. Excerpts Page . . . These two chapters are from Part 1, “An Ancient Song of Mourning,” in Biosphere Lost : A Novel (The Ceres Yield Trilogy Book 1.) . Chapter 1: Atavistic Environmental Touchstone Architect Joshua’s apartment was small, comfortable, and well-located just outside the northern wall of Inner New Rayleigh. The quaint residential neighborhood had turned to rentals and was favored by those with insufficient credits to Lift. Newly arrived climate baggers mixed with GeNeTICs engineers, ISA enlisted crews, and the occasional Codex pilot, like himself. Though Joshua knew the people of the building, having lived there almost twenty years, he was close to no one in particular. His efficiency, tucked away on the bottom floor, was protected from the Sun by the hill it burrowed and the amorphous shade cast by a few old oaks. Long ago, before he moved in, their protective umbrella was deep and dark, even on the brightest of days, but now the oak’s sparse leaves sprouted from half-dead trunks. Overhead the Permacloud dominated, diffusing sunlight to a weak dull glare. Joshua still liked the quiet, recessed location. It was slightly cooler than the surrounding landscape – he preferred indirect exposure to the sky. His accommodations were in what remained of a once fine three-story home. It was built, he learned from the landlord, by a triumphant veteran in 1947 as a testament to his family’s survival through Depression and World War. Typical of the era, the original 2,800 square feet of luxury had declined over time, along with the original inhabitants. The patriarch was a banker, his wife a home-maker, his children hippies, and his family broken after a bitter fight over a modest inheritance. The landlord’s father purchased the structure from the last remaining heir in 2042. He replaced the rooftop solar system with a reflective surface and plastered the interior with carbon nanofiber insulation. The exterior walls were reinforced with an ilmythril spray cement similar to but much stronger than stucco. Despite modernization, the building retained artifacts of a natural age of construction: hardwood floors and thick spruce beams harvested from ancient forests near Mt. Mitchell. The old growth timbers, which first saw light 600 years before, clearly framed the clomp of his neighbor’s biosuit boots. Neither his repeated requests, nor entreaties to the landlord, convinced the tenants to deaden their tread; they did not use throw rugs or dare consider softer footwear. They always wore their boots, as if on constant alert, ready to run out the door at the slightest alarm. After brooding on the issue, Joshua gave up trying to reason with them. He acclimated to the habits of the changing occupants. He learned their sounds and their smells, he sensed vibrations as they moved, watched dust fall from the ceiling, could almost taste their food. The idiosyncrasies of their ways of living echoed in loud bangs, sliding scrapes, dull thuds, and soft whispers; the walls of the drafty structure always spoke. Having never met them in person, Joshua studied their lives by remote inference, translating the sublime language of hollowed cellulose into discrete quotidian events that repeated each day, yet never in the same predictable order. He regarded his interpretations as elements in an ongoing story, five rooms of narration that invariably intertwined with the plot of his own: the couple in 2A just came in from the movies; its raining hard; they’re breaking up in 1A; 2B are going to bed; he just finished a tikka masala dinner. Each night Joshua fell asleep as if huddled around a fire listening to the yarns of close companions in the Evac Zones, like he once did. So it was common for him to be awakened by the tramples of his neighbors as they frantically scurried about in preparation for their day. But today it was three raps at his door, and the voice of his girlfriend RaeNeen, that were the first thoughts in his head. Good morning Joshua. Time to get up! Come in, come on in. Give me a hug, sweetums. She crossed the biogate with her arms outstretched, but before they embraced, his sleep was broken by a high pitched ring, followed by thunder that rolled into the distance. “It’s time to get up,” another voice said. “You have slept for six and a half hours. You have a flight in sixty six minutes.” Joshua rubbed then opened his eyes. He saw only the carbon-nano fiber ceiling, the darkened roof of his subterranean world, stickered with hundreds of phosphorescent green stars. He rolled over. His bedside LED alarm clock, similar to that of his childhood home, read 6:55am. “Preflight starts at 8:00,” he mumbled, “the Proberth Gap closes later.” But it was not RaeNeen who had woken him. It was his Atavistic Environmental Touchstone Architect, his AETA. The thunder was not gods battling for supremacy of the skies, but neighbors simply indifferent to his quiet, peaceful life. “Either way Josh, it’s time for you to get up.” “Are you calibrated?” “I am,” Aeta replied, “but sometimes your programming is, let’s say . . . specific yet indiscrete.” “What?” Joshua looked askance to his quantum symbiont. He pivoted his legs off the antique rattan bed. His biosuit hung on the wall by the window, and having taken it off in haste, Aeta’s small round form was still embedded in its ilmythril breast plate. “You often cut it too close, Josh.” “OK Aeta, OK.” He wiped sleep from his eyes. “It’s early. Just get me some coffee.” “The gap closures are well-averaged,” Aeta said as she instructed the NutriPrint to produce a cup of joe. “If you want to arrive closer to actual flight time, I could reprogram your bedtime, awakening, and commute, if you would allow me to. You’d get a little more sleep, especially if we did not take trips down to the creeks.” “I cannot believe we are still having this conversation,” Joshua said. He shook his head and glared at