Humanity stands at a crossroads…
We’re pleased to share an excerpt from The Blue-Spangled Blue, book one of The Path—a new science fiction series from David Bowles, available now from Castle Bridge Media.
Humanity stands at a crossroads. Our next steps will either lead us over a precipice or elevate us to enlightenment. It is a crucial time, when the actions of every person matter. A single family could tip the balance.
This is the story of that family. If we follow in their footsteps, we will walk along… The Path.
Jitsu. Once the center of human expansion into distant space, this world was isolated for the better part of a century, a theocratic government rising to fill the void left by its former corporate owners. Now, as Jitsu begins to open itself to the rest of humanity, Brando D’Angelo di Makomo accepts a teaching position on the arid planet. He finds himself drawn to controversial architect Tenshi Koroma and her religious reform movement. As he learns more about Tenshi’s faith—The Path—Brando decides to accept its tenets, to shatter his identity and rebuild himself so that he can be worthy of a soul.
But the dogmatic struggles on Jitsu are a mask for the machinations of a diabolical mind, and the professor’s life will be forever altered by the cruelty of Tenshi’s enemies. In the aftermath, Brando will find a deadly new Way along The Path. And his steps will echo throughout history.
Like all tragic love stories, this one begins with two people from different worlds caught in the throes of a great struggle. As the lovers seek happiness at each other’s side, forces they cannot control treat them as mere pawns.
On Earth, young assistant professor Brando D’Angelo is wrapping up his first year of teaching at the University of Milan. As he grades finals in his cramped office, his inbox dings.
The message is from a new university on Jitsu, a world at the edge of human space, abandoned for seven decades when the hyperspace conduit that once connected its star system to Alpha Centauri C inexplicably collapsed.
Now that the Lieske drive has made rapid interstellar travel once more a reality, Jitsu is reaching out to the rest of humanity, hoping to join the fold.
Or so it seems.
Last month, on a whim, after a vicious fight with his family, Brando answered the new university’s call for applicants.
Now, without further review, they have offered him a position.
Anyone else would weigh the consequences carefully. To leave earth, he will have to undergo agonizing gene therapy that adapts his body for a world with lower gravity. The trip to Jitsu takes three months, which he will spend in hypostasis, encased in gel during acceleration to and deceleration from fenestration, when the ship enters or exits the vaguely understood topography of hyperspace.
As Brando considers these complications, his inbox dings again. It’s Marie-Thérèse Makomo-D’Angelo. His mother, a cleric in the Wiccan Catholic church. Full of passive-aggressive posturing and recriminations, her message demands that he announce his engagement to a woman he does not love, in front of a congregation he cannot respect.
Let us imagine the cosmos itself, suddenly silent, quivering at this key moment.
The future of humanity hangs in the balance.
Though he craves academic respect, Brando has spent years dreaming of the stars, of crossing the liminal space between the bright blue sky and the deep black beyond, of blazing new trails in the boundless welkin.
Without thinking, he types a brief response to his mother: Tufi na yo. I’m leaving. You’ll never see me again.
Then he accepts the offer and books passage offworld.
On Jitsu, nearly twenty light years away, young architect Tenshi Koroma also receives a message in her inbox. It’s from Ambassador Hazal Enver, representative of the CPCC—the Consortium of Planets, Corporations and Colonies, umbrella government of human space.
The ambassador knows Tenshi well—the embassy has recently moved from Station City to a complex of buildings she designed right outside Juresh, the planet’s capital.
In her message, Ambassador Enver asks Tenshi to accept the task of designing and overseeing the construction of a massive fair that will celebrate 150 years since the founding of Jitsu and promote the annexation of the world by the CPCC.
It’s a dream job, but one fraught with potential for significant blowback.
For Tenshi is the twin sister of Samanei Koroma, the Oracle, mystic saint of Neo Gnosticism. And Tenshi’s architectural work is considered blasphemous by most adherents of that religion. Her uncle Santo is the most influential religious leader on Jitsu, vehemently opposed to the dismantling of the theocracy that has controlled the planet for nearly a century. Her father Monchu is an important missionary figure.
If Tenshi accepts, there will be no doubt. She will have rejected her family and their particular sect. She will become an actual pariah, excommunicated and cut off. In fact, her actions may ironically spark greater efforts by extremists on her world to halt annexation.
But a plan flutters to life in Tenshi’s heart. A way to use the fairgrounds after the celebration to promote the ideals she has come to embrace.
The cosmos is not just trembling at Brando’s dilemma.
Without Tenshi’s choice, his staying or leaving means nothing.
Even we who are buried and forgotten feel fate begin to pivot.
