Reciprocity – Making Progress

future-city-1Hey all. Just wanted to let people know that I’m still around. And as luck would have it, I’ve found myself with some free time; free time that I’ve put towards creative writing again! In the past two weeks in fact, I have come up with a lot of new ideas for both Oscar Mike and (more importantly) Reciprocity. On this latter project, I’ve spent the past few days working through the half-written spots, and now I have a full five chapters done.

More importantly, I have revised the overall plot yet again. The last time I did this (not that long ago), I chose to change the nature of the antagonist to that of a Chinese ex-pat who was a former member of Unit 61398 – the People’s Liberation Army’s cyber warfare division. His name was Shen, and his plot involved a string of kidnapping, double-dealing, and cyber-terrorism that threatened to change the global geopolitical balance.

I liked this idea because I felt that after a good deal of research, the focus of the story should be on post-communist China, where a great deal of social confusion and economic turmoil was leading to the emergence of a semi-fascist state. In a pattern that is reminiscent to modern-day Russia, Shen sought to take advantage of these changes in order to unleash a massive cyber attack.

The downtown district of Shanghai. One of many locations in the story.
The downtown business district of Shanghai. One of many locations in the story.

This would have the effect of completely preoccupying the west, disabling the US Pacific Fleet, and allowing China’s new government to occupy Taiwan and the South China Sea, thus asserting their territorial sovereignty over the region. While this was interesting (at least to me), it still fell short. What I really wanted was an antagonist in the story that would make the focus be all about the two greatest issues we will be facing in the not-too-distant future.

These issues are none other than climate change, which will result in more in the way of droughts, wildfires, flooding, coastal storms, tornadoes, and diminishing resources; and technological progress, which will result in the pace of change and getting faster and faster to the point of total unpredictability.

For awhile, I’ve been writing about these subjects, and they were supposed to be the centerpiece of the story. So here’s the new plot, in a nutshell: The year, same as always, is 2030. A technological magnate’s child disappears while slumming in the Pacific Northwest in what appears to be an act of kidnapping. However, his disappearance is in fact orchestrated as part of a complex cyber intrusion designed to steal company data.

InternettrafficThe man leading this theft – who is known only as Zeke – intends to leverage this data in mainland China, where a former member of Unit 61398, now himself a technological magnate, is in possession of a quantum-based cyber virus of last resort, a weapon that was created for a war that never happened. This virus is known as “Baoying”, which in Chinese, loosely translates to Reciprocity.

Zeke knows about this weapon because he spent years developing contacts around the world, bringing together gun runners, terrorists, socialist and anarchist militias, and Chinese ex-pats that reaches from Central Asia and the Middle East all the way to South America and the South Pacific. Though separated by ideological differences, these organizations are united in wanting to see an end to the status quo.

Zeke, however, has his own agenda. A one-time member of the technological magnates he is now using as pawns, he saw so much of the world and witnessed atrocities firsthand. He also witnessed how the privilege of developed countries is paid for in the blood of others. After a scandal in which he publicly aired all of his companies many shady dealings, his partners crucified him and cast him to the fringes of society.

^In an age where the richer nations are facing the prospect of limitless energy, quantum computing, abundant resources and post-mortality while other states are failing due to displacement and mass starvation, Zeke is hoping to level the playing field once and for all. He is a genius and a man moved by a personal sense of justice. But most of all, he is a man dealing with terrible demons and some deep trauma that he can’t begin to suppress.

This kind of plot, I think, works so much better. The antagonist seems much more socially relevant, the story more focused on the big issues I like to explore, and it all seems a little less hawkish than a story where the Chinese are essentially the bad guys. But most of all, I envisioned a climactic scene where the antagonist – while explaining his motivations – says something like this:

I want a future I can control. I want a future where I have a choice. I am sick of unpredictability, or chaos and confusion. I’m sick of people being left behind, and our world being torn apart. Tomorrow, everyone will find themselves on common footing. Tomorrow, we will begin thinking towards our common future.

Try getting something like that out of a former communist who just wants to see his country win a war! Well, that’s the idea as I see it right now. What do you think? Sound good?

Rebooting An Idea – Reciprocity

future-city3For awhile now, I’ve been tinkering with a story idea known as Apocrypha. It first came to me back in 2009 when I decided to move away from space opera and into more hard science fiction. I even decided to relaunch the idea a few months back, which would be the second time I decided to reboot the idea. And now, I’m rebooting it yet again, but with one major change.

