The Legends of Earth – rewrite, and new chapters

***Here’s the full beginning to my novel, “The Legends of Earth”.  I’ve done some re-writing, but if you’ve already read the previous sections, feel free to skip ahead to chapters 6 and 7.  Constructive criticism is always appreciated!!!  As a further note, please let me know if you want to continue receiving new chapters, and I’ll send them to you privately – I’m no longer posting them on my blog, since my hope is to publish the book at some point.***

Allen Moench

9/20/12

The Legends of Earth

Foreward

If, during the year 4,283 AD, you were to look through a powerful telescope pointed in the direction of the asteroid belt, you would notice something strange.  Some of the bright pinpoints of light, which you might have thought at first were stars, are moving, orbiting in a circle, in line with the belt.  If your telescope happened to have a particularly fine focus, you might notice other signs of activity – objects moving in patterns not typically associated with asteroids, objects with strange shapes or colors, emitting signals that to an astronomer would seem stranger still.

Of course, you wouldn’t be standing on the surface of the Earth looking through a telescope, because to stand on the surface of the Earth in those days was to risk death in all manner of horrible, unfortunate ways.  If you didn’t asphyxiate (say you had a spacesuit), get caught in a river of molten plastic and organic chemicals, or run afoul of an irradiated dust storm, there were the meteors, the lightning, and oh yes, the predatory land-squids.  4,283 was a particularly bad year for the squids.  The Earth’s surface in those days was a wasteland of broken rock and magma.  You might be in Earth’s orbit, however even this is unlikely due to a dangerous jumble of debris, circling at high speed, colliding with itself, and bombarding the planet.  More likely, your telescope is located within the asteroid belt itself, looking inward at an array of strange objects, the dispersed dwelling places of the survivors of humanity.

Focusing on one particular object, a medium-sized sphere with a turquoise hue, in a binary orbit with what looks like a small sun, you might notice a slight shifting pattern on the surface.  Focusing still further, depending on how your telescope is constructed, you might just be able to make out the shapes of leaves, apparently blowing in the wind.  Now, very few telescopes are capable of this kind of refinement, but if you could look even closer, you would notice a human-like creature, a female, with turquoise skin and a strange pattern along her back and sides, sitting in the boughs of a tree.

***

Chapter 1

Arla sat on a tree limb, and watched the sun sinking past the top of the canopy, the color of the sky deepening.  It wasn’t the sun, of course, but a much smaller, closer sphere of reacting material the Ares tribe had helped them cobble together.  Straightening her back, and stretching tired muscles, she stood, placing her bare feet against skin-like silver bark.  Leaning forward slightly, she bent her legs, and pushed off.  Moving straight outward along the tree limb, she passed a fractal spread of branches, culminating in a fan of turquoise leaves.  Grabbing a branch, she altered her trajectory, spinning off at an angle to slip between a series of massive trunks.

Making her way through the forest, she altered her course several times, rebounding off the trunks of trees, or catching air in the flaps that protruded from her back to change direction.  She moved at considerable speed through the shafts of light that slanted through the canopy, losing themselves in the darkness below.  Passing through a screen of leaves, Arla emerged into a sizable clearing, where a number of angular disc-shaped metallic objects hovered.  Coming to rest at the rim of one of the discs, she proceeded towards its center, where a congregation of turquoise-skinned individuals was waiting.

“About time!” one of them called – a smaller one, with a pattern of diamonds tattooed behind his ears.  “What do you expect?” Arla replied, “I’m not a robot – after a day like that I have to sit for a moment and watch the sunset!”  The smaller one, whose name was Thale, proceeded to remind her that it was not, in fact, a sun, but had been lent to them, as a gift of goodwill, by the Ares tribe.  Arla sighed – she wished that, for a moment, Thale could forget the practical realities of their situation, and simply appreciate a sunset.  The sky was still a mandarin hue, and the leaves at the forest’s edge were a shifting tapestry beyond the soft yellow of the sleeping pod’s rim.

“Where were you all day?”  Arla asked Thale, anchoring herself into a couched depression with one arm.  “I took a trip around the dark side,” he replied.  “I was helping Marthos deal with the frost problem.”  Frost, drifting up from the icy comet beneath the tree’s roots, had been collecting in the forest canopy, preventing the trees from photosynthesizing.  “There’s a slight temperature imbalance we think, but hopefully it’s not too bad.  We should be able to just place some condensers over there to fix it, otherwise we might adjust the rotation cycle a bit.”

A basket of fruit was passed in Arla’s direction, and she took one, settling deeper into the depression and letting herself relax.  Arla and Thale sat for a moment, chewing on the fruit, and letting the blood flow back through their limbs as the sky darkened, the fading ‘sun’ reflecting off a halo of dust, beyond which the stars were starting to appear.

***

At the same time – or, as close to ‘simultaneously’ as you can get in a spaceship hurtling at relativistic speeds somewhere along Neptune’s orbit, a man named Jobe was settling into his bunk.  Listening to the creaking of metal, and the slight whistle of a pipe somewhere aft, Jobe pulled off his gloves, swung up his legs, and began drifting off nearly the moment he was horizontal.  Sixty-eight thousand, seven hundred twenty three hours, fifty two minutes, seven seconds, read the clock behind his head.  His dreams were troubled.

***

The next day, Arla awoke to a shade of bright green – the Lichens were out.  Floating in the atmosphere of the comet, tiny clusters of cells tended to collect in the air, drifting in light clouds, the blackness of space visible behind them.  It was these clouds that the Eulos tribe tended, and harvested as a primary food source.

Flipping out of her depression onto the roof of the disc, Arla walked to where the others were gathering, at the top of the dome.  She seated herself in a ring with them, and they all began a brief chanting ritual to synchronize themselves to one another.  The harvesting dance required precise coordination – the ritual was not simply a tradition, it was a necessity.

As one, still clutching hands, the Eulos bent their knees, and shot into the sky.  The fractal patterns of veins along each of their sides pulsed, and shook outward into four dragonfly-like wings, inflating as they spread.  The light gravity of the comet allowed the group to gain considerable height, simply using the muscles of their legs – they rose to a point where the curve of the comet was visible, just below the green clouds, then broke formation, gliding outwards in an eight-pointed star.

The wings themselves were phenomenal organs, composed of a mat of veins and capillaries, and capped on top by a translucent layer of skin.  When they were not in use, they shrank to a minute size and were stored beneath flaps on the Eulos’ backs.  Fully expanded, they stretched to a considerable wingspan, each wing several meters longer than the Eulos was tall.  The wings enabled the Eulos to make intricate flying maneuvers, banking and turning through the comet’s thin atmosphere, which was composed of water vapor and a variety of sentient microorganisms.

At a young age, the Eulos taught their children to channel body heat through the wings.  Radiated downwards, the heat provided a slight lift that could be used to create forward motion in extreme circumstances.  Combined with techniques that captured the energy of solar wind, radiation, and high-speed particles, the practice could sometimes be used to recover someone who had flown too far outside the comet’s gravity well, and was drifting into space.  The wings also contained a variety of ultra-sensitive pigments that captured energy from the ‘sun’, and from the vacuum of space.

Speeding outwards, the Eulos turned in unison, and glided into a circle around the cloud.  Several at a time would dart towards the center, and brake suddenly by straightening their wings with a cracking sound.  The force of the wingbeats threw the lichen-cells (a symbiotic mix of algae and fungi) together.  This compacted the cells, causing them to stick to one another and fall downwards. At this moment, another Eulos waiting below would catch the falling lichen, rolling it up in a mat made from fibers of the huge trees that circled the comet.

***

Pulsing through the blackness of space, just outside the orbit of Venus, a shape is lurking.  Behind it trails a beam of light, miles long.  Light and energy from the nearby sun glints off chinks and protrusions that break the regularity of its slowly rotating carapace.  Light, and particulate matter are radiating from it in a halo, giving it the appearance of a green-tinted comet.

***

Arla brushed aside a wisp of floating Lichens, whipping past another Eulos flying in the other direction.  From somewhere behind the cloud, a voice rang out:  “Ratil, look out!”  Ratil, carrying a large mat, had swooped downwards to catch a clump of falling lichen.  As she returned, swooping upwards, she was simultaneously rolling up the mat – her head was down, and she was about to collide with another Eulos, who had just turned towards the center.

Looking up, Arla saw the two twist to avoid one another, their wingtips brushing.  The other Eulos, whose name was Tamarang, let out a huge laugh.  “Close one!” flying at the edge of the comet’s increased gravity, damaging their wings at this height could be fatal, sending them spinning off into space.

Dipping below the cloud, Arla locked eyes with three other Eulos, who had done the same thing.  Lana was right ahead of her, Thale and Samana on either side in her peripheral vision.  The four held this state for a moment, taking eachother in as they sped towards one another, then simultaneously flipping upwards into the cloud.

Immediately, Arla’s vision is obscured in a green haze.  The Lichens rush past her as she continues forward, sensing, rather than seeing, the three others speeding towards her through the fog.  Tilting her wings slightly, she throws her body forward, rotating it vertically as she approaches the center point.  Throwing her wings outward, they sweep through the thick cells with a crack.  Crack crack crack – the wingbeats are in unison, and groups of cells are thrown together as the shapes of the other Eulos abruptly become visible.  Several large clumps fall downwards, to be caught below.

Flipping backwards, the four turn over in midair, and glide outward like the spokes of a wheel.  As Arla reaches the edge of the cloud, she sees Ratil, Tamarang, and two others dipping below to repeat the process.  In nearby clouds, other groups are circling.  After several hours, the group has collected a large supply, dropping the rolled-up mats onto the canopy of the trees for later transportation.

Picking up two mats each, the eight Eulos glide in formation back in the direction of the sleeping pods.

***

Chapter 2

Whipping over the turquoise foliage, the heavy mats weighed the Eulos down on their return journey.  Periodically, they were forced to stop and make landings in the tops of the trees, to avoid crash-landing into the canopy.  During one of these stops, Arla noticed Ratil peering at something over her shoulder.

“Is that a pulse trail?” Arla peered behind her, shading her eyes against the glare of their small sun.  There did appear to be a second, smaller source of light behind the sun – a trail of light, broken by periodic flashes.  Now, the whole group had turned, and was peering towards the sky.

“Looks that way,” remarked Tamarang, a hint of concern in his voice.  A pulse trail presumably meant a large spaceship, propelling itself forward with periodic explosions of nuclear fission.  The trail was probably several million kilometers away, however it seemed to be pointed in their direction.  Peering closer, Arla noticed a slight bluish tint to the light.  Thorium… she thought.

The others had noticed it too.  “Maybe we should leave the mats here,” remarked Parrok.  There was no need for further discussion.  The group dropped their mats in the canopy, and bent their knees, launching upward into the sky.  As Arla flew, she looked over her shoulder.  The period between the flashes seemed to have decreased since she had first taken notice – this was another sign that the ship might be decelerating towards them.

The distance to the metallic sleeping discs had not been much further, and without the extra weight of the mats, it did not take long to cover the remaining distance.  When they appeared through the foliage, it became apparent that others had noticed the pulse trail as well.  Thirty or so Eulos were gathered at the center of the discs, and were having a hurried conversation.  Arla and the others made deft landings along the rim, their wings shrinking back into vein-tattooed patterns along their sides as they strode towards the center.

A woman named Bena was speaking:

“We analyzed their spectrum – significant traces of thorium.”

“Raiders?” Asked Lana.  The word sent a ripple of fear through the assembled Eulos.

“Possibly – it could be from one of the asteroid mining tribes.  There’s plenty of thorium in the Lasset sector.  I know the Ares did some trading with them a while back, and I think thorium was part of the bundle.”  Miners could also be notorious raiders, Arla knew, because mining colonies often failed abruptly due to the difficulty of creating a stable microbiosphere in space.  If a mining colony lost control of the symbioses needed to sustain life, the colony could collapse in a period of days, leaving only the miners themselves, along with their ships.

Arla looked upwards again.  Yes, the pulses were definitely coming more quickly now.  She thought she could just make out the donut-shape, where tons of metal were crashing through the center of a nuclear inferno every few seconds.  They must have created some form of inertia control to cope with the deceleration, or whoever was riding in the spaceship would have been instantly crushed.

Samana spoke first.  “I need five with me to go to the core!”  Marthos and Tamarang, along with three others immediately moved towards her, and in an instant the group had dived over the edge of the sleeping pod, rushing downward into the abyss between the tree trunks.  Other groups began to self-assemble, and were speeding off in different directions.  Arla, Ratil, and Thale looked at eachother, each having a similar thought.  Ratil said, “Forest floor?” and the other two nodded.

Leaping off the side of the disc, the three sped through the thick upper leaves of the canopy, breaking through after a few moments to a more open space where the deeply grooved trunks of the trees plunged downwards.  As they descended, the space opened up.  Weaving around sets of stray branches, interspersed tangled root masses appeared below them, above a floor covered in drifts of turquoise leaves.  A carpet of vaporous, lightly glowing dust drifted over everything, and ashen-colored trails crisscrossed in between the roots.  They landed gracefully, wings buzzing as they checked their speed.

Stepping lightly over the twining roots, they moved a few feet apart, scanning cracks and depressions.  After a few moments, a flicker of movement caught Arla’s eye.  Something grey was clambering slowly over a drift of vibrant leaf debris.  Its appearance was something like a jellyfish – a cap, standing elevated on an array of long filaments.  From the cap drifted clouds of the glowing dust.

The tendrils moved over the forest floor, creeping inside crevices in the tree bark, or snaking through the undergrowth.  Where a tendril passed over fallen leaves, the leaves turned an ashen color and began to crumble.  The tracks were everywhere along the forest floor, and in the distance more shapes were moving indistinctly.

“Over here!” Arla spoke in a sharp whisper.  Thale, who was closest to the thing, stepped carefully along the side of a curving root, approaching it from above.  Ratil tossed him a small container, and he bent down.  Brushing his hand into a crevice of the tree, his hand came away sticky with sap.  He reached towards the cap, which stopped moving.  A bundle of tendrils stretched out to meet him, encasing his hand, and swarming over the sap.  As he pulled his hand away, the tendrils stayed with his hand, and he was able to collect them in the container.

“Thank you,” he said to the creature.  It was a sentient fungus, designed to regulate cycles at this level of the forest.  Creating sentient beings to manage cycles in this way had proven more effective than relegating the task to a mechanical computer, however the beings required a certain level of reciprocity as a result.  The cap rippled orange in recognition, then continued on its way.

At this moment, the light disappeared from the sky, making Arla’s breath catch in her throat.

