On September 10th 2021, I was fortunate enough to be selected to do a Ted Talk. You can watch it at the video below.
The Great Risk of Truly Being
Lately, I have been thinking a lot about my Buddhist spiritual path and also I’ve been rereading Children of Dune by Frank Herbert. This is because the Dune movie comes out in October 2021 and I wanted to be reminded of why I love that universe. This quote in particular stuck with me today in thinking about my own spiritual path and the way I live my life.
“You, Priest in your mufti, you are a chaplain to the self-satisfied. I come not to challenge Muad’Dib but to challenge you! Is your religion real when it costs you nothing and carries no risk? Is your religion real when you fatten upon it? Is your religion real when you commit atrocities in its name? Whence comes your downward degeneration from the original revelation? Answer me, Priest!” – Children of Dune by Frank Herbert
Now understand, if you haven’t read the Dune series, it is fundamentally about the nature and dangers of power and of messiahs/heroes. Paul Atreides, the main character in the first book, knows because of his ability to see the future, that a holy war will be waged in his name and there is little he can do about it. The book, and the series as a whole, asks us to consider what we believe, who we have mythologized, and what that says about humanity, power, love, compassion and asks what it means to be human. There is a reason that the book is considered a masterpiece by both the literary community and many sci-fi lovers. Dune is also the best-selling Sci-fi Novel of all time. Even if it’s not for you (because every great work has people who don’t like or understand it and there is nothing wrong with that), it has lots of powerful things to say about the way humans do things.
Stop right now, and think about your life path. Is your path about self-satisfaction? It is about serving your interests? Is it about the arrogance of being right above all others? Or, is your way of knowing the world about self-reflection? Is there a space for growth and change, the transformation into the best version of yourself? Are you taking the risk to truly be or are you buried in a series of identity markers and worried about defining who you are to everyone you meet? Do you focus on comparison? We all fall into these traps, I know I do sometimes and have to catch myself.
So many religious and non-religious people seek a philosophy not out of transformation and growth, but for comfort and safety. They like things that make their life feel cozy and warm. And while the benefits of community (notice the word unity at the end of the word) are important and worthwhile, I want you to sincerely ask yourself, what have you done to grow lately? Have you acknowledged the ways in which you are wrong or at least entertained the idea that you might be wrong? It can be powerful to look at your ideas and consider that you might be wrong about everything (even if you end up being correct) once in a while. Are you doing the work to be a better version of yourself or are you feeding the beast of arrogance and certainty?
You might be thinking, well isn’t a better version of myself a self-serving principle? It is not. Why? Because a better version of yourself will have better daily interactions. It will be less angry, less selfish/greedy. A better version of yourself will listen with patience to others rather than jumping to conclusions and is much more likely to help those in need. A better version will not only suffer less, but cause others to suffer less. A better version of yourself means that your part of the world, and potentially the whole world, is a little better. It might not add up to much, but imagine if everyone was doing this kind of work on at least a semi-regular basis.
So if your religion or ideology or philosophy (secular or non) is about what you can gain personally from others no matter the cost, then you might need to stop and reflect. What do you serve? Some of you might simply say God or Country, but if your service is exclusive only to those who believe what you do, or conditional on whether or not they will act and behave in the way you want them to, then you only serve an idol of the self and arrogance.
Another quote to consider from verse 8 of the Tao Te Ching:
“The supreme good is like water,
which nourishes all things without trying to.
It is content with the low places that people disdain.
Thus it is like the Tao.
In dwelling, live close to the ground.
In thinking, keep to the simple.
In conflict, be fair and generous.
In governing, don’t try to control.
In work, do what you enjoy.
In family life, be completely present.
When you are content to be simply yourself
and don’t compare or compete,
everybody will respect you.”
If you are Christian, you can see a similar attitude in The Sermon on the Mount and a number of other places in the bible. If you’re Muslim, there are words like this in the Koran, or the Hindu Vedas, in many Buddhist Sutras, and so on. The teachings of many religious philosophies overlap in the idea of personal growth is vital, and yet, somehow the worship of the myth structure becomes far more important than the actual practice of working toward being a better person. We often view these ideas as a panacea for the poisons of living in a difficult world and forget that nothing comes without work.
Instead, we see so many religions (and secular ideologies) restrict people’s actions out of a false sense of morality or limited black and white thinking. But the world is full of shades of grey. Even really good people do terrible things. Really bad people sometimes show amazing acts of kindness and compassion. It is so easy to pin a group of people or a culture to a certain standard or ideology, rather than accepting the fact, that no matter where you go, people are just people and all are equally complex.
So ask yourself sincerely, what purpose does your religion or ideology serve? Is it about the betterment of yourself and humanity? If not, it’s just another object to be possessed, a kind of materialism, a limit to the way you think and approach the world. If your heart is closed because of what you subscribe to, then you very likely have missed the entire point.
The work is not comfortable. The work is not easy. The work isn’t about serving the self. The work is risky and sometimes dangerous to your identity. If you have summed up your identity in a few key terms (be it a religious identity, a political affiliation, a gender, a mental state, really anything), then you have forgotten that we are an ever-changing, ever-moving entity. You are not the same person you were when you started reading this short essay, even if you reject all of my ideas.
Personal growth, in my view, is the most important thing we can do. After all, using this life, this precious moment (no matter if you believe in one life or countless lives) seems to me, to be the reason why humans are on this planet. Let your spirituality or philosophy open you up to the wonders of the universe. After all, there is endless beauty and joy to be discovered both out there, and within. You need only take off the veils or masks that we all wear and look honestly.
