Don’t miss the “Writing Of” and Reading Sample below!
The Silestri thought their enemy was dead. Big mistake.
Exploration’s peaceful journey ends abruptly in disaster. The doomed vessel is attacked, stripped of its crew and destroyed. The men are marooned while the women are forced into a slavery of the worst kind on the Silestri homeworld.
The elusive search for Exploration continued until a corridor through space was discovered, leading straight to the enemy and the dark secrets they kept.
With only days before a decisive battle, an audacious rescue effort is launched to reunite the remnants of humanity and bring them safely home.
“Wow! What a great ending to this series. Very suspenseful and full of great storytelling.”
“I found the entire series wonderfully written, with great characters. Keep them coming!”
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The Writing of Exploration
In the Epilogue of Odyssey, the unfortunate capture and destruction of Exploration is mentioned. In truth, I really had no clear idea how that was going to play out! It took some time for the ideas to coalesce and give me the direction needed.
From the start, I intended this book to be a bit more gritty and visceral than the first two in the series. I also wanted the bad guys to be particularly bad to reinforce the idea that if humanity ever were to traverse the galaxy in the future, they would not necessarily be welcomed with open arms, tentacles, claws – whatever!
One of my greatest challenges was to juggle all the different people groups and sub-plots involved, making sure I didn’t drop any story threads along the way. I had to rely on lots of paper notes alongside my keyboard to keep names and events straight in my mind. It was very complicated, and there were times I wished I had picked an easier way to tell the story.
My favorite character was not a human, but Birmew – the hapless Silestri who was nearly killed and then abandoned, simply for trying to protect his human charges. I was determined to repay him for his kindness as the story unfolded, and I think things turned out well for him in the end.
The conclusion of the book was something of a somber mix, but this was by design. With all the damage done during their captivity, some of the prisoners were unable to walk away unscathed. I believe this will be just as true in the future as it is today, no matter what kinds of medical treatments or therapies come along.
The future, as written in this series, is overwhelmingly positive, yet I made it clear not everything will be sweetness and spice. The book ends on an uplifting note, leaving our now-safe descendants ready to face an interesting future.
NOTE: Some readers have hinted (or demanded) I write more books in the series. While I deeply appreciate their enthusiasm, I have no concrete plans for sequels at the present time. The overall story seems complete to me as is, but if some really great ideas come along…
The planet Bastet, Vibrissa system. Sixty-five rotations (years) in the past.
With a mighty roar, Prime Yarmew descended on the foolish adviser who dared question her decision. Hot blood pooled and splattered as she eviscerated her victim in a gory display of power and authority. The remaining advisors bowed their heads in quiet submission, while the powerful Sub’ords passively observed the scene.
When the carcass had been suitably ripped apart, she stepped aside and allowed her servants to approach with fresh water and towels. Even as the gore was removed from her face, coat and claws, she continued to growl and hiss in barely contained fury until they finished. After exchanging her sash and loincloth for a fresh set, she was once again the very picture of Bastet’s supreme ruler.
Satisfied with her appearance, Yarmew ascended the raised dais and stopped to look down at her handiwork, a triumphant growl rumbling in her throat. Her sleek black coat reflected the bright light pouring in from the clear overhead blister which capped the audience chamber. Gathered beside her reclining couch, were six of the most powerful Sub’ords on the planet.
The influential males were well-known on Bastet, and each of them were prepared to die, if necessary, at the Prime’s command. A surreptitious glance at Sub’ord Dromew, the sire of her most recent batch of cubs, revealed only a brief flick of his ears in her direction. She was gratified he was wise enough not to put forth an opinion and thus challenge her leadership.
“I trust there will be no further attempts to dissuade me, or there will be a repeat of today’s events. I will not stand by while my ‘advisers’ waste their breath on useless discussion. It is time to act for the preservation of our race.”
As Prime of Bastet, Yarmew enjoyed an ordinary but prosperous reign, until unforeseen events upset the ordered world in which she ruled. In her opinion, the exploration of space provided a distracting amusement for the most part, but everything changed five rotations ago when her ministers made an amazing discovery.
A unique space anomaly in their system turned out to be some kind of ‘spatial doorway’, allowing their ships to travel to other regions of space in the blink of an eye. It took some time for them to figure out how to use it, mapping and marking the precise entry and exit points needed for their ships to pass and return safely.
