By Drew Peardon
The morning sun gradually rose over the Calgary skyline. In response, Sarah's commercial sleep regulator shifted into wake-up mode. As her bedroom window gradually switched from opaque to transparent, her bedposts released airborne pheromones to induce wakefulness. Sarah calmly awakened, but then proceeded to immediately jump out of bed excitedly. Her phone made a chirping sound as it showed her the reminder she set a week ago, but she clearly didn't need it. The reminder stated that today "'Aẓamat 10, 381BE, at 10:00am." She was finally going to her meeting with an agent from Acorn Digital Publishing. Though her novel had already been rejected by every local publisher of physical books (two), and twenty digital book publishers, she still held onto the hope that Acorn would help net her her first officially published book. After two-years of writing non-published online fiction while working at her low-level accounting job, she felt it was finally time for her to step-up to a professional writing career.
After walking through her water-free instant shower, getting dressed in her best business suit, and putting her instant breakfast package into her mini-microwave, she stopped to check on her hamster Egao. She smiled while silently watching him scamper through his exercise tunnel complex towards his breakfast dispenser, which synthesised protein pellets in response to his approach. Sarah then grabbed her breakfast, along with her phone, which contained her novel and all of her notes, and left her apartment.
Taking the personal taxi car on the skyscraper-to-skyscraper electric monorail, within fifteen minutes she arrived at the addressed office building on floor nineteen. After entering the door marked "Acorn Publishers Inc.," she suddenly heard a voice from a wall speaker.
"Hello, welcome to the main office of Acorn Publishers Inc., I am the automated meeting organizer system. Please state your name and the nature of your visit."
Sarah took a deep breath to calm her racing heart, and replied. "My name is Sarah Michelson. I'm here for a meeting about getting my book published on the global digital market."
After about four seconds, the computer responded with "Meeting confirmed, please wait, and we'll be with you shortly."
Sarah sat down in one of the waiting room chairs, keeping her eyes continuously fixed upon the green light above the door marked "Howard Marshall." After about fifteen minutes, the light lit up, indicating that she may enter.
Sarah slowly and deliberately walked into Mr. Marshall's office, replaying in her head all of the interviews she had with publishers before.
"Ms. Michelson, I presume" Mr. Marshall said formally, "Please take a seat."
"Thank You" Sarah replied, as she discreetly placed herself in the chair in front of his desk.
"So I hear that you would like Acorn Digital to publish your novel across all overseas markets. Why is this?" Mr. Marshall asked curtly.
Sitting up straight and stiffly, Sarah replied "Well, my friends kept pointing out to me how simple it is for someone to self-publish an online novel these days, but I learned that publishing houses allow one to reach overseas markets by working out international rights and providing translators. And, well...I wanted my book to be accessible to as many people as possible."
Mr. Marshall rested his chin on his hands and smiled discreetly. "Well, you've got my interest, why don't you describe to me what your book is about?"
Sarah took a deep breath, and then looked Mr. Marshall in the eye, smiling gamely. "Well, in the broadest of terms, it's a speculative science-fiction story set a thousand years in the future" Sarah said excitedly.
"Okay" Mr. Marshall asked softly, "why do you think that your science-fiction novel should be published by us?"
"I'm glad you asked" Sarah replied, somewhat nervously.
Mr. Marshall's expression remained unchanged. Sarah straightened up in her seat and continued
"It's set a full thousand years into the future, around 1381BE. By this time, most of humanity follows the new religion established by the next Manifestation of God, and humanity has terra-formed and colonized several planets. With the recent developments in warp-drive technology and environmental engineering, I imagine that sort of thing can realistically happen in less than two generations."
"Indeed," Mr. Marshall replied "I've been following the news regarding those experiments. They've managed to convert 100 square kilometers of desert into a pine-tree forest, and sent a monkey to Mars in less than an hour." A slightly amused smile appeared on Mr. Marshall's face. "But what's the main conflict of your story?"
Sarah's voice was starting to sound louder and clearer. "It revolves around humanity preparing to colonize another solar system, but discovering that it's already been completely colonized by an intelligent alien race called the Arkens. The Arkens are just as technologically advanced as humanity and are also preparing to colonize another solar system, ours. The story unfolds over several generations, as humanity makes contact with the Arkens. Initially they set up a peaceful coexistence and freely exchange knowledge. But conflict and eventually war erupts between us and the Arkens because both races by this time rely on solar energy and they can't reconcile who gets the rights to certain stars for energy and certain planets to colonize. The story also shows the state of society after the war and hints at future developments in interplanetary relations."