Basically, I’ve re-conceived the plot to focus on a world set in 2030, where China’s Communist system has collapsed, Russia continues to exist as a semi-fascist state, the internet of things is in full swing, and several different forces are competing for control over which direction the future takes. Some want to rehash old rivalries, while others want to bring about a revolution in computing that will dissolve all boundaries.

shanghai_towerThe name of the new story is Reciprocity, which is taken from the Chinese concept of Bao Ying. I chose this as a name because while researching Chinese ancestral religion, I came across a central theme which states that the fate of all human beings is determined by cosmic reciprocity.

The concept of Bao Ying is also expressed as follows in various Zhou-Dynasty texts:

On the doer of good, heaven sends down all blessings, and on the doer of evil, he sends down all calamities.

This belief incorporates two separate elements:

  1. Ming yun: which loosely translated, means personal destiny. Whereas ming is “life” or “right”, the word yun defines “circumstance” and “individual choice”. In the Chinese ancestral faith, it is perceived as something both fixed (bound by fate) and flexible (implying choice and free will).
  2. Yuan fen: which means “fateful coincidence”, describing good and bad possibilities and potential relationships. Here too, the elements of fate and choice intersect, with good and bad casualties being assigned usually to one or the other.

Both concepts are linked, because what appears on the surface to be chance events (for better or worse), are part of the deeper rhythm that shapes personal life based on how destiny is directed. Given the fact that I thought the story should focus on China, this concept spoke to me.

cyber_virusOriginally, Apocrypha was all about a group of apocalyptic terrorists who have ties to various anti-modernist, anti-western groups who try to use a Chinese cyber-virus named Hǔnluàn (Chinese for chaos) to accomplish their goals. However, this idea wasn’t panning out in a few ways. Mainly, the antagonists didn’t seem believable to me, especially where their motivations are concerned.

But after talking it over with a friend and neighbor, I came to realize that the real focus of the story was China – or rather, how the aftermath of Maoism would affect the country and the global balance of power. In this sense, the antagonists were much more believable if they themselves were Chinese ex-pats, people who were unhappy with the current world order and wanted to change it.

Unit-61398-Chinese-Army-Hacking-Jobs-With-Great-BenefitsBorrowing from Russia’s post-Communist experience, I basically foresee China going through many of the same problems in the near future. First, the state would find itself under a great deal of pressure due to ongoing demands for reform, pro-democracy protests, and the memory of Tienanmen Square. And I also imagine the health effects of air pollution and cancer farms would also add to the resistance.

But by the 2020s, I expect that the country will also be reeling from the effects of drought, famine, and the destruction of water tables. And then there would be the collapse of the economy caused by the implosion of the real estate bubble – a very likely possibility – which would end the Party’s long history of buying loyalty with economic growth. At that point, the Party would officially fall under the weight of its own corruption, bankruptcy and failure.

phoenix-towers-worlds-tallest-wuhan-china-designboom-01Ten years later, China would find itself in a state of serious change and facing an ambiguous future. On the one hand, it would remain a major power economically and militarily, but would still be suffering from lingering environmental damage and uneven development. As a result, it would find itself vulnerable to quasi-fascist politicians looking to exploit people’s uncertainty and funnel it towards a revisionist agenda.

I think you’ll agree, this idea makes way more sense than its predecessor. What’s more, it would give me a chance to cover a big angle I was looking at, which was the involvement of former members of the People’s Liberation Army Cyberwarfare Division (aka. Unit 61398). Assuming that said people were out a job in the not-too-distant future, they would be seriously upset and willing to help in a malicious plot.

What do you think? Too political? Or does it have potential?

The Fate of Humanity

the-futureWelcome to the world of tomorroooooow! Or more precisely, to many possible scenarios that humanity could face as it steps into the future. Perhaps it’s been all this talk of late about the future of humanity, how space exploration and colonization may be the only way to ensure our survival. Or it could be I’m just recalling what a friend of mine – Chris A. Jackson – wrote with his “Flash in the Pan” piece – a short that consequently inspired me to write the novel Source.

Either way, I’ve been thinking about the likely future scenarios and thought I should include it alongside the Timeline of the Future. After all, once cannot predict the course of the future as much as predict possible outcomes and paths, and trust that the one they believe in the most will come true. So, borrowing from the same format Chris used, here are a few potential fates, listed from worst to best – or least to most advanced.

