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Part One - 2101

Chapter One -  Au Revior Mother Of Mars

 

In April of 2101, if an individual bothered to observe the timeless clockwork of the Moon, he would note that the one-time goddess offered little evidence of her heavy burden. An amateur astronomer peering through a cheap home telescope might detect that something didn’t look quite right. Armed with slightly more magnification, the amateur would likely smile with satisfaction at Luna’s craggy old face. The sharper focus would reveal an open graveyard of empty bases; man’s first experiment in extraterrestrial living, coated with the self-slaughtered corpses of freedom seeking humans. If the Moon’s one operational orbiting satellite cared to behold the carnage below, its lenses, mirrors and processors would have observed something akin to a decimated ant hill; poison gas having driven the insects out, the dead laying in heaps near the exits.

For Earth’s purposes, that satellite, The Long Range Orbiter or LRO, had become scientifically obsolete and was thus left forgotten. It had been an observatory, a famous one, one that had at various times made rather spectacular discoveries regarding potentially habitable planets. No less than twenty Earth-like rocky orbs had been tracked down by the device, and though it was incapable of observing actual life, it was able to calculate that at least five of those rocky planets were not just well within the goldilocks orbits of their stars, but that the chemical composition that made up their atmospheres indicated a high probability for extraterrestrial life. In time, the celebrated space telescope had been supplanted with other, even more powerful space-based devices, which had all but confirmed alien life (though the discovery of actual intelligence remained out of the grasp of all efforts to measure it). Then something happened on Earth that made astronomia seem quaint. Why bother studying the cosmos from a fixed point when a virtual multiverse could be explored in its infinity from any point? Never mind that that virtual multiverse, and every other virtual space that occupied the ABE mind, was but a figment of imagination with no grounding in space time reality. For those who chose to merge their existence with a digital alternate universe, the question was moot.

In the period between 2091 and 2094, roughly one-third of humanity chose to undergo artificial brain enhancement or ABE, and join itself inextricably to a synthetic intelligence of its own creation. In a bold counterpoint, trillionare libertarian and ABE Free Man or Analog, Bez Hanson, built the base structure for a city on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan (a floating feat of engineering in the dense upper atmosphere that outshone any wonder on Earth). With Hanson’s financial backing, roughly four million Analogs began to leave Earth to develop a colony on the 62 moons of Saturn. Though Mars had long been under development, Saturn’s moon Titan was of particular interest to humankind as the only other body in the Solar System with a significant atmosphere, which theoretically, could in time, perhaps be made to be habitable.

With development of the gas giant’s dense upper atmosphere and its vast system of moons being colonized at an exceedingly rapid rate, The Great Saturn Land Rush had begun. The only caveat for settlement was the acceptance that the Saturn System would remain ABE free. The price of freedom was exile from the home planet; to stay on Earth was to agree to assimilate, to become part of the Singularity, to be permanently altered into, for all intents and purposes, a remodel of mankind. To an Analog, the ABEs were no longer human; rather, a genetic manipulation; nano robots coursing through every organ, with a cyberspace-brain-interface that connected the one with the all and everything in between. For an ABE, the notion of not choosing to assimilate was anathema, an abomination. How could anyone rightly choose to remain the pitifully dangerous slug that was a human before the Singularity? Analogs were barbarians. Barbarians equaled chaos. Chaos was only something that should be experienced for short term pleasure in the virtual realm. Chaos could not, would not be allowed to exist in its natural state of turmoil, disruption and upheaval.

Forgotten about but in the digital historical record, the lonely LRO whirled around the Moon, seemingly innocuous, until one of Earth’s last amateur star gazers discovered that the great eye in the sky was no longer looking outward. Against all programming, the device had been trained to look back on the mother planet and its hostile human population. Earth needed to be watched. Vigilance was critical for the survival of Analog men. Unfortunately, a clever artificial intelligence, enhanced by the seemly limitless imagination of humanity, made for a powerful adversary; one that the Analog population of the Moon failed to outthink.

On Mars, a repeat of the disaster was brutally unfolding.

