Excerpt - Thrive Gandhi Requiem
Thrive Gandhi Requiem, Book 7, Thrive Colony Corps Space Adventures.
Discover high-tech prizes, and horrors, in the series finale!
Tripping through terrifying futures, Ben Acosta strives to regain his home universe and timeline.
But is he truly the one piloting his lost starship? Or does someone else have an agenda?
Meanwhile on the home timeline, the Colony Corps limps along bereft of its star players. Led by Ben’s struggling son Nico and daughter Frazzie, the B team reopens the last known colony world of Gandhi.
With breeding habits like rabbits, Gandhi proves the most populous colony yet. Their tech solution to the terraforming problem can revolutionize the League! But their social mores combine the worst of all worlds, subjugating women and lower castes.
On a world where uneducated mothers raise a dozen kids apiece, can Frazzie make an impact?
And can Nico revive Sass and Clay?
Don’t miss the time-traveling, Bollywood spectacular series finale of Thrive Colony Corps Space Adventures!
Schuyler, Mahina, 2265 C.E.
+42 years, universe B
Ben Acosta exited the auto-rickshaw to stare at his house. Above all other buildings, including the city courthouse, he dreaded crossing this threshold most often.
Home. That’s supposed to mean something nice. Familiar, reassuring, welcoming.
The right side, originally Abel and Jules Greer’s bedroom wing, was missing. In its place, a peculiar construct of foamcrete-colored plates currently reconfigured itself, flipping incised pentagons, hexagons, and triangles, like a childhood origami finger game. From what configuration, to what, Ben couldn’t say.
After four decades away, his trees were taller. The new shrubbery in front bore giant gaudy flowers reminiscent of Denali. They dripped water from the brief rain shower, a mind-blowing event on the desert moon of his birth.
Remi Roy finished extracting his longer legs from the rickshaw. He frowned at the vehicle, which continued to sit there. He tried patting it in thanks. “Merci. Go now.”
The autocab did not reply. Ben’s mansion lay a mere kilometer from the original Schuyler city spaceport. He used to walk or jog from home to his ship. But now Merchant Thrive parked six klicks out. In the old spaceport’s place lay an edifice reminiscent of the above-ground sports arena on Sanctuary. Ronda California now. It offered a glassed-in dome roof, to keep out the…rain.
In his day, were there anything near the new spaceport except moon regolith, he’d catch a public tram inbound on one of Schuyler’s avenues, the spokes of its wheel-like street plan. But when he left the spaceport, he asked directions to the tram. A guard woman with wolf ears and furry snout summoned this conveyance, which brought them here. Clearly she was an Earthling.
Little of the sightseeing along the trip bore much resemblance to the Schuyler he’d left behind. Intellectually that figured. His first world of the future, Ronda California, looked utterly transfigured from when he transported the first batch of immigrants and icebergs to claim the abandoned planet, only a month ago on his personal timeline.
This was the plan though, this airless and waterless moon, terraformed into a thriving world. Born 86 years ago, as a child he never expected to see it.
His hometown was a different story, or rather his husband’s hometown. Schuyler ought to feel familiar. He glanced uneasily again at the wriggling wing of the mansion. Its panels currently extended several stories high. They flipped in silent slow motion above the tree-tops of the cypresses he planted himself when they bought the place…suddenly 65 years ago.
He turned back to the rickshaw and stuck his head in. “Is there something you need from us? Money? Directions?”
“You have no credit balance.” The vehicle’s asexual voice reminded him of his kids in middle school. “Records indicate that Benjamin Acosta vanished in 2222. He was declared dead in 2223, his assets inherited by John Copeland. He has agreed to pay the fare.”
After three days in the year 2265, catapulted 42 years into the future, Ben was growing rego tired of people informing him he was dead. Panhandling for money had also lost its charms. “Then why are you still here?” he growled at the rickshaw.
“I have not –” the rickshaw began, then abruptly interrupted itself. “Please remove your head from the window.”
Ben hastily withdrew. The contraption resumed motion at dead slow, executed a tidy three-point turn, and departed from whence it came.
“I like it,” Remi offered.
“You don’t like open sky,” Ben countered. Remi hated walking on Mahina, especially the vast empty flat of the spaceport. The open pale greenish sky, tiger-striped gas giant and its swooping rings, aroused debilitating agoraphobia in the dome-bred. Though today’s sky wasn’t the dust-laden one Ben was born to. Clouds hid giant Pono from view. He’d been so excited the first time he’d seen a wisp of cloud in this sky, in his forties.
“Hey, Ben.” Cope’s voice came oddly soft. “Remi.”
