Thoughts and words of a twisted mind…
Last month I posted a survey of Genres I would like to experiment with, and I let my readers choose which ones they wanted me to tackle.
So, this month I took on my first challenge: Post Apocalyptic.
My intent was to write a piece of maybe 1500 words or so, but when I checked my word count, I realized that wasn't going to happen. Now, it looks like I might have an ongoing serial on my hands. Be sure to let me know what you think, and you can always feel free to send me a guess when you think you've figured out what's going on.
Jonny and the Appaseeder
I was barely a wantling when the last of the whirling stars disappeared from the evening sky. I was too small to remember, but my grandfather told me about that night. It used to be that the whole village would lay in the dark and watch for those stars, while the Olders told of how the giants that had once lived in the ancient Stone Forests had cast those stars into the heavens to watch over us, but eventually, like the Olders themselves, their stories, and the stars, faded away.
By the time I was old enough to look up into the sky I knew we were all alone.
Except for the Appaseeders.
“Jonny,” Landa said, shaking my shoulder to stir me. “Today you learn about the Seeder. You need to get up and go to Older Jannah’s tent. She’s looking for you and she hates to wait.”
“I'm tired. Leave me alone,” I said, turning over and pulling my hideskin over my head. “I was up all night trying to see a whirling star.”
“You're so stupid,” she said, shaking my shoulder again, a lot less gently this time. “The whirling stars have all died.”
“They're not dead,” I said, feeling anger burn through me. “They're just hiding.”
“They’ve been gone since before I was born,” she said. “I don’t think they were ever really there.”
“They were,” I said, sitting up and glaring at her. “Grampa Older told me about them.”
“He also told you about the Stone Forests,” she challenged, standing and ducking out through the doorflap. “And you’ll never see one of those either.”
“That doesn’t mean they aren’t real,” I hollered after her. I could hear her giggling as she ran off toward the creek for her morning swim. Silly girl, I thought. Just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
I stood up, pulling my pelt breeches on. I should know better than to waste my time arguing with her, I was going to be learning ciphering and chemichry, and I knew that there were things out there in front of the Seeder that would prove there was Giants who lived in them Stone Forests.
* * *
“Jonny, I'm an old lady,” Older Jannah said, frowning as I walked into her tent. “Get your worthless buttside in here.” It wasn’t the first time that I’d been in her tent, with all its ancient artifactuals, but somehow today things felt different.
“I'm sorry Gramma Jannah,” I said, bowing deeply and kneeling down on the feather pillow in front of her feet. I pressed my forehead to the Earth and waited for her to accept my apology. She let me stay down there until I felt the dirt digging tiny pits into my skin.
“You was out with the girl again last night wasn’t you?” she asked, still not releasing me from my apology.
“No, Gramma Jannah, I was looking for Whirling Stars and thinking about where they were hiding,” I said, struggling to keep my face on the ground. A sharp rock was digging into my knee and making my whole leg twitchy. I wonder if she put the pillow on the rocks to make me suffer?
“You're a boy, Jonny,” she said. “Why should I believe you? You all think with your root and not with your head. You think that all of us womenkind are dumb don’t you?”
“No!” I said, rolling my head a little to the side to try to see where she’d moved. I could hear her walking around the small tent, but I couldn’t tell where she was. “I'm sweet on Landa, but she’s still twenty moons too young for me to ask for her.”
“There are other girls who want to be with you,” she said. “They all want your seed. You are Cho’shan. It would honor them to bear a child for you.”
“But I don’t want them,” I said. “I want her.”
“You're like all the rest of them, you think you're coming back,” Gramma Jannah said. “If she’s still got twenty moons, she’s never going to have your seed. You need to take others.”
“I will come back, Gramma,” I said, lifting my head barely off the floor. Her leatherfoot smashed my face back onto the ground and my breath blew out a small dent in the dirt under my nose.
“You may come back,” she said. “Though no one has ever returned. Your father never came back, but your line continues because he took many girls before he went off to face the Seeder.”
“I want to have Landa,” I said, grunting as she pulled me up to my feet by the hair on my head. “I will come back, for her.”
“You silly child, we’ll see about that,” she snorted, disappearing through the doorflap.
I followed, wiping the dirt from my face.
I guess she accepted my apology.
* * *
Picture Rocks lined the edge of the Canyon of Words. It was a narrow passage that the Seeders couldn’t find, or maybe was just too small to be worth their effort to tear up. The pathway to the crack was difficult for me to climb, but Gramma Jannah flung herself over the boulders like a young hunter chasing prey. I struggled to keep up, but she chose her path well, having been here many times through the cycles.
This was a strange canyon, different than the world outside. I’d never seen such a place where edges lined square and stones fit together tighter than a lover’s embrace. “Where are we?” I asked, falling further behind and hearing my heartbeat in my ears.
Gramma Jannah just glanced back at me and shook her head, pushing forward even faster. I wanted to call out to her to slow down, but my embarrassment kept me silent as I scrambled along, several times losing sight of her. I tracked her footfalls in the dust of the canyon floor and even though she was far ahead, I knew I could still find her.
Dropping over a sharp edge of a boulder, I was surprised to feel a hand reach out of a small cave and grab my shoulder. “Jonny, you must do better than this. You let a tired old womenkind trap you. If I’d’ve been bended on harm, you would have been ghostey.”
“I'm sorry, Gramma,” I said, looking down in shame. “I hadn’t expected to be rock hiking when I came today for ciphering.”
“I see that,” she said, smiling dryly. “When you go chasing an Appaseeder, your life changes. You can never count on what you expect to be true. You need to learn a lot, boy.”
“I don’t understand, but I listen,” I said, wondering if I should drop to my knees to apologize again, but hoping I didn’t need to because this ground was hard and sharp, not like the dirt back out in the open field where her tent had been pitched.
“You're so young, like your father was,” she said, roughing my hair. “Follow me.”
She disappeared into the small cave. Inside it was dark, like a night without moon or stars. I held my hand in front of me to protect my face from things that might stick down from the roof. I’d never been here before, but I’d been in a cave when we wintered by Oakriven once. It wasn’t a place I wanted to go back to. Dark, wet, and full of things that slithered and growled. In fact, it wasn’t a place I would have gone into at all, except that Danser had dared me. And only then because he’d done it in front of Landa.
I heard the scuffing sounds of Gramma’s leatherfoot scraping along the floor of the cave. I looked back toward the entrance and stumbled down a short drop. I made a startled sound and it echoed around like the taunts of Danser when I’d run out of that cave before. This time, it was my own voice teasing me for my foolishness.
“I can’t see anything,” I whispered.
“Give me your flint,” Gramma said, her voice close.
I felt in my pouch and found it, holding my hand out in the direction of her voice. She took it from me almost as if she could see. I heard the click as she struck spark against steel and then there was light.
She held a torchstick in her hand. In the flickering flame I could see that we were in a huge cavern, much larger than the outside would have made it look. The floor was worn smooth and flat and descended into the darkness in a small series of terraces.
“Are you afraid of the dark, child?” she asked, starting down without waiting for an answer. I promised myself that I would not let her get ahead of me this time, so I trotted beside her as we worked our way deeper under the world.
We wound around several turns and dropped down onto the banks of an underground river. The water barely moved, and smelled like rotten meat. “Where are we?”
“We're under the Chi-Gogoa Stone Forest,” she said. “I'm taking you to the Hall of Ciphers.”
We trudged through the strange river for what felt like a half-day, sometimes in water up to my shoulders. My pelt breeches soaked up the smelly water and kept falling down as we walked. I should have worn a sealeskin, but I only had one and Landa liked the way it looked on me, so I only wore it when she was around.
“Here we are,” she said, pulling herself up on a ledge and shaking like a howler pup after a bath. This ledge looked like all the others we’d passed, and I didn’t know how she could tell one from the rest, except that this one had more dust on the stone floor.
I hauled myself up out of the river and stood, my pants sagging low around my knees. “Mercy boy, it’s a good thing I am an old and tired woman, or I’d be chasing your seed myself,” she said, staring at me.
“I'm saving myself for Landa,” I said, pulling them up and feeling the redness in my face like a glow.
“We’ll see.” She snorted and turned toward a flat slab of shiny rock. She heaved herself against it and it swung open. There was a loud groaning sound like a wounded grizzler. I threw myself forward, ready to protect her from the beast that hid in the cave. She held the torch so I couldn’t see what was inside, but I drew my blade and stepped into the darkness.
Behind me she laughed, moving the thin rock back and forth to cause it to repeat its call. Obviously, the sound had come from the slab of stone. Perhaps it was a warning to scare off anyone who wanted to enter.
“Step lightly, this is sacred ground,” she said, lowering her voice as she passed close beside me. She touched a finger to my lips to warn me not to disrespect her words. “This is where the Giants that built the Stone Forests hid their wisdom from the Appaseeders. All that they knew is hidden here.”
I followed closely behind her as we climbed another set of terraces and walked out under a vault almost as big as the sky itself. The light from her torchstick was swallowed by the sheer size of the empty. Dark shadows danced and twisted around the edges of the cavern, hiding Earth knew what manner of beast.
“Is it safe to be in here?” I whispered, my voice echoing back at me from the far corners like a rattlersnake.
“This is the Arch Hive,” she said, making an odd gesture with her hand in front of her body. “Only the Olders know how to find it. For as long as I can remember only the Cho’shan and those too old to bear children were ever brought here. No one else has been in the Arch Hive since the Giants went away.”
“No one?” I asked, impressed by the thought that so few people knew about this place.
She shook her head. “The Appaseeder comes soon. So for the next few moons this will be your home. You will stay here all but Firstday, learning to do the ciphers,” Gramma said.
“Alone?” I asked looking around at the walls and the looming shadows. “How will I know when it’s Firstday without the sun?”
“I will come for you every Lastday evening so that you may come home and bed the womenkind who wish to carry your seed,” she said. “Giving us a new Cho’shan is as important as challenging the Appaseeder.”
I looked at the floor, frowning. “I only want Landa,” I said.
“Enough of this selfishness. The ways of our people depends on you having a son,” she said firmly. “You will do what you must.”
I glared at her. I had always enjoyed the privilege of being Cho’shan but now I saw the cost. I could no longer be Jonny the simple boy, I had to become Jonny Cho’shan. The crushing realization settled over me like a heavy wet cloak.
“The spirits of the Giants are here,” she said, ignoring my anger and walking up to a large block of stone that sat in the middle of the cave floor. “They will teach you more than I can. I barely learned enough ciphering to be able to understand the Picher Scrolls. For you to meet the Seeder you’ll need to know much more than I do.”
“I'm supposed to pray to the Giants for knowing?” I asked, doubting it would do much good. All the prayers I’d ever sent to the Giants had come back as empty as an echo.
“I told you this was a sacred place,” she said, her expression in the dim light of the torchstick made her leathery skin look like twisted treewood.
Over the stone block, she made the magical gesture again with her hand and I heard a sound, like a thousand bees swarming in the distance. I looked around but couldn’t see any descending cloud of stingers. She laughed and shook her head again. “That’s the sound of Heaven opening,” she explained. “Don’t worry, you're about to see the face of the Giant who lives in Arch Hive.”