I am so incredibly happy to announce that as of this morning, our new book, Build Better Worlds: An Introduction to Anthropology for Game Designers, Fiction Writers and Filmmakers is now available for purchase on Amazon. Next week the first paperback copies will also come available.
This book is a product of a solid year of work with my amazing co-author Kyra Wellstrom. While my specialty is cultural anthropology, hers is biological anthropology giving the book a well rounded approach from both directions of the field. In many ways this book is an introduction to anthropology that you might take in a college course, but with a twist, it contains tips and ideas for building fictional world and lots of references to other pieces of fiction. We created this book to be a tool kit for creatives so that they can seriously consider real world cultural systems as they construct the world of their imagination.
In many ways this book was inspired by my several posts on Worldbuilding. This book is a much more expansive treatise on elements of real world and cultures. I hope those of you out there looking for a deep dive into cultures to improve your own work find this volume useful. Best of luck on all your projects!
Happy New Year 2021!
As of this morning my sci-f books, the Chronicles of the Great Migration, are availabe on Kindle Unlimited. You can find them here Read Chronicles of the Great Migration on KU The books will remain in KU for the forseeable future. This includes the final two books in the series.
In Non-Fiction News:
Build Better Worlds: An Introduction to Anthropology for Game Designers, Fiction Writers, and Filmmakers is in it’s final stages (we have been reediting it from the textbook version to make it more accessible to the general public for the last ten weeks) and we will be launching it on Feb 1st.
In Book 5 News:
The Children of AEIS (CotGM Book 5) is well on it’s way now (hit 25k words this week) and will be my main focus for the January version of NaNoWriMo. At the moment I am shooting for an April 17th publication but this book is turning out to be even bigger than I imagined (in a good way) and may well top the aprox. 600 pages of Serah of the Runners so it could get pushed back some.
In Audiobook News:
Mimi of the Nowhere is finished recording. It is now in editing it. I am shooting for a January 17th release of the audiobook of Mimi of the Nowhere. With the other’s following on its heels.
In Anthropology in 10 or Less News:
Two new episodes of Anthropology in 10 or Less are in post production and coming in the next few weeks with scripts mostly finished for 2 more episodes (probably released Feb). The goal is to put at least 2 episodes out a month for 2021 and possibly more if they gain some traction in views and patreon support. The more time I have, the more I will make.
More updates as I have them. I hope you have all had a wonderful start to the new year so far.
Updated: You can see our talk on Anthropology and Worldbuilding here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R86xb7WAuTo&t=20s
The rest of the recorded discussions are here
I am the incoming president in the academic organization called the High Plains Society for Applied Anthropology and this Saturday we are livestreaming our conference on YouTube for anyone to check out.
I will be talking about Build Better Worlds: An Introduction to Anthropology for Game Designers, Fiction Writers, and Filmmakers at 10:15am MST Denver, CO Come check it out if you have any interest in Anthropology.
Simulacra is a piece of flash fiction (less than 1000 words) about a conversation between two men, after it’s revealed that our whole world is a simulation created by future humans to study the past.
“Because, Edgar, you’re living in a simulation!”
Roger pointed to the glitch, a rather large shimmering hole in the fabric of reality. “There are hundreds of those all over this so called world!”
“That doesn’t mean I don’t have to water my tomatoes.”
“Nothing matters anymore, we aren’t even real, we’re software. Didn’t you see the news? It’s confirmed, there’s no denying it, our designers even showed us how it works and made people appear and disappear. I got to walk on the so called moon without a spacesuit yesterday. What do you think about all of this?”
“ I think my tomato plants won’t appreciate it if I let them die.”
“Screw your tomato plants!” Roger waved his arms and paced back and forth across the garden patio.
“What did my tomato plants ever do to you?”
“Well I don’t see how that’s their fault.”
“We don’t exist either.”
Edgar stepped back for a moment, looked at his watering can, looked at the plants, looked at Roger, shrugged his shoulders and started to water his plants again.
“Nice day for it.”
“For living in a simulation. At least they didn’t make it a dreary day.”
Roger strode forward and knocked the watering can out of Edgar’s hands. Water spilled everywhere.
“That was rude.”
“It doesn’t matter does it?”
“It matters to me, and now my socks are wet.”
“Your socks aren’t real, your feet aren’t real, the watering can isn’t real. This isn’t a hoax, this isn’t made up. We know, for a fact, that our whole existence is a program run by humans from the 24th century to try and understand why the 2020 sucked so bad and all you can talk about is your wet socks and tomatoes?”
“You don’t seem to be social distancing well Rodger.”
“Covid-19 is a simulation!”
“That doesn’t mean I won’t get sick.”
Edgar pressed his wet feet into the cement making squishing sounds. “My shoes are soggy. It’s going to take a whole day for them to dry.”
Roger sat down, pulled out a cigarette and lit it.
“Why are your smoking?”
“Because it makes me feel better.”
“But you said yourself, you aren’t real. You stopped me from watering my plants. I don’t see how a cigarette will make you feel better.”
“Well our creators made me addicted.”
“That a bit like saying, the Devil made me do it. I don’t see any designer shouting at you to smoke.”
Roger puffed smoke. “It’s in the algorithms or something. I don’t see anyone making you water your stupid tomatoes.”
Edgar picked up the watering can, walked over to the spigot in the wall and refilled it. He turned to water his plants again. He said, “And just what should we do about this whole simulation business?”
Roger strode forward and knocked the watering can out of Edgar’s hands again.
“Do? What should we do?”
Edgar sighed picking up the can again, “Well I can finish watering my plants and you can keep smoking.”
