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Science fiction, actual science, history, and personal ranting about life, the universe, and everything

Apologies for the delay…

February 21, 2021
MThomas

I missed my last post of Bringer of Light. It should have dropped on Saturday, February 20, to bring the story up to Chapter 15.

To be honest, for most of the past couple of weeks I’ve been feeling like I was on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Things at work and home were just finally getting to me and I needed to take a serious break from life in general. Just way too much to do and not enough time to do it.

And I’m really, really super sick of this pandemic and the government’s completely irresponsible behavior (I’m in Japan, if you’re interested…the LDP is, was, and will be only concerned about their stupid Olympics, which ought to be cancelled and, quite frankly, never held again…complete and utter waste of taxpayer money).

I’ve managed to calm my nerves somewhat, but I think I’ll just rearrange the schedule a bit. Every week is just getting to be too much.

So I’ll see if I can get the next chapter up this coming weekend (Saturday February 27th) and continue the story every TWO weeks rather than every single week.

Sorry for the delay. Stay safe, everyone.

Still, they persevered!

February 18, 2021
MThomas

Great job, NASA! Landing on Mars is always a tricky business.

Now all Perseverance has to do is find traces of life, save it without contamination, and then wait for another rocket, another rover, and a satellite to get in orbit so the samples can be sent back to Earth.

Piece of cake, right?

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-56119931

Sorry, there’s no “Planet X”

February 16, 2021
MThomas

This doesn’t exist, but it’s a cool drawing.

Critics of the Planet Nine claim said the apparent clustering of the discovered TNOs might only be because that’s where telescopes were looking or were most sensitive.

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2021/02/claim-giant-planet-nine-solar-systems-edge-takes-hit

If you are looking to find evidence to prove your theory, it’s much easier to find what you’re looking for.

You should instead try to find evidence to disprove your theory, and then ask at least two more people you don’t know (or even better, generally disagree with) to try to find evidence to support your theory.

“Seek and ye shall find” is a terrible way to support a claim. Have the courage to challenge your beliefs.

Also, it’s Planet X, not 9. Pluto is a planet. So there, Neil deGrasse Tyson. :-p

Bringer of Light, Chapter 14: United Mars Colonies

February 13, 2021
MThomas

Gennaji and Riss each face their own problems, Weng has returned to Mars. His boss is not happy.

“Dammit it all! What on earth is going on, Sam?” Martin demanded.

The Martian Overseer wrung his hands as the image on his view screen smiled. Damn that inscrutable smile! And here he thought the architect was no more than a foolish artist, like clay to be molded as he saw fit.

“You sound alarmed, Martin,” Weng said. “Not to worry. We have procured the water, as requested.”

“Requested. Your request!” Martin sat down heavily, thumping his desk for good measure. “Gen!”

“Yes, father.”

Martin started. What?

“Father, do not overly concern yourself. Dr. Weng is well aware of our relationship. He has readily agreed to join our cause.”

Martin frowned. Cause? That old chestnut again?

He sighed, and leaned back in the chair. The UN Security Council was definitely not going to like this. Still, they had other, more pressing concerns.

The disagreement between China and the Greater Indian Empire had worsened. Martin expected conflict to break out at almost any moment. At that point, they could no longer count on getting foodstuffs from the ISS. UN or not, India would never allow supplies to be shared with settlers from the Allied Forces, as long as China was a part of it.

“Gen. Sam. Things have taken a turn for the worst here,” he said at length. “If we don’t get new supplies soon, hydroponics estimates that we’ll run out of solid food in less than sixty Earth days.”

“Two months?” Weng replied. His face looked alarmed. A new expression, Martin thought. I should make a special note of it.

“New refugees,” Martin said. “Another group just came in. This one from Malaysia.”

“So,” Gen said monotonously. “Things are getting worse.”

“Yes,” Martin agreed. “An emergency Security Council meeting has been arranged to discuss the ongoing rift between China and India. But the cracks have appeared. The UA may decide not to take sides, which would annoy their Chinese allies.”

“Not good,” Weng said. For once, he wasn’t smiling. “I did warn Sue that the UA would not protect her, and that China might come looking.”

“Sue?”

Weng looked flustered. Martin said nothing. But he enjoyed the architect’s discomfort. Information for future reference.

“Sue Talbot. On the Ceres Mining Council.”

“Ah. And this, Sue, what was her response?”

Gen cut in. “She gave us seven thousand tons of water. We’re bringing it back right now. And we have made an ally.”

