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Divers discover world’s largest underwater cave system filled with Mayan mysteries

In The Alien Element, Rakulo explores an interconnected cenote and underground cave system, looking for a way beyond the Wall that borders the edges of his world.

Although I used it for my own ends in a science fiction setting, this idea was based on my experience swimming in a Cenote in Mexico, and visiting the beautiful monuments at Chichen Itza.

Needless to say I was delighted to learn that in January 2018, divers discovered the world’s largest underwater cave system in Mexico.

Even more exciting? They believe it is filled with Mayan mysteries.

Now that’s my kind of story. The article on BigThink reads:

Mexican scientists discovered the world’s largest flooded cave system that extends an amazing 216 miles (347 km) and is filled with artifacts. […]

“This immense cave represents the most important submerged archaeological site in the world,” said de Anda”It has more than a hundred archaeological contexts, among which are evidence of the first settlers of America, as well as extinct fauna and, of course, the Maya culture.”

The current research effort took 10 months and proved that two caves systems – the Sac Actun System and the Dos Ojos caves are actually part of one continuous and, certainly gigantic, cavity in the Earth.

Even just the names of those caves fire the imagination.

I can’t wait to see what else they discover. Here’s a cool video that pictures the carving shown above as well as some other footage of the scuba divers who explored the caves to make the new discovery.

Reaching for the stars again!

I was hooked to YouTube when SpaceX went live the other day to announce the first commercial passenger in human history to book a trip around the moon.

Not long ago, the entire world was inspired by a race to reach the moon. Now, we can be inspired again! Humanity is once again reaching for the stars

But this time, while Elon Musk intends to start with the moon, his vision is much bigger:

“The purpose for SpaceX, the reason for creating SpaceX was to accelerate the advent of humanity becoming a space fairing civilization, to help advance rocket technology to a point where we could potentially become a multi-planet species and a true space-faring civilization.

Why? The reasoning is as important as the mission:

“As we consider the fossil record, the history of civilization, it’s important to bear in mind there could be some natural event or some man-made event that ends civilization as we know it. So it’s important that we try to become a multi-planet civilization, extend life beyond Earth and to do so as quickly as we can.”

If you ask me, though, it was Yusaku Meazawa’s part of the presentation that stole the show. We’ve known Musk’s plans for a while now, but Maezawa surprised me.

Even though the Japanese art collector and billionaire disparaged his own English, I had no trouble understanding his desire to contribute his wealth to something as inspiring as a trip around the moon and back.

And to take artists with him to share the experience? How cool.

I also happen to agree with both Maezawa and Musk that efforts like this are what will help advance space travel and take us one step closer to becoming a “multi planetary species.” No matter who is on that first rocket, I’ll be cheering for them.

Here’s the video of the talk if you want to watch it yourself:

Reading Asimov’s The Caves of Steel with Jeff Elkins

Say hello to Jeff Elkins, author of urban fantasy series The Defense of Reality and founder of online fiction magazine Short Fiction Break.

Today Jeff joins me for a discussion of a 1954 sci-fi mystery novel by Isaac Asimov, The Caves of Steel.

The Robot Series is one of the first introductions we have to Asimov’s most famous universe. Whether you’ve read the book or not, if you’re familiar with Asimov’s books or like science fiction or mystery books in general, I think you’ll get a few good laughs or a kick out of this discussion.

👇 We’d love to hear your thoughts on the discussion below. Leave a comment! 👇

Learn more about Jeff Elkins and his books at VagrantMisunderstandings.com.

Binge watching Altered Carbon with Jason Werbeloff

Sci-fi cyberpunk author Jason Werbeloff joins me to discuss the Netflix Series Altered Carbon, a breakneck cyberpunk adaptation that is action-packed, philosophically compelling, and riveting the whole way through.

Based on the seminal 2002 cyberpunk novel, Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan, the TV series follows an elite soldier named Takeshi Kovacs, who is put on ice and then revived in the future in order to solve the mystery of a rich man’s murder.

If you enjoy discussions of the themes and tropes of science fiction books and films, or the work of Richard K. Morgan, Neal Stephenson, William Gibson, and other cyberpunk luminaries, you should enjoy this interview.

Learn more about Jason Werbeloff and his books at at http://www.jasonwerbeloff.com/

The Ares Initiative, Chapter 3

Tomorrow, the third book in the Translocator Trilogy, The Ares Initiative, comes out, so I thought I’d give those of you who are excited about the upcoming release a chance to get started early with some snippets from the book.

I posted Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 already. Here’s Chapter 3…


by M.G. Herron

Chapter 3 – Hidden Below

Eliana gazed over a heap of tumbledown limestone that had once been the great stepped pyramid of Uchben Na.

The observatory that had crowned the pyramid now lay on its side like an overturned sarcophagus. The broad front stairway had split, chunks of the steps and the symbolic snake that adorned its edges thrown in every direction. Moss-covered walls had been shaken into their constituent bricks. And all around the sunken foundation, the weed-grown courtyard of the ancient stone city was littered with limestone chunks, from pieces as big as her fist to blocks the size of her torso.

More than just crumbling where it stood, the pyramid seemed to have been demolished as if from an explosion within, and then collapsed into an enormous underground cavity.

She hadn’t been here when it happened. None of the locals lived in the stone city, either. Not even Rakulo had seen it.

She turned to look at the young chief. “Tell me again what happened.”

Rakulo sighed, crossing his arms over his broad bare chest just beneath the welts of fresh tattoos, an intertwining, sinuous pattern that started on his upper chest and extended over his shoulders like a warrior’s protective pauldrons. They indicated his status as their people’s chief, like his father before him. The people had apparently been in a hurry to make it official, now that the internal strife among them had been settled once and for all, and the false god Xucha driven from their midst.

