Paul Biagi III, PMP, is a certified Project Manager with a BA in Communications and over 20 years of professional experience crafting proposals, presentations and executive level summaries. Paul has a deep understanding of the impact technology has on our everyday lives, which he is able to convey to others in a rich literary style.
In addition to technology, Paul has a keen interest in people and the motivations behind their actions. He understands flaws are what make us human and strives to create characters people can relate to on a personal level, a mirror in which they can see a partial reflection of themselves.
Paul has been writing creatively since he was eleven but never had the time to fully commit to his craft, until recently. Though Uthuru is a hard Science Fiction novel, Paul is interested in other genres, including Fantasy, and Literary Fiction. He is currently working on a number of projects, including the next sequel in the Uthuru trilogy.
Uthuru is Paul’s third book.
Paul doesn’t write because he has to, he writes because there is nothing else he would rather do with his time.
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The authorities are convinced Mitchell killed his girlfriend. If he can’t find some way to reach the alien coordinates he’s going to spend the rest of his life in prison.Share Tweet LinkedIn Embed pszr.co/BuZLd 1215 views
|Science Fiction & Fantasy Hard Sci-Fi|
|2 publishers interested|
Uthuru is the story of a man, MITCHELL SURREY, who falls in love with his married co-worker SARAH, who disappears soon after they get together. Mitchell discovers her half-eaten body deep inside an abandoned alien base and flees to the surface, pursued by the larvae-like creatures that killed her. He returns with the police but there is no sign of the entrance and they soon begin to doubt his story.
Mitchell inadvertently learns he’s going to be arrested, so he changes his appearance and takes his small ship to a mysterious station in the middle of deep space. Though it’s been abandoned for decades, most of the systems are still active and Mitchell finds a stable portal that spirits him to an underground base on a distant moon where he meets JOURAN.
Jouran is the last surviving member of the Travelers, an advanced civilization nearly wiped out by a race known only as the Takers. Though the Takers haven’t been seen for centuries, Jouran is certain they will soon reappear and knows humanity will never survive without Traveler technology. Jouran offers to trade their vast store of knowledge for assistance with the Takers and Mitchell agrees to take his proposal to the officials on Paragon.
The underground base is infested with thousands of larvae-like creatures that must be destroyed before they can tunnel to the surface. Mitchell and Jouran team up to eradicate them and once they’re gone Mitchell returns home and warns humanity of the threat posed by the Takers.
Uthuru deals with the deep, almost imperceptible impact artificial intelligence has on human society, as well as the role of government in a world where there is little need for it. Though people have everything they need to be happy, their lives lack a sense of accomplishment and a strong feeling of malaise permeates everything they do.
Chapter 1 – Intro. Brief description of the setting.
Chapter 2 – Background. MITCHELL talks about his childhood and describes the development of RIQC’s (Restricted Intelligence Quantum Computers) and their impact on society.
Chapter 3 – Mitchell buys a surplus corvette and outfits it for civilian use. He completes flight training and receives his pilot’s license. There is also a short description of jump point travel.
Chapter 4 – SARAH relocates to Paragon City and Mitchell quickly falls in love with her. They start spending time together but do not consummate their relationship.
Chapter 5 – A detailed description of Traveler vessels and the metal they are constructed from.
Chapter 6 – Mitchell and Sarah attend a going away party and Mitchell tells her what he knows about the Traveler war. They spend the night together and Sarah leaves before he wakes up.
Chapter 7 – Sarah wants to talk. She asks Mitchell to meet her on Miras and disappears. The staff convinces Mitchell she’s gone home and he returns to Paragon.
Chapter 8 – Sarah doesn’t show up for work and Mitchell realizes something’s wrong. He contacts the police and takes the next shuttle to Paragon, where he finds what’s left of Sarah in an abandoned alien base. A group of larvae-like creatures drive him to the surface and when he returns with the police there is no sign of the entrance.
Chapter 9 – Mitchell is called in for a RIQC evaluation a few days later and quickly becomes the chief suspect in Sarah’s disappearance.
Chapter 10 – If he can’t prove the existence of the alien base, the authorities are going to arrest him, so Mitchell contacts the Privacy movement for help.
Chapter 11 – The Privacy representative, LUCK, contacts Mitchell and they arrange to meet the following day. Mitchell spends the rest of the day purchasing the items he will need on Miras.
Chapter 12 – Mitchell meets Luck and they review the items Mitchell has agreed to trade for Luck’s services.
Chapter 13 – Luck sets up a temporary operating room and gives Mitchell a new identity.
Chapter 14 – Mitchell returns to Miras but is discovered before he can find his way back inside the alien base and is forced to return to Paragon.
Chapter 15 – Mitchell contacts Luck and they arrange to meet at a nearby hotel. There is a brief description of Paragon city.
Chapter 16 – Luck is waiting for Mitchell when he arrives. He gives him another identity and Mitchell takes the next shuttle to the orbital station where he hides out from the authorities.
Chapter 17 – Mitchell returns to Paragon to buy supplies for his ship. He also buys some weapons as well as a suit combat armor.
Chapter 18 – The equipment Mitchell orders is delivered. He files a false flight plan, refuels his ship and leaves the station.
Chapter 19 – Mitchell avoids the police patrols and leaves the solar system. Once he’s sure he isn’t being followed, he sets course for a set of spatial coordinates he received inside the alien base.
Chapter 20 – Mitchell tests his equipment and runs a number of simulations to prepare for his encounter with the Travelers.
Chapter 21 – At the end of the journey, Mitchell encounters a navigation buoy that directs him to another location.
