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Preview Dark Nebula: Data Sheet and Chapter 1

I hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving if you’re in the US and you made it through your annual food coma. If you’re not in the US, well, hopefully your Thursday was fun and relaxing.

I wanted to share a few more chapters of Dark Nebula: Isolation to prepare you for its eminent release on December 4th, 2020.

Dark Nebula: Isolation Cover

Today I’ll be sharing the Data Sheet and Chapter 1. If you’re looking for other preview chapters then scroll to the bottom.


Sol — 2278

Target: Sol
Alternate Designation: The Solar System, Home of Humanity
Number of Planets: 8
Habitable Planets: 1 – Earth
Terraformed Planets: 1 – Mars (In Progress)

System Population:

  • Mercury: 0
  • Venus: 1,248 planetside, 25,240 orbiting
  • Earth: 17.2 billion planetside, 1.7 million orbiting
  • Mars: 1.1 billion planetside, 210,310 orbiting
  • Asteroid Belt: 250,000 +/- 75,000
  • Jupiter: 0 planetside, 2.9 billion orbiting, +/- 50,000 orbiting in Trojans
  • Saturn: 0 planetside, 1.8 billion orbiting
  • Uranus: 0 planetside, 335,965 orbiting
  • Neptune: 0 planetside, 121,570 orbiting
  • Dwarf Planets: 45,000 +/- 15,000
  • Other: +/- 170,000

Description:

The current year is designated AD 2278 and humanity has expanded throughout most of Sol. They are generally aligned as either the Inner or Outer Ring, with the geographic delineation separating the two political parties being the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The divide between the two is primarily motivated around natural resources and disagreements about human rights and entitlement. The Inners are hierarchically aligned based upon fiscal status, whereas the Outers are aligned horizontally based upon an individual’s contribution to society.

Both parties have taken on a common goal in recent centuries of expansion toward planetary systems beyond Sol for the mutual benefit of humanity. This forced goal was due to the environmental collapse and overpopulation of Earth in recent centuries. They’ve established one colony in the Epsilon Eridani system and colony ships are en route to Tau Ceti and G. Eridani. Each star system contains a habitable planet and is reachable with modern technology, which enables cryogenic suspension and subluminal travel at 80% the speed of light.


Abigail Olivaw — Sol, Luna

She rolled onto her side and reached up to squeeze her ear, answering the comm chime. Getting a few minutes to squeeze in a power nap was harder and harder lately.

“Sorry for interrupting you during your personal time, Madam President. We have… a bit of a situation,” Minula, her assistant, said.

“It’s… okay,” Abigail said. “My brain and body wouldn’t shut up anyhow.”

“Pardon, Madam?”

She chuckled quietly under her breath. “Nothing. Please continue. What’s the emergency today?”

“Sorry, Madam. We’ve received a comm from the Earth Forward Observation Outpost at Lagrange point two. I’ll patch them through.”

Abigail rolled off the couch and stood up. Vertigo hit, and she reached toward the wall of glass to steady herself. Her legs buckled slightly as the wave of disorientation flowed over her. She reached up and held her head while taking a deep breath. This dizzy feeling was odd… and yet somehow familiar.

After waiting a moment for her body to steady, she headed over to her desk and sat in the empty chair.

“What now?” she muttered.

Opening the drawer, she pressed her finger to a hidden button on the inside. The desk emitted an ambient glow and the glass wall overlooking Pavlov Crater became translucent. A voice spoke, “Security countermeasures are now in effect.”

The image on her comm flickered for a second, then an officer at attention appeared. The officer’s eyes went wide when she realized she was talking directly to Abigail, the President of the Confederation of Planetary Explorers (CoPE). The officer saluted her.

Abigail saluted back, her deep blue eyes locking into the patented stoic expression the media loved to focus on. “Go ahead, Lieutenant.”

