Rhea Hawke’s Ultimate Weapon: the MEC

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Rhea Hawke (Valie Gurgu) on Iota Hor-2

Rhea Hawke and weapons seem inexorably linked. As a Galactic Guardian Enforcer in a large galaxy of alien technology, Rhea Hawke knows her weapons. She’s used and been shot at by many. During her pre-Enforcer days, when she slummed with gangster Zec Zebalion on Ogium 9, Rhea made a dubious living as an arms dealer. She even designed some (like the Pocket and the MEC). Now, as ex-Enforcer, she finds her designs in high demand…

The Q-gun

The Q-gun is a shapeshifter’s preferred weapon; the handgun discharges dark energy quintle particles that resonate with matter to dematerialize it. In the first scene of Outer Diverse, Rhea is held at Q-gunpoint by the dust smuggler, V’mer on the rainy planet of Mar Delena. Later in Book 1, Rhea visits her old gangster “friend” Zec in Splendid City on Ogium 9, hoping for some information:

I met his gaze head on, then glanced down with a smirk to where his tight pants bulged and decided to make the first move. Tongue brushing my upper lip in mock seductiveness, I sneered: “Is that a Q-gun in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?”

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Splendid City on Ogium 9

The Q-bomb

Q-bombs are genetic-specific explosives with nano-bots that can be programmed for a specific frequency wave or genetic signature such as DNA. The Q-bomb (or its cousin Q-gel) is used often by various people, including Rhea, throughout the trilogy. In Inner Diverse, Rhea’s bookseller friend Serge Bastion (outer diverse twin to inner diverse V’ser) is supposedly killed by a Q-bomb, rigged into a book by a Vos terrorist, who had booby-trapped it with a DNA-sensing device linked to an inverse Q-bomb.  Later in Inner Diverse, Rhea embarks on an ambitious mission to blow up a Nihilist weapons facility using a set of Q-bombs. But to do that, she must visit her slimy “friend” Zec:

He glared at me with new respect and some fear. “What do you want, Hawke? I know you didn’t bring me my payment.”

“For what?” I challenged him, sauntering closer to him with my MEC still levelled at his crotch. “You’re half right, though. I do have payment. But for a Q-bomb, fifth quintle level with a five hundred charge. And I need it now.”

He threw his head back and laughed. “Whose ship are you blowing up this time?”

I smiled wryly. “Do you want the credits or not?”

I’d never known Zec to say no to a potential deal to make money. “Five thousand,” he said with a sneer.

“Up front.”

“That’s…” I began in a flustered tone, feigning affront.

“Particle-stream robbery?” He grinned. “That’s the deal.”

I looked directly at him with a hard gaze. “I pay only on delivery. And only if it’s within the hour. That’s the deal.”

 

Q-gel

Q-gel was used by the Nihilists in Metaverse to kill Rhea Hawke and Serge Bastion at the Beleus City Med Facility. Like the bomb, the intelligent blue-green slime is driven by nano-bots, and can be programmed to detonate with a specified distance from a specific object.

Then I saw it: a blue-green slime, seeping under the door…

We had seconds. I leapt onto Bastion, seizing him as he yelped, and rolled us off the bed toward the window. We thudded to the floor and I winced at his cry of pain. Calling forth an invisible burst of Badowin strength, I heaved the bed onto its side in front of us and pushed Bastion gruffly down just as the gel ignited with a loud ear-splitting bang.

The blast threw the bed against us and together we collided into the far wall as the windows shattered. Shards of tiny glass rained on us. Bastion squeaked then whimpered.

“You okay?” I asked once I’d gotten my breath back. My voice sounded like I was underwater and my ears were ringing.

He nodded, grimacing tightly with wide eyes. I saw blood trickle out of both his ears and felt a warm flow down my left one. The blast had probably burst our eardrums. We were lucky, I thought, that it hadn’t done more.

“Come on,” I said, pushing the bed off us and scrambling to my feet. “This is our exit call.” I lowered my hand to help him up. He just stared. All around us, embedded in the walls and the far side of the bed were thousands of knife-like spicules. Dozens would have impaled us had we not been shielded behind the bed.

Bastion shivered.

Beleus City

Beleus City, Beleus

The Kappa rifle

The Kappa rifle with its metre-long barrel acts like a chemical weapon discharging kappa particles that slowly eat away flesh. Kappa particles are also used by Fauche shipbuilders as a fuel system for their ships. In Outer Diverse, Rhea first runs across a kappa rifle pointed at her by the bounty hunter Pentas in the Tangent Shipping hanger in Pyramid City on Horus:

Pulse racing, I turned and beheld two large purple Eosians standing at the entranceway. The larger one was in a Great Coat, snarling, and pointing a pocket pistol at me. The other wore a faded ranger and pointed his Kappa rifle with its meter-long barrel at me. I stared at the Kappa rifle. It was a cruel weapon, killing slowly. Mistakenly classified as a Class C weapon, [the Kappa rifle] was released as regulation issue to civilians like this bounty hunter. Guardians and bounty hunters often worked in pairs to find their quarry, usually splitting the reward. I’d done the same on a few occasions.

In Inner Diverse, on the planet Kraal, the terrorist A’ler shoots her brother Serge with a Kappa rifle:

Serge gave his sister a confident smile. “You wouldn’t shoot your own brother—”

The loud report of the kappa rifle made me flinch. Serge’s eyes widened in shocked disbelief then he looked down at the small wound in his chest.

Feeling a sympathetic stab of pain in my tight chest, I stifled a shriek and helplessly watched Serge fall to his knees then lose consciousness and flop over into a heap on the ground.

“NO!” I rushed to Serge’s limp body and knelt over him. I opened his shirt and gaped at the very small but deep wound. It leaked a small bit of blood mixed with kappa-induced fluid. The wound didn’t look like much now but already the flesh surrounding the small hole was reacting. It raged like an angry red boil. Serge’s face was grey with shock. Kappa particles didn’t usually kill right away but they were relentlessly deadly as they ate away the flesh of any creature they entered. It was a painful, long, but usually inevitable death.

“Enough blenoid crap!” A’ler shrilled. “He’ll die for sure if you don’t tell me where you put the bomb. Right now!”

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Kraal

The Concussion rifle

The Concussion rifle, used mostly by Guardians, first makes its appearance in Outer Diverse in the ship hanger in Pyramid City on Horus when two Eosian Guardians emerge from a falcon ship to neutralize Rhea as she attempts to steal a viper. The concussion rifle operates mostly like an old 20th century ballistic firearm.

Flicking my gaze in rapid fire between the console I was trying to un-encrypt and the falcon ship, I eventually caught sight of two Eosians emerging from the falcon, bearing concussion rifles. They were heading in my general direction.

