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!

Anthology Sample: “Swan Song”

 

Hello all. There’s plenty of things happening on the Anthology front! More authors, more contributions, and more final drafts being produced. As it happens, our good contributor and friend here, Melanie Edmonds, has just finished work on her story “Swan Song”. This is the third installment in Part II of the anthology, which deals with the final mission of the Colony Ships.

The story takes place roughly 100 years after Planetfall is made, when the Avincenna, Taftazani, and Kashani delivered the first wave of colonists to Yuva. Those who crewed them have lived a comparatively empty existence ever since, being unable to live planetside due to the intense gravity and finding little else of value to do since.

Edmonds take us into the world of these people and inside the ships as they perform their final duty to the colony and embrace their destiny. Here is the first section of the story, fresh from the digital press!

They say there is a swan that is silent for its whole life. It grows and loves and does all the swan-like things, but it does not utter a sound. Then, the moment before it dies, it opens its throat, and not even the vacuum of space can swallow the beauty of its song.

*          *          *          *

[The image broadcast across the Yuva networks is dominated by the great globe of her sun, Gliese 581. Nearing the glow, three shapes track slowly and majestically. Their silhouettes are familiar, for they are the great colony ships.]

[Transmission Voiceover]

“It has been ten years since we arrived here. Ten years since we slowed our ships and woke our children. Ten years since we put a stake in this planet and said, ‘this is our new home’. This is Yuva.”

*          *          *          *

Avicenna, Bridge
Gliese 581 – 20 minutes

“Final corrections made. We’re on approach vector.” Pilot Gnana Tanaq slid her hands off the controls. This is the last time I’ll do this, she thought. “Inertia will carry us in, now.”

The first time she touched the console, her hands were smooth and soft, barely out of puberty. Now, sixty-four years later, they were wrinkled and worn, though they still curled around the grips easily. Just as she had worn shiny spots into the plastic, so the grips had worn her hands into control-friendly curves. Pilots’ claws, some people called them. She bore hers proudly.

Behind her, she felt Jackson sigh and loosen his grip on his console. “So, that’s it, then.”

“Yup.”

“How long?”

Gnana glanced down at the readouts scrolling before her. “Not long. Twenty minutes, maybe, depending on how quickly the gravity pulls us in.” She turned her chair so she could see him. “You’re the navigator, though.”

Jackson didn’t even bother to check his readings. He shrugged. “Sounds right.”

She smiled at him, dark skin crinkling around her eyes. “I know, I know: it goes against everything you believe in to navigate purposefully into something.”

He wrinkled his nose and his moustache twitched. “I keep wanting to tell you to alter course. Can’t help it.”

Gnana laughed softly, but there was no real humour in it. The forward viewports were unshuttered and Gliese 581 filled the entire window. Its orange glow lit the Bridge as if it was already on fire.

With a sigh, she unclipped the tether that held her to the chair and pushed over to where Jackson floated. She covered his hand with hers and his head dipped slightly in acknowledgement. The sunlight was turning his hair red, like it had been years ago. Gnana used to joke that he was the whitest man she’d ever met, so pale he wasn’t even freckled. Like her, he’d spent his whole life in space behind radiation shielding; his skin had never felt the real touch of a sun. Another twenty minutes would change that.

She turned her attention forward. It was hard to look at the Bridge now; it wasn’t the home she had known anymore. She had expected memories to crowd in here, but instead, all she saw was gaps. The holes where missing stations once were: communications, cryonics, long-range sensors. The stripped-down environmental console and the bare patches of decking where chairs used to be; the only one remaining was hers, because the pilot still needed it for this final journey. Even navigation was stripped down.

This room used to be busy with bodies, full of shifting console displays and the shadows of the crew. Now, it was just her and Jackson.

Gnana glanced sideways and saw Jackson frowning. “Still angry that he chose not to come?” She didn’t have to say who she meant; he knew.

Jackson’s expression scrunched down. “His place is here.”

“It was his choice.” Gnana’s tone was non-committal; in truth, she wasn’t sure what she thought about the captain’s decision.

Three days ago, she had agreed with Jackson: the captain was a coward who refused the honourable path. They had all known this was a likely end to this journey when they signed on, but he had chosen to stay on the orbital platforms, training the colonists in… she wasn’t even sure what.