“Madam President,” the officer stammered. “Approximately five minutes ago, visual scans detected six unknown objects or sh—ships in the main asteroid belt. They appeared suddenly. Subsequent analysis shows no prior approach vector. Each ship is oblong, over four kilometers in length, and is arranged in a circular formation. Assets have been diverted from inside the belt for recon. We should have more details in a few minutes from our Earth-orbiting telescopes and other Lagrange points. More distant assets should return data within an hour.”

The particulars of the scan appeared on her comm and her stomach tightened. Each object was identical in shape and apparent mass. They appeared to have a peculiar spectral signature and weren’t radiating any energy in standard visual wavelengths.

“One moment please, Lieutenant.” She reached up and touched the tip of her ear, muting and blurring her side of the comm. She spoke out loud to her A.I. companion. “Harold, are there any matches from these images or scans against data in the archives? Any material analysis or design consistency we can correlate against?”

Harold responded after a brief pause. “I’ve been checking since the data arrived, Madam President. There are no ships that match these characteristics in either the Inner or Outer Ring fleets. We’ll need additional spectral analysis to answer definitively, but there’s approximately an eighty percent match. These objects’ exterior material is close to that of the first contact probe. The design, however, appears to have no similarity nor engineering consistency.”

She pursed her lips and her eyes narrowed. This wasn’t happening. Her family had kept the discovery of the alien probe a secret for centuries. They’d been using the technology from the probe to bootstrap mankind toward the stars. They had only learned the consequences of using it after they’d opened that Pandora’s box, and now, no. They weren’t ready yet. This had to be a coincidence, nothing more.

Reaching up, she unmuted the comm and added Minula, her assistant, to the call. “Thank you, Lieutenant. Please keep me in the loop with any developments. Minula, call an emergency meeting of the council. Best to have everyone together to work this one. The last thing we need is comm lag leading to another incident like last year’s belter miner strike.”

“Command is ahead of you, Madam,” Minula began. “They alerted all acting Inner and Outer Ring representatives and they’re already in transit to the Pavlov Council Chambers. They should arrive within the hour. Their military liaisons will arrive shortly thereafter. Should I convene secondary council seats, as well?”

This should be fun. Did they really need military representation already? There’s nothing like going all in on the flop.

“No, I think we’ll have enough egos present to start,” she said. “Let’s keep them in the loop with intel but keep the membership and security clearance tight on this one. I don’t want this leaking to the press until we know what we’re dealing with. I’m going to clean up. I’ll need fifteen minutes and then we can head to chambers.”

“Yes, Madam. I’ll have your security team ready outside your quarters,” Minula said and cut the comm.

Abigail leaned back in her chair and sighed. The details for the next meeting started appearing in her peripheral vision. It included the ETA of each attendee and their complete bios. Before she reviewed those, she had something more important to do. While she hoped this was a false alarm, she needed to be prepared.

Touching her ear gently, she subvocalized a command to record a comm to her brother Zachary. She spoke aloud looking toward a tiny camera drone that rose out of the desk.

“Hey, Zach! I hope everything’s going well with the latest round of tests. I’m really excited to see the new numbers and changes you mentioned in your last message.”

She paused and looked away from the camera. She didn’t want to freak him out, so she needed to be careful in how she worded this next part. Speaking in code without giving away the meaning was hard enough, adding nuance was even harder.

“I got sideswiped today. Ran into someone here on Luna I thought I recognized, but I’m not sure they’re who I think they were. I’m sending you their pics. Take a look and let me know what you think. They appeared out of nowhere on that middle running track, you know the huge one. Geez, they were eerily familiar. That reminds me, I’m dialing my settings back to zero. Things are just getting too weird, and I need to start out clean. Stay safe. Keep your head clear, bro. We’ll speak again soon.”

The drone dropped back into her desk as she set-up the data feed with the new encryption protocol. After she double-checked everything, she sent the comm. It’d take nearly a week for the message to reach Zachary out in the Oort Cloud. That was only after being split into millions of chunks, embedded within thousands of planetary standard communication broadcasts throughout the system, and coalescing into a handful of hidden tight beam stations spread throughout Sol.

