New Anthology Sample: Arrivals!

http://timedotcom.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/beyond-earth-shuttle.jpg?w=1100Lately, I’ve been getting back to work on the space anthology known as Yuva – and for good reason. Not only has our group been blessed with the arrival of some new blood in recent months, but for many of us (me especially), the inspiration bug has bitten after a long hiatus.

Don’t ask me why, but writing for a different genres can be very temperamental. One minute, you find that all you can write about zombies and apocalyptic scenarios; next minute, its all space ships and futurism. Somebody really needs to put a label on inspiration, one that reads “non-transferable”!

In any case, here is the latest sample from my latest anthology story, “Arrivals”. In this scene, we find one of the main characters (Marcellin Strauss) aboard the ship that will take him and its crew to rendezvous with the Second Migration, a flotilla of ships that are rapidly making their way towards Yuva…

*                    *                    *

The tiny space inside his helmet felt terribly confining. And at the moment, the heads-up display, with all its colored light and constant barrage of information, was not helping. And top of all that, there was the launch clock that was slowly counting down in the lower left corner. At the moment, it was the largest thing in his display field, and impossible to ignore. It’s every tick kept pace with the automated voice coming in from Control, and with the frantic beating of his heart.

Strauss could only breathe and try to remember what he had been told during the past few weeks of crash-course training.

Breath steadily, sit tight, and trust in the instruments.

Not exactly the height of preparation; but at the moment, what else could one do? At this point, the ship pretty much flew itself and all they could do was trust the equipment not to kill them. And considering that Strauss wasn’t even flying the thing, he was left with little to do but wait and try not to panic.

Hartberg’s voice sounded in his ear. “Commencing engine ignition sequence…” He felt a low rumble as the ship’s engine began powering up and preparing to slam hydrogen and anti-hydrogen together in a controlled reaction. “Ignition sequence in five, four, three, two, one…”

They were hit by a hard jolt. Vibrations that were enough to make all the colored lights in his field of view turn into a blurred mess took over. Like everyone else in the cabin, he was thrust into his seat and felt the restraints grab him tighter. And within seconds, they began shooting down the runway.

Hartberg‘s voice spoke again within a few seconds, relaying their progress to Control in an unbelievably calm tone.

“Thrust capacity reaching optimal… acceleration normal… beginning ascent in ten seconds…”

Breath steadily, sit tight… he thought as he continued to be pushed back into the seat.

“Five seconds…”

The runway continued to recede behind them. In the distance, he could see the Great Expanse growing larger as they drew nearer to the coast. And then, he felt the slightest lift as the runway dropped beneath them.

Hartberg‘s reports became faster and closer together now.

“Ascent begun, engine function nominal, orbital velocity in sixty seconds…”
The vibrations subsided a little, so that the readouts in his vision seemed discernible. He could only ascertain so much from them, but the fact that all were in the green was reassuring.

Their acceleration mounted and they continued to climb, and Strauss felt himself being pushed harder back into the seat. It was a funny paradox, how breaking the hold of planet’s gravity meant having to endure additional gravitation stress. It was as if Yuva didn’t want them to leave and was trying to pull them back in.

Trust in the instruments, he told himself. Trust in the pilot.

Up ahead, all he could see now was the deep azure of the sky, the slowly receding clouds, and the faint dots of the distant stars. The engine continued to slam particles together in an ongoing effort to achieve maximum thrust, and his body could feel additional bit of acceleration they achieved.

Beneath the noise of the ship, the voices and the instruments, he could hear a dull moaning. It was coming from him, and growing in intensity. A voice soon sounded in his ear, one of the operators at Control demanding to know his status.

“Control to Eagle One. We’ve got Strauss showing very high levels of epinephrine. Advise on the need for a sedative, over.”

Strauss quickly keyed his comm and replied. “This is Strauss. I’m fine. I’m just fine, over. I’m good, don’t dose me.”

His hurried, panting reply was followed by that of the Captain’s, who was sure to use all the proper comm protocol.

“Control, this is Eagle One Actual. That’s a negative on a sedative, over.”

“Roger that, Eagle One.”

There was a slight pause, during which time Strauss stopped making noise and tried to catch his breath. The Captain came back on and tried to talk him down.

“That’s it, Strauss. Just keep breathing. We’re almost there.”

Strauss heard him and felt somewhat reassured. He kept breathing and kept his eyes ahead, focusing on the distant stars. These were much more calming than all the readouts that continued to frantically tick away, showing their speed, engine pressure, altitude, and anything else that was rapidly changing. In time, the sky began to change color. A flare of orange light flickered through the cabin as their sun’s light hit them for the first time without refraction. And very quickly, the distant stars began to burn much brighter.

