New Anthology Sample: Arrivals!

dome_cityI told you it’s been a busy time for the Yuva anthology, and not just for my venerable colleagues. In my case as well, I’ve made some headway on the short story Arrivals and thought it was time to share! For the last few samples, the story was focused on the goings-on of the Planetary Council once they had learned that a new convoy of ships was approaching the planet. As always, there were hard questions, fears and agendas at play.

For this part, I have chosen to shift the focus back to the person who noticed the new convoy of colonists (aka. the Second Wave) coming in the first place – Marcellin Strauss, a simple technician who toiled in anonymity prior to the detection of the approaching convoy that set everything on the planet in motion. Now, he finds himself being sought out by the Planetary Council, and told to report to strange location for reasons that are not shared. Hope you like the sampling, and stay tuned for more!

_____

Asteria Research Facility
Zarmina, Vogt

It was like looking at a still frame in some futuristic SenSim. The building had the appearance of a mushroom, an off-white, ground-hugging thing with just the slightest overhanging edges. And yet, its dimensions seemed unnaturally large for the setting, far bigger than anything he’d seen in an auxiliary dome, which this place certainly appeared to be.

As he disembarked from the transit car, Strauss consulted his Tab to make sure he was in the right place. The Council’s message had been somewhat short on explanations, but the directions had been quite precise. The private line he had taken to get here had deposited him at a stop just over a hundred meters away, and every building and laneway that sat between him and the mushroom cap seemed awfully quiet. As he looked around the expanse of the small dome, he got the strange feeling that he was very much alone… and being watched.

“Welcome resident! How may I assist you?”

Strauss almost jumped. He turned quickly to the right and noticed the transit chest sitting there. As always, this consisted of a squat red box with a tall display stand at the side. On the display screen, the words it had just uttered were displayed prominently; the happy, iconic face of Magid Mukhtari smiling as it repeated them.

“Welcome resident! How may I assist you?”

“I, uh…” he replied dumbfoundedly, and looked back in the direction of the far building.

“Will you be requiring personal transit on this trip?” the voice asked, suggesting the most obvious option. He considered the distance between him and his destination and judged that it was not an unreasonable suggestion.

“I guess so,” he said, and placed his Tab on his chest.

“Very good, sir. Please return the vehicle to one of several designated transit boxes on your journey when you are finished with it.”

The door on the box opened and a ground car presented itself to him. Stepping onto the foot rest, he placed his hands on the control ring and felt the car power up. The terminal in the middle came online and the face of Muhktari was there as well, giving him a quick tutorial.

“Just place your feet on the acceleration pads located at the front of the footrest to-”

Strauss didn’t bother to wait for it to finish. He had had enough experience driving himself around to know how the capitol cars worked. The face of the screen laughed as he took off, putting distance between himself and the stop.

“Whoa! I see you’ve done this before! Please exercise caution when driving amongst pedestrians and other vehicles. And remember to return the car to a designated transit chest when you are finished with it. Have a nice day!”

What pedestrians? he wondered, as he drove towards his destination. Several minutes passed as he closed the distance between the transit line and the far building. And at no point did he see anyone, nor any indication of people working inside the other structures. The feeling of isolation intermixed with the sense that he was being watched yet again, and it did not make for a happy state of mind.

He was just glad he wasn’t hungover as well, though a shot of liquid courage would certainly have been welcome! He did his best to focus on where he was headed and tried not to think of the eerie, empty buildings that were passing him by, or the distinct impression that they weren’t so much empty as containing spies who watched him from every window.

But on that front, things weren’t much better. At his current distance, the building seemed to loom much higher than before, forcing him to look up towards the dome’s roof to take it all in. This meant that the ceiling, with all it’s rigid struts and panels were now it’s backdrop. The strange, webbed pattern only served to make it all look somehow more… spooky.

As he got closer, he came to realize something else about the building. All along the façade, there were lines of various colors, but none of them seemed to correspond to a segment in the structure. As far as one could tell, the building was a single piece, no joints or seams to speak of. Such seemed unlikely, but the illusion was not dispelled with any decrease of distance.