Chapter 22 – Mitchell travels to the new location and finds a giant space station. He boards the station and soon realizes it’s been abandoned.
Chapter 23 – Mitchell explores the rest of the docking bay and determines the station is being run by some type of artificial intelligence.
Chapter 24 – Mitchell investigates the nearby bays and notices some of the undamaged ships appear to be alive.
Chapter 25 – Mitchell explores the interior of the station and finds the main control room.
Chapter 26 – Mitchell discovers a glowing blue rectangle that leads to a nexus of tunnels where he encounters the same type of creatures that killed Sarah.
Chapter 27 – Mitchell returns the following day and finds a number of large settlements. He realizes the rectangle is a portal and that he is no longer on the station.
Chapter 28 – Explanation of portal technology and more information on how jump points connect solar systems.
Chapter 29 – Mitchell finds the grow rooms and discovers the fate of the thousands of people taken by the Travelers during the war.
Chapter 30 – He returns to the same area and finds a large warren of tunnels and a caterpillar-like machine he can interact with.
Chapter 31 – Mitchell encounters the last living Traveler, JOURAN, and learns to communicate with him.
Chapter 32 – Jouran reveals the truth behind the Traveler war and the destruction of Traveler society.
Chapter 33 – Jouran and Mitchell work on their plan to save the Travelers from extinction. Jouran grants Mitchell access to the Traveler data stores and they come up with a plan to destroy the creatures that killed Sarah.
Chapter 34 – Mitchell gathers the items he needs to accomplish the task.
Chapter 35 – Mitchell is almost killed trying to retrieve the last item he needs. He returns to Jouran and they rid the base of the larvae-like creatures.
Chapter 36 – Mitchell returns to his ship to recover from his ordeal.
Chapter 37 – Jouran and Mitchell discuss different ways to save the Travelers from extinction. Jouran dies a few days later.
Chapter 38 – Mitchell collects a number of artifacts to take back with him to Paragon, refuels and leaves the station.
Chapter 39 – Mitchell returns to Paragon and has plastic surgery to restore his original appearance. He sells a number of items to raise funds to pay for the Traveler relief effort.
Chapter 40 – The government pressures Mitchell to lead an expedition back to the station, but he refuses and they threaten to put him in jail.
Chapter 41 – Mitchell evades government surveillance and returns to the station, arriving a few days before the fleet is scheduled to arrive so he can make sure the military doesn’t take control.
Chapter 42 – The Navy arrives a few days later and Mitchell manages to keep them off the station until the civilian authorities arrive. He turns to the station over to the public for a share of the royalties, returns to Paragon and reveals the truth about the Traveler war, as well as the threat posed to humanity by the creatures who destroyed Jouran’s civilization.
Epilogue – Mitchell tells how his life and society has changed since his return and sets up next novel in the series.
Uthuru is classic hard science fiction that appeals to fans of the genre who enjoy stories with adventure and exploration elements. The book has a strong emphasis on romance, so it also appeals to readers who see interpersonal relationships as the primary drivers of human interaction.
The impact of technology on human society and governance is another strong theme that appeals to futurists who like to ask questions such as “where are we going” as well as “what is the role of government” in a society where technology has removed most basic wants.
Initial favorability ratings show a fairly even split between males and females, 58/42% respectively and the book appeals to a wide age range, 16-65+.
As the demand for science fiction and fantasy increase, 29% of upcoming Netflix original series are in these categories, readers will turn to the classics to feed their addiction. Uthuru satisfies this need and the highly detailed universe makes it the perfect backdrop for a TV series, motion picture or even a video game.
1) Facebook: I plan to leverage my current Facebook author page with a Publishizer pre-order link as well as the ability to order a copy of Uthuru. In addition, I have a number of contacts who are very active on the platform, each with 1000’s of users, who have agreed to promote my campaign.
2) Twitter: My Twitter account is linked to my website paulbiagi.com as well as my Facebook account. I will make all major announcements on Twitter and will also do a weekly quote from Uthuru or another project I’m working on to draw in readers.
3) Website: I will use paulbiagi.com promote my Publishizer campaign. There will be direct links to pre-order and then purchase Uthuru. There will also be links to my Twitter and Facebook accounts.
4) Linked In: I will use my linked in account to refer contacts to my website, Facebook and Twitter accounts.
5) Email: I have a substantial list of email contacts from 20+ years working for a Fortune 100 company that I will use to market my book and refer contacts to the other platforms.
6) Goodreads: Once the book has completed the pre-order campaign I will add a Goodreads author page that I will use to market Uthuru.
Foundation by Isaac Asimov, 1951
Five short stories about an institute determined
to save galactic civilization after the collapse of the Empire. Foundation deals with societal organization in a technocracy.
The central focus of Uthuru is saving the Travelers from extinction, as opposed to civilization. Like Foundation, it also
deals with societal change, but is far more concerned with the impact of semi-intelligent computers, than organizations.
Uthuru asks “what is the role of government in an era
where technology has made most social programs obsolete?”
Ringworld by Larry Niven, 1970.
Louis Wu crash lands on a giant ring-like space station built around a star and must work with other castaways to find a way home.
Unlike Ringworld, Uthuru is more about the relationship between Mitchell and the alien Jouran and their efforts to right the wrongs of the past. It’s also a first-contact story since prior to Uthuru, human beings had never communicated with an adult Traveler.
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, 1985.
Ender is recruited to destroy an alien threat to humanity, only to learn the war has been a colossal misunderstanding.
Uthuru takes place after the defeat of the Traveler fleet. Like Ender’s Game, the cause of the war is also a misunderstanding, though the Travelers are destroyed by an alien race, instead of humanity. The alien race is the true threat to humanity and in order for the human beings to survive, they must partner with the Travelers.
