the lobster’s tail. In addition to the ocean current that altered ice distribution, an underwater circulation (similar to the one on Earth) formed, which sent warmer water toward the poles. In the atmosphere, a jet stream also formed over the equator, which also distributed some heat to the unlit side of the planet.

Ultimately, the new model suggests the habitable zone of watery planets near red dwarfs is a bit more narrow than previous studies had suggested. The good news is that, in this model, the ice never got more than 3m thick on the dayside of the planet. That’s thin enough to allow light to reach the water underneath, meaning photosynthesis is a possibility over the entire dayside of the planet.

OceanPlanetAlthough this model is a major improvement, it still lacks a key feature that’s likely to exist on planets – namely continents, or at least features on the seafloor that differ greatly in height. These will radically alter the currents on the planet, and thus radically alter the distribution of heat within the ocean. Unfortunately, this information is even harder to come by at present than atmospheric conditions.

So for the time being, all we really know about Gliese 581 g and other similar exoplanets is that their surfaces are icy, but habitable – not unlike the Jovian moon Europa. However, that is not to say that we won’t have more information in the near future. With Kepler still in operation and the Gaia space observatory now in space, we might be able to construct more detailed models of nearby exoplanets in the near future.

Also a coincidence, Gliese 581 g just happens to be the setting of my writers group’s upcoming anthology, known as Yuva. And with this latest bit of info under our belts (basically, that the entire planet is a big, watery ball), I imagine we’ll have to adjust our stories somewhat!

Source: arstechnica.com

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!

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…

Anthology Sample: The Torch, Part III

Hello again, fellow readers and writers! It’s been a long time since I produced any samples of writing from my group’s anthology, but rest assured we’ve all been busy creating, editing, and illuminating. I myself have been rather derelict in this pursuit recently, having left my prologe story (The Torch) to sit idle for some time. However, I’m back on it now that I’m back in town and have finished work on the latest segment.

I plan to fashion just a few more to finish the piece, which will introduce the larger story, and then get back to recruiting and editing. As it stands, more than two-thirds of the stories have been claimed, one third have been completed, and the rest are still up for grabs. If you’ve been proffered an invitation, consider this your reminder notice. We still need you! I urge you, be the ones to help this vision of the future reach completion before it is too late…

Anyhoo, here is the third segment of Torch, fresh off the press and straight to your laptops, tablets, ereaders or PDAs. Enjoy!

*                    *                    *

The aged mirror’s appraisal of him was less than flattering. It’s ornate brass frame was a thing of beauty, but the tainted glass looked very much as he felt. He finished with his tie, turned to face the room, and moved back in to face the music. Hours of speeches, public addresses, and his own presentation; and yet, he felt that this portion of the evening was the true test of mettle. Walking through the crowd of entrepreneurs, states people and representatives felt like walking a particularly malicious gauntlet. At least when he was on stage he could pretend to be addressing an empty room. The bright lighting made it almost seem as such.

All part of the job description, he told himself. His first stop was to the couple immediately to his left. The Russian Minister of the Environment, Kirill Minksi. Muktari didn’t recognize the woman on his arm; presumably she was someone he was sleeping with, if not his wife.

“Doctor Muktari, quite the lovely lecture,” he said, taking his hand and shaking it firmly. “It was like being in school all over again.”

“Really?” Muktari said. “Do you mean enlightening or stifling and subject to the idiosyncrasies of a single man?”

Both Minski and the woman on his arm laughed. He quickly turned to her and made the introduction. “Where are my manners? Doctor Magid Muktari, this is Klavdiya Chauchat.”

 “Ah yes, the ballerina?” he said, looking at her with a forced smile. Chauchat made a demure little gesture, something akin to a curtsey. “A pleasure, I assure you.”

“Enchanté,” she replied. She placed her fingers in his hand. Muktari chuckled and planted a gentle kiss on them. How little things had changed. Leading ladies still being escorted by men of power and influence, though now it was to summits rather than balls. At least the décor was still just as elegant, and the refreshments just as expensive.

“I was hoping we’d get a chance to talk, Doctor,” Minsky said next. “You’re reputation in government circles precedes you.”

