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Bringer of Light, Chapter 26: Ceres

October 16, 2021
MThomas

The Artemis is home – to an unwelcome surprise.

Riss opened her eyes. The Ceres mining station lay beyond the horizon, just outside the physical limits of the view screen. But not outside her awareness. Nor her crew’s awareness, she knew with conviction.

She suppressed a yawn, and rubbed her forehead with the back of a hand. Tiring, but not as much as the previous two times. Perhaps working together mitigated the effects.

They had changed. But to what degree?

Her crew gazed at the surface of Ceres above them. Cooper coughed, wiped an arm against a sweat-covered forehead. Despite all that had happened, he still felt uncomfortable approaching planetoids and ships while “upside down.”

“We’re,” he croaked, “we’re not dead.”

“Yeah, we noticed,” Enoch said. He languidly splayed his arms over the console as if hugging the ship in reassurance.

“Sanvi,” Riss asked. “What happened? I thought we were just going to try to make Artemis go a little faster as a test.”

Sanvi shrugged. “It looks like we passed the test.”

“Passed it all the way to the catcher,” Enoch said. He grinned. “Man, what a trip!”

“Riss, shall I take us into orbit?” Sanvi asked.

Riss nodded. As Sanvi slipped the Artemis into geosynchronous orbit around Ceres, Riss cast her eyes up and down the pilot. Something had passed between them, hadn’t it? Before they had combined to move the Artemis. Sanvi briefly glanced back at Riss. A look of longing, desire, hope. 

Something had happened when Riss touched the fields in her cabin. Something that Cooper and Enoch probably sensed as well.

“Enoch, let’s shield,” Riss said, trying to appear composed. “And try to raise them on the comm, though it probably won’t matter.”

“Aye.”

This close to the Ceres Mining Station, she thought, the Artemis wouldn’t have to use quantum ping locators. Then again, their remote manipulation of the catcher system had no doubt already sent a message to the Mining Council.

The view screen dimmed as the solar radiation protector grid came online. 

“Passing over Ahuna Mons,” Enoch called out. The mining station entry port lay ahead.

“Adjust trajectory,” Riss ordered. “Straight at Haulani.”

“Aye.”

She glanced over at Enoch. The navigator seemed relaxed, confident. Happy, even. Not in his normally cocky way, though. From their brief connection, she knew that he had longed to match his ancestors’ navigation skills. Now he had surpassed them. Not even the Wayfinders could have claimed to become one with their ships as he had become.

At the same time, she knew his feelings for her. And for Sanvi. More like a childlike crush than deep attachment, but there nonetheless. Cooper was more complicated. His was a real sense of losing himself, in more than one way.

And Riss, herself?

She felt more conflicted than ever. Than she had any right to be.

But there was no mistaking it. They had shared something, something she couldn’t put into words. Her crew did trust her, completely, as she did them.

At least in terms of physical safety. After that…

Sam, she thought. Where are you?

More to the point, Where was she?

“Approaching the Sea of Salt,” Enoch reported. He sat up straight and swiveled his chair. “Somebody’s waiting for us.”

“What?”

Riss swiped the 3D imager on again.

The Sagittarius. The Corvus.

And the Pleiades. Plus at least two or three other ships she couldn’t identify at first. One didn’t seem to be a mining ship.

Sanvi cursed.

“Raise the Ceres Mining Council on the comm,” Riss ordered.

“Too late,” Cooper said. “Incoming.”

The familiar growling voice of Gennaji filled the command center.

“I will have my own, murderer.”

Riss felt her arms begin to shake, but with great effort controlled herself. “You have no authority here,” she said tersely. “I demand to speak to the Mining Council.”

Laughter, from another ship. A strong alto voice.

“You still don’t get it, dear.”

Ildico?!

Sanvi closed her eyes and began to breathe. Enoch had done likewise, then opened his eyes and dashed off a series of commands on his console. Sanvi’s fingers seemed to be dancing as well. The Artemis itself felt tense. Riss thought she felt a sudden panic inside her head, like a frightened animal facing a larger foe.

“Shielding up,” Sanvi said quietly. “Enoch has already plotted an escape vector.”

After fighting off the panic she felt rising within, Riss managed to find her voice. “What is going on here?”

“Riss,” whispered Cooper. “Somebody has ditrium on board. I can feel it.”

We are the Mining Council now,” Ildico’s voice purred. “And justice is about to be served. At last.”


Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 27: Luna – Retired Captain Bardish finds himself at the center of things

Bringer of Light, Chapter 23: Luna

August 7, 2021
MThomas

While the Artemis crew continues its long journey back from Neptune, they are unaware of events taking place on Mars, Ceres, and closer to home, Luna…


Luna Base was in lock-down mode.

Sirens blared around the Central Dome, as they would be blaring similarly in the other domed structures across the planetoid. Schools had sent all their students home with orders to lock their doors. Workers told to avoid all unnecessary contact to save electrical generation. Luna Police were out in force, robot sentinels at every section gate.

But the orderly lock down had already begun turning to chaos.

All but trapped in his conapt, Sergey pounded the unresponsive automated door.

“Open! Open, dammit!”

He paused to cough messily into a fist, then resumed pounding. Damned power outage. What in hell was going on?

He could hear hurried feet in the outside corridor, orders shouted.

Laser fire.

He shuddered, then composed himself. It was an unwelcome sound. No noise in space, but plenty inside the dome. He had forgotten what violence actually sounded like.

He rubbed the bruised knuckles of his right hand. Damn door. 

Glanced at the comm panel on the wall next to it. Useless. Lock down meant no unnecessary comm channels open. As a retired captain — regardless of the respect shown him by the Lunar Base Council — he wasn’t considered necessary.

He trembled in frustration. Useless old man. Damn it all.

What the hell was going on?

Someone was now pounding on the other side of the door. A muffled voice.

“Get me out!” he roared in response. No idea what the other voice had said.

A whining pitch seemed to emanate from inside the door. He took a few steps back.

Cutters.

The noise increased. He took several steps back, stumbled over the dining table, knocked over the chair. A brilliant light erupted from the door as the cutter broke through, drawing a white hot vertical line.

Sergey cursed, grabbing the table with one hand. He stood shakily, keeping one eye on the door. The other hand self-consciously searched for a sidearm that he no longer carried. He clenched both fists and waited. They wouldn’t take him without a—

The line complete, a gloved hand shoved the middle portion of the door out. It fell to the floor with a dull thud. “Captain Bardish. Captain, are you unhurt?”

“Yes. Yes, I am fine. What is this ruckus?”

“Captain, please stand back as we open the door.”

Two more gloved hands appeared, thrust inside the door itself up to the elbow. A snap as the circuit was broken, a hiss of released air pressure. The door slid open and two men stepped through it, tazer rifles pointed at him. Luna Base police?

“Sir, you will come with us,” a voice said from behind them. Sergey squinted at its owner. A young man, thin and tall. Goggles covered what probably were artificial eyes. Luna-born.

“What is this?”

“Captain, my orders are to bring you, unharmed, to the Luna Council Chamber. You will please come with us. Now.”

Something wasn’t right. Sergey shrugged and raised his hands.

And then quickly brought them down on the weapon of the nearest officer. Sergey lowered his shoulder into the surprised officer’s chest and grabbed the rifle.

No sooner had he done so, four hands grabbed him from behind. He struggled but only for a moment.

“I was told you might be unwilling to come,” the young officer said. “But we have no wish to hurt you. You will come with us.”

Sergey paused, trying to identify the man. He did not know him. He sighed and hung his head. He did not know many things, it appeared.

“What is going on?” he asked.

“A coup,” the officer responded. He nodded to the other men. “Let’s go. Eyes open.”

They led Sergey through off-white corridors from one section of a residential building to another. It seemed to Sergey that they were avoiding leaving the conapt complex for some reason. Outside the buildings sporadic tazerfire could be heard from time to time, and Sergey thought he felt the ground shake at least once or twice. Explosions?

At the end of one corridor, the group ascended four flights of stairs. Sergey felt his heart pound faster and he began to wheeze. They stopped at a large metal door bearing the words “Upper Dome Access – Restricted.” No window, wheel in the middle. Wall panel chest-high, probably the code pad.

Strange, he thought. Such doors were now archaic. After the terraforming, there was no need. Where were they?

He placed both palms on the top of bent knees, inhaling and exhaling slowly.

“Captain Bardish, are you having trouble breathing?”

“Hmf. Whatever gave you such an idea?”

He shook his head and waved a hand. “I am fine. Just a moment to recover.”

As he eyed the door, he felt a hand on his back.

“I strongly urge you not to run. The situation outside is dangerous.”