If she didn’t start sending the data now she’d regret it later.

She stood slowly, not wanting to get dizzy again. Confident the vertigo wouldn’t attack again, she headed toward the lavatory to clean up before the council meeting.

The light surrounding her desk faded as she walked out of the vicinity. An audible alert reminded her that communications were no longer secure.

She paused at the mirror as she passed by, smoothing the creases out of her jacket. She didn’t wear a uniform per se. Instead, she wore the same outfit every day to not crowd her mind with the nonsense of picking out clothes. A simple purple pantsuit and white blouse. They were extraordinarily comfortable and the color didn’t dominate the senses.

As the president, she always wore a piece of jewelry to compliment her outfit. Today it was a simple brooch on the right breast of her jacket. It resembled a carriage wheel from the nineteenth century trimmed in diamonds.

In the mirror’s reflection, she caught a glimpse of her desk. She swore she’d forgotten to close the drawer earlier, but it wasn’t open. Harold must have closed it.

She breathed in deeply and exhaled, trying to focus and remove all extraneous thoughts from her mind. The crisp, sterile, highly processed air made her long for the smells of nature, the smells of Earth. The damp woodsy aroma of moss and trees after a day of rain. Itchy pollen from a field of spring flowers. Mornings when she could lazily sit on her porch, enjoy the aroma of a freshly brewed cup of strong coffee, and watch the sun slowly rise over the North Carolina hills burning off the morning dew.

A smile crossed her face as she shook off the memories. She’d failed at emptying her mind and finding her center, but she was a bit more relaxed.

Checking her retinal comm, she confirmed that her security contingent was waiting outside the door led by Minula. A formation of four armed escorts, her normal band of troublemakers assigned any time she ventured out in public.

She turned and subvocalized the command to open the door. Striding into the corridor, she paused and smiled at each of her guards. “Good evening, all. Shall we?”

“Yes, Madam President,” they replied in unison.

She stepped forward, and they all turned crisply, heading toward the council chambers.

Abigail walked to the center of the council chambers and stood behind the podium facing the empty seats. She had a few minutes to collect her thoughts before everyone else filed in. Her comm flashed, notifying her new intel had arrived.

She subvocalized to Harold. “Call up that data. Was it the long-range image reconnaissance?”

“It was,” Harold replied.

The images appeared on her retinal comm. The crafts were clear and well-defined. Unlike anything she’d ever seen before. They were white and perfectly cylindrical. Spaced throughout their length were what appeared to be grooves segmenting each crafts hull. With no clear bow or stern, it wasn’t obvious what form of thrust propelled them.

“Was any analysis included with the images?”

“The only thing noted was that the crafts had no motion nor variation of any kind. They were all identical in length and external markings. The notes about motion don’t make sense though.”

“What’s wrong with them?” She pulled up the data. The numbers did seem odd, almost like— “They’re not rotating around the Sun. They’re fixed in that axis.”

“That’s correct,” Harold began, “and highly unusual. With no visible thrust, you’d think they’d have some movement, even minor, to counter the constant gravitational forces from the sun. These numbers seem to imply they are absolutely fixed.”

She sighed. Her shoulders were heavy. The pressure of the moment was building. Centuries of planning could be coming to a head. While these images weren’t definitive, they certainly weren’t any of the known CoPE designs. That much she was certain.

Bringing herself back to the present, she was suddenly aware that most of the representatives were either seated or headed toward their seats.

Her comm buzzed again, notifying her of a breaking news alert:

CoPE HOLDS EMERGENCY SESSION
“… CoPE is holding an emergency session of the security council tonight on Luna. According to one of our Inner Ring sources, representatives from all member planets were summoned to an emergency session this evening. It’s unclear what the council is convening to discuss, but rumors are swirling. Everything from loss of colonial contact with the Tau Ceti colony ship, to mounting tensions along the ring border with new battlecruisers threatening the ring ceasefire. You’ll have more details when we have them…”

She shook her head. The council couldn’t keep its mouth shut for one hour. One lousy hour. Was it really so hard to not spread rumors? Whatever level of civility she planned to run tonight’s session with had disappeared.