Then, the night before they departed on their final voyage, she had seen the captain at a bar. It was the only time in her life she had ever seen him drunk, and it wasn’t pretty. He had slurred goodbye to her and hugged her – hugged her – and she had seen it in his eyes. It tore him up to deny his duty but he wasn’t ready to stand on his ship and sail into the sun for the last time; there was still living left for him to do.

She couldn’t begrudge him that. He was younger than the other captains, though his time commanding the Avicenna meant he would never be able to step foot on the planet below. The toll of space on bones and organs meant the gravity would kill him, slowly and painfully. But he could have a life on the orbital platforms, maybe even lead the colonial effort the way he had led the ship.

She had considered staying too, but the only position open for her was as a shuttle pilot. It wasn’t anything like flying the Avicenna, though, and even a short atmospheric stay caused her pain. The last time, she’d had a bone-deep ache for two weeks afterwards, making her hands shake so badly that she couldn’t fly at all.

Besides, she was tired. This was her last flight, and it seemed fitting to her that it was with her baby, her ship, the machine that spoke to her through her hands on its controls.

With a sigh, she lifted her gaze to the sun burning before them.

“Look on the bright side,” she said to Jackson without looking. “Maybe you’ll finally get a tan.”

And that’s from Part II of the novel, so suffice it to say, we’re making headway! Stay tuned for more!

 

Winston Agonistes, Part III

Hey all. One thing that I like about summer, the added time it gives me to write! Yesterday, I went back to work on my story for Yuva, “Winston Agonistes” and finished part III. Last time, Winston met another synthetic named Yohanley, a aging AI who perplexed him with some rather odd questions. After asking him what he was, he told him that time would effectively erase all barriers between himself and his masters. Not knowing what to make of it, Winston put the encounter out of his mind and went on about his work.

And now, Winston is hard at work, accompanying the planetary council as they mount a diplomatic mission to another settlement. The mission proves interesting, as Winston is finding the settlers attitude towards him is undergoing a shift. He also begins to realize that much of what the Council has been doing of late is cloaked in secrecy, which is strange given that governments usually need more time to become clandestine. And last, he is beginning to contemplate what Yohanley said and what significance it might have for him. Could it all be connected…

“Everyone set?”

The personnel inside all signaled with a raised hand or a thumbs up gesture. The deckhand nodded and shut the vehicle’s door. Air seals engaged and the cabin suddenly became airtight. Still, no one inside seemed to feel comfortable enough to remove their helmets. The engine engaged and the cabin lurched a second later. They were, as the saying went, on the move. Their next stop, the Jiahu settlement and their litany of responsibilities.

They passed beyond the doors of the settlement, and the cabin filled with a bright orange glow. Winston set his eyes to the cabin’s window and watched as the surface began to roll past. Under the exposure of the sun, the earth looked much the same color as the sky, a warm, golden brown. The ATV blew by these quickly, leaving clouds of sand in its wake.

Before long, Winston could see native flora pass them by. It was sparse at first, but soon large stretches of the ruddy and purple mosses could be seen, the rich fungi that were indigenous to the surface. One had to travel some distance now to see these, even more so to witness the indigenous Deveroza that were once so common to the region. Strange, the plants seemed to grow through conveyance, but also demonstrated the trend of avoidance.

Curious…

“What do you see, Winston?” asked Bhutto, seated next to him. The words were muffled by the helmet she was still in the process of removing. He looked in time to see her hair extricate itself from her helmet in the form of a knotted tail. Somewhat shorter than usual, he noted.

“Councilor, have you done something with your hair?”

She smiled and touched a finger to the tail. “Yes, I trimmed it in anticipation for the mission. I didn’t want it coiling up around my face inside this thing. I might suffocate myself.”

Statistically unlikely, but Winston knew it to be a jest. He chuckled in accordance.

“So… what do you see?” she asked again. Winston looked out again and surveyed the landscape. The moss was getting thicker, the ATV’s wheels registering greater resistance as its adhesive filaments came into contact with its tires. Still, he knew that the question had an abstract feel to it, irrespective of the terrain’s objective qualities.

“Progress,” he said. “I see a world in transition, moving towards total transformation.”

Bhutto hummed happily. Clearly that was the answer she was hoping for. Their efforts, couched in such positivistic terms. Implying linear advancement, the inevitability of desired outcomes.

“What do you see?” he asked. She looked at him with some surprise. Perhaps she thought he had said it all already.

“Dirt,” She replied. “And moss. Raw material waiting to be molded.”

