MEME

“Meme.” Having been a student of Marine Biology, spending countless semesters and personal time focused on physiology of species, animal behavior, genetics, the ecology of biological systems, and so on and so on, I had my light bulb moment—that moment in time where one’s mental capacity jumps up several notches—upon studying the science and observations of Robert Ricklefs (Ecology, etc.) and Richard Dawkins (The Selfish Gene, The Extended Phenotype, etc.). It was as if I had stumbled upon a jumbled pile of puzzle pieces and began to see the image forming before me. That is how much of a light-bulb moment these individuals have had upon my learning and I began to unravel the social behavior of genetics.

Now back to the word, meme. Coined in 1976 by Richard Dawkins (from the Greek word mimeme – imitate). Remember it as this. Gene is to blue eyes as meme is to Santa Claus; both passed from one generation to the next. Ask yourself, why exactly do we intentionally lie to our offspring about the existence of Santa Claus?

So something odd has evolved here: a means to propagate information much faster than genetics. But all may not appear, as it seems. Take one of Richard Dawkins observations in ants, where some ants he observed climbed to the top of a leaf or blade of grass, something that put that ant in a vulnerable situation, exposing itself to predators or grazing animals. What would explain such behavior? Martyrism? Social acceptance? Fecundity? It turns out in that ant example it was the lancet fluke– a virus affecting the ant’s brain, putting the ant on a course of action beneficial to the virus. The virus required a grazing animal to complete its life cycle, securing its ability to pass on its genetics—it couldn’t care less about using the ant to get there.

So… why am I bringing this up? Are you the ant or the lancet fluke? I suppose I am both, for I see posts, propagated, as one’s personal gain. This one included 😉

Case in point:

The alien in my sci-fi novella, November Seed, was based upon the fungi of the genus Ophiocordyceps – which takes control of an ant’s brain, producing an antenna of spores and turning the ant into a zombie for it’s selfish quest.

What exactly would the meme be for that? All I can picture are Santa’s reindeers, all with antlers, pulling his sleigh bearing gifts.

“Merry Christmas all! And to all a good night……”

If you are looking for a good Christmas story to watch, try Rare Exports: A Christmas story, free on Amazon Prime

What would alien like actually look like?

It is quite easy for a Sci-Fi author to make their aliens very human-like (guilty of charged– as in my upcoming novel, Silversides); trying to write a story where they are nothing like humans creates a lot more work for the author, even if that alien does not have a speaking part.

November Seed

Alien in, November Seed

Both of my novellas (November Seed & From Europa With Love) have aliens that are not human-like and have no dialogue, so to make these stories credible, the biology has to be right.  It helped me immensely that in my former life I was a Marine Biologist–I had been studying alien life forms my entire life it seems and it is not by coincidence that in both my novellas the alien life forms are marine in nature.

Representation of alien in, From Europa With Love

But if you are new to writing Sci-Fi and do not have a background in Marine Biology, there are countless videos like this excellent BBC short from the BBC Ideas section to start you on your way.

So where does a new writer of Sci-Fi get started with understanding alien life?  Below are some good short video to get you on your way.  maybe, just maybe will will find out in our lifetime when we can get a probe below the surface of Europa to explore its thermal vents…. but then again, maybe we do not want to go three.  Europa seems to be a focus for NASA and other scientists as a first strike for alien hunting.  And why not?  t was mine in From Europa With love.

 


Are we living in a Blade Runner World?

I was reading an article on BBC, “Are we living in Blade Runner World,”by David Barnett, about the 1982 flick directed by Ridley Scott, sparked by Philip K Dick’s 1968 novel, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.” The article’s author goes on to explain that the depiction of LA (at the time of the movie) was not far off from today and draws some comparisons.

The article then drifts into why writers of science fiction write what they do; are they writing to predict the future? Find out. The article is a great read for anyone who has put off reading Sci-Fi because they think the stories are of weird aliens (which there are), with unpronounceable names and places (guilty as charged), where the dialogue is robotic in cadence, which is false… except for maybe a few newbie writers of Sci-Fi that self publishing has afforded– a terrific thing by the way.

