M Thomas Apple Author Page

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

The One Small Step Act: Only for US?

January 16, 2021
MThomas

It’s a small step. It applies only to companies that are working with NASA; it pertains only to U.S. lunar landing sites; it implements outdated and untested recommendations to protect historic lunar sites implemented by NASA in 2011. However, it offers significant breakthroughs. It is the first legislation from any nation to recognize an off-Earth site as having “outstanding universal value” to humanity, language taken from the unanimously ratified World Heritage Convention.

https://astronomy.com/news/2021/01/neil-armstrongs-bootprint-and-other-lunar-artifacts-are-now-protected-by-us-law

The author believes this shows that “nonpartisan” desire to journey to space and preserve human heritage.

Hmm.

Well, I do agree with the assessment that it’s only a matter of time before the Moon is occupied by multiple political entities (China, India, Russia, the US, ESA…) and probably even a few private enterprises as well. Will the private company-sponsored missions agree to abide by a US law?

We’ll see.

Bringer of Light, Chapter 10: The Artemis (Part 2)

January 9, 2021
MThomas

(The Artemis crew experienced strange sensations, which they believed dreams. Now the asteroid fragment from which they already extracted water for their drinking supplies is glowing…and many contain life.)

“Coop, is there any precedent for hydrocarbon-rich asteroids containing nucleic acids?”

The geologist rubbed a hand on one arm. Where Sanvi had grabbed him, Riss realized. She slowly walked toward him, and he toward her.

“Only in theory,” he said carefully. He looked at her with a strange expression. Like he was trying to figure out if she was serious, she guessed. “It’s widely believed that amino acids were first introduced to Earth by asteroid or comet bombardment.”

He stopped. “If…”

He turned to the rock.

“Why is it glowing?” Riss said quietly.

The geologist shook his head.

“I don’t know. I’m an astro-geologist, not an exobiologist.”

“Speculate.”

“Well,” he said, rubbing his arm again, “I suppose it’s possible that, if there were any RNA, the ribose could have completely hydrolyzed, so that it bonded with any freely available compounds in the rock, such as phosphorous or sulphur.”

“O-kay,” Riss said. “And if it’s not RNA?”

“It could be some other kind of enantiomer whose chiral features—”

“All right, slow down,” she interrupted. “I followed the phosphorus bit, but what on earth are you talking about?”

“Um. Sugar. Basically.”

“Sugar?”

“Yeah. Hydrocarbons have, uh, carbon, right? So, that means carbohydrates. Starches and sugars. But molecules sometimes come in pairs. Mirror images of each other. So when one of the pair affects you one way, the other might affect you another way.”

“Meaning?”

Cooper looked at Sanvi with a frightened expression.

“Drugs.”

Sanvi opened her eyes wide and took a step forward.

“Coop,” Riss said, placing herself between the two, “you had better explain yourself.”

“Drugs,” he repeated, crossing his arms and taking up a defensive posture. “Like the pills we got from Ceres base before heading out here. You know, like the ones I got for low gravity sickness. There might be something, some natural molecule in the rock that acts kind of like that.”

Riss nodded. “Okay, I can see that. So it’s possible we all got some sort of, what, psychotropic solution from this rock?”

Cooper shook his head. “I just don’t know.”

“Whaddya you mean, just don’t know?” Enoch blurted out. “I had this crazy dream. Are you saying I was stoned?”

Cooper looked at him. “You what?”

Riss interposed. “Coop, we all had dreams. Strange dreams.”

She looked at her crew members one at a time. “Isn’t that true?”

Sanvi and Enoch both nodded.

“N, no,” Cooper murmured. “It wasn’t…”

Riss looked at him intently.

“No,” Cooper said, in a stronger voice. “No, I didn’t have any dreams. I mean, I don’t remember them.”

Riss sighed. Whatever, let him keep his secrets. She glanced at her wrist panel. They should reach Zedra point in a short while. They all needed some serious sleep by then.

“Coop, what’s the other possibility? Are there any?”

Coop stared down at his feet.

“If—if it is RNA…”

He shook his head.

“No, not possible. The filter would have detected it.”

“Coop,” Sanvi cut in. “How do you know all this? I thought you said you were a astrogeologist, not an exobiologist?”

She looked more composed than before, Riss noted.

The geologist looked up. He also looked more composed, but slightly defiant. “Yes,” he replied, “but I also studied biochemistry.”

He looked at the rock again.

“I wanted to be a biologist, like my father.”

He had never discussed his father before. Riss wondered if that had something to do with his reluctance to discuss his dreams. Or lack thereof.

“So,” Sanvi said calmly. “How do you know it’s not RNA?”

