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

Bringer of Light, Chapter 32: United Mars Colonies

January 22, 2022
MThomas

Unaware of events on Ceres or Lunar Base, Martin Velasquez is finding out that the “united” Mars colonies aren’t so united at the moment…

Things on Mars had gone from bad to worse. Riots had broken out all over the Colonies. The water supply was dangerously low. The hydroponic farms were about to give out at any moment. The UA forces were still on their way from Earth, and Martin still hadn’t figured out how to hack into the UA ice factory’s electronic lock systems.

And now the settler factions wanted a conference.

With the sounds of fighting in the background of nearly every speaker, Martin found it nearly impossible to hear what the leaders were saying.

“—can’t control your own people, let alone—”

“—five dead already, our children starving and running around half-mad. What are—”

“—anything at all. The situation is insane!”

YES!” Martin shouted at them. “It is insane! I completely agree!”

“Then do something, Overseer!” the speaker from the Central African Alliance bellowed.

He looked at her. “I’m sorry, who are you? Where is Mr. Mbutu?”

“He is…otherwise occupied. As are most of my staff!”

“Mine, too!” the speaker from the Greater Indian Empire interrupted.

“Yes, here, as well.” The European Consortium.

They began to squabble again. The noise rose to a deafening pitch.

A button glowed under Martin’s left hand. He muted the conference and answered.

“Martin.”

“Overseer, an incoming message has been attempted. It has been blocked as ordered.”

“Incoming? From where?”

“Three ships on a trajectory to intercept Mars Colonies orbit. ETA three months.”

“Thre—Where are they from?”

“The message claims they come from the United Americas.”

He calculated. No, it couldn’t be troops. The UA forces would reach them much sooner, which is why he had taken the precaution of guarding the ice factories in the first place.

Then who?

“I’ll take it in just a minute. Remove the communications block temporarily and tell them to hold until I finish the conference call.”

“Yes, Overseer.”

He hesitated, covered an ear, and depressed the mute button. The deafening noise burst back into the speakers.

“Gentlemen,” he tried. They continued unabated. Some gesticulated at his direction, but he couldn’t make out what they were saying.

“Gentlemen,” he tried again. No change. Louder, if that were possible.

Oh, hell.


WILL YOU ALL SHUT UP!” he screamed at the top of his lungs.

That seemed to have got their attention. For a moment.

“Overseer! How dare—”

“The UA is coming.” Martin said slowly, loudly, enunciating as clearly as possible.

He let the words hang there for a minute, letting the implication set in.

“I do not know what they want, but there are three ships,” he said in a more normal tone of voice, trying desperately not to let a note of panic in.

“What,” the Brazilian leader began. “What does the UA want with us?”

The Islamic Nations representative laughed nervously. “Perhaps they come with water we can actually drink without losing our minds.”

Martin glowered. “I don’t know why they are here. I don’t know how to stop the riots. I suggest you increase your own security, obey the water restrictions and food rationing. We are at a critical juncture. The UN appears to have failed. I will contact you again after I have found out what the UA ships want.”

He closed the session to somber, blank faces.

Martin rubbed knuckles into strained eyes. No water for washing. No water for tea. He dare not drink the contaminated water supply. Even using it for electricity seemed to have nearly drained what was left.

What chance had they got? Weng and Gen had not contacted him yet, so he had no idea when they might arrive with the supplies from Luna.

He sighed. Nothing else to lose, at any rate.

He clicked on the comm. “Patch through the UA ships. Visual if possible.”

A haggard white, bearded face topped with unruly dirty blond hair appeared on the aging console. The man appeared to be wearing the uniform of the UA from about two decades prior. An old Earthside airline pilot, Martin guessed.

“This is Dirk Prosser,” the man said in an exhausted, strained tone. He seemed on the verge of a breakdown. “Former Captain in the United Americas Airforce, now representing four hundred refugee families, requesting permission to dock at United Nations Mars Colonies orbiting station.”

“Refugees?” Martin asked quizzically. Not military?

“Yes, sir. Fleeing war zones in northeast UA, New York, Boston, Montreal, Halifax. Everything’s on fire.”

“I see.”

On the one hand, Martin felt he could relax. But on the other, this was the last thing they needed. More people. At least they weren’t invading marines.

But he had no choice.

“Go back,” Martin said curtly. “Or go to Luna. Our water and food supplies are critically depleted, and there is a medical quarantine in place throughout most of the settlements here.”

“Sir,” Prosser said, his voice quivering. “We have taken several months already. Several families are experiencing space sickness and we have virtually no medical supplies to treat them. Lunar Base is in chaos. We have nowhere else to go.”