The article shows great insight from Sci-Fi authors, Matthew Kressel and Mary Robinette Kowal, both who have created great works. Do authors of sci-fi write to predict the future? I’m sure many do, but based upon my own experience, I like to think we write depictions based upon current, hyper-social events; like smashing atoms and looking for the sub-particles we expect to see, and spin it from there.

 

neuroSTAT

There’s one thing about a cat 5 sitting off the coast as you wait for the power to drop…. you are left with only your own imagination.  

 

 

SYNOPSIS FOR S SCI-FI: In a future society where people’s emotions are held in check by software implants (neuroSTAT),  a digital drug (landScape) begins to make its way through the floating commune of Peck Lake in South Florida where its effects reach beyond the limits of the inhabitants emotional governors.

                             ***

During a king tide with a cat 5 off the coast, the sea level along the Intracoastal stays high all day, as if the moon has stopped in its tracks demanding more attention than the storm. On days like this it makes it difficult for me to pick up supplies along the mangroves, so I sit in the sling of my floater, facing the water, away from the mune,  skimming through my pane, listening to casts from the button times. Casts about clunkers having drivers in them— yeah… it’s true. They moved hangers of product from point A to B… slippers, watches, sexBots and shit like that. The demand at the onset of the button clicking generation had pushed pilots of the clunkers beyond their enhancers where they frequently drifted off and were awakened only when they crushed a centipede of  people pods. So the convention stepped in, mandating every clunker have a neuroSTAT installed to keep them afloat. I’m beginning to think that’s where it all started. Lately, after a dissolve, I can feel the edge of my own neuroSTSAT and I’m beginning to feel shit… shit like happy stuff… but mostly sad shit– things I’m not used to. My meuf’s been feeling the same shit so I know I’m not going crazy. It seems to be spreading along our mune for those of us uploading the most recent dissolve –some shit called landScape– but no one knows what bench they got it from.

 

More at some point in time after the power drops and I still have a charge on my iPad……

 

If you like this idea, let me know….

Mangrove Seedpods

Lately I have noticed the consistent march of mangrove seedpods in the water off the dock–more than normal. These king tides reach higher up into the mangroves, where the pods detach and begin to float vertically in the water, the tides shuttling them to far away places. A soaking of the pod softens the outside shell and it begins to peels away, allowing the seedpod to germinate. The vertical position is by design so when the tide drops the seeds settle upright in the soft muds along the banks, providing the ideal location to spread. I cannot help but think how closely these pods remind me of the seeds of Phragmites, releasing at once, wondering if these mangrove pods are also carrying the alien contagion.

November Seed

November Seed

 

A Sci-Fi Limerick

I have been a contributor on wattpad for several years now.  This site has been invaluable to me as a writer of Sci-Fi, where I can test the waters with potential stories, treatments, character studies and just general fun.  Which brings me to this.  There was a recent competition to write a Sci-Fi Limerick… A first for me and a challenge I could not pass up.  They must have liked it as much as I did because they gave me a great lead in:

We have the “most greatest” honour to host, today, The exceptional @DavidNadas, the Limerick specialist of the group.  Let’s let him entertain us with wit and music.

 

There was an Alien from Venus,

Who came to Earth to greet us,

When he stepped off the ship,

We heard his pants rip,

And out rolled his un-Earthly…

Well… you know.

To see other poems and nursery rhymes click here:  Tevun Krus (#59)

A Time To Krill

HollywoodBefore every surf session I warm up on the beach.  It keeps me loose and responsive when I hit the water.  I’m about to go through a final full edit of my upcoming novel Silversides and below was my warm up exercise. (This short has nothing to do with the novel Silversides)

A first-person Sci-Fi detective named Stasch, titled A Time to Krill

Primal. It was the first word that came to mind when I entered the building, but it was the smell of sour tapioca and human waste that hit me square in the face. It seems that everything we do, for the sake of hygiene, is designed to mask this smell, but Natural Selection is an unrelenting force and this scent stays with us; humanity’s true signature.  I’m convinced it was our key to survival because no predator wanted any part of us and moved onto better smelling prey. I mean why is it that a day old kitten or puppy has enough sense to walk away from its own feces but a human baby would be happy to remain in a pile of it until removed? HA! I never lose this argument at a club, talk’n to the ladies with their designer scents, Eau de CRISPR, but then again they see me as an asshole and leave before I can close the argument. It’s what I need to do in my business. No one wants to hire a nice guy in what I do.