Over the top of the block a face appeared, pale white like the morning fog. It drifted, not quite real. Gramma Jannah fell to her knees and looked at the floor. I stood there for a second with my mouth open before she hit the back of my leg and I dropped painfully beside her.
“Arch Hive, Adam Minster,” the Giant said. It’s voice strangely formed the words. “How may I help you?”
“Oh, Great Adam Minster,” Gramma said never looking up into the face of the Giant. “I humbly bring before you the Cho’shan for you to learn. He needs to know the ciphers so he can meet against the Appaseeder.”
There were several seconds of silence and I wondered if the Giant’s spirit had left the cave. I glanced up and saw that it was looking at me. A chill ran up my back and I didn’t know what to do. Finally, it said,” Ciphering. Interpreting hidden words. Is there an example of the cipher?”
Gramma unrolled a small scrap, it was as brown and weathered as an oak leaf in fall. She slid it onto the stone without looking up. A bright light like the sun shown down on it.
“This is not a code,” Adam Minster said. “This is Angelis. Does Cho’shan seek to learn reading?”
“Reeding?” I asked. “I already know how to weave reeds into floormats. I learned that when I was under fifty moons. This is not great wisdom.”
“Shut up foolish child, you’ll anger the Giants,” Gramma hissed at me. “I beg your forgiveness, Great Adam Minster. The word you used, reading, is lost to me. Yes, the Cho’shan wishes to learn that forgotten art.”
“Reading assistance materials are located on the fifth floor.” A glow came from one of the dark caverns above us. “Arch Hive Learning Suites are online.”
“Thank you, Great Adam Minster,” Gramma said as the face faded away, leaving us alone in the dark. She stood up slowly, showing her age for the first time in her movements.
“Sweets?” I asked. I’d only had candy once and it never taught me anything. It made my teeth hurt.
“Up there,” she said, pointing at the glowing archway, “You will meet another Giant Spirit. I will show you how to call her, and then I will leave you. She will teach you ciphering.”
* * *
Each day Gramma Jannah brought me food, at least I think it was Gramma, because she never came in the Arch Hive to see me. All I know is that food appeared on the flat rock ledge by the smelly river. I focused on learning my ciphers with the help of the Giant Spirit of the Reading Room. She was friendlier than the Great Adam Minster, and as I learned, she also started talking to me in the same way I talked. Not like the strange words that the Head Spirit used.
At the end of the first week, I had learned much of the sounds of the ciphers and I also knew that the little bent lines were called letters. When Gramma showed up to bring me back to camp, I wanted to tell her all about what I’d learned. But she warned me to keep silent. The knowledge of the Giants wasn’t something I could ever share with anyone. Not even the Olders.
“Why?” I asked, confused and more than a little frustrated. I’d discovered so much already, and I wanted to be able to tell Landa.
She stopped and looked at me strangely. “The Giants were smarter than we are now. They knew a great many things, things that were very dangerous. When they’d gotten so smart that they could cast stars into the heavens and control the wind and the sun, they caught the eye of the Evil Ones that sent the Appaseeders to make war against them.”
“I remember Grampa and the Olders telling that story when I was still a wantling,” I said. “But why can’t I tell you about what I’ve learned?”
“It was the knowing that the Giants had, that got them in trouble,” she said sadly. “Even as smart and powerful as they were, they couldn’t keep the Seeders from making them ghostey.”
“I'm not that smart yet,” I said.
“Surely, you aren’t,” she said, starting back down the trail. “But if you share knowing things with other people, it’ll make them want to know things, too. Then we’ll soon enough be throwing our own stars into the sky, and who knows what other kinds of evil may hide behind the Appaseeders. Sometimes, it’s better not to know too much.”
Which might mean I am MENTAL for trying this... but well, I've never been one to stay within the lines.
The entries on the list below are some genre suggestions that should give me a bit of a mental challenge. I really like pushing myself outside my comfort zone as a writer, so this will be a fun exploration for me, and give you some free reads too.
Depending on which of the genres turn out to be most popular, I'll take on a different one each month and write a short story (1200 to 1500 words) and post it here on the blog for you to enjoy.
Hopefully this little exercise will really help me push my boundaries (and it might point me in a direction for my next series... which I should be starting sometime late this year).
Take a minute and pick your favorite SF Genres below and let me know what you'd like to read. And if you don't see your favorite on the list, then be sure to send me a message and I'll add it to the list.
Thanks for sharing your preferences. It means a lot to me.
Here is a short chapter from Wings of Earth 8: Fastest Track for you to check out. This is still in draft form, so the final will probably be a little different.
For those of you who have read The Shan Takhu Legacy stories, you will recognize the return of Chei Lu in this story. He's already made a small appearance in WoE 4, but in this book he has a much bigger role to play. He's now 128 years older, and has a lot more experience, but trouble still manages to find him.
(What fun would life be, if there wasn't trouble lurking in the dark?)
Hope you enjoy it!
“Hermes to Nakamiru Ops. Disengage the umbilical and mooring clamps. We’re showing ready across the board,” the pilot said, glancing over his shoulder at the ancient scientist who stood in the middle of the ConDeck. “We’re holding at station keeping until you clear the test zone.”
Chancellor Chei Lu could tell the pilot was anxious, at least in part because he had an unexpected dignitary riding along for the test jump of the Hermes. Sometimes it was a challenge for him to remember that, although he thought of himself as a scientist, others saw him as something more.
He was only here because there were so many things that could go wrong. Impossibly complex things that almost no one else understood.
From his expression, the pilot knew that too. He also apparently realized that if any of those things went wrong, the loss of the Chancellor would be more significant than just losing a test pilot and an engineer.
“Copy, Hermes. We’re moving to the safety threshold marker. Stand by for our mark.” The voice of the Nakamiru’s helmsman sounded calm.
But they weren’t his eggs hanging in the black.
This test was not more dangerous than any other initial flight of a new ship, but Chei had agreed when Director Sonchilde suggested that he personally needed to be on the Hermes for the first jump. Nobody understood the science of Nth Space Dynamics as well as the Chancellor, and that made him the most qualified to get them home if something unexpected leapt up to grab them. He’d spent more years studying the science than most of the people who worked with him had been alive.
After the loss of the Tahrat Shan-che, the Institute had shoved the Hermes project forward at an insane pace. The consensus was that urgency outweighed prudence.
Chei was confident that they knew what they were doing when they designed the Displacement Drive, but every cell in his body reminded him that, in space, short-course thinking was a dangerous tradeoff.
“Ninety seconds to nominal charge,” the engineer announced.
There were only three people aboard the tiny ship. He and the pilot occupied the ConDeck, and the engineer was in the aft section making sure the power controller was feeding energy into the Displacement Drive’s capacitance bank.
Sighing, Chei settled into the copilot seat and slipped his interface visor over his forehead. The readouts spread out across his visual cortex as the system synched with his brain. “Keep breathing,” he whispered.
He felt the pilot nod.
Chei thought the systems display screens into position in his mind and focused on the power levels. Above the curve, but swinging within spec.
The two crewmembers had practiced this jump in simulations a hundred times. It was second nature to them. Except that this was reality, and Chei was there to upset their balance. “Even the act of observing alters the system…”
“What was that, Chancellor?” the pilot asked.
He grinned. “A principle of particle physics that also applies to social dynamics. The act of observation changes the behavior of the observed.”
“The Observer Effect?” He stared blankly for almost a second before he nodded. “I’ll do my best to behave like you aren’t watching.”
Piloting a displacement jump on the Tahrat was a simple process, but this was an entirely human ship. On the slim chance that something went wrong, the Chancellor was the plan of last resort. Otherwise, his job was only to ride along.
“Hermes, you’re free to maneuver,” the captain of the Nakamiru said over the comm.
“Maneuver? We’re waiting for you to get out of the way,” Chei said, cutting in on the comm.
They’d barely outfitted the hull enough to hold air, but the purpose of the test was to prove the concept, and not to build a working ship. They’d even skipped putting engines on the Hermes in the rush to get it into the black. Other than thrusters, they were dependent on a tow from another ship to get them anyplace outside of drydock.
The pilot chuckled, and Chei realized he’d altered the system by taking over the comm duties.
“Chancellor Lu, this is your last opportunity to tap-out,” Director Sonchilde said. His face appeared on the commscreen and he winked. He resembled a viper trying to be charming.
Chei knew he was kidding. Sonchilde was the one who had pushed for him to be aboard. “Right and miss the chance to see the butt-end of the universe?”
“We’re only going ten light-years,” the pilot said quietly.
“It’s not like it’s a big jump. I just want to make sure I’m around—”
“To jiggle their calculations and make them nervous?” the Director finished.
He glanced over at the pilot. “Do I make you nervous?”
His face confirmed that he did, even as he shook his head in denial. “No effect.”
“The captain says we’re almost clear of the departure zone, so you’re good to jump in another twenty seconds,” Sonchilde said. “Do try not to get lost.”
“We’ll be home before you notice we’re gone,” Chei said, nodding at the Director and cutting the comm before he got another comment in. “I hate stuffed-skin shitgaskets like that,” he added, shrugging.
The shocked look on the pilot’s face was enough to get the Chancellor laughing. “Let’s make it happen, shall we?”
“Standing by for the Nakamiru to get to the safety limit,” he said as a countdown timer appeared on their mental screens.
“You know this is going to be a new experience for me,” Chei said, staring out the window at space.
“Howso? You’ve made more jumps in the Tahrat than anyone alive,” he said.
“Yah, but I’ve never seen the stars when that happens. The Tahrat Shan-che has no windows, so the view is virtual. I don’t actually know what it will look like to naked eyes.”
“Wouldn’t it be the same?”
Chei shrugged. “Dono. But I expect to find out soon enough.”
“Displacement Drive is charged and standing by,” the engineer interrupted. His face appeared superimposed on the forward window, and the pilot swept it off to the side with a gesture.
“Another ten seconds.” The Nth space density coordinates appeared on the navcom display while they waited.
Running through the calculations mentally, Chei confirmed they were correct, but he made sure he didn’t let on. No use in making anybody more nervous by second guessing. “Let’s give the Nakamiru time to get plenty far outside the line,” he suggested. “When you’re making your place in history, nobody will notice an extra five seconds, and at my age, the dramatic pause has become an art form.”
“Think you’ve already made history a couple times,” the pilot said, glancing over and grinning.
He shrugged. “It’s not that big a deal to me, so the ball is yours. Call it whenever you’re ready.”
“Thank you, sir,” he said, scanning the small ConDeck like he expected to see a stadium full of spectators. Clearing his throat, he tugged at his collar and nodded. “The Nakamiru is clear. Let’s see what she’s got.”
The pilot reached up and gestured the command to initialize the jump.
The stars flickered, dancing wildly as they collapsed through the Nth space energy threshold. Everything pulsed vividly while the Hermes leapt ten light-years across normal space.
An immeasurably brief glimpse of a multicruiser dominated the view outside the window before an alarm claxon echoed through the ship.
Abruptly the control interface and the internal lights cut off. Searing agony screamed through Chei’s skull and he blinked back the pain.
