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No Marigolds in the Promised Land: Compact Universe

No Marigolds in the Promised Land: Compact Universe

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No Marigolds in the Promised Land: Compact Universe

361 pages
5 hours
Jun 24, 2020


40 million miles from Earth? Call NASA. 40 light-years from the nearest human being? Now we have a problem.

John Farno is asleep in a rover between domes on Farigha, a Mars-like terraforming project, when someone destroys the world around him. He awakens to flattened domes, no communications with the rest of humanity, and no supplies. With only a rover and whatever he's brought with him, he has to figure out how to survive and who tried to wipe out Farigha.

By the time it's over, he'll wish he was The Martian. That guy had all that NASA gear to work with.

Jun 24, 2020

About the author

TS Hottle is a science fiction writer originally from Cleveland. By night, he writes, cooks, golfs, plays video games with his future stepson, and fights with a cat named Tearyon. By day, he is a software developer. Sometimes, he wins against the cat, but not often. For fifteen years, he wrote crime fiction under the name Jim Winter. Now he has returned to his first love, science fiction He has created The Compact Universe, a series of loosely connected space opera tales centered around humans' disastrous first contact with a species known as the Gelt. He lives in the Cincinnati suburb of Deer Park with his fiancee Candy and her son. When not writing or cooking, they both can be found fixing up their newly purchased Cape Cod. Which has a deck. Which makes TS very happy.

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No Marigolds in the Promised Land - TS Hottle


No Marigolds in the Promised Land – A Compact Universe Novel

Copyright ©2017 by TS Hottle

Ebook and Paperback Editions ©2020 Compact Press

Cover Design: TS Hottle

Cover Image Credit: Luca Oleastri

Published by the author

The following work is Copyright 2017, TS Hottle. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form, or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including but not limited to photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without written consent from the author and publisher.

For information, please contact the author at

This work is available for purchase through authorized retailers. If you have purchased a copy of this work from a retailer that you suspect of piracy, please report it to the publisher. If you knowingly own a pirated copy of this work, the publisher/author retains the right to exercise legal action.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or use in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Printed in the United States of America, except where otherwise noted by authorized electronic and print distributors subsequent to publication.

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

This edition published January, 2020 by Compact Press

Originally published as a serial in the Compact Universe Newsletter 2016-2017.



For Dave Harr and in memory of Andre Polk






Ragnarok Planitia, Farigha, 2 MAINZER SYSTEM

14-Sagan, 429

0036:26 Local Time (Compact Standard Reckoning)



0038:19 Local Time


0042:06 Local Time


0043:38 Local Time



LOG ENTRY: 0059 14-Sagan, 429


Well, shit. Whatever just happened flipped my rover three or four times and slammed it up against a rock wall. And right when I’d fallen asleep for the night. The heaters and oxygenator are on low-power mode. That means I’m being kept alive by the tender mercies of the reactor’s ambient heat and a chemical reaction that basically scrubs Farigha’s frigid air as it passes it over said reactor and lets me breath. That, or I’m on tanks. If I’m on tanks, I am massively screwed. Well, the rover’s upright, and I’m less than a day away from Musk.  Simply radio in. If I can’t get the rover moving again, well, help is only four hundred and fifty kilometers away. Either way, I’ll be back in Musk in time for dinner. A real dinner, not this freeze-dried crap I have to eat every time I take a road trip.

RADIO TRANSMISSION: 0101 14-Sagan, 429


Musk Central, this is Rover 19. I am about 448 kilometers west of you on the Kremlin Dome Sensor Road. A windstorm blew over 19, and my primary electronics are locked. Do you copy? Over.

RADIO TRANSMISSION: 0102 14-Sagan, 429

Musk, 19. Hey, I know it’s the middle of the night, but someone’s supposed to be manning traffic control. What if Mars remembers it has a terraforming project out here in the boonies? Do you copy? Over. Are you guys even fucking awake?

