Interview with Voices From L5!

Interview with Voices From L5!

Good news! Not long ago, I took part in a podcast with Liam Ginty – the man who created Voices From L5. This program deals with the subject of space exploration and colonization, and he decided to do a podcast all about terraforming. After coming across my series on the subject over at Universe Today, he contacted me, and we got to talking. By the time we were done, we had created an episode dedicated to the subject.

The episode is about 45 minutes long, and covers such issues as terraforming vs. space habitats, the ethics of terraforming, the challenges and benefits, and whether or not such a thing is likely to happen. If you’ve got some time, and don’t mind hearing my voice (I am still not comfortable hearing it), then check it out.

Voices From L5 – Terraforming Mars

And be sure to check out other podcasts at Voices From L5. Liam covers some pretty interesting topics!

Terraforming Series Complete!

Terraforming Series Complete!

I’ve been busy over at Universe Today of late. In fact, as part of a promotional thing for my upcoming book – The Cronian Incident – I’ve been doing a series of articles about terraforming. And it’s actually kind of an interesting story, which I already touched on in a previous post. In any case, the series is now complete, with articles that cover everything from terraforming Mercury to terraforming the moons of the gas giants in the outer Solar System:

The Definitive Guide to Terraforming
How Do We Terraform Mercury?
How Do We Terraform Venus?
How Do We Terraform Mars?
How Do We Terraform the Moon?
How Do We Terraform Jupiter’s Moons?
How Do We Terraform Saturn’s Moons?

To give people the Cliff Notes version of this series, it is clear that at this point, humanity could colonize and terraform certain worlds in our Solar System. The only real questions are where could we? How could we? And why should we? To answer the first two, we could terraform Mars and Venus, since both planets are terrestrial (like Earth), both exist in our Sun’s habitable zone (like Earth), and have either abundant atmospheres or abundant sources of water we can work with. In any other case, the matter becomes impractical, except within certain contained environments (paraterraforming).

The “greening of Mars”. Credit:

As for the third question – why should we? – that was one of the main reasons I tackled this subject. When it comes to terraforming, the questions concerning ethics and responsibility are unavoidable. And while I did my best to cover this in the course of writing the series, the real debate happened in the comments section. Again and again, people asked the following questions:

How can we live elsewhere when we can’t even take care of Earth?
Shouldn’t we take care of our problems here before we settle other worlds?
Wouldn’t those resources be better spent here?

All good (and predictable) questions. And rather than simply avoiding them or dismissing them as pedestrian, I wanted to seriously have an answer. And so I chose to reply whenever these questions, or some variation, popped up. Here’s the basics of why we should terraform other worlds in this century and the next:

1. Increased Odds of Survival:
As Elon Musk is rather fond of sharing, colonizing Mars was one of the main reasons he started SpaceX (which recently made their second successful landing of the reusable Falcon 9 rocket!) His reason for establishing this colony, he claims, is to create a “backup location” for humanity. And in this, he has the support of many policy analysts and space enthusiasts. Faced with the threat of possible extinction from multiple fronts – an asteroid, ecological collapse, nuclear war, etc. – humanity would have better odds of survival if it were a multi-planet species.

Artist's concept for a possible colony on Mars. Credit: Ville Ericsson
Artist’s concept for a possible colony on Mars. Credit: Ville Ericsson

What’s more, having other locations around the Solar System decreases the odds of us ruining Earth. So much of why Earth’s environment is threatened has to do with the impact human populations have on it. Currently, there are over 7 billion human beings living on planet Earth, with an additional 2 to 3 billion expected by mid-century, and between 10 and12 by the 2100. But it’s not just the number of people that matters. In addition to every human being constituting a mouth to feed, they are also a pair of hands that need to given something productive to do (lest they turn to something destructive).

Every human also requires an education, a place to live, and basic health and sanitation services to make sure they do not die prematurely. And providing for all of this requires space and a great deal of resources. As it stands, it is becoming more and more difficult to provide for those we have, and our ability to do so is dwindling (i.e. thanks to Climate Change). If we intend to survive as a species, we not only need new venues to expand to, we need other resource bases to ensure that our people can be fed, clothed, housed, and employed.

So simply put, creating permanent settlements on the Moon, Mars, and elsewhere in the Solar System could ensure that humanity survives, especially if (or when) our efforts to save Earth from ourselves fail.

Project Nomad, a concept for the 2013 Skyscraper Competition that involved mobile factory-skyscrapers terraforming Mars. Credit: Sainz/J.R. Nuñez/K.T. Rial
Project Nomad, a concept for the 2013 Skyscraper Competition that involved mobile factory-skyscrapers terraforming Mars. Credit: Sainz/J.R. Nuñez/K.T. Rial

2. Testing out Ecological and Geological Engineering Techniques:
Basically, there is no way humanity is going to be able to address Climate Change in this century if we do not get creative and start relying on techniques like carbon capture, carbon sequestration, solar shades, and artificially triggered global dimming and fungal blooms. The problem is, any or all of these techniques need to be tested in order to ensure that the results are just right. Altering our environment would not only threaten to disrupt systems human being depend upon for their livelihood, it could also threaten the lives of many people.

Such is the threat Climate Change poses, so we want to make sure the ways in which we address it helps the environment instead of screwing it up further. The best way to do that is to have testing grounds where we can try out these techniques, and where a misstep won’t result in the loss of innocent lives or billions in damages. Ergo, testing our methods on Mars and Venus will give us a chance to measure their effectiveness, while avoiding any of the political barriers and potential hazards using them on Earth would present.

3. Mars and Venus are Perfect Testing Grounds:
Astronomers have been aware for some time that Mars and Venus are similar to Earth in many ways. As previously mentioned, they are both terrestrial planets that are located in our Sun’s habitable zone. But of course, they are also different in several key respects. Whereas Mars’ atmosphere is very thin, it has no magnetosphere, and its surface is extremely cold and dry, Venus has an atmosphere that it extremely dense, hot enough to melt lead, and where sulfuric acid rains are common.

Artist’s impression of a atmospheric generator on Mars. Credit:

The reasons for this? Mars sits at the outer edge of the Sun’s habitable zone and receives less warmth. Combined with its eccentric orbit – and a lack of a protective magnetosphere that caused it to lose its atmosphere billions of years ago – this is what has led to it becoming the very cold and dry planet we are familiar with. Venus, sitting on the inner edge of the Sun’s habitable zone, suffered a runaway Greenhouse Effect early in its history, which caused it to become the extremely hot and hellish world it is today.

