It started, as these things always do, with some bright spark saying, “Yeah, no problem, I can do that.” This particular bright spark was named Clark Kent, a wunderkind in biology. His specialty? Spiders. Big spiders. Kent thought he was accompanying his buddy, Dwight Eisenhower, to Bill Wiley’s presentation. Dwight, though, had other ideas, big ideas with Bill Wiley, who started in on his presentation to the NASA engineers and scientists.
“I give you the Space Elevator,” Wiley began. And, with a flick of the wrist, a slide appeared illuminating one wall. Wiley had skipped the usual pulldown screen wanting to showcase Mark Rotherham’s fabulous artwork on an entire wall. He hoped to dazzle the assemblage. They had seen it all before. Weary scientists who had heard it all before too and would need something spectacular to elicit even mere interest.
SHE FELT A BEAD OF SWEAT trickle down her back, while others formed ready to soak her clothes beneath her encounter suit. The overwhelming urge was to scratch at the irritation from the carbon that leached out from the suit, but she couldn’t. Couldn’t because of the large rubber gloves covering her hands. Hands that rested either side of the communications rig, waiting. Waiting for a signal. A word. Anything that would tell her what was happening in her own little sphere of the war.
She had not taken her eyes from the leader board, out front, in over ten minutes. Concentrating on the ever changing data, as the lettered tiles flipped over, relaying the alarming truth of their situation. The battle was not going well. Four squadrons had flown out in the early hours of the morning to engage the enemy, through the thick fog that covered the tiny hamlet. The base lay hidden, nestled in the sheltering cover of trees. All but the runway that is. A thin ribbon of concrete that gave away their position like a lit beacon flashing, ‘look we’re here!’
We’re here. She tried not to think about it. About what had brought them to this moment in time, this moment in space—in such a short time. Diplomacy having long since failed. The Peace talks having fallen on deaf ears, the bombs had starting flying instead of the rhetoric.
— 1 —
“Gods and monsters come in many shapes and form, but none more deadly than the many-armed human kind who can both create life,
and just as quickly, destroy it.”
The dwarf planet Chandra, designate EL10 or hell by some, was simply called the Rock by the residents of Vikram’s Landing. The ramshackle shanty town—that had started out life as nothing more than a cluster of miner’s survival pods sheltered in a maze of interconnecting gullies—had grown exponentially the minute a pocket of the highly prized, and much sought after, crystals had been discovered. To the Ceres mining company, however, Vikram’s Landing was nothing short of a pustulant boil and no matter how much they squeezed, the damn place refused to give-up, let alone die. Vikram’s Landing, against all the odds, steadfastly clung to life just like those who populated it.
The independent miners had set up camp well before the Company had arrived and had found ways to survive in Chandra’s harshest of conditions. And whether or not Company employees, indentured or not, were bound to fork over their hard-earned credit to the Company for everything from their accommodation to their over-priced utilities, residents of Vikram found inventive ways to makes ends meet.
Like the time Ma Issy Camden and her boys figured out a way to syphon off a trickle of power from the Company’s then fledgling power grid that first year the Company were setting themselves up and establishing Main Town. Both sides learnt bitter lessons from the encounter, both sides learnt they would forever and always be in a battle of wills one the Company thought they could win.
Vikram, and its inhabitants, had other ideas.
AS DAWN BROKE, the first few fingers of light pierced the dark. Clouds ran to cover the moon. A woman dressed in white huddled against the chill of night, a chill that seeped into her very marrow. Pulling the heavy cloak about her did little to ward off the cold. Arms pulled tightly about her she bowed her head and wept. Wept till deep-racking sobs finally over took her and her slender body shook. The quiet stillness of night slowly passing into day, oblivious of such grief.
The Carthagian Prefect, Rhé Elissa-Dido, lost in sorrow, was unaware that someone stood behind her concealed in dark shadows by a small cluster of bushes. Someone, who, up until that moment, had been unaware of her presence, someone who, like her, had come to a quiet place to be alone to reflect through a night of solitude. But instead, had inadvertently shared a night of soul-searching.