Interesting. He had thought she was digressing into the literal. It was good to know the metaphor was still in play.

“A new homeworld for our people.”

“Precisely.” She put her hand to his arm and gave it a squeeze. “And it’s amazing how fast it will happen, once everything is in place and ready to go.”

“You refer to the terraforming efforts, Councilor?”

She shook her head. “That’s just the beginning. Phase One. Phase two will be much more impressive.” Her expression changed and she released her hold on his arm. “But of course, that’s not for me to share.”

Winston nodded. Her eyes had taken on a longing quality. He turned his eyes back to the horizon, hoping to catch a glimpse of what she saw. She spoke of things he was not privy to, information that the Council did not readily share with him. Were he in possession of the decidedly human quality of impertinence, he might be inclined to exploit the moment to find out more. But every government was to be forgiven for keeping some information firmly under control.

At least, once it was up and running. Their own was still barely out of its cradle. Secrets at this juncture seemed somewhat… irregular.

Things changed suddenly, their transit becoming smoother. The cabins com pinged. The voice of the driver came on to make an announcement.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we are Jiahu is twenty minutes.”

“Excellent,” Winston said, clapping his hands together. He looked over to Bhutto, who had her helmet poised on her lap, ready to put back on once they arrived. He would have to ask now to avoid any awkwardness later.

“Do you think I could witness the proceedings, Councilor?”

She looked at his strangely. “You want to meet the mayor?”

“Just to be on hand for the meeting. I would find it most… stimulating.”

Bhutto nodded but looked away. Of all the Council, she seemed the least uncomfortable around Winston and other synthetics. Asking her seemed to be the logical choice. And yet, her hesitation gave him a strong indication of his chances. So did her tone.

“I will ask. But of course, this is Councilor Muhlu’s show. Final approval will have to come from him.”

“Thank you. Please be persuasive.”

Bhutto laughed. He put his odds of a successful case at 2.6468 to 1, against. Not entirely bad, all things considered. Getting better too. With time, he imagined he would be privy to all proceedings and internal matters.

Time… wasn’t that what Yohanley said was key? Was this what he meant. Who could be sure? It was entirely possible that model was experiencing a breakdown. His processors producing nonsense due to lack of maintenance. He would have to make such inquiries with Maintenance once they returned. Such a presence could be dangerous to the settlement.

“Look!” Bhutto pointed out the window. Winston obliged.

On the horizon, just off to their left, the gleaming cupola of Jiahu appeared. Its tall buildings were outlined in light within the dome’s enclosures. And within, the very person who could make or break their constitutional process. Mayor Len Wu, leader of the East Asian bloc, and one of Yuva’s most influential men.

Thank you and stay tuned. More to follow on this and other fronts, and my colleagues got plenty more to share as well!

“Progenitor”, another Anthology sample

It must seem that I do nothing these days but work on this anthology. Well, in truth, it has been taking up an inordinate amount of my time lately, school being out for summer and all. Without the rugrats to occupy my attention, I tend to dedicate myself to my writing. And given the prolific output from the other members of the group, I’d say they are working just as hard!

And here’s the proof: Khaalidah Muhammed-Ali, a stellar writer and the person who inspired this concept, recently sent me her first draft of her ongoing story. It’s called “Progenitor” in honor of the colonization project on which our story is based. I highly recommend reading it, as this story’s likely to become kind of a big deal some day soon!

Progenitor:
The most famous of Magid Muktari’s epigrams was recorded within hours of his death.  As with most of his utterance within the last days of his life, it was in regards to his eldest child Sanaa, the only of his nineteen children to attain the same degree of esteem as himself.  

Surely we own our progeny until they realize that we do not. ~ Magid Muktari, 2081

*****

Magid Muktari tried to read the letter, but his eyes were drawn back to the blinking red ticker tape message that scrolled across the top of the stiff paper. 

祝贺, Felicitaciones, Congratulations,  تهنئة , बधाई  . 

It had been his idea to add the admittedly eccentric touch to the acceptance letters.  His colleagues had thought it excessive and unprofessional but in the end they acquiesced, giving the oldest and most contributory member of the International Intergalactic Yuva Colonization Project the leeway to make the changes he wanted before his inevitable retirement.

“What is this?” he asked knowing full well.  He could not think of anything more apt to say to his oldest daughter.  She understood that what he actually meant to ask was, why?