That’s when every single device on his body began to signal to him. The sound was unmistakable, indicating that they were going into offline mode since there was no longer any bandwidth in this area. He came to a stop and pulled his Tab from his chest to confirm this. Sure enough, the Tab presented a topographical representation of the area that showed a large, circular dead zone emanating out from the mushroom-shaped building. Rather than having ventured beyond the range of the QIN’s wireless network, he was now entering an area where it was actively being denied.

He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Between his observations of the structure and this latest revelation, it seemed clear that whoever was inside was taking great pains to keep what they were doing in there a secret.

What am I stepping into here? he wondered. He scanned the outer edge of the building again, trying to see if he could spot any telltale signs of cameras or spy drones. There were none that he could see, but he sensed they were there… somehow, somewhere.

And yet, he found himself pressing the accelerator pedal again and driving closer. Whatever this summons was, whatever was going on inside that odd-looking building, he wanted to know. Besides, at this point, he was just about there. Might as well go all the way and see what all the hubbub was about.

“You have reached your destination,” the happy face of Mukhtari said once he came to  stop. “I am not picking up any transit chests at this location. If you would like to park this vehicle for later use, please say so now. If not, please tell this car to –”

“Return,” he ordered, stepping free of the footrest. The voice stopped in midsentence, having recieved the requisite order to head back to it’s last storage location. It did manage to issue a kind farewell as it zipped away along the street, moving in a perfect rectilinear fashion.

“We hope that you enjoyed your ride!”

Strauss chuckled to himself and looked towards the mushroom, which now had the appearance of being a big, white giant. He was tempted to walk up and touch it, thinking at this point that it had to be composed of some kind of ceramic or composite material.

However, in one spot there was an irregularity –  a sort of circular hole that was two meters high and less than a single meter deep. Inside, the same seamless ceramic material sat, solid and impenetrable. But this was the only thing that even resembled a door. Taking another deep breath, Strauss took a few steps towards it and steeled himself for a surprise, one way or another.

That’s when he heard a loud hiss and a high pitched squeal. Strauss’ gate came to an immediate halt and his heart began to beat overtime. He stood motionless for several seconds, worried that he had set something off, afraid to move lest he make it worse.

But the noticed, the circular opening was opening further. Inside, several small lines appeared on the circular surface, bisecting the door at cross-angles, and then began pulling it open. When they finally opened all the way, he saw a woman standing there, wearing a grey jumpsuit with the same strange color patterns he noticed on the building’s façade.

“You Marcellin Strauss?” she asked, sticking her head through the open doorway. He found himself scanning her suit still, wondering just what the hell section it represented. She wasn’t with Planetary, or Defense, for that matter. Neither the color nor the insignia patches matched. He then realized she had asked him a question and simply nodded, unable to form words at the moment.

“Good,” she said. “Get inside, we have a lot to cover and we’re running late.”

She turned back inside and clearly meant for him to follow. Strauss managed to find his voice and clumsily uttered the obvious question. “I- I’m sorry. Who are you?”

She turned back to him and raised an eyebrow, a reaction that let him know exactly how little she thought of the question. “Madeleine Hartberg, Yuva Cosmonautic Corps.”

“Cosmonau-” he stuttered. “I- I wasn’t aware there was one.”

She smiled sideways. “There is now. And there are people inside who would very much like to talk to you. Are you going to come see them, or stand there like an idiot all day?”

Strauss once again fell mute and couldn’t move. And whoever this woman was, she was clearly getting annoyed because of it.

“Look, Strauss, I don’t have time to explain everything right now. Bottom line is, you’ve been asked to participate in something bigger than anyone on this planet has known since we made ‘Fall. Now are you coming, or are you going to miss out on that opportunity?”

Marcellin’s voice didn’t respond, but his feet seemed to be in working order. He knew this, because he began to follow her inside.

“Good!” she said, ushering him in. “Now please move it. Thirty seconds of this and I’m already sick of you!”

New Anthology Sample: Arrivals!