One by one, they visited a dozen different regions of space, each as unique as the one before it. Trinary star systems, ice worlds, pulsars, nebula, vast gaseous clouds, volcanic planetoids; all of it interesting, but not particularly useful. Finally, one of the entry points led them to a lush, warm planet which was suitable for their use. It was well-watered, green, mountainous, and teeming with native life. They named it Hathor, and while it was only being used as a hunting ground at present, plans were being made to colonize it in the future.
The very last entry point was extremely difficult to localize, and so it took nearly five additional rotations before they were able to lock it down. When the scout ships passed through, they found themselves in an enormous asteroid belt, part of a system with only one habitable planet. Unfortunately, it was already occupied.
The creatures were bi-pedal, furless, and apparently intelligent, with ships scattered all through the system. The Silestri quietly and carefully observed them from the safety of the asteroid field until sufficient information could be gathered. In many ways, the aliens seemed to be much like the Silestri themselves, which meant they were now facing another sentient race with a doorway into the very heart of the Vibrissa system.
With ears flat and whiskers twitching, Prime Yarmew fixed the Sub’ords with grass green eyes and made her decree.
“The aliens represent the greatest threat our people have ever known. If they were to discover the doorway, Bastet would be ripe for invasion. If we attempt to seal it at their end, it may destabilize the anomaly and cut us off from Hathor. At the moment, we have the element of surprise at our disposal, and I intend to use it. Every available ship will be used in the assault. We will gather asteroids from the belt, alter their trajectory, and bombard the planet. All their ships and satellites are to be destroyed. I want nothing left alive by the time you return. Any resistance to my orders will be dealt with swiftly. I have spoken. Go, and do my bidding!”
When the attack came, the aliens were indeed taken by surprise and unprepared for such an overwhelming assault. Powerless to stop the massive cloud of asteroids hurtling towards their planet, they bravely fought ship to ship until the last vessel was destroyed. The planet was left to die, its atmosphere thick with dust and debris as the surface was broken and battered to rubble. The Silestri remained long enough to reduce every ship, orbital platform, and satellite to drifting wreckage before preparing to withdraw.
The losses on their side were extremely small, considering the scale of the attack. One small scout ship was damaged beyond repair, and after rescuing the crew of three, was abandoned in their haste to retreat. One at a time, each Silestri vessel slipped through the doorway into the Vibrissa system, where they were hailed as heroes for “safeguarding the people of Bastet from dangerous alien forces”. Anyone foolish enough to claim otherwise was quickly, and permanently, silenced.
The Silestri incorrectly assumed the alien presence was completely neutralized. It was true the planet Earth was smashed into ruin, but unbeknownst to their enemy attackers, a small group of humans survived on the nearby moon. In addition, the Silestri were unaware the Earth sent three colony ships out into the void hundreds of years before the battle commenced. When the first of those ships, the Expedition, finally settled into their new home on Pacifica, they were able to take advantage of newly acquired technology and return to the Sol system.
To their dismay and grief, their ancestral home had been destroyed some thirty years before they arrived. Fortunately, they were in time to rescue the ageing survivors still trapped on the moon base and welcome them into their society. Determined to reverse as much damage as possible, Pacifica set about securing the Sol system, restoring Earth, and seeking out Expedition’s sister ships in an attempt to protect the only other representatives of the human race in the galaxy.
After 20 years of searching, they succeeded in finding the descendants of the starship, Odyssey, making the Alliance three-member worlds strong. Amid their successes, however, two mysteries remained. Who attacked Earth, and where was the last colony ship, Exploration? No one could have guessed the disturbing answers were already on the horizon.
The planet Pacifica, Pacifica Space Fleet Academy, Present day.
As final term students at the PSF Academy, Baxter (Bax) Young and Cole Hearst were paired together to complete one last assignment. The subject matter was already chosen for them, and purposely left vague.
“Recognizing the inherent dangers in the galaxy, how are we to ensure the safety of all members of the Alliance?”
Bax and Cole were supposed to come up with some kind of new idea to enhance or supplement the security measures already in place, whether it be planetary or ship based. If it involved hardware, they were to produce a rudimentary mock-up, along with cost, production and delivery estimates. Finally, they would have to present and defend their work before a committee of high-ranking scholars. A passing grade could possibly lead to a role in bringing their idea to life. A failing grade meant they would have to wait until next term and try again. Though it didn’t happen very often, the young men were motivated to avoid such a possibility at all costs.