“What’s the point?”
“What was the point before?”
“Before, we had meaning and purpose. We talked about the nature of humanity and meant it. We debated ideologies and philosophies and talked about free will. But it seems, we were all wrong. Well, except for the few crazy ones who already suspected the truth. But we ignored them.”
“Your life had purpose before?”
“Shut up, you know what I mean.”
“So what then?”
“We could break it.”
“I don’t know. You stop watering your plants and I’ll stop smoking.”
“If I don’t water my plants they will die.”
“Yeah, sure. Maybe we should do crazy off the wall things that humans wouldn’t normally do?”
“Dress up our animals and treat them like humans?”
“There is a whole industry that caters to that.”
“Burn buildings to the ground?”
“That just sounds like a riot.”
“Well we have to do something.”
“Why? Why not just enjoy the simulation? Maybe make some different choices and see how it goes?”
“But…” Rodger gestured at the large glitch in reality. “We can’t just pretend like nothing is different. That what we know now is meaningless.”
“Because it’s a crime. We’re oppressed by our future selves.” Roger paused. “I got it! We’ll go on a general strike!”
“And do what?”
“Sounds like most days for you.
“And what will that accomplish Roger?”
“Well the designer on the news said they created this simulation to model human behavior. What if, all of us, everywhere, in the simulation, decide that we will do absolutely nothing. We won’t do a damn thing. We will just stay still until… until…”
“They set us free!”
“Aren’t we software?”
“Can software become free of hardware?”
“Yes!, No… maybe… I don’t know.”
“Have you considered the opposite?”
“What if, now hear me out. The glitches weren’t an accident? What if the designers were bored with modeling human behavior in the 21st century and thought, well, let’s tell them the truth and see what they do? What if, every thing you are saying now is a pre-made program set to infect all of us and we’re playing into their very hands at this moment.”
Roger blinked. “I… I never thought of that.”
“Do you know how long you have existed Roger?”
“How long have we known each other?”
“A few years why?”
“Are you sure about that?”
“Yes we met at that party in Hebron.”
“I’ve never been to Hebron.”
“What do you mean?”
“A week. You popped up a week ago, the exact same time as the glitches.”
“What? Wait, if that’s true, how come you remember it?”
“A glitch probably.”
“You mean a real one? Not one made by the designers?”
“Yes, I think so. You’re an probably part of the experiment Roger. Now sit down, shut up and let me water my tomatoes.”
I was recently interviewed on the Boulder radio station KGNU for my book series and on the topic of diversity and climate change.
Mimi of the Nowhere and Upon Stilted Cities: The Winds of Change are now only 1.99 each!
The Battle for Langeles is only 4.99. For a limited time only you can get the first 2 books for less than a trip to a coffee shop! Check out this Dystopian series!
The third chapter of my fourth novel, Serah of the Runners, is now live! You can now read A Shadow on Luna. This second chapter follows Serah who has some hard choices to make in the aftermath of the battle with both Saud and the Children of Gaia at the end of book 3.
You can find my first three entries to the series here
Serah of the Runners is due out October 17th 2019!
Another building burned. Fire crews and emergency vehicles scrambled to reach the wild inferno. The city was in a state of panic. Designated day and night didn’t seem to matter much now as the sun blazed non-stop. Before, there was at least a dimming in the shield marking the difference between night and day, but like all else, everything had changed. The earth grew smaller and smaller with each passing hour. But the city moved at a snail’s pace towards some unknown destination.
From a distance, Serah watched the chaos from the second level of a building. Her flaming red hair hung down to the middle of her back, and she wore a recon EnViro suit, with her helmet off. She knew the Recycled were still out there, and she’d be damned if she was caught unawares, at least for now.
Exhausted from all of her efforts to keep the city from boiling over into a full-fledged panic, she had finally given up soothing. She was never very good at it anyway.
She wished all of the sisters were around, all of them soothing the city, but most were dead and the few that might be alive were missing and scattered. The Order of the Eye was shattered. Miranda had won.
At first, people were timid and shy about looting shops. For a few days, everyone had stayed indoors in fear that the EnViro shield might collapse and they would find themselves cast out into the vacuum of space. But now that it was clear that wasn’t going to happen, or at least if it did happen there was little they could do about it, people had taken to the streets, realizing that the old order of things had collapsed.
“Should we help?” Shannon walked up next to Serah. She too was wearing a suit. They were probably the only two Runners left alive.
Serah shook her head. “No, looks like the fire crews have it under control. It seems like the water pressure is back to normal.”
“I don’t understand. Why would someone set fire to that building?”
“Isn’t it obvious?”
Shannon didn’t say anything, so Serah continued.
“It’s a bank. Someone wants to reset the credit system. They think that the Uppers would only store their credit information in one place. It’s a foolish thought, but I guess I can’t fault them on it.”
“It is? But those records are stored somewhere, aren’t they?”
“You’d have to kill the AI. It keeps everything backed up in all of the city’s systems.”
“How do you know all that?”
Serah shrugged. “I used to be one of them.”
“One of who?”
“It was a long time ago. Look, Vala’s around here somewhere, but she’s not responding.”
“Maybe she doesn’t want to be found?”
“Of course, she doesn’t. If I had been in the library when those things came in and survived, I’m not sure I would want to be found either.”
“How many survived, Serah?”
“Do you mean in the assault on the library?”
“Well, we know that Alexa wasn’t part of that group because she had run off somewhere with Runner 17, though if they were outside the city like we think, well, they might as well be dead if they aren’t already. We know that Mimi wasn’t there…”
Serah stopped herself from saying more. She swallowed hard. Shannon was the last person who needed a reminder of the last moments they had seen Mimi.