Yuva_coverIt’s been awhile since I posted anything from my group’s upcoming Yuva anthology. But of course, there’s a reason for that. With time constraints and other commitments competing for our attention, my group and I have had little time for this ongoing project. But now that I’ve finished editing the preliminary draft of Papa Zulu, I’ve had some time on my hands and decided to rededicate it where its needed.

Below is the latest sample from my story Arrivals, the opening story for Part III of our anthology. As you may know, this story involves the colonists of Yuva, over a century after they first arrived, getting news that a Second Wave is on its way. In the last sample, the Planetary Council was discussing what to do, and a joint mission was proposed between the Ministry of Defense and Planetary Research to fly out and meet the ships while they were still in transit.

In this sample, another revelation is made, and it’s not very pleasant one! Read on to learn more…

*                     *                    *

Padda examined the design specs before her, the latest in a series of proposals from the joint task force charged with creating their diplomatic transports. It was now late afternoon and the sun was filtering in through the dome at a slight angle, lending a lovely glow to the arboretum’s generous supply of native specimens.

And in the cumulative radiance of the room, sunlight intermixed with neon-green and purples, the organic light of her Tab’s display glowed and showed her the Ministry’s latest design specs. As expected, the engineers had taken all possibilities to heart, and were producing endless iterations to ensure that the fleet that met the Flotilla would be prepared for any eventuality.

Well, almost any eventuality…

As Padda scanned through image after 3-D image of shuttles with double-hulls, upgraded thrusters, and upgraded acceleration cushions for its crew, she wondered if any amount of planning could prepare them for what they would be encountering soon. In her mind’s eye, she had run several scenarios, some practical and others fantastic. But all of them retained the same mix of awe and terror.

And in that, she knew she wasn’t alone. All over the planet, the spec and interact films were running sims that were based on the impending mission to meet the Second Wave. Word on the QIN had it that most of the simulations were nightmarish, finding an entire crew of dead colonists inside, the work of a hostile organism or a terrible disease. Others had it that the ships were a Trojan horse preceding an invasion, containing some kind of biological or nanotechnological scourge. People always loved to fantasize, and somehow, disaster scenarios remained a powerful draw.

And yet, the paranoid fantasies were not entirely unfounded. Three ships, coming from an Earth that had progressed a full century since Padda’s own ancestors had departed. And every indication they had told them that they were of greater sophistication than the ones that taken part in the First Wave. They had yet to meet them, and already one of their greatest concerns had been confirmed. Those that were on the way would be more advanced than those they were coming to meet.

Yes, despite their virtually identical genetic makeup, there was little doubt that the people they would be encountering on the other side of that airlock would seem very… alien to them. It was a thought that had crept up countless times in the past few months. And each time, she could not help but experience a slight shiver.

Finishing with her perusal of the latest draft plans, she gestured across the surface of her Tab to minimize these and call up the list of her latest messages. At the top of her Inbox, amidst countless requests, referrals, and questions regarding the latest in a million bureaucratic matters, was a message from Motlke. She called it up and looked directly head, preparing for her contacts to broadcast the video directly into her visual field.

She was surprised to see only a small text message appear as soon as it cued up.

My office, 1300 hours. Come alone.

Delete this message upon reading.

The directness and unmistakably clandestine nature of the message surprised her. Waving her hand across the screen, she quickly close and deleted the message, as instructed. Discreetly, she reattached her Tab to her suit, allowing the cells to draw power from her clothes, and left the arboretum.

___

“What are you talking about?” Padda asked, her face suddenly turning cold.

“I assure you, the information is legitimate,” Moltke replied. “My source in Defense says he’s seen all the schematics, even had the chance to peruse some documents on the stated purpose of the design. His exact words were ‘contingency situation’. That leaves very little doubt in my mind as to what it’s for.”

Padda placed her hands in front of her face in prayer fashion and took a deep breath. Though she knew Moltke well enough to give him the benefit of the doubt, her mind simply couldn’t accept what it was being told. She knew the people at Defense were in the habit of expecting and preparing for the worst. But this?

The sheer audacity and clandestine nature of it all, not to mention the severity…

“And he specifically said it was a weapon? There was no confusion on that point?”