Stepping back outside I took in some fresh air and held my breath before reentering the conservatory (what a joke) then waded through the tide of human husks shuffling under the flickering lights of spent ballasts, their opened smocks and stained thighs as disturbing as seeing their arms curled up before them like human krill. They were staring beyond me, their mouths turned down and opened, sucking in on the pain, the intravenous bots at their sides like lamprey.

When I approached reception the waist-on-up android behind the glowing countertop was happy to great me, its hands folded neatly, the wig plopped on top neither male nor female in style.

“My name is Mauri. May I help you?” it said.

It was an outdated androgynous model made during the height of PC-tarianism and at least a decade old, its lips slightly out of sync with the synth box buried within.

“My name is Stasch. I got a tXT from a…” and I rolled my wrist to glance at the pane on my sleeve. “From a Milo Kee-van-is-tov, I said trying to pronounce it phonetically?”


The android gazed through me searching its DAT. “I’m sorry. We do not seem to have a guest here by that name.”


“Maybe Milo isn’t a guest.” I responded. “Maybe Milo works here.”


The android seemed to freeze as if stuck in a processing loop. “Ah yes. Milo Kivanastov. SubOS Custodian. He no longer works for us.”

“Check again. I received a stream from here, from Milo, early this morning…” glancing again at the pane, “at 04:32 to be exact.”


Another freeze, longer this time.  I couldn’t help but look up to mirrored wall beyond the android as if someone were at the controls.

“Milo’s contract ended with us at 06:00 this morning.”

“How convenient. You mean he was terminated.” I added.

“We try to avoid the phrase, terminated, here at the Lodge,” the android replied with a loving smile and tilt of the head right on queue.


“Can you tell me the SubOS outfit Milo worked for? I would like to apply for the vacancy,” I said knowing that if I asked where I could find Milo I would get a canned response of privacy protection. Which is crap. Nothing is private anymore.

“I do apologize, Mr. Stasch, but our CIS appears to be offline at the moment. Routine maintenance. Please try back later.”

“Never mind. I’ll run my own scrub on Milo,” I answered smartly with a wink to the mirror. My talk was shit, but I might as well make the string-puller sweat for a minute or two. My scrub search on Milo would turn up everything about Milo, but without Milo there would be no payment. I should have dropped this contract right then and there but I had nothing else going on and something bothered me about this one. There was no human activity around me other than the damaged trolling the halls and the android behind the counter was concealing, not something androids are known for.

I dropped a vCard to the android and left.  Let’s see who tugs on my line.

Figuring Milo ran the night stack and was a bit of a scumbag I walked the nearby streets looking for shitholes he might frequent. If I were Milo, I’d want some coffee and a vape and I found one called the Wanda Inn–bamboo shades drawn down tightly with a tilted flickering pink LED OPEN sign in the window. The door handle was sticky and a synthetic gong announced my entrance when I stepped inside. It was beyond dim as if night itself had not yet awakened and the air was crisp against my throat.  Behind the empty counter was a stocky woman, I think, whose arms were almost as big as my own but not as pretty. I placed my hands on the countertop where they could be seen.

“You must be Wanda.” I said in a raspy voice.

“You want coffee, fuckhead?” said Wanda with a raised chin and deep voice, which convinced me she was a he.

“As dark as the lighting in here,” I answered.

Wanda turned and grabbed a mug from the shelf and blew into it to rid the dust then poured a viscous stream of blackness to the brim and sloshed the mug onto the counter in front of me, the burnt smell of chicory an assault on my senses.  I hate chicory.