Another blinding flash of stars erupted as a swirling nebula of green haze dissolved in waves across the window. A strangely crimson-tinged spiral galaxy hung in the distance. Barely visible, it looked at least a half-million light years away.
“What the frak?” Chei whispered. “We blew the landing zone!”
The pilot groaned. “That’s odd,” His voice sounded hollow and disconnected from reality.
An Instant later, the air between them exploded into a dancing sea of fire...
I'm in a bit of a quandary. I love to write, and since I started working on the Wings of Earth books, I have literally had hundreds of stories begging for attention (you should see my notebooks). As a result, I have a crap-load of side stories I want to get out there.
Of course, I’ve got my favorites, but I’ve already pared this list down to the ones I most want to write. I'd really love to hear from you about which ones you'd be most interested in reading next. Let me know what you’d like me to work on, and I’ll start pounding the keys as soon as the coffee kicks in...
- Primm Family Railroad and Farming Co-Operative: (A Spin-off Series Idea)
Building from where Hope Dies Hard ends, this first story would follow the Primm Clan as they work to establish a new homestead on another world... and how they take up the business of helping genetically engineered plussers escape from Coalition oppression. Quintan Primm (and his 'momma said' pearls of wisdom) just begs to have his family explored. There are so many interesting characters in his backstory that need to be expanded into their own quirky episodes. I really want to develop the idea that the Primm Family is more than it seems (there are tons of ideas here to play with).
- Primm Family Railroad and Farming Co-Operative: (A Spin-off Series Idea)
- Jetaar: The Birth of Darkness: (An Origin Story)
This novella would tell the story of what happened to drive a gifted propulsion systems engineer to become Captain Jetaar, the cutthroat privateer who established the Tortuga Freeport base. Future stories in this line might explore other pirate mayhem parallel to the main Wings of Earth stories.
- Jetaar: The Birth of Darkness: (An Origin Story)
- Two Worlds as One: (A First Contact Story)
This story would explore a world where the two genders are held in complete isolation from each other by the ruthless dictates of a religious order. When a Coalition Anthropology Team makes first contact with this sibling species, they discover there may be a good reason to let The Order maintain the balance.
- Two Worlds as One: (A First Contact Story)
- Between the Devil and the Black: (An Alien Diplomacy Story)
The Coalition finds itself wedged between two technological civilizations in neighboring star systems. For ten years they have managed to intercede as a power for peace, unfortunately the population of one of the worlds is split into factions and one of them is uninterested in any armistice. When fanatics are bent on genocide, keeping things from spiraling out of control is almost impossible, even with the technological advantages of one of the best FleetCom Multicruisers in the sector.
- Between the Devil and the Black: (An Alien Diplomacy Story)
- First Landing: Newfoundland Colony: (A First Colony Story)
It’s said that a place is never truly yours until you plant a flag on it. And even then, it might not be yours until you understand what you’re up against. No scientific survey will ever disclose everything hidden on a new world. Settlers will always have to make things work, in spite of what they discover. The Devil is always in the unknown details.
- First Landing: Newfoundland Colony: (A First Colony Story)
So please take a minute and vote for whichever of these ideas you'd like to see me tackle next (you can vote for more than one). Thanks ever so much.
And remember to vote... it matters.
Scatter the Winds
On the Run and Betrayed
Kylla Torrance leads a mission to establish a sanctuary where genetically engineered Augments can live in peace, beyond the reach of the Shan Takhu Institute.
She knows the truth about the Institute’s ominous plans to control the ancient alien technologies left behind in the Solar System, and that only engineered humans can fully access their potential.
People like her. And her team.
When someone on the Agamemnon sells her out to pirates, Kylla’s plans spin into chaos. Worse yet, a telepathic slave hunter seeks to crush the threat she represents to the Institute’s hold on power.
With the help of a mutinous officer, Kylla has one chance to give her people hope for a future, but to succeed they must disappear into the deep.
Get your copy of this exciting Wings of Earth standalone now!
Now, there's something you don't see an author say every day.
Actually I would love you to buy my book, but I'd rather give it to you for free... No kidding.
It's been a gawdawful busy couple weeks around here (in case you've been wondering why I haven't posted anything for a while). There's a lot more to being an author than just telling stories, and even though I have an amazing Personal Assistant (Ducky, take a bow), we've been tweaking a lot of things under the hood so to speak.
I finally managed to come up for air, but that means I've kinda shoved Ducky under, since that's the way stink flows in my world. Fortunately, Ducky is a bona fide superhero, and everything I dump on her rolls off her back... she always comes floating back to the top.
Anyway, before I start into my next novel, I figured I'd give everybody a chance to read my latest story. For Free.
Wings of Earth - Scatter the Winds is on sale now over on Amazon (well, preorder actually), BUT WAIT... if you aren't already on my VIP Flight Crew, you should sign up RIGHT NOW, because everybody who's part of the Flight Crew gets it for FREE on October 5th. That's 10 days before it goes live.
Of course, if you were already getting my regular newsletter, you probably knew that... unless you were sleeping. And if you aren't at least on my newsletter list, WHY THE HELL NOT?
CHECK IT OUT!
Here's the new cover for Scatter the Winds!
(Everybody go ... oooooh, aaaah, pretty.)
This cover is by the fantastic artist, Dex Craig. (You can check out some of his art and music here.) He's a really amazing artist and I'm so excited to have him working with me on my new covers. I'll let you in on a little secret too... I've been trying to get him to do some art for me for-freaking-ever and I am so glad I can finally quit begging (It's a bit embarrassing at my age, you know?)
It just so happens that Dex is also my brother... in case anyone notices the last name.
What it's about... (Officially)
On the Run and Betrayed
Kylla Torrance leads a mission to establish a sanctuary where genetically engineered Augments can live in peace, beyond the reach of the Shan Takhu Institute.
She knows the truth about the Institute’s ominous plans to control the ancient alien technologies left behind in the Solar System, and that only engineered humans can fully access their potential.
People like her. And her team.
When someone on the Agamemnon sells her out to pirates, Kylla’s plans spin into chaos. Worse yet, a telepathic slave hunter seeks to crush the threat she represents to the Institute’s hold on power.
With the help of a mutinous officer, Kylla has one chance to give her people hope for a future, but to succeed they must disappear into the deep.
About the story... (A little extra)
Scatter the Winds is a standalone story, which means you don't have to have read any of the other books in the series to enjoy the ride. It deals with a different set of characters than my main line Wings of Earth tales although if you have read either of my other series, you will recognize some faces and it will fill in some blanks.
It takes place several years before Ethan Walker takes command of the Olympus Dawn and deals pretty heavily with the genetically engineered plussers that were introduced in Fulcrum of Odysseus from the prequel Shan Takhu books.
If you've had questions about how we got from A to B, this is a piece of the puzzle you'll need to pick up.
Oh, and finally just so you understand, I call this a novella because it's a fairly quick read, but honestly it's right at that line where some authors would call it a novel. In either case, how can you go wrong?
You're sure to get your money's worth.
Especially since it's free if you join the my Flight Crew before the 5th of October!
Click the Big Red Button and Join the Flight Crew today!
You KNOW you want to.
Alright, I’ll be honest. I debated a long time about whether I’d write this particular blog post. I’m a bit of a peculiar sort, so I have to be careful about what I put out there on the web. You never know, if I'll run for president someday. Maybe something I said here will come back to haunt me. (and this is one that I think might be particularly evil.)
I mentioned this post idea to both my editor and a close writer friend of mine, and they said I should do it… so blame Ducky and Zachry for this one.
Let me start this off by setting up a bit of background.
About a week ago, I was working on my latest story, and because I was feeling particularly inspired, I was up fairly late at my keyboard. Being late, and with a beer or two already under the belt, I was hammering out a background scene where I wanted some character development for two of my characters.
The one character in particular has an odd pet. Being the captain of a Colonial Transport, he can afford to have a spider monkey as an animal companion. Alright, maybe that’s not too odd, but this pet is one of his quirks and I wanted to include it in a scene (that is also a clue for those of you who have read Dust of the Deep).
As I was blocking out this particular scene in my mind and I needed to do something to make this monkey offensive enough that nobody liked it except the owner (like a pissy little dachshund that hides in a handbag and barks at everyone, but smarter and more obnoxious).
Now a lot of people know that monkeys can be really vile, and they do have some pretty nasty behaviors … we do not need to discuss the origin of the word 'shit-slinging' here for you all to get the idea. But anyway, the first bad habit of monkeys that leapt to mind, was a little too gross (even for me), so I dodged that.
Being the kind of guy I am, and always wanting to make sure I maintain scientific accuracy in what I write, I dove in and hit google. I opened a browser window and typed in my question:
“Do monkeys fart?”
And that’s where my brain went sideways. Completely. (HOLY CRAP ... What have I done?!?)
Now wait. That was a legitimate question. I know some birds can’t burp, so there is no guarantee that monkeys can pass gas.
I never thought to narrow my question down, because the internet not only answered the question instantly, but in a hundred ways I DID NOT NEED TO KNOW.
It turns out that monkeys do indeed fart.
I should have thought about what I had typed into my browser window before I hit enter, but unfortunately by the time I realized what I had done. I was doomed.
Yes, I now know that they fart. And that they use farting like a language. “Oh my God, here is someone I don’t know, so I will kick out this horrifying gaseous message." Or, “Oh baby you’re cute, want to smell my pretend poop?” Or, “If you won't shut that yapping dachshund up, I will.”
Sometime around midnight, I realized I was STILL reading about monkey farts. AND I COULD NOT STOP MYSELF.
But wait there’s more.
Do other animals fart? (Yes, I googled that too)
Humans do. (Obviously... there's even a word for humans who can play music that way ... flatulosity)
Dogs Do. (Yeah, I have dogs, so I know they usually brag about it when they do)
There are several species of fish that pass gas. (That was strange to think about... Imagine a Jacuzzi. In a swamp?"
Did you know that even some millipedes do it, too? (It sounds like a dog whistle, and smells like sulfuric acid and leaves, if you are interested… really)
TWO HOURS LATER I finally managed to pull my head out of... Nevermind.
But the one thing that bothered me most when I regained my senses, was that I had discovered that someone, somewhere, had been paid to study this very question.
And they created a database with analysis of the gas… and audio files. (No, I will not share the link for the database, and you can thank me later for that… I lost too many hours chasing that around the swamp).
If you go down that path, you do it on your own. I am NOW a recovering flatulophile, and you have been warned. The Bog of Eternal Stench will haunt you for a lot longer than the smell of a monkey fart.
The following day, and less under the influence of beer, I did finish the rest of the scene. If it makes it past the editing phase, you can find it in Scatter the Winds.
(Crap, now maybe I have to change the name of this story.)
And just because...
I don't know if this is doctored, but well... that damn dachshund just wouldn't shut up!
(But all of us who have dogs, know the Dachshund was probably laughing. "Is that the best you got, monkey?")
This is the first chapter from my upcoming novella, Scatter the Winds. It's a stand alone story in the Wings of Earth Universe, and is set between the end of the Shan Takhu Legacy and the beginning of Echoes of Starlight. This story should be a great entry point to both series whether or not you've read either of them.
I will be publishing Scatter the Winds in late September and it will go out FOR FREE to my VIP subscribers before it's available anywhere else (you can sign up to be a VIP here).
