The Gospel According to Earth – Chapter Twenty Four

Previous Chapter

“The secret is digital audio,” Mond explained. He was seated by the bridge’s holotank while Naomi and Bennet worked to set up a stable computer connection with Bottletown through the no-longer-secret Roddenberry FTL communication corridor. “You can encrypt it however you want but there’s only so many practical ways to transmit digital audio via radio or laser. Digital information breaks down to ones and zeroes, after all.”

“I don’t understand what that has to do with your communications blackout,” Carrington replied.

“It’s actually very simple.” Mond went to work in the holotank, his prosthetic hands painstakingly forming a set of graphs in the tank. “Computer systems are all different, of course. However at a base level you’re still communicating ones and zeroes at a very high rate of speed and the structure of your system actually makes the pattern of those ones and zeroes predictable to a certain extent. We don’t have to know what they mean. We just have to predict what is coming next, a one or a zero, and predicting a pattern without bothering to think about what it means is the quintessential job of an artificial intelligence.”

“They don’t get distracted by the framing problem,” Carrington said.

“Exactly. When UNIGOV was coming together there were a huge number of people broadcasting counter-narratives that were undermining the sapiens position. We created the broadcast blanketing system as our own countermeasure. It was based on a very simple fact: when a wave is exposed to the complete opposite waveform the two cancel each other out.” Mond was carefully sketching out two such waveforms in the tank.

Even without the visual aid Carrington recognized what he was saying and grasped the underlying principle he was getting at. “You mean you managed to anticipate the data we’re about to broadcast and create an inverse signal to cancel it out? Wouldn’t it be simpler to crack the encryption?”

“Maybe. I’m not an expert on the subject but I don’t think it is. Transmitters use very simplistic algorithms to talk to each other and that’s all we really need to figure out in order to create the blanketing effect. Also, the system was created to counter people who were broadcasting within standard protocols. The point wasn’t to find out what they were saying. They wanted people to understand them. The point…” Mond shot an uncomfortable look at Naomi and sighed. “As the martians say, the point was to silence them and for that understanding isn’t actually necessary.”

Carrington nodded, waving him past that minefield. “Fine. Your computer experts whipped up an approach to shut down radio waves with some kind of dampening technology. How do we get past it now?”

“We left a backdoor in the programming to ensure that we could talk through the blanketing effect. That algorithm is buried in UNIGOV comm systems from that era foreward. All we need to do is pull it from the Vault under the martian city and we’ll be able to break through and talk with UNIGOV systems on the ground.”

“On the ground?” Carrington gave him a sharp look. “What about our own forces? They aren’t going to have anything to receive the broadcast with.”

“Not necessarily. First off, I know that your personnel are very capable of appropriating UNIGOV tech and using it for their own ends.” Waved his hand to encompass the ship. “After all, if they couldn’t we wouldn’t have made it back to orbit, would we?”

Carrington clasped his hands behind his back and looked back at the holotank. EMG scans had picked up a great deal of thermal and magnetic activity around a power plant in the Los Angeles area. They did need to do anything possible to find out what was going on down there. On the other hand, there was a certain trepidation to finding out just how badly things had gone on the ground, a trepidation rooted in the disasters of the past.

“You know, Director, I find it odd that you cite cutting off your martians as a source of certainty for your civilization. I find the silence full of possibility. The uncertainty is unpleasant, often, but so long as I do not know what’s happened down there the anything could have happened. Major Goldstein could be on the verge of forging a successful peace with your government. Or they could have created such a disastrous misstep that the entire detachment was wiped out when you deployed your disassembler field.” With a flick of a few fingers Carrington brought the live satellite images of the surface to the forefront of their section.

“Certainty is a vital component to the art of war,” he continued. “Knowing everything we can about the enemy’s positions, capabilities and mindset are the foundation of good planning. Acting in complete ignorance of these things is foolish. Yet you claim that creating that ignorance, particularly ignorance of your adversaries but also ignorance of your own past, is a vital part of creating a society founded on certainty. I confess I find your position bizarre.”

“Oh?” Mond raised an eyebrow. “And when you look at what you see from your adversaries you never think that perhaps they might be lying to you? That what you see from them is calculated to undermine you? I find that very hard to believe you.”

“On the contrary, Director, we count on it. Psychology, gamesmanship and analysis are all part of the modern warfare – and modern diplomacy, for that matter.” Carrington gave the other man a steady look. “I wish you would beat around the bush less, Mr. Mond, because I really would like to end this with as little bloodshed as possible but it’s really hard to understand where you’re coming from.”

Mond sighed and looked up at the feed in the holotank. “I believe you, Admiral. The thing you must understand about our approach to the world is that we believe that stability comes from vulnerability, from a willingness to be open to one another. We wish to be left alone to pursue our own society rather than be forced to constantly reevaluate the intrusions of outsiders. The expectation of hostility from others undermines that. It robs us of the openness that comes with vulnerability.”

“You can’t build a society on vulnerability, Director,” Naomi said, leaving her console to join them. “Believe me, the founders of Bottletown tried; because they had no other choice. To some extent I suppose you could say they succeeded, since we are still around, but we didn’t have a chance to develop our own culture, to grow as people or to create anything new. We still live in the same buildings they did. We barely understand the technology they left us and we spent our very short lives wondering if the whole system was going to come crashing down around us. We were vulnerable every moment and I’m sure the downward spiral would have destroyed us eventually if the Genies hadn’t found us.”

“That is stability, Ms. Bertolini. Entropy is a universal force that we must all deal with on a personal and societal level.” Mond gave her a sad smile. “When we fight and we scratch and we steal from one another we don’t reverse entropy, we only increase the suffering of others to enrich ourselves. In the process, we hasten the process rather than forestalling it. If we were honest with ourselves we could allow the natural processes to begin to heal, we could slow entropy as much as possible and we can live our full lives in community with one another rather than in constant suspicion.”

Carrington glanced at Naomi. Her face showed total confusion, clearly unable to work out what brought a person to this point, much less an entire civilization. The small world under the Borealis dome hadn’t prepared her for this. She hadn’t seen the kind of arbitrary death the world could dole out through violence, illness or mishap. The very nature of Malacandran civilization precluded it.

Such things had a corrosive effect on the human spirit so pronounced and mysterious it shocked even him and worse, it was very hard to reverse. Such corrosion was at the root of most wars, crimes and suicides. Worst of all, when ways to reverse the damage did exist the methods were radically different in every case.

The fleet had decided to remain in the Sol system to help the Malacandrans emerge into a thriving society and maintain some level of connection with the Homeworld. More and more, it was looking like achieving either one of those goals involved breaking UNIGOV’s hold on Earth. What that meant was unclear. At the most extreme it meant destroying most of their leadership and beginning the process of completely replacing the corrupt culture that they’d put in place. Carrington had little appetite for such extreme action. Hopefully just giving competing ideas a foothold on planet would be enough.

Unfortunately he was almost certain that less extreme option would be impossible without winning Mond over to his side. Any counter to the UNIGOV party line would have to come from someone who knew that line inside and out. Mond’s status as a member of the Directorate would lend him credibility. However, so far there were very few cracks showing in the Director’s ideological dedication to Earth’s status quo. He showed some doubt when the Malacandrans were around. Carrington couldn’t think of anything to help the Director along outside of keeping Mond and Naomi together as much as possible and praying that something came of it. In the meantime he had his own people to worry about.

“If you prefer the stability of entropy to the certainty of understanding there’s not much we can do to change your mind, Director.” He glanced at Bennet. “How are things coming, Major?”

“We’ve established the uplink through the Spiner and the Stewart, Admiral. We should have the algorithm pulled from the Borealis Vault in a few minutes.”

“Can we integrate it with our own computer systems?”

“That’s the easy part, actually,” Naomi replied, “Teng already spent several days with the Roddenberrys working out an emulator that allows our systems to talk to each other. We brought a copy with us and installed it with the Major yesterday. You should be able to drop the algorithm into it and go from there.”

“Then we’ll try and open a line to the LA Power Plant first as it looks like the ground team may be holed up there. At your convenience, Major.”

The next three minutes were full of quiet muttering and consultations. Then Bennet said, “Okay, Admiral, it looks like we’ve got someone who’s answering us. Want me to put it up in the tank?”


The surveillance feeds flew off to the sides and were replaced with a human sized helmet. To Carrington’s surprise it was a regulation issue Copernican armored exoskeleton helmet. “Who is this?” The man on the other end demanded. Then he jerked back and snapped to attention, his hand coming into view from one side. “Admiral Carrington! I’m sorry, sir, I was expecting a UNIGOV person.”

Carrington tamped down on his impulse to grin. “Not a problem, son, this is a very unorthodox line of communication. Who am I talking to?”

“Corporal Broward Keys, Admiral. Part of the landing crew under Captain Yang dispatched with Sergeant Langley to secure this facility.”

Interesting. Sergeant Langley was apparently having a very good month. If he kept it up someone back on Copernicus was going to try and build him a statue or something equally foolish. “Good work, Corporal. Is the Captain or Sergeant present?”

“Negative, sir. The Captain is still inbound, Sergeant Langley is in pursuit of hostile assets.” He glanced off to one side. “Uh, we do have a SubDirector Baker present, Admiral. She’s surrendered but it sounds like she’s interested in talking to you.”

Carrington glanced at Mond, who looked just as surprised as he was, and then back at the tank. A new route to the simple solution had just offered itself. “Put her on.”


The Gospel According to Earth – Chapter Fourteen

Previous Chapter

“Is it totally impossible for us to go down?” Naomi was once again on the observation deck, watching Earth spin below. The Malacandrans had kept to themselves after their lengthy tour of the ship; outside of eating dinner in the mess hall they’d asked to go to their guest quarters and stayed there for the rest of the night. When Carrington reached the bridge the next morning he’d been informed their leader had shown up on the observation deck and taken a moment to look in on her.

“That’s a tricky question to answer,” the admiral replied. “Our best guess is that large stretches of Earth are still readily accessible to our landing craft but we have no way of knowing if any particular site is or isn’t defended until we try to land there. UNIGOV’s disassembler field has effectively put a dome over parts of the planet.”

“But only parts,” Naomi said, dragging her attention away from the planet. “Not even Bottletown’s dome is large enough to cover any significant part of Thulcandra’s surface. Surely we can just land outside of theirs.”

“Again, it’s tricky. The dome is invisible until activated and we don’t know where the sources of it are located, we don’t know if they’re mobile, we don’t know if they’ve only put it in one place or many. We aren’t even sure what to look for to answer any of those questions.” Carrington shrugged. “As things stand right now I’m not willing to try and land any of my own troops on the planet, much less a foreign dignitary.”

The Eldest leaned back against the plastic pane between her and vacuum then flopped down on the windowsill and crossed her arms in front of her. “Dignitary isn’t the word I would use.”

Given that behavior perhaps there was some merit to her viewpoint. “Still, you’re the Eldest of Malacandra,” Carrington said. “I know you folks are used to a lot of turnover in your leadership structure but it’s still not healthy for a society to have that level of upheaval. It doesn’t matter whether you feel dignified or not. We have to respect the position and what upheaval in that position entails for your people”

“I suppose.” She folded her hands in her lap and tilted her head up towards the top of the deck. “Has Volk told you anything about how things are going on Malacandra?”

“Well, I’m sure he’s submitted his reports and I’ve been copied on all of them per standing orders but I haven’t really had a whole lot of time to read them. A sad consequence of being in charge of this many people.”

“I don’t know how you do it. Bottletown barely had more people in it than this ship, to say nothing of the rest of your fleet, and I still struggled to keep the peace.” She shook her head. “Things haven’t been going well there, Admiral.”

“Do your problems stem from keeping the peace or settling the theology of your new situation?” Carrington asked.

“From numbers.” Naomi tapped the side of her head. “I was in Silence less than a week and I don’t remember much of what happened while I was there. Based on what we’ve learned that’s pretty typical. Anyone who’s been shutdown less than two years comes out a little confused how they got there, with no real solid idea of what they saw or did, but otherwise healthy and ready to get on with life. But the longer a person is in Silence after the two year mark the worse things get.”

“They lose memories?”

“No, that wouldn’t be a issue. The problem is they keep them.” She produced a folder full of pictures rendered on flexible plastic and handed the admiral several of them. “The more people remember from their time in shutdown the more unstable they come out of it. It doesn’t make any sense to me. I know I dreaded going into the Silence and I presume most other people did as well, I’ve had discussions with friends on the subject many times. So it doesn’t surprise me that some people came out scarred.”