Sergey looked over his shoulder and cocked an eyebrow.

“I am in no condition to run, young man,” he said in what he hoped was a convincing voice. “I may have new kidneys and a reconstructed liver but I have only original leg muscles.”

The young officer nodded, but at the time drew out his tazer pistol with one hand. With the other he input the access code on the wall panel. He gestured. Another officer stepped in front of Sergey, turned the wheel to the left, then stepped back.

“Captain. After you.”

Sergey hesitated, then pushed the door. He took a step through the open doorway into near pitch-black. Sunlight rarely reached the bottom of habitation craters, but still, things were much darker than they should be. Above, he could not see where the dome ought to have been. They must be outside, then, on the surface.

A thin stream of light from above the doorway spread across the desert-like Lunascape. He heard the lapping of water, the saline odor of the sea. Several meters away was the outline of a ship of some sort.

A hunter ship.

He suddenly thought, Me, first? In a dangerous situation? Something was not—

Gunfire erupted behind him. Someone shoved him forward, violently, and he heard “Get down!”

He staggered forward a few paces, then, without looking back, charged for the ship. More gunfire, then the sounds of hand to hand fighting behind him. He reached the ship and flung himself under the bow. Definitely a hunter ship, he noticed at a glance. Altered for surface landing.

There were one or two more shots back at the door. He covered his head with his hands and waited. One minute became five. Or ten. He couldn’t tell.

“Captain!”

He raised his head but stayed prone.

“Captain Bardish! Are you unhurt?”

He didn’t recognize the voice, but he had begun to shiver and knew he didn’t stand much chance outside against a party of unknown assailants. The worse they could do was shoot him.

“H, here,” he called, then spat out some lunar sand. He shook his head and slowly extracted himself from underneath the ship. “Over here!”

He raised his hands. Three lights approached. One shone directly at his face, forcing him to squint his eyes.

“Captain Bardish, are you unhurt?”

“I’m fine,” he snapped. “Who the hell are you and what do you want?”

“Luna Base Police, sir.”

“Luna what?”

He lowered his hands. The light also lowered and he could finally see the three in front of him. They wore Luna Base Police uniforms, just like the people who had brought him out of his conapt.

“We had a tip that someone might try to illegally break you out of the lock down. Our apologies for not arriving sooner.”

He looked suspiciously at the three. Like the other men he had assumed were also police, the three had tazer rifles. In addition, the leader wore a sash over his left shoulder and had two stars on his helmet.

“May I ask for identification?” Sergey asked, looking from officer to officer.

The leader replaced his weapon into its holster and withdrew a badge from a sleeve pocket. “Lieutenant Sanchez. Section 2B, unit 11. Would you follow us to a safe location, Captain?”

“Safe?”

“The residential areas are obviously too dangerous.”

“So you are, you are arresting me?”

“No, sir,” Sanchez said, replacing the badge and withdrawing the tazer again. “We are escorting you.”

He motioned for his companions to lead Sergey back inside and touched a strip on his inside left forearm. As Sergey followed the (he presumed) actual police escort back to the door, he glanced back. Sanchez was evidently talking to someone over his helmet mic while gesturing to the ship. Probably asking for orders what to do with it.

They reentered the building and he heard the blaring sirens. Down the stairs again, this time a little more gingerly.

What in god’s name was going on? Sergey wondered, shaking his head. 

He didn’t know who to trust, but he did know that there was very little he could do about it.

At least whoever was involved in this “coup,” if it was one, seemed more interested in keeping him safe and alive. Even if it meant keeping him prisoner.

He frowned. Who would want to capture him? He had little influence on Luna. Not even on the Council.

Despite what Weng thought.

Sergey nearly smiled at the memory. Just a short while, it seemed, Weng had asked to meet him. In a reading room in his office building. Always while drinking that disgusting soya coffee. Asking Sergey to put it a good word for him with the Council, get him on to a water reclamation, water processing team, something like that. But on Mars.

Why Mars? Wasn’t Luna what he had wanted? After all, this is where he met Clarissa. Where Sergey, his future father-in-law, had already managed to get him into a prestigious design firm?

“This place has no soul, Sergey,” Weng told him. “It looks alive, but the Moon is a dead place. We have terraformed it, thanks to you, but it is still lifeless.”

Despite the green grass and trees, Sergey realized, at last. That wasn’t what Weng meant.