 

Doctor Gabrielle Levy slowly blinked awake while noting that she was still seated in her lab chair, her face aching from laying on her desk. She had been up for nearly seventy hours when her brain and body had finally called it quits, exhaustion overwhelming abject terror and dropping her where she sat. She had locked herself in her office, sealed the door and vents with silicon caulk and watched the security feeds with utter horror as every man, woman, and child inside Mars Base 3 walked out onto the surface without so much as an emergency breathing apparatus. In a period of less than three days the entire base had committed mass suicide, the majority of them within the first two hours of the first day. By the time Gabrielle and some others had sorted out the problem there were only twenty or so people left. Now, as far as she could tell, she was alone.

Doc Levy was an explorer, a psychiatrist, an astronaut by default, but foremost, a woman who loved the adventure that was life. She had inhabited Mars for thirty-five years. Hardly the first to arrive, but the longest to stay. She had been the sole resident who had moved on from the original permanent station (consisting of a small group of interconnected pre-fab living and experimental pods) to the far more expansive colony known as Mars Base 2, and finally, to the permanent colony built into the very bedrock of the planet, earning herself the sobriquet, Mother Of Mars.

Engineers with heavy-duty mining gear provided the wherewithal to create a network of underground caverns that ultimately formed the international cluster of towns that were Mars Base 3. The caverns and tunnels that made up the villages were cleverly disguised by tricks of light, paint, holographs and live plants to give the impression that the new residents were living in any quaint burb located in dozens of nations on Earth. With different “neighborhoods” mimicking the architecture of various parts of the world, no one could deny that it might as well have been Disneyworld. This third round of explorers had brought with them the tech to excavate the necessary elements to then fabricate, build and fuel machines that could, like a scheduled train service, bring more people out or return them to Earth with surprising ease. In the late 21st Century, the goings on at home caused most to choose to fly the other way, deeper into the solar system – except Gabrielle Levy. Gabrielle loved being a Martian, for that was how she thought of herself. Earthlings were something different now and distant communications with her returned colleagues had grown from mere angst to outright alarm. Most of them were deeply regretting their choice to return home and were trying every angle they could to get back to Mars or further.

The new settlers who began arriving by the dozens and then the hundreds weren’t just pioneers, they were people eager to escape what was happening at home; opting for Mars as an alternative to the latest upgrade. Indeed, as refuseniks, they had been strongly encouraged to leave lest they contaminate the new model, the New Way. It was the equivalent of early Twentieth Century Russians, who though they deeply loved their country, had decided to accept exile rather than participation in the deeply corrupt and coercive experiment that had become the Soviet Union.

The final ship to leave Earth had landed on Mars four days prior with a last batch of exiles, many of whom were children who had been sent by their desperate parents as a group with a single female adult guardian. No more could be taken in. The base was maxed out and the much more expensive option to go to the Saturn System had been expired for some time.

Mars Bases 4 and 5 had been in the offing, but the call of Saturn had superseded the funding for such an effort. Mars was deemed by millions to be uncomfortably close to Earth. Saturn was its own planetary system of a sort. With 62 moons and lesser satellites, there was room to spread out, to make a claim, to get away from other people if needs be. And unlike Mars, the gas giant had the added benefit of a magnetic field that like Earth’s, acted as a protective cloak, deflecting the bulk of the Sun’s deadly radiation.

The Great Saturn Land Rush had been happening for a decade, but the last of those big ships had departed a year prior. The smart ones, thought Levy in despair; the ones who had clearly seen the writing on the wall. But were they really safe? A billion extra kilometers or so wasn’t really a distance that mattered, not when the enemy had all the time in the universe.

Before boarding the final ship to Mars, Danny Montoya, all of 5 years old, had stood bravely in line with the other children while watching his parents across the glass partition brush away tears and put on brave faces. He clutched a small teddy bear. A woman volunteer dressed as a Catholic nun had handed it to him as a distraction while he was gently pulled away from his parents rigid legs. Danny’s small sleeves were soaked from rubbing away so many of his own tears. The teddybear that he absently clutched had a grin on its face that had been sewn on rather crookedly. With great big dark brown eyes, it gave the impression of deep innocence. He had held the bear daily during the long journey to Mars. It had become his constant companion, his surrogate who held his parents voices for him, even as they began to fade from his short memory. One-hundred-forty-nine days later, he stepped off the ship and into his new home. The morning after his arrival, Danny Montoya was the first person to step back out of the base via the North Airlock. He did so with all of the other children he had arrived with, his hand firmly gripping that of his terrified guardian. He knew he was going to die, didn’t want to go, could tell that the guardian and the other children desperately didn’t want to go either. But they did, and hundreds would soon follow.