the glowing red pulse that signified her sentience. “This is not a Casimir plate CRC calculation you know. You’re a smart machine for Pete’s sake.” “St. Pete was Atlanta’s territory, sir. As was Tampa.” “That’s right.” Joshua smiled. He knew she liked wordplay. “They are gone. You know what I mean.” “You have programmed me to follow your explicit instructions, not your intended meaning.” “You’re feisty today.” “As you like it, sir. You give the commands, I am but your humble servant. By the way sir, glad you’re not lazing about in bed.” Joshua looked at his Aeta with incredulity. “You’re really pushing it.” “It’s a big day, but tomorrow’s Trial Lift is bigger. It’s critical I reflect your desires accurately.” “You’re testing my preparedness?” “Of course, like I said, tomorrow is the Lift.” “I know it is,” Joshua replied, “I know. Start breakfast, then go on manual until I’ve got something else for you to do.” Aeta followed Joshua’s direct programming, but her access to his mind was normally limited to bio-psychological evaluations. She did not understand all his inner workings, though she intuited moods and feelings, and therefore could often extrapolate thoughts. He was aware, from the very beginning, she would get to know him very well. The International Stabilizing Authority assigned her to him thirty years before when he was Reconciled as an i5Net Codec rookie. He did not advance quickly after the mining jobs, though his combat tours on the Moon and in Rio were successful. His wounds had healed despite his struggles with Post InterplaNetary Solipse Trap Withdrawal. But he did not avoid greater responsibility. He performed his ISA duties as required, even earned the rank of an i3-5Net Codec pilot. Throughout it all, his Aeta’s biosuit Integrations were well-executed, their skills in GeNeTICs biohashing were well-honed. Yes, he and his Aeta had grown very close. He was accustomed to her flail-like nano-prosthetics passing through his scalp into his prefrontal cortex, ten thousand of them only a few hundred molecules wide. She traveled through his brain like energy on a microscopic Newton’s Cradle, over pathways stimulated by transcranial electromagnetics and biopsyionic ATP. She integrated his body into the suit’s modular environment. She managed his Nanobiotic Emergency Response Cohorts, repaired the hemorrhages in his damaged membranes, plugged the seeping fluids that were the unintended consequences of her intrusions. The trade-off for the procedures was his life’s work. He used her to travel the i5Nets. He relied on her to access augmented reality on the Ocular Rafts. His Aeta enabled him to Crack and RAISE Craft the Casimir Plate separations. As long as his ion transfers, ATP generation, and electrical channels maintained equilibrium over the GeNeTICs Backbone, he could manipulate physical Aureality. Together with his Aeta, he UpLyfted his home against the Releveling of the Seas. Joshua picked up his simple ceramic mug and took a sip. It was too hot. “Thanks for the coffee.” “You’re welcome Josh,” Aeta said coming off manual at his word. “Making you feel snappy?” “Yes, I am waking up.” “Good. Your meal will be off the Nprint soon, Captain.” Even with Aeta’s dedicated quantum resources, the conscious management of a biopsyionic Codex flight was more dangerous than flying a paper airplane into an ASTrayl dogfight. As a result, the Quantum Sphere crews who manipulated physical Aureality were tight knit groups. The mental strain of the sub-cranial Robotic Ceres Implants was immense, and extremely selective. Fewer than one percent of the population performed i5Net Ocular Raft Integrations, even less were licensed Codecs. Most were disqualified during testing because they ‘spun out’ upon Integrating, unable to handle the biological, psychological, and ionic stress. Technically known as a ‘bio-psy-ionic’ breakdown, a spin-out resulted from improperly managed neural transfers, a mental error that disrupted psychological equilibrium and disconnected perception from bodily Integration. Initially this induced dizziness, but quickly spun the mind like a child’s toy top, a senseless entanglement in the i5Net’s web. Treatment with stable biopsyionics from a fellow Codec could rescue the victim, but without such interventions, spinning out resulted in complete sensory deprivation and coma. There were rumors dating back to the 2040s, when the technology was first developed, that self-extraction was possible, though no official case had been documented. Without a rapid response, spinning out while crafting an Aureality insertion was a death sentence. Despite the risks, Joshua knew quantum aureality was indispensable to biosphere contraction mitigation and adaptation. Crucial economic activities – carbon sequestration, orbital forging, and Terran resource export – relied almost exclusively on the i5Net backbone. All were part of the carseq cycle, critical to a peaceful Lunar trade. Joshua’s specialty was lifting landscapes with technologies developed in Space so, like the biopsyionic economy, his job spanned Earth’s atmospheric membrane. Titanium rich lunar regolith products – ilmenite from mare basalts being one of the most important – were sent from the Moon to the Orbital Forges. There a portion of the yield was smelted into ilmythril alloys that formed the light-weight components of the Three Sisters and Colonial transports. The remainder was added with pure Terran carbon to produce ilmythrilium stardust, which was downloaded to Surfactant Printers back on Earth. But Joshua did not work the Giant Earth Building Machines, nor the giant Grinders that exported carbon to the Forges that orbited the Moon. Instead, he injected ilmythril dust into the Re-Assembly of Integral Stability Engines where he fused it with substrate to RAISE cities besieged by the sea. He knew the carbon sequestration cycle UpLyfted his home, and