1. Humanrien:
extinctionDue to the runaway effects of Climate Change during the 21st/22nd centuries, the Earth is now a desolate shadow of its once-great self. Humanity is non-existent, as are many other species of mammals, avians, reptiles, and insects. And it is predicted that the process will continue into the foreseeable future, until such time as the atmosphere becomes a poisoned, sulfuric vapor and the ground nothing more than windswept ashes and molten metal.

One thing is clear though: the Earth will never recover, and humanity’s failure to seed other planets with life and maintain a sustainable existence on Earth has led to its extinction. The universe shrugs and carries on…

2. Post-Apocalyptic:
post-apocalypticWhether it is due to nuclear war, a bio-engineered plague, or some kind of “nanocaust”, civilization as we know it has come to an end. All major cities lie in ruin and are populated only marauders and street gangs, the more peaceful-minded people having fled to the countryside long ago. In scattered locations along major rivers, coastlines, or within small pockets of land, tiny communities have formed and eke out an existence from the surrounding countryside.

At this point, it is unclear if humanity will recover or remain at the level of a pre-industrial civilization forever. One thing seems clear, that humanity will not go extinct just yet. With so many pockets spread across the entire planet, no single fate could claim all of them anytime soon. At least, one can hope that it won’t.

3. Dog Days:
arcology_lillypadThe world continues to endure recession as resource shortages, high food prices, and diminishing space for real estate continue to plague the global economy. Fuel prices remain high, and opposition to new drilling and oil and natural gas extraction are being blamed. Add to that the crushing burdens of displacement and flooding that is costing governments billions of dollars a year, and you have life as we know it.

The smart money appears to be in offshore real-estate, where Lillypad cities and Arcologies are being built along the coastlines of the world. Already, habitats have been built in Boston, New York, New Orleans, Tokyo, Shanghai, Hong Kong and the south of France, and more are expected in the coming years. These are the most promising solution of what to do about the constant flooding and damage being caused by rising tides and increased coastal storms.

In these largely self-contained cities, those who can afford space intend to wait out the worst. It is expected that by the mid-point of the 22nd century, virtually all major ocean-front cities will be abandoned and those that sit on major waterways will be protected by huge levies. Farmland will also be virtually non-existent except within the Polar Belts, which means the people living in the most populous regions of the world will either have to migrate or die.

No one knows how the world’s 9 billion will endure in that time, but for the roughly 100 million living at sea, it’s not a going concern.

4. Technological Plateau:
computer_chip4Computers have reached a threshold of speed and processing power. Despite the discovery of graphene, the use of optical components, and the development of quantum computing/internet principles, it now seems that machines are as smart as they will ever be. That is to say, they are only slightly more intelligent than humans, and still can’t seem to beat the Turing Test with any consistency.

It seems the long awaited-for explosion in learning and intelligence predicted by Von Neumann, Kurzweil and Vinge seems to have fallen flat. That being said, life is getting better. With all the advances turned towards finding solutions to humanity’s problems, alternative energy, medicine, cybernetics and space exploration are still growing apace; just not as fast or awesomely as people in the previous century had hoped.

Missions to Mars have been mounted, but a colony on that world is still a long ways away. A settlement on the Moon has been built, but mainly to monitor the research and solar energy concerns that exist there. And the problem of global food shortages and CO2 emissions is steadily declining. It seems that the words “sane planning, sensible tomorrow” have come to characterize humanity’s existence. Which is good… not great, but good.

Humanity’s greatest expectations may have yielded some disappointment, but everyone agrees that things could have been a hell of a lot worse!

5. The Green Revolution:
MarsGreenhouse2The global population has reached 10 billion. But the good news is, its been that way for several decades. Thanks to smart housing, hydroponics and urban farms, hunger and malnutrition have been eliminated. The needs of the Earth’s people are also being met by a combination of wind, solar, tidal, geothermal and fusion power. And though space is not exactly at a premium, there is little want for housing anymore.

Additive manufacturing, biomanufacturing and nanomanufacturing have all led to an explosion in how public spaces are built and administered. Though it has led to the elimination of human construction and skilled labor, the process is much safer, cleaner, efficient, and has ensured that anything built within the past half-century is harmonious with the surrounding environment.

This explosion is geological engineering is due in part to settlement efforts on Mars and the terraforming of Venus. Building a liveable environment on one and transforming the acidic atmosphere on the other have helped humanity to test key technologies and processes used to end global warming and rehabilitate the seas and soil here on Earth. Over 100,000 people now call themselves “Martian”, and an additional 10,000 Venusians are expected before long.