“I was in the village when it happened. The ground shook violently, and we heard thunder, except the night sky was clear. And we found the temple destroyed like this the next day. Honestly, Eliana, I don’t see why it matters. It’s better this way. Good riddance. My people are saying it must mean that there are gods out there, listening to our prayers, after all. That they saw our pain and struck down the temple of the pretender for us—the symbol of our suffering. That this is perhaps our reward for driving him away.”

It took her a while to piece together what Rakulo was saying. It was uttered in short, terse phrases in his native language, and she had never heard the phrase ‘temple of the pretender’ before. They had always called the temple by the same name as the stone city, Uchben Na, which meant “ancient mother” in their native tongue. A new name for the pyramid indicated more than anything how things had changed since her last visit. She almost didn’t catch the meaning.


By “pretender,” Rakulo was referring, she realized, to Xucha, the alien being whom his people had worshipped as a god. Rakulo’s ancestors had sacrificed their children to Xucha for countless generations, coerced through a system of social and physical retribution to do so. Some of the alien’s methods of control had been overt, like the hundred-foot sheer metal barrier surrounding this peninsula, effectively trapping Rakulo and his people within its confines. Other methods had been more subtle, like how children tended to fall ill when their parents went against Xucha’s will.

Eliana had witnessed one child die of this mysterious god-given sickness the first time she came to Kakul. She had been there when the child’s mother howled her grief to the amethyst sky, the lifeless young boy still clutched  in her lap. That child had been Rakulo’s younger brother, Tilak. So Eliana could guess how he felt about the ruined temple, though he did well to contain his anger, never once raising his voice. Xucha had only been out of the picture for a month, yet that control alone showed how the young chief had matured in the year since his brother’s death.

It was only through persistent opposition that his people had managed to throw off the yolk of their oppressor. Tilak’s death had merely been one loss of hundreds in their long drawn-out rebellion. She put her hand on Rakulo’s shoulder. “Okay.”

Eliana had only arrived to see the final wave of that rebellion come crashing down. Then she had been drawn into the conclusion, when Xucha kidnapped her and revealed his true identity as an ancient alien from a faraway planet.

She learned that his real name was Remethiakara. He had shown her a confused smattering of his own race’s history before Rakulo had snuck into the lair and caught them both by surprise, giving Eliana the opening she needed to escape, and being stabbed in the gut for his trouble. Eliana could see the jagged line below Rakulo’s ribcage where Xucha had sunk the blade in.

“What are they doing?” Rakulo asked, gesturing to Eliana’s team of anthropologists on the opposite side of the ruin.

Lakshmi, Ross, and the twins—Talia and Turner—paced around the edge of the pyramid, taking readouts from metal probes that had been stuck into the ground every fifty feet or so. They were asking their own questions—of the site itself.

Eliana pursed her lips. She didn’t have words in Rakulo’s language to explain that they were using a technique called an electrical resistance survey. Instead she just cut to the point of it. “They’re using the sticks in the ground to find out what’s beneath—rock, water, or empty air.”

He bobbed his head, obviously distrusting of their strange methods. “Water,” he said. “The underground rivers must lead here.”

“Probably,” Eliana said. “But what else might have happened down there that could have caused the sudden collapse?”

He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. “Does it matter?”

“If it does, I’ll certainly let you know when we find out.”

“No, thank you. I should get back.” Rakulo turned to walk away.

“Rakulo,” she called after him. “Have you thought any more about what I said?”

He paused, but didn’t look back.

“At least come visit my world. I think you’d like it there if you gave it a chance.”

His knuckles cracked as his hands made fists at his sides. “I can’t leave my people.”

She hesitated only a moment before responding. “They can all come, too.”

He said nothing.

“I know it’s hard to believe, but are we so different? You’re from my world, originally, I think. You should at least get the choice to return if you want to.”

He finally turned back to face her. “Kakul is my home. My people need me. We are still exploring beyond the Wall.”

“I know.”

“I would like to visit your world,” he said after a moment, his voice very low. “Maybe one day.”

“Have you found anything on the other side of the Wall?”

His eyes darkened. “Barren land, mostly. Dry, dusty, no plants except a few scrawny cactus. Not good for much of anything. It’s…” He hesitated a moment. “It’s very strange. I expected something else.”

“Well, if you change your mind, my invitation still stands.”

“Thank you. I must go now.”

She let him walk away.

• • •

This was the first time the Lunar Terraform Alliance had agreed to send her back as part of an official mission. They had two whole weeks here.

The first week had gone smooth enough. She introduced her team to Rakulo and his people, and spent a day or two showing them the lay of the land. Rakulo’s people seemed indifferent to their presence, although the gifts they brought were not turned away—candy and toys for the kids at first, and then basic necessities like matches, flashlights, reusable water bottles, pots and pans, needle and thread, and other practical things.

Eliana had figured that the only thing Rakulo and his warriors would be interested in were weapons, like the steel knife Amon had given to Rakulo, and the laser cutter they had used to make openings in the vast Wall. Knowing this, she gave Rakulo a large illustrated hardback book of military history that showcased all kinds of weapons and warfare. His eyes had grown wide with wonder when he first saw the illustrations inside.

A high-pitch buzzing cut through the air. On the opposite side of the ruins, Ross stood astride a broad slab of limestone wielding a stone saw, sweat glistening on his ebony arms. Lakshmi and the twins stood to one side, masks pressed over their mouths, as he touched the spinning blade to the rock. Stone dust billowed into the windless air.