By this point, Sarah's excitement overcame her anxiety, and she felt thrilled to be sharing her story with a publisher.
Mr. Marshall brought his hands down to his desk. "That's sounds like quite an expansive story. I do like how it revolves around the commercial use of solar energy by all humanity."
"Yes," Sarah added "I've read about how their developing a satellite that will capture the Sun's energy and convert it into free, usable energy for everyone on Earth. A very wonderful prospect."
"Indeed" Mr. Marshall continued "But what's your narrative point of view and who are the main characters?"
Sarah replied, "The narrative follows an economically and politically prominent family called the Petersons, particularly their business dealings with the Arkens regarding the energy industry, and their political influence over humanity during the subsequent war. Each stage of the story is told from the point of view of the Peterson children, as they observe the events happening to the world and the decisions their parents make. Each generation of Petersons in turn grows up and plays a part in humanity's relationship with the Arkens, while their children in turn observe and narrate their actions."
Mr. Marshall tapped the touch screen on his desk before asking Sarah, "Would you mind sharing some excerpts from your manuscript?"
"Certainly" Sarah replied excitedly as she got out her phone.
In a view moments, Sarah's manuscript appeared on Mr. Marshall's desk, allowing her to navigate to specific excerpts for display. Sarah then continued her summary: "We first follow Rebecca and Allan Peterson, the son and daughter of Victor and Melanie Peterson, who are two of the leading outer space explorers and pioneers. While flying out to the nearest solar system in the colony ship The Enoch, which Melanie is the Captain of and Victor is the Lead Navigator, they encounter an Arken spaceship leaving that same solar system."
Excerpt: The ship was almost three times the size of The Enoch. Unlike the smooth and conical Enoch, this ship resembled a giant dodecahedron with several antennas sticking out from its surface. Rebecca and Allen could only stare at the view screen with childish wonder, not yet able to comprehend the unprecedented significance of what they were seeing.
"For the first several hours, the two ships remain still and silent, not sure what to do to the other. Eventually, they manage to communicate with the other ship using simple Morse code by switching their wireless communication signal on and off in patterns."
Excerpt: Melanie maintained a stoic expression, but Rebecca could just tell that her mother was in the throes of anxiety.
"Send out a basic greeting code, and let's see if they respond"
As the signal switched on and off in pattern, Rebecca and Allan felt their father's hands tense up on their shoulders.
"Eventually, the Arken ship responds in kind and they're able to get across that they'd like to exchange knowledge regarding language and communication."
Excerpt: Finally, all of the lights lining the ship's antennae blinked on and off in kind, imitating the signal they just sent. Melanie almost smiled, "See if you can tell them we want to exchange some information." Victor cautiously turned towards her.
"Do you really think that's wise?" he asked. "We'll only share just enough do find a way to communicate" Melanie replied.
"They manage to establish a wireless communication network and exchange data, through which they were able to decipher each other's languages and communicate. Through this they manage to invite the Arkens to a rendezvous point, where they officially open up diplomatic relations."
Excerpt: With the Arken ship following close behind, The Enoch arrived at the rendezvous point. Rebecca gazed upon the Arken ship with a sense of wonder, but Allan expressed a twinge of fear.
"Interesting" said Mr. Marshall as his finger tapped a screen on his desk, prompting a robot arm to appear out of a wall panel and place a glass of water right next to his hand. Mr. Marshall took a small sip of the water before asking "Earlier, you mentioned a new religion that mankind follows. How does that tie into your story?"
"Oh" Sarah quickly composed herself "Well, it's tied into many of the themes of the story and it plays a big part in the story's final section. Each generation of the Petersons has one member who becomes a devout follower of this new religion and subsequently attempts to persuade the family to take the moral path in dealing with the Arkens. Specifically, they ask them to treat the Arkens as humanity's equals, to find a peaceful compromise to the energy crisis, and ultimately to end the war with them."
Mr. Marshall slowly nodded and asked "And do any of them succeed?"
Sarah's voice gradually grew lower and quieter as she spoke "No, at least not until the end. Each of them gets ignored, and some of them are killed."
Mr. Marshall's eyebrows rose slightly, suggesting that his interest had just been piqued. With increased confidence, Sarah continued her summary.