“Thanks. But not for the coffee,” I said and tapped on my pane to transfer two-hundred DASH to the address chalked onto the mirror behind Wanda and waited until Wanda’s wallet chirped and he looked down to see the transfer. “You ever serve a guy in here by the name of Milo?” I asked. “That would be a yes or no.” and I leaned in a little closer. “But a No and the next two-hundred DASH never reaches you. However, an answer of YES and you need to tell me something I can use.” I then whispered in my best Hollywood DeepOps voice, “But if the information turns out to be shit, I will be back to kick your ass.  And I mean that literally. I will sneak up and give you a swift kick in the ass and disappear before you can get up. You will get pissed-off, but with no one in sight you will move on.  And then a week or so goes by, maybe at a bodega, CryptoTeller or charging station, I give you another swift kick, a little harder this time, and you stay down a little longer because something feels broken.  And this goes on and on until you start to look for me everywhere you go. Trust me, no sane person wants that. Is that understood, Wanda Bergen of 8518 NE Banyan Street? You live just around the corner from here, right? Dirty white stucco duplex, top right corner? Blue awnings, one of which is a little ripped?”

Wanda’s voice was suddenly an octave higher and a little more compliant, but it was probably the promise of the additional two hundred DASH that made him talk.

“Yes… Milo did come in almost every morning… a little after six.”

I raised my brow for Wanda to continue.

“He worked the night shift at the River Lake Lodge. You know… God’s waiting room, two blocks up from here?”

“Was he here this morning?“

No.” Wanda replied. His mouth suddenly dry and he poured a half beer from the tap and took a quick sip, waxing a foam mustache and a lick clean of the tongue.

“Did he ever talk shop with you?” I asked.

“Only that the inmates… I mean the guests,” he said as if I were PC concerned, “were basket cases and once in awhile he would… you know?…. “ Wanda said taking another sip and a lick.

I raised my brow again.  Wanda was a quick study.

“You know…. the pretty ones,” he said with a forced smile.

I understood Wanda’s meaning, but that was not what I was after. “Did he ever tell you anything about the place itself or the people running it?

“Not that I–”

I slammed my fist on the countertop, startling not only Wanda, but also the detritus hibernating in the booths behind me. “Think Wanda.  Was there anything Milo said that made you curious? Anything such as activity happening after hours, strange people coming or going… shipments in or out, missing guests?…. That kind of thing!” I felt like I was getting nowhere so with one hand I opened my vest slightly to reveal the stock of my Russian made tecNIK while my other hand ran my down my face for whatever reason people do that other than it feels right to do it out of frustration.

Wanda took another slug.  He was visibly shaken and just where I wanted him.  

“Well…. he had this hidden chair between some cabinets just off the lobby in a camera dead spot and told me about a conversation he overheard about something called Triplex.”

Another raise of the brow.

“Ah.. I never heard of Triplex.”

“Did he say he knew who was doing the talking?”

“No.  Other than the tin can sitting at the desk he never met anyone who worked there.  They worked in another part of the building he had no access to.”

”Did he ever tell you what was going on in that area?”

“No… I don’t think so.  He said the tin can warned him that if he ever tried to gain access he would be terminated.  The tin-can creeped him out and he needed the job.“

I transferred another two hundred DASH to his account and left.

The sun was making its way over the canyon tops, shrouded in blue haze from the constant fires—La blue as we call it.  I hopped onto my bike and headed home to just below the ruin of scaffolding where the Hollywood sign once stood.  I have lived here as long as I can remember and where my famous grandparents lived before me. I was told this area used to be desirable, where the hillsides were rimed with swank and out-of-sight priced homes of former stars and movie moguls.  But when appSTAR made directors and producers out of everyone and their avatars became the new stars, their human likenesses were reduced to ribbon cutting and signing autographs and could no longer afford to live here. Well that and a few large quakes……

TO BE CONTINUED AT SOME POINT.

On this date, five years ago. Somewhere in NYC, I began to write.

It is hard to believe that five years ago, on this date in a NYC coffee shop on the upper east side, I started my writing career. You can see other frustrated writers around me, but this cozy place became the catalyst for putting pen to paper, or in my case, fingers to keypad.  Since then, my debut novellas, November Seed & From Europa With Love, continue to have steady daily downloads on Amazon and the fan base, spread over eight countries, is still growing.   So thanks to all who support and push me onwards.

