New Anthology Sample!

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

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

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

skylon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Better?” she asked.

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

“Irony? What irony?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you alright?” she asked.

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

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

“See what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What are you doing?” she asked.

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

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

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

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

He shook his head. “Even so…”

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

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

New Anthology Sample!

gliese 581Hey folks! In the past few weeks, I’ve been working diligently to get my “works in progress” pile under control. This included getting Data Miners off my computer and onto the shelves, but also to get this anthology known as Yuva moving again. I’ve done my best to get more writings on the project, and actually managed to get some writing done myself.

As a result “The Torch”, the first chapter in the story which acts as the prologue, is coming long and is almost complete. After some months of letting it accumulate dust, I finally managed to get the third section finished and plotted out how I wanted it to end. The following sample is the next half-section, which is the just shy of the final chapter. I hope you like it, and enjoy the not-too-subtle tech references which I have been researching of late and knew I had to incorporate. This is, after all, taking place in the near future…

For the sake of preserving some element of surprise and mystery, I won’t say exactly what they are or where to find them. Suffice it to say, I think that flexible, transparent computer tablets and commercial space flight will be a reality in the near future. Based on discussions that took place between myself and Khaalidah, this story’s co-author and a major anthology contributor, we also figured that orbital satellites would be island estates of the future.

In addition to orbital banking replacing “offshore banking” – a la Cayman Islands, Isle of Man, Cyprus, etc – there would also be private estates in orbit where laws were laxer and people with money could do whatever the heck they wanted! It’s like international waters, but with the added benefit of low gravity and high-tech medical treatments which would never be legal planetside.

Anyway, no more spoilers! Enjoy!

*                    *                    *

From the spacious backseat, Muktari got quite the view of the Frankfurt skyline. The window’s active display matrix was sure to keep him apprised of what he was seeing as they passed along the Schaumainkai. The patterned lights – yellow, orange, white and opal – achieved a beautiful, glittering balance, drawing the eye and appeasing the senses all at once.

In truth, it wasn’t much different from the skylines of Dubai, Mumbai or Shanghai, or even London or New York for that matter. They all were a testament to the grandeur and excesses of humanity, how people could always be expected to build higher and higher when they had run out of room to expand sideways. Or, in other cases, to avoid pillaging the lands occupied by more traditional buildings and boroughs.

But this was always the challenge of such metropolitan centers. The inflow of capital, investment, new people and technological change; one always had to find places to put the new things. And places to put the things needed to dispose of. And every new age seemed to trigger a new wave of this process: redevelopment, rezoning, and redistribution.

The car veered left and began joining the highway. For many minutes, the skyline disappeared in the distance, replaced by the developments that ran south of the river. The window had a hard time keeping up, as there weren’t many heritage sites in this area, but plenty of modern buildings of note. He turned away finally, and began paying attention to his fellow passenger. She had shown up the airport to escort him, and he was beginning to sense this would become a pattern.

“You didn’t have to meet me,” he had said as soon as he reached the front doors.

“Escorts can be so impersonal,” she said. “Besides, my father doesn’t trust specialized talent to just anyone.”

“So I can expect you to be a noose around my neck then?” he said. He had been in a bad mood after the flight, admittedly. A restless sleep and an early morning flight was known to do that to people. And changing time zones and shuttling from one part of the Earth to the next was something he had been doing far too much of lately.

Now, seated across from her, he thought some polite conversation might be in order.

“So where is Mr. Harding flying me to?”

She looked up from her Tab and smiled. “To him,” she replied simply.

“To him? You mean to his private estate somewhere, or corporate HQ?”

She chuckled mildly and continued typing and stroking at her device. Muktari sighed heavily. He was hoping to be pleasant, but the way she was preserving the surprise was beginning to annoy him. Was it too much to ask that she help him plan his evening? If he were to be taken to yet another time zone and have to face the prospect of even more lag, he would like to know about it now.

“You know, I heard that Harding was not in the best of health lately.” He let the words hang, hoping to gauge her reaction. “I might suspect we were heading for the Swiss Alps, or perhaps some clinic in Brazil.”

She made a sideways gesture with her head, like a half shake. A denial perhaps, or an indication that she could not say either way.

“It would seem ill-advised for a man who was in the twilight of his days to still be chained to his desk.”

She appeared to be finishing up with her work and put the Tab aside. She looked at him furtively and said nothing.

“No?” he said, and nodded. “Very well, keep your secrets. But know that all this running around and pretense isn’t making me any more interested in what he has to say.”

She continued to stare at him, smiling in her usual way. It too was becoming very annoying.

“What?” he said at last.

“We’re here,” she replied, motioning to the window. Muktari looked out and spotted the strip that they were now parked upon. Less than a hundred meters to their right, a small Atmo was parked.

“We’re flying in that?” he said, gesturing to the craft.

She smiled.

“Where are we going?”

“To the stars,” she replied. “Have you been topside before?”

Muktari blanched. It was one thing he had assiduously avoided, and hoped to continue not to do in his lifetime.

“Well then,” she said, taking his expression to mean he had not, “you’re in for quite the treat.”