Consider Phlebas by Iain M Banks, 1987.
Consider Phlebas is the tale of two warring factions, the Culture, and the Iridran Empire. Bora Horza Gobuchul is recruited by the Irdirans and forced to retrieve a Mind that has crashed on Schar’s World.
Culture society is similar to that in Uthuru, since both are post-scarcity civilizations, though, in Uthuru, sentient computers are completely subservient to man and cannot take independent action. These semi-intelligent computers still have a massive impact on society but it is muted by human interaction
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, 2013.
Former ancillary Breq’s quest for justice exposes a covert war between two opposing strands of consciousness. Breq is able to prevent to prevent The Lord from destroying the station but cannot prevent the upcoming civil war.
Uthuru has some space opera tendencies but is more focused on relationships and technology driven by human desires. AI makes life easier and dramatically changes society, but does not govern it. Self-aware computers do not exist in Uthuru. Additionally, Uthuru is more of an adventure and discovery tale and war is not a central theme.
Too many beautifully written books are rejected on a regular basis because the submitting author doesn’t have a strong enough author platform.
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When the elevator arrived on my floor, I took a right so I could walk by Sarah's office. Her door was shut and the lights were still off. I thought for a second about leaving a note, but decided against it, figuring she would be in shortly.
Gail appeared in my doorway a few minutes later. She was looking for Sarah and wanted to know if I'd seen her. I told her I hadn't, but if I did, I'd make sure Sarah knew Gail was looking for her.
Sylva, the quiet woman in the office on the opposite side of the hall, heard us talking and called out to us from her desk. She said Sarah had a family emergency and wouldn't be coming in. I spent the rest of the morning sitting at my desk unable to work, waiting for Sarah to call.
Around lunch I sent Sarah a quick text, asking if everything was alright but didn't get a response. I did get a priority message later in the day, but it wasn't from Sarah, it was from my insurance agent, letting me know my ship had passed inspection and the policy was now in force. I should have been excited by the news, but I was so focused on getting in touch with Sarah, I barely noticed.
Around dinner time, Sarah sent me a short video message. She had to go to Miras the following day and wanted me to meet her there. I could tell she'd been crying, so I called her, but she never picked up, so I left a message and told her I would be there.
I spent the night lying on top of my bed drenched in sweat, trying in vain to quiet my racing thoughts. I was sure tomorrow would be the end and if it was, I knew I would have to quit my job. Seeing her at the office every day would be more than I could bear.
It was dark when I awoke and the birds outside were just waking up, calling to each other softly through the trees. I stayed in bed for awhile, trying to fall back asleep, but got up after an hour or so and paced around the living room until it was time to leave.
Miras is Paragon's only moon. Though only three times the size of Earth's satellite, it has a breathable atmosphere, which is unusual, since most small moons don't have enough mass to maintain one. Its mass is so great, it causes large tidal fluctuations on Paragon, disproportional to its size and orbital distance.
The surface is hilly, covered with small lakes and streams, but there are no oceans.
A single type of grass along with a couple species of trees cover the entire surface. The grass pollinates monthly, filling the air with shimmering golden clouds. The trees pollinate almost as frequently, but their pollen is red and when the two combine the air smells like a mixture of lilacs and summer orchids.
Initially, people thought the moon would be an excellent place to farm, but not a single crop grew to maturity. Trees rose to full height, but never produced any fruit; grains grew tall but never produced seed, and tubers never produced shoots.
Animals and insects brought to Miras suffered the same fate. Small creatures, such as bees and fish never reproduced. Large animals reproduced but in numbers insufficient to maintain viable populations. Humans living on the moon, experienced the same loss in fertility, though less than other species since human females are fertile every month. Once people understood the impact of living on the moon, most left.
People who work on Miras during the day are minimally impacted since it takes constant long-term exposure to reduce fertility. Scientists determined the source of the problem to be chemical compounds in the air and soil, though so far, nobody has discovered a way to counteract them.
The colonists didn't stay on Miras long and most sold their land at a loss. One man, Vesper Collingwood, used his inheritance to buy a large number of claims when the moon opened up for settlement. After the bust, he refused to abandon his investment and tried a number of different schemes to turn a profit, though initially, none succeeded. On the brink of bankruptcy, his wife read an article about Paragon City running out of space to bury the indigent and Collingwood had an idea.
Land in Paragon City is scarce and expensive. The city broke from years of mismanagement, hadn't increased the size of the public cemetery since it was founded. They simply cremated the remains and stacked them one on top of the other in small metal urns, then updated the cast stone above with the names of those interred, rarely making the effort to correctly identify them or notify the next of kin. A whistle-blower working for the city leaked information on what was going on to the press, along with a file containing pictures of the dead and a list
of their personal effects, most of which had been stolen or thrown away.
People were outraged. The families of the deceased sued and a district judge ordered the city to rebury the remains and pay reparations. It took months to identify all of them and the debacle cost the mayor and a number of high-ranking officials their jobs. From that point forward, the city was legally required to embalm and bury the indigent in individual graves, which they couldn't afford.
Collingwood came to Paragon City's rescue. He offered to create a new cemetery on Miras and even factoring in transportation, it cut the cities costs in half.
Realizing he'd discovered a vast untapped market, Vesper built a second cemetery and started selling plots to the public. Others quickly copied Collingwood's idea and built additional cemeteries near the spaceport. Competition and abundant space kept costs low and today almost everyone, except for the wealthy, are buried there.
