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

Crap, I did it again

July 16, 2021
MThomas

Man, I did it again.

I forgot to post the next chapter of Bringer of Light.

Also the next one after that. And the one after that.

It’s been a very tiring summer so far.

(For starters, we STILL don’t have enough Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, doses are get wasted left and right as the elderly randomly cancel reservations and the bureaucratic pinheads in charge refuse to give them to others, and several students at my school went out drinking and guess what happened…)

I haven’t even posted any science news lately.

But I promise that I’ll make up for it. Soon.

In the meantime, here’s a neat little article about some wild theories of the universe, starting with the Brane Universe and the Big Splat.

Yeah. I thought you might like that one.

https://www.livescience.com/strange-theories-about-the-universe.html?utm_campaign=socialflow

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…

Bringer of Light, Chapter 20: United Mars Colonies

May 29, 2021
MThomas

The water brought from Ceres to Mars—crushed from the rock sent by Riss and her crew—is beginning to affect colonists. Weng and Gen still haven’t returned from Luna, leaving Mars Overseer Martin Velasquez to deal with the situation on his own…

“Overseer, the latest report on Settler Pod #2.”

“Thank you, Sergeant Major.”

“Should I have additional units sent?”

“No, no. Continue to guard the specified locations.”

Martin switched off the monitor and ran a hand through his thinning hair. He held out the hand; it shook slightly.

The previous week had not been easy.

First, he spent nearly an entire day convincing the settler factions that the communications blackout was necessary for the time being. When his “son” and Weng arrived at the orbital docking station and transferred the new water supply from Ceres, Martin supervised the transfer from the dock to the Colonies’ water treatment facility. Meanwhile, he had also secretly instructed the EU members of the Security Forces to post watches on three UA underground ice factories. At the same time, he busied himself trying to hack into the servers that controlled the ice factory access points. Normally he would have had Gen do the work, but of course his son had already left for Luna, leaving Martin to wonder how much Gen had told Weng about the nature of their “father-son” relationship.

Then the reports started coming in.

At first, Martin dismissed them entirely. One or two isolated cases of space sickness, he assumed. It happened sometimes. A new settler working on the electrical grid extensions would forget to pace herself and then experience fatigue from not being used to the lower gravity. Another in hydroponics would spent too much time outside the protected greenhouse domes or not wash off his farming suit thoroughly enough, exposing himself to greater levels of cosmic radiation. 

But when another fifteen settlers complained of feeling odd, he began to worry. The Colonies had a medical center, naturally—designed to treat illnesses for a colony population of a few dozen, not several hundred, rapidly approaching a thousand. And even counting the four new refugee ships that had not yet arrived (and which he could not contact and warn to return).

The rioting had been easy to handle. Identify one or two troublemakers, cut a deal with the settler faction heads, throw in a few virtual headsets.

Sickness, that was something else entirely.

He rubbed knuckles in his eyes. Caffeine withdrawal. He had cut back on water use from the reclamation station, but his private stock was running low. Little remained for drinking, let alone tea.

The reports had started only after the Ceres water was added to the system. Logically, he thought, there might be something in the water that was affecting people. He was no engineer, of course, and there were a number of other possibilities. Stress, for example. Inadequate electricity. Limited internet. The Mars Baseball League temporary suspension of games.

Lack of sex and enforced contraceptives.

That last one had not gone over well with the new settlers, particularly among the more religious.

But they agreed to restrain themselves. For the time being.

Martin worried. Despite his (extremely persuasive and charming) explanation that it would probably be impossible for normal conception on Mars, and that they did not have proper child birthing, maternity or childcare facilities, it seemed likely to Martin that at some point someone would forget themselves.

Nobody had told the refugees this, naturally. They even brought children. Children! The most recent ship had 172 adults and 25 children from age 5 to 14. The last thing they needed was more children running around the Colonies. And not enough space or supplies for new schools, even had they more licensed teachers. Oh, once things had settled down, and the UN was convinced to give them more financial and political backing, then perhaps. 

After all, if the United Mars Colonies were to survive as colonies, at some point they would have to set up an artificial birth crèche and incubation chamber. Unless they got to 5,000 colonists, the Colonies would simply remain unviable, fail to reach self-sustainability, and probably collapse at some point.

But he had no intention of getting to 5,000 that quickly. And certainly not under the current environmental conditions.

Martin slapped the console to life again and punched more buttons on the antique desk.

“Hydroponics.”

“Velasquez here. What’s the latest estimate?”

“Overseer, with this newest settler group, I’d say we’re down to two weeks now. Maybe ten days.”

“Ten! Anyway to make it stretch? Didn’t that new water supply help?”

“Sir, it takes more than a week to grow vegetables.”

Martin bit his knuckle. Of course. He knew that.

Mustn’t let it show.

“I see. Keep me updated.”

He switched off and toggled another.

“Water reclamation here.”

“This is Velasquez. Status?”

“Sir, we’re working as hard we can to pulverize the latest batch of regolith ice from Outcrop 6. But half of the new workers failed to show up last shift.”

“Failed to—did you contact them?”

“Tried to, yes. The problem is figuring out what they’re saying.”

“What, is the translation matrix down again?”