Carrington flipped through the pictures and tried to find a theme. Some people stared blankly into the distance, some were wild eyed or waved their hands in frantic, violent gestures and some looked like they were in the grip of uncontrollable, hysterical laughter. Those three moods were the most common in evidence in the group of fifty or so pictures. Despair, frustration or panic showed up on some faces as well but in smaller numbers.

He handed the stack of plastic back to Naomi. “What are they scarred with, exactly?”

“It’s hard to tell.” She carefully tapped the sheets until the edges were squared up and tucked them back into her folder. “The longer they were in there the harder it was to get coherent answer from them about anything. They get less and less coherent the longer they were in there. They use words in odd contexts, they reference things that never happened or places that don’t exist, they talk about people the records show they never met or never even existed.”

“Our understanding of the Shutdown system on Earth is that people in Shutdown are still conscious in a kind of dream state,” Carrington said. “They may have met other Malacandrans in there. Although my understanding is that only people put there can interact with one another, I don’t know where they would have found people who didn’t actually exist.”

“The Roddenberrys have mentioned that to us but even they can’t figure out what the connection is between the dream and why people are acting like this while waking.” Naomi sighed. “I was hoping that I could go down to Thulcandra and find some record of what they knew about it.”

“I don’t think they ever take people out of Shutdown,” Carrington said, offering her a hand up. “Even if they did, from what Director Mond said yesterday I don’t know if they would consider that kind of consequence from the process something worth their figuring out. They don’t seem to connect their own experiences to those of their so-called martians at all.”

“That truly surprised me.” Naomi rose and straightened her tunic then tucked the pictures into her belt. “Thinking about the perspectives of others is something drilled into everyone in Bottletown, in preparation for our time as Eldest. I wasn’t expecting someone who led others to be so ignorant of such a basic aspect of leadership.”

“Believe me, I understand your consternation.” Carrington had spent a lot of time trying to understand how Mond wound up where he did but ultimately he’d had to stop diving down that rabbit hole and focus on the immediate. “Speaking of leadership, how are things going in Bottletown? I know that technically you’re still the leader of the town but if you keep pulling people out of Shutdown you can’t really be the Eldest anymore.”

Naomi sighed. “If only you knew how right you were. I thought that when we started to pull people out of Silence they would see all the work we’ve done to maintain Bottletown and be impressed with all we’d done to uphold their legacy and preserve the Dome. Instead they questioned and complained and… it’s so frustrating.

The admiral tried but mostly failed to keep from smiling. “I can understand where that comes from as well.”

“I know we’re young compared to a normal human society, Admiral, but we really can keep the Dome running on our own. Every generation of Malacandrans has had to learn to do that!”

His amusement wasn’t helping and Carrington quickly schooled his expression back to a neutral state. “I’m sure that’s not the issue, Miss Bertolini, no matter what might have been said. Think of it this way. When you passed into Silence, were you content with the way you left things in Bottletown? Did you fulfill all your hopes and ambitions? Say everything you wanted to your family? Was there no sight you still wanted to see with your friends, moments of life you wanted to share or even grudges you wanted to pay back?”

“I don’t know about grudges,” Naomi said, speaking very slowly and deliberately. “But definitely at least a little of everything else.”

“Now imagine you came back two years later and found out all those things you wanted actually did happen but you weren’t there to see them.”

“Oh.” She nodded twice, her eyes unfocusing as she stared into the middle distance. Carrington could almost see a conversation in recent memory replaying behind them as the Eldest considered some moment she’d recently shared with one of those people she knew who had left Shutdown. “Yes, I can see that. You’re a very wise man, Admiral.”

Carrington felt a pang of loss. “No, Miss Bertolini. I just spent a great deal of my life in space. One thing you Malacandrans are right about – age and experience does bring a value you can’t get from anywhere else. But as you get older the dynamics of relationships change and your society hasn’t had to learn the ins and outs of those changes yet.”

She nodded. “It must be nice not to have the Silence always looming over you, cutting you off from family and friends like clockwork.”

It was Carrington’s turn to approach the window and study Earth as if the Homeworld held the answer to his darker thoughts. “Out here the Silence is far less predictable, Eldest. I’m sure knowing when it comes has it’s own terrors but the dread of never knowing when it will come is just as bad. And often we don’t get to say goodbye, like you did.”

“That’s something else we’ll have to get used to, I suppose.” Naomi joined him in watching the Homeworld turn below them. “One more thing to look forward to. Hopefully we can keep from rushing into the experience although I know Alyssa was ready to choke someone to death when last I saw her. A little more room to breath around the Dome would certainly help.”

Carrington nodded. “Elbow room is one of the great peacekeeping tools of human history. We’re doing everything we can to help you get some for yourself. I can’t promise you’ll be able to visit Earth this time around but we are planning to put more boots on the ground as soon as we have a solution to the current problems we’re facing. I can promise once we’re there you’ll be welcome to go down there to join us for as long as you wish.”

“I appreciate that, Captain.”

“I have to warn you there’s not much to see in most of these abandoned cities, though.”

She nodded. “Of course. But that’s not what I appreciate.”


“No.” She smiled up at him, gratitude in her eyes. “I most appreciate that you, at least, will still tell us where we stand. Malacandra has been in Silence too long and for all the difficulties in leaving it, I hope we will never go back.”

The Gospel According to Earth – Chapter Eight

Previous Chapter

Glenda Vesper was the wife of Vincent Vesper, bound up to him like some kind of possession by an archaic, destructive contract known as ‘marriage.’ The general belief was that marriage was a holdover from martian society. It involved some kind of buying or selling of resources and emotional services in highly stressful emotional hostage situations the likes of which martians seemed to enjoy a great deal. It was the kind of cultural institution that drove wedges between sapiens and martians.

However it was something that the Vespers believed in a lot, according to the records, so when he found a moment between all his other responsibilities Brian dropped by the Bakersfield vault and he and Baker went to look in on Glenda. Unfortunately, Glenda was one of the people who came out of Shutdown angry. After the initial contact with the returned martians the Directorate had tasked a group to work on ways to humanely restrain deranged martian individuals and his Vault was one of the first to benefit from their work. As a result they wound up not going down into the Vault proper.

Instead they went into the hovercar hanger on top of the Vault where several large vans had been brought in and turned into small, improvised living chambers. They’d built an improvised nanolathe device that fused and unfused the doors. It took a couple of seconds for the nanotech to transform the side of the van from a solid piece back into a sliding door which gave Brian just enough time to compose himself. He wasn’t a councilor, he specialized in the hardware side of medical technology. The human part of it wasn’t something he had a lot of experience with and, to make matters worse, the initial reports from the psychologists suggested the problems were beyond what anyone had experience with.

When he slid the door open he doubted that assessment. Glenda Vesper was a middle aged woman with graying hair, just shy of the century mark, with clever, sunken eyes and long, agile fingers. She looked entirely lucid as she smiled and nodded to him from her seat on one of the benches along the side of the van. Then she opened her mouth. “Hello, Harold! Have you finally finished compiling the new code for the pulse regulators? We need to test it against the entire synchronization package if we’re going to get on to debugging before the end of the month.”

Brian’s smile wavered. “I’m afraid you’ve confused me with someone else, Ms. Vesper. I am Director Brian O’Sullivan and I’m in charge of the Bakersfield Vault, which is where we are right now. How are you feeling?”

“Like I should be at work,” she replied, her smile fading. “What Vault? What Bakersfield am I in? Why aren’t I in Sarajevo, with the rest of the Front?”

“Calm down, Ms. Vesper,” Baker said, taking a seat on the bench opposite Glenda. Her tone and posture were supposed to sooth and disarm but had the opposite effect on the other woman, who’s eyes got wider and wider as Baker spoke. “We’ve explained the situation to you before, do you remember?”

“Don’t patronize me, young lady!” Glenda snapped. “Who do you think you are, the Directorate?”

“Actually…” Brian’s voice was dry but amused. “This is SubDirector Baker, who is also from this Vault.”

“What Vault? What are you talking about?” Glenda got up with a sudden, violent motion and grabbed Brian by the front of his tunic. “I need to get back to work and I don’t have time to listen to all of you babble. We’ve been trying and trying and trying to get the Light of Mars to work but all we get are failures and hurdles and distractions. Don’t you see how important this is?”

Brian tried to get ahold of her hands but somehow the woman’s elbows always managed to get in the way and spoiled his attempts. “Ms. Vesper, this isn’t helping. I know you’re anxious to get back to the Light of Mars project and we’re eager to see you ready to do the same. But first we need to make sure you’re stable.”

“We don’t have time for stability, Harold! You know how important the Light of Mars is going to be and it’s only a matter of time before the martians come back and no one wants to do anything about it!” With a hard shove Glenda pushed herself away and stalked four steps away to the back of the van. “No one is doing anything about the problem except us and we are running out of time and people!”

Brian glanced at Baker to see if she had any idea of what the other woman was talking about but from her bewildered expression it was clear she didn’t. “Ms. Vesper, there are plenty of people here. The entire staff of the Light of Mars project is recovering with you.”

“No they aren’t, Harold! I saw Gracie pull apart into pixels right in front of me.” She spun around on a heel and stomped back to him, jabbing a finger at each eye. “I saw it happen, Harold. We’re running out of time and people and the martians are going to be here any year. Let me get out and help.”

“The martians have already returned,” Brian said, a split second before his brain pointed out that maybe that wasn’t the best thing to say.

Glenda froze, fingers still pointed at eyeballs. “Already?”

“They came back into orbit a few weeks ago,” Baker said. Brian tried to will her into stopping but telepathy wasn’t something UNIGOV had cracked yet. So she continued blithely on with no appreciation for what being withing grabbing range of the deranged woman when she learned the truth might mean for him. “There have already been several incidents where they came and went largely unopposed but they haven’t left yet. The Directorate eventually decided to reactivate the Light of Mars in response.”

“Too late.” There was an anguish in those two words that Brian hoped he would never fully understand. “All this time and we’re too late.”

As Glenda sank down onto the bench again Brian darted forward and caught her arm to keep her from slipping all the way down to the floor. “It’s alright, Glenda. I’m sure once your project is fully reactivated-”

“Reactivated, reactivated,” she spat, “what are you prattling on about reactivating?”

Another fruitless glance passed between Brian and Baker. With no new insight he was forced to look at her again and say, “Developing your large scale nanolathe field?”

“Work on the Light of Mars has never stopped, not even for one day.”

For a long moment Brian just stared at the old woman. Even after all the strange and ridiculous things she’d said so far that had to be the strangest one yet. “Glenda…” He realized he couldn’t think of a good way to approach the issue directly. “Glenda, how old are you?”

The unexpected nature of the question brought her up short. “I’m…” She paused only as long as you might expect a lady of her age to think as she tried to add up all the years in her head. “I’m ninety seven. Or ninety eight, I don’t remember the exact day. It’s the middle of August, isn’t it?”

She was close, it was actually early September and her birthday was just a few weeks away, according to the file. “Glenda, when was the last time you worked on the Light of Mars?”

“Last week,” she snapped. “I took over on the frequency fine-tuning team after Alexei pixelated. We were getting close to a breakthrough on it.”

“Frequency?” Baker asked. “What’s that about? There wasn’t anything about frequencies in the notes we got from the Sarajevo compound when the project was Shutdown.”

“Balancing the frequency of the field is imperative if the Light of Mars is to extend beyond the current one kilometer maximum and remain stable,” Glenda said. “We’ve been working on that for the last decade.”

Brian frowned. “Is that so. How did you determine that adjusting the frequency of the Light was the key to stabilizing the magnetic field, rather than real-time adjustments to the strength of the field?”

“We ran repeated experiments that showed that adjusting the strength of the field only creates an illusion of solving the problem.” Glenda began weaving her body back and forth, her hands looping constant circles in front of her. “Each time you adjust the strength the size of the field also changes and the component parts of the Light jostle one another. It looks like you should be correcting the problem but you’re actually making it worse. One adjustment demands dozens of others and slowly the Light of Mars metastasizes into an uncontrollable ball of potential energy that eventually collapses in on itself in unmitigated disaster!”

