M Thomas Apple Author Page

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

ispace is not “Japan” but “Japanese”

December 16, 2022
MThomas

Mission success would also be a milestone in space cooperation between Japan and the United States…

https://www.yahoo.com/news/japans-ispace-readies-delayed-launch-220204283.html

OK, wait…

A Japanese start-up (I.e., a small private company)…

using a SpaceX rocket (I.e., a private company owned by the world’s wealthiest pri…er, person)…

sends up a small craft made in Germany… 🇩🇪

along with the Rashid rover (made by the UAE)…

and “a two-wheeled, baseball-sized device from Japan’s JAXA space agency”…

and somehow this is cooperation between the US and Japan versus China and Russia?

I’m not seeing it. The project may have used a NASA launchpad, but the people are charge (and the ones paying for it) are not part of any national government.

And I have a feeling this is the wave of the future. More and more private companies will get involved in space projects as they realize that they can thus ignore politics and aim at profits.

I, for one, welcome our future corporate overlords…

Chatbots — Still not AI but still dangerous

December 13, 2022
MThomas

[ChatGPT] could teach his daughter math, science and English, not to mention a few other important lessons. Chief among them: Do not believe everything you are told.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/12/10/technology/ai-chat-bot-chatgpt.html

They’re all the rage online. Type in a request for a description how two historical people who never actually met would respond to each other had they actually met, and the program will oblige.

They’ll cause all sorts of rage online, too, once the peddlers of incessant false news and innuendo realize what a bonanza they’ve stumbled upon.

You want an image of an event that never really happened?

No problem. A program can generate one for you. We can even call it “art,” for what that’s worth.

No, BIG problem, especially when it convinces the gullible that it DID happen.

2023 will tell 2020 and 2022 to hold its coffee.

Just what we all wanted, right?

Still, chatbots are not (repeat, NOT) true AI. Sorry, Google engineer who watched too much Ghost in the Shell. Chatbots repeat our very human bias. Repeatedly.

As in, there are way too many racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic, and transphobic comments online. Full stop.

At a minor level, as a writing instructor, a student telling a chatbot to write a 600-word comparison-contrast essay is the least of my worries.

For starters, the damn things are probably scouring the Internet right now and “learning” from text on web pages like…uh…this one…

😱

Carl Sagan at the Illinois ACLU: A lost 1987 lecture on civil liberties

July 1, 2022
MThomas

…there has been a serious erosion of the tradition of skeptical inquiry, of vigorous challenging of government leaders, of public exposure of what the government is actually doing, rather than mere pomp and rhetoric. And it is in this area—skeptical scrutiny, public exposure—where the largest strides, in my opinion, are needed.

https://quillette.com/2022/07/01/science-and-civil-liberties-the-lost-lecture-of-carl-sagan/

Thank you, Stephen Pinker and Harvey Silverglate, for transcribing this. And Ann Druyan, for permitting it.

FB censorship, here we go again…

May 8, 2022
MThomas

Right. So I quit Facebrat a couple years ago after I got fed up with the self-righteous, arrogant attitude of its founder Mark Zuckerberg and its blatant stealing and selling of personal information of its users.

And also because I was wasting hours and hours each week reading meaningless Facebark posts on my smartphone (so I deleted the app, which I strongly recommend you all do to prevent the company from tracking your location, then selling that info to the spam industry…although you’re probably going to be tracked via BlueTooth anyway if you keep it on).

But after my mother passed away, and while I was still away from family, friends, and colleagues and living in Montréal, I couldn’t take the isolation.

And also a teacher’s group based at the McGill University (William Shatner’s alma mater!) named BILD asked me to join a FB Group.

So I rejoined and vowed to avoid posting anything about religion and politics, and to focus on the things that matter – food, family, and occasional humorous events.

Until I foolishly wrote a casual comment on my brother’s post:

Continue Reading

Bringer of Light, Chapter 34: Lunar Departure

February 19, 2022
MThomas

A coup is underway on Luna Base. Time for Sergey to leave…if he can stand up…

Red lights flashed around him. The floor shook once, twice.

Pounding of footsteps.

A face appeared.

Who? A woman.

Her mouth opened, then closed.

Again. And again. She must be talking to him.

His eyes fluttered, closed.

He was being shaken.

The floor? No, the woman.

His ears filled with the sound of rushing water. The Baltic Sea. He was home, he could smell the salt water, feel the mist. He could hear the lament, chanted on the steppe winds…

O what have you heard in Ukraine?

Nothing have I heard

Nothing have I seen

But horsemen on all four sides…

Then tazerfire. Pulses. An acrid smell.