I continued to fiddle with the ID key pad, feeling panic edge in as the Eosians approached. For the love of Creos! I’d opened hundreds of these before. They’d been the easiest ships to steal during my dubious career as arms dealer. And I’d practically taught the vehicle BNE lessons in Stealth 101 at the Guardian academy—

They’d spotted me and were running toward me!

The engine sputtered into a reluctant idling whine. I seized the controls and the viper lurched into the air just as they opened fire.

Chaos! My heart slammed as a few shots pinged across the vehicle’s hull. I carved a tight turn and whipped over my two pursuers, forcing them to instinctively duck, and soared out of the hangar into the sunset.

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Pyramid City, Horus

The Sling rifle

The Sling rifle is a harpoon-like weapon used by hunters, primarily blenoid hunters and meat traders on Upsilon 3—many of whom are smugglers and thieves. The rifle is essentially a harpoon with narcotic discharged with a sling line. in Inner Diverse, Rhea meets up with a gang of nasty meat-traders, who capture her and A’ler:

Lars laughed loudly and spit again, brown spittle landing on A’ler this time. “I do smell myself a barbeque.” Without a second thought, he aimed his sling rifle and shot. The rifle cracked, followed by the whiz of the harpooned sling line. The blenoid yelped then slumped, instantly knocked out by the strong narcotic. I flinched. He’d shot the leader of the pack and I knew what would happen next as the foreman released his sling. The blenoids fell upon their unconscious leader, flaying her alive to shreds…The men shouted with excitement, waving their sling rifles in the air.

The sling rifles discharged, cracking the air like whips, followed by their singing lines. As each blenoid tumbled under the deep penetrating harpoon hook, the men reeled them up as the remaining blenoids charged and dragged down their unconscious mates. It was a cruel game of cat and mouse and the sling rifle was luridly suited to it. A primitive weapon, the sling’s sharp harpooned projectile seldom killed. Killing wasn’t its objective; maiming, injuring and demobilizing was the intent. The sling was popular with hunters and gamers looking to satisfy their brutal sport of tormenting lesser beings. And torment they did. I watched in sick disgust as the men screamed with malicious amusement and reeled in the harpooned blenoids like fish in a writhing sea.

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desert and rock of Upsilon 3

The Stun stick

The Stun stick is a high-energy weapon that resembles a staff. It is used by the Orichalkon, an Eosian elite guard of Mon Seigneur Martinez assigned to guard his Gnostic order in their various outposts in the universe. The weapon is wielded like a staff in Tai Chi movements and discharges an energy wave that stuns all in it contacts. In Inner Diverse, Rhea is rescued by them when she is thrown by the traders into the blenoid pit to die:

The blenoids never reached me. They yelped and wailed and flew in all directions. Two large Eosians, garbed in jet black had dropped from the crane arm to the pit. They wielded stun sticks in swift fluid motion like acrobats, flinging stunned blenoids away from the platform. The Eosians’ choreographed dance reminded me of my Tai Chi form as they knocked every blenoid unconscious.

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Upsilon 3

The Nokerig Pistol 

In Metaverse, Nokerig pistols were deployed by Nihilists in an attempt to immobilize Rhea during her rescue of Serge Bastion from the Beleus Med Facility.

The guard at the exit was expecting me but not my MEC. I burst out shooting and caught him as he raised his weapon. He fell with a thud. I raced down the hall to the exit on the far end and bolted down the stairs to the third floor, hearing my pursuers clattering behind me. More shots zinged past me from the stairwell and I felt a sharp sting on my left arm.

I hissed out a curse and threw open a door into a narrow corridor with my good arm. I looked down at my bleeding arm. They were using Class D nokerig pistols, ancient ballistic weapons with projectiles that festered in your body wherever they embedded. Although it hurt like chaos and bled copiously, the bullet had only grazed my arm, I noticed with relief.

 

The Pocket

Rhea designed her own weapons with great success. One currently used exclusively by the Guardians is the Pocket (PulsOniC Kinetic Energy Tracker)—a small lightweight pulse pistol that can track a target once the gun has identified their signature.

 

Rhea’s MEC (Magnetic-Electro Concussion) Pistol

Before she joined the Guardians, Rhea had hung out with the gangster Zec on Ogium 9, dealing illegal drugs and weapons.  But Rhea’s claim to fame in the galaxy of criminals and enforcers is her MEC, a coveted weapon of her own design and, in some ways, the ultimate weapon.

“I’ve got you, creon,” I whispered smugly, slowing to a walk and raising my MEC pistol.

Unfortunately, everyone and their tappin wants her MEC and its design. In the opening scene to Outer Diverse, Rhea is ambushed by the dust smuggler and shapeshifter V’mer:

He dropped the Q-gun and scooped up my MEC then squatted gleefully down beside me, keeping my arms pinned.

“Ah, the MEC.” He ran the thick gun barrel through my wet hair and leaned closer. “Operates like a sophisticated Q-gun.”

He couldn’t have been more wrong. The Magnetic-Electro Concussion pistol was the best—and worst—thing I’d ever made. The image of Officer Asphalios’s face melting in front of me came back to haunt me. Out of hubristic genius, I’d tailored the MEC to behave uniquely by species, based on their DNA structure. I could sweep my MEC in a crowded room and melt all the shapeshifters, only knock out Eosians and leave humans totally unscathed. But Asphalios hadn’t been what I’d thought he was. He wasn’t what anyone thought he was. And I was still paying for that.

After Rhea is fired from the Precinct for her last blunder (killing the only lead to a spiritual sect massacre), she meets the attractive stranger Serge, who asks her rather unusual questions:

He broke the silence with a question: “So, this MEC of yours … did you design it all by yourself?”

I raised my head and eyed him warily. “Why do you ask?”

“I just thought it was an interesting sideline for a Guardian Enforcer, that’s all. So, are they complicated and do you do it in your head or on some holo design program?”

My eyes narrowed with distrust. “Everything’s up here.” I tapped my head with my finger. “I make it a point not to keep records.”

Later in Outer Diverse, Rhea makes a daring gambit to flush out where the fugitive Serge has gone from his terrorist sister A’ler by disguising herself as an arms dealer for the MEC design and travelling to the Ulysses, an Eclipse space station:

I held up my MEC. “You were after this, weren’t you?” Among other things. I let my smile turn into a smirk. “Well, here it is. But you’re going to have to pay for it, fair and square, like anyone else.” I had the satisfaction of seeing A’ler’s eyes light up with self-absorbed interest. “It’s called a MEC, which stands for Magnetic-Electro Concussion pistol,” I continued, making my pitch. “It uses electro-magnetic wave energy to focus subatomic quintle particles to resonate with specific DNA, rather than randomly concentrating energy on tissue like your Q-gun does.”

