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Chapter 01 | Aestas ¤ The Yellow Balloon

:: Year 01 | January

By J.P. PragPublished 2 months ago 7 min read
On the floating city of Aestas soaring above the clouds of Venus, Lilit Sarkisian defends her homeland from those determined to take it from her.

After clearing the decontamination chamber, Lilit stepped out directly into her workstation area. She didn’t understand why she had to go through the process since at this juncture she was still separated from the new arrivals by an impermeable wall of plexiglass, but the powers that be on Aestas were always exceedingly cautious about the potential transfer of pathogens. Sighing, she gave in and accepted that in an enclosed environment like theirs it was a reasonably prudent precaution. Still, being separated from people during first introductions always made things difficult. Lilit felt that it was necessary to physically be in proximity with her new clients in order to understand and assist them.

Looking around her assigned rectangular compartment, Lilit continued standing just beyond the entrance as she brought up a virtual display to go through the mandatory checklist before beginning her day. The screen was only visible to her through the ocular implants she received as a child, even earlier than she could remember. Everyone born on Venus had them, and a fair amount of the immigrants chose to undergo the same procedure if they had not already done so at their point of origin. If they came from one of the other colonies like on Earth’s moon Luna, the planet Mars, the dwarf planetoid Ceres in the Asteroid Belt, or the handful of other places in the Solar System that humans had begun to settle, then they were more likely to already have a pair installed. Space was always at a premium, as was access to the resources to build and store tangible components like giant monitors. Thus, in the colonies it became almost mandatory to find ways to work around these limitations with technologically-based augmentations.

Those who came from Earth—which was the vast majority of all migrants—were a different story entirely. As far as Lilit was concerned, Earth was a magical land with unlimited amounts of everything readily at hand. In her head, she pictured humanity’s progenitor homeworld as nothing but endless stretches of open land with people below the surface mining its rich resources. Although she was aware that this vision of hers was quite inaccurate, the image was reinforced with how Earthers behaved even after arriving on Venus.

Because people living on Earth could get away with being wasteful and having lavish—if ultimately meaningless—possessions, they could also afford to be suspicious of the idea of sticking sophisticated computers inside their heads. As such, more often than not, they chose to avoid doing so. Of course, there were Earthers who still went through with the practice, but they were a minority of the population. Most opted to continue to own corporeal objects to do their work on, or, as a compromise, put on temporary overlay devices like glasses so as to interact in virtual spaces.

Over the few years that Lilit had been performing this job, she was still surprised by how many of her clients had no idea what she was doing as she typed and waved her hands in the air—just as she would appear to be pantomiming if someone were looking at her at that moment. In actuality, she was going through a tedious list on her personal screen that basically confirmed that there was nothing in her area at all aside from what she brought in with her and a few required pieces of equipment that were needed to communicate with those outside her little niche. She supposed that it was possible that whoever had been assigned this station before her had left an object behind or that an émigré had done something nefarious like burning a hole through the plexiglass, but neither situation nor anything remotely like them had ever happened to her before. All she could see at that moment were the blank wall and door she had come through behind her, the empty walls on either side of her that did not grant her visibility into the other workstations, and the desk and chair in front of her adjacent to the clear window that looked out to the client area.

Beyond that transparent partition, she could easily make out the queue of people waiting in wheelchairs. They were arriving from orbit in small batches on the “skimmers”, a type of ship that could transform between a dirigible to float in the skies of Venus and a small rocket that could reach the receiving platform in orbit. Unlike on Earth, Mars, Luna, and the other terrestrial bodies, Venus did not have a space elevator because they could not anchor it to the ground. No human nor robot worker would be able to survive long enough under the crushing surface pressures to attach it, even if the line itself did not instantly snap from those same forces. Using an actual dedicated conveyance vessel like on Earth in the ancient-times before the advent of the space elevator was an inefficient but necessary methodology to move people and goods from space into the colony, and vice versa.

