chapter 149: Darren continues salvaging nuclear material from crashed UN ships, then gets a weird emails

== 2064: lunar surface near lock #473, Aristillus, Lunar Nearside

Darren scratched ineffectually at the side of his suit. His glove brushed against the fabric over his torso, which barely moved over the cooling undergarment, which only lightly touched his skin. The end result was that the itch wasn’t assuaged at all. Damn it. He needed a shower, some food, and a break. – but as long as his men were on the surface, he was going to stay with them.

Even as that thought occurred to him a yellow icon popped up on his screen. He glanced at it. The PSO in the air-pack was over 80% saturated. He pursed his lips. His own safety regulations said that he had to replace the primary pack or go back inside at this point – the second rebreather pack in his suit backpack was only for true emergency use. “Pierrick, do we have any spare PSO canisters on hand?”

“Darren, it’s Jan. Pierrick went back inside six hours ago.”

Darren grunted. “OK. Just hand me another PSO canister.”

Darren saw Jan turn and look at him. “Boss, how long have you been awake?”

“What? I – don’t worry about me.”

Jan shook his head. “How long?”

Darren looked at the clock in his display, did a quick calculation, and –


Finally he nodded. “OK, I’ll go get some sleep.”

* * *

Darren stifled a yawn as he paged through emails. He’d finish a first pass by the time the car drove him home, and then he’d get to the rest when he woke up.

The first six messages were Vosloo and van Heerden reenacting their monthly fight about extraction and purification techniques. Wohlwill process this, Miller process that. The fight was ostensibly about technologies, but it was really personality conflict that drove it. Despite being CC-ed by both men, Darren had been sitting this round out. Now, though, tired and irritated after fifteen hours in a suit, he dashed off an irritated note directing the two men to stop debating the technological merits and tell him the financial implications.

Only after he sent the email did he look up and realize that the car had stopped moving; he was home. He should get out of the car, walk from the garage to the bedroom, and sleep. Or maybe take a shower first, and THEN sleep.

Instead he turned back to the slate. Just a few more emails. He opened the first. The daily update from Reggie Strosnider, head of his security team. It was the usual stuff, with a note about the Earth kids who’d been trespassing at the battle site. Any reason they shouldn’t be held for two days then released as per the usual trespassing protocol? Darren shook his head ; the topic was beneath his pay grade and whatever Security decided was fine with him. He archived the message into the “low priority” folder and moved on.

A few messages later – was that email from ?

He blinked, then chuckled at the very idea. It was a joke. Or spam with a fake return address.

He tapped the delete key. There. Inbox zero. He unbuckled his seatbelt and stepped out of the car. He could FEEL the hot stacatto of the shower on him already.

He let himself in from the garage to the kitchen, then walked through the master suite to the bathroom. He turned the water on high – damn the cost – and shed his clothes. The mirror started to fog and he was about to step into the shower.

But something was nagging at him.


This was stupid.

He looked at the shower. He wanted to climb in it right this second. Then he looked back at his slate. He sighed. This was stupid, but it would only take a second.

He opened his email, then dug into the trash folder. He found the message from and looked at the headers.

– and was immediately surprised. It hadn’t just sent to him; Mike Martin, Javier Borda, Albert Lai – the CC list was long. Could this message be real?

What was this message? Saber rattling threats about economic crimes? Or might it be an attempt at negotiation?

He reached out and shut the shower off.

He opened the message and read it with growing incomprehension. Why the hell was the State Department looking for a couple of kids? And why the hell were they spamming CEOs – people who were basically war criminals, from their point of view – asking for favors?

He shook his head. This had to be a joke. He reached out to turn the shower back on, then froze. An odd thought struck him. These college kids State was looking for – these couldn’t be the two trespassers his men had found shooting video of the PK invasion outside his warehouse, could it?

HE flipped back to the Reggie’s email and checked the names and blinked, his eyes crusty with fatigue.

Holy shit.

He had the two kids that State was looking for.

These two assholes were important to someone. But why? And to who?

He calledup a search engine and copied in the names from Reggie’s message. “Hugh Haig”. “Louisa Teer”.

His jaw dropped. Hugh Haig. Senator Linda Haig. This couldn’t possibly be true, could it?

On the other hand, it would explain why the State department was reaching out to him.

He looked longingly at the shower enclosure. He wanted – no, he NEEDED – hot water and then and a long rest.

