About GawdOfABF

Having been an avid consumer (and part-time supplier) of science fiction and fantasy content is nothing new to Marcus Shields, who has been partaking thereof, since he was old enough to read (modesty precludes the author from revealing exactly how long ago, that was). With a career as a computer security professional in the Canadian telecommunications industry, Shields is the author of a large number of so-far-unpublished works, ranging from the Shakhan series of pen and paper fantasy role-playing games, to a daily series of political e-mail blasts to all who are interested (and many more who are not). He resides in Brampton, Ontario, Canada, where he shares a comfortably modest home with his wife, daughter and very furry, and very spoiled, "cross-breed" (a.k.a., "mutt") dog.

The Future Burns Bright, is PUBLISHED!

I’m very proud to announce that (after many fits and starts, not to mention unanticipated delays), the second and final series of novels in the combined tale of the Storied Watcher’s advent on Earth, in 2040, has finally been published!

The Future Burns Bright consists of four volumes, entitled as follows :

  • Storm In The North (Book #1)
  • The Race (Book #2)
  • Against Time* (Book #3)
  • The Future Alight (Book #4)

Note : Against Time was previously known as The Race (Part 2).

As of today, these novels are available in both e-Book (Kindle / .MOBI) and paperback formats from Amazon (the .EPUB and .PDF e-Book versions for Apple iBookstore and Google Play Books are available now for the first two novels; the rest will be published later).

Here’s the URL that you can use to find The Future Burns Bright, on Amazon :


Note : For some obscure reason, Amazon has labeled Storm In The North and The Race as being in a “2-book series” (whereas, of course, the series incorporates all four novels referenced above). Fortunately, this does not have any effect on your ability to access and purchase the other two novels of The Future Burns Bright.

There will be ample time for “lessons learned” and reflections later, but for the record… writing the story of Karéin-Mayréij’s advent on Earth in the year 2040, has certainly been a lot of work, and while I’m completely satisfied by the final results, I’m glad to be finally at the end of this marathon.

I will still be publishing bits and pieces of the narrative on this blog (and elsewhere) over the foreseeable future, of course; but I will be taking a hard-earned rest from “real” novel-writing, for the time being.

Also for the record, I’d like to answer a question that comes up from time to time : “Why did you do two different book series… and why is each series made up of four fairly-long novels?”

There are many technical reasons (associated with the paperback publishing process) for this, but the honest answer is, “I wanted to write the story that I wanted to write”… it’s basically that simple.

As all authors know all too well, when one embarks on a project like this, one is besieged with (often, unsolicited) advice (often from people who have never written, much less published, anything longer than a business memo) about “how to make your books, ‘better'”). Either the book is too long, or it’s too short, or it has too much dialogue or action, or too little, or, or, or… (you get the idea). Failure to fully implement all of this (often, self-contradictory) “sage advice” inevitably (in the opinion of your self-appointed “editors”) will inevitably doom your novels to the bargain bin in Walmart, or wherever.

One tries to be polite when listening to this stuff, but everybody has their own limits, I suppose.

So, at the end of the day,  either one writes the book that one is satisfied with reading back to oneself, or one doesn’t. That’s what I tried to do. It’s up to you to evaluate how successful the effort ultimately was.

Long before I started out on writing The Angel Brings Fire, I had a very clear idea of who Karéin-Mayréij is, what motivates her, and so on; she’s obviously a complex, multi-faceted character, and shortly after putting pen to paper I realized that even if just writing a short book about her might be theoretically possible… it wasn’t what I wanted to do.

I wanted to write a narrative that would not only be interesting for other people to read, but that would fully explore the Storied Watcher’s personality, that would explain the nature of her supernatural powers, and that would (in particular) show how she reacts to and overcomes, adversity. I also wanted to properly depict what might happen to human society, if a being on Karéin’s level actually showed up on Planet Earth (clearly, this wouldn’t be just some story that gets its “15 minutes of fame” and then everybody goes back to following the sports scores). Finally, there’s the concept of “wouldn’t it be great, to have super-powers?” Sure it would… as long as it doesn’t get a government run by nervous (but otherwise quite ordinary) human beings, declaring you to be “Public Enemy #1”! 😉

I’m confident that the combined Angel Brings Fire and Future Burns Bright series, accomplishes these goals… but of course, at the end of the day, that judgment isn’t up to me, as the author : it’s up to you, as the reader!

And in the same vein, there’s another often-asked question that I’d like to address, here; namely, “Is Karéin-Mayréij actually an ‘angel’, in the Biblical (supernatural) sense?”

I have my own ideas about this, but I will leave it to you, the readers (as well as to others such as Devon White, the Claremont family, Minnie Chu, Sylvia Abruzzio, Hector Ramirez, Sam Jacobson, Cherie Tanaka, Brent Boyd, Tommy George, Elissha, Sayuri and, of course, poor old Floor-Tile Sales Agent Extraordinaire Bob Billings), to form your own conclusions on that subject.

All that I have to add, is what I fancy Karéin herself would likely say, if one were to ask her the same question :

“Is it not that an ‘angel’ is… as an ‘angel’ does?”


Marcus Shields

Author, The Angel Brings Fire and The Future Burns Bright

Epilogue : Meet You On The Beach


(if you read this one before reading the rest of the books, it’s on “you”… not “me”! 😉 )

As has been noted elsewhere, editorial work on the entirety of The Future Burns Bright, has now been completed; but as of now (early December, 2019), according to the publication schedule, the latter 3 books of the series will likely not be available for formal distribution and purchase until somewhat later in 2020.

With that having been said, as is inevitable in cases like this, a lot of material simply could not be put into the various books of The Future Burns Bright, simply for reasons of space.

You can find one such chapter – which takes place (SPOILER ALERT) after the end of The Future Alight – below.


Marcus Shields

Author, The Angel Brings Fire and The Future Burns Bright

Epilogue : Meet You On The Beach

Well… finally, I get some quality time with her, mused Billings, as he whispered “taxi” and stepped out of the ink-black-shroud that had been enveloping him, as he stole away from the crowd.

I should be happy… all those hangers-on up there in the castle could have kept her busy for weeks.

But damn, wasn’t it nice dancing with her… and letting the kids join us while doing it.

I’m counting my blessings… that’s for sure.

He had gingerly stepped down the stone steps of Fort Catherine (nearly stumbling and falling prat-over-teakettle at least twice, due to the imprecision of using the heat-seeing-thingie in place of good ol’ Human Mark One eyeballs), toward the immaculate sand-beach upon which now he trod.

Actually, near the top of the stairs, he had gone for a bad stumble; but something innate had kicked in, stopping his fall a few imprecise inches above the very hard stone construction of the fortification.

Couldn’t even see where the floor was, he ruminated,

But somehow… I didn’t end up on my head, or on my butt.

Thank you, Sari!

Though his hiding-cloak was now defunct, the surroundings were still quite dark; sunset had been about an hour ago, and what little visible illumination was available was provided by the castle’s sparse night-lights, plus the considerable shine of a nearly-full moon, starkly visible high over the horizon.

Billings looked out over Gates Bay and soothed his soul by listening to the low sound of the ocean’s breaking waves. The crests were minimal, as only a light breeze was blowing.

He scanned in every direction. Luckily – other than for a couple of random tourists, who were perhaps 300 feet down the beach to the south – he appeared to be alone.

God… after the insanity of the past few months, I needed this, reflected the ex-salesman.

It’s all like a dream… mostly, a bad one… except for her, of course.

Okay… and the kids… Tommy particularly.

Never thought I’d hear myself saying that, considering it was a big part of why Patty and I had to call it quits.

Now, I’ve somehow ended up with a “gf” who snatches kids off the streets of Third World countries and flies them, all under her own power of course, to her own private Batcave, self-hollowed out of Antarctic islands.

Okay, then, Bob… how’d you pull that one off, again?

Oh, right… you got tortured, and almost killed.

Other than for “that”… well, it was a walk in the park!

Now if I could just get a buzz out of the next Piña Colada…

This forlorn memory called for a deep sigh, which he did fully aloud.

You sound wistful, my love,” came a familiar, melodious voice, from nowhere in particular.

There’s nobody around, honey,” he offered. “You can drop the hidey-thing.”

And in an instant, thus did the perfect-shapely figure of the Storied Watcher appear by his side, as if from nowhere. She was dressed in typically-fetching, diaphanous beach-garb, almost as revealing as a bikini and every bit as stylish and complimentary.

He saw the teenager-cut bang of her almost-white-blond hair, along with its long tresses flowing down her shoulders and back.

Her big, soft, green eyes stared affectionately up at him.

By now, Billings had – barely – figured out how to control himself when she came as close as she now was, with his arm around her upper-body and her head leaning affectionately against his bicep.

It still drove him crazy, though.

It’s pretty dark out here – nobody would see us, if we were to toss our clothes aside and – oh well.

She promised me for later tonight, anyway… guess I can wait, but a million other men couldn’t…

Truly, this is a gentle time and place,” observed Karéin-Mayréij. “Our brother Alan chose well… did he not?”

Umm-hmm,” murmured the ex-salesman.

You left the kids up there?” he inquired.

Yes,” she answered. “Whitney and Saquina volunteered to look after them, for the remainder of this evening. So we have this time to ourselves, my love.”

Damn, Sari,” he said with a grin, “Don’t that sound good, or what?”

Ahh… more ‘Eng-lish’ idiom,” she faux-pouted. “May I assume from this that you are happy with our situation?”

“’Happy’ is hardly the word,” he concurred. “It’s not just being here with you. It’s being here with you… and not having anybody fixin’ to drop a bomb on us.”

He paused for a second, and then asked, only half in jest and with a whiff of nervousness in his voice, “There’s nobody planning to do that… is there? I mean, the ‘bomb’ thing, that is –”

No,” she reassured. “The war-children so assure me; and besides, I checked myself, before I came down here. Now… of course, there is always the possibility that the President, despite his assurances – or some other such miscreant – could have tracked us down, and then directed yet another of these ‘atom-smashing-bombs’ against us –”

A look of alarm showed momentarily on Billings’ face; but it was short-lived, as his distaff companion’s serene demeanor and impish smile, quickly put his concerns to rest.

They will build more of these hateful weapons, you know,” she commented. “And we will deal with them. You, me, along with our brothers and sisters of the New People – we will do so. Those who mean us ill will soon discover that treachery will fail, and that it will bring ruin to them – and it will not be the end of us.”

How can you be so sure of that?” he demanded.

Because I have seen it all happen before,” she softly remarked. “Other times… other worlds… perhaps, other dimensions of reality. But it is always the same.”

Wow,” whistled the ex-salesman. “That’s heavy stuff. Did I mention how you, like, make me feel ‘inadequate’, all of a sudden?”

For a moment or two, the Storied Watcher just flashed one of her entrancing, enigmatic half-smiles at him; but then she responded with, “That is the last word that I would use to describe you, dearest. Already, you are a veritable god among men, though you dare not to admit it, to yourself. We will have to – ahh – ‘work on that’, you know.”

She giggled, girlishly.

But I don’t feel like a ‘god’, you know,” he protested. “In fact, I don’t even feel like a regional sales manager!”

Again, he heard Karéin-Mayréij’s gentle, low laugh.

Well, Bob,” she offered, “Perhaps when your arts will make some of these ‘floor-tiles’ to glow in the dark – and thus to give off the little-particle-shine – then shall Hugo and his peers give you this ‘promotion’, which is so very important.”

Billings nodded his head in agreement, chuckled, squeezed her waist and murmured, “Yeah.”

For as much as a minute, both just stayed silent, breathing in the salt air and enjoying the touch of half-human-to-alien skin. Their gaze was first cast over the sea, then upon the bright-shining orb of the moon.

Sari,” said Billings, “There’s something that I’ve wanted to ask you for a while now… but the time’s never been right… you know?”

She looked up, her lambent green eyes staring coquettishly.

Yes?” she responded.

I’m not sure exactly how to say this,” he haltingly started, “But, well… do you remember when we first ran into each other – after you had sprung me, Whitney and the kids from the ‘Jesus Jail”? Like, after we – you know – uhh, ‘did it’ in the grass. The first time, I mean.”

