Title: Under Strange Suns
Author: Ken Lizzi
Publisher: Twilight Times Books
Amazon / B&N / OmniLit / Twilight Times Books
About the Book:
In the tradition of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars,Under Strange Suns brings the sword-and-planet novel to the twenty-first century. War is a constant, and marooned on a distant world, former Special Forces soldier Aidan Carson learns there is nothing new Under Strange Suns.
This was going to change the world.
The realization was stunning, almost blinding. Doctor Brennan Yuschenkov stared vacantly at his vanity wall. He did not register the BS from Stanford, or the Master’s and PhD from M.I.T. The award certificates and the grip-and-grin photographs of his smiling mug matching the formulaic toothy expression of whatever politician or astronaut or CEO he was posing with were so much static. He didn’t realize it, but the grin now stretching his leonine features out-classed every framed example he was failing to notice.
When he snapped out of his fugue he finger-stabbed a speed dial button on his desktop telephone. “Azziz, got a minute? If not, make one. Bring your notebook, this is big.”
Yuschenkov rose from his chair, surprised at how stiff his body was. He paced his office, waiting for his graduate assistant, Mehmet Azziz, to reach the faculty offices. Yuschenkov had to share this, and immediately. He could feel a creeping fear that he’d forget a piece of the puzzle. Or that he was wrong about some aspect. And who better to ask than Azziz, the man with the best grasp of particle physics on campus? Next to his own, of course. Yuschenkov muttered to himself, gesticulating, pausing on occasion to allow the Cheshire Cat grin to reoccupy his face as the beauty of the idea reasserted itself over the fear.
“Doctor Yuschenkov?” Azziz said, having stood unnoticed in Yuschenkov’s office for several seconds.
“Azziz, didn’t hear you there. Damn, you’re a sneaky one.” Yuschenkov wrapped his research assistant in a bear hug, his face pressed against the narrow chest of Azziz’s lanky frame, the young man’s beard bushing atop the physicist’s head. They broke apart, Azziz stepping back with evident discomfort. “Sit, sit.” He dropped back into his desk chair while Azziz took one of the guest chairs.
“I won’t say it turned out to be surprisingly simple, because it’s not,” Yuschenkov said. “It’s complex, very complex, as you’d expect. But I think it will be surprisingly inexpensive. And that…well, that is going to make a difference.”
“Yes, sir,” Azziz said. “If you don’t mind my asking, Doctor Yuschenkov, what is very complex, surprisingly inexpensive, and going to make a difference?”
“What? Oh, of course. FTL, Azziz. FTL. Faster. Than. Light. A propulsion system. A spaceship drive. FT-fucking-L.”
“Sir? Is this another prank? It took me a week to get my car disassembled and out of my apartment last time.”
“No joke, Azziz. I’ve cracked it. Now take down some notes. I don’t want to lose this. See, we weren’t considering quantum entanglement as it pertains to gravitons…”
Azziz wrote as Doctor Yuschenkov spilled out the pieces of his theory in a disjointed, haphazard fashion: the controlled entanglement of gravitons, the directed acceleration of one half of the pair, the attraction/feedback reaction shifting phase to the tachyonic at just faster than light, the pulsing incremental increases beyond. Theoretical upper limits. Imaginary mass. Relativistic effects. The impressive size of the quantum-field bubble the drive was likely to generate. Azziz took it all down, assembling the jumbled pieces into a coherent picture as he did so, his handwriting growing sketchier as increasing comprehension burgeoned into excitement.
Later, notebook pages scattered across Yuschenkov’s desk, the whiteboard opposite the vanity wall inked near black with scrawled calculations, the two men slumped again in their respective chairs.
“This will change everything,” Azziz said.
“Bet your ass it will. How things will change, that’s the question. I mean, this would be big even if building a drive was so monstrously expensive and difficult that it would require the combined gross national product of half the First World. But it’s going to be cheap. Relatively. Corporation level cheap, and not only multi-nationals. Think about that.”
“Yes, sir. The prospect raises any number of possibilities.”
Azziz’s words held a positive ring, but a frown briefly marred Azziz’s forehead. He considered Azziz, wondering if this was the man to assist in the birth of this brave new wonder. The man was acquiescent to a fault. Always “yes sir” and “glad to help sir.” He wasn’t precisely obsequious, not an ass-kisser, but nonetheless quick to comply. Very much the opposite of Yuschenkov’s demeanor back during his own sentence as a graduate assistant – “Hotheaded” he discarded as hyperbole, but “willful” perhaps captured it. Funny, so much of his work was solitary. Lonely contemplation. The “eureka” moment a completely individual achievement. Yet to proceed beyond that was going to require interaction with others, each step of development creating a widening circle of involvement. So if he wanted his work to expand beyond the confines of his own skull he’d have to start making allowances for individual differences.
The FTL was important, more so than he could comprehend at the moment. Shouldn’t he ensure a smooth working relationship with his assistant? Still, the nagging doubt lingered. Would he jeopardize the theoretical and developmental work by yoking himself to such a diametrically opposite personality? On the other hand, maybe that is precisely what he needed to do. Yin and yang and all that.
“What sort of possibilities hit you first, Azziz?” he asked, reclining his chair and interlocking his fingers behind his head.
“Well, broadly: mining, exploration. Colonization.”
“Colonization? That assumes exploration locates a habitable rock. Can you imagine that? ‘Homestead Planet X, new headquarters of the Nabisco Corporation.’”
“Yes, sir, though I presume state actors would be preeminent. Perhaps easing population pressure might ease geopolitical tensions?”
“What, convince North Korea to emigrate en masse, settle Planet North Korea? Or a moon. People always seem to ignore the habitable possibilities of satellites. The twin Marxist-Maoist Moons of Mu Cephei?”
“Planet Kim, Worker’s Paradise, Antares Local 501.”
Yuschenkov laughed. Azziz essaying a joke was so unexpected that the surprise elicited laughter even though the joke hardly deserved it. “Well, why not. I think the drive is going to be cheap enough for even a starving gangster regime to slap together a ship. And the Norks do have basic heavy lift capabilities. Even if they didn’t, the rest of the world would probably be happy to chip in, buy ‘em a one-way ticket. But I don’t know. Geopolitical tension, as you put it, is chronic. You can’t just alleviate a symptom. Reduce the population by half, the remainder are still going to be at each other’s throats.”
Azziz didn’t reply. Yuschenkov eyed him, momentarily considering letting the subject drop, but tact as a virtue adhered only lightly to him. “And what about your – what’s the polite way to phrase it now – co-religionists? The misconstruers of the Religion of Peace as the doctrine is properly understood by wiser heads such as yours. Will they be founding New Mecca, facing east five times a day – toward Betelgeuse?”
Azziz flushed, seeming to shrink within his buttoned-up Oxford shirt and ill-fitting blue blazer. “Did you miss the sensitivity seminar again this year, Doctor Yuschenkov?” He cleared his throat. “I cannot speak for every member of a vast, scattered, and divided community, sir. Still, I would hazard a guess that those more violently zealous in their beliefs would be unlikely to leave.”
“Sorry, Azziz. Wrong of me to put you on the spot like that. I don’t always weigh my words before I let them drop. Right. Shall we pick this up in the morning, or shall we start sketching in how to mount the drive to a spaceship?”
“I’ll order some pizza, sir. No pepperoni, sorry.”
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