“Go back,” Martin repeated in a calmer voice. He tried to remain emotionless, but an ugly thought entered his memories. Something from his family’s past. Something passed down to him.

“You don’t know what it’s like back there!” the representative pleaded. Martin could see the terror written on the man’s face. “Are you so heartless? We have children, infants, even. Starving! Being beaten, murdered!”

“Go back,” Martin repeated, his voice raising. “They will starve here, too. Didn’t you hear? Even if by some miracle we get new supplies, we do not have the electricity to operate enough gravity generators. The low gravity of Mars will deform the children. What kind of parents would make their children suffer so?”

“Don’t you think we thought about that?” The man seemed on the verge of hysteria. “Do you think we had any alternative?”

Something in Martin snapped.

“You should have thought of that when you denied entry to my country’s people,” Martin suddenly spat out. 

“I, I don’t—”

“When the UA denied entry to refugees fleeing war and hunger. Arresting parents and returning them, separating them from their children and selling them off to the highest bidder. Leaving infants to die of thirst and hunger on the desert border. How dare you come to Mars now and ask for the same!”

“Sir! I was only a child myself at the time. How can you—?”

“How can I!” Martin shouted, slamming his hands on the console. “How can I?!”

Another beep on the console. He abruptly cut the connection to the UA ship and swore. “Dammit! What now?”

“Overseer, a message from the shuttle.”

“What shuttle?”

“Gen and Mr. Weng, sir. They say they will arrive in two days.”

“What?” Martin cycled through the incoming records and known trajectories. “I don’t see any sign of incoming ships aside from the UA refugee ships.”

“They say they will arrive in two days, sir,” the Martin Colony Council receptionist robot repeated tonelessly. “They say to let all in. Everything is under control.”

Martin sat down, stunned.

He couldn’t handle this any more. With a barely suppressed giggle, he toggled the comm. The inside of the refugee ship appeared. Children crying in the background. The captain’s hand first appeared, then his bedraggled face as the man dragged himself back into view. “Yes? Yes?!”

“Mr. Prosser,” Martin said, shaking his head. “Continue on your course to Mars. I’ll see the docking station is open to you.”

“Thank you! Oh, thank you, sir!”

“Don’t thank me, Mr. Prosser,” Martin replied. He cracked his knuckles and shoved his chair away from the console and spun himself around slowly. “Enjoy your final few days in space. We may all very well die together!”


Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 33: Ceres – Weng. Star-crossed lovers begin their final journey on February 5th

The Death Star has an inner ocean

January 22, 2022
MThomas

New analysis of one of Saturn’s moons suggests that it may harbor a liquid ocean. No, not the usual suspects – the new culprit is Mimas, the little moon with a big crater, which gives it more than a passing resemblance to the ‘Death Star’ from Star Wars.

https://www.sciencealert.com/evidence-for-a-liquid-ocean-has-been-uncovered-in-saturn-s-death-star-moon

Add Mimas to Europa and Enceladus as possible moons harboring ET.

Like, IWOW —-

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

World’s largest space telescope has liftoff

December 26, 2021
MThomas

The James Webb Space Telescope – Hubble’s successor – has successfully lifted off.

Now starts the “two weeks of terror” as it gets into position and unfolds. Fingers crossed! 🤞

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-59782057

Trace Gas Orbiter finds traces of hydrogen underground in the Valles Marineris

December 16, 2021
MThomas

A.k.a., the “Great Canyon of Mars”

The original article title?

“Astronomers Detect Secret Water Reserves in The Largest Canyon in The Solar System”

Science isn’t quite as catchy. The hydrogen may indicate water in the form of permafrost 3 feet and more under the surface.

The high-hydrogen region is about the size of the Netherlands, and overlaps with Candor Chasma, one of the largest canyons in the Valles Marineris system.

Looks like there may be some competition for who gets to land near here first…

https://www.sciencealert.com/hidden-water-has-been-found-in-the-soil-of-mars-grand-canyon

The DART has lift-off

November 24, 2021
MThomas

twitter.com/nasa/status/1463315612042678279

Technically, the two asteroids the DART is aiming at are a “binary” (they orbit each other).

The BBC’s explanation is pretty good.

They don’t even mention Bruce Willis until the final sentence.

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-59327293

Water Bears in Space! Uh. Again.

November 12, 2021
MThomas

Hang on, I think I’ve seen this before…

Oh.

