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Manic Musings of a Maniacal Mind


The Collected Short Fiction of J Alan Erwine




Published by Nomadic Delirium Press at Smashwords




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Manic Musings of a Maniacal Mind is a publication of Nomadic Delirium Press. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including physical copying or recording or by any information storage and retrieval systems, without expressed written consent of the author and/or artists.


Manic Musings of a Maniacal Mind is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.




Cover illustration copyright 2018 by Laura Givens

Cover design by Laura Givens




First printing July 2018


Nomadic Delirium Press

Aurora, Colorado

http://www.nomadicdeliriumpress.com




Table of Contents


Author’s Introduction

Trek for Life

The Lives of Billions

Lowering One’s Self Before Fate

Adrift Amidst the Cooling Fires of Creation

Echoes

The Return of Homo Erectus

Secret of the Coltao

Who Listens to the Voices of the Past?

Beyond Mudslinging

A Problem in Translation

A Tortuous Wrong Turn

Harvest of Debts

The Coldness of Love and Death

The Opium of the People

A Union in Death

The Indoctrination of the Tolari

The Galton Principle

The Progenitors

Twist of Fate

The Least Practical of Jokes

Court Martial

Sad Grey Eyes on Tharsis

Sim-Shrink

Awakening

Origins

A Chronic Mistake

Reality

A Singular Solution

Out of Plato’s Cave

Lost in the Dark

On the Words of Ancients

Seedlings on the Solar Winds

Living in the Styx

The Limit of Tolerance

Marionettes on the Moon

The Ancient Ones

The Mind of the Cat

Entropy

Skeleton of the Onondaga

The Twin Sorceresses

Hunted

The Magenta Equations

Forgive Men their Trespasses

Tranquility

When Living is a Crime

Nobody’s Home

The Martian Orphans and the Moons of Jupiter

R-Complex

And the Lamb and the Lion Shall Not Lie Down Together

An Eternity in Limbo

It’s In the Water

Back to the Old Ways

The Awakening of Anger

Flight of Madness

Seas of Red

Learn to Read

Frozen Ambitions

Publishing Acknowledgements




Author’s Introduction


What you hold in your hands is 21 years of my published stories, but this is far from a complete collection of my short fiction. You see, when I first learned to put a subject and a predicate together is when I actually started writing stories, and that was too many years ago to even think about. Luckily, none of those stories are still in existence.

I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and I worked and I worked. I submitted, and I was rejected more times than I would care to count, but finally, an editor by the name of James Bruce Baker decided to take a chance on one of my stories, and the rest is history. No, not really, the rest is a lot of hard work and a lot of rejection. The one thing that I always tell aspiring writers is that perseverance will take them a lot further than pure talent. Even the most talented writer will usually be rejected in the early parts of their career, but if you keep trying, you might have success…emphasis on might. No one goes into writing to become famous or to become rich. If they do, they’re insane, because neither is likely to happen. For every author that makes a big name for themselves, there are one hundred thousand of us struggling in the hope of just selling their next story.

Like I said, I’ve been publishing for 21 years now, and believe me, I don’t live in a luxury mansion. Quite the contrary, my family struggles day to day just to pay the bills. Choosing to be an author isn’t something I would recommend to everyone. The pay sucks, the hours are long, and the work is hard. I’ve held many jobs in my life, and while writing may not be physically the hardest job I’ve ever had, in every other way, it has been the hardest and most challenging job I’ve ever had. Still, there’s no other job I would choose.

Does that sound insane? Yeah, it probably is. I think you have to be a little insane to want to be an author, and I certainly qualify for that title, as do many of my characters…as you shall see.

When it comes to writing, I consider myself more of a storyteller than a “writer.” You’re not going to find a lot of purple prose in here, or long descriptions of a sunny day. No, you’re going to be told stories. Many of these stories are dark, looking at mental illness and the oppression of the government or corporations. These are things I feel very attuned to, and they’re the stories I want to write, Still, there are a few fun ones in here that will show I don’t have a completely grim view of humanity or its future…

A few interesting things about putting together a collection like this is that you get to go back and look at stuff that you may not have seen in over a decade. You also get to look at your development as an author, which in my case seems sporadic. There were stories that I remembered writing that I thought were later in my career because of their quality, but were actually written many years earlier than I thought. There are also a few stories in here that I honestly think the editors must have been high to accept. I thought about excluding those from this collection, but I decided people needed to see the good and the bad, and besides, authors are the worst judges of their own work. Obviously, someone liked those stories, so, I’ll leave it to you the readers to make the final judgement…please be kind.

Most of these stories are science fiction, although there are a few that wander into other genres. I’ve always identified with science fiction. I’ve been fascinated by science for as long as I can remember, and after seeing Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey, my love for sf started to grow. I then started reading Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein, and at that point, my addiction was complete. Much of my early work was influenced heavily by the SF of the 50’s, and sometimes it shows a little too much. Over time, I started reading other authors, and their influence began to show in my work. However, I don’t see myself as the next anyone. I am simply me, a guy with a slightly skewed view of the world that has now been publishing science fiction short stories for more than two decades.

I hope you enjoy this collection, and I hope to be releasing an even longer version in another two decades.


J Alan Erwine

May 27th, 2018




Trek for Life


A blinding flash of lightning briefly lit up the night sky, as the blizzard continued to rage just outside the cabin of the small transport shuttle. Inside, the concerned faces of the three crew members were riveted on instruments confused by the ionic flare-up outside.

“It’s no good, Captain. All communications with Hawking Station are out,” Endrick Admundson said, with a quiver in his voice. Endrick was the communications officer aboard the Red Cloud, primary transport vessel between Hawking Station and Sagan Station.