Please give it a read and send me your feedback.
“All hands report to stations. Code Red. This is not a drill. ExO and Payload Steward report to Operations. All hands report to stations. Code Red.” Captain Valleri’s voice echoed across the mess hall.
“What’s a Code Red?” asked Kylla Torrance, jumping up to follow the ExO out past stunned crew and passengers, who scrambled down the hallway as if demons were chewing on their heels.
Code Red? That can’t be good.
The ExO hurled herself down the corridor, “Raiders,” she hissed over her shoulder.
Tall, and built like an overly engineered wall of muscle, Ayanna Santore moved with surprising agility, rebounding off a bulkhead as she took the stairs, three at a time to reach the Operations Center five flights above the Commons. By the time the two women leapt out onto the deck, Ayanna was a dozen strides ahead of Kylla.
The floor plating lurched upward as the main drive cut out and they were back in normal space. Even with her limited experience in interstellar spaceflight, Kylla recognized the feel of the field collapsing.
That obviously wasn’t a normal drop into sub-light.
Both women stumbled forward as the clanging of emergency bulkheads slamming shut thundered from somewhere behind them.
“We’re on backup power,” the ExO growled as she caught herself on the edge of the hatch to the Operations Center and waited for the Cargo Steward to catch up. She held the door open with her back as the pneumatics fought her to a stalemate. She waved Kylla through and then jumped onto the Operations deck with her. The hatch slammed shut behind her.
Captain Valleri stood staring at the main viewscreen. “Is only one ship and no match for Agamemnon. Da?”
“What do they want?” Kylla asked.
“Is obvious,” he said. “They are pirate. We have cargo.” He turned and stared at the optic protruding through her cheek orifice. “Is why I wanted you here.”
She knew the extra hole in her face distracted people, and she usually tried to keep it from being annoying. Usually. But she gave it a little flick with the edge of her tongue, and it twitched as she winked at him. “Have they made any demands?”
“Only that we stop. And they made demand with pulse mine.” He turned back to face the screen and shook his head.
“Are they alone?” Santore asked. She’d taken up a position behind the helmsman and was looking over his shoulder.
“We’ve got no one else for at least a light year,” the sensor officer answered from the far side of the deck.
“Seems arrogant for a science vessel to jump a ship this size, doesn’t it?” Kylla asked. The Agamemnon had a crew of 250 and was carrying almost a thousand passengers. “They’re thin on manpower to run a raid. You’ve got them two to one, even without my people.”
“Da, but little science vessel has big pirate gun hidden in hold. And bigger reactor to feed it,” the Captain said. He tapped the surface of his control pad and an EM scan overlaid the image on the main screen. It showed a lot of power going to a weapons mount in the belly of the ship.
“Captain, we’re being hailed,” the comm officer announced.
“Viper, to Colonial Freighter Agamemnon. Stand down and prepare to be boarded.”
“He can’t be serious,” the ExO said. “He has to know we’ve got enough firepower to hold him off all day.”
“It will depend on what is hiding in belly of little whale. Engineering, how long until main reactor is restored?” the Captain asked.
“Until then, is moot,” Valleri said. “No power, means no guns.”
“And he’s pushing a megawatt into that weapon, whatever it is,” the sensor officer said. She had to be pushing her words through a wall of acid, but in spite of that her voice sounded calm. “That could still do a lot of damage even if he doesn’t hit a critical system.”
“Agamemnon, you have ten seconds to surrender or we will open fire.”
“Open audio,” the Captain said. “Captain Grigor Valleri of Agamemnon to pirate vessel. Answer is no. We will not surrender.” He slashed a finger across his throat to mute the comm.
The doors opened on the Viper’s weapons bay and the gun swung up into sight.
“Frak. That’s a particle cannon. If he’s pushing a megawatt into it, he’s going to feed us to the vacuum,” Santore said.
“I assume that changes the playing field a little?” Kylla asked, nervously flicking the edge of her optic with her tongue. She stopped when the Captain glared at it. It was a bad idea to be distracting him.
Valleri crossed his arms over his chest and tapped his foot several times before he let out a slow hissing breath. Without main power, they couldn’t do much other than sit and wait to die. And staring down the emitter of a particle cannon made death a lot more relevant consideration.
“What is range?” he asked.
“Two thousand klick,” the helmsman said. “Out of reach for us, but easily in his.”
“Fifteen seconds,” the engineer announced.
“We need to take advantage away from him,” he said, nodding as he leapt over to the helm control and leaned forward to punch in a string of commands.
“Understood?” he asked as his Helmsman watched curiously.
“Aye, Captain,” he said, grinning.
“Open audio to Viper,” he ordered, turning toward the comm officer.
“Is Captain Valleri. State your terms for surrender.”
“Valleri, there are no terms. Surrender is unconditional.”
“We are carrying passengers—”
“Do you not understand the word unconditional?” the pirate asked.
“I do,” he said. “I am offering passengers in exchange for—”
“What?” Kylla gasped, fighting down her sudden scalding rage. He wouldn’t dare.
He snapped a finger up to silence her outburst. “Da, we carry important passengers who would swing big chit.”
“We will have your passengers anyway,” the captain of the Viper said.
“They are worth more alive, no?”
“You’re threatening to vent them? You haven’t got the eggs.”
“If you attack, particle cannon will vent much. Our emergency systems are not in such good repair. It would be shame if no one survives. Da?”
The lights on the Operations Deck flickered as main power came back up, and she realized what was going on.
Valleri had been stalling.
He slashed across his throat again and grabbed the back of the helmsman’s chair. “Now, Mr. Klinestrom!”
The helmsman slapped his hands down on the console and the Aggie lunged directly toward the Viper. At least as much as a thousand-meter-long barge could lunge at anything. It certainly wasn’t fast.
But it was unexpected. And probably more than a little intimidating.
Obviously, that was what the Captain had counted on.
The Viper twisted away to avoid the charging bulk, opening it up to a strafing run across the top of its hull with the belly lasers of the Agamemnon.
The repelling guns of the colonial freighter weren’t powerful, but at close range they were enough. And there were dozens of them.
Most of the beams did minimal damage, but the sheer number of them meant that there were bound to be some critical hits.
A power coupling on the particle cannon’s mounting cradle was one of the first casualties. Spinning wildly, the crippled support hardware bought them several precious seconds as they drove forward across the enemy ship.
Another laser split a cooling line to the primary reactor, spewing a spectacular cloud of vapor over the cannon’s targeting sensor and aperture. Unfortunately for the crew of the Viper, that was in the same instant that its weapons officer fired. The heat of the dense fog as it turned to plasma fused the end of the cannon and sent a feedback surge through their systems.
It was pure luck. But it worked, and the Agamemnon accelerated to cruise and away before the pirate raider’s power grid overloaded and blew out their primary transfer manifold.
“Are they pursuing?” Santore barked as she spun to face the sensor station.
“Negative, it looks like they took heavy collateral damage,” she said. “They’re dead in space.”
“Once they make repairs, they’ll be in pursuit.”
“Da,” the Captain said. “Set course for Kentaurus Colony.”
“We aren’t going to Kentaurus,” Kylla said quietly, shaking her head. It was a fact that only she and the captain shared.
“No, we are not,” he confirmed, turning to face her, and matching her tone. “But they do not know that, and we must appear to be running for safety.”
His expression reminded her of Edison when he was trying to teach her something that she thought she already knew. She shook off the memory of her first husband and cocked her head to the side, flicking at her optic and watching as his gaze locked onto it.
He nodded, closing his eyes, and letting out a breath before he explained himself. “We cannot outrun pirate vessel, but while they are making repairs, we can possibly get sufficient distance to exceed their sensors. Then, we will correct course and be about your business. Is good plan, no?”
Not really, she thought to herself as she stared at the distorted ring of stars through the viewscreen.
But it’s probably our only option.
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A musing on a Sunday afternoon. I do this a lot when the weather is nice and I just want an excuse to sit under a tree and be alone with my thoughts. I usually take my coffee and a notepad out with me and just scribble what comes to mind. It is probably the first step in how I develop a story line and sometimes it produces results (but often it just sits and collects dust).
Today I spent some time thinking about a point in future history where a story premise might lurk. It is a time in the near future where I think dramatic forces may combine to create an opportunity for exploration. I don't know if a plot line will come from it or not, but it's something that was on my mind and this is what I got from it. It's loose and unstructured but my brain tends to be that way when I am conceptualizing (I go from here to structured before an idea moves into a story so understand this is like broad brushstrokes and not a finished idea).
This some people this may, or may not, read like a political opinion, but it is meant as an abstract examination of a potential environment that needs to be chased around...
I'm sharing this here because I often get questions about how I kick my creative process into gear.
When Robots Pay Taxes, and the Bow-shock Event
Here we are, frozen in place like the proverbial deer in the headlights. As a society, we’re facing the moment where the future is barreling towards us, and all we can do is stare at it, as it aims to run us down.
The robots and AI are coming for us.
Not like in The Terminator (fortunately), but just as inevitably, regardless.
Unlike climate change, there is no room for debate about this reality. We cannot argue whether this apocalyptic possibility is man-made, or environmental. In this case, we’ve done it to ourselves, and no force of nature will deflect it… or even temper it.
The irony is that the same force that stops us from responding to climate change, is the very one that is driving the other one over us.
Where it is cheaper to do nothing about climate change (at least in the short term), as technology gets better and less expensive, it is also cheaper to automate. Because of that, it also becomes a stronger force of change. It compounds itself.
There’s been a lot of talk about the Singularity … that moment where AI becomes self-aware (in my books I call it Artificial Awareness rather than Artificial Intelligence). What I think is coming for us though, is not the distant point where artificial awareness emerges, rather, it is the time where we make ourselves obsolete.
I think that is much closer than when Skynet blows us to hell.
What concerns me is when the cost of human labor makes us physically pointless. Where an automated robot is cheaper to operate (and more importantly, to buy) than the old-fashioned tool, with a flesh and bone human operator.
That is when the bow-shock of technology will crush the life out of us. Unfortunately, it’s inevitable that it will arrive MUCH sooner than the Singularity.
In many ways, these first shock waves are already here.
But, we've been here before.
The story of John Henry and the Steam Drill is a metaphor we all understand because it represents something that has occurred, at least symbolically, in our past. It’s the embodiment of the “machine versus mankind problem,” and it defines everything that it brought with it.
The Industrial Revolution created a huge shift in the world as humanity redesigned itself. The economic models that drove society prior to that, changed in a few short years. Less people did more work, in less time. Production increased exponentially, and that pushed the relative cost of things down.
Although in the end, John Henry "just laid down and died," prosperity eventually spread because of this revolution. But it wasn't a painless process. There were DECADES of social upheaval that nearly tore the world apart as we moved away from human labor and into the early stages of industrialization.
Now, we're approaching a time where we have automated industry that can produce virtually everything. And for the first time in history, machines can produce more of everything than we actually need.
That also brings us to where the other side of this industrialization equation becomes dominant.
We don’t NEED more, even if we can DO more (with less human effort).
So, what happens to all that reserve and unneeded human capacity? (And let's agree we don't want to end up like a John Henry either.)