“An ally.” Martin pondered.

He was playing a risky game, he knew. The southern ice cap could solve all their problems, but he had no immediate access to it. The settlers need not know that all he had to do was hack the ice factories and overpower a handful of guards. He still needed the settlers’ help to extract enough water from regolith for electrical generation and the hydroponic greenhouses. For now. Once the UN found out how much was potentially available for hydrogen fuel cell production, without the UA’s interference, they would surely come to him. 

And then she’d see…!

“Father. Father, what shall we do about the foodstuffs?”

Martin snapped his attention back to the vidscreen.

“Ah. Ah! Well, let me first contact the UN. See what they can do.”

“And if they are otherwise preoccupied?” Weng said. “We can divert to the ISS to—”

“No, no,” Martin cut in, waving a hand. “Forget the ISS. Ping Luna and see if you can do a swing-by. You know who to get in touch with.”

Weng visibly sighed. Now it was Martin’s turn to smile. He had them.

“Yes, Overseer,” the architect said. Glumly, Martin thought.

“In the meantime,” Gen commented. “You may wish to block all incoming. We have already recommended that Ceres do so, in anticipation.”

“All?” Martin said, taken aback. “Why?”

“While you were talking with Mr. Weng, I intercepted a transmission from Earthside to the ISS.” Gen paused, concentrating on something off screen. “Here. I’ll send it to you.”

“You broke their—well, I guess quantum encryption wasn’t foolproof, after al—”

Martin broke off. He scanned the message. This was bad. Very bad.

The UA had launched several troop carriers. Somebody must have tipped them off. The refugees?

“Fortunately, the UA lacks firepower enough to disable our orbiting dock station. But they could land troops with little opposition,” Gen noted. “We must seize their ice before that happens.”

“Yes. Remember, we have about two months before our food runs out,” Martin said. “You need to drop off your water cargo, refuel and go to Luna, and convince the Lunar Council to transport us emergency food supplies. And all before the Allied Forces arrive. For leverage. Can you do it?”

Get and Weng exchanged glances. Martin wondered if the two were getting along.

“Yes, I believe so,” Weng finally said with a smile. “Unless you decide to choose a different crew member more agile than I at spaceflight.”

Martin shook his head.

“Spaceflight is child’s play, thanks to the AI onboard systems. We’re not planning on fighting anybody. What we need is a diplomat with people skills.”

“Martin, I’ve told you, I’m—”

“No diplomat?” Martin smiled. “But you want to be one. I recognize ambition when I see it, Sam.”

He could swear Weng was blushing, but the architect did well to hide it behind that smile. He practiced it, himself.

Now we know each other, he thought, feeling more comfortable. This was a game he knew how to play.

“At any rate,” he continued, “as long as you can convince the bigwigs on Luna, the quantum teleportation systems should get us enough food for a while.”

“Too bad it doesn’t work with people,” Weng said. Wistfully? Another piece of information to be stored future use. Somebody far away he wished to be nearer.

“Yes, well,” Martin replied, keeping his answer deliberately open.

“We’ll contact you as we approach lower Martian orbit,” Gen said, as if on cue. “Until then, we do recommend silence.”

Martin relaxed his shoulders and inclined his head. “Very well. Use the cypher. Out.”

He swiftly cut the connection. The five minute delay between transmission had been irritating enough. No need to wait for confirmation. He was positive Gen understood. They’d had little chance to employ their secret code, given the quantum encryptions that had come into use. But since apparently even Chinese technology was hackable, they had to rely on old methods. Even if it only worked over relatively short distances.

Now, to the business at hand. After ordering another tea, Martin ordered all outside communications blocked. This was sure to provoke a response from settler groups across the Colonies. But with the UA Allied Forces already on their way, he saw little choice. He busied himself with paperwork to the Security Council, drafting a request for supplies that was sure to be turned down, while he waited for the expected calls.

Sure enough, less than thirty minutes later his secretary was fielding multiple irate inquiries. Fortunately, the robot had little difficulty handling several simultaneous connections while relaying information to Earth. Martin was perfectly content to devote his attention to other, more pressing issues.

Let the factions complain for the time being, he thought, switching his screen to monitor Weng and Gen’s progress from the docking station. Its limited capabilities at least allowed the him to estimate a reasonable arrival time, based on their last known position. After a few moments of inputting commands, Martin had his estimate. Next, he contacted the internal Mars Colonies Security Forces. The MCSF were minimal, at best, a few dozen ex-soldiers who signed five-year UN contracts and helped maintain order in the Colonies.