Captain Mandora Ellis glared over his shoulder at the communications officer. He didn’t like the fear he’d heard in the young man’s voice. He was about to say something to the lanky officer, when he realized he was pulling at the ends of his mustache, a bad habit he’d picked up at the Academy and now showed itself whenever he became nervous.

“Keep trying, Lieutenant, and stop worrying. Commander Lafayette and I have flown through worse than this before.”

Commander Trivall Lafayette cast a surprised look to his right, at the man sitting in the captain’s seat. He could remember flying through some bad storms before, but never one like the one that was raging just outside the windows. In the five years he’d lived on Vega 5, he’d never seen an ionic snow storm as violent as this one.

“Captain, I still can’t get the transponder working,” he said regarding the captain with concern. In all the years Trivall had known Captain Mandora Ellis, he’d never seen him scared, but what he saw in the man’s face at that moment could only be described as sheer terror.

“Keep working at it, Lafayette. We might need it.”

Trivall and Endrick both paused in mid-action, and looked at each other in surprise. They were both aware of the possibility of a crash, but neither had expected to hear the captain express their fears. If either man felt relief at the revelation, he kept it to himself.

“Captain,” Trivall said after a few minutes of fiddling with controls. “It’s no use. The transponder’s dead.”

“Damn it to hell!” Captain Mandora Ellis screamed, slamming his fist into the panel. “No transponder, no communications, what else could go wrong?”

As if in answer to his question, the cabin door slid open and one of the crew members poked her head in. “Captain, the passengers are getting nervous. What should I tell them?”

“Tell them to sit tight, and we’ll get them home as soon as we can,” Captain Ellis shouted. His face, red as the reddest fires of Hell, contrasted sharply with the white of his hair.

“Yes, sir,” the woman said as the door panel closed behind her. The three cabin officers were so concerned with keeping the ship on course, they didn’t even realize which of their crew had come in.

“I’m picking up a heavy ion concentration two kilometers distant,” Trivall said, taking manual control of the small shuttle. “I’m going to make a course correction to steer around it.”

Just as he started to make the correction, the cabin was lit by a fiery brilliance that blinded all three men. It took everyone a few seconds to realize that the earsplitting screeching, and flashing red slicing through the cabin were the cries of a ship in its final death throes.

“Jesus, we’re hit!” Trivall shouted. Hands grasped at controls. “Attempting to stabilize! It’s no good! All engines are out! Maneuvering’s out!”

“Prepare for crash landing!” Captain Ellis screamed over the intercom, a small vein trying to pulse its way out of his temple. “Ten seconds to impact.”

*

Endrick awoke to a warm flow of blood running down his hawk like nose. The pounding in his head reminded him of the powwow music he’d heard as a child in Earth history class. A groan from in front of him snapped him back to reality. Captain Ellis’ prone form lay across the control panel like a fish just before it’s gutted. Next to the captain, Trivall was clutching his head. His long straight, blonde hair matted with blood.

“Is everyone all right?” Endrick managed to ask, even though the effort made him gasp as he felt his ribs press against his lungs.

“All right is a relative term at this point,” Trivall replied. “My head seems to be cut, but other than that, I think I’m okay. I’m going to try and restore emergency power, so we don’t freeze to death. Mandora, you still with us?”

“Yeah, but I think my leg’s broken.” There was a gasp of pain as he tried to move. “Yeah, it’s broken. Endrick, go below deck and check on things. As soon as the doctor’s able, I’d like to see him up here.”

“Yes, sir,” Endrick stood and walked out of the cabin, holding his side the whole time. His long and lanky form strode with the confidence of an officer, but the pain in his face revealed true suffering.

“Too bad,” Captain Ellis muttered.

“What’s that?” Trivall asked as he attempted to override systems whose wiring had been fused.

“I was just thinking. It’s the kid’s first mission and he’s going to die. It might be the quickest promotion to Senior Grade Lieutenant ever.

Trivall was taken aback by the captain’s bluntness. The older man’s features were weathered by years of experience, and his pain only accentuated them. “Mandora, no one’s going to die. Why would you, of all people, say something like that?” Trivall had spent many years serving with Mandora Ellis. They had faced more challenges than most others in the Agency. Not once in all that time had Trivall seen his superior give up like he was obviously doing now.

“Come on, Trivall, you’ve been in the Agency long enough to know the odds. Communications are scrambled all across the planet. We don’t have a transponder. Almost all of the ship’s systems have been fused, and this weather’s expected to last another week. How’s anyone going to find us?”

Trivall stared back at Mandora through deep, blue eyes. It was a fighting look, one the captain had seen many times before. Trivall was not the type of man to give up without a fight, and the captain, his long-time friend knew it.

“As soon as we get the passengers taken care of and the doctor looks at you and Endrick, I’m going to walk to Hawking Station.”

“What?!” the captain said. “It’ll take two days in these conditions, at least. Even in a suit, you couldn’t make it. It won’t last more than 12 hours. What are you going to do after that, pray to some ancient god that you don’t freeze to death in the sub-zero temps.?”

The insult to Trivall’s religion was a sharp and unnecessary blow, his disdain for the comment clearly evident in the dark shadow that crossed over his pale face. The captain quickly apologized, but the damage had already been done. “Mandora, if I don’t do this, we’re all going to find out if your narrow-minded, atheistic ideals are right or not.”

The captain grimaced with pain. “If I’m right,” he said, forcing a smile. “We’ll just be a bunch of popsicles waiting for burial, and there won’t be any afterlife.” They had had more discussions about religion during their years together than either would ever want to remember. But Mandora’s smile disappeared before Trivall’s stern gaze.

“We don’t have time for debates on theology, Mandora. I’m doing this, and that’s all there is to it.”

“All right,” Mandora conceded to his suddenly stoic friend. “If you’re going, you’re taking the kid with you.”