The moon is the perfect place for a cemetery. Its mild weather and pastoral landscapes, along with the scent of the pollen, make it a pleasant place to visit. A network of trains connects multiple spaceports to the visitor centers, reception halls, and security posts. Mausoleums and tombstones cover huge sections of the moon and when you are standing in the middle of one of them, the entire surface appears to be one gigantic graveyard.
As soon as the shuttle landed, I bought something to settle my stomach and took the next train to the cemetery. I don't remember much about the journey, except the rows of tombstones flashing by my window and arriving at the station a little queasy.
I waited for the other passengers to leave, then took the escalator up to the plaza and walked to the reception center – a large tan building of interlocking stones, surrounded by a covered patio. It was warm, so I sat outside and ordered a couple of drinks, which cost twice what they would have on Paragon.
The doors of the church on the other side of the plaza were open and I could see somberly dressed people standing in the aisles listening to the eulogy. The building appeared full, so I figured whoever passed must have been fairly popular.
Two guards were sitting in a small office just to the north of me,
sipping coffee out of dark gray mugs. They seemed to be in the middle of an intense discussion and every few minutes, one of them stood up, gestured rapidly for a few moments to make a point, then sat back down, only to get up again a short time later. The other officer sat calmly in his chair, fixated on the monitor in front of him, seemingly amused by his partner's antics.
I drank the first scotch in two gulps, then slowly sipped on the second until Sarah arrived. Normally punctual, she was almost an hour behind schedule and until I saw her walking across the plaza towards me, thought she might have changed her mind.
Sarah was dressed nicely, a see-through top with strategically placed material, paired with a red skirt and matching shoes covered with tiny yellow butterflies. In her left hand she had a small bouquet of purple flowers and in the right, her handheld positioned slightly out in front of her. I could clearly make out the curves of her body in the fading light and felt my stomach tighten, knowing I might never see her again.
I waved as she approached and she hurried up the front steps and sat down on the opposite side of the table from me, her eyes firmly fixed on the floor. I tentatively reached across the table to grasp her hand, but she pulled away.
“I missed you.”
Sarah didn't reply, but I could see tears welling up in the corner of her eyes, though she didn't cry. “Can we not talk about it – at least for now?”
“Of course” I replied, trying to sound calm as anxiety crawled up from my gut. I'd been dumped before and this feeling always preceded the event, though it'd never been this intense before. I wanted desperately to reach out and touch her but kept my distance, afraid if I did, she would tell me it was over.
Looking back, I can see I had nothing to lose and everything to gain from our relationship. Nobody I cared about would be hurt. For her, it was the opposite. The only thing she had to gain was me and I was no prize. She would lose in every other facet of her life and deeply hurt the people she loved.
Sarah let out a deep sigh and got up.
“I need to place these flowers. Do you mind waiting here for me?”
“Who are they for?”
“My grandfather. It's his birthday today. My mother always brings him flowers on his birthday, but she's visiting my great grandmother. I promised to do this for her. Can you wait here why I go place the flowers? I need some time to myself.”
“Sure. I'll be here.”
Sarah left the courtyard and strolled purposefully across the freshly cut grass towards the edge of the cemetery. She turned towards me just before she moved out of sight and smiled as if she'd come to some sort of decision, then disappeared around the side of the hill overlooking the plaza. I sunk back into my chair, ordered some coffee and patiently waited for her return.
The funeral ended just as the coffee arrived and the attendees slowly filed out into the courtyard. They stood around for a few minutes talking to each other, then the family, along with a few close friends, left for the grave site.
One small group took a table at the far end of the patio and ordered sandwiches. They seemed pretty upbeat and I figured the death must have been expected since nobody seemed to be in a state of shock.
A half hour passed and there was no sign of Sarah. I tried to call her a couple of times, but her handheld showed she was offline and a terrible feeling of loss crept up from my sub-conscious.
It only took me a few minutes to reach the last place I'd last seen her. Except for orderly rows of tombstones and a few scattered trees, I was alone, so I continued all the way around the hill until I was back at the reception center.
I checked my handheld again, but she was still offline, so I found the concierge and asked him if he'd seen her. He hadn't, so he took out his handheld and input her name.
“I see she was charged for a ticket,” he said, as he flipped through a couple of screens. “But the system doesn't show her being charged for the return trip, so she must still be here. Most likely, she got lost and will turn up soon. If she's not back by dark, I'll have security send up the bots.”
I got the feeling this happened quite frequently, so I had him send me the location of her father's grave, then followed the map to a red granite tombstone in the middle of a sparse grove of trees. A pile of dried leaves covered the bottom third of the stone, partially obscuring the epitaph and there was no sign of the purple flowers.
Sarah would never have left without placing them, so I searched the surrounding area until it got dark, then returned to the plaza, my eyes focused on the ground to avoid tripping over the small headstones hiding in the shadows.
The concierge looked up as I entered the building. He was ready to head home and already had the cleaning bots in the recharging station.
“No, I didn't see her anywhere. I think something's wrong. The flowers she brought with her weren't on the grave. She wouldn't have left without placing them.”
“Let me call the security station,” he said, as he picked up his
handheld and called one of the officers standing outside the small building.
“Jereem, I need you to send up the bots. Appears somebody's lost.”
The tall security guard walked back inside the building, took off his coat and sat down at a control station. Even from a distance, I could tell he was a little annoyed.
I heard a whirring sound and the first search bot rose slowly from the roof of the building and started circling the plaza. A second bot appeared a moment later, rose to the same height as the first and started circling in the opposite direction. They continued like this for a few seconds, then began spiraling outward, slowly moving away from the security station.
“This shouldn't take long, why don't you take a seat.”