The problem, Martin knew, was that almost half were ex-UA Allied Forces. If the UA arrived to firm their grip on the ice factories, whose side would they choose? The UN or the UA?

Technically, the United Americas were, of course, part of the UN. In fact, the headquarters of the UN once was located in the UA. But in the turbulent period after the Seven Years War, the UA found itself at odds with most other world powers. In a sudden pique, the UA president decided to boot the UN headquarters from UA territory. At the time, it must have seemed the right thing to do, Martin reflected, as he waited for someone in the MCSF to answer his hail.

But the result of the UN being relocated to China permanently altered relationships among the Security Council members. The UA lost not just prestige but power; its economy collapsed, the government fell, and to survive it was forced to join a coalition with East Asian countries. Humiliated, the UA impeached its president, who it blamed for the entire fiasco.

Martin gritted his teeth. Dammit, why didn’t somebody answer the damn phone?

He couldn’t bear the thought of being connected with his grandfather. His wife’s name, he thought, may not be strong enough. I need to make sure my credentials are impeccable. Outside my grandfather’s influence. Respect and authority. Fame.

What better way but to be the savior of Mars?

“That’ll show her,” he muttered.

“Sorry, sir?” came a voice on the speaker. “I didn’t catch that.”

Damn! He’d been talking aloud again.

“We need to show,” he stopped, then continued in a stronger, more confident voice. “We need to show the world that they can still depend on the UN and the Mars Colonies. To whom am I speaking?”

“I’m not sure we can show them much at this point,” the voice said. “Hamels here.”

“Hamels?” Martin frowned. He’d never heard of the woman. “Where’s the Commander?”

“Busy, sir,” came the hesitant reply. “Most of our forces are dealing with the current crisis.”

“What crisis?”

“Sir, several settlements are close to rioting against the forced block on Earthside communications. They’re also demanding more water and food rations.”

“So soon?”

Martin nearly swore. He’d clearly underestimated the persistence of some of the factions. It was time to stall, and bluff.

“Hamels, was it?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You don’t sound UA. What was your original posting?”

“European Union, sir. Netherlands Division, transferred in six weeks ago.”

“Six weeks, eh. So…” He paused, mind racing. A European. Surely arrived in a group. No country would waste money on an individual trip to a remote post. “Tell me, Mr. Hamels—”

“Sergeant Major, sir.”

“Sergeant Major Hamels,” he corrected. “In the MCSF, how many units originate from the EU or other non-UA locations?”

“Non-UA? Sir, the crisis—”

“Yes, yes, we’ll deal with that in a moment. How many?”

Hamels fell silent. Martin wished they had the power for vid transmissions. He hated not seeing his interlocutor’s face.

“Well?” he said impatiently.

“Sir, I believe there are about fourteen or fifteen, out of thirty-three.”

He pondered. Not quite half. Damn the UA! Of course they would have insisted on a majority of security forces from their own units.

To safeguard their damn irradiated ice.

“Hamels, listen to me. I need you to contact all the non-UA security force members and tell them to assemble at the water plant in twenty minutes.”

“Sir! Yes, sir, but the rioting?”

“I have faith in Commander Reynolds’ persuasive abilities. In the meantime, contact as many as you can. I’ll be calling all settler faction heads and see if we can’t calm the situation down with a minimum amount of security force, eh?”

“Yes, sir. Fifteen minutes. Water plant. Acknowledged.”

“Fifteen minutes,” he repeated, then cut the connection.

Now, Martin thought. How much should he say to the settlers?


Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 15: The Sagittarius (arriving February 20, 2021)

Maybe there is Hope, after all

February 10, 2021
MThomas

Congratulations, UAE! The Hope Probe (al-Amal) successfully entered Mars orbit on February 9th.

Made in the US (Boulder, Colorado) and the United Arab Emirates (Dubai) and launched from Japan, it shows what hat can be accomplished through international cooperation instead of competition.

Maybe it is truly Hope, after all, and not just for Arab states.

Nature

CNN

BBC News

Far Beyond the Stars — 1953, 1998, 2021

February 9, 2021
MThomas

The Dreamer…and the Dream

On February 9, 1998, Star Trek Deep Space 9 broadcast one of the most important episodes in the entire history of the franchise.

And what it said about society back in 1953 was just as relevant as for 1998. And perhaps even more important for 2021.

