Dragonfly Library

The Melt Trilogy

Author: © K.E. Lanning
Trilogy: A Spider Sat Beside Her, The Sting of the Bee, Listen to the Birds
Publication Dates: (Spider) January 8, 2018; (Bee) April 4, 2018; (Birds) Coming on April 4, 2019
Social Media: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram; Author’s Website (with ordering links)

The Melt Trilogy comprises of  speculative science fiction novels with an eco-fiction emphasis, delving into the relationship of humans to the Earth. K.E. Lanning writes in a wry, allegorical style, challenging readers to explore, from the safety of their reading chair, what might occur if ‘The Melt’ really happened on Earth.

A Spider Sat Beside Her, The Sting of the Bee and Listen to the Birds [2019], will complete the trilogy, though each are standalone works.


The following are excerpts from all three books in The Melt Trilogy.

A Spider Sat Beside Her

Humans measure time by their limited lifespans, but the Earth’s clock ticks at a different pace.
Mother Nature may sit for eons—then dance to the tune that physics decrees…

CHAPTER 1

Lowry’s lungs burned as she scrambled up the steep slope across broken rocks, pulling her tired horse up behind her. Wind screaming, they cleared the ridge. She scanned the horizon. Nothing moved but the wind. Her tongue chased the rough edges of grit on her teeth, and she spat onto the ground. She took a drink, swallowing the silt left in her mouth.

The view was spectacular—a brilliant sapphire sky dotted with white puffs of drifting clouds. Sunlight spilled across golden mountain peaks against the indigo shadows of the valleys, with a mirror image of this intense beauty reflected in the crystal-clear lake below.

Global warming had melted an ice cap that had been in place for more than ten thousand years, leaving the rich earth exposed once again on the continent of Antarctica. The landscape evoked an odd mix of memories of long hikes of discovery of the land and of herself, and her escape from a mercurial, drunkard father.

A gust whipped Lowry’s hair across her face, stinging her skin. She glanced at the horizon one final time, slowly mounted the mare, and turned her back along the trail. The mare quickened her pace now that they were heading home. They turned the last corner, past a row of tiny windblown evergreens, to where a thin man with auburn hair sat on a rock waiting for her.

Lowry waved happily. “Uncle Nick!” When she reached him, she halted the mare.

Petting the horse, Nick said in a soft Scottish brogue, “I thought you might want a ride to the airport. Are you packed?”

A lump came to her throat. “Everything is ready. Except my heart.”

Lowry untacked the mare and let her out into the pasture. They went inside the small stone house tucked into the side of a hill. After Lowry showered, she changed clothes and packed her last items.

Nick grabbed one of her bags and glanced at her. “I see you cut your hair.”

“Yeah, I decided short would be easier on the space station.”

“I won’t be able to pull your braids anymore.”

Lowry grinned and stuck her tongue out at him.

Nick wrapped his arm around her. “With your short hair, you look like your mother when she was your age.”

Lowry smiled. “She was a wonderful human being. I miss her.”

They walked toward the hover, where Lowry hesitated, gazing at the rolling fields of her childhood. She bit her lip, trying to hold back her tears. Nick hugged her to him, and then they walked arm in arm to the hover and loaded her bags.

Hovering through town, Lowry stared out the window at the little school she went to as a child. She tilted her head as they turned down the road toward the airport. “What’s Dad doing today?”

“He’s meeting with some folks from New York.” He shot a glance at her. “I’m sorry he couldn’t be here to see you off.”

“I would have been surprised if he had.” She ran her hand across her brow. “I don’t know if I’m strong enough today to deal with him anyway.”

He parked, and with bags in hand, they walked into the small airport. She checked her luggage, and they strolled toward the security gate. They passed groups of miners and a few families just arriving to Antarctica. She glanced at one young mother looking tired and lost as she tried to keep her brood together. Lowry silently wished them well. It was a tough life, especially for the mothers and their children.

When they reached the security checkpoint, Nick held her by the shoulders, gazing down into her eyes. “Lowry, I’ve always loved you like my own daughter and admired you as a person. You’re a beautiful young woman who takes the bull by the horns despite all odds and wrestles it to the floor. I know you’re hurting and probably a little scared right now, but you’ll do great. Just don’t let the bastards get you down.” He ruffled her hair. “Go get ’em, Tiger!”

The steward announced the boarding call for her flight.

Lowry squeezed her uncle’s arm. “Nick, thanks for being a father to me all these years.”