“No, it’s working just fine for once. It sounds like the workers on the other end are somewhat incoherent. The program sounds, well, drunk.”

Martin frowned and massaged his temples with one hand.

“Do we have water for the next four weeks?” he asked at length.

“That depends.”

“On what?”

“On whether any new immigrants arrive, and how much electricity we’ll need to generate.”

“I see. Well, keep me—”

“And, Overseer, I should mention that some of us here are wondering when Sa—Mr. Weng is returning.”

Oh? Martin raised his eyebrows. He hadn’t figured the architect a popular figure. Perhaps he should keep an eye out. Just in case.

“He should return soon,” he said aloud. “Hopefully with more provisions.”

“Thank you, sir. We’ve heard, ah, certain rumors.”

Martin frowned again. “What rumors?”

“Oh, it’s nothing, Overseer. Just that…some people in the Colonies are seeing strange things, and with the Marsball games shut down and not enough VR headsets to go around, everyone’s got to rely on their imagination for entertainment.”

He did not like the way this conversation was going. Best to end it.

“Your concern is noted,” he said. “I’ll see about tracking down the recalcitrant workers.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Martin cut the connection. He sat back and crossed his arms. Damn it all! Seeing things. Babbling. Not contributing to the community. And yet using up supplies at a pace they could not replenish.

They were all going to die unless he did something about it.

He punched another switch. 

“Medical Center. Liu speaking.”

“This is Velasquez.”

“Overseer. Are we glad to hear from you. Another twenty settlers just reported feeling ill.”

“Is there any way to put settlers into some sort of temporary hibernation?”

“Sir?”

Martin licked his lips. “Listen, we’re dangerously short on water and food. There are too many refugees and the new shipment from Luna isn’t expected for another two weeks.”

“But…hibernation?”

“Can it be done?”

There was a pause.

“Yes, technically, by pumping gas into the settler pods and knocking them unconscious, and then transferring them to a cold locker. But—”

“Prepare to flood settler pods with gas.”

“Overseer, Agent 15 usage is strictly prohibited! We would be violating several directives.”

“We have no choice!” Martin raised his voice. “If we don’t incapacitate at least a quarter the incoming settler population, we’ll all starve!”

“But Overseer, we don’t know that for sure.”

“Oh, yes, we do. How long will it take to prepare enough gas?”

“It’s not just the gas, it’s also preparing the cryo-lockers. And if we’re not careful with the dosage, many will experience mind-damaging hallucinations, or worse.”

Martin stopped himself. Or worse? He searched his memories. Ah. Yes. Moscow. Homs. 

New York.

Was he repeating history?

“How long?” he asked again.

A pause, then a brief cough.

“Two or three days to prepare the gas, plus another day or two to test. After that, several days for the cryo-lockers.”

“Several days?”

“Overseer, we would have to physically remove all unconscious settlers from their pods and place them in cryo-stasis. Are you sure this is the only way to—”

“Understood. Let me know when the gas is ready.”

Martin switched the comm off and sat back.

This was a huge gamble. Hundreds could die.

Either way, he thought. Unless he could break into the UA ice factories and extract the precious water reserves trapped underground. At least that way they could survive by sacrificing merely dozens.

Perhaps.

He rubbed his eyes again and bent over the aging console.

Four or five days, he thought grimly. Hurry back, Sam.


Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 21: Transit—Luna to Ceres. Weng’s suspicions about his “assistant” Gen are confirmed, and then some.

Bringer of Light, Chapter 19: The Sagittarius (Part 2)

May 28, 2021
MThomas

Unbelievably, I have forgotten to post more sections of the Children of Pellas! This was meant to be posted on May 8th, and Chapter 20 (United Mars Colonies) was to be posted on May 22nd.

To try to do a little catch-up—and to try to make it up to my readers!—I’ll post them both this weekend.

The game is afoot!

(When last we saw Gennaji, Ory, Karel, and Andy, they had been boarded at gunpoint by former Sagittarius member and now Captain Ildico…who has an offer Gennaji can’t refuse…)

The galley was clearly not designed for eleven people at the same time.

Ildico had embraced Orynko as she entered the galley, a bear hug that left the pilot gasping for air. Now the two sat side by side at the common meal table which occupied most of the room. An arm around the Sagittarius’s only female crew member, Ildico carried on as if they’d known each other all along.

Across the small table sat Gennaji and the military issue clone. Gennaji tried his best not to spend too much attention on her. Clone or not, she was a mighty attractive wo— 

Female soldier, he silently corrected himself. Well-built and no-nonsense attitude. Qualities he admired. Feared, also. Better to keep his hands and eyes to himself. For her part, the clone said little, simply staring at Ildico and Orynko. At some point she had crossed her arms, although whether in annoyance or out of habit, Gennaji couldn’t tell. Simply noted for future reference.

The remaining two Sisters stood in the corridor, right outside the door. As if guarding.

From what? Gennaji wondered. Or were they more like prison guards, preventing them from leaving without Ildico’s permission? The idea was unsettling.

He sipped from a water pack. Ildico had forgotten all about getting a drink once she saw Ory.

“Why don’t you dump these guys and come join the Sisters?” Ildico was saying.

Gennaji opened his mouth but Ory cut him off. “I’m flattered, Captain Ildico,” she demurred. “Perhaps when my contract is over, I will take you up on the generous offer.”