He pulled out his phone. “Pierrick, meet me at the office – I’ll be there in ten minutes.”

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progress continues

I finished the Mike-and-Darcy thread. There’s some really nice symmetry there – the book starts with a chapter that showcases Mike and shows that Darcy isn’t his top priority, and it ends with the two of them holding hands, looking at their new home, and committing to an exciting awesome future together.

…and then for pure writerly showing-off that only one reader in one thousand will catch, the very last paragraph of book 2 has a lot of close echoes to the very first paragraph of book 1.

(c.f. Isn’t this where we came in?)

I juggled some chapters around near the end so that the series ends with a Mike-and-Darcy chapter. Not only does this deliver the symmetry I note above, but it solves a problem: there’d been some weirdness where the saga ended on interleaved high notes (yay! this adventure is over!) and low notes (oh noz! there’s danger on the horizon!).

By moving four four chapters into an schwarma-scene-afterward I let the book end at the proper emotional pitch.

Damn, I’m smooth.

In stats news:

  • I’m 70.5% done and still on schedule for finishing this draft around 1 October.
  • 323,587 words = 1294 pages.
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Leslie Fish

Leslie Fish just gave me permission to use some lyrics from one of her songs in the novel.


In a hat-tip to my various metal-head e-friends, I’ve taken license to have the band in the novel perform it a bit darker / angrier / growlier than usual.

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behind the scenes

Brian left a comment:

I am reminded that RAH and Virginia, for short story, used a roll of butcher paper and two days of time to work out the calculations for an orbit. For a line that read (IIRC) ‘And he took off and departed Lunar orbit’.

Nobody saw the time and butcher paper, but it got baked into the story. And it felt right.

Probably one of the many reasons people still read Heinlein, but not many of his peers from that era.

Wikipedia and spreadsheets make it a lot easier.

…but, yes, there’s still some work.

I’ve got one scene in the novel where kinetic energy weapons (2 TEU cargo containers full of gravel, with phenolic resin ablative shields over steel nosecones, which small steering vanes and simple PID loop controllers) strike targets on a Caribbean island.

Here’s some of the text:

As the gravel boats – spaced out in a rough circle – entered the thermosphere the first few molecules of air started to impact the nosecones, but the density was so low that it would have taken specialized sensors to even detect it. Sensors that the boats did not have.

After a 400 kilometer fall through the thermosphere the boats entered the mesosphere, still punching downwards towards the rapidly growing Carribean ocean at almost Mach 30, dropping over 10 kilometers in height every second.

The air was still sparse enough that a human without a space suit would pass out immediately and die almost as quickly as on the surface of the moon, but there was just barely enough air that the maneuvering vanes at the rear of the boats began to click-click-click as they moved to fine tune their paths.

Ten seconds from ground.

The air around the boats thickened rapidly. Now 0.001 atmospheres, now 0.01, now 0.1 atmospheres.

The hypersonic impact of the falling ships against the air was so powerful that molecules themselves began breaking apart. Ozone, molecular oxygen, water vapor, even triple bonded molecular nitrogen all shattered, throwing off a cascade of atoms, ions, and raw electrons.

Subtle luminous hints in front of each gravel boat soon grew and brightened, turning into fiery disks just millimeters in front of each nosecone. Inside each boat the software noted that the rate of successful radio packet transmissions had fallen from “six nines” to fifty percent, and then below a key threshold. The ionization blackout caused different subroutines to be loaded and executed. Each boat switched from GPS to inertial navigation. Ring laser gyros that had been designed fifty years previously, open sourced a quarter century ago, found in archives two weeks ago, and fabbed, tested, and installed a week previously now directed the gravel boats.

Seven seconds from ground.

The boats crossed the boundary between the meosphere and the stratosphere and the density of the atmosphere kept climbing – now up to 0.3 atmospheres.

On gravel boat number three – the one aimed for the southern-most guardhouse – a wrinkle in the hastily applied heat shield resulted in an uneven flow of superheated air over the nosecone. The uneven force force tugged on irregularity harder and harder and then in a millisecond tore a fingers-width of ablative panel away from the underlying metal.

With the carbon laminate gone the underlayment burned through nearly instantly. Once the underlayment was gone a pencil thin jet of 6,000 degree Kelvin ionized air began burning through the steel nosecone, quickly vaporizing the metal and contributing traces of lunar iron and to the emission lines of the blazing glow.

Six seconds from ground.

