fractal_dyson_sphere_by_eburacum45-d2yum16The size and shape of the deep space field resolved itself into a million piercing points of light. From a mottled mass of brilliance, it slowly transitioned into the blue spectrum, then white, keeping pace with the Relativistic Engines that powered their vessel. As soon as they finished powering down, the instruments starting humming, beeping, and generally carrying out their functions. And all hands aboard her bridge began to listen very carefully for the desired sounds of contact.

For several minutes, sensor returns came back negative. The far-flung planet in the system, its many moons, and the thin trail of asteroids that constituted all stellar mass this far out were about the only things they were picking up. In time, the Captain began to wonder if they were even in the right place.

“We’re sure about these coordinates?” said Mikka, addressing Thoreau at the nav terminal. His hands waved above his touchscreen, absorbing information through contact and assimilating it at near-instantaneous speed. His eyes cleared as he looked up to see her, momentarily breaking from his sensory link.

“The shippers said they found it at the edge of the space lanes. They said it interfered with their nav console, but they made a note of it after they returned to port.”

“I read the report,” Mikka said. “Not very encouraging stuff.”

A few heads turned towards her. Not every member of her crew was privy to the details and she was sure not to say anything more. Hearing about a strange, floating shape in space, one which had given a hauler some serious lumps and its crew nightmares was not something that would go over well with them.

Taking her seat, the Captain accessed the memory file and ran the briefing notes through her mind again. The particulars were a bore, but the holographic representation, reconstructed from what scanner data could be retrieved from the haulers records, were quite interesting. And naturally, the Chairman’s voice droned on in the background, providing the relevant details…

[“…from the basic outline, it appears that what the ship detected has structure to it. It’s roughly spherical in shape… and though it’s dimensions are unclear, our technicians believe that it should measure the size of a small meteoroid.]

Structure, Mikka thought. A buzzword the xeno-types loved to use, employed whenever they found something they thought conformed to their expectations. Chairman Bukhari continued…

[“what is less mysterious is the effect it had on the commercial ship that made the approach. As soon as they got within a single AU of the object, they detected some high-energy gravimetric field. But instead of being pulled in, the ship was essentially pushed away. The crew tried to engage their engines to fight against the force of it, but that only made things worse. By the time they stopped spinning backwards and regained control of their vessel, they hightailed it back to Lagos station and filed a report.”]

And Explorations decided to send us out, the good old guinea pigs, she thought.

[“Luckily, our astrophysicists have a theory. We believe an approach will be possible if done by a ship that does not have significant mass and is simultaneously running in on minimal power. I don’t pretend to understand the physics, but I’m counting on you and your crew to get it done. Getting within close proximity is key, since we plan…]

“Captain,” said Thoreau, interrupting her Recall. “Sensor returns are coming back and it looks like we have something.”

“Something,” said Mikka. “Care to elaborate?”

Thoreau chuckled, his eyes staring at something far off that on one else could see. “It’s got a gravimetric signature, which is why its coming up at all. But from the looks of it, its not much bigger that a commsat.”

“Helmsman,” she said, calling out to the man in the pilot’s chair. “Plot an intercept course and bring us to within five AUs.”

“Yes, Captain,” said Joshan, relaying the coordinates provided by Thoreau and bringing the sublights on line. The ship slowly began to move forward, her hull shuttering slightly as the engines fired off a burst of ionic propulsion.

The sensors pinged loudly, each chime getting more pronounced the closer they got. Outside the bridge window, the starfield shifted as the ship tilted and groaned as Joshan altered their course periodically. Every course change brought them closer, dodging between major stellar objects and avoiding their gravitational influences.

The chimes reached a crescendo. Thoreau looked up with a start when something new entered into his augmented perceptions.

“Captain, I’ve got the object on my screens. Shall I bring up a visual?”

“Yes,” she replied. “And turn off that damn noise, we all know we’re in the ballpark.”

In the center of the bridge, an image formed as billions of targeted photons came together to form the shape of a red sphere. The surface was mottled and opaque, indicating that they were too far out to get an accurate reading on its features. It appeared the reports had been semi-accurate. At this distance, their sensors should have been able to map out every nook and cranny on its surfaces. Only a powerful gravity well, concentrated in such a small object.

