Friday, March 5, 2010

Pioneers: Part 5

PERSEUS SECTOR - 22 586 VULEPECULA IV -- 63 Solar Years Later

Enveloped in re-entry flame, the colony pod descended through the atmosphere. Like a giant fireball, it moved through the blue-green sky of the planet. Strange creatures looked up from the surface and watched it fall, then returned to the business of surviving.

As it crossed 2,000 meters of altitude, its orientation thrusters fired to put the colony pod upright. At 1000 meters, landing rockets fired, sending a blast of hurricane-force wind through the landing area. The pod’s final moments of descent were hidden in an expanding cloud of dust and debris.

The colony pod, 500 vertical meters of metal and composite, settled onto the surface of the colony world designated 22 586 Vulpecula IV, on the western edge of the second largest (Beta) continent.

When the dust cloud had settled, the pod’s braincore began the activation sequence for bringing the colonists out of stasis. There were 20,800 of them in total, but they would not all be awakened at once. There was a sequence to be followed. The last of them would not come out of stasis for another 210 days… about a third of 22 856 Vulpecula IV’s long year.

On level 84, a stasis pod opened. Its occupant, Adrian Bronstein, opened his eyes, and was immediately aware of the sound of wind and a need to vomit. He unstrapped himself from his pod, fell to the deck and puked out a cold, pink liquid that had stabilized his digestive system for the long journey.

He then drew in the first real breath he had ever taken, although he did not know it was his first.

There was a warm towel nearby, he took it, and wiped himself off. Then, he said his first words. “Mother, status report.”

“Arrival sequence complete,” the colony pod answered him. A screen was projected in the air in front of him, showing an external view. He reached into the locker adjacent to his pod and pulled on his clothes, thinking wistfully that it had been over sixty years since he had put them in the locker, although it seemed like only last night. He remembered the shuttle that had taken him to Chrysanthemum station, and that last wild night before he boarded the pod for its journey here.

Or was he remembering his last night at Ad Astra University, where he spent six years learning everything he would need to know to help establish a human footprint on a world 60,000 light years from his home on Balthazrr, where he had grown, where he had played groundball and cross-wickets.

He shook his head, as though trying to sort the memories. He remembered from his training that prolonged cryostasis often affected human memory; mixing up events was common. It was better not to dwell on it. There was a lot of work ahead.

“We’re here, thank God,” said a voice behind him. He turned to his brother, Aidan, pulling on his old battered flight jacket over the standard issue coveralls of the Sweetwater Pioneer Service. His hair was a mess, but then, it always was; although there were rumors hair still grew in stasis. His old aviator’s cap was tucked under his arm. That outfit must have taken a huge amount of argument to approve for transport.

“You didn’t think we would make it?” Adrian raised an eyebrow.

“Hate the idea of spending sixty years knocked out inside a machine going through hyperspace.” Aidan had been a patrol pilot with the Commonwealth Planetary Defense Force. Adrian remembered that somewhere in the lower decks was a scout craft; that Aidan would be helping scout the planet and establish the secondary and tertiary colony sites.

“Let’s take a look at this bitch,” Aidan said.

Together, they walked the cold metal deck until they reached a hatch. Adrian hit the hatch, which slid up upward. An outer hatch on the other side slid downward.

“Whoa!” said Aidan.

The pod had landed near a stretch of beach, rocks and sand spread for kilometers on either side. There were hills and woods beyond. Cottony cirrus clouds laced a brilliant blue-green sky where a single bright yellow sun peeked through. They felt its warmth on their faces and at that moment, it sank in; this world was going to be their home. They would live here, and they would die here. As pioneers, they would make this world whatever it would become.

“We made it, buddy,” Adrian grinned from ear to ear, and he and his brother shared a quick hug, followed by drawing back from each other with fists raised, a thing they remembered doing since they were little kids.

When they had finished admiring the view, Aidan pulled on his aviator’s cap and turned to get back into the colony. “Mother will be thawing out my wife next. I think she’ll want to see me when she wakes up.”