The pitch of the noise shifted into a sickly croak as the blade hit a snag. It cut out a moment later and was slowly filled in with sounds of the jungle—birds singing, cicadas buzzing, and overhead the watchful silence of the pale violet sky.

Eliana cupped her hands over her mouth. “Everything all right?”

“No worries!” Ross called back. “Just a tree root or something. I think I managed to cut through it.”

Turner held out a hand and Ross passed him the saw. Then Ross tied a rope around the slab of stone, and with Turner and Lakshmi’s help, hauled it up to ground level and pulled it to the side.

Ross clicked on a flashlight and peered down into the hole he’d cut in the large slab.

“Boss,” he called out in his low voice. “Might wanna see this.”

Eliana hopped down onto the rubble pile and climbed across the uneven heap that had once been the proud and beautiful pyramid, watching her footing as she maneuvered around the fallen observatory. Somewhere under there, the blood-encrusted sacrifice stone was still buried.

This pyramid seemed to be built after the model of El Castillo, the famous Mayan pyramid located in Mexico back on Earth. Rakulo had shown her that, like the tropical rainforest in the Yucatan Peninsula, this area of jungle on the planet of Kakul was dotted with cenotes, great rainwater-filled sinkholes. A little research had confirmed her memory that there was a cenote below El Castillo, too.

However, El Castillo still stood on a solid bed of limestone. No one had had actually set foot in the cenote beneath it, and its significance was up to anthropological interpretation.

Lakshmi spoke when Eliana came near. “Took us three days to move enough limestone to cut here, but our measurements were correct, boss. There’s a small pocket of air right under here that didn’t cave in all the way.”

Eliana accepted a small flashlight from Ross and knelt down on the stone. The square he had cut was three feet wide. It opened into twenty to fifty feet of empty air below. Maybe more.

At the bottom sat a flat layer of water, dark like ink and covered in debris. Leaves and small sticks slowly drifted through the beam of the high-powered flashlight in a uniform direction, meandering around piles of limestone bricks where the foundation of the pyramid had broken through. She tilted her head and followed the drifting leaves to where they disappeared under a pile of rubble. Limestone bricks stacked up haphazardly against that wall, covering the opening through which the water still moved.

“Looks like Rakulo was right. Water. It’s flowing toward the pile of rubble on that side, so this is part of the underground aquifer that runs through this area. It’s blocked up now, although the water doesn’t seem to be gathering here, so it must be getting through.”

The water was shallow, maybe only a few feet deep. If the pyramid hadn’t collapsed, this would have been an ample space, maybe even a nice swimming hole if one knew how to access it.

“Anything else?” Lakshmi asked, her voice strained. Eliana could tell without looking that she was biting her nails.

Eliana leaned farther into the opening. “Not that I can see. I was really hoping…” Her breath caught in her throat when the ray of light skipped over a thick root system hanging down from the ceiling like a bundle of cables. She had almost missed it!

She traced the system up to the ceiling. It was thick, the roots wrapped up into bundles, and then the bundles tangled into thicker cords. They came out of the wall and threaded along the ceiling before going directly into the rock foundation of the pyramid itself.

She had seen root systems like these before—she suspected that they weren’t entirely natural even if they did seem to be alive. She had watched as Rakulo severed a set of them in the cenote they called the Well of Sacrifices, to disable the energy-consuming biotechnology that Remethiakara had planted there—that was how the alien had stolen nutrients from living things thrown into the water, and used it to nourish his offspring in their eggs and power strange machines in the tower outside the Wall where he lived.

“I don’t think that root you hit belonged to just any old tree, Ross.”

She traced the roots down with her flashlight—the bottoms dangled free. As she looked she saw that there were four such … plugs. She had no other word for them. None of the plugs connected to anything. They dangled far above the water’s surface, so they couldn’t get sustenance that way. If they were alive, Eliana knew she would have seen the same greenish glow that she saw in the systems Rakulo had destroyed. These ones were already dead, but not rotted out or deteriorated. As if they’d been severed only recently.

“I think something else was down here. Something big, and very much alive.”

“What could it have been?”

“Not a clue.”

Available June 1st, 2018

Order now at: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CA

The Ares Initiative, Chapter 2

This Friday, the third book in the Translocator Trilogy, The Ares Initiative, comes out, so I thought I’d give those of you who are excited about the upcoming release a chance to get started early with some snippets from the book.

I’ll post a chapter a day until Friday.

I posted Chapter 1 yesterday. Here’s Chapter 2…



by M.G. Herron

Chapter 2 – The Ares Initiative

Five days after Amon Fisk first spotted the alien spacecraft entering the solar system, three unmarked Black Hawk helicopters landed on his campus. The choppers thundered out of the north through a fading blue sky and came down inside the high barbed-wire fences. He’d forgotten to eat dinner again and the sight of their matte black hulls, strangely unmarked, made his empty stomach turn.

He glanced at Dr. Enzo Badeux, who stood next to him wearing creased khakis with brown loafers. His expression was unreadable.

Five days. It had been five days since he watched the spacecraft skip past Pluto and appear inside the orbit of Mars in the blink of an eye. Amon had been subconsciously bracing for impact ever since. That level of sustained stress diminished one’s appetite significantly. A dull ache had also appeared between his shoulder blades.

Due to what they had seen, everyone assumed the vessel was of alien origin. Astronomers at the SOLARPulse-1 detection array on the lunar base clocked the unidentified spacecraft traveling at nearly two hundred and fifty thousand miles per hour, over four times the maximum speed any human spacecraft had ever achieved.

The secret had moved quickly through the organization, but thanks to protocols put in place by Dr. Badeux after they first discovered the Translocator could transport people and objects not only to the moon, but with a little modification, to distant planets, they had managed to keep the information out of the media’s hands.

