Don’t miss the “Writing Of” and Reading Sample below!
Colonization of an inhabited planet is forbidden. Someone broke the rules.
Under mysterious circumstances, the colony ship, Odyssey, settled on the strangely barren world of Sahara. Eighty years later, and with no help in sight, their long-term survival is in question.
When help finally arrives, long buried secrets of the past, and the machinations of a scheming politician, threaten to upset carefully laid plans for prosperity.
Caught in the middle are the Rxyl – an elusive, telepathic species already inhabiting the planet. Unaware of the human intrigue, a fortuitous accident forges a bond between the races which will alter the destiny of both peoples forever.
“Political intrigue and problems face the second ship sent from Earth. A good read…”
“Smart, engaging and full of interesting technology. I’m looking forward to the 3rd book!”
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The Writing of Odyssey
In some ways Odyssey was easier to write than Expedition, but I discovered unexpected challenges as things progressed. The first, and most obvious, was the location of the action, which was almost totally on the planet’s surface. I didn’t have all the cool space-based technologies, ship movements, interesting discoveries, and other goodies to play with as I did in Expedition. Somehow, I had to make this planet-bound story interesting to the reader while explaining what happened to them on their quest for a new home.
The last presidential election cycle was in full swing as I wrote the book, so inevitably politics found a prominent spot in the story. Creating a nasty politician was not difficult (sorry to say), and I wanted the readers to realize that if human colonies ever do make it into space, they will be bringing some of the same problems with them. Time and distance will not necessarily change human nature, though imagining so may cause us to feel better about future generations.
Another really fun element in the book involved the scary looking aliens, who turned out to be intelligent, gentle telepaths. The Rxyl are based on an actual critter called the Australian Thorny Devil. In real life they measure about 4-5 inches, but in my story are 5-6 feet. I found it more interesting to make something so formidable looking be the good guys for a change. That they ended up turning everything in the colony on its head was simply sauce for the goose. Throwing telepathy into the mix was interesting in itself, but I had to carefully consider how such a thing would affect humanity. Let’s just say I’m glad our thoughts are not being broadcast for all to hear!
The book was a joy to write, and some of the characters you met in Expedition make an appearance in this inter-connected tale.
The planet Sahara, Wadi sector
Olivia Morales gazed through the tempered glass, eyes carefully searching for any changes in the now-familiar landscape. From her vantage point there was little chance of noticing anything significant, yet that wasn’t what drew her to this secluded spot on a regular basis. Harmon Carruthers, the first president of Sahara, designed the observation window as a place of quiet contemplation in the midst of his very hectic life.
Eighty-odd years ago, the colony ship Odyssey chose this dry, rocky world as it’s new home. When the government buildings were constructed, he wisely requested a small secluded look-out at the highest point of the Presidential offices. His successor fondly named it the ‘crow’s nest’, and every serving president since then made good use of it.
Morales was only six months into her ten-year term, yet the weight of her office was keenly felt – some days more than others. Chuckling to herself, she recalled a saying from old Earth, “It’s lonely at the top, but the view is nice.” There were occasions which caused her to question the desire to serve in public office, but her doubts were few and far between.
Loneliness really wasn’t the problem, since she had a husband, children and grandchildren to keep her grounded. Politically, her Vice President was energetic and supportive, and she enjoyed a majority in the senate who supported her leadership. No, her feelings ran much deeper, as she contemplated their place in the galaxy.
The view from the bird’s nest was always the same; a dry, barren, rocky landscape which was precariously balanced on the knife’s edge of survival. Sahara was livable, yes, but it would always be a struggle, which limited their options and growth. Everywhere they turned, the lack of time, resources or personnel were staring them in the face. They made great strides since the colony was established, but she felt in her bones the planet itself was holding them back.
Those thoughts always led to an even darker reality – they were alone in the universe for all practical purposes. If the colony here met with disaster, there was no one upon which to call for help. Oh, it was comforting to know the Earth was still out there, perhaps even thinking of them from time to time. Unfortunately, there was no way to ever go back, no way to communicate with them, and no way to reconnect with their place of origin.
The other colony ship, Expedition, was launched years before Odyssey, and sent off on its own journey through the stars. Who knows what became of them, and they would surely be light years away in a different part of the galaxy anyway. No, Odyssey’s descendants were truly alone, and it was her job to make sure they survived and flourished here.
She shook off her broody thoughts, forcing her mind back to the issues which caused her to seek a few moments alone in the first place. The election which brought her to office was preceded by a long and difficult campaign. She won with sixty-four percent of the popular vote over her opponent, Worden Roux, a senator from the third district, but it left everyone involved feeling bruised and battered. The only thing grander than his empty promises was his ego, which did not take defeat lightly.
Evidently, his plan going forward was to nibble away at her authority in an attempt to eventually remove her from office and place himself there instead. He was deluded if he thought he was going to succeed, but the noxious man had a small minority of senators in his hip pocket who were more than willing to do his dirty work, as long as they were sufficiently rewarded when he rose to power.