Gennaji covered his smirk with another sip of water. He wished they had something stronger.

Karel stood in one corner, sipping a non-alcoholic beer pack through a straw. Three of the taller clones surrounded him, staring blankly at his beard. Gennaji would normally jest about it, but the mood wasn’t right. He caught Karel’s desperate glance, and narrowed his eyes in response, holding up a finger in warning. An almost pained look crossed the big man’s face, and all Gennaji could do was grimace in sympathy.

He had no desire to start a war of words with the Sisters. Or a war of anything else.

“Gen,” Ildico said suddenly, slapping his shoulder from across the table.

He nearly spurted out the water. “Mmm?”

“Where’s the drinks? I thought this was a top-class ship.”

He gestured to Andrzej, who had taken up a position directly in front of the provisions cabinet. To protect it from the Sisters. Andrzej withdrew a water pack and tossed it over.

Ildico took it with a look of disgust. “That’s it?”

Gennaji shrugged. “Sorry, Captain. Unless you want a fake beer.”

Karel raised his pack.

“Hate that crap and you know it, Gen,” she snorted. She poked open the water and noisily sucked half the pack out. “Ah. I half-expected poison.”

Gennaji smirked. “Too expensive. I can barely afford water.”

Ildico smiled and drained the rest of the pack. Dropping it on the table, she withdrew her arm from Orynko and leaned back with an air of confidence.

“That,” she said silkily, “is where the Sisters can help you.”

Gennaji immediately perked up his ears. Perhaps something good may come of this unpleasant situation after all.

“Oh?” he said, as nonchalantly as possible.

“It just so happens,” said Ildico, idly running a finger down Orynko’s arm, “that I have my own rock.”

She looked expectedly at him. “Two, in fact.”

He arched an eyebrow. “Ditrium?”

She nodded. “Took a while, but it turned out that a patch of the Jupiter Trojans had some rare metals.”

“And the Council didn’t know?”

She grinned. “The Council forgot that one of their hunters used to be a geist.”

It figured, he thought with chagrin. Here he had wasted a trip to transneptune, chasing an old grudge, and Ildico had snared a fortune without anyone suspecting a thing.

“But surely they’ll find out at some point,” he said carefully. “And demand their fair share, of course.”

Ildico shrugged. “No doubt. But it’ll be too late by then.”

“Too late? For what?”

She glanced at Karel, then Andrzej. “Your men. Trustworthy?”

Gennaji stared at Karel, who was still surrounded by Ildico’s clones. Karel was a pain, but he had suffered Gennaji’s insults and orders so far without complaint.

Karel stared back, and briefly nodded. That was all Gennaji needed.

“Yes,” he said. He looked to Andrzej, who remained stone-faced. “I trust them with my life, because they trust me with theirs.”

Ildico suddenly became serious. “I was not questioning your qualifications as a hunter captain, Gennaji. I know you too well to dare ask such a thing.”

He drew a deep breath and exhaled slowly. Would she bring up their encounter at Vesta? Those many years ago? He hoped she had forgotten.

“What is it you need from me, Ildi? You know I have to ask.”

She stood and gestured across the table. “Taygete. Give Captain Gennaji our proposal.”

The clone uncrossed her arms and lay her hands palm down on the table as she spoke.

“The Sagittarius will accompany the Seven Sisters to Ceres. Once there, the Sagittarius and her crew will support the Sisters bid to gain control of the Ceres Mining Council.”

Gennaji began to laugh. He stopped at the look on Taygete’s stern face.

“You’re serious,” he said.

She returned the look with an even gaze. “In return,” Taygete continued, “Captain Ildico offers financial compensation.”

“Financial?” Karel blurted. “You are talking about taking over the Council! We will be executed for treason!”

Taygete stood, arms now crossed. Andrzej slowly reached for his pistol.

“Andy!” Gennaji said sharply.

Andrzej froze, but kept his hand on his weapon.

Karel pushed his way through the clones; they stood with arms crossed, in imitation of their Captain who now stood together with Taygete. The two women stared down at Gennaji with expressionless faces.

“We are not going to make any quick decisions, Ildi,” Gennaji said quietly. He glanced back and forth between his crew members. “Karel has a point. You are asking us to put both our livelihoods and our lives on the line for you.”

“Yes,” she said matter of factly. “I am.”

She smiled. Gennaji wasn’t sure he liked this smile any more than the previous ones. Now his old colleague looked like more than just a freewheeling pirate. She had the look of a conniving politician. He preferred the pirate.

Gennaji folded his hands in front of him on the table, thinking. Was there a chance that the Sisters could take over the Council? Even with his help, they would need at least two or three other ships on their side.

The Corvus.

“Ory, what’s the status of the Corvus?”

She sat up straight, startled by the sudden question. “Last time I checked, right after the detonation, they were dead in space. Comps all fried. Probably drifting toward Enceladus.”

“Andy, think we could stabilize them with a few tractors?”

“Yes.”

“Karel?”

Gennaji looked up. Karel was still standing behind the two women, the other three shorter clones behind him. His dark expression betrayed his thoughts.

“Karel,” Gennaji repeated. “What do you think about the tractors?”

