The universe is not only strange but stranger than we can imagine

Hunger Star excerpts

She arrived about four in the morning — a half hour before the missiles

(Excerpt from Hunger Star, Chapter Three)

Wolfe speaks to one of the few survivors of the nuclear attack on Tehran, and learns his wife Omaha may still be alive.)

“Omaha is dead. She died at Tehran of course.”

“No, my friend, there you are mistaken.” Merridew shook his hooded head slowly, painfully, from side to side.

Wolfe heard a roaring sound like the surf, coming from somewhere inside his own head. “What are you saying?”

“She was right beside me when the strike came. They took us to the same hospital.” Sir Mark croaked, a mirthless cackle. “We were at a party you see, an all-night bash. At a suburban home, organized by one of the more liberal mullahs of my acquaintance. I persuaded her to come, meet some connections. Normally I doubt she would have showed up, but she was in overdrive — she’d just completed some hush-hush task or other and it had gone well. So she arrived about four in the morning, all aglow. A half hour later, in came the missiles.”

The room had turned hot and suffocating, a cramped, claustrophobic oven. Wolfe realized he had to leave immediately, get out into the cool air before he was sick. “You’re sure she was alive after the attack? I mean, you must have been in terrible condition. Maybe you were delirious?”

“Oh no, I was all too lucid. It was Omaha that was delirious. We were in the same ward for three days. I remember it well; she kept raving about getting back to the Institute at all costs, telling Helen what she’d found. She was taken out by the first UN ambulance convoy. I assumed she’d made her way back.”

“Jesu come quick, what happened to her?”

“Less than no idea. Ask Helen, she should know.”

Songs of sadness from The Lost

(Excerpt from Hunger Star, Chapter Two) 

Wolfe and Morgan, his cyborg lover, arrive on Earth from the Institute’s headquarters in high orbit. As they leave the spaceport they become aware of an eerie, ceaseless noise.

The trip down the gravity well was blessedly uneventful: a brief stopover at Orbital Three, the massive UN. space habitat, a leisurely glide across the blue and white splendor of the globe and so down onto Runway F at the Kilimanjaro space facility. Wolfe and Morgan, legs wobbly in the relentless gravity, which was somehow more engulfing than the spin at Orbital, endured the formalities of arrival with what patience they could muster. Those completed, they emerged into the hot African sun and blinked about. A confusion of foreign smells, spicy, exciting and rank crowded into Wolfe’s nose, making him blink.

A dull roaring noise came faintly to his ears, a distant rhythmic sound as of surf on a distant beach. Except that there was no beach within hundreds of klicks.

They hailed one of the small, brightly painted electric carts which flitted about the huge port and gave the driver the name of their hotel. With themselves and their meager luggage aboard they darted off into the teeming traffic. Wolfe asked the driver, a tall, bald African with tattooed cheeks, about the odd noise.

“It is The Lost, good sir and madam, the hungry, hopeless ones. They camp around this island of plenty and sing songs of sadness to Auntie Lean because they cannot share its happy destiny.”

“Why can they not?” asked Morgan.

The driver made a gesture signifying resignation. “They have no money, no skills, no tribe, no tomorrow. They are The Lost. Their destiny is to suffer.”

“Are there many of them?”

“As many as the stars in the sky.”

Wolfe visits the bazaar

(Excerpt from Hunger Star, Chapter Six)

It was a few minutes before eight when Wolfe ventured into the bazaar at Stanley Park. On his shoulder was a guard monkey named Brian, a modified rhesus, equipped with narco-tipped spurs on legs and wrists and flash-bonded to Wolfe. Any attack, so the Celestial Hope security experts assured him, would bring a furious response from Brian. The monkey also ported a homer and a small camera. Signals from both were monitored by the Celestial Hope team.

The bazaar was a twenty-four hour a day affair which covered three hundred acres, an endless, flood-lit, rain-soaked warren of small, well-secured booths with small windows, reinforced doors and security devices. Guard animals of various sorts, chemically spiked for aggression, stared at the passers by with baleful red eyes from perches or kennels. Everything that the mind could imagine could be bought or sold here, as well as some things most minds shied away from.

Despite its baleful reputation as the violent heart of a brutal city, the bazaar was crowded, even at this hour of night, as ordinary-looking people went about their private errands with the bland innocence of fish swimming through and around a school of sharks. Some of them were thrill seekers in search of the unwholesome pleasures of the bazaar: husk humpers, gooheads in search of a spray or two, even a handful of curious business people here for a taste of illicit excitement. Others worked the bazaar, manning the twenty-four hour booths or servicing the patchwork infrastructure. Wherever humans congregated, for whatever holy or hideous purpose, the maintenance crews of civilization — plumbers, electricians, garbage collectors and so on —  were on call.

Others had come to the bazaar to deal. Some, like Wolfe, were buyers, looking for custom pharma, proscribed genes or slaves. Others had come to sell: their services, their organs, even themselves. Since entering the bazaar Wolfe had passed a half-dozen booths offering cash up front for indentured servants. Ten, twenty and thirty year terms were on offer. To his amazement, the inviting, glass-paneled consultation rooms in the front of each booth were thronged. Perhaps it was just a shill, models paid to bring innocents into the booth. Or perhaps people were desperate enough to sign away a decade or two of their lives — or their children’s — for some ready cash. It was a sobering thought.

Wolfe wonders why

A depiction of a base on a hostile and barren moon. The moon's Earth-like planet rises in the background. The small colony is equipped with two rovers for astronauts to use for exploration of the surface. - Elements of this image furnished by NASA

What might they find on Luna? Other than bureaucracy and vacuum.


(Excerpt from Hunger Star, Chapter 1)

Wolfe sometimes wondered why he was doing this — leaving whatever passed for home behind, taking off in a metal cylinder to start a new life on an airless moon.  He had never really thought of himself as the hardy colonial type. Yet, recalling the surge of exaltation he had felt when launch was imminent, he knew he was committed to the expedition.  What might they find on Luna? Other than bureaucracy and vacuum of course… Lava tubes snaking below the surface. Water ice in places where the sun never shone. Craters that could be roofed over and pressurized. A refuge and maybe a new home, if not for them then for their children.


The Hunger Star from Orbital One

Industrial area at night

“You and I see a nova, an amazing cosmic event. Frightened, ignorant people see Auntie Lean’s eye peeping at them from Die-Back land.”

(Excerpt from Hunger Star, Chapter One)

Wolfe floated across the room towards the viewing port and looked out in never-failing wonder. Below him, or perhaps out from him was the Earth, an immense living teardrop of blue, green and white trickling down the dead cheek of endless space. Above the globe, stitched against the eternal night of space, was a brilliant, glaring white star — the Hunger Star.

It had blossomed into luminous being three weeks ago — the very night the United Nations had officially announced huge rice and grain shortfalls for the coming year, the result of new crop infestations and eccentric weather patterns. According to some commentators, its appearance had triggered the global food riots that followed the announcement, as terrified people the world over looked into the sky and saw their own doom written there in the supernova’s white, malevolent glare. From that night on, despite official attempts to rename it, tame it with a technical tag, the supernova had been known as the Hunger Star.

It was so bright Wolfe blinked as he looked at it, trying to somehow grasp the immensity of the titanic forces that had been unleashed unthinkably long ago and far away, sending this stream of light washing across the galaxies to terrify the sentient creatures on a small, lonely planet. It was impossible; the thing was beyond the scope of his mind.