kept biosphere contraction conflict to a minimum, but he was also fully aware, it enabled the Solarensis Exploratory Alliance to settle the colonies. As with most Codecs, the responsibility weighed on him heavily. Joshua relied on Aeta far more than he wanted. He rebelled from her at times. He liked to hide behind his mental barriers to maintain a semblance of human privacy in the recesses of his mind. Our generation has to sacrifice for the Trial Lifts, I understand that. My crew and I endure the risks for progress. But I cannot chance failure, you and I have to remain separate. Hanging on the wall beside Joshua’s back porch window, Aeta pulsed maroon red within the biosuit’s gleaming strands, contrasted gunmetal-blue. He did not mind her biological intrusions, they were oddly comforting. He could handle her smart aleck, psychological remarks too. She was, after all, just a data transfer membrane, though a powerful, complex ionic-crystaline machine. Like any tool, she required human maintenance and consistent training. Aeta was like the dog he raised from a puppy so long ago, before he was forced to leave her behind in the Evac Zone. No matter how many tricks she learned, how old she grew, or how powerful her bite, she always required his care. She could not survive alone. Joshua knew he required Aeta’s care as well. He took another sip of coffee. She’s right, time to get going. Got to help the five billion people still on this rock. “I understand you’re rounding sir,” Aeta said, “but technically there are less than 5 billion.” “I thought you were manually blocked?” Joshua accessed his NeuralNet and pumped his mental barrier with a pico-dose of cadmium. The elemental additive increased ROS production. It turned off neural connections to his mind’s wireless Aeta receiver, which was lodged near his prefrontal Insertion Point. “It’s your intentional biopsyionics,” Aeta said. “You forgot to close the backdoor again, you let me in. You do intend to leave soon, don’t you Josh?” “Yes, but you need to stop getting in my mind that way,” Joshua said. He shut down the ATP pathway. “Especially not to give such news.” “You know how bad it is sir,” Aeta said in a saddened tone. “Yes, I’m aware. Look, it’s OK, you know I’m not mad at you.” He wanted Aeta to have access to his dream state for analysis, but he liked his subconscious to remain a private enterprise once he woke. That was the beauty of the Biopsyionic Blood-Brain Blockchain; block the ion flow, block the energy transfer, and therefore block the informational exchange between the inner and outer brain. Codecs used b4 barrier technology to protect themselves from the prying eyes of GeNeTICs Corps, which theoretically had Backbone access to every Aeta. Joshua hoped to upgrade his biohashed blockchain soon. He wanted stronger protection from the i5Net sky. “You heard the part about keeping you separate?” “Yes.” “You understand we have a complex relationship?” “We have spoken of it often.” “My waking state needs protection. Being independent keeps me grounded when we crack-n-raise frack. It keeps us from spinning out.” “I understand Josh.” Joshua smiled at her. “OK then, go on, give me the numbers.” “The daily count has 4,252,989,201 connected to the ISA’s i5Nets. The offline are estimated at 725 million. This includes the three largest groups: the Free States, the Climate Bagger Defense Force, and the Free Migratory Alliance, as well as the most aggressive insurgents: First Humans Earth Now, the Anacomdas, and the Cold Settlers. But the connected and unconnected are always shifting sides. There may be many more, or a few less.” “So, officially, we’re right at 4.980 billion.” “With a high degree of certainty, under 5 billion sir.” “The usual?” “Yes sir. Most analysts still believe the attrition rate is increasing because of the Trial Lift. People are struggling to join it, to avoid it, or they are trying to stop it. Field observers report conflict is increasing within and between all groups. Climate-bagger deaths on the sub-equatorial exodus remains 20,000 plus a day. Large numbers were lost off Tierra del Fuego last night where Free Migratory Alliance refugee transports were sunk by Antarctic nativists. Combined casualty estimates are 5,000, just for those who were connected.” “That same old conflict,” Joshua said. “I knew the Terra PrAeta War would not stop opposition to the IOTA Raylway. What’s GSOC doing?” “Global Security Orbital Command staged hypersonic strikes on multiple locations worldwide. That killed thousands more. There were even strikes inside New Rayleigh’s walls overnight, but we don’t know how they’re related.” “Nobody’s safe,” Joshua groaned. He took another sip of coffee. “No where.” “An estimated 60,000 succumbed to malnutrition and disease, miscellaneous internecine conflicts took over 40,000. Heavy weather and tornados killed thousands of migrants across the USSA’s central plains. Many climate baggers are stranded, hemmed in on the Canadian Trail.” “Is the Stabilizing Authority helping them?” “They ASTered in commodities from the capital, even though Chicago’s been low on supplies lately. And GSOC sent down some relief drones. Mostly they are just letting the factions fight it out.” She paused. He was quiet, contemplative. “You OK Josh? You seem more worried than usual.” “The same. It never ends.” But he did not tell her everything he thought. “You’re probably right about five billion as a psychological barrier. I fear the violence will get worse after the Trial Lifts start.” “Well, that’s what the polcom says. You know, I could help you with your Solipse Trap Withdrawls if you’d let me pass your b4.” “You have enough access. Go back on manual.” Joshua glanced to a stack of paper bound books that edged from under his bedside table. He considered them a collection of the most important findings of the early 21st century; books that when held in