“Thanks. I'll just wait here.”
“Would you like something to drink?”
“Some water would be great.”
The concierge walked back to the station, poured me a glass of water and returned, setting it on the desk in front of me. I drank it slowly as he searched to see if Sarah purchased anything or boarded a train, and after a few moments, he looked up from his screen.
“This happens every few months. They always turn up either here or back home.”
We waited around for a few minutes, then the face of the security guard appeared on the screen.
“We swept the area. Nobody but us within 20 kilometers. Are you sure she didn't leave?
The concierge checked the system again just to make sure.
“I checked, there is no record of her on any of the systems, except for the trip here. Even if she managed to get on a train without being scanned, she wouldn't be able to get past security at the spaceport. She's still here, somewhere.”
“It's possible she walked to one of the other stations and took a chartered ship back to Paragon. It's happened before and there were two private funerals this afternoon. If she's still here, the bots would have found her, unless she's underground waiting for a train.”
“Could you contact the main office and have them send someone out to check?”
“I already did, but it's going to take a half hour or so.”
The attendant turned to me and asked me what I wanted to do.
“I don't know. How sure are you that she isn't here.”
“Well, the bots have visual and infrared cameras. So if she's anywhere outside, they would have found her. It's possible she hitched a ride on a private transport like he said, it's happened before.”
“Can I wait here until they finish checking the other stations?”
“Unfortunately, you can't. I need to head back to the central office and the trains will shut down soon. I have your information, so if anything comes up we will contact you.”
“Is there anything else you can do?”
“Not really. Security won't investigate further without a police request, which requires a missing persons report and you have to wait 24 hours to file one.”
I thought about continuing the search on my own, but the concierge ushered me to the last train. The screen on my handheld lit up as I climbed aboard, letting me know it had transferred funds from my account to pay for my ticket. I tried to call Sarah again once I was seated, but she was still offline, so I left another message.
The shuttle back to Paragon took a long time to reach the station. I spent the flight running different scenarios in my head, trying to figure out what happened to her. I didn't believe she would just leave me there, but maybe the situation had been too much for her. Maybe her final smile meant goodbye.
I called Collingwood as soon as I got home. They'd sent officers to search all the nearby stations, but hadn't found any trace of Sarah and were still waiting for the bots to finish another sweep. The officer I spoke with assured me they would contact me as soon as they learned anything, but I never heard back from him and fell asleep waiting for the call.
I woke late the next day, startled by my neighbors slamming their bedroom door so hard the walls shook. Sarah's handheld was still offline and I didn't have any messages, so I called the cemetery. The women who answered knew nothing about the events of the previous evening and put me on hold. She returned a few minutes later and told me security had called off the search. They'd found no sign of Sarah anywhere on the moon and were pretty sure she'd taken a private ship back to Paragon.
I hung around the house the rest of the day and fell asleep on my bed with my handheld next to me. Like most nights, I dreamt of Sarah. We were back outside the Traveler museum, sitting next to the fountain. Every time the gentle breeze from the hills blew over us, I caught a hint of her perfume. She hugged me tightly as if she would never let me go, then got up and slowly walked away.
The dream confirmed my worst suspicions. Sarah had made her decision. She was going to stay with her husband. I considered taking the day off, but the slim hope I might see her drove me into the office, though I arrived an hour late. Her office door was shut and the lights were off. It appeared she wouldn't be in and for all I knew, would never return. Her husband made enough money she didn't have to work.
I sat in front of my computer the rest of the morning, attempting to put a report together, unable to concentrate. About 11 am Gail walked into my office.
“Have you heard from Sarah?”
“Not since Friday.”
“Her husband called, he's out of town and hasn't heard from her since Saturday. Apparently, they had a fight.” She looked knowingly at me but didn't sit down, ignoring the empty chair next to my desk. “I thought you might know where she is since the two of you are so close.”
“Sorry, I really have no idea where she is. I expected to see her here.”
“Well if you hear from her, will you tell her to call her husband. He seems very worried.”
Something was wrong. I could understand her not wanting to speak to me, but not both of us, so I called my boss and told him I had to leave, then slipped down the back stairs to the garage.
I made contact with the cemetery as soon as I boarded the shuttle and they patched me through to the security station. The same guards were on duty and I spent a few minutes going over the events of the last two days.
“You will need to file a missing person report with the police. They should be able to locate her handheld if it is anywhere on the NET, but will require a report for the warrant.”
“Can you search the records, her husband may have already filed one?”
“Oh, we assumed you were her husband –”
“No, I'm just a friend.”
The security guard took her name and information and did a quick search.
“There is no report. You will need to file one. Hold on.”
It took a few seconds for him to connect me to the police station. The lieutenant who answered sent me a video questionnaire and told me to fill in as much detail as possible.
I noticed the guy in the seat across the aisle eavesdropping, so I
moved away from him and lowered my voice to almost a whisper. The lieutenant called me back a few minutes after I hit the send button, took a quick look at the text translation and forwarded copies to Police HQ, Collingwood Security, Sarah's husband, and myself.
“We will need to contact her husband directly to verify he hasn't heard from her. Do you want to talk with him?”
“I guess. If you need me to.”
“It would also help if you can come back to Miras and walk us through everything.”
“I'm already on the way. My shuttle should be landing within the hour.”
“I will have an officer meet you there. Please wait at the security
office until he arrives. One other thing, are you willing to do a
RIQC screening? It's not required, but will speed things up.”
“Of course. Anything to help.”
I rushed to the train as soon as the shuttle landed and took a seat near the door. There were only a few people in the car and a single cleaning bot was moving up and down the center aisle vacuuming the unoccupied seats. Everyone appeared to be going to a funeral and I felt a little self-conscious about my casual attire.