“I don’t like it, sir,” Karel growled. “But if you believe this is a good move for us, then I will ready the tractors.”

Gennaji paused, then nodded.

“Well, then,” Ildico said lightly, turning to leave. “Then it’s settled. We’ll prepare to rescue the Corvus.”

“Wait a moment, Ildi,” Gennaji said, grabbing her arm. She yanked the arm away as Taygete took up a defensive posture between them. Gennaji spread his hands. “Hey, take it easy.”

“Do not touch the Captain,” the clone said. “Nobody touches her.”

He raised an eyebrow. Interesting. Similar to the earlier reaction to Ildico and Ory. Never heard of clones with strong emotional responses, he thought. He made a mental note; he might use this to his advantage at a later date. Somehow.

“Taygete, Ildi and I go way back,” he said. “Before you were even in a petri dish.”

The clone stared back expressionless and did not respond.

“It’s all right,” Ildico said, stepping in front of Taygete. “What’s the problem, Gen?”

“If,” he began, darting a glance at Karel, “if we get the Corvus up and running again, that’s only three ships. Assuming that the Corvus will find themselves indebted enough to support you, I mean.”

“So?”

“So three ships is not enough to sway the Council. You’ll need at least two or three more to force their hand. What’s the catch?”

“Catch?” she smiled sweetly. “I have my secrets, Gen.”

“Secrets,” he scoffed. “Secret plans are not enough to convince me and my crew to sacrifice ourselves for you.”

“Let’s just say I have an insider on both Ceres and Luna.”

Gennaji narrowed his eyes. On Luna? No, it couldn’t be…

“And,” Ildico continued, “I’ll throw in a freebie. I can get you what you really want.”

Gennaji’s heart almost skipped a beat.

“Revenge.”

Andrzej had spoken it aloud. Gennaji turned to him. How did he know?

“Yes,” Ildico said. “I have not forgotten, either, Gen.”

“Andy,” Gennaji started. He found himself at a loss for words.

“Captain,” Andrzej said, keeping his eyes on Ildico. “I am not sure that revenge is necessarily in the best interests of the Sagittarius.”

He paused, then added for emphasis, “Or in the best interests of the Seven Sisters.”

“Let me ask you,” Ildico asked, approaching Andrzej. She stopped a breath’s space away from him. “Who do you think the Seventh Sister actually is?”

Andrzej said nothing. The staredown continued several seconds. “I had always assumed the Seventh Sister was you, Ildico,” Gennaji said, breaking the taut silence.

“No,” Taygete said. “She is not.”

The three Sisters standing at the back of the galley formed a semi-circle around Andrzej. Gennaji stood. He did not like the way this conversation was headed.

“The Seventh Sister is always hidden,” one of the Sisters said.

Gennaji looked from Sister to Sister. All three seemed identical.

“They are very near to identical,” Ildico said, as if reading his mind. “Yet they have names. Alkyone. Sterope. Merope.”

“And I don’t suppose,” Karel interrupted, “that each of them has her own opinion about how the ship is run.”

Ildico closed her eyes. “Gen.”

“Karel,” Gennaji warned. “Hold your tongue.”

The big helmsman glared at Gennaji, but simply crossed his arms and said no more. Gennaji returned the glare and narrowed his eyes, darting them to Ildico and back again to Karel. He hoped the man would catch his meaning. No point in challenging the Sisters. Not here. Not now.

“I don’t suppose the hidden Sister is Captain Kragen,” Andrzej suddenly said.

Gennaji’s face darkened. “Do not speak that name in my presence!”

“Ha! That spoiled brat?” Ildico laughed. “Not a chance.”

Andrzej shrugged.

“Captain,” Orynko said. “What happened to make you hate her so much?”

“She…” Gennaji choked out. He sat down heavily, unable to continue. The image from his daydream earlier that day appeared in his head. The smoke. Circuits ablaze. The unseeing eyes looking up at him.

“She caused the death of our crewmate,” Ildico said softly. “I was there, too, Gen. I do remember.”

“So,” Andrzej ventured, “it was accidental?”

“Lena died!” Gennaji shouted. “Because of incompetence! Stupidity! I…” He closed his mouth and squeezed his eyes shut.

I lost Lena. No tears. Only anger.

“But the Council must have exonerated her?” Orynko asked.

“Yes,” said Andrzej. “She is still a captain.”

“The Council was soft,” Ildico said acidly. “Bardish testified on her behalf, as well. His word carries weight.”

“Leave Sergey out of it,” Gennaji said. “How could he testify otherwise? A man must protect his charges.”

“And so justice was not served that day, Gen,” Ildico replied. “And we have never forgotten, not forgiven.”

“Captain,” Karel interrupted. “Is it really justice that you are after? Seems to me there’s little profit in revenge.”

Gennaji shot him a look that would have made others wince. But Karel seemed to be getting bolder. He would have to teach the big man a lesson. Soon.

“Ildi,” he said, ignoring Karel. “Get me a chance for revenge, and I will see that you are the next Council Chair.”

She nodded in satisfaction. “Things will be different. And you and your crew will not regret this decision.”

Gennaji turned back to Andrzej and Karel. “Let’s get the Corvus under control. We may need to send someone with tools to fix their nav system. And to bring some iodine pills for radiation.”