Oh… of course I do remember this,” she confirmed, with a sly smile. “For sure, it is a fond memory… although as I also recall, our dalliance was occasioned by you coming into contact with little specks of my life-blood, which as you discovered, contains a corrosive agent. Commander Sam found out the same, back on Mailànkh – it is a defensive measure, which makes me rather unappetizing to big predatory beasts that would, perhaps, want to eat me. We both know what happened after I had to – ahh – clean this off your lips. Out of pain comes pleasure, in other words.”

You have a way of saying that,” he commented. “You know I’m crazy about you… but every so often I gotta remind myself that you and I, we’re really awfully – uhh – different, from each other… you know what I’m saying?”

That is true,” conceded the Storied Watcher, “Tommy said much the same thing, when he agreed to let me become his adoptive mother. And I will tell you exactly what I told him : namely, that when beings such as all of us – people who can live with each other and who can love each other, who can suffer fear and loneliness, who can give each other kindness and comfort – who can live and communicate with each other as I am doing with you now… who cares, if we are technically the same species, or different ones? You are a human; I look like one; and I have accepted you as my mate. What else matters?”

Yeah,” he acknowledged. “I guess that bridge was crossed a long time ago, but… well…”

Yes?” repeated the alien-girl.

Listen, Sari… what I’m try to say, in my own clumsy way is… well… I was thinking…”

Bob,” she gently prodded, “Just tell me what is – ahh – ‘on your mind’. It will not offend or upset me, whatever it is.”

He gave her a pained look.

I already know what you propose to ask, she sent to his mind.

How could I say anything except for “yes”?

Okay, then,” declared the ex-salesman. “What I wanted to say was, you and I have been through a lot together – a lot more than I’ve ever done with any other, err, human woman; and so I was thinking that maybe we could – that is, we should – formalize the relationship… so…”

Yes?” half-teased Karéin-Mayréij.

Her face wore a bemused smile.

I… I guess I should maybe get down on a knee…” he stammered.

All of a sudden, she, herself, was kneeling in front of him; but the alien-girl was now down on both legs.

What are you doing?” asked a perplexed Billings.

Preparing,” answered the Storied Watcher.

For what?” he demanded.

Oh… well, Bob, you see,” she responded in matter-of-factual tone, “Where I come from, when a female proposes herself in marriage to a male, she kneels down, as I am now doing. That was what you were thinking of… was it not?”

For God’s sake, he found himself thinking.

Look,” he protested, “Didn’t we have an, uhh, agreement, about you reading my mind?”

We certainly did,” parried Karéin-Mayréij. “But doing so was not necessary in this case.”

How you figure that?” he continued.

Would it help to know that I have been ‘married’ to – ahh, let me see – yes – twenty-eight or more ‘husbands’ – and at least three ‘wives’ – in my lifespan so far, Bob?” she remarked. “I have kind of grown used to proposing to a mate… or being proposed to.”

He sighed.

Is that your way of making me feel ‘special’?” grumbled the ex-salesman.

It sure is!” she countered, still on her knees. “Bob – my love – this is the same thing as that which we discussed, back in the Too-sawn shopping-mall. I do not betroth myself to just anyone, you know! I have turned down offers of marriage from more kings and queens, High Priests, Grand Wizards and just rich people – even, one or two mighty demons – than you could easily count. So… are you ‘special’? You bet, man! You are the only person on this planet, who shall have my hand as my acknowledged mate.”

He was dumbfounded. He couldn’t think of anything to say.

Bob of Billings, most honored man in the Kingdom of America,” she plaintively asked, with her intimidating (yet, somehow, vulnerable and doe-eyed) presence staring upward, “Will you have me – the Storied Watcher of the Many Worlds – as your wife? Will you cleave to me – to love, to hold, to pleasure and to defend, in good times and bad, until either you or I, shall leave this life?”

Suddenly, the words came back to him.

Sari – no, I’ll call you by your real name, the one that you came to my rescue by, the one you saved my ass by, God bless you, woman – Karéin-Mayréij,” he gushed, while falling to his knees directly in front of her. “Yes… I will! And will you have me as your husband?”

Yes – as the stars and the Gods are my guide… I will have you as my mate, my husband… my love!” she exclaimed.

Her presence, at this close range, was simply overwhelming.

Come to me now, man!” she demanded, as a cloak of darkness began to envelop the two.

Somehow he was aware of another energy-field – powerful enough to resist any physical intrusion into the area – extending many feet in every direction.

Sari,” he ordered, “Open your mouth.”

She complied, and in the next instant when his tongue met her own, he could control himself no longer.

Neither could she.

Billings was secretly elated that – at least apparently – the lovemaking had managed to tire out his alien paramour, whose eyelids were shut as her elfin face nestled serenely and securely under his chin.

Someone had started to play a medley of “oldies”-style tunes, perhaps as background for a dance somewhere inland from the beach. Although these were clearly audible to the alien-powered ears of both the ex-salesman and the alien-girl, mercifully, the volume was still low enough not to trigger bylaw-complaints.

Neither of the two newly-vowed lovers had really been keeping much track of time; but slowly, the Storied Watcher’s hiding-cloak and its associated external force-field had been abating. By now, it was all but gone, so the ex-salesman figured that at least a few minutes had passed by.

He kissed the top of her head and noticed that only her bottom under-garments had been put back on. Her arms were crossed in front; which was fortunate, as she was naked from the waist up.

You up yet?” he asked.

I never fell completely asleep,” she disclosed. “But I am contented.”

That’d be two of us,” he noted. “That was… ‘wow’, is all I can say.”

A wan smile greeted him.

“’Wow’, indeed,” she echoed. “May all our encounters be so, ahh, ‘torrid’. You know, Bob… the weirding-arts possessed by some of us – myself and yourself included – can cause a fire to burn very hot. But not even this can exceed the flames of passion… do you not think?”

You got that right, honey,” he smugly confirmed.

Her equally-self-satisfied giggling was the proverbial music to his ears; but he was somewhat crestfallen at seeing her top-garment re-enveloping her torso.

Aww!” pouted Billings.

Like the rest of my body,” she teased, “My breasts and nipples and other girl-parts are at your disposal… but let us refrain for a few minutes. Again shall the embers of love flare to incandescence!”

That’s my girl,” he snickered.

She blew him an air-kiss.

Nice music,” said Karéin-Mayréij, upon hearing the chords and lyrics of People Will Say We’re In Love. “It is well-suited for such relaxing and happy times as these.”

Yeah,” agreed the ex-salesman. “Sinatra, I think.”

He is a good singer,” she observed. “His voice is very smooth and precise.”

He was, like, the biggest thing in America for a while, as I recall,” mentioned Billings. “But now you are.”

Another of her entrancing, girlish laughs met his ears.

Well… not as a musician… at least, not yet,” she quipped. “I shall stick to shattering comets and to shrugging off atom-smashing bombs, for the purposes of fame – though not of fortune. I doubt that this ‘Sinatra’ person could overmatch me at those duties… perhaps it would be rude for me to try to contest his singing.”

I never mind hearing you – talking, singing, or just those weirdo ‘war-songs’ that seem to be everywhere, when you’re fixin’ to kick some serious ass,” commented Billings. “Especially that last one. Did I tell you, by the way, that when we heard that – down in the dungeon on the island, that is – it was like being shot full of high-test stimulants? The minute I heard it, I felt like Superman, despite being half-dead beforehand. Damn, girl… if you could record that, you’d be on top of the charts, eternally –”

Ha, ha,” she gently disputed, “Métschaì’l does not work that way, dearest; its notes and tones are of the Holy Fire, and they cannot be fully –”

The ‘what’ doesn’t work that way?” he interrupted.

The background-music had transitioned to that of some other singer, perhaps Bing Crosby.

It is pronounced ‘mate-sha-eye-el’, as near as I can do in Eng-lish,” she elaborated. “I honestly do not know exactly how it works; but my ancestors told of a blessing that would both empower their descendants – like me – while warning evil-doers that a mighty demon-slayer of the Khùl-Algrenàthi’i stands against them –”

The ‘kool… what’?” he again interjected. “Oh… forget it.”

You really should learn how to say that,” she instructed.

Why?” he requested.

Because… you are one now, Bob of Billings,” she disclosed, with a proud but slight nod of her head. “A dread warrior are you – and those who would oppress, steal or kill, should fear your coming!”

The music’s nice,” he offered, through pursed lips, “But the sound of that’s… even better.”

They both fell silent for a short while, absorbed in each other’s company and with the relaxing surroundings; then Billings happened to again glance at the moon.

Sari,” he asked, “Didn’t I hear you saying – okay, I read about it somewhere – that when you were ‘her’… like, when you were the other ‘you’, I mean… you were flying around out there? In outer space, I mean.”

Yep,” she replied.

There was a proud, confident tone to her voice.

That must, uhh, be quite a ‘thing’,” he advanced.

Definitely,” elliptically confirmed the alien-girl.

The hit-parade at the far-off dance-floor had, evidently, returned to numbers by “Ol’ Blue Eyes”.

With curiosity overcoming him, Billings asked, “What’s it like?”

Well, Bob,” stated Karéin-Mayréij, “After all… you, too, have learned how to shrug off the bonds of gravity – that is, to turn them to your own use, and thus to soar into the clouds, here upon this beautiful little blue planet… have you not?”

Sure I have… except it scares me shitless – especially when I look down,” he admitted.

It is like that – one bends the waves of gravity to propel oneself, although there is really no ‘left’ or ‘right’, ‘up’ or ‘down’, in the empty black void,” she explained, “But one must use the Holy Fire as a substitute for breathable air and – later, in long trips – for water and nourishment. And since the void has next to ‘zero’ air-pressure, it is also vital to employ one’s, ahh, ‘force-field’, to protect oneself from the vacuum’s lethal embrace… fail to do this, and one’s very blood will quickly boil away, leading to a painful demise. It is scary when one first tries it; but later, it is thrilling because one can travel at great speeds in the void – much faster than in the Earth’s sea of air, where the drag of the gas-molecules slows one down and causes a blaze of incandescent fire, to envelop oneself.”

That’s one hell of a lot to get right, all at the same time,” remarked the ex-salesman. “Especially… if you get it wrong – you’re kind of screwed… right?”

That would be a ‘yes’,” she answered, with a knowing smile. “One does not have ‘second chances’ in the void. But one learns gradually; I did not just jump out into it – back on my native world, I tested my abilities by flying faster and faster, higher and higher, adjusting my defenses as necessary. When I had it all, ahh, ‘figured out’, only then did I leave the planet’s atmosphere, entirely. You can do that too, you know. You just need someone to, ahh, lift you up to where you can safely experience it, first-hand.”

I’ll take your word for it,” stated Billings. “Once I figure out how to – say – get myself from New York to L.A. without paying for a plane-ticket… maybe I’ll try this crazy stuff you’re talking about. Honestly, Sari… it all sounds unreal. I mean, if the ‘me’ of a year ago, could hear what today’s ‘me’ is saying…”

Well,” she philosophically mentioned, “One Earth year ago, I would have still been lying in the sleep of the ages – only slightly alive – in a cold tomb on Mailànkh.”

Oh… right,” he said. “I had forgotten about that. Want to talk about it?”

I am not sure that there is a lot to say that you would easily understand,” she evaded.

Despite the disclaimer, her demeanor suggested that, in fact, she did want to discuss the subject.

You know I don’t want to make you do anything that you don’t want to do,” he pledged, “But come on, humor me… I’m curious… what was it like?”

Karéin-Mayréij paused for a second or two, pensively staring out into the distance. Eventually she described,

It is – was – like nothing to which you – or any previously-human-being – are accustomed, Bob. It is sort of like slumber, but one is actually not asleep; one’s senses are still working to a very limited extent. And time passes very slowly; a minute becomes a second; an hour becomes a minute; a day becomes an hour; and so on. With each passing second, the time-scale becomes different, even more extended… I honestly do not know by how much. As time passes, it becomes more and more like a dream, and one cannot be sure whether one is even alive any more.”