“My pleasure and honor.” He shrugged. “I’m sorry that my brother doesn’t seem to have the aptitude for fatherhood.”

“Some people rise to the occasion, some don’t.”

***

“Hurry up, you’re the last passenger!” A man in an orange jumpsuit glared at Lowry.

She stumbled out of the Roxi robocab, dazed from her long journey from the bottom of the world. “Sorry, my flight had a major delay in Rio.”

His face softened, and he grabbed the larger of her two bags. With a jerk of his head, he pivoted toward the hangar. “Come on, miss. The shuttle is ready to take off.” He loped through a maze of space junk toward the end of the metal building.

Lowry shouldered her backpack and trailed after him, dodging a squadron of robots methodically moving equipment around the warehouse. Her ears hurt from the cacophony of clanks, whirrs and beeps echoing through the building. The nose of a jet rolled across her path, and she lost sight of him. She squeezed around the robot pushing the jet forward, catching sight of a flash of orange as the man disappeared through doors under a Shuttle Gate sign.

The glare of the sun reflected off the space station shuttle, blinding her as she reached the tarmac. She shielded her eyes, staring at the thin silver rocket with pint-sized wings and engines purring, waiting for its last passenger to the stars.

The man turned back, scowling. “Come on,” he said, leaping up a flight of stairs to the open shuttle door. He handed the large bag to one of the flight crew, and with a quick wave of his hand, he shot past her to the bottom of the stairway. Heart thudding, she scrambled up the stairs and through the doorway.

A robo-attendant pointed to an empty seat in the shuttle and then secured the door behind her. Lowry lurched to her seat and stowed her backpack. Dizzy with exhaustion, she slumped into the seat and buckled the safety belt. The monitor above her head flashed a demand to put on her helmet, and as the buckle of the helmet snapped closed, a voice came over the speaker, announcing their flight would be taking off momentarily. They backed out of the berth and headed for the embanked runway.

A melodious voice came through the headphones: “Please prepare for excessive G-force.”

The rocket exploded forward, arching upward into the blue sky at a blistering speed. The oppressive force shoved Lowry’s fatigued body deep into the cushions, and she fought to breathe normally. She tilted her head to catch sight of glittering ice crystals rushing past the window, the blue sky fading to black.

The compression abated, and Lowry undid the plexi-shield in front of her face, breathing deeply. She glanced at the other passengers on the shuttle, but all seemed preoccupied. It would take several hours to get to the space station. Lowry pulled up the information the station head had sent her on the layout of the station.

Lowry took a sip from her water bottle and then looked down at her shaking hands. She whispered to herself, “Did you have to run this far?”

She had initially passed on the opportunity to be a research assistant for the space station’s Landsat department when she married her loving spouse, but now, since her divorce, she had decided to finish her graduate studies in the stars. With her unique knowledge of Antarctica, her professor was thrilled when she told him she could now go.

It would be a two-year commitment, with the first several months spent collecting detailed images of the continent now that the terrain was bare. Then she would combine the new data with the existing geologic and geophysical data to produce maps of Antarctica’s aquifers and surface geology for possible habitation.

The blue Earth shrank as they blasted through the stratosphere. Lowry craned her neck to catch a view of the North American continent—coastlines drowned by the Melt, with millions of people losing their homes and livelihoods, in less than a century.

She furrowed her brow, trying to remember what the old maps had looked like before the melting of the ice caps had occurred. Hadn’t there been a state called Florida?

The sky turned to black and the cabin dimmed. Lowry rested her head on the seat and drifted into a restless sleep until the voice came back into her helmet.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we are approaching the International Space Station.”

She jerked awake, peering out of the window for her first look at the new ISS. It had replaced the earlier and much smaller version several years ago. This huge space station was built for humans to stay in orbit for years with accommodations for a hundred people.

The ISS resembled a child’s gyro toy spinning on a black surface. The design was elegantly simple: a slowly revolving wheel with four globes built into the ring, connecting four spokes extending from its central hub. Except for rows of tiny windows, arrays of sparkling gold solar panels covered the exterior, rotating with the sun to catch the maximum amount of solar energy.

Lowry pulled up the ISS webpage and read about the design: “This new generation of space station design uses the rotating wheel to provide artificial gravity essential for maintaining the health of the human occupants.”

Yeah, she thought, but do the toilets flush?