Terraforming Mars would therefore require that we thicken the atmosphere and warm it up. This means triggering a Greenhouse Effect by pumping lots of CO2 and nitrogen (probably in the form of ammonia) into its atmosphere and then converting them using cyanobacteria and other species of bacteria. So basically, to make Mars more Earth-like, we could build heavy industry there to pollute the hell out of the place – something we’ve been doing here on Earth for hundreds of years! – and then test out techniques designed to convert the atmosphere into something breathable. What we learn could then be applied here at home.

The same holds true for Venus. In order to terraform that world into something livable for humanity, the first challenge will be to arrest the runaway Greenhouse Effect there and convert the carbon dioxide/sulfur dioxide-rich atmosphere into one composed of nitrogen and oxygen gas. There are many ways to do this, and testing one or more of them out will yield crucial data for using similar techniques on Earth. In a nutshell, transforming Mars and Venus will help us save Earth.

Artist’s concept of a Venus cloud city – part of NASA’s High Altitude Venus Operational Concept (HAVOC) plan. Credit: Advanced Concepts Lab/NASA Langley Research Center
Artist’s concept of a Venus cloud city – part of NASA’s High Altitude Venus Operational Concept (HAVOC) plan. Credit: Advanced Concepts Lab/NASA Langley Research Center

4. Our Solar System has Abundant Resources:
Between the Moon, Mars, Venus, Mercury, the Asteroid Belt, and the systems of Jupiter, Saturn and beyond, there are literally enough resources to last humanity indefinitely. And while we can’t hope to possess them all at once, every step in colonizing the Solar System offers us the chance to expand our resource base, conduct scientific research and exploration, add more land which we can develop and use for human settlement, and ultimately grow as a species.

To break this process down piecemeal, we must start with the Moon. By establishing a colony in its southern polar region, we could leverage the local resources to create a permanent settlement and use it as a refueling base for mission deeper into the Solar System (a move which would save billions on all future missions). Solar operations could also be built on the surface to beam energy to Earth, the Moon’s rich minerals could be mined for Earth industries, and the mining of Helium-3 could power fusion reactors all over the world.

Already, NASA is eying the Shakelton Crater as a possible location, where there is an abundance of water ice and a dome could be built over it to create a contained atmosphere. The moon’s stable lava tunnels also present a good site, since they are large enough to fit entire cities within them and would hold an atmosphere nicely. And from there, humanity could mount missions to Venus and Mars, which would in turn add their abundant supplies of minerals to our economy.

The European Space Agency's concept for a Moon base. Credit: ESA
The European Space Agency’s concept for a Moon base. Credit: ESA

Mercury would also present a major opportunity for mining and solar operations.  And like the Moon, colonies could be built in the permanently shaded regions around the northern and southern polar regions (where there are abundant supplies of water ice) and in underground stable lava tubes. The Asteroid Belt literally has enough minerals and ices to keep humanity supplied indefinitely (hence the interest in asteroid prospecting of late), and the outer Solar System has enough ice, volatiles, and organic compounds to do the same.

In short, step by step, the colonization and/or terraforming of our Solar System offers humanity the opportunity to become a post-scarcity race. While many decry the idea of our species expanding because of the greed and abuse we have demonstrated in the past (and continue to demonstrate today), much of this greed and abuse comes from the fact that our current economic models are based on scarcity. By removing that from the equation, it would be that much more difficult for human beings to hoard resources for themselves while denying their neighbor.

Faced with all of this, the question no is longer one of “why should we”, but rather “why shouldn’t we?” Why shouldn’t we establish a human presence elsewhere in the Solar System, knowing that it could not only help us to save Earth, but ensure our survival as a species for the indefinite future? This of course does not address all the challenges that remain in doing so, but it does tackle one of the biggest arguments there is against space exploration and colonization.

Still pic from Wanderers, by Erik Wernquist
Still pic from Wanderers, by Erik Wernquist

As for the rest? Well, I’m sure we’ll tackle those questions, and then some, when the time comes. In the meantime, I encourage everyone to keep looking up at the stars and saying the question, “why not?”

The Cronian Incident – Factions in the Future


Future City [3] by josueperez79 at
Hi again folks! I’m back with some thoughts from my most recent story project – The Jovian Incident. I know, what else is new, right? Writing can be a self-indulgent process. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, its that sharing helps when it comes to developing a story. It helps you articulate your thinking and ideas, especially if respected peers tell you what they think (hint, hint!)

As I also learned a long time ago, any science fiction piece that deals with the distant future has to take into account how human beings in the future go about organizing themselves. In this future world, what are the political blocs, the alliances, the rivalries – the ways in which people are united and divided? Well, I gave that a lot of thought before sitting down to pen the book (which is into chapter 11 now). And this is the basic breakdown I came up with.

Extro Factions:
For starters, people in the future I am envisioning are tentatively divided into those that live in the inner and outer Solar Systems. But that geographic divide is merely representative of a much bigger issue that divides humanity. Whereas the people living on Earth, Mars and Venus largely fall into the category of “Extro” (i.e. Extropian, people who embrace the transhuman ethic) people in the outer Solar System live simpler, less augmented and enhanced lives (“Retro”).

But within this crude division between people who believe in going beyond their biological limitations and those who believe in respecting them, there are plenty of different social, political and ideological groups to be found. Here’s a rundown on them, starting with the Extro factions…

The Formists:
Founded by Piter Chandrasekhar, one of the first colonists of Mars, the Formists are a faction dedicated to the full-scale terraforming of the Red Planet. The purpose of this, obviously, is to allow for full-scale colonization, which is something that remains impossible at this point in the story. All inhabitants on Mars lived in sealed domes, all transit takes place in pressurized tubes or on flyers, and anyone venturing out onto the surface is forced to wear a pressure suit with life-support systems.

Mars Terraformed by Daein Ballard

Currently, the Formist faction is run by Emile Chandrasekhar, Piter’s grandson. And for the past few decades, they have been busy procuring resources from the outer Solar System to aid in the terraforming process. This includes supplies of methane, ammonia, ices, and lots and lots of comets.

However, they are also busy trying to ensure that the process will have a minimal impact on the settlements and those living within them. Altering the planet’s atmosphere will definitely have a significant impact on the landscape in the short-term, such as sublimating all the water ice in the Martian soil and in the polar caps. Once that water begins to flow, much of the surface will find itself being swallowed up by newly-created oceans. So naturally, the Formists must proceed slowly, and make sure all settlements on Mars agree to their plans.