Her hands flew up into the air, slamming her knuckles into the roof of the car. Stunned, Glenda cradled her hands to her chest and sat down again. Brian gingerly took a seat next to her, carefully taking her hands into her own. “Ms. Vesper. With all due respect, you’ve been in a state of near-suspended animation for the last sixty years. You haven’t had any opportunities to to run experiments. Your brain has been in a state similar to REM sleep and you may believe you experienced these things but they aren’t true or-”

Glenda yanked hard with both hands, then once again grabbed Brian by the front of his shirt. “No, you listen to me. We know what you did to us. Everyone heard the stories about what UNIGOV did to the Mars colonies but we thought it would be okay, because they were martians and we were sapiens. But when you put us in your computer we understood. There is no difference between martian and sapien except for where we stand, whether we are building martian or sapiens society. So we built the sapiens solution. We knew it needed to be ready when the martians approached us next.”

“But it wasn’t real, Glenda,” Brian said, almost pleading.

“We saw it in our minds, Harold,” she hissed. “We know the Light of Mars better than anyone else, we’ve lived its principles to the exclusion of all others. We were put in the ether because we valued it even above our loyalty to UNIGOV. That is why we had the strength to see, Harold. We had the strength to see…”

The old woman’s voice trailed away until it was almost gone. Her grip on his tunic loosened and Brian carefully extracted himself, watching Glenda’s face curiously. She never gave another sign she was aware of him. Baker helped him lay her down then the both of them left the van and sealed it closed behind them. For a long moment after the door closed Brian just stared off into space.

“Are you all right, Director?” Baker asked, resting a hand on his shoulder.

Brian countered with his own question. “Do we know who Harold is?”

“We didn’t even know we needed to investigate a Harold, the name’s never come up before. I’ll start some inquiries as soon as I can.”

“Can we call up records from the Shutdown fugue?” Brian was already poking at his tablet to try and answer that question. “Is it possible to find out what kind of experiments there thought they were running in there and see how much bearing they have on reality?”

Baker was already shaking her head. “No, Director, the computer servers that run that part of Shutdown aren’t really intended to create output in that way. They’re designed to interface with the medinano system. Not holoprojectors, video screens or even text outputs.”

“I see. We’ll have to see if we can cook something up, then.”

“That’s going to take a lot of time, Director.” She did add that it was time they didn’t have since they both knew that very well already.

“I understand that. Do what you can for as long as you can.” And if nothing came of it in time then he would just have to go in there himself.

The Gospel According to Earth – Chapter Seven

Previous Chapter

The primary difference between an oceangoing vessel and a space going vessel was the contrast. In space, most of your surroundings were black. Occasionally you’d pass by a ship or a planet but ships – at least warships – were deliberately painted to give only a dim contrast with the void. Planets were pretty bright if you were on the sun side. But even then the contrast with the darkness of space wasn’t as stark as you might think until you began the long fall out of orbit. Once atmo started to clog up your view of space light diffused and you were brought back into a fully illuminated world gradually.

On the water the glaring sun was directly above and the horrifying black abyss of the deep just over the side. It made it very hard to ignore the unknowns. According to the AI the proper term for it was thassalaphobia but Lang preferred to think of it as the water being really fucking creepy. The only thing worse than a giant body of water was a boat on said water.

And yet thanks to a momentary thought he’d decided to follow up on now Sergeant Martin Langley was doomed to locate a boat with which to revive the ancient art of the seaborne assault. “First there was the drop pod. Then the hovervan. Then there was an entire Rodenberry Stellar Navy cargo hauler.” Priss handed him back the binoculars. “Is piloting every conceivable vehicle in the galaxy under combat conditions your new life goal?”


“I don’t think the admiral will let you be the Tranquility‘s new helmsman even if you somehow magically drag another group of stranded spacers back up to orbit.”

“Flying capitol ships is boring. The AI does 90% of the work for you under the best of conditions and the admiral tells you where to go anyway.” He looked at the marina laid out in front of them again, trying his best to figure out what he was looking for. They didn’t have the best vantage point from their place on a hillside a couple of blocks down. They’d hunkered down in an empty hotel poolhouse built over a large drainage system that connected directly to the sewer system which gave them a lot of good exit options. Only about two thirds of the docks were visible from there but Lang had preferred to have cover and a quick exit rather than a good view. “Think we can rig up one of those solar doohickeys without the natives around to help us out this time?”

“It’s not like Sean and Aubrey were crack electricians and we do have a half a dozen trained technicians with us so it’s not like we’ve got bad odds on fixing one ourselves.” She pointed at one of the boats. “Have you thought about that one there? If nothing else we probably won’t need to worry about the fuel or power situation.”

Lang lowered the binoculars to get an idea of where she was pointing but he didn’t have to use them again to figure out what she was talking about. “A sailing ship? Priss, I’m a pilot not a deckhand. Just because we don’t need to rig it with a portable fusion generator doesn’t make it more useful. For starters I’m not sure we could even get that thing out of the dock but even if we could I don’t think we could get anywhere close to the target zone unobserved.”

“I loaded my AI with a whole set of guidebooks on proper use of a sailing ship,” Priss countered. “If you can learn to pilot a Rodenberry lander by AI I think you can handle some ropes.”

“There’s so much wrong with that statement I’m not even going to get into it.” Lang pointed over at a sleek, white boat large enough to hold half a dozen people. “That thing looks like it can actually get us where we’re going inside of half a day and has the added benefits of being modern, mechanized and low enough to the horizon that they won’t see us coming with a casual glance.”

Priss toggled through a half a dozen screens worth of information before she answered. “That’s a Bluesky 52 cruiser. It’s got an onboard fusion plant that, according to the inspector’s stamps, was shut down over thirty years ago. The parts are probably no good by this point. Even if it does run, by some miracle, it’s containment envelope will create a magnetic signature large enough the Earthlings will be able to pick it up just by the way it interferes with their magnetic field generators. They won’t have to see us coming, they’ll know as soon as we turn the damn thing on.”

It wasn’t hard to peek over Priss’s shoulder – she wasn’t a tall woman – and verify what she was reading for himself. “Do you have data on every boat anchored out there?”

“No. Just the ones in the southernmost six piers.”


“Because some of us were thinking about hijacking one on our day off and taking a look out at the bay. It’s not like there’s anyone here using them.” Priss paged through a couple more screens of data, mostly specs and exterior holos of the boats in question from the looks of it. “The big problem that we’ve seen so far is power supply, which is why I’m thinking sail. Everything else looks like it runs on some kind of internal generator which is bound to be trash by this point in time.”

“You just said we’ve got techs of our own,” Lang said, amusement crowding out his lurking dread of the water. “I mean, sure, you can’t ask them for help getting a pleasure cruise up and running and you definitely couldn’t borrow a portable generator for it either, but the point stands. We don’t need to pile into a rowboat to make this expedition possible.”

“True enough. Have you considered that the high tech ships might be tied into a nav system that monitors their locations at all times?”

“Given what we’ve seen so far the UNIGOV approach to watching the populace is their nanotech.” Lang scratched his chin thoughtfully. “Although it’s true they controlled car and aircar traffic that way. On the other hand there’s no indication they tracked the van we used down in Texas that way.”

Priss shrugged. “They weren’t looking for us then. They know we’re here right now and are taking deliberate hostile steps against us. Looking at trackers on the boats is a logical step.”

“You’re not wrong.” Lang pinched the bridge of his nose. “Have you actually boarded any of those ships or did you just pull their specs from an archive somewhere?”

“The dockmaster kept files we were able to dump from his computer. I’ve got them all backed up to my AI although as I said we’ve only checked the files against the actual physical boats on a few of the piers.”

“Well, ultimately what kind of operation we run is up to the Major,” Lang mused. “It’s his call whether we make a stealth approach, a direct approach or what. Now that I think about it, we might even get better results targeting the magfield generators holding the disassembler field in place rather than striking the power plant directly. The kind of generator you need for a large scale nanolathe field like that has to be very specialized.”

“A power plant is better,” Priss said. “It’s a bigger building and needs more work to rebuild than magfield generators. No matter how specialized the field generator is you can make the component parts much easier than you can erect a containment facility for a fusion reactor.”

“But you can replace one centralized power source with distributed portable generators.” Lang shook his head in disgust. “Never mind, that’s officer talk we’re getting in to. The Major will handle target selection, too, let’s focus on giving him good options for ships we can hijack for our little adventure in larceny. Give me a couple of options for stealth, speed and ease of refitting.”

“I’m telling you…” Priss brought up the sailing ship again. “We got all three in one.”

“No. No one knows how it works and it can’t possibly get decent speed.”

“It makes eight knots.”

“I don’t even know what that means.” He went back to his binoculars, sweeping the docks slowly. “But we should have an option that’s the best example of each of those categories. We can put your precious ship of the line into the ease of refitting category if you’re really married to the idea of throwing your back out as we head towards our water grave.”

Priss folded her arms and sat down on an empty shelving unit. “Okay, sunshine, I get that you’ve never been the most optimistic of people but this isn’t like you. What’s on your mind?”


“Seriously, Langly.”

“I’m serious, Priscilla.” He set his binoculars aside and jabbed one finger at his sleeve. “Do you see this?”

“Yeah, it’s a Sergeant’s stripe, my congratulations and condolences on your promotion. Did you ever stop to think that if you kept doing incredibly stupid things under pressure that somehow worked out in the end, sooner or later some genius with an officer’s commission might decide you could do it all the time?”

Lang threw his arms out in frustration. “Of course not, Priss! I was under pressure!”

“Taking the right actions without needing to think about it is a sure sign of leadership ability.”

One of his fingers was displayed for her viewing pleasure. “Have you noticed that ever since they sewed this stupid third stripe on me everyone pays attention to what I’m saying? I used to have to actually find someone willing to listen to me. Now they take every word out of my mouth like its some kind of revelation and Major Goldstein got it in his head to send us all out over the fucking abyss like we’re skipping up the space elevator on Copernicus Major. We don’t know the first thing about water, Priss. We didn’t even have sonar scanners in our landing loadout or if we did you can be damn sure getting it out of the basecamp wasn’t priority one so they’re gone now. There could be anything out there and we wouldn’t have the first clue about it.”

Priss tilted her head slightly, her expression not exasperated or impatient, just curious. “Is that so bad?”

“Do you know what happened on Mars?”

“You crashed a Rodenberry lander.”

“I got put under the most stupid, naive, happy-go-lucky lieutenant they had and dropped in the middle of a situation so crazy I had to make a controlled emergency landing just to meet a deadline.” He used a finger on the other hand this time. “I made it work, and you know why? Because, gravity, thrust, atmospheric breaking, those things are my bitches, Priss. But you know it’s going to happen all over again. Goldstein is going to saddle us with some fresh faced officer who never even saw combat in the last war and tell us to toddle off and blow up a power plant and I don’t know nearly enough about boats to make up for that kind of albatross. Someone’s going to die again, all for this stupid, stupid idea.”

Priss got up, took his hand in hers and gently folded its middle finger down, then took his shoulder and turned him back towards the marina. “It’s okay, Lang. We signed up for stupid ideas and a risky life.” She gently rubbed his shoulder as they stared at the assembled ships. “And as stupid ideas go, at least this one has the benefit of novelty so we can all say we died doing something no one on Copernicus has ever done before. You’re right, though, a D-day landing is probably enough novelty for one operation. We’ll find an boat with some solar panels and a modern control scheme and see what the Major thinks, okay?”

The rubbing abruptly went from feeling comforting to patronizing and he shrugged off her hand. “Fine. I saw solar panels on one of the boats on Pier H. See if you can find it in that database of yours.”

The Gospel According to Earth – Chapter Six

Previous Chapter

“They’re moving something down there, Admiral.” General William Ollinger had joined Carrington by hologram, seated in an empty area about four feet to the left of his desk. The floor of his ready room was transformed into a map of Earth via the same holoprojectors that created Ollinger’s image and showed constant, real-time updates based on data coming in from the fleet. A large, red ray of light represented Ollinger’s stylus as he indicated things. “Just based on our ongoing surveillance we’re sure this continent is the center of Earth’s material production.”

Carrington’s AI offered him a name. “Africa, is it? I seem to recall learning most of the materials in the original Colony Fleet came from there. Is it still a major resource hub?”