Today’s senate session, which began in twenty minutes, was shaping up to be another battle over her fiscal policy. She was still sorting through the mess left behind by her predecessor, and immediately came up against vigorous and vocal opposition from Roux and his cronies. Samuel Flynn, her Vice President, assured her the votes needed to pass her economic package were secure, but the process this afternoon was going to be unpleasant. Well, no one ever said governing would be easy, so she steeled herself for the coming firestorm and entered the lift to her office.
The small capsule descended in a matter of seconds, and as expected, Sam was calmly waiting for her, having known better than to disturb her when she was in the crow’s nest. The man was a career politician, and former senator himself, with a peaceful expression which belied his calculating mind and razor-sharp tongue. She was grateful to everything sacred he was on her side, and enjoyed their working relationship immensely. Since he was also a friend of the family, it meant they saw each other on a regular basis outside of the office as well. Sam and her husband John were longtime friends, extending back to their school days.
He rose from the comfortable chair as she approached.
“I trust you are feeling better, Madam President. I already told you we have the required votes, so you needn’t worry.”
She smiled at his back as he opened the door to her office and began the trek through the maze of hallways and secure lifts which led to the Senate chambers.
“It’s not the vote I’m concerned about, Sam, as you well know, it’s the debate leading up to it which has me looking for an escape route. As long as you can keep Roux and his dogs on a tight leash, we should be able to get this over with in a single session.”
He laughed quietly.
“You don’t expect much do you? I will, as always, do my best, but I think it’s time to discuss an increase in my salary.”
She shook her head at his often-used joke, and arriving at their destination, allowed him to open the chamber doors.
Hours later, with an overwhelmingly positive vote on the economic package in place, Morales retired to her home for supper with the family. It was normally easy for her to be home, even when the Senate was in session, since the entire population was clustered together in one city. On the surface, it was hardly noticed and unimpressive, until it was understood the majority of the city was underground.
Even so, the population was very small, even after several generations on-planet. Without more water and other resources, growth was restricted to natural born children. The enormous ark Odyssey brought with them contained the cradle, which held all the plant, animal and human genetic material needed to start a colony. It remained almost untouched, and would continue so until conditions were able to support the increases which were normally expected once a ship reached a suitable colony world.
Morales believed the founders were too quick to settle on what may have been the first passable planet they found. Most of the records of those early days were irretrievably corrupted in what was claimed to be a massive computer virus which also destroyed the AI who worked tirelessly to bring them safely here.
She entertained her own theories, as did others, about what really happened, but the fact remained they were here to stay whether they liked it or not. Much of the planet remained unexplored, but it was obvious this world was once wet, green, and filled with life in its distant past. Vast ocean basins lay open to unforgiving light, heat and wind; testament to the fact something catastrophic happened, leaving behind a struggling ecosystem which was now hanging on by a thread.
The capital city of Reno was situated on what was once the shoreline of a gigantic inland sea. It would become a lovely port city, if they could only replace the water. This very idea was the main focus of the economic proposals which the Senate voted on today. Morales plan called for using every available resource to build space tugs capable of hauling ice asteroids to the planet’s surface in an effort to replace the precious water which mysteriously disappeared. One of the side benefits was the enormous amount of mineral resources which would be left behind after the ice melted.
The water would enable them to grow more food, as well as increase the population. The minerals would enable them to build their infrastructure, and eventually reclaim the space in which Sahara was located. A double win, if they could pull it off, though Worden Roux and his pals were waxing eloquent about “risking the colony on a single roll of the dice” and the “irresponsible greed of our esteemed President”. Some of his cohorts weren’t nearly as restrained, however, and were calling for her head on a platter before she “destroyed the colony” in one fell swoop.
In truth, there was a great deal of risk in her plan, which she was willing to admit publicly. Yet, she believed the risks were warranted if they were ever going to reach their potential and succeed in taming this world for themselves. If she knew it to be true, you can be sure Roux was going to do everything in his power to see to it she failed. He, of course, would ride in on a white steed and save the day after her incompetent bungling.
To prevent it from happening, she and Sam took unobtrusive measures to keep an eye on Roux and his gang. The files were getting more interesting every month as they uncovered one slimy tactic after another. Someday the information was going to be useful, and in the meantime, they would just have to keep their eyes and ears open.
It was not unusual for Morales to return to her office after evening meals, as she did tonight. With a green light on the water reclamation project, she was determined to get things started as soon as possible. It would be somewhat difficult to rearrange the necessary workspace, laborers and resources to build the tugs, so the steps would need to be followed to the letter. It would have been easier and less costly if they had a way to build the things in space, but it wasn’t an option yet.
She worked quietly for nearly an hour, and was just signing the last of the paperwork when a loud two-toned alarm shrieked from her communications terminal. It took several seconds to understand what she was hearing and respond to the priority one message flashing below her viewscreen.
“Morales here. Report!”
A very young and frightened lieutenant appeared on the screen.
“Madam President, we have an unidentified object in orbit around Sahara. None of our satellites picked up its approach – it simply appeared out of nowhere. It’s not very large, but it’s requesting we open a channel – in English!”
Morales thought furiously for a moment.
“Do NOT respond yet, lieutenant. Activate the Shroud Protocol immediately.”