Trivall gasped at the suggestion. “Mandy, he’s got a broken rib. Surely even your old eyes can see that. What good is Endrick going to be to me if I have to carry him? At least if I’m alone, I’ve got a chance. With him, I’m dead. . .we’re all dead.”

“If there are two of you, you might do better. You can encourage each other to go on. The doctor can brace the rib and pump him so full of meds he won’t be able to feel anything.”

“Captain, you’ll be sending him to his death,” Trivall said with grave concern, not just for Endrick, but for himself as well. He considered continuing his protest, but when he saw Mandora was wearing his “I’m the boss look,” he knew it was useless to argue any longer. “If you’re going to do it, at least let him volunteer, and don’t give him too many meds. If he has to die, let him do it with his eyes open and his mind fully cognizant of what’s going on.”

And so it was decided. When Endrick returned, he volunteered for what everyone thought would be a suicide mission.

*

From inside the cabin, Mandora Ellis watched the two, thermal-suited figures walk off into the billowing snow of the tumultuous blizzard. He shook his head in amazement at their courage. A flash of lightning blinded him. When his eyes cleared, Trivall and Endrick were obscured by the storm. Captain Ellis again shook his head in amazement.

*

The snow eddied and flowed with a life all its own as the cold wind bit at the skin of the two crew mates. It was a cold that neither had ever felt before. Even with the heat generated by their suits, they could feel the cold creeping into their bones.

“Keep your heater and life support on low,” Trivall’s tinny voice echoed over the com. “That away we can hopefully maintain enough suit energy to make it. We’ll take turns signaling to Hawking, every fifteen minutes. How’re the ribs?”

“A little stiff, but I’m sure they’ll work themselves out,” Endrick said.

The words sent Trivall on a journey back in time. His subconscious quickly grabbing the words and sending a flood of memories into his conscious mind.

*

Trivall stared up at the red cliffs all around him, his mind wondering what ancient river had carved such magnificent structures. He lay stretched out across a raft floating on the man-made river that now ran through the ancient Martian canyon. On the other side of the raft was his father, who gave his 12 year-old son a warm smile as he drifted towards wakefulness. “You’ve been asleep for almost an hour. I thought you were going to try and sleep through the rapids.”

Trivall laughed his boyish laugh. “Of course not, Dad.” There was no way he was going to miss this. He and his dad had been planning this trip for a year now, and nothing was going to keep him from enjoying it to its fullest. Just then, he saw the mist rising, which marked the beginnings of the most renowned rapids on the planet. He could feel the anticipation building inside of him as he watched the mist dance in the distance.

Excitement grabbed his heart as the mist began to spray against his face. For months now, he’d been teasing his friends at school about this trip. He’d told them about all the brave and exciting things he and his dad were going to do together. Little did he know how short-lived the excitement would be.

He awoke on the banks of the mighty river, his dad staring down at him. “For a minute, I thought I’d lost you,” his dad said. “You swallowed a lot of water, and I think you broke a couple of ribs smashing into that boulder.”

Slowly, the pieces began to fall together. Trivall remembered flying into the rapids at breakneck speeds. They’d only gone a few hundred meters when Trivall was pitched from the raft. He spun in the air, slamming into a boulder, knocking the air out of him, while the bone cracking pain of the impact knocked him unconscious. Apparently his dad had pulled him from the tumultuous water before he could drown.

“How’re the ribs?” his father asked with obvious concern.

“A little stiff, but I’m sure they’ll work themselves out,” he answered, trying desperately to hide the pain.

At his answer, his dad smiled with pride.

*

Everywhere Trivall looked, he saw white. Even the occasional blinding flash of lightning was white. It was just a monotonous, ever-present white. Everywhere. Now I know why isolation’ll drive people crazy, he thought. He and Endrick had been walking for over fifteen hours now, and there had been no let up in the storm.

“Trivall, I’m having trouble breathing,” Endrick said over the com, in obvious panic. “I don’t think I can make it.” It was almost a sob.

Trivall turned and walked back towards the blue thermal suit that was Endrick Admundson. At least it’s not white, he thought.

It was obvious the young man was in trouble; his gait was erratic and his eyes couldn’t fix on anything, which didn’t surprise Trivall. He couldn’t see how his own eyes and mind could continue to take in the monotonous white.

“Come on, Endrick,” he said. “Get your focus back. Try to focus on something besides the pain.” He grasped the arm of Endrick’s suit.

“I can’t,” came the reply.

The pain in the voice told all; Endrick was suffering horribly.

“Endrick, listen to me,” Trivall found himself saying in a compassionate tone, although he wasn’t sure how much compassion he could convey over the suit’s radio. “Endrick, I need you. I can’t go on by myself. We need each other’s strength to make it.”

“I can’t.”

It was a pitiful wail, one that reminded Trivall of a cat he’d once had. The cat had made the same sound as it died. Trivall was well aware that without the small talk and encouragement they’d been sharing, he’d be dead before the day was over. Somehow, he had to get Endrick to continue, but how do you get a man to go on when he’s sure he’s going to die? Where does the strength to go on come from?

“You have to!” Trivall pleaded. “If you don’t keep going, I’m as good as dead, and so are those people on the shuttle. You have to keep going. . .for everyone’s sake.”

Endrick looked into Trivall’s face and saw his earnest expression. “You’re right,” he said. “I do have an obligation. . .to everyone. . .If I’m going to die, it’ll be better to do it closer to the station. . .” He took a painful breath. “Let’s go.”

Trivall saw Endrick’s painful grimace give way to a look of determination. He smiled at his new-found friend, offering the young man his hand, helping him on his way.

The miles continued to pass on beneath their ever-tiring legs. Minutes dragged into hours, neither man knowing how far they’d walked, or how much longer they had to travel. As the miles continued to accumulate, Trivall began to think thoughts that had been suppressed somewhere, he didn’t know where, but he wished they’d stayed there. One, more than any of the others, frightened him. It had shaken his world.