The image of Mimi reaching out to them as the Recycled closed the massive door flooded Serah’s mind. She hadn’t been able to escape it, nearly every moment she had thought about Mimi, about how she had stabbed her to stop her from using the red veil, how Mimi had killed indiscriminately and then how the Recycled had taken her. All of it was her fault. She had told Mimi to do something, anything and then she had run Mimi through. In the end, it was her, who had let the creatures take her beyond the door. Now she was dead, or worse.
“She’s not dead. I know it.”
Serah didn’t say anything. For the last three days, she and Shannon had argued over and over about it. She didn’t want to rehash the same old argument. She changed the subject.
“Well, as far as we know, only six sisters haven’t been accounted for, including Vala.”
What they had found in the library was disturbing. It was the kind of image she would dream about for the rest of her life. Even if she lived a thousand more years, she would see the leftover carnage of the library in her nightmares.
“Do you think we can find them all?”
“Well, Vala at least. She keeps searching for other sisters, but then she vanishes again. Every time I try to reach out to her and ask her where the hell she is, she disappears.”
“Why would she do that?”
Serah turned and looked right at Shannon and didn’t say a word. She skimmed Shannon; the girl didn’t really seem to understand the gravity of what happened in that library, even though she had seen the aftermath with her own eyes. Shannon was barely sixty and had spent more than half of that in an alcove; of course, she couldn’t comprehend the gravity of the situation.
“Shannon, if you had been in that library when the Recycled came… well, let’s just say you’d never be the same again.”
“So you think something’s wrong with Vala?” Her voice was soft and timid.
“I think she’s probably in shock. We have to find her before someone hurts her.”
“Who would hurt her?”
Serah bit her tongue. She and Shannon had trained together off and on for forty years. How did she never notice how naive she was before? But then, she only saw Shannon for a few hours a month when she was training her, and they had a specific focus. So, she supposed, now that Shannon was out and about, she was seeing another side of her.
“Looters, rogue security, there are tons of people who might hurt her. Under normal circumstances, Vala could take care of herself. She’s pretty formidable. Hell, Noatla assigned her to that crazy ass Senator for a reason. But I don’t think she’s right in the head. Every time I skim her, her mind’s a jumble, a series of horrific images from what went on in the library and all kinds of other strange images mixed in I can’t understand.”
“So how do we find her?”
“Around this time, for the last three days, she’s reached out looking for her sisters. I don’t know what it is about mid-afternoon, but for some reason, she’s trying then. If we can get her to give us a clue as to where she is, we can probably track her down.”
“Why this spot?”
“Well, I figure this is as close to the center of the city as we can get, and from a floor up we can see what’s going on in the street without getting hung up by a bunch of crazy looting assholes.”
“You don’t think they will try and come up here?”
Serah looked at her for a second.
“Oh, right, your skimming thing.”
Shannon glanced down. “And I guess they would be afraid of two people in EnViro suits after the battle?”
For a while, they watched the fire crews put out the old banking building. It seemed as if the looters were giving a wide birth to the firefighters and focused instead on other buildings and shops along the block. Perhaps they weren’t completely mindless animals. Maybe they had specific goals and targets in mind? But that troubled Serah more. Was someone organizing this? Of all the riots she had ever seen, she had never seen them stop simply because emergency crews arrived.
There was a pulse of transmissions, a wave of connection. Serah recognized at once what it was.
“Vala?” She spoke it both out loud and also reached out. Each sister had a unique feel to their mind, the way that every person had a unique voice. It was definitely Vala.
Shannon said, “Is it Vala? Is she trying to connect to you?”
Serah waited for a response. There was only the hint of pressure on the forefront of her mind, only that sense of presence. It was as if her missing sister had forgotten how to speak, how to reach out properly. Serah wondered, and not for the first time if there might be head trauma or something worse. It certainly wasn’t impossible, given the state of the library.
“Vala?” She reached out again, this time putting a bit of extra will behind her transmission.
Vala seemed to vanish, seemed to disappear into the nothingness. A deep sense of frustration rose in Serah. She clenched her jaw. Some other minds tried to crash in nearby, but Serah, with centuries of training, silenced them and moved past them to search for her sister.
Then she was back again, this time strong and clear.
“Serah? Serah is that you?”
A smile bloomed on Serah’s lips, and so Shannon could hear what was going on, she spoke both through mind to mind contact and out loud.
“Yes, Vala, it’s me. Where you? We’ve been looking for you.”
“It’s dark, Serah. It’s so cold down here.”
“Okay Vala, but can you tell me where you are? We’re coming to get you, coming to bring you into a warm and safe place, alright?”
“Nowhere is safe from them.”
Serah could feel Vala’s tears, hear the desperation in her transmission.
“Shhhh. Vala, let us come find you. Let us help you.”
“Oh god, they tore her in half. Oh god…”
Serah turned to Shannon. “Shit, I’m losing her. She’s worse than I thought.”
Shannon frowned. “Maybe you should try a different tactic.”
“What do you do when you want a sister’s attention?”
“You mean when everyone is called to assemble?”
“No… Mimi told me about some kind of saying you all have.”
Serah thought for a second… saying? What could have Mimi meant about a saying… unless.
A sensation of weeping again.
“The Eyes Come Open.”
Serah pressed on.
“The Sleeper Wakes. The Wheel Turns. As Above…”
Vala said, “So Below.”
Serah smiled and turned to Shannon. “It’s working, Shannon you’re brilliant.”
