Rockets, Rhymes & Recipes

Coming in 2018 …

… a novel about presidents and coup d’etats, Mars colonists and aliens, death and resurrection, volcanic recrudescence, and a few metaphysical speculations … and, of course, a recipe or two.

Under construction, enter at your own risk! Hard hats required.

Here are working versions of the cover, prologue, and first two chapters.

Logan Styles, President of the United States, starts a project to colonize Mars as a panacea for an ailing nation in the grip of a depression. To punctuate his commitment he pledges to become the first president to visit space. As he organizes his program, political enemies array against him. Complicating his efforts, he finds himself in strange dream conversations with a man named Allen, causing him to question his own sanity. After he launches into orbit, his political foes stage a coup d’etat and launch another space shuttle to capture and kill him. He saves his crew by sacrificing himself, but as he prepares to die in space he finds himself in a final conversation with Allen.

Sixty years later the long-delayed first colonists to Mars—two married couples—orbit high above the planet awaiting an opportunity to land and occupy their new home, Tharsis Cradle. A disaster strands them, depletes their life support, and cuts off communication with Earth. Death inevitable, they plan suicide, but their plans go awry in a strange way involving Allen and sixty-years-dead Logan. They come to regard Allen as a benevolent god, trusting their fate to him, but soon learn their trust is misplaced. The colonists descend to Mars, but a disaster leaves only one of them, Alyssa—a lonely, pregnant woman—to stumble towards camp in the face of incredible odds against survival.

Tony Taylor weaves vivid characters and realistic science and engineering details of Mars colonization into a larger surrealistic perspective involving aliens, the Fermi Paradox, death, resurrection, and metaphysical speculations on consciousness and the direction of evolution. He even manages to leaven the story with wry whimsical humor throughout.


Sample

Prologue

A long, long time ago—about fourteen billion years more or less—the universe banged into existence. Immediately—commensurate with the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum physics—our baby universe began dividing into innumerable sister universes weaving diverging courses through meta-time. One of these would become the home of The Author.

This narrative is not about that universe or another containing Harris Mitchel and an asteroid named B, nor a somewhat different one containing pilot Steve Mylder who counted air combat missions in a brutal war. It is about a universe containing neither Steve, Harris, nor B, but housing a president Harris once met.

In that baby universe, in the beginning, great clouds of gas collided, mixed, collapsed, and gave birth to galaxies and stars. Stellar systems formed consisting of mother stars surrounded and embraced by loving children: planets, asteroids, satellites, comets, and other odd siblings. In some of these, life ignited and began a long journey towards an unknown end, obeying Evolution’s holy trinity of Replication, Variation, Selection in a never-ending struggle to make order out of chaos and bring forth consciousness from unconsciousness—thus continuing a never-ending and hard-fought battle with the Great Satan, Entropy, who strives to make disorder from order.

A long time ago—about one billion years more or less—in one of these stellar systems in one of these galaxies, this evolutionary course resulted in the ignition of consciousness. A species came into existence able to control and direct its environment. It expanded relentlessly outward, filling all available evolutionary niches—to the nearest planets, to the nearest stars, to the nearest arms of the galaxy and beyond.

A while ago—about one million years more or less—another species in another stellar system also leapt into consciousness and began exploiting its technological prowess to expand into every here and there of its birth planet, eventually casting an avaricious eye on its neighbors.

A short time ago—about one thousand nine hundred and fifty years after the birth of a significant religious figure—a member of these later developed beings, a physicist named Enrico Fermi lunching outdoors with his colleagues on a warm sunny day, raised his gaze to the sky and shrugged with upturned palms, exclaiming in puzzlement, “Where is everybody?”

He meant, presumably—with all the possibilities of advanced beings long preceding his own species—Where are all those alien beings? Why haven’t they overrun this corner of the galaxy, paving it over with a galactic parking lot … and sadly, paving over his own less advanced and defenseless sapient civilization?

Where is everybody? asked Enrico. There was no answer. For this devilishly speculative and unanswered question, he was honored in the naming of a paradox, namely the Fermi Paradox.

An even shorter time ago, a leader of these less advanced and defenseless sapient beings—a president—announced a program to colonize a nearby sibling planet. The planet was named after Ares, a god of war also known as Mars.