Keeping knowledge of the spacecraft away from his wife was a simpler matter. Seven days ago—two days before they spotted the spacecraft—she had taken her team back to Kakul via the Translocator to do more archaeological research on the stone temple. The Lunar Terraform Alliance had greenlighted a two-week exploratory mission, and apart from sending an encoded signal daily to let the LTA know they were safe, Eliana and her team were effectively cut off from communications.

Doubt gnawed at his empty stomach.

“Do you think it was a good idea to leave the exploratory team on Kakul?”

“I assure you,” Enzo said. “Eliana is perfectly safe. Signals indicate they are even ahead of schedule.” Enzo’s perfectly relaxed manner gave him an aloof charm that rarely cracked, even under the kind of stress he’d endured since two days ago, when they took a preliminary analysis of the spacecraft to NASA, who then ran it up the chain to the proper governmental authority.

Now, that authority was here, landing on his campus. The campus’s official name had been changed to the “Austin Lunar Research Center,” but since Amon had purchased the land and buildings over fifteen years ago for Fisk Industries, it was difficult to give up the habit of thinking that the sprawling grounds, Gothic buildings, and research labs belonged to him.

Old habits died hard.

“Who do you think is in charge?” Amon yelled over the roar of the rotor blades as a pilot centered the first helicopter over a bright yellow H surrounded by a circle.

Dr. Enzo Badeux shrugged. “I am merely the director of the Lunar Terraform Alliance, an international research organization. They, are the U.S. military,” he shouted back, as if that explained things to his American friend.

When Enzo noticed the serious expression on Amon’s face, he added, “They called thirty minutes ago to tell us they were coming, but failed to specify who was on board. I assume it was for security reasons. It is not my place to ask such questions.”

Amon grunted. “You Europeans are too concerned with protocol. Anyway, we’ll know soon enough. I hope they’re here to help.”

“I refuse to let anyone shut down the project, Amon. Do not worry. We have already received your president’s blessing.”

Amon gritted his teeth. That was a factual statement. They had received President Roscoe’s blessing to keep the Translocator operational, if under the watchful eyes of a battalion of U.S. Army soldiers with high security clearances. That was why the campus was no longer his. It was at the president’s suggestion (read: orders) that the LTA had transformed the former campus of Fisk Industries—his campus—into the military installation it was today, complete with a gate that could be defended easily, and guard towers spaced every hundred yards along the barbed wire-topped walls.

Unfortunately, that knowledge did nothing to assuage Amon’s fear that the arrival of this alien spacecraft was no mere coincidence. This problem was too big for a little barbed wire.

And it was probably his fault, too.

For that reason, the presence of the Black Hawks brought him a faint sense of hope—news had traveled up the chain to someone important. Someone who was in a position to take action.

But who? Was it the president? Was it someone he could trust?

Ten Marines rushed from the first Black Hawk and fanned out, their postures relaxed but alert. They wore black body armor and cradled carbine rifles in their arms. This was a secure area, yet they were still on their guard. Smart and cautious. The huge squad leader, a man with a white scar along the jutting edge of his chin, made a circular motion with one hand. The other two choppers came down, one on the left and one on the right.

A second squad of Marines indistinguishable from the first hopped out of the chopper on the left. Instead of rifles, they carried crates and heavy black duffel bags. The last two men to jump out of the chopper balanced between them a thin, transparent rectangle that Amon instantly recognized as a slab of tempered hologlass. That explained what some of the extra luggage was for. A holo that big still wasn’t an easy machine to port around.

The last man to get out wore fatigues and a matching camouflage patrol cap, but carried no weapon. His face was deeply tanned, lined with age, and perfectly inscrutable. He spotted Amon and Enzo and made a B-line for where they stood. A small retinue of assistants, also wearing military uniforms but carrying clipboards and phones and laptops instead of firearms, followed in his wake.

“This looks promising,” Amon said to Enzo out of the corner of his mouth.

Enzo lifted one shoulder in a nearly imperceptible shrug. “We’ll know soon enough,” he said, parroting Amon’s words back to him.

“Gentlemen,” the distinguished man said when he finally reached them. He spoke with a lazy drawl, dragging out the word and betraying his southern heritage. “Good evening. I’m General Joseph Wade.”

“Hello, sir,” Amon replied. “Nice to meet you.”

Bonjour, Général,” Enzo said. “Welcome to the Austin Lunar Research Center.”

Amon had to admit the new name had a nice ring to it. Everything always sounded so elegant coming from Enzo.

General Wade inclined his head. He was tall man, six foot three with salt-and-pepper hair in a high and tight, and a clean-shaven face showing a five-o-clock shadow. He wore no jewelry of any kind, not even a wedding band.

“Thank you, Enzo. Amon, it’s good to meet you in person finally. You’re…not as tall as I thought you would be.”

Amon barked out a laugh. It felt good to laugh. “I’ll take that as a compliment. We have much to discuss. Director Badeux was wise to suggest we prepare a room.”

The Marines insisted on sweeping the building ahead of the general’s entry. Amon hid his frustration while they accomplished the task. Was it not enough that the building was in the middle of a military base?

When they determined it was clear, Amon strode into the vast lobby of the headquarters building, then up the stairs across from the indoor waterfall, which burbled calmly, unfazed by the unusual activity. “This way, please.”

Amon led the group to a large conference room that could seat about fifty. Several tables, dozens of chairs, and a folding stage were all pushed against the left wall. The Marines swept the room and then took up posts outside the door and at all three of the building’s exits. The leader of the first squad of Marines returned to the conference room a minute later to join Amon and Enzo, the general, and his retinue.