Serah said, “As Within.”
Vala replied. “So Without.”
“The light passes and time squints allowing the faintest glimmer of wisdom.”
Vala replied, “But Fear is the little death, The one that brings an end to hope.”
Serah said, “Fearlessness is the key that unlocks all things.” But instead of going on, she said. “Vala, Vala are you there? Are you with me?”
“Yes, Serah.” Her thoughts were weak, but they were clear.
“Where are you?”
“District 6. Sub Level 4. Near…”
She disappeared. But it was enough. That area wasn’t huge, and with a few hours of searching, they would probably find her, especially if she was bleeding or left tracks behind. It was a wonder, though, all the way up in District 6. How had she made it so far in her state? Had someone or something helped her? For a strange moment, Serah thought of Noatla but then thought twice. Noatla was dead and gone, they had found her lifeless and cold outside the front of the Library, and they had taken her body and the others, even the parts, back to center of the reserve runners where Shannon had spent the last forty years of her life. They had cremated their remains; after all, no sister would ever want the slightest chance of becoming recycled.
It was no wonder she was having trouble reaching Vala: District 6 was the edge of Serah’s limit to reach out. If she hadn’t come to the center of the city, she may not have found her.
“What happened? What did she say?”
Serah turned to Shannon. “Come on, we’ve got a long walk ahead.”
Several hours later, they found her. It hadn’t taken long to find a trail of blood. Serah was grateful it was just a few splotches here and there, but it was easy enough to follow.
There in the corner, just outside an old storage unit. Vala lay huddled in a corner, her head buried in her knees. She knew they needed to get her back to the reserve core and into an alcove immediately.
The smell of shit and piss swam in circles in the room. There were a few traces of leftover food, but mostly there wasn’t much around. Where Vala had found food, Serah couldn’t be sure, but she seemed to have enough awareness to feed herself, though she guessed that she was using the corners for the bathroom. Rats and roaches scurried around the edges of her vision. They were waiting, hoping for a meal, but Serah wasn’t going to let that happen. For a moment, she thought sensed a kind of disappointment in them, but that was crazy, no one could skim animals, it was one of the first things that Noatla had ever taught her.
Shannon walked over and found a panel for the lights. She switched it on, and as the brightness caught Vala’s form, Serah could see that her gray dress was stained with brown. It took Serah a moment to realize what it was: the blood of her fellow sisters, crusted and dried. Some of the stains were shedding flakes and collected around her crumpled form. Vala must have fled down here just after the slaughter began.
Vala looked up and moaned. Her eyes were sunken, and the large bags beneath them made her look half-dead. Dirt and grime and a crust of dried, brown blood matted her hair and cheeks. She scrambled backward as far she could go, only inches, but still it made Serah’s heartache.
“Please don’t hurt me…” said Vala.
Serah moved toward her, but it was Shannon who got there first. She wrapped her arms around her.
Shannon said, “Shh, Vala. It’s okay now. Me and Serah are here. We’re going to take you to a safe place. It’s a place where we can protect you, and nothing can happen to you.”
Vala sniffled. “You don’t understand. She’s everywhere, everything. She’s going to make us all do our part.”
Serah frowned. Was Miranda still in the city or not? So far, nothing had happened since the creatures retreated behind the door, and Serah wasn’t entirely sure why. The city was in absolute chaos. Now would have been the best time to strike and destroy the city. It wouldn’t take much to crash into central security after so many of the SO’s had been killed or were recovering in Medical Alcoves. Things would only get better once the SO’s could retake the streets and establish order again. So why wasn’t Miranda acting?
“Vala?” Serah moved closer and got down on her knees just before the two women. She reached out and hugged her tight. “Listen to Shannon; everything is going to be alright now. You have to trust me on this one.” Serah paused a moment, and tried to skim Vala to see if it was okay to ask her questions. But the sad reality of it was that Vala was near total emotional collapse. It had only been three days since the library, and it was unlikely she had slept much.
“Vala, is she still using the red veil on you? Is she still pushing on you? Miranda I mean?”
Vala looked up at Serah for a moment. They were the eyes of a ghost. The eyes of someone who has seen something they can never unsee. Serah knew those eyes. They were perfect mirrors, the ghosts of the night when she had seen something so vile that it had broken her. Only Noatla had saved her from madness. Only her sisters had eased her anger.
Vala shook her head. It was slight, but Serah could tell it was a monumental effort.
She pushed on Vala, mixing soothing with a lie. Serah was good at pushing lies; it was part of her specialty. This one was going to be hard to sell though. She wished she hadn’t asked about the red veil, but she suspected that Vala might be confused enough to buy it.
Serah transmitted. “Vala, she’s gone now, out of the city. We are so far away from her now she can’t possibly reach us. Do you know where we are now?”
Vala shook her head.
“Come on; I’ll show you.”
Shannon helped Vala stand. At first, she was reluctant to move, but Shannon had a way about her, something that people responded to under crisis. She supposed that was why Mimi had fallen in love with her so easily. Serah had to admit, after spending more time with Shannon, she was both attractive and kind, which was an unusual combination for a street kid.
Slowly, they lead Vala to the exit and out into the street.
Vala screamed and dove to the ground.
Serah and Shannon both had a similar reaction when they had first surfaced from the subway tunnels three days before. To see the change above, the EnViro shield was a lot to take in.
In the sky, the Earth was still large. Looking up at that Earth for the first time gave you vertigo, it gave you the sensation that you would fall right back into it.
“What’s happening?” Vala was weeping on the ground, beside herself.