"We then recount the next 30 or so years of humanity and the Arkens sharing knowledge and technology. By this time, Allan Peterson has grown up to become the rich and influential CEO of Power Cosmic, Earth's leading corporation in the solar energy industry, while Rebecca has become a devout follower of the Next Manifestation, and has started a charity organization for supporting poor off-world colonies. Allan's daughter Marian joins Rebecca's organization against Allan's will, where she befriends Rebecca's daughter Nell. Marian and Nell watch as Rebecca tries to convince Allan to always follow honest and ethical business practice when dealing with the Arkens."
Excerpt: Allan adjusted his collar as he turned away from Marian to face Rebecca.
Rebecca pleaded "Allan, remember how Mom and Dad dealt with the Arkens, how they tried to avoid any conflict despite knowing nothing about them? I believe that you should take the same approach."
Allan bowed his head regretfully and murmured. "It was only by sheer luck that we avoided a fight, but that's not how things work in the real world. In the real world, only the smartest and luckiest make it, and never without the expense of others."
"But when the Arkens develop a cheaper and more efficient method of converting solar energy, Allan is ultimately consumed by greed and goes through a plan to sabotage the Arkens' technology."
Excerpt: Wary that someone might see her, Marian, quickly ducked her head under her father's desk. By the time she summoned the courage to peek, she saw Allan staring at a hologram, a hologram that was put together by his engineers to show what they presumed to be the blueprints to the Arken Solar Generator, with a proposed method of sabotage. "But your still not certain that this is accurate; don't forget that they're aliens, they're engineering could be completely different from ours" Allen said wearily.
Charles' eyes narrowed intently at Allan, before he snapped "If we don't take this chance, we could lose everything. You yourself always said that we should never go easy on the competition."
Allan was silent for several moments, still wrestling with the idea. It was illegal, immoral, unpredictable, but Charles was right in saying that it could be the only way to save his fortune.
"Your right," Allan murmured "tell the engineers that they have my permission to move forward."
"Rebecca finds out about it and attempts to bring the information to the public, but Allan manages to capture her and Nell and has them detained."
Excerpt: Rebecca glared vehemently at Allan "Why?" she asked softly. Nell looked at her uncle's face, as it lowered slightly in regret.
"You wouldn't understand, I'm sorry" Allan whispered as he turned and left, locking the door behind him.
Nell looked at her mother and asked "What's going to happen to us?" Rebecca slowly turned her face away, didn't say anything.
"He sabotages the Arkens' demonstration of their solar collection device, but this unintentionally triggers a chain reaction that activates hidden Arken weapons, resulting in an explosion that kills several humans and Arkens."
Excerpts: After everything had finally gone quiet, Marian deactivated her personal force field and opened her eyes. In every direction she looked, there was nothing but dismembered corpses and burning rubble. Marian could hardly take in what she was seeing, and it was several moments before she finally noticed her father kneeling in the distance. All she could do was stare as she saw him pull something out of his pocket. The last thing Marian saw before she passed out was Allan sticking the gun in his mouth. She heard the loud shot ring through the air as she collapsed to the ground.
"This incident puts a serious wrench in Human-Arken relations. They blame each other for the incident and Rebecca decides that revealing the truth about it would only worsen these tensions."
Excerpt: Rebecca stared at the data before sighing "This will just prove that both sides do deserve blame, only adding fuel to the fire." Before Nell could stop her or object, Rebecca permanently deleted all of the data.
Mr. Marshall stared at the excerpt, whilst casually tapping his desk, resulting in his now empty glass to drop down a chute. Sarah can tell that Mr. Marshall was starting to really get into her story. She smiled slightly before she continued.
"Over the next couple decades, Human and Arken relations continue to deteriorate, with disputes over ownership of stars for energy and planets for colonization. Marian starts a religious-based peace advocacy group, and attempts to influence diplomatic relations with the Arkens which she balances with raising her daughter Ellen as a single mother. But on one of the disputed colonized planets, where Nell's family is now living, the Arkens launch an attack that kills most of the colonists. Nell is among those that manage to escape, but she fails to save her family. Consequently, humanity officially declares war on the Arkens, and Nell joins the Earth military.
At one point, after Nell gets promoted to General, Marian and Ellen try to persuade Nell to attempt to broker peace with the Arkens."
Excerpt: "How can you even ask me that?" Nell said, still facing away from Marian and Ellen. Marian lowered her head in shame, Ellen could only sit and stare, not sure what to say. "I'm sorry, I know what it's like to lose family, but this war won't solve anything. It will only cause more suffering."