“For all the reasons you’ve been touting to the public these last fifty years.”  Sanaa squared her shoulders and recited from the legendary commercial that Muktari himself had created and starred in.  “Be one of the first to travel to another solar system.  Be the progenitor of a new world and a new culture.  Take part in the greatest experiment man will ever conduct.”  Sanaa tried to smile, but was suddenly struck by just how old her father was.  

Magid Muktari was actively dying.  Doctors had managed to cure Muktari’s cancer twice, slow the Parkinson’s, restore his eyesight, transplant his heart, and install a semi-robotic arm, but they had not managed to cure old age.  Flesh is still only flesh.  Sanaa was happy that she wouldn’t be there to see her father die.

“I never intended for one of my own children…”  Muktari’s slight body contracted as he coughed wetly into the bend of his arm.  “Do you not realize the dangers involved?”  Magid Muktari slumped back into the chair behind his desk.  “This isn’t a mere trip home-side, my love.  You will never come back to us again?  Not to mention,” he said lowering his voice, “it would be a shame for an unmarried young woman to go off alone.  This is against our tradition.”

Sanaa reached across the desk and took the letter from her father’s hand.  “According to this, I won’t be alone.“  She cleared her throat.  “You will be in the exceptional company of one thousand other strong, intelligent, capable, progenitors embarking on this voyage of lifetimes.”  

“What of finding a husband?”

“Do I have any marriage prospects, Baba?”  The question sounded like a rebuke and Muktari cringed.  There were none and Sanaa had long ago stopped hoping.  

Sanaa turned away from her father and leaned against the ledge of the massive view port, her breaths misting the glass.  In the distance to the right, against the black curtain of space she could see the flotilla, each ship moored in its respective dock.  Tiny figures tethered to lifelines laced with blinking lights moved over the surface of the ships, readying them for what would be both their maiden and final voyage.  She would be assigned to the second ship, the Avicenna, and by virtue of that alone, she thought it was the most beautiful of them all.

“I would have loved marriage,” said Sanaa wistfully, “but men don’t want women like me.”  Sanaa unconsciously ran a hand over her veil.  In recent times there had been a half-hearted attempt by her generation to return to the original ways; a stab back at the failures of their predecessors.  But such attempts were weak and ill-informed and without real knowledge or virtue.  They took only pieces of the old traditions and left the ones they deemed inconvenient.  “Men want wives who believe, just not ones who show it.”

“My love, in times like these, where women outnumber men nearly two to one, and beauty and brains can be bought in equal measure for a few credits, your kind is a rare dying breed.”

Sanaa laughed weakly.  “One day, I will be like the quagga, a long extinct creature that people will think was only a myth.”  

“Is this why you’ve decided to do this?  Because of a husband?”  Muktari strained forward.  “I can find someone.”

That was the crux of the problem.  For thirty-three years Muktari had been finding Sanaa’s way.  When she complained about her overcrowded dorm room when she first left for university back home-side, Muktari arranged for her roommates to be reassigned so she could have the room to herself.  She didn’t tell him how she was thereafter ostracized but she later learned that he’d set a guard to watch her movements.  When Muktari received reports about the insults, he’d had each guilty girl expelled.  When the admissions board at the School of Medicine in Luxor had denied her entrance, Muktari had none too subtly reminded them who her father was.  For Muktari, protection equalled love, but for Sanaa, her father’s protection was as a wet cloth over fire.  She could not flourish if she was to remain.  And it seemed he would not die if she remained.

Sanaa shook her head.  “I’ll be leaving in six weeks, Baba.”

“I know.  I’m the one who set the schedule.  Remember?”

Tamima, Muktari’s fourth wife entered with a brass tray.  She acknowledged Sanaa with a nod and placed the tray on the desk in front of Muktari.  After she poured his tea she settled a hip onto the arm of his chair.  

Sanaa could hardly bring herself to look at the woman.  She had two reasons to hate her one-time friend, her only friend.  Tamima had not only found a husband while she had not, but she’d found one in Sanaa’s own father.  

“What does your mother have to say about your decision?” asked Muktari, rousing Sanaa from her reverie.

“I plan to go home-side next week.  I will tell her then.”

Muktari smiled knowingly.  “She won’t like it.”

Sanaa shrugged her shoulders.  At thirty-three, surely she was old enough to make her own decisions.  “No different than you, I expect.”