*

He was 18 years old, standing by his mother’s bed; her gaunt features stared up at him in sorrow. The doctors had no idea what was wrong with her. The only thing they were sure of was that she was dying, and she didn’t have much longer.

“Why weren’t you ever home?” his mother pleaded. “For years now, I’ve hardly seen you. You’re always off running around with those friends of yours. You’re up to no good.”

“Mother,” Trivall said, exasperated, “I’m busy with school. I don’t have time to be home that often.”

“Your father died because you were gone so much. You didn’t even care enough to come home for the funeral.”

“Jesus, mom, we’ve been through this a million times. I was on Calisto. I didn’t find out dad had even died until two days after the funeral. I couldn’t make it back in time.”

With glaring bitterness, she looked up at him. “If you’d been home,” she said, wheezing slightly, “we wouldn’t be having this discussion.”

“Damn you,” he said as he felt a tear tracing its way down his cheek. He stared out the window, trying to avoid looking at his dying mother. His eyes falling upon the red sands of his home world. He followed those sands to the horizon, where he saw a double star rising, the double star that had been man’s birthplace. A world killed by its own creations.

He stared at the dead ash of a planet for more than ten minutes. Finally, his eyes found their way back to the skeletal figure that was his mother. She wasn’t breathing. Trivall’s mind began to race. How long ago? Why hadn’t he been paying attention? Could he have saved her if he’d been paying attention?

He only knew the answer to the last question. Something deep within his mind told him that, yes, he could have saved her, if only he’d been paying attention. How he knew this, he couldn’t say. His mind just told him that his inattention and anger had killed his mother.

*

Another tear traced its way down Trivall’s much older cheek. All around him, the snow was dancing in its chaotic and frightening rhythm. He could almost hear the snow and wind laughing at his misery. It was as if the wind and snow knew that no man could survive their ferocity, and maybe they were right. Endrick was walking next to him, apparently lost within his own reverie.

Is this what all men do as they’re preparing to die? He asked himself. Stop it! That kind of thinking was deadly. He couldn’t give up hope. As long as he had strength left in his body, he’d continue on.

“Endrick, how’re you doing?”

There was silence for several seconds. Finally, Endrick responded, “Alive.” The answer was simple, but spoke the absolute truth of the moment. Both men were alive, which was more than Trivall had honestly expected when they set out on this mission. He knew there could only be a few more hours of walking, so he let his mind slip back in time once again.

*

He was lying in Sandra’s arms, gently stroking her baby soft cheek. “I love you,” he said. And it was the absolute truth. She was the one true love of his life; never had he met a woman that could so charm every aspect of his being. Sandra had enthralled not only his mind and soul, but his heart and body as well.

“I know.”

Trivall laughed at her simple reply. It was just like her. She had a flare for simplicity, even though her mind was the most complex part of her being.

“Will you. . .” He stopped in mid-sentence. It was the one question he wanted to ask her more than any other, but, at the same time, the overwhelming fear that welled up inside him every time he thought about it, always stopped him.

“Will I what?” she asked with obvious anticipation as she brushed the long locks of hair from her face.

“Nothing,” he answered. He knew he loved her, and he knew he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. So why can’t I ask her to marry me?

“Don’t give me that crap, Trivall. You had a question. Now, ask me, or I’m leaving.”

He decided it was time to take the leap. It was time to really commit. So he was quite surprised when he heard the words, “I was going to ask you to hold me closer.”

Was that my voice? Why in the hell did I say that?

Sandra frowned at him. “Of course I will,” she said with little emotion.

Being next to her, he felt such an overwhelming warmth. It was a warmth like none he’d ever felt before.

*

Warmth? How could he be warm? He was walking in the middle of a blizzard. It didn’t make any sense, yet he felt warm. Slowly, Trivall opened his eyes. The snow was blowing at a very odd angle. He swiveled his helmeted head to get a better look. There was snow on all sides of him. He was in the snow!

Endrick’s suited form loomed into Trivall’s field of view. “Trivall, get up,” he heard over the com.

He tried, but his joints were unable to answer the urgent cries of his brain. Panic gripped his heart in a steely vice. He couldn’t move. . .even drawing a breath proved difficult.

My god, I’m dying! His mind screamed in panic. Again he tried to rise, but he couldn’t.

“Trivall, get up,” Endrick urgently called again.

“I can’t,” he managed to reply in a voice that sounded too weak to be his own.

*

Endrick looked down at his new friend and saw the truth in his words. Trivall’s suit had given out more than ten minutes earlier. Without the minimal warmth the suit provided, Trivall couldn’t survive the sub-zero temperatures. Endrick knew if it hadn’t been for Trivall’s tenacity, he would have died in the snow the day before. He wished he could do something for Trivall, but nothing could be done. His only option was to go on and hope that when he reached Hawking Station, they’d be able to send someone out to save Trivall, but he knew that wasn’t likely. He knew Trivall was going to die.

“Trivall, listen to me,” Endrick said in a tone that showed the control he was forcing into his voice. “I’m going to go on ahead. When I reach Hawking, I’ll send someone to rescue you.”

Trivall offered his hand to Endrick, who quickly grasped it. Endrick could see that Trivall was fully aware of what was going to happen to him.

“Go, my friend,” Trivall said, his voice weakening. “Get help for everyone on the shuttle.”

Endrick returned the smile and started on his way, not looking back.

*

Trivall watched the receding form and nodded his head in understanding. There was a reason for this—there always was. He just had to find solace in the fact that he had helped save fifteen other people. He smiled to himself as the cold began to take hold of his beaten and battered body. Then, he let himself fall asleep.

