M Thomas Apple Author Page

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

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…

Space elevators, revisited (and even possible)

April 2, 2021
MThomas

“Technical-wise, it’s kind of ready” (Prof. George Zhu of York University)

https://academictimes.com/far-from-science-fiction-space-elevators-may-be-nearing-deployment/?fbclid=IwAR0owexz5xK1IW9ye4FxiocqnrL7DgroSeRaqtgbNwpDVx4RIDVLZSuLWXc

The possibilities…the tether doesn’t actually have to touch the ground. Basically, you put up a satellite with two tethers (one for things going up, one for things going down) and then have a rocket sent up and attach to the tether.

The tether would then push the payload the rest of the way into outer space (as the article points out, space begins at 62 miles above sea level, but 98% of the weight of rockets is used to break away from the Earth’s gravity to that point).

Now, this article was published on April 1st, so I’m really hoping it’s not a prank…

(Also, wordpress looks REALLY BAD today for some reason. Wth? This “block” style is clunky AF and looks more like Netscape ca. 1996)

Bringer of Light, Chapter 16: The Artemis

March 13, 2021
MThomas

While Gennaji and the Sagittarius prepare to encounter an old friend/rival, the Artemis crew has internal issues…

He had done it. He had finally flown out to the Kuiper Belt. Him, Enoch Ryan. The solar system’s only Jewish-Irish-Hawai’ian navigator. He was the best.

And they all called him a loonie.

Enoch scoffed.

He wondered, though, why he was sitting in the pilot’s chair of an old Sopwith. Surely…surely, this wasn’t necessary.

He stood up, thinking he would simply…stretch.

Hands out like airplane wings, the plane dropped from beneath his feet. Body flattening as he rushed out to meet the edge of the Belt.

Next stop, the Oort Cloud. A shimmering field crossed his vision. Ice and dust particles swirling. Like dirty sherbet. Like when his Grandfather bought him one.

And he dropped it onto the Lunar surface. Only now all around him. It really was a cloud. He smiled, embracing it. Embracing him. He could see the long-lost planet in the distance. Planet X. Nibiru.

No, it was Hapu’u. Guiding him. All he needed was to find the Twin sister. A new future…

A scream.

What?

He turned around. From behind him. It came again.

Riss.

But Hapu’u…

He looked back to the Cloud. There it was. Waiting.

But.

He turned away. The Artemis. He needed to be on the Artemis. Stop dreaming, he told himself. Wake up!

Eyes opened, he found himself floating in his cabin. How had he returned so quickly? No, it was a dream. He pushed against the ceiling and fell toward the bed. Grabbing a wall rail, he yanked himself down.

Yes, a dream, he thought. He put a magboot on and saw his hands. Dust.

Was it?

He heard voices in the next cabin. No screaming.

Maybe he should’ve stayed in the Cloud.

Shaking his head, he got a drink pack from the minifridge and took a few sips. Didn’t seem to be anything other than regular water. Tasteless.

He couldn’t wait to get back to Luna and grab a Longboard Ale.

He released the pack, left it floating head-high, opened the door. In the next cabin, he found Riss and Sanvi arguing.

“I know what it was!” Riss was saying, hands on hips.

Enoch smirked. He liked those hips. Fiancé or not.

“I don’t question your experience,” Sanvi was saying, with a little wag of her finger. “But you have no way of knowing it was mystical or not.”

“As if you do!” Riss retorted. “You’re an expert on mysticism now?”

“Not an expert, no,” Sanvi replied coolly. “But I have training, yes. My martial—”

“Your martial arts training, yes, yes,” Riss cut in. “We all know that. That doesn’t give you the sole privilege of understanding the nature of other people’s experiences.”

“What experiences?” Enoch said.

They stopped arguing and looked at him.

“Yeah,” he said. “I’m here. On the ship. You know, the one I fly?”

“Sorry, Enoch,” Riss said. “Didn’t notice you.”