“Ah, very clever,” A’ler said, eying the weapon. She held out her hand to inspect it. I hesitated, then reluctantly handed it over and watched, tight-lipped and fidgeting, as A’ler casually played with the controls.

“It’s lighter than I’d thought,” she shared.

“The MEC has three possible settings, based on three unique DNA signatures,” I explained, nervously watching A’ler play with it as though it was a toy. “The first is to kill by essentially melting the tissue that its electromagnetic wave resonates with. The second setting acts as a concussion wave and knocks out the target with matching DNA. The third setting does nothing except scan. One can, of course, choose any combination of the three settings. For instance you could choose to scan three different species or kill three different species.”

“So, it can have these three settings on three different DNA types at the same time?”

I nodded. “With one single sweep of the MEC in a crowd, you could kill all of one genetic type, knock out another, and leave the third intact but scanned and targeted. I’ve catalogued over 200 DNA types.”

“Impressive,” A’ler said, nodding. “Does it have a universal setting?”

“Of course,” I said, a little impatient. “You can choose to scan every DNA type on the MEC’s database—”

“Or kill every DNA type?”

I frowned and curled up my lip in a snarl of confused disgust. “That defeats the purpose of the MEC. You could just as soon use a Q-gun for that,” I said. “The MEC’s advantage lies in its ability to discriminate.”

A’ler stunned me with her next question: “Can you set the MEC to recognize and alert you of a specific DNA type?”

It was a question no one had ever thought to ask and a feature I tended to keep to myself. “Yes,” I admitted with some discomfort at revealing this ultimate property of the MEC. “But only from a limited proximity.”

“How close?” A’ler seemed hardly able to contain a glowing smile of glee.

“The subject has to be within five meters of the MEC.”

“Really!” Her eyes flashed. “And?” she prompted.

“It alerts you by vibrating against your body with a silent Beta frequency.”

A’ler nodded, forcing on a pensive frown. “A Beta frequency, eh?” She looked like she was pretending to know what I was talking about but didn’t. “So, how do you do that?” She turned the MEC over in her hand several times.

“You have to set it on permanent scan.”

“Show me,” she said…

Rhea discovers too late why A’ler asked her to demonstrate these MEC qualities. When she meets the remaining Schiss priest, a Gness named Rashomon, to warn him of his planned assassination by terrorists, it is her own weapon that kills him. When A’ler had briefly handled her MEC, she had surreptitiously set it to recognize the presence of a Gness. Rashomon—known for his obsession with weaponry—had expectedly wanted to handle her unique weapon. A’ler had set the bomb and Rhea had delivered it right in his hands.

I recognized the effects of a Q-bomb. What a fool I’d been. Tricked into playing the role of a weapon again. I’d set out to save this alien and ended up killing him instead. A’ler had obviously planted a Beta-frequency detonator on the MEC. She’d planted the tiny but lethal Q-bomb after she’d tricked me into setting the MEC to scan and alert me with a Beta-frequency in the presence of a Gness.  Then all A’ler needed to do was lead me to Rashomon, by cleverly providing me with the one thing I so obviously desired: Serge.

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The extreme ice environment of Uma 1

Throughout the trilogy, Rhea must finally come to terms with one of the largest blunders of her ill-fated career as an Enforcer: her slaughter of seventy-seven Rills on Omicron-12.

The Rill possessed two very different arms. His right arm was particularly large and clawed and resembled a weapon. It was tailored no doubt for digging in the bogs of Omicron 12. It had been my undoing, that weapon-like arm.

Just before she’s fired by her boss, Ennos in Outer Diverse, he lets her know what he thinks of her mass-execution:

“I say monitor a native uprising on Omicron 12 and you exterminate a whole insurgent army singlehandedly with that genocidal weapon of yours.”

Not even Ennos believed me about mistakenly setting my MEC to kill instead of stun those Rills; my reputation for anti-alienism had preceded me. Despite repeatedly telling myself that they were just vulgar Rills and murdering terrorists, I suffered guilty nightmares of the incident and had secretly wondered why the Guardians hadn’t thrown me into Sekmet for it. Finally, I’d rightfully come to the conclusion that the insane cruelty of the incident had not bothered Ennos, so long as I hadn’t embarrassed him in front of the Legess with whom the Guardians had a relationship; Ennos didn’t care about the Rills anymore than the rest of the Galaxy did.

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Iota Hor-2

In Inner Diverse, Ka challenges Rhea to the core of her prejudiced mind:

Isn’t that really why you made the MEC? To rid the galaxy of those unsavoury races? Isn’t that what you were doing on Omicron 12?”

I swallowed convulsively and tightened my hold on the MEC. It was slipping in my clammy hands. “I’m not a fascist.”

“Aren’t you?” Ka challenged. “Admit it, Rhea, you mercilessly killed all those Rills without the slightest remorse—”

“It was a mistake. My MEC was—I wasn’t used to its settings and—”

“There are no mistakes, Rhea,” Ka cut in. “There is only duende. And for every action a reason, and a consequence, even if unclear to the doer.” Then he leaned forward. “You’ve long harboured anti-alien sentiments. And you particularly despise baldies.”

Even in Hades on Sekmet, the prison planet, the mevlani (prisoner in charge) Barbariccia berates Rhea for her treachery:

“When you were an Enforcer you self-righteously and viciously dispensed your version of law and order,” he said in a voice of open contempt. “Death was your calling card and your answer for everything. Over a standard galactic year ago, on Omicron 12, you went way beyond your mandate with the Legess and intruded on a revolutionary meeting of key insurgents. You crushed a whole race with ruthless precision, killing seventy-seven unarmed Rills with that menacing weapon of yours.”

I bit back a retort and felt saliva collect in my mouth. I’d convinced myself that they were armed, but they weren’t. It was a lot easier to justify why I kept shooting even after I realized that my MEC was spitting out fatal waves rather than debilitating ones. My tormented mind had repeatedly gone over that lurid scene, trying to sort out what had triggered my tragic blunder of insanity. I couldn’t help my panicked reflex of misguided self-defence; it was the rationale that I’d fed myself later that shamed me now. They were only Rills, I’d thought. Only Rills…. I had wondered briefly at the time why Ennos hadn’t sent me to Sekmet for my overly ambitious deed. The non-native Legess were clearly the aggressors, enslaving the obsequious Rill, and for decades had exploited their labour for keen profit…with the full support of the Guardians—perhaps the real reason I hadn’t been sent to Sekmet for my act of treachery. Although it looked bad, I’d done exactly what both the Legess and the Guardians quietly wanted: I’d crushed their revolution.