“He was very clear,” Moltke said with a nod. Gently, he glided around to the other side of his desk, moving to the dispenser at the wall and requesting some refreshment. “Not only did the plans call for an unmanned craft, my source emphasized that a specific section was designated as ‘payload’. In the parlance of military planners, that means much the same as warhead.”

Padda took another deep breath and placed her hands on her lap. The dispenser began to buzz quietly and pour steaming tea into an awaiting pot, while another began to carefully print out biscuits onto a sheet. The noise suddenly made her realize that she had not eaten in hours and she was in fact quite hungry.

“And did he specify what nature the weapon would take?”

Moltke shrugged and then removed the teapot and biscuits from the dispenser, placing them all a small tray and bringing them over to his desk. He got to the next part as he poured the tea into two cups and handed her one.

“He could not be specific on that point. But, I did some additional checking, on a hunch, and I think I might have found out what Defense might be up to.”

Padda hummed receptively and smelled the tea. He had anticipated her desire correctly by ordering the Darjeeling. After blowing on it a few times, she took a tentative sip.

“And what did you find?”

Moltke took a sip himself and then exhaled hotly.

“Well, as you know, our high-energy labs have been working hard to produce all the antimatter we put in for. And that’s quite understandable, given the quantities that we stressed we would need. However, I placed a call to the labs to see if they had received any additional requests for fuel. As it turns out, the quantity they are now working towards is forty percent higher than what our initial projections called for. Obviously, this was no accident. I had to call in a few favors in order to get the details, but it seems a certain Councilor contacted them and put in for a greater requisition.”

“Let me guess…” Padda placed the cup down and folded her hands on her lap again. “Astrakhan?”

Moltke took another sip, chuckling to himself. “The order was not signed, but it was official and came directly from the Ministry. So between this requisition order, and the blueprints my source witnessed, I’d say it’s pretty obvious what they have planned.”

Padda shook her head. Yes, it was indeed obvious what they were up to. From all outward indications, they were prepping an antimatter warhead, something that could take out the entire Second Wave before it reached Yuva. Eliminate the potential threat before it had a chance to become a real one. But then again, Moltke’s source had used the words “contingency situation”. Was it possible Astrakhan and his colleagues would be giving them a chance to fail first? That seemed like the far more likely situation, and far less audacious. Her mind quickly began to embrace this more appealing of the two options…

“Is there any chance Defense could be planning to use this weapon as a ‘first strike’ option?”

“Possible,” Moltke conceded. “But if that is the case, he and his associates would have much to answer for once the dust settled on the whole affair. Mass murder is not something our people would look kindly upon, no matter how much he and his associates could stress that they did it to protect us.”

Padda accepted that. Granted, Astrakhan would not be the first man in history that was willing to sacrifice his career, even his life, in the name of protecting his people. But somehow, the Councilor just didn’t seem like the type to martyr himself, not when the danger was still so potential and nebulous.

No, she admitted to herself. There’s still time to do things our way.

“Assuming you’re right,” she said at last. “How do we proceed?”

Moltke shrugged again, draining the last of his tea. “I’m really not sure. Knowing doesn’t exactly change the nature of our situation right now, does it?”

Padda shook her head. “No, I guess it doesn’t. If we confront Astrakhan now, he’ll just deny it. I mean, we have nothing solid to charge with him. And if we tip our hand now, he and his people will no doubt just find a more clandestine way to prepare a ‘contingency’ weapon.”

Moltke raised his finger to her in pedagogical fashion. “Not to mention that it will let him know that I have sources within his Ministry. No, in the end, I’m afraid all we can do is… proceed with the plan we have and hope everything works out.”

“And by that you mean that we proceed with the rendezvous, and pray that our exploration teams don’t find something aboard those ships that will convince Defense that they need to blow them all to hell.”

Moltke chuckled. “Yes, that’s about right.” He looked to the biscuits sitting between them, noting that she hadn’t touched a one. “Now eat something, Anuja. You look absolutely famished.”