“Yeah, so…” He raised his eyebrows.

Riss and Sanvi glared at each other.

“You know,” Enoch offered, “I kind of had this strange dream. Was it a dream? Not sure. You know, this dream of kind of flying.”

“Flying,” Sanvi snorted. “So?”

“Outside the ship,” Enoch said. “By myself.”

Riss stared at him. Sanvi closed her eyes.

“Without a ship. All alone in the Belt. Like I could sort of, I dunno, control things around me?”

“The fields,” Riss said bluntly. “That’s what Sanvi calls them.”

“The what?”

“Fields,” Sanvi said, still with eyes closed.

She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “The material of the universe, shared matter. Currents. Atoms. Subatomic particles. The working of the cosmos.”

Enoch laughed. “Sounds—”

“Mystical?” Sanvi said, opening her eyes wide. “Remember when you said you didn’t want to talk about anything mystical?”

Enoch shrugged. “Yeah. But this cosmic working or whatever, it seemed like a dream to me.”

“Like you were walking outside your body,” Riss said. “Right?”

He paused, then nodded. “Yeah. Like I could control things around me. How far they were. How far I was.”

“Control,” Riss agreed. “Understanding.”

“And fear,” came a quivering voice from the hallway.

All three turned. The geist leaned against the corridor wall, as if for support. His ragged breath came to them.

“I, I was alone. All alone. Floating. My boots, they failed, and I was just…”

“Coop,” Riss said, with a note of sympathy.

The geist shook his head and waved a hand frantically. He was sweating, Enoch noted.

“I was just…drifting, for how long, I can’t say. But then…then I saw…”

Cooper’s eyes grew wide and he began to shake and mumble. Enoch could barely make the words: “O God, I will no longer be full of anxiety, I will not let trouble bother me. O God, purify my heart, illumine my powers—”

“God?” Enoch said aloud. “You saw God?”

Cooper stopped and grabbed Enoch’s shoulders.

“Dare you! How dare you!” he snarled. “You blaspheme…”

Just as Riss and Sanvi moved to intervene, all strength left the geist’s arms and he slumped. Enoch made as if to slap the hands away, but his anger was replaced by surprise.

Cooper was sobbing.

“O God,” he cried, “O God, you are the Powerful, the Gracious, the…”

He seemed to lose his voice and continued to sob in silence for a moment. Then he looked up.

Sanvi had knelt and was holding his hand.

“All that we are,” she spoke slowly, with conviction, “is the result of our thoughts. If one speaks or acts evil thoughts, pain follows. If one speaks or acts pure thoughts, bliss follows.”

Cooper made as if to remove his hand, but then looked up, seemed to calm down.

“I,” he started. He took a deep breath. “I’m not sure what I saw. What I was capable of doing, though. It frightened me. The power.”

“The beauty of the fear of Heaven,” Enoch found himself saying, “is noble performance.”

They all looked at him.

“The Talmud,” he replied, without being asked. Why did that suddenly come into my head? He felt compelled to add, sheepishly, “‘Love Heaven, and fear it.’ My dad used to always quote from it. I was named after one of the characters.”

“Whoever possesses God in their being,” Riss suddenly said, “has him in a divine manner and he shines out to them. In all things.”

“What is this?” Sanvi demanded. “Are we competing for the right to be mystical?”

Riss shook her head. “Memories. Snatches, clips of dreams. Things Sergey used to say to me, I think.”

“Sergey? Captain Bardish? Really?”

Riss smirked. “Actually, he usually said stuff like ‘the church is near, but the road is icy; the tavern is far, but I will walk carefully.’”

Cooper and Sanvi laughed. A welcome sound, Enoch thought, chuckling despite himself. But he was still feeling embarrassed. What ever possessed him to say the Talmud aloud? He hadn’t thought of it since…

Since Granddad died, he realized.