As Doc Levy felt the blood rushing back into her cheek she listened to the silence of the base. It was deafening. Flicking from security feed to security feed confirmed her solitude. She didn’t have much time. She knew that. Even men wearing exo-suits had succumbed, had pulled off their helmets and breathed in the poison that was the Martian atmosphere. She decided to make a last recording. She would send it to her friend Dr. Carl Libeling in Hanson City on Titan. The folks out there needed to know this was happening. She got as far as describing the pathogen. No, pathogen wasn’t the right word – vehicle. She got as far as describing her best guess about the vehicle, when the invisible stuff finally wormed its way through the still wet silicon she had hastily applied along the threshold of her door. She heard a high pitched ringing in her ears, a brief moment of tinnitus that she yawned away, then the intense smell of cinnamon, which caused spontaneous memories of her mother in Provence and fresh steaming chaussons aux pommes. She hadn’t smelled cinnamon, real cinnamon since leaving Earth. The sent faded. She shook it off and continued to dictate for a few seconds more when she just stopped, unable to speak, barely able to swallow, unable to remember how to communicate. Naked fear shot through her body, sending the hair on her arms straight up. In her mind she could scream the emotional equivalent of no, but the word itself was lost to her. She knew exactly what she was going to do, but had no power to stop herself. From an observer’s perspective: one moment the Mother Of Mars had been dictating, and the next she was standing up, yanking open the door and taking the long walk up to the surface. As she passed the grocery, the scientist in her noted that her senses still worked fine. She was aware of the smell of fresh baked bread; a piped-in effect that stood in stark contrast to the reality that all food came from printers and was cooked without the release of any gases or compounds into the surrounding air. The faux sounds of summer insects chirped in the trees on Main Street USA and the genuine echo of water trickling gently from a fountain filled her ears. It should have been a soothing sound, but it only served to compound the horror.

The emptiness of the place was familiar. She had experienced it once, in the old surface pods when the first settlers had gone away. That void had been offset by the knowledge that more human companionship was on the way. This time there was no happy change to look forward to, just the pure understanding that it was over. Her life was over. That part she understood perfectly.

The humanoid robot assistants simply paused to watch her walk by. She had no ability to instruct them to save her and they wouldn’t move without orders. She did find it queer that their built-in response to help humans in danger seemed to be off. It was clear that everyone on the base had been in imminent danger. She couldn’t remember if the response was negated by suicide. In all likelihood, the higher order not to interfere with human pursuits overcame the standing order to protect. One of the humanoid ones, albino in appearance to differentiate itself from real people, watched her pass. It said, “Au revoir, la Mere de Mars.”

The surface level itself had been decompressed so she never actually made it outside. She tried with every fiber of her being to fight off the compulsion that drove her forward. Felt hot tears boil off her cheeks as she struggled against the loss of self-control. She was surprised by how far she made it in the sub-freezing Martian air before her vision tunneled and her lungs burned with evaporation. The last image her failing optic nerves transmitted to her asphyxiating brain was of a stuffed bear laying discarded on the hallway floor. It was no more than thirty meters from the wide-open North Airlock where dozens of bodies were piled on top of each other. Its big brown eyes stared up at Gabrielle as she stepped over it. What a curious smile for a stuffed bear.

On the moons of Saturn, a vast array of Earthward looking sensors kept track of the now hostile home planet. Nothing in that arsenal compared to the clear view of home like the one provided by the highjacked LRO orbiting the Moon. So it was with deep frustration and unspoken fear that the Hanson Chamber of Commerce accepted the news that in the blink of a laser shot from a canon on Mauna Kea, the LRO was no more. The fact that the observatory had remained undiscovered for years had given false hope to the masters of Saturn. Their last close up eye in the sky was gone. With the bases on the Moon and Mars suddenly wiped out, vigilance was paramount.