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Pioneers: Part 4

THE COMMONWEALTH - SCORPIO SECTOR - BELLWETHER COLONY - VLADIMIR WATANABE ORBITAL STATION

Voyager 154 was a standard, Ironhorse-class, Commonwealth Colonizer Train-Ship. From stem to stern, she measured 40 kilometers in length, ten of these kilometers were occupied by her drive systems. Arranged around her spine were 44 colony seed pods --- which contained fuel, supplies, and instructions sufficient to begin settlement on alien worlds. These were shaped like tall skinny pyramids with flatted tops and tapered bases. Smaller pods held additional equipment, tools, and processing gear. Also on board Voyager 154 were 968,000 embryonic human beings, 2,200 adult human volunteers and children in stasis, and a crew of 190.

Voyager 154 was designed for a one-way, six decade journey to the far side of the galaxy, the Perseus Quadrant. Following on the heels of the Exploration and survey ships, it would be her job to begin or augment colonies on 22 Terra-class planets. She currently orbited Bellwether colony, a pretty world of dark blue ocean and rust red continents; the nearest world to the Chrysanthemum StarLock.

An entire deck of Voyager 154’s cylindrical operations module was given over to monitoring cargo. Two cargo specialists, Potts and Dirksen, were watching the machines that monitored the colonizer ship’s cargo. It was incredibly boring.

Dirksen was very bland, tall and thin, with dirty blonde hair cut efficiently and unimaginatively. A single thin communication wire extended from his ear to the corner of his mouth. “Confirm pallet Zeta-660 locked into Colony Pod 21. All connects green. Pallet secure.”

“Confirmed and acknowledged,” said a female voice on the other side of the VOX Link. “We are gone, Cargo Control.”

“Go safely,” Dirksen told her. “CC out.”

“I am so bored,” Potts reclined in his couch and stretched.

“In six days this ship leaves for Chyrsanthemum Station,” Dirksen pulled up the navigational plots. “Then, sixty-one-point-five-nine years in hyperspace.”

“That failed to make me not bored,” Potts groaned. Potts, who was short, dark, with unfashionable facial hair, teased his fellow launch technicians to cope with his boredom. He was not popular among the other technicians.

“When the ship is on its way, we go back to ground. I think you would like that,” Dirksen answered.

Potts shrugged. He watched as Dirksen reviewed Voyager 154’s itinerary, the 22 worlds it would be calling on. “You wish you were going?”

Dirksen laughed. “Yea-go, my wives would just love that. Maybe, someday, if the Perseus StarLocks are ever finished.”

“Do you have any of your own going out the?”

“Probably,” Dirksen answered, blushing. He didn’t want to go into detail.

Potts seized on this. “I’ve got hundreds, thousands maybe. I used to give my juice to the In Vitro Project before it was canceled.”

“I am surprised they took it,” Dirksen replied.

Potts reached into the comestibles locker and opened a bottle of Jizz, (a clear, citrus-flavored carbonated beverage with a particularly raw marketing scheme) and took a long drink before continuing. “Kinda like the thought of having all those offspring, living on after me, on the far side of the galaxy. You ever think about how all these little ‘bryos gonna spend the next sixty-five years growing up in a tube… and when they wake up, they think they’re really alive, I mean, they think they’re really alive but it’s all just memories an artificial intelligence programs into them.”

Dirksen was getting bored with the conversation. “It tells them what they need to know, and gives them memories so they don’t go crazy.”

“Phony memories!” Potts insisted, Jizz spraying from his lips. “Artificial memories. Bedtime stories written by androids and told them by robots.”

He leaned across his couch, uncomfortable close to Dirksen. “And what really gets me is, how do we know that everything we think is a memory isn’t just some fake implant to keep us from going insane?”

“Mine are real!” Dirksen insisted. “My mom and dad are still alive. They live in Magnuson. I have two brothers and a sister. We spend every Feast of Alms together. I don’t know about yours.”

“Oh, I got memories… I remember a whole lot I don’t even want to remember.” Potts grinned and tapped the side of a rack. “And every one of these embryons is going to have their head filled with warm, fake, childhood memories scripted by… professional fiction writers Sweetwater pays to write phony childhoods. The ones from the same sperm and egg donor even get fed memories that they grew up as brother and sister. Sometimes, they just buy people’s childhood memories and use those. None of it’s real. They aren’t even real.”