While the Formist faction is largely centered on Mars, they have counterparts on Venus as well – known as The Graces (after the children of Aphrodite). Here, the process is significantly different, and involves converting the existing atmosphere rather than increasing its density. But the goal is the same: to one day make Venus a living, breathing world human beings can set foot on.

The Dysonists:
Among the Extros, there are also those who believe humanity’s future lies not in the stars or in the terraforming the Solar System’s planets, but in the space that surrounds our Sun. They are known as the Dysonists, a faction that is intent on building a massive swarm of structures in the inner Solar System. For some, this calls for a series of rings which house the inhabitants on their inner surface and provide gravity through endless rotation.

This artist’s concept of a Dyson sphere is via

For other, more ambitious Dysonists, the plan involves massive swarms of computronium that will contain a sea of uploaded personalities living in simulated environments. Both the swarms and the powerful bandwidth that connects them will draw energy from the Sun’s rays. These individuals consider themselves to be the more puritan of Dysonists, and believe those who advocate buildings rings structures are more properly known as Nivenists.

The process of converting all the “dumb matter” in the Solar System into smart matter has already begun, but in limited form. Within a few generations, it is believed that the Sun will be surrounded by a “Torus” of uploaded minds that will live on while countless generations come and go. Dysonists and their enclaves can be found on Near-Earth Asteroids, in the Main Asteroid Belt, and with committed supporters living on Venus, Mars, Earth, the Moon, and Ceres.

The Habitationists:
Inspired by Gerard K. O’Neill, the inventor of the O’Neill Cylinder, the Habitationists began as an architects dream that quickly expanded to fill all of known space. In the 21st century, Earthers looking to escape the growing population crisis began migrating to space. But rather than looking to live on distant worlds or the Moon, where the environment was harsh and the gravity limited, they decided to set up shop in orbit. Here, supplies could be shipped regularly, thanks to the advent of commercial aerospace, and gravity could be simulated at a full g thanks to rotating toruses.

By the mid 22nd century, Low Earth Orbit (LEO) Habs had become all the rage and the skies became somewhat saturated. The existence of Earth’s space elevator (The Spindle) only made deploying and supplying these Habs easier, and a steady drop in the costs of manufacturing and deploying them only made them more popular. As such, Terran architect Hassan Sarawak, who had designed many of the original habitats in space, began to busy himself designing a new series of Habs that would allow human beings to live in space anywhere in the Solar System.

Lightfarm Studios
Artistic impression of the inside of an O’Neil Cylinder. Lightfarm Studios

By the end of the 22nd century, when the story takes place, large cylinders exist in several key places in the Solar System. Most are named in honor of either their founders, those who articulated the concept of space habitats, or those who believed in the dream of colonizing space itself (and not just other planets and moons).  These places are thusly named O’Neil’s Reach, Clarkestown, Sawarakand, and New Standford.

The Seedlings:
As the name would suggest, the Seedlings are those intrepid Extropians who believe humanity should “seed” the galaxy with humanity, spreading to all solar systems that have confirmed exoplanets and building settlements there. But in a slight twist, they believe that this process should be done using the latest in nanotechnology and space penetrators, not slow interstellar ships ferrying human colonist and terraformers.

To the Seedlings, who can be found throughout the inner Solar System, and on some of its most distant moons, the idea is simple. Load up a tiny projectile-ship with billions of nanobots designed to slowly convert a planet’s climate, then fire it on a trajectory that will take it to an exoplanet many generations from now. Then, prepare a ship with colonists, send it on its merry way into space, and by the time they reach the distant world, it will be fully prepared for their arrival.

At this point in the story, the Seedlings first few missions are still in the planning stages. They’ve got the technology, they’ve got the know-how, and they know where the right candidate planets are located. All they need to do know is test out their machines and make sure the process works, so that they won’t be sending their colonists into a deathtrap.

Sidenote: this idea is actually one I explored in a short story I am trying to get published. If all goes well, I am the short story and this full-length idea can be connected as part of a singular narrative.

Retro Factions:
And now we come to the people who live predominantly in the outer Solar System, the folks who found life on Earth and the inner worlds unlivable thanks to its breakneck pace and the fact that life was becoming far too complicated. These are the people whom – for religious, personal, or moral reasons – chose to live on the frontier worlds in order to ensure something other than humanity’s survival as a species. For these people, it was about preserving humanity’s soul.

In the mid to late 21st century, as biotech and cybernetics became an increasingly prevalent part of society, a divide began to emerge between people who enhanced their biology and neurology and those who did not. While the former were in the minority for the first few decades, by the latter half of the 21st century, more and more people began to become, in essence, “transhuman” – (i.e. more than human).

Cyber Girl by Fausto De Martini

At the same time, fears and concerns began to emerge that humanity was forsaking the very things that made it human. With lives becoming artificially prolonged, human parts being swapped for bionic or biomimetic implants, and brains becoming enhanced with neural implants and “looms”, humanity seemed on course to becoming post-human (i.e. not human at all).

And while the concerns were justified, few who could afford such enhancements seemed to be willing to forsake the convenience and necessity they represented. In a world where they conferred advantage over the unenhanced, choosing not to augment one’s body and mind seemed foolish. But between those who could not afford to, those who were forbidden to, and those who chose not to, eventually a new underclass emerged – known as “Organics”.

Today’s organics, who live predominantly in the outer Solar System or isolated pockets in the inner worlds, are the descendants of these people. They live a simpler life, eschewing most of the current technology in favor for a more holistic existence, depending on various levels of technology to maintain a certain balance.

Naturally, human beings in the late 22nd century still have their faiths and creeds.  Despite what some said in previous centuries, mankind did not outgrow the need for religion as it began to explore space and colonizing new worlds. And when the Singularity took place in the mid 21st century, and life became increasingly complex, enhanced, and technologically-dominated, the world’s religiously-devout began to feel paradoxical. On the one hand, religion seemed to be getting more unpopular and obsolete; but at the same time, more rare and precious.

To be fair, there was a time when it seemed as though the prediction of a religion-less humanity might come true. In the early to mid 21st century, organized religion was in a noticeable state of decline. Religious institutions found it harder and harder to adapt to the times, and the world’s devout appeared to be getting increasingly radicalized. However, in and around all of these observable trends, there were countless people who clung to their faith and their humanity because they feared where the future was taking them.