The shuttle adjusted its trajectory to line up with the docking station. Lowry gasped at her first sight of Earth rising over the space station, hanging like an exquisite jewel in the black sky. She touched the window, covering the diminutive image of Mother Earth with her finger.

A bright light drew her attention to the docking port in the central hub, which was lit up like a beacon leading them forward to the station. The shuttle bumped to a stop as it connected, and a smooth voice came over her headphones:

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have arrived, but please keep your seats until we release you to the station. You can remove your helmets and stow them on the floor in front of your seat. Thank you for flying with us today.”

Lowry took a deep breath. I guess no going back now.


The Sting of the Bee

CHAPTER 1

John Barrous opened his eyes in the dim light of the hotel room. A pleasant voice said, “John, wake up, it’s time to rise and shine.”

With a yawn, he turned to his phone. “I’m awake. Thanks, P.”

“I hope you slept well?”

He stared at the ceiling above the bed. “Not really.” John threw the covers back and sat on the side of the bed, looking dully at the band of pale morning light framing the top of the curtained window.

“John, I thought you might be interested in today’s news story on the Antarctic Land Rush.”

Scratching his head, he mumbled, “I guess.”

A smiling virtual newscaster appeared on the screen. “In our top story of the day, the stage is set for the Great Antarctic Land Rush. The final conference will be held today at the United Nations headquarters.” From the corner of the screen popped a 3-D video running on a continuous loop, showing the melting ice cap of Antarctica, the huge glaciers flowing to the ocean, breaking off into the sea until the continent was bare. “People from around the world will be signing up for the adventure of a lifetime—”

A dull pain pulsed in his head. “I’d like some quiet now,” he said, and the screen went blank. His hands trembled as he massaged his temples. He caught a whiff of brewing coffee and rose to grab a cup. Clasping the warm cup in his hands, he gulped the coffee, closing his eyes as the hot liquid stung his throat.

With a sigh, he walked to the window of the room, edging the curtain open on one side. Blinking against the slanted rays of the sun, he gazed out over the port city of Summit, New Jersey. Across the street, a myriad of flags fluttered in front of the newly completed United Nations building. His nerves tingled at the sight.

To the east, the sea shimmered in the dawn light, broken only by the tallest skyscrapers still visible above submerged New York City. He sipped his coffee and then shifted his gaze to the vast shanty town near the edge of the water. Tendrils of smoke rose from amidst ramshackle huts cobbled together from the scrap material washed onshore after the Melt.

The wealthy had fled the rising sea waters and built anew, but in the burgeoning lower classes, survival of the fittest had been their only choice. Massive refugee cities grew from the outcasts of society, abandoned on a shore of hardship. Years of pitiful conditions created an underclass filled with anger and resentment. Like stray dogs, savage gangs had proliferated, snatching crumbs from a world devastated by rising sea levels.

An emptiness punched him in the gut, and his lips parted like a drowning man trying to draw a breath. A moan escaped from the depths of his pain, and John glanced at his daughter Ginnie, snuggled in the other bed. He had not awakened her with his outburst.

Swaying, he turned back to the window, clutching the curtain. That underworld had murdered his beloved Helen.

***

John opened the door, blinking against the uproar of the ballroom. He and Ginnie stepped inside, and his nose twitched from a bouquet of scents: new carpet, perfume, and body odor. They threaded their way through a crowd in monotonous western clothes, dotted with purple and red saris, blue Sikh turbans, and white Bedouin robes.

Faces etched in desperation turned toward them. These were not the meek, waiting to inherit the Earth. These were the ones to seize it.

Men leered at Ginnie’s fresh face. John wrapped his arm around her shoulders; she was only fifteen. He spotted two seats together and they made a dash for them.

Young men, couples, and families with children flowed into the overcrowded hall. John shifted on the hard metal chair, focusing on a three-dimensional image of Antarctica projected over the stage. The once-frozen continent, now unveiled by the Melt, was rich with green valleys and lofty mountain ranges.

“It’s packed in here,” Ginnie whispered. “Are all these people doing the Land Rush? Why doesn’t the UN just hold a lottery?”

John leaned toward her. “The UN is holding on to Antarctica like the tail of a tiger. They’ve thrown this Land Rush together to ward off a global conflict between Russia, the U.S., China, and India—all wanting to break the international treaties and grab open land.” With a smile, he shrugged. “Or maybe it’s some crazy publicity stunt.”

John sat back in his chair, trying to relax amidst the milling horde of people. He darted a nervous look sideways. A scruffy man stood next to him, grinning like a Cheshire Cat.