Cooper paused, then slowly walked back to the console. He kept his eyes trained on Sanvi. She stood still, returning the gaze without expression. Enoch was biting a thumbnail.

The geologist stabbed at the screen for a few seconds before responding.

“RNA has ribose, which is a kind of a saccharide. It’s pretty unstable, so it could have simply dissolved into the water supply. But I don’t see any other elements like amino acids, lipids, or other proteins.”

He straightened and rubbed his eyes with the palms of both hands.

“So we could have a virus in our water?” Riss asked.

“I—I don’t think so.”

“But you’re not sure.”

“I’m a—”

“A geologist,” Enoch interrupted. “Not a doctor.”

They all looked at him. The navigator had been silent through most of the conversation. He still looked sulky, Riss thought. But also troubled, standing apart from them, arms crossed and frowning.

“Yeah,” Cooper said. “I’m a geologist. But—”

“But nothing,” Enoch said. “Viruses don’t cause dreams. I had a dream of flying. Of Hawai’i. Of the Lunar Base. You gonna tell me a virus did that?”

“I’m not saying anything for certain,” Cooper said, indignant. “I’m a scientist. I don’t like speculation. I don’t trust guesses or hunches. Just facts.”

“The facts are—”

“The facts are,” Riss cut them both off, “that we don’t have enough facts. Coop is right. It could be a virus. It could be a sugar of some sort. It could be something else, we don’t know.”

They fell silent. The rock continued to glow behind them.

“So.” Sanvi finally said. “What do we do?”

Cooper spoke up. “I think it would be a good idea to run a med check on all of us. Just in case.”

Riss nodded. “Agreed. Enoch, get over to the med dock and start setting up the diagnostic equipment.”

“Roger.”

The navigator turned to go, then stopped. “You know, Riss.”

“Uh-huh.”

“A thought just occurred to me.”

Riss crossed her arms and smiled. “A thought? You?”

Sanvi giggled. The sound made Riss feel relaxed. Finally. Maybe things might get back to normal after all.

But Enoch looked troubled still. “What about the other rock chunks?”

Sanvi stopped giggling. Cooper looked startled. Riss closed her eyes.

Shit.

They ran back to the command center.

“Sanvi, get a message out to Ceres,” Riss ordered tersely as they slid into their respective seats. “Under no circumstances are they to pulverize the rock or use any hydrocarbons from it.”

“Way ahead of you, Riss,” Sanvi replied, already starting up the comm systems.

“R—Riss,” Cooper said. “I’ll prepare a more detailed report on—whatever the computer thinks it may or may not have found.”

Riss nodded. Might be useful in case someone in the guild had questions.

More importantly, though, what would she tell Sergey? His trust in her—was it unfounded?

And Gennaji.

She bit her lip.

Lena.

Her own inexperience, her decision-making skills. Had she learned nothing?

“Riss,” Enoch said. “I got something here.”

“On the trajectory?”

“No, from Ceres.”

He gestured to his screen. They gathered around the console. An image appeared; a string of numbers and text detailing the successful capture of the two rock fragments they had launched from their transneptune position several days before.

“So they got the chunks with no problems,” Sanvi commented. “That’s a first.”

“That’s not all,” Enoch said. He scrolled down. “I found the Ceres Mining Consortium transportation record. Posted yesterday. Take a look at this.”

Riss read in mute astonishment. The rocks had already been pulverized into water and sent on to Mars. Why so soon?

“We need to get a message to the Mars Colonies, then. As well as to Ceres.” She went back to her chair. “Is there any way we can return to the happy hunting grounds faster than our current ETA?”

Enoch shook his head. “Probably not. The ion engine has been increasing our speed incrementally for each day. It’d throw everything off if we tried to recalibrate them. If we lost some weight somehow, then maybe.”

He shrugged and raised his eyebrows.

Riss caught his meaning. “No,” she stated flatly.

“If we dumped the rock, we could gain—”

“No!” she said, fiercely. “Even if that thing is worthless, it’s still ours. Not a chance.”

“What if…”

Riss turned left. “Sanvi?”

The pilot hesitated, then continued. “What if we don’t stop at Zedra point?”

“You mean, skip the refueling? We’ll run out.”

“Inertia will carry us,” Sanvi pointed out. “We’ll just have to rely on someone at Base to slow us.”

“She’s right,” Enoch said. He pointed at his console. “I just did the math. We can pick up a couple of days by skipping the refuel. And if we steer a little in the right direction, I think we can get another boost or two from Saturn or Jupiter.”

“Riss,” Sanvi said, “if we can pick up around 55 to 60 hours, we can get to Ceres without refueling.”