However, they had been off in one respect. Bukhari had said in his briefing that it was “roughly spherical” in shape. But even through an incomplete visual construct, Mikka could tell its shape was anything but rough. In fact, she was willing to bet good money, perhaps even her entire commission from this find, that it was a perfect sphere, right down to its microscopic dimensions.

One had to assume there was something especially significant about that. Perhaps the xeno-freaks would finally have something to pour over after all…

“Coming up on five astronomical units, Captain. Firing reverse-thrusters now.”

There was a quick burst of white light as the stopping thrusters fired, the ionic trails showing up just outside the bridge window. When they came to a total stop, the ship issued one last groan as the structure flexed to absorb the change in inertia. 

“We’ve reached pre-specified distance, Captain. Retro thrusters firing to maintain position and attitude.”

“Very good, pilot,” she said. “Maintain our position and prep a shuttle. We’re going in for a retrieval.”

Joshan and everyone else on the bridge turned to look at her. Everyone except Thoreau, who’s senses were too inundated with sensor data to look at her directly. However, he still leered over his shoulder.

“Captain, are you sure about this?”

“Company order,” she said, standing up from her chair. “Whatever this thing is, its need to be brought back.”

“But Captain…” said Thoreau. “How are we going to get close to this thing? The last people who tried we sent back home with their tails tucked between their legs.”

“A theory,” she said. “One which we’re forced to carry out.”


The bay doors slid open to admit the man himself. For those watching, the techs and security personnel called in to guard the object, the sudden presence of the boss was the perfect reason to straighten up and either look busy or vigilant. Of course, none of them could fail to notice the presence of the woman walking beside him. Not exactly prim or proper, and from her flight jacket and slacks to the small protrusions on her face that indicated sub-dermal implants, she looked every bit the spacer.

No one could say why the boss would have a grunt in tow with him, but then again, the day staff didn’t ask questions. They simply tended to “the artifact” – the spherical object that sat within a series of restraints in the center of the room – and kept their speculations to themselves.

Only those who had entered together really knew what was going on and who stood to benefit. And only they were talking on this particular morning as they stepped into the containment area.

“I imagine this is not quite as exciting as seeing it for the first time, no?” said Bukhari to Mikka.

“Well… it’s hard to recreate the thrill of first contact. But this was still very kind of you.”

“Nonsense,” said Bhukari with a wave of the hand. “We all owe its capture to you, so I thought it only fitting you get another look at it before its shipped off to an undisclosed facility, to be poured over by legions of specialists and xenologists.”

She chuckled. “Yeah, we did suspect it would disappear the moment we brought it back to port. Good to see it didn’t.”

“And yet, I imagine when it does move on, we won’t learn a thing. Even I can expect the findings to be classified beyond my level of clearance. Pity.”

She knew exactly what he meant. Seeing it again, she could recall with perfect clarity just how awestruck she was when she first saw it. Hell, she didn’t even need to go through Recall to experience it again, playing the memory back courtesy of the digital backup she had archived. It had been that memorable that she only needed to see it again to remember exactly how small and insignificant it made her feel.

Considering the that sphere was less than a meter across, that was no small feet. But the size was not the issue. It was the intricate patterns it had all over the surface. These consisted of winding lines that seemed to delineate grid spaces, each of which was etched with symbols and grooves off different sizes, lengths, and depths. And at what had been designated the center of the thing, three circles were placed, tiny indentations in a small triangle formation. Nobody in Explorations had been able to make heads or tails of it all. She wondered if anybody back in the Colonies would fare any better…

It was strange, but she felt the oddest feeling again, looking at it. Somehow, the spacing and placement of those three indentations made her think about an interface terminal. Could it be that the species that had created this, whoever they were, possessed this idiosyncrasy as well? Simply place your hand to a touchscreen or finger sized portal, and be able to transmit or receive information?