Nell slowly turned to face Marian, tears welling in her eyes. "I know," she whispered "but I still won't stop it." Nell left the office without another word.
"Later, Nell dies in battle after continuously refusing to let her battalion retreat. Also, Marian is killed in an Arken bombing raid, but just manages to get Ellen to a shelter which was only able to hold one more person. By the war's end, both human and Arken civilizations have been devastated, with many lives lost and societal infrastructure destroyed."
Mr. Marshall rested his chin on his hands again, staring at Sarah intently. "Okay, but what happens in the end?"
Sarah replied, "When we get to the post-war period, the last surviving Peterson, Ellen, becomes devoutly religious and puts together a foundation dedicated to rebuilding society and fostering interplanetary peace. Human and Arken society has begun to rebuild, and thanks to Ellen's foundation, the two species have begun to provide aid to each other."
Excerpt: Ellen looked over the restructuring, seeing both humans and Arkens working together to rebuild this historic Earth building. Using handheld matter re-arrangers, they change rubble into simple shapes ideal for construction. And with small smelting lasers, they rapidly put the structure together. As she watched, she couldn't help but think about her mother's aspirations, her grandfather's follies, and her great grandparents' hopes. They, along with the rest of her family, their actions had all contributed in some way to what happened. But they also resulted in her living in this time, and now she was finally able to do something about it. She could finally solve the mistakes of the past and make their hopes a reality.
"Ellen meets an Arken representative and they discuss the possibility of other intelligent alien races, and of forming an interplanetary community."
Excerpt: "Both our civilizations believed that we were alone in the universe, and both of us were proven wrong" Rus-Niba said as he and Ellen gazed at the view screen displaying the potential wormhole. "But even if we do discover others out there, how do we know if we'll be able to live in peace with them?" he sighed.
Ellen smiled and said "We eventually learned how to live in peace, and even if war does occur with other races out there, there's always hope that peace can one day be achieved, thanks to every future generation learning from the mistakes of the preceding ones. Who knows, maybe one day we'll be part of a larger interplanetary alliance."
Rus-Niba turned to Ellen and smiled.
"The story ends with both humanity and the Arkens facing an optimistic but uncertain future."
Excerpt: Ellen stood at the top of the recently completed building gazing up at the stars. She stood and prayed for a peaceful and bountiful future for her and for her children.
Mr. Marshall narrowed his brow and lowered his hands down to his desk. "One last question, what's the title you chose for your novel?" he asked.
"Well" Sarah replied, "I decided to title it Future Shock, I know it's a very old expression but I felt it made a very appropriate title." Sarah took a deep breath and sat back in her seat.
Mr. Marshall pressed the touch screen on his desk, and asked "Well, I'm interested, would you mind feeding a copy of your manuscript to our editorial program?"
Sarah nodded excitedly and pulled her phone out of her pocket. A few taps on its touch screen, and she'd sent a copy to Acorn editorial through Mr. Marshall's desk.
"Alright, now just give it a few minutes" said Mr. Marshall.
A few minutes later, an extensive graphic of the manuscript and editorial suggestions appeared on Mr. Marshall's desk. Mr. Marshall silently perused his desk screen. Finally he looked up and said "Alright, both me and our editor like what we see. We just have a few editing suggestions for the final copy that we'd like to run by you first."
Sarah felt like jumping out of her seat, but remembered to keep an air of professionalism. She smiled and nodded before gazing down on the desk. After running through the editorial suggestions (and approving all of them), Sarah read over the publishing contract. Pressing her thumb against the touch screen once she was prompted, the contract was signed off.
Mr. Marshall then sent the final copy to the Acorn distribution network.
"We'll transmit your salary to you by the hour, and keep you updated on any subsequent deals offered to the property" stated Mr. Marshall.
"Thank You" Sarah uttered as she shook his hand before leaving his office.
During her ride home in the skyscraper-to-skyscraper electric monorail, she used her phone to post the news of her book's publication on her blog.
By the time she arrived at home, all of her friends from work had sent her messages of congratulations. As she walked in, Egao ran to the top of his exercise complex to greet her. She briefly picked him up and petted him, before setting him back down next to his lunch dispenser. As Egao ate, Sarah sat in her easy chair, got out her phone, and retrieved her digital book collection. Smiling warmly, she opened her favourite book The Best of Science Fiction (1 - 361BE).
"Our visions of the future will never end" Sarah whispered as she gingerly perused through the book's many short stories.