That’s when Strauss noticed everything change…

The cabin ceased vibrating, the numbers in his field of view began to drop off, and he no longer felt himself being thrust back into his seat. In fact, he now felt the restraints tugging against him to keep him from floating away.

They had done it. They had broken atmo, and were now floating in high orbit above the planet. Hartberg’s voice came back on the line to announce this.

“Control, this is Eagle One. We have broken atmo. I repeat, we have broken atmo, over.”

There was a pause as Strauss was sure the people at Control were howling out in celebration. Just about everyone in the cabin was doing the same. Meanwhile, he licked his lips and tried to get his heart and breathing under control. He could feel his head beginning to spin as his blood pressure dropped and his adrenals took a break. He also became aware of an incredibly dry feeling in his mouth.

All of this made him painfully aware of how sober he was right now, and how much he wished it weren’t so.

Man I picked a bad time to stop drinking!

News From Space: 3-D Printed Spacecraft

3D_spaceprinting13D-Printing has led to many breakthroughs in the manufacturing industry in recent years. From its humble beginnings assembling models out of ABS plastic, the technology has been growing by leaps and bounds, with everything from construction and food printing to bioprinting becoming available. And as it happens, another major application is being developed by a private company that wants to bring the technology into orbit.

It’s called SpiderFab, a system of technologies that incorporates 3-D printing and robotic assembly to create  “on-orbit” structures and spaceship components (such as apertures, solar arrays, and shrouds). Developed by tech firm Tethers Unlimited, Inc. (TUI), the project is now in its second phase and recently landed a $500,000 development contract from NASA.

spiderfabOne of the greatest challenges of space exploration is the fact that all the technology must first be manufactured on Earth and then shuttled into orbit aboard a rocket or a shroud. The heavier the cargo, the larger the rocket needs to be. Hence, any major undertaking is likely to have a massive price tag attached to it. But by relocating the manufacturing process to a place on-site, aka. in orbit, the entire process will be much cheaper.

Towards this end, the SpiderFab, incorporates two major innovations in terms of transportation and manufacture. The first makes it possible to pack and launch raw materials, like spools of printable polymer, in a cost-effective way using smaller rockets. The second uses patented robotic fabrication systems that will process that material and aggregate it into structural arrangements.

3D_spaceprintingDr. Rob Hoyt, CEO of TUI, had this to say of his company’s brainchild in a recent interview with Co.Design:

SpiderFab is certainly an unconventional approach to creating space systems, and it will enable significant improvements for a wide range of missions.

The unorthodox system is also a solution to the problem that Hoyt began working on two decades ago when he first began working with NASA. While there, he experimented with on-orbit fabrication as a concept, but was limited due to the fact that there were no means available to make it reality. However, once 3-D printing became mainstream, he seized the opportunity presented. As he explains:

I didn’t strike on anything dramatically better than [previous investigations] until about six years ago, when additive manufacturing was really starting to take off. I realized that those techniques could be evolved to enable some dramatic improvements in what we can build in space.

spiderfab3At present, TUI is working on several different models of what the SpiderFab will eventually look like. The first of these is known as the Trusselator, one of many building blocks that will form the factory responsible for producing spacecraft components. The Trusselator is designed to print high-performance truss elements, while another, the Spinneret, will use 3-D printing-like techniques to connect and fuse together clusters of trusses.

Hoyt says that the TUI team will be further testing these processes in the next couple of months, first in the lab and then in a thermal-vacuum chamber. He hopes, however, that they will be able to conduct an on-orbit demonstration of SpiderFab a few years down the line. And with any luck, and more funding, NASA and other agencies may just convert their production process over to orbital 3-D printing facilities.

Alongside concepts like the SpaceX Grasshopper reusable rocket and reusable space craft, 3-D space printing is yet another revolutionary idea that is likely to bring the astronomical (no pun!) costs of space exploration down considerably. With affordability will come growth; and with growth, greater exploration will follow…

Star-Trek-universe

Sources: fastcodesign.com, tethers.com

New Anthology Sample!

gliese 581Boy, its been awhile since I posted anything from my group’s anthology. But, since it is something I am committed to do doing on my site, I always feel the need to post sample updates whenever they become available. And here is the latest from one of my own contributions to the anthology (titled “Yuva”), the fourth installment to be exact. I imagine there will be two more like it before the story has reached fruition and “The Torch”, as it is called, will be complete.