Looking to her right, she noticed that Bukhari was busy speaking to the head of the security detail. She couldn’t hear what they were saying at the moment, and really didn’t care much. The technicians appeared to be on the other side of the sphere, and the remaining security guards all seemed blissfully unaware of what was going on. No doubt, they were deliberately attempting to not notice the presence of the Chairman and the strange woman he had arrived with.

It was a standard underling thing, she knew. Standing still and doing nothing when the boss was around reduced the chance of making a mistake, and hence being reprimanded.

Looking to the sphere again, she carefully stepped towards it, obsessively checking over her shoulder to make sure no one was looking. She eyed the three holes, once again appraising them to be perfectly spaced apart for her purpose. Three holes, three fingers, making direct contact, achieving a union that would –

“Captain!” The shout rang out just as her fingers landed. Not in time to stop her. She felt a curious sensation, like a big thump or some kind of tremor. No pain, but the sensation of a force strong enough to break her contact with the waking world…


The sounds of hands clapping and a bright light were what she remembered next. She couldn’t tell how long she had been under, whether it had been seconds or days. But she was aware of the fact that she was lying on the deck, and Bukhari and the rest were all standing over her.

“Captain… are you alright?” he asked.

She let out a loud utterance, then drew a deep breath. She could faintly recall something dark and terrible, hanging on her mind and pushing her downward. That darkness seemed to last for some time, stretching on from the last moment she had had before. She looked up again and saw the sphere… and remembered.

Yes, she had reached out to it. Everything after that point was shrouded and black, but she could feel something terrible lurking beneath. And that point in her mind stretched onwards for some time. And now she was back in the light. It was piercing and the sounds around her quite intense, but she could feel her body and mind adjusting. Something was demanding she come back and do something… say something…

After taking several breaths, Bukhari and one of the guards sat her up.

“Why did you do that? Why did you touch the artifact?”

“Artifact?” she said. The word didn’t seem to fit somehow. “What are you talking about?”

“The artifact. You touched it,” he said, pointing. “Why did you do that? No one has touched it since it was procured without protection. You know that!”

She could feel something else rising up from the depths. Slowly, the sense of purpose she had felt a moment ago was taking shape. The word artifact made even less sense to her now, and she was even beginning to understand why…

“Captain, are you sure you’re alright? We have a med tech coming, but I need you tell me, why would you expose yourself like that to the artifact like that?”

“It’s not an artifact!” she said finally. “It’s a message…”

There was a moment of silence. Those around her looked at each other incredulously. “What do you mean, a message?”

“That’s what it contains,” she added, placing her fingers to her temples. The dark space in her mind was becoming perfectly clear now. The transmission, the way it had overwhelmed her when it passed into her body. Never before had anything been so clear, even through Recall.

Slowly, she found the strength to get to her feet and share with the rest of them the terrible knowledge that had come into possession of.

“This thing is some kind of emissary. It contains a message in it, and I made contact when I touched it.”

Bukhari drew a deep breath and stepped closer to her, his eyes now fixed on the sphere with a sudden, reverential fear. “What was the message?”

“The people that built this,” she said, with a slight pause. “They just demanded our unconditional surrender. It says they have an armada heading towards us as we speak, and asks that we lay down our weapons and welcome them.”

“And if we don’t?” asked Bukhari, though unnecessarily. For the tremble in his voice, it was clear he knew the answer.

“Or else, we all die.” Mikka nodded, her face grim and white. “We just made contact with an extra-terrestrial intelligence, sir. And they saw fit to give us an ultimatum…”

“An ultimatum,” Bukhari echoed, his voice barely more than a whisper.

And for what felt like an eternity, every face in the room remained fixed on the sphere that hung before them. Whatever trace of awe and wonder they had once felt for it were now gone, replaced instead with a horrid understanding, and plenty of dread!

Wanted: People for Mars!

MarsOneThey’re called Mars One, a nonprofit organization based in the Netherlands that intends to establish a human settlement on the Red Planet by 2023. What began as a proposed Reality TV project that would hopefully recoup the costs of sending people to Mars has since matured into a project for actual, factual colonization. There’s just one thing missing at this point…

They need people to volunteer.