“Hard to tell if they still mine there or not. Records show the continent was built up a great deal in the century or so before Departure but estimates at the time were that less than a quarter of the available resources had been exhausted.” Ollinger zoomed the map in until they were only looking at the central portion of the continent. “A lot of the inland jungle was deliberately left intact at the time and that’s a decision that UNIGOV has apparently held to.”

“Which doesn’t surprise me.” Carrington pulled up a transcript of one of his talks with Director Mond and did a quick search. “I was told that, ‘The influence of martian society left planet despoiled and suffering at every level and time must be taken to allow it to recover.’ That’s supposedly why they abandoned so many cities, for one thing.”

“Well they haven’t gone to quite that extremity in Africa. In fact, Africa and Asia have the highest population per square mile of anywhere on Earth. But it’s fairly obvious they’ve chosen particular parts of the planet and just left them alone. Ironically, that’s what makes it so easy to tell what they’re doing now.” The red light of the stylus moved over the map until it paused on a point in the middle of the land mass.

A large mountain range protruded along the western side, not on the ocean but not far from it. The AI filled in details like the location of abandoned cities or towns, active settlements and what looked like mining or refining operations. Last but not least it indicated an intermittent line of energy signatures between the mountains and the ocean. “They’re taking something to port.”

“That’s what it looks like, sir.”

“Do we know where it’s going?”

“No, sir, but we know it’s not normal behavior. We started seeing these movements eight hours ago and there hasn’t been a similar spike in activity in the region for the duration of our stay.”

Carrington fought the urge to hunch over his desk and stare at the hologram. He’d done some of his best thinking in that position, back in his academy days, but he was too old now to get away with that kind of thing for long. His shoulders and back wouldn’t let him. Instead he folded his hands in front of him and rested his chin there, saying, “Do we know what it is they’re mining there?”

“You can get just about anything you want but copper, cobalt and lithium are all strong possibilities. We don’t have specific mineral surveys from that time period available so we can’t say for sure. There’s a good way to find out, though.”

“Oh?” The admiral perked up a bit. “What’s that?”

Ollinger tapped his stylus on his desk in a very self satisfied way. The map panned over to the eastern coast and quickly zeroed in on a massive oceangoing vessel anchored in a port there. “We could go down and look at it. This pulled into port an hour and twenty minutes ago. Two guesses as to what it’s for.”

“Would you look at that.” Carrington worked his tongue about his mouth for a moment, practically salivating at the tempting target they’d stumbled on. “It can’t really be that easy, can it? We just fly down there and scoop up a freighter full of critical materiel from under UNIGOV’s noses. There’s got to be a catch.”

“I don’t think there is, sir.” The holo changed to show the ocean between Africa and the continents where the Copernican ground forces had landed, what the Fleet was referring to as the American Theater. “The disassembler field they deployed over Anaheim is nasty but it requires a huge amount of ground based infrastructure. A power plant. At least a dozen magfield generators. To say nothing of the huge volume of raw nanotech necessary to create an effective nanolathe effect over such a large area. Based on the specs we think the Anaheim emplacement has we’re pretty sure we can determine how far offshore the field can reach.”

A thin line of red ringed the shores of each continent, leaving the vast center of the ocean untouched. “Not very much, is it?”

“No, sir. Even if we planned our entire trip up and down in a straight line I think we could avoid ever having to run the risk of passing through one of those fields. Not that I think UNIGOV could possibly build them over so much coast land so quickly. Still better safe than sorry. That still leaves us with plenty of ocean to nab the ship when it starts moving.” A number of potential courses cut through the ocean to various ports of call. A moment later the potential approaches and timing for strikes on the ship from orbit were added in.

Carrington studied them for a moment, then asked, “Why haven’t you projected routes to continents other than North America and Europe?”

“Given the placement of the port of origin that made the most sense. South America is already rich in minerals and the other continents would be easier to reach from the other side of Africa.” Ollinger frowned. “Of course, this is UNIGOV. They might not have any other freighters still in service.”

“In which case this port might be the closest port of call for the freighter.” The admiral spent a long moment just watching as the holoprojection ran through a looping animation of Newtonian fighters swooping down on the freighter over and over again. “Didn’t you say that South America was also rich in minerals? Why aren’t they taking from there?”

His Newtonian counterpart thought just as long. “Well, now that you mention it, we didn’t think much about that. Africa was the source of materials for space ops in the past and we just assumed UNIGOV would stick with that source in the present. We can’t be that specialized on Newton since rare earths are particularly rare there but other supply lines tend to lay down in that fashion. Specific industries tend to source materials from specific locations.”

“Yes, but UNIGOV is deeply invested in breaking from those kinds of conventions.” Carrington drummed his fingers on his desk for a long moment. “What do we know about the South American deposits?”

Ollinger had been scrambling to figure it out. “Even less than the African ones. But they’re all on the western side of things, just like in Africa.”

“Practically a straight line from there to Anaheim.”

“Maybe they’re moving the goods to Europe instead?”

“Possibly. Do we know if the mix of materials in South America is any different from what’s in Africa?”

The general actually laughed at that. “Not the foggiest. Of course I don’t think any two continents are the same in anything but that doesn’t help much. It could be Africa has more of what they need that South America but I’m not ready to bet lives on it.”

“Agreed.” Carrington sighed, signaled his AI then rocked back in his chair and threw his feet up on his desk. His AI interrupted the live feed from his hologram pickups and continued to show him sitting normally. “We don’t know enough about the situation on the ground. Have your techs had any luck figuring out why we can’t get back in contact with the landing team?”

“They think it’s something to do with the nanotech scattering the signal.”

“Yeah, our boys are working on that angle too.” He rubbed his hands over his face, suddenly very tired.

“Everything all right over there, Admiral?” Ollinger looked over to his left, which must have been where Carrington’s holo was in his office, because there wasn’t any reason for him to look that concerned otherwise.

“Did you ever think you’d spend hours a day thinking about copper and radio signals when you signed up for the service?” Carrington waved at the map, momentarily forgetting that the general wouldn’t be able to see it.

But one way or another Ollinger got his point because he laughed and said, “No. I signed up after watching that movie you Copernicans made. Did you ever see it? The one about Rear Admiral Bahai running the Galilean Lunar Maze?”

Long Way Down,” Carrington said, a grin creeping onto his face. “That movie single-handedly tripled Spacer Corps recruitment.”

“There were two guys in my class besides me who decided to join up after watching it and practically the whole dorm turned out for the showing in the square sophomore year.” Ollinger twirled his stylus around his fingers. “Of course you can’t actually sneak through the Galileo moons that way. The rings around the planet aren’t thick enough to scatter modern scanners much less EMG pickups and the studio completely cheated the mass of the moons outside of maybe Minerva. There are only six possible alignments of the planet and its satellites that allow you to freefall from outside the rings all the way down to Diana. All of them take a lot longer than forty hours.”

Carrington gave the general a surprised look. “You know, you Isaac boys put a lot more thought into that film than we ever did.”

It was Ollinger’s turn to sigh. “Maybe. But it turns out it didn’t matter that much in the long run because EMG made the freefall tactic obsolete just a couple of years later. Not that reality and movies have a strong connection anyway.”

“True enough.” The admiral leaned forward to sift through his own files, absently toggling his holofeed back to live. “I’m sure Bahai spent more of his time thinking about fuel supplies, mineral resources and personnel allocation than he did free falling past gas giants too.”

“Ships logs say he thought the whole maneuver was silly at the time.”

“Did it to prove that making a purely ballistic approach over a period of eight days was an impractical way to fight a war.” A smile tugged at Carrington’s lips. “Knocked half the Lunar Alliance out of the war instead.”

Nostalgia filled the space between the two men for a long moment. Finally Ollinger said, “We could just sink the transport. Your opening bombardment went off fine so I’m sure any ship in the fleet could put a missile or two in it from anywhere inside lunar orbit.”

After another moment of sifting through files Carrington shook his head. “We’re at war right now so there’s nothing wrong with hitting transports but I’m not sure it’s the right move just yet. I’d bet a month’s salary we’ve got better intel than they do. Let’s not tip our hands and reveal how much we can see of what they’re doing down there just yet. I’ll have the archive boys sift the files. Maybe we can put together an idea of what it is they’re moving around and why. I want your destroyers to keep tabs on South America and… Australia, see if they’re moving materiel out of those areas as well. The longer they think they can move in the open like this the better idea we can get of their operational norms.”

“We can do that.” Ollinger folded his hands and leaned back. “Have we decided what we’re going to do about the landing team?”

“There are a couple of potential plans on the table. The techs are working on the disassembler field problem and I’m looking at several other locations we could land a second team to try and retrieve the first.” Carrington got up and walked out onto the map, his feet disappearing into the holographic terrain. “We’ve misunderstood the Earthlings repeatedly. I’m not ready to commit to a major action until we’ve rectified that shortcoming.”

“Maybe you should go down and figure them out yourself.”

For a long moment he stared at the freighter. “Maybe I should.”

The Gospel According to Earth – Chapter Five

Previous Chapter

“Well, Director, how shines the Light of Mars?”

UNIGOV Director Brian O’Sullivan turned away from his hologrid, suppressing his annoyance behind a perfectly cultivated bland smile. “The nanofield is stable again, Mr. Vesper.”

“Oh?” The other man ignored Brian’s empty smile, his attention focused more on the hologrid, fingers absently tracing the power and signal strength curves displayed there. “Stable is one word for it. Precarious is another.”

Brian tried to mimic the other’s relaxed posture but it his pesky vestigial martian instincts made it impossible. At five foot eleven not only was Vincent Vesper the bigger man but when discussing his chosen field of research he carried himself with enough poise and confidence to equal any fully licensed UNIGOV Director. The urge to challenge him was constantly clawing at the back of Brian’s mind. “Stabilizing large scale nanotech deployments is your field of expertise, Mr. Vesper. Perhaps you’d like to give the technicians a few pointers.”

Vesper turned and glared a Brian from under his bushy white eyebrows, his eyes glittering with a strange and unsettling light. “You would enjoy that, wouldn’t you, Director? Knowing the pet inventor that you defrosted after thirty years on ice is back to quietly working away for the success of your latest pet project.”

“This isn’t about pets or projects, Mr. Vesper.” Brian struggled to keep his amiable, cooperative expression in place. He didn’t enjoy knowing Vesper was working on anything. While Vesper had been put into shutdown decades before Brian was promoted to the Directorate when the decision was made to run the technician through the reboot procedure he’d made it a point to read up on the man. What he’d learned disturbed him. “The Directorate is concerned that the very way of life that sapiens spent so long building on this planet is on the verge of pulling apart at the seams. Who better to try to repair that damage than the greatest builder Earth has ever produced?”

“When was the last time the UNIGOV Directorate wanted to build something?” Vesper snorted in derision. “You always knew it was possible the martians would return and we would need something to keep them at bay. A monument to cooperation that would cow their ambitions. A light of truth to dispel their lies and send them scampering back into the darkness. Rather than make one you chose to punish us when we did it for you.”

“Walls and borders are just another part of martian thinking, Vesper,” Brian replied, his soothing tone more to ease his own worries than to placate the other man. He still wondered if they might be too close to the edge of martian ways already. Although the Directorate had agreed to finally give the Light of Mars their official sanction it didn’t mean they had no misgivings. “If we were that defensive about things we’d be no better than them.”

“We’re going to be deader than they are if we’re not careful.” Vesper sighed and started fiddling with the hologrid’s controls, much to the consternation of the technicians ostensibly watching that station. Brian gave them a slight nod and they moved out of his way. “I can tweak this a bit and even out the field fluctuations about twenty percent but it’s only a temporary fix. We knew about this design flaw the first time the project was under way but never worked it out.”

“What do you need?” Brian asked. “The full resources of UNIGOV are at your disposal.”

For a moment Vesper didn’t say anything, just leaning in and peering at the very bottom of the holotank as if he was trying to puzzle out something written there. “Did… did you burn out the power relays in one of the field generators? How is that possible?”

A meaningful tilt of the head from the Director prompted one of the technicians to say, “It was a result of rapid field strength adjustments. The martians launched some kind of high energy attack on the field and it collapsed. We don’t have any imaging from that high up so it’s hard to tell for sure but the telescopes we’ve trained on their location make it look like some kind of ionized plasma barrage.”