The pair were virtual strangers when they received their assignment, but quickly settled into a satisfying partnership which also grew into a close friendship. Both were hard working, intelligent, creative, and willing to think outside the box. While Bax specialized in artificial intelligence, Cole was pursuing a degree in weapons development. It was only natural their proposal would merge concepts from both disciplines. The radical idea they settled on was something the Alliance had never done, or even proposed, as far as they knew. Though they were convinced the idea would work, they hit a snag and needed technical advice to continue.
Taking a break for dinner, the students grabbed their usual table in the commons mess hall. It was a busy place this time of day, and after sitting down to eat, resumed their earlier discussion. Bax made a suggestion which left Cole sputtering in disbelief.
“Are you serious? You want to ask General Moreland to help us with this project? What makes you think he would even give us the time of day?”
Bax interrupted quickly.
“Keep it down, Cole! I don’t want any of the other teams to get wind of this. I’ve taken several of his classes, and he’s actually a lot friendlier than most people think. He has an open-door policy, and he’s going to be on-planet for the next week. If anyone has the advice we need, it’s him. Besides, he and Admiral Perry have been friends for a long time, so if he thinks we have a good idea I’m sure the two of them would discuss it. If we managed to get them on our side, we won’t have any trouble later on with the committee.”
Cole’s sour expression betrayed his skepticism.
“Huh! You don’t want much do you? Assuming we can even get in to see him, and assuming further he is sympathetic to our cause, I would agree having him on our side would be extremely helpful. Having Perry’s blessing would just be icing on the cake. Unfortunately, you seem to have forgotten General Moreland is a very important and busy man. How are we going to convince him to meet with two lowly students who want to pick his brain?”
Bax smiled with a very annoying ‘I know something’ expression and winked at his friend.
“No problem. I made an appointment for us first thing tomorrow morning.”
General Aaron Moreland arrived early, as usual, at the military complex on Beta island. After checking in with his capable assistant, he entered the well-appointed office and settled in for the morning. His plate was always full, as he preferred it, helping to fill the hours of each day with meaningful activity. As a sentient AI with a holographic body, he lacked the normal distractions of sleep, food, and a family. Though his teaching and military responsibilities kept him busy, he was always looking for a worthy project which might need his skills and attention. His first appointment for the day looked like it may have the potential to be just such a project.
Having last term students seek him out for advice on their final assignments was nothing new, and he enjoyed his occasional mentor/advisor role at the Academy. When he received notice of today’s appointment, he was intrigued; both by who was coming to see him as well as their assigned question.
Baxter Young enrolled in a number of his classes and was an excellent student with a keen mind. After a bit of digging, he was gratified to discover Cole Hearst was made of similar stuff. They were both at the top of their class, and would undoubtedly make a formidable team. He spared a thought or two since yesterday wondering exactly what they were working on. The time for idle speculation ended, however, when his terminal chimed, indicating they arrived in the outer office.
Moreland stood as the door opened to admit his guests. Baxter Young was tall, slim, dark eyed, and sported a mop of unruly brown hair. Cole Hearst was his antithesis; average height, stocky build, straight blond hair and blue eyes. Academy students traditionally started at age sixteen, and completed their program in four to six years, depending on their course of study. These two still looked incredibly young, though he knew they were both twenty years old. The General came out from behind his desk to greet them.
“Good morning, gentlemen. It’s good to see you again, Mr. Young. I haven’t yet had the pleasure of meeting you, Mr. Hearst.”
He shook both their hands and led them to a comfortable seating area on the far side of the office. Once they were settled, Moreland jumped right in.
“I am aware of your impressive academic achievements, as well as the question you were given for your final assignment. May I assume your presence here is related to that assignment?”
Bax, clearly the more comfortable of the two, nodded his head.
“Yes, Sir. In order to move forward, we need some additional advice and guidance, and I believe you are the ideal person to ask.”
Moreland merely cocked his head.
Bax smiled and answered the question.
“Your unique personal attributes, military experience, and ties to the Vingah scientific community are well known and apply directly to our project.”
Moreland was quietly pleased and surprised at Young’s forthright manner and honesty.
“I am intrigued, gentlemen. Let’s begin by having you explain what you are working on and how you think I may be able to help.”
The young men practiced their pitch beforehand, and Bax gave his partner a surreptitious nod. Cole weaved his fingers together to keep from talking with his hands, a nervous habit he couldn’t seem to shake.