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Sekmet

As the trilogy progresses, Rhea’s MEC design plays a pivotal role in the war brewing in the galaxy. Her MEC technology is coveted by Guardians, Eclipse criminals and Vos Nihilist terrorists alike as a weapon of genocide. Rhea finally realizes that she cannot distinguish ally from foe in the chess game to seize her weapon of destruction. Once she trades the MEC design to a Nihilist for the life of a colleague—setting in motion a treacherous escalation toward galactic war—Rhea must fight to save the galaxy and ultimately reconcile what she started with the Rill uprising on Omicron-12.

In Metaverse, the third and last book of The Splintered Universe Trilogy, Detective Rhea Hawke travels back to Earth, hoping to convince an eccentric mystic to help her defend humanity from an impending Vos attack—only to find herself trapped in a deception that promises to change her and her two worlds forever.

You can listen to a sample recording of Outer Diverse, Inner Diverse, and Metaversethrough Audible.

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GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY!

Rhea likes to use proverbs as barbs and to unhinge her opponent when she gets nervous or feels trapped. Send me a good proverb for Rhea to use and I will send you a code to obtain a free Audiobook from Audible. Codes are limited, so it will be first come, first serve until we’re out. Send your proverb to Nina Munteanu at: nina.sfgirl[at]gmail.com.

 

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Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” will be released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in 2020.

 

 

 

Rhea Hawke and The Legend of the Sacred Trees…

 

EasternTownships fall-DavidChapman

Eastern Townships of Quebec (photo by David Chapman)

EXCERPT from Outer Diverse, Book 1 of The Splintered Universe Trilogy:

My mother had fantasized that one day she would see Eos. Her hero was Genevieve Dubois, the space explorer who’d flown the last of a series of ill-fated ZetaCorp flights to Eos some two hundred years ago when it took years to travel anywhere in the galaxy. Dubois was the first―and only―human to have set foot on the mythical planet of Eos, secluded in the giant blue nebula of the Pleiades. After apparently experiencing an epiphany of universal proportions, when she encountered one of the god-like Epoptes, Dubois returned, pregnant, to Florida with her Eosian lover, Azaes. They mysteriously disappeared after being taken into captivity by the American government and ZetaCorp for questioning. Rumors abounded that Azaes had unleashed a tremendous and fearful weapon out of his head on a human―the melting look, I figured―which condemned him as a dangerous monstrosity. Humans rallied to have him imprisoned or banished. Even killed.

The historical records suggested that Dubois and Azaes were murdered soon after. My mother, however, agreed with popular lore that they’d escaped to live a simple secluded life, and that Dubois’s baby by Azaes was born and its descendants were living to this day. The most popular story ― and therefore the least likely―was that only Dubois got away, travelled north to Canada and returned to her native Quebec where she stoically gave birth alone to her child in some abandoned barn in the country. The whole thing smelled of mythos.

EasternTownships

Eastern Townships, Quebec

Despite the rampant anti-alienism, many humans strongly believed that Dubois bore this child, making her the first human to give birth to a human-alien. A fanatical cult, L’Ordre de l’Arbre Sacré—Order of the Sacred Tree, sprang up in Quebec, and its mostly human members devoted themselves to the notion that Dubois’s child was a kind of messiah who walked secretly among humans and was linked to the tree of life and knowledge, the vishna. They regarded the vishna an ancient soul that carried infinite wisdom and the answer to achieving the ‘balance of all things’.

Beautiful violet vibrant jacaranda in bloom.

the sacred Vishna tree, an ancient soul from Eos

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Migratory trees of Horus

The Order of the Sacred Tree claimed that all the ills plaguing life in the galaxy were due to a misalignment of forces, an imbalance that the now-extinct Hopi Native Indians called koyaanisquatsi. They claimed that this messiah—Dubois’s child— would provide the balance needed to begin a new age of enlightenment and peace. They spread wild stories of how the child was consummated not through Dubois’s lover Azaes but somehow through Dubois’s interaction with an Eosian vishna tree, which had godly powers and came to be known as one of the sacred trees, along with the migratory trees of Horus, which were also thought to be ancient souls.

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Drowned trees in Eos igapo

According to the Order, Genevieve Dubois had, in fact, perished in a giant igapo that flooded Eos’s great forest as she saved the natives from the evils of her mad crew. The legend claims that Dubois was swept up by the igapo, battered and dying, to the top of the highest vishna tree and there joined with an Epoptes. When she died, the Epoptes took her form, and it was she who returned to Earth with Azaes. Their child was the first Epoptes to live among humans … as a human, bringing the message of the ancient souls for achieving sacred balance and eternal existence.

Members of the Tree Cult swelled to the thousands, spreading the word of enlightenment through sacred trees, such as the native oak, the extraterrestrial vishna, and the mythical migratory trees of Horus. Yet their membership and much of their practices remained veiled in mystery. I couldn’t understand their popularity in a world of rampant anti-alien sentiment. Perhaps this was why the Tree Cult remained a secret society. The Tree Cult continued to petition for Earth to acquire the sacred vishna tree of enlightenment. Well, Earth had them now aplenty, I thought with a sour smile. Only there were hardly any humans left there to enjoy them… the Vancouver of my youth no longer existed; the Eosians had altered my world.

Rhea is referring to the fact Earth was now the home of Eosians, who claimed that Earth was their initial home, eons ago. In the bargain for their part in saving humanity from the Vos attacks of 186-191 SGT, Eosians claimed Earth as their ancient homeland and humanity was pushed into exodus.

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Rhea Hawke (Vali Gurgu) on Iota Hor-2

“…the baldies had transformed my home planet into a lush jungle. I’d heard that they’d introduced their own trees, the vishna that supposedly made them immortal, and had coaxed Earth to revert to what it had been prior to the agricultural revolution thousands of Sol years ago. The Eosians had made Earth their home, living a symbiotic-organic life through their superior bio-technology.”

While some humans remained to live with the Eosians and adapt to their way, most took the offered package to leave: Eosians provided several bio-geo-engineered planets suitable for humans to colonize, one of which was Iota Hor-2, where Rhea lives and works.

 

The World—and its Myths—According to Rhea:

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Azaes and his scree on Eos

Eosians: The whole Eosian race was supposedly the result of a foolish transgression by the overseeing ‘gods’ of ancient Earth, the Epoptes. The ‘watchers.’ Although they’d sworn not to, some Epoptes came down and fornicated with the primitive stone-age humans. My mother had quoted the lines in the Bible often enough: the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. It was always males who did the ‘taking,’ I thought. Of course, the logic was obvious: only women gave birth. There was no point in female ‘gods’ coming down to frolic with the primitive human males. Not if the point of fornication was to produce a new species in the original community.