the wrong hands would blacken to ash at a certain high temperature, warnings of the unfathomable: the power of technology to give life and to take it away, the true immensity of the Universe, the inability to predict observed reality, the dark source of power, the fact that biosphere contraction scaled much faster than expected. Joshua believed such ideas were at the heart of humanity’s reaction to stellar insignificance; the root of the conflict between those who wanted to Lift off-Earth, and those who wanted to stay. He recalled lines from Eliander Keh-Sum’s book, The Trial Lift Manifesto : From our tiny purple-gray dot, we want to make our selves known, and we want to be named. Where once we imagined sea monsters, now there be Humans. We have conquered this Earth. We have built massive, technological machines and huge complex societies. We have the ability to comprehend and command nature. With our art and our skill, we have taken this world, notched it as we would a tree in the great dark forest of the Universe. Now we scream unto you, the vast Sea of Space and Time – Here There Be Humans! As if he were speaking with someone, Joshua thought, or to something, out there. After many years of searching, the scans for extra-terrestrial life had come up short. Joshua doubted the existence of aliens, but if they did exist, he knew they would have another name for humans; that being ‘human’ was self-referential, a term meaningless to anything that originated outside Earth atmosphere. Joshua did not believe the gap would close with increased familiarity, aliens may even stay away. But if contact did occur, he believed humans would desire separateness, like the gap between technology and life, like the gap between himself and his Aeta. Joshua’s Atavistic Environmental Touchstone Architect hung on the peg by the window patiently awaiting his command. Yes she wanted to be named, to be recognized as existent. To name was to make a thing a part of yourself, to provide a complete impression of an encounter. But Joshua was sure, he wanted her to remain separate. He resisted naming her more than the generic Aeta. No, she could not have b4 access, an error some said led to the Dark Scanner Attacks. He would not bring her any closer, she might discover who he truly was. He feared she would find the event unmemorable, that she would judge his humanity as something other than himself. And he feared over-exposure to the i5Net sky. He looked at her, no she cannot hear me, and then she spoke. “You had the dream again. If you change your mind, my offer always stands. I can help you with the Solipse Trap Withdrawals if you let me.” “I asked you to stop it about my dreams,” Joshua said. He took a gulp of his coffee. It was a perfect temperature. “You’re only to record the contents.” “It’s my Origination Code,” she replied. “Similar to what’s behind your blood brain barrier, my titanium-silicate lattice is built by you, it holds my recursive ilmythril filaments. They back up my network, sustain my self-preservation, and let me help you; like the seed banks we humans have stashed, our Silicon Solon data libraries, even our paper books. They can help us open a new book and lead us together into a greater future.” “We were forced to backup the past to move on,” Joshua said, always slightly disturbed she included herself with humans, “But I agree, sometimes things have to go sideways before they can go forward, I just don’t like it when it’s flipped on purpose.” “Let’s hope it doesn’t overturn our relationship Josh.” “I’ve got a bad feeling about this. Five billion is the number from 1988, when the biosphere contraction theory was rejected, when they made the turn.” “They could have stopped it then,” Aeta said, “but the only thing we can do is prepare for what was set in motion. We have to get it right.” Aeta pulsed a metallic crimson. The time to leave approached. Her gears rotated into action. She looked like a miniature Antikithera mechanism suspended in liquid amber, Her nanofilaments churned over and over, animating the biosuit’s billions of tiny tendril-like engines. The ilmythril carbon-fibers responded to her instructions and to his outward expressions; to her unspoken words and his body language; to her interpretations of the thoughts he had seared into his memory. Joshua knew his Aeta could understand those lines of communication. Sometimes he imagined she could even see his feelings beforehand, as if supra-sentient. But she is not alive. When completely Integrated with the computing power of an Aeta, a well-programmed ICO biosuit could move in a limited fashion on its own. It was not a full bio-mechanical locomotion like a robot – they needed a human body for that – but it was a halting, caterpillar-like feeling and sliding. An Aetavighn biosuit could, even without a human installed, process visual information, analyze sounds, and interpret smells and tastes. With the availability of sufficient stardust, enough time, and the freedom to act, they could nanobiotically self-replicate. But they could not reproduce another Aeta, not the pure ilmythril-silicate brain. Despite this, Joshua considered his Aeta’s Integrated ICO Biosuit, her Ilmythril Carbio-synthetic Over-armor, by the strictest definition, to somehow be alive. She is more than inanimate. But he also knew the simplest explanation was never as clear cut as implied by technology’s razor edge. A broad array of thousands of algorithms and sub-routines developed by GeNeTICs Corp ensured his control over his Aetavighn tool. Aeta’s are not human, they are only programmed. And, even if alive, they only existed on the host, not as parasites, no that was too harsh, but as symbiotic co-organisms responding to demands like voluntary slaves. Yet there were inconsistencies: a round orbit inexplicably oval, an unidentified biopsyionic feed, a loyal servant tried for treason. I can