That’s crazy,” was all Billings could think of to say. “Does it, like, hurt, or something? If I sleep in too late, sometimes I wake up with a sore back or whatever.”

Not while I am in this state of, uhh, ‘suspended animation’… no,” she disclosed. “But when finally I awake, oh sacred stars man, does it ever hurt! Each movement of one’s muscles – that is, what little is left of them – brings agonizing pain, like having one’s arms twisted backwards by a strong opponent, would feel to yourself. Even breathing is like having a huge weight on one’s chest –”

Hey… hey,” he interjected, “If the subject’s too painful, we can just –”

But the alien-girl was by no means finished.

Do not worry, Bob,” she responded. “It is good that I finally have someone to whom I can entrust this information, you know. It is awfully lonely never being able to talk about it, lest ‘the wrong people’ should overhear, and thus determine a weakness that they can use against me.”

The melodious voice of Frank Sinatra again sounded over the night-time Bermuda beach; the tune was louder now, so that it would be easily audible even to human hearing over the lapping of the waves breaking on the sand.

Hmm… another nice song,” remarked Karéin-Mayréij. “I really enjoy hearing this man.”

Well,” he noted, “A lot of it has to do with having good material to work with. Which, he usually did.”

Ah,” she acknowledged; and then, staring forward as if deep in thought, she went on,

While I was thus in repose, I remember that my mind went wandering outside my body – perhaps to other places, to other dimensions of reality – and though thus I had many adventures, there was always the fear that I would never again be whole; that is, my mind and body would be hewn asunder by some psychic or mystical mishap. I was on one such mind-quest, when – somehow – I was again as one within the crystal-box that the Old Ones and I had crafted many centuries – perhaps, millennia – earlier, to preserve my physical body as best I could. It was then that I sensed the presence of Commander Jacobson and Professor Tanaka. The rest you know.”

She looked up at him and asked, “Does that answer your question, Bob?”

I’ll have to, I guess,” he said. “This is, like, way beyond me, but… uhh… the ‘Old Ones’, Sari? What the hell’s –”

Spirits… ghosts… minor demons, even, as you would reckon this,” explained the Storied Watcher. “Nothing that humans of Earth would recognize as ‘living beings’… their life-essence requires the kinds of senses that now are in your possession, to detect or converse with. Even though in a way they are similar to the life-spirits of my war-children, still did it take me a very long time to learn how to successfully communicate with them. They were on Mailànkh when I first came to that planet; and – as far as I know – they are still there, now.”

Holy crap!” exclaimed the ex-salesman. “You mean there are Martians –”

They are on Mailànkh… that is – or was – true,” she clarified, “But as to whether they are native to that planet, or whether they – like me – came there from somewhere else… I cannot say. By the way, Bob… I would prefer that you not discuss this with anyone else, except for Tommy, and then only if he asks. The Old Ones are no threat to the humans of Earth… but as you have seen from personal experience, their fears and prejudices might drive them to persecute these gentle and ancient beings. I owe the Old Ones a great debt, as they guarded and kept me safe over untold centuries. They are my friends – and I pray that someday, you will make them your own, as well. Oh-kay?”

You can count on me, honey,” vowed Billings. “But… wow. I mean… ‘spirits’? ‘Ghosts’? Can we say, ‘over my pay grade’?”

No, my love,” she contradicted. “They became, ahh, ‘within your pay grade’, the moment that you first elected to travel with me. Though – I will allow – perhaps you did not completely understand what you were getting yourself into. Ah, well… life is full of little ‘surprises’… is it not?”

There’s the understatement of the Century,” he ruefully admitted. “So far, after hitching up with you, I’ve been turned into a half-alien superhero, been kidnapped, been tortured, had a H-bomb dropped on me, been flown to your little home away from home in the Arctic Ocean –”

It is in the Antarctic Ocean, Bob,” she corrected. “You know… the southern polar sea… not the northern one.”

Whichever one that would freeze my ass in five minutes, upon going in for a dip,” he parried. “I forgot to mention how I dropped in to the White House, had to deal with yet more nukes and a shoot-out there. Now ghosts and goblins on Mars. Give me strength!

Oh… do not worry about it, Bob,” cajoled the Storied Watcher. “Once you become accustomed to them – and, they to you – I believe that you would get along just fine. The Old Ones are very wise and patient; but their perspective on life and reality is – ahem – a little different from my own, or yours. You would learn from each other, just like you, Tommy, Elissha and Sayuri have done with my war-children. You should try it… it would, ahh, ‘expand your horizons’.”

Ha, ha… I guess it would,” was all he could think of to say.

Far off in the distance, the alien-girl and her half-human lover could just hear an emcee announcing, “And now, ladies and gentlemen, in a few seconds we’ll play our last number for tonight… but please don’t forget your personal belongings on your way out and drive safely as you go home.”

Darn,” commented Billings, “And here I was just getting used to it. Never was much of an ‘oldies’ guy, but still –”

He stopped for a second or two while trying to figure out the first notes of the final song but was taken off-guard, upon seeing the Storied Watcher coming quickly to her feet with an all-too-familiar dim glow in her eyes; but any apprehension that he might otherwise have felt vanished instantly, as he descried an enigmatic smile on her face.

From somewhere behind them came the silken, immortal voice of Frank Sinatra, crooning out that familiar anthem,

Fly Me To The Moon”.

Uhh… what, Sari?” he guardedly inquired.

Karéin-Mayréij looked kindly – albeit, mischievously – at the man who had undergone so much on her behalf, since first she had chanced upon him.

Her face and body fairly radiated companionship, gratitude, affection and – most of all – a kind of love that none else on this world would ever have, nor would understand.

The alien-girl pointed backward over her right shoulder, at the brilliant orb of the almost-full moon. She turned her head to briefly glance at the heavenly body. Then she again regarded Billings and extended her arms, as if to embrace him.

She arched an eyebrow and winked at Bob Billings, formerly of Tucson, Arizona, but now – as much as anyone could ever be – a citizen and junior guardian of Planet Earth.

Ready?” she proposed.

Yeah,” he softly replied, as he fell into her embrace, not even caring that in the next second, he would not feel anything beneath his feet.



A Milestone… Work On The Future Burns Bright, Is Complete!

Well, here we are, nearing that scary date of October 31, 2019… much has been done, but so little has been published! 😉

There’s some great news 😆 … but first, I know that I owe some of you an explanation, and here it is.

In mid-2017, my family and I decamped for the last time from our former home in Brampton, Ontario, leaving for the nice, forested retreat of Bancroft, Ontario (which, for those of you who may not be native Ontarians, lies about 3 hours drive west of Ottawa, just south of Algonquin Park). Bancroft is a wonderful place to live with that real “small town” feel to it, and best of all… there’s no Greater Toronto Area traffic to fight, out here! 🙂

While the move definitely was “the right thing to do, at the right time”, as you can probably imagine, it was very disruptive and time-consuming in many ways, including its effects on my ability to write (which, for a while, ebbed off to “next to nothing”…). This changed in 2018, as we became more settled in Bancroft, and in September 2019, work on the final volume of The Future Burns Bright — entitled The Future Alight — was completed.

I am therefore proud to announce that The Future Burns Bright will begin to be published, and will be available for order from the various sources (e.g. Amazon, iBookstore, Google Books, etc.) in the first half of 2020.

The exact timing will depend on a number of things that aren’t under my control, particularly book cover art, the number of “revisions” that the publishers demand, and so on. The first book of The Future Burns Bright — entitled Storm In The North— will be published (hopefully) in 1Q 2020. So you will be able to find out what happens after the final chapter of The Angel Brings Fire!

I’d like to thank all my readers for their continued interest in, and support of, The Angel Brings Fire and (eventually) The Future Burns Bright, science fiction / modern fantasy / superhero novel series.


Marcus Shields

Author, The Angel Brings Fire and The Future Burns Bright

Book-reading at the Hastings Highlands Public Library

I’m pleased to announce that I will be doing a public book reading (with excerpts from, probably, the first and third books of the series) of The Angel Brings Fire, at the Hastings Highlands Public Library in Maynooth, Ontario, at 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, October 27, 2018.

Here’s the announcement on the Library’s blog, which can be reached at :


ABF Book Reading, Hastings Highlands Library, Oct. 27, 2018

(Note : You’ll have to scroll quite a way down on the Library’s Facebook page, to get to the announcement.)

The address of the Hastings Highlands Public Library is :

33011 Highway 62 North
Maynooth, Ontario.
K0L 2S0

Here’s a map that gives you the general idea :

Where Maynooth, Ontario is (relative to Ottawa)

So come on up to Maynooth on October 27… it will be a nice drive through Ontario’s beautiful fall tree colors, and you’ll get to hear all about the Storied Watcher and her band of superheroes, right from the horse’s mouth!

Hope to see you there!


Marcus Shields

Author, The Angel Brings Fire and The Future Burns Bright

Goings-on and planned publication schedule (for 2017)

First off, a bit of a mea culpa to my faithful readers.

Some of you have been wondering, “what on Earth has been going on, with the Angel Brings Fire series (and particularly the sequels to it), in 2016?” The following is the explanation.

I have a “day job” in IT (computer) security; this is a demanding field at the best of times (especially nowadays, with all the visibility that the Russian hacks of the Democratic Party in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, has generated), but in late 2015 I accepted a new assignment with a major U.S.-based financial sector customer of my current employer.

At the time, I was aware (due to factors that are beyond the scope of this commentary) that this was likely to be a “challenging” deployment… well, I was right, but with hind-sight I can see how badly I under-estimated how “challenging” it ended up being. For the first half of 2016 it was not at all unusual for me to be working 16- to 18-hour days, and the situation only improved in the 4Q of the year (none the less, it is still a very demanding job).

It should be obvious that in this kind of environment, I had little time and even less mental energy to spend on The Angel Brings Fire and (then) The Future Burns Bright; and on top of all that, in 2016 I also encountered some family issues (all, fortunately, “good things”… but time-consuming, none the less) that ate up much of my available personal time to work on the book.

The work situation in 2017 is looking a little less hectic, though, so I should be able to devote more time and effort to finishing off the series. So I’m cautiously optimistic that I should be able to complete The Future Burns Bright (the sequel series), sometime in (late) 2017.

Here’s the status, as of late December 2016 :

  • Storm In The North (Book 1, The Future Burns Bright) : Work on the narrative is complete, except for final editing and proof-reading.
  • The Race (Part 1) (Book 2, The Future Burns Bright) : Work on the narrative is complete, except for final editing and proof-reading.
  • The Race (Part 2) (Book 3, The Future Burns Bright) : Work on the narrative is about 85% complete.
  • The Future Alight (provisional title) (Book 4, The Future Burns Bright) : Work on the narrative is about 30% done.

There will also likely be an “Epilogue” book that will follow shortly thereafter; this will explain the outcome of some plot and character elements that (while interesting), are not central to the narrative of the book series (and thus could not be included in its main volumes).

To sum up, I’d like to thank all my readers for their continued interest in, and support of, The Angel Brings Fire and (eventually) The Future Burns Bright, science fiction / modern fantasy / superhero novel series. I know it has been a long time coming… but I believe, when you read The Future Burns Bright, and you find out what happens after the end of The Angel Brings Fire… you won’t be disappointed!


Marcus Shields

Author, The Angel Brings Fire and The Future Burns Bright


Jerry has a new war-song! (And… a note about his abilities.)

As many of you already know, the more powerful characters in the Angel Brings Fire novel series, have a “war-song” — a mysterious type of half-psychic, half-real “music” that sometimes plays when these characters energize or use the alien-powers that they have inherited from the Storied Watcher.

In previous editions of the blog I have added posts that try to describe (in a very general way) what these “war-songs” sound like. The information provided earlier on is still valid, but as time goes by and as I encounter more popular music, I reserve the right to amend the allocations of “whose war-songs sound like what ‘real’ song”.