“Is that so?”

“Why yes,” Minsky said with a look of surprise. “I attended the symposium in Luxembourg back in thirty-eight. You lectured there alongside Pracha and Suzuki. You were very good.”

“I remember,” he said. That was in the days of the Luxemburg Agreement, where he had been arguing for governments to include water usage and forestation as basic protocols. He had been but a mere player in those days, taking his cue from more senior experts. He supposed that Minsky saw it as a compliment to be mentioning him in conjunction with the others.

“I was discouraged that it did not have the desired effect.”

Minski chuckled sheepishly. He knew exactly what Muktari meant by that. As soon as the talks in Luxemburg ended, Minsky and his fellow Senators went home to vote the Agreement down in the Federation Council. Many of Muktari’s own colleagues spent years in the East trying to clean things up as a result.

 “Well,” Minski said, raising his glass. “Here’s hoping you and your colleagues have greater success this time around.”

Muktari stifled the urge to say something even more impertinent. He had learned some time ago that certain minds could not be swayed, and reminding of them of that fact was an even less worthy enterprise. He issued a courteous farewell to Muktari and even more cordiale one to Chauchat.

One down, he thought. So, so many to go.

That prospect immediately became cheerier when he spotted a familiar figure standing at the bar. A glass of single malt with ice in his hand and a Tamaki in his mouth. And of course, he looked about as uncomfortable as Muktari felt.

Grigore Mazzini, a fellow company man he had seen since their work in Tunisia. He remembered those days fondly, or more importantly, the nights when he and Mazzini would steal away from the array they had been working on to sample the night life in the capitol. Naturally, Zimmerman had decided to send people from other sectors in to represent their company. He was hoping he might find it at some point during the evening, as he was about the only face he both knew and could expect genuine kindness from.

“Dining on ashes, old friend?” he said as he approached. Mazzini looked at him curiously and then laughed when he saw who it was.

“Magid, you old provocateur, you!”

They embraced in front of the bar and gave each other a hearty kiss on the cheek, as was Muktari’s native custom. When they pulled apart, they were sure to complement each other on their choice of wear.

“I see you’ve updated your old vice?” he asked, nodding to the companion in his hand. Mazzini looked at it as well and scoffed.

“Only way I could smoke in here was to ensure the gentlemen at the door that they were vaporizers.” He took a long haul and let out a tiny vapor trail, watched as it disappeared a short distance from his lips. “Ah! And it’s just not the same.”

Muktari laughed and leaned against the bar with him. “I don’t suppose I could trouble you for one?”

Mazzini reached into his jacket and produced a case. He raised his glass just as soon as Muktari took one and activated it between his lips.

“Shall I tempt you with a spot of devil’s nectar as well?”

Muktari shook his head. “You know me, one vice at a time. Besides, I need some clarity if I want to make it through the night.”

“Trust me, friend. The only way either of us is making it through the night is with a proper numbing.”

“Hmm, I’d prefer a little morphine, in that case.”

Mazzini let out a great big belly laugh. A few heads turned, but otherwise the festivities were undisturbed. And more importantly, Muktari felt like he was actually beginning to enjoy himself a little. Alas, they both knew they couldn’t hide at the bar forever. As company men, they were here at the behest of someone else, and that required them to network and dialogue as much as possible between presentations. The after-parties were as important as the proceedings themselves when it came to fostering goodwill and securing the cooperation of vested interests. Hell, some would say they were even more important.

After a few minutes of idle conversation, Mazzini changed the course of their conversation. The way he introduced it let Magid know it was a matter of some delicacy.

“I, uh, heard an office rumor shortly before I left,” he said, taking a bit of a pause. “It seems they are looking for someone new to head up reclamation in the Arctic Circle. Out of our offices in Oslo.”

“Really?” Magid said. Not exactly a choice position, as it involved a considerable time on board ice trawlers and visiting monitoring stations in the high Arctic, such as Iceland and Baffin Island. Magid’s heart sank when he realized why the topic would be considered delicate…

“Oh no, you don’t mean –”

“I’m afraid so,” Mazzini said. “Word around the offices was that you were considered the top contender, given your background and rumors that you were kicking up some dirt.”