She subvocalized to Harold. “Never a dull moment. I assume you’re already all over this leak?”

He replied quickly. “Yes, Madam President. Current data suggests it’s either the Venus representatives not taking the council summon seriously, or members of the Earth UN contingent looking to garner stronger funding for Inner Ring security and their re-election. We’ll know more when my copies running within the media networks can safely share intel.”

She clenched her fists. “Fantastic, just what we needed. Are they ever not fighting for re-election? Don’t answer that. I already know the answer.”

She reached up and adjusted her brooch. The points of the wheel pricked her finger, bringing her back.

“Lock it down,” she subvocalized.

The doors clanged around the room as locks engaged and the lights overhead flashed. A bluish glow emanated around the perimeter of the ceiling as a computerized voice spoke. “Security countermeasures are now in effect.”

The sudden transition caught people off guard. A hush spread as the remaining council members scampered to their seats.

She cleared her throat and began. “I’ve asked you all here today to—”

“I demand an explanation,” interrupted a female standing in the front row, “and an apology for the blatant violation of security protocol. Heading into this meeting I was physically—”

Abigail’s comm identified the woman as an Earther from the South American contingent. She raised her hand, gesturing for the council member to stop. “I will not give you such an apology nor is it against protocol. As the President I have the right under the Ring Treaty of 2224 to perform searches of any citizen of Sol when threatened or if a conflict is either imminent or occurring.” She paused, letting her words sit for a moment and to judge the response. It seemed to have the desired effect. The council member returned to her seat and whispers spread throughout the chamber.

She glanced around the room, waiting for the commotion to subside. Her heart pounded in her chest as if playing a dramatic tune. The council, sensing she wanted to continue, finally relented and silenced their muttering.

She subvocalized a command to bring up the original scans onto the holographic projectors to her left and right and on every retinal comm of the council. “Representative Zhang, the leading member from Earth and the Inner Ring Alliance. Can you identify any of the ships in this image? Please remember Mrs. Zhang, you are under oath while in these chambers. Perjury while testifying in a Security Council session has dire consequences.”

Caught off guard, Representative Zhang’s eyes went wide. She exhaled, straightened her suit, and stood up. “No, Madam President. I cannot identify any of these ships.”

“Mrs. Zhang,” Abigail continued, “are there any secret ships with these or similar characteristics under development by the Inner Ring Alliance?”

Murmurs and commotion shot through the seated Inner Ring representatives. Mrs. Zhang leaned toward her colleague from Mars to confer. She nodded several times and straightened to face Abigail. “No, Madam President.”

“Thank you, Representative Zhang. You may be seated.”

Turning slightly, Abigail looked to her left toward the Outer Ring section of the chambers. “Representative Metis, the leading member from Jupiter and the Outer Ring Alliance.”

This time she allowed Mr. Metis a moment to rise before continuing. “The same questions and consequences for you. Can you identify any of the ships in this image, and are there any secret ships with these or similar characteristics under development by the Outer Ring Alliance?”

Without skipping a beat, Representative Metis replied. “We in the Outer Ring Alliance have no ships under development matching anything similar to the ones shown here.”

“Thank you, Representative Metis.”

He returned to his seat.

“So— it appears we’re at an impasse, council members. Neither Ring Treaty Alliance member has claimed ownership of these ships, and yet, there they are.”

There was silence throughout the chamber, something she didn’t expect. They’d usually be at each other’s throat right about now if they had intel against the other. Time to flip the table; she subvocalized a command and the new reconnaissance imagery replaced the old.

An audible gasp spread over the audience and several members of the council brought their hands to their mouths in shock.