As a result of the deep Earthward looking distraction, law and order in the Saturn System was left mostly to itself.

Chapter Two -  Entropy

In his dream, Caleb could smell freshly cut grass. A light breeze was slipping through a partially opened window and morning sun traced a warm line across his cheek. Curiously, the breeze didn’t carry with it the restless chirps of morning birds. The absence brought his consciousness into the dream with the annoying comment, “This is a dream,” which caused his subconscious to scowl at the interruption. Consciousness in turn, cursed its own role and willed itself to leave the scene. His subconscious vainly attempted to add song to the birds. Then Caleb opened one eye, feeling the dream flit away as genuine sunlight nearly blinded him. Sunlight? There wasn’t enough out here to blind a man. A quick shift of his head shook the dull ache he was feeling into full anger. Pain shot from his forehead up and over through his shoulders. He rubbed a cottony tongue over fuzzy feeling teeth and regretted for the thousandth time his tendency to binge drink.

A beam of strong sunlight was blasting through his windshield and across the cabin like the line of a plasma cutter. A glance outside explained it: Saturn only receives 1% of the sunlight Earth does, yet one of the array of huge mirrors that Harry relied on to capture that light was misaligned. The mirror concentrated the available sunlight to grow the grains to convert to ethanol, to make the booze that was breaking Caleb’s head. A micro meteor must have hit it. Rather than focusing the light on Harry’s domed crops, it was filling Caleb’s cockpit, giving him dreams of Vermont.

As he stretched and yawned and marveled at his body odor’s ability to overwhelm the general stink of his ship, Vermont fresh cut grass still swirled in the recesses of his olfactory memory. He would put his foot down today. They would risk it and head for the Magic Castle. He needed an Earth fix. After three Earth months of creative money making, Caleb wanted to stare at something green, even if the bulk of it was artificial.

From his position on the moon Rhea, the huge orange/yellow moon Titan was just coming into view. With an old-fashioned pair of binoculars that he’d won in a card game, he spotted the black dot that was the floating city called Hanson. The planet sized moon appeared as though some god had tossed mylar confetti all around it – each silvery spec representing a mirror that focused the sun on Titan’s dense atmosphere. Vast chemical and organic processes were taking place in that atmosphere. Man’s first experiment with terraforming another celestial body was well underway. A person couldn’t breathe down there yet, but soon enough; perhaps a couple more decades.

Caleb grunted at the notion of twenty years and shifted himself out of his small bunk into the cockpit and a seat in the pilot’s chair. Time to wake the gang.

Before he could send the text, a sight that would never feel real, presented itself outside the windshield: a woman, wearing only go-go boots, was taking baby steps across the lunar surface. She held her clothes over one arm while her eyes stayed fixed on the airlock loading entrance to Harry’s. The woman was shaped like a creature off the pages of a graphic novel. Her hair was messy and remained stiff in the low gravity vacuum. The only telltale that she wasn’t made of flesh was the gentle slow motion bobbing of the silicon that held her breasts up almost impossibly high; that and her glowing white skin. Caleb lightly chuckled as he remembered Spruck immediately forking over the bulk of his latest share to Harry in exchange for a night with the sexbot. The machine was an Asian model made to look twenty-five or so and Caleb noted that she had her pubic hair “grown out” the way Spruck annoyingly professed to like it. The robot’s feet were kicking up little quickly falling dust moats as they crossed the heavily packed ground of the landing area. She reached the airlock, not bothering with a code. Her proximity sent a signal for the door to open, skipping the first part of the pressurization procedure. Caleb shook his head slightly and felt his stomach rumble. The hangover was going to be epic. He needed a greasy breakfast and a beer to push through. He sent a text to the gang letting them know he was going for cheesy eggs and that they could join if they wanted.

