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Bringer of Light, Chapter 26: Ceres

October 16, 2021
MThomas

The Artemis is home – to an unwelcome surprise.

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

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

They had changed. But to what degree?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Aye.”

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

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

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

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

“Aye.”

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

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

And Riss, herself?

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

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

At least in terms of physical safety. After that…

Sam, she thought. Where are you?

More to the point, Where was she?

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

“What?”

Riss swiped the 3D imager on again.

The Sagittarius. The Corvus.

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

Sanvi cursed.

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

“Too late,” Cooper said. “Incoming.”

The familiar growling voice of Gennaji filled the command center.

“I will have my own, murderer.”

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

Laughter, from another ship. A strong alto voice.

“You still don’t get it, dear.”

Ildico?!

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

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

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

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

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


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

Shooting off like Spiderman!

October 5, 2021
MThomas

Yeah, it’s, uh, totally unobtrusive…

It’s “wrist-mist” to the rescue!

Apparently, this is designed to shoot alcohol into your hand “whenever and wherever you feel like it.”

Hmm. I don’t suppose a clever person could figure out what else to fill it with that would be easily slipped into someone’s drink or food. Or spray your own hand and then shake your enemy’s. Or touch his face.

Say, didn’t this happen already to a member of a certain pariah country’s ruling family?

And, uh, Spidey doesn’t just spray his hands. That’s not really how it works. Just saying.


(Plus, someone already made a web-shooter…)

https://youtu.be/Rv6RQqrSlYg?t=8

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…

Somebody’s planning to build an “impulse engine”

August 23, 2021
MThomas

In a video on the YouTube channel Bloomberg Quicktakes, Fearn and Woodward propose using the “Mach Effect Gravity Assist” drive to cut interstellar travel time down to within a human lifetime. 

https://nerdist.com/article/star-trek-impulse-engines-mega-drive/

OK, so it’s “proposing” to build, not planning.

One website screams “they’re building it!”

https://www.tweaktown.com/news/81252/star-trek-impulse-engine-is-being-built-for-interstellar-travel/index.html?fbclid=IwAR3kiK79Adb8c0fTEm-PfPyDZqjw1dLbW3aokqNYublkcph5fD3zxSNL00c

SDMN (settle down mah nerds)

It’ll happen. Some day. Maybe.

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.

Bringer of Light, Chapter 23: Luna

August 7, 2021
MThomas

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


Luna Base was in lock-down mode.

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

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

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

“Open! Open, dammit!”

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

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

Laser fire.

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

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

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

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

What the hell was going on?

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

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

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

Cutters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is this?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is going on?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

“Captain Bardish, are you having trouble breathing?”

“Hmf. Whatever gave you such an idea?”

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

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

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

Sergey looked over his shoulder and cocked an eyebrow.

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

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

“Captain. After you.”

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

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

A hunter ship.

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

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

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

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

“Captain!”

He raised his head but stayed prone.

“Captain Bardish! Are you unhurt?”

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

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

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

“Captain Bardish, are you unhurt?”

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

“Luna Base Police, sir.”

“Luna what?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Safe?”

“The residential areas are obviously too dangerous.”

“So you are, you are arresting me?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Despite what Weng thought.

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

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

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

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

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

The administrative sector.

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

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

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

“Where did Lieutenant Sanchez go?” Sergey asked.

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

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

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

No exit door.

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

A younger man…

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


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

Bringer of Light, Chapter 22: The Artemis

July 29, 2021
MThomas

About a month overdue! Sorry once again. But life has a way of…etc etc.

Weng and Sam were on their way back to Mars but took a detour to Ceres, having realized that a conspiracy involving asteroid hunters and possibly even retired Captain Sergey on Luna has entangled the clones’ plan for an independent Ceres. Meanwhile, the Artemis continues its long journey home, and the crew decides it’s time to test out their newly acquired abilities…on some fruit.


Riss stared down at the table in the mess galley. A dozen fruits and vegetables floated above it, gently bobbing up and down.

“How did you do that?” she demanded.

Sanvi shrugged and then yawned. “I just thought about what I wanted to eat. Made me feel a little tired, though.”

“I saw you do it, and I still don’t know how you did it.”

Cooper leaned forward and plucked out a mango. He paused, then took a small bite. “Delicious,” he said, devouring the rest.

Enoch shook his head. “I don’t know what half these things are.”

Sanvi picked up some of the fruit and passed them around, naming each.

“Purple mangosteen. Ambarella. Star fruit.”

“What’s this one?” Enoch asked. He gestured to a yellow fruit with twisted fingers stretching out in a cluster.