With a real limit on the consumption side of the equation, and ever cheaper manufacturing through automation, there is no economic incentive to keep human labor working.
As a manufacturer - with a limited market depth - and a machine that can produce 100 times the output at one tenth the cost… What would you do?
If you’re like most of the manufacturers in the world, you’d lay off all but one or two of your employees, and only work them a couple days a month. Then you could spend a lot of time fishing… Or watching Netflix… Or whatever.
(Yeah, sign me up for that, baby! I am so there!)
And honestly, who would blame you?
Other than the 98 employees you didn’t keep … But that’s alright, because they can always find work somewhere else.
That is, until the next company down the street does the same thing. Then, there are 196 workers on the street looking for work.
And every day the cycle repeats ...
For a while, people keep shuffling out of the way… Finding work.
And, the cycle repeats another time ...
Which means more people shift.
And again, it repeats ...
Eventually, some people start to move out of the way by going back to school, retraining so they can get further off the road. All of them are hoping to dodge the oncoming steamroller of automation.
But education takes time and money. And unfortunately, people have to eat while they’re learning.
That’s okay, they can get jobs somewhere. There's always a Mc Job in fast food ... NOPE, not anymore.
(I just read that McD’s, was testing a burger flipping robot. So even that’s not far enough out of the way.)
And that, right there, is TRULY the nature of the monster barreling down on us.
The Deer, or the Jackrabbit?
Everybody knows about the deer staring blindly into the glaring headlights, but usually a deer might be frozen in place for a second or two before it decides to move. Sure, that second of hesitation can be catastrophic if the oncoming car is traveling too fast, but contrary to the carnage seen along the highway,the deer USUALLY manages to dive back into cover before it gets obliterated.
Unfortunately, we’re not the deer.
We’re actually more like a jackrabbit (having driven the back roads a lot, I know there’s a substantial difference in their survival strategy … and breeding faster is not a viable alternative for humans).
Where a deer will make its decision and commit to it, a jackrabbit will take a couple steps out into the pavement, and see an oncoming car, but then it doesn’t stand still and consider how to move. Instead, it takes a couple extra steps because it was already crossing the road anyway, and then it slows down or stops to think about what it should do.
“Maybe I can’t make it across the street,” it says to itself.
So, it turns back and takes a step, or two, before it looks over its shoulder and remembers it really needs to be across the street. Then it turns around to take a couple more steps.
Approaching the yellow line by this time, it realizes the car is getting pretty close.
“Maybe I should go back, but since I’m halfway across the street … maybe not …”
And it pivots again, and takes a step. And then it spins around and takes another step.
By this point the driver of the car has zigged, and zagged … And maybe even slowed down some (unless there’s a truck behind that's tailgating like Batman on crack). And if the driver is like me, he’s probably already started screaming, “Just make up your freaking mind!”
The problem is, the driver can’t stop, and the jackrabbit can’t make a decision, so it’s inevitable that there’s going to be a lot of bunny goo on the road.
(Yes, this part was a political commentary ... sorry.)
How do we keep from being the jackrabbit?
We learn to make smart decisions and we slow the car down a little. We have to give the damn rabbit (working people in this case) time to get out of the way.
And, we do this by taxing robots! (Well, not really the robots, because we don’t want them rising up and kicking our ass after the Singularity comes to pass.)
Actually, we tax the businesses that replace workers with automation. We charge them for every worker replaced at a rate high enough to fund college/school/training programs, and to provide Universal Basic Income to everyone. The robot tax should provide revenue for education, and so that we would have ample to keep from having starving and homeless people.
It should also give people the money they need to buy all those cheaper goods made by the robots that took their jobs (which would keep the economy afloat as we transition to this new way of doing things).
However, it is at least as important that the tax would be high enough to slow down the rise of the robots by increasing the cost of implementing automation. It wouldn’t (AND SHOULDN'T) stop it from happening, but it needs to buy us all some time to adjust (thereby putting the brakes on the car, AND ALSO the truck behind it).
Doesn’t that put an unfair burden on business owners?
The tax rate to support UBI and education would be less than the cost of the labor/taxes/insurance/and overhead of the people it replaces on a "per unit produced" basis.
If nothing else, the liability savings would still make it cheaper to employ robots than humans. Plus, because robotic manufacturing is faster and more precise than human manufacturing, it would also reduce costs in overhead that the business owner currently eats. These factors alone would increase businesses' profits, but the truth is, there would be a lot more savings to the owner and the tax rate would not be nearly as high as payroll was initially.
And finally, people wouldn’t be stuck in soul-draining, mindless jobs!
This is one thing that would be hard to quantify, but is undoubtedly true: Humans are, by their very nature, creative and adaptable. Those are traits that robots and AI still have a long way to go to get good at. (AI poetry and music still suck.)
Once we turn manufacturing over to robots, it frees us up ... TO REACH UP.
Although right now, the bottom-line problem is still the same:
Society values people by the labor they can produce, and not for their creativity.
Until that changes …
We are the jackrabbit.
(And the back road we've all been standing in, has already become a freaking interstate!)
Taxing robots and AI to pay for UBI is a valid way to survive the manufacturing technology upheaval that we’re inevitably facing. It might be one of the few ways we can pay for the transition to a system of post scarcity economics.
If we don’t do it, the human cost alone would be the stuff of post-apocalyptic nightmare.
And therein lies the story.
This is something I wrote MANY years ago, but for some reason I thought I should put it here. It isn't sci fi at all, and in fact is based on an event that really happened in my life. Be warned, it's kind of like those "Chicken Soup" things, but in the world we live in lately, maybe it's good to remember these kind of moments... So, here you go.
It is an unusual and emotionally powerful time when a parent passes on. My father did many years ago. He was only 56 and it was a bit of a shock to all of us.
Especially to my mother.
She’d married my dad when she was only 17 years old and they had become so totally dependent on each other for everything, that we all suspected she would follow him without lingering in this mortal realm any longer than necessary. They’d spent so much time together, and had faced so many troubles, that they’d become inseparable. Even through a miscarriage of twins, my parents faced every moment of life as one.
When dad died, mom and I had a falling out that drove a wedge between us, and between myself and my brother as well. It was actually fairly trivial, being mostly a difference of opinion about how she should deal with her life after dad was gone.
Over the course of the years after my father passed, mom did adjust to life alone, not really growing anymore, but adapting and learning to cope. She drew strength from the reserve love she had invested in so many friends throughout her life.
Then, several years ago they diagnosed her with lung cancer. The prognosis for recovery wasn’t good, but instead of taking this as her ticket out, she chose to fight. She kept herself going with pure strength of will and the support of everyone around her.
I’ve never in my life seen such bravery as what I saw in my mom at that moment. She fought and fought. Four years she battled the cancer with all her heart, yet I knew she wanted to be with dad more than anything.
Two months ago, she got her wish. Although before she left, she did finish the things she needed to do. Not the ‘tying up of loose ends’ sort of things, but the other more important stuff that matters.
When her cancer came back for the last time, we decided that we needed to be there for her, so we bought a home in a place where she could look out from her window and see beautiful trees and grass, and an occasional snow shower that made the world look new again. (She’d been born in the Great Lakes area and remembered snow from her childhood, even though she’d lived in the desert for all of her adult life.)
For her, this place was like a window onto heaven.
When her time was near, we put her with a hospice program and brought her home. She was comfortable here, and we wanted her to know we’d be with her and it would be alright to let go.
During that last week, even though she was often incoherent, she taught us some of the most important lessons I will ever learn. They were lessons that came from, and through her, and still ring in my heart.
Three days before she passed, my wife and I had been on duty continuously, taking care of her, sleeping in shifts, holding her hand, and trying to catch cat naps when we could. It was a trying time.
Then one morning just before her time had run out, our 11 year old daughter came in and told us about a dream she’d had about my father. She described my dad, who had died when she was barely four years old, smiling and holding two little boys in his arms. Amazingly, she’d never heard about the twins my mom had miscarried (I was two years old when it happened). Yet, she was describing dad, and the twins.
It stopped us in our tracks.
My wife and I had been dreaming about dad, but we both figured it was because of the nearness of mom’s death. She was going to leave us soon, and we were reliving the pains of my dad’s passing.
Suddenly, our pain transformed to something else. After this opened the idea in our hearts, we KNEW that dad would be there waiting for her. It was amazing how this gave us the strength to walk her home.
On the day her struggle ended, we sat with her, trying to be strong. I held her hand, like I’d been doing for the last several months, knowing that when we walked up to that door, all I could do was put her hand in dad’s, and let her go from there. She laid there in bed, staring past me to the place where he waited for her. I could almost feel my father’s hand on my shoulder.
She walked the last mile that day, but she was never alone. Not on this side, or on the other one. I had promised mom that we’d be there all the way to the end, and in keeping that promise to her, I saw for a brief instant that other world, and felt my father’s hand again for a moment through hers.
As an epilogue, I need to say that mom managed to send us a gift from the other side to let us know it was okay to go on.
When she and dad got married, for their first anniversary together they got themselves a mantle clock. It was one of those old fashioned wooden clocks that chimed on the quarter hour. they’d carried it around since the 1950’s, never having a mantle for it. It had quit working more years ago than I can remember, and had become no more than an artifact of a memory. When he passed, she kept it on her desk and would stare at it for a while every day.
After she died, we moved it from her desk to the mantle of the house that we’d shared with her. It was the first time that it ever sat above a fireplace, and it looked nice there, even though it was still as dead as it had been for decades.
In a moment of wishful thinking, my wife wound it, but it refused to run.
So we just let it sit there ... honoring mom’s memory. On the day that my brother was to arrive for mom’s memorial service, almost exactly a month after she had died, my wife and I were sitting in the living room talking about mom.
And the clock chimed.
It echoed in the sudden silence, yet still it was not ticking. Over the next few moments it did indeed start to tick, becoming louder with each passing moment.
And it’s still ticking on the mantle.
So, when you doubt if it is okay to let someone go, just remember, even if you aren’t there holding their hand, and even if you don’t get to feel the touch of a parent brushing your skin when you walk them to the door, they are in a better place.
Listen for their voice, in the wind, or in the chiming of a clock.
Look for their smile in the new falling snow.
It’s there. And so are they.
EMC - April 15, 2004
The Shan Takhu Legacy books take place after a partial collapse of human civilization and a massive coordinated effort to rebuild has lifted mankind off of Earth and out into the solar system. I know that the kind of monumental determination to do this wouldn’t come without some worldwide compelling reason, so I wrote a brief history of the world from 2075 to 2240 as a foundation piece.
Politics aside, The Shan Takhu Legacy and this timeline is a work of fiction, based on a universe built out of one of our potential future’s past history.
I personally believe that climate change is coming, but I do not attribute it to any particular source in this document. I strictly base this on potential events as they may play out, once a trigger event happens. Read it for what it is, and don’t come at me with political agenda.
Science trumps politics.
Part One: The Great Collapse
Human population: 10.3 billion.
Earth’s global average temperature has reached 1.6° C above pre-industrial levels.
Over three consecutive years with record setting summer heat waves and warm winters, vast sections of the tundra across North America and Siberia thaw. These melt-offs release massive amounts of methane into the atmosphere. The methane spike is severe enough that global temperatures begin to climb quickly (Methane is a greenhouse gas and is thirty times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide).