*

Endrick stared out the window of the infirmary. His body was bandaged in the numerous places where his suit had failed. The pain from the damage was numbed by the feeling that he had just met a great man. Nothing would ever be able to take away the lessons he’d learned from Trivall Lafayette. He’d learned a great deal about courage and death, but most of all, he’d learned about life.




The Lives of Billions


“What do you mean, we’re not going to tell anyone?” Christina shouted across the room, rising from her chair to glare at the coordinator.

Jerrod Asland shook his head. “Calm down, Christina. We can’t tell anyone,” he said in a low voice, glancing towards the doors of the small room they were in.

“It’s life, Jerrod. We have to tell Earth.” Christina’s green eyes flashed with energy, and with the way she flailed her arms in her passionate plea, her shoulder length black hair almost seemed to take on a life of its own.

Jerrod ran his hands through his thinning hair. He seemed to be losing more of it now that he’d been sent to the floor of Valles Marineris to lead the archaeological expedition. “Listen, Christine. I’m going to explain this to you once, and when I’m done, you will do exactly what I told you to do…keep your mouth shut.”

Christina glared at him.

“The terraforming mission has been going on for six months,” he said. “If Earth finds out we’ve found life here, they might stop the terraforming. We can’t afford that.”

“Please, Jerrod, don’t give me that Earth’s in danger crap. They put themselves in the spot they’re in. You want to make this planet another Earth so the teeming masses can come here and ruin it as well.”

“Christina, I wasn’t going to insult you by trying to explain that to you, but listen to me. This discovery is minor. It’s microbial life at one of the lowest points on the planet. There probably isn’t any other life anywhere.”

“Probably?”

“Almost certainly,” he said in exasperation. “Do we have a right to destroy the progress of humanity for the sake of a few microbes?”

Christina glared at him. She wouldn’t answer.

“Besides,” he continued, “the terraforming might not even affect this area.”

She laughed. “Jerrod, where do you think the atmosphere will start to thicken first? Right here. That’ll be the end of the microbes.”

“You don’t know that for sure.”

“I’m more certain of it than you are of this being the only place with life.”

Jerrod paused for several seconds. He didn’t like where this argument was going. “It doesn’t matter, Christina. I’ve made up my mind. This discovery does not leave this room. You don’t even tell the other scientists. Is that clear?”

She glared at him without answering.

“I’d hate to have to send you back to Earth.”

Jerrod watched as Christina took several deep breaths, obviously trying to calm herself. “It doesn’t leave this room,” she said through clenched teeth.

Jerrod nodded and left.

*

A dust storm blew into the grand fracture, obscuring vision and clogging nearly every mechanical device the humans had brought with them. The small microbes, really nothing more than bacteria, which Christina had discovered were oblivious to the storm. It was only natural to them. Bacillus martianus, as Christina had begun to call them, were occasionally moved about by the mighty dust storms, but as long as they didn’t leave the confines of the slightly thicker air of the depths of Valles Marineris, they were fine. If they left those depths, it would mean their deaths, but were they aware of this?

*

“The arrogance!” Christina shouted, hurling the pillow at the head of her bed.

“You okay, Christina?” Vladi Berzin asked from the other side of the room.

“No…yes…who the hell knows?”

Vladi approached her with slow steps, his sharp blue eyes watching Christina’s hands, obviously worried she might start throwing something again. She’d already torn apart the base’s kitchen and had now moved into the crew quarters.

“Is there anything I can do to help?”

Christina glared at Vladi, but her harsh eyes quickly gave way. “I wish there was, Vladi, but I can’t say anything.”

Vladi nodded and smiled. “This wouldn’t happen to have anything to do with our chief, Jerrod, would it?”

Christina began to feel her blood boil again. She liked Vladi. She liked his boyish looks and his light sense of humor, but at the moment, she felt like strangling him.

“I see,” he said. “By the way you’re staring at my throat, I would say I was right.”

Christina let out a short laugh, despite her efforts to hold it in. She nodded. “He’s an ass, and if I say anything, I’m on the next ship back to Earth.”

Vladi smiled. “I know you, Christina. You wouldn’t be tearing this place apart if this weren’t important. Might it be worth deportation?”

Christina thought about it. This was probably the most important discovery mankind had ever made. Could she seriously keep it to herself? What kind of scientist would that make her? Then again, how could she go back to Earth? Back to the crowds? She’d be the laughing stock of her family. They’d told her she wouldn’t be able to cut it on the red planet. But of course, they’d be wrong. She’d be a hero to some, but she knew most of the solar system would hate her for destroying what they wanted Mars to be. Of course, she could be misjudging the human race. All she knew was that she had to do something. But she didn’t want to leave Mars. The red sands had crawled their way into her blood.

“It might be worth it, Vladi, but I don’t know.”

Vladi smiled again. “Do you know what always helps me make a big decision?”

Christina shook her head. She doubted whether Vladi had ever had to make this kind of decision. Nobody had ever had to make this kind of decision.

“A walk on the surface always helps me.”

Christina laughed again. “I don’t know if you’ve looked outside lately, Vladi, but the valley’s in the midst of a dust storm.”

Vladi shrugged.

*

Half a meter below the surface of Mars, the bacteria and algae-like creatures found they weren’t alone. Again, it’s difficult to say whether they were aware of the existence of other creatures, but their awareness isn’t necessarily that important. Under the surface, small groups of the bacteria-like creatures joined together to form colonies. They weren’t much more intelligent than the single-celled lifeforms, but they were more capable. Every once in a while, a large sandstorm would blow through Valles Marineris, exposing these small colonies. There had never been anyone there to see them, but that all changed in one day.

*

Christina couldn’t see anything. Sand blew everywhere in the Martian winds. The airlock had informed her that the winds were howling at close to 100 KPH, but in the low air pressure, it was never as strong as she expected. Using the guidance computer in her suit, she began to walk towards the north wall, which was less than a kilometer from the archaeological base. The darkness of the valley wasn’t as recognizable as usual. She’d only been at the station for six months, but she was already growing tired of the sandstorms. If she listened closely, she thought she could hear the fine powder jamming the joints of her suit, but she knew it was only her imagination.