Winston Agonistes, Part V

Hello again and welcome to another installment of Winston Agonistes. I’ve decided to make this one of my last samples since, after this, things are going to get particularly suspenseful and revelatory. I want to save some surprises for the reader, after all! And rest assured, my people are also coming along with their stories.

In fact, Goran Zidar and Melanie Edmonds are now finished their respective stories, Terraformers and Swan Song. And Khaalidah is nearing completion of her story, Progenitor. And once Winston is complete, which won’t take much longer now, that will make 1/3 of our anthology actively accounted for.

This next segment takes place, once more, in the settlement of Shangdu, which is inspired by the original in Northern China. What’s more, Winston will get to show off his impressive linguistic skills, being a synthetic and all.

A short podcar ride later and they were deposited directly in front of the palace complex, along a main thoroughfare that was connected to a series of side roads. Directly in front of the palace, Palace Security forces had erected barricades on either side of the street, holding back crowds of people who had turned out to witness the arrival of the capitol’s delegation.

In accordance with the diagrams Winston had studied, he noted that the palatial building itself was significantly smaller than the grounds that housed it. Being only a fraction of the overall estate, placed directly in the middle and slightly to the rear, it was the perfect representation of the original Shangdu’s original layout.

As the proceeded from the platform to the palace steps, Winston took in the layout of this section of the city. Winston knew from studying the settlement’s various maps that the roads in this area formed a perfect gridwork that corresponded to the palace’s dimensions. Within the many squares and rectangular spaces that lay between them, other important structures were situated as well.

To their left, the Collections building stood, the nexus of all information and materials that the colony had stored over the years. Every major settlement had one, for they served as a backup should the Nexus ever suffer a fatal error and shut down. Immediately next to it was the Hall of the Ancestors, an informal museum which was dedicated to preserving artifacts and displays from pre-colonial history. No comprehensive displays were publicly available, but he knew from recorded accounts that the collection went far beyond the East Asian sphere. Prior to their arrival, Shangdu’s patricians had amassed a great collection of terrestrial memorabilia.

Without looking, he knew that the Embassies lay to their right. Here too were informal structures which were serving an increasingly formal function. Though they did not constitute nation-states per se, the different settlements had been falling into the patterns of such behavior since their arrival. As he had observed to Mutlu before, old habits died hard.

The thought of this made his look the Councilor and await his pleasure. By now, he had had a chance to contemplate his request, made via Bhutto, and would be sure to indicate whether or not he would accompany their main party into the palace. They made it to the steps at last, amidst some minor fanfare from the crowds. Despite their reputation for austerity, the residents seemed relatively excited to be witnessing the arrival of people from another settlement.

Mayor Wu turned before they began to mount the steps. Behind him, a young woman appeared to be coming towards them with two palace guards. An intercept perhaps? Someone to relay an important message before he became inaccessible? Winston was unsure, but he noticed that her arrival coincided with Wu turning around to address them once more.

“I am honored to welcome you to our humble grounds. In accordance with your wishes, we have prepared an escorted tour for those who will not be in attendance.”

Winston became aware of the meaning of this as soon as the young woman reached the bottom step and approached him. The guards came to his side and seemed to be flanking him and the junior Councilors Beridze, Parsons and Rodrigo. All those who had been told they would not permitted to pass inside, which now included him, apparently.

He looked over to Bhutto, who now stood in a separate group next to Mutlu and flanked by the senior members of their delegation. The words “I’m sorry” formed on her lips. Winston smiled.

“I’m sure my staff would be most honored to witness your city firsthand,” Mutlu replied diplomatically. He barely cast a look in their direction as he and the other proceeded up the steps, leaving Winston and his new cadre alone.

The young woman was quick to assume the role of diplomat.

“Hello, sirs, and madam. On behalf of Shangdu’s Office of Cultural Affairs, I am honored to welcome you to our fine city. We have a sumptuous tour prepared for you and would be happy to answer any questions you have.”

Winston considered switching to Wú Yǔ, which her accent suggested was her native language. Cultural protocols did not specify if this would be taken as a slight or a courtesy. He decided not to deign until he asked. And the others did not appear to be offering any exchange, so he did.