“‘Always confess to the truth’,” he said aloud. “Stuff my Grandfather used to say to me when I was a kid.”

Sanvi stood, pulling Cooper to his feet. The geist brushed off invisible dust, rearranging his shirt.

“What else did he say?” she asked.

Enoch paused. “‘Do not seek to wrong he who wronged you.’”

He looked at Cooper, then held out his hand. The geist hesitated, then took it.

“I think,” the astrogeologist said slowly, “that we have all been experiencing something unusual. Odd.”

“Wonderful,” Enoch said, still shaking Cooper’s hand. He let go and stared at his hand. “Exhilarating.”

“Yes,” Riss said. “Something entirely extraordinary. And frightening. And something that no one person owns.”

Sanvi bit her tongue. “Riss, I—”

“Look,” Riss said with a wave of her hand. “I think we all need a little time to sort our thoughts out. It does seem as if we are all basically having the same sort of experiences.”

“Dreams,” Enoch said.

“Experiences,” Sanvi said. “I’m not so sure they’re dreams.”

“What do you mean?” Cooper asked. “What else could they be?”

“Have you heard of astral projection?”

“What, you mean out of body experiences, that sort of thing?”

“Exactly.”

“I can’t believe that I was actually ‘out of my body’,” Enoch said with a smirk. “It felt more like a hallucination, or a really good trip.”

Sanvi nodded. “Yes, it probably does. Did.”

“Isn’t it possible that we’re all just tired?” Riss asked. “Sometimes people feel like this because they have some sort of inner ear problem, or they change air pressure too quickly because of a faulty air lock, things like that.”

“Well,” Sanvi said, then pursed her lips. “Do you think it’s possible that all four of us, suddenly, right after we started drinking water from that rock, started having the same trips, hallucinations, or whatever. Even though we’re all experienced asteroid hunters who have spent years in space without ever having such an experience?”

“Not all of us,” Cooper said glumly.

“And not all the experiences were just about projection,” Riss said, with a look. Enoch caught the look, wondering. What had happened before he entered Sanvi’s cabin? She wasn’t telling him and Coop everything.

“Projection?” Cooper asked.

“Astral projection,” Riss clarified. “That would explain how our experiences seem so real, and yet have a dreamlike quality. But it doesn’t explain being able to manipulate objects.”

“Is that why,” Enoch began. He stopped himself.

“What is it?” Riss asked.

He didn’t respond.

“Enoch. What.”

“Why did you cry out? You know. Uh. Scream.”

Riss was silent for a moment.

“I was scared,” she replied curtly.

Enoch opened his mouth, then thought better of it and closed it again.

Riss? The Captain, scared? Jeez.

“Well, that’s enough of that,” Riss said with a tone of finality. “We still have several days before we reach Ceres.”

“Yeah,” Cooper muttered. “Don’t remind me.”

Sanvi chuckled and nudged the geist with her shoulder. Which Enoch noted, with a sudden pang of jealousy. He narrowed his eyes briefly before relaxing. Things were moving too fast for his liking.

“What do you want us to do, Captain?” he said aloud. “You know, I don’t much feel like sleeping right now, if you know what I mean.”

She nodded. “I don’t expect that any of us are quite ready to return to Ceres that way. How about…”

She paused, then turned to the geist.

“Coop, have you finalized that analysis of the rock?”

He nearly flinched, Enoch thought. Then relaxed when Sanvi briefly touched his shoulder with a fingertip.

Dammit, he inwardly grumbled.

“No, R, Riss. I had nearly finished when, uh, when we were all gathered in the cargo hold.”

He looked at Sanvi worriedly. She closed her eyes and shook her head, smiling.

Something unspoken had happened, Enoch thought. He frowned. So why was he upset about it all of a sudden?

“Well,” Riss said, in a determined voice. “This piece of dusty ice clearly has some secrets. I think it’s time to finally see where our rock comes from.”