A little over a week ago, they released a document specifying their application criteria. Clearly, they can’t take just anyone. Among the five key categories for qualification are Resiliency, Adaptability, Curiosity (no pun!), Ability to Trust, Creativity and Resourcefulness. Oh, and you must be at least 18 years of age, kind of like getting in to an R-rated movie. No specific technical qualifications are necessary, but if you’ve got a go-getter attitude, a positive outlook and are willing to learn, I’m sure they can teach you.

terraforming-marsThe selection process will begin during the first half of 2013, and will still be based around a reality TV concept. Basically, it will take the form of Mars One experts and viewers of a “global, televised program” choosing who they want to see go. Those ultimately selected will be assembled into teams of four, with at least six teams hoped to be prepared to launch in September 2022. But only one team will make the first trip to the Red Planet, and that team will be decided democratically.

The training process will take eight years, and will include simulated missions, practice in a restricted mobility environment, and lessons in electronics, equipment repair, basic and critical medical care. In 2016, the company plans to begin rocketing supplies to Mars, including spare parts, two rovers, and living units that can be assembled into a base once humans arrive.

It’s a testament to an age where commercial space flight is fast becoming a reality, and internet-based voting, crowdsourcing and information sharing can take the place of space agencies and government sanctioned research. Sure, it still sounds like a pipe dream, but the effort alone is impressive isn’t it? And given all the advances that are made every day, who’s to say what will and won’t be possible within the next few decades?

To read the application in detail, click here. And check out the video of Mars One’s proposed mission:

Source: wired.com, blastr.com

The Future is Here: NASA’s Ion Drive!

Ion_thruster_nasaWell, it seems Star Trek might have gotten another one right. In addition to warp travel, computer pads, and the possibility of a real-life star ship Enterprise being built by 2030, it seems that ion engines that can propel ships on interplanetary missions are also possible. As a staple of many science fiction franchises, many have wondered whether or not the technology would ever be truly feasible.

For years, NASA has been experimenting with various ionic propulsion drives. But with this latest announcement, they’ve not only indicated success, but broke a world record. On Dec 28th, in one of the last news stories of the year, NASA announced that their Evolutionary Xenon Thruster (NEXT) has operated continually for over 43,000 hours (just shy of five years). Since ion thrusters are believed to be one of the best ways to power long-term deep-space missions, this is a big step towards powering NASA’s next-gen spacecraft.

Electrostatic_ion_thruster-en.svg_As the name suggests, ion thrusters work by firing ions (charged atoms or molecules) out of a nozzle at high speed. In the case of NEXT, Xenon (a noble gas) is squirted into a chamber where its molecules are charged via an electron gun, creating a plasma of negative and positive ions. The positive ions diffuse to the back of the chamber, where high-charged accelerator grids grabs them and propel them out of the engine, creating thrust.

The upside of such a thruster lies in its fuel efficiency, in that it uses 10-12 times less fuel than a regular chemical thruster. Unfortunately, the downside lies in the thrust, again relative to its chemical counterparts. Due to this, NASA scientists calculated that an ion engine needs to operate continuously for a minimum of 10,000 hours (roughly a year) to slowly accelerate a spacecraft to speeds necessary to reach the asteroid belt or beyond.

asteroidsWith this test, NASA proved that their new ion thruster would not only be able to propel a spaceship to the asteroid belt, but to the outer planets and their moons as well. That’s good news for people looking forward to visiting Ganymede, Europa, Titan, and maybe even the Kuiper Belt. What’s more, the maximum speed of the spacecraft would be in the region of  321,000 km/h (200,000 mph).

Back in 2011, NASA put out a request-for-proposals for a test mission that will likely use a NEXT engine. Presumably, following this successful engine test, we might be hearing more about this in the near future. And, now that the proof in the pudding, other space agencies are likely to unveil their own prototypes for ion engines, and even equipping the next generation of space craft with them.

Asteroid mining? Mars colonization? Off-world resource and manufacturing allocation? Looks like we got ourselves the means to get us there! Oh, and Star Trek nerds? Looks like you guys got your nacelles! Full impulse ahead!

asteroid_beltSource: Extremtech.com, NASA.org

New Anthology Sample: The Torch!