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Atlantis under the ocean

[The Epoptes] had created a hybrid giant race, the Eosians, who became the original inhabitants of Atlantis: the Nephilim (giants) were on the earth in those dayswhen the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men. So went the new myth, anyway … and when the Atlanteans plummeted into debauchery themselves, the matter-energy manipulating Epoptes unleashed their wrath in the form of a global disaster that was known throughout countless civilizations as the ‘great flood.’ Choosing a few still good Atlanteans to take on their ‘ark,’ the Epoptes found them a new home: Eos, an Earth-like jungle planet nested deep in the Pleiades. They left any original humans who’d managed to survive the wrath of the gods to their own devices. And now the Eosians were back on Earth, where they’d originated. And no sign of any Epoptes, I thought cynically. Of course, the logical cover-up story was that the Epoptes had learned their lesson and never made themselves known to others again. It was all pretty convenient. 

Epoptes: Phantom ‘gods’ the Eosians supposedly consulted through their dreams to police the galaxy. According to the baldies, the Epoptes had commanded them a hundred years ago to end their reclusive existence to form the Galactic Guardians and to fight the Vos seventy years later. Luckily they did or Earth would have been destroyed and humanity rendered extinct… “It’s all myth. Gods are a myth. Vos. Epoptes. I don’t believe any of it.”

Vos: Rumors of what the Vos looked like and the treacherous things they did to their victims were just that: rumors. No one had ever lived to tell. I was familiar with most of the rumors: depending on who you talked to, the Vos were anything from giant god-like humanoids to massive reptilian-like creatures with glowing red eyes or huge fluorescent blobs of amoebic protoplasm. They also ate their victims. Of course, the obvious question Metaverse-FRONT-web copywas: if no one had ever survived a Vos encounter, how could anyone possibly know this? Galaxy News spread as much fantasy as it did real news, I thought with a cynical and humorless smile.

 

In Metaverse, the third and last book of The Splintered Universe Trilogy, Detective Rhea Hawke travels back to Earth—now all Vishna jungle—hoping to convince an eccentric mystic to help her defend humanity from an impending Vos attack. Instead, Rhea finds herself trapped in a deception that promises to change her and her two worlds forever.

You can listen to a sample recording of Outer Diverse, Inner Diverse, and Metaverse through Audible.

audible listen

Microsoft Word - trilogy-poster03.docx

GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY!

Rhea likes to use proverbs as barbs and to unhinge her opponent when she gets nervous or feels trapped. Send me a good proverb for Rhea to use and I will send you a code to obtain a free Audiobook from Audible. Codes are limited, so it will be first come, first serve until we’re out. Send your proverb to Nina Munteanu at: nina.sfgirl[at]gmail.com

Vishna flowers

Flowers of the Vishna tree on Earth

 

nina-2014aaa

Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” will be released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in 2020.

 

Rhea and Her Sentient Ship Benny

Rhea tall

Rhea Hawke (Vali Gurgu) on Iota Hor-2

People who have read the trilogy often tell me that Rhea’s sentient spaceship Benny is one of their favourite characters. He certainly was for Dawn Harvey, the voice actor who narrated the three audiobooks of The Splintered Universe Trilogy. She gave Benny a cultured and intelligent but unassuming voice that resonated with a gentle kindness. Just what Rhea needs. And she often needs Benny’s unique abilities to get her out of trouble.

Peering through the door’s window, my gaze swept the hangar, and I spotted what I was looking for. Benny stood at the far end, unscathed but decidedly lonely. My beautiful ship, my brown-green camouflage two-man interstellar craft with his elegant and practical design took my breath away. His long snub-ended snout was flanked on either side by narrow concave triangular fuel-scoops. Foil wings at his stern folded up over his fuel scoops. They’d left the pilot’s canopy shield up to give the inside of the AI-ship some air.

Benny was a rare retro/state-of-the-art Fauche design, which used old-fashioned Earth sleep technology along with a sophisticated Fauche kappa particle fuel system. Two hundred years ago, harvesting dream-time theta waves was considered an innovative use of required hibernation during long space voyages. Now, with new particle-stream travel, hibernation was no longer necessary. But the innovative Fauche had improved the archaic bio-technology for short-time use. The ray was the smallest ship capable of long distance star travel along the ‘stream,’ thanks to the Fauches’ inventive fuel technology. Benny was the first—and almost last—of his kind. There were only four others that I knew of in existence. But Tangent Shipping could find no interested buyers, which was why I got Benny.

In Outer Diverse, Rhea meets a stranger who becomes very curious about her and manages to find a little bit about how she came to name her sentient ship:

“So, why did you become a Guardian? I mean, you’re pretty unconventional for one. Galaxy News described you as a loner who drives a non-regulation ship.”

I looked up sharply. “I didn’t choose the Fauche ship,” I said defensively, glad of the chance to respond to his added comment and avoid the difficult question. “No one else wanted Benny, so I took him.”

“Benny?” He smiled with amused curiosity.

I returned him a wry smile. “After the brother I never had.”

We find early on—particularly in their conversations and actions—that Benny and Rhea resonate with good understanding. Part of it, we realize, is from Rhea’s programming; but given that Benny is sentient and capable of learning, it goes far beyond Rhea’s input. Benny is far more than just a smart spaceship; Benny serves as caretaker, butler, organizer, medic, secretary, and companion for Rhea.

In the first pages of Outer Diverse, Benny must save Rhea’s life after a chase goes south and she gets dusted with a fatal dose of Glitter Dust. Not liked at the Precinct (she’s the only human in an all-Eosian force), Rhea must endure snide ridicule about her and Benny. The day of her return to the Precinct from her near-death encounter with Dust, Rhea walks past several of the old guard loitering by the entrance to the Precinct, as if waiting for her:

“Lucky for the kid, her creon of a ship rescued her—again!”

My lips tightened, hearing the barrage of laughter. I didn’t bother to acknowledge Euaimon by turning my head, but I blew out a casual bubble with my gum then brought it back lazily into my mouth.

“You two belong together, Hawke!” Euaimon jeered. “You jag up and that hunk of junk saves your sorry blenoid ass!”

I passed the mob and tried to hasten my steps without making it obvious.

When Rhea is fired as a Guardian Enforcer—weapons, coat and badge taken and Benny impounded—she wanders the streets of Neon City on Iota Hor-2, ruminating on her short career:

iota-hor-rhea_edited-1

Rhea Hawke

Night shadows crept in and kept me company as I wandered aimlessly. Iota Hor b glowed orange in the night sky, bathing Neon City with its warm light like a harvest moon. I stopped for a moment and let my gaze drift away from the luminescent planet toward the night sky…

My hands dove deep into the pockets of my flight jacket as I recalled the first time I’d seen the Milky Way on Earth. I remembered the night my mother had sat with me on Ambleside Beach and first pointed it out. She’d explained that it was a huge spiral galaxy of billions of stars about fourteen billion years old. Fascinated, I dreamed of travelling to the farthest arms of the Milky Way.