Vesper spat, causing everyone else in the room to jump. “Plasma. Of course. Then there really won’t be a perfect fix to your problems, Director, because large scale magnetic fields are very vulnerable to outside influence. The equipment you’ve got here isn’t enough to proof the Light of Mars against a large volume of ionized plasma.”

“As I said, Mr. Vesper, anything we can bring to bear on this project is available to you.” Brian opened up his tablet and prepared to key in a search for whatever was needed. “We can have any personnel or nanufactory on Earth working on an issue inside the hour.”

The old man raised an eyebrow. “Well, Director, maybe you are taking this seriously after all. First off, we need to quintuple the strength of the magnetic field.”

Quintuple?” The lead tech’s jaw dropped. “Director, that’s going to take more than just field generators. We need miles of cable, a second power source and a much more modern computer system to synchronize everything. Not to mention an ocean of new nanotech. About a quarter of what we had before shorted when the field collapsed before and needs to be replaced plus all the extra? A field five times strong requires exponentially more nanotech to fill it.”

“Just replace what you lost,” Vesper said. “The point of strengthening the field is to disrupt and deionize the plasma so it will cause fewer problems in the heart of the field. We’re not going to have the nanotech operating over an area any larger than we were before. It’d loose cohesion.”

“How does making the unstable field larger make it more stable, if I may ask?”

Vesper nodded in grudging satisfaction at Brian’s question. “You may, Director. You may. The fact is that it doesn’t, in fact it will probably make it a little less stable. However if we can prevent the plasma from burning through the nanotech suspended in the field the fluctuations created by just the plasma ions shouldn’t make the field collapse. But ultimately what we need is better software.”

The head tech looked up at the hologrid then back at Vesper. “What we’ve got here is state of the art.”

“Then we’re going to have to make the art better than ever and fast because what you’re running here cannot handle juggling the power load and frequency calculations necessary to keep thirty five magfield generators running and adjusting with the fineness necessary to make this work.” The old inventor started punching names into his console. “We’re going to need about ten to twenty of your best and brightest coders but that’s not all. I need some people from my team. We were already working on the field stability issues when the project was shutdown.”

Vesper’s names popped up on Brian’s tablet with a quiet ping. He looked the list over quickly. “Just some? We could take all sixty of them out for you if it made your life more convenient.”

Brian’s sarcasm was lost on him. “It would. I look forward to seeing them outside the guts of your filthy computers again. Is it possible to see a sample of the burned out nanotech?”

“Mr. Richards can arrange that for you?” Brian waited until his lead tech nodded and smiled. “Excellent. I think we’ve made good progress here, Mr. Vesper, and I look forward to seeing what you can do here! I’ll leave the two of you to it and see what I can arrange with the shutdown techs.”

Brian stopped smiling as soon as he was out of the plant’s control room. He hadn’t been kidding when he said that all the resources UNIGOV had to offer were available to him to get the Light of Mars project up and running again. What he hadn’t told Vesper were exactly how many resources were available. There weren’t as many as the old man seemed to think there were.

Oh, he would get his new generators and cables and whatever else the local nanufactories could produce as quickly as they could produce it. Bringing in some of the raw materials might be difficult. Large quantities of rare earths would need to be moved over from the stockpiles in Africa but there were still a number of midsized cargo transports left in old Vaults here and there. The bigger issue was the personnel.

UNIGOV had spent a lot of time on trying to hash out an AI breakthrough in the last fifty years and the result had been a decline in the number of software engineers available for programming tasks that didn’t relate to AI. He wasn’t sure if they could transfer their expertise to Vesper’s needs. Then again, his position in the Directorate had nothing to do with technology or education to begin with so ultimately those issues were going to have to be sorted out by others.

His committee oversaw medical and disciplinary affairs. In other words, they were the ones in charge of managing the administration of medical nanotech and, if necessary, taking people into and out of Shutdown. Director Brian O’Sullivan was Vesper’s minder – or, as they would’ve said during the martian era his parole officer. It was his job make sure Vesper didn’t turn full martian and to put him back in Shutdown if he did. In theory it was his job to do that for all of Vesper’s peers as well.

As he walked Brian readied his handheld holophone and sent a signal to his subordinate in the Bakersfield Vault. It took a few minutes eventually SubDirector Baker appeared in full holo. She was young and hard edged, part of the most resolutely environmentalist factions in the Directorate to the point where she’d discarded her birth name and its martian connotations and chosen to identify with her place of work instead. Sometimes Baker’s extreme positions intimidated him but she was very good at her job. “Hello, SubDirector,” he said. “How are we feeling today?”

“The job’s been very masc today, Director, uncooperative and stubborn. And you?”

“Much the same. Shall I make a note of your change in disposition in the records?” Brian asked, his hand hovering over his device’s controls.

“No, no, the femme touch is the right approach to masc days.” She managed a grim smile, which did a great deal for her appearance that Brian studiously ignored. “Thank you for asking, although I’m guessing squaring up the records isn’t why you called.”

“I’m afraid not.”

“Problems with Mr. Vesper?”

“Not as such. I wanted to know if there were any updates on the condition of your patients.”

Baker went to work at some screen or tablet that wasn’t making it into the holographic projection. Her image reduced from her full, normal height of five foot three to two feet tall and three other projections filled in the empty three quadrants left vacant by the change. These projections changed every few seconds. Most of the people they displayed were unconscious in medical beds but about a third were awake and moving about unseen environments. About a quarter of those who were awake looked violently upset at something, the rest stared into space or looked around blankly.

As these encouraging images began showing Baker said, “We’ve completed the first stage of the revival process on all subjects at this point to varying degrees of success. As you can see, most are still in a state of unconsciousness. Of those that are awake, Mr. Vesper is the only one who has responded to outside stimulus so far. We’re currently debating whether we should allow them to have contact with people who knew them before they went into Shutdown, it may provide a strong enough outside stimulus to bring their minds back to the present.”

“Do you know why the unconscious ones aren’t waking up?” Brian asked. “Their nanotech should have kept them physically healthy.”

“It did. They have just as robust a metabolism and circulatory system as you or I and their muscle mass is within normal bounds.” Baker wiped away the real time feeds and switched the feed to a 50/50 set up with herself on top and a medical readout below. “As you can see, they should be normal.”

“I sense a but coming.”

But.” The medical chart changed to a brain scan. “As you can see, their brains have atrophied. We thought the shutdown fugue state would keep it healthy and allow them to wake up with no issues. However it looks like that wasn’t the case. A lot of them just started to come out of their coma only to find the parts of their brain that handled conscious thinking too worn out to handle the process. So they went right back to sleeping.”

“Can we restore that part of the brain?”

Baker shrugged and cleared the brain scan away. “Maybe. Medinano is supposed to use our DNA as its programming and built whatever our genes say should exist. We’re still trying to figure out how this kind of atrophied brain tissue was allowed in the first place.”

“Well, keep working that angle. Is that also the cause of the problems for the people who did successfully wake from Shutdown?”

“No. We’re not seeing that pattern of atrophy in them, at least not to the degree we see it in the unconscious ones.” A new file opened below her holo, this time a personnel listing for half a dozen psychiatrists. “I’ve called in some experts to see if there’s some kind of psychosis that set in as a result of their shutdown.”

Brian nodded and keyed in a new name to the end of the listing. “A good decision, SubDirector. I’ve added an additional name I think you should consult. Tie our project code to the request and he should arrive by tomorrow.”

“Who’s this?” Baker asked, her brow furrowed. “I’ve never heard of Gavan Chandler.”

“He’s an expert on trauma.”

Baker’s frown deepened. “Trauma? But the Shutdown process is supposed to be humane.”

“Perhaps. But no matter how sapien we are, SubDirector… nobody’s perfect. Right now it’s more important to figure out why Shutdown did this to these people than it is to worry what it says about the process.”

A flash of disappointment crossed her face then she sighed. “I suppose so. I’ll bring him in, Director.”

“Thank you, SubDirector. Let me know if there’s any change.” He ended the call and went to think about something more pleasant. Like where he could find fifty miles of wire on short notice.

The Gospel According to Earth – Chapter Two

Previous Chapter

The worst part about being grounded in Anaheim was the gravity. With a whopping 0.93 Standard Gravities Copernicus was a planet that didn’t really prepare one for the full One G experience found on Earth. Add in a two week stint on Mars (local gravity, 0.38G) and Martin Langley’s sense of weight and mass was shot to the point where running from one side of the Anaheim worksite to the other left him winded. He arrived at the command building, wheezing, and wiped sweat from his eyes before saluting and saying, “Sergeant Langley, reporting.”

“Come take a look at this, Sergeant.” The instruction came from a tall, balding man in the faded gray day uniform of the Copernican Spacer Corps. Major Elijah Goldstein hid his hairless pate under a small cloth cap and glared at the world from eyes sunken deep into his skull, his mouth perpetually turned downward in a disapproving expression. Lang instantly felt like he should’ve been focusing more on PT so the Major wouldn’t have to put up with his gasping.

That scowling expression was probably the Major’s greatest leadership skill. If the stories were to be believed, many a junior officer or NCO had felt it’s disdain and changed their ways without any input from him at all. Lang managed to shake off its effects after he caught his breath but the taller man’s vague sense of disapproval never quite went away. Other than that, Goldstein was unremarkable. He was an inch or two taller than Lang, wiry and tough in the way most Spacers were, and had deep lines across most of his face that hinted at his age.

Lang stepped down into the sunken middle section of the large room where the command staff had set up camp. The building had once housed a small planetarium and the Fleet task group that landed there co-opted a lot of the equipment to help build their command center. Now a large situation map was projected over the ceiling. That wasn’t what Goldstein wanted him to look at, however.

Instead the Major’s attention was focused on the room’s EMG station.

“Tell me, Sergeant,” Goldstein said, tapping a part of the screen that showed a large magnetic signature coming from some place twenty kilometers north, “you ever see anything like this during your time on planet?”

A twinge of annoyance stirred within Lang. Everyone seemed to think he was an expert on Earth after spending a couple of days there and escaping to tell the tale. “I can’t say that I did, Sir,” Lang said. “But we didn’t exactly have the best equipment on hand so there’s bound to be a lot of things around here that we missed on the first trip. That said, Anaheim is an abandoned city. There’s a lot of them down here, apparently UNIGOV cleared them out when the depopulation got really severe. Not sure why. We saw two of these places and there was never any major power sources left running in them when we passed through. Whatever is making that field is running off something and I’d bet it wasn’t here when we set up camp last week.”

“Do you think the Uni people are setting up to push us out?” Goldstein asked.

“Everything I’ve seen suggests they aren’t very up to date on strategy, maneuver or positioning. They didn’t even carry weapons or have functioning prisons.” Lang tapped the screen thoughtfully. “I remember Sean – one of the Earthlings I met – mentioning they had maglev transportation corridors, though. Maybe they switched one of those on. We could call up Tranquility and ask the Earthlings about it.”

“Not a bad idea.” The feminine voice made Lang glance over to the comm station where Corporal Priscilla Hu – the only other survivor from his last ill fated first visit to Earth – was on duty. “Sadly we already tried it and no one’s answering. We can’t raise the landing team we’re expecting today either and they should be halfway through the atmo by now.”

“Um.” Lang started chewing on his lower lip, his brain trying to figure out what was going on while his eyes enjoyed looking at a curvaceous woman. “When you put it that way it does seem like a more aggressive move, doesn’t it?”

“It does,” Goldstein said. “We still have communication with our forward operating bases so we’ve sent some scouts out towards the origin point of the field. Hopefully we hear from them soon. How certain are you that they don’t have old weapons caches lying around? They kept their launch craft even though they don’t go into space anymore, could they have old munition depots as well?”

Lang pulled his attention away from the biggest distractions in the room and shook his head, more to clear it than signal his disagreement. “What they told us is that they disassembled their weapons in order to avoid ‘Martian thinking,’ which is what they call anything remotely aggressive. I guess they subscribe to the ‘blade itself’ way of thinking and see any weapon as a corrupting influence.”

“But they executed a member of your group, didn’t they?”

“It was an accidental killing more than an execution. UNIGOV doesn’t execute their own dissenters and I’m pretty sure they could find a way to put us in Shutdown too, if they wanted us out of the way, and that would suit them better.” Lang suppressed a shudder at that thought. He hadn’t actually tapped into the Shutdown simulation like his Earthling friend Aubrey had but he’d read her report.