Hope you all enjoy it, and I really hope people will come on out to support Yuva once it too is completed and available for purchase/download. I’m hoping to make it available in both paperbacks and ebook format, and of course, there will be promotional discounts. But that’s another day and we still need more contributors before it can happen. If you’re an indie, there are still a few spots open…

*               *               *

The door slid open, admitting the faint light of the room’s nighttime bioluminescent units. Muktari stumbled in, his eyes set on the desk at the far side of the room, where his satchel and compad rested It was a bit of an effort to make it there without knocking anything over, and yet he found his way to his chair within a few minutes.

Muktari had been drunk exactly three times in his life. The first two occurred in university while studying abroad. Being in the company of some many young men who were either not members of the faith, or who had turned their backs on its more rigorous elements long ago, had sufficed to get him to indulge then. But after discovering there was little in inebriation, he had quickly put a stop to that.

The third time was tonight. After the first drink with Mazzini, he had quickly found his way back to the front where the company shuttle was awaiting him. After hopping in the back and ordering the automated driver to take him home, he had indulged heavily in the private stock that was kept in the back. There was no trace of the whiskey Mazzini had coaxed him into drinking, but he found plenty of another generic variety to sip on. No soda water was needed, as he wanted the full, punishing effect of it.

It was somewhere between the old opera house and his hotel he realized the true purpose of such poison. The use was to be found in its abuse. The infliction of pain and torture upon oneself, not to alleviate pain or worry, but to punctuate and drive it home. He had to admit, it was genius, in a bleak and sardonic sort of way.

But were human beings if not lovers of irony and masochism?

Setting his eyes on his satchel, he pulled out his compad and flexed it a few times to activate its bio cell. The light came on and the image of its welcome screen was projected into his visual field.

Meşale, he typed on the virtual keyboard, and was rewarded with a desktop. He called up all his files on his presentation and eyed them despondently. The images of the five planets arrayed from left to right suddenly seemed like a terribly lost cause, a fool’s hope that he made the unfortunate mistake of sharing with others. Running his hand over the screen, he took the entire file in hand and began drifting it towards the icon of the trash in the lower right corner. It hovered directly above the icon, darkening it… and there it waited.

He wanted so badly to destroy it all, to remove all traces of the proposal and all the difficulty such ideas was bringing him. He wanted to forget about everything that had happened in the last week, to start fresh and stop feeling like a fool who was shouting at the rain. He was so tired of staking everything – his life, his job, his reputation, his future – on gambits that got him nowhere.

Really, what made him think that Zimmerman, or anyone for that matter, would have taken it seriously? Could it have been the fact that after years of doing the same thing, over and over, that he was beginning to suspect there was no future to be had here at home? Was it that deep down inside, all empirical evidence pointed towards the same outcome and all attempts to defer or delay it seemed futile? Was it really so absurd, with all he saw happening around him on daily basis, to plan for the worst? And who could fault him for looking further, given the audacious but still limited plans for Solar Colonies?

In business school, they still taught young academics that ambition and initiative were the keys to the success. Was it so wrong to think that that still applied? Would he be calling them tomorrow and demanding that they revise the curriculum to teach conformity and affability instead?

His nerve faltered and he pulled the file away from the trash. Taking a deep breath, he did his best to get his head together and proceeded to the lavatory. Some cold water on his face, and some mineral water in his belly, and he was sure to feel better. He also needed to get out his night clothes, as they were ruffled and beginning to stink of self-pity.

The door chimed. His head snapped around in a hurry and he felt his heart leap. Between the fatigue and alcohol, he was in no shape to be startled. Sighing, he proceeded to the room’s common area and approached the front door. It chimed again…

“Who’s there?” he asked irately.

“An interested party,” came a female voice through the comm. Muktari frowned. What could possibly the meaning of this, he wondered.

When he reached the door, several possible answers came to mind. It slid open to reveal the woman from earlier, the one he had left Mazzini with at the afterparty. At the time, he had suspected her of being an industrial spy, or possibly a professional. He now suspected the former, as there was little chance she had passed on Mazzini in order to seek him out. Mazzini was not known to turn his nose up at a fine lady who would deign to ask for money before performing an act he held so dear.

“Magid Muktari?” she said.

“Yes,” he replied, putting his arm to door frame, blocking her entry. “How may I help you?”

“Actually, I was thinking it was I who could help you.”

“I’m not sure what you’re selling, but I can tell you I’m not interested.”

She smiled at that, exposing to perfectly ordered rows of white teeth. Another very impressive and pretty feature she boasted. It was little wonder she was sent out to deliver messages.

“I can assure you, I’m not here to solicit anything. I’m just here to relay a proposal.” She looked past him into the common area. “May I come in?”