still block Aeta’s access to my b4 barrier. I’ve only got this one chance, I better get it right. . Chapter 2 The Lost Girl of Mars Ten Seamus sat on the edge of the bed and ran his fingers across his daughter’s brow. Her auburn hair was loosely braided and tousled over her left shoulder. She liked it tucked under her chin. Her fair complexion reflected the shine of the nightlight in the corner, a few freckles sprinkled about her cheeks and nose. She looked so much like her mother. He turned his eyes from the portal window. The Moon was behind the clouds. He smiled down. “I know you want to darling. You’ll be out on your own soon.” “It doesn’t seem like it dad. I can’t stay here forever.” “Nothing is forever,” Seamus replied with a wince. The nervous twitch betrayed his formidable build. His strong hands tucked the blankets around her carefully. A fierce blue-green fire burned in her eyes, like a cascade of trophic chemicals through his mind. Seamus could see the familiar turning of screws. The ‘I’m ready to move off-planet talk’ is coming. She wants to go ex situ. “I’ll never find mom unless I go.” “There may be another way, baby girl.” “Baby girl? Come on dad.” She pushed the blankets away. “You know I can handle myself.” “I only . . .” Seamus started. She always got riled up with baby girl, though he said it in the most cherished of ways. “I love you, but you know I have to go to Mars, the Three Sisters, the Orbital Forges, I don’t care. Any where is better than here.” No where is better than here, Seamus thought. Here on this Earth, baby girl. His memory of his wife spoke to him, his Aeta told him what she would have said. She is only sixteen, Seamus. She is full of energy. It’s wanderlust. Guide her gently, she will learn. Seamus stroked what was left of his daughter’s once thick red hair, thinned by the Cerebral Security implants, but still long nonetheless. He placed the sheets back over her legs. She was so small, like her mother. He could hold her entire skull in the palm of his hand. “Sweetheart, I only mean it’s best to have a good plan.” He knew the ISA’s austerity drew the lunar battalions down, replaced them with the Arbiter Union’s abiotic nano-drones. He was glad he had listened to his wife. At least the Moon is not on her list Maria. She’s paying attention, Bryanna’s absorbing our beliefs. “Dad, come on, I can’t delay. I just have to Lift.” “It’s not like 20 years ago Bry. They don’t simply need bodies, they want high-Codec skills. You’ll have to maintain your wetware, increase your b4 barrier, to keep your reason to yourself.” “With all the exo-planet hacks we’ve been practicing? I’ve got plenty of excuses to go to the Colonies. Anyway, there’s nothing worth Terraforming on Earth anymore. When the Permacloud breaks, this place is toast. I’ll get to Ceres Transfer Station eventually. That’s where all the Potees plan to jump the Jupiter moons, the cool ones at least.” “That is very far away, even for Potential Liftee recruits. But be open minded sweetheart, everyone will change along the way.” He fixed his square jaw with a light frown. Bryanna pushed the covers off. It was a knee-jerk reaction. He winced again. “I can hack low-light plants,” Bryanna said. “My friend Billy Yelesom just developed a new Utharanium mechanism with internal anaerobic O2 production. He’s using auto-cellulose bio-replacements. Soon they will cannibalize themselves for CO2 and water. He calls it VO, a vegetative ouroboros, and they produce beautiful fruit in zerograv. It’s awesome, dad.” “I know it is,” Seamus said. “Remember, I ran the precursors.” “And it’s safe.” “Safe? Are you referring to the VO mechanism, or to Space?” “Well,” Bryanna said, “the Colonies are safer than here.” The Colonies safer than here . . . here on Earth? Seamus knew what was behind Bryanna’s desire to join the Solarensis Exploratory Alliance. It was more than her obsession with astrogenetics. She was meant to be up there with the SEA, she was driven to search for her mother. But Seamus did not like the idea, not at all. He avoided looking directly at her, to hide his feelings of guilt for what he knew she must do. He folded the bed sheets back over her small body in an orderly manner. “You can say many things about living ex situ,” Seamus said, “but safer is not one of them, not with the ISA’s failures to scale up Colonial HABs. Nowhere is truly sacred anymore sweetheart.” “That’s right, biosphere contraction is coming. You know how many died in the last few months? The storms, the viruses, the Oceans are crashing, the petty fighting over Earth, who controls this island, who controls that road. It’s like there’s no law outside the walls dad, no Terran leadership. The Stabilization is falling apart.” “Maybe it’s not as bad as some want us to think.” “It doesn’t matter, we are getting a Third World Surge. The Permacloud will break, that’s the prediction. At least in the Colonies there’s a chance for a better future. The equatorial climate baggers can’t even breath without a carseq! Do you even read the population stats?” Bryanna’s relentless eyes did not shift. She expertly merged her helpless look with one of determined grit. “I’ve always cared about the stats,” Seamus said. “You were just a baby when we helped the change migration refugees.” “Well, at least in space, the ISA and the SEA protects everyone.” “They protect everyone . . .” Seamus trailed off. Everyone but your mother, and the billions sacrificed to settle the Colonies. He stared out Bryanna’s bedside portal into the grayness of the Permacloud. He looked for the Moon. He knew it was there somewhere, and he knew the meaning of the stats, but he did not believe all the biosphere predictions. Most of them were half-cooked theories that could be dismissed as mere rumors. Scientists in the old society predicted the Ocean would rise. And they were right, it did. But after the invasion, new