Yesterday—meaning an infinitesimal time ago Geologically speaking (or, more appropriate to a planet named after Ares, Areologically speaking)—one of the three colossal Mars volcanoes riding atop a gigantic uplift named Tharsis Bulge awoke after a brief snooze of a hundred million years, more or less, and began streaming long buried gasses into the planet’s sparse atmosphere. The first colonists-to-be gazed down in awe upon this curious spectacle from an orbit far above.

•••••

 

—1—
The Rocket’s Dread Blare

Rockets, rhymes & recipes

Ribbons flutter in the breeze

Flaring colors, feelgood times

Rockets, recipes & rhymes

I must be crazy, Logan thought. Acceleration pressed him into the seat; a low-pitched rumble shook his teeth. Two million people had come to see him rise into heaven on a pillar of flame, the rocket’s red glare, shuttles bursting in air …

Two million! Ain’t it nice to have so many well wishers. Probably came to see us crash and burn. Brought along hot dogs and marshmallows to toast over the fire.

John Davies had pushed every available press secretarial button to get maximum publicity for this—stunt. That’s what the press had called it. Cleet Williams in that last press conference, in his friendly but insinuating manner, had asked, “Mister President, this is a stunt, isn’t it? If you’re honest, what practical purpose does it serve?”

Logan Arron Styles had answered in lofty phrases about how this was an important symbol, an act that would open doors to the future, but had thought as he spoke, Yeah, you got it right, Cleet, it’s a stunt. And it’ll get me a lot of votes—if it doesn’t get me killed.

The Kennedy began the roll program, turning to align along an imaginary black line—the target azimuth—painted over the cold blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

Posthumous votes don’t get counted.

Could he have backed out? No. He’d committed when he uttered that phrase at the Academy: “I will be your first President to visit space.” Failure to deliver on that one simple promise, short of a clear-cut technical problem, would have constituted political suicide. A minute ago he could have shouted through the intercom to hold—and they would have held, no questions. His Presidency would have been over then and there.

But he had not. He’d smiled to his right at Micki Stalton—mission specialist—strapped in her seat beside him on the flight deck.

If you’re gonna die, you’re gonna die. Got no choice in the matter, now. I pissed that away in Colorado.

He’d listened to the count, down to the last seconds when Air Force Colonel Tom Hadorn in the Commander’s seat said over the intercom, “Fasten your seat belt, Mr. President. This is going to be a great ride.”

Except for the vibration and noise, the lift-off was easy. Shortly Hadorn announced, for Logan’s benefit, that they were accelerating through two Gs. Logan raised his left arm experimentally a few inches, then dropped it back heavily.

Marcee, you got the conn. Mind the store while I’m gone. There had been considerable contention over procedures for succession in the event of—well—his demise. Both Marcee and Mister “Speaka-of-the-House” had been briefed on the fine points of the rules of succession should Logan be killed, incapacitated, stranded, kidnapped, or vivisected in orbit.

Logan watched as Micki cycled through displays on the console to her right. She and the Pilot, Marine Lieutenant Colonel Alex Wood, spoke tersely over the intercom. She smiled at Logan. He reached with effort across the deepening acceleration chasm between their seats to gently pat her arm. “Sumpthin’, huh?” he grunted.

Logan occupied the Payload Specialist’s seat. “I’m the payload,” he’d joked, “and there’s nobody better qualified to operate it than me.”

“It’s the best seat in the house,” Hadorn had told him. It was in the center of the flight deck, four feet behind the large instrument panel that occupied all the floor space between the Commander on the left and the Pilot on the right. Logan had an unobstructed view between them through the two center windows. Unfortunately, the only thing to see at the moment was a dark blue sky rapidly turning black.

Vibration administered a deep body massage as the Gs continued to build. Instruments several feet ahead rattled in their consoles. Ahead? Hell, above. How much can they take before they rip loose and bean us? Logan closed his eyes, but vertigo and imagination generated disaster; the machine began yawing broadside, about to break into twenty pieces. He glanced right; Micki was not alarmed.

This enormous hell-fire monster, which cradled, entrapped, and threatened Logan, lay back steeply now, inverted, and he watched an upside-down horizon slide across the screen of the small monitor mounted especially for him on the back of Wood’s seat.