A United Nations study of the decomposing organic matter in the tundra, estimates that the global average temperature will rise 1°C per decade for a minimum of thirty to forty years as a result of the methane spike. Although, the scientists also warn that this condition could extend, or accelerate, as warming upsets more of the ecosystems of frozen areas.
Drought and wildfires across North America further complicate the climate outlook, and food production worldwide plummets. A critical wave of famine spreads through Africa.
Human population: 9.9 billion.
Food production falls globally by 50%. Four hundred million people die worldwide in the decade after the thaw begins, mostly as a result of starvation. Food riots have become continuous occurrences, and many nations have declared martial law.
The North American drought intensifies and spreads to Europe and Africa. Food production falls by another 10%.
Fresh water supplies worldwide begin to diminish. Agricultural use of water competes with human consumption. Industrial use of water is restricted in may locations.
Many power generation facilities shut down because of a lack of water in reservoirs. This pushes the electric grid across North America to near collapse.
Poorer nations, particularly in Africa, face water riots in addition to the food riots, and military conflicts erupt throughout the region over water rights. People begin to flee drier areas and overrun international borders. This refugee situation causes political turmoil worldwide.
Human population falls to 8.6 billion.
Global average temperature approaches 2.6°C above pre-industrial levels.
Famine and water shortages combine to cause 1.3 billion deaths worldwide.
UN Climate Scientists estimate that because of additional methane released, and the albedo change of the earth (loss of reflective ice coverage area), global average temperatures will rise by 1° in the next seven and a half years.
The Ross Ice Shelf and other ice shelves in Antarctica begin a rapid collapse over the Antarctic summer. Estimates indicate that this event will drive global sea levels up by nearly one meter in two years.
Rise in sea level causes minor wars throughout the South Pacific, Southeast Asia and across the Indian Ocean as populations move away from the coastal regions to higher ground.
Low-lying coastal cities in the industrialized nations invest heavily in seawall construction and other infrastructure work to attempt to hold the coastal areas. The economic impact worldwide is measured in trillions of dollars.
The global average temperature approaches 3.6°C above preindustrial levels. This temperature change is exactly in line with climate predictions.
Subsurface hydrostatic release causes Greenland’s ice pack to begin what climate scientists term a total collapse. Movement of glaciers that normally measure at a meter per year, are in some cases slipping at close to a meter per day.
The UN commissions an Ice Mass Impact Study and preliminary estimates indicate that Greenland will be ice free within ten years. This sudden ice release will raise global sea levels by six to seven meters and upset Atlantic sea currents in ways that will further destabilize the climate.
Southeast Asia is overrun by refugees from across the Indian Ocean and South Pacific. Entire nation states have ceased to exist because of the rising ocean water.
The lack of suitable evacuation sites and the loss of sovereign land holdings has forced many of these nations to transition into “pirate economies.” Chaos runs rampant throughout the region and naval forces from around the world struggle to contain this outlaw activity.
The global average temperature reaches 4.4°C above pre-industrial levels.
Pirate warlords control the Indian Ocean from Australia to the African Coast, and out into the South Pacific almost to Tahiti. The lawlessness of the region collapses many of the less stable governments of Southeast Asia.
The Korean Peninsula and the South China Sea dissolve in the war.
Human population falls to 6.5 billion
Famine, water shortage, and diseases brought on by a lack of sanitary management causes 2.1 billion deaths worldwide over the previous decade.
Methane levels continue to increase as more organic matter in the tundra thaws and begins to decompose. UN Scientists predict nearly 1°C rise every five years.
Global food production falls another 10% from pre-collapse levels.
Antarctica begins a massive melt off adding to the already rapidly rising sea levels.
“Siberian Flu” outbreak starts. This disease is not actually a flu, but rather is the result of a virus that has been released from virtual suspended animation in the tundra. Spreading initially by animals or birds this disease decimates cities across the northern tier of Europe and Asia. Some progress is made in protecting North America by quarantining all refugees and other arrivals from the infected areas.
Over the course of a year, 960 million people die worldwide. Those who are living in famine affected areas, even if they would be outside the most severely impacted areas have a 60% mortality rate. Those who have managed to maintain a healthier diet die at 30% rate.
The global average temperature reaches 5.8°C above preindustrial levels.
The United Nations declares Saharan Africa and much of the Middle East uninhabitable. Although this declaration is not a binding declaration, it triggers a massive migration of people out of the regions.
Most head north towards Europe or Asia. The Russian Federation enforces its borders with troops, so few of the migrants enter Russian-controlled territory.
This forces most of them towards Europe.
Under the weight of the unprecedented refugee crisis, the European Union explodes into chaos. Nearly 250 million refugees drive the collective economy of the EU to collapse.
The United Nations is incapable of helping in the refugee management, as Europe is only one aspect of the worldwide crisis. It has already exceeded its resource limits. European leaders blame the United Nations for making the declaration that has saddled them with the refugees and they withdraw from the organization.
Late in the year China and Russia enter into a border war. The Gobi Desert of central China has become decimated by relentless heat, and large portions of the population try to migrate north. This migration is met with preemptive military force by the Russian government and the situation escalates rapidly across the Nei Mongol region.
“Eskimo Flu” erupts across North America and Siberia simultaneously. Although similar to the previous “Siberian Flu” pandemic, this disease has a 60% mortality rate everywhere.
However, because of its similarity to smallpox, scientists do manage to develop a treatment and contain the outbreak, but not before 1.65 billion people die worldwide. Scientists dubbed the disease “Megapox.”
The United Nations disbands as a result of financial insolvency and political stress.
With no forum available for international arbitration, the use of military force escalates around the world.
The war between China and the Russian federation spins rapidly toward nuclear confrontation. The United States, although struggling under its own economic hardships, attempts to arbitrate on behalf of the two parties.
A heat wave grips the southwestern United States and over 100,000 people die.
The power grid from Texas to Oregon shuts down as a result of the temperatures. The federal government orders the evacuation of much of Arizona and New Mexico. The economic cost and logistical effort nearly bankrupts the United States.
Power remains out in California and Texas for over a month.
The war between Russia and China continues to escalate to the point where a nuclear exchange appears inevitable. In the last minute, military leaders of both countries stage coups and wrest the power for the weapons control from their government leaders. Neither of the two parties will admit to having worked together, but the simultaneity of the takeovers appears to be coordinated.
The human population of the world falls to below 2.1 billion.
The global average temperature breaks 7°C above pre-industrial levels.
Death toll from the wars, and famine (1.8 billion), and both epidemics of the decade exceeds 4.41 billion people.
The United States loses sovereign control of a large portion of its territory as its citizens simply leave for Canada. Border checkpoints in Canada are overwhelmed by US refugees from the south. More people drive into Canada from the US in the first month of the year, than lived in Canada at the point of its highest population.
The Accords of 2116 and the establishment of the Human Union
Economic chaos motivates leaders from the worldwide techno-industrial complex to convene the Conclave of Human Unity. With support from the Chinese and Russian Military, and the North American Joint Defense Command, the Conclave drafts the Accords of 2116 to lay out the principles of the New Vision.
The goal of these accords is to set up a new process of governance to allow humanity to avoid extinction. It is a widely accepted scientific fact that the Earth will be uninhabitable to human beings in less than a century and single-minded focus on achieving space colonization is essential to the survival of civilization.
The Primary principle of the New Vision is that any individual not actively involved in food production or distribution, must be involved in the development and deployment of the infrastructure necessary to peacefully remove as many human beings as possible from the surface of the Earth.
The Accords of 2116 establish the foundation of what becomes the Charter of the Human Union.
Part Two: The Cradle of Ice and Stone
The first expansion begins. Under the authority of The Accords, the Union Executive Council conscripts and re-commissions orbital facilities mothballed during the Great Collapse. This allows for rapid expansion of operations in Low Earth Orbit.
Planning begins for the deployment of an equatorial space elevator
The Union Executive Council establishes the Cartel Charter to manage resources, coordinate construction, plan migration, and support general operations of the Union.
Six Original Cartels are commissioned:
- DevCartel (research/development)
- DoCartel (manufacturing)
- SourceCartel (resource management)
- WellCartel (medical/life-science)
- FleetCartel (transportation)
- ArtCartel (social/entertainment)
The Union establishes Lunar Base Alpha near the site of a former private moon base in the Sinus Iridum basin.
Construction of Space Elevator-1 begins.
The Union establishes Galileo Station at Lagrange One as a staging and transfer center for lunar operations. Galileo will also become the capital of Union Government as the facility expands to provide more operations space.
Space Elevator-1 goes online, greatly reducing cost of access to space operations. Initially a fair portion of its capacity carries materials for space fabrication.
Lunar Base Alpha is rededicated as “New Hope City” and opened for immigration of refugees from Earth.
Testing is completed for an advanced hydrogen fusion propulsion system capable of providing cost effective space transportation.
Human population of the Solar System: 1.2 billion.
The global average temperature reaches 7.5°C above preindustrial levels.
A steady death rate from famine, and a birth rate of 1.0, combine to result in a population reduction of 800 million.
By the end of 2125. Nearly 5 million people have left the Earth and live in the LEO Colonies, at Galileo Station, or in New Hope City.
The global drought ends with massive flooding throughout North America and Europe. Many domesticated vegetables and grains are not adapted to the higher temperatures and much of the previous farmland is no longer arable. Agricultural production continues to suffer.
Early spring heat releases multiple plant pathogens from the tundra. Scientists work to engineer adapted varieties of plant, but the human diet loses much of its variety because many plant species become extinct.
Accelerating ice melt from Antarctica contributes to an overall 3% reduction in land surface area on earth. All former coastal cities must be abandoned. Resource cost for this inland migration slows deployment of the Space Elevator-2.
Food production on Earth falls to 15% of pre-collapse levels, however lunar based hydroponic farming facilities are able to produce enough additional food to maintain acceptable dietary standards for all of humanity for the first time since 2076.
Space Elevator-2 comes online and becomes the predominant means of exodus for humans leaving Earth. Space Elevator-1 becomes a cargo transport system.
A magnetic catapult goes into operation on the lunar surface for boosting payloads to Lagrange and LEO stations. Establishing bidirectional low-cost transportation allows for an exponential increase in production.
FleetCartel establishes a shipyard facility in Lunar L-2 and begins producing multipurpose ships for exploration of the solar system. DoCartel operates several shipyards in LEO but produces ships for specific operation in Near Earth space only.
Martian exploration begins with the establishment of a permanent operational base on Phobos. Phobos Landing is set up to support exploration of the Martian surface.
Living conditions on Earth have deteriorated to the point where riots erupt when the Executive Council announces that establishing a permanent Mars colony will require an in-depth survey that will take upwards of a decade.
Efforts begin to deflect a near Earth asteroid into a stable Mars/Hohmann transfer orbit. This asteroid will become part of a long-term transportation system between Earth and Mars and is named the Aldrin Cycler (after the American Astronaut who proposed the idea).
DoCartel establishes Mars Alpha Base in the Chryse Planitia as a future colony site.