Today’s one such day… in the last “war-songs” posting I had the following remark about Jerry Kaysten, the former Chief of Staff to the (original) President of the United States :

Jerry Kaysten : Calgary by Bon Iver, but only the short part beginning at the song’s 1:50 mark; this melody predominates when Jerry uses his “killer joke” ability. When running at high speed, his war-song sounds more like Time Turns Around by the Spoons.”

This is still accurate but there is a different piece of music that much better replicates what the quick-footed Mr. Kaysten’s personal war-song actually sounds like : the fantastic “My Decision” number by the Netherlands pop-rock group, Moss. (Not to be confused with the U.K. heavy-metal band of the same name.)

Make sure you check this one out on YouTube… it’s not only what Jerry sounds like when he gets going, but it’s a crazy good song anyway! (And it’s available for sale on iTunes, so do the right thing and pay these innovative musicians for the use of their creative works… I did.)

As an aside… it may at first seem that Jerry Kaysten’s alien-powers are relatively mundane compared to those of some of the other “post-humans” (particularly ones like Cherie Tanaka and Wolf).

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Jerry’s hyper-speed abilities, although they can only be used for a relatively short amount of time between resting-periods, can render most opponents — either “more-than-human” or just plain old Homo Sapiens — next to defenseless.

Only a very few other characters, for example Misha or Minnie Chu (and of course the Storied Watcher herself), have the reflexes and quick reaction time to adequately defend themselves against Jerry’s rapid-fire attacks. Others, such as Bob Billings, have abilities that somewhat erode Kaysten’s advantages but are still not a complete defense against him.

So give our friend Mr. Kaysten some respect… he may look like an “also-ran”… but he’s anything but! 😉

Marcus Shields



Lost Chapter #5 : Doubt Me Not – Cabinet-Meeting

This is another scene that still exists in the formal Doubt Me Not narrative, but which has been drastically cut back for reasons of brevity and plot. The dialog picks up in a cabinet-meeting called by the President in a secluded location, in which the American leader and his most senior advisers are reviewing the situation in the wake of the “Lucifer” comet’s destruction.


Anyway,” continued the Science Adviser, “What we have now is an unusual impact-site… the joint Air Force and NSA team checked hundreds of these, all of which we considered were within the theoretical boundaries of where the alien could have fallen, and apart for a few that we haven’t yet been able to access for various reasons – for example because they’re at the bottom of bodies of water or in really inaccessible areas, like the highest peaks of the Rockies – this is the most interesting one because of the impact-pattern.”

How so?” asked the President, noticing that several others, save Billy Horn, were now listening more intently. Evidently neither McPherson, nor the brass, had shared the news with others in the Executive Branch.

Well,” answered McPherson, “The impact-furrow (on the ground, that is), is quite narrow, but there’s a wide pattern of burn-marks on either side of it… the kind that you’d expect from the impact of a much larger object. And the charring that we analyzed is indicative of a very intense heat – over twenty thousand degrees Celsius, in fact; which is way more than you would expect from a normal meteorite, unless the object was somehow heated by some internal chemical reaction, on top of the heat caused by atmospheric re-entry-friction.”

Wow,” commented the President. “Anything else?”

Yes,” said the Science Adviser. “Furthermore, Mr. President, at the end of the impact-path, there’s a large indent in a boulder, accompanied by the same kinds of burn-marks, where whatever it was that landed, probably ended up. Yetdespite extensive diggingwe couldn’t find so much of a trace of a meteorite at the site. Even if the object shattered upon striking the boulder, there should have been traces of it deposited in the surrounding area, but there’s nothing at all. It’s as if something crashed to Earth, left a trail of smashed trees and so on in its wake, then just disappeared.”

(more dialog that is in the book, then…)

Look, I’ll say my piece, then I’ll shut up,” retorted the Science Adviser. “Mr. President, please try to consider what the General is asking us to believe, here. First, that the alien even was anywhere in the vicinity of Earth, either at the time of the ‘Lucifer’ incident, or slightly later on… I’ll admit one part of me wants to believe that, too, I mean, what with the strange light and the music… but just for the sake of argument, let’s suppose that she was.”

You know, Professor,” interjected Anderson, “We de-briefed Jacobson and his crewexcept for the Russian, who refused to talk to us ‘on orders from his government’, that is – shortly after the ‘Lucifer’ incident, and while their answers were all somewhat evasive, they certainly all believed that the alien ‘saved’ us from the comet. We’re planning on doing a proper interrogation when and if they get back to Earth, but from what we’ve so far heard from them, and remember they had more direct contact with this ‘Karéin’ than anyone else, they said –”

McPherson spoke up, cutting off Anderson, “Yes, I know, General, but you’re conveniently leaving out the fact that they all believe that the alien also died, in the act of destroying the comet. And to continue with what I was saying before, second, we would have to assume that this being survived the greatest explosion that Earth has ever witnessed, larger by far than the most powerful nuclear explosion that we’ve been able to set off; then, she – it – would have had to have survived atmospheric re-entry at a speed of thousands of kilometers per hour, then she or it would have had to have survived impact with Earth at the same speeds… after which, the General is asking us to believe that she just got up and walked away, on the face of a planet that would be as alien to her, as she is to us. Oh – and I forgot to mention – relative to the surface-area of the rest of the Earth, the United States is a very small place. It’s unlikely that she’d have fallen here – the chances are much higher, unfortunately, that she’d have simply landed in the ocean. In which case, she would almost certainly have drowned… which would be a terrible tragedy, but the whole idea of her landing here is very unlikely, anyway.”

No more so,” said Anderson, “Than the idea of this ‘Karéin’, flittering around in outer space, without even a space suit… correct, Mr. McPherson?”

No – vastly more so,” answered McPherson. “Sure, I’d have to admit that she seemed to be able to do that. But for her to have done what I just described would require abilities that are not just far beyond anything that we’re familiar with – but, more to the point – far beyond anything that she ever said she was capable of, either to myself or to Captain Jacobson – I’ve studied every minute of the video recordings from the Infinity and Eagle, and nowhere do I see her claiming these types of godly powers. Indeed… she told all of us the exact opposite, more than once. And, anyway, there’s something else that’s even more implausible about this idea – at least in my mind.”

What could be less plausible than the idea of the alien just walking away from that kind of experience?” asked the President.

The idea, sir,” replied McPherson, “That she could do all that, get up and walk away, then not be noticed by anyone… if – incidentally – she was for some unknown reason trying not to be recognized as herself. I mean, for God’s sake, Mr. President, consider what we’re saying here – imagine that you’re some average citizen, sitting there saying your ‘Hail Mary’s after still being alive, a half hour after you and all of creation were supposed to have been wiped out by a killer comet, and then an alien with glowing eyes crashes down on the next hill, walks up to you and says, ‘take me to your leader’ (or whatever a ‘Storied Watcher’ says, when she shows up on Earth). Don’t you think you’d tell someone?”

With a wry grin, the HHS Secretary interjected, “I sure would. It’d be worth a lot of money and instant fame… I’d probably make it on to the talk-shows.”

After the laughter had mostly died down, Anderson spoke up.

“You’re not being ‘scientific’, sir,” he said, in McPherson’s direction. “There are many possible explanations to what might happen, in those circumstances. Ranging from the chance that there were no human beings around the impact site at the time, to the possibility that the alien might have died shortly thereafter, due to an infection from Earth-organisms… you know, the War of the Worlds idea, to the possibility that she might have… eliminated whomever saw her, or it, to cover her tracks.”

The laughter now stopped, abruptly.

Those hypotheses are also very unlikely,” argued McPherson. “I suppose it’s certainly possible that there was nobody around when and if she arrived here; but the crash-site that we’re discussing today isn’t that far from civilization – it’s just ten or so miles down to the highway, in fact – at least if you don’t turn in the wrong direction and try to cross the Rockies by going north all the way to the Yukon. As far as disease is concerned, this ‘Karéin’ said specifically to Captain Jacobson that she was immune to Earth-germs, and we have evidence of her having survived extended, close contact to Jacobson and his crew, with ‘zero’ ill-effects. And for her to attack the first Earth-based humans that she might have met, would be completely out of character, given the behavior that she exhibited while she was with the crew of the Eagle and Infinity. To say nothing of the fact that there’s no even remotely likely motive for her doing so – use common sense, General; you’re completely alone, on a strange planet, and the first thing you do is attack or murder someone? No halfway intelligent being would do something like that. Antagonizing the inhabitants of your new home without a very good reason, would be tremendously risky… if I were her, I’d probably think it would be tantamount to suicide.”

Not if you’re so powerful that you think nobody can hold you to account,” said another Air Force general. “Or, if the first human to encounter you, got scared and took a pot-shot or two at you, with his or her trusty .22 rifle. What if she unintentionally just got into some kind of confrontation with a human, defended herself the only way she knew how, then went underground to avoid being caught for it? There are thousands of possible reasons why she might pose a threat. We can’t rule anything in or out, at this point.”

McPherson, seeing who spoke, sent a hurt look to Symington.

(more dialog that is in the book, then the Vice-President speaks…)

What I’m getting at, Mr. President, is that in my opinion, we have to contain news of this development – assuming, of course, that there’s any truth in it – at almost any cost.”

I had been planning on keeping it hush-hush, anyway – you know that, George,” replied the President. “But why are you so concerned about just secrecy? From what I’ve been hearing so far, that’s not the worst of our concerns.”

The Vice-President got up and vigorously strode back and forth, as he inveighed.

It’s really quite simple, you see,” he declared. “Now… if the alien really is wandering around down here, and if she has all the godly abilities that our good friends in the Pentagon,” – he shot an obliging glance to Anderson – “seem to think she has, we could have mass panic, and a total breakdown of what authority we’ve been able to re-assert, since the whole ‘Lucifer’ thing; I mean, there’s a sizable number of people who think that the creature is, or was, the ‘Anti-Christ’, or something like that, right now; imagine how much worse that school of opinion could get, if she goes from being some imaginary devil to something very powerful but real, tangible, and right here. Especially if it turns out that she can’t be controlled or defeated by all the forces of the U.S. government; nothing could be worse, for our position of power and authority… and we all know how bad things are already, in that regard – bloody gangs are basically in control of at least five major cities including L.A., last I checked, and as it is it’s going to take the Army and National Guard months to go in there, shoot whomever they need to, and let ’em know that Uncle Sam’s back in the driver’s-seat. Not to state the other obvious issue – that is – she might just walk in here, sit down at the desk you’re now occupying, and start issuing orders to us. So I’m afraid that if it looks like any of the stories about her are true, I’m with the General… we’d better ‘neutralize’ her swiftly and effectively, or, at best, we’ll be faced with a completely new authority competing with us for the loyalty of the public; at worst, possibly something like the worst of those Bible-prophecies that Mr. Horn’s constituents keep telling us about.”

But what if –“ started McPherson.

Now it’s my turn to say, ‘I know what you’re thinking’, Professor,” interrupted Horn. “Consider the other alternative… that she’s really here, but that all of these high-falutin’ powers that she was credited with by Captain Jacobson and his crew were the result of some kind of mass-hallucination, bad air in that there space station affectin’ their minds, or such… a much more likely kind of ‘super power’ for her to have, than what we’ve been told by Jacobson, in my opinion – but that’s really secondary to the issue, anyway. If we take action against the alien and she’s really just a nice, ‘E.T.’-type friendly green girl, and it gets out into the press, it could be a different kind of P.R. disaster for us… you know, ‘nasty Men In Black hurt harmless alien girl’. Especially if we end up killing her. We’d probably lose a lot of sympathy votes, and, so my able polling-experts tell me, they’re in the states where we’re most vulnerable, next election-cycle.”

Lost Chapter #4 : Doubt Me Not – Reminiscing

A heavily-cut-down version of this chapter is still in The Angel Brings Fire Book 2, Doubt Me Not; this version, however, provides a little more background information about what the space-goers were up against, in making plans for coping with the aftermath of the “Lucifer” incident, not to mention what to do with the already-desperate situation on board the ISS2 space station.

Doubt Me Not – Reminiscing

“Just out of interest,” continued Cohen, “How many people do you think that Infinity and Eagle, together, could accommodate? Shivani?”

