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.