Hello all and welcome back for another Anthology Update. As I said a few days ago, there is still plenty of news to be had vis a vis my groups ongoing efforts to create our our Magnum Opus about colonization and space travel, aka. Yuva. And the latest is that I’ve finally begun writing the prologue for the entire series.

Entitled “The Torch”, this first installment in the anthology shows the origins of the story’s central character (Magid Muktari) and his lifelong mission to see humanity colonize a distant world. Thanks to Khaalidah Muhammed-Ali who coauthored this with me and once again provided the characters and impetus for it’s creation! Hope you all enjoy!

“A man of cold, hard science, most assume that Magid Muktari was not a man of faith. At the press conference following the acceptance of his final proposal for the creation and international funding of the Yuva Colonization Project, Muktari was questioned thus by one young reporter: “Sir, can you please explain to us why this project is so important?” Muktari said in cryptic form, “Our Earth is alive.” When asked to elaborate Muktari said: “Has not Allah promised us in that every soul shall taste of death?”

-Magid Muktari, 2108

Masdar City, UAE, 2048

Magid Muktari took a deep breath and tried to remain calm. Oh how he hated waiting! Even after all the years he had spent on the front lines of his industry, waiting for meetings, trips to end, and plans to reach fruition, he still couldn’t stand the time it took to wait for a presentation. But that was the way of it, he knew. Anticipation was the thousand little deaths that preceded the actual execution. One could only surmise from this that humans weren’t designed to wait on others. Either that or the Universe had a very poor sense of humor.

To pass the time, Muktari began to punch up his presentation info. Adjusting his compad to a convex shape and resting it on his knees, he placed his contacts to display mode and waited for the computer to warm up. A command prompt appeared in his field of vision and asked for his password. He typed it in promptly.


His eyes filled with a cerulean blue sky, small clouds and a series of desktop icons dotted the projected heavens. Accessing the proper folder, he accessed the presentation and waited a moment. The opening display image, five planets arranged from left to right, appeared in his visual field shortly thereafter.

The Future of Off-World Settlement, ran the title. A title bar appeared beneath the five planets, their names scrolling out as the marble-sized pictures became animated.

Gliese 581 g, Gliese 667C c, Kepler 22 b, HD 85512 b, Gliese 581 d

Placing his hands above the compad again, Muktari brought up the first of the five. The brown marble moved to the center of his visual field, displacing the rest and growing exponentially in size. A soft contralto began to speak in the background.

“Planet Gliese 581 g, fourth planet of the Gliese 581 star system. Discovered in 2000 by Lick-Carnegie Exoplanet Survey, led by principal investigator Steven S. Vogt, who named the planet Zarmina after his wife – ”

Muktari terminated the audio and began interfacing with the image. Zooming in on the planetary mass, he began to assess the features that had been observed from the most recent astronomical surveys. Being a tidally-locked body, only so much was visible, and most of that was only clear when the space telescope and the exoplanet’s rotations were in perfect sync. He moved back and forth, noting the outlines of a large continent facing towards the sun.

No, not a lot happening there, he thought gravely.

Putting it back in its place, he called forth the second in the list. Here too, the disc look particularly brown and mottled. However, its size and relevant characteristics set it apart from the previous entry, and here too Muktari began to worry. Super-Earth’s were not exactly a popular destination for colonists, not when they could expect a serious and potentially punitive adjustment period.

Muktari shut the display down and took a deep breath. Moments away from the greatest presentation he would ever make, that perhaps anyone would ever make, and he was already beginning to write himself off. Not a good sign, not if he wanted to have any chance at convincing Zimmerman of his sincerity.

There were those who said that the great Magid Muktari could sell ice to the Eskimos. Other’s said he could sell sand to the Arabs. He never cared for either assessment; both seemed to be both inaccurate and quite bigoted in his estimation. But the sentiment he understood.