“I’d like you to meet Major Bautista,” General Wade said. “He’s the platoon leader of the Ares Initiative strike forces, and will be coordinating efforts on the ground.”

Amon really looked at the major for the first time. He was a few inches taller than the general even, which meant he towered over Amon. He had light brown skin and a brooding All-American look about him—thick jaw, low brow, handsome in an I-can-pull-you-apart-like-a-rotisserie-chicken kind of way. A pale scar across the bottom of his jawline stood out from his skin. His left ear had the faintest trace of cauliflower ear, the result of too much time spent with your ear pressed to the wrestling mats. Major Bautista inclined his head to Amon and Enzo.

“The Ares Initiative?” Amon asked. “What’s that?” He managed to sneak a glance at the director. His unflappable expression of studied indifference was marred only by a slight crease between his eyebrows.

So he’s never heard of the organization either. That’s odd.

“In due time,” General Wade said calmly, brushing off the question. “Sorry to drop in on you like this, but it was a necessary precaution. Only a few people know I’m here right now, and I’d like it to stay that way. The public will know what you found soon enough, and then where I am and what I’m doing won’t be such a big story.” The general met Amon’s eyes. “I know you have questions. Just hold onto them for a moment longer. The mobile command center is almost ready. Tammy?”

One of the assistants had already begun to assemble the holodisplay and other equipment the Marines dropped off. The sheet of hologlass went horizontal over the conference table.

“Almost ready, sir,” responded an Asian woman in her late thirties. “Just need to seal the room and authorize the encryption.”

She set a device the size of a hockey puck on the table and clicked a small button on its side. Amon felt his ears pop as the room was sealed, like a bubble, from prying ears.

“Interesting,” Amon said, reaching for the device.

Tammy rapped the back of Amon’s hand with her knuckles.


“Hands off.”

Enzo and the general both smirked. Major Bautista just quirked one eyebrow slightly before settling back into stone impassivity.

Gadgets were almost irresistible to Amon. He itched to dissect tools and electronics, and as a wealthy inventor was not used to being denied. But he had learned better than to mess with territorial women—learned slowly, as the distant and fraught relationship with his wife continued to remind him of late. She still hadn’t forgiven him for trying to keep her from returning to Kakul.

He contented himself by studying the pocket-sized jamming device with his eyes. When the woman gave him a severe look, Amon showed her his palms. “I’m not going to touch it. Just looking.”

While they waited for the final preparations to be made, the general unbuttoned his jacket, laid it over the back of a chair, and seated himself at the head of the table.

“Ready, sir,” Tammy said.

“Excellent. Gentlemen, if you’ll join me, please. Tammy, go ahead and connect the call.”

Major Bautista sat on the general’s right, Enzo on his left. Amon took the chair next to Enzo. No one had mentioned a call, but he supposed he should have expected it. The lights in the conference room dimmed slightly, and the holo screen came to life with a soft internal glow, like someone turned a light bulb on and held it under water.

Precise figures of a dozen more people flickered into existence around the table. There was suddenly a stern-looking white woman across from Amon. A genial African man sat to her right, and a dapper gent with eyeglasses next to him. They kept appearing until the whole table was populated.

Amon recognized none of them. Each sat in their own chairs that were transferred with the hologram, as if they had been sitting at the table with them but invisible all along. The colors of their images were slightly paler than they would have been in real life, and their forms flickered just slightly when they moved. Even Amon, who had been working with sophisticated and expensive holos for over a decade, was impressed by the image clarity.

“Thank you all for your patience,” General Wade said. “As we discussed previously, I am now located at the Austin Lunar Research Center with Amon Fisk and Director Badeux, of the Lunar Terraform Alliance.”

A dozen heads inclined politely.

Amon put one hand in the air and waved at them. “Uh, hello. Didn’t know this was going to be a group chat.”

A few faces smiled or grimaced. Most of them glared. Amon put his hand down, swallowing hard.


“As you both know,” General Wade continued, addressing Amon and Enzo directly this time, “the Lunar Terraform Alliance was formed as a collective initiative with cooperation from over a hundred countries. However, the initial discussions that led to the alliance were not as smooth as they might have been. There were, shall we say, disagreements among certain parties about what the funding should be used for. For example, it was the opinion of the American leadership, as well as Mexico, the UK, Russia, and China”—the general nodded around the table to several different representatives—“that some of the funding be directed toward planetary defense.”

Amon’s ears perked up at the last bit. He’d asked Enzo once about using the LTA’s resources for planetary defense, and learned that it was a sensitive subject best left untouched due to strained international relations. He took a second to be grateful it had not been an original thought.

“But when agreement could not be reached on that subject, defense was left out of the alliance we ended up with.” This time the general held an open hand in Enzo’s direction.

“The smaller countries banded together to oppose the idea,” Enzo said, picking up the thread of the story with ease. “They worried that if things were to go wrong in some way—say, if tensions ramped up between the United States and Russia—they would get caught in the crossfire of any weapon systems developed by the LTA for the purposes of planetary defense.”

“Which I can understand,” General Wade said. “But once the can of worms was opened, we couldn’t very well ignore it. When our military strategists war-gamed the problem of planetary defenses with the capabilities we had at the time, it became clear that too many possible edge cases resulted in unacceptable outcomes. As a result, President Roscoe was able to convince a select few of those who were interested in authorizing LTA funds for planetary defense to form a separate, more covert alliance.”

Amon finally understood. “The Ares Initiative.”

“That’s right, Mr. Fisk. The Ares Initiative. Welcome aboard, gentlemen. This is the first time a Class 1 emergency meeting has ever needed to be called. I think it goes without saying that what we say here does not leave the room. Understand?”