“Yes, but I will not stand in your way, even though it means I will never see you again.”  Muktari’s eyes grew glassy.  He lowered his gaze and busied himself with spooning sugar into his cup of tea.  He cleared his throat before continuing.  “But your mother would hijack the ship before letting you go, if she has it in her mind that you should not.”

Sanaa didn’t know the brash stubborn side of her mother that Muktari had often mused about.  She’d been living with her father and his many wives and children in their residential pod since their divorce when she was eight.  Her mother hadn’t minded his other wives, or their children, or even his neglect.  She’d always claimed that she was the only one of his wives he’d ever truly loved.  They eventually divorced because she refused to be forcibly expatriated to orbit because he’d made the decision to have more than his quota of children. 

When Sanaa was young, visits home-side had never been more than a week in length and only as frequent as once every two years, so her mother had always been on her best behavior.  When she lived home-side, during her years at university in Luxor, either her studies or her mother’s schedule disallowed frequent visits.

*****

I swear, science is stupid in the presence of love and God is greater than them all. ~ Magid Muktari, 2068

*****

The guide’s name tag read Adam and he wore the gray and green dress uniform of the Unified Tellurian Armed Forces.  Sanaa studied him as they waited for other orientees to arrive.  His hair was cropped close to his scalp and an irregular pattern of stubble shadowed his cheeks and neck.  Not a very professional look for a soldier, mused Sanaa. 

Adam had a keloid scar that started at his right temple and disappeared into his collar.  Such a scar could be easily eliminated in a single visit to a curbside plastic surgeon back home-side.  Such blemishes were unheard of there, which made Sanaa wonder if he was one of the newer models of synthetic entities.  She’d heard that they would sometimes opt for the addition of physical imperfections so as to seem more human, but as most humans wouldn’t live with such a scar, such attempts at humanity were fatuous. 

It was soon apparent that Adam was not an android as a dark blush spread under his pale sepia skin.  “Why are you staring at me?”  He asked this without looking up at her.

Tact and honesty had always worked best for Sanaa in the past.  “Just trying to determine if you’re one of the new models of synthetics.”  But then, she thought belatedly, perhaps it was not her tact that had worked best but the fact that she was the daughter of the august Magid Muktari, man of Earth, space, and the stars.  “But, it’s obvious that you are not.”

Adam glanced sideways at Sanaa.  “How can you be so sure?”

“According to Darwin, blushing is the most peculiar and most human of expressions.”

Adam tapped in a sequence on his data pad and then extended it toward Sanaa.  “It seems that you are the only person to appear for the midnight orientation.”

“I’d counted on that.”  Sanaa passed her hand over the data pad so that the diamond bijou she wore around her wrist lined up with the reader.  A hollow voice announced her name.

In the thirty years that people had been living orbit-side, most had still not managed to shake the habit of adhering to the twenty-four hour day.  There was no need to conform to the practice of guarding the hours in space, but living in the shadow of Earth was enough to make them cling to the old habit.  The younger generations and those born orbit-side were less connected to the old habits and more willing to discard them for new.

Now it was Sanaa’s turn to burn under an overly curious gaze.  She was accustomed to the emotions her name wrought, and by extension and to be exact, her father’s name.  She read awe and uncertainty on Adam’s face.  “Yes,” she acknowledged flatly, “Muktari is my father.”

“I’ve read that you helped your father design the ships, that you actually sketched the first design.” 

Sanaa nodded.  “This is all true.”

Adam’s eyebrows rose.  The awe Sanaa first read on his face had been replaced by mild disgust.  She was used to that too, people misunderstanding her certainty for arrogance, truth for contempt.  She was expected to assume an attitude of false humility, play down her part in the genesis of this project.  But why?  Muktari had doted on her as a child, had called each of her drawings inspired, each of her stories prophesy.  He wove her childish imagination into his work.  He’d credited her with his very success.  Social ceremony had always seemed such a waste and unnecessary deceit in Sanaa’s estimation, and the best lesson she’d ever learned from her father, although it had the tendency to breed loneliness.

“Why do you need to an orientation then?  Surely, you know everything about this ship from the cargo hold to the system-wide computers to the—”

“I don’t know about the cryonics chambers.”  Sanaa knew the way though, after all the Avicenna could almost be called her ship.  She headed off following the maze of steel lined corridors to the cryo-stasis bay without waiting for Adam.