“You’re is quite exquisite, ma’am,” he said with a slight bow. “Would you be offended if I chose to address you using your mother tongue?”

She seemed surprised by this. But a look of recognition took over her face when she surely recalled that she was dealing with a synthetic.

“Not at all,” she said, formally but flatly.

“Ah then, then permit me to say… nǐ de chéngshì shì zhuàngguān. Wǒ qídàizhuó wǒmen de fǎngwèn.”

A formal acknowledgment of their visit and the city’s beauty. The young lady smiled. She did not redden or laugh, which was a credit to her composure. If he could, he would take it as a compliment that they had chosen a person of experience to escort them.

“Ránhòu ràng wǒmen kāishǐ,” she said, which Winston understood to mean that they would now begin the tour.

 

Winston Agonistes, Part IV

Welcome back! You know, it feels like I’ve been a little wan in my output lately. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been hard at work on my stories… or not. Hard to say really, but I will say that the anthology me and my colleagues have been working on is coming along nicely! In an attempt to keep pace with my group, I’ve come up with another installment in the Winston Agonistes story.

And just for fun, much of this installment was inspired by real-life tales of Shàngdū, China. It is this ruined city that was once the summer capital of the Yuan Dynasty, as decreed by the Mongol ruler Khublai Khan. Often referred to as Xanadu or Sanadu (in Mongolian), this city is the same place that is mentioned in Marco Polo’s account of China, the one which inspired European dreams of traveling to the Orient and finding cities of gold. It also inspired the poem “Kubla Khan” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and a musical which I will not get into, even to save my own life!

Anyway, here it is, fresh from the press. Behold!

As expected, a greeting party was waiting for them in the Transport Bay. Dressed in their ceremonial robes and wearing pressure masks, they stood on the platform overlooking the main deck. Winston eyed them through the cabin window as their ATV came to a complete stop, noting the individuals and their respective positions from the mantles they wore.

There were five in total, arranged by twos around the one in the middle who wore the most flamboyant garb of all. The ladies he denoted by the choice of red robes, while the males wore the traditional blue, consistent with Shiangdu’s code of customs. Aside from that, there was only a single distinction, which came in the form of the orange inlaying that the man in the center had on his robe. That could be none other Commissioner Yan Moon Kim, Wu’s second in command.

The seals disengaged and the door opened. The top segment rose above the ATV’s roof while the bottom one lowered to form their exit ramp. Winston allowed the Councilors on the other side to file out first and fitted his helmet, which at this point in their mission had remained unused, over his head. Though the Shangdu settlers were no strangers to synthetics, their reaction to seeing one in the capitol’s delegation could not be fully predicted.

As their team filed into the bay, the Shangdu representatives climbed down the steps to the deck to meet them. Handshakes were exchanged between Kim and Mutlu, Kim gesturing to the pressure doors immediately thereafter so that further pleasantries could be conducted without the need for helmets. Mutlu nodded and they marched together, mounting the steps and entering through the cycling doors that would lead them within.

Winton looked back upon the bay, noted the deck hands that began to pour over their ATV. As a courtesy, they refueled the vehicle, removed the excess traces of fungal deposits from its wheels, and packed them away in biohazard containers. Some of the tendrils looked rather large this trip.

The pressure doors opened, admitting them into a small vestibule located next to the main colony. Much like all decontamination bays, the walls were studded with sensors, vents and irradiation panels, all of which became active as soon as the doors closed behind them. Many in their crew drew a hand to their face to cover their visors, protection against the onset of the harsh lighting that began to fill the confines of the room. Winston needed no protection, as his eyes adjusted automatically to the onslaught of the harmful rays. In a few seconds, it was over. All airborne pathogens that had clung to their shells rendered completely inert.

The harsh lights disappeared and were replaced by a green glow. The interior doors began to slide open slowly. Beyond, the grey paneling of the entrance hallway appeared and the Shangdu welcoming committee stepped out and ushered the rest of them forward.

Winston could not help but think this was a momentous occasion. It would be the first time he had ever witnessed a colony outside of Zarmina. He had conducted all the research necessary to prepare himself for the trip. He knew the interior layout of the colony well and the significance of every detail contained within. And yet, to actually see it for himself seemed beyond compare.