Amon nodded.

“Good. And now, Amon, I believe you were the first to make the discovery. Would you please inform the rest of the group?”

All eyes turned to Amon.

Oh, Amon thought. Oh, God. He didn’t tell them. No wonder they hadn’t found his sense of humor very amusing. They had a good idea of the stakes, but it seemed to be up to him to relay the specifics.

The old fear of public speaking came back in a flash of cold sweat. He gripped the arms of his chair under the table, and wished Eliana were here at his side. Though things had been tense between them lately, she was the only one who truly knew his fear and could help him overcome it. He took a shaking breath and paused for a second, thinking of her warm presence, imagining her reassuring hand on his arm. Slowly, he grew calmer, and got the old fear under control.

Enzo seemed to notice Amon’s hesitation. He opened his mouth to stall for him, or maybe tell the story in his place, but Amon reached a hand out to grip his friend’s arm. “It’s my fault. I’ll tell them. They deserve to know. And if they can help then it doesn’t matter who’s to blame.”

Enzo gave him a look they had shared many times since the discovery of the spacecraft. The “I know it’s not your fault” look. Amon ignored his friend and continued.

“As I’m sure all of you know, the SOLARPulse-1 detection array went online at the Lunar Base last week. Dr. Badeux and I went up there to see it for ourselves. It’s got predictive modeling capabilities we’ve only dreamed of. It can map the dance of objects in our solar system and beyond, practically in real time. Part of the reason the array was built is to identify what we call Near Earth Objects, or NEOs. Usually this means asteroids and large comets. This time we discovered something else—an alien spacecraft.”

A few pairs of eyebrows around the table shot up. Most took deep, steadying breaths and leaned back in their chairs.

“What is the danger?” a dark-skinned man asked. Amon couldn’t place his accent specifically, but guessed by that and his brightly-patterned shirt that he was from somewhere in Africa.

“Well, we don’t know,” Amon said. “What we do know is that it seems to be on a course to intercept Earth in about eighteen hours.” One or two people cursed under their breath. More than a few crossed themselves as their lips worked in prayer. “It’s got a strange design, more like an insect than a spaceship like we think of them, and we can’t tell if it’s carrying weapons systems of any kind. It’s massive, easily ten times the size of our largest ships, and moving at a remarkable speed.

“It gets weirder. We don’t actually know how it got here. According to Stanis Rachmaninoff, the lead astronomer in charge of SOLARPulse-1, it ‘skipped’ into our solar system. The first time our systems detected the spacecraft was inside the orbit of Pluto. The next time, inside the orbit of Mars. It hasn’t skipped since then. Maybe it can’t, now that it’s so close to the gravity well of the planets.”

“How is this possible?” asked a severe blond woman in a suit tailored in a classic London style. Apparently the fashion had come back around.

“That doesn’t matter,” Amon said. “What matters now is that we take steps to mitigate the problem.”

The dapper-looking gent on the left across from Amon leaned forward, setting his forearms down on a table in his own office that was higher than the level of the conference table, giving him the impression of leaning on air. “But where did it come from? Who’s piloting it?”

Amon took a deep breath and sighed. “All good questions.”

The man licked his lips and glanced around the room before speaking softly. “We heard of the incidents at Fisk Industries, including what happened to your wife. Her publications have been noticeably absent of certain details. Is this related?”

“That’s not been confirmed,” Amon said, filing away their detailed attention to his wife’s career for deeper examination later.

“Amon, you have every right to be protective, but please make an effort to cooperate,” General Wade said. “I already told you, nothing leaves this room. I promise. Now, tell us what you know. It could be important.”

Amon clenched his jaw. Eliana was still on Kakul. He didn’t want to say anything that could jeopardize her safe return. But they had him backed into a corner, and truthfully, he wanted to help. He built the Translocator, which led to all of this in the first place. He couldn’t escape his responsibility now.

“When my wife went to that other planet, she encountered an alien known as Xucha. The natives think he’s some kind of god. Whatever he is, he’s dangerous. He proved as much to us when he commandeered the Translocator and came to Earth through a wormhole for a brief period of time. He stole the star shard from the lab here.”

Someone let out a low whistle from between their teeth. All eyes were watching Amon intently now.

“During that…encounter, Eliana went back through the wormhole to Kakul. This alien took her. We were able to rescue her with the help of the native warriors, some of whom she befriended. The alien’s lair was located and destroyed in that mission. Of that much I am certain. I thought he was killed, but we never found a body. So it stands to reason that this spacecraft could belong to him.”

“The other thing we know for certain is the timetable,” General Wade said. “As Amon relayed, the spacecraft will reach Earth in eighteen hours. But we can’t afford to wait until that happens. Our deadline for a decision is thirteen hours from now. That’s 0800 tomorrow morning.

“Thirteen hours!”


“How is that possible?”

Over a dozen pairs of eyes bore holes into Amon. He squirmed in his chair. Then they each turned away from the table and spoke to invisible people apparently standing behind them.

“What if the spacecraft is bringing an army?” the African man asked.

“What if it’s carrying a plague?” said the dapper gent.

“It could be carrying any number of things,” General Wade said in his cool drawl. “Let’s not create complications that don’t exist yet.”

“Do we have the capability to destroy it?” asked the blond woman in the London-style suit.

General Wade glanced at Major Bautista, who leaned forward and spoke for the first time. “Cruise missiles are in place and standing by. One of them is a nuclear device.”

General Wade looked back at Amon and Enzo. “Does the spacecraft have any weapons? Shields?”

“We don’t know,” Enzo said. “But I will try to find out.”

“Please do. I want to know everything we can,” General Wade said. “Speaking of which, Amon, I need you to do something else for us.”