She continued to walk, only pausing long enough to ask the base’s computer to pipe some classical music into her suit. She loved listening to Mozart as she walked on the surface. As she approached the valley wall, which she knew would tower above her to a point where she wouldn’t be able to see the top if she could even see the wall, she stopped. The storm had died down enough to let her see the surface, and there it was.

She pulled out her handheld and began to survey the small object at her feet. She’d seen rocks of all the types Mars had to offer, but this was like nothing she’d seen before. She turned on her helmet lamp and cast the bright white light at the structure. It moved. It was only a slight movement, but she knew she’d seen it. Just then, the computer chimed over her com system. It had finished its analysis.

Life. There could be no doubt. Not just any life, but organized life. It was nothing more than a colony of smaller microbial structures, but for her, it was so much more than just a colony of microbial structures. She took several more scans before she raced back to the base.

*

The small colonies of creatures dwelling below the surface had never had the opportunity to evolve any further. The inhospitable climate of the planet kept them living in a confined area. They couldn’t dwell more than one hundred meters above the floor of Valles Marineris. The creatures had no idea they couldn’t climb any higher. Perhaps some had tried and failed, but would any of the remaining creatures have been aware of this?

*

“Now what do you think?” Christina asked Jerrod, pointing at the monitor on his wall. “A lot more than microbial life, wouldn’t you say?”

Jerrod seemed to ignore her question. “Do you think these things could live anywhere other than here?”

Christina paused. She already had a good idea of where this discussion was going. “Probably not,” she finally said.

“So, let me guess,” Jerrod said without looking at her. “You’d like me to tell everyone on Earth about this discovery. You’d like me to jeopardize the terraforming mission for these things.”

“Damn it, Jerrod. It’s life. You’re supposed to be a scientist. Doesn’t this mean anything to you?”

Jerrod sighed. “Christina, this might be a momentous discovery, but in the grand scheme of the human picture, it doesn’t mean anything.”

“Damn it, don’t you care about science anymore?”

“Of course I care. I just have different priorities than you.”

Christina leaned across his desk. “Don’t you think the discovery of life in the universe could change humanity, maybe even for the better? Did you ever think that maybe this small discovery, as you’ve referred to it, could even get the people of Earth to save their planet?”

Jerrod didn’t answer her. He just stared at her for several long seconds.

“Fujisaki/Jones owns you, don’t they?” she asked, referring to the Earth-based company that was bankrolling the eventual colonization of Mars.

“You’re not to tell anyone about this,” he said, pointing towards the door.

*

Far up on the main surface of Mars, miles and miles above the floor of Valles Marineris, the terraforming was progressing rapidly. All over the surface, small factories did nothing but belch greenhouse chemicals into the atmosphere. Eventually this would thicken the atmosphere, before they brought comets in to supply more water and hopefully a little oxygen. To the humans, the changes in the atmosphere were barely measurable, but to the small ecosystem running the length of Valles Marineris, the atmosphere was beginning to thicken to a point that would soon be toxic. Already the weakest of the various species had begun to die off. Their only hope was to evolve fast enough to cope. That is, if they were capable of hope.

*

“Vladi, I need your help,” Christina said. “Do you still have friends working in the station on the rim?”

“Of course,” Vladi said with a wide smile. “I have friends everywhere.”

Christina smiled and thought for a few seconds. “How about on Phobos?”

“Sure,” Vladi said slowly. He was obviously wondering where she was headed with the strange questions.

Christina thought she knew, but was afraid to enlist Vladi’s aid, afraid for him, but she had to have help. “I need to send a signal to your friends on the rim, and have them patch it through to Phobos to be broadcast throughout the solar system.”

Vladi let out a long whistle. “And let me guess, you don’t want Jerrod to know about this?”

“No,” she answered. She stared into his deep blue eyes, noticing for the first time the light gray flecks. “It’s also important that none of the execs with F/J find out before the broadcast goes out.”

Vladi whistled again. “You don’t ask for much, do you? Can I at least ask what this is about?”

Christina shook her head. “You have to be naïve. I’m sorry Vladi, but you have to find out with everyone else. I don’t trust many people on Mars anymore, and I have a feeling some of them are going to want to do some very nasty things to me when this comes out. If they know you’re involved…”

Vladi nodded. “Give me three hours, but if you want to keep Jerrod out of this, you’re going to have to broadcast from outside the base. He could block anything else you did, and I have a feeling he’s going to be looking for your security codes.”

“Wouldn’t I have to use my codes outside too? Couldn’t he block that?”

Vladi smiled. “I guess we’ll just have to give you new codes and have you transmit direct. As long as you stay away from the base com systems, he can’t block your transmission, probably not even with your regular codes.”

*

If the microbes and colonies were able to think on a high enough level, they probably would have wanted to build a monument to honor Christina. She was going to make the effort to save them. Who knows? Maybe they built her a statue.

*

Jerrod glared at her from across the desk. “I hope you’re happy.”

Christina nodded. Jerrod’s small office was filled with the red dust of Mars. Christina hadn’t bothered to get out of her suit before she presented herself to Jerrod. Once she’d sent the message, she’d sat out on the cold sand for three hours, waiting to see if anyone would come after her. No one did.

“Because of you, Earth has ordered the terraforming stopped; and they’ve ordered me back to Earth.”

Christina shrugged. Outside the door to Jerrod’s office, she could hear the yelling of the scientists as they celebrated. At least she had friends here.

“Terraforming may have been the last chance to save the people on Earth. Were the lives of billions worth what you did?”

“Yes, they were,” she said, standing to leave.