For the past few years I have been working on a full-length novel called Silversides which  takes place on Gliese 581 g.  As a new writer, I discovered why only the most seasoned writers leave the planet to tell a story and why most extraterrestrials come to Earth to kick our ass… because when you leave the planet you have to invent everything.   Along the way, I have written out weak characters and developed new ones, dragging along Kulcin who is the protagonist in, From Europa With Love.  Writing is a process of one step forward, two back but I have made some great plot changes with refined twists and developed a new ending the reader will not see coming.  Finally I can see the light at the end of the editing tunnel having received great feedback from Betabooks.co 

I do not follow a linear path and have several other novels in the treatment stage that I am equally excited about, such as: HUM, Suicides Of Spring and Glycerine to name a few.  Recently, I have joined forces with a fellow writer (G+’er) to compile a list of shorts we have written and put out onto various sites, such as: Offworlders.com (my favorite), Wattpad (where one of my shorts made it into their premiere eZine, TEVUN KRUS).and other author/reader sites.  But it is G+ that has taught me to be a better writer because of the  invaluable advice and knowledge learned and shared by such super cool folks.

Waiting For The Asteroid

With June 30th approaching ( Asteroid Day), here are a few things you can research, read and watch to prepare yourself.

RESEARCH:  Start with the leading authority of all things asteroids by going to Asteroidday.org.

READ:  I had started a series of sci-fi shorts titled: End Of Days.  One of these stories deals specifically with an asteroid event, called, Under Eden

WATCH: 51 Degrees North: A collaboration of Dr. Brian May and Grig Richters.  A life-changing film that led to the creation of Asteroid Day.  Both the trailer and full length versions of the film can be found below.  You do not want to miss this.

To see the full length movie, click here

Red Velvet

ADAPTATION SERIES: Red Velvet

The Giant Red Velvet Mite: Dinothrombium pandorae

 

“Tevis, have you located Newell?”

“He’s out.”

“Who let him out?”

“No one.  He’s part of Ops and has the overrides. But with our EVs in maintenance, he’s out there on foot–”

The pound of the colony commander’s fist on the table startled her; she had always thought of him as cool and calculated.

“What’s he doing out there? He knows we’re into the 220s of the year.”

“He sent a message he was going to see if he can get the beacon back online.”

“Get him on comm for me,” he growled through the clench of his jaw.

Tevis had anticipated this and pushed forward the PTT toggle on the console.

“CQ CQ calling CQ.  This is A1DUP, Alpha-One-Delta-Uniform-Papa.”  There was a faint hiss and crackle coming from the console speaker on her desk.  She turned the volume up.

“Call again.” he said more calmly this time.

Tevis could see the vexing of muscles along his jawline and repeated the call signs.  A second or two passed which seemed like an eternity.

“N2EEC N2EEC, this is AD2DB, Alpha-Delta-Two-Delta-Baker.”  Relieved, Tevis let out a breath between her pursed lips.

The commander reached down and grabbed the call mic from the stand as Tevis pushed forward the PTT toggle once again.

“Newell, let’s not make this a rag chew.  What the fuck-up are you doing out there?”

Tevis released the toggle.

“Trying to get the aerial back online, sir,” Newell said between breaths, “before the KapCo supply shuttle cruises past us for the second time.  If we miss this window, sir, it will be another five days of rations.”

Tevis and the commander could hear Newell’s labored breaths as he trod through the soft sand with a heavy toolkit all of which was taking its toll on him.

“You know we’re in the 220s and what time of day it is.  You had your orientation on the mites … you don’t want to be out there when they get to the surface–”

He snapped his fingers for Tevis to give him the conditions out there.  “I am ordering you back here, immediately, Newell.”

Tevis brought up the ENV panel and swiveled it toward him.  The temperature was up, and the frozen CO2 had already begun to evaporate. It was too late. He tilted his finger for Tevis to push forward the toggle.

“They’re out on the surface, aren’t they, Newell?”

“Yes they are, sir,” he responded, “but I’m double sealed. They aren’t getting in.”