In the current era, the outer Solar System has become a haven for many sects and religious organizations that felt the Inner Worlds were too intolerant of their beliefs. While there will always be people who embrace one sort of faith or another on all worlds – for instance, billions of Extros identify as Gnosi or Monist – the majority of devout Kristos, Sindhus, Mahavadans, Mahomets, and Judahs now call the worlds of Ganymede, Callisto, Europa, Titan, Rhea, Iapetus, Dione, Tethys, Titania, Oberon, Ariel and Umbriel home.

The vast majority of these people want to live in peace. But for some, the encroachment of the Inner Worlds into the life and economies of their moons is something that must be stopped. They believe, as many do, that sooner or later, the Extro factions will try to overtake these worlds as well, and that they will either be forced to move farther out, colonizing the moons of Neptune and the Kuiper Belt, or find homes in new star systems entirely. As such, some are joining causes that are dedicated to pushing back against this intrusion…

Chauvians (Independents):
Many in the past also thought that nationalism, that sense of pride that is as divisive as it is unifying, would also have disappeared by this point in time. And while humanity did begin to celebrate a newfound sense of unity by the late 21st century, the colonizing of new worlds had the effect of creating new identities that were bound to a specific space and place. And given the divisive political climate that exists in the late 22nd century, it was only natural that many people in the Outer Worlds began preaching a form of independent nationalism in the hopes of rallying their people.

Collectively, such people are known as “Chauvians“, a slight bastardization of the word “Jovian” (which applies to inhabitants of any of the outer Solar System’s moons). But to others, they are known simply as Independents, people striving to ensure their worlds remain free of external control. And to those belonging to these factions, their worlds and their people are endangered and something must be done to stop the intrusion of Extros into the outer Solar System. For the most part, their methods are passive, informative, and strictly political. But for others, extra-legal means, even violent means, are seen as necessary.

Examples include the Children of Jove and the Aquilan Front, which are native to the Galilean moons of Jupiter. On the Cronian moons, the Centimanes are the main front agitating for action against the Extros. And on the Uranian moons, the organizations known as The Furies and the Sky Children are the forces to be reckoned with. Whereas the more-moderate of these factions are suspected of being behind numerous protests, riots, and organized strikes, the radicals are believed to be behind the disappearance of several Extro citizens who went missing in the Outer Worlds. In time, it is believed that a confrontation will occur between these groups and the local authorities, with everyone else being caught in the middle.

And those are the relevant players in this story I’m working out. Hope you like them, because a few come into play in the first story and the rest I think could become central to the plots of any future works in the same universe. Let me know what you think! 🙂


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.”

New Anthology Sample: Arrivals!

Yuva_coverWow, its been awhile since I’ve posted anything from my group’s Yuva anthology. But that’s been the nature of my writing in these past few weeks, picking up projects I haven’t been working on lately and getting busy on them! And one of the fruits of these labors is the next installment in the short story “Arrivals”.

It came after I finished reading over my friends’ proposal for another story – Amber Iver’s and Goran Zidar’s “Ember Storm”. Somehow, reading another’s work always seem to help stoke the creative fires. And since “Arrivals” has been sitting on my desk without improvement for months now, I figured it was time to dust it off and make some headway!

YuvaAs the story that starts off part III of the anthology, “Arrivals” deals with the Second Wave of colonists who come to the planet of Yuva some 200 years after the first Terraformers set foot on the planet. Naturally, this new group of settlers is fare more advanced than the first, and has made the trip in less time thanks to the superiority of their next-generation, interstellar space ships.

The first segment of the story, which I posted back in March, dealt with the signal from these distant ships being received. This second part deals with the repercussions, as the Yuvan authorities come to see the ships in distant space and realize they will be arriving in orbit within two years time. Preparations need to be made, and the possibilities need to be addressed.

Will these new “arrivals” be friendly, or hostile? Are they simply people looking to join the first wave in creating a new home, or are they intent on pushing them out of the way? And just as importantly, what news and developments are they bringing with them from Earth, a world the Yuvan people have not heard from in over two centuries?

Planetary Research Council
Zarmina, Vogt

Anuja Padda tapped the table before her, loud enough so that everyone arranged in the circle would hear her and come to attention. Slowly, the many conversations that were passing between the board’s various members came to an end and they looked in her direction.

“Good morning, all. I thank you all for coming, especially those who joining us from overseas. I think we can all agree, we meet here under some rather extraordinary circumstances.”

There were mumbles of agreement from all around the table. Padda continued.

“And though I’m sure everyone has had a chance to review the information, I know my colleagues won’t fault me for reviewing our situation for the sake of posterity. Future generations will certainly appreciate it.”

That got a few snickers, and some people looking around the expanse of the room. From multiple angles, holorecording devices were capturing their every word, gesture and nuance. Someday, posterity would be looking back on the recordings made, and she was determined to give them a good show.

She cleared her throat and started from the beginning. “Less then twenty-four hours ago, a remote monitoring station on the western coast on Bonfils reported receiving some anomalous readings. The station assessed the readings and determined that they were in fact a transmission, which appeared to be coming from an extra-planetary source.”

She paused for emphasis. The next segment of her introduction required a few seconds grace, given the heady nature of it all.

“Ever since we arrived on this planet almost two centuries ago, we’ve entertained the notion that one day, another flotilla would follow in our wake, bringing a second wave of colonists to this world. Yesterday, we finally heard from them. And today, we will receive our first glimpse of them.”

The room’s lights suddenly went dark and a million specks of light slowly began to appear around them and grow in luminosity. The image that was now filling the Council meeting room could be seen in every Planetary Research office on the planet, the video feeds that were being captured from orbit streaming in through their own holodisplay devices.

Raising her hands and the image responded, the holodisplay reading the embedded sensors in her fingertips and responding to her manipulations. The image began to move and zoom in on a particular region of space. Holding her left hand steady to prevent lateral movement, she pulled her right hand back several times, increasing the magnification on the desired region. Three grey blobs appeared in this area, indiscernible and bland, until the image improved the resolution.

What they saw then instantly amazed and left them all speechless.

There, at the center of the room and hovering above their heads, were the mottled images of three large space-born craft. Their edges were sharp, their profiles long and contoured. There was no mistaking them for asteroids or any other kind of stellar mass.

“The image quality leaves something to be desired, but as you can see, we are detecting three ships flying in a wedge formation.”