“Who?” Dirksen asked, not sure which “they” Potts meant.

“The embryons. They grow up in a tube and the colony companies program them to do whatever they need done out there. They’re practically no different than robots.”

Dirksen cleaned his nails on his pants leg. Potts moved in still closer. “How do we know that we weren’t made the same way? Or our parents?”

“They only use this program for the far colonies,” Dirksen protested.

“So, they tell us.” Potts displayed the kind of grin that made others want to punch him.“Nobody knows what happens when they reach the other side. For all we know they wake up as deranged cannibals and kill everything in sight.”

“Potts, shut the hell up,” Dirksen said. Pretty much everybody said that to Potts, eventually. As far as Dirksen was concerned, he was real, what he did made him who he was, and that was the end of it.

Potts was quiet for a few moments, and then he said, “How do we know we aren’t artificial memories being programmed into someone else?”

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Pioneers: Part 3

THE COMMONWEALTH - SCORPIO SECTOR - SAN ANDREAS COLONY - NEW ATLANTA - ASTRA-PACIFIC LABS

Dr. Hughes delivered the egg-shaped transport pod upstairs to Dr. Langer, the gene specialist. Dr. Langer placed the pod under a scanner, that bathed it in warm orange light. A holographic model of the embryonic DNA appeared in front of him. “Looks very strong, this personality sequence shows a tendency toward athleticism and leadership. High intelligence gradient. This one will require minimal augments.”

Dr. Hughes let herself smile a little. “The young ones always give us the best stock.”

Langer was an older man, scrawny with unkempt hair, who wore a large multi-spectral eyepiece as a permanent accoutrement. “Too bad the Commonwealth outlawed military embryonic sales. They would have paid premium for this one.” Langer was also a veteran of the Scorpio campaign.

The system alerted Langer to a match in the embryon database. “Well, hello.”

“What is it?”

Langer zoomed in on the matching file. “Our little boy has a brother a system, a half brother anyway. Paternal half-brother, some little stud has been busy.”

Langer pulled up data from the file. “The other donor named hers… Aidan Bronstein.”

Hughes checked the donor record. “This one’s donor didn’t want to leave hers a name. So, we’ll let them share the same last name, this one will be named Adrian.” A program in the administrative computer assigned the names when the donor didn’t, which was about 60% of cases. This prevented Medicos from giving embryons ridiculous monikers like “Harry Butt” or “Amanda Huggenkiss,” although sometimes one slipped through.

“Makes no difference to me,” Langer made a few final entries into the file, and removed the embryon pod from the scanning pad. Hughes took the pod and place it inside a long-term gestational chamber. The system cycled into cryostasis to keep the future colonist stable for transport.

“Where is he going?” Langer asked.

Hughes answered. “We’re sending 2,000 to the Bellwether system on the next hyper-transport,” she told him. “Order from the Sweetwater Consortium.”

Every time Hughes went over the economics in her mind it staggered her. Each embryon was bought from the donor for a thousand credits, give or take, depending on the market that day. Each cost about 100,000 credits to grow to adulthood and transport to a colony, but each would produce, in a lifetime, on average, over a million credits of economic output.

All this was necessary if humanity were to colonize the other quadrants of the galaxy. Even the improved birth rates of the post-Crusade, 41st Century would barely support growth in the Orion Sector. And few humans would give up their homes and families for the forty year journey to the Carina or Cygnus Quadrant, far fewer the sixty years to Perseus Quadrant. Hence, the Pioneer Program.

Today, she would make the Sweetwater consortium six million credits in future income and it had been a relatively slow day. Her bonus this year would pay for a nice vacation cottage in New Havana. And she could sit on the deck and sip ambrosia, and think about her own embryons, on colony-ships bound for distant worlds.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Pioneers: Part 2

THE COMMONWEALTH - SCORPIO SECTOR - SAN ANDREAS COLONY - NEW ATLANTA - ASTRA-PACIFIC LABS

The girl lay back in the clinic as the probe entered her. She didn’t know what kind of sensory alteration program the clinic used, but it made her feel wonderful; like her loins were immersed in some warm, electric stew. She was only vaguely aware of the presence of the long robotic appendage – slathered in biolubrican – that had entered her; as though it were happening to someone else.