“The Alliance is faced with multiple potential threats on several worlds. We still have small populations, which means some of our choices in responding to threats are limited. On the other hand, we enjoy a highly sophisticated tech base which offsets some of our disadvantages. What we are proposing is to combine some of our present technologies into a new configuration which we call an EMR, or Enhanced Mission Resource.”
“The Vingah are responsible for the design of the buoys we use, as well as your portable holographic body and power supply. If the capabilities of those two were combined into a small enough package, we would have a powerful, versatile resource available to use in any number of dangerous situations. EMR’s would be able to change their form and outward appearance, move through fold space, and utilize powerful scanners and shields. In stealth mode, they would be virtually undetectable. Internal comm links would enhance communications, and offer a direct connection to their assigned ship. Using our nanite technology, they can be fashioned for self repair or even self destruct in case of tampering or extensive damage.”
“Our current missile design can be modified to create one which would hold multiple EMR’s for planetary insertion or for release in space during battle. Every ship, space station, and orbital weapons platform could carry a supply for use on an as-needed basis. If designed and used properly, EMR’s would not only save lives, but would enhance our overall security at multiple levels.”
Cole stopped speaking, and with a nervous glance at Bax, waited for the General to respond.
Though he hid it well, Moreland was astonished by the proposal. There were some significant barriers which would have to be overcome, but the basic idea was sound. It was truly amazing no one suggested such a thing before, at least not publicly. Because of the nature of his organo-synthetic mind, he could mentally pursue multiple rabbit trails while focusing on whatever else they needed to say. It was obvious Hearst was still uneasy, and eager to let his partner continue. It was equally obvious Young was chomping at the bit to finish the presentation. After a moments’ pause, he turned to face Bax.
“Please continue, Mr. Young. I will hold my questions and comments until you are finished.”
“Thank you, General. The biggest hurdle we have is making sure our EMR’s cannot become dangerous rogue ‘super soldiers’. In order to get the most use out of them, their AI’s will have to skirt awfully close to sentience. The Vingah have succeeded in creating something very close to it in the AI’s we use for buoys and Sentinels.”
“On the other hand, they were instrumental in making modifications to your brain, General, so they also have a clear notion of where the line is crossed. I have some ideas of my own, of course, but without direct access to their methods I can’t move forward. I believe it is possible to create a functional and flexible AI which will do everything we need, while still preventing sentience or going rogue.”
Moreland was pleased Young actually voiced what would be the two most obvious objections to their proposal. By treaty agreement, members of the Alliance were forbidden to create an AI which could grow beyond its original programming and achieve sentience. Of course, the only reason General Aaron Moreland even existed was because his former self, known as Mosis, did exactly that on the five-hundred-year journey from Earth.
The problem of going rogue was an equally dangerous situation which could never be allowed. Any creation of great power and flexibility must be designed with unbreachable control barriers in place. The ability to guarantee such barriers would be difficult at best, though Moreland was confident Vingah scientists would have an excellent chance of succeeding. He suddenly realized his attention wandered for a few moments, and his guests were waiting patiently for him to respond.
“Excuse me. Your proposal has provoked a great deal of thought, and I cannot help but consider some of the implications. Your presentation was both concise and well considered, and I congratulate you for a creative and ambitious plan. How, specifically, may I be of help to you?”
Encouraged by the General’s positive response, Cole jumped back into the conversation.
“As you know, Sir, the official schematics for much of our technology is restricted. Based on what we could find out for ourselves, we think we can squeeze all the necessary components into a size and shape which would fit within the average dimensions of a human body. What we need is to be able to consult with Vingah engineers to see if we can reduce the size and increase the power output for the EMR core. Bax also needs to discuss his proposed modifications with the artificial intelligence team. We were also hoping you would be willing to arrange meetings for us with the right people on Khrusallis.”
Moreland smiled and leaned forward when he spoke.
“Your requests are reasonable, and I believe I have exactly the right people in mind to help you. Before we go further, I want to see a formal proposal which includes all your research, conclusions, and recommendations. I would like an opportunity to think carefully about this idea and confer with a few of my colleagues. In the meantime, I believe it would be best if you kept the entire project confidential.”
Moreland stood, followed by his guests. Before they moved towards the door, Bax reached into his pocket and produced a data chip, which he handed to Moreland.
“We already prepared the proposal for you, General, to save a little time. Our presentation is due in twelve weeks, and we still have a lot to do.”
Moreland accepted it with a wry smile and then shook both their hands.
“I am very impressed, gentlemen. Expect to hear from me before the week is out.”