Colonization is an especially attractive prospect for those who feel that Earth is too crowded, too conservative, and lacking in personal space…

6. Intrepid Explorers:
spacex-icarus-670Humanity has successfully colonized Mars, Venus, and is busy settling the many moons of the outer Solar System. Current population statistics indicate that over 50 billion people now live on a dozen worlds, and many are feeling the itch for adventure. With deep-space exploration now practical, thanks to the development of the Alcubierre Warp Drive, many missions have been mounted to explore and colonizing neighboring star systems.

These include Earth’s immediate neighbor, Alpha Centauri, but also the viable star systems of Tau Ceti, Kapteyn, Gliese 581, Kepler 62, HD 85512, and many more. With so many Earth-like, potentially habitable planets in the near-universe and now within our reach, nothing seems to stand between us and the dream of an interstellar human race. Mission to find extra-terrestrial intelligence are even being plotted.

This is one prospect humanity both anticipates and fears. While it is clear that no sentient life exists within the local group of star systems, our exploration of the cosmos has just begun. And if our ongoing scientific surveys have proven anything, it is that the conditions for life exist within many star systems and on many worlds. No telling when we might find one that has produced life of comparable complexity to our own, but time will tell.

One can only imagine what they will look like. One can only imagine if they are more or less advanced than us. And most importantly, one can only hope that they will be friendly…

7. Post-Humanity:
artificial-intelligence1Cybernetics, biotechnology, and nanotechnology have led to an era of enhancement where virtually every human being has evolved beyond its biological limitations. Advanced medicine, digital sentience and cryonics have prolonged life indefinitely, and when someone is facing death, they can preserve their neural patterns or their brain for all time by simply uploading or placing it into stasis.

Both of these options have made deep-space exploration a reality. Preserved human beings launch themselves towards expoplanets, while the neural uploads of explorers spend decades or even centuries traveling between solar systems aboard tiny spaceships. Space penetrators are fired in all directions to telexplore the most distant worlds, with the information being beamed back to Earth via quantum communications.

It is an age of posts – post-scarcity, post-mortality, and post-humansim. Despite the existence of two billion organics who have minimal enhancement, there appears to be no stopping the trend. And with the breakneck pace at which life moves around them, it is expected that the unenhanced – “organics” as they are often known – will migrate outward to Europa, Ganymede, Titan, Oberon, and the many space habitats that dot the outer Solar System.

Presumably, they will mount their own space exploration in the coming decades to find new homes abroad in interstellar space, where their kind can expect not to be swept aside by the unstoppable tide of progress.

8. Star Children:
nanomachineryEarth is no more. The Sun is now a mottled, of its old self. Surrounding by many layers of computronium, our parent star has gone from being the source of all light and energy in our solar system to the energy source that powers the giant Dyson Swarm at the center of our universe. Within this giant Matrioshka Brain, trillions of human minds live out an existence as quantum-state neural patterns, living indefinitely in simulated realities.

Within the outer Solar System and beyond lie billions more, enhanced trans and post-humans who have opted for an “Earthly” existence amongst the planets and stars. However, life seems somewhat limited out in those parts, very rustic compared to the infinite bandwidth and computational power of inner Solar System. And with this strange dichotomy upon them, the human race suspects that it might have solved the Fermi Paradox.

If other sentient life can be expected to have followed a similar pattern of technological development as the human race, then surely they too have evolved to the point where the majority of their species lives in Dyson Swarms around their parent Sun. Venturing beyond holds little appeal, as it means moving away from the source of bandwidth and becoming isolated. Hopefully, enough of them are adventurous enough to meet humanity partway…

_____

Which will come true? Who’s to say? Whether its apocalyptic destruction or runaway technological evolution, cataclysmic change is expected and could very well threaten our existence. Personally, I’m hoping for something in the scenario 5 and/or 6 range. It would be nice to know that both humanity and the world it originated from will survive the coming centuries!

Flash Forward Is Done!

FlashForward_2After many months on the back burner, I finally took a big step while house-sitting for my family this weekend and completed Flash Forward. For those who don’t know, this book is an anthology of short sci-fi stories I did back in April of 2013, with a few additions from both before and after. All told, it works out to 19 short stories, 140 pages, and just over 51,000 words.