Now came a jolt and lessening of weight while a swirl of debris scurried across the view, followed by the lumbering, oblong form of the left solid booster beginning its lazy tumbling journey back into the world Logan was departing.

With the boosters went the vibration resulting from ragged burning of the solid fuel, and now the glassy smooth thrust of the liquid hydrogen-oxygen main engines gave them an elevator ride constantly increasing in acceleration.

Logan relaxed—about the amount of slackening by a dental patient when the drilling pauses—and loosened his grip on the arm rests. Doctor Roald Fent in the windowless mid-deck cabin below him, whose principal duty was the monitoring and maintenance of Logan’s medical well-being, noted the decrease in heart rate and breathed a small sigh.

To Fent’s right, Doctor Victor Aronson—physicist and Principal Investigator of the experiment whose purpose was the exploration of certain ramifications of the newly discovered “Aronson Effect”—was too absorbed in a disciplined mental cataloging and shuffling of experiences to have any remarkable emotions other than a persistent, diffuse sense of excitement.

To Fent’s left, Army Colonel Daryl Hatchcombe—Communications Officer, Special Aide to the President, and operator of the sensitive and highly classified Presidential Encoding Gear—grunted stoically against the acceleration. His outward calm belied an inward turbulence. A phrase—Duty, honor, country—played through his mind, mantra against a mental churning of doubts, regrets, and might-have-been’s that exceeded the worst noisy chaos of the boosters moments before.

The Kennedy approached the target state vector at three Gs of acceleration and now the flight computers milked down engine thrust, searching for a cutoff within a fraction of a knot of the desired speed. Logan experienced the strong illusion of the shuttle slowing to a stop in mid flight; he felt a transition from being pushed away from the bow to being pulled toward it.

The sensation lasted a few seconds. Then, in the deafening silence of shutdown, he felt himself—despite the noise: a slight hiss of air, the sporadic clamor of flight deck mechanical equipment, the interminable chatter of the intercom—despite these distractions, Logan Arron Styles, floating in his harness, felt an incongruous moment of reverence; of revelation; of almost weeping joy; of worship in the silent cathedral of space. In some odd sense he felt that he had arrived home.

•••••

 

—2—
Academy

“Members of the graduating class; Ladies and Gentlemen …”

The speech had begun more than four months before Logan Styles’s ascent into heaven and immortality.

On Wednesday, June 2nd, his limousine entered Falcon stadium and circled the playing field twice. He stood erect in the back, stretched to his full five-nine height to wave at the audience. The wind caressed a weather-beaten face of more than sixty years age, teasing at short gray hair. Light glinted from his glasses as he basked in the warmth of both the applause and the sun; he ignored the boos. On the whole, it was a cheerful audience! On a sunny Colorado morning free of smog, these people had reason to be happy: their sons and daughters, friends and lovers, were graduating.

From the speaker’s platform centered in the playing field, Logan surveyed his surroundings. Nine hundred and sixty-three cadets of the graduating class of the United States Air Force Academy sat resplendent before him in crisp blue and white parade uniforms trimmed with yellow sashes. Their metal folding chairs arrayed in precision formation, row and column, rank and file, across the grass. Centered behind them in the stands was a large, living blue rectangle—the undergraduates—and surrounding that jostling blue mass were parents, relatives, and friends of the graduates.

A double layer of high-strength plastic ran around the perimeter of the large speaker’s platform upon which Logan stood. Between him and the graduates were a few dozen burly, silver helmeted military policemen standing in a row at parade rest. Between the graduates and the stands stood two hundred Crowd Control Agents evenly spaced in rows facing the audience, each cradling, almost demurely, the ugly little machine pistol that was the hallmark of the Agency. A fleet of ambulances clustered around a large medical tent in a far corner of the field. Five gunship helicopters whup-whupped outside the perimeter of Falcon stadium over the heads of three thousand soldiers bussed in from Fort Carson during the early hours before daylight. Three four-ship formations of F-27 fighters with Sidewinders and “hot” twenty millimeter guns orbited a few miles away.

“I feel very safe here.” Logan addressed the audience in Falcon Stadium in a humorous tone, gesturing toward the phalanx of Crowd Control Agents. “Very warm and snug. How ‘bout you?” The question was rhetorical, so he was surprised when the cadet wing—graduates and all—responded with a startlingly coordinated “Yes sir!” He beamed as laughter rippled through the audience.