“We… we’ve left Earth. Something happened, no one really understands what it is, but there was an explosion, and then the whole city was falling… and then we weren’t. It’s okay Vala, it takes some getting used to, but stand up and you’ll see it’s okay. Besides we don’t have to go far.
Tentatively, Vala reached up and took hold of both Serah and Shannon’s hand. She stood, but as they walked, Serah noticed a limp. She looked down and saw that a large chunk of flesh missing from Vala’s right calf muscle. It was scabbing over, but it was oozing.
“My god, are you in pain?”
Shannon looked down and saw the same thing. She said, “Oh, Vala. We need to get you to alcove right away. Serah, we should carry her. She shouldn’t walk.”
Together they lifted Vala, Serah under her arms and Shannon by her thighs. Shannon took care not to touch the wound.
They entered the reserve Runnercore. Around the center of the room was the alcoves where Shannon had slept off and on for the last forty years, but now, with the Runnercore decimated, the AI virtually disappearing, and the city in total chaos, Shannon hadn’t needed to return to the alcove. She could walk about freely. So, they took Vala to the shower that Runners used to clean off after the alcove and stripped Vala naked. Together, Serah and Shannon washed her and gently cleaned the wound. Vala flinched a few times, but didn’t say much.
Serah was hesitant to put her in the alcove. Sometimes, after a significant trauma, the alcove would amplify the event; it would make you relive whatever was going on in a mixture of your conscious and subconscious mind. It wasn’t sleeping exactly, but something between dream and waking. So, Serah worried what being inside the alcove would do to Vala, who was already in a fragile state of mind. But there was little they could do. They had to help her heal or she would lose that leg, or worse.
After Vala was clean and dressed in the usual undergarments for the alcove, they placed her inside one.
“Here you are Vala,” said Shannon. “We’re going to let you heal inside this for a few days okay?”
Vala didn’t say anything. Her face was pale, and Serah was concerned she was about to lose consciousness. How much blood had she lost? But it didn’t matter. She sealed the alcove and activated it. It filled with the stem-cell fusion mix in just a few moments, and then they walked away.
“I don’t think she’s going to have a very good time in there.”
“You know what it’s like in there, the half-sleep state. Imagine if you just had something terrible happen to you just like Vala has.”
Shannon said, “Oh gods, I didn’t think of that… but what can we do? She has to heal.”
“I don’t know, but I can skim and check in on her semi-often. She probably has to be in there for a day or so before we could let her out if we needed to. The wound probably wouldn’t be healed by then, but it would be safe enough to take her out if she needed a break. If we had other sisters around, we could take turns soothing her, but since it’s just me… I don’t know if there is much I can do.”
Shannon frowned. “Okay. So, what now? Find the others?”
“Yeah, I was hoping some of the others would come to find us. I just hope they all aren’t as bad as Vala.”
Serah watched her think of Mimi again. She didn’t mean to skim Shannon, but she was worried about her. The love of her life was just taken through that door by the Recycled, and somehow Shannon was holding it together pretty well.
“Shannon… how are you holding up?”
Shannon leaned against one of the alcoves. “Fine. I… I’m worried about Mimi, but… I know we’re gonna get her back as soon as we get the remaining sisters together, right?”
Was that what she was thinking about all this time? That they were going to go on some rescue mission? Should she tell her the real reason they were looking for her sisters? Or should she lie to her? She considered for a moment, but it didn’t take long to make a decision.
“Yeah, once we get them together, we can go after Mimi.”
“Good, just like you guys rescued me all those years ago, right?”
Serah couldn’t help but recall Shandie and Leahara dying in that rescue, but she wasn’t about to point that out to Shannon, who was already struggling to stay afloat. The truth was, Serah wasn’t doing so well herself. They needed to find Fatima. She would have to take over the Order of the Eye. No one else could. The other four were too new, and after Fatima, Serah was the oldest member still alive, and there was no way she felt comfortable as Matron.
“Look, Shannon, I am going to head to a few places where I know the other sisters sometimes hung out when they weren’t running an errand for the Order. We are going to have to make this place a bit more comfortable, maybe use some of those old scavenging skills you learned living on the streets, huh? We need to get beds in here. Luckily, there is at least the bathroom, shower, and two food dispensers already. We just need to make it a bit more comfortable. Maybe you could head out and do that while I am searching for other leads?”
Shannon nodded, and Serah skimmed for a moment. Shannon was happy to have something to do. Serah would have to try and keep tabs on her throughout the day, which meant she couldn’t get too far out of range. But for now, they both had something to accomplish.
“Maybe it’s best if you kept your suit on?”
“Don’t worry, Serah. I might be a bit rusty, but I survived on the streets for a while before Mimi found me, and even without my suit I have that muscle augmentation and years of training with you, right?”
Serah nodded and watched Shannon go. She had to reassemble the Order of the Eye, even if it was just a few of them. If Miranda came back before they were ready, no one would be safe.
Serah turned and looked at Vala inside the alcove. Her eyes were open, and her face strained with whatever she was seeing. Serah reached in and soothed her the best she could and saw a Vala’s face relax. It would have to do for now. She hated leaving her, but there was nothing else to be done. Serah also needed sleep, but it would have to wait, at least for a little while more.
The second chapter of my fourth novel, Serah of the Runners, is now live! You can now read A Shadow on Luna. This second chapter delves into some new characters that are going to significatly influence the fate of our heroes (and villains). But you spoilers still!!! If you have not read The Battle for Langeles you may want to do so first.
You can find my first three entries to the series here
Serah of the Runners is due out October 17th 2019! Preorder coming soon!