“Aye, Captain,” Andrzej said. He left immediately. Karel stood silently, then nodded and followed.

“Well,” Ildico said with a sigh. “Finally. Things are getting underway.”

“Yes,” Gennaji said. “Ory, let’s escort the Captain to the cargo area and get her safely back aboard the Pleiades.”

“No need, Ory darling,” Ildico said with a wink. “You’re needed here. For now.”

“Fine. Right, so I’ll get one of my men over to the Corvus. We’ll need one or two of the Sisters as backup for tech detail.”

“I’m sure Taygete won’t mind. Will you, dear?”

The clone grunted, then spun on heel and left the room. Gennaji was sure it glowered as well. Again, interesting, he thought. He’d better keep an eye on this clone. It could prove useful.

“Now that that’s all settled,” he said. “How about—”

“Later,” Ildico said, cutting him off. “I know my way off the ship. Contact me when the Corvus repairs are nearly finished. We’ll rendezvous at Ceres. Six days.”

“Six?”

Before he had a chance to finish the thought, Ildico left. The three Sisters stolidly standing guard inside the galley followed. From the footsteps, it sounded as if the other two guards in the corridor likewise had gone.

Gennaji pondered, drumming his fingers on the table in the now empty galley. He had been about to ask about further details regarding her plan. Something didn’t quite fit, and he hated being left in the dark.

But to finally break out of the red! He’d been desperate for ship upgrades for at least two years. And to revenge himself on Clarissa—

He stopped mid thought.

Ildico had avoided revealing the identity of the Seventh Sister.

His fingers ceased drumming.

Perhaps, he mused. The Seventh Sister was not so secretive after all.


Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 20: United Mars Colonies. Mars settlers have begun to behave oddly, setting the stage for the coming storm…

When will the first baby be born in space?

May 26, 2021
MThomas

A permanent Moon colony? But I doubt babies will be born here any time soon…

“Today, all activity in space is tethered to the Earth. But I predict that in around 30 years people will start living in space – and soon after, the first off-Earth baby will be born.”

https://astronomy.com/news/2021/05/when-will-the-first-baby-be-born-in-space

Hmm, maybe. I’d be a little wary of making predictions about space travel. We were supposed to be building a base on Mars by now (according to predictions made when I was in high school).

I think we should probably figure out how to get people not to be completely fried by solar radiation before we start making babies in space (which *I* predict will inevitably require genetic manipulation and lead to a new human race at some point…and no, not in “around 30 years”!).

Scientists detect small pockets of carbon dioxide-rich liquid water in a meteorite dating from the early solar system

April 25, 2021
MThomas

“This assumption is consistent with recent theoretical studies of the solar system’s evolution that suggest that asteroids rich in small, volatile molecules like water and carbon dioxide formed beyond Jupiter’s orbit before being transported to areas closer to the sun.”

http://en.ritsumei.ac.jp/news/detail/?id=585

Just announced by my workplace!

And no, I don’t teach in that department.

However, it does show the need for STEM students and researchers in Japan to improve their English. For every study like this published in English there are many more only published in Japanese. Lots of interesting research going on in Japan that people *outside* Japan need to know about!

Still very much a work in process!

April 24, 2021
MThomas

Apologies to readers for the weird mix-up in chapter numbering. I’ve been (slowly, painfully slowly) writing Bringer of Light on Scrivener…which I forgot to update on my desktop PC, which led to some sort of weird misnumbering of chapters in two different versions of the file.

Anyway, I have begun to finish up the story but now I’m going back and doing some editing while continuing to finish the first book of the series off. I’ll be adding more details (especially about technology) while trying to keep the technobabble out and getting more focused on character interaction and development.

It’s a process, after all! Hope you’re enjoying it.

See here for a list of chapters so far (draft form).

Bringer of Light, Chapter 19: The Sagittarius (Part 1)

April 24, 2021
MThomas

Previous: The Sagittarius, now captained by the grudge-bearing, foul-tempered Gennaji, has been boarded. The adversary? A former crewmate…

“Dammit, Ildico, you have no right being here!”

Opposite Gennaji, facing him with laser rifle drawn, his former crewmate stared him down with a no-nonsense visage. She still wore the drab grey-green outfit of a geist, he noted. Kept her hair short. Built like a block of granite.

Standing in a rough triangle formation behind her, the other six Pleiades crew members similarly sported weapons of various types. All deadly. All nearly identical.

And all foolish to shoot inside a spaceship, Gennaji thought. Likely Ildico also thought. But standard procedure when boarding another hunter’s ship. Particularly given their personal history.

“Captain Gennaji,” she said in a loud voice. “Surrender your vessel to me, and there will be no reprimanding or punishment. I swear.”

Gennaji paused. This was by the book dialogue, as according to the Rules of the Ceres Mining Council and Mining Privateer Regiments. Pirate-brothers-in-arms, he thought sourly. Or Sisters.

“And why should I just give the Sagittarius to you?” he demanded. Next to him, pistols drawn and levelled along sizeable forearms, Karel and Andrzej waited patiently. Silent. Waiting for the appropriate response.

Ildici kept her composure as long as she could. But her face twisted, she burst into laughter, and shouldered her weapon.