But then again, the sheer scope of what he was proposing might have had something to do with that. Were this just another pitch, a proposal for more allocations, more surveys or more satellite deployments, he probably wouldn’t be giving it a second thought. And after years of bending the ears of government and industry officials who did business with them, he had earned himself enough capital to make a few pitches of his own.

If he screwed this up, all that capital would burn up and be gone. What’s more, he would be humiliated in front of the man he had come to respect more than any other…

Across from him, seated at her desk, the assistant seemed to stir. In her eye piece, the image of a face appeared and she began conversing with it. Muktari was only privy to one half of the conversation, which was mainly her agreeing.

 “Yes… yes… yes, sir. I will pass that along.”

The image faded and she looked over to Muktari.

“Mr. Zimmerman’s plane has just landed. He will be here in five minutes.”

Muktari nodded. Another thing that hadn’t changed over the years. Regardless of how much time transit really took, it was an administrative habit to say that it would take five. And he knew from experience that a pod ride from the aerospace port to the office building would take at least ten. And then he would no doubt be mobbed by half a dozen assistants and corporate middle-men who needed to advise him and brief him on his way in. In truth, he would be lucky if he spoke to him before the hour was out.

He checked his chrono just to get a sense of the time. His watch was still set to orbital time. He shook his head when he realized that that was the last time he had slept, in a room near the tip of the axis looking out at the southern tip of Chile. Ever since, he had been running on a non-stop diet of aerospace lag, adrenaline and EBME.

At last, the woman at her desk looked up again and got that distant look in her eyes. She repeated the familiar string of secretary talk.

“Yes… Hello. Yes, sir, he is. Right away, sir.” Her call ended and her eyes focused on him. “Mr. Zimmerman will see you now.”

Muktari smiled and placed his compad back in the satchel. Getting to his feet, he ran a hand through his hair and straightened his blazer. His clothes were fresh, but his skin still felt like it was carrying a few days’ worth of residue. He discreetly checked for any telltale signs of body odor as well, and was reasonably confident the natural musk he was carrying wouldn’t kill his boss. After many minutes in the same room as him, the secretary seemed undisturbed.

Here we go, he thought, and set off for the door.

The door slid open, revealing Zimmerman in the middle of freshening up. This consisted of him shedding his blazer and replacing it with one of the many he kept hanging in his side closet. He looked up with mild amusement at Muktari’s entrance.

“Magid,” he said, throwing on a fresh top. “You’ve travelled some distant to and come see me.”

“Yes I have, but only a fraction of your own, from what I hear.”

“Yes,” he said with a sigh. “The Jovian tour was quite extensive. One has to wonder why we can’t just teleconference the entire process.”

 Muktari smiled. Though he tended to complain upon his returns, everyone knew that Zimmerman remained an engineer at heart. Whenever new facilities went in and processing began, he insisted on conducting spot checks in person. Somehow, the virtual variety did not inspire much in the way of confidence from people like him, men who openly bragged about being educated in a simpler time.

“So…” he said, taking his seat. “What’s so important you had to see me as soon as I got back?”

“Well sir, I wanted to see you while the trip was still fresh in your mind.”

“Oh?” Zimmerman said with a nod. “Then this ought to be good.”

Muktari chuckled and placed his satchel down beside the seat in front of him. He removed his compad again and placed it directly on top of Zimmerman’s desk. He keyed up the 3D display and sat back.

“As it stands, this company is responsible for almost half of the development taking place in the outer Solar System. Unlike many other firms that see little promise in anything beyond the Belt, we’re renowned for taking the long view. That’s what I’m hoping to tap into.”

Zimmerman grumbled. “Why do I have the sinking feeling you’re winding up for a very slow pitch?”

Muktari chuckled. “Shall I cut to the chase?”

“Please do. Formal presentations are for board rooms and junior execs.”

Muktari terminated the display on his compad and stood. He walked to the room’s window and looked outside. The glittering spires of Abu Dhabi shined in the distance, visible just beyond the cities limits. He took a deep breath and started from the beginning.

“How long have I been in your employ, sir?  Ten years, the last six of which I’ve spent as the head of our eco-engineering division. Much of the technology that was borne here and is now being adapted by other cities worldwide originated in our labs. And yet, everywhere I go, I hear the same basic reports, the same alarming assessments.”