We’re he able to describe the situation; the word exciting would certainly come to mind. If only he were capable of truly feeling that.

*          *          *

They came to it at last, the doors that led into the settlement proper, where the expectation of excitement would certainly be at apogee. Winston had learned from his many archival studies on emotions that it was in the last moments before the reveal that feelings of anticipation reached their highest, in what was described as a fever’s pitch. It was fortunate then that he did not feel such feverish emotions, otherwise he might not have noticed the fine details that were in front of him.

The colonies main doors, for example. Constructed of a crystalline-polymer composite, they were clearly meant to resemble a marble gateway that had been etched with classical motifs from the late Yuan Period. And in keeping with the design of the original city, the colony had been laid out in four-quadrants with mayoral palace towards the center-rear, though the layout was circular instead of square. Such a profile would never support the settlements enclosed nature, which invariably required some degree of revision to the original plan.

The doors slid open and Winston’s eyes shifted to long focus, every detail being absorbed as it became clear. He was immediately aware of lush greenery and emerald color schemes, of gilded columns and carved surfaces. A few meters from the doorway, a second party of three people who also ornately dressed, stood and waited for them. In the exact center, dressed to resemble a Manchu-dynasty tyrant, no doubt, was Wu himself. Their greeting party of five joined his, forming a perfect eight.

“Councilman, I am honored,” Wu said in a strained, lightly accented voice. Mutlu stepped forward and bowed gently towards him.

“Mayor Wu, the honor is mine.” Wu returned the gesture and they came together to exchange kisses on each other’s cheeks. The initial exchange was going well, respect being given for each leader’s particular cultural niceties. Winston began to wonder if his request for a seat at the meeting was more or less likely to succeed at this point.

More conversation followed as they walked down the length of the settlement’s main foyer, into what appeared to be a preserve featuring various Terrestrial plants. A path of what resembled cobbled stone stretched out before them, stretching to the far end of the enclosure where the city itself would be accessible. For all newcomers to the settlement, this was the first thing they would see as they made their way into the vast collection of marketplaces, tenements, facilities, and of course, the mayoral palace at the far end.

As they walked, Winston’s olfactory receptors noted the presence of cherry blossoms and plum trees, his eyes detecting the bright colors of birds of paradise plants and even animals prancing about. Most impressive amongst these was the Pelicans that were drinking by the small creak running through the enclosure.

Winston turned to Bhutto next to him. “Synthetics?” he asked. Bhutto looked in the direction he was pointing and shook her head.

“No Winston, those are real. The settlers arranged for ova and sperm to be stowed in their supplies well in advance.”

He looked back at the animals as they continued to graze and drink from the artificial creek. It seemed unlikely that organic creatures would have been transplanted here, given the cost to bread them and added upkeep. And yet, he was being told to believe this very thing. And for a moment, he considered the possibility that what he was experiencing the emotional state known as confusion. Another unlikelihood.

His attention returned to Bhutto when she playfully slapped his arm.

“Imagine that, a synthetic that can’t tell the different between organic and synthetics.”

Wilson smiled obligingly. “For that, you will have to blame the makers, madam. They do their work too well.”

She laughed again and placed both hands on his arm. He registered a gentle squeeze through the layers of his sleeve. His calculated jocularity appeared to be having an interesting effect. In addition to entertaining the Councilor, he was almost sure she was beginning to… like him.

 

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!

Updated Anthology Map!

Hey all. As you may know, my writing and I are busy at work producing an anthology about space travel and colonization. We have our location picked out, the star system Gliese 581. We have a planet, known as Gliese 581 g. We still need more writers, I was hoping for a dozen or so people to contribute to our short story collection. So if you’re a writer and enjoy classic sci-fi, space travel, exoplanets, weird aliens, androids, terraforming, sub-orbital colonies, space elevators, terradome and so forth, let me know and I’ll set you up with a project!

In the meantime, I’ve updated our map of the Gliese 581 to more accurately reflect the planets and the names they will be assigned in our story. Have a gander: