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Written by Si Clarke

Devon Island Mars Colony (complete series) ebook

Devon Island Mars Colony (complete series) ebook

The first permanent Mars colony

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Bringing together two novels and two short stories, this is a work of neurodiverse, culturally diverse, gender-bendy, socio-politico-economic, drunken-arguments-in-the-pub science fiction – not bang-bang-pew-pew science fiction.

Devon’s Island (book #1): Planning the first permanent Mars colony

Before we can build a colony on Mars, someone has to decide how it’s going to work. With 160 slots to fill with experts from all over the world, Gurdeep and Georgie set about designing an all-new society with its own government, economy, and culture – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Livid Skies (book #2): Building the first permanent Mars colony

A fresh start, a queer social liberal dream, and a planet that wants to kill you. Grappling with the realities of human nature and with their batteries slowly dying, the fledgling colony’s 150 women and 10 men must overcome their differences to create a lasting community. But things aren’t always what they seem and maybe the colonists aren’t as alone as they thought.

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Devon's Island

Chapter 1: Gurdeep

Launch minus 1,114 days

Earth, England, London

‘Good morning. Thank you for joining us today.'

I didn't like him. Him with his blatantly insincere smile. He looked as if he were posing for a camera rather than conducting a job interview.

Shifting my weight, I touched the faux leather of the designer chair I was sitting on. I cast my eyes around the room, taking in the exposed brick wall and trendy artwork. Above me, the ceiling was open and industrial with expensive, carefully aimed light fixtures. I glanced downwards at my foot tapping out a silent rhythm on the rich woollen rug atop sanded floorboards. Looking out the window, I admired the view of the Tower of London.

‘What I'd like is for the two of you to tell us about yourselves – your careers, your motivations, and your relationship. Think of this as more than a job interview. A life interview, if you will. Don't leave anything out. Then I'll tell you what we're working on and why we thought you might be interested in joining us. Does that sound all right?'

His accent was that broad transatlantic or mid-European or whatever, suggesting he was well educated and had lived in a lot of places. Of course, I already knew all that. Nigel Hartley-Richards had long been a staple in business news and on current-affairs shows and even an occasional topic of conversation for the celebrity gossip sites. He was shorter than I'd expected, but still… I supposed he was handsome enough – if you were into old, rich white guys. Or, you know, men in general.

I forced myself to smile. ‘Thanks for having us, Sir Nigel. We were both intrigued by your message.' Well, I certainly was. And Georgie said she was too. But it didn't mean I had to like him.

‘Please, just "Nigel" is fine.' There was that smile again. ‘But do continue.' My gosh, he was full of himself. I looked at the woman sitting next to him. She was neat and well put-together. Tight curls of black hair tied back at the nape of her neck. Unblemished umber skin several shades richer than my own. I couldn't even hazard a guess at her age. She had introduced herself as Laura, but hadn't given her surname or role. Presumably Nigel's assistant.

I launched into a canned speech about myself. Gurdeep Singh. Born and raised in Nantwich in Cheshire. Third-generation British-Indian. Considered myself both British and Indian. Master's in mechanical engineering. Almost ten years as a sapper in the Royal Engineers. Deployed overseas three times to date. Oh, and hey… A few years ago I was a quarter-finalist on Bake Off.

Turning to my right, I looked at my wife. Georgiana Ionescu, my gorgeous and startlingly intelligent wife. My mind flashed back to the night I'd met her.

Home from uni for the Easter break, I'd been bored and lonely. I signed up to attend a public talk on sustainable futures, out of both interest and a desire to make friends. The event was at the local civic hall in Nantwich, so I walked over from my parents' place.

Having arrived early, I positioned myself in the back row and watched the volunteers setting everything up. I spotted her from across the room, this curvy beauty brimming with contagious energy. Georgie smiled and waved when she caught my eye. She was a study in contradictions. Curly blond hair with rainbow streaks swirling through it. Fishnet stockings with trainers. Frilled blouse with torn denim skirt.

Watching her flit in and out of the room, running to and fro, carrying supplies and equipment, chasing panellists – I was instantly smitten.

I don't remember a word of the speeches. I invented some excuse to speak with her at the drinks afterwards. She was particularly enjoying these dainty little Bakewell tartlets – not just eating them, but savouring them with a look of almost orgasmic joy on her face.

Not that I'd have had the first clue what an orgasm looked like back then.

‘I can make those, you know,' I blurted. Still no idea where that came from. Please – I'd never baked anything in my life, but I knew I needed to impress this amazing woman.

She raised an eyebrow and flashed a smile that melted me. ‘Oh? You'll have to give me a taste sometime.' Honestly, I would've said anything to extend the conversation by even a few minutes. How could I get this stunning, smart, buxom, charming woman to pay attention to boring, serious me?

Somehow I left that night with her number, a date, and a desperate need to learn how to bake. I spent the next forty-eight hours locked in my parents' kitchen making endless batches of tarts. The first few sets were inedible, but eventually I created something to be proud of.

The rest, as they say, was history.

‘And that leaves me,' Georgie began. As she spoke, I touched my wedding band, turning it around on my finger. They were Georgie's idea. Two materials entwined together: pale oak and dark sand-blasted titanium. Wood and metal. Dark and light. Technology and nature. Bound together forever.

‘I was born in Timișoara, in western Romania. My family moved to Cluj-Napoca when I was small. When I finished school, I moved to England for university. I completed my BSc in applied plant science in Cheshire before pursuing a PhD focusing on novel and more efficient food production methods, comparing both resource efficacy and nutritional content of mycoproteins and spirulina.'

Frankly, when she gets going, it might as well be magic she's talking about for all I can follow. I'm no dummy, but my smarts are orientated towards logic and hard facts; Georgie's an ideas queen. Her mind has always amazed me.

‘After finishing my PhD I moved into industry, working with a food manufacturer, helping to launch sustainably grown meat alternatives.' Georgie was on a mission to solve world hunger and making impressive strides towards achieving that goal. ‘But then, two years back, I chucked it all in to join MELiSSA, the European Space Agency's self-sustainable ecosystem.'

Nigel plucked a piece of lint from his sleeve. ‘What can you tell us about that?'

‘The average human consumes at least five kilograms per day of air, food, and water as well as around twenty kilograms for hygiene – water and soaps and what not. To make permanent or even long-term space missions viable, we need to create a closed ecosystem wherein everything gets recycled, which means the only input is the energy that drives the processes.' Georgie smoothed her skirt and pulled her hands in towards her chest. ‘All of which is pretty incredible when you think of it. We're looking to make finite resources serve a small community of people indefinitely.'

She closed with a few words on the work she undertook in her spare time, although I still didn't understand how she had any. ‘I also volunteer as a chaplain with an inter-faith group, working in hospitals, hospices, and prisons.' As she finished, she turned and gave me a quick nod.

‘I first met Georgie during my final – her second – year of undergrad,' I said. We'd dated for four years, then got engaged. We'd been married now for almost five years. Nigel and his assistant didn't need to know how difficult it was for us being separated for months at a time thanks to our careers. Still, we managed. ‘We've both made sacrifices and compromises, but our relationship has always come first.'

‘It always will,' Georgie added, taking my hand.

‘Thank you,' said Laura. ‘We appreciate your time today. I asked Nigel to arrange this meeting' – Whoa! Okay, I guess she didn't work for him – ‘to discuss a project I've been commissioned to undertake. My employers have contracted Nigel and his firm to bring this project to fruition.' She paused briefly. ‘It's something I hope you're both interested in being part of too.'

‘Well, I'll admit I'm curious,' said Georgie. I nodded my agreement – not least because who in the bloody hell orders a billionaire egotist to set up a meeting? Laura, apparently. That's who.

A few weeks back, Georgie had received a vague message from one of ESA's big wigs saying they had put her name forward for a prestigious external placement and to keep an eye out for a message from Double Star, a company famous for – amongst other things – being one of the few private enterprises making viable headway towards entering the space race.

Sure enough, someone from Double Star had been in touch a couple of days later. To our surprise, it wasn't just her they were after. They said they were undertaking a new long-term project, and they thought the two of us together might be a great fit for it. Next thing we knew, we were on the Eurostar to London for the interview.

Laura nodded. ‘Good, good. I've been retained by a consortium of governments and private groups to arrange for a permanent, self-sustaining, fully independent human colony on Mars.' She paused.

I clenched my jaw to keep my mouth from falling open. I don't know what I was expecting, but this wasn't it. Nigel Hartley-Richards was widely known for having an array of business interests. He was one of those ‘self-made' men who'd started with nothing but his family's billions. We had wondered if his reason for wanting to talk to us had something to do with an off-world base they were hoping to build. The Moon or Mars or maybe a new space station. But a permanent colony? An independent one? I sat up straight, running my fingers over the gooseflesh that had appeared on my forearm.

‘I'm sure you're aware of the incident last year?' Laura's eyes widened as she looked down the bridge of her nose at us.

Her emphasis made it sound like there was only one incident worth mentioning, though to be honest, I wasn't sure which one she meant – there'd been a lot in recent months. Still, I nodded. North Korea, Russia, Syria, the US… Terrorism, wars, coups, and near misses. We couldn't stop trying to kill one another. The planet was locked in a never-ending cycle of one-upmanship.

Beneath the glass table, Laura uncrossed and recrossed her legs. ‘Of course. Well, I'm authorised to tell you this incident came closer to destroying life on Earth than we would care to admit.' There'd been rumours of a nuclear almost-strike between Iran and the US. Maybe that's what she was referring to. She touched a locket at her throat like it was a source of strength. ‘The event served as the impetus for my employers coming together to formulate a plan.'

She swallowed. ‘Our best people have been working on this for quite some time. They are in agreement, which I assure you is rare in itself. They tell us there is a greater than fifty-fifty chance of either complete or near-complete societal collapse within the next decade.'

She looked both of us in the eye in turn. ‘We want to be sure we have a group of humans who not only survive, but who can also ensure that the history, biology, technology, and aspirations of planet Earth won't be lost. I've been tasked with organising a fully self-contained, self-governing off-world base. It will maintain contact with Earth but be completely separate from it. My employers want to ensure this happens, but they have recused themselves from the running thereof.'

Laura said her employers had hired Double Star to manage the logistics of getting us there.

‘And who are your employers, if I may ask?'

‘You may ask, Captain Singh,' she replied with what could've – I wasn't sure – been a smile. Might've been more of a smirk. ‘However, it's not a question I'm at liberty to answer. What I can tell you is that we are establishing a command team to form the core of the new colony. We want you, Captain Singh, to lead it.'

She faced Georgie. ‘And we want you, Dr Ionescu, to be part of the leadership too. We have a few other key people in mind, as well, but the colony and its leadership team will be answerable to you alone, Captain. If both of you agree to join us, that is. However, you will need to respect my employers' desire to remain unknown. They will be silent partners in this venture. Your communication with them will be through me.'

Laura set her elbows on the table and brought her palms together such that her fingers pointed at the space between Georgie and me. ‘I will work with the mission backers and relevant governments to secure funding and regulatory approvals. Nigel's firm will provide the means to get you and your team to Mars. Who you take with you will be solely at your discretion. You will decide all the details.' Pulling her elbows closer to herself, she added, ‘If you both agree.'

She looked me in the eye, then Georgie, then back to me. ‘I take it you both now understand why the non-disclosures you signed this morning were as thorough as they were.'

She wasn't kidding; we did, and they were.

‘Any questions? Again, bearing in mind that I cannot address ones pertaining to who my employers are or how they function.'

I struggled to mask how light-headed I felt. ‘I take it from what you've said that this will be a one-way mission,' I said. Laura nodded. ‘Would we still have contact with people back ho— people on Earth?'

Laura smiled an odd smile. ‘I'm glad you corrected yourself. Mars will be your home, so it's important you think of it that way. But to answer your question, you must not explain the nature of your mission to anyone outside our circle. You may tell them you're leaving, of course, and we'll help draft a cover story. Once the last colonist has landed on Mars, only then can you tell people where you really are. You'll be able to exchange messages with those of us on Earth, though there will be a time delay – between seven and twenty minutes.'

‘We don't want to rush you into any hasty decisions.' Something about the way Nigel straightened his posture and expanded his chest made me suspect he was feeling left out of the conversation and wanted to reassert himself. ‘Thank you for meeting with us.'

Laura nodded as she shook our hands. ‘We appreciate you coming all this way to meet with us. We'll have someone arrange for anything you need. Please take as much advantage of our hospitality as you wish. We look forward to hearing from you within the next seven days.'

* * *

I shivered as we stepped out into the London drizzle. Georgie held my hand tightly, but we didn't say a word. My heart was still racing and I wasn't sure I could form words.

Nigel's people wanted to book us in for dinner at a stuffy, formal restaurant, but we said we'd prefer our favourite. We spent what was left of the afternoon in companionable silence. We made our way from the stunning Victorian masterpiece of engineering that was Tower Bridge to the modern wonder that was the Shard and then on to Southwark Cathedral, which had been built, extended, modified, and repaired again and again over almost a thousand years.

From there, we continued on to the Millennium Bridge, where I marvelled at the engineering that went into it and how it'd had to be closed within days of its original opening because people couldn't cope with the swaying. Engineers had corrected the wobble. Mostly.

Crossing the bridge, we admired St Paul's Cathedral before returning to our ridiculously lavish hotel and dressing for dinner in a daze. The driver collected us at the appointed time and drove us to the restaurant in silence.

Mosob was a small family-run Eritrean restaurant in Maida Hill, which served up traditional food. The owner greeted us as we walked in, letting us know the entire back room had been reserved. While it seemed a bit of a waste, at least it meant we could speak freely. As we took our seats, I noticed there was a bottle of wine waiting. A red Portuguese Douro: Georgie's favourite, Papa Figos. Someone had done their research.

A server opened the bottle and poured a small taste, which she handed to me. I deferred to my wife instead. Once Georgie was satisfied, the waiter served us each a glass, handed us menus, and disappeared without a word.

‘So,' I began.

Georgie grinned broadly at me. ‘I know,' she squeaked.

My wife had had a fascination with space since childhood, but once she joined ESA, it had become almost an obsession. She had a real drive to work on a mission – though she never thought she'd be leaving the planet herself. Potential end of the world aside, this was a dream come true for her.

I laid my hand on my wife's. ‘We're going to Mars,' we whispered together.

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How long is this book?

15–16 hours

171k words / 694 pages

Why should I buy direct from the author?

When I published my first book in January 2020, someone at work laughed and asked me when I was going to quit my job. 

There's this perception out there that authors are wealthy people. And I'm sure the big names (e.g. Richard Osman, Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, etc.) are doing just fine.

But it's not like that for indie authors. It's tough out there. There are great, amazing things about being an indie author. But most of us aren't making bank.

You know who is making money out of books? Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.

You may have noticed a move in recent years of indie authors selling their books directly to you. There's a reason for that. 

If you buy a book for 0.99 from Amazon, the author gets to keep maybe 0.26 of that. Maybe. It depends on the file size. And they won't even get that for around 3 months. But if you buy a book from an author for 0.99, the author gets to keep around 0.83. And we get that money within days.

Because that first book I mentioned? Four years later, it hasn't come close to paying for itself. 

If you can't buy direct, libraries are a great way to get books for free while still helping authors get their fair share. 

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