“In other words,” said Councilor Moltke from the other side of the room, “a formation and disposition which matches our arrival exactly.”

Padda nodded, as did numerous others who continued to watch with awe. Within seconds, questions began to follow.

“How long until they get here?”

“Our scopes indicate that at their present velocity, they will arrive in orbit of Yuva in just over two years’ time.”

“What was the message they sent?”

“We don’t know yet, as it was encrypted using a rather complex cipher. But our technicians are sure we can decode it before long. Most likely, it’s a message of greeting.”

“The ships they are using, they’re faster than the ones that brought us here, yes?”

Padda turned to address this question, though it was more of an observation. Given their apparent distance and the timeframe she gave them, one could not help but draw that conclusion.

“Yes, they do appear to be using a form of propulsion technology that is superior to the one that powered the Avincenna, , and . This should come as no surprise, given that they’ve had well over a century to refine their methods.”

“And what of their intent?”

Padda looked around the room to find the source of the question. It appeared to be coming from the back wall, an alcove which was temporarily shaded due to the display of lights above. As the speaker stepped forward, she suppressed the urge to sigh and greeted them politely.

“Minister Astrakhan, this is a surprise. We weren’t expecting a visitor from Planetary Defense.”

“Perhaps if you had invited us to this session,” he said dryly, moving closer to the center of the room. “Nevertheless, my question still stands. What is their intent?”

Padda cleared her throat. “We can’t be sure at this time. However –”

“All we really know is that have a flotilla of ships arriving in our system from Earth. They are more advanced than we are, they have sent a message we can’t interpret, and yet we assume that they are here bringing a new wave of colonists who plan to peacefully integrate into our society.” He stopped and looked at the display; nodded, as if appraising the image and finding something within it that he approved of. “Have you even considered the possibility that their intent might be hostile?”

Padda shook her head. She tried to respond, but incredulity prevented her from finishing her sentence. “I’m sorry, I –”

“It’s not unheard of for new waves of colonists to displace those that came before them,” he continued. “Or have you forgotten your Earth history?”

Padda’s face went warm. “I haven’t forgotten anything sir.”

“Ah, then you recall the last time in Earth’s history when exploration and colonization took place? During the 18th century, many waves of Europeans arrived on the shores of what they liked to refer to as ‘The New World’. In the north, settlers landed in large numbers along the eastern shores, and after clearing the lands of its native inhabitants, subsequent waves of settlers triggered a series of conflicts. Colonies switched hands as their respective nations demanded the right to control the lands that were already spoken for.”

Padda once again suppressed a sigh.

“You’re saying you think these colonists are here to push us out? Or demand we submit to their authority?”

“And why not?” he asked, turning around to face her. If they do possess superior technology, what’s to stop them?”

Low murmurs began to erupt around the room, growing in intensity as more people joined the chorus. It wasn’t long before she could hear remarks being shouted in Astrakhan’s direction. All the while, he continued to look at Padda, a cold stare on his face.

All too quickly, she remembered exactly why she hadn’t invited him to this meeting. She knew he would be likely to raise some pessimistic possibilities. Unfortunately, not inviting him had had the effect of exacerbating the situation. Amidst their awe and distraction, he had managed to sneak in and stir the pot even more.

“Excuse me, everyone!” she said finally. Slowly, silence returned to the room. “Let us not get carried away with speculation. Minister Astrakhan, it is your contention that we do not know what these ships and their crews are doing here, correct?”

“It is not my contention, Madame Councilor. It is a fact.”

She smiled. “Then it would be foolish of us to be taking an alarmist position, would it not? If we are indeed ignorant, we shouldn’t allow such ignorance to manifest itself in fear.”

No one chuckled, but she felt the room respond favorably to her remark. The only one who didn’t appear impressed was Astrakhan. Despite his next words, his face registered no reaction to her rebuttal.

“Indeed, Councilor. It would be foolish to assume the worse anymore than it would to assume the best. Perhaps we can agree then that more information is needed?”

Padda nodded silently. She sensed there was more coming, something she wasn’t going to think too highly of.

“A good first step would be to decode the message they sent. I recall you saying it had a rather advanced encryption?”

“That is correct. A quantum encryption that will take some time to crack.”

“Good…” Astrakhan brought his hands together in front of him. “Then might I suggest Planetary Defense and Resources arrange for a collaborative effort. Between our two ministries, we could be able to dedicate all our quantum processors to the task and break their codes that much quicker.”

Padda was about to respond in the affirmative, but was interrupted by Moltke.

“A valid suggestion, Minister. But might I suggest that we extend that collaboration to include all major settlements? Between all of us, we have over a dozen processors that could be networked and dedicated to the task.”

Astrakhan quickly turned around to confront Moltke. “That would require breaching whatever security we have in place with this matter. The entire planet would be made aware of the arrival of these ships.”

Stepping into the light, Moltke spread his hands in a gesture of defeat. “They are likely to have heard of it already, Minister. If we want them to remain informed and calm on the subject, I can think of no better idea than to get in front of the story. Besides, if Planetary Defense is determined to learn of their intentions is what we want, then any measure that could accomplish this task sooner is in order.”

Astrakhan bristled noticeably, then turned back to look at Padda. His face was still painfully neutral, but she could tell from his body language that Moltke had ruffled his feathers.

“I shall have to speak to my superiors, and of course the Planetary Council will need to be informed, and will retain final approval of anything we propose.”

Padda smiled, inwardly suppressing a sense of sardonic joy. “Yes, they will, Minister. I commend you and my colleague on the sensible recommendations made here today.”

Astrakhan left without further incident. The mood lightened the moment he was gone and the rooms main doors slid shut behind him. Within seconds, murmurs began to erupt again. It wasn’t long before questions began to be asked as well.

“There’s the matter of their arrival,” said another Councilor. “What shall we do to prepare?”

“A welcoming committee?” said another.

“What about a series of shuttles going into orbit to greet them?” said Moltke.

Several heads turned to him and began muttering curiously.

“An orbital meet and greet?” said Padda. “Not a bad idea, but we would still be waiting a full two years before they would be close enough for our standard aerospace jets to reach them.”

“Perhaps then we should prepare something with greater range and capability,” Council Mond suggested, their resident expert on aerospace. “If they are going to be two years in coming, we could dedicate the next year to developing shuttles that could meet them half way.” Everyone in the room began to voice their approval of this idea. Mond took that as an invitation to continue. “Until now, we’ve had no reason to build ships that were built specifically for space travel. But between the orbital stations and our resources here on the surface, we have the capability to build a series of shuttles that could be sent from orbit to meet them in space before they reach our world.