“That’ll be Samana,” said Thale.  The sun had vanished, blanketed in a reflective field that mimicked the background radiation of space.  In the sky above the comet, a similar field created the impression of a fluid surface, rippling and distorting the stars.  Both the sun and the comet would now be invisible from the outside, the fields blocking both visible light, and a variety of other types of radiation that might be picked up by sensors.

This meant Samana and her team had located the icy tunnels that lead to the comet’s center, winding their way inwards to find a small control station near the core.  From there, they could control the comet’s few mechanical systems.  These mostly consisted of functional components like the condensers.  As far as Arla knew, the shield generator was the only high-tech mechanical artifact they possessed – again, a gift of goodwill from a neighboring tribe.

The light at the base of the trees was murky.  Small patches of starlight filtered through the leaves and the swirling shield, but mostly the ground was lit by the luminescent dust around their feet.  Working quickly, Arla, Ratil and Thale located a few more of the sentient fungi, and soon they were carrying several containers each, in sacks Ratil had grabbed as they dove over the edge.

Abruptly, dragonfly-wings thrummed overhead.  Parrock and several others appeared, also with a sacks over their shoulders.  Seeing them, he dove down and landed beneath a mound of matted roots.  The others landed around them.

“They’re holding course,” said Parrock breathlessly.  “And still headed straight for us.  We think they might have taken a fix on our position before the shields went up.”  Blip…blip…blip The flashes in the sky had grown brighter now as well as more frequent, strobing down through the trees.

***

Left arm eight points.  Elevate forward-speaking elements of the nine breezes.  The creature wakes.  Emergent light creates conditions for self-similar negative spaces. Within sorrow exists the particulate expansion of mighty empires.  All praise the device.  The core has acquiesced to 73%.

Kara awoke to find herself staring out a small window, at a slowly-moving arena of lights, against blackness.

Thirty-eight points correct out of the left arm.  Sequence 722-38-49-6627-6.

She lifted her left arm, her hand flicking unconsciously towards a panel, where her fingers executed a complex movement.  She blinked.  In her mind’s eye, an image flickered into being:  human shapes, smooth and reflective as mirrors, clambering over a fissured landscape.  Jagged, darkened rocks.  Flames hurtling from a broiling sky.

Openly, the gifted presence seeks renewal.  Discover the shape of exceptional destiny.  Cranium 97 degrees, sixty-eight points spread over the left hemisphere, distribute blades.

***

The two groups on the forest floor took off.  Speeding through the comet’s understory and into the canopy, they landed in branches, just below the uppermost foliage.  The flashes, Arla noticed, had ceased.  Instead a long, bright streak was visible, and she thought she could make out a darker shape, riding the column.  Suddenly the sky erupted in an explosion of light.  Concentric ripples passed along the surface of the field above the comet, shattering the effect of the mirage.  The shield was likely absorbing some kind of impact, and the ripples were white-hot, radiating energy.

***

Chapter 3

Wind howled around the Chitra tribe’s Structure.  It was made of an elastic alloy, a combination of filamentous carbon, and organic resins secreted by bacteria in Jupiter’s atmosphere.  The huge spheres stretched and distorted under intense shear forces, the transportation tubes that connected them flexing and bending as they tumbled along amid thousand-mile-per-hour winds.

Captain Paran clutched onto a handle in the wall of the clear observation sphere, holding on tightly as the room shifted and snapped.  Pressed against the wall close by were Kole, his first mate, and Tassa, the chief navigator.

“There seems to be a storm brewing three thousand kilometers to the North!”  Tassa was shouting above the noise of the wind.  “We’re on the outskirts right now, but if we hang out here much longer, we’re in for it!”

“Do you know how fast it’s moving?” asked Paran

“No idea.”  She had kept a close eye on their instruments during the last storm, but even so a number had been damaged.  They could not afford to get caught up in another, or from her perspective they might be flying blind.

Kole was peering at a chart.

“There’s a safe harbor a ways to the East that we might try for!  It’s controlled by the Comores I think.  I know they were there two months ago when we left port –they had anchors in place.”

“Hopefully they’ve managed to stay where they were, or we’re in for it!  Let’s get back to the control room!”  Paran opened a hatch to one of the transportation tubes, leaping in with a fluid movement and beginning to climb up the rungs.

Back inside the interior of the Structure, it was quieter – here, each sphere possessed an inner lining to absorb shock and noise.  Tassa and Kole leapt out of the tube behind Paran, into a room filled with a hodge-podge of mechanical and electronic controls.  A number of other Chitra were already in the room, and the three immediately began shouting orders, yanking on levers, and flipping control switches.

“Repulsors are on!  We should be there in half an hour,”  said Tassa.  “There’s nothing we can do now, except wait and see if we outrun it.”

***

Seventy-three points correct.  Movement is forward amidst great adversity.  Congratulate the independent precision of matrix version 42-32-78.  Release the beasts.

Beyond Kara’s window, the small turquoise sphere seemed to be wrapped in a sheen of shifting, rippling water.  Every few seconds, the concentric white ripples spreading across the shield’s surface coincided with a Tak! Tak! that reverberated up through the floor.  Her hands danced on the blue keyboard.  To her right, she sensed a presence – it was Ardan.  Time to go.

Pushing off from the wall, Kara followed Ardan’s figure through the passageway, and the two of them floated down a ladder with steel rungs to the pod bay.  Squeezing through the small circular hatch, the two of them emerged into a cramped space, with a series of depressions set into the floor.  Two others were already there, in various stages of activating the pods – Lila and Tarren.

Re-orienting herself to clamber into a depression, Kara fit herself into a harness, reaching toward two handles that were in front of her.  As her hands touched the handles, shocks crackled into her palms – the pod was interfacing with circuitry embedded in her forearms.  Around her, the pod came to life.  With a whirr, the harness tightened automatically, anchoring her in place. Shocks crackled up through her feet.  A flood of energy cascaded down her spine, and radiated out through her limbs, as the roof of the depression sealed itself above her – the pod was ready.

In front of her vision, a space cleared, and the turquoise sphere was visible through a transparent window.  Information flitted across her retinas, appearing to line up with the objects beyond the window.  She felt signals of various kinds flowing in from the pod’s censors – she could taste the radiation passing through the vacuum, smell the charge associated with a passing flurry of solar particles.

Duplicate 32nd meaning of the benevolent artifact.  Rectify incorrigible compounding synonyms.  56 points elevated.

Kara tweaked her shoulder muscles, triggering explosive bolts in the wall, and felt the pod disconnect from the ship behind her.  Immediately, she fired the chemical boosters on the back of the pod, and began to accelerate towards the shielded comet, feeling inertia press her back into the straps.

Pushing out on the handles, she felt pistons in the hydraulic arms of the pod mirror her motions, uncurling from where they had been pulled into the chest.  At a tweak of her wrists, three large blades slid from each of the arms, from the area where the wrist would be.  In her peripheral vision, she could see the three others hurtling downwards, the light glinting off the mechanical creatures.  The pods were like giant beasts, hunched over with fire burning trails behind them, their limbs crouched and claws extended.

Ahead of her, the sphere was approaching quickly, rippling like a turquoise ocean.  She pulled the pod’s limbs together protectively in front of her, forming a barrier – and braced herself for impact.

***

When Kara lifted her head, she was crouched in a crater amid a jumble of roots.  Struggling to her feet, she felt the hard exterior of the pod rasp against chips of wood and bark.  Looking around, she noted the huge trunks of the trees ascending above her, the silhouettes of fan-shaped branches just visible above.  Her skin began to prickle, as moisture condensed along the pod’s metallic carapace.

***

Arla looked up as four bright flashes of light burst from the shield above the tree in which she and the two groups of Eulos were assembled.  A split second later, the flashes were followed by the explosive noise of heavy machinery crashing through the atmosphere.  The shield flickered, and grew dimmer.  She watched as four objects, wreathed in fire, crashed through the forest canopy and disappeared into the darkness.

“We need to find them, quickly!”  Lana, Bena, Marthos, and Parrock took off in one direction, moving towards a trail of smoke that had been left behind by one of the machines.  Remaining on the branch were Arla, Ratil, and Thale. They dove off the branch, flitting between trunks in the mid-range of the canopy.  Here, the noise was less, and there was more space between the branches.

Almost immediately, Arla spotted a huge gouge in the trunk of a tree, the white of its inner bark creating a bright patch that stood out in the darkness.  Sap was running down the tree’s sides, but it was still stable, and the wound didn’t appear to have damaged its core. Flying forward, the trail of broken branches leading downward  became visible, and the smell of smoke came into the air.  Sure enough, when they reached the forest floor, they found a large crater, and a clearly visible trail of white patches where the machine had lumbered into the forest, its huge metal sides scraping against the trees.

***

Voices flickered through Kara’s head.  Tarren’s voice was saying,

“I’m on the forest floor!  Thirty-six points, greatly uplifted.  Lila, are you there?”

Lila is here.  Compiling geographical-systemic database.  Direct filter contains traces of complacent sensation. 36, 36, 36, 38, 39.

Ardan’s voice said:  “Geographical-systemic database completed.  My location is:” 26.22 – 89.31

A cascade of numbers flowed through Kara’s mind.  Beyond the window of her pod, roots and foliage were whipping by, her claw-hands grasping at tree trunks to pull her forward.

Hostile creatures, estimate two hundred.  Humanoid, gravitationally independent.  Height average seven feet.  Mass 70 kilograms.  Increased relative energy expenditure capability .  GES: 7235,  HLPI: 98432, YWT: 8879— 

The flood of information was interrupted by an orange-tinted sensation to Kara’s left.  Whipping around, she lashed out with an arm, her metal claws leaving three deep gashes in the trunk of a tree.  Whatever had caused the sensation was invisible, but a prickle across her skin indicated the presence of a slight, pulsing electromagnetic field close by in the darkness.  A heartbeat.

In an instant, Kara’s legs pushed off the ground.  Extending her right arm, her claws caught the bark of a tree and she swung round, firing jets in a short burst.  Latching onto another tree, she looked through her window for the source of the field.  It was thirty feet below her – a turquoise-skinned humanoid, its dragonfly wings thrumming as it raced for cover.  Kara pushed off downwards and came crashing down on top of it, knocking it out of the air and crushing it against a tree trunk.

Around her, other fields began to appear.  She could hear the buzzing from several sets of wings, and see flickers of movement in the gaps between the trees.  A sharp bitterness sprang to the back of her tongue, indicating danger.

“Communicative disconnection renders the resource undesirable.  Discover the central ethos and reverse.”  It was Lila’s voice.  Kara’s vision was replaced with an image of a long, icy tunnel, through a pod window.  Coordinate 36.39 – 69.06  Kara pushed off from the tree trunk, alternately firing bursts from her jet, and springing off tree trunks to propel herself through the undergrowth.

–>742jisdkw—elnvcawewexinadkfaw–

Suddenly, she felt a sharp pain in her right side.  Reaching towards the next tree trunk, the mechanism jammed, and she crashed into the tree instead, spinning off at an angle.  Impacting another trunk, she grasped at it, trying to correct her trajectory.  She felt another pain in her upper back, and a rush of wind surrounded her as the window fractured.  A large blue blotch obscured her vision, and the pod’s casing cracked as something slammed into her right side, knocking her unconscious.

***

Chapter 4

The clock on the wall read sixty-eight thousand, eight hundred fifty eight hours, sixteen minutes, thirty five seconds.  Jobe swung his legs out of the bunk for what he figured was probably the two thousand, eight hundred, sixty-ninth time, and placed his bare feet on the floor.  Reaching up beside his head, he pulled the oil-stained red rubber gloves down from their clip, and stood up, pacing out onto the steel walkway that lead to the control room.

Outside the main window, a vast expanse of stars was visible.  Far away from the sun, and any planetary light source, there was nothing to impede rays of light flowing from the distant spheres.  In fact, the light was bright enough to read by, and Jobe pulled out a star chart, unrolling it on the space below the dashboard.  Taking note of an instrument that measured his distance from the sun, he made several marks on the chart, calculating his trajectory.

Glancing up at the darkness beyond the window, he drew several vector lines, then scratched them out.  Hunching over, he wrote a small note on the paper.  He chewed the end of his pencil, underlined something twice, then set it down in frustration.  Early in his career, finding a safe harbor in Neptune’s vicinity would have been a simple matter of contacting one of the colonies in artificial orbit along the planet’s trajectory.  In the past, he used to plan his run to allow for a stop-off at Poze or Teko.  Poze used to have the best maintenance bays in the system, as well as some incredible mountain chains.

On Teko, he had once spent several months exploring a system of caverns that ran through the center of an asteroid.  The caverns were colonized by bacteria that synthesized organic compounds from the chemicals in the asteroid’s walls.  A variety of creatures fed on the bacteria, and the caverns had evolved into a bizarre labyrinth, filled with fern-like plants that grew in total darkness.  He traveled carrying only a torch and a small backpack, occasionally capturing and cooking the small creatures that lived in crevices in the walls.  They reminded him of a picture he had once seen of a marmot, from humanity’s pre-space days.

Since Jobe had become a pilot, Poze and Teko had both been caught up in the war, and they were now extremely dangerous places to be, experiencing frequent power shifts as various factions competed over their resources and strategic location.  Poze, last he heard, had been taken over by some kind of militant faction, and was currently under military rule.  Teko at various times had been used as an industrial processing plant for the creation of warships, and its biosphere had collapsed under the intensive use.

After calculating, and subsequently scratching out several more vector lines on his chart, Jobe settled on a small asteroid colony, several hundred thousand kilometers above the orbit path of the planet.  As he input the vector into the ship’s computer, the view beyond the window began to shift – the spaceship was re-orienting itself for deceleration. Flipping several switches, he glanced up as a light appeared on the dashboard.  The light indicated that inertia fields had come online, however he wanted to double-check this, since without them he would be instantly crushed the moment the ship began to decelerate.  Listening closely, he noted a slight static hum in the background, which indicated that the fields were active.  Finally, he pressed down a large, glowing dial on the instrument panel, which clicked.

Crack.  A flash of brilliant light swept past the window.  Crack…  Crack…  The inertia fields, and the enormous shock absorber at the base of the spaceship captured most of the impact from the fission-based propulsion system.  Due to a statistical anomaly in the fields, Jobe had never quite been able to eliminate the sound of the explosions.  It felt a bit like living above a shooting gallery, but he had gotten used to it over the years, at times even thinking of it fondly as the ship’s heartbeat.

***

Several hours later, the explosions ceased.  Jobe extracted himself from a recess of the wall, where he had been tinkering with the ship’s superconducting power storage system.  The system stored massive quantities of electrical energy, but had to be kept below a certain temperature to avoid bursting into flames.