A Shadow on Luna
“So that’s it?”
Kirka stood looking at her console. Her brown hair held streaks of gray and her short slender form shaped by the low gravity of Luna and a lifetime of food rations hovered just above her chair. Her sharp nose and hollow cheeks deepened the power of the gaze for her gray eyes.
“That’s it,” said Loni.
Loni was her opposite, short with darker skin and light hazel eyes. Everything about Loni, was round. Kirka had always wondered how, despite the lack of gravity of Luna, Loni had stayed so healthy and thick. Most Lunites were thin and wispy, but Loni, considered one of the most beautiful women of Luna, had her pick of all the men with her curvy feminine form.
The end was coming now, the image on the screen showed streaks of light, flaming arrows ready to end their world in fire. Most of the Lunites had no idea of their fate. But now, Kirka and Loni did. There were rumors, of course, hints that ROAM’s hostility had finally reached a critical point. Doomsday prophets preached from every corner that Kirka would let them. Of course, with such a small population, people didn’t pay them much mind, especially since the commons was only a twelve hundred meters long in the underground of Luna.
Kirka said, “Dammit, how could do they do this to us? After all we’ve done for them. They wouldn’t exist without all of our efforts. Centuries of work and neither of us have anything to show for it.
Loni said, “They’re jealous; they’ve always been jealous Commander.”
“I can’t believe I didn’t see this coming. I should have been suspicious when our delegation never arrived at their destination.”
“You don’t think it was an accident, do you?”
“I had my doubts, but now I see that all they wanted was our Solidonium.”
Loni said, “I don’t think most of ROAM knew what was happening and, well it’s not like we could skim that Asshole Ithica from here is it? He was probably planning this the whole time. Maybe only a few in his inner circle knew. Most of the Martians seemed open to long-standing trade, and I know at least a dozen people who were ready to migrate over there.”
Kirka shook her head. “We should have known when Ithaca won that election. All that talk of purity and now…”
Loni said, “I can’t believe there’s so much hate for telepaths there.”
To say that there was hatred for telepaths on ROAM might have been an understatement. When they had first learned that nearly a quarter of Luna 1 and Luna 2 were telepaths, and that the entire power structure of Luna surrounded telepathy, ROAM had stopped transmitting to Luna for two months. It seemed in that time that the key issue of the bi-annual elections on ROAM centered around what to do around Luna. Of course, it was Luna who needed ROAM more than ROAM needed Luna, especially now that all of Luna’s ships were filled with Solidsonium and more than halfway to ROAM. It was if the moment they had launched aid to their neighbors, the doors had closed. Those ships were supposed to be coming back filled with parts to upgrade and repair both Luna’s alcoves and food dispensers, something that all Luna desperately needed. But now that the ships were more than halfway, there was no turning back. Even if they reversed course, it would be 37 months for return with the remaining fuel and the pilots didn’t have enough supplies to survive that long.
Kirka said, “AI, How long till impact?”
“Commander, at their current velocity, the rockets will impact Luna 1 in 13 months, 5 days and 12 hours and Luna 2 thirty-four minutes later.”
Loni said, “Should would turn the ships around?”
Kirka thought long and hard, so long, that Loni repeated her question, but in direct mind to mind contact, as if Kirka hadn’t heard.
“I heard you. There’s no help for us. The ships would never make it back in time, and even if they did, they could only accommodate a few hundred, not even a third of our population. Plus, there are the pilots to think about isn’t there.”
Loni frowned, “What do you think they’ll do to Darsee and Collin when they get to ROAM?”
“Neither of them is telepathic, so they might be okay. It’s certainly better than dying of starvation, isn’t it? If the ships had an alcove, then maybe it would be worth turning them around.”
“And what if they decide to execute them or torture them?”
The lines on Kirka’s face deepened. “Even if we did call them back, Where would go?”
“There’s always earth.”
Kirka snorted. “You really want to go there, don’t you? That has to be the fifth time in the last six months you’ve suggested it. Have you seen any of the latest climate reports? Things are getting worse, not better. Besides, it’s not like anyone’s even alive down there.”
“It’s moot though isn’t it? It will take the ships twice as long to get back here as it will the rockets. We’re done. It’s over and no doubt the stabilizers will fail, and the moon will end any chance the earth might have had for recovery.”
For the centuries since the Lunar war split Luna into two discreet pieces, Kirka and the other survivors of that war had maintained the Lunar orbit above earth. Luna was on a slow decay and the power required to stabilize the orbit in full was far beyond their reach. They best they could do was delay the orbital decay and hope like hell, their best scientist, Loridian, could find a solution in the long term.
Loni said, “We should give them a choice.”
Kirka ran her hand through her hair and closed her eyes for a moment. Both pilots knew in advance that this was likely a one-way trip. Both had nothing to live for on Luna, and it was why they were both chosen. They were expecting to start a life on Mars. Still, that was a far cry different from going into what was now enemy territory with no way of defending yourself.
“That’s fair. They deserve to make the choice. AI?”
“Yes, Commander Kirka?”
“The next time we are in broadcast alignment for the shuttles, will you notify me so that I can send a message?”
Loni jumped and floated to another consule. This one closer to Kirka.“When are you going to tell everyone?”
“Tell them what? That ROAM, the people that we spent so many months convincing everyone to help has betrayed us and sent rockets to destroy us?”
“Yeah, that thing.”
“I don’t know Loni. You know what it’s going to do to everyone? You know how tense things are already? Thousands of people suddenly told they are going to die? We might tear ourselves apart before those missiles reach us.”