He thought of the naked robot’s nonchalant stroll with envy as he pulled on his stinking elastoware. Saturn’s magnetosphere did an adequate job of protecting its satellites from the Sun’s radiation, but stepping outside still meant defeating astounding cold and nothing to breathe. For the hundredth time, he questioned leaving Earth. As he stared over at Titan, appearing so close and yet dwarfed by the giant ringed mother planet on the opposite side of his view, he considered again the undertaking that they were all part of. The self-assembling city that was Hanson, floating in its own gas balloon at the edge of Titan’s atmosphere, was a marvel. The seeding of methane eating bacteria throughout the Titan atmosphere and in the methane lakes of the planet was ingenious: the microbes ate and ate and in turn created oxygen, farting it into the nitrogen laced with hydrocarbon that made up the original atmosphere. The mirrors that concentrated the distant sunlight onto the moon, warmed it just enough for the new oxygen to remain a gas and the microbes to stay alive. It was breathtaking in its ingenuity. The addition of oxygen as a gas to the hydrocarbon rich air also created a volatile situation. A single spark in the wrong place could set the whole atmosphere aflame in a giant chain reaction. It was something that required constant vigilance. Even now, Caleb could see a black dot on the hazy surface appear and collapse on itself as a Gliding Fire Team set off a Buster. Like detonating dynamite to control an oil rig fire, a Buster was basically a controlled explosion that sucked up all of the available burnable gases, thus silencing any spontaneous combustion. The whole thing was an engineering feat that even a creationist could appreciate. And yet… Whenever the Earth was close enough in its orbit for spotting with the naked eye; a pin prick nearly indiscernible from the stars beyond, Caleb would leave the scoped version of it up on a monitor for days. Fuck AI. Fuck the fools who embraced it. There was no going back. The people of Earth were just one big fucking source code now.

He flicked the switch on his elastoware body suit and felt the piezoelectric cells working away, pressing his skin against his muscles. He opened the hatch to the Diamond Girl’s exo-suit port and climbed into the overly familiar thing. As he shoved his foot into the right boot he felt the dampness that was collecting there. He really needed to pony-up and get the suit cleaned. No amount of anti-fungals were going to beat what he had growing in there. Letting his arms slide into the sleeves, he poked his head into the acrylic dome helmet with a practiced fluid motion. His breathing echoed around his head in an old familiar way that he didn’t even notice any longer as he spoke the command for the hatch to close behind him. He raised the cover shell and stepped off the loading platform onto the soft talc-like ground.

 

4.5 EARTH MONTHS EARLIER

As was his way, Caleb Day had left Earth with the intent to wing it. A man of vague objectives, he found that shit happened whether he planned for it or not. Being a person who hated disappointment, he adjusted himself to this reality at an early age, choosing instead to let life come to him. His one acquired skill was breaking and entering, which had started when he was eleven with nothing much to do while growing up in a small Vermont town. It had begun on one mind bogglingly boring weekend, when he and some other kids had hopped a bus to a bigger town and wandered around aimlessly until they were all hungry. It was a Sunday, and some stores still closed on Sundays back then; including a sandwich shop that had an alleyway loading zone. Caleb was never sure where the notion came from, but as his buddies were all whining about food and not having enough money to pay for it, he simply grabbed a tire iron that was laying in the back of a parked pick-up truck, stepped over to the sandwich shop backdoor and slammed the flat end of the iron into the jam, popping the lock. The kids looked at him with surprise; not that it stopped them all from going inside and making themselves sandwiches. Caleb made sure that they cleaned up after themselves, and pulling the door quietly shut, they left like sated mice in the night. Twenty-six years and countless break-ins later, he had never been caught. Chased, yes. Shot at, three times. Photographed, only as a blur. Yet, he did not consider himself a criminal, more an observer of life who took advantage of gaps as they presented themselves.

Upon arrival in the Saturn System, and after thawing out from hibernation, he awoke to find that he had five thousand credits left in the Bank Of Titan. He had departed Earth with nearly three-hundred thousand, but supposedly a non-metastasized cancer had been discovered on his liver during a routine hibernation scan. With his body temperature already reduced and his brain activity nil, the standard, signed-for-in advance procedure, was for the medbots to print out a new liver using his own reactivated stem cells and swap it out with the bad one. Since socialized medicine was considered a sin among the pioneers, and since no insurer was willing to underwrite any of the colonists anyway, the procedure cost nearly three-hundred-thousand credits. All of it going to the med company that had set up shop on Caleb's particular ship, The Miner 49er (also known as a Hanson building). Caleb had woken to discover that life continued to hold a regular pattern for him, and that yes, absolutely, shit happens. When the Miner 49er docked with the mother city of Hanson, aka The Magic Castle, Caleb stepped out on the gravity enhancing magnetic street and found himself nearly destitute. He had a room in the building that he owned outright, but having not secured a job before he left, the lights would be out in a month and food would be a major consideration. Through shear wit, and remarkable skill at taking what he needed without being caught, he made it a year. Then he saw the ads calling for police duty. Deciding that the best cop was one who could think like a ne'er-do-well, he filled out an application. The service being ready to sign up a walking corpse if it had to, put a freshly printed uniform on him post-haste and gave him a month of training.