Setting down his tools, he clambered up a ladder, and moved once again up the steel ramp to the control room.  Through the window, the asteroid colony was visible as a several clusters of violet specks, the dark shapes of the asteroids themselves rotating slowly against the stars.  A light on the dashboard indicated incoming radio transmissions.  Jobe turned a dial, and a hiss of static came through the receiver.  Checking through several frequencies, he eventually found what seemed like the correct channel.

“…to unidentified ship, please state your intention.  Tarsa colony to unidentified ship, please state your intention.”  They were using the common tongue, that had been developed on Earth as colonization attempts were beginning.

“Spaceship Orion to Tarsa colony, this is Jobe speaking.  Is there a docking bay available?”  A pause.

“Spaceship Orion, message received.  We have a docking bay available.  Please hold course and await an escort.”  After a few seconds, Jobe noticed a pair of silhouettes, flanking the Orion on either side.  The shapes were streamlined, and nearly invisible against the blackness of space, outfitted with reflective fields.  The disparity was striking.  How could they have sleek fighters like these at their disposal, and still be working with such archaic communications technology?

Holding his course, Jobe watched the first of the behemoth asteroids slide past in his window, covered with flickering violet light sources.  Was the lighting intentional, something to see by?  Combustion from some kind of industrial process?  Jobe couldn’t tell.  The silhouettes on either side of the ship turned and slid to the right, and Jobe felt his controls taken over by an automatic docking system.

***

The docking bay was a slot set into the wall of a shaft, that dropped further into the asteroid.  Jobe winced as docking fields manhandled the Orion into place, hoping the slot was large enough to accommodate the ship’s long tail.  Instead of the standard bulky hydraulics most spaceships would have used for a shock absorber, Jobe had personally engineered a system that used flexible carbon-fiber ‘legs’ to capture the force of the propulsion system.

The legs functioned like a bow and arrow, or a pair of gigantic frog legs.  They flexed back and forth to catapult the ship through space, splaying out and retracting with each blast.  He was very proud of the way the lightweight design maximized propellant efficiency and acceleration, while minimizing recoil friction and mechanical complexity – but docking bay operators had never seemed to appreciate this.  Fortunately, these particular fields seemed fairly precise, and the ship touched down after only a minor re-orientation.

Jobe took a breath.  Now for the complicated part.  If there hadn’t been a critical need for maintenance and re-supply, he never would have stopped at an unknown colony.  He knew next to nothing about Tarsa, its inhabitants, its affiliations or loyalties.  Perhaps they’ll be controlled by the Comores, he thought.  The Comores, who had evolved on Mercury, were an adaptable people with grey, and often weathered-looking skin that was resistant to temperature differentials.

If the Comores were in control of the colony, he thought he could get by.  They were one of the longest-standing solar empires, with cities on Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, and mercury, as well as on a number of asteroids and comets. Jobe had spent time in Comorian colonies in the past, and understood the basics of their culture.

Descending the ladder, Jobe entered the ship’s main hatchway.  He double-checked the readings on the hatchway’s instrument panel, which assured him that the external environment was habitable. He thumbed a large green button, and the hatchway began to unseal with a hiss of compressed gas.  Finally, it dropped open, leaving a passage to the docking bay floor.

***

Emerging from the belly of the Orion, Jobe looked around the docking bay.  His was one of the larger ships.  Many of the others were small construction and maintenance vessels, unlikely to have flown even as far as a nearby colony.  There were a few larger ships, apparently trade vessels and transports.  Jobe wondered how many were capable of interplanetary travel.  He turned.  Coming towards him from across the bay were several tall, spider-like humanoids.

The creatures each had six long limbs, and a burgundy exoskeleton.  They immediately fanned out, inspecting the ship, and attaching locks and propellant hoses.  After a moment, one of the humanoids came over to him, speaking in a voice that Jobe thought suggested unnecessarily lengthy vocal cords. His speech (it seemed to be male) was solar common, characterized by a particular rattling quality.

“Welcome to Tarsa, traveler!”  he said, in a friendly tone.

“Thank you!  And who might you be?”

“I am Hggaro,” he said. “I am the welcoming committee.  I can help you find accommodations, if you would like, and arrange for a re-supply of your ship.  If you don’t mind however, we would like to do an inspection.”

“Do you mind if I ask why?”

“Not at all.  The docking commissioner asked that I search your ship, because there has recently been a rash of smuggling through this colony.  Not simply the usual drugs, weapons, stolen spaceship components.  We recently intercepted a ship that was carrying sentient prisoners, for an unknown purpose.  It was headed for the outer comets.  The pilot ate a cyanide capsule before we could capture him.”  Jobe wasn’t surprised.  An outer colony like Tarsa would tend to attract crime, particularly if the politics of the region were unstable.

Hggaro looked, a little disparagingly Jobe thought, at the Orion.  “We don’t expect anything like that from you, of course, but the docking commissioner wished me to check.”

This seemed fair enough to Jobe, and so he gestured Hggaro inside.

“I shan’t be a minute,” said Hggaro.  He scampered up the ladder, his movements surprisingly deft as his carapace clicked up the steel rungs.  Jobe waited at the base, wondering if he should worry about tracking devices.

True to his word, Hggaro reappeared a few moments later, clacking back down the rungs.

“Your ship appears to be sound, and devoid of prisoners.  Since you’re new here, is there anything I can help you with?”  Jobe replied,

“Certainly!  I’m hoping to do some maintenance on my ship, and to find a re-supply.  Is that possible?”  The creature nodded, and its brow furrowed.

“Mm.  I believe so.  Maintenance should not be a problem – we have an excess of spare components and materials, some of which I’m sure you would be able to use.  Just ask one of the technicians, and they will provide you with what you need.  A full re-supply may be more difficult, however you should be able to find everything you need without flying to another asteroid. I recommend searching the market places here, and on other parts of Nreka, which is the name of the asteroid on which we are standing.  Now, I’m afraid I have other ships to attend to.”

At this, the spider-like humanoids crawling over the ship dropped back to the docking bay floor, and trotted off in another direction.  This was alright with Jobe – his first priority was to get some rest.  Despite the 24-hour sleep schedule he had developed during his time in space, he often found that he lost track of time when first arriving at a new colony.  For the moment, he would stay on the ship, sleeping there until a new opportunity presented itself.

***

After resting, Jobe decided to make a move on acquiring supplies, and exploring his new environment.  It had been a while since he last stretched his legs on a new colony, and he was looking forward to learning more about Tarsa.  Opening the main hatchway once again, he stepped out, and made his way towards a corridor in the side of the bay, that seemed to be an exit.

The corridor was lit by some kind of electric lamp, which cast white light on the stone walls of the asteroid.  After a few minutes, the corridor turned, opening up into a cavernous passageway.  Many of the burgundy humanoids were hurrying past, seemingly on various errands, turning into or emerging from other passageways set into the walls.  Most didn’t give Jobe a second glance.  Life elsewhere on Tarsa must be very diverse, Jobe thought, if a short, pre-space-looking humanoid failed to attract any attention.

Abruptly, the passageway opened into a huge space, that seemed to be some kind of boulevard.   Emerging from his passageway, Jobe was almost swept away in a current of people.  Some of these were the same phenotype he had seen earlier, however here there were a number of other varieties as well.

In addition to crowds of the tall, six-limbed humanoids, another dominant form was short and muscular, with a greenish tint to their skin.  A third was very pre-space human, and a fourth had hydrostatic appendages in place of any arms or legs.  Jobe noticed that the pre-space humans tended to travel in groups, set apart from the main flow of the crowd.

Along the sides of the boulevard, areas carved into the wall were sectioned off for market vendors.  This was a promising sign to Jobe.  The salespeople might not have exactly what he needed, but hopefully they could point him in the right direction.  As he stood there, one of the short, muscular humanoids approached him.  Speaking in Solar common, it said,

“Hello!  You’re a new face.  Did you just arrive here?”

“Yesterday,” Jobe replied.  “Who are you?”

“My name is Yos.  I live nearby.  Are you looking for something?”

“Thanks for asking!  I’m looking to find a re-supply for my ship. I’ve been in transit for close to three years, so I need a new source of propellant. I also need new sources of energy, both for the propulsion system and for life-support.”  The creature cracked a grin.

“Sure!” he said, “I know a friend, he can get you a power source.  Come this way!” He started off in the direction of a nearby passageway, gesturing for Jobe to follow him, and glancing over his shoulder at something Jobe couldn’t see.  Jobe followed the other humanoid closely as they pushed through a forest of burgundy exoskeletons, trying not to lose his guide as they wove through the crowd.

Ducking into the passageway, the smaller creature stopped at one of the vendor stalls, beckoning Jobe over.  Jobe approached the stall, peering into the dark space inside.  It was filled with a great many strange objects.  Some of these were high-tech gadgets, even reminiscent of the ships that had guided Jobe into Tarsa – objects with streamlined casings, clearly well-designed and powerful.  Others were less high-tech, traditional technologies whose designs had stayed in use, or had been modified for a new purpose.

Behind the stall, another of the green humanoids was standing, leaning against a shelf.  In the corner was seated one of the six-limbed humanoids.  On seeing him, it immediately rose to its feet.  Jobe felt a shock of recognition – it was the same one that had greeted him in the docking bay the day before.

“Come inside, quickly,” said Hggaro, “We have something we need to discuss.”  Jobe was taken aback by the urgency in his expression.

“What’s the matter?”

“You should know, you are dangerously out of touch with events in this part of the solar system.  Please come inside.”  Yos, the green humanoid, grasped at Jobe’s hand, pulling him in behind the counter and glancing over his shoulder again as he did so.  He pulled Jobe into a recess of the stall, where they were invisible from the street.  They were followed by Hggaro and the other green humanoid, whose name Jobe didn’t know.  Jobe began to speak, but Hggaro cut him off.

“Is your ship a t-class?”  Jobe almost yelped-

“You know about the t-class spaceships?!”  it was an ancient model, long-since out of production.  Hggaro nodded.

“I do!  Most people wouldn’t recognize them, but I’ve been the docking bay operator here for a long time, so I’ve seen my fair share of spaceships. You’re lucky it was me, and not the docking commissioner, who was overseeing the docking fields when you came in.  If she had noticed the sails, you might already be in the custody of the Telos.” Ice was rising along Jobe’s spine – wasn’t his spaceship still sitting in the bay, in plain view?

“Is there a risk someone will still notice it?”

“I think it’s hidden well enough, since the masts are concealed in their casings – most people don’t possess my expertise when it comes to recognizing spaceship models.  The docking commissioner certainly doesn’t.”  After a moment, Jobe voiced the next question on his mind,

“Who are the Telos?”

“They came here several years ago, they’re the ones that look like pre-space humans.  They’re incredibly militaristic – they wiped out our defense grid like it wasn’t there, and took over the colony’s government.  They essentially run this colony now, and they’re occupying all the central positions of power.  There are several underground resistance movements taking place, however.”

“Which you three are a part of…”

“Naturally.” Jobe wondered what he had gotten himself into.  Glancing back out at the street, he saw several of the pre-space-looking humanoids walking casually past the shop front.  Thinking for a second, he asked,

“So what’s your interest in me?”

“We brought you here to offer an exchange.  Your ship is in need of maintenance, and a re-supply, correct?”  Jobe nodded.

“I brought you here to propose a trade.  The resistance can supply you with both, while keeping you minimally involved with the Telos.”

“Go on,”

“In exchange, I have a use in mind for your ship.”

***

Chapter 5

The gigantic metal beast came crashing to the forest floor, tendrils of fungus rapidly chewing away at its metallic covering.  In a surge of rage, Arla hurled another capsule at it, which burst along its midline, scattering corrosive fibers.  The machine had taken her by surprise, nearly crushing her after it had leapt unexpectedly off the ground.  Her quick reflexes had only just saved her, and a corner of the metal had left a long gash in her side.

Ratil appeared from where she had been hiding behind the trunk of a tree.

“I think there’s someone in there!  I saw her through the window in the front.”  Thale and Ratil swept down toward the collapsed machine.

Arla dropped shakily to the ground.  Her head was spinning.  Drops of blood fell onto the tree roots, leaving small round marks in the glowing dust.  Weakly, she removed a patch of moss from the tree bark, and held it to her side.

Ten yards away, Thale was smashing through the pod’s window.  Ratil leaped in through the hole, and was dragging someone out of the wreckage, using a short knife to cut away the harness that had held her in place.  Ratil nimbly jumped out of the pod, as it collapsed further in a heap of swarming fibers, and the two Eulos laid the other humanoid down on a cluster of roots.

The two of them immediately swept over to where Arla was standing, still clutching the moss to her side and leaning against a tree trunk.

“Are you all right?” asked Thale.  Ratil bent over to take a look.

“Seems like you’re still bleeding.”

“I’ll be fine,” Arla replied.  “The other three of those things are still out there.  The two of you should go.  I’ll keep an eye on that one-” she nodded in the direction of the woman they had pulled from the wreckage.

When Thale looked concerned, she added, “Bena can stitch it up later.  I have plenty of moss here to keep the bleeding down.”  The other two looked at eachother.

“She’s right,” said Ratil.  We might be the only ones who know how to defeat them.”  A look of worry swept across her face.  “Be careful, ok?”  Arla nodded, and the two of them sped off through the tree trunks.

Arla limped over to where the other woman was lying, and looked down at her.  She was shorter than a Eulos, perhaps five-foot seven.  She had dark brown hair growing out of her scalp (something Arla didn’t have), and she was clothed in a synthetic material that seemed to interface with locations on her skin. She had a large bruise on the side of her head where it had smacked into the pod window.  She was unconscious, but still alive.

Arla felt the woman’s sides, checking for wounds or broken bones.  Aside from the contusion on her forehead, several of her ribs seemed to be broken, but Arla thought they would heal.  As Arla watched, her eyelids fluttered slightly, and she began to mutter “replace the 32nd meaning of to …” a pause.  “locate the central ethos and reverse”  this seemed puzzling.  Why would she be muttering about an ethos?  Arla stepped over to the wreckage of the machine she had been operating.  It had now almost completely disintegrated, a few tendrils of fungus competing over the last scraps of metal.  Not much to be learned there.

After the incident with the machine, Arla thought she would feel safer somewhere above the forest floor.  She carefully scooped the woman up, and launched towards the canopy, her wings straining under the extra weight.