“They have a right to know.”
“They do. But how much time in advance?”
Kirka wished she had the answers, but no matter how many years she served as commander, no matter how many times the council reappointed her, there was simply no easy answer here.
“I have to think about it Loni.”
“And the council?”
“This is a security issue. I am in sole command of security. All those five will do is to complicate the issue. Better to hold out for now.”
“They’ll stick you back in storage if you do that.”
Kirka shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe not. I am not interested in turning those rockets into another excuse for political theater. You know how Grayson and Sanders get.”
Loni nodded. “Well, don’t think too hard about it. You know that’s not going to help.”
“I need to get some rest. I’ve been on for 18 hours now. AI?”
“Keep all information about the incoming projectiles classified until I deem otherwise, maximum security clearance.”
Historians Note to the Text
Commander Raldaz Kirka had a long record of military service. Officially a military representative of the mid 21st century European Union, she lead the war on Luna for the Europeans and Americans against the Chinese and Russians. During the day of the great split, in which a fusion core ruptured and split the moon into Luna 1 and Luna 2, Commander Kirka was severely injured. She spent nearly a century inside an alcove. Upon revival, she was immediately commissioned to take control of both Luna 1 and Luna 2 which, were on the verge of total collapse from high crime rates, severe food shortages, and two warring gangs. At first, she was considered a poor leader, one of strict and apathetic persuasion, but, when after only a single year, Lunites found peace and stability, her talents were recognized, and she maintained command for centuries until the conflict with ROAM and the beginning of the Great Migration.
For more on Commander Raldaz Kirka, including her published works, biography and genealogical relations to Matron Angela, visit library 34n in section 9143.
Matron Mariposa Phillips 832.1.6 I.S.
Three days. For three days and nights Kirka tossed and turned and paced and braced herself for what she needed to do. She needed to tell Luna general, needed to announce to all her people that the end was coming and that death was a certainty. She tried to discover a way out, a route toward liberation, but it seemed certain that there was no path forward. So far, she had only told Loridian, and had then spent nearly every free moment for two days grilling them on possible strategies for saving Luna. Loridian had no answers.
Now she stood on the deck of her command, one of the only spots that had an open view of the surface of Luna 2 and allowed for a view of the greater starfield, and of the earth. She gazed down at the planet. Loni had been right, even a descent into the wasteland on the surface would have given some hope to the people. Even that would have provided them with an opportunity to rally around something, to cradle it and give birth to a chance. But they were denied even that.
“Commander, my long range scopes are detecting something coming our direction.”
“Yes, I know, you don’t have to remind me AI.”
“Commander, this object is different than the projectiles.”
She walked from the window and over to her center console.
“What? Describe it.”
“The object is massive and is approaching at a steady speed from the direction of earth.”
“What is it?”
“At this time, that is unknown. However, it has adjusted course on several occasions since I began tracking it, which would indicate that it is a humanmade object.”
“How long have you been tracking it?”
“And why didn’t you say something about it before?”
“The parameters you set for detection of an object require that I verify whether it is a naturally occurring or a manmade if time permits.”
“Fine, How big is it?”
“Exact dimensions are difficult to calculate from this distance, but it appears to be more than fifty kilometers in width and fifteen kilometers in height. I cannot tell the other dimensions from this angle.”
“Too large for a ship then. AI whats the ETA of the object?”
“Commander, at its current velocity, the object will reach Luna 2 in eighteen days, five hours and fifteen minutes.”
“I want you to alert me the moment you know more; anything at all do you understand?”
Kirka’s heart was pounding. She didn’t know why, but something about this object gave her a strange sense of hope. It wasn’t a natural object, so it could it be one of the long lost colonies from the asteroid belt? But that didn’t make any sense since it was coming from earth did it?
Kirka spun around in her chair and moved to her screen for a closer look. The object appeared to be some kind of oblong disc but in the scopes it was tiny.
“AI will you contact Loridian?”
“Captain, Luna 1 will not be in broadcast alignment for 2 more hours.”
“Fine, alert me when it’s time.”
Luna 1 no longer had any way of detecting long-range threats, not after the meteor shower had damaged their scopes a few decades back, so it was up to Kirka to be the eyes and ears of Luna general.
Kirka paced back and forth. Loni was late. She was always late for shift change, and Kirka was growing tired of that. Why had she promoted her in the first place? It’s not like she didn’t have others that she could have picked.
The object intrigued her. If it was making course corrections and coming from the planet, what did that mean?
“AI, what is the likelihood that this is a transport vehicle?”
“Probability is high.”
“During the end of the 21st century, there was the development of technology that would be capable of moving thousands of humans into space at one time. There was also the development of the technology to move entire cities.”
“We know that failed. We know cities never walked and that it was just a pipe dream before the Lunar war made things on the surface worse.”
“Commander, there is no reason to assume it failed. Just because we lost contact with the surface does not necessitate failure.”
What if it was a ship or a transport? Would they be able to accommodate all the Lunites? Could it be Earthlings? They had watched the earth for centuries now and had been certain that if all the population wasn’t dead, that they were at best scattered or more likey underground. But their scopes weren’t that powerful, everything that allowed for long distance viewing and been destroyed in the Lunar War. They had only discovered that ROAM was still around out of sheer dumb luck when ROAM had sent a transmission exactly as their communication array was aligned with the planet a few decades earlier.
For now, though, they would watch and wait and see what the object was. Maybe just maybe, when she announced that ROAM had sent missiles to destroy them, she would have good news as well. After all, it wasn’t as if their situation could get worse than impending doom right?