Next: Weng discovers a conspiracy in Bringer of Light, Chapter 17: Luna Base (dropping March 27, 2021)

Bringer of Light, Chapter 15: The Sagittarius

February 27, 2021
MThomas

When we last left Gennaji, his ship was just about to fire or be fired upon. Somewhere near Encheladus…

Gennaji looked over at his crew at the rocket launcher. Karel and Andrzej both seemed tense.

No, he silently corrected himself, he was the one feeling tense. They looked…blank. Waiting. 

He shook his head.

“Ory, are they together or separate?”

“Looks like they plan to split up, heading around Encephalus. Opposite sides. Not quite in orbit yet.”

Gennaji cursed. Naturally. That’s what he would have done.

“Thrusters. Solid fuel only. Aim us at the Corvus. Shield us.”

“Aye, sir.”

He nodded at Karel and Andrzej. They strapped themselves down to the floor like cargo boxes, clamping suspender-like tethers wrapped around their waists to metal rings in the floor. Hurriedly he did the same, locking himself in front of the railgun console.

The Sagittarius began to peal starboard.

Starboard, he thought. Antiquated nautical term. Everything is starboard in space.

He shifted his weight and checked the railgun. All readings normal.

“Ory, position?”

“Corvus is closing…they’re firing!”

Firing?! Gennaji gritted his teeth. Hamno, the Corvus captain was insane, firing laser cannon from that distance. “Ory, evasive!”

The Sagittarius shuddered again, violently. His knee buckled and he slammed his right hip against a side wall. Shit, that hurts, he thought, refusing to cry out.

Karel apparently had no such compunction, judging by the sudden yelp. Gennaji glanced over. The big helmsman had fallen down sideways on one shoulder and was groggily getting to his knees. Andrzej seemed to have already crouched in anticipation and bounced up.

The tether was merely a brace after all, Gennaji thought. He grabbed the console corner and checked the readings again.

“Ory.”

“Captain, the shot missed by a wide margin. Looks like they forgot to compensate for the gravity well effect.”

Gennaji grinned. He figured that old hunter trick would work on a young crew like the Corvus. Now they had to wait to recharge.

“Range?”

“In range now.”

“Perfect. Ory, manuever us so we can get a good angle from the cargo hold.”

“Aye, sir.”

Gennaji felt the Sagittarius shudder as the thrusters moved them into position. He checked the console again before giving the order.

“Set.”

Karel depressed a switch. The sound echoed through the cargo hold.

“Fire.”

Andrzej yanked down with both hands on the firing lever. The rocket made a little popping noise as the railgun launched it through the port into space. Like a champagne bottle, Gennaji thought.

But with much more pop.

“Ory, get us away as fast as you can. Hard right.”

“Aye. The other ship is coming into range as well.”

Gennaji glanced at the railgun. His crew were resetting the launch mechanism, but they might not have time for another shot.

“Ory, I may need to use the ballbuster after all.”

“Captain…”

There was a pause, then static.

“Ory!”

The Sagittarius suddenly slipped sideways. Gennaji fell to his knees again as the gravity seemed to increase.

Shit. They must be tumbling. The centrifugal force might damage the hull if they couldn’t stabilize the ship.

“Karel!” he barked. “Helm! We have to…”

The intercom crackled to life again.

“…not responding to pings, looks dead in space.”

“Ory? What happened?”

“Corvus…hit, dead in…All…down.”

Gennaji struggled to his feet, grabbing the console for support. His body still felt abnormally heavy.

“Are we spinning?” he asked. Karel held a tether hook in one hand, unsure whether he should complete his Captain’s last order.

“Aye, sir. We…close to…emp charge, so our com…not 100%. Hang on…”

The ship shuddered again. Gennaji bared his teeth. Had the other ship also fired a railgun? The gravity seemed to lessen.

At least they had stopped spinning, he thought. Probably drifting, though.

“Ory?”

No response.

Gennaji swore. He unstrapped the tether and motioned for Karel to do the same.