It all depends on how long a trip we are expecting them to make, while in these ships,” said Parmar. “My calculations indicate that if we do not offload any of the Eagle or Infinity’s air supply to ISS2 – something that I would remind you we had planned to do, to maintain our life-support on the station itself – these two ships could probably support up to fifty or so people for a trip of, say, two to three days. Or six to ten for a trip of a few weeks. Or somewhere in between, for intermediate-duration trips. These estimates all assume that the individuals in question are basically sedentary; if they engage in any strenuous activity and therefore start breathing more rapidly, they would exhaust the available supplies more quickly. I could give you a precise estimate if I knew exactly how many you wanted to transport.”

“Taking Li’s point in hand,” continued the Israeli, “The difference between the last time and what we would be doing here is, an explosion within the engines of either the Infinity or the Eagle could render both of them unusable, whereas at least the previous booster was external to ISS2’s main structure. Even at that, when it blew, it made part of the station uninhabitable. If we do that to Commander Jacobson’s ships, we would then have no obvious way to get anyone off the station, except for a few emergency egress-modules and space-suits. I don’t need to explain what might happen, then.”

“Commander,” replied the East Indian woman. “I suppose I should start by saying that as far as I can tell, the crew is in fairly good shape, considering… considering how they might have been, had the eventual outcome of the incident been the way we had expected it to turn out.”

The way it would have turned out, the way it inevitably must have turned out,” interrupted Jacobson, forcefully, “Except for… her.”

Tanaka hung her head, tears suddenly in her eyes.

Yes, Commander Jacobson,” replied Shivani Parmar. “Except for your ‘Karéin-Mayréij’. There is nobody on this ship who does not understand what we – everyone on Earth, need it be said – owes that alien.”

It appears,” impassively commented Chen, “That not everyone on Earth shares your assessment of this sequence of events, Madame Parmar. I have a separate channel to Beijing and have received a few messages from them. In fact, there is considerable confusion about what actually took place. Some parties are speculating that the comet was, in fact, destroyed by the ‘Salvador Two’ ship. We must recall that it had a substantial payload of nuclear devices, and… possibly also by some new kind of weapon, previously not revealed by any of the major powers. I asked my superiors if this weapon was Chinese, but they did not give me a definitive answer. Other parties say that the comet disintegrated naturally, due to the weaknesses that had been introduced into it from the previous attacks.”

That’s nonsense, you know it, and she’s – she was – not just an ‘alien’,” quietly countered Tanaka, wiping a tear. “She was our crew-mate… our friend. A sister to me.”

I am not voicing an opinion on this matter, Madame Tanaka,” replied Chen. “I am only reporting what I have heard. But if I assume that your theory regarding the alien’s contribution to the destruction of the comet is correct… then I share your regret. Even if not, in fact. The loss of scientific knowledge to mankind caused by her death is great. No doubt we could have learned much from this ‘Karéin-Mayréij’.”

You’ll never know the magic she could have taught you, thought Tanaka.

Maybe that’s as it should be, after all.

I never met her, you know, except for seeing her floating out there, in front of ISS2; now that was quite a sight, I’ll have to admit,” mused Humber, with a far-away look in his eyes, “But I know what you mean, Cherie. I feel it, down deep in my heart, somewhere, it’s like I knew her, for only a second or two, but I did. I really did.”

Jacobson arched an eyebrow and shot a quick glance at Humber, then Tanaka. “Do you think he –” Jacobson whispered to his Science Officer, but then another spoke up.

Anyway,” stated Parmar, “There will be time to discuss that affair, later. Maybe a memorial… that would be my suggestion. But regarding the crew, Commander, I have not yet finished my interviews with all of them – I am maybe three-quarters of the way through – but other than for a few who have needed additional rest due to the after-effects of the stress of the last few days, they are holding up quite well. The most serious problem appears to be communications with loved-ones and family back on Earth; Michael Theodikas has been trying to re-establish all the up-links and down-links, but much of the Earth’s communications-infrastructure appears to have been either destroyed or damaged. Michael has, in fact, been able to access some of these channels but when he does, he is being told that all transmissions of a non-essential nature are still prohibited. We asked when this situation would end, but did not get a firm answer – all they would say is ‘maybe in a few weeks’.”

I was able to get through to Charlie,” interjected Humber. “But then, I had to bend the rules a bit, assisted by Mike poking around in some channels he’s not supposed to touch. I owe the bloke one for that.”

Ordinarily,” replied Cohen, “As station-commander, I’d have to tell you to stop that kind of thing, Alan. For now, my orders will be, ‘write what you did, and how you did it, down’, so that the top five or so from the rest of the crew who need the same kind of access, can get it.”

With a knowing smile, Jacobson said, “Ah… the art of command. Well, Devon told me that Mike Theodikas was a lot like him. I suppose the purpose of a communications-officer is to communicate, whether or not the powers that be want you to.”

Lost Chapter #3 : Angel of Mailànkh – A Little More Hot Air From Earth

This third “Lost Chapter” is still in the novel, but was radically reduced in size with much of the explanatory narrative removed. It occurs immediately after McPherson announces (via commlink) Earth’s plans for the “Salvador Two” mission. :

Angel of Mailànkh – A Little More Hot Air From Earth

White was the first one to see the “incoming” light come alive, on the heads-up status panel. “Yo, Captain,” he said, “Message from Houston. Want to screen it first?”

No, Devon,” replied Jacobson, “I don’t think that’s necessary. You may as well put them through.”

White complied with a couple quick keystrokes and the view-screen lit up, revealing Symington, Ramirez and McPherson; Abruzzio did not appear to be there. Ramirez spoke first.

Hello, Eagle and Infinity,” he said, “This is Hector Ramirez down here at Houston. I have General Symington and Fred McPherson here with me – Sylvia is busy with the Arks project which, as you can no doubt imagine, is now going into its ‘full speed ahead’ phase, so she’s not with us today, she sends her regrets. I’m going to turn the floor over to Fred and then to the General, so they can bring you up to date on what our current status and plans are.”

The camera moved slightly to the left from Ramirez, centering on McPherson. The man looked tired and he had a touch of five o’clock shadow.

Thanks, Hector,” McPherson said. “First of all, I don’t think I need to inform you of the results of the missile attack on the ‘Lucifer’ object… it’s no secret that we’re, to put it mildly, disappointed in what has occurred, or rather, in what didn’t happen. But,“ he sighed, “There’s no point in dwelling on the past; we have to look to the future, and to next steps, now. Before I move to that, though, I’d like to commend Cosmonaut Sergei Chkalov for his fine work in assisting our long-range damage assessment scans on the comet. The data that Cosmonaut Chkalov has revealed has been of tremendous importance in helping us understand the facts and to make plans. So, Sergei, thanks again, and if you find out anything else, please don’t hesitate to send it our way.”

Chkalov nodded modestly.

After a short pause, McPherson continued, “As I said before, you guys up there are probably aware of the situation, but just so that we’re sure that everyone is on the same knowledge base, I’ll recap it briefly here. Bottom line is, we threw everything that we could scrape up against the damn comet, but, unfortunately, it appears not to have been enough – ‘Lucifer’ has been damaged, but not destroyed, and it is still on a collision course with Earth. Now, as you may also be aware, the story is not all bad, because – thanks largely to the efforts of your cosmonaut friend up there – we have discovered that the comet’s internal structure has been weakened by the attack. By how much, we’re not sure, but we are continuing our assessment, and I should tell you that associated with this we have also initiated another manned mission – in effect, ‘Salvador Two‘ – against the comet to see if we can succeed in blowing it apart, by placing nuclear explosives so as to leverage the instability caused by the missile attack…”

Tanaka exclaimed, sotto voce, “Surely they know that would be a suicide mission – the comet’s lethally radioactive and its local debris field is even more intense as the thing has gotten closer to the sun… they’d be lucky if they make it down to the surface for an hour, before…”

McPherson, still in mid-sentence, explained, “…We are having no problems getting volunteers for the crews that we’ll need, but launch vehicles are going to be a challenge, because right now every last ship we can get our hands on, has been claimed by the Arks initiative. Frankly, in view of the outcome of the first Salvador mission, I’m not happy about pulling resources out of Arks – you have to appreciate that to get so many as one or two ships capable of even theoretically making it up to ‘Lucifer’, even for a one-way mission, we’re sacrificing the ability to lift fifty, possibly a hundred, people off Earth to temporary safety; that’s a big sacrifice to accept, in the current circumstances.”

He paused a second to take a breath, then said, “Also, compared to the first Salvador mission, this one will have to take place under severely constrained circumstances, because we had months in which to prepare for the first mission but only a few weeks, at most, for this one. For example, we will have to do it much closer to Earth, just as it crosses the plane of the Moon’s orbit, in fact – we simply don’t have the specialized ships to get out as far as Salvador I, and on top of that, we can’t manufacture bombs the size of the ones that we used on the first mission, there just isn’t that amount of fissile material available – especially considering that the remaining missiles are to be used for a different mission. We’ll keep you advised of progress on this project, of course, but for now, all we can ask you do is to continue observing the comet and to send us data on any changes you see in it, ASAP.”

The Mars-girl whispered, “What is an ‘asap’?”

‘As Soon As Possible’”, replied Boyd.

Ha, I see,” the Storied Watcher said, smiling sheepishly.

Captain, I have to talk to you,” she requested, but Jacobson gestured her to silence.

McPherson concluded by saying, “Well, that’s it from me, Eagle and Infinity, as I said, keep up the good work, we sure can use the extra pair of eyes that you’ve given us. I’m now going to turn the floor over to General Symington. General?”

Symington’s face appeared, even more ridged with fatigue than had been McPherson’s; however, the General seemed more in control, less willing to show his disposition.

Greetings, crew,” he said, “And let me start by echoing Mr. McPherson’s congratulations to Cosmonaut Chkalov. Sir, I have the honor to inform you that, based on your activities so far in determining the weaknesses in the comet, your Air Force has decided to award you a medal – they haven’t told me exactly which one, but as soon as that information is forthcoming, I’ll send it your way.”

He saluted, while saying this.

Now, as Fred McPherson has explained, team, unfortunately, our main missile attack did not… achieve its full goals,” Symington commented. “But as you know, we have been drafting a series of fail-safe measures to deal with this eventuality.”

Tanaka suppressed an urge to laugh at the man’s pomposity.

Symington continued, “And I won’t bore you with the details, since you can easily access these on NeoNet, but here’s a summary. Assuming that the second Salvador mission – which, as the previous speaker has correctly pointed out, may or may not make it off the ground – is not successful, as the comet enters Earth’s atmosphere, we’re going to hit it with every remaining one of our nuclear weapons, everything down to sub kiloton-range tactical, in a last-ditch, co-ordinated strike. What’s different now is, we’re going to target these so as to exactly hit the pressure points associated with the newly-discovered fissures; we’re hoping that this will induce the object to fracture and then shatter. Inevitably, the remaining chunks of it will strike the Earth, causing catastrophic results, but this outcome can’t, we hope, be worse than if the whole thing impacted. I should tell you that planning this attack has been extremely complicated, not just because of the number of national commands and different types of weapons involved, but also because we now have to do it in such a way that we don’t also destroy too many of the Arks ships that may be in low Earth orbit at the time. It appears that some collateral damage on this front, may be inevitable.”

‘Collateral damage’… where have we heard that before, I wonder?” asked Tanaka, idly.

Other than for that,” Symington concluded, “Our plans, and your orders, remain unchanged; we’re tracking you on course for rendez-vous with ISS2 in its boosted orbit, so that’s good. The only variable that we can see right now is the outcome of the second Salvador mission, but we’re not counting on that, so proceed as you would have. That’s all I have to say… Mr. Ramirez?”

Ramirez took the microphone and said, “Well, that’s the update, Eagle and Infinity. Obviously, we had hoped to have had better news for you, and alternate plans… but life goes on, at least for the time remaining, right?”

He forced a grin and finished off with, “Awaiting your response, if any. Ramirez and Houston, over and out.”