“Extraction will be complete in thirty seconds,” the Medico, Dr. Hughes, told her. She was a pleasant woman in her thirties, but her voice was an unwelcome intrusion into the music program she had been enjoying while the procedure was completed.

“This is my first time,” the girl burbled. She didn’t know why she said it, but the sensory program was making her feel chatty and uninhibited.

“There’s a first time for everybody,” Dr. Hughes said amiably. She watched the monitor closely. On its holographic screen was an enhanced view of the girl’s cervical passage. The probe pressed gently inward and began scanning for the tiny embryon.

The girl began humming a snatch of popular music. Hughes filtered it out. In the adjacent cubicle, she heard the next patient… rather older than hers… moan softly as the probe withdrew from her insides.

A small “ping” came from her machine. The probe had found the embryon. A quick scan showed it intact and healthy. “Got you,” Hughes whispered. Her hands were contained in a pair of sensory gloves, similar to the ones used by asteroid miners for remote mining robots, but far more sensitive. It was very important to extract the embryon intact. First, she sprayed the embryon in bio-sustainment gel. Then, she carefully loosened it from the uterine wall. It didn’t want to go, at first, but a little more gel, and just the slightest increase in pressure convinced it to detach. The probe quickly drew it into its proboscis, and slowly pulled out from inside her.

“That’s it,” Hughes announced. She stood up. “You can rest here until you feel ready to get up. The nursing technician will give you your check and some medication on the way out. You did really good.”

“Mmm,” said the girl. She lay back on the bed, eyes closed, as though lying there for a while seemed like a good idea. It would not be a problem. The clinic was slow today, and there were more than the usual empty beds.

“How long…?” the girl muttered dreamily.

Hughes looked at her. What would she spend her thousand credits on? Clothes? A personal vehicle? A spring break getaway to Bop Beach? The money would go quickly, and she would be back. “Three months, minimum,” Hughes answered, honestly, the injections would see to that. “And a year would be better.”

Monday, March 1, 2010

Pioneers: Part 1

Book 10 is proving to be a real pain in the butt, and I am trying to get through the last edits, but it is so difficult because there are so many characters, and so many languages to keep track up. It's really hard.

In the meantime, I actually dashed off this short story in five parts while getting my brakes serviced. It should provide some amusement.

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THE COMMONWEALTH - SCORPIO SECTOR - SAN ANDREAS COLONY - SUBURBS OF NEW ATLANTA:

“This is the deal,” said the girl. She was sitting on her bed. The boy stood in front of her, and she played with the fastener of his belt. “You make me happy for 30 minutes, then you get to shoot in me. Deal.”

The boy grinned in a well-practiced imitation of sheepishness. “All right.”

The girl quickly stripped down to a bra and panties and lay back with her shoulders propped on some pillows. The boy unceremoniously stripped off his jersey, his shoes, his socks and his jeans, letting them fall on the floor next to the bag with his groundball gear.

He climbed into the bed, knees first, and put himself in a straddling position over her naked body. She was a pale creature, with curly red-brown hair. In his dark eyes and the dusky hue of his skin were traces of his Meso-American ancestry; on a planet 14,000 light years away whose history occupied Chapter 1 of their history texts.

His touch was clumsy, which the girl had expected, and she had to guide him to her pleasure centers; the tips of her breasts, the sensitive zones of her inner thigh, and that spot behind her elbows her cousin had discovered. She didn’t mind his roughness, the thought of being his teacher, of her being the one who would make his motions better for the girls who would follow her, was part of what aroused her about the scene.

Thirty-five minutes after her initial proposition, he was pulling his pants over his muscular brown legs, and she was lying in bed, watching him, and wondering if there was any fruit salad in the food preservation unit on the lower level of the house.

“I gotta go,” he said to her, strapping his laces together.

“Yeah,” she agreed. “Thanks.”

He slung his bag over his shoulder and flashed his too-white smile at her. “Yeah, it was good,” he said by way of you’re welcome.