“You sound confident,” Riss said. “How are we doing on food and water?”

“More than enough,” Cooper said. He proffered a pad. “Even though the water may or may not be, uh.”

“Contaminated?” Sanvi suggested, smirking.

“Compromised,” Cooper retorted. “And I said ‘may.’ We still don’t really know.”

“Water with living things in it,” she replied, making a face. “Disgusting.”

The geologist shrugged. “At home in Colorado, all our well water had living things in it.”

Sanvi looked horrified.

“Didn’t know you had such a weak stomach,” Enoch chortled.

“Living things! How could you?” She shuddered.

“Weak,” he repeated.

“If you’re trying to irritate me…” Sanvi warned.

Enoch grinned and turned back to his console. “Are you irritated?”

“Yes.”

“Then it’s working.”

“All right, people,” Riss said, suppressing a chuckle. “Let’s get that message sent to Mars. They need to know what’s coming.”

Sanvi shot one last look at the navigator and bent to her task. Enoch was also diligently tapping away, swiping a pad hanging in the air to his right while checking the console in front of him. After a few minutes, he turned to Riss.

“New course input. We miss Saturn, but Jupiter lines up nicely for a gravity well push to Ceres.”

“Well done,” she responded. “Do it.”

Enoch nodded. He touched the console again. Riss once again could have sworn she felt the Artemis buzz. As if the ship were talking with them, approving the turn to starboard.

“We’ll feel stronger gravity effects as we approach point-five g,” Enoch commented.

Cooper shook his head. “The asteroid chunk will have more weight, then.”

Riss nodded. “True. So we’ll need to use more of the hydrocarbons to reduce the mass.”

They all looked at her.

“What? We already drank the water. Another couple days won’t change anything.”

Cooper relaxed his shoulders and sighed. “I wish I had your confidence.”

Enoch just laughed. “What the hell. I don’t mind flying every night.”

Riss was about to respond when a sudden exclamation from Sanvi stopped her.

“Guys, we have a problem.”

It was Riss’s turn to sigh. “Another one?”

The pilot slapped at her console. The sound echoed in the tiny command center. Plastic and metal against skin. Riss felt the ship groan in protest. Or had she just imagined that?

“Mars is refusing our pings,” Sanvi said through tight teeth.

Riss frowned. “Refusing?”

“They won’t give permission to let the message through. Something about being unable to verify non-hostile intent from unauthorized spacecraft.”

“Say what?”

Riss sat back in the command chair. This did not sound good.

“Try Ceres.”

Sanvi slapped the console again. “Already did. Same response.”

“Same? Exactly?”

“Well,” the pilot conceded. “Not a hundred percent, no.”

“Then?”

Sanvi looked directly at Riss.

“There was also a message. For you. From Gennaji.”

Riss said nothing. Her hands gripped the chair’s arms. She felt strangely calm, although she knew she looked pale. Old memories resurfaced.

“He can’t have reached Base before us,” Enoch exclaimed. “In that old rust bucket?”

“Ryan, enough,” Riss whispered. She felt energy draining from her.

“The message had been relayed from some other position,” Sanvi said. “Not sure where.”

Riss breathed out, trying to relax her grip.

“What did he have to say?”

Sanvi paused. “‘I will have my own.’”

They were silent for a moment.

Then Enoch spoke up.

“Fuck him!”

“Charmingly eloquent,” Sanvi said. “As usual.”

“Come on, Riss,” Cooper said, sounding exasperated. “What is it with this guy? What has he got against you?

Riss shook her head. “This is between him and—”

“No, it’s not!” the geologist said angrily.

She looked at him, shocked. Cooper seemed to have an aura around him, as if the air were charged with anger.

“Whatever vendetta or grudge or whatever this guy has against you affects us as well,” he continued.

He sat back in his chair, crossing his arms. “I think we have a right to know.”

Riss looked back and forth from Sanvi and Enoch, pleadingly. She could only respond weakly, “I—I’d rather not.”

“Not good enough, Riss!” Cooper said. He seemed on the verge of exploding.

“There was another woman,” Sanvi said softly.

Riss protested weakly. “No…” A dark void filled her eyes.

Enoch asked, “Gennaji and Riss had something?”

“No,” Sanvi said. She looked away. “Riss was the captain.”

“Somebody died,” Riss whispered to the darkness.

They looked at her again. She felt pale.

“Riss,” Sanvi began.

Riss stared into nothing. She felt the start of tears in the corners of her eyes.

No, she thought. Not now. Not yet.

She quickly composed herself, tugging down her shirt sleeves from tense shoulders.