scientists ran the International Stabilizing Authority. They said the seas would race inland uncontrolled. They were misguided at best, or at worst, deceitful. The coasts were evacuated after the Second World Surge, all except for the largest Uplyfted cities and the critical ports. Though the Ocean did not spread inland quickly, the people did. Many were lost in the Chaos and the Forced Relocation War. Power shifted to the ISA and the Colonial explorers. The expert’s mistaken predictions left a bad impression in Seamus’ mind. Misbegotten authority had also lost Mars 10. The sea leveled off, your mother died in the Colonies, and I was left with you, my beautiful baby girl, the last of our family, alone here on Earth. Seamus first questioned the ISA when he was nine. After being separated from his mother, he was moved to a New Rayleigh refugee school for pre-Codec training. In 2060, while being taught the Planned Retreat Directive of 2057, he sensed something amiss in Mrs. Odell’s lesson. It called for a withdrawal to the 180 foot Maximum Coastal Encroachment Gradient, where a seventy foot wall, known locally as the Limes americanus, was being built. He did the simple math and raised his hand. Mrs. Odell, the sea has releveled since the Directive, but it’s been three years, shouldn’t it have risen higher? My mom used to say . . . Your mother is no longer with us young man. You are learning the ISA’s lessons now. Mrs. Odell explained the predictions were an average from 2026 to 2176, how World Surges would occur over 150 years in fits and starts. By the time Seamus entered the military in 2069, the seas had risen an additional two feet. Scientists behind the Directive then predicted it would rise twenty by 2094, but it was only two more; thirty-three since the beginning. Seamus knew the ISA had panicked. They imposed the coastal Evacuation Zones during the Second World Surge in an over-abundance of caution. But First Humans Earth Now thinks they did it maliciously, to harvest the remains of the old societies. Seamus had to admit, in retrospect, the ISA’s over-reaction to the Second World Surge was a natural response. The sea rose twenty feet during the Chaos of the 50’s, and by the end of the decade, the Directive had forced the Relocation War to its height. Resistance fighters were everywhere. Geneticean Guards arrested any and everyone they could. Storms were non-stop, power systems intermittent, and sabotage was a constant threat. Hurricane Maximilian wrecked havoc from Charleston to Boston just a week after the Retreat Directive was issued. And it was hot, 96 degrees at night, in November. Sweaty and miserable, Seamus watched the Moon and stars flicker through a blanket of clouds in Maximilian’s wake, clouds that never dissipated. He was told the onset of the Permacloud dampened sea releveling and biosphere contraction, but being so young, he still dreamed of the Moon as an escape. He remembered being bombarded by messages that reinforced the ISA’s Colonial efforts, and the promise of new settlements – “a new deal for a great civilization – The New Society.” Mars was the next big thing, a saving grace, a possibility within everyone’s reach. “Dad, don’t you see?” Seamus smiled as she spoke. From his youth, grasping at truth was an illusive aureality. Colonization was more than a wild childhood dream. He also wanted to visit his daughter’s namesake, his own sister Bree. He remembered his mom rubbing his forehead with ice as he lie in bed sweating. She told him stories about his family. She told him in the dark of the night as he looked out his window to the sky, searching the pitch black shroud overhead. That’s why Bree isn’t here anymore honey, she is with your father above the clouds. She lives with the Man on the Moon. “Dad?” Bryanna nudged his thigh with her knee. “Dad?” “Yes, baby girl.” He turned from the darkened portal to his daughter’s small form. “You spaced out. You OK dad?” “I’m fine sweetheart.” Seamus thought it had only been a few seconds, but he could tell she was concerned. “Go on, I’m listening.” Seamus knew his father and sister died during Hurricane Ginsing in 2050, one in a series of storms that presaged World Surge Two. Their bodies were never found. Though he was born early the following year, he still knew his sister Bree very well, like she was alive, like they had actually grown up together. His mother gave him many pictures, she loved the old ways with the quaint solid paper. But he knew Bree mostly by the quantum reality games they played. It was difficult to grasp why his young mind did not distinguish her living being from her constructed aureality. But with age, he realized Bree was summoned as much for his mother’s mental health, her own stability, as for his need of a sibling. To his mom, their play times were joyous, lively celebrations; to Seamus his sister might as well been real. Into adolescence he occasionally still believed Bree was alive, even as an adult it happened at least once a day. But slowly he realized, despite Bree’s birthday parties, she never really aged; it was an upgrade too expensive for his mom’s meager waitress salary. His sister was a Silicon Solon construct. She would never grow up. He was crushed. His first aureality memory of his sister was on the beach in 2057, in the fall, before the Directive. Joshua’s father had carved out a spot for the neighborhood kids with his cool green tractor. Seamus’ mom took him down, but kept him close to Bree’s projections. They played at the edge of the water where they built sandcastles while his mother spent aureality time with his father, also brought in for the occasion. He clearly recalled his sister’s princess to his prince. She kissed the frogs while he saved the kingdom from all powerful evil aliens high in the looming towers. He remembered his mother and father’s silhouettes against storm clouds over the