“Buddha’s hand.”

He made a face. “You expect me to eat this stuff? I’d rather have rations.”

Riss laughed. “Eat or not, the more important fact is that Sanvi was able to make them at all. What did you use?”

Sanvi tapped a finger on the panel next to her. “Some of the rations, of course. I reasoned that, if we can manipulate matter, we need something that’s already physical.”

Enoch sputtered. “Some of the ra—“

“So,” Riss cut in, “even though there are atoms all around us, it’s not as if we can just create something from nothing.”

“It’s not creation, is it?” Cooper said. “Nothing is new in the universe. Everything is merely one form of something already existing.”

Riss nodded. “Nothing is created; all is renewed. From either a mystical or a chemical standpoint.”

“Wait,” Enoch protested. “Are you saying that any of us — all of us — can do what Sanvi did? Make some disgusting fruit?”

Sanvi gave him the finger. 

“If you’ve never heard of Buddha’s hand,” Riss said, “I doubt you’d be able to manipulate the atoms of a ration tube and turn it into one.”

“But if I know what something is,” Enoch said dubiously, “then as long as I can imagine it, I can make it?”

“Rearrange it. Not create. That’s what I must have done with the doll in my room.”

“Doll?”

Riss briefly felt herself reddening. “Save it.”

“OK, Wiseman,” Cooper said, giving Enoch a tube. “Here’s your tube. Let’s see you turn it into something else.”

Enoch held the tube and concentrated. At first, nothing happened. After a moment, the edges of the tube began to fold in on themselves. The object became rounder, and redder, with slender green strips like fingers emerging from the surface.

Enoch gasped and nearly dropped it.

“My god,” Riss said. “What on earth is it?”

Pitaya,” he whispered. “Dragon fruit. I’ve never eaten one. Only seen pictures from my grandfather.”

He turned it over in his hand, then placed it on the table. He took a knife out from a nearby drawer and cut the fruit in half. The inside was off-white, with tiny black seeds throughout.

“It looks like vanilla chocolate chip ice cream,” Cooper said. He stuck his finger into the pulp and licked it. “Doesn’t taste like it, though.”

Riss picked it up and took a bite. “It tastes like a bland food ration,” she said.

“Not bad for a disgusting fruit,” Sanvi said with a smirk. Enoch returned her finger to her.

“So,” Riss said, “We can’t rearrange things without direct, previous knowledge of what it is we want to make.”

“Would this also work for inanimate objects?” Cooper wondered aloud. “You know, like minerals or metals.”

“Do you mean, could we extract ore from an asteroid just by thinking about it?” Riss asked. She recalled the mask, then shook her head. “I’m not all that anxious to find out, to be honest.”

“No, no,” Cooper said, shaking his head. “I mean, how do we stop the ship? Can we, uh, rearrange part of to slow us down?”

“That’s not exactly what I had in mind,” Riss replied. “But imagine if we could somehow remotely control the catcher on Ceres.”

“I could hack the system,” Enoch said.

“No, too risky. Also probably too difficult, especially if they refuse to communicate. They probably already shut down any external grid access.”

“What if,” Sanvi suddenly said. “What if we were to combine our thoughts. You know, think about the same thing, simultaneously?”

“Here we go again,” Enoch snorted. “Voodoo magic. Ow!”

Sanvi had punched him on the shoulder. Hard.

Cooper darted an angry look at Enoch, Riss noted. She decided to distract him. “Sanvi, if I understand you correctly,” she started. “You mean, we should, individually, try to concentrate on the catcher as we approach. And then, we sort of, ah…”

She waved her arms around, at a loss for words.

“Our minds are growing closer,” Enoch intoned, holding his hands up in a Levite blessing. “Nanoo, nanoo, I bless you all, shalom, shazbot. Ow!”

“Riss,” Cooper said, shaking his head. “This is all getting just a little too, you know.”

“Mystical?” she said.

“Ridiculous?” Enoch said, rubbing his shoulder and glaring at Sanvi. She stuck out her tongue at him.

“Just roll with it. Everybody ready?”

Riss looked around the galley. Her crew stared back at her blankly. Enoch took another bite of papaya. “For what?” he said between chews.

“Ready for the next step.”

Cooper narrowed his eyes. “Riss, I hope this does not mean what I think it means.”

“I have no idea what you think it means,” Enoch said. Cooper rolled his eyes.

“If none of you think we can move the thrower,” Riss said, “why don’t we try to move something smaller first? As a test.”

“A test?” Enoch repeated. “I suck at tests.”

“Call it a trial, then. A practice. But as a group, working together.”