Here’s some of the math:

Note how I start with things like

  • initial velocity of an item falling from lunar orbit (11 km/s)
  • the dimensions of a standard cargo container
  • the density of granite gravel

and end up with things like

  • terminal velocity at impact
  • energy of one boat hitting, as measure on the nuclear kiloton scale
  • seconds elapsed from top of mesosphere to earth impact

It may not matter to anyone else, but it matters to me.

And, I’m happy to say, to Brian.

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planning a novel: magic comes from hard work

In a thread about writing, Vox Day writes:

Some authors love to create myths about the magic of the process, but as Glenn Frey commented in the documentary about The Eagles, the secret of song-writing is in the elbow grease. Most of the better writers simply work harder at their craft than the lesser writers, just as most of the better-selling authors work harder at selling books than most of those who don’t sell as many.

a commentor Stickwick replies:

These myths contributed to my sense that there was something elusively magical about the creative process, that it “just happened,” and either you had the gift or you didn’t. A few months ago, Flavorwire published hand-written notes by a few well-known authors, showing how they organized plot points, characters, etc. (including a massive spreadsheet constructed by Joseph Heller for Catch-22), and I was astonished to see that there’s, you know, actual work involved in fiction writing. Like Frey’s comments, this dispels the magical myth of the writing process.

This is all rather encouraging, as it means someone without the natural story-telling talent of, say, Tolkien or Heinlein can still, in principle, work at producing something halfway good.

The referenced Flavorwire article is fascinating.

Here’s a paper-and-pencil spreadsheet outline of Heller’s Catch-22 (click to embiggen):

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snakes stats in a table

draft start finish duration words/day size
1 1 Jan ’11 24 Aug ’11 235 720 169,000
2 1 Jan ’12 3 Aug ’12 215 976 210,000
3 04 Aug ’12 20 Dec ’12 139 1,975 275,000
4 17 Mar ’13 06 Oct ’13 (est) 203 1,724 350,000 (est)
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Mysteries and unresolved questions in novels

Mysteries and unresolved questions are a part of real life, and so it’s OK for them to exist in novels. As a matter of fact, I’m inclined to be a bit suspicious of any novel in which everything gets tidily resolved at the end. It doesn’t feel right for me to do this. So I typically leave some things unresolved. It’s not an oversight.

Neal Stephenson

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social niceties, backstabbing, tribalism

I’m reading a lot of indie science fiction literature on my kindle.

Two things pain me.

The smaller of the two: most of it is mediocre at best, trash at the worst.

The larger of the two: I’m starting to think politically, and while I won’t try to make friends with someone by kissing asses, it does occur to me that it’s probably a good idea to not actively make enemies by panning material by other authors who work in the same space that I do.

…which is to say, I find myself twitching and quivering from the pressure of not giving crap novels, novellas, and short stories the 1, 2, and 3 star ratings at Amazon that they deserve.

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another perspective on five drafts, three years, and 3,000 hours of work

“If you set your bar at ‘amazing’ it’s awfully difficult to start. Your first paragraph, sketch, formula, sample or concept isn’t going to be amazing. Your tenth one might not be either. Confronted with the gap between your vision of perfect and the reality of what you’ve created, the easiest path is no path. Shrug. Admit defeat. Hit delete. One more reason to follow someone else and wait for instructions. Of course, the only path to amazing runs directly through not-yet-amazing. But not-yet-amazing is a great place to start, because that’s where you are.”

-Seth Godin


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chapter 185: Boardroom Group meets after Darcy is rescued and Mike is missing

== 2064: Boardroom Group Headquarters in Tunnel 1,288, Aristillus, Lunar Nearside

Javier looked around the dim construction area. The puddle of illumination from the a few overhead work lights showed three ADF guards with rifles slung, a dozen vehicles, and a handful of modular construction offices in the middle of an otherwise empty, dark tunnel.

Someone dropped a wrench from one of the catwalks overhead and the sound of it hitting the floor echoed down the long shaft then disappeared.

Javier turned towards the blackness. He knew that there were blast-proof construction locks connecting this tunnel with other unfinished construction tunnels two kilometers back, but he couldn’t see anything. This small pool of light was the entire universe; the rest of city felt light years away.

Back in the bustle of the tunnels – eating sushi in a restaurant, watching an MMA bout in a crowded stadium, drinking coffee, pushing past crowds at a taco stand, walking in a park – it was easy to think of Aristillus as an entire world – as THE entire world.