When she reached the door, Jerrod stopped her. “Christina, it’s not safe for you here anymore. I doubt it’s safe on Earth either. You might want to think about heading somewhere else.”

She’d already decided to head for the Belt. They wouldn’t care about her decision, but she knew billions of creatures on Mars would care, if they were capable of it, which someday Christina hoped they would be.




Lowering One’s Self Before Fate


Death can come in many forms, none of them pleasant, but sometimes they can be welcome.

Before I really get into the story, it’s important for me to let you, the reader, know that this is not my story. I found this story downloaded into my AI’s memory banks early one morning and have never quite figured out where it came from. I know who, or what, supposedly sent it, but as you shall see, the story is difficult to believe, or at least it’s one I don’t want to believe. I can therefore only take credit as editor of the story. It is also important to note that the author of this story was not privy to details I know of, and was also apparently writing for an audience that would understand everything he was saying. I wanted to keep the text in its original form; therefore, I have annotated the text as necessary. Again, the words are not mine, although I might like to take credit for them.

*

Much has been made of the Kira Len Massacre. I was neither a witness to, nor am I an expert on the Kira Len Massacre, at least not exactly, but I do have a special knowledge that I feel should help illuminate the details of that massacre and the events leading up to it. Most importantly, I can answer the questions as to what happened after the massacre.

Kira Len1 had been a peaceful colony at the outskirts of the Orion Empire2. It was a colony that lived by Tao and wanted nothing more than to be left to its own devices3.

The Taoist peace Kira Len had formed was destroyed the day Epsilon Eridani 24 gave up control of its outlying systems to the Corlani, a barely corporeal species that distrusted all beings that lived entirely in what we know as the physical universe. Humankind was yet to discover how to access that area beyond our universe, although theories had existed for centuries, possibly since before Homo Sapiens Sapiens.

It’s intriguing that the Corlani first came to Kira Len, for the Taoist people of Kira Len were the closest of all humankind to finding their way into that area beyond our universe.

My story begins two days before the Corlani fleet moved into orbit around Kira Len. My story begins with the Emperor Shen Li and his advisor Quon Soo. Emperor Li was frugal as a leader, and a man of many years, how many I’ve never been sure of, but I do that he never seemed as old as he was. He was bald by choice and had powerful gray eyes. Most importantly, as the physical did not matter to Shen Li, he was an emperor that led by being led, as was the way of Tao.

“What will we do if they come here?” Soo asked his emperor.

“It’s not if they will come, my friend, for it is certain that they will come.”

“Then what will we do?”

“We shall lower ourselves before them.”

The Emperor’s aide frowned. “These are not humans. These are Corlani.”

“And they cannot understand the way of Tao?”

Soo stuttered several times, his face growing pale. As he tried to form words, Emperor Li stared out the window at the distant Meng Mountains. His gaze drifted down the lofty snow covered peaks and fell across the fields at the foot of the mountains. He allowed his gaze to trace its way across the plains, drifting across the walls of the city, across the rooftops of the small huts until his gaze rested on the people in the courtyard, the people he was subject to. Many of them were engaged in their daily practice of Tai-chi. Emperor Li watched the graceful movements, admiring the different forms being used. Finally, he allowed his gaze to rest upon a small boy engaged in the Wu style. The boy was just about to embrace the tiger5 when Soo shook the Emperor.

“Are you alright?”

The Emperor smiled. “Quite. I was just watching the boy,” he said, pointing out the window. “And remembering my youth.”

“What about the Corlani?”

“What about them?”

Soo shook his head and wrung his hands. “They will be here within months. I’m certain of it.”

“Then we should make preparations,” the Emperor said, rising from the pillow he’d been sitting on.

Soo’s face brightened.

Emperor Li clapped his hands together. “We shall have a feast in their honor when they arrive.”

Soo’s expression fell. He shook his head. There didn’t seem to be anything else to do.

I feel it’s important to interrupt my narrative at this point to make certain that the reader understands that Emperor Li was not naïve, nor was he stupid, nor was he crazy. He was doing what his Taoist heart told him he should. As I’ve tried to point out, the intentions of the Corlani were not known6. Emperor Li had to assume they were friendly. If they weren’t, he’d follow the advice of Lao Tzu7 and not advance an inch, but rather retreat a foot. He needed to be sure that his was the grieving side. It would be the only way to assure victory.

Emperor Li began to make preparations, but even he was surprised by the arrival of the Corlani just two days after his conversation with Soo. The Corlani city-state sized ships moved into orbit, twenty of them, more than what Soo felt was necessary for a greeting or for an ambassadorial detachment to a human dinner party. To Soo, it looked like an invasion fleet8.

Emperor Li seemed to feel the same way. He was much more nervous than usual, always active, instead of just being. The Corlani didn’t come down right away. They’d arrived before noon, but none of the inhabitants of Kira Len had yet seen a Corlani as the sun began to set behind the Meng Mountains. Emperor Li watched as the orange globe of the sun lit the snow-covered peaks with fire, a fire that the rock of the mountains would eventually extinguish. As the first stars began to sparkle in the waning light, Emperor Li and his advisor noticed one of the twinkling lights was moving, slowly descending against the blackening sky. It could only mean one thing. The Corlani were coming.

Emperor Li took a deep breath. “I suppose we should prepare ourselves.”

Soo nodded. Words were difficult. Finally, he managed to mumble, “How?”

The Emperor laughed. “That’s a good question, my friend. As I think about it, a feast doesn’t seem appropriate for beings that have crossed part way into the universe beyond.”

Soo nodded again as he watched the twinkling light of the landing craft. Something was wrong, but Soo wasn’t sure what it was. “I suppose we should just be prepared to lower ourselves before them.”

“We will make a master of you yet, my friend. Soon you will understand Non-Ado, and you will value nothing, and therefore value everything.”