The train sat quietly for a few minutes, announced it was leaving and left the station. It accelerated to full speed once it was out of the tunnel and the tall grass on both sides of the track blurred into a solid green line.
A policeman and both of the security guards were waiting on the platform when I arrived. All of them had particle stunners and the police officer also had a gun, a high-capacity pistol similar to my own, in a quick release holster on his right side.
They introduced themselves and led me up the escalator to the security building. Officer Kim already had the RIQC scanner set up on a desk in the back. He directed me to sit down and attached sensors to my fingers, wrists, and temples, securing them in place with soft sticky patches.
He double checked to make sure they were secure, then sat down in front of the monitor and a few seconds later I felt the ultra-thin needles housed in the sensor heads slide deep into my skin. It didn't hurt, but it itched a little and I had to resist the urge to scratch them.
I'd seen people undergoing RIQC screenings before, but never done one myself and it surprised me how much fear it brought up. All of us have secrets and the thought of him asking me specific questions caused me to sweat profusely and grip the arms of the chair so tightly my knuckles turned white.
Kim noticed how I was feeling and told me not to worry – “none of the questions would be too personal.”
This calmed me down a little and I slid back into the chair, closed my eyes and took a few long deep breaths. Officer Kim gave me a few more moments to get comfortable then asked me some general questions in a slow deliberate voice, so he could calibrate the machine.
Once he was certain he had an accurate baseline, things got a lot more specific. Kim looked down at the screen after each answer, but his demeanor never changed. He ended the session by asking a series of questions taken directly from the police report, then nodded to himself and turned the machine off.
I felt the probes retract from my skin and after Kim removed the
sensors, I scratched the areas vigorously for a few seconds, then
held my fingers up to the light expecting to see little drops of
blood, but found no sign of where the needles pierced my skin.
“You passed,” he said, as he placed the sensors into their respective compartments and closed the case.
“I've never done that before. I didn't like it much.”
“It's very unnerving the first few times. I'm used to it now and it doesn't bother me. We get them every six months.”
“Are the questions always the same?”
“Yes, they run a similar script, unless something turns up. They never ask personal questions unless it's critical to the investigation.”
I got up from the chair and moved to the door, eager to take them to where I last saw Sarah. We started at the reception center and retraced her steps all the way to her father's grave. I pointed out there was no sign of the flowers.
Officer Kim looked around for a few minutes, then asked us to return to the security office. He took out a small flat device, attached it to a retractable pole and began walking around the grave site, waving it from side to side.
We passed another Police officer on the way back, carrying a large case. Jareem directed her to the area where we'd last seen Kim and we continued on to the plaza, arriving at the office just as the search bots returned.
“They've been up since you called,” said Jereem. He checked his handheld, then looked up. “Nothing. We had the other stations in the area send up their bots as well, but they didn't find a thing.”
We sat down and waited for the police officers to return, making small talk to pass the time. They seemed genuinely concerned and asked me a number of questions about the incident. It might have just been boredom, but I believe they really wanted to help.
Kim and the other officer returned an hour later.
“There's no sign of her. We went over the area three times and the scanners found nothing. You would never know she was here, except for the recording of her arrival on the shuttle and the charge to her account for the train ticket.”
“I'm sure something happened. She wouldn't have just left – ”
Officer Kim held up his hand, interrupting me, then looked down at his handheld. I could see another officer's face on the screen, but since he was using his earpiece I couldn't hear the conversation. He was quiet for a few seconds, then hung up.
“That was central dispatch, her husband confirmed she came here on Saturday. He has not heard from her since she boarded the shuttle. He is on his way here now.”
“Don't worry, you're just a witness and he is off planet, so he won't be here until tomorrow. Since you passed the RIQC screening, you don't need to be involved, though I will keep you informed of our progress.”
“Is it really that obvious?”
“I've been doing this a long time,” he replied, smiling briefly at me. “We attempted to pinpoint her handheld but can't find its emergency beacon, so we know it can't access the NET.”
“Is there anything else I can do?”
“Nothing except go home and wait.”
“Can I look around on my own?”
“Sure, the area's been scanned. Just be sure to contact me if you fin d anything.”
“OK. I'll do that.”
I left the office and walked back towards the grave. As I neared the area I last saw her, the feeling of loss overwhelmed me and I
stopped, unable to go further. I couldn't believe this was happening. I should never have left without her.
It took me a few minutes to regain my composure and by the time I reached the grave, it was dusk. Unlike Paragon, where you can hear the birds returning to their nests and insects singing in the trees, it was dead quiet.
I knelt down next to the red tombstone for a few moments, silently asking Sarah for help, then slowly rose to my feet, brushing the sweet-smelling pollen from my pants with a few brisk strokes of my hand.
There was nothing in the area out of the ordinary, so I slowly worked my way back towards the reception hall, stopping frequently to look for any sign of a disturbance. Officer Kim called a few minutes later. He was still in the security office and I could see the female officer standing outside, talking to one of the security guards.
“Just an update. We finished reviewing the security logs for the rental cars and the shuttles at the port. There is no sign of her using any of them. We are still waiting for access to the orbital satellites to see if any private ships we weren't aware of took off. We should know within a couple hours.”
I thanked him for the update and continued on towards the plaza. At the bottom of the hill overlooking the reception hall, I found a narrow path winding its way to the summit. About a third of the way up, I encountered a dozen massive white boulders with long streaks of silver and rose-colored quartz running diagonally across the surface. Most were round, a little over a meter high, but there were also a number of long flat stones partially buried in the loamy soil.