But what was Aristillus, really?

Looking down the length of a desolate construction tunnel, peering into the blackness in either direction – that made it clear. Clear that everything they’d built – all their homes, their farms, their freedoms, their LIVES – was just a small ball of light and warmth, a few hundred kilometers of tunnels, in the middle of unlimited cold and dark.

It was fragile. More fragile than he cared to think about.

There was a disdainful sniff next to him and Javier turned to see Albert Lai. Albert was looking pointedly around at the trailers, the construction equipment, the piles of gravel. He didn’t look amused by their rough-and-tumble new quarters. Javier tried to shake off his own dark mood, put on a smile he didn’t feel and clapped Albert on the back. “Look on the bright side, Albert – now you don’t have to put up with the old furniture in Northern Logistics!”

Albert looked at Javier, his lips pinched. “Shall we go inside and get this meeting started?”

Not even a LITTLE amused.

Albert turned and headed for the portable offices and Javier followed him up the three stairs. Inside the room was bright – an antidote to the gloom outside. Javier scanned the table and did a double take. Darcy was sitting Mike’s seat at the table – and Mike’s assistant Wam sat next to her. Of course – she was out of the hospital. “Darcy! You looking wonderful!”

Darcy smiled shyly. “Thanks, Javier. Sorry it took me a little while to …” She trailed off.

“Don’t apologize.” He paused, pondering how much to say about her recovery after the ordeal of the escape. No, there were too many other people in the room. That was for another time – if at all. He smiled and repeated. “You looking wonderful.” He took a seat and looked for the gavel, then realized that she already had it. After all she’d been through, and she was ready not just to attend a meeting, but to lead one?

Darcy tapped the gavel lightly. “We’ve got a quorum, so we might as well do this officially.” There was still chatter, so she hit the gavel more loudly. Eyes turned to her and there was silence. “Let’s get this started. Matthew, you’ve got an update on tracking down Mike and the others that the snatch team grabbed?”

General Dewitt stood, his uniform the same as the men outside: jeans, gray shirt, a handful of patches. Was there some CNC patch company in Aristillus? Javier shook his head. Irrelevant. “Short version is that we’re at a dead end. The longer version is that we’ve got video of the snatch teams from hundreds of different cameras and we can dial the time-line back and see where they came from, but when we dial it forward we see them disappearing into a service tunnel that has no video.” He gestured at the wallscreen behind him and it obediently played the video.

Javier leaned forward. “You said this is from hundreds of cameras. Is that a Boardroom Group surveillance system?”

Dewitt said “I’ll hand that question to Kurt Balcom. Kurt?”

Kurt nodded. “The UI to dial time forward and back UI is something I hacked up, but the raw data is all from ViewSpace. Actually, I was working with them on this, and they’re going to release a similar feature soon.” He was clearly pleased that his idea was good enough that someone else had decided to commercialize it.

Mark frowned. “So, wait. This video came from Viewspace. That’s a private firm, right? Is there any chance that snatch team could be watching the same sort of video?”

Kurt nodded. “We have to assume so. Viewspace is a public-”

Now it was Karina Roth’s turn to frown. “Wait a second. Am I hearing that there’s a market in video surveillance inside Aristillus? If we can track the PK team, can they be tracking us, at this very moment? Do they know that we’re in this tunnel?”

Dewitt shook his head. “Even if the snatch teams have access the video, it can’t be used to track us to this location. You recall that when we abandoned the Northern Logistics site, we all suited up and went out on the surface, then came back in through another airlock -”

“That doesn’t help us if there is video -”

Dewitt held up a finger. “Hang on. There’s certainly video of us going into the airlock, but there are no cameras in the TBM re-racking yard outside, and no cameras in the in-progress tunnels. We also sent dozens of enclosed cargo skids in through locks which ARE covered by cameras. Even if they think to buy the footage there’s no way the snatch teams can know where we are.”

Mark Soldner leaned forward “We need to talk about the availability of this data. No, scratch that. We need to stop this from getting into the wrong hands.”

Kurt looked up. “Hey, wait a minute. I know it’s a cliche, but information wants to -”

Mark shook his head. “Kurt, this isn’t hacker manifesto play time. Lives are on the line.” He turned to Dewitt. “Even if we’re safe here, we have to stop ViewSpace from selling any more footage. Who knows what precautions we’re failing to take? Better to cut it off.”

