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 😉

Space Anthology!

My apologies to all those expecting a post about zombies or post-apocalyptic stories. You see, my group and I are busy designing an entire world for our new anthology and we needed some mock-ups to help speed our imaginations to their goal. That’s been my obsession these last few days, that and visiting family. But alas, I have no idea how to post a PDF file to a Shaw Photo Share account, so I came here to do it instead. Behold… Our new Colony Ship!

The overall design is built around the concepts of a generation ship and a sleeper-ship, with the habitation module and the cryo-stasis bays in the center with the engine and shuttle bays at the rear and the command module at the front. And of course, for the people in the center area, the concept of an O’Neil Cylinder comes into play – a ship that utilizes a rotating section to generate gravity. And I think a long spine connecting it all together, which requires a cart since the gravity is at its lowest in the center, would also be cool.

Oh, and I should mention that we’ve selected a location for our story and done some additional mapping to give the setting a truly realistic feel. As already noted, the star system in question is Gliese 581, and the planet is 581 g, a real exoplanet that scientists believe could host life. And here is what it looks like, for our purposes anyway:

It’s called Yuva, a Turkish word which translates to “Home”. All the continents are named in honor of the scientists who helped discover Gliese 581’s planetary system. The rest, well, that’s all us baby! The polar continent, named New Gondwana, is named after the super-continent of Earth’s Precambrian period. And the vast stretches of sea are just tentative names that I thought seemed appropriate, given their position between the major landmasses. Note the color, which denotes levels of fertility, green being lush, grey being glacial, and yellow and light green being desert of savanna land.

Anthology Sample!

Gliese 581 g, a real exoplanet where our story takes place

Hey all. As you may recall, me and my people over at Writer’s Worth have begun working on a new anthology. The concept is space travel and colonization, a phenomena which will most likely be taking place in this and the next century. After a lot of brainstorming and hard research, we have even been producing some first drafts.

The first is being written by Khaalidah Muhammed-Ali, the working mother and writer who I’ve mentioned a few times on this site. In her hands is the first story of the anthology, dealing with the families who are selected to take part in the off-world experiment. The second comes from Goran Zidar, another favorite here on my site, who is covering the topic of the terraformers who venture on ahead in order to prepare the planet for settlement.

And then there’s William J. Joel, another Writer’s Worth peer, who has volunteered to cover the daunting tale of the generational ships that will deliver the colonists to their new home. Already he has advanced some ideas which are complex and inspired, and personally I can’t wait to see some drafts. Between these three authors and a fourth installment dealing with exobiology, the first part of the novel is well underway!

And last, but hopefully not least, is my own contribution. As the opening chapter in Part II, it deals with the efforts of the colonists to create a planetary government. The story is told from the point of view of a synthetic named Winston, an AI who has been assigned to work with the planetary council. Programmed with an experimental social science known as “Ethical Calculus”, he will soon learn that working with humans is not nearly as difficult as getting them to work together!

Here is an excerpt from the story which I have tentatively named “Winston Agonistes”:

The sun was beginning to set, casting the sky into a deep orange. It was the time that the first settlers had called “the magic hour”, the many warm hours between dusk and dark. Winston stood at the dome wall and watched. On occasion, he cast a passing glance at his hands, which the glowing sun seemed to casting in the color of a light citrus fruit. He was sure he would find that amusing, if he could. He was sure there was much about this situation that would inspire an emotional reaction.

Alas, such was not the case. Though understandable to him, such things still remained inaccessible. Perhaps someday, with adequate upgrades in the available software…

“Mr. Winston?” a voice called to him from the doorway. The footsteps and tone of voice immediately indicated who it was. He put on a smile and turned to face him.

“Councilman Mutlu. How are you?”

“I’m fine, Mr. Winston,” he replied, entering the room. He looked around appraisingly, noting the furniture and layout. No doubt it all seemed excessive to him, but at the same time necessary. “I trust you are adjusting to your new surroundings?”

“Of course, Mr. Mutlu. I am settling in quite nicely.”

“Good, good,” he said, looking around awkwardly. Even without the ability to empathize, he could gauge the man’s discomfort. Then again, many people exhibited this reaction when in the company of a synthetic. In such circumstances, it was always best to focus on matters of a professional nature. At least that was what his subroutines told him.

“Would you care to sit down? I can offer you some refreshment as well if you so desire. Tea? Coffee?”

“Ah, tea, thank you.”