Asparse ring of trees encircled the top of the hill, which was
slightly concave, covered by a dense carpet of flowering grass. In the distance, I could just make out a trio of sandstone bluffs
illuminated by the setting sun, the air above tinted orange by the spawning foliage.
I walked around the crown of the hill, visually scanning the cemetery below, but saw nothing but tombstones and domed mausoleums. There was a shallow depression in the center of the hill, with the remains of a small campfire as well as a few discarded water bottles, but nothing else of interest.
The side opposite the path sat directly above the plaza. Though it appeared I could walk down the steep incline to the reception center, I discovered a steep drop off a few meters from the crest and was forced to turn around and return the way I'd come.
As I neared the abandoned campsite, I felt a strong vibration that continued for a few seconds then stopped. I thought it was a minor tremor, which the moon is well known for, then realized it was probably just a train pulling into the underground station.
It was getting dark, so I carefully picked my way down the path. When I reached the partially buried boulders, I noticed one of them had risen from the ground and now towered above the other stones by more than a meter.
The surface was smooth, as if polished, and it appeared to be perfectly square. Warm humid air, smelling slightly of decay, flowed from the rectangular opening. I couldn't see more than a short distance inside, so I turned my handheld on and used the camera light to look around.
A few meters from the entrance, I found a narrow ramp leading into the darkness. Halfway down, I heard a sharp crack, like a tree limb being snapped in two and instinctively stepped back, falling off the side of the ramp to the hard stone floor below.
The impact nearly knocked me out and it took me a few minutes for me regain my senses and sit up against the side of the ramp. My handheld lay in a pool of foul-smelling goo a couple of meters away and though the screen was on, the light on the back no longer seemed to be working. I scraped most of the substance off and tried to turn it back on, but couldn't, so I set the illumination of the screen to maximum and held the device in front of me like a lantern.
I was in a circular room with white stone walls and a single doorway leading further into the complex. A thin layer of dust covered the floor, except for the area in the center of the room, which appeared to have been swept clean with a giant brush, leaving behind a fan-like pattern reminding me of the freshly raked gravel in a Japanese garden.
As I made my way towards the door, I noticed the side of the ramp shimmered slightly in the dim light and immediately recognized the familiar rainbow pattern of kessium. I'd never heard of anyonefinding a Traveler facility in the system, so I turned the forward facing camera on and instructed the device to start recording.
The passage leading out of the chamber continued straight for twenty meters, then disappeared in a dimly lit room with a narrow metal podium. A thick layer of dust covered the top of the device and there were two green triangular lights embedded in the surface, slowly blinking in unison. I used the edge of my hand to wipe the surface clean, then pressed my index finger against both triangles, but neither responded to my touch.
On the ground nearby was a rolled up piece of clear plastic, smashed flat again the floor. Sandwiched between the layers were a few green stems and single purple flower – all that was left of Sarah's bouquet.
I hurried out of the room, scouring the floor for any sign of her. A quarter of the way down the adjoining corridor, I found a few drops of blood and quickened my pace, certain she was in trouble.
The temperature increased as I moved further in and I was forced to slow down and unbutton my shirt to keep from overheating. In the distance, I heard a dull grinding sound that sent chills down my spine, so I made a couple of attempts to call Officer Kim, but couldn't connect to the NET.
I considered returning to the surface to get help but wasn't willing to leave without Sarah. The drops of blood were small and spaced far apart, so I believed her injury wasn't life-threatening, maybe a deep cut or a badly broken bone, but the heat and humidity were stifling and I didn't think anyone could survive inside the base for more than a day or two without water.
The corridor soon split into two branches, one heading towards the grinding sound, the other down and to the right. Except for small piles of dirt next to the walls, the floors were clean and there was no indication of which way she'd gone.
I didn't think Sarah would have gone towards the source of the
disturbance, so I followed the hallway on the right to an oval room with a jagged hole in the rear wall. The hole led to a dark recently excavated tunnel, heading downhill at a steep angle. Except for a few large stones embedded in the floor, the tunnel appeared smooth and well traveled.
In the distance, I could just make out a long rectangular object,
partially blocking my path. It wasn't until I got closer I realized
it was a coffin, tightly wedged in the thick network of roots that
covered the ceiling. Something had ripped the bottom of the casket out and removed the body, leaving the plush blue lining hanging down to the floor in long strips.
I ran into a few more caskets further down the tunnel. Like the first, the bodies had been removed and all that remained were bits of clothing, some bone fragments, and a few personal items, mostly rings and other small pieces of jewelry.
The passage continued straight another twenty meters or so, then split into a maze of tunnels, branching out in every direction. Large bones, many still covered with bits of rotting flesh, lay in small piles scattered around the floor and the smell of decay was so strong, I was forced to turn around.
I could no longer hear the grinding sound, so I took the other
corridor, which ran straight for a short distance, then curved up and to the right. At this point, the walls changed from stone to kessium, which made it easier to see and I found a sparse trail of blood leading to a dimly lit intersection. Sarah's handheld lay next to the wall on the far side, softly illuminating the surrounding area. Just to the left of it was a single red shoe, covered with butterflies.
I hurried to the device and as I knelt down to pick it up, I heard
something move. I quickly focused my light on the source – two
grub-like creatures, roughly three meters long, crouching in front of a mangled carcass, rapidly shoving chunks of flesh and bone into their gaping maws. Both were yellow in color, with enormous green eyes. Their mottled bodies appeared swollen, like overstuffed sausages and they had two short muscular arms attached to shoulder-like protrusions behind their heads.