For some time, I had been wanting to do some fiction that explored the world of emerging technologies, artificial intelligence, autonomous machines, space exploration and the coming Technological Singularity. And a project involving a short story a day for 26 days was just the excuse I needed. After collecting the resulting stories together, I grouped them into three parts based on common time period and theme.

transhumanismPart I: Transitions deals with the near future, where climate change, militarized borders, and explosive growth in portables, social media, and synthetic foods will have a major effect on life. Part II: Convergence deals with the ensuing decades, where space exploration, artificial intelligence, digital sentience, and extropianism will become the norm and fundamentally alter what it is to live, work, and be human.

And Part III: Infinitum finishes things off, looking to the distant future where the seed of humanity is planted amongst the distant stars and our species passes the existential singularity. It was fun to write, but what I’ve been looking forward to for quite some time is the chance to hold a physical copy. Somehow, that’s always the best moment of the whole creative process for me. Seeing the book in print, as a real, physical thing you can touch and leaf through.

hyperspace4And now if you’ll excuse me, I have a book to edit, a million and one ideas for critical revision to consider, and a whole heap of what Aldous Huxley referred to as “Chronic Remorse” to deal with. Writing, huh? There’s a reason not everybody does it!

Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth

sidmeiers_civbeyondearthSid Meier’s Civilization II is one of my favorite games of all time. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent playing this strategy game, even years after its release. The spinoff, Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, is another favorite that I still own. And despite them not being my favorites, Civ III, IV, and even V are all in my player chest. As a lifelong fan, I am usually pretty enthused when a new entry comes along.

So when Beyond Earth was announced, I began paying attention. Similar to what Alpha Centauri did, the game follows an off-world expedition as it tries to establish a human settlement on a distant planet. As a victory condition in all the previous games, this sort of spinoff is a natural extension of the Civilization universe. Much like in the regular games, you establish settlements, research technologies, and compete with other factions for dominance.

sid_meiers_civilization-beyond_earth-pyramidsBut what I especially like about these versions is the speculative nature of it all. As a future faction that is far removed from Earth, you have to deal with alien ecology and biology, research technologies that do not yet exist, unlock some of the fundamental mysteries of the universe, and even experience the technological and/or existential singularity. It’s way cool!

As the commercial description reads:

Sid Meier’s Civilization®: Beyond Earth™ is a new science-fiction-themed entry into the award-winning Civilization series. As part of an expedition sent to find a home beyond Earth, lead your people into a new frontier, explore and colonize an alien planet and create a new civilization in space. A New Beginning for Mankind is coming Fall/Autumn 2014.

According to Steam, the official release date is October 24th 2014. Check out the Announce Trailer below:

Latest Anthology Sample: Ember Storm!

exoplanet_hotThe past few months have been a busy and productive time for the people behind the Yuva anthology. Not only did we take on a host of new writers who adventurously volunteered to join us and share their passion for science fiction, they even managed to produce some solid first and even second drafts. In addition, several members that have been with the project from the beginning have managed to do some final drafts which merit sharing right now!

And this time, it’s Amber Iver’s and Goran Zidar’s Ember Storm, which they just put the final touches on. In this story, we see are given front row seats to a crisis in progress – as told from the points of view of two down and out maintenance workers, and a small family unit caught in the thick of things. Here’s a sample from the beginning, hope you all enjoy! And remember, there’s more where this came from once the book is published:

_____

“Hey, Charlie, do you hear that?”

“Leave me alone, Rhina,” Charlie grunted and pulled his cap down over his face. “I’m trying to sleep here.”

“The environmental alarm’s going off.” Rhina moved over to the console and brought up the display.

“So?”

Rhina studied the screen for a moment. “So it looks like there’s a storm coming.”

“Good.”

“Good?”

“Yeah, it means I’ve got nothing else to do but kick back and study the inside of my eyelids.”

“Wake up idiot,” Rhina tossed a PAD at her colleague’s supine form.

“Hey! What was that for?”

“Strap in. I’m taking us back.”

Charlie let out a huge sigh as he got to his feet and stumbled across to Rhina. She could smell the alcohol on his breath as he loomed over her and tried to get his eyes to focus on the screen.

“You won’t make it.”

“What do you mean?”

Charlie stabbed a finger at a coloured line on the screen. “Front’s coming in fast, it’ll hit before we reach the colony. We might as well just wait it out here.”

“Well I’m gonna try anyway.” Rhina reached forward and touched the ignition. “I don’t relish the idea of spending the next few hours with just your drunk arse for company.”

“That’s harsh.” Charlie’s face twisted in mock disappointment. “I’ll just be asleep on the floor. You won’t even notice I’m here.”

“Even asleep you’re crap company. Now strap yourself in, we’re leaving.”