“What’s that?”

“If your wife has any more information on this alien or his technology, we must know about it. You said she spent time with him, when she was being held captive.”

All eyes snapped to him. Amon bit the inside of his lower lip hard. With Eliana on the mission, he had been hoping to keep her out of this. Hadn’t he already put her life in enough danger? “She’s back on Kakul, sir. Doing more archaeological research. Her team isn’t scheduled to return for another week.”

“Amon,” General Wade said, rocking back in his chair slightly. “The fate of the world is at stake. Surely you can convince her to return early.”

Or let Earth get blown to smithereens and leave her safely on Kakul, he thought bitterly. Wouldn’t be the worst thing.

Amon glanced at Enzo as his stomach tied itself up in a complicated knot.

“Yes, sir,” Amon said, though he didn’t feel the certainty his words conveyed. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Available June 1st, 2018

Order now at: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CA

New book out June 1st! The Ares Initiative, Chapter 1

Hey there! This Friday, the third book in the Translocator Trilogy, The Ares Initiative, comes out, so I thought I’d give those of you who are excited about the upcoming release a chance to get started early with some snippets from the book.

I’ll post a chapter a day until Friday.

Here’s chapter 1…



by M.G. Herron

Chapter 1 – Shift

Remethiakara nearly ripped the mothership to pieces as he shifted into hyperspace.

The massive living spacecraft heaved, quaked, and hurled him to the floor of the bridge. His head cracked against a hard edge—the armrest of the pilot’s chair, most likely. The impact would have been enough to break his skull, but he was spared a life-threatening injury by the thin but durable fabric of his armorsuit. It was still enough to split the outer shell of the helmet and send him tumbling backward, end over end, until he struck against a circular doorframe.

Air was driven from all four of Remethiakara’s lungs as his body impacted the shapeshifting carapace that made up the walls of the mothership. He focused on trying to regain his breath even as blood filled his mouth from a cut on his tongue. The ship continued to rattle around. He couldn’t make out anything but blurry shapes, streaks of brownish-purple, an azure luminescence flecked with black. Red spots crowded his vision as the multiplied gravity of the ship’s acceleration flattened him against the wall with such force that his organs lurched inside him.

He managed to choke down one ragged breath. Then another. It felt like breathing with weights on his chest, but it kept him conscious. A ghoulish sound like flesh being rent from bone suddenly crowded out the other sensations. His whole body tensed.

At first, he thought it was one of his own limbs breaking. Then he realized it was happening not to him, but to the mothership that carried him. Due to their truethought connection, her autonomous neural system screamed in his mind—a sharp sound that he felt as much as heard, a small needle being gouged straight into his eardrum. He closed his eyes and held on as an aft compartment was torn away from the tail of the ship, shredded as it passed through the hyperspace continuum, and scattered through a billion miles of space.

He felt the ship’s pain as his own pain, but muted, distant. The purpose of the pain was to allow the pilot—in this case, him—to identify the breach and respond quickly. A nanosecond after the aft compartment was torn away, Remethiakara hurled a sharp mental command at the mothership’s receptors. The living vessel’s vascular system clotted to seal the breach, preventing the rest of the atmosphere from bleeding out.

He did not need to see it to know it happened. He felt it as a flash of physical knowledge—similar to the way it felt when one of his servitor bots stitched up a deep cut in the soft flesh at the small of his back.

The pain faded to a dull throbbing as the breach was finally sealed. The sense of panic and urgency that had been transmitted to him with the sensation subsided. And the mothership finally achieved equilibrium with the hyperspace continuum into which he’d thrust her.

When the quaking rumbled down to a low vibration, and the artificial gravity returned to normal levels, Remethiakara sagged to the floor. There had been a high probability that forcing the ancient mothership into hyperspace would tear him and the spacecraft to pieces. Getting away with a lost limb was perfectly acceptable—even to be expected. But he also knew that were he to try the maneuver a second time, he would certainly not make it through alive.

Not that there was enough juice left in the star shard to make another shift.

He only had one chance to get this right.

Remethiakara pushed himself to his feet and surveyed the rest of the damage the shift had caused.

One of the fragile eggs containing his precious offspring had jostled free of the stasis pods where he’d put them for safekeeping. He hadn’t been sure how much of the ship would hold up in flight, and decided to keep them close. But they were too large and awkward at this point in their gestation for the stasis pod lids to close, and the straps he’d used to secure them had come loose in the turbulence.

The eggs shouldn’t be anywhere near the low gravity of space travel this late in their development. But what choice did he have? After the savages had swarmed through the Wall and overwhelmed his defenses with the help of more advanced Earthlings and their quantum teleportation device, he’d been forced to discard the old plan to ensure the preservation of his race.

Remethiakara bent down and gingerly ran his hand along the broken shell of the cracked egg—then jerked his hand up to his helmet, now gashed in a similar way. He swallowed his panic, jerked the busted helmet off over his head, and took deep draughts of air through his slitted nostrils and thin, lipless mouth.

Another of his children had been killed, this time by his own actions. That knowledge caused an inescapable feeling of guilt to clawed its way up from deep in his lower stomach. Globs of half-formed flesh were visible through the crack in the egg, floating in a thick amniotic fluid. He could see the curve of what might have been a neck. What a terrible waste. What a tragic loss.

He closed his eyes and looked away.

The young leader of the savages had destroyed four eggs. His own carelessness had ended the life of another. There were only four left.

With shaking hands, Remethiakara checked the remaining straps. Coming out of hyperspace might be rockier than going into it, and he couldn’t take any chances. These four eggs were his last chance to uphold his duty, his last chance to ensure the survival of his race, a nomadic species who had wandered the stars since the destruction of their native world.