“I’ll be in the gym,” she said brusquely, climbing out of the captain’s chair. “Continue on the new course to Ceres.”

Sanvi fell silent. Cooper raised a finger but then placed it against his lips, lost in thought.

She turned to go. She should have reprimanded the crew for not responding to a command, but she knew she had to get out of there.

“What’ll we say to the Mining Council?” Enoch called out.

Riss stopped on the threshold of the corridor and spoke without turning around.

“We’ll find out when we get there.”

Then she disappeared.


Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 11: Ceres (January 16th)

Xenobots: Self-healing organic “robots”

January 6, 2021
MThomas

Xenobots could be used to clean up radioactive waste, collect microplastics in the oceans, carry medicine inside human bodies, or even travel into our arteries to scrape out plaque. The xenobots can survive in aqueous environments without additional nutrients for days or weeks — making them suitable for internal drug delivery.

https://edition.cnn.com/2020/01/13/us/living-robot-stem-cells-intl-hnk-scli-scn/index.html?fbclid=IwAR0QfYHsd6BzLeuiQdTomcmaJua7SQbNfI-I9qyLUqDio8M60JF-gPjgGg0

Sounds great. After all, what could go wrong?

(At least it couldn’t get any worse than things already are…well, maybe…)

Bringer of Light, Chapter 10: The Artemis (Part 1)

January 2, 2021
MThomas

(While Weng hatches a scheme on Mars, Riss and crew are still a long way from home…)

Riss woke with a start. Something…no, somebody…it felt like somebody was calling her…

Unstrapping her sleeping harness, she slowly sat up in the dim cabin. The only light came from the faint glow of her pad, casting a barely discernible sheen out from its wall recharging socket. The doll cast an eerie shadow across the room.

“Artemis. Water,” she croaked. No response.

She coughed. “Water,” she repeated in a stronger voice. Her throat felt raw.

The refrigerator unit beeped and disengaged from its cubby beneath the rechargers. It slid on a magnetic track across the cabin and stopped arms-distance from her bunk.

Riss opened the door and withdrew a plastic drink sleeve. It seemed a good idea at the time. Six days into the return trip to Zedra point, she’d decided that each crew member would benefit from a few new packs of water, freshly squeezed from the rock fragment safely stowed in the cargo hold. They’d already used some in the hydroponic lab, after all.

“Return,” she ordered, and the boxy robot rolled back to its wall nook.

Hindsight was foresight, she mused, but now it seemed prescient. The ship’s normal water recycling system had a glitch which would have made things more than uncomfortable without the new water source.

Squeezed, she thought, plucking back the drink tab and drawing out the straw for a sip. More like reconsti—

She gasped and nearly dropped the pack. Cold. So cold!

It was as if she could feel icy vapors sublimating as the water turned directly into gas inside her. She coughed, and coughed, almost a dry cough despite the water.

Now her entire body felt icy cold. She barely managed to lower the pack to her bedside table as the cold sensation spread to every extremity. She lay back and forced her eyes to stay open, focusing on the ceiling.

Heavy. So heavy.

The cold feeling began to dissipate, leaving her with a tingling in fingertips and toes. She tried to lift her head, but instantly dizzy. She closed her eyes, then opened them again.

Objects on the captain’s desk seemed to glow. No, that must be the portable…no, it wasn’t. She stared. The darkness of the cabin seemed strange, out of place. Not true darkness, but the darkness left by the absence of light rather than true darkness.

Layer upon layer of semi-transparent, translucent geometric patterns assaulted her vision. Some were colorful, like spinning pieces of stained glass.

Riss closed her eyes. She could still see the patterns. Random. She opened her eyes again. It was as if she could see the room…through the patterns. As if the patterns were real and the room a mere reflection.

The patterns. Were they in her head?

She heard a soft buzzing noise. No, a squeezing noise. As if her head were being squeezed. Like the water from the rock.

No, she thought, detached. Not squeezed. Released—

The ceiling blew up. Fragments flew away and the rushing darkness enveloped her. She stared up at a vast, limitless height.

Space was a machine. A living, endless machine, filled and surrounded and controlled by patterns.

She felt the patterns shifting, colliding, rotating around a core she couldn’t quite grasp but could sense.

Heavy. She felt heavy. A gravity well…sinking, sinking, sinking through the patterns back…back…

She closed her eyes. An odd sensation filled her.

Blue sky. Grass. The feel of mild wind and warm sunlight caressed her face. The scents of a beach…a Luna beach! She smiled, content, floating…

A feeling of detachment, separated from herself yet part of herself. Part of something much larger. Infinite.

She opened her eyes.