*                    *                     *

“Good morning, Miss Siera. It’s time to wake up.”

“Just ten more minutes, please,” Siera said, sleep making her words run into each other.

The room was suddenly bathed in sunlight.

“Hey!” Siera was forced to shield her eyes from the bright light.

“Your mother’s instructions were quite clear, miss.”

Siera squinted as she threw the covers aside and strode across the room, snatching the PAD from David’s loose grasp. “Leave my PAD alone.” Her fingers danced over the screen and soon the light in the room dimmed to a more manageable level. “Why do I need to be up? It’s the weekend.”

“Isn’t this the day you’re to make lunch for your father?”

Siera sucked a breath, her drowsiness banished.

“Oh, no. I forgot.”

“That’s why I am here, miss.”

Siera smiled and leaned forward to kiss David lightly on the cheek. “What would I do without you?”

David raised a hand to his face, the latex skin of his cheek still warm where Siera’s lips touched him. “You’re appreciation is welcome but not necessary, miss. I am simply doing what I have been programmed to do.”

“If you’re going to look like a human being, I’m going to treat you like one.” She said as she scooped a bundle of clothes from the floor then ran to the bathroom.

“I am not responsible for my appearance. It was your father who constructed me. I had no say in the matter at all.”

Siera called from the bathroom. “None of us do, David. You’ve got more in common with humans than you realise.”

David shrugged. “I must say I don’t really think about it.”

Siera emerged from the bathroom. “Well you should. You’re part of this family, you know. You’re like the big brother I never had.”

“Well this big brother needs you to go to the kitchen.”

“Hang on a minute, I need my wrist com.”

Siera looked around the room quickly but couldn’t see the wearable communication device anywhere. She moved to the bedside table and rummaged through the drawer to no avail.

“Don’t just stand there. Help me find it,” she said, as she started tearing the sheets off her bed.

“When was the last time you saw it?”

Siera raised an eyebrow as she looked at David. “Are you kidding me?”

“You asked me to help.”

“How is that helping? Just look for it.”

David walked to the bathroom and returned a few seconds later holding the wrist com. “Here you go, miss.”

Siera ran up to him and enveloped him in a firm embrace. “Thank you, David. You’re a life saver.”

“As I said before, your thanks are not necessary.”

Siera clipped the device onto her wrist then looked at the mess she’d created in her room. “Oops … Mum’s going to kill me.”

“Don’t worry, miss. You go to the kitchen; I’ll stay and clean this up for you.”

Siera opened her mouth to say thank you, but David placed a finger on her lips. “Go. Your mother is waiting for you.”

Siera gave her untidy room one last glance then sped down the hall to the kitchen. The sound of pots and pans clanking told her that her mum and sister had started without her, and she hoped that she hadn’t missed too much of the preparation. Cooking with fresh ingredients, on an actual stove, like they did on Earth in the old days was a real treat, and one that didn’t happen very often.

Her mum, Tara, looked up as Siera entered the kitchen. “Good, you’re finally up. You can start by cleaning up Meghan’s mess.”

Her four year old sister, Meghan, sat with a broad grin as she stirred a bowl of dark coloured sauce. With each turn of the spoon, more of the sticky substance spilled on the bench and dripped onto the floor.

“Give the bowl to Siera, sweetie,” Tara said. “Then go wash your hands before we start on the next part.”

Meghan did as she was told, and Siera was left standing with a sticky mess to clean up. “I probably should have gotten up earlier, eh?”

Her mum glanced up. “I didn’t say a word.”

Siera set to cleaning the mess her sister created. “What’re we making?”

“It’s called Mongolian barbeque. The protein sequencer has replicated a few different kinds of meat, and I was able to pick up some garlic and onions from the market as well as something that tastes a bit like plum.”

“The sauce smells good.”

“Try some,” her mother suggested.

Siera dipped a finger in the sauce and placed it in her mouth. The sweet, spicy flavour of the fruit combined with the garlic and other ingredients exploded in her mouth.

“Oh my god, that’s amazing.”

Tara smiled. “Much better than synth food isn’t it?”

“I’ll say. Pity we can’t eat like this all the time.”

“It wouldn’t be special if we did it every day.”

“I suppose.” Siera took another taste.

“Enough of that, we’ve got a lot to do before your father and Joey get here.”

Siera placed the bowl of delicious sauce down on the bench and finished wiping the floor while her mother used a knife to cut the replicated meat into strips. When Tara was done she took the meat and placed it into the bowl of sauce using her fingers to knead the mixture together.