Magid buried his hands in his face. “Oh dear God, no.”

He felt Mazzini’s hand on his shoulder, heard on the onset of comforting words.

“I’m sorry, friend. I tried to warn you that your predilection for taking the long view and saying what you really thought might get you into trouble someday. Though this is considered a promotion, of sorts, everyone felt that you would surely not fail to get the message.”

“They can’t just fire me,” he said decisively. “They’re hoping I quit.”

Mazzini cleared his throat. “Seeing as how I’m letting you in on things, I should also point out that your last assignment was intended to have the same effect. Who knew you would actually find working in the Maghreb to be fulfilling. After you came back with that your presentation in your docket, I’m guessing they figured a transfer to the opposite extreme might… dampen you’re enthusiasm.”

“You mean chill it,” Magid corrected. “Well… message received.”

Mazzini patted him on the shoulder again. “As I said, my friend. I am truly sorry. If there was anything I could do…”

“I know,” Magid replied with a nod. Alas, they were just a bunch of company men, doing as they were told and going where they had to. Little more could be expected of them. “I think I’ll take that drink now.”

Mazzini looked genuinely surprised. “Are you sure?”

“Why not? Seems piety is a little wasted on me right now. Besides, I hear the whiskey is quite good.”

Mazzini laughed, though it sounded tempered. Though he was happy his friend would be joining him in a round, he was a bit hesitant to be involved in his corruption as well. Mazzini needed few excuses to tilt a glass, but anger and depression were good reasons not to in his mind. Still, he called the barman over and ordered two more glasses of what he was drinking.

“Two more Bruichladdich’s please, with ice.”

The barman nodded and went off to fetch their drinks. Many long seconds passed before any words passed between them again. When they did, they sounded about as delicate as before, though arguably more conspiratorial.

“Magid, please don’t look in her direction, but I must inform you that a pretty young thing is looking at you from the far corner.”

Magid sipped from his glass and nodded casually. Adjusting his head ever so slightly to employ his peripherals, be caught little more than blobs of color. For this, he would need more accurate coordinates.

“Which corner would that be?”

“Uh, north-east by my reckoning. Please don’t look at her, she’s still watching.”

“Well…” Magid said, confounded. “Could you describe her to me?”

“Long dark hair, lovely tan complexion, dark dress with a string of precious stones and just enough leg showing to give this old man an injection of frisk.” He swirled the ice cubes in his glass fervently. “I do so hope she’s looking at myself, though I imagine she’s more of what you could use right now.”

Magid chuckled, but shook his head. “Using ladies is not my speed, friend. Besides, I think I’m a little too depressed to be good company to anyone right now.”

“You sure? You’ll change your mind when you see her…”

Finally, and as casually as possible, she looked back in her direction and did a quick spot check. Mazzini was right, in all respects. He caught barely a wisp of her, but she was every bit as beautiful as his friend had let on. Far too comely to be gazing at the likes of them with anything approaching visceral interest.

“I don’t think so. Probably an industrial spy, or our competition, looking to eek some information out of us.”

“At the moment, I don’t care,” Mazzini said, quickly downing his second glass. “And if you’re sure you’re not up to the task, I’m definitely going to approach her. Let us just pray she’s not a professional, working the room.”

Magid frowned and chuckled, more deeply and sinisterly this time. Leave it to good ol’ Grigore to out a dirty spin on things. Leave it to him to leave him high and dry with his depression and the breaking of moral strictures as well. He eyed the glass in front of him and considered sending it back, but at the moment, he needed something to drown his feelings. Taking the glass in hand, he made a quick go of it, and quickly regretted the transaction.

“Whoa…” the barman said, a thick Russian accent discernible. “Another for you, sir?”

“No thank you,” he said, casting a look in Mazzini’s direction. His large frame now completely blocked the image of the stunning young woman. He cast a look around the room, and saw nothing but a night of pointless interaction as well.

Producing a fifty Euro note, he paid for his and Mazzini’s drinks and headed for the coat room. It was going to be a long night, and with nothing more to gained from doing his job, he would spend it doing something arguably less… productive.