This produced additional hums and vocalizations of assent. Eventually, numerous people looked to Padda again to see if she agreed. After a brief consideration, she nodded approvingly.

“A good idea,” she said. “And one I’m sure Minister Astrakhan will be suggesting himself. No doubt he would emphasize that we need to get a look at these people before we allow them to set foot on our planet.”

“Looks like Planetary Defense and Research will be collaborating on something else.”

Everyone chuckled at Moltke’s remark.

New Anthology Sample: Arrivals!

Yuva_coverGood morning ladies and gentlemen, or evening depending on your time zone. As it stands, my cold endures, even after a whole week! I tell you, we need to learn how to weaponize little kids and use them in bio-warfare. No one will ever fire a bullet again because entire countries will be too busy nursing colds and flus to fight…

But I digress. One upside to this down time is that it has allowed me to catch up on some projects which have been sorely neglected of late. And one such project is my the anthology collection that my writing group and I are working on. After many months of recruiting and beating the bushes for more members, the authors and I decided to double up and take on some additional stories.

And I picked the story idea named “Arrivals”. Taking place in Part III of the anthology, Arrivals deals with the coming of the Second Wave of colonists, people who are at least a century more advanced than their First Wave brethren who left Earth some two hundred years beforehand. Naturally, there are some difficulties merging the new people in with the world, given that a great deal of time and space separates the two.

And what’s more, the new wave arrive telling stories of Earth, stories that aren’t exactly encouraging. It seems that amidst the Climate Change-fueled crises that was rocking the Solar System when the First Wave left, a new group of neo-fascists have taken power on Earth. A war was imminent between Earth and its Solar Colonies when they left, which is now believed to be underway.

Knowing that war is happening at home does not bode well for the colonists of Yuva, especially if the neo-fascists win and begin looking in Yuva’s direction. Anyhoo, here is the first sample of the story, an introduction for the story I intend to write. Enjoy!

*                    *                    *

Andrewartha Monitoring Station
New Darwin, Bonfils

He walked the length of the catwalk, his every step clanging loudly against the grating. Each one made the headache he was nursing that much worse, and every breath yielded the same taste of oxidized metals and machine lubricant. But it was better than the taste of grain alcohol that still lingered on his tongue.

All in all, it was a typical day for Strauss, tending to the machinery that kept an ear open on this half of the planet’s ecology after a night of hard drinking.

Rounding the corner and scraping his elbow against a pile of crates, he removed the Tab from his chest and checked the readout on it again. It took a second for the screen to power up, him having run down the cells last night listening to music and interfacing with his favorite virtual environments. After a few cups of hootch, he had been known to get a little too engaged in sensory simulations involving cowgirls and a little rolling in the hay.

And of course, he had been thoughtless, leaving it rather than sticking it in a window to draw some meager power from the sun, or attaching to the bulkhead to let it get a charge from an embedded circuit.

Luckily, the cells were in a forgiving mood and powered up. With the display now bright enough for him to read, he selected the message from PR central and gave it another read.

Anomalous readings reported on the following dates.

A series of numerics followed, indicating to the very second when the readings were recorded at Andrewartha based on Vogt Standard Time. The message continued thereafter:

Check comm array for possible malfunction. If specs green, consult relay nodule in 7-B for possible false readings.

Touching the screen with his finger, he drew a line through the first part of the message. The comm array was working just fine, according to his earlier diagnostic. Not that it mattered much, there was very little to report from this station at any given time. The most exciting readings they ever got where when the Bonfils Cluster emitted the high-pitched frequencies that seemed to accord to their mating cycle, right before they blew their stacks and sent embers every which way across the continent.

It was like clockwork too, given that the diurnal cycle had very little in the way of an effect this far south. In addition to being land-locked on this ball of rock, they were also tilt-locked, ensuring that the long nights and dim days barely ever got longer or brighter.

Which brought him to the second part of the message. Possible false readings… The implication being that the fault in the readings he’d sent was on his end. Assuming that the transmission hadn’t somehow garbled the data due to some solar interference or jamming, the techs back home could only assume that a glitch had to be the result of a defective scanner. Not until they ruled out all that would they be prepared to admit that maybe something was going on in the Bonfils plant community that they couldn’t account for. The arrogance of established minds!

Then again, he wasn’t too crazy about the idea of that being the case himself right now. Activity outside that was out of the ordinary could only mean something was up. Eerily, strangely, possibly dangerously up. There was so much they didn’t know about the Deveroza at this point, other than the fact that they could be most lethal when studied without the proper care. Any changes in their behavior could not be considered a good thing.

And until his year was complete at this outpost, he didn’t want anything to happen that would disrupt his schedule. Monotony by day, sound sleep at night, the occasional drunken release, and it would be over before he knew it. No, anything that altered his humdrum lifestyle and threatened to prolog his stay was surely less preferable than a mere technical glitch right now.

Strauss folded up his Tab up and placed it around the wrist of his uniform, knowing that he’d need at least one hand free for what he was about to do. And reaching the terminus of the hallway, he set his eyes on the pressure sealed door before him and took a deep breath. In order to keep the higher ups satisfied, he would once again need to conduct a little hazardous duty and do what he both hated and loved, which was to go outside.

Such was the nature of being confined inside a husk of metal like this one, forbidden to go outside for anything other than the most necessary of missions. He was sure someone back home ought to write a dissertation on it, how it conditioned a certain bipolar fixation among its attendants, making them both simultaneously claustrophobic and agoraphobic. Getting out was the only way to stave off insanity, but doing so required a level of daring and bravado that seemed borderline insane itself.

He would be sure to talk it over with some people in the Social Psych department when he returned home.

Detaching the mask from his belt and placing it on, he pulled the uniform’s hood segment over his head and waited for the seal to form. The goggles powered up next and indicated that he had a prefect pressure seal. Sighing happily, he spoke into his suit’s uplink.

“Andie, are you online?”

A moot question, as the station’s beta-level custodian was always online. Never farther away than a simple voice command.

“Of course, Marcellin. How may I assist you?”

“Need to go outside to reconnoiter,” he replied. “Can you open door 7-B for me?”

“Of course. One moment please.”