Sanaa found chamber eight hundred and eighty-eight, the one assigned to her.  It was surrounded by hundreds of other similar chambers, glittering silver in the low blue lighting of the cryo-stasis bay.  As Sanaa knelt next to her chamber she thought about how she’d had to choose this extreme course for the chance to chart her own life free from the weight of the Muktari name.  When she awoke in a century, she would be only Sanaa.  She would be only herself.  With a push of the red button, the chamber door folded open, a cloud of cold air hissing out.  IV lines dangled limply down the sides, the capped needle ends resting on the bottom.

“Doesn’t look very comfortable.”  Adam stood a few chambers away with his arms crossed behind his back.

“What would be the point?” asked Sanaa absently.  She passed the bijou on her wrist over the chamber console.  UNAUTHORIZED blinked across the expanse of the screen.  Sanaa glanced up at Adam who stepped forward and accessed the computer by punching in the code.

“I read that your father would sometimes send you to inspect—”

Brow furrowed with concentration, Sanaa held up a hand.  “Hmph.  Propocholine.  But how…”  She scrolled through the list of steps in the cryo-procedure, her heart picking up speed as she made her way through it.  She’d never liked enclosed spaces and the fact that she’d be sleeping for the more than one hundred years it would take the Avicenna to reach Yuva, did nothing to allay her fears.  “I should have known, clathrate hydrates.”

“Why are you so interested in the chambers?”

Sanaa disengaged the program and stood up.  “Why do you want to know?”

Adam studied her for what seemed to like endless seconds.  Sanaa had never been what one would call recessive, but this type of open inspection unnerved her.  She crossed her arms.

Without realizing it, Adam mirrored her stance.  “I was…well, just thinking that, well…”

“Go on.”

“I was thinking that if you have any academic questions about the chambers or the procedure itself, I might be able to answer them for you.”

One of Sanaa’s eyebrows lifted and her mouth formed an O.  Her knowledge of medicine was impeccable, but her knowledge of history and current events lacked much.  “Dr. Adam, I gather?”

The creator of the Adam Cryo-Stasis Hibernation Chamber nodded.

*****

The most apocryphal of the Muktari aphorisms is: A silent woman is a dangerous woman, an angry rebellious woman always speaks the truth, and an acquiescent woman is a liar. ~ Magid Muktari, 2056

*****

Yohan Lee grabbed Sanaa’s bag with his left hand and steadied her with his right hand under her elbow.  “You seem unwell, doctor.  Should we escort you to a clinic?”  He gently but firmly guided her through the crowded airport toward the exit.

“Thank you for asking, Yohan, but I really am well.  I had to take a hefty dose of Xanivan in order to tolerate the ride home-side.  The shuttles seem to be getting smaller.”

“They are smaller, the better to preserve fuel and the cost of maintenance, they say.”

Outside, the air was thick and smelled sickly sweet.  Sanaa’s eyes burned.  She suddenly remembered why trips home-side never seemed much fun.  The air they breathed orbit-side was purified through air processors unlike the thick as mud contaminant they choked on here.

Sanaa glanced around for her mother’s transport. 

“This way, doctor.”  Yohan’s hand slipped from her elbow and he headed toward the left.  She lost sight of him for a moment amidst the crowd of people moving in conflicting directions, but she soon caught up with him.  He lifted her bag into the trunk of a small green vehicle and slammed the lid shut.  He opened the back door and motioned for her to step inside.  “I trust you’re ready to depart, doctor?”

“Please stop calling me doctor.”  Yohan Lee had been a wedding gift from Magid Muktari to Sanaa’s mother thirty-five years earlier and he had not changed in all that time.  Although he was a synthetic entity, Sanaa often forgot he was not human.  Though an older model, Yohan was of stellar quality and his learning algorithms gave him the ability to not only learn, but mimic human reactions and motivations.  He’d always seemed, to Sanaa, more human than many true humans.

“I wanted to give you the respect that your title dictates.”

“Doctor is my profession, not my title.”  Sanaa placed a hand on Yohan’s shoulder.  “I’m just Sanaa.”

Sanaa was hardly inside the transport before Firdaws wrapped her arms around Sanaa’s neck.  She pressed a wet kiss onto her cheek.  “It’s been too long, child.  If you didn’t look so much like me, I wouldn’t remember your face.”

Sanaa returned the hug.  “It hasn’t been that long, Umm.” 

Firdaws held up a hand and counted off the years, emphasizing each one by flicking up a long thin finger.  “Four,” she said resolutely.  “That’s too long to stay away from your mother.”

