Updated: Apr 19, 2022
I've been quiet here because I've been super busy with edits and design for my next title, but I'm happy to share the progress.
So---this is pretty much finished:
This third installment of the Beyond Cascadia series is on track to be published in all formats by mid-May. I'll keep everyone updated, as many readers have expressed their eagerness to know 'what happens next??'
In the meantime, here's a brief glimpse inside:
Despite the grand-sounding designation of ‘central control room’, the chamber was small and contained only a few computers and battered office chairs. This space was where much of the seminary’s technical operations were overseen, and Brother Paul was excited to be introduced to its secrets. Once again, his schedule on the duty rotation had coincided with Brother Tomás’, and now they both drew up seats on either side of Felix, listening alertly as the man began to explain how the various user interfaces worked.
Readings were neatly displayed from every operation throughout the complex: hydroponics yield, lichen growth rates, the butterfat content of milk from each doe, the ongoing study and evaluation of the seminary’s staggeringly complex microbiome—all these variables were continually updated and analyzed.
Paul pointed to one particular function. “Is that the solar director?”
“That’s one of them,” Felix nodded.
The solar-directing array was positioned in geosynchronous orbit above the seminary and was used to focus solar radiation on specific parts of the complex, drastically cutting the need to burn fuel for light and heating.
“There’s more than one?” Paul was surprised. “How many do we have?”
Felix touched the screen and called up a diagram. “We have one electricity beamer, which powers a few of the outbuildings. It’s really not economical for us to upgrade to a bigger one, which is why we also have this one here for generating steam power. It’s still experimental—and extremely dangerous, because it produces a more concentrated ray. It’s focused on the water tanks in the dome above the physical plant.”
He continued with a wry chuckle, “Because it’s so hazardous, it’s absolutely forbidden to touch the settings without express permission from Fr. James himself. We don’t want it to accidentally cross the path of any high-altitude advertising banners that might be in the area. The corporations don’t like it when their expensive ad campaigns get holes burnt in them.”
Puzzled, Tomás asked, “Do I understand what you’re saying—engineers are actually considering using steam power in the off-earth colonies?”
Paul had a way of happily ducking his head as he laughed, which he did now as he answered before Felix could. “Oh, lord, no! There’s not enough water to spare on Mars to put into steam power. Besides, the colonies have modular nuclear reactors. But these solar directors work well for little operations like ours.”
“Precisely,” said Felix.
Tomás’ look of bewilderment deepened. “Why don’t we have our own modular reactor here?”
“The authorities wouldn’t issue the permit,” Felix explained. “Just one of many instances of soft persecution we’ve had to put up with since the beginning.”
Okoro made a sympathetic clucking noise.
Felix’s stubby finger hovered over the schematic. “Now, look here—this other director has a more diffuse and therefore cooler beam, for providing some extra heat and light in the orchard and livestock pens. And this last one is for training operators to control the arrays over long distances, so it’s got a route all across the Northern Hemisphere, between the 45th and 60th parallels. It’s an older model, used to boost sunlight in regions that were hardest hit by the eco-disasters from the climate meddling of the ‘30s and ‘40s.”
Okoro nodded thoughtfully. “Other than for training the operators, is it functional?”
Felix pointed to a red band girdling the upper quarter of the digital globe. “Yes, it provides the populations in these towns and settlements with an extra dose of vitamin D, which helps stave off suicidal depression.”
Being from Nigeria, the lower levels of sunlight at Altai’s latitude had been difficult for Paul to adjust to; he was entirely sympathetic to what these villagers endured, especially in the depths of winter. He certainly made regular use of the sun-simulating lights in his own chamber. But he knew conditions would be indescribably worse on Mars and wanted to know everything about the science behind what he’d be dealing with. “Does it actually work? What about the rates of alcoholism in those settlements?”
“The data shows it helps if people use it correctly,” Felix shrugged. He added sourly, “But it can’t fix deep-seated cultural issues.”
Pointing to the screen, Tomás asked, “What do those red spots represent?”
“They’re the satellites near the array’s path,” said Felix. “Most of them are at different altitudes, but everything still needs to be strictly controlled to make sure they never come near each other.”
“I see,” muttered Chen. He leaned forward and regarded the map more intently. His hand hesitated just above the screen. “Can you enlarge this section here? I’d like to see these islands.”
“Certainly.” Felix made an adjustment. The chart, featuring a few scattered formations in the North Pacific, came into sharper relief. “Those were formerly Russian territory, but have been under Chinese control for a couple of decades. I think they are actually leased by the government to Gold Flower corporation.”
“Yes,” murmured Tomás thoughtfully. “Are they on the director’s schedule of stops?”
The man regarded him with a frown. “No, it’s a waste of time. They’re uninhabited. There aren’t even any advert banners aimed at those coordinates. ”
“Who is responsible for deciding which stops are scheduled?” Chen insisted.
“That’s also Fr. James’ job,” replied Felix shortly. “Now—I need you both to focus on the control protocols I’m about to demonstrate.”
Brother Tomás leaned back with a remote, meditative expression, not seeming to hear the rest of Felix’s instructions, even as Okoro moved to the edge of his chair, his own interest growing as he followed each step very closely.
(c) S. Kirk Pierzchala, 2022