Burning. Something was burning.

Someone.

He was shaken again, then a woman’s voice. “Captain! Captain! Stay with me!”

Opened his eyes again, nodded his head, down, down. His chest hurt. Why? Did she shoot him?

No. He had fallen down. Or something.

He tried to stand. One foot kicking against the other. The left knee refused to bend. His hands. They were. Where were they?

Here. He found them. The right hand clenched, unclenched. He grunted, felt the wall behind his back. It shook again. The wall, not the woman.

Who?

Ah. Elo-something. Elodie. He tried to shake his head, open his mouth. “Ahhh” came out. He blinked his eyes.

There seemed to be something else pounding beneath him. No, inside of him. His heart? He tried to move his left arm. It flopped uselessly on the floor. Hand. Right hand. Under his body. It moved. Someone grabbed it, then under the elbow.

“El,” he managed to say. Scattered red-tinted shadows seemed to rotate throughout the corridor.

“Yes,” he heard next to him. “We must go. Now.”

“Elo.”

He felt himself partially stand, right leg pushing against the floor. Something made an ugly scraping sound, like metal on tile. His left foot. Eyes rolled. Jaw. His jaw wouldn’t listen. Clamped shut.

“Captain! Stay—”

He felt himself falling again. Stopped partway, caught. Picked up and carried. Both legs dangling in the thin air. Like a doll.

Riss’s doll, he thought. 

Ah, little one. The doll is you. You are the doll. Your parents, I could not find. I did my best, little one. But you were always like a doll to me, so pretty, seeming so soft and yet tough, persistent. Precious, delicate, but determined. Nothing could harm you. Nothing will change you, unless you change yourself.

His daughter? No, he didn’t. Couldn’t think that. She was so young. No.

Should have got you a set of wooden dolls, little one. One inside the other. Ever so smaller. Until the solid core is found. But those are Russian, not Ukranian. And I could never make you choose.

He was flying. A sound like a door opening, closing. More footsteps. Smell of burning again. An engine turning on. Another door.

Then nothing.

He tried to open his eyes. One opened halfway. The other slightly more. His throat was raw, head pounding. His hand. Left one, useless. Right one. Lifted it, banged it against some kind of wall. Metal. Smell of pressurized oxygen—ship. He was on a ship.

“El.”

No response.

“Elod.”

That woman. Elodie? Where was she?

Sergey tried to move his left foot. Nothing. Right foot. Knee flexed. He could see it. Hazy, like surrounded by dense fog coming off the Danube on a late summer morning. It hurt.

Good. He focused on the pain.

The right foot fell off whatever he was lying on. Didn’t quite reach a floor. He reached with his good hand, found a vertical metal support pole. Holding up whatever kind of bed type surface he lay on. More effort. He grimaced. The foot touched down.

He pulled hard on the pole. Seven hells. His left side must be entirely paralyzed. It wouldn’t budge a millimeter. He briefly wondered if it would be worth it to fall on the floor, or to try to pull himself to at least a seated position.

“Elo. DEE. EloDEE.”

Motion from outside his vision. That must have got somebody’s attention finally.

A firm hand held his right leg, pushed it back up to its prone position.

“Captain, you need to stay here for now. Rest.”

“What. What.”

What happened, dammit?

Elodie sighed. “You had a stroke. Fortunately not too severe. But your body needs time. Then we’ll see how bad it was. All I had was a small med kit with some pain killers and muscle relaxant tranqs.”

He swallowed and nodded.

“Wh—where.”

“I borrowed a Lunar Base skiff. Agile, but not terribly fast. Our pursuers are bound to catch us sooner or later.”

Sergey closed his eyes. Pursuers. What did that mean again? Somebody chasing them?

He opened his eyes as best he could again and asked, “Who?”

Elodie leaned closer. “Who is chasing us?”

He could see more of her features now through the haze. She looked a little less clean than he last remembered. A little blacker and redder, as well. But otherwise completely unharmed.

“You. Clone?”

She nodded. “Yes. Sent from Ceres to Lunar Base several months ago.”

He tried to get up again. She held him down easily.

“Captain, I am not your enemy. I had orders to watch you. And protect you.”

He tried to grunt, but it came out as a soft cough. He waved his hand.

“Alright,” she conceded. “To prevent the UA from getting you. I didn’t think that the Lunar police would also try something. I should have guessed as much.”

Sergey said nothing. That Lieutenant Sanchez, he thought. Everyone has an agenda. Turn him over to the UA? For what purpose? He had never been a soldier. Not broken any laws.