The light and screen both dimmed.

Go ahead, Karéin,” said Jacobson.

Captain,” the Storied Watcher inquired, “I heard that your planet is going to send another space ship up to the comet… is that correct?”

Correct,” Jacobson replied. “As far as we know. The whole project may not, excuse the pun here, ‘get off the ground’, however, due to the issues which Fred McPherson pointed out, when he was speaking.”

Sir,” the alien continued, “This may represent a way out from our current problem, that is, the one involved with keeping you and your crew alive, after we meet the space station.”

Smiling knowingly, Tanaka said, excitement rising in her voice, “Yeah, I get it! Sam – don’t you see? Earth would be sending the ship to ‘Lucifer’ on a one-way trip. But it would have to have a certain amount of air in it, just to make the voyage to the comet. If Karéin could somehow get us there, or get the ship to us – well, Earth can’t miss something that they don’t expect to get back, can they?”

Exactly, Professor,” said the Mars-girl. “If, somehow, I can get the humans on this ship to this second Salvador vessel, it could serve as a kind of oasis in space for you, until I can find you a better home. Perhaps I could save the men and women who flew the new Earth ship to the comet, too. Depending on when and where, we meet it.”

Wait a minute,” objected Jacobson, “Let’s take a step back here, folks. It’s a nice idea, but right off the top, it looks like a non-starter. I can see a number of ‘gotchas’ in it.”

Such as?” asked a crestfallen Boyd.

Such as,” explained the Mars mission commander, “Apart from the fact that doing this would require us to seriously deceive Houston as to our guest’s real capabilities – which they have every right to want to put to better uses – as you, Cherie, yourself pointed out, the entire vicinity of the comet is now intensely radioactive. Given the nature of the mission, Houston is very unlikely to shield the new ship from this, after all, the crew only has to live long enough to place the nuclear charges and set them off. Assuming, of course, that the new ship even makes it anywhere near ‘Lucifer’ – we all know what happened to the previous missions, don’t we? The only way that I know of to stop the debris field, and the radiation, from killing us, air supply or not, is to intercept the second ship and stop it from getting to the comet altogether, if Karéin is even capable of that… and I categorically forbid any talk of something like that. There’s a word for it – treason. The worst kind of treason imaginable, not just against our own nation, but against all of Earth.”

Sir,” the Storied Watcher hastily interjected, “I think I could expand my bubble to protect even a ship of this size, from any amount of radiation, also from impacts with the rocks surrounding the comet. I could probably keep you safe even from the very powerful energy fields of the big planet, you know the one with the red spot on it. The radiation around the comet is no doubt much less strong. So we would not have to stop the new Salvador ship’s crew from reaching ‘Lucifer’. We could just go on board their ship as they approached it. Does knowing this, help?”

Yeah, okay,” Jacobson allowed, grudgingly. “Let’s assume, just for the sake of argument, that you could do that. But we have other issues to consider. To name just one, how do you get us safely from here, or from ISS2, to the new ship, as it approaches ‘Lucifer’? I thought I heard you say a short time ago, that you have trouble finding things that small, in the vastness of space. And, further to the point, you also said that we wouldn’t have enough air to last the trip from here to, well, wherever?”

The Mars-girl looked longingly into Jacobson’s face, searching for the faintest hint of approval.

Finding none, she stated, uncertainly, “I have to admit, Captain Sam Jacobson, that your objections in these respects are possibly valid. About finding the new Salvador ship, unless it were to deliberately transmit a radio homing signal, something that I could detect by concentrating on that wave-feeling, towards me, I would probably have to fly to the vicinity of the comet and then scan the dust in the debris field for signs of disturbance, a process that might take some time… of course, that would be risky, because the space ship might impact with something and thereby be destroyed, before I could get to it and protect it.”

Leaving us… kinda ‘up the creek without a paddle’, wouldn’t you say?” observed White.

If I were to guess at what that expression means, Devon,” the Storied Watcher replied, evenly, “You are right. The only alternative would be to suffuse you all with Amaiish in the slim hope that you would survive the process long enough for me to take you elsewhere. You know the risks associated with doing that. Otherwise… there would not be nearly enough air for you to survive for very long…”

About that, air, that is,” said Jacobson. “That’s the other problem, isn’t it?”

Yes,” noted the alien. “Unless I were to compress as much of the air in this ship as possible, at the highest pressure that you humans can safely tolerate, into my bubble, you would likely run out on the way to the new ship. Especially as your people apparently expect it to get to the comet only as it nears your planet, which implies that it will be that much further away from us, when we either leave this ship or your space station. Sergei, may I ask you a question about this, please?”

Anything, Karéin,” replied Chkalov.

Do you have an exact, or even approximate, understanding of the relative paths that this ship, the space station, and ‘Lucifer’ are on, and the path of the new Earth ship when it is to intersect with the comet?” she asked.

Not an exact one,” the Russian explained, “But I can give you an educated guess, since I have been studying the comet very closely and know its trajectory to Earth almost by heart. Basically, our course is diverging from that of both ‘Lucifer’ and of Earth, not surprising when you consider that the objective of boosting ISS2 is to get it a safe distance away from both those bodies. Our course takes us more rapidly away from the comet than it does from Earth, thus, when we reach the rendez-vous point with the space station, we will be at a substantial distance from Earth… assuming that our home-planet is still there, needless to say. With each passing minute, we are getting further away from ‘Lucifer’ and closer to ISS2. Does that answer your question, Karéin?”

Sufficiently, yes,” affirmed the Storied Watcher, smiling kindly at the cosmonaut. “Captain, in view of what Sergei has just said, I would have to say that doing what I suggested a minute or two ago, that is, compressing the air in here, would probably get all of you to the region of the comet, but not with a lot of margin for error. I would have to check this assumption against the exact figures, of course, because it is not the sort of thing that one can be a little wrong about, in the wrong direction, and not suffer serious consequences. You would all also be subjected to very strong forces of acceleration. I do not know if you have noticed this, but when I travel in space, I do not speed up like your ship does, that is, slowly and steadily. The only way I know how to go involves very rapid acceleration, which I could partly offset, but not completely. I have never tried doing this, with living creatures, other than myself. I think it would be safe, but I could not guarantee it…”

What if we learned how to use that power of yours to let you move us faster… you know what I’m thinking of, Karéin,” said Tanaka.

Not enough time to teach you that,” countered the Mars-girl. “In spite of what you know now. Sorry.”

Boyd and Chkalov both raised their eyebrows.

Yes, ahem,” Jacobson responded, “And the whole line of thought’s invalid, anyway. You all know why Houston wants us to dock with ISS2, that is, to give them access to our supply of air and other vital resources. Sucking it all up into Karéin’s little bubble and waltzing off with it, to parts unknown, well, that doesn’t quite square with our current set of orders, now does it?”

Glumly, the rest of them indicated agreement.

So,” Tanaka mentioned, sarcastically, “You don’t have any problem with her taking us to Salvador Two, as long as we don’t take any air to breathe, along with us, Sam?”

Wearily, Jacobson replied, “If you want to put it that way, yes, Cherie, I suppose that’s one way of looking at it. But there’s really something much more serious to consider here, specifically, a question that we’ve all been avoiding – namely, ‘if our guest can get us to the comet, what might she be able to do to help Earth, without the burden of helping us‘. Any ideas on that front, Karéin?”

He fixed a steady, serious gaze on the alien.

I do not know what you mean, Captain Jacobson, sir,” evaded the Storied Watcher.

Try to free your mind of the need to help us,” Jacobson demanded. “Assume that we’ll be alright, whatever you do or don’t do, for us.”

But that is not true, sir,” she protested. “They mean to take away your air.”

Just humor me,” Jacobson said, stoically. “If you didn’t have to worry about us, what would your suggested course of action be?”

Desperately, the alien looked from person to person, for some indication of objection, of common cause. But they all stared blankly back, caught between the urge for self-preservation and the larger goal of Earth’s survival.

Finally, she offered, unenthusiastically, “I have not given that a lot of thought, sir, because I so much want to help you and your crew – my family, my only family, now. But if you press me, I guess… I suppose… I could fly to the comet and guide the new Earth ship to its goal, protect them from the local radiation and debris field hazards, maybe even help them place their nuclear bombs by blasting some deep holes in the comet’s crust… help them to get away, safely…”

White interrupted, “Man, what I wouldn’t give to see the look on those guys’ faces, when they’re approachin’ that damn thing and they get a knock on the outside door, then they see her floatin’ around without a space suit, with a big ‘let me in’ sign on her.”

Chuckling, Boyd added, “Yeah, now that would be a regular Kodak moment, wouldn’t it?”

Seeing the girl’s confused look, he explained, “That’s an expression that means, ‘a scene worth capturing with a photograph’, Karéin.”

It would not be,” complained the Storied Watcher, “Because I would only be thinking of all of you.”

But,” said Tanaka, “In so doing, you might be saving all of Earth. Are the needs of a few like us, more important than those of an entire planet, an entire species?”

The Mars-girl now looked like a trapped animal.

Jacobson said, “I seem to remember you telling us of another time when you had a choice like this to make, Karéin. The last blue planet, wasn’t it?”

Glowering, the girl retorted, “I hope that you do not take offense, that you understand that I speak these words with respect – but you speak falsely, Captain Sam Jacobson! You do not know what transpired there; to the extent that I remember it, that situation was… hopeless. This one, is not. There must be a way both to save Earth, and to save you. It is my task to find that way. If, my poor powers can help your planet, at all. That is a very big assumption, not one that I am willing to make.”

Hey, I got an idea,” voiced White. “Y’all say it’s, like, shootin’ the moon – excuse the joke, please – for Karéin here to drag us over to the comet, because this here crate’s ‘spoken for’. Why doesn’t she just drag the new ship over to us, load us all on it, then get us back there to blow the comet up? We’d have more people to do the Salvador Two mission, all the air we’re ever gonna get and it’d be easier coping with the speedup factor, if we were strapped into those nice comfy seats that NASA sets everybody up with. We could get a commlink fix on them from here, two-way, then when she gets there, they could just tell her to ride the beam back to us. Piece of cake for me to rig up. Whaddya say, Captain?”

He heard a little, soundless voice in the back of his head say, Thank you, Devon, from the bottom of my heart, I owe you much for saying that.

Brilliant,” chimed Tanaka. “Two birds and one comet, with one stone.”

Thanks, Professor,” said White. “Y’all think I deserve a raise?”

Three no trump,” joked Boyd. “There’s a raise for you.”

That is the ‘bridge’ game, played with cards, is it not?” asked the Storied Watcher. “I started studying it on the network because it seems very popular, second only to chess, which the Captain said I could not play because…”

While the banter went on, Jacobson looked as if he was torn between two masters. At length, he said, jumping in to the conversation, “Moving right along, team, I hate to be the one to kill a beautiful theory with an ugly set of facts, but there are two issues with this plan that you haven’t pointed out.”

Such as?” asked an again-disappointed Boyd.

First of all,” explained the ship commander, “We’d be interfering with a critical NASA and Earth mission, potentially the most important space expedition in human history – considering the consequences of success or failure – completely without permission. Needless to say, doing so would be the most serious type of insubordination imaginable.”

Why don’t we just ask them for permission?” inquired Tanaka.

That’s certainly possible,” answered Jacobson, “But think of what we’d be proposing – here, I’ll try to enunciate it: ‘Hello, Houston, we’d like to propose that we have an alien from Mars fly over to the comet, completely without a ship or even a space suit and then drag – God knows how, that is, by what principle of physics – the Salvador Two ship over to the Eagle and Infinity, then have her drag Salvador Two, plus us, back to ‘Lucifer’, then have her protect us from the dangers that have destroyed three Earth ships, so we can blow up the comet. This must come as a surprise to you, Houston, considering that as far as you know, she’s just a kind of very old, somewhat naïve human girl. But trust us on this one, after all, it’s only the survival of our entire planet that would be jeopardized if she or we can’t deliver on any aspect of this plan, for example, she runs out of that Amai-whatever energy, halfway back to the comet.’ Sound good to you, Professor?”