*                    *                    *

And that’s section III down, and just three or so more to go! Hoping to avoid stretching those out, as I’m already 6,544 words in and only half-way done, by my reckoning. As you can imagine, I’d like to avoid what I did with Winston Agonistes, which was to break the word count limit by a factor of 2 to 3, depending on which limit I choose to go by. Originally, my group and I had agreed on a 5000 word limit, but we were willing to up it to 8000 in case of necessity. At 15,961 words, you might say I abused that limit just a little. Man, I must like to write ;)!

Anthology Sample: The Torch (part II)

Hello again from the world of writing! As some people may recall, I published a section of my other contribution to my group’s anthology a few days back. Entitled “The Torch”, it introduces a near-future scenario where an ecological engineer named Magid Muktari proposes launching an exoplanet colonization program. As the prologue to the anthology, it’s kind of important, in that it sets up the entire story and gets the ball rolling on the whole plot.

Hence why I wanted to do it myself. As the editor, you kind of have to put your money where your mouth is, otherwise you’re just a big fat delegator! And what good are those? In any case, the first section presented the introduction of the idea. In this second part, I wanted to get into the early like of Muktari, presenting his estranged wife from later in the book, but at a time when they were still partners and lovers.

Since she too was the creation of fellow anthologist Khaalidah, I thought she deserved a mention and a thorough treatment of all she accomplished in her lifetime. I hope I did her justice, and in the meantime captures some shred of what it will be like for a couple in the mid 21st century who are trying to make ends meet, and save the world at the same time! Hope y’all enjoy and remember that feedback is most welcome

*                    *                    *

The lights were already on when he came home. The nighttime creatures were about, singing their evening songs and tending to their nocturnal rituals. He felt the reassuring calm spread over him as soon as the wheels stopped in his driveway, the engine quieting down from its long run. The door raised itself for him and he put his tired feet to the ground, letting out a deep sigh.

“Home again, home again…” It took some effort to get him the rest of the way out. The steps were even harder to manage. It confounded him, how travelling could still be such a draining experience when machines generated all the motion. Perhaps their minds had not kept pace, still interpreting distance in terms of physical expenditure.

He paused on the front stoop and waited for Empathy to scan him. A quick flash hit his eye, discerning his retinal pattern, then projecting a kind greeting in his visual field.

Hujambo, Magid! it said. He laughed. Firdaws had toyed with the settings again. Of all the languages he had picked up in the course of his training, Swahili was the one that still alluded him. It was the one thing he she maintained over him for all these years; he suspected she relished it too.

“Hujambo, my dear!” he said as soon as he stepped into through the front door. No footsteps came to greet him. On a hunch, he wandered through the living annex and found her in her office. He paused at the entrance and sighed at her.

“Dining on ashes, dearest?”

She raised her finger to him. He spotted the jewel in her ear and the distant look in her eyes. Apparently, she had brought her work home with her again. Always the solemn and grave sort, her. Never shying and never blinking in the face of interminable change. He waited as patiently as he could while she finished her discussion with the person on the other end, and tried not to pass out against the wall.

“That’s not an offer, Tikhon, it’s an insult… No, don’t recommend this as a compromise, if we do, we’ll be doing nothing but until the project is realized. If they want the rights to drill, they need to meet the local’s demands and the EA’s demands… Alright, thank you. I’ll talk to you in the morning.”

She leaned back and sighed. She looked at him for the first time since his appearance on her step. She also removed the jewel and the contacts from her eyes, signaling the end of her day.

“How was your trip, dear?”

“Long and exhausting,” he replied. “And how goes the good fight?”

“The same,” she said, rising from her seat and proceeding to give him a kiss. “I trust your stopover was worth the extra travel time?”

“Ah, not exactly, no.”

She took his face in her hands. They felt lovely and cool against his skin. “Well, you can only do so much. I did say that it was an unlikely possibility as it was.”

He grumbled. She had indeed, and meant it as an indictment on the wisdom of his superiors rather than his plan. But it did him little good right now. In his current state, any tough love only seemed to drive the failure home.

“Shall I make us some dinner?”

He frowned and checked it his chrono. “You haven’t eaten yet?”