Zimmerman looked on and pursed his lips. He was still waiting for the point to emerge. His recent travel had clearly taxed his patience to its very limit. He decided to expedite things.

“As it stands, eco-engineering accounts for over twenty percent of our government’s annual global spending.  Investment and development have been moving more and more to off world locations. And it’s estimated that by the end of this century, the majority of our planet’s heavy industry will be relocated to Luna, Mars, and the Asteroid Belt. All this points towards a singular trend.”

“Extra-terrestrial development,” Zimmerman said obviously. “What of it?”

“But what drives it?” Muktari asked, turning to look him in the eye. “What knowledge prompted us to create orbital facilities, off-world mining and agricultural settlements, and to spend so much, year after year, trying to keep global mean temperatures down?”

Zimmerman nodded. The inclusion of that last detail was indication enough of what he was getting at. Naturally, he let him continue.

“The Earth is still cycling towards death, its oceans are still rising, its coastal areas are still plagued by floods and storms, drought and famine are still causing untold damage and death in the most densely populated regions, and humanitarian crises abound. What’s more, off-world settlement was hoped to be a means of relieving population pressures here at home; but you are certainly aware, the Solar Colonies maintain some of the highest birth rates, compared to Earth. Soon enough, there won’t be enough room and expansion will just shift the burden, but not by enough to make a difference here at home. When it comes right down to it, the scientific consensus on Earth’s longevity is clear.”

Zimmerman nodded, quoting from the latest findings. “Barring some major technological developments, such as the development of full-spectrum nanotechnology and/or a full-spectrum development of the Earth’s equatorial regions, and we can expect that most of the planet will be only partially habitable by 2100.”

Muktari extended his hand, palm facing up. The point was laid bare. He went back to his seat and lowered himself into it, careful not to strain any of his tired muscles.

“We proceed on track as if our current measurements will be enough to stay the torrent, but the problem continues to grow unabated. And just about everywhere I go, I am asked how we will save the planet.”

Zimmerman allowed for a brief pause and then raised his hands. “I’m on the edge of my seat, Muktari. What are you proposing?”

Muktari sighed and held his hands in front of him. This was where things would truly be tested. It was do or die time, he could hesitate no longer.

“Not too long ago, a colleague of mine, Adamcik, you’ve met him.” Zimmerman hummed affirmatively. “He hit me with a rejoinder not too long ago which truly vexed me. I asked him how we would go about addressing this planet’s needs. He retorted by asking me, ‘what if this planet is the problem?’”

Zimmerman frowned. Muktari had done much the same when he first Serge say it.

“When it comes right down to it, our homeworld is plagued by three separate problems – overpopulation, environmental degradation, and economic underdevelopment.” He raised his fingers, counting them off. “All of these are interrelated and compounded by one another. What’s more, attempts to remedy any one of them inevitably meets with failure due to the presence of the other two. We address the planet at the expense of the economy, we promote economic development at the expense of the environment, and all attempts at addressing the population fails as long as the economic divide remains. And our Extra-Terrestrial colonies aren’t going to solve this problem any time soon, and simply are not big enough to host our civilization should Earth fall.” He paused for the last time and took a deep breath. “So what if we looked farther abroad?”

Zimmerman raised an eyebrow. He was intrigued, Muktari was thankful for that much.

“Within this arm of the Galaxy, we’ve already confirmed the existence of several dozen Earth-like planets. Of the top five contenders, four are within 35 light-years from us; which, given the current state of technology and a hefty investment, can be traversed in just over a century.”

“Wait a minute!” Zimmerman raised his hand. “You’re talking about actual exoplanet colonization?” Muktari nodded. Zimmer waited for a moment, seemingly waiting for the punch line, and then scoffed. “Magid, you know as well as I do that research and development for deep space travel is a mere fraction of what we dedicate to aerospace development. For anyone to even begin contemplating an interstellar expedition, billions in investment capital would have to be poured into research and development.”

