New novellette: Luminescence

The short story Luminescence was published in Martian Wave in 2010. Because it is part of a world in which I ‘ve set more stories, and part of a greater story, I’ve adapted it and it is now available on Smashwords and Amazon. Click on the image for the Amazon link.

Smashwords link here.

Here are two first two pages, for #SampleSunday:

A bright flash turned the ice under my feet into a sheet of white.
The inside of the inflatable dome blazed in X-ray vision as my visor’s auto-polarise function cut in, providing me with a skeleton-view of the flexible struts that held up the fabric.
A split second, and then the murky orange hue of the Titanian atmosphere returned. Darker still inside our tent on the ice of Kraken Mare on Titan’s south pole.
I depolarised my visor, heart thudding. Black spots danced in my vision. ‘Paul? Did you see that? Paul? Do you hear me?’
I stared at the entry hole in the ice in the middle of the tent. The black surface rippled.
‘Paul!’
There was no reply.
The snaking hoses of the breathing apparatus and the heater were the only sign of Paul’s presence in that blackness. Through my suit’s helmet I couldn’t even hear the humming of the air compressor in the shed.
Static crackled in my earphones. Paul’s words garbled into unintelligible mush, laced with excitement.
‘What is it? What do you see?’
‘It’s . . . beautiful. You can’t begin to describe it, Hadie. There’s colours and pictures and . . . It looks like a spider’s web . . . Holy fuck!’
The line went dead. I strode to the reception unit and pressed the reset with clumsy gloved hands. The roamer icon tracked over the screen and found . . .
Nothing.
Oh for fuck’s sake. This lousy radio never worked when you needed it.
I waited. I told myself not to worry. Paul could take care of himself. The hoses still pulsed, and now–relief flooded me–the downrope was moving, a sign that he was climbing up the ladder.
Sure enough, ten minutes later Paul’s helmet broke the surface, then his shoulders, followed by his be-suited arms. I hauled him up the last rungs of the ladder, the touch awkward through both our suits.
‘You OK?’ I asked.
Vapour rose from the suit, methane gas curling towards the roof of the tent, where it would condensate against the fabric, run down until it met the ice and freeze in globby stalagmites.
Paul dropped his sampling canisters, which he’d taken to collect samples from bacterial patches we had found living under the ice. My helmet receiver remained silent; I couldn’t see his face behind his visor. I cursed. This time when we got back to the habitat, I would complain to the Research Division, fuck the notes it would earn me against future promotion. It was one thing to let scientists work with sub-standard equipment when they worked in an environment where they could breathe the air, and they could sit around waiting for a bail-out if things went wrong. We didn’t have that luxury. Small things about the Titanian atmosphere like the general lack of oxygen and temperatures that would freeze your butt off meant that any equipment malfunction quickly turned serious with big fat capital letters. The tight-arses could at least give us receivers that fucking worked all the time, not just when they felt like it.
I guided him across the tent. His steps were stiff, that all-too-familiar feeling that leg muscles had frozen senseless, through the suit and layers of insulating clothing.
Into the air lock. I pulled shut the thick door and operated the panel. Waited. Just us in our suits, and a tiny light. Vapour rising off Paul’s suit, curling up to the vent in the ceiling. I hated the silence.
Lights flashed; the inner door opened. I preceded Paul into the familiarity of the tiny lab of Research Station 5: a simple table and four straight-backed chairs, lab benches with stacks of sample tubes and an assortment of equipment parts, mostly spare parts for the dive gear, because the samples needed to be kept outside–too warm for them in here. A rack with protective clothing. Thermal under-suits.
Monitoring and comm screens blinked warnings against the back wall. Initialisation sequence not detected. Unease clawed at the back of my mind.
I flicked the heater up as far as it would go. Fans jolted into action. The pump hummed below the floor, sucking up methane from under the ice.
The light was warm in here, and when I wriggled off my suit’s helmet, the air heavy with the scent of synth-coffee. Empty cups still sat on the table.
Paul sank down in one of the chairs. He reached for his helmet and I helped him unclip it.
‘Paul? What happened?’
He said nothing, his hazel eyes staring at the opposite wall like a blind man’s.
‘Paul!’
I swung one leg over his so I faced him. His expression remained blank. His skin looked marble-pale, his eyes wide open. Most of his curly hair lay plastered to his head, his lips dark with cold. Those lips I’d kissed before he went down.

His Name In Lights – first scene

Here is the first scene of His Name In Lights for #SampleSunday, via Twitter.