Tanaka sulked while Boyd hung his head and muttered, “Does sound like a bit of a stretch, to me, Captain. But look on the bright side of it. There isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that they’ll believe that she’s even capable of flying around out there, by herself, so how can they say ‘no’ to a plan that has no chance of even being started?”

By the same logic, Major Boyd,” said Chkalov, “How could they say ‘yes’?”

I recorded quite a bit of her first trip outside the ship,” commented White. “How are they gonna ignore hard evidence like that?”

Easy,” replied Tanaka, sourly. “They’ll just conclude that we’re all suffering from collective psychosis, caused by the stress of the ‘Lucifer’ situation and by long-term confinement in here, with each other. But, okay, let’s suppose that somehow we can convince them that we’re not kidding when we say we have a semi-godly alien on board with us. Sam, you had another problem with Devon’s idea? Do tell us…?”

Very much so,” Jacobson said. “Devon, no slight here, but you also made another big assumption – namely, that Karéin can even do this.”

Looking at the girl, he added, in a friendly, paternal voice, “Well? How godly are we feeling today, Karéin?”

The Storied Watcher rose to her feet, paced around a bit and stood, facing away from all of them.

Not very, Captain, sir,” she said, meekly. “Oh, I wish I could explain to you, in terms you would understand, how my powers work, what their limitations are, how it feels to use them – then you would not be guessing, when we have discussions like this.”

The alien woman turned to face them. “It is like this,” she said.

Her eyes flashed for a second and focused on Jacobson. “I am doing this only because you are the heaviest of the crew, sir, do not be mad at me, oh-kay?”

Jacobson began to float upwards from his seat, involuntarily, despite the pseudo-gravity of the Infinity’s center core drum.

As you can see,” she explained, “I can use my control over the forces of gravity – actually, magnetism and the third, fourth and fifth forces as well, when necessary – to move objects around. When my powers are at full strength, I can do this to very large and heavy things, up to the size of a large boat or a mountain, perhaps – I do not remember exactly how large, but certainly the size of this space ship, or bigger…”

Jacobson gave her the ‘thumbs down’ signal and she obliged, returning him to his seat.

How about objects the size of a comet? How about pushing something like that, off its current course?” he asked, as he landed.

I considered that, sir,” explained the Storied Watcher. “As Professor Cherie Tanaka asked me the same question, some time ago. But it is huge. If I was fully recovered, if I had all my Amaiish-forces, I could try, but even then, I fear that I could at best nudge it. This is the thing that I said is hard to explain, a minute ago. When I am near to, or on, a heavenly body that has a lot of gravity of its own, I can use that power to affect other, smaller, objects in the vicinity – including myself, of course; that is how I ‘fly’, in space.

But in the case of the ‘Lucifer’ thing,” she elaborated, “I would be trying to use the object’s own gravity, to move itself. I have never tried to do this, nor have I ever tried to move something so big as the comet. Here is one way to describe it… it would be like one of you humans, swimming alongside a big ship in one of your oceans, trying to change its course by kicking your legs against the water. If you had enough time, I mean, weeks or months, you might indeed be able to send it a few hand-spreads in direction from the path that it had previously been on. But I fear that we do not have that kind of time, and we need more than a few hands-worth.”

Yeah, I see,” acknowledged Jacobson. “I know you well enough to know that you’d already have suggested doing something like that, if it was possible. But okay, if the comet itself is out of the question, we still have the issue of you physically getting to the Salvador Two ship, somehow finding it, somehow,” – he could not suppress a cynical laugh, while saying this – “Convincing them to let you grab hold of them, then dragging that ship here to the Eagle and Infinity, then going all the way back to the comet… and all of this in enough time for the Salvador Two‘s crew to have enough time to carry out their own mission, to completion. Feel up to that job, Karéin?”

The alien looked down, and the others noticed that she had picked up the Earth habit of kicking her feet at an imaginary target, while thinking.

I honestly do not know, sir,” she quietly offered. “I am reasonably sure that I could, as you say, ‘drag’ that space ship – or this one, for that matter – around in space, almost anywhere in this solar system; that part is easy, more or less. But what I cannot be sure of is, how fast I could go, therefore how much time it would take to get to the comet, back to here and then back to the comet, once again.”

Explain, please,” said Tanaka.

Cherie, more than most, you will appreciate what I am about to say,” elaborated the Mars-girl. “I can move very quickly when I am only bending gravity so as to move myself, or perhaps a small additional amount of mass, but a whole space ship… there would be no way to know, without just trying it. And the other problem is, slowing down and stopping. Again, this is not difficult if I am doing so near a planetary body, but we would be ‘dragging’ this Salvador Two ship as fast as possible to get it promptly here, but the Eagle and Infinity only have about the same amount of mass as is the thing that I would be transporting. So I would have to start applying, how you say, ‘braking forces’, much earlier in the trip, to avoid overshooting the rendez-vous point, altogether. Of course, it would not be so hard going back to the comet. I could anchor myself against it and stop almost whenever I wanted.”

Tanaka nodded, knowingly. “Yeah,” she said, “It’s not easy, that’s for sure. I could barely…” She stopped herself in mid-sentence.

Boyd and White shot suspicious glances to each other. Chkalov, meanwhile, seemed preoccupied with something showing up on a computer screen.

So,” offered Jacobson, philosophically, as he addressed the rest of them, “Let me amend my previous explanation of our plan, to Houston: ‘Oh, and by the way, NASA, we have no idea if, once Karéin here drags the Salvador Two away from this incredibly important mission, she’ll be able to get it back in time to complete the task. But, hey, we’re willing to risk the survival of everyone on Earth, just for the theoretical chance of saving our own skins…”

He shot them an acid look.

Sounds good to me,” muttered White, unconvincingly.

Captain,” interrupted Chkalov, “If this of any interest, I have been running some simulations on the computer, comparing Karéin’s last observed flight speed, when outside the Eagle and Infinity, to likely trajectories she could take to the comet and thence back to us.”

And?” asked Jacobson.

Of course, I did not incorporate the factor of the mass or weight of the Salvador Two ship, since I have no hard data on that… although I suppose, if I had to redo the simulation, I could assume that its configuration would be broadly comparable to that of the first set of Salvador spacecraft,” Chkalov explained. “In any event, what my calculations show is that Karéin could, indeed, make it to and from ‘Lucifer’, back to here, prior to us arriving at the ISS2 rendez-vous point, but not with much of margin for error. I suspect that this allowance would drop substantially, if she had to also move the Salvador Two ship, but by how much, I am not sure.”

Meaning, Sam,” interjected Tanaka, “That unless Karéin has learned to do the hundred million kilometer outer space dash in much less time than we have so far observed, knowing the speed at which Houston makes decisions, we’d have to make our proposal to them tout de suite, if we’re to have any chance of pulling this off.”

The Storied Watcher just smiled evasively, at this.

If we’re going to do that, anyway,” retorted Jacobson. “My point of view on the subject hasn’t changed.”

And if the Salvador Two is going to take off from Earth, on a schedule that suits Devon’s involved little scheme, here,” added Boyd. “What if they’re just not going to take off on time? You heard McPherson – they’re going to have to intercept the comet much closer to Earth than the first mission did. That implies that they won’t be taking off until later, at least, that’s how it looks to me. And he said that it might take weeks. That would certainly put it out of the question.”

Point very well taken,” agreed Jacobson. “As matters stand now, I won’t veto this plan, but only because I’ll leave that honor to Houston. For the record, though, I don’t support it – the risks are just too high… ladies and gentlemen, oh, and, aliens, too, we have a higher duty here, one that transcends our own understandable instinct for self-preservation.”

But can’t we at least ask Houston?” pleaded Tanaka. “The worst they can say is, ‘no’.”

Certainly,” replied Jacobson. “Although they could say, ‘no, and make that alien fly right over to us, now‘, too, Professor. One way or the other, we have a valid interest in knowing the exact lift-off time of the Salvador Two and its ETA to the comet. If it appears that the timing of this doesn’t completely rule out Devon’s plan, then, although, as I said, I’m not in favor of this idea, I will present it to Houston for their consideration. I should point out that my main reason for doing this is, the conversation that we just had, has convinced me of one thing: it would be very irresponsible, not to say treacherous, of us not to let Houston know what our guest is really capable of. With that knowledge, maybe they won’t approve of Devon’s plan, but perhaps they’ll think of something else. Perhaps.”

I don’t like where the idea is leading,” complained Tanaka, “But your logic is kind of inescapable, I guess, Sam.”

She looked at the Mars-girl. “Nobody wants to keep you here, more than I do, Karéin,” Tanaka said. “But the facts have changed, since the failure of the Earth missile attack. Sam is absolutely right. We should tell Earth what you’re capable of, then let the chips fall where they may.”

The alien just hung her head, avoiding their glance. Then she said, slowly, “First, I wanted to fly away from here, from shame; you ordered me back, and I obeyed. Now, someone may order me away from here, from you, and I must again obey, though I desperately do not want to. My wants and the needs of the people of Earth, are not very well co-ordinated, do you not think so, Captain, sir?”

Jacobson looked as if he appreciated her mood, and said, “I understand, Karéin, but let’s not pre-judge them; they’re good people, at heart, just a little pre-occupied and subject to factors that we can’t appreciate up here, that’s all. To make it easier, I’ll let you decide how to explain this to them. It’s up to you, yourself, to set expectations; and as a bit of friendly advice, I’d suggest that you tell them only what you think you can definitely commit to. I say that not just because I don’t want to put you at risk, Karéin, but also because, as we just discussed, if you can’t deliver on something that we try to have you do, you could end up making the situation worse, not better. Devon, can you get us ready to record a message to them? Let us know when Karéin can start speaking.”

Way to put her on the spot, there Cap’n,” interjected White. “But Karéin, just for the record, we all believe in you. Speak from the heart and y’all be fine.”

Thanks, Devon,” was all she said.

Lost Chapter #2 : Angel of Mailànkh – Challenge For A Goddess

Here is the second chapter that was excised from Angel of Mailànkh, largely for reasons of brevity. It had been located immediately after the part in which Jacobson explains to the crew that the Earth missile barrage has, in fact, damaged the comet. :

Angel of Mailànkh – Challenge For A Goddess

Again motioning for patience, Jacobson said, “That was the first thing I asked Sylvia, myself, Brent. But apart from the fact that some of these missiles are now sequestered for the Arks project, apparently, even were all of them – plus nukes fired from aircraft, keeping in mind that any pilot undertaking that kind of a mission would be on a suicide run – to hit ‘Lucifer’s secondary fragments, the consensus of opinion is that it might at best reduce the amount of time that Earth would be rendered uninhabitable. What Sylvia said to me was that there was a large margin of error in their calculations, so large, in fact, that they felt it would be too risky to assume that the last-ditch defenses could come through. Which is why most of the missiles are going to the Arks project, to lift people off of Earth. They’re still going to fire some of them at the comet, of course, that is, the missiles that are physically too small to accommodate a human passenger, but it probably won’t be a big enough bang, I’m afraid.”

Damn, Captain… for a minute there, y’all had us going,” commented White.

Yeah,” Jacobson replied, “But frankly, as a military man, I’m just glad that we did hurt it, even if not fatally, Devon. Proves that Earth isn’t completely helpless – we’re still fighting. It’s fourth and 20 to goal with five seconds on the clock, but the game isn’t over, not yet.”

They noticed that the Storied Watcher had got up. She was pacing around the table, nervously, mumbling something to herself.

Karéin,” said Tanaka, “What’s on your mind? You look a little… concerned. What’s the matter? This is the best news that we’ve had in quite a while.”