Not such a great idea, then, to send them on an interstellar cruise

Bringer of Light, Chapter 25: Transit – Transjovial to Happy Hunting Grounds

September 25, 2021
MThomas

Riss and the crew of the Artemis have experimented with their strange new understanding of the universe – both physical and emotional. Still far away from Ceres or Mars and unable to contact those who may have been similarly affected by the asteroid, the crew has to find a way to traverse the vast space that lies ahead…

The banging on the door came again. A muffled shout from the corridor side.

Enoch?

Riss opened her eyes. Her feet were firmly stuck to the floor of her cabin. Having forgotten to remove her magboots. She was standing, swaying in place. Yawning, she stretched her arms over her head.

“Open.”

The geist practically fell through the opening doorway. Caught from behind by the navigator.

“Riss, are you, are you okay?”

“Yeah, fine, fine, Coop.” She turned to the fridge unit. “Water.”

The fridge rolled out, door opened. A pack of water came to her hand.

Cooper’s eye widened slightly. He straightened himself, brushing off Enoch’s grasp. “You seem to have everything under control.”

She laughed. “Sorry to make you all worry. Did I oversleep?”

“The opposite, actually,” Sanvi called out. Riss could see her now, leaning against the corridor wall with her arms crossed. 

Sanvi nodded at Enoch. “Somebody has been demanding that we try the pitaya experiment again.”

Enoch shrugged. “I got hungry.”

Riss looked between the two of them. Suddenly she felt an enormous bond among them. Her friends. Her crew. It was as if she could see a glow around their rough edges.

Especially Sanvi.

She took a deep breath and smiled.

“I have a different idea. Let’s try to make the Artemis go faster.”

“Faster?”

Continue Reading

Bringer of Light, Chapter 24: The Artemis—Transjovial

August 21, 2021
MThomas

She was floating, feeling free at last. Unbound by any restraints, in control of herself. She finally knew who she was…but something tugged at her, something she had been searching for. Something calling her. 

“Clarissa…Clarissa, honey…”

“No, no, I don’t want to go!”

Strong arms, gentle arms holding her. A needle pricks her upper arm.

“It’s okay, you’ll be safe. I promise.”

“Papa! No!”

Shadows, sad shadows are all she can see. So sleepy.

“We’ll see you soon, varobushek.”

Mama…

Riss suddenly sat up in her bunk.

Or, rather, tried to sit up. The sleep restrainer harness yanked her back down with a jolt. Feeling foolish, she pulled at the velcro and the straps floated harmlessly next to her. Rubbing her arms where the strap had dug in, she sat up again, slowly, and pulled her magboots on.

After her experience the previous night, she had decided to take no chances. The Artemis was beginning to slow down as they approached the Happy Hunting Grounds, returning the microgravity closer to its normal low. She should have used the harness every single night, but to tell the truth, she hated it.

Hated being restrained by anything.

What she couldn’t give for a gravity generator. Not feasible on a ship this size, given the energy consumption. In the meantime, time for her calcium supplements.

She touched a panel and removed a sealed pack of tablets from the drawer that popped out. She grabbed another pack of water, hesitated momentarily, then popped it open and inserted the straw.

Oh, well, she thought, downing the tablets and taking a big sip. Far too late to worry about what was in the water.

She leaned back in her bunk and took another long sip. The patterns suddenly came into view, dancing across the surfaces of the room. Then they faded, but she could see them. 

Almost imperceptible. Everywhere.

The walls, the floor, the ceiling. The desk. The pad and its charge port in the wall. Her magboots.

Herself.

The doll.

She paused and rested her gaze on the motanka. It hadn’t changed back to its original color, still green with checkered red, white and yellow patterns on the skirt. The yellow hair had turned brown. No, red-brown.

The color of her own hair, she suddenly realized.

She drained the water pack and let it float to the ceiling. Maybe it was time to do some more experimenting.

She stretched out her hand and concentrated.

Nothing at first. Then she relaxed her hand, thinking of the motanka. As if in response, the doll lifted itself from the desk and floated across the room to her hand.

She nearly dropped it in surprise.

Telekinesis?

Just like the dragon fruit.

What else could she move?

She glanced at the pad, in its charger. It came tumbling across the room, straight at her forehead. She ducked, and it bounced off the wall behind her, falling onto the bunk.

It should have fallen up or floated. She thought again, and the pad floated upward, then into the middle of the room. She could see the patterns around it, the lines guiding it and molding it into shape. Gently she coaxed it back to its charger.

Could she open the door?

With a metallic clang the answer became readily apparent. The lights shut off, then on. The fridge moved toward her, opened up and flung a water pack, then rolled obediently back to its port. The door closed, softly this time.

She sighed. Didn’t even feel tired this time, unlike after the pitaya explosion incident in the mess earlier. Maybe with time they wouldn’t get tired at all. Or maybe it was just little things.