I'd found Sarah. Most of her had been eaten, but part of her lower leg remained, still wearing the other red shoe. As soon as I realized it was her, I fell to my knees and vomited uncontrollably.
When I looked up, the larvae had stopped eating and were watching me intently. One of them let out a gasping sound and they both started towards me at a rapid pace, stretching and contracting as they moved, their arms extended out in front of them.
I got to my feet just before they reached me and sprinted towards the ramp, surprised by their speed of their advance. By the time I reached the surface, I could no longer hear them, so I stopped for a few seconds to catch my breath, then hurried to the plaza, stopping frequently to check for any sign of pursuit.
As I rounded the side of the hill, I tripped over a small tombstone hidden in the shadows and fell to the ground, losing my handheld in the process. I was certain the creatures weren't far behind, so I left the device behind and ran the rest of the way, arriving out of breath, covered with vomit.
The officers in the security building immediately realized something was wrong, but I was so traumatized, it took me a few minutes to calm down enough to explain what had happened.
We hurried back to the graveyard at a slow jog, spotting the light from my handheld glowing in the distance. There was no sign of the larvae, so I picked up the device and led the others to the path at the bottom of the hill. Officer Kim and the security guards took out their flashlights and we slowly made our way up towards the entrance to the underground base.
Paragon hadn't risen, so it was pitch-dark and even with the lights, it took us a while to reach giant boulders. We spent a few minutes looking around, but there was no sign of the entrance. To make matters worse, it began to rain, only a sprinkle at first, but it made it the stones slippery and quickly removed any signs of disturbance.
I was about to try to retrace my steps a second time when I remembered my recording and motioned the others over to me. The video started and the time signature advanced, but the screen stayed dark and I couldn't make out anything of significance.
Unsure what was wrong, I had Officer Kim shine his flashlight on my handheld. A thick layer of the gooey substance covered the top of the device, completely obscuring both microphones, as well as the front and rear cameras. I quickly forwarded through the rest of the recording to see if I could find anything recognizable, but couldn't, so we resumed the search.
After an hour, Kim decided to call it quits. I could tell he was beginning to doubt my story and while he remained stoic, I caught the security guards looking at each other a couple of times and shaking their heads. I understood their skepticism. I knew I sounded crazy and there was no evidence anything I said was true.
I tried to convince him to continue, but the steady rain made the going treacherous and Kim insisted we return to the security office. As soon as we were inside, he unpacked the RIQC scanner and placed it on the desk.
“Do you mind if I check your story?”
“No. I know it sounds nuts. I wouldn't believe it if I were you.”
Kim quickly attached the sensors and started the machine. I tensed a little as the needles slipped under my skin, but unlike the first time, I wasn't that nervous. I knew the machine would prove I was telling the truth.
As before, Kim started with a few general questions, then moved on to more specific ones. I held it together for the first couple, then began to weep quietly, but Kim kept going, stopping only long enough to hand me some tissues.
Towards the end of the session, the adrenaline wore off and I became so tired I had trouble concentrating, forcing Kim to repeat some of the questions a number of times. Convinced he wasn't going to get much more out of me, he stopped the interrogation and removed the sensors.
“It appears your telling the truth. I'm going to forward the results to my supervisor and we'll schedule a team with echolocation scanners to search for the tunnels.”
“How about the stuff on my handheld. Can you have it analyz – ”
“I was getting to that. I can do a preliminary analysis with my portable unit. If I can't identify what it is, I'll send it to the lab.”
Kim took a sterile swab from another case, scraped most of the stuff off my handheld and placed even amounts in three small plastic receptacles. He placed two of the samples in the case, then took out a short metal canister and put the third sample in a small opening in the top.
It only took a minute for the machine to break down the molecular structure of the substance, but it couldn't find a match, so Kim removed the sample and stored it away with the others.
“It's organic but doesn't match any substance in the database. I'm going to have to take it back to Paragon and have the lab do a more in-depth analysis.”
“How long will that take?”
“Normally about two or three days. I'll let you know as soon as we figure out what it is.”
Kim finished packing up the rest of his equipment, walked over to me and put his hand on my shoulder.
“I know you want to stay, but I need you to go home and allow us to do our jobs. I'll let you know as soon as we find anything.”
I could tell from the force of his grip, it was more than a suggestion. As politely as possible, I was being ordered to leave.
“Is there anyone who can meet you back on Paragon,” he asked?
“No, not really. My close friends are all on Earth.”
“Well take care of yourself. If you need to talk to a counselor, we have specialists I can connect you with. They can also suggest some sleep aids and mood enhancers if you need them. If you think of anything you forgot, call me.”
The security guards escorted me to the boarding platform, then followed me aboard when the train arrived. At first, I thought they were going to stay with me all the way to the spaceport, but they disembarked just before it left, leaving me alone in the empty car.
It was past visiting hours on this side of the moon, so I doubted anyone would join me, but at the next stop a few cemetery workers got on and sat down in the back, quietly talking among themselves.
The train moved rapidly towards the port through the endless rows of tombstones, illuminated by the brightly lit planet above – a desolate wasteland of death and decay, abandoned by the living.
When we reached the spaceport, a single guard met me on the boarding platform and walked me to the departure gate. The main terminal was filled with people heading to events on the other side of the moon, where it was still early in the day.
I've always had the ability to compartmentalize my emotions or shut them down completely for short periods of time; a necessary skill for a child constantly faced with rejection. I managed to hold myself together just long enough to make it home and into bed. I didn't cry, I suffocated – despair and anguish washing over me in waves.
First of all let me thank you for ordering a copy of my novel. For those of you who ordered the e-version, you ...