“duplicate the great artifact.  Weapons nonfunction.  Lila, are you there?”  the woman was muttering again.

landing on an upper tree branch, Arla took stock of the situation.  She looked into the sky.  The ship was still hovering there, ominously, although the white ripples had ceased impacting the shield.  The shield itself was not in good condition.  Arla suspected only shreds of it were still functioning, throwing the occasional wave of rippling resistance into the sky.  It was lucky the ship had stopped firing.

Looking out across the sea of trees, she saw several gaping holes.  The initial four trails of smoke had been joined by several more.  She couldn’t tell if these were new trails from the sky above, or fires that had started from below. None of the Eulos were in sight.  Abruptly, the woman’s eyes flicked open.

“Kara, my name is Kara.  I’m sorry.”  Tears filled her eyes. Arla set her down on the tree limb, and stepped back.

“Don’t move, or I’ll push you off.”  The woman’s eyes glazed over, staring into the middle distance.

“Discover the central ethos and reverse.  Discover the central ethos and reverse. 9423_4923. Tarren.  Approach coordinate 993_442”  abruptly, her facial expression flicked back.  Suddenly, empathy was in her face.

“Kara.  My name is Kara.  Your name?” She hadn’t moved a muscle since Arla set her down on the tree limb.

“Arla,” She replied.

“Discover the central ethos and reverse, Arla.”

“What do you mean?”  But Kara’s eyes had snapped back to the middle distance, and she was muttering something about benevolent artifacts.  Arla thought that for a second, her eyes had flickered up to the spaceship hovering above them.

Slowly, an idea began to form in Arla’s mind.  Taking a short knife, that she kept strapped to a belt around her waist, she deftly cut a limb from the branch they were standing on.  Removing the leaves, she trimmed it until it matched her body height, and sharpened each end to a point.  Checking her belt, she still had two of the capsules containing the sentient fungus.

“Are there others in the spaceship?” she asked Kara, but the woman remained incomprehensible.  Arla thought for a moment, and decided Kara was unlikely to cause any harm if she left.  Grasping the makeshift spear, Arla bent her legs and launched upwards, wings buzzing.  This was a risky maneuver, but the ship hadn’t moved since it had stopped in place above the canopy.

As Arla continued upward, the atmosphere around the comet fell away.  Her lungs began to shut down, ceasing their rhythmic movement.  Arla slowed her heart rate to retain oxygen.  Blood flowed like molasses through her veins, speeding up only as it reached vital areas in her brain and heart.  A shiver of static washed over her skin as she passed through the shield, and was submerged in hard vacuum.  Special pigments in her skin blocked the radiation of space – this was what the Eulos were designed for.

***

The journey to the spaceship probably took less than a minute, but it seemed to take hours as Arla floated utterly still through the hard vacuum, the metallic structure growing larger in her vision.  Her heartbeats echoed like drums, pounding inside her ears every few seconds.  As she drifted closer, she increased blood flow to her hands, preparing to grab onto something, and set her sights on a protruding pipe.  At the same time, she reached down to her belt, and unclipped one of the two remaining capsules of fungus.

Sighting a likely section of bulkhead, Arla threw the capsule ahead of her, watching it burst in a circular pattern and begin to eat through the metal.  Reaching out a hand, she grabbed onto the pipe, her body flipping around as she held onto it to stop her forward motion.  As the fibers continued their feast, a burst of atmosphere released into space – she had broken through.

A stream of air was now gushing out into the vacuum, but the hull appeared to be re-sealing itself somehow.  Arla would have to be quick. Pulling herself hand over hand towards the opening, she thrust an arm in against the flow of air, and was just able to pull herself inside.  The compartment must have already been partly evacuated, or the task would have been much more difficult.  Already, the gaping hole behind her seemed to be healing, small protrusions of metal knitting themselves together to close off the opening.

As the hole behind her sealed itself, Arla caught her breath.  Oxygen was being pumped into the room.  For a moment, she took stock of the situation.  The wound in her side had begun to bleed again, and the moss was beginning to become dislodged.  Pressing it back into place, she straightened up.  She looked around the room.  It appeared to be an airlock of some kind.  There was a circular hatchway set into the far wall.  She cranked on the handle until it swung open, and stepped through the crack.

***

Chapter 6

The beams of organic alloy in the corridor’s framework shifted disconcertingly as Paran strode towards the trade officer’s quarters.  Tassa followed in his wake, urgently rattling off numbers as she flipped through a sheaf of papers attached to a clip board.

“…and two compostion monitors.  We’ll need some spare bits of steel and lashings to secure the micro-resonators back in place, and a power source for the spectrometer.  We sustained minor structural damage in two of the port repulsors, which we think was from some sort of debris,” she lowered her voice as they approached the entrance to a large, official-looking chamber.

“So, we’ll have to hope they have a way to repair cellulosic alloys.  If they don’t, I’m patching it with mycelial chitin, which is TERRIBLE for the structural rigidity –“  Paran cut her off as they walked up to a desk, behind which a grizzled Comorian bureaucrat was seated.

He looked up, regarding them over a pair of spectacles.  Paran cleared his throat –

“Hhrm – uh, hello sir.  We just docked, following the latest storm.  We’re a Chitra trade vessel, in need of repairs.”  At the word Chitra, the Comorian gave a snort.

“I’m surprised they let you dock!  Blasted nomads.  Hand over the list.”  A bit sheepishly, Tassa gave him the list.  He scrolled down its considerable length, huffing with condescension like an elderly professor.  After a long, disapproving pause, he looked up.

“As the resident quartermaster, I can tell you that we possess most of the items you are requesting.  However as I’m sure you’re aware, raw materials are not easy to come by in this part of the solar system, so the repairs won’t be cheap.”

“We’re aware,” Paran sighed.  “Is there someone who can direct us to the materials cache?”

***

A few hours later, Paran and Tassa stood in a transparent hallway overlooking the bulk of the Chitra Structure.  A number of repair bots were hovering close by, tethered to the port repulsor spheres to avoid being swept away by a particularly strong gust of wind.  From this vantage point, Paran could also see the damaged instruments protruding from several of the forward observation spheres, wincing as he thought of the small fortune it had cost to buy a new set of micro-resonators.

The tribe would recover, he thought, but in the meantime they would need to work around the clock, braving more storms and dangerous conditions to get by. The Chirtra were, essentially, nomads.  Their Structure supplied many of their basic needs such as living space and environment control, however they relied on clever navigation to find food and most other resources.  They used repulsor spheres to navigate Jupiter’s exceptionally strong electromagnetic field, also carefully controlling buoyancy to create an intricate dance around its sharply opposed current systems.

The task required a great deal of artistry, and no small quantity of luck.  Besides the difficulty inherent in finding and harvesting resources in Jupiter’s gas streams, there were rival tribes to contend with, and rogue storms such as the one that had sent them begging to the Comores.  There were several hundred Chitra aboard the structure, and the tribe had weathered many a battle, surviving situations whose outcomes were sometimes entirely uncertain.

***

Several days later, the repairs were complete, and the vessel had departed the Comorian outpost.  Mearah, a young deckhand, had been enthralled by the experience, since it was his first glimpse of Comorian culture.  Compared to the tribe’s tiny Structure of interlinked spheres and narrow passageways, the gigantic construction the Comores lived in was practically a city.

During the days at the outpost, Mearah had wandered the wide boulevards with a number of friends, spending a considerable portion of his otherwise meager resources sampling food and drink, and purchasing something he intended to treasure – a small flute.  It was white, made of some kind of bone, and beautifully carved, with twelve finger-holes.  The sound it made when he blew into it was hollow, and haunting.

There wasn’t much space on the Chitra vessel for personal possessions, so Mearah kept the flute tucked into a fold of the loose-fitting clothing they all wore, secure in a small pocket.  As the Structure drifted onward to its next destination, Mearah spent his free time in one of the hangars, working out melodies, and watching clouds drift by below.  The sound of the flute, he thought, was a bit like the sound the wind made, as it whipped between transporation tubes, and around the hangar’s gateway.

According to Mearah’s friend Sana, the Structure’s next destination was a patch of hydrocarbon clouds that the chief navigator, Tassa, had detected some distance to the North.  Paran had made a general announcement about it, but Mearah had missed it, because he was working in one of the repulsor chambers, trying to repair more damage caused by the storm.  He took Sana’s word for it – his friend was generally trustworthy, if occasionally also fond of practical jokes.

Now two weeks away from the outpost, Mearah thought they must be close to the clouds, because there was a flurry of activity taking place around the ship.  Mearah and Sana were part of a crew with five other Chitra, who were working to prepare a number of harvesters.  These were spheres, equipped with their own miniature electromagnetic repulsion drives (or ‘EMRs’, as they were called).

Also attached to the spheres were the large and complicated harvester ‘lungs’ that were used to collect precious gas mixtures.  These were sacks filled with thousands of alveoli-like bubbles that expanded and contracted in response to electric stimuli.  The constant motion kept air flowing over the immense surface area inside the bubbles, where precious compounds could be captured by a bacterial ecosystem, that lived inside them.  The bacteria could then also sort the many different compounds, collecting them in compartments inside the lung.

As elegant as the design was, the lungs were bulky, and incredibly difficult to handle in high winds.  They were attached to the harvesters by a set of cables, that trailed behind the craft.  Every time the lungs expanded, they acted like a sail, dragging the harvester in whichever direction the wind happened to be blowing.  Mearah thought this problem could be solved, if there were a way to locate the lungs inside the spheres, or at least mount them directly onto the exterior.  He’d drawn up plans for their modification, which he hoped would someday be recognized.

Mearah and Sana were clipping cables to the outside of the harvester spheres, hauling the lungs into place behind them.  Sana asked,

“Are you going out with the harvesters later?”

“I’m counting on it.  You?”  Flying was one thing Mearah rarely missed out on, and it was something he considered himself extremely good at.

“As always,” Sana replied.

***

A few hours later, a large group of Chitra had assembled in the hangar, and were loading themselves into the spheres.  At Mearah’s touch, the material of the sphere rippled away, leaving a circular opening through which he could climb.  Inside the sphere, there was a large suspended harness, which doubled as an inertia dampener, and part of the sphere’s control mechanism.  Around the harness were a variety of screens and panels, with more controls on them.  Lashing himself in place, he waited for the hangar doors to open.

A voice came on over the communications system – it was Kole, the first mate.

“Harvesters, stick close together, we’ll be flying in formation in case anyone’s sphere is damaged.  Gliders, stand by to ferry the containers back to the ship.”  Mearah flicked at a lever, and the EMR drive began to hum.  The sphere floated in its housing, the lashings creaking.  A rush of sound entered the hangar, as the doors began to slide back, exposing the bay to the wind.  Fortunately, the noise was automatically dampened after a moment by the sphere’s walls.  Pressing another lever, the housing slid away, and the sphere leapt forward through the gateway.

Turning, Mearah could see sphere after sphere issuing through the hangar doors.  From another hangar some distance above, the lighter ‘gliders’ were taking flight.  These were resiliently built, winged craft, with a pair of powerful jet engines on either side of the cockpit.  Mearah had flown in gliders several times, and he hoped one day he would be able to build one of his own.

Having gained some distance from the ship, the harvester spheres were beginning to organize into a formation.  The conditions up here were excellent – it was a good day to be flying, although they were still high in the atmosphere.  Looking down, Mearah could see a roiling river of orange cloud several thousand meters below.  The precious gas, he knew, would be deeper down, where the atmosphere’s pressure compressed it to high densities, in a semi-liquid state.

In front of him, the harvester spheres were grouping themselves together, preparing for the descent.  Mearah counted twenty-six spheres in total, each dragging its own harvester lung behind it like a weathervane – it was a surprisingly small number, given the importance of their mission.  After a moment, the craft at the base of the formation began to descend, and Mearah followed suit, slowly pushing forward on the buoyancy control lever.

Plunging down towards the orange river, the formation began to gather speed, dropping faster and faster as the spheres lost buoyancy.  After a moment, clouds were rushing past them, and the visibility had dropped to a few feet.  Mearah checked his proximity monitor, to make sure he was still in the formation.  Breaking through the first layer of clouds, the craft passed through a brief patch of clear air.  Pale sunlight was still filtering through here, and a yellow-tinted horizon was visible many miles away.

Below, a deep, rust colored air current was sweeping across the landscape, displacing patches of quickly rising vapor.  Visibility dropped after a few more moments, and the landscape outside was obscured in a thick, yellow haze.  Mearah’s EMR began to whine as the sphere was buffeted by air currents, the trailing harvester lungs swinging back and forth.  Kole’s voice came on again over the communications channel.

“Keep an eye on your spectrometers, so you know when you’re inside the gas cloud.  We’ll travel back up in groups of four to give our containers to the gliders once they’re full.  Watch out for the stronger air currents, and don’t get swept away!”

The formation broke through another cloud barrier.  It was much darker this far down, with most of the light blocked by layers upon layers of cloud.  The air currents were also denser, buffeting the craft back and forth.  Visibility was low, though Mearah could still see more roiling currents churning away below.  All around him, the spheres had switched on internal lighting, appearing like luminescent organisms descending through the darkness.

***

Chapter 7

Damn.  Inwardly, Jobe felt a sense of resignation setting in.  A military take-over. Colonizing pre-space humans.  An underground resistance movement.  He had hoped to stay disconnected with Tarsa’s politics, but it seemed like some kind of involvement was inevitable, and fast approaching.

“Before I join your mission,” he said to Hggaro, “One thing’s still bothering me.  What interest do the Telos have in my ship?  Why shouldn’t I just go to them for a re-supply?”

“Solar sails,” said Hggaro, “are a rare piece of technology these days.  even less likely is finding someone who knows how to operate them.”  This seemed reasonable enough to Jobe.  As knowledge of the old systems faded, ancient technology had sometimes become extremely valuable in the solar economy.  If the Telos realized his ship possessed solar sails, there was a good chance they would confiscate them, and him, in the hope of reverse-engineering them.

Generally speaking, Jobe felt he could trust Hggaro.  The strange looking, eight limbed humanoid was, apparently, a native of Tarsa, someone who would have been present before the fighting broke out in this portion of the Solar System.  There were also very few people who knew about the t-class spaceships these days, and the fact that Hggaro knew so much might even suggest that he was connected in some way with Jobe’s own mission.

“Have you heard of the Myth of the Taurus?”  Asked Hggaro.

The name of the myth evoked an image in Jobe’s mind.  An ancient ship, lost in space.  Traveling at sub-light speeds in an unknown orbit.  It went by other names as well: The Daedelus. The Green Comet.  It was a ghost ship.

“I know the myth,” Jobe replied.  “what does it have to do with your resistance movement?”

“The Taurus is the destination.  I need you to find them, and deliver something.”