Others have written more eloquently about the plot line, the characterizations, the background, the actors (Avery Brooks directed himself, and his performance should have earned him an Emmy). So I’ll just link to:

Memory Alpha Wiki

Avery Brook’s “proudest moments” interview

DS9 Season 6 Extras – the actors speak (Armin Shimerman calls it “perfect science fiction”)

The Movie Blog

Star Trek Official Website: Remembering “Far Beyond the Stars”

Reel World Theology’s Trektember

Bringer of Light, Chapter 13: The Artemis

February 6, 2021
MThomas

While Gennaji prepares to defend himself after having revealed the Sagittarius’s location to fellow asteroid hunters, Riss discovers that trying to forget painful memories has consequences.

Riss fairly staggered out of the exercise room, more exhausted by the two-hour workout than she had expected. Increased gravity from their acceleration, plus extra weight from the rock? Or something else? Her legs felt like pieces of taffy left out in the sun too long. And there was that strange headache she couldn’t seem to shake. Maybe she was just dehydrated.

She shuffled down the corridor to her room, holding herself upright with a hand against the wall. She probably ought to go to the command center, check on the rock, talk to the crew. But first she desperately needed a rest. 

She reached her sleeping cabin and pushed the door. It seemed lighter than usual. No, not lighter. Less…dense. She shook her head and crossed the threshold. 

“Artemis. Lights.”

The sudden illumination hurt her eyes for some reason. She covered them.

“Lights at fifty percent.”

Her vision returned to normal as the lights dimmed.

No, not quite normal. Even with half-illumination, it was as if she could see perfectly. Better than perfect. The door closed behind her and she walked slowly toward her desk. The pad still plugged into the wall port seemed to hum. She gently touched its edge. Somehow it felt…transparent. Translucent. Like the pad wasn’t entirely there.

Or maybe she wasn’t?

Sighing, she slumped into the chair. Maybe it was a virus. She supposed that would explain the headache and sensitivity to brightness. But there was something different about the room. The ship. Herself.

She glanced at the motanka. 

No face. She always wondered about that.

“This doll is special. It is a protector of children,” Sergey said. “As you grow, she will grow, too.

“You mean motanka will get bigger?” she asked, eight-year-old eyes wide.

Sergey laughed. “No, dytyna. She will grow in other ways. Don’t worry. You will see.”

Riss examined the doll. Except for the cross on its face, it looked like any other doll. Two legs, two arms, long skirt. Less lifelike than the one she got from her real parents.

She picked up the doll and frowned.

Her real parents. She thought she had no memories of them. None?

No, wait. She could see something.

Her father. He gave her a doll. Once. Before they had to leave.

She squeezed her eyes shut.

Before they disappeared.

She opened her eyes again. No, she just couldn’t remember.

And looked at the doll. It had changed color.

She turned the doll around, then upside down.

Yes, it had changed color. Yellow hair, check. Black dress.

No, it was green. With light blue flowers…no, checkered red, yellow, and white patterns all over it.

That could’t be. The face was the same. The no-face.

She set the doll on her desk and flopped face-first on her bunk. What on earth was going on? Was space sickness making her lose her mind?

Weng. She needed to talk to him. Should have vidmessed him. Mars and Ceres refused their pings. Should have tried Luna.

Should have.

Magboots still on, Riss fell into a deep sleep.

Walking along the sea. Dark, artificial blue sky. Beyond that she knew lay endless darkness and empty space. Almost as empty as…

A pressure on her left hand. Weng. Holding it firmly, then gently. A squeeze followed by a caress. Like he wanted to say something to her. Like he wanted her to say something to him.

“I love the way your face looks,” Weng began.

“Stop, stop,” Riss interrupted, shaking her head.

“The blue of the Cantic Ocean,” he continued. “The blue of the sky. The constant breeze that wafts…”

Riss sighed.

“I love the way your face looks, framed by the waves of brown locks, blown by an ocean breeze.”

He smiled, then laughed.

“Hopeless romantic,” she said. “You’re just a hopeless romantic. You do know that?”

“I’m supposed to say stuff like that,” he returned. “I’m an artist. It’s what we do.”

“Oh?” she replied.

He just smiled his enigmatic smile. They fell silent.

Something was bothering him. She could tell. He’d never ask for help. Not openly. Not from her. She squeezed his hand. He sighed.

“It doesn’t look like you’ve had much time for artistry lately,” she tried.