Deimos Staging is set up to facilitate migration efforts in preparation for the establishment of the Mars Alpha surface colony. Together with Phobos Landing, these two bases become known collectively as “The Twin Cities.”
Two years ahead of schedule, Mars Alpha Base is rededicated as “Burroughs Colony” and opens for migration. A large portion of the Twin Cities population immediately relocates to the Martian surface.
The Aldrin Cycler achieves a stable Hohmann transfer orbit and DoCartel constructs a permanent base in the asteroid to facilitate mass-migration of humans from Earth to Mars. Colonists transfer from LEO to temporary housing in the Cycler, and then to the Twin Cities once it arrives at Mars. This will provide a regular influx of residents for the rapidly growing Burroughs Colony.
Human population of the Solar System: 1.06 billion. For the first time since the Great Collapse, the reduction in population is the result of birthrates on Earth falling to 0.8 and not disaster or warfare. Earth’s population is 900 million. Off planet population is 160 million with a birth rate of 2.7.
The global average temperature reaches 8.1°C above preindustrial levels. This marks a drastic slowing in temperature climb due to the reduction in methane efficacy and because of increased carbon uptake in the environment.
SourceCartel establishes Vesta Base in the asteroid belt to serve as a material processing center for asteroid mining operations. This becomes the furthest outpost in human civilization.
DevCartel proposes the establishment of a new Cartel with the purpose of terraforming Mars and reversing the climate collapse of Earth. This would require an amendment to the Union Charter. After several contentious council sessions, the motion is killed, under the pretense that it would simply add another layer of bureaucracy to the government. This fighting creates bitter inter-cartel rivalries, and forces covert alliances between some Cartels.
DoCartel and FleetCartel establish Ceres Base with the largest ship-based space migration in Union history. Established to be an outer solar system administrative facility, this base is the most extensive human construction project since the New Vision began.
Mars Beta Base is established in the Elysium Planitia.
Engineering begins to modify the orbit of a NEO to establish a “forced-resonance” cycler between Earth and Ceres Base. This facility will travel between the Earth and the asteroid belt, however because Ceres is not in Earth resonance, it will require continuous orbital adjustment to maintain a regular schedule.
A large “Floater” population relocates to the cycler asteroid and establishes permanent residence while construction and orbital modifications are made.
Mars Beta Base is rededicated as Bradbury Colony. Population pressure in Burroughs causes a massive migration to the new colony, but Earth immigrants quickly exceed Martian natives. This is the first time that the physical atrophy of non-earth natives becomes a social issue. The disparity in development causes sporadic violence in the new colony.
The Human population of the Solar System: 1.036 billion. Only 650 million live on Earth and the birth rate has fallen to 0.7. Off planet birth rate approaches 3.4.
The global average temperature reaches 8.5°C above preindustrial levels. The Executive Council announces that the temperature rise appears to be reaching its peak. The populace takes the announcement as reason for hope and the Council declares a system-wide holiday. This marks the first time everyone has an official day of rest since the establishment of the Union.
Mars Gamma Base is established in the Daedalia Planum.
Martian farms produce 50% of the solar system’s food supply.
Ceres Transfer Station is established to transport people between Earth and Ceres. This is the first successful forced-resonance cycler.
Mars Gamma Base is rededicated as Robinson and opens for migration.
The Executive Council announce the Mars Aquifer Project. It will be a massive drilling and pipeline development in the Xanthe Terra region and is intended to support Martian agriculture in Burroughs Colony. This project will take 8 to 10 Earth years to complete.
Second forced-resonance cycler established between Mars and Vesta base.
Human population of the Solar System: 1.07 billion. This marks the first time that the population has grown since the Great Collapse began. It also is the first time that more people live in space than on the surface of the Earth.
The global average temperature reaches 8.8°C above preindustrial levels.
Seven years late, the Mars Aquifer Project finally connects to the Burroughs water supply. Pumping begins.
Two months later, an indigenous microbe infects the colony water supply. Within thirty-six hours of the first detection of this microbe, the entire population of Burroughs Colony is dead.
Panic destabilizes the other two Colonies and until contagion potential can be determined, all transportation from the surface of Mars stops.
It is determined that Martian microbes do remain alive within the structure of plants and will infect animals that consume them. The Executive Council orders all food produced by Burroughs destroyed.
The Executive Council also orders the other Mars colonies evacuated. Twenty-seven million residents crowd into the bases on Phobos and Deimos.
Because of the loss in food supply and the concurrent arrival of the Aldrin Cycler, the Twin Cities are unable to offload any of the one million arriving immigrants, nor can they evacuate any of the refugees to the cycler for the return trip to Earth.
The Mars/Vesta resonance cycler is still six weeks from Mars.
Nineteen million people die of starvation in the Twin Cities waiting for evacuation.
Many voluntarily return to the surface of Mars, expecting to die of the Burroughs Pathogen. The infection has not shown up in either of the two remaining colonies, but those who return must accept permanent exile behind what becomes known as the “Red Wall.”
Riots erupt across the solar system as the Executive Council imposes harsh rationing and tries to move the refugees to other colonies.
New Hope City ramps up food production as rapidly as possible. Unfortunately, the agricultural water supply and transportation limitations mean the food crisis spreads faster than the relocation efforts.
It takes several years before the crisis will end in all areas of the solar system.
Food supply fails to meet dietary requirements and rationing is causing civil unrest to reach critical levels.
Lunar agriculture reaches the limit of production without additional water resources. Although Earth has ample water, bringing it from the surface requires more space on the elevator systems than is available.
The Executive Council orders a manned expedition to the moons of Jupiter to assess water supply potential there. After the Burroughs Incident, the plan is to deploy a science vessel to determine whether life is present in any of these ice encrusted oceans before further effort is made to harvest any water.
Jovian mission arrives at Europa. First landing determines that complex organic structures and life forms exist throughout its ocean. It is determined that the risk of pathogenic disaster is too great. Surveys of the other Jovian moons produce similar results.
Because of the discovery of life in the Jovian water, the Executive Council decides to focus on comet harvesting as an interim solution, while plans are developed for a mission to Saturn. Preliminary studies done by SourceCartel indicate that solar radiation levels sterilize water in small comets. Unfortunately, cometary orbits tend to be more elliptical, so they are more challenging targets.
The second water prospecting mission arrives at Saturn. They find that the larger moons also support indigenous life and are unacceptable sources of water.
While on site, the science vessel surveys the planet's ring system. Although there is ample water, harvesting and transporting the smaller ice fragments in the rings to the farms at New Hope City will be technologically problematic. If not contained inside a cargo container, most of the mass will sublimate before it arrives at its destination.
Ceres Base gears up to build a fleet of large enclosed freighters to haul the smaller aggregate ice during transport. Another construction surge turns the asteroid into a boom town once again.
In spite of the massive scale of the ice harvesting operations, the water crisis continues to be critical.
To ease social unrest, priority is given to human consumption and agriculture, but concern is mounting that without an additional influx of water, transportation between the colonies and bases of the solar system will become problematic within forty years.
Water is the primary propellant mass in the hydrogen fusion engines used for all interplanetary human transportation, and without that, the colonies are unsustainable. This information is kept secret from the general public.
After a long-term study, the DevCartel proposes the Deep Solar Ice Prospector Directive to develop technologies to retrieve larger ice resources from the inner edge of the Kuiper Belt. The Neptune Lagrange Clusters are known to have captured cometary masses into stable circular orbits, so these are potentially ideal ice mining locations in spite of their extreme distance.
DevCartel launches an automated science probe to the Neptunian L-4 Cluster to confirm ice density in the cluster.
The Ice Prospector Probe sends back confirmation that the L-4 Cluster has vast ice resources. After two months in the cluster, the probe mysteriously ceases to transmit data. DevCartel dispatches a science vessel to make a follow up assessment and to confirm the probe’s findings.
The Science Vessel Hector arrives in the L-4 cluster and vanishes.
Ceres shipyard lays the keel for the Jakob Waltz. The Mission Charter is to conduct a prospecting survey and ice harvesting operations in the Neptunian L4 cluster. The ship design utilizes unique technology for retrieving ice masses larger than 2 km in diameter.
Capable of refueling directly from ice found in situ, it does not carry return fuel and will stay in the L-4 cluster potentially as long as ten years.
Launch of the Jakob Waltz.
Arrival of the Jakob Waltz at L-4 Prime.
For those of you who are new around here (which is practically everyone), I am what, in the writing world, is known as a hard-core plotter (with almost no temptation to cross over to the dark side and be a pantser).
What the hell does that mean, you may ask? (or maybe you didn’t, but I will tell you anyway)
Basically, it means when I sit down to write, I plot everything out meticulously and way in advance. The other approach to telling stories is where an author stares at a blank page until inspiration launches them into a seat-of-the-pants adventure where their characters lead them through all manner of chaos. (I refuse to pay for the services of a Muse, and I prefer to drive, if you don’t mind!)
The way I write also means that I spend a lot of time working out details of how things work and planning the direction my story (stories) will go. Seldom am I inspired to leap sidewise, and because of that I can write pretty fast (some of my writer friends actually say 'insanely fast' … I might post something at some point that tells how I do that since my writing technique is apparently a bit unique).
The creation of a Universe is a serious thing.
Right now, I am ten books into the Wings of Earth Universe (counting the Shan Takhu Legacy prequel trilogy) with eight more to go before I finish this section of the story arc. Then, if my readers want to keep exploring in this universe, there are two other sections to the overall universe’s arc with each of those being a standalone series with different characters and settings (Think, Star Trek Next Gen, DS9, Voyager, and so on… in both TV and in the books, they are all different, but flesh out a more complete story).
Because of the fact that I have a long-vision for these novels, I also have volumes of background material that hasn’t made it directly into the stories (REALLY HUGE FRAKKING PILES OF STUFF).
For example, Legacy of Pandora (the first of the prequel stories) was set in 2243, and so I created an historical timeline that lead from less than fifty years from our current world, up until the events of that story. From the prequel, there is a leap of 125 years (and yeah, I have another timeline of that period of time too). I also have language notes, and ship deck designs, and even mathematics of energy conversion processes. Literally, I have so much stuff I have to keep it all locked away so it doesn't bury me alive.
It’s all background that I might share as blog posts here as the story goes on (Well, probably not the math since most people don't speak that language, and tend to glaze over when you start trying to explain it).
God does not play dice with the Universe.
Einstein said that, and I do generally live by that rule (apologies to D&D fans out there).
To me, the science has to work (duh, it is SCIENCE fiction). So does the technology. So do the politics. And the economy. Even laws have to make sense. (Okay, politics and laws can be batshit insane, but it all has to feel real for the story to hold together.) And in my mind, that only comes with the idea that the universe is planned out.
And now, for you science purists out there (I know who you are. I can hear you smirking). I have worked professionally in the sciences and as an engineer for a long time, but you could probably say I am a ‘science optimist’ (I’ll explain that in a later post too). While I might have technology and physics in my stories that aren’t currently part of our understanding, I still try to treat them consistently and with respect for some of the more probable work-arounds. (I actually got kicked by a reviewer once because I had windows in a starship … come on … really?)
It is science FICTION too.
Filling in the edges.