She shook her head and looked at the pile of display sheets that lay on her desk. No explanations were necessary. There was no time or schedules amongst workaholics.

“Sure, why not? Anything will do.”

“Good, because we’re having kofte. I was kind enough to pick some up on the way back from work, even though I knew there was a good chance you might not make it in before I went to sleep.”

“How considerate,” he said, bowing his head to offer thanks.

Punching him in the shoulder, she took off past him and headed for the kitchen. Taking a seat at the island stove, he watched while she prepared pieces of spiced meat and yoghurt from the cooler, intermixed with select greens from their crisper. She grabbed a tub of prepared rice from the bottom shelf and began spooning some into two bowls.

“Nothing like fresh,” he said, taking in the aroma. Firdaws insisted on doing things Halal, he knew. And the local authorities were yet to sign of on the compiled version. Luckily, their professions afforded them such luxuries, religious exception being a somewhat expensive pleasure these days.

“Are you going to ask about my day?” she asked finally.

“I thought I did.”

She laughed. “There are details, if you care to hear.”

“Of course,” he said with a sigh. Though he knew he wouldn’t be able to follow, and would incur her wrath if she turned around too soon.

“Well, it was hard enough getting the firm and the Emir to sit down together. He was unwilling to negotiate any lease on the land unless they agreed to a long-term commitment. The company asked what he meant by this, and he replies that fifty years would suffice. That nearly torpedoed everything. But once we got past that issue, the company started making its own demands. After surveying the land in the region, they announced they wanted to expand their lease to include an entire hillside range. They want resource exploitation rights, the whole lot…”

Muktari hummed thoughtfully, even though he wasn’t entirely sure the path she was taking with this. He heard a loud clink inside the cooler.

“So the Emir starts accusing them of sending in covert surveyors, which he claimed was in bad faith. That nearly caused the company to walk out again. However, they did say that they will resume negotiations if and when the Emir agrees to sign over the resource rights in the area to them.”

“I see…” though he didn’t.

“Now we’ve got to make a recommendation. Our boss wants to dangle the offer in front of the Emirs nose in the hopes that it might move things along, but as usual, he’s being an idiot.”

“Won’t be long before you are running things, dear.”

She chuckled. “In any case, I told him we should recommend a joint survey, find out exactly what the company found in those hills, and then conduct a separate negotiation. No sense in letting them exploit something until the locals have been notified of their rights and the government knows exactly what they are giving up.”

“Hmmm, and all this for a few hundred kilometers of sand.”

She turned suddenly. “That sand will hold one of the largest solar arrays to date. Every country in the region is already looking to buy up rights to the power it generates.”

“You’d think the Emir would want to conclude things.

Firdaws stroked a lock of black hair from her face. “His mistrust is… less than rational, but its working in his favor. Astral will make a meal out of his country if he lets them. The energy business is still the same, no matter what technology they employ.”

“And so the dance continues,” Muktari said with a chuckle. He was surprised that he had managed to get through it. His semi-delirious mind had somehow managed to take it all in and still managed to stay interested. Not all of it registered, but at least he grasped the salient points.

A loud clink signaled the presence of his bowl in front of him. He breathed in the warm steam of a lovely meal, felt his stomach ache with sudden anticipation. As usual, he hadn’t realized the extent of his own hunger until the food was in front of him.

“So…” she said. “What now?”

He looked up at her with a frown.

“You’re plan? Are you going to drop it, or take it to a more receptive audience?”

Muktari chewed slowly and considered the question. He had pondered that very question himself during the trip home, but to no avail. Short of going behind Zimmerman’s back and risking his entire career, he wasn’t sure how he could possibly move ahead with it anymore.

“Unclear,” he replied. “I might need to keep it close to my chest for now.”

“And let it die a natural death?”

Muktari cleared his throat. How like her to challenge him so. “I won’t let that happen. Sooner or later, I’ll find a receptive audience.”

Firdaws nodded and turned to close cooler unit. “It’s up to you, koca. But after the time and energy you’ve dedicated to this, I’d hate to see you lose faith just because your current boss said no.”

Current boss, he thought. Was she anticipating something, or making a possible suggestion? It was always so hard to tell with her!