He came out of his reverie. Sanchez had disappeared. The three remaining members of the group had crossed into another building, one he had rarely visited after retirement.

The administrative sector.

Police streamed around them in the corridors, doors here and there rapidly opening and officers entering and leaving in haste. Sergey recognized the security station center, spaceport ops, customs, even the communications and computer maintenance divisions.

Ach, he thought. They had changed the color back to bland Luna beige.

“This way, Captain,” an officer gestured, opening a door marked “Conference Room.”

“Where did Lieutenant Sanchez go?” Sergey asked.

“I’m sorry, sir, I don’t know. Please enter the room and wait.”

Sergey hesitated, then shrugged and walked in. The door closed behind him. He turned back, ready to try the lock, then shrugged again. It made no difference. May as well wait and see what they wanted with him.

He looked around the room. Non-descript, typical military standard. Gray office chairs, black ovular table with 3D imager in the center. Digital white board on two walls. No decorations or windows.

No exit door.

A younger man might have tried to squeeze through the ventilation grid embedded in the wall, near the ceiling.

A younger man…

He sighed and pulled out a chair. It looked as if it might be a while.


Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 24: The Artemis—Transjovial, in which Riss experiences the fields, and something else…

mRNA and nanotech? Stay skeptical and use the Baloney Detection Kit!

June 25, 2021
MThomas

It’s becoming increasingly common to see social media posts claiming that the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, which include those made by Pfizer and Moderna, could alter a person’s DNA. Some posts even suggest that nano-machines are being injected into the body.

https://cosmosmagazine.com/health/covid/technically-no-longer-human-can-mrna-covid-19-vaccines-meld-with-your-dna/

Yeah, I’ve seen some of these posts. Talked to a neighbor who was convinced Bill Gates was trying to inject us all with a chip to control our minds.

Is there any truth to these rumours? Could an mRNA vaccine be modifying your DNA?

No.

(Read the linked Cosmos article for more details!)

Actually, all you need to do is use logic and reasoning, apply some critical thinking, and demand lots of science-based evidence.

It’s called the Baloney Detection Kit and was introduced in a Cornell University undergraduate course about critical thinking and the scientific method by astrophysicist Carl Sagan.

In his book The Demon-haunted World, he lays out nine steps to bust BS and call out unscientific baloney. I use it with my second year undergrad students in a current news and global issues course.

The link above to the kit also outlines some of the most important logical fallacies to avoid, with number 8 and 9 being the most difficult to explain and convince people about (because they involve education about basic statistics).

So will this convince anti-vaxxers who make outlandish claims online?

Probably not. Unless it goes viral 😉.

Bringer of Light, Chapter 21: Transit to Ceres

June 19, 2021
MThomas

Just before leaving Luna, Weng stumbled upon evidence of a conspiracy. But just who is behind it and for what purpose, he doesn’t know. Yet.

“Sam, I’m not entirely sure what you are talking about.”

Weng tapped a finger against his chair. In the other hand, he held a microchip.

“If my suspicions are correct,” he said, “this holds an encoded message from somebody on the Ceres Mining Council to a certain Captain on Luna Base.”

After a moment, Gen took the chip. He examined it.

“What makes you say so?” he asked, expressionless. “More importantly, what does this have to do with us?”

Weng gestured at the shuttle’s command console. “Just read it. I’m sure with your expertise you’ll have no problems breaking the code.”

Gen nodded. He gently inserted the chip into the side of his pad, then soundlessly tapped at the screen. His eyes scanned the text. “Sergey,” he said finally.

“Sergey,” Weng agreed. “What does the message read?”

“As you suspected, it is a request for support.”

“What kind of support?”

Gen scanned the message. “Odd. There are few details.”

“Few?”

“None,” Gen admitted.

He passed the pad to Weng, who swiped down a page.

“Few?” he repeated, cocking his head. “This seems pretty obvious to me. ‘The Council will reward you for your service once the new administration is in securely place.’”

“As I said, there are few details. We do not know when, who, or how this will occur.”

Weng tapped the pad. “That hardly matters. This is damning evidence of an attempted coup.”

“Perhaps. Yet there is no way to prove who sent it”

“I can make a couple of guesses.”

He felt silent. He would hate for one of his guesses to prove accurate. But a nagging thought remained. How much did Riss know, if anything?

“Sam,” Gen said. “We must not delay. This message is at least three days old. Luna must be warned.”

“It’s not Luna I’m that worried about,” Weng replied with a smile. “It’s Ceres.”