Ben turned to the front door, where his stretch-tall husband stood, Teke’s arm possessively around his waist. The physicist’s naturally bald head bore a denser collection of tattoos than a few days ago, when they worked together in orbit above Rayas. The slender Denali nearly matched Ben’s own height, highly noticeable against Cope’s original stretch height.
A few days ago, in that other year, Ben’s husband was shorter. He’d recently suffered the excruciating medical procedure to shorten his long bones, carving his gravity-stretched 225 cm height down to 190, or from 7-foot-4 to 6-foot-4 as Denali reckoned height. Ben still secretly longed for the taller man he married, so Cope’s tell-tale height made it no easier to remember, This is not my Cope. Remarried, his new husband’s arm around him underscored the point.
Remi hung back, looking to him to make the first move. Barely able to look at his…ex-husband in Teke’s embrace, Ben’s feet dragged to meet them. Tears flowed down Cope’s cheeks, and Teke’s eyes welled too. The perfumes of the flowering shrubbery spoke truth direct to Ben’s hind-brain. I’ve never been here before.
When Ben’s gait faltered a few steps shy of the doorstep, Cope shrugged off Teke to fling his arms around his lost husband. Ben’s reptile brain quite approved of the way he fit under Cope’s collar bone, as when they first fell in love.
“It’s so good to hold you again.” They both murmured variations simultaneously, as always when Ben returned from the stars. Teke stepped forward to greet Remi, as Cope drew Ben inside a house that bore no more resemblance inside than outside. The flipping wing to the right hummed quietly for machinery hurling concrete slabs. Its door past the entry hall stood open, and a panel ground past.
Cope paid this no attention, and led his guests into the great room, which no longer included a kitchen. Rich mauve walls, once off-white and minimalist, stood now jam-packed with vivid art from many worlds. The glass doors to the garden had been replaced by the faint glimmer of a nonphysical barrier. The back lawn had grown into a lush jungle worthy of Teke’s Denali roots. Ben startled as a gaudy red bird burst from a flowering corkscrew bush. A fluffy-tailed squirrel scolded the bird for making a ruckus. Humming insect song filled the space.
As though in a trance, he reached the shimmer-wall and tested it with a fingertip, feeling nothing. He stepped through onto the low back deck, under a new overhang to keep out the…rain. His narrow covered lap pool and luxuriant greenhouse were gone. The garage-turned-workshop modeled a panel-flip construction at rest, with vertical walls and geodesic dome roof of foamcrete. His magnolia tree remained, littering waxy white and purple blossoms onto a snaking cobbled path.
Teke likes to pace while he’s thinking. The house belonged to Teke as much as Cope now.
The others settled at the dining table, a new one, yet sporting the same whole-surface touch-screen computer Cope loved. A coordinating wall display cycled through family photos. Ben returned to sink to a seat across from Cope. He stared up at faces and places, most unfamiliar, but seasoned with people he knew. He forced himself to wrench his eyes away and tune into the conversation between Teke and Remi. Cope sat silent, gazing at him.
“– Keep a hand in,” Teke explained. “Cope retired, but the reconfiguring structures are fun. You want to see it in action?”
Ben waved him off, but Remi eagerly accepted a tour. Ordinarily Ben would jump to learn how the flip-a-wall system worked. But he longed to speak alone with Cope more.
“Were the years kind?” He swallowed. What a stilted question. His mind popped like firecrackers with a thousand questions of the world, but only one for Cope. Were you OK without me?
But of course he was. People survived a spouse’s death all the time. He said their daughter Fraz died at the same time. But Cope had three other children, a true vocation in engineering, plus the physicist as a new husband.
Cope smiled crookedly, eyes alight. “Some years good, some bad. When the Earthlings came and billeted in the house, they trashed the place. After that we remodeled everything. The Greers died defending Hanging Tree. We were there, hiding with the kids. The Calimex took Friendship Thrive. Lost Poisson defending Hell’s Bells. After that Nico surrendered. We quit arguing with Earth.”
Ben searched his eyes. “Bad year.” He could spend hours unpacking the history. Where to begin, other than, I’m sorry you faced that without me. “I caught the Earthlings part at the spaceport.”
His husband’s – ex-husband’s – voice grew husky. “The last year I saw you was worse. You, gone with all hands. Fraz the same, with Tiktok, Sass, Clay. Then Nathan.”
Ben had noticed his father Nathan absent from the display, but elected not to ask. Fraz and Texan never appeared either. Some resembled Sock, if his features altered with maturity, but more likely showed later Cope-Teke sons. “What happened to Dad?”
“Suicide,” Cope whispered. “He disabled his nanites when he received our wedding invitation. Felt he’d outlived you, Fraz, then lost me, and Texan… Never mind.