Although her sidewalls were opaque, once beyond the plexiglass the separation dividers were semi-transparent to allow light to pass. Through those partially-translucent barriers to her left and right, Lilit could somewhat make out the shadows of immigrants in their rolling carriages. Apparently, she had somehow fallen behind her colleagues who were already interviewing people from this cohort. She was sure this was going to come up in her next efficiency review meeting. When the time came for that, though, she would have no choice but to take the “constructive criticism” with a smile and promise to do better. After all, her supervisor was also her cousin who got her this job in the first place, so she was forced into forever being grateful.

Amazingly, despite these small detriments like her overbearing cousin and the pointless checklist she was still plodding her way through, Lilit did enjoy her occupation. Most of all, she was good at it. No, scratch that, Lilit decided, she was fantastic! Among all of the officers since she started, she had the lowest rejection rate at less than three percent. The average for her whole department was eight percent, so she really was the crème de la crème. Lilit hoped that management never got it into their heads to promote her; she wanted to remain right where she was on the front lines.

Completing her tiresome list, Lilit connected to the new arrivals database and ticketing system. With this done, she was finally allowed to take a seat at the desk, although she found the chair to be uncomfortably warm still. Whoever had last been there had vacated not too long ago. Lilit was a bit surprised they had not run into each other outside of the decontamination chamber. Putting the thought aside and placing her water bottle on the surface in front of her, she created a set of virtual monitors to separate out the relevant details from the personnel files she was about to use in the interview process. Every agent had their own favored style on how to access the data, and Lilit preferred to see as much of it at once in different locations so that she could turn to view them as needed. Not everyone was good at multitasking in this way, but it felt natural to her.

Pulling the next-up request from the ticket manager program, Lilit placed the pertinent information for her first immigrant of the day in front of her. Activating the microphones hidden around her to broadcast to the outside hallway speakers, Lilit announced, “Durojaiye Yakubu, please come to the window at booth number sixteen.”

The above piece is an excerpt from the speculative hard science fiction novel Aestas ¤ The Yellow Balloon by J.P. Prag, available at booksellers worldwide. Learn more about the author at

On the floating city of Aestas soaring above the clouds of Venus, Lilit Sarkisian defends her homeland from those determined to take it from her.

As humanity begins to tame the stars above, at what point do a group of colonists turn into a unique, indigenous people who will band together to protect their homeland... no matter what?

Lilit Sarkisian was an average young woman who made a living welcoming new immigrants to the floating city of Aestas, soaring high above the clouds on Venus. Then, one day, she met her new clients Ahmad Al Zaheri and Durojaiye Yakubu. From that moment onward, her life irreparably changed and forever altered the course of the place she had always known as home. Somehow, these two became her best friends in the whole universe, and her most loyal coconspirators.

Aestas appeared to be a successful colony, much more so than places like Mars where terraforming had ultimately failed. Yet the powers-that-be, both on Venus and Earth, refused to do anything to alleviate the pressures caused by its exploding population. To fully resolve these issues, Lilit found herself evolving from an unknown civil servant to the leader of a revolution to a dangerous interplanetary symbol. Her story did not end there, though, nor did the machinations of those who had other plans for her birthplace.

With the help of her most trustworthy companions Ahmad and Durojaiye, was Lilit able to save the irreplaceable Venusian society from forces far more powerful than her?

Aestas ¤ The Yellow Balloon is a work of mixed fiction and nonfiction elements. With the fiction elements, any names, characters, places, events, and incidents that bear any resemblance to reality is purely coincidental. For the nonfiction elements, no names have been changed, no characters invented, no events fabricated except for hypothetical situations.

ThrillerTechnologyScience FictionSciencePoliticsPlot TwistFictionDystopian

About the Creator

J.P. Prag

J.P. Prag is the author of "Aestas ¤ The Yellow Balloon", "Compendium of Humanity's End", "254 Days to Impeachment", "Always Divided, Never United", "New & Improved: The United States of America", and more! Learn more at

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    J.P. PragWritten by J.P. Prag

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