The time display said 33.16, an hour and a half after sunset. Daniel was so tired that he no longer appreciated the spectacular sky where Jupiter occupied a significant proportion of the horizon, an immense ball in white and red pajama-stripes. By its red-orange light, he staggered off the plate-ramming machine, rubbing muscles stiff with fatigue.
“Finished,” he said, a pre-set command, voice-cast to the immediate surroundings. His tech-bot team needed only that one word to start packing, which they did with their usual robotic efficiency.
Oscar rose from a crouch where he had been taking measurements. His voice-cast went straight into Daniel’s ears. “Hurry up. Scanner says an earthquake’s coming this way.”
“I’m onto it.” Thank goodness, only one more job to do.
Daniel slid the vibration gun out of its housing, ran his hand over the thick rim of hardened polymer that stuck about a hand-width out of the dust, found the joint between the two plates by touch, and attached the electrodes. Click – power. The gun hummed. Along the depth of the plates, about ten meters into the yellow soil, billions of atoms heated up, re-arranged themselves and formed a new matrix that glued the two plates together, completing the ring around the planned settlement.
Done. Great. Daniel straightened and looked over the dry valley, where the rims of seven similar rings stuck out of the ground, eight concentric plastic circles, the smallest more than 100 meters across, of carefully calibrated thickness and distance from each other: the installation that formed the planned settlement’s earthquake protection shield. A beautiful design.
“I’m done. Oscar, pack up your gear and–”
Crack. He didn’t hear it–the whisper-thin atmosphere meant there was little sound–but he could feel it in the parched dust under his feet.
What the–
[override command]
[emergency decision module]
[possible scenarios: 1. something in the ground cracked, 2. the seam has split]
The voice in his head soothed him. Yes, he could have figured these possibilities out himself, but he liked to hear confirmation, a clear plan to work to.
He knelt in the yellow dust and ran his sensitive fingertips over the rim. There was a hair-crack in the seam. He pulled the vibration gun out again–
The ground rumbled.
Crack.
[override command]
[emergency decision module]
[possible scenarios: 1. something–]
Yeah, yeah, he got it; he might not be considered entirely human yet, but he wasn’t stupid.
Now the split was wide enough for the tip of his little finger. “Uhm, Oscar, maybe we should go back to the truck.”
[advice: survey surroundings]
The caterpillar vehicle and its trailer stood near the far perimeter of the proposed new settlement, beyond white lines painted in the dust, where the major infrastructure would be built. Two tech-bots were tying empty crates onto the trailer bed in preparation for their return to Calico Base.
[advice: monitor geological activity]
Oscar was lazily packing away the geo-scanner, tying the leads in neat bundles before putting them into the case. “I wouldn’t worry about quakes now. We’re inside the barrier.”
[advice–]
Daniel cut off the internal voice. “A section of the inner ring just broke–Look, there, behind you!”
Black clouds billowed on the far side of the valley. Thick volcanic dust with flecks of orange. Damn it, an entire new volcano had sprung up–
[override command]
[emergency decision module]
[advice: 1. calm down, 2. prioritize personal survival]
Daniel ran, stumbling over the bucking ground. The neat white lines that demarcated the building site distorted under his feet. Rocks shook free of the yellow dirt.
To his right, a section of the outermost earthquake barrier flew out of the ground, a solid sheet of black plastic more than ten centimeters thick. The second barrier came up, buckled . . .
Yellowish sulfuric dust fell from the air, little specks of heat burning on his skin. Vision became murky. He switched to IR view. The rain of hot dust thickened. Daniel ran as fast as his human muscles and his mechanical frame could carry him.
Quick, the truck. He jumped up onto the caterpillar wheel, opened the cabin, crawled in.
[advice: 1. calm down, 2. shut cabin door]
Daniel froze. Shut the door and leave Oscar out there? He screamed into the billowing dust, “Oscar!”
[advice: volcanic dust is dangerous for equipment]
[advice: shut the–]
“Yes! Shut up!”
He grabbed his head. The module was wrong. Survival wasn’t just about himself. Real people would look after each other. He wanted to be a real person.
[advice:1. calm down, 2. shut cabin door]
It hurt, it hurt his brain. He had to obey; the stupid routine was part of him.
He slammed the hatch shut and sank in the driver’s seat, jabbing at switches and buttons. Thoughts raced each other through his mind.
Oscar!
[advice: unit XRZ-26 is programmed to find his own way back]
There’s no handle on the outside of the door.
[advice: unit XRZ-26 has excavation and cutting equipment]
I’m not leaving Oscar out there.
The truck powered up and displayed the surrounding terrain on the viewscreens, in IR vision. Most of the projection was a soup of grey, the regular scenery blanked out by an incredibly bright spot of spewing liquid. It looked like a water fountain, but was molten rock bursting from Io’s molten interior.
“Do you copy, Oscar?”
Oscar’s voice-cast came over the intercom, irregular, as if he was running. “Yes, I’m coming–” A silence and then, “Shit.”
“Hang on, buddy, I’m coming.”
Daniel crunched the truck into gear, but as the vehicle lurched forward, there was a sharp heave of the ground, followed by a snap. Something clanged against the outside of the cabin, and warnings flashed over the controls. A few seconds later the power flickered out. The floor tilted forward. Daniel scrambled over the seat towards the back of the vehicle, just as the front of the truck crunched into stone, and hung there, metal creaking. In the pitch dark cabin, Daniel could see nothing except the red glow of a button that said emergency.
“Oscar!”
There was no reply.
What now, what now? The inside of his head was quiet; he sensed the emergency routine was re-calibrating after he had ignored its commands and it was taking an extraordinarily long time in doing so. A moment of panic struck. Was it ever going to come back?
“Come on, tell me. What should I do now?”
Nothing. The cabin filled with eerie, throbbing darkness.
You wanted to be a regular human? Well, here you are.
Daniel hit that red glowing button.

a thought about Science Fiction

… put in a seperate post, because it gets confusing when you mix up subjects in blog posts. On second thoughts, cross-posted from my personal blog.

A while ago, everyone was discussing the boundaries between Science Fiction and Fantasy. I don’t know that anyone got a satisfactory answer out of the discussion, but just recently, I was wondering: what is the boundary between *some* space opera and hard SF?

Where does hard SF stop being hard SF and become something else?

Any opinions?