He looked at Elodie.

“Sorry, I can’t read your mind, if that’s what you’re wondering,” she said. “That’s someone else’s specialty. I’ll just say that it was my job to get you back to Ceres as soon as possible in an emergency.”

He tried raising his eyebrows in question. Only the right one moved.

She almost laughed.

“Yes, I was able to fight through a few of them. Not all fled like I thought they would. And at least one ship is on the way from Ceres.”

She paused and stood.

“Friend or foe, however, I do not know. It will be close to us soon. If it’s a hunter ship…”

She trailed off. Sergey tried to imagine which hunter ship captain would want to attack him. Was anyone still holding a grudge?

Yes. Someone obviously was. His memory of that day was still clear.

“Stay here,” Elodie said. “And please don’t move. Rest, and pray.”

She left his field of vision, moving back to what he assumed was the control section of the ship. He couldn’t even tell how high the ceiling was, nor how far the opposite wall was. It couldn’t be a big ship, though. No cargo area. No gun turret ports. Even from his prone position, he could tell they were not going to win any races or shooting battles.

Ceres. The Mining Council. Something must have happened, he decided. Something drastic. Something related to the UA attacking Lunar Base.

He wondered who had won. And which side Riss was on.


Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 35: United Mars Colonies (Part 1) – Martin is taken by surprise…

Should Pluto and Ceres be “planets”?

January 3, 2022
MThomas

Demoted by the IAU in 2006, the Once and Future “9th planet”

…a study announced in December from a team of researchers in the journal Icarus now claims the IAU’s definition was based on astrology — a type of folklore, not science — and that it’s harming both scientific research and the popular understanding of the solar system.

I’m not sure I agree that moons of Jupiter and Saturn should be classified as “planets,” but frankly I see little difference between “dwarf planets” and “planets.”

Plus it wrecks the song I learned to remember the order…

https://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/pluto-planet-debate-rages-rcna8848

Sigh.Way behind. Again.

September 18, 2021
MThomas

OK, I readily admit that I am once again waaaay behind on my scifi blogging.

At some point last week, I looked up from the mass amounts of work I had left to do and went, “Uh. August 21st? Was that really the last time I posted?”

Uh. Yup.

😣

I’ll do my best to get the rest of Riss’s story online on a biweekly basis, like I promised I would.

But promises…

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…

Ion engines are no longer sci-fi

June 19, 2021
MThomas

The inclusion of an ion propulsion system in a long-running, Earth-orbiting space station will give researchers a chance to test out the tech while astronauts are still close to home — and if it works as hoped, it could one day ferry explorers to Mars and even more distant destinations.

https://www.freethink.com/articles/ion-propulsion

That’s a big “if.”

Another is what the price will be, since no doubt this neat new tech won’t easily be shared among nation-states.

Just yesterday Chinese astronauts entered their new space station for the first time. They weren’t allowed into the ISS. Now they don’t need the ISS.

The old rivalries will follow humanity into space…but for how long will the rivalries remain…

Bringer of Light, Chapter 17: Luna Base

March 27, 2021
MThomas

Sorry, folks! My chapter numbering has gone a bit wonky. As I said, these are draft chapters — still a work in progress! At any rate, I hope you are enjoying the process…

Btw, WordPress is *definitely not user friendly* when it comes to anything other than a TikTok or Twitter-size micro-blogpost. I don’t do 5-minute chunks of attention-span theater, so I hope that my readers can concentrate past the 21st century style of “in your face for ten seconds!” style of online slam-bang presentation.

Is there still a place for traditional science fiction storytelling?

“You know, Gen,” Weng sighed. “When I convinced your father to let me work for the water reclamation team, I hadn’t anticipated becoming his glorified messenger boy.”

He took a sip from his cooling soy coffee and leaned against the hull of the shuttle. The decor of the inside corridors of Lunar Base were boring; the decor of the commercial loading dock was downright atrocious. He felt as if his eyes would be permanently damaged the longer he was forced to look at the drab colors and bland angles of the building.

“Sam, I don’t think…”

Weng held up a finger in warning as an automated loader passed by, carrying several stacks of dry goods. Headed not for their shuttle, but for a similar vessel.

“Where’s that one from?” he asked.

Gen shuffled through his info pad screen information.

“According to the markings, Ceres.”

“Hang on. They get priority on foodstuffs over the Mars Colonies?”

“The United Mars Colonies.”

“Yes. The Uni…Gen, are you pulling my leg?”

“No, Sam. Just reminding you of our purpose.”

Weng sipped the coffee again. The purpose. What he had got himself into? All he wanted was to be able to apply himself, as an architect, in a place that appreciated his vision.