Javier looked at Darcy to see her response. She was listening intently, but didn’t seem ready to object.

Dewitt said “Shutting down ViewSpace is a legislative decision, not a military one, so -”

Mark pressed on. “It’s both. The fact is that some of these markets are TOO open and free, and that’s going to hurt us militarily. We all agree that we need less regulation and less government – that’s why we’re around this table – but it’s impossible to have a civilization where people can buy and sell anything to anyone. Especially in a wartime situation.”

Javier looked at Darcy again. If Mike was here, he knew, there’d be desk pounding and swearing. Javier smiled sadly at that. For all he’d lectured Mike, time and again, about reigning it in, now that it was gone he missed it. He’d do anything to have Mike here, safe and secure.

But Darcy wasn’t Mike. She wasn’t fist pounding or swearing – but she also wasn’t objecting at all. Was she still tired from her ordeal? Or perhaps she just didn’t understand the dynamic he and Mike had forged, where Mike played the angry cop and Javier the good?

Hmm. No matter what the reason, Darcy wasn’t stepping forward. And Kurt, for all his defense of free speech, was seen as a joke by most of the people around the table – a techie and a nerd, not a real business leader like the rest of them.

So. It was up to him.

Javier raised his chin. Mark saw it, finished his speech and turned to Javier.

“Mark, like you I disagree with Mike from time to time on how little government we can get away with. We’ve had many conversations where he has called me a ‘wishy-washy-libertarian’.” Javier smiled, inviting Mark to perceive him as a moderate. “But I want to make three points. First, we have already concluded that the video data is incapable of helping the PK forces if we take reasonable precautions.”

“Reasonable precautions? Those are some pretty big hoops we have to jump through. Why should we have to do that, in our own city?”

Javier ignored the question. “Second, of all the rights that Mike was passionate about, he was most ferocious about the right to trade, the right to speak, and the right to own guns. Now, this current issue does not address firearms, but it does speak to the other two. We can’t put controls in place to stop information from being shared or sold with out impacting both the right to communicate and the right to trade. Mike and I argue about this – and we WILL argue about it again, when he’s freed – but as long as Mike is being held by enemy forces, I’m not going to turn my back on his principles. I owe him that.” Javier looked at Darcy out of the corner of his eye. He was trying to use Mike’s name to rally the other CEOs – and to rally her. Was it working?

It was unclear. She still looked worn and tired.

Mark, at least, didn’t object to the point.

“And, finally, third: any regulation we might propose would be ineffective. We can not wave a wand and stop the data from being sold.”

“You’re giving the old libertarian argument that outlawing a market just drives it underground, but -”

Javier shook his head. “No, I’m not saying that. I’m saying that we don’t have the legal authority to do it. We’re not a government!” It needed to be said, but the role of firebrand was uncomfortable on his shoulders. He looked again to Darcy, but there was nothing in her eyes.

Mark leaned forward. “Javier, with all due respect, you assert that these rules can’t work, and you assert that the population doesn’t want laws, but these laws CAN work, and the population DOES want laws – good laws. People hate bad laws and bad leaders, but they cry out for just laws and good leadership. The Revolution is the perfect time to establish precedents for -”

Rob Wehrmann cleared his throat and bellowed “Jesus Fuck, you people are killing me with all this philosophy. Can we just vote, or something?”

Javier blinked. “This – this LEGISLATION is beyond the scope of the Boardroom Group. The populace hasn’t given us the power to vote on laws -”

Mark raised his hand “I second Rob’s motion.”

Darcy started to say something. Javier turned to her – and watched her fall silent. Wam, next to her, shook his head. “I’m sitting in for Mike, and -”

Karina objected. “Technically, Darcy is -”

Wam spoke over her “And Mike wouldn’t allow this.”

Rob Wehrmann cut him off “Why are we still talking? We’ve got a call for a vote and it’s been seconded. So let’s vote. I vote we shut it down.”

Mark nodded. “Shut them down.”

Karin Roth interrupted him. “Agreed – shut them down.”

Javier opened his mouth but Albert spoke first. “Too militarily risky. Shut them down.”

In just seconds it was done – 14 to 3.

General Dewitt nodded. “I’ll instruct troops to shut down ViewSpace under the orders of the Board.”

Javier shook his head. This never would have happened if Mike had been here. He turned and looked at Darcy. He’d been right – she really wasn’t OK.

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