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

September 25, 2021
MThomas

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

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

Enoch?

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

“Open.”

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

“Riss, are you, are you okay?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enoch shrugged. “I got hungry.”

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

Especially Sanvi.

She took a deep breath and smiled.

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

“Faster?”

“Yeah. We’re still two days out. Let’s see if we can make the ship go faster first. If we can make it go faster, we should obviously be able to make it go slower. Or order the catcher to grab our quantum signature and slow us down.”

The crew looked around at each other. Sanvi looked almost completely at peace to Riss, whereas Enoch appeared typically bemused. Cooper still seemed a bit uneasy.

“Coop,” she said, laying a hand on his arm. He began to pull away, but relaxed. “Coop,” she repeated. “We are all friends here. All in the same boat.”

“Ship,” Enoch put in. He smirked, then put his own hand on Riss’s shoulder. “Captain. Riss. I still think this is all crazy, but crazy and me go back a long ways.”

He looked at Cooper, then Sanvi. “Let’s give it a try,” he said. Both nodded. 

Riss gazed at Sanvi. The pilot appeared as if she were surrounded by what Riss could only think of as an aura.

She passed her glance from Sanvi to Enoch. Then Cooper. They all seemed to glow, ever so faintly. 

Like the rock in their hold, she realized. Sanvi’s aura shone brightest of all. But even Enoch and Cooper glowed, ever so faintly. Almost as if she were seeing all of them, who they truly were, for the first time. She wondered if they saw the same of her.

“All right,” she said quietly. “What do we do?”

“For starters, I think we ought to sit down,” Sanvi replied. “In our chairs in the command center. Just to be safe.”

“Good idea,” Riss said. “Let’s not take any chances. We’re still new at this, after all.”

Enoch shook his head. “This is nuts, man.”

“For once, we agree,” Cooper grunted. “But you said we should give it a try.”

“Yeah,” Enoch said. “Surprised myself. But I’ll try anything once.”

Firmly strapped in her chair, Riss called up the 3D holomap and checked their coordinates. Still on course for Ceres. No sign of the ship slowing down.

“What’s our ETA, Enoch?”

He leaned forward over his console. “Just under 44 hours.”

“OK, let’s see if we can speed up just a bit and get there in 24 hours instead.”

Cooper squirmed in his seat. “Riss,” he said hesitantly, “I’m not so sure about this. Isn’t this, I don’t know, kind of—”

“Like sorcery?” Sanvi finished.

He nodded.

“We’re simply going to meditate,” she reassured him. “Every belief system has its meditation style. This no different.”

“But we’re different,” Enoch pointed out. “Who knows what will happen?”

“If anything strange happens,” Riss said, “Just concentrate on the ship. Our position in space. Your position in it. And yourself.”

She nodded at Sanvi. “You’re the expert at this. Tell us what to do next.”

“Hold your hands clasped just beneath your waist. Like this.”

She demonstrated. They all copied her.

“Now close your eyes. Gently. Keep your shoulders relaxed. We’re going to breath in and out slowly.”

Eyes closed, Riss heard Sanvi’s continued instructions.

“Breathe slowly. In. Hold. Out. Hold. Feel the space around you.”

Breathe.

In.

Lungs filled. The air seemed stale. Cold.

Out. The hum of the engine rose. Heart beat, pounding.

“Relax. Accept.”

Breathe. In. Hold. The air contracted, then expanded.

Her body remained still, yet seemed to grow, extend. 

Out. Hold. 

She could see the command center, even with her eyes closed.

Breathe. In. Hold.

From a great distance, Ceres came into view.

Contact.

She saw her navigator spread his wings, become the ship.

The geist flowed like molten rock, became a geode, lava cooling into pumice, crystalline shapes cascading.

The pilot enveloped the ship, pointing ahead.

The Captain’s heart, slowing, rhythmically, matching the engine.

Space opened.

The Cosmos.

Within her. Without her. In-between and among.

Part and whole. All and nothing. All in one. One in all.

Who was she? 

Who was Sanvi? Enoch? Cooper?

Were they separate or the same? Sharing the universe, or the universe sharing them?

The ship spoke. They listened. Heard no words yet heard everything.

There was no ship. They were the ship. There was no space. Space and the ship.

The Artemis pounced.

The Hunter. Her arrows, sharp and pointed. They hunted the stag. It bounded in front, behind, below. Just out of reach. It came into view.

The catcher of Ceres. The part of the Artemis that was Riss reached out to the part that was Sanvi. Mutual understanding. No borders. No boundaries.

The Pilot and the Navigator reached out. The catcher turned.

The Geist withdrew, trembling.

Riss felt his fear. No, she heard herself urge. Stay with us. We are one.

His panic spread. The ship shuddered.

Calm, she thought. Stay. We’re almost there.

The part that was Cooper felt his heart beat, skip, start again.

Breathe out. Hold.

The ship that was Enoch slowed, feeling an end.

Breathe in. Hold.

A great wall arose. Translucent. Shimmering.

Pure silver.


Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 26: Ceres (coming, hopefully, on October 9, 2021)

Light from behind a black hole

July 31, 2021
MThomas

…while light cannot escape a black hole, its extreme gravity warps space around it, which allows light to “echo,” bending around the back of the object. Thanks to this strange phenomenon, astronomers have, for the first time, observed the light from behind a black hole.

https://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/einstein-right-researchers-see-light-echo-black-hole-rcna1553

Einstein has been proven right. Again.

Destination: Red Planet

June 27, 2021
MThomas

Like other nations, China “regards Mars exploration as the preferred destination for deep space exploration,” Wang said.

https://abcnews.go.com/amp/Technology/china-unveils-ambitious-roadmap-human-mars-exploration/

China’s plan calls for setting up a permanently occupied base and a fleet of interplanetary craft. Probably it’s a good idea to first see whether it can meet its goal of landing people on Mars in 2033.

Of course, China is “willing to join hands with our counterparts and partners all over the world,” but it’s unlikely NASA, JAXA, ESA, and the UAE and other countries not named Russia will “cooperate.”

The next space race is here. Just wait until multinats actually decide asteroid mining is worth the risk and expense.

Ion engines are no longer sci-fi

June 19, 2021
MThomas

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

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

That’s a big “if.”

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

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

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

When will the first baby be born in space?

May 26, 2021
MThomas

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

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

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

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

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

X-Rays from Uranus!

April 5, 2021
MThomas

Two-ringed and sideways gas giant

The gag practically writes itself…

…but seriously, this is neat. One source of the X-Rays is the Sun (it also bounces off of Jupiter and Saturn). But there may be yet another source…perhaps the rings of Uranus or the planet itself.

And no, it’s not really pink. That’s just a Chandra X-ray image.

Shame, really.

https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/chandra/images/first-x-rays-from-uranus-discovered.html

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)

“Potentially hazardous asteroid” approaching Earth

March 22, 2021
MThomas

This is how I’ll get a photo of 2001 F032 for its next pass in 2052.

Hazardous asteroid!? Call out Bruce Willis!

No worries. “Close to Earth” in this is 1.25 million miles. But it’s a great chance to find out more about the early solar system.

https://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/potentially-hazardous-asteroid-come-closest-earth-sunday-n1261689

Maybe there is Hope, after all

February 10, 2021
MThomas

Congratulations, UAE! The Hope Probe (al-Amal) successfully entered Mars orbit on February 9th.

Made in the US (Boulder, Colorado) and the United Arab Emirates (Dubai) and launched from Japan, it shows what hat can be accomplished through international cooperation instead of competition.

Maybe it is truly Hope, after all, and not just for Arab states.

Nature

CNN

BBC News

Bringer of Light, Chapter 13: The Artemis

February 6, 2021
MThomas

While Gennaji prepares to defend himself after having revealed the Sagittarius’s location to fellow asteroid hunters, Riss discovers that trying to forget painful memories has consequences.

Riss fairly staggered out of the exercise room, more exhausted by the two-hour workout than she had expected. Increased gravity from their acceleration, plus extra weight from the rock? Or something else? Her legs felt like pieces of taffy left out in the sun too long. And there was that strange headache she couldn’t seem to shake. Maybe she was just dehydrated.

She shuffled down the corridor to her room, holding herself upright with a hand against the wall. She probably ought to go to the command center, check on the rock, talk to the crew. But first she desperately needed a rest. 

She reached her sleeping cabin and pushed the door. It seemed lighter than usual. No, not lighter. Less…dense. She shook her head and crossed the threshold. 

“Artemis. Lights.”

The sudden illumination hurt her eyes for some reason. She covered them.

“Lights at fifty percent.”

Her vision returned to normal as the lights dimmed.

No, not quite normal. Even with half-illumination, it was as if she could see perfectly. Better than perfect. The door closed behind her and she walked slowly toward her desk. The pad still plugged into the wall port seemed to hum. She gently touched its edge. Somehow it felt…transparent. Translucent. Like the pad wasn’t entirely there.

Or maybe she wasn’t?

Sighing, she slumped into the chair. Maybe it was a virus. She supposed that would explain the headache and sensitivity to brightness. But there was something different about the room. The ship. Herself.

She glanced at the motanka. 

No face. She always wondered about that.

“This doll is special. It is a protector of children,” Sergey said. “As you grow, she will grow, too.

“You mean motanka will get bigger?” she asked, eight-year-old eyes wide.

Sergey laughed. “No, dytyna. She will grow in other ways. Don’t worry. You will see.”

Riss examined the doll. Except for the cross on its face, it looked like any other doll. Two legs, two arms, long skirt. Less lifelike than the one she got from her real parents.

She picked up the doll and frowned.

Her real parents. She thought she had no memories of them. None?

No, wait. She could see something.

Her father. He gave her a doll. Once. Before they had to leave.

She squeezed her eyes shut.

Before they disappeared.

She opened her eyes again. No, she just couldn’t remember.

And looked at the doll. It had changed color.

She turned the doll around, then upside down.

Yes, it had changed color. Yellow hair, check. Black dress.

No, it was green. With light blue flowers…no, checkered red, yellow, and white patterns all over it.