His first job was as a last minute replacement with a small force that was assigned to oversea the peaceful final touches on a contract joining the drug making establishments on Dione and Pandora. He was given a battered shuttle that had been converted for police work and sent alone to rendezvous with the Pandoran-based contractors who were already in route to Dione.

To reach the rendezvous, Caleb had forty-plus hours of flight to contemplate the swiftness of his career change. The uniform created a certain amount of intended effect: For the first time in his life he was part of something greater than himself, and while his instincts accepted that notion as being good on the whole, his gut, the thing he trusted most, still fought with it. Relying on others had always ended in disappointment for him. From his parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, to anyone else who took him in, relationships ended in acrimony - girlfriends especially. Work? Jobs... jobs were way-stations from pile of shit to pile of shit. Nevertheless, instinct ruled for the moment. The uniform was a positive development and he vowed to himself, beyond the weightless vow that he had made to the Hanson Chamber of Commerce, that he would give this opportunity his best shot. Being a cop meant being something greater that just another cog in some clockwork. Being a cop meant being an overseer of the greater society, someone who helped his fellow citizens stay within the agreed upon lines. Perhaps best of all, being a cop had power attached to it. Caleb had never felt power (except for when he had successfully made off with things). Power, anchored in the foundation of the ruling class (for that was who had the real power), felt exhilarating.

The Pandoran flotilla was made up of one large container ship surrounded by five smaller police ships. Caleb was directed to bring his shuttle into the formation by a police sergeant named Gunderson who was directing things from the bridge of the container ship. In a society without an official military, the formation felt very marshal to Caleb. 

Though the orbits of Titan and Dione would cause the two moons to come relatively close to each other on a regular basis, for whatever reason, the Pandoran flotilla chose to rendezvous with the smaller moon when Dione's orbit was on the opposite side of Saturn from Titan. As far as Caleb was concerned, this required an illogically long trip - but who was he to question it?

After a few days of mind boggling boring flight, with little to no communication, they were finally approaching their destination. As the 15th largest Saturn satellite, Dione was yet another pockmarked gray body, not terribly different from the bulk of Saturn's airless moons. Primarily a dirty ice ball, its craters served as foundations for the domed acreage that was the hallmark of the farming community. Huge mirror arrays guided the nurturing sunshine to the crops beneath, and automatically tracked the star to maintain that focus as the moon orbited its gas-giant mother. When the Sun was out of view, hydrogen power plants did the rest, converting the energy locked up in the ice into electricity for UV LED banks. The climate inside each dome was adjusted for the type of crop, though most crops on Dione were of the cannabis and poppy variety.

 

The three million, nine hundred and forty-two thousand people who had set out for a new life in the Saturn System had a natural libertarian streak, and the consensus was that this new land of opportunity, made up of likeminded, live-and-let-live people, would need very little in the way of law enforcement. Such a creed naturally assumed that every man woman and child would choose to be armed. What better way for a population to honestly thrive than to ensure that individuals were well armed? Nothing keeps folks in line better than cold loaded steel (or in most cases a short range nerve disrupter) nicely displayed on everyone’s hips. As a result of this fantasy, one hundred cops had made up the original token force; all within a planetary/lunar system which far exceeded the landmass of humble old Earth. In a community where everyone had a Don’t Tread On Me flag, there were nearly infinite possibilities for treading.

Without a nanny state enemy to focus on, and theoretically safely removed from the evils of AI and a planet full of ABE jerk-offs, the natural thing for these humans to do was to find new enemies. Cliques were formed, sides taken, property squared off over, and in the land grab that happened with the free settlement of any of Saturn’s sixty-two utilizable moons, inevitably there were conflicts.