Both their hands hover above their keyboards for a moment.
Then, as Brando composes his messages, Tenshi does the same. She accepts the job, on the condition that her payment be ownership of the fairgrounds and all the buildings she erects upon them.
Within moments, the ambassador agrees to her terms.
Their fates—everyone’s fates—are sealed.
For neither Tenshi nor Brando will be easily swept off the cosmic chessboard by the clash of mighty forces.
Sometimes, against all odds, star-crossed lovers start a family.
Sometimes, that family survives the ravages of history.
Sometimes, in fact, it bends history to its will.
Shimmering notes gave way to rhythmic strumming, a bright flamenco pattern that spread in gypsy waves throughout the cabin, insinuating itself into every metallic nook and cranny. Soon a man’s voice joined the syncopated sound, just for the chorus, a lovesick refrain refracted through bitterness into a rainbow of regret and yearning. His father’s face, blurred by time and fading memory, hovered for a moment in his mind, its features almost coming into focus. Then the ship’s intercom went live, breaking the spell.
“Passengers: strap in. We’ll stop purling the gimmal as we approach the platform, so prepare for null gravity. More instructions after we osculate.”
Brando D’Angelo stopped the wandering of his fingers on the fretboard and slid the mahogany and cherry wood curves of the guitar back into the suspension case. The ancient instrument was the only object his father had left behind when he’d abandoned the family ten years ago, and Brando had had to fight his mother to keep it. It was the first of a series of increasingly ugly quarrels, the core of each of which, his mother insisted, was Brando’s similarity to his papà.
Months later, as he had been changing the gut strings, he’d found a small slip of paper wedged inside.
Quando ti senti solo, guarda al cielo e pensa a me. Guarda al blu, Brando.
When you feel lonely, look into the sky and think of me. Look into the blue, Brando.
Sobs had wracked his body for an hour that day. Finally, he’d felt relief.
It hadn’t lasted.
The soft voice repeated its instructions, and Brando stowed the case in the closet mesh. Crossing his cabin, he dropped into the g-seat and did as ordered. Moments later, the inner shell of the Velvet ceased spinning, and his backside and thighs lifted slightly from the seat at the sudden absence of gravity, pressing him against the strapmesh. He felt no nausea, unlike at the beginning of the trip. Months of gene treatments during his long voyage had adapted him to the low gravity. His calm stomach was almost worth the pain he’d gone through to embrace the stars.
After completing a series of complex maneuvers, the Velvet docked with the orbital platform Rasaro. Brando poked his head through the irising door of his cabin. Several passengers were already making their way down the texas’ corridor to the starboard lift, a half-dozen slender portbots swerving out of their way.
“Oy,” the linguist called to one of the semi-sentient porters, “give me a hand with my baggage.”
The gold portbot wheeled over and hefted his bags, turning with deft quickness toward the lift.
“Careful with the guitar case. Don’t drop it or set it face down. That instrument is priceless and older than… hell, older than robots.”
The portbot nodded its understanding and continued down the corridor. Brando followed close behind, casting a final glance around at the plush, broad walkway. He had splurged on an elite room in the texas, near the officers’ quarters. Along with other VIPs, he had shared several pleasant meals in the captain’s dining room during fenestrations, avoiding for brief periods of time the hypostasis pods in which the majority of the passengers, mainly pilgrims of little economic means, had spent the entire journey.
Once the lift hushed to a stop on the docking deck, however, the class distinctions abruptly ended. All thirty-five travelers were herded out of the aging vessel, down the opaque white tube of the narthex that joined ship to station, through a perfunctory customs check, and into a quarantine ward.
Brando took a seat and sighed. Three months after leaving Earth, the finality of his choice loomed large even in Rasaro’s bright but cramped compartments. He wanted to feel free, liberated from his family’s mediocrity and meddling, but his heart felt empty, save for a vague sensation of guilt.
You left them behind. Just like your papà. Sailed away into the blue.
“Why the long face, Doc? You said you couldn’t wait to get here.”
Brando looked up into the orange-brown eyes of Ambarina Lopes, captain of the Velvet. The taut bronze skin of her cheeks crinkled a bit as she smiled.
“Oh, ha, I’m, uh,” stammered Brando, “just not looking forward to the physical.”
Lopes dropped into a seat beside him, smoothing the bright blue of her uniform. “Nah, piece of cake. You made it through the genetic modification, and that’s brutal, I know from experience.”
“I thought you were born on a platform,” Brando said. “Why would you need—”
“Not for space-adaptation. Gender affirmation treatment, when I was ten.”