“As President of CoPE, I’m executing the powers granted to me by the Ring Treaty Emergency War Powers Act and declaring a state of emergency. Members of the council, what you’re seeing is new visual reconnaissance from our forward probes. We don’t yet know if these ships are hostile or friendly, nor do we know if they’re extrasolar in nature. We must plan contingencies accordingly. We’ll bring together experts from linguistics, astrobiology, and military strategy to understand how to best engage them. We must also assess the impact this news will have on the general population and coordinate how we intend to release it. I don’t think it needs repeating, but for the sake of disagreement, I’ll do it anyhow. All the information you’ve heard since I executed the War Powers Act is protected and will result in a court-martial if leaked.”

Their faces were masks of shock and disbelief. So many years of confidence could be wiped away if these ships were alien. Their idea that humans were alone in the universe, shattered in an instant. The realization that not only could we not be alone, we might very well be small fish in a very large ocean.

She didn’t see anyone who seemed to disagree with her order, which was refreshing. Time to see if she could rally them a bit.

“Ladies and gentlemen. Times like these require that we unite as a confederation. We must pool our knowledge, our resources, and our considerable ingenuity during this time of emergency. As history has shown time and again, we can handle anything thrown at us, but only if we do it together as a united front. It’s imperative that we set aside our past differences and focus instead on the here and now.”

Abigail collapsed into the chair. She relished the thought of not moving, talking, or thinking for a few minutes. She’d been in a non-stop state of defusing tense conversations for the better part of an Earth day since she’d declared a state of emergency.

Her door slid open and Minula walked in. Without a word, she set down what smelled like the most amazing coffee ever brewed and then turned to exit as quietly as she’d entered.

“Thank you,” she blurted as Minula retreated. “That smells magnificent.”

She picked up a cup and poured herself a healthy portion. Sitting back, she took a minute to just relax. Her muscles released into the plush chair. The warmth of the coffee settled in her stomach. She could use some shut-eye, but she still had a few more things to take care of. Reaching up, she touched her ear. “Good evening, Harold. Wait… is it morning?”

“Good morning, Madam President. Your coffee looks wonderful, exactly the temperature you like it.”

There were times she swore Harold was in the room with her. He had full access to all the sensors and surveillance arrays at her disposal, which meant he had access to pretty much anything anywhere. He’d been her silent but vigilant A.I. companion since she was little. It was lonely being separated from her brothers and closest friends. She’d had many late-night professional, existential, and deeply personal conversations with him. Sometimes she forgot he wasn’t a real person.

“It really is delicious. Definitely what I needed. So, Harold, do you have any good news for me?”

“I’m not sure I’d categorize it as good news, but the detailed spectral scans have completed. We’re at a ninety-nine point seven percent match of the alien vessels material to the first contact probe.”

“Well, that is good news,” she chuckled. “At least I haven’t been making a fool of myself the past twenty-four hours putting CoPE into high alert. I’m not sure I’d manage another re-appointment with a blunder like that.”

She took another hearty swallow of the coffee. It helped her feel more herself.

“Anything else of interest? Any details on the leaks from the council members?”

“I’ve not detected—” Harold began.

A priority alert cut him off.

On her retinal comm, a live video feed of the unknown ships formation appeared. Something was changing. The viewpoint no longer showed the side of the ships. They’d rotated around their center and were now head on, still in formation. The text beneath the video showed that they were moving. It also projected an estimated velocity and the vector of travel.

Harold brought up a three-dimensional map of Sol with the projected path overlaid. She gasped, covering her mouth.

The formation’s course change brought them on an intercept with Earth.

Her heart pounded in her chest. No matter how hard she tried to focus, her thoughts went straight to her brothers Bradley and Zachary. This wasn’t fair; it shouldn’t be happening right now. They needed more time. She’d always figured they’d be like all the generations before them, a footnote in the Olivaw master plan carrying the secret to the next generation. Never the ones on the battlefield.

She leaned forward and placed her elbows on the table. She closed her eyes and ran her hands through her hair. Centuries of intricate and incomplete plans were coming to a head in the blink of an eye. Unless this was an alien race making an aggressive first contact, she was fairly certain they were from the Galactic Alliance— the alien collective that humanity had been hiding from for thousands of years. The originators of the first contact probe.