The patterns in the darkness slowly faded; she reached out a hand, as if she could touch them, alter them, change the way they interacted. She sat up, stretching her fingers—

No. No, the patterns were gone.

Or were they?

Riss let her hand drop. She stared at her hand, then at the water pack on the table. Nothing out of the ordinary. Still, she could swear she still felt something. Some kind of new awareness of things around her.

Riss picked up the water pack and looked at the straw. Did she dare?

Carefully, slowly, as if the pack were a fragile flower, she touched the straw to her lips and took the tiniest of sips.

Water. Slightly tangy and metallic, but otherwise.

She sipped more. Just water.

Shaking her head, Riss stood and arched her back. Suddenly she felt incredibly refreshed. How long she slept?

She pulled the pad from the charging socket and swiped it on. The time. She rubbed her eyes and looked again. Almost an entire day? That couldn’t be.

No wonder she felt refreshed.

Yanking her boots on, Riss shoved the pad into a shoulder carrier. She’d better check up on the crew. Should she mention her dream? If it had been a dream.

She paused before the door. No. She’d first stop by tactical. Autopilot or not, she trusted only herself.

She touched a panel and entered the corridor.

The Artemis was quiet. Or rather should have been quiet. As Riss walked down the narrow corridor connecting the living quarters and tactical, she thought she felt something…different. A mild humming in the bulkheads. Barely perceptible vibrations, like the Artemis were trying to soothe her, comfort her.

Ahead, she heard voices. She couldn’t quite make out the words, but the tone was pleading. A woman and a man. But not her crew.

Then a sniffling noise, followed by a loud thump.

Sanvi?

“Is anyone here?” Riss called. She stepped into the room and made for the navigator’s console.

The pilot was holding a pad in both hands and her shoulders were shaking. Abruptly the voices cut off. Sanvi stood, wiping her eyes with a sleeve.

“Riss, it’s…sorry, I…”

Riss stopped. She’d never seen Sanvi like this before. The woman appeared on the verge of a completely breakdown.

“Those voices…” Riss began. She stopped, wondering what to say. Then took a guess. “Your family?”

Sanvi nodded. She held the pad in front of her with hands, staring at the empty screen.

“My parents,” she replied. “Their last vidmess before I joined up.”

She lay the pad down on her console and closed her eyes.

“I haven’t spoken to them since.”

Riss crossed her arms and sat in the captain’s chair. “They were against your joining the crew?”

“They were against me leaving Lunar Base,” Sanvi replied, snapping her eyes open. Riss was quiet. This defiant look wasn’t something she’d seen in her pilot before. Something terrible must have happened, she thought. Just like—

“Sanvi,” she said softly, “is there anything you want to talk about?”

Sanvi started to shake her head, then looked at the pad again.

“I saw them,” she said flatly.

“Saw them?”

“I saw my parents,” Sanvi said. “A dream. At least, I think it was a dream. Pretty sure, anyway.”

Riss waited.

Sanvi sat down, her hands in her lap. She seemed lost, if Riss hadn’t known better.

“I had a strange dream, too,” Riss said suddenly.

Sanvi looked up at her in surprise. Riss was surprised somewhat herself. Why had she said that?

“I, uh…” She wasn’t sure how to continue.

“You saw your parents?” Sanvi asked.

Riss shook her head. “No. No, I’ve never—”

She stopped and bit her lip.

“I haven’t seen them in my dreams for, uh, several years now.”

A lie.

“Then, what?”

Riss hesitated, then, “It was nothing, just an odd dream about the rock. That’s all.”

Sanvi sighed, then snorted.

“If I didn’t know any better,” she said, slightly sarcastic, “I’d think you were holding out on me.”

Now it was Riss’s turn to snort.

“Well, then, you do know better,” she retorted, with a slight grin. “Maybe I’ll have another, stranger dream tomorrow to tell you.”

She stood and stretched her back.

“In the meantime, I think I’d better go down to the hold and check on things.”

Sanvi nodded. “Want me to stay here?”

“Nah. Nothing to check here, so long as the auto is working as it should.”

Sanvi glanced at the console, and shrugged. “So far.”

The ship’s internal comm clicked on.

“Hey, is anybody there? Anyone driving this thing?”

The geist. Riss touched a panel on the captain’s chair.

“Coop. We’re here.”

“I, I think you may want to come to the hold.”

Riss caught her voice in her throat. Had he found something he’d missed before? The rock, was it actually special?

“Be right there.”

She motioned to Sanvi, who calmly picked up her pad and followed her into the corridor.

On the way, they ran into Enoch, floating outside his room holding a mag boot in each hand. He looked disheveled, as if he had just jumped out of bed.