A man strolled nonchalantly along the sidelines, coming in from the periphery of Logan’s vision.

“Members of the graduating class; Ladies and Gentlemen …” the speech had begun. No mention of Distinguished Guests. John Davies, in his press-secretarial mother hen mode, had called attention to the omission during the read-through the previous night. “If I thought they were distinguished, I’d say so,” Logan had replied. “The bastards should consider it a privilege being lumped in with the Ladies and Gentlemen.”

One of the undistinguished guests seated in a short row of chairs on the platform behind him was General Grant “Gunny” Gunderson. Perfect military name, Logan thought. Upright. Red-blooded. Stodgy, conservative, rigid, unyielding. Perfect for the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces. “He wants my job,” Logan had told John. “We’re gonna have a run-in real soon, and he’s gonna lose.”

Representative Arnold “Hap” Stansfield of Colorado was there. Speaker of the House Stansfield. Next-in-line-of-succession-to-the-President-after-the-Vice-President Stansfield. Another perfect name, Logan thought. Fine, upstanding, dignified, respectable, high-priced, sold to the highest bidder. “He’s strong on the military, John, because that’s where the money is. He’d sell his soul for the right price, then take an option to buy it back if he thought he could make a profit.”

In Logan’s mind the least undistinguished guest was the Secretary of Defense. Arthur Eastman hadn’t been his first choice—not even second or third, but he had been on the list. He was of the other party; the nomination had sealed a political deal—a horse-swap.

They think they know what I’ll say, thought Logan. They’re gonna be surprised. And unhappy.

John had tried to talk him out of the speech.

“We got to make this thing fly, John,” Logan had responded in a reasoned, folksy southern accent. “Got to soar like an eagle, not poop like a pigeon. We can’t afford to have it start off as second page news.”

“Jesus Christ! You nearly got blown away just two days ago,” John had answered. “You nearly became the third president this decade to be assassinated. That’s the front page news! That puts this speech on the back page of the sports section for at least another week. Let’s wait a few days until things calm down a little.”

A body crunching concussion and a vision of red mist had played quickly through Logan’s mind. Then he’d frowned, and his language had shifted from southern drawl to knife-edged precision: “Let me make myself clear, Junior. This has to go tomorrow, and it has to go good. It’s the right event, the right audience. We won’t get this setting again. And besides, we’ve kept a lid on the program so long, I don’t know why it hasn’t hemorrhaged and bled to death already.”

The man wore a white—no—a cream colored suit, and he ambled slowly along the sidelines between the Crowd Control Agents and the stands.

“Members of the graduating class; Ladies and Gentlemen …” the speech had begun. Logan told a lawyer joke, related a personal anecdote about his granddaughter, and made a whimsically philosophical observation about the mating rituals of oysters.

“Since I told a lawyer joke, to be fair I ought to tell one about engineers.” Logan winked. “But I respect them too much.” The audience groaned in collective good humor.

“I was an engineer a long time ago,” he spoke toward the graduates. “You folks know a little about engineering, don’t you?”

“Yes sir!” the cadets responded.

Logan smiled broadly. “There’s that echo again. Let’s just twiddle with it. Do you guys—and girls—know something about engineering?”

“Yes sir!”

“I thought I heard that. This is fun. Let’s see now—Don’t you folks think I ought to double your pay?”

Yes sir!”

“I thought so again. Say, wait a minute. That’s three yeses in a row. Now you-all aren’t ‘yes men’ are you?”

No sir!”

“I thought not. Excellent. Well I’m going to see if I can’t replace that bunch of wimps in Congress with you.” He turned and smiled toward Stansfield on the platform behind him. The smile was not returned. He turned back to the graduates. “I can see you don’t piddle around when it comes to decisions.”

Logan bantered with the graduates for another minute to the amusement of the audience, and then it was time to approach the subject.

Space! That’s the subject, Logan thought. Renewal of the American spirit, new reason for pride. He sipped at his water.

“The future is all we have to look forward to,” he said, angelic innocence and twinkling eye decorating his face.

It took a few seconds for the audience to respond with laughter.

“Sounds self-evident, doesn’t it. I only meant that half in jest.” Logan smiled. “The future is very important to us, but right now our future looks dim because we’re in a depression.”