When I’d joined up as an Enforcer, the Guardians gave me my own starship, a rare ray-class retro Earth/alien design that no one else wanted. It didn’t matter to me. Benny was mine. Thanks to Benny’s plasma shields, we’d weathered treacherous ionic storms, gamma-ray bursts, and the high-velocity clouds of the breathing galaxy. We jacked the Magellanic Stream and travelled to the farthest arms of the spiral galaxy, surfing scalar fields into thrilling particle stream shortcuts. We’d even slingshot our way around the black hole in the galactic core using its immense gravitational field and high-energy emissions. I’d witnessed many galactic wonders like the terrifying beauty of nebulas: tangled filaments of dust and ionized gas that poured out in jets and waves from the stellar corpse of a neutron star. Pulsing electromagnetic energy, the shock wave of material flung from the supernova created a spectacular lightshow that shredded anything in its path, drawing me into breathless wonder.

And now the adventure was over, I concluded and dropped my gaze from the stars to the dimly lit street. I was grounded. Benny wasn’t mine anymore. I was only twenty-three and I was already a has-been.

When Rhea finds out that Benny is headed for the scrap yard (no one wants it: it’s too small, old and weird), she steals Benny in a daring rescue with the help of her colleague Bas. Rhea breaks into the hanger where Benny is being held, leaps inside and fires up the engines.

“Rhea? Is that you?” Benny piped up.

“It’s me, Benny,” I said, chewing madly and seizing the controls. “I’ve come to rescue you from the scrap yard.”

“I’m so glad to see you!”

“I missed you too, Benny. But there’s no time to chat now. You have to let me get us out of here.”

“Done.”

I swung Benny around and shot out of the hangar bay as the guard fired on us.

“Yeah, I owe you for that one, Bas,” I murmured with a grateful but sad smile as Benny sailed into the upper atmosphere of Iota Hor-2. “Big time, buddy.”

“I guess we’re both fugitives now,” Benny said as we shot past the Athena, Iota Hor-2’s orbiting defense/research station, without incident.

I blinked. “Yeah,” I agreed solemnly, gazing at the long solar panels that surrounded the station. I didn’t have the heart to tell Benny that no one was likely to be chasing us on his account. Even the scrappers had better metalloid to chase.

Boiling Sea of Horus and ship2

Benny flies over the Boiling Sea in the Oily Range (Weeping Mountains)

In Metaverse, the third and last book of The Splintered Universe Trilogy, Detective Rhea Hawke travels back to Earth, hoping to convince an eccentric mystic to help her defend humanity from an impending Vos attack—only to find herself trapped in a deception that promises to change her and her two worlds forever.

You can listen to a sample recording of Outer Diverse, Inner Diverse, and Metaverse through Audible.

audible listen

Microsoft Word - trilogy-poster03.docx

GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY!

Rhea likes to use proverbs as barbs and to unhinge her opponent when she gets nervous or feels trapped. Send me a good proverb for Rhea to use and I will send you a code to obtain a free Audiobook from Audible. Codes are limited, so it will be first come, first serve until we’re out. Send your proverb to Nina Munteanu at: nina.sfgirl[at]gmail.com.

alien-sunset-in-the-mountains

nina-2014aaa

Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” will be released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in 2020.

Artist Costi Gurgu Explains his Cover Art for The Splintered Universe Trilogy

Get Rhea-HawkeGOODWhen I first met Costi and Vali Gurgu at the World Fantasy Convention in Montreal several years ago, I had no idea that Costi would end up creating the stunning book covers for The Splintered Universe Trilogy or that his wife, Vali, would serve as the model for the hero of my story, the relentless and steely detective, Rhea Hawke. You can find his cover art and other artworks on Costi’s illustration site.

 

Nina: Hi, Costi. Thanks so much for agreeing to do this interview. 

Costi: Hi, Nina. The pleasure is mine.

 

Nina: You came up with a “Triptych” design for the Splintered Universe Trilogy. What inspired you to come up with it and what do you like about it?

Costi: There is the danger of spoilers in this answer. The fact is that your main character, Rhea, undergoes a certain evolution from a regular human being to… let’s just say something else. And that evolution has three parts, one for each book of the trilogy and it also has a touch of divine. So, the triptych design, so often used for religious paintings, fits like a glove on the entire concept.

Microsoft Word - trilogy-poster03.docx

Nina: Your design for Outer Diverse (and designs for the other two covers) carries a powerful image that conjures a portal or gateway into another world (which is what the trilogy is about). The reader is drawn into an infinite landscape, looking in, and Rhea is looking out. Can you tell us a little about how you conceived this compelling design. Is there a meaning behind the symbols and colours you used? 

Costi: To be honest, the initial idea was for the red ring to be a sort of mapping device and a radar combined into one, since Rhea travels great distances in her quest. Then I realized it might as well be a portal device on top of everything else and serve all her travelling needs.

There were two options —either we would look with her outside, to whatever target she had, or look towards her. I thought that it would be more powerful if we could look towards her and see her determined face, see the unflinching resolution in her eyes, while she’s pondering her next move and readying herself to use the device once again. But to look towards her and see her in a confining room of a space ship, or such, would have defeated the purpose. So I needed to have her against the infinite landscape as the backdrop. She is in a continuous journey to discover herself and this journey takes her literally through the infinite spaces of not just one universe.

 

BewareRhea-GOOD copyNina: Yes, I love the metaphoric elements you’ve woven into the design. The image speaks to us on many levels. Do you use music or other devices in your work to evoke your creativity? What other tools did you use to create the stunning covers of Splintered Universe (e.g., animation software, etc.)?

Costi: I’m always listening to music while working. The kind of music varies depending on what I’m working on. If I’m writing for instance, I need instrumental music, without words to influence my own ones. Also, it depends on the kind of feeling and mood I try to generate through my writing or my illustration. Music helps me channel those feelings into the right words or imagery.

Technically speaking, I always start with sketches on paper, which I later scan. I mainly use Adobe Photoshop, but for this illustration I had to use Adobe Illustrator as well. Obviously, the layout and the typography were done in Adobe InDesign.

 

Nina: Your wife, Vali, was the model for Rhea Hawke. I understand you had a great time doing the photo-shoot (p.s., some of the additional shoots can be seen in the Youtube book trailer). I’ve attended several launches and events and both the cover and the model have been extolled. One reader compared Vali to actress Catherine Zeta Jones. How does Vali feel about being somewhat of a celebrity?

Costi: I’m so happy to hear that. You know, I had to decide how to treat her image. I could have gone towards a more glamorous, shiny look, like in a fashion image, or I could just simply keep it more realistic. Despite Vali’s protests, I chose to keep it that way, because I wanted to offer a realistic image of an ex-police officer: a woman who was used to fighting and chasing criminals, rather than taking care of her appearances. Now, to hear that her rougher and tougher image created that kind of reaction gives me a sort of peace and satisfaction.