Weng made a face. “You’re right, I haven’t.”

“So…”

He said nothing. Just coughed.

Riss looked at him as they walked, hand in hand. He stared into space. What was he thinking? She wondered. What was it he was looking for?

“I guess,” he said finally, after a long pause. “I guess you’ll be heading out again soon.”

She nodded. “You heard.”

He smiled again, looking up, above the sky.

“Sergey mentioned something about a lottery. A special asteroid of some sort.”

“Yes. A centaur. We won the rights to capture it.”

Weng shook his head. “I can’t pretend I understand how you asteroid hunters operate, but can’t you just, you know, negotiate?”

She laughed. “We did. Sort of. It’s complicated.”

She looked at him again. Her artist. Touchingly naive, stubborn and set in his ways. But that didn’t matter. He was faithful to her. Loyal to her adopted father. He had always supported her, regardless of whatever foolish thing she had said or done.

“You will come back to me, yes?” he said.

She squeezed his hand again. “If all goes well, this will be the last trip I have to make out there,” she said.

“Promise?”

“No, of course not!” she said, laughing. “No promises. No guarantees.”

“No returns,” he said. “All sales are final. Let the buyer beware!”

They giggled together. It felt good, sharing a moment with someone she could be completely honest with. Completely open.

Completely. No. She suddenly stopped and let go of his hand. They stood still.

She looked into his eyes. He was still smiling, but the smile didn’t quite reach his eyes. His face fell. It was as if, for a moment, she could see who he really was. His real face. Like a cross…

“I’m sorry,” she started.

“What?” he said. “What is it?”

“This…this isn’t…”

She looked up again. The blue sky was gone. Darkness everywhere. 

The ground fell away. Weng disappeared from her sight, his outstretched hands waving uselessly in the lunar wind. No cry escaped her lips. She stared wide-eyed at the stars. The emptiness rushed down. She rushed up to meet it.

With a start, Riss realized she was floating. Outside the ship, free floating in space. No suit. No helmet. In a panic she put her hands over her mouth. But there was no breath. No sound. Silence, only silence.

She looked down. She wasn’t wearing any clothes, none whatsoever.

This must be another dream, she thought, calming herself. Well, then, let’s see where it takes me.

Ahead lay a vortex. She smiled. A vortex, in space. Drawing her closer. She felt like putting her arms in front and swimming, as if it would make any difference.

To her surprise, it did. She felt the vortex pull at her, call her, gently coax her toward its amorphous black center. Faint clouds of burgundy and crimson whisked away as she neared. With a start she found that the vortex was not a hole at all. She reached out with both hands…

And brought a small object back to her.

A small ball. Cottony.

She cupped it. The ball dissolved into a cloud and flowed up her arms, across her entire body, dissipating in the space behind her.

Sensation returned. Gravity wells appeared before her eyes. Patterns revealed themselves. Orbits of planetary objects, trajectories of comets and asteroids. Space dust. Black matter.

She suddenly knew where she was. The happy hunting ground stretched like an enormous mine field before her, blocking her view of the inner system.

Concentrating, she willed an asteroid to approach. It was small, no more than a few meters across. She floated near it, ran her hands over its rough surface. The edges, points, indents. Mostly iron ore, with other trace minerals.

With a wave of a hand, she pulled the trace minerals out, leaving nothing but a ball of pure iron. A deft thrust into the ball; it stretched and twisted like taffy. 

Into a mask.

She held it in her hands. Looked down at it.

The mask looked back at her. She tried it on and saw herself.

Her face. 

The face of the motanka. With a cross on it. 

She screamed.


Next: The game’s afoot…Bringer of Light, Chapter 14: Mars Colonies (Coming February 13, 2021, 7 PM EST)

Weebles wobble — and so does Mars

February 5, 2021
MThomas

Looks like Mars doesn’t spin perfectly on its axis. In fact, it wobbles.

And no one knows why.

This makes Mars only the second planet in our solar system to exhibit what’s called the “Chandler wobble.”

The other planet?

Why, Earth, of course.

(And, no, nobody knows why. Hmm. Chandler?)

Sorry, Venus is just a lot of gas

February 4, 2021
MThomas

There’s a reason I didn’t post a while ago about the supposed “there’s life in the clouds of Venus” finding.

It was just a big load of gas.

Sorry, folks. Venus is a big rotten egg. 🥚

https://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/signs-life-venus-might-just-be-ordinary-sulfur-gas-n1256739

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