“Andy, stay here and see if we can get off another…”

The com crackled to life. But it wasn’t their navigator.

“Sagittarius. This is Pleaides. We’re boarding you. Let’s talk.”


Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 16: The Artemis (Coming Saturday March 13, 2021)

Apologies for the delay…

February 21, 2021
MThomas

I missed my last post of Bringer of Light. It should have dropped on Saturday, February 20, to bring the story up to Chapter 15.

To be honest, for most of the past couple of weeks I’ve been feeling like I was on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Things at work and home were just finally getting to me and I needed to take a serious break from life in general. Just way too much to do and not enough time to do it.

And I’m really, really super sick of this pandemic and the government’s completely irresponsible behavior (I’m in Japan, if you’re interested…the LDP is, was, and will be only concerned about their stupid Olympics, which ought to be cancelled and, quite frankly, never held again…complete and utter waste of taxpayer money).

I’ve managed to calm my nerves somewhat, but I think I’ll just rearrange the schedule a bit. Every week is just getting to be too much.

So I’ll see if I can get the next chapter up this coming weekend (Saturday February 27th) and continue the story every TWO weeks rather than every single week.

Sorry for the delay. Stay safe, everyone.

Bringer of Light, Chapter 14: United Mars Colonies

February 13, 2021
MThomas

Gennaji and Riss each face their own problems, Weng has returned to Mars. His boss is not happy.

“Dammit it all! What on earth is going on, Sam?” Martin demanded.

The Martian Overseer wrung his hands as the image on his view screen smiled. Damn that inscrutable smile! And here he thought the architect was no more than a foolish artist, like clay to be molded as he saw fit.

“You sound alarmed, Martin,” Weng said. “Not to worry. We have procured the water, as requested.”

“Requested. Your request!” Martin sat down heavily, thumping his desk for good measure. “Gen!”

“Yes, father.”

Martin started. What?

“Father, do not overly concern yourself. Dr. Weng is well aware of our relationship. He has readily agreed to join our cause.”

Martin frowned. Cause? That old chestnut again?

He sighed, and leaned back in the chair. The UN Security Council was definitely not going to like this. Still, they had other, more pressing concerns.

The disagreement between China and the Greater Indian Empire had worsened. Martin expected conflict to break out at almost any moment. At that point, they could no longer count on getting foodstuffs from the ISS. UN or not, India would never allow supplies to be shared with settlers from the Allied Forces, as long as China was a part of it.

“Gen. Sam. Things have taken a turn for the worst here,” he said at length. “If we don’t get new supplies soon, hydroponics estimates that we’ll run out of solid food in less than sixty Earth days.”

“Two months?” Weng replied. His face looked alarmed. A new expression, Martin thought. I should make a special note of it.

“New refugees,” Martin said. “Another group just came in. This one from Malaysia.”

“So,” Gen said monotonously. “Things are getting worse.”

“Yes,” Martin agreed. “An emergency Security Council meeting has been arranged to discuss the ongoing rift between China and India. But the cracks have appeared. The UA may decide not to take sides, which would annoy their Chinese allies.”

“Not good,” Weng said. For once, he wasn’t smiling. “I did warn Sue that the UA would not protect her, and that China might come looking.”

“Sue?”

Weng looked flustered. Martin said nothing. But he enjoyed the architect’s discomfort. Information for future reference.

“Sue Talbot. On the Ceres Mining Council.”

“Ah. And this, Sue, what was her response?”

Gen cut in. “She gave us seven thousand tons of water. We’re bringing it back right now. And we have made an ally.”

“An ally.” Martin pondered.

He was playing a risky game, he knew. The southern ice cap could solve all their problems, but he had no immediate access to it. The settlers need not know that all he had to do was hack the ice factories and overpower a handful of guards. He still needed the settlers’ help to extract enough water from regolith for electrical generation and the hydroponic greenhouses. For now. Once the UN found out how much was potentially available for hydrogen fuel cell production, without the UA’s interference, they would surely come to him. 