The man put out his hand and introduced himself. “Buck’s the name. Homesteading?”

John replied with a guarded handshake and a “Yep.”

Buck squatted next to him, jerking his head toward the hologram of the continent. “You know, it’s going to be mighty rough on Antarctica. You’re not really thinking of taking the young lady, are you?” He leaned closer and said in a hushed voice, “There’s a group recruiting people to make a land claim for them, and then they pay your passage back. Make you a cool twenty grand and a free round trip to Antarctica. Maybe you’d be interested?”

With a curt shake of his head, John replied, “I’m not interested. We plan on making Antarctica our home.” He narrowed his eyes at Buck. “My understanding is the Land Rush is for principals only—no brokers allowed.” In a nonchalant tone he asked, “Who is this group?”

“I’d better find me a chair,” Buck mumbled, and lost himself in the crowd.

A short man with jet-black hair walked to the center of the stage, gesturing at the audience. “Everybody find a seat. We’ve got a lot of material to cover today.”

He waited until the crowd quieted. “I’m Paulo Rodriguez, the UN coordinator for the Antarctic Land Rush—welcome!” He pointed in the direction of the harbor. “I hope everyone has had a chance to admire the beautiful ocean liner, Destiny, docked in our new facilities. She’s ready to carry you to the adventure of a lifetime.”

“I’d like to show you a brief overview of Antarctica.” He dimmed the lights.

The stunning video transported the audience over the barren terrain of the continent, peppered with shallow lakes and rocks, and mountains ranges covered in snow.

A narrator’s melodious voice filled the hall. “Scientists who predicted the warming of the planet were right. A tipping point altered the oceanic currents and warm waters flowed past the Antarctic coastline, accelerating the melting of the southern ice cap. In the span of a century, Mother Nature revealed a rich, virgin continent for the human race to spill into.”

John muttered under his breath, “More likely to screw up.”

The video brought them to a small mining town perched on the coast. “After the melting of the ice cap, everything changed. Before, it wasn’t economic to mine Antarctica, but now it’s become feasible. Once the ice had retreated, a mining consortium set up facilities, extracting major quantities of iron, copper, and gold.”

Rodriguez paused the video and grinned at the crowd. “That’s the good news.” He switched to a photo of a massive sinkhole. “The bad news is, we’re having a nasty little problem with sinkholes as the permafrost melts—but not too many people have been lost so far!”

Sporadic laughter dribbled from the crowd.

He restarted the video and the audience cruised over a broad river valley. Honking geese skimmed over a meandering river while caribou grazed along the banks. “This is the Concordia Wildlife Refuge. Many fowl species already inhabit the continent, but naturalists are now introducing Arctic land animals.”

Rodriguez brought up a map that detailed the Land Rush area. “Many of the regions of Antarctica are named for an explorer or ruler. We will dock in Prydz Bay in East Antarctica, and the Land Rush itself is on the foothills of the Napler Mountains.”

He zoomed to the area everyone was anxious to see. The foothills came into view, and the camera glided over a series of valleys separated by low mountain ridges. Like a pearl necklace, streams meandered between shallow lakes along the valley floors, but the vegetation was limited to lichen, short grasses, and anemic, windswept trees.

The room was quiet gazing at the lovely yet stark landscape.

“The weather is still nippy, but livable. In Fahrenheit, the average temperatures range from the sixties in the summer to lows of minus twenty degrees in the winter. But nothing like the minus ninety-four degrees Fahrenheit when the ice cap was in place.”  He smiled. “I’ve heard rumors that some of the miners wear t-shirts in the summer.”

He pointed to the coastline. “Since the Melt, the sea has encroached on the lowlands, but only temporarily as these areas are rising in elevation with the weight of the ice gone. The Land Rush will take place in the area on the continent with the best soil and most available water. As with all farmers, water will be one of your main concerns.”

Rodriguez advanced to the next slide, with a grid of brilliant diamond shapes against a black sky over Antarctica. “The UN engaged SpaceX to develop a mesh network of satellites, suspended one thousand kilometers over the continent, to provide free internet and also a source of light during the dark months.” He moved to the next photo taken on the beach at Prydz Bay, children playing in the water, the idyllic scene lit by reflected sunlight. “It’s not as strong as the rays of the sun, but it is brighter than moonlight. When it is ‘nighttime,’ the panels flip, to maintain a dark sky while everyone sleeps.”