Well, yes, he wouldn’t mind a position of authority. He needed something to show Sergey that he was worthy. The old man’s trust in him. He didn’t quite have that, he was sure.

Why hadn’t Riss contacted him in the past week? He wondered, but kept his thoughts to himself. Focus on the task.

“Gen, we were lucky to convince the Lunar Base Council we needed emergency supplies, weren’t we?”

Gen looked up from his infopad and snapped the cover shut.

“Yes, Sam, to some degree.”

Weng tilted his head and smiled. “What does that mean? ‘To some degree.’ I thought I was rather persuasive.”

Gen raised his eyebrows. “I hadn’t thought you to be so confident,” he said. “The opposite, in fact. Quite self-effacing.”

Weng maintained his smile. The little shit, he thought. The smaller man’s face held no expression, betrayed no emotion. Was this really the Martian Overseer’s legitimate son? Something about his mannerism…

“You are broadcasting your thoughts too loudly, Sam,” Gen said in a softer voice. “I would advise you to close your mind. You never know who might be listening.”

A momentary look of shock passed over Weng’s face but he quickly composed himself.

No thoughts. No Riss.

“I see,” he said neutrally. “I did not know you were a telepath.”

“Empath. Only partial telepathy.”

Gen returned to his inventory listing. He casually scanned down the screen, occasionally poking at it. “I can’t make out specific words. Only basic ideas.”

He looked up again at Sam.

“Plus a certain understanding of human nature. And personal background.”

Weng swallowed. “I have no intention of betraying my fiancé for your sake, Gen,” he croaked. “Nor for the Mars…United Mars Colonies.”

Gen waited.

“But I am devoted to the purpose,” Weng continued. He drained the cup and crushed in one hand. “I intend to make myself as useful as possible for the future of the United Mars Colonies. For myself, for my fiancé, and for your father.”

“That is all we ask,” Gen replied. “We are not looking for blind obedience, Sam. Only assistance.”

Weng made no reply. He returned his gaze to the robot porters and their cargo. A hatch on the Ceres-bound shuttle opened, and the porter slowly and mechanically unloaded its stacks.

“Not to worry, Sam,” Gen said, seeing his gaze. “Once the porters are done over there, we are next on their itinerary.” He tapped his info pad.

“No, Gen,” Weng said. He turned to look briefly at the man he once thought was his assistant. “That’s not what I was thinking. You do have limits, then.”

Get nodded. “I read best when strong emotions come concomitantly.”

“Ah.”

Weng started to say something, then changed his mind.

“You know,” he said. “If you have this talent of reading thoughts…”

“Emotions.”

“Emotional thoughts,” Weng amended. “Well, then why didn’t you use it when we first approached Talbot back at Ceres?”

Gen shrugged. “There was no need. You did well enough on your own.”

Weng kept his expression as emotionless as possible. “Also, you did not trust me,” he added.

Gen nodded. “As you say. We all have secrets.”

The robots were nearing completion of their task at the other shuttle. Weng gestured to them. “Doesn’t anything about this strike you as odd?”

Gen crossed his arms and stared at the robots.

“They do not seem nearly as efficient as the robots at the Ceres Mining Station.”

“No, no,” Weng interrupted. “Not that. Hasn’t Ceres blocked all transmissions, as we suggested?”

The two men exchanged glances. Gen flipped open his infopad again, fingers hurriedly inputting commands.

“Confirmed. Incoming blocked at Ceres.”

“Gen, do you mind staying here to supervise the loading of our precious cargo for Mars?”

Across the loading dock area, a section of wall slid open. Two robotic porters detached themselves from docking sockets next to the opening and entered the new area.

“The foodstuffs will be readied momentarily,” Gen said. “You have only a few minutes. I will attempt to delay the procedure.”

“That’s all I need,” Weng said, withdrawing his long-unused wrist com from his left sleeve pocket. He felt the right sleeve pocket; damn, no earpiece. He’d have to keep his voice down. No choice.

Shoving the remains of his coffee cup into the pocket, he touched the watch to his wrist. The organoplastic wrapped itself around, just like it used to. He walked as casually as he could away from the shuttle loading area, back toward the crew entrance elevator. Glancing back, he saw Gen raise his hand to stop a porter. To double-check the inventory, he hoped.

He tapped the watch and shielded the plastic face with a hand.

“Mai.”

No answer. He checked the connection.

Damn. The office manager was in a meeting. He’d have to try someone else.

Tap.

“Elodie. Elodie, are you there? It’s Sam.”