“Based on your heart rate, breathing, and your physical reaction, I’m assuming that you’re surprised by this outcome, Madam President?”

“Surprised, disappointed, angry…” she blurted as she slammed her fists on the desk. Coffee spilled everywhere. “I’d say I’m feeling the entire range of emotions right about now. Aren’t you?” She stood up and started pacing the office.

“Given the spectral scans and no other knowledge about the Galactic Alliance other than what we learned from the first contact probe? I’m not surprised, no. The Dark Nebulas we’ve witnessed and the warnings from the probe we discovered should have predicted this course of events.”

She shook her head. “We’ve sent hundreds of probes, Harold. Hell, I’ve sent thirty-two myself. We haven’t detected anything. Not a single hint of the Galactic Alliance nor any other advanced civilizations. As far as we knew, they were extinct.”

“It’s a huge galaxy, Madam President. We have many assets in motion, and I should remind you, we still haven’t found one of our probes used to gather intel from Epsilon Eridani. It’s been nearly three years since it should’ve returned. Plenty of time for discovery and retaliation.”

His answer hung in the room while she contemplated what to do next. She knew full well what warnings Harold was talking about. The warnings that her ancestors had discovered in the first contact probe.

“I didn’t have a choice,” she muttered.

“You’re right. You didn’t, but your ancestors did. They refused to heed the warning from the Galactic Alliance. They knew that stealing or sharing the alien technology would have consequences.”

She sighed. Her family had secretly struggled with these warnings for centuries, while they worked to guide humankind toward the stars. They strove to uncover humanity’s real history before Earth. To better understand their ultimate fate once the Galactic Alliance found them.

“I hate to interrupt, Abigail. But we haven’t much time. Shouldn’t you activate the next stage of the plan? The colonies may already be in jeopardy.”

Harold always switched from proper presidential salutations to her real name when he was referring to family. It was his way of reminding her of broader concerns and deeper branches of their strategy. She needed to reach out to her brother Zachary. He could set the broader plan in motion from the Wheel and would know what to do about Bradley.

“I was going to suggest that. Let’s start by sending another message to Zachary.” She sighed and walked back to the desk to sit down.

“Certainly,” Harold replied. A blue glow activated around her desk and a camera drone rose slowly from its surface.

Watching the drone rise, all she could think about was how much she missed her brothers. She hadn’t seen either of them in so long. Too long. Their father’s death had pushed them away, but she’d let it. She’d kept them at arms-length to protect them, she told herself. As far as she knew, this could be the last time she’d ever speak to them.

She nodded and the drone started recording.

“Hey, Zachary McCrackery!” Fighting off tears, she paused for a moment and looked away. Breathing in deeply, she exhaled and collected herself. “I’m sure you’ve watched the feeds by now and perhaps have reached the same conclusion as me. It seems that the spokes of our wheel are complete, even if we’re not ready. All that’s left is to let it roll and see where it takes us.”

She stared into the camera, letting time pass.

He’ll understand that, won’t he? She’d just messaged him yesterday and here she was sending another one. He’ll be freaked out.

A smile slowly grew on her face as tears ran down her cheeks. “I love you, both of you. And Zach… when you see him, tell him I’m sorry. Good luck! Both of you.”

Harold lowered the drone back into her desk. “That must have been hard. I’m sure they’ll be okay. They come from good stock.”

She struggled to wipe away the tears. Reaching into the desk drawer, she took out a tissue and wiped her eyes.

Satisfied with the cleanup, or at least as good as it was going to get; she re-centered herself for one more message. This one was for the colonies.


I’d love to know what you thought of these opening pages. Drop me an email using the email address at the bottom of the page or in the comments below.

If you’re looking for other chapters, here’s the list I’ve released or plan on previewing:

If you like what you’ve read, you can pre-order Dark Nebula: Isolation on Amazon today. It’ll be on sale until after the release on December 4th, after which it’ll return to its regular level. So head on over to Amazon and click pre-order to have it waiting for you in your eReader in a few weeks.

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