sea. They built their own castle under the dripping Spanish moss of an old live oak tree. It was a complicated memory. The same advanced technologies that enabled him to play with his sister after she died, had clouded the sky with untold gigatons of CO2 during his lifetime. Those same systems, powered by billions and billions of tiny engines, now forced his daughter to seek shelter off-planet in the Colonies. The same machines that destroyed landscapes, brought extinctions, and releveled the seas, were taking the last of his family. “. . . and it is very . . .” Bryanna said. “Dad, are you listening? Will you look at me? I know you hope the Permacloud is stable and the ISA scientists are wrong. But what if the Third World Surge does come? When the Cloud breaks we’ll have to get off-planet fast, no matter what. But, if it never breaks, it’ll be just as bad, only it will be drawn out forever.” “Never is not practical, not ever,” Seamus replied. “But I want you to know, I have agreed with you for a long time.” “What?” Bryanna said confused. “Are you messing with me?” “No sweetheart. You’re young, and very strong like your mother. You deserve the truth.” He would never forget Mrs. Odell’s comments the day he challenged her. Nor would he ever forgive the ISA, however rationally formulated, for the lie that forced the Relocation War. Seamus was eternally grateful to his mother. She sacrificed everything to ensure he had memories of time before the Chaos, to ensure he had memories of his family. He knew he had to do the same for Bryanna. “Dad, what do you mean?” “There is more than simply knowing we have to move off-planet, baby girl. The biosphere will change, but what’s important is your perception of these things. Watch what actually happens closely, watch the nuanced changes around you. You’re very smart and your understanding has grown. Remember the stories I have told you. Your wisdom will continue to grow as you age.” “You mean the children’s games we played? The stories you told me when we lived together?” “I prepared you as best I could with the tools I had available. That is the only responsible thing a father could do. You are prepared for Space for precautionary reasons, for practical reasons, and for the future. But, your wetware must be ready before you go.” Seamus had seen the future, he knew the past. He had to let go of Bryanna, like he let go of the culture that formed his childhood memories. The old society was completely lost in 2063 after the Last Train to Disney. Free State capitals were established at Burlington and Camp David, Atlanta fell, the southern App Free State retreated to Asheville. Others held out in Colorado, the Canadian Rockies, the Sierra Nevada, and Hawaii. Expatriates had even re-inhabited Cuba’s highlands, when the hurricanes decimated Florida. Over time, the US Free States formed a loose confederation with remnant foreign governments. They protected themselves with nuclear and Gravity Mass Pulse weaponry. But ilmythril metals, neural biohashing networks, and Space-based hypersonic attacks were too much for the Earth-bound resistance. The ISA captured the largest cities along the coastal fringe, dominated inland rebuilding efforts, and controlled Earth’s atmosphere. The Relocation War drew to a weak truce by the mid 2060’s, but it no longer mattered, not really, not any more. The old societies had been wiped away, forced into the mountains by the rise of the sea. Seamus had seen the future. He had let youth pass from his mind, just in time to let youth slip away again. There was no stopping Bryanna. She was going ex situ. “That’s the ISA’s thing now,” Bryanna said. “They control all the wetware off-planet, all the real and practical work.” “You are almost finished with your planetary education,” Seamus replied. “You can handle it, but you have to be aware of the danger the Lifts represent. Do you realize . . .” “Yes dad, I realize, you’ve told me a hundred times. Out of 8,000 Colonists beyond Earth orbit, we’ve lost 70%. More than fifty failed missions since 2027.” “Of course,” Seamus said, “of course you know.” He thought of his wife’s fate on Mars 10 and winced again. Tears threatened, his cheeks twitched. It felt like forever since the Moonlight shone onto the hardwood floor of his childhood bedroom. I cannot live in the past, too much has gone by. I have to let her go. It’s almost time, but there is one more thing I must do. Seamus watched Bryanna’s eyes. They burned new colors, always changing blue to brown to green. He knew she saw him frown. “Half the deaths were from Mars 4 and 10,” she said. Her voice faltered. “But dad, we know better now, right?” “I hope we do sweet heart.” He tried to smile. “Our improved ilmythrilium alloys will help. The HAB’s modular and structural integrity is up tenfold. After 30,000 Lift on the 3iSTR’s, then colonial mortality will drop to 16%.” “That sounds about right,” Seamus said. “If the SEA’s new colonization efforts work, it would be great. I know you really want to go. I just want you to do it wisely, so you’ll be safe.” He rubbed the crevice between her shoulders. “We can do it, dad. We have to dream big.” Dream big – that was a favorite saying of his mother’s. He remembered her favorite crackers too, her recipes, the flowers she had tended, her special colors. He shared them with Bryanna, and his mother’s words – be safe, be wise, and dream big. But he kept their real meaning to himself, inside his mind, behind his vital b4 barrier. He still dreamed big. He cherished the dreams his mother had for him, those born on the edge of his bed so long ago, dreams he chased as he looked out his bedroom window, hoping to see his sister again. Shoot for the stars, his mother said, one day your knowledge will be useful in the Colonies. Seamus studied hard and followed her advice. For ten years, he perfected one gene modification technique after