“And how the hell do expect me to do that?”  there was an uncomfortable pause.

“We haven’t figured that part out yet.”  As the myth had it, the Taurus was a ship from the ancient civilization – built long ago, when the solar empire was in its prime.  Its purpose and its orbit were unknown, perhaps ever-changing.  Rumors of the ship were constantly cropping up, from pilots who reported to have seen or encountered it.  Of course, these reports were highly unreliable since some pilots claimed an ‘encounter’ every time a strange light went off on the dashboard.

Nonetheless, Jobe thought the existence of the ship was entirely possible, even probable given the similarities between the pilot’s descriptions.  They all seemed to agree about a long trail of radioactive material and other emissions, following the object.  The reports often described a brief flash of light, followed by an expanding green-tinted trail, which interfered with their instruments.  Besides which, any pilot who traveled the solar system these days was likely to encounter remnants of the old civilization.  Ruins, artifacts, ancient hazards – it was unavoidable.

“Listen,” said Hggaro.  “We have reason to believe the Taurus has had dealings with Tarsa in the past.”  This got Jobe’s attention.

“How so?”

“I can explain, but first we need to make a delivery closer to home.  Are you with me?”  Jobe was still uncertain,

“Just one thing – that story about the sentient prisoners.  Was that real?” Hggaro chuckled.

“Not at all – I just wanted to look at your ship!”  relieved, Jobe nodded.

“Alright, let’s do this.”

***

Yos, peering out from behind the counter, beckoned the other three – Hggaro, Jobe, and the other green-skinned humanoid, who had been listening wordlessly to their conversation.  Still behind the counter, they gathered round.  Yos said,

“We need to get to the meeting place.  Preferably without running into any patrols, since they might be suspicious of Jobe.  The stealthiest route goes outside.  Until then, just…try not to look too pre-space human.”  Thanks, thought Jobe that’s really helpful.  Yos was drawing a map on a small piece of paper, which he handed to Jobe.

“We’ll split up to avoid attracting attention, and meet again at the exit.  Here’s how you get to it,” the map was tangle of passageways and tunnels.

“Good luck!” the three humanoids vanished into the crowd beyond the shop.  Jobe was hyper-conscious of his appearance.  As the only pre-space human in the crowd who was not a Telos, he stood out horribly.  He realized now just how lucky he was to have avoided being questioned by one before now.

Stepping outside the shop, he started off in the direction Yos had indicated, trying to stay as inconspicuous as possible, and watching closely for any Telos in the area.  After a moment, he realized that he could blend in well by walking amid groups of the six-legged humanoids, who were all taller than him.

Relaxing his guard a little, he took a moment to look more closely at this bizarre underground city.  The path he was on, he realized, was actually a walkway, set into the side of a larger shaft that reached down into the depths of the asteroid.  All along the shaft’s sides, open caverns had been carved into the rock.  Each layer down, it seemed, was a bustling market-place.  The streets were connected to one another by transports, that moved along wire tethers suspended above the dark shaft.  Every so often, some kind of vehicle would wind its way between the cables, working its way up or down seemingly independent of gravity.

Turning down several corridors, Jobe moved away from the shaft.  He was now in another cavernous passageway, that slanted down towards a series of buildings set into the wall – dwelling places, he thought.  Reaching the end of the hallway, he turned into another tunnel, this one poorly lit.  Making his way forward, he pushed through a crowd of a new kind of humanoid he hadn’t seen before, short and squat with a kind of shell-like plating over their arms and shoulders.

Momentarily distracted, Jobe almost didn’t notice a group of three Telos headed directly towards him through the crowd.  A jolt of fear clenching his gut, he quickly tried to side-step into a dark doorway.  This met with failure, because another of the shell-humanoids had already been standing there.  Rebounding off its shoulder pads, Jobe stumbled directly into one of the passing Telos.  Turning, it said,

“Watch where you’re going!”  before Jobe could vanish into the crowd, one of its friends had placed a hand on his shoulder.

“Hello – you’re not from around here…  did you come in recently?”  Jobe’s mind was racing to come up with a reply.  He settled on,

“Yes – just yesterday.”

“Did you file for identification papers?”  The Telos had short brown hair, and blue eyes.  He was slightly taller than Jobe.

“Yes…”

“We’ll have to take you back to the docking bay – travelers aren’t allowed out of the hangar until they have identification papers.”  Something about the thing’s manner was strange.  Jobe had met humans from the original lineage before – those who had established societies before humanity’s phenotype began to blur.  Jobe himself had a lineage that was mostly pre-space human.  He couldn’t put his finger on what, exactly, was different about this one.  Something about him caused chills to run down Jobe’s spine.

At that moment, something moved in the corner of his eye.  The two Telos standing beside the one directly in front of him abruptly collapsed.  The third Telos whirled around, to be confronted by several of the large, shelled humanoids standing around them in a semi-circle.  A cuff to the head sent the final Telos sprawling on the ground.

“Gramm.  You must be Jobe,”  said one, extending its hand as the unconscious Telos were dragged away.  The other shelled humanoids on the street seemed not to have noticed anything unusual.

“Where exactly are you trying to get to?” asked Gramm.  Wordlessly, Jobe handed him the map.  Gramm considered it for a moment, then nodded.

“Ah.  There’s a much better way to get there.  Streets are not safe for travelers.  Follow me.”  Ducking into yet another dark doorway, Jobe followed Gramm through a narrow hallway.  They came to a dark stairwell, with a ladder that reached to the ceiling.  Climbing up the ladder, Gramm displaced a large grate, and clambered into the hole.  Jobe followed, finding himself in a low-ceilinged tunnel.  Here, the air was instantly colder, and the rocks around him had a sharp texture, as though freshly chiseled.

“Close to the surface now,” Gramm mentioned.  “Almost to the exit hatchway.”  Taller than Jobe, Gramm was moving forward on hands and knees.  Jobe could get by, by bending mostly double while he shuffled forwards.

Up ahead, Jobe heard the sound of another grate being shoved aside.  Gramm’s shape disappeared, to be replaced by a small square of light.  Climbing out of the hole on a ladder, Jobe found himself in a small chamber, with hatches on either side.  The two green-skinned humanoids from the shop were already there.  Yos was opening one of the hatchways, he beckoned Jobe inside.

Through the hatchway was what appeared to be an entrance to a small dwelling.  Inside, seated on cushions, were a motley assortment of humanoids, all the types Jobe had identified before now (excluding the Telos), as well as a number of new ones.  Jobe counted seventeen individuals in total.  They were having a heated discussion, which ceased when the four entered.  A tall, gangly humanoid of a type Jobe hadn’t seen before, stood up to beckon them inside, indicating that they should sit together in a corner, with several open cushions.

“Ah, yes.  We heard there was a new arrival.  We are greatly honored by your assistance.”

“There’s one more still coming,” Yos mentioned, looking slightly worried.

Chapter 8

Units two and five, nonfunction.  Drone #347 incursion detected.  Reconfigure weapons priority. Kara’s eyelids flickered.  She groaned.  The dispersed component contains repeated compounding intricacies. Withdraw remaining assets.  Syllogism 42339 complete.

A pair of faces swam into focus.  There were voices speaking, though not in Solar Common.  Probably a local dialect, Kara realized.  Opening her eyes more fully, she tried to sit up, gasping at the pain in her ribs.  One of the figures crouched down to speak to her.

“Where did Arla go?  Did she leave you here?”  Kara’s memory of the last few hours was shaky.  Gingerly, she pressed a hand to her forehead, not quite trusting herself to speak.  After a moment, she said

“Up there.  I think she went to the ship.”  One of the tall humanoids swore under its breath.  The two began talking to one another again, in hurried tones.  At that moment, Kara noticed a rumbling noise in the background.  The two humanoids had noticed it too.  A moment later, Kara saw two columns of smoke appear over the horizon.  At the tip of each column, she knew, was one of the beast-like metallic pods, blasting up through the atmosphere to return to the main ship.

“You’d better move quickly!”  she said to the humanoids, “They’re leaving.  They’ll take your friend with them.” The two reacted visibly to her words.  There was a hurried exchange, and then they leapt into the air, leaving Kara behind on the tree branch. Exhausted by the effort of speaking, Kara was drifting backwards into blackness once more.

***

It was two months later, and Kara’s wounds had begun to heal.  The Eulos had treated her with surprising kindness, she thought, given the damage her people had inflicted on their small world.  There were gaping holes visible in the forest canopy, easily visible from the top of the metallic sleeping disk on which Kara spent most of her time.

She had, in fact, been quite carefully nursed back to health, mostly by the two Eulos named Marthos and Bena.  The rest of the tribe had either shown curiosity towards her or, more frequently, ambivalence.  The only two she was still wary of were Thale and Ratil, the ones who had been Arla’s friends.  From what she had seen, she thought she would eventually be able to win their trust, however for the moment the wounds were still too raw.

During the first few weeks of Kara’s captivity, her existence had seemed lifeless and dull.  Expecting at any moment to be killed or interrogated by her captors, she had stayed huddled in one of the small sleeping depressions for a considerable length of time, despite the lack of any physical restraints.  Marthos and Bena visited her frequently during this period, examining her injuries, and bringing her food (a grayish, pearlike fruit that apparently grew on the gigantic, turquoise-leaved trees) and water.

Several times, they had asked her about her people, and about Arla.  More frequently than not, Kara found herself unable to answer, and the questioning sessions left her feeling confused and frustrated.  Who was she?  What was her purpose?  Her memory was a blur of incomprehensible, abstract images and emotions.

To make matters worse, the Voice had continued to speak inside Kara’s mind, particularly at night.  It’s tone was logical and pragmatic, creating long lists of numbers or symbols, though its words were utter gibberish.  Occasionally she would feel strong twinges of emotion or synesthesia, completely unrelated to her immediate surroundings.  It had taken Kara a full month to leave the sleeping depression.

One evening, she’d been watching the sun’s rays slant through the depression’s opening, brushing against the strange alloy the Eulos had used to build the sleeping disks.  She found herself appreciating the soft quality of the light, and the strange texture of the alloy that seemed to absorb the light, reflecting it without any glare or harshness.  She realized there was nothing holding her inside, so she stepped out onto the lightly-slanted roof of the disk.

The rest of the Eulos, it seemed, were gathered in the center of the disk, engaged in some kind of ritual – she could hear a strange, unearthly chanting.  They didn’t seem to take any notice of her, standing and watching from some distance away, so she turned and sat facing outwards.  After a while, Marthos joined her.

“How long have your people lived here?”  She asked him,

“For generations,” he replied, “As long as we can remember.  It’s possible there used to be more of us, but our histories were destroyed long ago before we colonized this place.  Our ancestors also lived on comets, that much we know.”

“How do you know that?”  Asked Kara.  Marthos gestured at the small flaps on his back that concealed his wings.

“It’s in our biology.  How else would we have evolved into such a well-adapted form?”  Kara laughed.  Of course!  The logic was clear.  Marthos asked,

“Do you have a homeworld?”  Then it hit her,

“Titan,” she whispered.  “I was born on Titan.”

***


“Legends of Earth” #4

The clock on the wall read sixty-eight thousand, eight hundred fifty eight hours, sixteen minutes, thirty five seconds.  Jobe swung his legs out of the bunk for what he figured was probably the two thousand, eight hundred, sixty-ninth time, and placed his bare feet on the floor.  Reaching up beside his head, he pulled the oil-stained red rubber gloves down from their clip, and stood up, pacing out onto the steel walkway that lead to the control room.

Outside the main window, a vast expanse of stars was visible.  Far away from the sun, and any planetary light source, there was nothing to impede rays of light flowing from the distant spheres.  In fact, the light was bright enough to read by, and Jobe pulled out a star chart, unrolling it on the space below the dashboard.  Taking note of an instrument that measured his distance from the sun, he made several marks on the chart, calculating his trajectory.

Glancing up at the darkness beyond the window, he drew several vector lines, then scratched them out.  Hunching over, he wrote a small note on the paper.  He chewed the end of his pencil, underlined something twice, then set it down in frustration.  Early in his career, finding a safe harbor in Neptune’s vicinity would have been a simple matter of contacting one of the colonies in artificial orbit along the planet’s trajectory.  In the past, he used to plan his run to allow for a stop-off at Poze or Teko.  Poze used to have the best maintenance bays in the system, as well as some incredible mountain chains.

On Teko, he had once spent several months exploring a system of caverns that ran through the center of an asteroid.  The caverns were colonized by bacteria that synthesized organic compounds from the chemicals in the asteroid’s walls.  A variety of creatures fed on the bacteria, and the caverns had evolved into a bizarre labyrinth, filled with fern-like plants that grew in total darkness.  He traveled carrying only a torch and a small backpack, occasionally capturing and cooking the small creatures that lived in crevices in the walls.  They reminded him of a picture he had once seen of a marmot, from humanity’s pre-space days.

Since Jobe had become a pilot, Poze and Teko had both been caught up in the war, and they were now extremely dangerous places to be, experiencing frequent power shifts as various factions competed over their resources and strategic location.  Poze, last he heard, had been taken over by the Telos, and was currently under military rule.  Teko at various times had been used as an industrial processing plant for the creation of warships, and its biosphere had collapsed under the intensive use.

After calculating, and subsequently scratching out several more vector lines on his chart, Jobe settled on a small asteroid colony, several hundred thousand kilometers above the orbit path of the planet.  As he input the vector into the ship’s computer, the view beyond the window began to shift – the spaceship was re-orienting itself for deceleration. Flipping several switches, he glanced up as a light appeared on the dashboard.  The light indicated that inertia fields had come online, however he wanted to double-check this, since without them he would be instantly crushed the moment the ship began to decelerate.  Listening closely, he noted a slight static hum in the background, which indicated that the fields were active.  Finally, he pressed down a large, glowing dial on the instrument panel, which clicked.

Crack.  A flash of brilliant light swept past the window.  Crack…  Crack…  The inertia fields, and the enormous shock absorber at the base of the spaceship captured most of the impact from the fission-based propulsion system.  Due to a statistical anomaly in the fields, Jobe had never quite been able to eliminate the sound of the explosions.  It felt a bit like living above a shooting gallery, but he had gotten used to it over the years, at times even thinking of it fondly as the ship’s heartbeat.

***

Several hours later, the explosions ceased.  Jobe extracted himself from a recess of the wall, where he had been tinkering with the ship’s superconducting power storage system.  The system stored massive quantities of electrical energy, but had to be kept below a certain temperature to avoid bursting into flames.

