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Chapter 02 | Aestas ¤ The Yellow Balloon

:: Year 01 | January

By J.P. PragPublished about a month ago 6 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.

A short, dark-skinned man in a colorful outfit rolled up to her window. He flashed a smile full of bright white teeth and said, “Hello, I am Durojaiye Yakubu, your humble servant, as someone close to me would say.” His voice carried through the speakers hidden inside her chamber on the other side of the glass, just as Lilit’s would now do for him.

With his introduction, Durojaiye attempted a small bow from his seat. Lilit smiled and giggled a little at the show of chivalry. In her experience, some people even tried to shake hands through the separation barrier, oftentimes mimicking the motion in the air. Lilit chose to do whatever they did, so she bowed from her own seat and proclaimed, “Nice to meet you, Durojaiye! I’m Lilit Sarkisian, and I’ve been assigned as your Coordinator with the goal of helping you make the transition to Aestas and Venus.”

“What does that mean?” Durojaiye asked.

Lilit was taken aback a bit and inquired, “Didn’t they explain this to you before you left Earth?” Everyone who came to settle on Aestas was usually exceedingly prepared. Frankly, it was a necessity in order to avoid being shipped back. Lilit began to feel a knot form in her stomach as she saw her failure rate about to arc skyward because of this one man.

In response, Durojaiye claimed, “My coming here was a rather last-minute decision, so I did not have long to prepare.”

“Oh,” was all that Lilit could manage in a confused tone. “Well, think of a Coordinator as equal parts immigration officer, social worker, physical and occupational therapist, psychologist, job recruiter, real estate agent, and smiling face of the neighborhood welcoming committee.”

“In other words,” Durojaiye summarized, “we are going to be seeing a lot of each other!”

“That’s right,” Lilit confirmed. “Here on Venus, we do not believe in passing people along through a bureaucracy of different agencies and individuals. Instead, we work one-on-one with new arrivals through the entirety of their onboarding process. If you ever need anything, I am your one contact and gateway to all things here on Aestas.”

“This is most excellent,” Durojaiye declared. “You sound exactly like what I am going to need so that I can complete my assignment.”

Lilit crinkled her brow as she questioned aloud, “Your assignment?” Not waiting for an answer, she turned to her invisible monitors to look through Durojaiye’s work and life history. While she was reading, she said, “I think I’m a bit confused here. Do you have some type of job already waiting for you here? I’m not seeing anything. Actually, your record is rather... odd.”

“How so?” Durojaiye probed.

“Well,” Lilit began, “usually people come here with a set of skills and education that can contribute to the collective needs of the colony. But from what I can see here, basically, you have barely left your own home village. I’m sorry, I’m not familiar with the name of this place.”

“It is in Nigeria,” Durojaiye offered. When Lilit did not show any signs of recognition, he added, “In Africa. Do you know where that is?”

Lilit blushed a bright red. “I know this is going to sound awful,” she confessed, “but not really. I mean, I think I could pick it out on a map, but I get confused with the big continents that have similar shapes. As a native Venusian, the political and geographic boundaries back on Earth have never really sunk in.”

“You have never been?” Durojaiye queried.

“To Earth?” Lilit clarified. Not pausing for a response, Lilit admitted, “No, no. Much like you, I have rarely left my hometown, either. The furthest I’ve ever gone is to the docking platform in orbit as part of my training for this job.”

“Ah, so we are very much alike!” Durojaiye proclaimed with delight as he clapped his hands together. “What about your family? When did they come here?”

Lilit suddenly realized that the interview had been spun around on her and she was no longer in control. Nevertheless, she went along with it anyway despite feeling that she was being manipulated. “My ancestors came here on the first settlement mission. I am as indigenous of a Venusian as anyone can be. Over twelve percent of the population here can trace their family tree back to the same two people, me among them.”

“It must make it difficult to find a mate,” Durojaiye sympathized.

“Well, that is part of the reason we have to keep importing new blood into the gene pool!” Lilit expounded with a broad smile on her face.

“I am sorry; I am already spoken for,” Durojaiye plainly stated.

Turning bright red again, Lilit stammered, “I... I... I wasn’t coming on to you! Our relationship is meant to be a professional one!”

Even while saying that, Lilit knew that it was a lie. Not that she was attracted to Durojaiye and wanted to start a sexual relationship with him, but she knew that it had happened often enough with other Coordinators. Management turned a blind eye to this blatant ethical violation because it did actually serve the government’s agenda of diversifying their DNA. Lilit’s own cousin who got her the Coordinator job was one such offender, and that was part of the reason she was no longer a field operative. Working intimately close with people for months and years on end tended to create unintended connections. It really was a pressure cooker situation for some, but not Lilit. She had a way of compartmentalizing everything in her life.

This unexpected embarrassment was just the thing Lilit needed to jolt her out of Durojaiye’s hold and back onto her intended task. She turned back to her monitors to more deeply peruse Durojaiye’s records and history, looking for clues as to his intentions. Unfortunately, nothing in particular stood out. He appeared to have had some civil service experience, but that was common enough. Actually, the lack of detail was far more concerning than the absence of useful skillsets or education. The Terran Government was nothing if not fastidious with their record keeping. The only explanation that Lilit could think of was that Durojaiye must have acted as some type of independent contractor or laborer. These fields and positions were often only loosely chronicled using official means, or were paid under-the-table and avoided government scrutiny altogether.

Sighing after finding nothing relevant, Lilit finally gave up and just inquired, “Let’s get back on track, Durojaiye. You said you already had some type of work lined up?”

“No,” Durojaiye disputed, “you assumed that based on the words I carefully chose. I said I had an assignment.”

“Okay, an ‘assignment’ then,” Lilit conceded. “What, pray tell, is this assignment of yours?”

Without a hint of irony, Durojaiye simply avowed, “I am a spy.”

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 www.jpprag.com.

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 www.jpprag.com.

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    J.P. PragWritten by J.P. Prag

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