He nodded and bent to his panel as the seconds ticked by. The Shroud Protocol put this event under a security lockdown and also prevented any of the news services from reporting on it. When he looked up, she issued further orders.
“I want General Dooley and Vice President Flynn in my office, now! If you have a visual of the object, I want to see it.”
Her screen split in two and the left side now showed a small innocuous-looking pillar in low orbit above Reno. It wasn’t big enough to be a spaceship, so it must be a drone of some kind.
“Let me hear the audio message.”
The harried lieutenant complied with the flick of his finger.
“Greetings. This message is intended for the descendants of the starship Odyssey. Please tune your communications equipment to the following coordinates…”
The object didn’t move, and the message repeated every thirty seconds. Morales office door sprang open, admitting Flynn and Dooley, who made a beeline towards her.
She briefly filled them in, while they stared in wonder at the image on the screen and listened to the impossible message. Dooley spoke first.
“Could this be a diversion of some sort? Are there any unidentified ships in our system?”
The lieutenant assured them there were no other objects in Sahara space they could detect. Not very reassuring, given they were unable to detect the pillar object in the first place. Flynn finally asked a question.
“Is there any way someone on Sahara could do this?”
Dooley shook his head.
“Assuming they possessed the ability and technology, it would still have to be launched from the surface. We would definitely have been able to detect it. No, Sam, this appears to be the real deal. Madam President, how do you wish to respond?”
Morales didn’t even hesitate.
“I have already ordered the Protocol in place, so we have a lid on it for now. It won’t be long before someone else figures it out though. Humans are the only beings in the universe who would know our language or that we are Odyssey’s descendants. Whoever they are, I don’t see we have much choice but to listen to the message and see what the hell this is all about.”
She turned back to face the viewscreen.
“Lieutenant, I want everything recorded under constant surveillance from this point on. Nothing, I repeat, nothing, is to be released to anyone unless you have my direct approval. Are we clear?”
He nodded his head.
“Yes, ma’am. Everything recorded. Everything on lockdown. Nothing happens without your authorization.”
Morales turned away from the small viewscreen on her desk and activated the large one mounted on the wall.
“Send the response, Lieutenant.”
Less than three seconds later, the viewscreen lit up with the image of a pleasant looking man, seated at a large desk. He smiled at the pickup and began to speak.
“My name is Jacob Tascio, Chancellor of the planet Pacifica. Our colony was founded very recently from the starship Expedition. No doubt you have many questions for us, and we are eager to establish communications with you. The buoy in orbit around your planet is capable of near-instantaneous travel to any part of the galaxy.
“This technology was a gift to us from our treaty partners, the Vingah. We have thus far discovered at least four sentient space-faring species, some of whom are hostile to humanity. There is no way to know how long it has taken this buoy to find you, but we decided it was crucial to initiate the search as soon as possible. There were three colony ships sent from earth, the last one being Explorer. The search for her continues.
“One of the main reasons we felt it necessary to seek you out, was to warn you of dangers we did not know existed when our ships left Earth orbit. When our newfound technology allowed us to travel back to Earth, we found it destroyed – purposely wiped out by an alien race. There were some survivors on the moon, and they have been welcomed into our society.
“If nothing else comes of this communication, understand the dangers to yourselves and your planet are very real. We are prepared to offer whatever assistance is needed to secure your system and ensure the safety of your people. In addition, we have made advances in medicine, life extension, ship building, and many other areas. With Earth destroyed, we are the only representatives of the human race, and we wish you help you in any way possible.
“Please consider our offer of assistance, and respond to this message. The buoy has been instructed to return to us once you have done so. Afterwards, we will be able to establish routine communications and send ships to assist you, if needed. I have included more information about our planet, the Vingah, and the events on Earth for your perusal. We look forward to a response at your earliest convenience. Take care.”
For the next several minutes, they watched the incredible images which were sent along with the basic message. Scenes of a beautiful water world, insectoid aliens, and a smashed Earth. All three of them were crying when the flow of information stopped. The screen blanked briefly, and an “Awaiting Response” message took its place. As she looked up into the faces of her colleagues, it was obvious they were just as stunned, and intrigued, as she was herself. Sam broke the silence.
“What do you think, Olivia?”
She stood, inviting them to join her in the corner sitting area.
“What I think, Sam, is that the defining moment of my presidency has just arrived. If things turn out to be what they seem, this could be the answer Sahara has been searching for. Before this gets to the Senate, I intend to send an initial response, and then we will see how things progress. Do either of you have any objections?”
They did not, and she continued.
“Sam, I want you to call an emergency closed session of the Senate for tomorrow morning. Don’t give away the farm, but indicate it is a matter of planetary security. General, I would like you to coordinate the handling and eventual dissemination of the message we have seen and heard tonight. We will stage a conference for the press after the Senate has been informed. In addition, I need the two of you to lay out all of my options.” “What am I allowed to decide on my own authority, and what needs Senate approval? We’ll never get anywhere if I am required to get their permission for everything. Search for any precedents in the archives – see what my choices are. I’m afraid this is going to be a long night, gentlemen, so I will leave you to it. Meanwhile, I have a message to record.”