Muktari looked behind him to the couch and considered his options. He could slide the door shut, leaving the lovely lady out in the corridor. Or he could invite her in, hear her out. Aside from being rude, the former option seemed downright needless seeing as how he had nothing else planned. And an offer might be just what he needed, given his prospects.

Stepping out of her way, he ushered her in and made his way over to the dispenser in the far corner of the room. “Can I offer you something? Coffee? Tea? Mineral Water? Perhaps some poison?”

“You look like you’ve had your fair share yourself,” she said, sitting on the couch and getting comfortable. Muktari shook his head, began filling two glasses with mineral water and some ice cubes.

“So… what’s so important that you chose to bother me at this late hour? Was my friend not entertaining enough for you?”

That made her smile again. He had to admit, she had a very pretty smile, and the way she was seated right now showed just enough leg to intrigue him. Perhaps it was the alcohol thinking for him. He offered her a glass and sipped from his own.

“Oh, Mazzini is quite charming. But I didn’t come to this city to enlist him. It was your presentation that I wanted to hear.”

“You mean the lecture on Oceanic Enhancement?” he said, shrugging and taking a sip from his glass. “Not my work, specifically. I merely presented the relevant findings, based on the company’s ongoing efforts.”

“Not that one,” she said. “I was referring to the one you presented to your boss, Mr. Zimmerman, less than a week ago.”

Muktari stopped in the midst of sip. He was worried he might choke. He stared over the edge of his glass for a few seconds and carefully lowered it. The lady smiled again and placed her glass down on the table in front of her.

“Ah, I see you I have your attention now. I can imagine you’re also wondering how I knew about it?”

 Muktari cleared his throat. “The thought crossed my mind.”

“Our sources are very good. And company gossip has always been a prime source of intel. One scarcely needs sources at all when people speak so freely.”

Muktari wasn’t sure how to respond. He shuffled awkwardly and cleared his throat.

“What was not being spoken of so freely was the fact that you are also scheduled to be transferred to Oslo. That information came at a price, but it was a good investment, in my employer’s opinion.”

Muktari saw where this was going now and saw an opportunity to respond.

“And who is this employer, pray tell?”

She reached into a small fold in her dress, invisible to the naked eye, and pulled out a card. She laid it down on the table carefully and slid it in his direction. Muktari snatched it up in his left hand and held it up, depressing one corner to activate the display chip within.

A small presentation video began, colorful graphics dancing around and showing a name.

Harding International, it said. Muktari’s eyes widened and his mouth fell open a few centimeters. When he looked back at the lady before him, he glared intently at her, a frown forming on his face.

“Who are you?”

Again, that smile. “Seriously, you don’t recognize me? Don’t you read the trade pages?”

He frowned harder. It was a rhetorical question largely, just about everyone was familiar with the Harding family and their holdings. And aside from the slight tan she had picked up, it was not hard to see the resemblance to her father.

“Not that ones that deal exclusively in global capital and investment,” he said firmly. “Why would your father be interested in exoplanet colonization?”

She spread her hands before her. “He likes to think he sees things in people, in ideas. It’s what built our family empire after all. And he also liked to enlist people who can do the same, who see potential in things down the road.”

She let that linger in the air for a moment, during which time, Muktari could think of nothing to say. He was hit by a wave of self-satisfaction and found he couldn’t speak. Naturally, he did his best not to show it, but knowing that a corporate headhunter was interested in his work could not help but inspire a certain sense of self-satisfaction. He had to wonder if Zimmerman had sources of his own implanted in Harding, whether or not they would get wind of this and wonder if it was an indication to start taking his proposals more seriously…

But alas, such feelings were tempered by the fact that he knew nothing about what Harding or his people had in mind here. What’s more, he knew enough not to trust any offer at face value. Regardless of how bleak his future looked with Zimmer and Associates, he still needed to proceed as if he were in a position of strength, unwilling to settle too quickly or easily.

“So what does your… father want of me?” he asked firmly. “Is this to be a matter of intellectual property, buying up and patenting an idea so it can be turned into cash once it becomes profitable?”

She didn’t smile this time. Instead, she rose to her feet and extended her hand to him.

“Nothing so crass. But if you’re interested in making your proposal again, to someone who is genuinely interested and willing to listen, then I’ll arrange a meeting?” She looked to her hand, back at Muktari. “Sound fair?”

Muktari looked at her hand as well, cautiously, and then took it in his. “Alright. I will meet with him. But no guarantees. I hear Oslo is very nice this time of year.”

“It is,” she said, smiling very broadly. He was almost dazzled by her two rows of impeccable teeth.

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.