“Guys, hey, I had this most amazing dream,” he said happily.

“You mean you actually sleep sometimes?” Sanvi smirked.

“It was like—man, it was like, like I was flying. No, like I was the plane, flying by myself.”

Riss almost stopped to ask him about it, but changed her mind and kept walking.

“Follow us,” she said.

He looked a little surprised. “Uh.”

“You can tell us all about it later.”

“Okay, but I don’t have my mag boots on yet.”

The navigator looked at Sanvi, but she simply shook her hand and motioned for him to come along. They walked. Enoch started swimming.

“Hey, wait up!” Enoch shouted, trying to yank his boots on mid-air.

After a few minutes they reached the hold. As they entered, Riss called out, “Coop, what’s going on? Did you fi—”

She stopped abruptly. Sanvi and Enoch bumped into each other and then squeezed into the room behind her.

The rock was glowing.

It still lay carefully within its “cage” of polystyrene cables, strapped in the corner of the hold across from the hopper port. Cooper was standing at the console, gazing intently at the screen and flicking the surface with his fingers.

“Cap—Riss,” he said, turning around.

“It’s glowing,” she said.

“Yeah. I kinda noticed that.”

“The rock,” she repeated, more urgently. “It’s glowing!”

Cooper spread his hands. “Now, don’t panic. I know it’s glowing. I’m still checking things out.”

“Hang on,” Enoch said. “Didn’t we chip off some stuff and put it in our drinking supply?”

“Yes,” Riss replied. “I helped him do it.”

“You…” Sanvi hissed. She stepped forward and grabbed him by the shirt collar. “What have you done to us? Poisoned? You some sort of spy?”

He frantically batted at her arm and sputtered. “Wha—what on earth are you talking about?”

“Sanvi,” Riss interposed. “Let go.”

Sanvi shoved the geologist back and glared. “You’d better explain yourself, geist,” she huffed.

“Yes,” Riss agreed.

Cooper quickly backed away, glaring at Sanvi. He stood behind the console and placed his hands on top of it, swallowing a retort.

Riss took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “Well? What’s making this…glow?”

Cooper gestured to the console.

“You can see for yourself,” he said.

Enoch cut in. “Just explain it, bro. We don’t have all day.”

“Ryan,” Riss said sharply.

She looked down at the monitor. It was filled with lines of chemical symbols and numbers. She scrolled and images of various molecular chains appeared.

“This,” she asked haltingly, “this shows, ah…”

“Carbon,” Cooper said. “Hydrocarbon.”

“We already knew that, geist,” Sanvi cut in. “So what?”

The geologist took a deep breath.

“Not just any hydrocarbon. There are signs of—I don’t know exactly if it’s nucleic acids, or some simple polymeric—”

“Coop!”

“RNA,” he said bluntly. “Maybe.”

Riss narrowed her eyes and glanced at the screen again.

“Life?”

Both Sanvi and Enoch lurched across the console and grabbed the geologist. A brief scuffle followed, with Riss in the middle, vainly trying to separate them.

“What the f—!”

“Damn you!”

“Stop! Let him go!” Riss ordered, trying to control her temper.

Cooper fairly fled to the asteroid chunk. “The filter system still says it’s just water!” he shouted at them from across the cargo hold. “The computer didn’t even notice anything until I made it run a more detailed analysis!”

The pilot and navigator made as if to rush after him, but Riss held their arms.

“Sanvi! Enoch! As you were!” she demanded.

They both stopped and looked at each other, then at Riss. Enoch seemed to be sulking, but Sanvi shuddered and closed her eyes.

Riss had expected the navigator to lose his cool, but Sanvi’s reaction surprised her. It almost looked as if she was trying to meditate.

“Cooper,” Riss called out to the geologist. He looked like a trapped animal, ready to bare his teeth. “Brady. Nobody’s accusing you of anything.”

She looked back at Sanvi and Enoch. “Nobody is accusing him of anything,” she repeated. “Got it?”

Enoch nodded curtly. Sanvi breathed out and opened her eyes, then followed suit. Good, Riss thought. This was not the time to lose their collective cool.


Next: Chapter 10 (Part 2) — January 9th

Starting the New Year Right

January 1, 2021
MThomas

What better way to start 2021 then by watching a 6-hour kabuki interpretation of the classic post-apocalyptic fantasy-scifi Nausicäa of the Valley of Wind (風の谷のナウシカ)?

Courtesy of BS-NHK (which split the broadcast into two 3-hour parts).

If you think you know the story based on the Studio Ghibli anime, guess again. Go read the manga. One of the greatest SF stories of all time. Even 6 hours doesn’t even come close to capturing its complex intensity.