And then she’d see…!

“Father. Father, what shall we do about the foodstuffs?”

Martin snapped his attention back to the vidscreen.

“Ah. Ah! Well, let me first contact the UN. See what they can do.”

“And if they are otherwise preoccupied?” Weng said. “We can divert to the ISS to—”

“No, no,” Martin cut in, waving a hand. “Forget the ISS. Ping Luna and see if you can do a swing-by. You know who to get in touch with.”

Weng visibly sighed. Now it was Martin’s turn to smile. He had them.

“Yes, Overseer,” the architect said. Glumly, Martin thought.

“In the meantime,” Gen commented. “You may wish to block all incoming. We have already recommended that Ceres do so, in anticipation.”

“All?” Martin said, taken aback. “Why?”

“While you were talking with Mr. Weng, I intercepted a transmission from Earthside to the ISS.” Gen paused, concentrating on something off screen. “Here. I’ll send it to you.”

“You broke their—well, I guess quantum encryption wasn’t foolproof, after al—”

Martin broke off. He scanned the message. This was bad. Very bad.

The UA had launched several troop carriers. Somebody must have tipped them off. The refugees?

“Fortunately, the UA lacks firepower enough to disable our orbiting dock station. But they could land troops with little opposition,” Gen noted. “We must seize their ice before that happens.”

“Yes. Remember, we have about two months before our food runs out,” Martin said. “You need to drop off your water cargo, refuel and go to Luna, and convince the Lunar Council to transport us emergency food supplies. And all before the Allied Forces arrive. For leverage. Can you do it?”

Get and Weng exchanged glances. Martin wondered if the two were getting along.

“Yes, I believe so,” Weng finally said with a smile. “Unless you decide to choose a different crew member more agile than I at spaceflight.”

Martin shook his head.

“Spaceflight is child’s play, thanks to the AI onboard systems. We’re not planning on fighting anybody. What we need is a diplomat with people skills.”

“Martin, I’ve told you, I’m—”

“No diplomat?” Martin smiled. “But you want to be one. I recognize ambition when I see it, Sam.”

He could swear Weng was blushing, but the architect did well to hide it behind that smile. He practiced it, himself.

Now we know each other, he thought, feeling more comfortable. This was a game he knew how to play.

“At any rate,” he continued, “as long as you can convince the bigwigs on Luna, the quantum teleportation systems should get us enough food for a while.”

“Too bad it doesn’t work with people,” Weng said. Wistfully? Another piece of information to be stored future use. Somebody far away he wished to be nearer.

“Yes, well,” Martin replied, keeping his answer deliberately open.

“We’ll contact you as we approach lower Martian orbit,” Gen said, as if on cue. “Until then, we do recommend silence.”

Martin relaxed his shoulders and inclined his head. “Very well. Use the cypher. Out.”

He swiftly cut the connection. The five minute delay between transmission had been irritating enough. No need to wait for confirmation. He was positive Gen understood. They’d had little chance to employ their secret code, given the quantum encryptions that had come into use. But since apparently even Chinese technology was hackable, they had to rely on old methods. Even if it only worked over relatively short distances.

Now, to the business at hand. After ordering another tea, Martin ordered all outside communications blocked. This was sure to provoke a response from settler groups across the Colonies. But with the UA Allied Forces already on their way, he saw little choice. He busied himself with paperwork to the Security Council, drafting a request for supplies that was sure to be turned down, while he waited for the expected calls.

Sure enough, less than thirty minutes later his secretary was fielding multiple irate inquiries. Fortunately, the robot had little difficulty handling several simultaneous connections while relaying information to Earth. Martin was perfectly content to devote his attention to other, more pressing issues.