After the chaos of year one, the police force was expanded to eighteen-hundred mostly disaffected individuals who had found that colonizing grit didn’t come to everyone. Additionally, the mighty Bez Hanson, father of the new colony, had asked for deputized law enforcement volunteers to fill the gaps; folks who could act as local constables while simultaneously going about their daily occupations. Monty Teach was one of those. With his pot farm dome established on Dione, Monty found it advantageous to add cop to his title of farmer. As the Pandoran flotilla came into orbit, both the pot farmer and cop sides of him frowned as he gazed at the arrival on the co-op’s telescope array. The baker’s dozen of farmers and chemists in his syndicate stood in the room behind him and stared at the screen as well. They had set up a bar with real booze and put up a sign that read: The Dione-Pandoran Company – Together – Better Pharmaceuticals.

The guy who had convinced them all to create the first co-op, and then convinced them again that a big cash haul would come from further consolidation with the Pandoran’s, was Bill Withers. Withers harrumphed at the approaching ships saying, “Don’t know why they need a police escort. Deal’s all signed off. Formalities is all.”

Monty said, “Well, if it’s got some official stamp, maybe I better throw on a uniform too.”

 

While the newly minted Officer Day was ordered to maintain geosynchronous orbit above the main dome that was labeled on his heads-up as Monty’s Retreat, the Pandoran container ship landed first, followed by the rest of the police escorts.  The whole situation felt bazaar to Caleb who hadn’t been filled in on anything really. There had been almost no communication on the trip from Titan, and now that they were at Dione, other than the confirmation of his arrival and his being told to stay in orbit, he was asked to maintain radio silence, including all text transmissions. He hadn’t been trained for such a mission, hadn’t been filled in on what the game plan was. His mission packet had only said to report to the rendezvous and follow orders from there, and that he was expected to act in a standard security role as described in the police handbook. That was all he knew. As he watched the other ships land, he found himself scanning the handbook again in his heads-up display. He couldn’t find anything that quite related to the current conditions. His police shuttle had a fully functioning non-networked computer system with trillions of bytes of info about every known settlement in the system. The non-networked element was how they all lived now. Networked systems were ripe for AI control, even at an average of 1,400,000,000 kilometers away from Earth. He decided to look up the folks on Dione. There were thirteen registered farms, all of which were also listed as pharmaceutical manufacturers. All of the farms were located at the edge of the trailing orbit of the moon and therefore less susceptible to hits by foreign objects. They were, however, being constantly dusted by the very fine smoky ice powder raining in from Saturn’s E ring. Ten of the farms were family operations with an average of five members. The forty-one children were all home schooled, but each farm took turns offering extracurricular activities. Four of the children had been born on Dione. Caleb raised an eyebrow as he scanned through the birth photos of one of them. Giving birth information to the governing bodies on Hanson was purely voluntary beyond the sex. The one baby was an oddity indeed: it was long and bowlegged with extremely thin limbs and a large head with a puffy face. Was this the future of men in lower G environments? There had been lots of speculation on new races or at least shapes being created within and around the rings of Saturn.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

C. Chase Harwood made a career in Hollywood, decorating sets for film and television. Like everyone else in tinseltown, he wrote screenplays on the side. This led to experiments with prose. With Scifi-action-adventure, he gets to explore the countless ways that humans interact while under duress. "Life is all the more lived when the consequences are high. Told as a tale, it can be quite a page turner," says Harwood. He lives in Los Angeles with his costume designer wife and young twins.

Q. What draws you to this genre?
A.
Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror offer the opportunity to explore the human condition in an infinite number of settings. I am a lover of science, and endeavor to research and explain the elements in my tales so that my readers believe that what he or she is reading could actually happen.
Q. Where did the idea for this book come from?
A.
The notion that humans will one day choose to blend their consciousness with synthetic intelligence seems utterly probable. Slowly but surely, we are allowing AI to interact with our daily lives. Just ask Alexa, Siri and Cortana, they are listening 24/7.
Q. Tell us about the cover and the inspiration for it.
A.
It was with this image that I imagined the city of Hanson floating in the dense atmosphere of the Saturn moon Titan.

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