Setting down his tools, he clambered up a ladder, and moved once again up the steel ramp to the control room.  Through the window, the asteroid colony was visible as a several clusters of violet specks, the dark shapes of the asteroids themselves rotating slowly against the stars.  Jobe turned a dial, and a hiss of static came through the receiver.  Checking through several frequencies, he eventually found what seemed like the correct transmission.

“…to unidentified ship, please state your intention.  Tarsa colony to unidentified ship, please state your intention.”  They were using the common tongue, that had been developed on Earth as colonization attempts were beginning.

“Spaceship Orion to Tarsa colony, this is Jobe speaking.  Is there a docking bay available?”  A pause.

“Spaceship Orion, message received.  We have a docking bay available.  Please hold course and await an escort.”  After a few seconds, Jobe noticed a pair of silhouettes, flanking the Orion on either side.  The shapes were streamlined, and nearly invisible against the blackness of space, outfitted with reflective fields.  The disparity was striking.  How could they have sleek fighters like these at their disposal, and still be working with such archaic communications technology?

Holding his course, Jobe watched the first of the behemoth asteroids slide past in his window, covered with flickering violet light sources.  Was the lighting intentional, something to see by?  Combustion from some kind of industrial process?  Jobe couldn’t tell.  The silhouettes on either side of the ship turned and slid to the right, and Jobe felt his controls taken over by an automatic docking system.

***

The docking bay was a slot set into the wall of a shaft, that dropped further into the asteroid.  Jobe winced as docking fields manhandled the Orion into place, hoping the slot was large enough to accommodate the ship’s long tail.  Instead of the standard bulky hydraulics most spaceships would have used for a shock absorber, Jobe had personally engineered a system that used flexible carbon-fiber ‘legs’ to capture the force of the propulsion system.

The legs functioned like a bow and arrow, or a pair of gigantic frog legs.  They flexed back and forth to catapult the ship through space, splaying out and retracting with each blast.  He was very proud of the way the lightweight design maximized propellant efficiency and acceleration, but docking bay operators had never seemed to appreciate this.  Fortunately, these particular fields seemed fairly precise, and the ship touched down after only a minor re-orientation.

Jobe took a breath.  Now for the complicated part.  If there hadn’t been a critical need for maintenance and re-supply, he never would have stopped at an unknown colony.  He knew next to nothing about Tarsa, its inhabitants, its affiliations or loyalties.  Perhaps they’ll be controlled by the Comores, he thought. If this were still the case, he could probably get by – the Comores were one of the longest-standing solar empires.  he had spent time in Comorian colonies in the past, and understood the basics of their culture.  During a lengthy stay on a Comorian trade ship, he had even started to pick up some of the language, which would be a great help.

Descending the ladder, Jobe entered the ship’s main hatchway, which began to unseal with a hiss of compressed gas.  He double-checked the readings on the hatchway’s instrument panel, which assured him that the external environment was habitable.  He thumbed a large green button, and the hatchway dropped open, leaving a passage to the docking bay floor.

***

Emerging from the belly of the Orion, Jobe looked around the docking bay.  His was by far the largest ship, and seemed to be the only vessel capable of interplanetary travel.  Most of the others were small construction and maintenance ships, unlikely to have flown even as far as a nearby colony.  Jobe turned.  Coming towards him from across the bay were several tall, spider-like humanoids.

The creatures each had six long limbs, and a burgundy exoskeleton.  They immediately fanned out, inspecting the ship, and attaching locks and propellant hoses.  After a moment, one of the humanoids came over to him, speaking in a voice that Jobe thought suggested unnecessarily lengthy vocal cords. His speech (it seemed to be male) was solar common, characterized by a particular rattling quality.

“Welcome to Tarsa, traveler!”  he said, in a friendly tone.

“Thank you!  And who might you be?”

“I am Hggaro,” he said. “I am the welcoming committee.  I can help you find accommodations, if you would like, and arrange for a re-supply of your ship.  If you don’t mind however, we would like to do an inspection.”

“Do you mind if I ask why?”

“Not at all.  The docking commissioner asked that I search your ship, because there has recently been a rash of smuggling through this colony.  Not simply the usual drugs, weapons, stolen spaceship components.  We recently intercepted a ship that was carrying sentient prisoners, for an unknown purpose.  It was headed for the outer comets.  The pilot ate a cyanide capsule before we could capture him.”  Jobe wasn’t surprised.  An outer colony like Tarsa would tend to attract crime, particularly if the politics of the region were unstable.

Hggaro looked, a little disparagingly Jobe thought, at the Orion.  “We don’t expect anything like that from you, of course, but the docking commissioner wished me to check.”

This seemed fair enough to Jobe, and so he gestured Hggaro inside.

“I shan’t be a minute,” said Hggaro.  He scampered up the ladder, his movements surprisingly deft as his carapace clicked up the steel rungs.  Jobe waited at the base, wondering if he should worry about tracking devices.

True to his word, Hggaro reappeared a few moments later, clacking back down the rungs.

“Your ship appears to be sound, and devoid of prisoners.  Since you’re new here, is there anything I can help you with?”  Jobe replied,

“Certainly!  I’m hoping to do some maintenance on my ship, and to find a re-supply.  Is that possible?”  The creature nodded, and its brow furrowed.

“Mm.  I believe so.  Maintenance should not be a problem – we have an excess of spare components and materials, some of which I’m sure you would be able to use.  Just ask one of the technicians, and they will provide you with what you need.  A full re-supply may be more difficult, however you should be able to find everything you need without flying to another asteroid. I recommend searching the market places here, and on other parts of Nreka, which is the name of the asteroid on which we are standing.  Now, I’m afraid I have other ships to attend to.”

At this, the spider-like humanoids crawling over the ship dropped back to the docking bay floor, and trotted off in another direction.  This was alright with Jobe – his first priority was to get some rest.  Despite the 24-hour sleep schedule he had developed during his time in space, he often found that he lost track of time when first arriving at a new colony.  For the moment, he would stay on the ship, sleeping there until a new opportunity presented itself.

***

The next morning, Jobe was delighted to be woken by something resembling daylight – a violet-tinted light, that filtered in through the Orion’s small windows. Rising from his hammock, he decided to make a move on acquiring supplies, and exploring his new environment.  It had been a while since he last stretched his legs on a new colony, and he was looking forward to learning more about Tarsa.  Opening the main hatchway once again, he stepped out, and made his way towards a corridor in the side of the bay, that seemed to be an exit.

The corridor was lit by some kind of electric lamp, which cast white light on the stone walls of the asteroid.  After a few minutes, the corridor turned, opening up into a cavernous passageway.  Many of the burgundy humanoids were hurrying past, seemingly on various errands, turning into or emerging from other passageways set into the walls.  Most didn’t give Jobe a second glance.

Abruptly, the passageway opened into a huge space, that seemed to be some kind of boulevard.   Emerging from his passageway, Jobe was almost swept away in a current of people.  Some of these were the same type he had seen earlier, however here there were a number of other varieties as well.

In addition to crowds of the tall, six-limbed humanoids, another dominant archetype was short and muscular, with a greenish tint to their skin.  A third was very pre-space human, and a fourth had several hydrostatic appendages.  These were tentacle-like limbs, that had some kind of adhesive quality – Jobe saw several of them climbing along the ceiling or the walls, the appendages seeming to burrow themselves into the solid rock.

Along the sides of the boulevard, areas carved into the wall were sectioned off for market vendors.  This was a promising sign to Jobe.  The salespeople might not have exactly what he needed, but hopefully they could point him in the right direction.  As he stood there, one of the short, green humanoids approached him.  Speaking in Solar common, it said,

“Hello!  You’re a new face.  Did you just arrive here?”

“Yesterday,” Jobe replied.  “Who are you?”

“My name is Yos.  I live nearby.  Are you looking for something?”

“Thanks for asking!  I’m looking to find a re-supply for my ship. I’ve been in transit for close to three years, so I need a new source of propellant. I also need new sources of energy, both for the propulsion system and for life-support.”  The creature cracked a grin.

“Sure!” he said, “I know a friend, he can get you a power source.  Come this way!” He started off in the direction of a nearby passageway, gesturing for Jobe to follow him, and glancing over his shoulder at something Jobe couldn’t see.  Jobe followed the other humanoid closely as they pushed through a forest of burgundy exoskeletons, trying not to lose his guide as they wove through the crowd.

Ducking into the passageway, the smaller creature stopped at one of the vendor stalls, beckoning Jobe over.  Jobe approached the stall, peering into the dark space inside.  It was filled with a great many strange objects.  Some of these were high-tech gadgets, even reminiscent of the ships that had guided Jobe into Tarsa – objects with streamlined casings, clearly well-designed and powerful.  Others were less high-tech, traditional technologies whose designs had stayed in use, or had been modified for a new purpose.

Behind the stall, another green humanoid was standing, leaning against a shelf.  In the corner was seated one of the six-limbed humanoids.  On seeing him, it immediately rose to its feet.  Jobe felt a shock of recognition – it was the same one that had greeted him in the docking bay the day before.

“Come inside, quickly,” said Hggaro, “We have something we need to discuss.”  Jobe was taken aback by the urgency in his expression.

“What’s the matter?”

“You should know, you are dangerously out of touch with events in this part of the solar system.  Please come inside.”  Yos, the green humanoid, grasped at Jobe’s hand, pulling him in behind the counter and glancing over his shoulder again as he did so.  He pulled Jobe into a recess of the stall, where they were invisible from the street.  They were followed by Hggaro and the other green humanoid, whose name Jobe didn’t know.  Jobe began to speak, but Hggaro cut him off.

“Is your ship a t-class?”  Jobe almost yelped-

“You know about the t-class spaceships?!”  it was an ancient model, long-since out of production.  Hggaro nodded.

“I do!  Most people wouldn’t recognize them, but I’ve been the docking bay operator here for a long time, so I’ve seen my fair share of spaceships. You’re lucky it was me, and not the docking commissioner, who was overseeing the docking fields when you came in.  If she had noticed the sails, you might already be in the custody of the Telos.” Ice was rising along Jobe’s spine – wasn’t his spaceship still sitting in the bay, in plain view?

“Is there a risk someone will still notice it?”

“I think it’s hidden well enough, since the masts are concealed in the casings – most people don’t possess my expertise when it comes to recognizing spaceship models.  The docking commissioner certainly doesn’t.”  After a moment, Jobe voiced the next question on his mind,

“Who are the Telos?”

“They came here several years ago.  They look like pre-space humans, but they’re incredibly militaristic.  They wiped out our defense grid like it wasn’t there, and took over the colony’s government.  They essentially run this colony now, and they’re occupying all the central positions of power.  There are several underground resistance movements taking place, however.”

“Which you three are a part of…”

“Naturally.” Jobe wondered what he had gotten himself into.  Glancing back out at the street, he saw several of the pre-space-looking humanoids walking casually past the shop front.  Thinking for a second, he asked,

“So what’s your interest in me?”

“We brought you here to offer an exchange.  Your ship is in need of maintenance, and a re-supply, correct?”  Jobe nodded.

“I brought you here to propose a trade.  The resistance can supply you with both, while keeping you minimally involved with the Telos.  In exchange, I have a use in mind for your ship.”

“Go on,”

“Smuggling.”

***

The gigantic metal beast came crashing to the forest floor, tendrils of fungus rapidly chewing away at its metallic covering.  In a surge of rage, Arla hurled another capsule at it, which burst along its midline, scattering corrosive fibers.  The machine had taken her by surprise, nearly crushing her after it had leapt unexpectedly off the ground.  Her quick reflexes had only just saved her, and a corner of the metal had left a long gash in her side.

Ratil appeared from where she had been hiding behind the trunk of a tree.

“I think there’s someone in there!  I saw her through the window in the front.”  Thale and Ratil swept down towards the collapsed machine.

Arla dropped shakily to the ground.  Her head was spinning.  Drops of blood fell onto the tree roots, leaving small round marks in the glowing dust.  Weakly, she removed a patch of moss from the tree bark, and held it to her side.

Ten yards away, Thale was smashing through the pod’s window.  Ratil leaped in through the hole, and was dragging someone out of the wreckage, using a short knife to cut away the harness that had held her in place.  Ratil nimbly jumped out of the pod, as it collapsed further in a heap of swarming fibers, and the two Eulos laid the other humanoid down on a cluster of roots.

The two of them immediately swept over to where Arla was standing, still clutching the moss to her side and leaning against a tree trunk.

“Are you all right?” asked Thale.  Ratil bent over to take a look.

“Seems like you’re still bleeding.”

“I’ll be fine,” Arla replied.  “The other three of those things are still out there.  The two of you should go.  I’ll keep an eye on that one-” she nodded in the direction of the woman they had pulled from the wreckage.

When Thale looked concerned, she added, “Bena can stitch it up later.  I have plenty of tree moss here to keep the bleeding down.”  The other two looked at eachother.

“She’s right,” said Ratil.  We might be the only ones who know how to defeat them.”  A look of worry swept across her face.  “Be careful, ok?”  Arla nodded, and the two of them sped off through the tree trunks.

Arla limped over to where the other woman was lying, and looked down at her.  She was shorter than a Eulos, perhaps five-foot seven.  she had dark brown hair growing out of her scalp (something Arla didn’t have), and she was clothed in something synthetic that seemed to interface with locations on her skin. She had a large bruise on her head where it had smacked into the pod window.  She was unconscious, but still alive.

Arla felt the woman’s sides, checking for wounds or broken bones.  Aside from the contusion on her forehead, several of her ribs seemed to be broken, but Arla thought they would heal.  As Arla watched, her eyelids fluttered slightly, and she began to mutter “replace the 32nd meaning of to …” a pause.  “locate the central ethos and reverse”  this seemed puzzling.  Why would she be muttering about an ethos?  Arla stepped over to the wreckage of the machine she had been operating.  It had now almost completely disintegrated, a few tendrils of fungus competing over the last scraps of metal.  Not much to be learned there.

After the incident with the machine, Arla thought she would feel safer somewhere above the forest floor.  She carefully scooped the woman up, and launched towards the canopy, her wings straining under the extra weight.

“duplicate the great artifact.  Weapons nonfunction.  Lila, are you there?”  the woman was muttering again.

landing on an upper tree branch, Arla took stock of the situation.  She looked into the sky.  The ship was still hovering there, ominously, although the white ripples had ceased impacting the shield.  The shield itself was not in good condition.  Arla suspected only shreds of it were still functioning, throwing the occasional wave of rippling resistance into the sky.  It was lucky the ship had stopped firing.

Looking out across the sea of trees, she saw several gaping holes.  The initial four trails of smoke had been joined by several more.  She couldn’t tell if these were new trails from the sky above, or fires that had started from below. None of the Eulos were in sight.  Abruptly, the woman’s eyes flicked open.