The point of this post was to invite my readers to ask some questions. I might have created the universe, but lately I have seen a lot of you move in and start exploring. There are some far-flung worlds with some seedy dives and dusty corners to be discovered. Let me know what parts you might want to drain some light into, and I’ll flesh out those details in future posts.
No question is out of bounds. Seriously. (Contact me here to ask.)
- Does One Eye Jack’s have a dance floor?
Do pirates dance? Actually, yes it does, but it is small and in the back.
- Did war break out before humanity escaped the problems on Earth?
A little bit. It was more like a pissing contest over rising sea levels. (Okay, that's a lie.)
- Why did Ethan Walker run away from his family ranch on Mars?
Ever smell cow manure in a sealed dome?
- What the hell is a graviton threshold?
It won't make you fall down if you trip over it, but it will take a lot of explaining. It has to do with propagation limits of gravity waves.
- Is Quinn’s Mom really that strange?
No... she is stranger than that.
Feel free to fire away. I’ll post real answers and go deeper as I can.
This is a weird little story I wrote a while back in response to a writing prompt on the Sci-Fi Roundtable. It's WAY outside my normal genre, but for some reason I felt the need to dust it off and put it here today.
I did not, however, feel a need to put on a stovepipe hat.
Hope you enjoy it.
It was a good day. The first in a long time. The warm spring sun filled the room and the view from the office windows was peaceful. Dogwood trees bloomed and the scent of flowers filled the air.
It truly was peaceful. And quiet. Both of which had been rare in the White House for as long as Lincoln could remember. The war had finally reached its end, and although they still faced the complex struggle of rebuilding, the Cabinet Meeting today gave him hope that they were on the path out of darkness.
Enough lives have been sacrificed. It is over. Now, together, we can begin to stand again as a nation.
Grabbing a scrap of paper, he jotted his words down for a future speech. He had a habit of tossing off extemporaneous lines, but once in a while his thoughts were worthy of posterity, and he committed them to writing. He smiled and put the note onto a pile of books that cluttered his table.
His assistant, Edward, had told him that the Vice-President arrived before lunch but decided to go for a stroll while he waited for the Cabinet Meeting to end. Enjoying the brief respite before Andrew’s return, Abe sat back and laced his fingers behind his head. Pushing the stack of books away from the edge of his table with a foot, he crossed his long legs on the corner and closed his eyes.
Somewhere in that moment sleep took him.
Jerking his feet down and sitting up with a start, he realized he wasn’t alone.
A person sat in the chair across from him. “I need your help,” the man said. His voice had the hollow sound of the wind through leaves, and his skin had a near translucence that was hard to gaze upon.
A ghost? Am I still asleep?
“Who are you, and who let you in?” For most of his early Presidency, Lincoln had maintained an open-door policy, but as the war stretched on, Edward had done an excellent job of slowing the crush of the Beggars Opera. Obviously, once in a while, someone still got past him.
“I am sorry I startled you Mr. President,” the apparition said, lifting an emaciated arm and running a fingertip over the ridge of a scar that shadowed what might have been an eye. “We need your help.”
Abe balled his fists and ground sleep from his own eyes, hoping to clear his vision and wake from the dream. “I am not sure I follow you,” the President said when the spirit refused to vanish. “What do you want from me?”
“Where I come from, we are facing what you have just overcome. My people live in slavery and have for many generations,” he said. He spoke slowly with a voice that sounded like he’d spent most of his life screaming. Or crying.
“I am sorry for your people’s plight, but why do you think I would be able to help you?” Lincoln looked around the room, trying not to stare.
“We know you brought these changes to your people, and perhaps you could inspire my people to do the same. We are truly desperate.”
“I understand how that can be. Slavery is an atrocity,” the President said. “But I don’t know who, or even what, you are. No offence to you personally.” Abe instantly regretted his words.
“None taken,” the man said, leaning forward slightly in the chair. “I am sure my unannounced arrival, and my appearance, are quite unsettling to you.”
“Perhaps a little,” Abe admitted, forcing himself to make eye contact with the person. “I am still not sure what you think I can do for you.”
“If you would consider coming back with me, you would be able to see how similar our situation is,” he suggested.
“Surely you aren’t proposing that I travel to wherever you live?” the President said. “This is a troubled time.”
“Time is often troubled, but your battles are through,” he said. “Your destiny has been achieved.”
“I will not abdicate my responsibility,” Lincoln said. “I took an oath to serve the people. Those were not empty words.”
“I understand your feelings, but there is much at stake,” the ghost said.
“My own nation is not yet back on its feet, and the ruptures we have in our society are nigh onto insurmountable.” He shook his head. “I cannot abandon my country now that the war has ended. Rebuilding peace is only just beginning for us.”
“Mr. Lincoln, you are such a charismatic figure. Surely you see how you could be influential in helping my people regain our freedom. We need someone like you. No, we actually need, you.”
“I am afraid my answer must be an unequivocal no,” Abe said.
“We expected you would say that. Perhaps, if I explained what the end result of your refusal may be?”
“No amount of persuasion will change my mind.” The President rose from his desk and nodded politely toward the door. “Now if you will excuse me, I have an appointment with the Vice-President.”
The specter refused to rise.
“Please do not make it necessary for me to have you removed,” Lincoln said, lowering his voice and reaching out for his call rope.
“Please do not do that, Mr. President,” he said, pleading.
As the ghost stood, the president saw for the first time how crippled he really was. One arm hung limply by his side, and his face had burned to the point where the skin seemed to be no more than a mass of scarred flesh.
In spite of having witnessed so many of his own troops maimed by the war, Lincoln’s mouth fell open in shock.
“I am sorry,” he said, apparently reading the President’s horror.
“No, it is I who should be sorry,” he said, casting his eyes down, ashamed to look into the face of the man. “Your people have obviously also suffered through a war.”
The apparition shook his head. “This is not from a war. It is the result of the atrocities our masters heap upon us. These are the ravages of monsters beyond your imagining.”
After several seconds Lincoln shook his head. “I cannot. Please, you need to leave now, before Mary comes in. She does not need to—”
“See the ugly truth?” he finished, bitterness clear in his hissing voice.
“Please. Just go.” Abe’s voice ground out the words slowly, dragging chunks of his soul with them. His hand touched the call rope, but he could not bring himself to pull it.
He struggled to clear his mind. I need to wake up now.
“You would not abandon your own people to slavery. Why would you expect that of me?” it asked.
When the President looked up, the specter stood there with an expression that might have been sadness. He watched as it made a gesture with its good hand.
Behind him another figure appeared, not quite visible through a suddenly blinding light. This one seemed to be solid, and far more human. Abe blinked several times in confusion before he collapsed forward unconscious over his desk.
The new person stepped around him, picking up the stovepipe hat that was sitting on the edge of the table. He set it lightly upon his own head. It fit perfectly, but of course it would.
Clearing his throat, he turned to face the apparition. “Take him home before he wakes.”
With another blinding flash, Lincoln vanished, leaving the new man in his place.
“Thank you, my friend,” the first one said. “Because of what you do here today in his place, he will finally have the chance to set his people free.”
“And perhaps this time it will last,” the newcomer said. “Do not let them forget again.”
Nodding, the ghost faded as the connection thinned. “Try to enjoy the play tonight, Mr. Lincoln. Primitive as it is, I understand that Ford’s Theater was a wonderful venue."
Staring into the now empty space of his office, he sat down and picked up the paper the original Lincoln had set on the books.
"In its time.”
Well, here I sit again, trying to write a blog.
Recently, I was having beer with a couple of my author buddies, and we were talking about what it takes to write a blog. One of them has a really great blog with all kinds of interesting things in it, and the other one has only a slightly more modest offering. Both of theirs are a lot more expansive than anything I'd ever achieved.
They were both asking me why I didn't have one... My answer literally stunned them into silence.
"I don't like writing... (pause)"
Since they know that I often I pound out upwards of 80,000 words in a month, for them to hear me say 'I don't like writing...' was apparently too far outside their reality to comprehend. Of course, the long pause before I finished the sentence might have led to the explosive beer spewing on their parts (fortunately, we were appropriately socially distanced or I would have come home smelling like a brewery).
The sentence probably would have made more sense if I'd finished it...
"I don't like writing, a blog."
"Writing blog posts is a lot harder for me than writing novels."
"Why?" one of them asked, looking at me with a confused expression as he finished absorbing the non sequitur I'd dropped on the table like a brick.
"Because I don't know what to write about. When I'm writing a book, I have it all planned out... way in advance. That makes it easy. Writing a blog post is so, spontaneous. I just don't know what to write that people would find interesting enough to read."
"Write what you know. Write about what interests you," the other one suggested. "Write about your books. All you have to do is write what's on your mind."
"Physics, geo-engineering, stupid movies that annoy me, politics that absolutely piss me off," I said, shaking my head.
"Well, maybe not politics, but otherwise, why not?"
So, I sat there thinking about writing a blog, while the pizza and beer slowly disappeared into the afternoon.
Just write? Could it really be that easy?
When I got home (well, actually, the next morning), I decided to tackle the problem of me not having one of those evil blog-things.
The first step was that I had to rebuild my website so that it made more sense for blogging. Since I'd relentlessly removed all mention of such a creature from the previous versions of my author platform, I spent a week or so redesigning the site to make space for these new bloggish pursuits.
In order to make room, I had to get some new pages up before I could try it again. (That's not an excuse to put it off... Nah. Not me. I'd never rationalize something like that!)
But, after building all the new stuff into the site that I could justify (and some I really couldn't), I've finally run out of pages to create. That also means I'm out of excuses.
Everything else is done, and I'm staring at this blank screen, preparing to write my first new blog post.
This time I'm determined to keep it going. I've discovered I do have stuff to put here, and I can make the commitment to keep at it until this gets to the point where writing a blog is a habit. (I've been told that will happen ... eventually.)
Now that the countdown to launch has finally ended, I guess I'm really leaving orbit.
I'm not sure where I'm heading yet, but it will be out there somewhere (and if I get lost, blame Geoff and Zachry).
No matter where I go, hopefully there will be good beer.
(Oh hey, look at that. I guess I already finished my first post!)
One down ...
Image Credit: The image above is an original render I did of the upgraded Olympus Dawn II from Season Two of Wings of Earth. The background is a NASA file image.
Hope Dies Hard - On Sale Now!
A ruthless enemy…
A desperate plea for help.
Captain Ethan Walker is learning to accept the reality of his new life as a fugitive renegade. When an unexpected message arrives at their NuProvidence base, it plunges the crew of the Olympus Dawn into a dangerous showdown with a mysterious government group known only as The Management.
The merciless leader of this secret agency will stop at absolutely nothing to shut down Ethan and his followers. She’s willing to step well outside the law… even going as far as abducting innocent people to achieve her goals.
After The Management kidnaps their loved ones, she threatens Walker with an ultimatum: If you ever want to see your families again, you will surrender your ship and crew.
Left with no choice, Captain Walker knows their only hope is to risk the impossible to rescue them.
Alone, they must break into Dziban, the most dangerous prison in all of known space.
And then, somehow, get back out.
You should grab the next exciting installment of Wings of Earth now, and find out exactly why ... Hope Dies Hard!