The light mood of the crowd began to evaporate at that moment, decaying over the next several minutes into a restive, almost surly attentiveness.

“It’s no fun being in a depression. People can’t work, they don’t get enough to eat, their families suffer mightily. Some call this World Depression Two. Second time this century—two World Wars, two World Depressions.”

Terrorism was rampant. The country was fragmenting into a hundred diverse interests with hard, sharp borders. In this penultimate year of the Twentieth century, the country was dying, coming apart at the joints for lack of commonweal and common interest, and it was Logan’s job to hold it together. No! More than hold it together—to make it whole, to give it life again, to restore its soul.

Some knew how to hold it together. Some knew how to restore its soul. As America’s enemies multiplied both at home and abroad (so it was said earnestly in the corridors of the Pentagon and echoed loudly in the hearing rooms of Congress), so had the military budget soared again to meet the threat after years of decline.

“I will not allow the military establishment to define the goals of this nation,” Logan began belligerently. A murmur filled the stadium. (“That’s a hostile place to make that kind of statement,” John had warned.) “We are in danger of abandoning our future to an unrelieved obsession with force of arms.” The murmur swelled. “It is not the function of the military to define the goals of this nation,” Logan repeated the statement defiantly, beating cadence against the podium with the edge of his open palm, then paused and added, “It is the function of the military to serve!”

He had their full attention.

But it was negative attention. He had to make it positive.

Logan began. Gradually he unfolded the plan that had grown secretly over the past year, shared and shaped by a carefully selected group of friends and advisors.

There were two Nobel Prize winners, several leaders of Congress from both parties (Stansfield was not among them), half-a-dozen luminaries of academia, a smattering of Secretaries (Eastman was not among them), a down-to-earth business leader whose imagination roamed the universe, two four-star generals (Gunderson was not among them), and a handful of the obligatory economists.

No more, or the leaks would be prodigious!

They all shared an idea. They had infected Logan with this meme, this vision of the future of the country in space …

… or had it been the other way around? Had he infected them in his charmingly sly, subtle way, making them think they were selling him when it was actually the opposite?

Either way, they were sold; there must be a technological revolution, led by the quest for a new frontier. There must be a common, overarching goal that unites the country, and that goal would be the investment of America’s future in space. In transportation to and from it. In manufacturing, in communications, in research and the sciences, in infrastructure, in …

America, with its technological advantage, would sail and dominate the ocean of the future.

And now Logan sold his dream to the public for the first time, ignoring the cloud of undistinguishability brooding in the short row of seats behind him. He modulated his words with love and care, massaging and caressing listeners with gentle hand and sweet reason. He cajoled, he inspired, he motivated. Here was his element. Here was the Convincer, the Advocate, a man who could sell his antique double-breasted suit to a door-to-door salesman. He was a fisherman with a great fish on the hook, and he played the line with care, hauling in and letting out, a serious story here, a joke there, hauling in again, and he brought the mood of the audience up from darkness, and it was good—the audience swayed towards and away and towards again, and suddenly they were with him!

And the man in the cream suit wandered slowly up the sidelines.

How long has he been there? Logan wondered, suddenly realizing that he had unconsciously tracked this individual throughout the speech. The stranger sauntered past the agents, hands clasped behind his back, a lock of blond hair dangling down his forehead.

“It is the function of the military to serve this country, and you – shall – serve! “Logan said, drum-beating the words as he pointed toward the graduates. “You shall help your country to sail upon a new sea.”

He laid out his plans, the nostrum for an ailing, soulless nation. Space, adventure, exploration! There was the recipe that would lift the American spirit, and these cadets, fledgling Lieutenants, would play a part. “Half your ranks,” he announced, “—half of you and your colleagues at West Point and Annapolis—will be allowed and encouraged to exchange your military obligation for service in a new department of government dedicated to the preeminence of America in space. You will form its lifeblood of youthful ideas and attitudes.”

This stirred a commotion, which intensified when Logan added, “The new Department of Space Exploration. Not Administration! Not Aeronautics! Space! Exploration!” After the murmuring subsided, he continued. “NASA will be absorbed into it. Beyond that, this new DSE will require an immediate massive infusion of competence and talent. I propose to supply an additional part of those resources by allowing ten percent of all military personnel across the board to volunteer for service in that exciting new department. You will become leaders of a new age and sailors of a new sea.”