 

Nina: You and Vali have had rich and varied careers in commercial art, law and writing. You’ve served, for instance, as art director for several high-end magazines including Playboy, and you taught graphic design at the college level. You journeyed from Romania to England and finally to Toronto, Canada. No doubt your law degree helped you in your entrepreneurial pursuits. Did you pursue illustration and design in England?

Costi: Well, three years [after England] saw us going back to Romania; our families expected us to go back to the Bar Association and behave responsibly. But after showing my portfolio around I got a designer job at Playboy Magazine! The Art Director and I launched its first Romanian edition issue a few months later. Three years later I became the Creative Director of MediaPro Group, the largest publishing company in Romania and Vali took on the position of Art Director of Playboy Magazine.

Two years later we came to Canada to pursue a dream. So, yes, I could say that my law degree created the perfect opportunity for me to discover my passion for visual arts. It took me to England and eventually to Canada. Life is funny that way.

 

Nina: Does Vali help you with your work and do you help her with hers?

Costi: We help each other a lot in our work. Because we worked together in our first legal job and after that in our first design job, we have become a team. We have different approaches to the art process and we have different styles. I went deeper into illustration to complement my design skills, while she chose photography to do that.

Even now, for the most important projects we have for our different employers we involve each other not only for need of feedback, but also for need of different ideas and fresh approaches. We basically complement each other.

Not to mention that she’s always my first reader for any piece of fiction I write. She’s the toughest reader I have but in the same time I know she’s also the most sincere one.

 

Nina: Thanks so much, Costi, for joining us. I wish you the best of luck in all your writing and illustration projects. It’s been an honor to work with you.

Costi: Again, my pleasure, Nina.

Microsoft Word - Rhea Triptych.docx

In Metaverse, the third and last book of The Splintered Universe Trilogy, Detective Rhea Hawke travels back to Earth, hoping to convince an eccentric mystic to help her defend humanity from an impending Vos attack—only to find herself trapped in a deception that promises to change her and her two worlds forever.

You can listen to a sample recording of Outer Diverse, Inner Diverse, and Metaverse through Audible.

audible listen

Microsoft Word - trilogy-poster03.docx

 

GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY!

Rhea likes to use proverbs as barbs and to unhinge her opponent when she gets nervous or feels trapped. Send me a good proverb for Rhea to use and I will send you a code to obtain a free Audiobook from Audible. Codes are limited, so it will be first come, first serve until we’re out. Send your proverb to Nina Munteanu at: nina.sfgirl[at]gmail.com.

 

nina-2014aaa

Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” will be released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in 2020.

 

 

Nina Munteanu Talks about The Splintered Universe with Simon Rose

Author, writer, coach and consultant Simon Rose interviews Nina Munteanu about The Splintered Universe Trilogy, now out in three formats: print, ebook, and audiobook. Listen to a sample from each of the trilogy audiobooks on Audible:

audible listen

Here’s Simon’s interview with me:

SimonRose site

nina interview 3

Nina interview 2

nina interview 4

nina interview 5

nina interview 6

 

In Metaverse, the third and last book of The Splintered Universe Trilogy, Detective Rhea Hawke travels back to Earth, hoping to convince an eccentric mystic to help her defend humanity from an impending Vos attack—only to find herself trapped in a deception that promises to change her and her two worlds forever.

You can listen to a sample recording of Outer Diverse, Inner Diverse, and Metaverse through Audible.

Microsoft Word - trilogy-poster03.docx

GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY!

Rhea likes to use proverbs as barbs and to unhinge her opponent when she gets nervous or feels trapped. Send me a good proverb for Rhea to use and I will send you a code to obtain a free Audiobook from Audible. Codes are limited, so it will be first come, first serve until we’re out. Send your proverb to Nina Munteanu at: nina.sfgirl[at]gmail.com.

alien ocean sky

 

nina-2014aaa

Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” will be released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in 2020.

The Splintered Universe, Book 3: “Metaverse” Audiobook

 

Metaverse-FRONT-web copyIn Metaverse, the third and last book of The Splintered Universe Trilogy, Detective Rhea Hawke travels back to Earth, hoping to convince an eccentric mystic to help her defend humanity from an impending Vos attack—only to find herself trapped in a deception that promises to change her and her two worlds forever.

Lilly’s Book World summarizes the audiobook:

Oh, Yes! An explosive ending indeed! This was such a great series, with such great world development and great characters, full of action and with an amazing narration! I am sorry it’s over! (but I still have the books!)

“Metaverse” concludes so many open points from the previous books.  Some may say the blurb is evasive, but with so much going on, it’s great we have no spoilers in there. However, I can tell you that our main character Rhea is in for a treat! The same goes to her amazing companions.

Rhea develops even more; she manages to discover so much about her heritage and her role in this war that has enveloped the universe. Her story transcends planets and she becomes so much more than a simple presence. I like her and I admire her power.  I’m sorry, I’m being cryptic here. But if you have read or listened to books 1 and 2, you are compelled to see how it all ends. And you already know how great the story is.

The_Hub_by_EStreet-rhea2 copy

The narration is as amazing as in the other two books. Dawn Harvey has done an amazing job giving life to Rhea, making all this action real and palpable. At times, I was listening to her breathlessly. Everything was enhanced due to the narration!

I have little else to add, except that maybe one day I will see this series in our Romanian libraries, so that my fellow countrymen can enjoy Nina Munteanu’s writing. 5 stars!

SplinteredUniverseTrilogy-Amazon

This episode of the space trilogy is everything I wanted and more… Rhea and her helpers are running out of time to save the outer verse from war. There is so much happening in this book it keeps you listening far into the night—Book Addict

 

Dawn Harvey continues to bring a great performance to this series. Her narration is so well done. She’s got the perfect voice for Rhea Hawke. I love how she manages all the different alien voices. Truly, I don’t know how she pulled some of them off, and with such consistency across all three books. 5/5 stars—Dab of Darkness

The trilogy consists of Outer Diverse, Inner Diverse, and Metaverse. and is available in ALL THREE FORMATS: print, ebook, and audiobook. You can listen to a sample recording of Outer Diverse, Inner Diverse, and Metaverse through Audible.

audible listen

Microsoft Word - trilogy-poster03.docx

GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY!

Rhea likes to use proverbs as barbs and to unhinge her opponent when she gets nervous or feels trapped. Send me a good proverb for Rhea to use and I will send you a code to obtain a free Audiobook from Audible. Codes are limited, so it will be first come, first serve until we’re out. Send your proverb to Nina Munteanu at: nina.sfgirl[at]gmail.com.

 

nina-2014aaa

Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” will be released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in 2020.