He heard a loud hiss coming from the door as inside, the pressure equalized with the station’s interior environment. On the status panel located next to the doorway, a light turned green, followed shortly thereafter by Andie’s chipper voice.

“You may step in when ready.” The door let out a loud thud, the seals opening only with serious force. “Be advised, the pressure change will be noticeable and is considered unfit for human exposure. Advise you have you suit done up in advance.”

“Already done,” he said with mild annoyance, and stepped inside. The door slid shut behind him, the hissing noise returning as the room changed its pressure once again. He got the strange feeling of wind blowing around him, the feeling of sudden cold as outside air filled the room and prepared him for what was to come. When it stopped abruptly, Strauss took another deep breath.

“Pressure equalized with external atmosphere. Have a nice day.”

The outer door opened. He set his boot onto the outer surface and stepped out…

It was like walking into some kind of surreal or psychedelic work of art. At this altitude, the sky was in a perennial state of twilight, never quite day or night, just different shades of dawn or dusk. And the embers against that sky, they made it look as though the entire horizon had been set ablaze. Strauss would get the oddest feeling sometimes, looking out at this sky. It was as if it were speaking to something deep inside him, a memory buried deep within his cellular memory.

His boots became magnetized the moment he began moving across the external surface, a precaution against getting blown away by the high winds that were so prevalent at this altitude. Each step was labored and slow as the magnets kept pace with his movements, anchoring his each step but releasing when he commanded his leg to move. All the while, he could feel the outside wind tugging on his getup and the tiny sparks flying by.

His goggles beeped at him, feeding climatological data directly into his sensory cortex. He could tell without needing to check any instruments that the ambient temperature was well below human comfort levels, that the air pressure was slightly lower than what the average human body was accustomed to, and that the concentrations of ember pollen were normal given recent activity. Everything seemed in the green, an appraisal which didn’t change when he finally reached the array.

He brushed at the main panel when he arrived, removing half an inch of dust and caked embers from the surface. Accessing it from the Tab now wrapped around his wrist, he punched in the command to open it. The panel made a loud clunk as the door slid free, revealing a large compartment filled with various electronics. Peering inside, he found the port he wanted and detached a small strand from his Tab, waiting for it to form into a coupling cable that could be patched in.

Activating his comm, he called on Andie again to assist.

“Andie, pal, you still with me?”

With the exception of a few clicks, his voice came through his sensory link, loud and clear:

“I am here, Marcellin. How may I assist you?”

“Prepare transmission for Planetary Research, care of Doctor Gordian.”

He connected the Tab’s cable into the port inside and waited for it to finish interfacing. It was also a second more before Andie was finished moving the transmission dish into position and connecting to the PR band at Zarmina. He chimed back when all was set.

“Transmission link established.”

“Good, now link up to my Tab. All data provided here is to be attached with the diagnostic performed on the main dish earlier. Merge both into an attachment and include it in the transmission. Ready?”

“Ready, Marcellin. Recording now and preparing all data. Do you wish to add a personal message?”

Turning to his cuff, he took a gander at the diagnostic readings coming through. He tapped at it a few times to enter in some parameters, selecting the readings that fell within the dates specified. Even unrefined, the diagnostic search seemed to be reporting nothing out of the ordinary. Day after day, week after week, month after month since he’d been here, the array reported a solid line of green functionality.

It was more than a little depressing to see the time which he had spent here summed up so succinctly. Had it really been that long?

“Gladly, Andie. Begin recording, audio only, please.” He cleared his throat and began speaking slowly and deliberately. “Doctor Gordian, this is Marcellin Strauss. Further to your transmission regarding anomalous readings, I have performed the requisite diagnostic checks and am pleased to announce that there are no technical glitches on this end. Both the signal dish and the scanning arrays are functioning well within established parameters. Whatever you noticed, it must be at your end, or due to something else entirely.”

He waited for a second for Andie to sense his intent and stop recording.

“Are you finished, Marcellin?” he asked.

“Yes, Andie. Send it now.”

“Right away.”

Detaching the cable from the inside, Strauss retracted it into his cuff and closed the panel shut. Within seconds, a new layer of sparkling dust was forming and he was already well on his way inside.

On his way back, his headache let up long enough for him to have a single lucid thought. What if the signals they were reading weren’t coming from the fields and field of Deverosa located inland? What if it were coming from somewhere else entirely, a transmitter or a beacon somewhere outside Bonfils? That would certainly explain the duration and intensity of the signals the scanners had picked up. Short and focused, like nothing the flora ever put out.

He paused at the airlock and considered it a second longer. As much as he hated the prospect of making any additional work for himself, he couldn’t deny that the thought was proving quite intriguing. Already it was burning through his hangover and threatening to bring something akin to clarity to his mind.

“Andie, are you there?”

“I am,” the computerized voice said. “Are you wanting to come back in?”

“Uh, yes, Andie. Please open the door. But while you’re doing that, can you access those readings specified in the original message from Gordian? I want to run some tests on those.”

“Certainly. What would you like me to look for?”

He thought that one over for a second as the door opened to admit him and he stepped inside. As Andie cycled the air and conducted decontamination procedures, he did his best to remember all the elementary lessons he had received back in primary. At some point in his youth, he had heard how the Flotilla had used a free-space optical communication system when they first made to the trip from Sol. Such methods were not used since planetfall, but if it someone were out there trying to make contact…

It was a long shot. But if correct, it would certainly payoff, maybe even get him a transfer sooner than expected.

“Structure,” he said finally. “Isolate the readings and assume they represent an optical transmission. I think someone out there might be trying to talk to us down here.”

News From Alpha Centauri!

It seems another star system is making the news recently. And much like Gliese 581, the subject is the discovery of a planet that is said to be Earth-like in orientation. Located in Alpha Centauri, a star system just 4.3 light years from our Solar System, this exoplanet is the closest discovery yet to be made by scientists and astronomers.

Those with a penchant for science fiction will be immediately familiar with the name Alpha Centauri. As the closest star system to our own, it has been mentioned and used as the setting for countless science fiction franchises. Star Trek, Transformers, and most recently, Avatar have made use of this binary system and its system of planets. But up until now, speculations as to its ability to actually support life (at least as we know it) have been just that.

Officially, the planet is known as Alpha Centauri Bb, in that it is the second observable planet that orbits Alpha Centauri B, the larger of the stars in the binary system. It took a research team nearly four years to classify the planet and determine that it boasted a mass similar to that of Earth’s. According to Xavier Dumusque, the lead author of the planet-discovering study: “This result represents a major step towards the detection of a twin Earth in the immediate vicinity of the sun.”