Brando nodded. “I hear that’s pretty intense.”
Ambar raised an eyebrow and tilted her head to one side. “Yup.”
Glancing around, Brando noticed several more officers and crew from the Velvet filing in. “Giving them shore leave?”
“Yes. There’s a major fair coming in two weeks, celebrating 150 years since Jitsu’s colonization. The gorgeous woman I’ve been dating is behind it all, so my arse better make an appearance. It’s been three months, and Captain Lopes needs some release, ¿me entiendes?”
During her multiple dinners with the VIPs, Ambarina had learned that Brando spoke Spanish, along with five other languages.
“Sí, entiendo,” Brando said. “My, uh, dry spell has been a little longer.”
Lopes leaned closer. “Well, stick to Station City, hermano. Not much action in Neog territory, not for an infidel like you.”
She laughed, clasping her hands over her belly. Brando was about to attempt some sort of follow-up dirty joke, despite how unnatural it felt, but he was saved.
“Brando D’Angelo di Makomo?” a nurse called.
The young professor gave Ambarina a sheepish smile. “That’s me. See you on the other side, Captain.”
The procedures were less intrusive than he’d been expecting, so Brando spent the physical daydreaming about the people and places he’d soon see. The nurse scoffed softly as his pulse quickened.
“A little of both,” Brando admitted.
Once the medical staff cleared the young professor, he followed glowing arrows on the floor to the shuttle lobby to await transport to the surface. A group of Neo Gnostic pilgrims was boarding one of the two shuttles. Brando guessed the other would transport the passengers of the Velvet to the surface soon.
As the pilgrims departed, Brando headed into the lounge, where a large oval viewport gave him a glimpse of the planet he would now call home, the semi-legendary world that had once been the stopover for humanity’s expansion, till the Conduit had been closed. Jitsu: a brown globe with swatches of yellow and grayish blue, basking in the radiation from the two suns of the Eta Cassiopeiae system.
“We meet again.”
Behind his reflection in the viewpoint, the pretty face of Ambarina Lopes floated just above his head. “You know, I spent hours in faux-lifes while in hypostasis, virtually skimming the surface of this strange world. But that doesn’t compare to seeing it with my own eyes.”
“Oh, yeah, that’s right. This is your first time off Earth! Nothing quite like that first glimpse of a new world. Look, there’s the northern continent, coming over the terminator.”
Brando penetrated the clouds in his mind’s eye. There were three distinct regions: a civilized crescent that hugged the last sun-bleached jungle, an unearthly tall mountain chain that sported an extinct volcano, and the great desert that yawned like some ancient hell to the south.
Home. Despite its ugliness, he longed to step onto that yellow soil and inhale the thin air, letting its warmth thaw his soul.
“No! You get us on that shuttle now!”
Brando and Ambarina turned toward the shuttle bay. A group of scary-looking characters in black uniforms were confronting platform personnel.
The pilot exited the shuttle, heading toward the cluster of men. Brando could barely make out what he said as he approached.
“Sir, I’m sorry, but the passengers of the Velvet are scheduled for transport.”
Wordlessly, the leader of the uniformed intruders handed the pilot a data pad.
Ambarina leaned forward, squinting. “I know that guy’s face from somewhere.”
“Is he with the CPCC military?”
She shook her head. “Don’t think so.”
The pilot scrutinized something on the data pad. His face went pale. Walking over to a comterminal on the wall, he made an announcement.
“Passengers of the Velvet, our apologies. The government has commandeered the next shuttle. I’m afraid you will have to wait till it returns to be taken to the surface.”
Brando groaned. “How long will that be?”
“Like four fucking hours,” Captain Lopes answered.
The two of them watched through the viewport as the black vessel curved outward and then down toward Jitsu, becoming a speck and then disappearing in the yellow-streaked atmosphere.
Ambarina suddenly slapped her hand against the bulkhead.
“¡Concha! That’s Chago Martin. What the fuck is he doing on Jitsu? Why is the government bringing him and his comemierda friends to the surface?”
Without any further explanation, she stomped off, shouting for station security.
Shrugging, Brando found a seat away from the others and pulled out his data pad. He composed a message, notifying the university of the delay, then reclined back, hoping to get some rest.
He was deep in dreams about the alien blue sky of Jitsu when passengers started shouting and crying with dismay.
Opening his eyes, he saw everyone pointing at their data pads or lenses, making agitated comments to one another.
Then someone turned on the holodisplay at the center of the lounge, and Brando caught the first images of the massacre that had just occurred on the surface below.
Excerpted from The Blue-Spangled Blue, copyright © 2021 by David Bowles.