“Kara, my name is Kara.  I’m sorry.”  Tears filled her eyes. Arla set her down on the tree limb, and stepped back.

“Don’t move, or I’ll push you off.”  The woman’s eyes glazed over, staring into the middle distance.

“Discover the central ethos and reverse.  Discover the central ethos and reverse. 9423_4923. Tarren.  Approach coordinate 993_442”  abruptly, her facial expression flicked back.  Suddenly, empathy was in her face.

“Kara.  My name is Kara.  Your name?” She hadn’t moved a muscle since Arla set her down on the tree limb.

“Arla,” She replied.

“Discover the central ethos and reverse, Arla.”

“What do you mean?”  But Kara’s eyes had snapped back to the middle distance, and she was muttering something about benevolent artifacts.  Arla thought that for a second, her eyes had flickered up to the spaceship hovering above them.

Slowly, an idea began to form in Arla’s mind.  Taking a short knife (the Eulos each kept one of these, strapped to a belt around their waist), she deftly cut a limb from the branch they were standing on.  Removing the leaves, she trimmed it until it matched her body height, and sharpened each end to a point.  Checking her belt, she still had two of the capsules containing the sentient fungus.

“Are there others in the spaceship?” she asked Kara, but the woman remained incomprehensible.  Arla thought for a moment, and decided Kara was unlikely to cause any harm if she left.  Grasping the makeshift spear, Arla bent her legs and launched upwards, wings buzzing.  This was a risky maneuver, but the ship hadn’t moved since it had stopped in place above the canopy.

As Arla continued upward, the atmosphere around the comet fell away.  Her lungs began to shut down, ceasing their rhythmic movement.  Arla slowed her heart rate to retain oxygen.  Blood flowed like molasses through her veins, speeding up only as it reached vital areas in her brain and heart.  A shiver of static washed over her skin as she passed through the shield, and was submerged in hard vacuum.  Special pigments in her skin blocked the radiation of space – this was what the Eulos were designed for.

***

The journey to the spaceship probably took less than a minute, but it seemed to take hours as Arla floated utterly still through the hard vacuum, the metallic structure growing larger in her vision.  Her heartbeats echoed like drums, pounding inside her ears every few seconds.  As she drifted closer, she increased blood flow to her hands, preparing to grab onto something, and set her sights on a protruding pipe.  At the same time, she reached down to her belt, and unclipped one of the two remaining capsules of fungus.

Sighting a likely section of bulkhead, Arla threw the capsule ahead of her, watching it burst in a circular pattern and begin to eat through the metal.  Reaching out a hand, she grabbed onto the pipe, her body flipping around as she held onto it to stop her forward motion.  As the fibers continued their feast, a burst of atmosphere released into space – she had broken through.

A stream of air was now gushing out into the vacuum, but the hull appeared to be re-sealing itself somehow.  Arla would have to be quick. Pulling herself hand over hand towards the opening, she thrust an arm in against the flow of air, and was just able to pull herself inside.  The compartment must have already been partly evacuated, or it would have been much more difficult.  Already, the gaping hole behind her seemed to be healing, small protrusions of metal knitting themselves together to close off the opening.

As the hole behind her sealed itself, Arla caught her breath.  Oxygen was being pumped into the room.  For a moment, she took stock of the situation.  The wound in her side had begun to bleed again, and the moss was beginning to become dislodged.  Pressing it back into place, she straightened up.  She looked around the room.  It appeared to be an airlock of some kind.  There was a circular hatchway set into the far wall.  She cranked on the handle until it swung open, and stepped through the crack.


“Legends of Earth” #3

            Wind howled around the Chitra tribe’s structure.  It was made of an elastic alloy, a combination of filamentous carbon, and organic resins secreted by bacteria in Jupiter’s atmosphere.  The huge spheres stretched and distorted under intense shear forces, the transportation tubes that connected them flexing and bending as they tumbled along amid thousand-mile-per-hour winds.

Captain Paran clutched onto a handle in the wall of the clear observation sphere, holding on tightly as the room shifted and snapped.  Pressed against the wall close by were Kole, his first mate, and Tassa, the chief navigator.

“There seems to be a storm brewing three thousand kilometers to the North!”  Tassa was shouting above the noise of the wind.  “We’re on the outskirts right now, but if we hang out here much longer, we’re in for it!”

“Do you know how fast it’s moving?” asked Paran

“No idea.”  She had kept a close eye on their instruments during the last storm, but even so a number had been damaged.  They could not afford to get caught up in another, or from her perspective they might be flying blind.

Kole was peering at a chart.

“There’s a safe harbor a ways to the East that we might try for!  It’s controlled by the Comores I think.  I know they were there two months ago when we left port –they had anchors in place.”

“Hopefully they’ve managed to stay where they were, or we’re in for it!  Let’s get back to the control room!”  Paran opened a hatch to one of the transportation tubes, leaping in with a fluid movement and beginning to climb up the rungs.

Back inside the main structure, it was quieter – here, each sphere possessed an inner lining to absorb shock and noise.  Tassa and Kole leapt out of the tube behind Paran, into a room filled with a hodge-podge of mechanical and electronic controls.  A number of others were already in the room, and the three immediately began shouting orders, yanking on levers, and flipping control switches.

“Repulsors are on!  We should be there in half an hour,”  said Tassa.  “There’s nothing we can do now, except wait and see if we outrun it.”

***

Seventy-three points correct.  Movement is forward amidst great adversity.  Congratulate the independent precision of matrix version 42-32-78.  Release the beasts.

Beyond Kara’s window, the small turquoise sphere seemed to be wrapped in a sheen of shifting, rippling water.  Every few seconds, the concentric white ripples spreading across the shield’s surface coincided with a Tak! Tak! that reverberated up through the floor.  Her hands danced on the blue keyboard.  To her right, she sensed a presence – it was Ardan.  Time to go.

Pushing off from the wall, Kara followed Ardan’s figure through the passageway, and the two of them floated down a ladder with steel rungs to the pod bay.  Squeezing through the small circular hatch, the two of them emerged into a cramped space, with a series of depressions set into the floor.  Two others were already there, in various stages of activating the pods – Lila and Tarren.

Re-orienting herself to clamber into a depression, Kara fit herself into a harness, reaching toward two handles that were in front of her.  As her hands touched the handles, shocks crackled into her palms – the pod was interfacing with circuitry embedded in her forearms.  Around her, the pod came to life.  With a whirr, the harness tightened automatically, anchoring her in place. Shocks crackled up through her feet.  A flood of energy cascaded down her spine, and radiated out through her limbs, as the roof of the depression sealed itself above her – the pod was ready.

In front of her vision, a space cleared, and the turquoise sphere was visible through a transparent window.  Information flitted across her retinas, appearing to line up with the objects beyond the window.  She felt signals of various kinds flowing in from the pod’s censors – she could taste the radiation passing through the vacuum, smell the charge associated with a passing flurry of solar particles.

Duplicate 32nd meaning of the benevolent artifact.  Rectify incorrigible compounding synonyms.  56 points elevated.

Kara tweaked her shoulder muscles, triggering explosive bolts in the wall, and felt the pod disconnect from the ship behind her.  Immediately, she fired the chemical boosters on the back of the pod, and began to accelerate towards the shielded comet, feeling inertia press her back into the straps.

Pushing out on the handles, she felt pistons in the hydraulic arms of the pod mirror her motions, uncurling from where they had been pulled into the chest.  At a tweak of her wrists, three large blades slid from each of the arms, from the area where the wrist would be.  In her peripheral vision, she could see the three others hurtling downwards, the light glinting off the mechanical creatures.  The pods were like giant beasts, hunched over with fire burning trails behind them, their limbs crouched and claws extended.

Ahead of her, the sphere was approaching quickly, rippling like a turquoise ocean.  She pulled the pod’s limbs together protectively in front of her, forming a barrier – and impacted like a ton of bricks.

***

When Kara lifted her head, she was crouched in a crater amid a jumble of roots.  Struggling to her feet, she felt the hard exterior of the pod rasp against chips of wood and bark.  Looking around, she noted the huge trunks of the trees ascending above her, the silhouettes of fan-shaped branches just visible above.  Her skin began to prickle, as moisture condensed along the pod’s metallic carapace.

***

Lana looked up as four bright flashes of light burst from the shield above the tree in which she and the two groups of Eulos were assembled.  A split second later, the flashes were followed by the explosive noise of heavy machinery crashing through the atmosphere.  The shield flickered, and grew dimmer.  She watched as four objects, wreathed in fire, crashed through the forest canopy and disappeared into the darkness.

“We need to find them, quickly!”  Arla, Ratil, and Thale took off in one direction, moving towards a trail of smoke that had been left behind by one of the machines.  Remaining on the branch were Lana, Bena, Marthos, and Parrock. They dove off the branch, flitting between trunks in the mid-range of the canopy.  Here, the noise was less, and there was more space between the branches.

Almost immediately, Lana spotted a huge gouge in the trunk of a tree, the white of its inner bark creating a bright patch that stood out in the darkness.  Sap was running down the tree’s sides, but it was still stable, and the wound didn’t appear to have damaged its core. Flying forward, the trail of broken branches leading downward  became visible, and the smell of smoke came into the air.  Sure enough, when they reached the forest floor, they found a large crater, and a clearly visible trail of white patches where the machine had lumbered into the forest, its huge metal sides scraping against the trees.

***

Voices flickered through Kara’s head.  Tarren’s voice was saying,

“I’m on the forest floor!  Thirty-six points, greatly uplifted.  Lila, are you there?”

Lila is here.  Compiling geographical-systemic database.  Direct filter contains traces of complacent sensation. 36, 36, 36, 38, 39.

Ardan’s voice said:  “Geographical-systemic database completed.  My location is:” 26.22 – 89.31

A cascade of numbers flowed through Kara’s mind.  Beyond the window of her pod, roots and foliage were whipping by, her claw-hands grasping at tree trunks to pull her forward.

Hostiles, estimate two hundred.  Humanoid, vertically independent.  Height average seven feet, increased relative energy expenditure capability.  GES: 7235,  HLPI: 98432, YWT: 8879— 

The flood of information was interrupted by an orange-tinted sensation to Kara’s left.  Whipping around, she lashed out with an arm, her metal claws leaving three deep gashes in the trunk of a tree.  Whatever had caused the sensation was invisible, but a prickle across her skin indicated the presence of a slight electromagnetic field close by in the darkness.

In a heartbeat, Kara’s legs pushed off the ground.  Extending her right arm, her claws caught the bark of a tree and she swung round, firing jets in a short burst.  Latching onto another tree, she looked through her window for the source of the field.  It was thirty feet below her – a turquoise-skinned humanoid, its dragonfly wings thrumming as it raced for cover.  Kara pushed off downwards and came crashing down on top of it, knocking it out of the air and crushing it against a tree trunk.

Around her, other fields began to appear.  She could hear the buzzing from several sets of wings, and see flickers of movement in the gaps between the trees.  A sharp bitterness sprang to the back of her tongue, indicating danger.

“Communicative disconnection renders the resource undesirable.  Discover the central ethos and reverse.”  It was Lila’s voice.  Kara’s vision was replaced with an image of a long, icy tunnel, through a pod window.  Coordinate 36.39 – 69.06  Kara pushed off from the tree trunk, alternately firing bursts from her jet, and springing off tree trunks to propel herself through the undergrowth.

+++742jisdkwelnvcawewexinadkfaw

Suddenly, she felt a sharp pain in her right side.  Reaching towards the next tree trunk, the mechanism jammed, and she crashed into the tree instead, spinning off at an angle.  Impacting another trunk, she grasped at it, trying to correct her trajectory.  She felt another pain in her upper back, and a rush of wind surrounded her as the window fractured.  A large blue blotch obscured her vision, and the pod’s casing cracked as something slammed into her right side, knocking her unconscious.


Iterative Poetry from the Pacific

‘Iterative Poetry’ is a method for creating short descriptive poems, using imagery generated in a longer set of writings.  In the first ‘iteration’, I created a long poem through freewriting.  Then, reading back through the poem, I selected the most meaningful portions (using six highlighter colors).  For the second iteration, I re-combined the selected portions into a series of new, shorter poems.  For the final iteration, I selected the best of the shorter poems from the preceding series.  The philosophy of this method is based in chaos theory, specifically ‘self-similarity’, which is a frequently occurring natural pattern.  The inspiration for these particular poems stems from my trip across the Pacific with the Sea Education Association.

A blue snail

Rides the ancient grey humps

Delivering thunderclaps

 

The morning extends for miles

Brimming with stars

Beyond the belly of the squares’l

 

Sea ends,

Delivering blows at its borders

Unprotected and vulnerable

 

Sailor’s ghosts

Accept offerings or injustices

In the sky at morning

 

Life

Lost in darkness

Under mercury reflections

 

Flickers of green

Amid monstrous caps

Pelted with rain

 

Dark, hungry mountains

Filled with jellyfish

A fireball lights the Pacific sky


“Legends of Earth” continued

Whipping over the turquoise foliage, the heavy mats weighed the Eulos down on their return journey.  Periodically, they were forced to stop and make landings in the tops of the trees, to avoid crash-landing into the canopy.  During one of these stops, Arla noticed Ratil peering at something over her shoulder.

“Is that a pulse trail?” Arla peered behind her, shading her eyes against the glare of their small sun.  There did appear to be a second, smaller source of light behind the sun – a trail of light, broken by periodic flashes.  Now, the whole group had turned, and was peering towards the sky.

“Looks that way,” remarked Tamarang, a hint of concern in his voice.  A pulse trail presumably meant a large spaceship, propelling itself forward with periodic explosions of nuclear fission.  The trail was probably several million kilometers away, however it seemed to be pointed in their direction.  Peering closer, Arla noticed a slight bluish tint to the light.  Thorium… she thought.

The others had noticed it too.  “Maybe we should leave the mats here,” remarked Parrok.  There was no need for further discussion.  The group dropped their mats in the canopy, and bent their knees, launching upward into the sky.  As Arla flew, she looked over her shoulder.  The period between the flashes seemed to have decreased since she had first taken notice – this was another sign that the ship might be decelerating towards them.

The distance to the metallic sleeping discs had not been much further, and without the extra weight of the mats, it did not take long to cover the remaining distance.  When they appeared through the foliage, it became apparent that others had noticed the pulse trail as well.  Thirty or so Eulos were gathered at the center of the discs, and were having a hurried conversation.  Arla and the others made deft landings along the rim, their wings shrinking back into vein-tattooed patterns along their sides as they strode towards the center.