“Every Land Rush participant has been given a computer locking key.” Rodriguez held up a small metallic object. “This will send a signal to the UN organizers of the winner of the parcel, and once in the stake, it cannot be removed by another homesteader.”

Rodriguez clicked to a photo of a farm near the mining station. “The UN wants to settle the region in a peaceable fashion and prepare for immigrants following in your footsteps. As the first settlers, you will have to raise meat-producing animals and/or plant crops. We will provide subsidies and technologies for you to succeed. However, you have to show progress! For example, if you choose to plant crops, you will have three years to plant all of your land, but you must plant at least one third the first year.”

John raised an eyebrow at Ginnie. “I just hope something will grow down there.”

Rodriguez pointed to the hushed crowd. “The UN has designated Antarctica an organic continent, and therefore, no artificial pesticides or chemicals will be allowed. There will be community farm equipment available for your shared use, which will include teams of agribots to assist during all phases of your agricultural needs, so sign up for those in advance.”

Someone from the audience called out in an Urdu accent, “What is an agribot, please?”

Rodriguez nodded. “They are specially designed agricultural robots programmed to aid in planting, weeding, and harvesting crops.”

Ginnie mimicked pulling weeds like a robot and whispered, “Yippee for agribots!”

Rodriguez gazed across the audience. “I’ll be straight with you. This is going to be the hardest work most of you have ever done. You will be required, and I stress the word required, to set up irrigation systems and to plant your homestead with at least three types of crops and a combination of fruit, deciduous, and evergreen trees—all of which have been adapted to thrive on Antarctica.”

He shook his finger. “Remember, you will be on your own! Anyone who cannot perform will be sent back home immediately and their goods will be confiscated to pay for their passage.”

Reacting to the news, a buzz of muffled conversations rose, and then sporadic arguments broke out. A scattering of people shuffled toward the doors.

“Why are people leaving—didn’t they know that?” Ginnie asked.

“Many people sold everything they had for this chance for land. But perhaps a few folks are getting cold feet.” He shrugged. “Or maybe they just didn’t believe the UN would send them home with their tails between their legs.”

John saw Buck in an intense discussion with one of the defectors near the exit, arms gesturing to embellish his point. His face brightened as the man nodded and he slapped him on the back—Buck had netted his man. Then Buck turned, nodding to someone across the room. John followed his gaze to a wiry man with a short beard standing in the corner.

John frowned as unease swam in his stomach. He didn’t like the looks of this—too much was at stake. He grabbed Ginnie by the hand. “I’ve heard enough. Let’s get out of here before we get roped into something shady.”


Listen to the Birds

(Will be published on April 4, 2019)

PROLOGUE

THE MELT began a century ago. The ice thawed, bit by bit, until a dramatic shift of the ocean’s currents moved warm waters to the polar regions. Within a human life-span, the ice caps vanished and the oceans rose, drowning the coastlines of Earth. Sea creatures flourished, whereas the beasts of the land fought for life. And above them all, the moon reigned the seas, commanding the waves along the shore, grinding the new coasts from rock to sand.

In the year 2112, on a rocky beach near Pau, France, two children ran down the shoreline, their laughter muffled under the crash of waves. A reflection in the rocks caught the children’s attention. Shrieking gulls circled over their heads as they knelt and dug up a half-buried bronze plaque. Like a pirate’s treasure, they took it to the edge of the surf and washed away the crusted mud, revealing etched words.

“C’est de l’anglais.”

“Oui!” The boy jerked the sign from her hands. “Il est à moi!”

The girl shouted angrily to her mother, watching from the rocks above them. “Maman!”

Their mother waved. “Venez ici les enfants.”

They raced up the hill to her beckoning hand. The boy gave her the plaque and they sat beside her.

“Okay, children, let’s practice our English.” A smile on her face, she held up the plaque, but her smile faded as she silently read the words.

“Read it out loud, Mommy,” the little boy said.

The girl squeezed her mother’s arm. “You’re crying, Mommy.”

The mother blinked back her tears. She touched the name London and the date at the bottom of the sign. “Children, this is from the old city of London, England, in the year 2020, before The Melt.”

“London is under the ocean now?” The boy asked.

“Yes, Antoine, like so many other cities of the world.” She cleared her throat and read the words:

The age of modern mythology is upon us. Humans, now half god and half beast—with thunderbolts of Zeus and arrows of Artemis—have the power to destroy the world.

The sirens of Earth call us onto the rocks of our Folly.

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