“Gennaji! You xitruga old devil, how are you?” she shouted in a booming voice. She threw her arms open and strode forward. Gennaji pocketed his pistol as Ildico grabbed him in a bear hug.

“I’m…uff…fine, Ildi. Yourself?”

She laughed and slapped him on both shoulders. “You are even bigger than I remember. Too many deep space rations, not enough exercise, tak?”

“Ah. Ildi…would you mind?” he nodded at her crew. The Pleiades Sisters were still in formation, weapons pointed; the Sagittarius crew likewise hadn’t budged.

“You first, Gen,” she snorted. “We’re your guests, after all.”

He motioned for his men to lower their pistols; they did so slowly, eyes never leaving the Sisters. “Now, Ildico?”

“Captain,” she said.

“What?”

“Call me ‘Captain Ildico,’ Gen.” A smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes.

Something was up, he thought. Better play it safe and lose face now rather than lose Sagittarius.

“Captain Ildico,” he said pleasantly. “Welcome to the Sagittarius. Please do us the honor of disarming your escort and inviting them to join us.”

She laughed again and gestured. The Sisters lowered their rifles and shouldered them, approaching like a troop of soldiers.

“Well trained,” Gen commented. “Some I don’t know. New military-grade?”

She shook her head. “Only the first one. The rest are on loan as a favor.”

He looked more closely at the six women. Not women, he silently corrected. Ildico was right; the tallest and most muscular one was obviously military design. She carried herself with officer-like bearing. The remaining five looked more civilian-issue. One was even smaller than his pilot, if that were possible.

“The Seven Sisters,” he said. “It’s been a long time.”

“Too long,” Ildico said coyly. Yes, but not long enough, Gennaji thought. He was in no mood for a repeat of their last encounter.

“You didn’t come all the way out here for a nice chat,” he said to her. “What is it you really want? A rematch?”

“A drink,” she replied. She looked him up and down. “Looks like you got a couple bumps and bruises from the Corvus. Better get that fixed up.”

He snarled. “Corvus. What were you doing with that bunch of infants?”

She smiled again. “Just happened to be in the neighborhood. They were eager to find out what you did with the rock.”

“Look around you,” he said, gesturing. “We don’t have any rocks. It’s been a complete waste of time and money.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said, shaking her head. “After all, the Pleiades are not here for your rocks.”

“What do you mean?” he asked, eyes narrowing. He wasn’t sure so he liked this game.

“I know the way to the galley,” she said, pushing him aside. “Come on, girls. Let’s take five.”

The Sisters brushed past the three Sagittarius men and disappeared one by one into the main corridor. Karel and Andrzej both put away their pistols, standing side by side and looking into the corridor.

“Clones?” Karel asked, scratching his beard. “The biggest, it looks like someone I once dated.”

“You?” Gennaji laughed. “Dated?”

Karel growled. “I need a drink, too,” he said, and went into the corridor.

Gennaji ran a hand over his shaved head. A bump, just like she said. Damn.

“She seemed…manly,” Andrzej commented. “Impressive woman.”

“Yes,” Gennaji reflected. In all honesty, he did respect her. “But also incredibly dangerous.”

“And only clones for crew,” Andrzej continued. “So she values loyalty above all else.”

“Loyalty,” Gennaji said. “Or obedience. Unquestioning. The only one she trusts completely is herself.”

For good reason, he thought. Which is why he had to be very, very careful while she and her “Sisters” were anywhere near his crew.


Next: Ildico makes Gennaji an offer he can’t refuse: the chance for revenge. In Bringer of Light, Chapter 22: The Sagittarius (Part 2), dropping on May 8th.

Bringer of Light, Chapter 18: The Artemis

April 17, 2021
MThomas

It’s been a while since we’ve checked in on Riss and her crew. What’s going on with Riss’s Rock, and their reactions to it? (and each other?)

Back in the command center, the four resumed their positions as if still on an asteroid hunt. Only this time, they were hunting for something else.

“Right,” Riss said. “Let’s find out where this came from. Coop, run a comparison analysis with some other extrasolar object. Like Phoebe.”

“Saturn’s moon?”

“Yes. That’s supposed to have originally come from the Kuiper Belt. A centaur captured by Saturn’s gravity well.”

“All right, I’ll give it a shot.”

Riss waited silently as the computer ran the analysis.

“No,” Cooper finally said with a tone of resignation. “There isn’t enough data to make a meaningful comparison. At least, that’s what the results indicate.”

“So it’s not a centaur?” Riss said, surprised.

“I can check it against our information on Chiron and Enceladus.”

“I thought Chiron was a dwarf planet, not a centaur.”

“Debatable. But anyway…”

“OK,” Riss said, clapping him on the shoulder. “You’re the geologist.”

She turned over her shoulder. “Enoch. Pull up that trajectory chart again.”

“Roger.”

The 3D image hung in the space between the captain’s chair and the navigation consoles. Riss ticked her tongue as she gazed at the chart.

“I don’t see…ah, there.” She pointed. “We didn’t follow the origin line.”

“Yeah,” Sanvi said. “We were only interested in where it was going, not where it came from. We just figured – ”

“- just figured it was a centaur,” Riss concluded. She sat down in her chair and ran her fingertips over the console. “Let’s hypothesize.”