The Mars-girl looked up at Jacobson. She complained, “If I had gone there – if I had attacked, when your weapons did – maybe that would have been the extra power needed to shatter it…”

We’ve already been over that,” Jacobson calmly countered. “The facts haven’t changed from what they were. With the same set of facts, I’d still make the same decision that I made a short while ago. And besides, Karéin, maybe you did contribute to our attack, more than you think. We might not have damaged it at all, without you having ‘sent your power’ to the missiles – whatever that means…”

I tried to boost the potency of the explosions, by sending the Fire to accompany them,” explained the Storied Watcher. “I pictured in my mind, a force-barrier around the comet, to reflect the shock waves back upon it. But at that range… it probably would have had no effect at all, like, you trying to throw a stone at something half of one of your ‘kilometers’ away. And just as I was trying to… to… ‘project’, to firm my grasp – your language does not have a good word for this action – something threw off my ability to visualize where the comet was, my concentration slipped and I could do no more. Maybe it was the explosions that did that. I had to try something, I could not just sit idly there, sir, and watch my human brothers and sisters use their last strike. I only wish I had more of a chance to influence the outcome.”

She sounded resentful, if only slightly.

Jacobson nodded. “Point taken, gratefully,” he acknowledged. “And, given Sergei’s description of ‘Lucifer’s current state, I think it’s well within the realm of possibility that your intervention did help. We’ll probably never know for sure, but the point is that you did try, so… thanks.”

Wow,” interjected Tanaka. “Sam, assuming that what you’re saying is correct, do you know what you’re implying? It’s an awesome display of power. Godly, in fact.”

You’re speculating, of course, Professor,” Jacobson replied, “But what, exactly, are you getting at?”

I may be the only career scientist here,” Tanaka said, “But I’m surprised that none of the rest of you have caught on to this. If Karéin’s intervention really was what caused the fissures we now see within the comet, we’re talking about her projecting energy across millions of kilometers of space, using enough energy, in fact, to influence the fluid dynamics of hundreds of thermonuclear explosions, even if only for a split-second. There’s no power on Earth even remotely comparable to that!”

Staring at the floor, the Storied Watcher interrupted. “You are assuming that I had any effect at all, Professor,” she complained. “I have never tried anything like this before. Did you hear me praying? The whole thing was a wish – a hope – that I could so divert the force of your missiles. It was vain of me to try, but what else could I do, when sitting impotently here in your space ship?”

Grasping at straws ain’t so bad, Karéin,” sympathetically offered White.

Jacobson continued, “All the above having been said, unfortunately we’re still faced with two things that haven’t changed : one, the comet’s still on course to Earth and two, we still have orders to stay on course to ISS2. I’ve been racking my brains to try to see if there’s anything more that any of us – and that includes you, Karéin – can do to influence events; but so far, I draw a blank. I’m open to ideas… any of you have any?”

The all thought for a few seconds. Finally, Boyd spoke up.

Since our guest is so enthusiastic about seeing the comet up close,” he suggested, “Why not just let her go there?”

They all did a double-take.

Say whaat?” exclaimed White.

Well,” said the other astronaut, “We already know that Karéin can fly around in interplanetary space, with about as much trouble as I have in splashing from one end of my swimming-pool, to the other… right? Sergei said that our long-range observations of the comet, and those of Earth, have detected these fissures, as well as evidence of other damage… but there’s nothing definite, nothing that would let us plan or perfect our next attacks on it. Maybe if the ‘Storied Watcher’ here got nice and close to it, she’d be able to find a weak spot, something like that. Even if she didn’t… what have we got to lose? She could just fly back here and we’d be no worse off than we were, before.”

A very interesting idea, Captain,” added Chkalov. “Karéin could take some of our recording-equipment along with her. We would get much more detailed information about the comet’s structure, its weaknesses, and so on, than we could ever get from the remote sensing abilities that we have now. It is too bad that we do not have a few thermonuclear explosives here on the Infinity and Eagle, so she could see how they would work if detonated from within the comet’s interior – that is, from inside one of the fissures.”

All eyes turned on the alien-girl.

I suppose,” she said, uncertainly, “That I am in a poor position to object to this plan, since I have lately volunteered to do the same thing, except in the midst of your ‘H-Bombs’, as you call them.”

Should we take that as a ‘yes’?” asked Jacobson.

Sam,” interjected Tanaka, “Let’s take a careful look at the risks here. Even without the bombs going off, this is likely to be a dangerous trip for Karéin. The comet’s surrounding debris-field destroyed or crippled three Earth ships, first of all – what if she ran into a large piece of this stuff, as she was approaching ‘Lucifer’? How would she even be able to navigate, inside the comet’s gas-cloud? And remember, much of it is now intensely radioactive – it has been hit by the most powerful nukes we had on Earth… hundreds of them. We’d never seriously consider sending a manned Earth ship in there. Is it reasonable, therefore, to ask her to go, by herself? For what? A sight-seeing tour? I’d like to get all the scientific information I can get on ‘Lucifer’, too, but it’s awfully risky. Again, we have to consider what we’d be losing, if we were to lose her.”

Well, Karéin?” asked Jacobson.

I can answer some of Cherie’s questions,” the replied the Storied Watcher, “But not all of them. I will admit that there would be an element of risk to such a trip. The comet is quite far away – if I have been reading your instruments correctly, it is halfway between us and Earth, allowing for some angular-displacement – which means that I would have to fly very fast to reach it, to have a few hours to explore it and then get back to this ship in time to meet your space-station. As I have explained to the Professor and others before, my little ‘bubble’ can easily protect me against high-speed impact with small objects in space; I am fairly confident about larger ones, too, but it has been thousands of years since I would have tested that belief… so I am not eager to find out by accident, now. As for the radiation, do not worry about that – I will absorb it, just more Amaiish for me… it feels wonderful, like the warm rays of the sun. I wish you could experience that, somehow.”

She gave a wan grin.

The Mars-girl continued, “The problem of finding my way does worry me, however, but not in the manner in which the Professor indicated. It should not be too difficult navigating to the comet, and when I get close to it, I think I will be oh-kay… I have never had trouble with such things, before. I have many means of perception that would not be familiar to humans – for example, if I close my eyes, I can perceive waves of energy, magnetism, and so on; it is not as easy to use these to visualize a scene, as is the visible-light-spectrum that you and I are used to, but it is none the less possible. In a way I would welcome the opportunity to exercise this ability, again.”

Why are you worried about it, then?” asked Tanaka.

Because, Cherie,” the Storied Watcher said, “I might not be able to find my way back here, to be with you.”

Huh?” asked White. “You were able to get back from your last little saunter outside, easily enough.”

Yes, but, Devon,” the alien answered, “I did not go very far from the Eagle and Infinity, when I first tested my space-flying powers, I think I only went a few thousand kilometers from the ship. It is not easy to tell, precisely. The ‘Lucifer’ thing is millions of kilometers from here, and I cannot easily track an object as relatively small as this spaceship from that distance – against the background-music of the universe, your signal is just too small. I could try to estimate your relative motion so that I could fly to where I think you would be, when I returned; but the chance of error in such an exercise, is quite high. It might require weeks or months of searching on my part, to re-locate the Eagle and Infinity, if for some reason my calculations about your expected position were incorrect. On top of that, I would be flying all over the comet, changing my orientation, my direction, constantly, that is the point of the trip, after all. In such circumstances, it is very easy to lose track of things, in space. This is not a problem when one is trying to find and return to a large planetary body – your Earth, for example – but a tiny spaceship… another thing entirely.”

But you volunteered to fly to the comet, to be there for the barrage,” Boyd opined, half-maliciously. “It would have been even harder to have found us, afterwards.”

Not if she wasn’t planning to come back,” observed White.

Good thing you didn’t let her, then,” commented Tanaka, towards Jacobson.

Maybe, I… I… would just have gone onwards to Earth, or somewhere like that, afterwards,” Karéin replied, evasively. “I was thinking of larger issues, than returning here.”

Tanaka said, “Couldn’t we just give her one of our tracking-devices? She could use it to home on us, if we reversed the signal.”

Sure,” retorted White, “But Professor, those things were meant to work over a few hundred kilometers, at most, for local tracking down on Mars. Last one we put on her fizzled out at a short distance, which I thought was pretty good, considerin’. But over millions of clicks? Forget it. Ain’t gonna happen!

The Mars-girl added, “And I had trouble protecting the one you gave me, last time, from the crushing-forces as I sped up. I would be accelerating at a much greater pace, this time. I think that your device would last a few seconds. That applies equally to your recording-devices, your ‘tee-vee’ cameras and so on. You would have to rely on my visual observations, although I could take along some metal plates and burn my notes into them, so I do not forget anything.”

There’s another issue that we haven’t really addressed,” said Tanaka. “Karéin, do you want to do this? I’d assume that you’d have some small say in the matter.”

That is, how you say, ‘a good question’, Cherie,” the Storied Watcher replied.

Pensively, she added, “You know me as well as any… so you know that the risks worry me, I will admit to that. But despite this, I think that I would go, especially if Captain Jacobson orders me to. And I might be able to do more than observe. I very much doubt that I could destroy the comet – as I explained before, I would need a huge source of conventional energy as an ‘opener’ for my Amaiish, to do that – but there would be much radiation, the aftereffects of your nuclear explosions, that I could use to tap into my powers and thus damage it. How extensively, I cannot say; but as a great canyon can be made by a little trickle of water, over many years, maybe a great comet can be hurt by a few little rays of Amaiish-energy, of my Holy Fire, over a few hours or days.”

The girl’s eyes glowed brilliant yellow and the sizzling energy-rays that they had seen earlier, issued forth from them, illuminating various objects on the table as the rays played back and forth, harmlessly, but foreboding latent lethality.

The point having been made, the shining stopped, along with the light-beams.

I forgot to mention,” the alien-girl elaborated, “My eye-weapon is called, ‘The Gaze of the Watchers’, in my language. If it is of any interest – please do not be frightened when you hear this, I do not mean it to scare you, but just so you have something to measure this power by – I am sure that it is now powerful enough to vaporize something the size of this ship, possibly something larger still, in one or two shots. I can fire this weapon at full power only a few times each hour, though; then I become fatigued, and it takes a while for my mind to recharge enough to fire again. So it would scarcely make a dent in a huge planetary body like ‘Lucifer’; but maybe a few dents are all we need.”

With a nervous grin, White replied, “I think we’re all cool with that, Karéin. I mean, y’all wouldn’t have to blast the whole ship to get us, anyway… just a few well-placed holes in the hull would do the trick… right?”

She stretched out her hand, clasping his in hers, saying, “’Measure not power by what you can destroy, but by what you can build.’ It is an old saying of the Makailkh, Devon.”

Point taken,” interjected Boyd, “But it may not be quite so appropriate in the case of ‘Lucifer’.”

Jacobson seemed immersed in thought, for a moment, then he said, “It’s an interesting idea, that’s for sure. But I’m going to have to think about it. There are some other implications that we have to consider, as well. For example, Karéin’s prolonged absence from this ship is bound to raise a few eyebrows at Houston, if only because they expect her to take a jump to ISS2 when we get there – if she can’t even find her way back to us, well, then, that’s a problem, wouldn’t you say? And consider what’s going to happen when and if we get any meaningful data back from this little trip; the first thing that I’d ask, if I were anyone on Earth, is ‘how did you get those close-up shots’. At that point, we would have to explain how we – or rather, she – did it, and if Earth does find out about her ability to travel as effortlessly in space as she obviously can, I have little doubt that they’ll take complete control over her. Which would be the last we see of our guest… maybe it would be for the best… maybe Karéin could shuttle a few more bombs up to ‘Lucifer’… I’m not sure. Do you all see how this could get complicated?”

As the rest nodded, the Storied Watcher spoke up. “But Captain Sam Jacobson, sir,” she said, “I do not want to leave all of you, especially when your lives might again be in danger when we reach the space station. It was you who awoke me and gave me life… you are my new family. I know that I have a duty to your people down on Earth, and while I will fulfill that, neither will I abandon you. There must be another way – a safe way.”

Heh,” joked White, “I’d suggest that she just take the rest of us with her… but who’d run the ship?”

At this, he noticed Chkalov giving him the ‘thumbs up’ sign.

I would love to, Devon,” the Mars-girl replied, amicably, “But there is still that little ‘air’ problem. And the ‘you get crushed to death’ one. So…”

On second thought…” White shot back, rolling his eyes.