“What can I do now?” Siera asked.

“Can you ground some pepper in here while I do this? There should be some in the pantry.”

Siera opened the pantry door and hunted around for the pepper grinder. She picked it up and shook it. “I think we’re out of pepper, mum.”

“You’re sure?”

Siera rolled her eyes. “Yes, mum, I’m sure. Can we do without it?”

“It won’t be the same without pepper. I need you to run up to the market and get some.”

“Can’t David do it?”

Tara gave Siera a serious look. “I thought you wanted to help.”

“I do but–”

“Well this is helping. Take my chit and go to the market. Don’t worry; there’ll still be lots to do when you get back.”

Siera left their home, and walked along the open streets of the colony to the market. It was a clear day, and Yuva’s orange sun bathed the habitat with light and warmth, but this close to the light side of the planet, warmth was rarely an issue.

Their colony was built in the new style; a new style for Yuva.

The market and other amenities were located at the center of the colony, with the residential population surrounding it. It was a civic model that dated back to ancient times. No matter how far humanity had come, some things would never change.

People here lived and worked in detached buildings, with streets and walkways linking them together beneath a massive plasteel dome that shielded them from radiation and the elements. The terraformers had been able to make the air of Yuva breathable, but the planet’s ozone layer remained weak.

It was possible for a person to go outside the dome, but unless they wore a suit their skin would suffer from dangerous levels of ultra violet radiation.

Siera’s wrist com buzzed as she crested a rise in the street.

“Now what’s she forgotten?” she muttered as she checked the device.

LEVEL 5 STORM WARNING

Environment hazard protocols in place

Her heart raced and she lifted her gaze to look out past the colony’s dome. A thin line of grey marked the horizon. The storm was still a long way off, but she’d lived here long enough to know that it would be here in no time at all.

The Council of Muraqaba – Part I

HD_85512_b_(Artists's_impression)Hello all! Now that I’ve finally finished with all my edits and revisions for Papa Zulu, I thought I might get back on the science fiction train and start working on some the ideas that have been piling up in my memory folder. Awhile back, I began proposing dusting off an old idea – the Council of Muraqaba – and making it see light again. And today, I managed to put the finishing touches on the first installment.

To recap, the story takes place in the distant future and is part of the Legacies universe I came up with many years ago. In this universe, Muraqaba is a colony that grew up around an institution started by Sufis seeking relief from the intense and rapid pace of progress taking place in the Core. However, over the course of many generations, it became an interfaith institution connected to the rest of the universe.

Within the Council, all matters pertaining to faith, belief, practice and the spirit could be contemplated and ironed out. People of all walks of life and faith were free to set up an annex in the place, either physically or virtually, and eventually, it would become a beacon for the establishment of a universal religion. But in this particular story, the institute becomes the site of something much more interesting.

Contact with a presence that is something else entirely. After generations of leading all of humanity in the contemplation of higher things, it seems a higher intelligence wants in on the discussion…

gliese-581-ePlanet Muraqaba, Gliese 581 d
Sol 66, 2278

“If the Qutb is indeed the pole and axis of the universe – a man through whom divine grace did flow – does it follow that men who demonstrated wilaya would have been invincible to attack?”

The specter of Mahdi Grasciano peered intently at the others in the circle, each of which had been rendered flawlessly amidst the background of the Rifa’i. At the moment, the prayer hall was bathed in the faint glow of artificial light, courtesy of the floating embers that ensured the circle could see each other clearly now that nighttime had fallen on the Mosque in real-time.

Standing on the far side of the circle, Imam Selvanayagam hummed thoughtfully and formulated a reply to this latest challenge.

“It does, necessarily, follow. The Qutb could not have been harmed by men, being under the protection of God.”

Grasciano was quick to jump on that:

“Alas, Mohammed, the example of the armed prophet, was unvanquished by men. But Jesus, Socrates, Siddhartha Gautama, and all other candidates mentioned here today, did not share that fate. They succumbed to treachery, judgement, and poisoning, thus demonstrated that they were of mortal condition.”

Imam Koteib, who had been standing quietly by the northeast column, chose to intervene on this point:

“And yet, in An-Nisa, it clearly states ‘but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not. Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and God is Exalted in Power, Wise.'”

Selvanayagam spoke again.

“Such a circumstance pertains to this one of God’s Prophets, but can it be said to extend to those others as well?”