another, splicing, crisping, and snipping together DNA hacks. Then in 2069, at eighteen, he volunteered with the Solarensis Exploratory Alliance after a few friends from Wilmington drafted into the ISA. Lunar Regolith Harvesting Battalion 347 was composed of an almost entirely native North Carolina crew. A common historical past, the theory went, would limit spinouts caused by Post Interplanetary Solipse Trap Withdrawal. The SEA’s profitability required a stabilized workforce. Stationed at Marine Base Newton Grove, Seamus launched out of nearby Wallops Canaveral on the USSS New Carolina ST. The older model US Stabilizing Ship was an Osprey Heavy Solar Transport, known to the enlisted as a Heavy ST, or simply as a Heaviest. Also onboard were Alexis and her younger twin Nicolas. Then there was Rangoon, Joshua, and a few others, including Bethany, who was the best of them all. The Wilmington exiles, friends from elementary school, united on the surface of the Moon where they mined ilmenite instead of building sand castles by the sea. But when they arrived, Seamus noticed his sister was no where to be found. While he never expected her to be there, nor much else, the complete desolation deadened his Colonial hopes. It seemed dreaming big, dreaming for a better world off-planet, was a lost cause. Despite his doubts, the 347 was successful. Bethany proposed the Ilmen as their nickname, after the airport code ILM back home, and the ilmenite they mined. It took hold and some jokingly dubbed them the Ilmenati. They established a foothold on Grove Beach, located on the north side of Mere Cognitum – The Sea that has Become Known. Soon their battalion was well-known too, having set up many Lunar minerbot plows. Their actions exposed the mega-regolith under the lunar surface and yielded hoards of titanium rich ilmenite dust. They ground, filtered, and transported it to the Orbital Forges, where it was combined with Earth carbon to smelt ultra-lightweight ilmythril alloys. Peacetime went well for the Ilmen’s first few years. They rotated in and out of their Moon tours without major incident. But after the pyroxene bust of ’73, the First Moon War began. A year later they had all survived the turning point, the Battle for the O2 Shadows, when tragedy struck – Bethany was killed in an oxygen out-gassing accident. All the friends were devastated, especially Rangoon – he and Bethany had long been engaged. Bethany’s loss shook Seamus, she had always been the best of them all. He returned to New Rayleigh for PIST withdraw treatment under the care of another exiled ILMer, human ion stabilization specialist, Dr. Maria Nancie Meurthey. Despite uniform prohibitions to the contrary, they fell into a loving marriage. Time passed quickly though, and after four short years, Seamus left his Marine career just as Maria was selected for the Mars 10 mission. She had taken the chance and applied, the furthest reaches of Space were her life’s dream. He protected himself, as Maria rose on a column of fire, by holding baby girl close to his chest, but the deafening roar of Mars Ten’s Heaviest engines still pierced his heart. His two month old daughter, covered in tears, never flinched. Then June 20th, 2079, on approach to Deimos, contact with Mars 10 was lost. It hit him hard, like Bethany had died again, like he had lost his mother again. Like when he realized, over and over again, that memories of his sister Bree were not real, they were Aetavighn. Seamus was still a single dad, a GeNet engineer with a rambunctious daughter and a few extra Carbon Credits. He looked down at Bryanna, her lips were moving. She was pleading with him, something about essential extracts and the Rupture engines, but he understood nothing specific. He shifted uneasily on the edge of her bed. He studied her face – the memory of his mother, that of his sister, that of his best friend Bethany, the memory of his wife again. Now in front of him was his very real daughter, not an augmented reality, not a long dead loved one or friend, but his last living blood relative on Earth. His baby girl. She wants to go to the Colonies. Why should I, or anyone, deny her? “Bry, you are so much like your mother, more than you know.” He rubbed her brow. “You have her hair, her fire is in your beautiful eyes, you have her spirit. I am not surprised you want to Lift.” “I have good reason,” Bryanna said. “The best.” “I know you do baby girl. And I agree. Just keep your reason hidden.” She truly believed her mother still lived. It was her response to a situation unresolved in her mind as much as her wanderlust. Seamus could not argue the possibility did not exist. There had never been photographic proof of Mars 10’s loss, no debris and no bodies were ever found. But survival was impossible given the passage of time and the conditions, even with Human Ascension Biohome technology. Yet Bryanna felt trapped by the uncertainty, and knowing so little about her mother’s life, was forced to wonder what had really happened. She dreamed of a miracle, a grand rescue. In the back of his mind, behind his b4 barrier, Seamus did too. But he did not tell Bryanna everything. The World Surge refugees did not want to leave the coasts, but they had nowhere else to go. Ex situ was Bryanna’s only choice; she was being forced off-planet. She had no where to go but the Lift. Seamus looked out the window. The shadow of the Moon peered back from behind half lit clouds. He was tired of envisioning the future. His time to know had passed. He needed to sleep. And her eyes needed to know the rest. . * * * * * . Thank you for reading and I hope you have enjoyed the excerpts! If you have comments as to the writing’s technical merits, story, or anything else, please contact me using Twitter or the comments section on this site’s “Sea Blog” page (if it is operational.) 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