The Deserts of Upsilon-3 and the Problem with Blenoids

 

desert planet

Upsilon-3

barkhan 3

Barkhans

EXCERPT from Inner Diverse, Book 2 of The Splintered Universe Trilogy: In a desperate attempt to find the Ancient One—the key to the mysterious killings—Detective Rhea Hawke steals a Vos ship and the Vos leader, forcing the terrorist A’ler at gunpoint into taking her to Upsilon-3.

Upsilon-3 is a desert planet with a thin atmosphere, heavy gravity and highly fluctuating temperatures—uncomfortable for any species, save its indigenous small creatures and the blenoids who eat them. Upsilon-3 is one of the moons of Upsilon b, a ringed gas giant. The moon is about Earth-size, an arid wasteland that diurnally shifts between extreme temperatures. During the height of midday, it easily reaches 45ºC, an Azorian’s dream, and in the deep of night it is often below freezing, an Azorian’s nightmare. And speaking of mad blenoids, the planet is full of them…Rhea knows first hand:

I’d been there before. I’d tracked and dispatched an Azorian assassin to the small ephemeral town there once—but at the cost of a blenoid attack. In his desperation, the Azorian had fled the ghost town into the arid wilderness, and if I hadn’t shot him, the blenoids would have torn him apart. If they hadn’t, he would have died a horrible death of severe hypothermia. As it turned out, my shot infuriated a pack of sleeping blenoids and I became the subject of their fury instead.

Ferocious and unpredictable, with dull brains and razor sharp teeth, blenoids were the galaxy’s most dangerous predators; but beneath their tough hide, blenoid meat was considered a galactic delicacy, so long as you stayed away from their organs. Their eating habits made them akin to the seagulls of Earth; they ate everything and anything, including their own and what came out of them. And they were prolific. Blenoids weren’t very large. They stood about a meter long and almost that high but with the anatomy and mad tenaciousness of a pit bull and the rough ochre hide of a rhino.

Adapted to the arid heat of the Upsilon desert, they resembled hyenas with extremely large ears and paws to increase surface area and promote heat loss. Five beady eyes, two on either side of their massive head and one centrally located, were adapted to the harsh bright sunlight of the Upsilon 3 dessert. Their massive powerful jaws contained three layers of razor-sharp teeth. Once they bit down on a prey, the jaw locked into a vice-like grip that either ground deeper or tore out deep muscle. Blenoid saliva contained a powerful narcotic and poison that dulled its victims and caused severe infection that spread swiftly. My grandmother was right; most blenoid attack victims died from shock. Those who’d survived, and there weren’t many, had only done so due to drastic measures like having a limb immediately severed to save the rest of their body. Blenoids attacked anything, no matter what its size and tore it to shreds. They were even known to rip one another apart in a frenzy of aroused anger or if they sensed any weakness. It was natural selection at its cruellest, I considered…

desert planet-noah-presnel

desert planet (by Noah Presnel)

The Galactic meat-traders didn’t stay beyond the time it took to hunt and prepare the blenoid meat for galaxy-wide sale. Apart from the Gnostics who’d claimed one cluster of the ancient alien buildings as their temple of worship, no one lived here—except the Ancient One, that is. So, between the Venik slave traders, the blenoid meat traders, the Gnostic priests and the Nihilists, this backwater planet was actually getting crowded.

desert planet from above

desert moon Upsilon-3 seen from above

As A’ler banks the ship to the arid planet, Rhea observes the vast expanse of open desert:

I gazed down at the waved pattern of cresent-shaped dunes, obviously formed by a constant wind. It was a harsh and miserable environment, I thought.

“Barkhans,” A’ler offered, pointing to the dunes and breaking her taciturn silence. “That’s the West Ghouroud. No one’s ever crossed it and lived.” She eyed me with a dismissive look of disgust as much as to imply, especially a puny human like you.

I didn’t respond and let my gaze stray back to the dune sea. The dunes looked like the capped waves of a red ocean, the deep ochre of their shaded slipfaces contrasting with the harsh bright windward sides, still baking in the sun. The dunes looked small, but I guessed that some were at least three hundred meters high.

sand dunes

Sand dunes (Barkhans)

When they reach their destination—an enclave of strange buildings built by some ancient civilization—Rhea is hit with the harsh environment:

A’ler opened the hatch and a blast of furnace-hot air knocked me gasping and recoiling…Even at sunset, I could feel the stifling heat as we awkwardly disembarked. I inhaled a cloyingly sweet fragrance, reminiscent of cabbage, sewage and rotting flesh: blenoids, I concluded. And remembered; they stank… I followed her gaze and let mine take in the wide expanse of shifting red sands, dotted with islands of low creeping grey-green scrub. My gaze settled to the east.

upsilonandromadae d copy

View of Upsilon b and its ring bisecting the star Upsilon Andromedae

Upsilon Andromedae sat poised over the horizon. I could manage only a glance at the large bluish sphere of Upsilon b above the sun, its huge-diameter ring extending vertically down beyond the horizon and cutting a knife-sharp blade through the sun that cast a long shadow of the ring across the russet expanse. I stared, struck by the terrible beauty of this harsh landscape and just made out what looked like a dust storm on the horizon.

When both her Vos enemy and she are abandoned in the open desert, Rhea must use all her skills to survive the beating heat of the sun, wild blenoids, quicksand, sinkholes and killer plankton as they journey toward a far settlement, hoping for reprieve.

desert playa

desert playa

We’d left the flats of the playa and were heading toward rougher terrain. By tomorrow we would enter the desert proper, the ghouroud, with its massive barkhans that I’d seen from A’ler’s ship. I could already see them looming in the distance. I heard their low stuttering roar as the wind sang through them. And dreaded the crossing. Not only would it be treacherous with more possible quicksand traps, but it would serve a tortuous climb for A’ler up the slipface of the barkhans then down the soft sand on the other side…

The desert became a frozen sea, red clouds of sand rising off huge cresting waves that boomed and creaked like an old boat pitching at sea. The wind whistled like a chorus of laughing witches, hurling red grit into our faces. Our pace slowed to a crawl as our wading steps in the hot yielding sand turned to stumbles and falls.

desert scrub 4

desert scrub

When they finally reach a settlement, they collide with sadistic meat-traders. There Rhea will learn the grim truth about blenoid physiology, ecology and behaviour—and herself.

Get the complete Splintered Universe Trilogy. Available in ALL THREE FORMATS: print, ebook, and audiobook. You can listen to a sample recording of Outer Diverse, Inner Diverse, and Metaverse through Audible.

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GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY!

Rhea likes to use proverbs as barbs and to unhinge her opponent when she gets nervous or feels trapped. Send me a good proverb for Rhea to use and I will send you a code to obtain a free Audiobook from Audible. Codes are limited, so it will be first come, first serve until we’re out. Send your proverb to Nina Munteanu at: nina.sfgirl[at]gmail.com.

 

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Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” will be released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in 2020.