“If you had really missed me, you could have visited orbit-side.”

“You know I can’t stand going orbit-side.  It isn’t natural.  Man is supposed to have soil beneath his feet, not the atmosphere.”

 ****

Few people knew, other his closet family, that Magid Muktari was almost completely blind for the duration of nearly a year.  Pioneers in the ophthamalgic sciences used an advanced yet experimental technique to restore his vision.  Upon opening his eyes for the first time with his newly restored vision, it is said that Muktari exclaimed: Blindness is not the absence of vision, but indeed the state of a heart that despairs.

*****

See? What did I tell ya? Is it not a work of art in progress? Stay tuned because I hope to post follow-up pieces, including those of writer’s Goran Zidar and William Joel. If you like Terraforming, Generation Ships and AI’s, you’ll want to be around for these guys too. They’re kind of a big deal 😉

Another Anthology Sample!

Gliese 581 g, aka. “Yuva”

Hello all again! Recently, my colleague and collaborator on the upcoming anthology about space and colonization – Mr. Goran Zidar – sent me a draft of his story. Dealing with Terraformers, the story tells the tale of the people who went on ahead of the main colonization force to alter the climate of Gliese 581 g (aka. Yuva) to meet the needs of the coming settlers.

As all fans of sci-fi know, terraforming is a very labor-intensive process that takes decades, if not centuries, and requires some pretty top of the line equipment and hard science. So you can imagine how excited I was to see Mr. Zidar’s take on the whole thing. Well, the text of his draft is posted below, the first installment on what will be a full-length short story, and certainly impressed the hell out of me. Read it for yourselves, you’ll see what I mean.

Terraformers:
“Don’t you just love it?” Kirana said. She leaned back against the stones and let the reddish light of the sun bathe her face. The warmth from the small red dwarf star felt good through her oxygen mask, and she closed her eyes to let it wash over her.

“It’s just a sunset, Kira,” her brother, Justin, pointed out. “We see them every day.”

“Dad says that in ten years we’ll be able go outside without masks. I can’t wait.”

“Ten years? That’s ages.”

“It’s not that long when you think about it.”

“What do you mean?” Her brother looked at her, his brows furrowed.

“The machine’s been running for more than thirty years already. Ten years isn’t much compared to that.”

“It is when you’re only eleven.”

“I suppose, but it’s still incredible.” She sighed wistfully. “I’ve lived here my whole life, but it’s like I know we don’t belong here.”

“You’re a weirdo, you know that?” He gave his sister a playful shove.

“You know that Earth’s sun is about three times bigger than here?”

“Now that’s incredible,” Justin said. “Imagine it. Must be like summer all year round.”

“Now you’re the weirdo.” She shoved him back.

“Kira. Justin. Where are you?” Her father’s voice came over the intercom.

She looked across to her brother who rolled his eyes. “On the ridge, Father,” she said, keying the mic for broadcast. “What’s up?”

“I need you both back here. We’ve been summoned. There’s a shuttle arriving to collect us in three minutes.”

“Okay, Dad. We’re on our way.”

“Yippee!” Justin said, clapping his hands together. “I’m going on a shuttle.”

Kira raised an eyebrow. “There must be something big happening for them to send one of those.”

“Let’s hurry.” Justin rose and disappeared between the rocks. “We don’t want to miss it.”

Kira laughed as she chased after her brother. “Slow down, Justin. They won’t leave without us.”

The pair reached the small research station just as the shuttle was touching down. Dust flew everywhere as the landing thrusters engaged to bring the small transport to a gentle stop.

Their father waved them over as he waited for the dust to settle. Kira could tell by the stiffness in his stance that he wasn’t happy. She knew he hated interruptions and a summons from on high would definitely not sit well with him. She slid her hand in his and squeezed it slightly. He relaxed immediately; she always knew how to read his moods.

“What about the ATV?” she said.

“I’m sure they brought someone to drive it back.”

This station was located about 1500 kilometres from the space elevator. The three of them had spent the last few days trekking across the planet’s surface to survey the damaged research stations closest to the space elevator. Most of the data could be collected remotely, but father hated the politics topside and these malfunctioning stations were the perfect excuse for him to get away.

The hatch on the shuttle cracked open, and Daric stepped out. As soon as Justin saw it was him he ran up to the pilot. Daric opened his arms and the pair embraced fondly. Justin dreamed of one being a pilot, and Daric was something of his hero. It’s a good thing he was such a nice guy because Justin can be annoying from time to time.