The mites were bleeding to the surface to eat and mate. It has been 247 days since their last migration and the females velvet abdomens were flush with eggs waiting to be fertilized; the males purposeful in finding a host to carry their young. Newell had not been stationed here long enough to see this event before today, but the orientation videos he watched did not prepare him for what he saw now.  When he reached the aerial, it looked as if someone had draped the antenna in red velvet.  The thought of pushing away that many mites to locate the problem made his skin crawl.  He dropped the toolkit to the sand, and the mites began to crawl onto it, the beacon seemed to be a magnet for them, and he was starting to think this was not such a good idea to be out here. His hero mentality had evaporated, and his idea of impressing Tevis seemed secondary at the moment.

“I’ve arrived,” he said through his helmet mic., his tone, regretful.

“What are you seeing, Newell?” The commander asked.

“A whole lot of mites, sir…” he answered.

“Get back here, Newell.  We’ll spray you down, and you can survive in the chamber for 48 hours for quarantine and observation.”

“I’m already here, sir,” he said against his better judgment as he looked down at his chest and legs of his EMU suit swollen with clots of red mites that were crawling upwards toward his helmet.  He swept his hand across the visor, smearing the mites on the Plexiglas, their viscous yellow insides spreading a swath across one eye, just enough to be bothersome like an itch he couldn’t scratch.  He reached down to brush off the lid to the toolkit and flipped it open, the back of the lid crushing fistful of mites that set off a chemical wave through the colony, now agitated and swarming toward the disturbance.

“This is not going well,” Newell said through his mic.

Tevis wanted to grab the handset from the commander; she could hear the pulsing of blood in her ears at the rasp of Newell’s voice. She pushed forward the PTT button in anticipation.

“What’s happening, Newell?”

There was no immediate answer.

“Newell!” shouted the commander into the mic.

“I’m heading back, sir…” said Newell, the shout of the commander getting him to refocus.

“Good. We’ll be ready for you.  When you reach the rim wait for further instruction.”  Tevis released the toggle and she slumped into her chair with relief.

“Let me know when he’s in sight,” the commander said peering out the window and handing the handset to Tevis, then turning, he left without a word.

She waited until he left the room before toggling open the channel to Newell.

“Where are you, Irwin?” Tevis asked using his first name.

It was good to hear her voice, but he was beginning to feel he made a fool of himself.

“I’m still here, Tevis,” he said addressing her by her first name and disregarding her rank.

“I’ll be with you the entire way, Irwin.  Hang in there.  Our SAT will pick you up in another five minutes, and I will guide you in.”

“Thanks, Tevis.”  He needed to focus on her voice and knew that any stray thoughts could open the door to panic.  But It was getting difficult, the smear across his visor had changed, uneven, like a melt. As it was, he had to contort his head in the helmet to see below the distortion, and even that was no benefit for his non-dominant eye.  He was covered in mites, but he knew not to brush them away this time, so he shook his head, which seemed to work for short periods of time before the visor was covered again.  Fortunately, he could see below the distortion to his feet and follow the footsteps he had made getting here, occasionally shaking his head to clear his visor, but it was becoming more frequent, and he was starting to get dizzy from it.

“I have you on SAT, Irwin,” she said with a lift in her voice as she zoomed in on his coordinates, but froze at the site of the red mass surrounding him and pooling from the beacon tower.  She let go of the toggle in time for him not to hear her gasp and could taste the bile in the back of her throat.

It made him feel better that at least she could see him. “Just keep me on track, Tevis… it’s getting hard to see my steps.”

“You got it, Irwin.  You’re heading in the right direction.”

Although the mites were small, only a shirt button in size, the sheer number of them made his knees wobble from the added weight.  Another shake of his head to clear his view and he almost fell over.

Tevis could hear his breathing becoming shallow and faster, and she knew panic might be setting in.  “Slow down your breathing, Irwin.  One step at a time, and breathe in deeper.  I’m right here with you.  We can do this.”

This was the longest conversation with Tevis since his arrival over fifty days ago when he attended her orientation briefing.  He knew she was of Native American heritage and he tried to imagine her face right now, her rounded chin and full lips, her high cheekbones and narrow eyes framed by her raven black hair. He thought his status and lack of social skills would never get her full attention, but here he was, and he had her full attention. Don’t blow this he kept chanting to himself. Don’t blow this…

Tevis tried to keep him focused on her.  “Where are you originally from, Irwin?” She asked while monitoring his progress.