A woman named Bena was speaking:

“We analyzed their spectrum – significant traces of thorium.”

“Raiders?” Asked Lana.  The word sent a ripple of fear through the assembled Eulos.

“Possibly – it could be from one of the asteroid mining tribes.  There’s plenty of thorium in the Lasset sector.  I know the Ares did some trading with them a while back, and I think thorium was part of the bundle.”  Miners could also be notorious raiders, Arla knew, because mining colonies often failed abruptly due to the difficulty of creating a stable microbiosphere in space.  If a mining colony lost control of the symbioses needed to sustain life, the colony could collapse in a period of days, leaving only the miners themselves, along with their ships.

Arla looked upwards again.  Yes, the pulses were definitely coming more quickly now.  She thought she could just make out the donut-shape, where tons of metal were crashing through the center of a nuclear inferno every few seconds.  They must have created some form of inertia control to cope with the deceleration, or they would be plastered along the inside of that thing.

Samana spoke first.  “I need five with me to go to the core!”  Marthos and Tamarang, along with three others immediately moved towards her, and in an instant the group had dived over the edge of the sleeping pod, rushing downward into the abyss between the tree trunks.  Other task groups self-assembled, and sped off in different directions.  Arla, Ratil, and Thale looked at eachother, each having a similar thought.  Ratil said, “Forest floor?” and the other two nodded.

Leaping off the side of the disc, the three sped through the thick upper leaves of the canopy, breaking through after a few moments to a more open space where the deeply grooved trunks of the trees plunged downwards.  As they descended, the space opened up.  Weaving around sets of stray branches, interspersed tangled root masses appeared below them, above a floor covered in drifts of turquoise leaves.  A carpet of vaporous, lightly glowing dust drifted over everything, and ashen-colored trails crisscrossed in between the roots.  They landed gracefully, wings buzzing as they checked their speed.

Stepping lightly over the twining roots, they moved a few feet apart, scanning cracks and depressions.  After a few moments, a flicker of movement caught Arla’s eye.  Something grey was clambering slowly over a drift of vibrant leaf debris.  Its appearance was something like a jellyfish – a cap, standing elevated on an array of long filaments.  From the cap drifted clouds of the glowing dust.

The tendrils moved over the forest floor, creeping inside crevices in the tree bark, or snaking through the undergrowth.  Where a tendril passed over fallen leaves, the leaves turned an ashen color and began to crumble.  The tracks were everywhere along the forest floor, and in the distance more shapes were moving indistinctly.

“Over here!” Arla spoke in a sharp whisper.  Thale, who was closest to the thing, stepped carefully along the side of a curving root, approaching it from above.  Ratil tossed him a small container, and he bent down.  Brushing his hand into a crevice of the tree, his hand came away sticky with sap.  He reached towards the cap, which stopped moving.  A bundle of tendrils stretched out to meet him, encasing his hand, and swarming over the sap.  As he pulled his hand away, the tendrils stayed with his hand, and he was able to collect them in the container.

“Thank you,” he said to the creature.  It was a sentient fungus, designed to regulate cycles at this level of the forest.  Creating sentient beings to manage cycles in this way had proven more effective than relegating the task to a mechanical computer, however the beings required a certain level of reciprocity as a result.  The cap rippled orange in recognition, then continued on its way.

At this moment, the light disappeared from the sky, making Arla’s breath catch in her throat.

“That’ll be Samana,” said Thale.  The sun had vanished, blanketed in a reflective field that mimicked the background radiation of space.  In the sky above the comet, a similar field created the impression of a fluid surface, rippling and distorting the stars.  Both the sun and the comet would now be invisible from the outside, the fields blocking both visible light, and a variety of other types of radiation that might be picked up by sensors.

This meant Samana and her team had located the icy tunnels that lead to the comet’s center, winding their way inwards to find a small control station near the core.  From here, they could control the comet’s few mechanical systems.  These mostly consisted of functional components like the condensers.  As far as Arla knew, the shield generator was the only high-tech mechanical artifact they possessed – again, a gift of goodwill from a neighboring tribe.

The light at the base of the trees was murky.  Small patches of starlight filtered through the leaves and the swirling shield, but mostly the ground was lit by the glowing dust around their feet.  Working quickly, Arla, Ratil and Thale located a few more of the sentient fungi, and soon they were carrying several containers each, in sacks Ratil had grabbed as they dove over the edge.

Abruptly, dragonfly-wings thrummed overhead.  Parrock and several others appeared, also with a sacks over their shoulders.  Seeing them, he dove down and landed beneath a mound of matted roots.  The others landed around them.

“They’re holding course,” said Parrock breathlessly.  “And still headed straight for us.  We think they might have taken a fix on our position before the shields went up.”  Blip…blip…blip The flashes in the sky had grown brighter now as well, strobing down through the trees.

***

Left arm eight points.  Elevate forward-speaking elements of the nine breezes.  The creature wakes.  Emergent light creates conditions for self-similar negative spaces. Within sorrow exists the particulate expansion of mighty empires.  All praise the device.  The core has acquiesced to 73%.

Kara awoke to find herself staring out a small window, at a slowly-moving arena of lights, against blackness.

Thirty-eight points correct out of the left arm.  Sequence 722-38-49-6627-6.

She lifted her left arm, her hand flicking unconsciously towards a panel, where her fingers executed a complex movement.  She blinked.  In her mind’s eye, an image flickered into being:  human shapes, smooth and reflective as mirrors, clambering over a fissured landscape.  Jagged, darkened rocks.  Flames hurtling from a broiling sky.

Openly, the gifted presence seeks renewal.  Discover the shape of exceptional destiny.  Cranium 97 degrees, sixty-eight points spread over the left hemisphere, distribute blades.

***

The two groups on the forest floor took off.  Speeding through the comet’s understory and into the canopy, they landed in branches, just below the uppermost foliage.  The flashes, Arla noticed, had ceased.  Instead a long, clean streak was visible, and she thought she could make out a darker shape, riding the column.  Suddenly the sky erupted in an explosion of light.  Concentric ripples passed along the surface of the field above the comet, shattering the effect of the mirage.  The shield was likely absorbing some kind of impact, and the ripples were white-hot, radiating energy.


“Visioning Sustainable Futures”

During Spring quarter last year at Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies, I took part in a class taught by the professor Gary Bornzin, called “Visioning Sustainable Futures”. The class was open-ended and exploratory, encouraging each student to experiment with their favorite ideas. The eventual goal was for each student to create their own vision of a personal ‘utopia’. As the students developed their visions, a collaborative ‘class vision’ slowly began to emerge. Many of the ideas and insights of the students were collected on a class blog, and I was able to collect the posts and organize them into a new blog, so that our vision could be made public. The link below contains the postings of the students – this is our collaborative class vision!!

*As a helpful tip, clicking on the different “Categories” is helpful for navigation.

http://visioningsustainablefutures.wordpress.com/


Rhythms of Kathmandu

There is a rhythm that lives in my bones.  This is not a metaphor – each time I’ve returned to South Asia throughout my life, there is a structure that makes itself known in my movements, in my reflexes, in the electric or neural network spreading throughout my limbs.  Walking a crowded street, my eyes unfocus, and my peripheral vision takes over.  My reflexes change, and I become more physically aware.   I find that I flow between the people surrounding me, settling into a full-bodied kinesthetic amble that utilizes an internal sense of center and balance, as well as an awareness of the intuitive reflexes of my gut.

I first experienced South Asia through the window of a Delhi taxicab, at age two.  I’ve been told that this coincided roughly with a period of my life where I subsisted on a sparse diet of rasins and milk, momentarily worrying my parents.  In my own head, this has always been because of an attempt to process – any time I’ve found myself in a new place throughout my life, I seem to go through a period of distraction, or assessment of my surroundings before becoming fully engaged.  The moment passed however, and I went on to experience life in India through the eyes of an American-born preschooler.

Looking back, I can sense the Rhythm settling itself in; I can distinguish the moments that seem to be characterized by it.  For the most part, they are jarring and intrusive:  attacks on my senses that force me to react.  This is life – sink or swim, fight or flight, dance or die!  My father’s Enfield motorcycle wove me to school every morning through a press of cars and animals, and the smell of petrol has always paradoxically reminded me of the safety of that small space on the front of the motorcycle.  During Diwali, the Hindu festival of light, the streets became a veritable war zone of handmade fireworks, cracking and rattling all night long.  We choked on the smell of gunpowder for days, and avoided the roof of our apartment for fear of sparks and errant rockets.

Another moment that seems to capture the rhythm occurred later, when my family rode a train south to Madras.  I remember passing green fields and red dust, at one point the hood of a cobra poking above a field of amaranth or corn.  The floor of the train moved through space like something aerodynamic, its floor pitching like the deck of a ship.  Once again the word “kinesthetic” comes to mind.

The rhythm I received from my time in India is similar to the rhythm I received from Nepal.  The two share many of the same structures, however Nepal’s rhythm is smoother, less jarring.  Nepal is the place where I learned to Walk during a petrol crisis, where I wore holes in my tennis shoes on the red brick walkways around Kathmandu, and the cobbled roads near Marpha or Sagarmatha.

Of course the States has a rhythm too, one that I’ve found not unlike the rhythms of classical music:  a blunt and uncompromising four-four without India’s syncopations, polyrhythms, and unexpected timpani.  In contrast it is from my time in South Asia, I believe, that my interest in music stems.  The story that follows describes my experience of Kathmandu, through the lens of music.

***

During my gap year after high school, I made weekly trips to my guitar teacher’s flat in Lazimpat, outside downtown Kathmandu.  The house was a half-hour walk behind the palace along a crumbling red walkway, where bamboo stems overhung the brick of the palace wall, throwing leaf-shadows into the potholes around which I stepped.  Vehicles coughed and sputtered as they swung around the solitary policeman standing by a black and white striped concrete block – sub-atomic particles, veering around a blue-suited and gesticulating nucleus.  Past the Bluebird department store and the Summit Hotel, I would watch jalebis sizzling in woks full of oil and syrup, or become a target for English Practice after crossing the path of an aspiring Nepali academic.  Striding up the road I passed the gaping concrete doorway where children clutched cheap pink plastic toys, the fortress-like American embassy, and finally Raju’s squeaky green metal door; and then I would be inside practicing scales, learning the ins and outs of his home recording software.

I also took lessons at the Kathmandu Jazz conservatory, twenty minutes from my family’s home in Ekantakuna.  The conservatory was run by Mariano Abello, an eccentric and avant-garde Argentinian who was sometimes to be seen throwing blazing performances with his sax at Upstairs Jazz.  To get to the conservatory, I would walk through bright brick alleyways strewn with eucalyptus leaves, and eventually pass through the green metal gate and up two flights of concrete stairs in a rarely-inhabited high school, emerging into surreally peaceful white-painted rooms where the lessons were taking place.  The rumbles and honks of the city floated sheepishly in through an open window, a discouraged melody drifting up from Kathmandu’s Ring Road below.  It was there that I finally found a space to play guitar and sing with other travelers – Videshis, as they are called in Kathmandu.

My voice teacher Patrick was a spiritual wanderer who has since been in the Carribbean, Curacao, and Hawaii, among other places.  Long and thin, he would take to the streets at a great pace wearing a light, black leather jacket and a scarf.  Patrick was peaceful, and possessed of an inner ridiculousness and ease of laughter that leant a radiance to our lessons.  My image of him is perpetually of his jaw hanging open, eyes rolled back in his head, neck wagging as he grasped wild high notes, at the edge of his range.

Also at the school were my other voice teacher Gary, and a woman slightly older than me, Rachel.  Both were excellent singers, and along with Patrick we found a number of opportunities to create concerts, singing acapella at the Jewish school, and performing at Lincoln school, my old middle school.  This second concert came as something of a surprise – I didn’t actually realize where we were performing until the last moment, and after middle school I hadn’t really expected ever to come back. Lincoln School was home to many of my most potent insecurities, and the few times I had been back that year, I found myself avoiding the eyes of old friends.  At one point during middle school, I had leapt without a plan to the outside of a third floor balcony, to be pulled back by my English teacher, shaking like a leaf.

Standing on a stage on the basketball court with Patrick and Gary and Rachel, we sang Let it be through microphones to the echoing courtyard.  A guitar provided accompaniment, and a drummer created rhythm in the background.  The crowd was unresponsive, though I did recognize a few faces.

Patrick never constructed the choir he had envisioned, however we had some memorable opportunities for rehearsal, and we made good music.  Sitting in a smoky living room with friends of his, we worked out the melody for Killing me Softly, and harmonized ‘till my vocal cords stung.  The night before my flight to Denver, Gary and Rachel and I sat together on a balcony, talking and looking out over the city.

During middle school, groups from Lincoln School would travel to the Hyatt Hotel, or gather at Phora Durbar and the Lincoln school gym – formally dressed, and swaying awkwardly to international pop music.  I would happily ask Suzanna, or Farah, or Kirsten for a dance, feeling relatively at ease here.  Despite its probable inadvisability, I often followed the lead of Andy, Andrew and Lyle, the ‘skateboarders’ of the school.

Years later, with Gary and Patrick and Rachel, we traveled to Pashupatinath, the religious center of Kathmandu where many Hindu spiritualists and ascetics lived.  In a wide brick pavilion beneath a peepul tree, unearthly scales issued from a bamboo flute, a tabla resonated, there was a sky full of stars. Nearby on a hill, Sadhu burial sites vied for space with the outward-marching city.

In the streets, life continued.  Midway through the year there were petrol riots, at one point there was a bombing.  Kathmandu is a city that may or may not continue to exist after the next major Himalayan earthquake, and Nepal as a whole has been described with complete justification as potentially the world’s “next Haiti.”  Bare-ribbed dogs bay through the night.

At the museum in Patan, scales howled from the fretboard of an electric guitar, a group from the British School, sitting in the front row, sang their sympathy to the night.  Peter Rowan and Anne Choying, a few years earlier, had played Land of the Navajo in the same spot.  I remember a concert from the group Thievery Corporation, which had a drifting reggae beat shot through with strings and percussion, and an Eastern twist.

In still spaces near Patan Durbar square, the pounding of small hammers onto bronze statues yields a sound like the pattering of metallic rain.  In the many small buildings crowding around the Boudhanath Buddhist stupa, the Tibetan community throws flour on holy days, and lights a small conflagration of flickering butter lamps.  Flowing through Pulchowk and Chakkupat, teetering forward on bicycles or three-to-a-motorcycle, ducking through passageways between sagging brick walls in Patan, the people of Kathmandu move like interweaving notes flowing from the fusion of a tabla and a bamboo flute.