“Where did you go, Ben? Why did you take so long to come back? Need to stop somewhere and make fuel?” As if that could take more than a couple years.
They traded frowns of puzzlement. With difficulty, Ben squelched the burning desire to know what happened to his youngest son, Texan. “I flew straight from Rayas, 2222. I brought the fab-lab to Ronda California. When I arrived, the planet had turned green. You and Poisson weren’t there to meet us. Governor Poppy passed me to you to explain.”
Teke and Remi returned, Teke pausing to squeeze Cope’s hand on the table. He remained standing. “It isn’t them, Cope. Who are you really?” the physicist accused, looming above the seated Ben. Ben looked to Remi, who shrugged. “I told you the truth, Teke. We came out of the gate 42 years into the future.” He tilted his head. “And in some other universe. Go ahead, ridicule me.”
“You always had one hell of an imagination,” Teke agreed.
Ben raised a hand for him to halt. “You’re not my Cope. Aside from marrying baldy. My Cope got himself cut down, shorter. You and Dad both, the year before Rayas.” His gaze switched to Teke. “What told you that we weren’t yours?”
Cope replied. “Remi Roy died a few days ago. Big funeral plans at Roy Dome on Sagamore. Hero’s gala, aristocratic pomp and splendor.”
“Merde,” Remi muttered in disgust. “Why am I not with Ben? He cannot pilot and grapple at the same time! Not while the gateway scrambles his mind!”
“But you couldn’t,” Cope replied, brow furrowed. “Your leg was amputated when we walked the corridors, on the outside. Figuring out how to take MAD-C apart.”
Ben knocked his head back in realization. “But you didn’t walk those corridors with us, Cope. Not in our universe. Your legs were still weak from the operation. I nearly lost an arm. Remi broke his legs, but we didn’t lose any limbs. The auto-doc fixed us both.”
“Who grapples the fab-lab?” Remi asked. “If not me?”
They compared notes on the vanished crew of Merchant. The one missing Sagamore engineer was the only difference. Without Remi, Judge wrangled the grapples while Ben’s security guy Wilder took the co-pilot seat. Neither assignment played to the man’s strength, while he himself struggled with the mind-melting hallucinations of the gateway passage.
Eventually Ben placed a gentle karate chop on the computer table top. “I’m in an alternate universe, thrown forty-two years into the future. Question is, how to get back to my own timeline and save Frazzie. What happened? All Sass needed to do was wait a day.” His voice rose in exasperated anguish. Damn you, Sass! I entrusted you with my baby girl. Aden was a training exercise!
“She didn’t wait,” Cope confirmed. “They went in. Some kind of nanite started eating all their metal. And their own nanites. A nanophage, they called it. Sass and Clay went zombie without nanites, and Fraz was left in charge. By the time we got there –”
“No,” Ben interrupted. “Abel was Sass’s backup. Poisson was supposed to wait for me and the fab-lab!”
Cope shook his head. “Ben, have a heart. Captain Martin’s son Matthieu died with Fraz on Aden. We were on Poisson with him! Of course Abel switched places with us! But by the time we arrived, we got no answer from the planet. If we landed, our ship would die, too. And they were already gone. Ben, I tried.”
Ben stared at him in horror, while Remi spoke what he was thinking. “The Sanctuary lake – Misión now. Nanite-killer water.”
“Darren Markley was with us,” Cope agreed, naming the senior engineer above Remi on that first ill-fated trip to Sanctuary, a dozen years ago on Remi’s timeline. He and Darren’s nanites were destroyed by the dreaded lake. A far older man, Darren’s loss was grievous.
Cope continued, “Of course Darren thought of that. But what ship and crew do you send down to test the theory? To die if it fails? When Sass’s whole crew – hell, a whole colony died already. We don’t know that the nanite-killing water would work against Aden’s nanophage. And Ben, you left strict orders that no one else risk Aden. Sass either solved the mystery and came out on her own power, or she didn’t. We cried a river, but happens we agreed with your orders.” He dashed fresh tears from his eyes.
Ben let his own tears flow, and turned to gaze out the missing window-wall. The poignant rain fell again on his desert moon, bouncing leaves in the lush garden. Fraz would have loved it, and Dad. Ben too, but none of them belonged here. His heart ached and his mind came to a full stop as the alien raindrops plonked.
“We need fuel,” Remi told Teke softly. “Money. Help us return to our own time and place. The gate put us here. We must reverse this.”
The physicist blew out sharply. “Let’s all think about it. We have rooms for you –”
“No!” Ben stood abruptly. “I can’t – I need –” He staggered toward the front door and escape. Frazzie, Dad, I didn’t mean to kill you!