“Oh?”

“Look at the relay information. There, just below the coded text. You’ll find that it was bounced off Ceres, and before that Zedra.”

“How would you know that?”

“Logic,” Weng said. He scratched the harness keeping him secure in the shuttle seat. At times like this, he would have preferred the ability to pace. No room in such a small ship. Also, no gravity.

He grimaced briefly, then smiled again.

“Weng, there is no need to—”

“Mind-reading still has its limits, I see,” Weng said without a trace of irritation. “And yet it is still irritating.”

“Sam…”

Weng ticked off his fingers. “First, who has the means to start a coup against a well-fortified base such as Luna? The UA, which occasionally includes China and occasionally does not, and the Slavic Confederacy are too invested in their Earthside territorial conflict to waste resources on an assault.”

“You seem sure of that.”

“As long as the UN controls the Mars Colonies, the Lunar Base is needed to keep the Colonies supplied,” Weng reasoned. “Depriving the Colonies of food and materials would endanger settlers from all Earthside city-states, not just an opponents. Too risky.”

“Well,” Gen said. “The Greater Indian Empire, then.”

“No. They have never shown any interest in conquest. They might, of course, try to render Luna inoperable as a supply relay center, so as to force a return to the use of the ISS for such purposes. But if so, why would they refuse to allow settlers to resupply at ISS? That makes no sense.”

“Hmm. So, that leaves only one option.”

“Yes,” Weng agreed, with a heavy voice.

“The Ceres Mining Council.”

“Maybe. To what degree the Council is implicated remains to be seen. The message could have originated with a Hunter. Or a Miner. Or even from someone on Mars.”

Gen fell silent.

“Which do you think it was, Gen?” Weng asked. His companion’s sudden quiet manner disturbed him. He vainly struggled to keep his thoughts buried, his emotions flat. Gen turned as if to speak, and suddenly Weng realized from this angle that Gen resembled Martin Velasquez very, very closely.

His father? Or…?

Gen frowned as a message scrolled down the console screen. He gestured. “Sam.”

Weng leaned over. He read the text, then sat back.

“It appears that at least one of your suppositions has already been proven incorrect,” Gen said. “The UA is on the way to Luna. In force.”

“Well,” Weng said. “What’s that famous phrase?”

“‘The die has been cast’, I believe.”

Three days to Mars, Weng thought. He hoped there was still a colony left standing when they arrived.

“Gen,” he said. “How far to Ceres?”

“At our current rate, we will barely arrive at Mars in time.”

“Mars can manage for another day or two. If we swing past Ceres, we may be able to stop a war.”

Gen paused, then stabbed at the console for a few moments. “There. I have input a new path for Ceres. But it will be futile in the end, Sam.”

“Why? Isn’t it worth it if we can prevent lives from being lost?”

“No,” Gen said, sadly shaking his head. “It wasn’t supposed to be this way. This wasn’t our agreement.”

“Our?” said Weng. He suddenly caught his breath. Gen.

“Yes,” Gen said. “We caused this. But we only wanted a place for our own. Luna was not meant to be affected. One of the hunters must bear a grudge.”

“So,” said Weng softly. “I was correct about you, from the beginning.”

“Yes,” Gen nodded. “I am, indeed, a clone. Martin Velasquez is, indeed, my father.”

“Then you are also Martin.”

“In a sense. But enhanced with additional DNA from other sources.”

“And who is ‘we’? With whom did you make an agreement?”

“That,” Gen said, returning his attention to the console, “is something you will find out soon enough.”

Weng sat back, thoroughly demoralized. Ah, Riss, he thought wistfully. I should have pinged you when I had the chance.

“Don’t worry, Sam,” Gen said, hands dancing over the console. “Riss will no doubt be here soon.”

Weng opened his mouth, then closed it. There was little point in asking how Gen knew that. He obviously was being used by all the players in this game. He, himself, lacked the knowledge to be a full-fledged player.

All he wanted now was to be with Riss. As he had planned. On Mars.

“Ironic, in a way,” Gen commented. “My name in Japanese means ‘original’ although I am but a copy. And yet thanks to my father’s careful engineering — and expense — I likely feel much greater sympathy than he ever will.”

He turned to Weng with a serious expression on his face. “Sam. Here’s what I want you to do.”


Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 22: The Artemis – Riss and her crew conduct an experiment, with explosive results…

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