Tardigrads…In…Space…I mean, On the Moon…

December 28, 2020
MThomas

Despite the impact, scientists believe that if anything survived the crash intact, it may well have been the tardigrades. The microscopic creatures were sandwiched between micron-thin sheets of nickel and suspended in epoxy, a resin-like preservative that acts like a jelly — potentially enough to cushion their landing.

https://www.inverse.com/science/tardigrades-may-have-taken-over-the-moon

I, for one, look forward to our lovably cute waterbear overlords…

Amateur Thai astronomer photographs unknown Sungrazer

December 27, 2020
MThomas

This family of comets originated from a large parent comet that broke up into smaller fragments well over a thousand years ago. The sungrazers continue to orbit around the sun today.

https://edition.cnn.com/2020/12/21/world/new-comet-solar-eclipse-scn/index.html

Now this is something I didn’t know. Learn a new thing ever day…

Bringer of Light, Chapter 9 (Part 2): Mars Colonies

December 27, 2020
MThomas

(In part 1, Weng found himself suddenly promoted and about to be thrust into the spotlight…)

He toggled the console, and the row of monitors sprang to life. Weng found himself addressing no less than half a dozen delegates, all of whom wanted to speak simultaneously.

In fact, they appeared to have already begun discussing among themselves.

“—told you that the Indian government would never—”

“—not what we ordered! And where are the supplies we requested last—”

“Hasn’t the Martian Secretariat been in—”

“Gentlemen! Gentlemen!” Martin began, holding his hands up in surrender.

Women,” someone interrupted.

“Men and women,” Martin corrected. “We have been made aware of your food supply issues and—”

“What are you going to do about it? We’ve been waiting four days now!”

“Mr. Mbutu, believe me, the needs of the CAA settlers are well known to us—”

“The EEC has priority over African settlers! We arrived first, we have—”

The delegates raised their voices and general argument prevented Weng from understanding much. Martin smiled and raised his hands again.

“Gentlemen and women! Delegates! Please, please! I have—”

The discussion continued for another minute or two. Martin turned to Weng and nodded.

Weng coughed into a fist before speaking.

“Excuse me,” he tried. Too soft. The delegates continued.

“—Persian Empire will make you regret any theft of property from—”

“Excuse me!” Weng fairly shouted at the screens.

The voices died down. The delegates looked at him.

Weng cleared his throat.

“Gentlemen, ladies. I have spoken to many of you these past few days, about your heat, your electricity—”

“Yes, yes,” huffed one delegate. “For all the good it did.”

Weng nodded in agreement.

“I’m afraid you are correct, Ms. Pehrat. However, that has not prevented us from developing an amicable and mutually beneficial relationship, has it not?”

Silence greeted this response. Martin pinched his arm from behind. Evidently, an encouraging gesture.

“Look,” Weng went on. “I know that we are asking much of you and your constituencies. But we must ask you all to realize that our situation is quite dire at the moment.”

“Dire?” Mbutu asked. “How dire, exactly?”

Weng cleared his throat again.

“I am given to understand that, er, due to the rapid increase in the need for electricity to power new settlement districts we will need to begin water rationing.”

“Begin?” Pehrat cried. “We’re already rationing!”

Several delegates jumped in.

“Intolerable!”

“Outrageous!”

“Please! Please!” Martin tried to interrupt again.

The delegates shouted him down in a cacophonous paroxysm.

“Water,” Weng mused as the din rattled around him. “Water…wait!”

He grabbed the sides of the desk and shouted at the screens.

“Wait! Wait! There may be a way.”

“The electrician speaks!” Mbutu laughed. But the other voices died down.

Martin interrupted. “Dr. Weng,” he said, emphasizing the word ‘doctor’, “Dr. Weng is the head of the Martian Colony Water Reclamation Project Team.”

“Ah,” Mbutu exclaimed.

“Thank you, Overseer,” Weng said. He straightened and opened his hands. “Water is needed for producing electricity due to a lack of other energy sources.”

“Yes, yes, we know,” Mbutu commented. “And?”

“What if…” Weng began.

He paused. He raised a hand, stretched out his fingers as if to gesture, and paused again, thinking.

“I have two proposals,” he suddenly announced. “First.”

He stopped. He glanced at Martin. The Overseer maintained his politician’s smile.

“First,” Weng repeated, “We do have the capability to release more water into the water reclamation system. However, we do not presently have enough workers to dig up the regolith required for the process.”

The delegates were silent for a moment.

“What you are suggesting,” Pehrat offered, “would require many, many rounds of negotiations among our nations.”