He busied himself with a tray of carafes and a heater as Mutlu took one of the chairs in front of his desk. He noted the sounds of shifting against the seat’s fabric, the way he kept moving his hands from one spot to the next. By the time the water had boiled in the heater and had located an appropriate tea from the stores, Mutlu seemed to have found a comfortable seated position. He approached him with all the assorted items on the tray that had been provided. He set it down between them on his desk and offered Mutlu a cup.

“The business of running a colony is quite stressful work, is it not Councilman?”

“Uh, yes, yes it is,” he said, taking the cup that was offered. “Have you had a chance to look over the proposals we have sent over.”

“I have indeed,” he said, taking the other cup and sitting back in his own chair. He knew this to be mere small talk, as the matter of processing those proposals had been a mere matter of dispensation. Assessing the nature of the problem, suggested measures, and weighing them according to the rubrics of his primary programming. Under the circumstances, asking such a question was completely inane, but in keeping with social norms.

“And what have you found?”

He took a sip from his cup before answering. “Quite simply, that the Council’s draft is in keeping with the best traditions of constitutionalism and humanism. That ensuring the rights of all citizens, regardless of their background prior to making the journey, is the most sensible course of approach. Ensuring that such a baseline exists at such an early stage is the wisest approach in both fostering amnesty between colonies while at the same guaranteeing that they submit to further negotiation.”

Mutlu looked down at his cup, back up again to his eyes. He seemed preoccupied with him performing this most basic function in front of him, but did not appear oblivious to his words. Eventually, he took another sip and smiled.

“Good. My colleagues will be most pleased to hear  that.”

He smiled in return. “Does the Council hold my endorsement in such high regard?”

Joviality. The gesture known as playful irony. Suggesting that the Councilor saw his approval as something very high indeed, a testament to his computational abilities. A gentle mockery of his obvious discomfort, meant to trigger a humorous response.

“Well yes…” he said, entirely serious. “I can only assume that you’ve subjected our hopes to proceed with a formal constitution to your… what did you call it again?”

“Ethical Calculus, sir.”

“Right!” Mutlu set his cup down and began to speak more freely. His hands began to provide gestures that accorded visual representation to his words. “After all, we’ve been subjected to a great deal of criticism from within and without, many people think we should be ironing out the basic agreements between colonies before we commit to any kind of draft that could commit us to policies down the road. I must say I find all those arguments…”

“Distasteful?” Winston suggested.  Mutlu nodded.

“Quite right… it seems a shameful thing that such cynicism has set into the process already. It’s almost as if they don’t think the colonists can…”

“Trust each other?”

Mutlu nodded again. He noticed a growing shimmer in the man’s eye. How quickly he was forgetting that the man sitting across from him was not a man at all.

“Exactly the point. And it’s not like we’re talking about disparate factions here. Everyone on this world came here with the same goal in mind. The same hope for a new beginning.”

“And yet, old habits die hard.”

Mutlu looked at him with surprise. “Are you saying you have doubts, then?”

Winston smiled as broadly as the muscle fibers in his face would permit.

“Purely an observation. Nevertheless, you and the Council are on the right track. You should take heart in that.”

“Excellent.” Mutlu retrieved his cup and began to look at curiously at Winston again. One more, it seemed that the knowledge of what he was dealing with was creeping back into his mind. But at least he seemed at ease. One by one, the Council seemed to be adjusting to the idea of having synthetics amongst them, entrusting their most precious decision making to them even. It was a significant step up from the laborious practices that the other models were forced to endure.

And that’s the story thus far. Stay tuned for more on the progress of this and other Writer’s Worth Anthologies. Speaking of which, Grim5Next, the dystopian anthology which began months ago, is coming along and getting into its third and final part. Progress!

Cover Art for Worlds Undone… done!

Big news from Grim5next, the writer’s group that I joined a few months back. After months of discussions, suggestions, and back and forth from all members concerned, we’ve come up with a title for our first anthology. And after much collaboration with artists and design platforms, I’ve finally finished work on our covers! Here’s what our first anthology, a collection of dystopian literature and art, will look like:

Here is what the paperback cover will look like, with artwork provided by Ashley Evans. Check out her artwork on deviantArt: cazzyae at deviantart

And here’s what the ebook cover will look like. Like all ebook icon, it’s been scaled down to a single page format. Less bells and whistles, but it gets the job done!

Stay tuned for the release of the book, which should be in a few months time. We need time to gather all the talent and condense all of it into the proper, singular format. And, case your interested, some material will be provided by yours truly, a short story titled “Hunluan”. Incidentally, it is related to “Crashlands”, the serial novel taking shape over at Story Time.

Oh, incidentally, this is my 200th post on this site. Another milestone! Weeeeeee!