Soo nodded yet again. Taoism was wonderful and he wanted to understand, but sometimes he felt as though the Emperor and others like him had lost their grounding in the real world. “What if they ask us to leave, or tell us to leave?”

The Emperor smiled. He did not answer, and Soo knew he wouldn’t.

Over the next hour, the landing craft grew from a small point of light to a recognizable structure. It was a perfectly symmetrical sphere with protuberances. Each protrusion was matched on the opposite side of the sphere. The craft also glowed with a golden light. Soo thought this was unnatural, most likely a way of impressing some of the more backwards alien cultures9.

Once the craft had landed, a small door irised open and the Corlani emerged. It was obvious to all of the onlookers that the Corlani were forcing their energies to present a corporeal form, but they certainly didn’t look humanoid. To Emperor Li and the others, they looked like giant dandelion seeds, only rather than being white; they were streaked with gold, silver, and crimson. They floated in the air, not seeming to be in a hurry. This pleased the citizens of Kira Len, but still Soo felt uneasy. There was still something he couldn’t put his finger on.

Emperor Li went down to his knees and bowed before the dandelion seeds. Once his head was within inches of the cold plasti-concrete of the landing field, the others in the welcoming contingent went to their knees and bowed.

“Welcome to Kira Len,” Emperor Li said, not looking up.

“Thank you, Emperor Li,” a voice said, although Soo couldn’t tell which creature was speaking. It seemed as if the voice had spoken within his head. “But please, you must all rise. We are not your rulers, gods, or conquerors. We come as kindred intellects.”

Emperor Li nodded to Soo, who rose to his feet. The others in the crowd followed suit. Once they were all standing, Emperor Li rose. “We had planned a feast in your honor, but that suddenly seems inappropriate.”

“Yes, Emperor, that would be inappropriate, but please, feast in honor of yourselves. We cannot attend, but this is a day for celebrating.”

“You will not honor us with your presence?” Soo suddenly asked. He hadn’t meant to, but the words seemed to force their way out of his mouth.

“No. Forcing our life energies into these confining forms is tedious. We will return to our ships shortly.”

Soo finally knew what was bothering him. He decided that he’d already spoken out of turn once, so one more time wouldn’t hurt, but instead of asking the question he wanted to ask, he found himself saying, “Couldn’t you attend in your non-corporeal forms?”

“We are afraid to do this because you would not know where we were. As you would say, we have access to hyperspace, and since hyperspace permeates everything, we can be anywhere. We’ve found it to be quite disconcerting for corporeal species.”

“It wouldn’t bother as at all,” Soo said, even though the idea frightened the hell out of him. He looked at the Emperor for support. The Emperor smiled his approval. That wasn’t the support Soo had hoped for.

“Then we shall attend.”

There was silence from the crowd. The natural human fear of the unknown permeated the crowd with a stench none of them were familiar with. Soo wanted to ask a question, but he didn’t want to offend the Corlani for fear of insulting the Emperor. He felt that silence would be the Taoist thing to do, but he wasn’t sure.

My apologies, but I feel that it is again necessary to interrupt my narrative. It’s become obvious to me that you, the reader, may be having trouble understanding Quon Soo. Let me first of all tell you that he was not a native of Kira Len. He had moved there with his family when he was 13 in an attempt to escape political persecution on Vendali Prime10. His parents weren’t Taoists, nor did they ever take up Taoism. The young Soo, however, quickly took to the ideas and began to study with an insatiable hunger. His voracious studying eventually led to his being introduced to the Emperor. The how and why of Soo gaining his position at the Emperor’s side are not important to the overall telling of this story. The other details I felt were important, but perhaps they weren’t. It may just be my personal biases showing themselves.

The banquet hall was set in what Soo felt was an extravagant manner, at least by Taoist standards. Paper lanterns in every color hung from the ceiling, their perma-glow bulbs casting bright pools of light into the diffuse illumination that permeated the room. Silk banners, 81 of them in all, hung along the walls, each bearing a different chapter from the Tao Teh Ching. Silver oak tables from the Chun Forest rested a few inches off the ground on simple stumps of wood. Already several guests had found their way into the banquet hall and were reclining on pillows, no two seeming to be of the same color.

Quon Soo saw the Emperor across the large room taking in the decorations and shaking his head. It was obvious he wasn’t pleased. Soo made his way across the room, nodding and exchanging pleasantries with the guests that stopped him. After several minutes, he made his way to the Emperor’s side. “Not exactly lowering ourselves through our quietness.”

“You have a gift,” the Emperor said. “A gift for understatement. It would seem that my planners have lost touch with the Feminine of the world, at least for a moment.”

Soo nodded. “Do you think they’re here?”

The Emperor looked sideways at him and smiled slightly. “The Corlani, or my planners?”

“Do I amuse you?”

“All of life amuses me, but if you’re asking of the Corlani, yes, they’re here.”

“How can you know?”

The Emperor smiled. Soo knew he would get no answer. His flesh tingled at the thought that the non-corporeal beings could be anywhere in the room. Could they be occupying the same space that he was? He shivered. He did his best to hide it, but the Emperor’s eyes sought him out, and the smile seemed to grow. Soo walked away. He knew it wasn’t the Taoist way to think, but sometimes the Emperor could annoy him.

As the evening progressed, Soo found himself becoming less and less comfortable with the presence of the Corlani. Occasionally, one of them would manifest its physical form to make communications with the humans easier. Soo often heard the Corlani speaking of how annoying it was to have to take on a physical form. The words echoing in his head whenever he came close to one of the creatures. Soo was quickly growing tired of their arrogance.

It was in that growing frustration that Soo finally confronted one of the Corlani. He’d been waiting to see the Emperor speaking with one of them, and when he saw his opportunity, he pounced.


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