The old Nevada Launch Zone turned out to have more in it than copies of old, forbidden books and the relics of Earth’s old space program. It was also full of chambers containing the dormant bodies of people in Shutdown. Racks and racks of comatose sleepers, held imprisoned in their own minds by the meddling of the medical nanotech UNIGOV had originally sold to them as a benevolent measure to preserve the health of the public.

Which, admittedly, it did just fine when it wasn’t keeping them catatonic.

“So it’s not a weapon,” Goldstein mused. “I wonder what their play is, then.”

“My guess is they’re sending in a representative to talk to us,” Priss said. “They’re very big on talking and that kind of civilized, diplomatic thing when they’re not shoving sleeping people into boxes. It would fit the behavior we saw from Mond when he had us in custody. He had his mouth open so much I’m surprised he didn’t swallow a bug or something.”

“Possibly,” Goldstein said. “But if it was an offensive move, what do you think it would be?”

Lang shrugged. “It would have to be some kind of tool they repurposed on the fly.” Lang’s mind jumped back to the makeshift shackles they’d been locked in, built out of loose materials shoddily nanowelded together. “They’re creative enough for that kind of thing. Maybe they’re going to use the maglev rails to throw something at us. A kind of improvised railgun.”

“Throwing a brick at us is pretty aggressive behavior for the sapiens.” Priss drummed her fingers for a moment. “Maybe cutting off our communications is the point?”

“That’s just passive-aggressive enough to make sense from their point of view,” Lang agreed. “I’m not sure I buy all their propaganda about how they’re wonderful, peaceful people though. If we’ve gotten far enough under their skin to provoke a response then it’s possible we’re about to see what they look like when they get violent.”

“Violent how?” Priss demanded. “You need to practice violence in order to get any good at it.”

“The same way novices always do.” Lang flapped his hands limply in the air. “By flailing wildly until their hand hits something and they hurt themselves.”

“An untrained but valiant man,” Goldstein murmured.

Lang glanced at the Major, waiting for him to continue the thought. When he didn’t Lang asked, “What was that, sir?”

Goldstein grunted and scratched at his vanished hairline. “A long time ago, when I was just a baby officer, I researched historical warfare as part of my academic career. Not a little, a lot. One thing I read that I never forgot was the standards given for a sword master in late medieval Europe. Can’t remember exactly where. But a candidate had to win three bouts against three different types of opponents. Three rounds against a sword master, three against a man-at-arms who is drunk and three against a valiant but untrained man.”

“I get the first part but why the other two?” Priss asked.

“To prove that you can deal with unpredictable opponents.”

Lang stared at the EMG console, watching the magnetic field slowly expand towards the forward operating line. “I’m not sure getting a title is worth this kind of risk, sir.”

“We’re not here for titles, Sergeant,” Goldstein replied. “Do you have any other ideas as to what UNIGOV might be doing out there?”

“Their maglev system is tied into what we’d consider a last generation AI system,” Lang mused, more thinking aloud rather than offering a specific answer to the Major’s question. “I’m not sure they could use it for much outside of traffic control without a serious hardware upgrade. That’d change their power use profiles quite a bit, too. Their nanotech is pretty advanced compared to ours, at least in terms of how fine a scale they can operate on. Based on the van we stole I’d say they’re a couple of generations ahead of us on solar panel technologies.”

“I don’t see how any of that fits into what we’re seeing here,” Priss said.

Lang sighed. “No, neither do I. Sorry, sir, but when it comes to what the Earthlings are trying here I’m as clueless as the next guy.”

“Well, thank you for taking a look at it anyway, Sergeant,” Goldstein said. “I hate to keep you away from your other responsibilities so long for so little reward but I appreciate your time. You can return to your post now.”

Lang nodded and turned towards the door.

He’d barely finished that turn when Priss said, “Fuck. Lang, you’re not gonna believe this.”

He doubled the length of his pivot, doing a complete 360 degree turn. “What? What happened?”

Priss was streaming a live video feed from one of the forward bases. It showed a building on the opposite side of the street slowly turning to dust as an odd shimmering field slowly washed over it. “They found out what the sapiens’ big play is.”

Lang watched as one spacer sprinted across the street in an attempt to get away from the advancing field only to be overtaken. The poor man collapsed on the ground after running another couple of feet, his body’s fleshy parts dissolving into a pale red mist, the heavier pieces slumping into a quivering pile of once living matter. “Ah.” Lang winced as he watched the man’s death. “Well. Violence it is.”

“So it would seem, Sergeant,” Goldstein replied. “So it would seem.”

The Gospel According to Earth – Chapter One


Principia reports Condition Two. Orbital flight, commence acceleration. Starstream squadron you are cleared to depart, you may commence your descent at your convenience.”

Captain Thomas Bourne, Newtonian Flight Command, flicked his left thumb. The motion command was relayed to his helmet microphone, toggling it on, and he replied, “Principia NavCom, this is Starstream Leader, we are Earthbound.” Another couple of finger flicks fired his OF-28’s forward thrusters, killing some of his momentum and pushing its nose down towards Earth’s surface a couple of degrees. The snubby, bullet shaped silhouettes of the other fighters in his squadron briefly pulled up even with him as they adjusted their speeds to match his. Once they were firmly committed to the first leg of their breaking orbit Bourne spoke again. “Lander 42, your escort is in position.”

“Acknowledged, Starstream Leader.” The Newtonian Space Command’s landing craft were built along far less aggressive lines than the fleet’s fighters. Their pilots affectionately called them ‘tubs’ for their very blocky shape and terrible maneuvering characteristics. Fighter pilots assigned to escort them preferred the term ‘albatross.’ “Let us know if you’re expecting any trouble.”

“I don’t know if you’ve been reading the reports from Earth, 42, but trouble isn’t really something they believe in down there anymore.” That voice belonged to Lieutenant Billy Zane, callsign Krampus, in the fighter furthest to port. “Sounds like the whole planet has given up on applied violence as a problem solving approach.”

“Sounds good to us,” the lander’s pilot replied.

“Sounds boring to me,” Krampus replied.

“Too much talk,” Bourne said. “Clear this channel. Lander 42, maintain your position in formation.”

About twenty seconds of flying passed in relative silence before Earth’s upper atmosphere started to tug on the hull of Bourne’s fighter. “Starstream,” he said, “prepare to deploy airfoils. Check mechanisms and report in.”

The diagnostics on an OF-28’s wing system took only a couple of seconds and Bourne had barely finished his own when his squadron started calling in their readiness. Once they all reported readiness he said, “Deploy airfoils.”

All around him the bullet-like profile of the ships shifted. The fighters went from eight meter long, three meter high cylinders to vaguely boomerang shaped. Motorized struts expanded outward and the hull material was disassembled in segments by internal nanolathe vats and then reassembled in their new configuration. The drag on his fighter lessened. “Fire up your jet engines,” Bourne said. “Save that reaction mass.”

Acknowledgments rolled in again. His fighter slowed down again, the thin atmosphere available to its jets too sparse to equal the thrust from its rockets. Bourne toggled his AI’s nav program and double checked his course. Their target landing zone was in a place called Anaheim, one of the cities the Earth government had abandoned and the Colonial Fleet had decided to strip for raw materials. It was an eerie place, full of empty buildings and silent, concrete canyons. As a Newtonian native, Bourne had seen plenty of empty cities in the past, both those under construction on the frontiers of the planet and those bombed out by war. There was something uniquely unnerving about flying over an entirely intact city empty of all life.

Some days he expected the entire place to magically spring to life again, as if the ghosts of the Homeworld were waiting for just the right moment to prank him.

The AI told him that, whether he liked it or not, he was on target to arrive there in forty minutes. “Alright, people, spread out into escort formation and keep your eyes sharp. 42, you’re free to maneuver as needed to compensate for atmospheric drag.”

“Acknowledged, Leader.”

“What are we looking out for, Leader?” The question came from Bubbles, who’s position at the top of the formation left him with the least flying to do at the moment. “UNIGOV seems to be doing its best to just ignore us. If intel from planetside is correct they don’t even maintain a modern military down there.”

“Then watch the weather,” Bourne replied. “We don’t have a satellite network to tap so we’re going to need to monitor that ourselves. You could do your job and ring up the landing group.”

“Sure thing, Leader,” Bubbles said with a laid-back laugh. “But you know what the scuttlebut about the situation on the ground is, don’t you?”

“We don’t spend half our off hours trying to get in the pants of the Comms division,” Krampus shot back. “We’re not going to pick up all the fucking rumors you do.”

“There are no secret vaults full of state of the art space ships down there, people,” Bourne said, letting an edge into his voice. “I saw the specs on the ship the survivors brought back, same as you. It was over a century old. That’s not the kind of space hardware you keep if you’ve built something better last Tuesday. Just stay sharp, the Homeworld has a population equivalent to the whole of the Triad Worlds, someone down there could’ve dreamed up a nasty surprise for us.”

“Leader, Peepers.” The low, growling voice could easily come off as irritated but that was typical for Peepers. “I’m picking up an EM field just north of the Anaheim approach corridor. Never seen anything like it on our previous runs.”

Bourne’s AI displayed the relevant sensor readings on his board and sure enough, Peepers was right. “Control, are you getting this?”

There was a couple of seconds delay, just long enough for a quick discussion in the Battle Space Information Center. “Affirmative, Leader. We’re picking it up as well and we don’t have anything like it from any of our previous scans of the area. Fly careful.”

“See?” Bourne couldn’t keep a hint of satisfaction out of his tone. “We didn’t even have to look that hard to find something new.”

“Doesn’t look strong enough to be any known countermeasures,” Krampus said. “But the signal strength is ramping up. Could be a new weapons emplacement.”

“Leader, Bubbles. I’m not getting any response from the Anaheim team on the usual or backup frequencies.”

Bourne frowned. “They made the T-minus 30 check-in, didn’t they?”

“That’s affirmative,” Control answered. “They didn’t report any comm trouble at the time.”

“Bubbles, this is Hangnail.” Her voice came high and clear across the radio. “Any chance the new EM field is some kind of comms blocking?”

“Wrong kind of radiation, Hangnail,” Bubbles answered. “It could scramble the transmitter if it was about a thousand times stronger than now but as things are there’s no way its directly causing a comms blackout.”

“Well the field’s doubled in strength in the last ten seconds,” Bourne said. “Whatever it is, it’s growing fast. 42, if I were you I’d drop back a couple of klicks until we get a better idea of what’s going on down there.”

“Copy that, Leader.”

“You’re on the bottom, Hangnail.” Bubbles left a deliberate pause.

Hangnail didn’t miss it. “Don’t go getting ideas.”

“Can you get a visual on the landing site? Maybe they left us a note.”

“I’ll give it a shot.”

Hangnail went quiet for a moment and Bubbles filled the time by making the bizarre mouth sounds his callsign was derived from. Bourne filled the time by watching the strength of their anomalous EM field quickly ramp higher. Finally Hangnail got back on the comm, apologetic. “No signs of anything out of the ordinary, so far as I can tell.”

“Starstream squadron, this is Control.” The operator up in Principia BASIC was starting to sound a little strained. “We’re monitoring the area but right now there’s no sign of anything out of place beyond that EM field. A little magnetism never hurt anyone, much less full fledged Newtonian fighter craft. The General says to go ahead and continue with the landing.”

Apparently General Ollinger had taken an interest in the situation. That explained the change in attitude up in BASIC – nothing kept a soldier on his toes like having the ranking officer in theater personally looking over your shoulder. “Control, Starstream Leader. Copy that. I recommend going to Condition One.”

“We’ll pass that on, Leader.”

This time the silence on Control’s end lasted a lot longer than the handful of seconds a quick consultation took. Then, almost ninety seconds later, a new voice came over the comm. “Attention, all ships in the Unified Colonial Fleet. This is the Sea of Tranquility. Admiral Carrington has ordered all ships to General Quarters. Stand by for potential hostile action. I repeat, stand by for potential hostile action.”

Bourne winced. He hadn’t expected that response. He certainly hadn’t expected the fleet’s flag officer to be roped into the decision, he’d assumed the Principia would elevate it’s alert status and that would be the end of it. And Tranquility control wasn’t done yet. “Orbital flight to combat velocity, Remus is to move to the quadrant opposite Principia and stand by to support the landing group as needed.”

“Wonderful,” Bourne muttered after twitching off his mic. “Just what I wanted, support from the space pirates.”