Remethiakara rose to his feet abruptly and strode back to the center of the bridge, where a column of blue light in front of the pilot’s chair held a large chunk of meteorite suspended in its beam. The sable geode was so black that, from a certain angle, it looked like a hole in the light rather than an object suspended within it.

In reality, it was an ancient source of power called a star shard. Wrought by the intense heat of exploding stars, his race had been using their concentrated energy to power their motherships as they made way from planet to planet for aeons.

This particular star shard Remethiakara had recovered by tracking a human woman who had shown up on the planet where he’d been living. He used the star shard she brought with her to create a singularity that took him back to Earth.

There he learned that a group of intelligent Earthlings had managed to harness the shard’s energy with their own transport technology…but that they didn’t seem to grasp the true extent of the shard’s power. Their tech was inefficient, their defenses thin. Eventually, Remethiakara’s long patience had been rewarded. He cut through them easily and reclaimed the star shard as his own.

But then they had killed his children and destroyed the place he had called home for the last thousand years.

They would pay for that.

Remethiakara tossed the busted helmet aside and reached out with his gauntleted hands. The blue light bent and crackled, shooting sparks into his fingertips. He manipulated the beam. The display inside the helmet would normally show energy readouts. Without it, he cast the readouts directly into his cornea. An array of numbers and symbols no Earthling would be capable of comprehending superimposed themselves on his vision. After spending a moment tweaking the complex mathematical formula in his mind, he clenched his jaw.

It was as he suspected. The ship was just too large to expect anything else. Raising the mothership from what was meant to be the living vessel’s final resting place on Kakul, traveling through the planet’s atmosphere, and shifting into hyperspace had taxed the star shard to such an extent that its power was already nearly depleted.

If he was lucky, there would be enough energy left to complete his journey and little, if any, leftover. Was it enough to construct an incubator for the eggs until he could establish a more permanent settlement? He hoped so.

Remethiakara thrust his hands back into the blue-white beam of light and checked on the course of the jump. Noting that the two planets had moved away from each other more than the ship’s systems had predicted since the last time this ancient mothership had journeyed between the stars, he made some adjustments which took the unexpected orbital drift into account.

All Remethiakara could do after that was wait. He passed the time by monitoring the energy drain on the shard, and carefully feeding the eggs through a complicated manual link with the living mothership, using what little power the shard could spare to sustain them.

The end of the jump felt like it would never come.

Then it seemed to come abruptly.

He prepared better this time, strapping himself in beside his eggs.

The mothership quaked and lurched, throwing the metallic sphere of his last servitor bot across the bridge and smashing it to uselessness against the doorway.

The floor rumbled and there was a change of speed, like stepping off a fast-moving vehicle onto solid ground.

Remethiakara braced, then slowly relaxed as nothing happened for a moment. Was that it?

He unbuckled himself and thrust his gauntlets into the beam of light. The walls of the mothership turned transparent—or rather, they simply transmitted through the vascular systems what the outer membrane was experiencing visually, so that it seemed as if he could see directly into the black emptiness of space from deep within the heart of the mothership.

The velocity shifted abruptly again. This time he was expecting it, and it merely hurled his body back into the pilot’s chair, piling seven or eight gravities of force upon his chest. He fought to remain conscious as a cold blue planet blurred past on the starboard wall, followed by a massive orange one with an enormous ring system.

Then the spacecraft went completely still as the vessel exited hyperspace.

He slumped down, his chest heaving.

And felt his slitted nostrils and lipless mouth expand into a helpless grin.

Despite the hiccup in the landing, the ship had ended up not only in the right system, but almost exactly on target. Off by only a few hundred thousand miles. Not bad for a derelict mothership that was six thousand or so years past its prime.

Now the starboard wall was filled with the great red curve of a desert planet receding behind him.

Meanwhile, directly ahead, a tiny green and blue speck was just becoming visible in the distance.

He stood there for a long time, smiling, as the planet known as Earth slowly grew larger in his viewframe.

After another day it was the size of his fist.

It wouldn’t be much longer now.

If his brief encounters with modern Earthlings were any indication, they had already made note of his ship and were now making their own preparations.

He suspected that his arrival would not be taken lightly.

Available June 1st, 2018

Order now at: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CA

Gods in science fiction with Steve Statham

Stoked that I got to have Steve Statham on to talk about gods in science fiction. Steve’s a great guy and he writes a hell of a space opera.

Our conversation today was sparked because I read his book, Gods and the City. The topics we covered range from mythology to history to our obsession with gods in storytelling.

We also talk about the characters in Steve’s book—every day people who are called upon to defend humanity—and how they rose to the challenge.

What a fun conversation. A few great book recommendations for you in there, too. Hope you enjoy it.

Learn more about Steve at www.stevestatham.com and buy Gods and The City on Amazon.

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Join M.G. Herron’s SFF book club!

If you aren’t already signed up for my emails, you might not know that a few weeks ago I launched M.G. Herron’s SFF Book Club, introducing weekly book recommendations and adding a Facebook group for discussion.

I had been searching for a way to give back to my readers and fans. Since I am only able to publish 3-4 major books per year right now, this is also a way for me to offer you even more entertainment and value between my book launches, while I’m working on new stuff.

So if you sign up for my book club now, you’ll not only know when I have new books out, but you’ll also get:

  • My starter library of science fiction/fantasy stories
  • A personally curated book recommendation every Friday
  • An invite to the Facebook group
  • First dibs on exclusive content I create for my readers

I’m even planning to do host Facebook Live book club discussions, so follow me on Facebook to be notified when those happen.

Hope to see you in there!