Let the factions complain for the time being, he thought, switching his screen to monitor Weng and Gen’s progress from the docking station. Its limited capabilities at least allowed the him to estimate a reasonable arrival time, based on their last known position. After a few moments of inputting commands, Martin had his estimate. Next, he contacted the internal Mars Colonies Security Forces. The MCSF were minimal, at best, a few dozen ex-soldiers who signed five-year UN contracts and helped maintain order in the Colonies.

The problem, Martin knew, was that almost half were ex-UA Allied Forces. If the UA arrived to firm their grip on the ice factories, whose side would they choose? The UN or the UA?

Technically, the United Americas were, of course, part of the UN. In fact, the headquarters of the UN once was located in the UA. But in the turbulent period after the Seven Years War, the UA found itself at odds with most other world powers. In a sudden pique, the UA president decided to boot the UN headquarters from UA territory. At the time, it must have seemed the right thing to do, Martin reflected, as he waited for someone in the MCSF to answer his hail.

But the result of the UN being relocated to China permanently altered relationships among the Security Council members. The UA lost not just prestige but power; its economy collapsed, the government fell, and to survive it was forced to join a coalition with East Asian countries. Humiliated, the UA impeached its president, who it blamed for the entire fiasco.

Martin gritted his teeth. Dammit, why didn’t somebody answer the damn phone?

He couldn’t bear the thought of being connected with his grandfather. His wife’s name, he thought, may not be strong enough. I need to make sure my credentials are impeccable. Outside my grandfather’s influence. Respect and authority. Fame.

What better way but to be the savior of Mars?

“That’ll show her,” he muttered.

“Sorry, sir?” came a voice on the speaker. “I didn’t catch that.”

Damn! He’d been talking aloud again.

“We need to show,” he stopped, then continued in a stronger, more confident voice. “We need to show the world that they can still depend on the UN and the Mars Colonies. To whom am I speaking?”

“I’m not sure we can show them much at this point,” the voice said. “Hamels here.”

“Hamels?” Martin frowned. He’d never heard of the woman. “Where’s the Commander?”

“Busy, sir,” came the hesitant reply. “Most of our forces are dealing with the current crisis.”

“What crisis?”

“Sir, several settlements are close to rioting against the forced block on Earthside communications. They’re also demanding more water and food rations.”

“So soon?”

Martin nearly swore. He’d clearly underestimated the persistence of some of the factions. It was time to stall, and bluff.

“Hamels, was it?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You don’t sound UA. What was your original posting?”

“European Union, sir. Netherlands Division, transferred in six weeks ago.”

“Six weeks, eh. So…” He paused, mind racing. A European. Surely arrived in a group. No country would waste money on an individual trip to a remote post. “Tell me, Mr. Hamels—”

“Sergeant Major, sir.”

“Sergeant Major Hamels,” he corrected. “In the MCSF, how many units originate from the EU or other non-UA locations?”

“Non-UA? Sir, the crisis—”

“Yes, yes, we’ll deal with that in a moment. How many?”

Hamels fell silent. Martin wished they had the power for vid transmissions. He hated not seeing his interlocutor’s face.

“Well?” he said impatiently.

“Sir, I believe there are about fourteen or fifteen, out of thirty-three.”

He pondered. Not quite half. Damn the UA! Of course they would have insisted on a majority of security forces from their own units.

To safeguard their damn irradiated ice.

“Hamels, listen to me. I need you to contact all the non-UA security force members and tell them to assemble at the water plant in twenty minutes.”

“Sir! Yes, sir, but the rioting?”

“I have faith in Commander Reynolds’ persuasive abilities. In the meantime, contact as many as you can. I’ll be calling all settler faction heads and see if we can’t calm the situation down with a minimum amount of security force, eh?”

“Yes, sir. Fifteen minutes. Water plant. Acknowledged.”

“Fifteen minutes,” he repeated, then cut the connection.

Now, Martin thought. How much should he say to the settlers?


Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 15: The Sagittarius (arriving February 20, 2021)

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