Or if they worked independently or together.

Together.

She looked at the doll in her hands.

The no-face still looked back. The colors—she could change them back to the way they had been. Yes, they did. Blue with yellow flowers and golden, flaxen hair.

No. She didn’t like the hair. Changed it back to brown, but a darker brown than before. Shorter, slightly wavy.

Mother.

A memory spoke again to her.

“Why are you crying, moya kroshka?”

“At school, Elke called me a bad name. Right in front of the others.”

“A bad name? What kind of name?”

“Pig! They called me Russian pig!”

“You’re not a pig, kroshka. But you are Russian. And German, too.”

“I don’t wanna be Russian! I want to be just like Elke!”

Just like Elke. Just like the other kids. Not special. She clutched the motanka.

Dreams of a six-year-old. She couldn’t even remember where the school was, or what Elke looked like. Only the pain, the hurt was real. Even now, two decades later, it still hurt.

Who was she?

She wasn’t Russian. She wasn’t German. Barely remembered her mother, hardly any memories of her father at all. Just the last few moments as they made her go to sleep in the life pod.

True to his word, Sergey had helped her to find out who her birth parents were. At first. He had retrieved their passports from the life pod and was able to search for their names in the UN database. Her father was a chemical engineer, her mother an exobiologist — maybe she had even known of Coop’s father, who knows. Her parents apparently met in Italy at some sort of international conglomerate-financed exhibition on terraforming. In fact, that’s where Riss was born. But she had no memories of Italy, and few of her childhood.

Before the accident.

They had been in the midst of a family move to the Moon, to join the terraforming team, when their shuttle experienced a sudden power failure. Riss was the only survivor. A dozen others were never found again, presumed dead following the spaceship’s violent decompressive rupture.

But that hadn’t told her who they were.

German father, Russian mother. But those were just names of countries, just nationalities. Who were they? What were they like?

What did that make her?

“You can see any face you like on motanka,” Sergey told her, in the months after he gave her the doll. “That way she will grow with you, as you also grow.”

Any face?

She looked at the doll. The crossed-out visage began to shift, softening features. Textures like slightly darkened skin, high cheekbones. Proud smile. Eyes…

Lena.

She stifled a yelp and the doll leapt back to the desk.

The cross returned. Staring back at her from across the room.

She relaxed and exhaled, just then realizing she had been holding her breath. 

The doll. It was just like her. Featureless. Easily changed. Controlled.

Was that why these new abilities scared her?

Or was it something that she was afraid to face?

She closed her eyes and stretched out a hand. The fields seemed to interact with her fingers, slipping between them. Around them. Through them. It was as if all she had to do was touch the fields, tease apart the threads of atoms and sub particles. Expand into the space between quarks and bosons.

The space holding the stuff of the universe together in delicate harmony.

Is this what they all were? What she really was? Empty space?

No. Not just space. A tension. A balance between matter and energy. 

Light and dark. Being and not-being.

She (who was she?) stretched her fingers (what were they?) through threads (were they really threads? streams? filaments of subatomic connections?), touched another searcher, seeking answers like herself (self? unself?). 

A familiar feeling, part dark part light, laughter and sadness.

Sanvi? Who was that? Riss? The same? Different?

Aspects of the same universe, elements and combinations of energy condensed, vibrating, expanding, contracting, interacting.

Aware of itself / herself / themselves.

Separate but together. Connected. Sharing space.

Combined. Intertwined. 

Joy. Pure bliss. Beyond the physical. Beyond…

A shock of recognition.

The room came back into focus. Her outstretched hand briefly glowed, luminescent, fingers trembling as if by a sudden jolt.

Lungs remembered to breathe.

Inhale, exhale. Eyelids blinked.

Riss. She was Riss. Sanvi was another person.

But connected.

Riss sat back on the bunk, brushing back tears with the back of a hand.

Why was she crying? The experience hadn’t been painful. She tried to recall the sensations, but came up blank.

Only the separation remained. And a dim perception of the separateness of others in their own compartments.

She could no longer tell whether her crew were asleep or awake. The Artemis whispered to her. The autopilot stayed steady on its inbound course. Two more days, at least. Space was vast.

Physical space, between solar objects. Perhaps not so vast between people.

A wave of exhaustion came over her. Sleepily she beckoned for the pad again. It came to her. Programmed a wake-up alarm. Returned it. Fell back on the bed.

No restraints this time. A brief smile lingered on her face.

She had no more need for restraints.


Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 25: Transit—Transjovial to Hunting Grounds. The Artemis comes home…to a surprise.

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