But of course, there’s a snag, at least as far as colonization would be involved. According to the same research team, Alpha Centauri Bb is closer to its host star than Mercury is to our Sun, and they estimate that surface temperatures average around 1200 degrees Celsius (2192 Fahrenheit). Forget Pandora, can you say Crematoria? If humans were ever to set foot on this world, it would only be because of terraforming so radical that it completely altered the nature of the planet. Still, it is an exciting find, and is another step along the road to locating nearby exoplanets that humanity might someday call home.

In the meantime, check out this video from the European Southern Observatory. It’s like Google Earth meets the Milky Way Galaxy – Google Galaxy! I like that!


More News From Gliese 581 g

And here we go again with another news story that comes to us from beyond our world, but curiously (no pun!), not from the Red Planet. It seems that the Earth-like exoplanet known as Gliese 581 g, aka. Zarmina (or Yuva to me and my writer’s group!) has been the subject of some interest as of late. In fact, two stories have emerged about this world, which ranks as number one on NASA’s list of Earth-like worlds beyond our system. And I think you’ll agree, these two stories couldn’t be farther apart.

The first sounds like something out of a novel by Carl Sagan: two years ago, while doing research for SETI, an Australian astrophysicist claimed  he picked up a “suspicious signal” from the vicinity of the Gliese 581 system. Since that time, a number have websites have come forward that claim to have traced the signal back to the Earth-like exoplanet itself. The second story comes from the International Astronomical Union, which chaired a meeting this week and raised doubts about the actual existence of Gliese 581 g.

For those who may not recall, the existence of Gliese 581 g has been featured in the news quite a bit of late, and not just on my site 😉 Discovered in 2010 astronomer Steven Vogt and a team of scientists working out of the Keck I facility in Hawaii. After locating the rocky world, they made two determinations based on their findings which set the astronomical community aflame.

On the one hand, the planet was roughly three time the mass of Earth but was believed to possess the same overall gravity. On the other, it was located within the system’s “habitable zone”, meaning it was warm enough to support life but cool enough to maintain water in a liquid state. Combined with its proximity to Earth, 20 light-years, this made Gliese 581 g the most likely candidate for eventual colonization.

To be clear, the astronomical panel did not dismiss the existence of Gliese 581 g out of hand, but did say that its existence cannot be confirmed as a scientific certainty. According to Francesco Pepe, an astronomer who works on HARPS data at the Geneva Observatory, “The reason for that is that, despite the extreme accuracy of the instrument and the many data points, the signal amplitude of this potential fifth planet is very low and basically at the level of the measurement noise.” So basically, the evidence put forth by Vogt and his team may have been nothing more than echoed signals. Bummer!

So what then are to we make of this news? Either Gliese 581 g does not exist, or it is home to an extra-terrestrial civilization that is sending out signals. In all likelihood, the doubts raised by the IAU are merely a setback, and it will be a few years before we are certain of the exoplanet’s existence. But then again, anything is possible. However unlikely it may be, we might be meeting “Zarminans” in a few generations time. Who knows? Maybe they’ll come find us, flying in tiny saucers and demanding we take them to our leader.

Personally, I hope it happens the way my group and I envisioned it, with colony ships going there within a century’s time and discovering alien life that does not resemble our own by any measure. Any other way is just plain crazy 😉

The News From Saturn

Saturn has certainly been seen in the news a lot as of late. And you have the Cassini space probe, which was deployed from Earth back in 1997, to thank for all of that. Having completed the first leg of its mission back in 2008, its mission was extended to 2010, when most of the new photos and startling discoveries that are now being announced were made. Now, the healthy spacecraft is seeking to make exciting new discoveries in a second extended mission called the Cassini Solstice Mission.

But alas, the news! First, there was the announcement back in February that Saturn’s two largest moons – Titan and Rhea – were captured together in the same photo by the Cassini space probe. Considering that Saturn has 66 moons and Cassini was flying past at the time, this was no small accomplishment! What’s more, Titan’s atmosphere, which is fully developed (the only Saturnine moon to have this) was captured perfectly the shot.

But the news didn’t stop there. Shortly thereafter, in March to be specific, a report published in the Geophysical Research Letters announced that a thin layer of oxygen was discovered around Saturn’s moon of Dione. Once again, this discovery was made by the Cassini space probe as it passed by this other satellite of Saturn’s two years ago. This finding is proving to be quite the exciting one within the astronomical community.

Shortly after that, NASA announced that the moon of Enceladus did indeed have its own ocean. Named the Enceladan Ocean, this natural body of water has been known about for some time, but what is now known is the water contains carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, potassium salts and other organic materials. On top of that, it is now understood that it is situated above some volcanic jets, which means the water is most likely warm. Warm water, combined with organic minerals, makes the Enceladan Ocean a good candidate for life!

And then, in late July, images released by NASA showed that Cassini also caught a glimpse of a thunderstorm happening on Saturn’s surface. As all residents of Earth will surely agree, a thunderstorm is an impressive sight to behold. Especially when it’s seen happening on another planet! Apparently, what made this sighting most impressive was that it was visible on Saturn’s day side – aka. in broad daylight – from a range of 4.5 million km (2 million miles). That’s one humungous light show!

And less than a week ago, more information emerged as a result of the Cassini space probe, this time in relation to Saturn’s moon of Iapetus. After getting a good glimpse of the moon, scientists at NASA have determined that it is home to the largest ice avalanches in the Solar System, and is rivaled only by Mars. Take that Mount Everest! You too Olympus Mons!

Already, scientists had Iapetus pegged as the most intriguing moon in the Solar System. For starters, it has a Ying-Yang color pattern, looks like an inverted Death Star (check that image, no Photoshopping!), and has a long ridge running almost perfectly along Iapetus’ equator, a feature which earned it the nickname “the walnut moon”. I guess it wasn’t happy with just that, it also wanted to be the most dangerous place to downhill ski!

And you thought Jupiter did some badass things. Well, it does. But judging from all these findings, Saturn is going to be a pretty happening place someday. I can envision settlements on Titan, skiing on Iapetus, and terraforming on Dione. And for those who like to sight-see, there will be shuttle services that take you to the dark side of Saturn to witness the light show from space. Ooooh, I got goose bumps!

Via: BBC, IO9, Nature Geoscience, CICOPS, Time Science, and NASA

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.