Given the layout of the fleet sending the Minervan destroyer to support them did make the most sense so he couldn’t really begrudge the admiral his decision. After all, Copernicus wasn’t the planet that had Galilean pirates camped in their cities for two years. The orbital flight, on the other hand, was upwell of the moon, so far from Earth’s gravity that it barely even registered. Bourne wasn’t sure what good sending them to combat speed was going to do. Even at that pace they wouldn’t be able to make it inside Lunar orbit for twenty minutes, Earth’s atmosphere was almost a day away.

He twitched his mic back on. “Alright, Starstream. Look sharp, guess everyone is looking over our shoulder on this one.”

“Great.” Krampus didn’t sound that enthused at the idea.

The boundary of the anomalous field was fast approaching. “Be ready for anything,” Bourne said. “Reports say Earth is way ahead of us in several fields so this could be the opening move for just about anything.”

Another round of replies. By the time they were done the squadron was already in the depths of the magnetic field, diving towards their landing zone. They’d been their for exactly seventy six seconds when Peepers said, “Leader, my jet engine just failed on me. Diagnostics are trouble shooting but I’m going to have to switch to thrusters.”

“Copy that, Peepers. Don’t want to spook the natives so go ahead level off. We’ll bring you in last after the ground team has a chance to prep for you.”

“Sounds good, Leader. Igniting thrusters n-”

The transmission cut off as Peeper’s fighter blew itself to pieces.

“Holy shit!” Instinct drove Bourne to swing his fighter around the expanding cloud of debris long before conscious acknowledgment of the disaster. A second later they were past it. “Control, what the fuck was that?”

“Don’t know.” The controller’s voice was strained with surprise and panic. “Looking over the telemetry now. The start up process on his main thrusters was going fine so it doesn’t look like a programming error.”

“Lander, this is Leader, abort landing, I repeat abort landing. All fighters make for space.”

“Leader, Control.” The operator was regaining control of himself. “There’s no signs of ground based weapons fire. This has to be some kind of operational failure; it can’t be enemy action.”

“I’m not taking chances, Control,” Bourn snapped. “The ground team can wait an hour or two while we figure out what just killed Peepers.”

“Leader, this is Franco.” The squadron’s newest pilot, Frank Oregon, came over the radio as the squadron turned towards space. “My jet engine just cut out. Diagnostics say it’s the bearings.”

“Control, does that match Peepers’ telemetry?” Bourne asked.

“Pulling it now.” The two seconds it took for them to come back after that were the longest in his life. “That’s affirmative, Leader.”

That may mean he was having the same problem Peepers was. “Franco, do not, I repeat do not attempt to switch over to thrusters. Try to glide over the target landing zone and punch out there.” Bourne consulted his HUD. “We’re coming up on the upper atmosphere, folks. Avoid switching to thrusters until we get out of this mag field.”

“Leader, Krampus. I just checked my airfoils in preparation for the change over to space flight. All, I repeat all my actuators are out, wing movements are a no-go. Visual inspection shows a large hole in my port wing and it’s growing. I’m guessing we’re in a disassembler field.”

Bourne’s stomach did a flipflop. Disassembler fields were the ultimate in point defense weaponry, a magnetic field full of nanotech that ripped apart incoming missiles or fighters on a molecular level when they tried to pass through. At least in theory. No one in the Triad Worlds had ever made a practical one for a host of reasons. “All right, let’s operate with that as our working hypothesis. Franco, you’re not making it to the ground in one piece if you stay in the field. Recommend you maneuver out of it, if you can.”

“I have no propulsion, Leader, and the field is still growing,” Franco replied. “Don’t think I’m outrunning the edge like this. Is it possible to triangulate the source of the field? I might have better luck hitting it from the air at this point.”

Bourne seriously doubted a fighter could descend quickly enough to do that, given how fast the disassembler field was working, certainly not without engines. Given the options available, however, he wasn’t going to judge how Franco chose to spend his last minutes. “Control, look in to that, please?”

“Acknowledged, Leader.” Control didn’t sound any happier about it. “Remus, are you in position to assist?”

“Control, this is Commander Gryner on the Remus.” The Minervan skipper had the rough, gravelly voice of someone who had inhaled a lot of smoke in his career. Or possibly vacuum. “We’ll arrive at our designated orbit point in eighty seconds but we can maneuver to assist-”

“Holy shit!” Krampus spun out of formation, his fighter striking his wingmate as the wing on the opposite side spun away into the distance. Drag forces and the constant work of the disassembler field must have torn it off. Both fighters crumpled and spun off in opposite directions. Nord – Krampus’ wingmate – died instantly as something in the ship exploded and touched off its thruster fuel or missile warheads. Krampus managed to eject, his fighter tumbling off through the formation as he sailed upwards.

“42,” Bourne snapped, “can you get down here and retrieve Krampus?”

“Negative, Leader. He’s still in the field and we’re barely outrunning the boundary as it is. If we come back for him I don’t think we’re ever getting out of it.”

“Shit. Shit.” Krampus was starting to panic over the mic. “That burns.

Or maybe not panic, Bourne realized with a sinking feeling. Maybe he was starting to get pulled apart. “Krampus, this is Leader. We’re going to figure-”

Krampus started to scream and Bourne suspected he wasn’t getting through.

“Control.” Gryner’s voice rose over the noise. “Please remove Krampus from this channel.”

“What the fuck, Gryner,” Bourne snapped even as Krampus’ voice cut off. He did a quick visual check of the air outside, trying to pick Krampus out of the blue seas below and the black, star spattered skies around. He managed to spot the man’s body after only a few seconds looking and immediately wished he hadn’t found it.

“I need you to hear me, Leader,” Gryner said, blissfully unaware of what Bourne had just seen. “I’ve read up a lot on D-field research. One of their biggest weaknesses is that the field itself is unstable over large distances. Our researchers can’t keep one in place for more than a few minutes over the volume of a singe vessel. Earth is deploying one over thousands of cubic miles.”

“Good for them,” Bourne snapped. “We knew they were a couple of generations ahead of us in nanotech.”

“True. But their field is unstable, we’re reading it from here. That means it will collapse if you can disrupt it with, say, a coordinated plasma barrage.” The smugness is Gryner’s voice could almost be forgiven since it brought a chance at salvation with it. Almost. “There’s too much atmo between us and the field for our point defenses to reach. Are your plasma launchers operable?”

“Check ’em, Starstream,” Bourne snapped.

Principia,” Gryner continued, “adding your guns to the mix gives them better odds of success. Do you have an angle?”

“Not as of yet,” Control replied. “But the captain knows and is angling for position.”

“Fuck.” Bourne pounded his controls in frustration when they told him his main weapon wouldn’t initialize. The forward part of his hull was starting to look more like Swiss cheese than a spaceship but at least he hadn’t lost propulsion yet.

Others weren’t so lucky. Bubbles announced, “I’ve got the main gun booting up.” Two seconds later he followed that up with, “Nope. Circuits overloaded and the whole thing fried. I think it took my engine, too. I’m ballistic.”

“Stay in your cockpit,” Bourne said. “If we can down this field we’ll have the lander come in and pick you up after.”

“Roger that, Leader.”

“Leader, this is Tranquility BASIC. Please stand by for the arrival of orbital flight.”

It took real effort for Bourne to get past his astonishment and crank his gaping mouth closed again. “Stand by? We don’t have thirty hours to wait on ’em, Tranquility.”

“You won’t need it,” Control said. “You’re not doing anything good for yourselves right now so just hang on.”

Bourne switched off his headset and threw his hands in the air. It was true, the disassembler field was playing havoc with the whole squadron but it wasn’t like they had the option of just ignoring it. He was deciding if he should try firing up his plasma launcher again or keep spitting plasma of his own at Control when the orbital flight showed up.

They snapped out of superluminal with no notice, just the brief pop of extra bright light that always accompanied objects dropping below the luminal barrier. Twelve starfighters of Copernican design that, at a glance, had the basic diamond shape of the TX-49. They were long pointed trapezoids with a squat base and a forward taper that made up sixty percent of the total length. However Bourne quickly picked out differences. A much broader middle that made the craft as much as six meters wide, rather than the 49’s standard four meters. A heavy protrusion just under the rear centerline, like a barrel was laid sideways through the bottom of the hull sticking out from under the pilot’s seat.

The fact that they’d come via superluminal drives, which the TX-49 wasn’t equipped with.

In fact, not even Bourne’s top of the line OF-28 had one. Only the Copernicus Spacer Corps’ experimental TX-55 had the space and power plant for a superluminal drive. Admiral Carrington had just committed a fortune in valuable starfighter prototypes to pull their fat out of the fire.

“Starstream Leader, this is Point Break Leader. Stand by for plasma barrage.”

Like their older counterparts, the 55 had dual plasma launchers tucked away under the side corners of the diamond and all twelve fighters cut loose with them at once, sending twenty four packets of ionized plasma screaming into the disassembler field at once. The magnetic field that kept the nanotech powered and suspended in the atmosphere began to fluctuate wildly. Two seconds after the first barrage Point Break squadron fired again. The magnetic field dissolved entirely.

“All right, Starstream,” Point Break leader called. “That’s us. Looks like that field is rebuilding itself down on the surface and will be back in this section of airspace in another ten minutes so I’d get a move on if I were you.”

“You heard the man,” Bourne said, feeling as is a massive weight on his chest was suddenly gone. “All pilots prepare to bail out. Check your flight suits to make sure they’re spaceworthy and punch out. Lander 42, we’d be much obliged for a pick up. Let’s try and get this done without anyone else buying it.”

He busied himself suiting actions to words and five minutes later, it was all done.

Martian Scriptures – Post Script

We’ve reached the end of yet another tale! Thank you once more to everyone who read this story as it was publishing, you were a great encouragement to me. Thank you also to everyone reading this long after the fact! I hope you’ve enjoyed this look into the Triad Worlds. Unlike Schrodinger’s Book, I wasn’t as interested in diving into immediate culture and trends with Martian Scriptures as I was in looking at stories that frame our lives and how they influence us on the daily. As is usually the case I feel I hit that theme with varying degrees of success but overall I’m pleased with the outcome. I hope you are as well.

Outside of this brief post there will be no content update this week. Next week I plan to take a break from fiction for a month or so to write a few essays on fiction and the writing process (more the former than the latter) and as usual I understand if you wish to pass on them. Sometimes I feel they mean more to me than anyone else. But, as essays help me sort out my own thoughts, I continue to work in that space so I can write more effectively overall.

If fiction is what you come here for then don’t despair! I intend to be back with a new and very different kind of work come December so dust of your Trilby and get ready to head out to the Columbian West. Intrigued? You only have a few weeks to wait! Until next week.

Martian Scriptures Chapter Twenty Five – Life After Silence

Previous Chapter

“How many people are down there?” The Admiral asked. “A thousand? Two?” 

“Four thousand and sixty eight,” Craig said. He’d read the number in so many reports over the last hour that he didn’t even have to check. “All locked in some kind of medically induced coma, kept healthy by Terran medical nanotechnology. We’re working on figuring out how to revive them right now but it’s been slow going.” 

“Well we might be able to help you there.” Carrington manipulated something off screen for a second. “We do have a few files on their medinano that Langley and Hu brought back from their time on Earth, plus a few samples taken from the Terrans on hand that we’ve done some preliminary studies on. But we also think the Shutdown process could be hard on the people it effects, particularly mentally, with time in Shutdown as an aggravating factor.” 

“The longer they sleep, the worse they fare.” 


The admiral returned his attention to Craig. “And that is completely ignoring the other difficulty this discovery poses.” 

“The Borealis dome can’t support five to six thousand people,” Craig said. “I know. There was a solution proposed by our head of Martian Operations.” 

“I saw it.” There was a hint of malice in Carrington’s smile. “Your boy there is going to ruin his own career with this kind of freewheeling initiative. Or he would if we were back in the Triad Worlds. I’m rather glad you brought him with you. Taking building materials from the derelict parts of Earth is a novel thought and one I am considering. Given the significance of that step, and the inevitable increasing tensions it will provoke, I’ll be consulting with the senior captains of the Newtonian and Gallilean groups but, before that, I’d like to hear your opinion.” 