“Ah… um… East Coast… New Jersey….” He replied and almost stopped to answer her.

“Keep your pace up, Irwin.” She said a bit more commanding.  Maybe it was not a good idea to distract him like that.  She knew he seemed to have a thing for her, his nervous glances when the crew was in the canteen together, the crack of his voice when they worked the same shift as he performed telemetry maintenance in and around the control center.  She wanted his safe return.

He was in good shape, taking longer strides and keeping his breathing under control, but he thought he could smell the scent of burning plastic, his mask, so he picked up his pace, stepping on more and more of the mites pooling around him.  Another shake of his head and it dizzied him, dropping him onto one leg where he felt the squish of mites on his knee and gloved palm.  It repulsed him, and he sprang up and shook off the mites from his arm and could see the bright yellow splotches on his suit and glove.

“You okay, Irwin?” she asked with concern.

“Yeah… just got a little dizzy trying to clear my visor.  I will remember to stop next time before I do that.”

Tevis continued to monitor his progress, thinking back of her time here.  This marked her third cycle on J147b. She was one of the original team members remaining and knew what the mites could do to a person.  Twenty days after landing here, she had almost lost her life from a bite.  Fortunately, removing her leg before the infection spread saved her.  What no one had known at the time was that had a female mite bitten her, it would have deposited thousands of eggs into her bloodstream.  They knew very little of the mite’s life cycle, and with a reduced budget this year, they did not have the resources to get an exobiologist on site. All they knew was not to go out in the 220s during the mite’s yearly migration to the surface. Maybe if she had let Irwin know she was wearing prosthesis as a result of a bite, he wouldn’t have ventured out.  But why would she, it’s not something you just come out and say to someone upon arrival, and she wanted to keep that part of herself, private.

What troubled her at the moment was the size of the mite field, visible from above.  In the three cycles she has been stationed here, she has never seen this many.  From the view on the SATcam, the soil had turned velvet red and her glance out the window at the crater rim above, confirm what she saw on the screen.

Newell was in sight now.  “I can see the base, Tevis.”

She looked out the window and saw him standing along the rim in a wash of red spilling over the edge into the crater.   She toggled the overhead to notify commander Ricklefs.

Moments later, Ricklefs arrived, he looked out the window and was disturbed by what he saw, the flow of red spilling into the crater toward them.  He grabbed the mic.

“Newell… stay there!” He waved his palm for Tevis to toggle off the mic.  “I can’t let him in.  He will endanger all of us.  You of all people should understand that, Captain?”

Tevis felt the knot tighten in her stomach.  She knew he was right.  There would be no way of separating him from the mass of mites.  “Yes, sir.” She replied.

“Good.  Do what you must.   He turned and left, leaving Tevis to herself.

“Sir, where should I approach? Irwin asked.”

Tevis couldn’t bring herself to answer.

“Sir?  Are you there? Commander? …. Captain?” His voice beginning to rattle.

Tevis toggled on the mic.  “Irwin…” and he heard the death sentence in her tone.

“No… No… You can’t leave me out here!”

“We have no choice, Irwin,” and this time he heard a sharp inward sob. “We can’t open the doors for you.  We have no way of killing them without killing you in the process.  You will have to see if you can wait them out, then we can come out and get you.”

“That’s not true!” He shouted through his mic.  “You can vacuum the hatch and kill them!  Please… don’t leave me here.”

“You are not wearing a pressurized EMU, Irwin. And even if we left one in the hatch there would be no way for you to transfer into it without the mites getting in it with you.  You need to wait them out.”

“I can’t, Tevis… I think my outer suit and visor have been compromised-– I don’t know how much longer it will hold up.”  He began to panic and had been so focused on her voice he had not realized he was in total darkness from the mites covering his helmet.  He shook his head, but couldn’t knock them clear, so he reached up to swipe the visor clean, and the weakened section ripped free, the mites pouring through the gaping hole.