That could’t be. The face was the same. The no-face.

She set the doll on her desk and flopped face-first on her bunk. What on earth was going on? Was space sickness making her lose her mind?

Weng. She needed to talk to him. Should have vidmessed him. Mars and Ceres refused their pings. Should have tried Luna.

Should have.

Magboots still on, Riss fell into a deep sleep.

Walking along the sea. Dark, artificial blue sky. Beyond that she knew lay endless darkness and empty space. Almost as empty as…

A pressure on her left hand. Weng. Holding it firmly, then gently. A squeeze followed by a caress. Like he wanted to say something to her. Like he wanted her to say something to him.

“I love the way your face looks,” Weng began.

“Stop, stop,” Riss interrupted, shaking her head.

“The blue of the Cantic Ocean,” he continued. “The blue of the sky. The constant breeze that wafts…”

Riss sighed.

“I love the way your face looks, framed by the waves of brown locks, blown by an ocean breeze.”

He smiled, then laughed.

“Hopeless romantic,” she said. “You’re just a hopeless romantic. You do know that?”

“I’m supposed to say stuff like that,” he returned. “I’m an artist. It’s what we do.”

“Oh?” she replied.

He just smiled his enigmatic smile. They fell silent.

Something was bothering him. She could tell. He’d never ask for help. Not openly. Not from her. She squeezed his hand. He sighed.

“It doesn’t look like you’ve had much time for artistry lately,” she tried.

Weng made a face. “You’re right, I haven’t.”

“So…”

He said nothing. Just coughed.

Riss looked at him as they walked, hand in hand. He stared into space. What was he thinking? She wondered. What was it he was looking for?

“I guess,” he said finally, after a long pause. “I guess you’ll be heading out again soon.”

She nodded. “You heard.”

He smiled again, looking up, above the sky.

“Sergey mentioned something about a lottery. A special asteroid of some sort.”

“Yes. A centaur. We won the rights to capture it.”

Weng shook his head. “I can’t pretend I understand how you asteroid hunters operate, but can’t you just, you know, negotiate?”

She laughed. “We did. Sort of. It’s complicated.”

She looked at him again. Her artist. Touchingly naive, stubborn and set in his ways. But that didn’t matter. He was faithful to her. Loyal to her adopted father. He had always supported her, regardless of whatever foolish thing she had said or done.

“You will come back to me, yes?” he said.

She squeezed his hand again. “If all goes well, this will be the last trip I have to make out there,” she said.

“Promise?”

“No, of course not!” she said, laughing. “No promises. No guarantees.”

“No returns,” he said. “All sales are final. Let the buyer beware!”

They giggled together. It felt good, sharing a moment with someone she could be completely honest with. Completely open.

Completely. No. She suddenly stopped and let go of his hand. They stood still.

She looked into his eyes. He was still smiling, but the smile didn’t quite reach his eyes. His face fell. It was as if, for a moment, she could see who he really was. His real face. Like a cross…

“I’m sorry,” she started.

“What?” he said. “What is it?”

“This…this isn’t…”

She looked up again. The blue sky was gone. Darkness everywhere. 

The ground fell away. Weng disappeared from her sight, his outstretched hands waving uselessly in the lunar wind. No cry escaped her lips. She stared wide-eyed at the stars. The emptiness rushed down. She rushed up to meet it.

With a start, Riss realized she was floating. Outside the ship, free floating in space. No suit. No helmet. In a panic she put her hands over her mouth. But there was no breath. No sound. Silence, only silence.

She looked down. She wasn’t wearing any clothes, none whatsoever.

This must be another dream, she thought, calming herself. Well, then, let’s see where it takes me.

Ahead lay a vortex. She smiled. A vortex, in space. Drawing her closer. She felt like putting her arms in front and swimming, as if it would make any difference.

To her surprise, it did. She felt the vortex pull at her, call her, gently coax her toward its amorphous black center. Faint clouds of burgundy and crimson whisked away as she neared. With a start she found that the vortex was not a hole at all. She reached out with both hands…

And brought a small object back to her.

A small ball. Cottony.

She cupped it. The ball dissolved into a cloud and flowed up her arms, across her entire body, dissipating in the space behind her.

Sensation returned. Gravity wells appeared before her eyes. Patterns revealed themselves. Orbits of planetary objects, trajectories of comets and asteroids. Space dust. Black matter.

She suddenly knew where she was. The happy hunting ground stretched like an enormous mine field before her, blocking her view of the inner system.

Concentrating, she willed an asteroid to approach. It was small, no more than a few meters across. She floated near it, ran her hands over its rough surface. The edges, points, indents. Mostly iron ore, with other trace minerals.

With a wave of a hand, she pulled the trace minerals out, leaving nothing but a ball of pure iron. A deft thrust into the ball; it stretched and twisted like taffy. 

Into a mask.

She held it in her hands. Looked down at it.

The mask looked back at her. She tried it on and saw herself.

Her face. 

The face of the motanka. With a cross on it. 

She screamed.


Next: The game’s afoot…Bringer of Light, Chapter 14: Mars Colonies (Coming February 13, 2021, 7 PM EST)

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