There. The nugget was out. A battle that Logan knew would be the political fight of his life was soon to be joined. Meanwhile, relatives and friends of the graduates nodded in guarded understanding; he was swaying them. The jostling blue rectangle of undergraduates jostled a bit more enthusiastically and the graduates buzzed among themselves. Almost unnoticeable, however, was the dark-bellied cloud of disapproval billowing from the seats behind Logan.

Why don’t they challenge him?

The stranger walked closely along the rows of agents; he even stopped to adjust the lapel of one (tug up, tug left, smooth), yet they seemed not to notice, continuing the scan-scan-scanning of the crowd above, eyeballs continually swiveling without ever sensing the anomaly in plain view. The stranger walked through their ranks to stand insouciantly behind the chairs of the last row of graduates, cocking an inscrutable—no, an impish face up toward Logan.

There were two vital codicils to add to the main announcement, but Logan worked around the edges for a few minutes until he sensed the time was right.

“To sail implies a destination. Where are we going in this new ocean? What is the destination that gives meaning to the voyage?” He smiled and lapsed into his folksy drawl. “In plain words, where’s the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?” He knew well enough that the voyage gives meaning to the destination and not the other way around, but he didn’t say that.

Against the advice of advisors, against the wisdom of the wise, against the counsel of the counselors who urged “Wait a little. Too much, too soon, too far,” he told them of exploration and settlements because he was himself an explorer and adventurer at heart; a Viking ancestor’s blood coursed his veins.

“As the first effort of the new department, the gold at the end of the rainbow, I announce today a project to keep us focused on the future. Its name is … Project Down Payment.”

He paused for a few long moments to let the words sink in.

He continued, using the meat of his fist softly beating against the podium to strike a rhythm of words into the perceptions of his listeners, a gentle hammer pounding gentle nails of memes into their minds.

Down Payment because it is an investment in our future. Down Payment because it is a first installment of resources in an endeavor that will bring back great pride and prosperity to our country, that will restore us as a country of innovation and discovery, a country of great goals, a country of exploration, a country of soul and passion.”

He paused again, then continued starkly, “Project Down Payment will establish a manned outpost on the planet Mars as a prelude to an eventual permanent colony there. I intend, with the help of Congress and the good will and enthusiasm of people like you, innovators and explorers at heart, to start the wheels turning to get us there within my lifetime.”

Then he added:

“To demonstrate my absolute commitment to our future in space, I’m going to take a little trip this fall and I hope you-all will come down to see me off. This October I will depart from Florida aboard the Space Shuttle Kennedy. Just as there was a first president to travel by train and another by airplane, I will become your first president to travel into space.”

Logan looked for the stranger again. The man was gone.

•          •          •

“You didn’t notice him, John? He was struttin’ around down there like a goddamn drum major.”

“No. Probably one of the agents.”

Air whispered along the skin of Logan’s office as Air Force One made gentle turns, picking its easterly way between towering thunderheads blossoming in a line above Kansas City. He sipped a martini at his desk and read the press clippings that Lois Sattari, his secretary, had brought along.

“They liked it,” he chuckled, snapping one of the clippings with his finger. “Most of ‘em.”

“It was a good speech …” John said, shaking his head side to side, “… and now we can expect all hell to break loose.”

Logan smiled slyly at Lois. “Did any of the ladies weep?” he joked. “You know it’s serious when the ladies get emotional.”

“Well, I felt a little like weeping,” Lois followed his lead.

He reached across and patted the young woman’s hand. “That bad, huh?”

“Oh, no, I didn’t mean …”

“That’s all right, Lovey.” Laughter rumbled out of his throat like gravel. “Somebody my age, I’m grateful to make the ladies cry for any reason at all.”

Logan dropped the clippings carelessly on his desk and leaned back in his chair. “Speaking of the ladies, John, have you gotten any reaction from your mother? She hasn’t been too happy about this program all along.”

“Well—” John hesitated. “She was on the phone about an hour ago. Wants to talk to you right away.”

“Put her off just a little while longer, will you, and then while you’re at it, see if you can’t soften her up a little? Run some interference for me, you know?”

John glanced askance at the president, but didn’t answer.

•••••