They all looked at Riss. She looked at each of them, then back at the table between them. 

“Let’s concentrate on moving one object,” she said. “Slowly.”

“The dragon fruit,” Enoch suggested, putting the rest of the pitaya down.

Riss nodded.

“Sure. Do what I say. Lift it to eye level. Turn it around once. Aim it at me. Move it two meters, then turn it around and return it.”

They stood around the dinner table, alternately staring at the fruit and each other. A few minutes passed.

“Um,” Cooper said.

Another moment of silence.

“Well, this is awkward,” said Enoch.

“Alright,” Riss said. “This obviously isn’t working right now. Why don’t we, uh, take a break and recharge or something.”

“Wait,” Sanvi said. “Let’s try again. This time, every one should shut their eyes.”

“Shut my eyes?” Enoch said. “How can I concentrate on moving the thing if I can’t even see it?”

“Why should you need to see it?”

“Well. Ah.”

“What is the fruit made of?” Sanvi persisted.

Enoch shrugged. “Molecules of a ration pack that I changed into something I only…”

He stopped, then continued, “…only had imagined in my dreams.” 

And closed his eyes.

“The fruit is only molecules,” Sanvi said softly. “Only atoms like everything else around us. I can feel them. I can see them.”

Riss closed her eyes and concentrated. Nothing.

No. Wait. She could sense something. She could see it. The pitaya.

“Can you see it, Coop?” she said aloud. He turned to her. But his eyes were closed. So were hers. How could she see him?

“Riss,” he said.

“Steady, people,” Riss said. “Concentrate. Lift it up.”

In her mind’s eye she saw the dragon fruit wobble. Then one end lifted off the table. Then the entire fruit.

“A little higher.” It rose to head level.

“Now. Gently. Let’s spin it around.”

The fruit hovered over the table. It jerked to the left, then back to the right.

“Clockwise,” Riss specified.

“Riss,” said Enoch. “I’m getting a little winded.”

“Same here,” whispered Cooper.

“Relax. Just a little longer.”

The fruit slowly swiveled, turning clockwise. It began to move closer to the edge of the table.

“Towards me,” Riss said.

She could feel the fruit strain to move. Something was wrong. Tension. Fighting? She opened her eyes. Enoch and Cooper were sweating. Sanvi had her eyes half-opened but otherwise appeared as if in a deep trance.

“Slowly.”

The pitaya jerked towards her. Then Enoch, then Cooper. One end began to swell.

“Slowly!” she said again, a little more forcefully. “Middle of the table!”

The fruit rose again, above their heads and began to spin wildly.

“No!” Riss shouted.

The dragon fruit burst apart, spraying chunks of fiber across the room.

Sanvi opened her eyes and laughed. She was, as Riss then noticed, the only Artemis crew member not covered in the remains of the exploded dragon fruit.

“I think,” Riss said, somewhat annoyed at Sanvi, “we need a little more practice.”

She scooped a handful of pulp from her shirt.

“And a shower, too.”

Cooper sighed and yanked a handkerchief out of a shirt pocket. “Riss,” he said glumly wiping pitaya juice from his face, “I think we need a break.”

Enoch grimaced and dragged his hands through his hair, yanking out dragon fruit seeds. “I agree with the geist,” he said. “For once. I feel, I dunno, drained?”

“All right,” Riss said with a sigh. “Let’s, let’s all sleep on it for now. We’ll give it another try in a few hours.” 

Her crew left the galley one at a time, headed back to the sleeping quarters corridor. Enoch loudly yawned before Cooper smacked him on the back. The two tussled, but it was a friendly shoving match, ending with arms around shoulders. Sanvi followed, arms crossed, silent.

“And don’t forget to check the physical fitness schedule and take your calcium pills,” Riss called after them. “Some of you are beginning to get lazy.”

Sanvi paused at the doorway and looked back. For a moment, Riss thought she saw something new in Sanvi’s face. Something attractive. Reluctant.

Resisting, Riss realized. Maybe even a little scared. She felt it, too.

“Riss, all you all right?” Sanvi said hesitantly. “I—”

“I’m okay,” Riss cut in. She stopped, then nodded her head. “Sanvi, I, ah. I’m just a little tired.”

“Well, if, if you need to talk.”

Riss looked down and bit her lip.

“Thanks.”

As she watched the pilot leave, Riss hugged herself. They had all changed somehow. She could still feel the ship pulsing, like a thing alive. Sensing her fears, hopes. Desires. Things about her she barely understood, herself.

But what of Sam?


Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 23: Luna – in which Sergey becomes an unwilling participant in a coup.

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.

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