The heads in the circle turned to Zahawi, who stood at to the south-west end of their circle. Being their host, the one who had selflessly offered the Rifa’i prayer hall to conduct it, his was the place of honor – his back facing towards holy Mecca.

Scratching at the white, wispy beard that covered his chin, he offered what insight he could. “Such a condition could be said to apply, in that all such men triumphed over death in their own fashion. Who can remember the names of the Athenian statesmen who sentenced Socrates to death. And did Sidharta’s wisdom not live on in the absence of his corporeal being?”

Yusuf finally saw an opportunity to offer a point of consensus and spoke from his spot at the east end. “Indeed. Shall it be agreed upon then that the condition of death does not rule out the existence of sanctity?”

“It so shall…” Koteib said, nodding. Grasciano smiled and appeared ready to reply, but the smile quickly faded. His next words sounded almost like a pained admission.

“Hmm, I’m not sure where that leaves us.”

Zahawi also began to look grave and added his voice to Grasciano’s. “Indeed. Have we determined the existence of Qutb, or merely found a way to redefine it?”

A pause followed as each specter groped for something more to add, a comment or illumination that might break the deadlock. Eventually, a number of the Imams began to laugh. There seemed little else to do under the circumstances. Many times, expounding on such matters only served to cloud them further, expanding upon the mystery rather than dispelling it.

One could only laugh in the face of such irony, and perhaps conclude that divine obfuscation was at work. In any case, the debate had run its course, a sort of consensus settling in after many hours of discussion. It now fell to Yusuf to conclude the transmission.

“I would like to thank you all, masters of your turuqs, for your continuing participation in these majalis. In so doing, you are a part of the greatest ongoing spiritual dialogue our species has ever conducted.”

“As-salamu alaykum,” the Imams said in near-unison. Yusuf replied in kind.

“Wa alaykumu al-salam.”

They concluded with the dhikr, citing the appropriate verses and repetition of His name. The simulation began to fade a moment later – the elaborate stone walls and flickering light from the suspended aerodrones that marked the interior of the Rifa’i slowly retreated from his consciousness and was replaced by his true surroundings.

Yusuf became aware of the room, the tall metal panels and the lighting that emerged from behind them, and the cool air like a man waking up from a dream. His mind responded to it all like a harsh reality intruding upon quiet sleep.

As always, he sat on the room’s central dais with his legs crossed, but his knees ached as if he had been upright for some time. The sensation of being offworld was so immersive that he truly felt that he had been standing for hours in an entirely different setting. But of course, that was the point of the experience, and an ongoing cause of concern amongst the more conservative elements in their turuq.

The sound of the door opening behind caught Yusuf’s attention. He turned his head just in time to see Mansur appear in the open doorway.

“Maruf!” he said informally, smiling. “You’re timing is impeccable.”

“I know, Master. I waited until you were finished. I did not wish to disturb you while you were conferring with the others.”

Yusuf slowly stood up and tried his best to hide the sudden sense of chagrin he felt.  It was sometimes difficult to tell how just long a session lasted. Even without the effects of dilation and correcting for local time, hours could feel like days. And knowing Mansur, he could be expected to wait indefinitely.

“So what can I do for you, Maruf?”

“It’s Lusserer, master. She asked that I come find you.”

“Ah, and what does the lady of technical support require of me?”

“Well, sir…” he said delicately. “It’s the signal. We seem to experiencing some trouble.”

“Trouble?” Yusuf stopped, turned to face him. “That’s a little vague, Maruf. Care to elaborate?”

“She did not say,” he replied. “In all truth, master, I don’t think she’s quite sure what the problem is either.”

Yusuf suppressed a scowl. Any sign of misgiving was likely to be taken on by the young Mansur, who was in the habit of taking on his master’s moods and amplifying them by varying degrees. He tried to sound as calm and even as possible as he replied.

“Then I shall go to her forthwith, and see what I can do to help.”

“She would be most pleased by that, I’m sure,” Mansur said and smiled happily. He stood there for a moment, idle and twitchy, as if expecting something more. Another quirk of the young man, always in search of a duty, and always in need of being dispatched before he could tell that a conversation had run its course.

“Perhaps she and I could do with some tea. Would you fetch us some and meet us in the ISIS lounge?”

“Certainly, master!” said the young man, quickly slapping his hands together and issuing a short bow. He was gone quickly after that, letting Yusuf address his own thoughts in private. At the moment, he only had two, and they were vying for just about every inch of his cortex.

A problem with the interstellar array and Lusserer is at a loss, he thought. This must be something of consequence…