In a few moments, her best guesses appeared in an updated version of the chart. A thin blue line emerged from behind the red trajectory line and extended well away from the original chart.

“Computer, zoom out,” Riss stated. The image shrank. The red line turned into a curve. The blue line still extended out of the image.

“So it’s not a Kuiper Belt object?” Brady said.

“Oort?” Sanvi wondered aloud.

“Computer, zoom out again,” Riss ordered. “Maximum.”

The red curve became an elongated oval. The blue line remained a line. Riss was stunned.

“Coop, is this what…what I think it means?”

The geologist’s fingers flew across his pads. He switched pads and checked again.

“ES-71107 is extrasolar, all right,” he confirmed. He put the pad down slowly and looked up. “It’s from outside our solar system entirely.”

“But it was so large!” Sanvi protested. “When A/2017 skipped through, it was tiny.”

“Yes,” Riss said. “I remember reading about that during training. It was fast, too.”

“Like a pebble skipped on an ocean,” Enoch put in, mimicking with a gesture. “Scooooon.”

“Weren’t there a couple of other planetoids that people thought might be extrasolar?” Cooper asked.

They turned to him.

“Hey, I’m into rocks,” he said, shrugging. “I just don’t know the history.”

Sanvi snorted. “So much for the ‘astro’ part of ‘astrogeologist.’”

“No, no,” Enoch said, jumping into the discussion. “I think Coop is on to something.”

He looked back and forth between consoles, searching. “Ah. Here it is.”

An image of Jupiter and its moons appeared behind him, next to Riss’s chair. It began slowly rotate. More objects appeared in Jupiter’s orbit, some trailing and some preceding.

“Jupiter has a lot of Trojans,” Enoch said. His hands continued to move over his console. “Over 6,000, actually. But this one…BZ509…it isn’t a Trojan. And it goes around the Sun the wrong way.”

“The wrong way…” Cooper said. “Retrograde orbit. So…”

“That means it’s probably from outside the solar system,” Riss said. “Right?”

“Yeah,” Enoch affirmed. “But also probably billions of years ago. Just happened to get snagged by Jupiter’s gravity well.”

“But can’t Centaurs also be from outside the solar system?” Sanvi asked. “They rotate around the Sun, right? So what makes Riss’s Rock so special?”

“You mean, isn’t it just another Centaur, like we thought?” Cooper asked in return. He fiddled with his pads again. “Enoch, can you expand the Centaur’s…I mean, Riss’s Rock’s trajectory? Even further. And superimpose Jupiter, Saturn, and Neptune’s orbits for scale.”

Enoch nodded. “I’ll give it a try.”

The rotating model of Jupiter and its Trojans seemed to shrink. Saturn appeared with its moons. Neptune and its oddly tilted ring. The rock appeared, its blue line trajectory once again trailing out into space.

“Maximizing,” Enoch said softly.

The three gas giants shrank. The Kuiper Belt appeared. Still the blue line stretched into the beyond.

“Inputting hypothetical location of the Oort boundaries.”

The model shrank even further. Jupiter was a tiny spec. The Oort appeared like a cloudy, partially transparent globe. The blue line began to curve, ever so slightly.

“Enoch,” Riss said. “Can you get us an image of the heliopause?”

“Not sure. The old records from the Voyagers only recorded the termination shock boundary. But I’ll see.”

The planets completely disappeared from view, and the solar system now appeared as a series of elongated bubbles. Just outside the front of the bubbles lay a wide ribbon of fuzzy orange.

“Is the bow shock really that color?” Cooper said, eyes wide.

“Um. No idea,” Enoch said, slightly embarrassed. “Nobody’s ever been out that far, and the only info was in black and white so I borrowed the color from a vid game.”

Sanvi started to laugh, but Riss pointed at the image. “Look at the trajectory.”

The blue line clearly extended through the heliopause. The opposite side from the bow shock. But the line ended once it left the bubble.

“Enoch, can we extrapolate a starting point? Based on the current vectors.”

He grumbled but set to work. “I need Sanvi.”

She stopped laughing. Paused, and raised an eyebrow. Cooper turned slightly red.

“Ah, I mean, Sanvi’s better at the calcs than me,” Enoch stuttered. “That’s all I meant.”

Riss smiled and raised a finger to her lips. She should pay more attention to her crew, she thought. Something had happened that she hadn’t caught before.

“Right,” Sanvi replied coolly, swivelling back to her console. “Let’s just see…ah. Enoch, on your console now.”

“Got it.” After another moment, the holographic image of the solar system drastically shrank. The trajectory line arced. The arm of the Milky Way containing Earth flickered, and then that also shrank. Another cloud came into focus. The blue line began to trace a vague oval.

“This is just a best guess, you know,” Enoch warned, fiddling more with his console. “There’s a whole lot of empty space between us and…wherever this came from.”

“Why is the trajectory showing up as an orbit?” Riss asked. “There seems little chance it’d be a frequent visitor.”

“That’s the way the program works,” Sanvi said. She tapped her console to confirm. “Comp’s just not able to track normal astronomical events. We’re hunters, after all.”