“I know,” replied Muktari. “Which is precisely what I suggest we do. If we create an exoplanet division, right away, we could produce a worthy vessel within a quarter of a century. Of all the viable candidates, two exist within the same star system and happen to be closest. Give them one-hundred years to reach –”

“How much?” Zimmerman said intrusively.

“All told, roughly fifteen percent of our annual gross. However, we’d need to outsource some of concerns, which would mean partnering with other corporations worldwide. We might also be able to convince a number of NGO’s and government bodies to –”

“Magid!” Zimmerman raised his hand again and kept it raised. When a few seconds of silence passed, he lowered it and sighed before talking again. Not that he needed to, Muktari had known for some time that he had lost him. He sighed and resigned himself for what was coming.

“You’ve compiled all this into a presentation, yes?”

“Yes,” Muktari said with a  resigned nod.

“Good. Let me look over it and present it at the next board meeting. I’m sure they will find it all… very illuminating.”

Muktari fetched his compad and keyed up the transfer sequence. Within seconds, a copy of his full presentation was transferred to Zimmerman’s personal files and the system acknowledged the receipt. Standing, he extended his hand and shook Zimmerman’s. He didn’t bother to get up.

He turned to leave, knowing there was little more that could be said. Unfortunately, something was holding him back once he reached the door. Some small shred still needed to be shared, a final push before he abandoned the office and trusted in his boss’ judgment to make the right decision. He knew that if he left without saying it, his idea would fall on deaf ears. With that degree of certainty, what else did he have to lose?

“Sir, if I may say one final thing…?” He turned to face his boss again, received a nod of approval. “Since time immemorial, civilizations have used the symbol of the torch to symbolize the life of their civilizations. I think the reason for this is obvious. Flames banish the darkness of confusion, death and despair. They light the way to the future. But most importantly, they are temporal. A flame, like a culture, or any other living thing, is impermanent. It requires care and commitment to keep it alight. When the flame begins to falter, or the bearer of it loses their footing, they must pass it onward. They throw the torch, as it were, to keep it aflame. If we are facing the death of our civilization here at home, then we must contemplate passing it onward, and to a suitable place. Before it’s too late.”

Zimmerman took a few slow, heavy breaths. When he was finished, all he could do was shook his head and offer the same tired reassurances.

“I admire your passion, Magid. However, I think your sights are focused just a little too far. In time, what you’re proposing might be feasible, but as it stands, no one is going to jump on this, not when the payoff is so immensely distant and the risks so high. I’d set your sights closer, focus on the work and development which needs to be done here. Then we’ll talk about looking to the stars.”

He smiled, a warm little gesture to let Muktari know he still held him in esteem. Muktari smiled back, thankful for that much, and showed himself out.

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.


3D Model of the Yuva Ship

Hey all. Thanks go to William Joel, contributing author to the anthology project, for coming up with this artistic gem. Yes, in addition to being an accomplished writer, he also teaches computer animation and knows a thing or two about rendering things in 3D. This animated short is of the Terraforming ship, Mark I, doing a fly by in deep space. Hope you enjoy as much as I did!

Behold, the Yuva Colony Ship!

At last, the Colony Ship design, which my group and I will be using for our upcoming anthology (entitled “Yuva”), is complete! After doing a mock-up about a week ago using Microsoft Paint, someone in my group (who shall remain nameless) wondered aloud if I could do some cross-section as well. While I was agonized at the thought of doing something so complex with this program, I couldn’t resist the challenge! It took a good seven days, but the entire ship is now complete, inside and out.

The rear and mid sections were already done, and posted here. However, some much needed back and forth with my crew made me rethink a few things about those. You can never revise something enough, especially something like a colony ship, where the needs of some thousand imaginary colonists are concerned 😉 In any case, I now present all three sections and the external view, completed, edited, and revised, together here for the first time. Behold!

I hope this is the last time I’ll be going back over it. I also hope the colonists have everything they need here – food, water, shelter, recreation, waste removal, security, entertainment, the means to get to and from the planet when they arrive, and the materials they will need to build the structures they intend to live in. See anything missing? Let me know!