A tiny image projected from the organoplastic surface. He adjusted the size and volume, but the voice still seemed too loud for comfort. He looked around. Automatons hadn’t made any motion toward him.

“Sam? Hi, long time no see, big shot. Didn’t know you were slumming.”

“Elodie, hi. Look, I know it’s sudden, but I need a favor.”

“Favor? You weasel your way out of a Luna architectural project into a Martian water reclamation team and now you want a favor?”

“Yeah, yeah, I know. Very uncool of me.”

“But characteristic. What do you want?”

“Thanks. I need to know if someone from Ceres managed to contact Luna within the past three days.”

“Ceres? We contact them all the time.”

“Not now we don’t. They’re blocked all incoming.”

A moment of silence. He tapped at the watch. “Elodie? Are you there?”

“Well, I’ll be. You’re right, Sam.”

He felt himself growing impatient. “Yes, I know. Listen, can you…”

“Sam, what’s going on? There are rumors of trouble here.”

He stopped. “Trouble? What kind?”

“We all heard something happened in the last UN meeting. Something between Brazil, China, India…I forget who else. We were told not to allow ships from ISS to land for the time being.”

He looked over at the loading area. Gen was still trying to delay, but it appeared as if the porters were already setting their pallets in place.

“Elodie, can you check…” His mind raced. “Can you check for any incoming from deep space? From transjovial or transneptune?”

“Miss your girlfriend, eh, Mr. Martian.”

“Elodie, come on.”

A string of words appeared across the plastic surface.

“What’s this? Code?”

“Looks like. I found it hidden in a subdirectory, addressed to Sergey.”

“Sergey? From who?”

“Can’t tell. It was definitely from a ship, though.”

The porters had finished their task. A warning alarm sounded.

“Gotta go before they open the loading dock doors. Thanks a bunch, Elodie.”

“Sam! What is going on?”

“I don’t know. Be safe.”

“You, t—”

He cut the connection, yanked the watch off and threw it on the floor. Carefully aiming, he crunched it under a boot. From the slivers remaining, he withdrew a tiny fragment. The micro-memory chip was all he needed. The rest could stay.

He had no intention of returning. Not if what he suspected was happening came to pass.

He ran back to the shuttle. Gen had already entered and was beginning the start-up sequence. Weng climbed up the ladder and slid in from the top portal.

“OK, Gen, let’s get out of here,” he said, taking the navigator’s seat. “You can drive if you like.”

“I have no difficulties piloting the shuttle, Sam,” Gen replied. His hands flew over the console as the shuttle slowly lifted and turned. The automated porters in the loading area returned to their niches in the wall. The lights dimmed. The shuttle rose toward the semi-domed roof, arching above them.

“50 meters,” Gen said. “25.”

For a second Weng nearly panicked. Had Lunar Security caught his transmission? Would they block them?

Seams in the roof appeared. The semi-dome split into two sections that slid open like the doors of a greenhouse. The shuttle edged its way through the opening and into the thin Lunar atmosphere.

Fifty years prior, Weng realized, the decompression from the loading area would have propelled them out into space, reducing the need for thrusters. Now, with the faster than anticipated terraforming project successfully completed, the old loading area construction seemed horribly antiquated.

Gen toggled the aft thrusters, and the shuttle sluggishly lifted away from the loading station. As they turned onto their off-Lunar trajectory path toward Mars, Weng could see the station below, embedded into the lunarscape.

No wonder, he thought. All the original buildings had to be buried in the surface. Or beneath. Even with the atmosphere, the engineers never did figure out how to stop all harmful solar radiation.

Outside the Lunar Base perimeter, the gravity generators no longer held them down. They shot off toward Mars. Gen checked the console as he set the autocontrols.

“We may return in time,” he said. “Barely.”

Weng didn’t respond. Hands in pockets, he was still fiddling with the microchip with one hand, debating what to do. Fingers on the opposite hand touched the crumbled remains of the coffee cup in the other pocket. He retrieved one piece and turned in over his hand.

Strange, he mused. He almost felt a certain attachment to it. An odd feeling of…he didn’t know.

“Surely not nostalgia?” Gen asked, turning around.

Weng didn’t look up from the paper shred.

“Maybe not,” he said, giving no indication of annoyance at the unwanted mind read. “Maybe I should have told Sergey.”

“Told him what exactly?”

Weng returned the shred to his pocket and withdrew his hands. He folded them in front of him.

“Gen. We must talk,” he said calmly. “Of revolution.”


Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 21: The Artemis, in which the Rock seems to have cosmic import… (dropping April 10, 2021)

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