Craig paused for a moment. He’d expected that question and mostly had his answer. But the answer cut so hard against who he was he still hesitated to say it. “Sir, I don’t see as we have any choice. We’re already entangled with the Martian population and we know Earth doesn’t like either of us. And the Martians waited so long for someone with the time and resources to lend them a hand, it seems cruel to demand they keep waiting. We could send a message drone back to the Triad Worlds, they might even answer us right away. But, even with the time it would save not having to drop below superluminal to do fleet position checks, we’d still wait a year to hear from them. I’m not sure Bottletown will hold together that long, now that they know the truth about their colony.” 

Carrington sighed. “I tend to agree. We’ll still inform the Triad Worlds and Rodenberry, of course, but I don’t think there will be any objection in the fleet proper to your proposed course of action. I suspect that by this time next week we’ll be formally at war with Earth, God help us.” 

“Perhaps,” Craig mused, “UNIGOV will hold to their pacifist principles.” 

“Don’t count on it, Captain” Carrington said. “Don’t count on it.” 

Volk looked around the Vault in momentary confusion. He’d never entered through the Sunbottle side of the underground bay and it looked quite different from the entrance along the edge of the dome. Most of the wall was occupied by large pieces of equipment he couldn’t attache to a purpose, some part of the old yet shockingly advanced Earth tech that kept most of the population of Bottletown in Shutdown and awaiting revival. In the first few days since finding the Vault the Stewart‘s top medical and engineering officers had swarmed the Vault, examining equipment, taking measurements and dumping code. Now the Fleet’s best and brightest minds were collaborating to try and crack it, to figure out some way to revive the people of Mars. 

By the same token many Malacandrans had rushed down to the Vault, looking desperately to see if it was true, and all the people who had left them in Silence were still close at hand. They’d transformed the aisles and stacks of pods. Now there were ribbons, piles of books or mementos stacked by the pods where long Silenced relatives lay sleeping. Portable display boards were stuck to the ends of aisles listing the hundreds of people stacked there and, in the few places where the sleepers had expired of age in spite of the wonders of Terran medical nanotech, black clothes covered the pods in a symbol of respect. 

Taken together, it made Volk feel very out of place. In five years of Naval service he’d traveled to two dozen worlds never intended for human life and put his very own boots on seventy percent of them. But walking through the Vault felt more like trespassing than surveying those places ever had. 

A soft tune echoed down the aisles and drew him away from the entryway, as if the Vault had changed from mausoleum to enchanted grotto and now fairies were tempting him further in. Volk shook his head and got his head in the present. He’d been too stressed with the whole “Martian Operations” thing the past few days. It’d been nothing but scheduling trips to and from the Stewart or facilitating meetings between the ship’s Senior Staff and the Elders of Bottletown. The culture shocks of men and women in the thirties and forties, still striving to reach their professional peaks, dealing with eighteen and nineteen year olds who were used to being the final say on everything in the entire world posed a steep challenge. Volk was looking forward to getting all that sorted and returning to his normal role as leader of a five man survey team. 

But there was a lot to sort before he could get there. 

He found the source of the tune at the far end of the Vault, near the other entry. Aubrey was there, examining Naomi’s Shutdown pod and consulting with the AI readout she’d set on the ground next to here. She looked out of place, like a sunflower in the middle of a cave, and the Malacandran girl leaning against the next rack of pods in the row and humming lent the whole scene an ephemeral air. He exchanged a glance with the girl – Gemma, if he was remembering her name right – and stepped over to Aubrey. “Everything going all right?” 

“No.” She sighed and shut the readout down. “A couple of emergency medical training classes did not prepare me for this. We got some of the medical data from… from Earth, and it says you can revive people from Shutdown without special measures for about a week. But that applies to modern medical nanotech, not this ancient stuff. Your doctor is taking precautions in case there are complications in reviving her but I’m not sure they’re going to be enough.” 

“Hey, take it easy,” he said, putting a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “Like you said, you’re not a doctor you’re a traffic controller. No one’s going to blame you if this doesn’t work. We all just do what we can.” 

“Easy to say when what you can do is fall out of the sky like a rock with all the parts the town needs to pull through.” Aubrey shook her head. “Sometimes I think I should have stayed on Earth.” 


“I don’t know. There’s so much wrong there and I barely understand what’s right here and I’m not even sure that made sense.” She pressed a hand to her forehead. “I thought if I came up here to space and looked around I could understand more about what we did wrong down there and help fix it. Turns out I can’t even help with this one little thing.” 

Volk laughed and gestured back at the Vault full of sleeping people “I’d hardly call reviving all these people a little thing.” 

“You’re missing the point.” 

“Aubrey, I don’t know what all is wrong on Earth. The Admiral is keeping those details to himself and that’s his right. But I do know we wouldn’t have any idea what Earth is like or any of those medical records from Earth if you hadn’t helped out Martin when he was stuck down there. And look!” He gestured back to Naomi’s pod, decorated  with a half a dozen drawings from her kids, ready to greet her when she awoke. “There’s a lady who’s boys are missing her that’s going to see them again tonight, all because you lent a helping hand. That’s plenty to be proud of for a week’s work. Take a day off, think about what to do next after you’ve had a break.” 

“Okay.” She rubbed her hands over her eyes and blew out a breath. “That sounds like a good idea. Like a great idea. So what is there to do for fun around here, Gemma?” 

She laughed. “Fun? I guess you could sing with the choir, that’s what I usually do. Or talk to the Elders. They spend a lot of time just talking, I dunno about what. We got some old games on the central computer network.” 

“It’s a colony, they’ve only got so much leisure time to start with,” Volk said with a chuckle. He leaned back against the pod behind him only to feel his hand bump against something. A stack of three books slid off the pod and landed in a jumble on the floor. He stooped to pick them up, thinking they must be of recent manufacture. He hadn’t seen that many books around Bottletown before. Looking closer he realized there was a red book, a green book and a gray book, each about the size of the old paperback format. 

His landmark oriented surveyor’s brain flashed back through his trip from the entrance and realized he’d passed at least four stacks of identical books on his way. He flipped them around to read the titles. Out of the Silent Planet. Perelandra. That Hideous Strength. “Where did these come from?” 

“Damian came down and left them for his father. For when he wakes up.” Gemma pointed towards the pod they’d been resting on. “He told me once he loved talking about Ransom’s notes – the first book, I guess – with his father. Solomon Drake was a petitioner, too, and I guess listening to his dad talk about the story of Dr. Ransom was a big part of why Damian followed in his footsteps. So he’s probably really excited to talk to his dad about the rest of Dr. Ransom’s life. I heard he read the other two books the very first day he got them.” 

Volk stacked them back on top of the pod, ambivalent. “Well,” he finally said. “I hope they enjoy them.” 

“You don’t sound fully convinced,” Aubrey said. 

He shrugged. “This may sound odd but until I was twelve I thought James T. Kirk was a real person who really saved the galaxy from disasters. I didn’t realize how much of what he did would actually cause disasters, or that no person was really as brave, insightful or persuasive as Kirk. My dad is a true believer, convinced we’re always just days away from that perfect kind of society. But once I saw all the flaws in the details – people who didn’t ever live by the perfect standards, standards that contradicted and the like – I couldn’t look at it like he did anymore. We haven’t really been on good terms since I told him that. I’m not sure we’re doing anyone favors here.” 

She put a hand on his arm and rubbed it soothingly. “Listen, I don’t know much about this Rodenberry person you worship–” 

“We don’t exactly worship him.” 

“Whatever. I don’t know about him any more than I know about Priss’s Catholics or Dr. Ransom so I can’t speak to what you do or don’t believe. But I can tell you this. UNIGOV lied to us about their perfect society and hid all those flaws in the details from us.” She turned him around and looked him in the eye. “If you hide the truth you’re no different than they are. Gemma and her people survived on top of a faulty nuclear reactor for a century and a half, they can make it through this, too.” 

Volk smiled. “You know, I think you’re right.” 

“Me too!” Gemma chimed in. 

That got an actual laugh from him. “Fine, fine. But believe it or not that’s not why I came down here to find you.” 

“No?” Aubrey laughed. “So what brought you here.” 

“The Admiral is asking you to come back to the Sea of Tranquility,” Volk said, some of his good humor leaving him. He’d hoped to get to know Aubrey better but the harsh reality of Naval life had its say in all things. “He didn’t say exactly what it was about, just that you needed to know Steven had agreed to cooperate.” 

“I… wasn’t expecting that.” She visibly gathered herself and nodded. “When we finish Naomi’s revival operation I’ll be ready to go.” 

“Wouldn’t dream of taking you away before it,” Volk said. “Check in with me afterwards and we’ll arrange your transfer back to the Stewart. I understand one of the Newtonian ships will be coming to pick you up the day after tomorrow. It’s been a pleasure working with you.” 

He started back towards the Sunbottle entrance but stopped when he heard Aubrey’s voice. “Volk?” 

“Yes?” He turned halfway and looked back. “Something wrong?” 

Aubrey was staring at the stack of books now. “Are you staying here? On planet?” 

“That’s the plan. I am the head of Martian Operations, after all.” 

“Do me a favor?” 

He shrugged. “Sure. What is it?” 

Her fingers rested on top of the red book. “Find out why it was different.” When she saw Volk’s blank look she added, “The outcome. Mars and Earth both have societies based on stories with little to no truth in them. So why were they so different? Why did Earth reject something new and a little frightening, in spite of all our supposed history telling how we were kind, welcoming and courageous? Why did Mars accept people so far outside what they were used to when their story is all about the consequences of distrust and cruelty? If we can’t work it out UNIGOV is going to keep Earth a silent planet, no matter what the Ransom books say.” 

Volk nodded. “I understand your question, although I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to answer it. Better men than me have spent lifetimes trying. But we’ll do our best.” 

And as he walked out of the Vault, as all the details of responsibilities and tasks swarmed in around him once more, Volk admitted he’d made an impossible promise. Rodenberry thought space was the final frontier, that humanity must surpass itself before it could challenge the stars. In truth, Volk thought it was quite the opposite. Life as a department head, however brief, had convinced him that the intricacies of the human experience were far deeper and more difficult than anything he’d experienced on new planets. Either way, it was never boring out there. 

Pak looked up when Gemma returned to the watch tower. Alyssa had left an hour before, leaving the bottler team reconnecting the secondary boards to the power system unsupervised, which led to one conclusion. “I take it they finished reviving Naomi?” 

“Yup. Her family and Alyssa’s practically threw a party right there in the Vault! It was something.” Gemma sat down in the chair next to his. “Then Volk hustled Aubrey away, she’s going back to Earth for something or another.” 

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Pak said, entering a final command sequence and looking at her while he waited for the last code to compile. “You two seemed like you got to be good friends.” 

Gemma waved a hand. “Sort of? I thought the way Volk followed her around sometimes was cute. I feel kind of bad for him, with her going so far away.” 

“Oh.” He hadn’t gotten that impression at all. “Well, we have a bit of a wait before anyone else is revived but I guess I can deal with it. Anyone you’re excited to see again? I know my sister and I have been talking about what to show our parents when they wake up.” 

Gemma made a very noncommittal noise. “I annoyed my dad a lot before he went into Silence,” she said. “Mom ran interference but I think I gave them a lot of headaches. I don’t know what to say to them when I see them again.” 

“Don’t talk about the past,” Pak suggested. “Talk about the future. What do you want to do with them now?” 

Gemma looked up at the watch tower’s ceiling for a moment. “I want to go to Earth.” 

The urge to smile tugged at the corner of his lips. “I’m sure that’s not something they’ll expect.” A pinging noise told him his code was done and he turned back around to look at his handywork. “Perfect.” 

“What are you doing?” Gemma asked, coming to look over his shoulder. 

“Testing out some new equipment and software the Rodenberries gave us.” He pointed to a simple display of Malacandran orbital space, complete with a bright green dot representing the Stewart. “We can monitor incoming flights now. See?” 

“Oh… Not bad, head watcher. Not bad.” 

She was getting cheeky for a watcher in her first cent. But then, maybe that wasn’t so bad. Things around Bottletown were changing, almost entirely for the better. Perhaps the watch tower would be less of a dead end job in the future, and head watchers would need a more personable touch. Time would tell. The board sounded a clear tone as a small blue dot departed the Stewart, one of their landers coming in with some new batch of people, equipment or mix of both, to push Bottletown a little further on their way. Maybe soon they’d reclaim all of Borealis. But for the moment, at least the space they watched was far less silent.