“We don’t have time for that,” Weng said. “I don’t know the delicate nature of politics but I do know the technical possibilities and necessities of our current situation.”

Pehrat was silent, seemingly considering the truth of his statement.

“I do know,” Weng continued, “that we all need each other. To cooperate, for mutual benefit.”

He stopped and held up two fingers.

“Second.”

Martin briefly dropped his smile but recovered.

“Second,” Weng said heavily. “It seems likely that we may still not get the water reclamation process started in time to suit our immediate needs. I estimate two to three months before processing will be adequate.”

Martin smoothly interposed. “In that case, what do you propose? Won’t rationing be enough?”

“I’m afraid not,” Weng said. “I propose that the United Mars Colonies—”

“The what?” Mbutu blurted.

“Dr. Weng, there’s no such—” Martin began.

Weng continued, “—that the United Mars Colonies send an envoy or envoys to Ceres for the purpose of procuring an emergency supply of water strictly for the drinking supply. Not to be used for electrical generation.”

Martin grabbed his arm, hissing, “We must talk.”

Turning to the screens and smiling, he said, “Pardon us for a moment. Please hold.”

He stabbed at a button on the desk, then turned back to Weng, furious.

“What on earth do you think you’re doing?”

Weng regarded the Overseer calmly. “We’re not ‘on Earth’.”

“For the love of—you know what I mean!”

The Overseer began to pace, waving his arms. “The Moon Treaty of 1979, the Outer Space Exploration Treaty of 1991, and the Mars Mining Treaty of 2031 all forbid any one nation to act on behalf of citizens of other sovereign nations working or living off-world!”

Weng blinked. “Meaning?”

Martin stopped.

“Meaning,” he said heavily, “each group of settlers is bound by the laws of their countries, and we cannot speak for them as a group!”

“But,” Weng said, “most of these recent settlers are obviously refugees, and their governments have either not contacted us or have been evasive and vague in our communications.”

“True, all true,” Martin retorted, agitated. “But I work for the UN. Not ‘the United Mars Colonies,’ whatever the hell that is.”

He stopped pacing and frenetically ran his fingers through his hair.

“Martin,” Weng said.

The politician looked over him, and clasped his hands in front like a prayer.

“Weng, I have already had to agree to give each and every country its own territory, in stark contrast to existing UN directives. Separated each group by a minimum of 1.4 kilometers. Forbidden settlers from other nation-states to enter their territory without permission.”

“And has that prevented settlers from communicating with each other?”

“Ah…”

“Or sharing their supplies, which they got from us?”

“Um. Not in so many words, no.”

“And yet,” Weng continued, “the UN has obliged us, as a central authority, to supply housing, food, water, power, communication facilities. All despite the fact these settler factions are supposed to be operating independently. Correct?”

“Yes, yes,” Martin replied quickly.

Weng approached the near-panicked politician. He held out his hands to calm him down.

“Look, we need water, yes?”

Martin nodded, rubbing his palms together.

“And we need water from the asteroid reclamation plants on Ceres, because we can’t get ours to produce enough water fast enough and we can’t convince the UA to give us any of theirs. Again, correct?”

“Yes, that is essentially the situation.”

“And we only have three months before we run out of drinking water?”

Martin swallowed and nodded again. “I believe those are the current estimates.”

Weng smiled. Actually, he had no idea what the current estimates were. Nor how long it would take to produce more if the settler factions agreed to donate workers. Probably he was close to accurate. But that hardly mattered, to get what he wanted.

“Now,” he continued, “if we were to ask Ceres for water, as per UN regulations, we would have to go through each country’s delegation, then wait for an answer from their respective countries, then wait for the answer to, ah, filter back through the delegates.”

Again, Martin nodded, this time with more certainty.

“So,” Weng concluded. “If we approach Ceres not as the UN, beholden to separate, divided, bickering nations, but as a sort of united group of fellow outer space residents, wouldn’t the mining community on Ceres treat us as a single entity? with slightly more respect?”

Martin looked dubious. “I’m not as confident as you on that issue,” he said slowly. “However—”

“Good,” said Weng. He strode back to the ugly yellow desk. “I’ll convince the delegates that a temporary alliance and a united front will get us more water.”

“Wait!” Martin called out. “Let me, let me stand next to you. You talk, I’ll support.”

Weng shrugged. “Support” sounded like “use you,” but he supposed they, too, needed to show a united front.

In the end, he would get what he wanted, he thought, inwardly grinning. And it would only cost him an extra trip to Ceres to see Riss.


Next: Chapter 10 (Part 1) The Artemis (Coming January 2nd)

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