“Hey there, Daric,” her father said he drew nearer.

“Good evening, Sir.”

Kira felt her dad stiffen. Formality didn’t sit well with him, especially not when it came from Daric.

“What’s up?” he said.

Daric shrugged. “No idea, I’m just the taxi service. Whatever it is, it’s above my pay grade.”

Her father sighed loudly. “Let’s get this over with.”

They all climbed into the shuttle, Justin claiming a seat in the cockpit next to Daric while Kira and her father sat in back. She found her father looking out the window. Dust billowed as the shuttle’s engines started, obscuring the view outside. By the time they’d cleared the dust, they saw that ATV had already begun its long trek back to the Needle, as the space elevator was called.

The trip up to the station perched atop the Needle took less than fifteen minutes. Kira sat in silence while Justin chatted incessantly to Daric. She was constantly amazed at the young pilot’s patience when it came to dealing with her brother. With a smile, she looked out the window at the station that loomed before them.

The station was a reminder of where they came from, the only really tangible thing they had that spoke of Earth. It was built over a hundred and fifty years ago, originally serving as the ship that brought the reconnaissance team here. It was huge, large enough to accommodate some humanity’s best minds and their families.

Doctors, scientists, engineers, mechanics, and teachers, the best and brightest with all the skills needed to shape an entire world to their will. An entire generation had lived and died on that trip. Cryogenic storage techniques were deemed too experimental to risk on this journey. The crew all knew that even with the best life extension therapies available to them, most of those who’d left earth would never live to see their arrival.

Gliese 581 is twenty light-years from Earth. It was a long way to travel, and the journey lasted more than a century. Kira’s father was born in that inky void, a true child of the stars, but she and her brother had been born here. Everything they knew of Earth came from their studies. To her, the human home-world was nothing more than a collection of images and words, equal parts beautiful and terrible. The poisoned ball of rock beneath her was more a home to her than Earth ever would be.

When the colonists first entered the system, their ship was placed into a low geo-stationary orbit around the star’s fourth planet, and their work began. It stopped being a ship, and became the crucible for their hopes and dreams. After all these years it may no longer be capable of interstellar flight, but it remained their home.

She thought of everything they’d managed to accomplish since their arrival. All the lives lost, the risks, the sacrifice, all of it so that when the next waves of humans arrived, they’d have a world to live on. Some part of her wondered if these newcomers would be worthy of it. From what she understood of human nature, she doubted that they would be.

The shuttle docked with the station, and the three of them disembarked, leaving Daric to complete his post flight checks. Their father took them aside and hugged them tightly. It was a long hug, and based on Justin’s fidgeting, not something he was entirely comfortable with.

“What was that for?” Kira said when he finally released them.

Her father smiled. “Does a father need a reason to hug his kids? I just wanted to show you I loved you.”

 “Dad,” Justin pushed their father back a step. “We already know that.”

“You’re going to a council meeting, aren’t you?” He always got clingy before one of those. The nest of vipers he called them. Kira hadn’t ever really seen a viper, but she understood the reference well enough.

He nodded. “Now go home, both of you. We’ve been roughing it for a while so I’m sure you’ll enjoy being free of these damned suits. For a little while I’ll be there just as soon as I can.”

“Yes, father.” Kira sighed.

“Oh, and Kira.”

“I know, I know, keep an eye on Justin.” She turned and ushered her little brother into the station.

“I’ll see you in a little bit.” Her dad called out after them.

Kira rolled her eyes, and give her father a dismissive wave as she turned the corner. Walking through the corridors of the station made her feel uncomfortable. She imagined that the steel walls were closing in on her. It was always like this after coming back from the planet’s surface. Down there she felt like she could go anywhere, do anything, but up here, everything was so constrained, so… regimented.

Things had to be done according to a predefined schedule, and there was never any room for compromise. Of course she understood exactly why such routine was important; their very survival depended on it, but it always took some getting used to after being planet side for a few days. 

See what I mean? Sub-orbital stations, space elevators, atv’s, shuttles and sleeper ships. I’d say this stuff practically writes itself, but it doesn’t! People like Mr. Zidar, Mrs. Muhammed-Ali, Mr. Joel, and myself do! Ah, I’m just kidding, we aint divas and we definitely don’t think our hips weight a tonne. Then again, if this book goes mainstream and makes us famous… all bets are off 😉