Good 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.”
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.”