Tevis could hear his screams being choked off in silence.  She swiveled away from the window and began to dry heave, hearing only a hushed rumbling coming through the speakers.  She lifted her head and glanced over hev shoulder, out the window And could see his clotted arms frantically attempt to remove his helmet before toppling into the crater. He started to slide down the face but was halted by a mass of red pushing back. And suddenly he was being passed up to the top of the rim like a mosh pit of fans raising one of their own until he disappeared beyond her view with the drape of red receding with him.

Tevis could feel the phantom burns in her limb and reached up onto the console to shut off the feed from the SATcam and mic.  She stayed there with her hands clutched together and her head resting above her knees and under the shade of her dark hair until she no longer felt nauseous.  Ten minutes had passed before Tevis took a deep breath and sat up.  She pushed her hair behind her ears and wiped her eyes.  Maybe it was time to leave this rock, she thought.

“Captain,” came a voice from behind.

Tevis turned to see the new arrival.  His patchwork indicating he worked in the mining division.

“Commander Ricklefs granted my request to see you.”

“Come in, private.”

He stepped quickly and deliberately toward her and stood at attention.  “I knew Newell, ma’am, ” he said?  “We had arrived together on the same shuttle, and I heard what happened to him.  We all did.  He thought very highly of you, ma’am.”  From his pocket, he pulled out a small sack and stretched out his hand.  “Ma’am, this morning, Newell handed me this and told me that if anything were to happen to him, ma’am, I should give this to you,” he approached Tevis and placed the small sack upon the console desk and stepped back.

She sat staring at it, wondering why he would have ventured out knowing something might happen to him.  The new arrival was stationary.  “Thank you…” she said reading his tag… “Percy.”   He turned on the balls of his feet and left.

She took a minute before picking up the sapphire blue bag, gently untying the knot at the top and sliding its contents onto the table.  From within slipped an intricately carved scorpion, a gypsum blade and a note.  How would he have known this? Then remembered a conversation she had in the canteen not long ago with Newell seated quietly at the end of the table, listening to her saying to the others that she had one cycle to go and couldn’t wait to get back to her home in Carefree, AZ, where the only thing she needed to worry about was a scorpion or two.  She unfolded the note and read it, making her smile through tearful eyes:

“The scorpion was carved from the soft stone found along the rim of the crater, but you will notice there are no segmented lines engraved onto the abdomen or tail.  For your remaining time here, carve a segment line every twenty days, starting from the head to the tail.  Both your time remaining and the carvings should be met at the same time.  Thank you for your kindness – Irwin.”

She picked up the gypsum blade and carved the first two lines into the abdomen and placed the contents back into the sack and sat staring out the window, thinking about Newell and being home.

Image:  “Red Velvet Mite” by Judy Gallagher is licensed under CC-BY 2.0. The image that was resized, cropped to fit required size.

AUTHOR’S NOTE:

I started on a triad of shorts, where the idea came from my studies in Ecology, specifically, from The Economy Of Nature by Robert Ricklefs on Species Adaptation.

According to Ricklefs, all species adaptation is driven by their encounter with a variety of environmental factors deriving from one of three sources: 1) Exposure to the Physical and Chemical; 2) Exposure to predators, parasites and prey; 3) And finally, exposure to individuals of the same species.

The first of my shorts addresses the Physical & Chemical aspects of adaptation as is titled, Red Velvet.  My story is based upon the 1962 research of biologists Lloyd Tevis and Irwin Newell of their observations of the Giant Red Velvet mite of the Mojave Desert.  The mites have quite an interesting life cycle, where they migrate to the surface once a year to eat, mate, and for their larvae to find a host.   The story takes place on the exoplanet, J147b, where a new arrival (Newell), is trying to impress his female mentor (Tevis) and gets stranded during the yearly migration of red velvet mites to the surface.  If you have any Arachnophobia tendencies, you may want to stop reading, here.  This short may not be for you…. it will make your skin crawl….

As a writer, the part that really excites me is the etymology and origin of taxonomy. The genus and species of the Giant Red Velvet Mite (Dinothrombium pandorae) is the perfect alien for my story.  Dino, is derived from the Greek word, deinos, meaning terrible and Thrombos, a lump or clot.  This particular species is named after Pandora who was sent by Zeus to bring evil to the human race as a counterbalance of Prometheus, disobeying Zeus, who gave the gift of fire to the humans.