The holograph slowed its transformation. The Milky Way on one side. Satellite galaxies and clusters surrounding it in the local neighborhood. The blue line entered a cloud and came out the other side, tracing its path across deep space.

“I should have guessed,” Enoch said softly.

Riss glanced at him. The navigator had turned pale and seemed to shake. She had never seen him act this way. 

“Feet of Canopus,” Cooper whispered. “Al-Sufi was right.”

She turned to him. He also looked pale, if that were possible. To Sanvi. She also looked odd.

“Well, I was expecting Andromeda,” she started to quip light-heartedly. “So…”

She stopped herself. It didn’t seem to fit the mood.

Riss leaned back and crossed her arms.

“OK,” she said, “What is it?”

“The Magellanic Cloud,” Enoch replied. He touched his console, and the image zoomed on a particularly bright star. “Canopus is the second-brightest star in the Earth sky. The Magellanic Cloud shows up just beneath it, but only seen from below the equator.”

He held his right hand out as if touching the sky, then turned around to face the image.

“One finger at the north unchanging star, the thumb on the south unchanging star. Straight to morning,” he intoned. “Thus did Hawai’iloa find our land.”

He dropped his hand. “We called it Ke-alii-o-kona-i-ka-lewa. The Chief of the Southern Expanse. The Wayfinders used it to get home to Polynesia.”

Riss felt a slight chill run down her spine. What?

“In the Vedas, it is a cleanser and calmer of water,” Sanvi said, although without much conviction. She tossed her head. “Agastya. A superstition from Hinduism.”

“Wait,” Riss said. “Canopus is in the Carina constellation. That’s only 300 some odd light years from here.”

“Yeah, ‘only,’” Cooper said. “But the blue line shoots underneath that. Into the Cloud.”

“How far is the Cloud?”

Enoch checked his figures. “About 160,000 light years. Give or take.”

“And how long would it take the rock to reach us from there?”

“Well, let’s see the calcs…160,000 light years is about 10 trillion AU, and one AU about 150 million kilometres, so…”

“Enoch.”

He paused, then shook his head.

“Calcs must be off on the trajectory. It’d take about 10 million years for this thing to get to us, even assuming maximum speed.”

“And if it came from Canopus?”

Enoch glanced down. “Not even a handful of years.”

He leaned back, thinking. “The real question is, why?”

“Why what?” Cooper said. “I don’t see how any of this is relevant.”

“Sure, it’s relevant,” Riss said. “I agree with Enoch. Why did this rock suddenly appear? Was it ejected?”

“Probably,” said Sanvi. “Let’s stay rational.”

“It’s tempting, though,” Riss replied, “to think of alternatives.”

She paused.

“Like whether it was intentionally sent or not.”

Enoch laughed, then stopped.

Cooper closed his eyes. He seemed to be praying. Sanvi, likewise, had assumed a meditative stance, but quickly opened her eyes and stared into the distance.

After a moment, Riss broke the spell with a clap of her hands.

“Right. Interesting intellectual exercise, but Cooper is probably right in the end.”

“I am?”

“Yes,” Riss said with finality. “Whoever sent it, if it was sent, or whatever it is, we’re stuck dealing with this rock now. Who knows what’ll happen once the settlers on Mars drink this water?”

“I can make a couple of good guesses,” Enoch muttered, toggling the navigation controls. “We’re picking up speed as estimated, but still a few days out.”

“Damn. Sanvi?”

“Sorry, Riss. Still no way of contacting Mars or Ceres. They’re just broadcasting the same message.”

Riss sat back in the command chair, steepling her fingers. She surveyed her crew. They seemed strangely subdued, but an underlying tension lay palpable in the air. The Artemis also felt somehow tense, as if it were alive, sensing their feelings.

She pondered. Maybe it was. After what they had all apparently experienced separately, who was to stay the ship wasn’t alive in a certain sense? It was made out of the same atoms, the same subatomic particles as themselves, just in different proportions. Particles that never touched. Held in covalence and nuclear bonds by the laws of physics. Full of space, no substance.

The ship breathed. Riss breathed. What was it she was breathing? Other particles of the universe, all part of the same field. The same threads, same patterns.

“No more pings,” she said suddenly. The crew reacted slowly, almost as if they had expected her to say it. They looked at one another and nodded. The Ceres Council and any other hunters around would hone in on their location if they successfully got through anyway. No need to broadcast their whereabouts until they were close enough to contact through regular comm channels.

“Riss,” Enoch said eventually. “How will we slow down? Without a response from a catcher, I mean.”

She stood up, stretching her shoulders.

“I have a couple of ideas about that. In the meantime, who’s for some tube food? I’m famished.”

“You know,” Sanvi replied, as they all made their way to the corridor. “I have a couple of my own ideas about that, too.”


Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 22: The Sagittarius (in which Gennaji faces an old friend/foe and a dilemma)

Frogs embryos turned into xenobots

April 12, 2021
MThomas

Oh you precious little life forms…

Using blobs of skin cells from frog embryos, scientists have grown creatures unlike anything else on Earth, a new study reports. These microscopic “living machines” can swim, sweep up debris and heal themselves after a gash.

https://www.sciencenews.org/article/frog-skin-cells-self-made-living-machines-xenobots/amp?__twitter_impression=true

The possibilities are endless…

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