RADIO TRANSMISSION: 0104 14-Sagan, 429


Um... Guys, I’m starting to think you’re not hearing me back there. So, to the morning shift guy who gets this, please send me a fucking rescue rover? And tell the overnight shift I said Go to Hell for stranding me out here. If 19’s brains were fried by a solar flare, I don’t want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere eating freeze-dried spinach and drinking my own piss for the next week while I wait for a freight transport to roll by. Do you copy? Over.

LOG ENTRY: 0115 14-Sagan, 429


I looked at the diags on the non-hardened systems on this rover. Holy God, I am screwed. The radios work. The primitive backups are all functional. But I also read core computer’s warnings. Radiation bursts, seismic activity. Hot winds. I get tumbled out of my nice, comfy bunk at one in the morning. Something blew up. Several somethings blew up. Oh, God, if Musk is gone, and Kremlin is gone, and New Ares is gone, I am majorly screwed!

No, not screwed. I. Am Fucked. Forget that. I'm FUCKED in all caps. FUCKED!


LOG ENTRY: 0121 14-Sagan, 429


Okay, okay, mandatory panic complete. I’m alone, isolated, and have no clue what’s going on. Radiation spikes, seismic activity far from any tectonic borders, and a sudden windstorm with a wave of heat. Nothing to lose one’s cookies over. Just the symptoms of a distant fusion explosion. Three of them. Yeah. If it was the domes, then I should be able to recover from an EMP. I can freak out about my sudden solitary existence in the morning. I’m going to swallow a sleeping pill and deal with this in the cold light of day. And believe me, ladies and gents, the light of day don’t get much colder than here on Farigha.


LOG ENTRY: 0805 14-Sagan, 429


Good morning. I now have confirmation that I’m pretty much fucked. I awoke about an hour ago to do an EVA and inspect damage to the rover. Pretty sure the motor pool would hate my guts, if there still was a motor pool. The rover flipped and battered its own exterior pretty good, but it’s intact. Once I go through EMP recovery, I should be able to move. I’ll see if I can use the solar wrap to make up for the power loss. What amazes me is that I don’t have a concussion. I know I bounced from floor to ceiling and off the bunks a couple of times. No lumps on my head.

Or my concussion has me in extreme denial. I’m really in a hospital in the Musk Dome, and there’s a nurse asking who I’m talking to. I really hope that’s true, because right now, my visions of that nurse are...

Ahem! I digress.

I took a stroll up a nearby hill to get the lay of the land. The sensor road is still online, but when I looked off in the direction of Musk, all I saw was a black cloud rising up in an anvil. Farigha is a near twin to Mars – cold, thin atmosphere, habitable with domes and some clever recycling. Only Farigha has something Our Glorious Motherworld ™ doesn’t have: a molten core. Farigha has volcanoes and the odd earthquake. And science be praised, it has a magnetic field. Only the star 2 Mainzer has an annoying tendency to throw out massive solar flares. The Citizens Republic of Mars believes heating up Farigha’s atmosphere will make it a viable Earth-class world. And if it can pull that off, it can sell its mad terraforming skills to other Compact core worlds, most of which have warm breathable atmospheres, to open up a whole new set of planets to colonize. Never mind that Mars itself has been terraforming for about three hundred years. But what do I know? I’m from Bonaparte. We still have a king.

And a warm, breathable atmosphere.

Anyway, recall I said if there still was a motor pool followed by mention of a black cloud rising into the atmosphere. A black cloud is usually the aftermath of a recent large explosion, like a fusion blast. Fusion blasts, if you’ll recall your freshman physics, send out a big wave of electromagnetic chaos called an EMP. This usually knocks modern electronics offline until you run protocols to reset all the quantum gateways in a processing core and storage. Any modern device you can think of is hardened against such things because humans have a silly habit of colonizing places like Farigha.

Enough yacking. I’m signing off to have a truly delicious breakfast of ration bar and coffee brewed in my own recycled piss. Oh, look. Peanut butter and gelava fruit. Yum.


LOG ENTRY: 0813 14-Sagan, 429


I would like to enter into the record that I really hate gelava fruit. It's sticky and bitter and does not

mix properly with peanut butter, which I can tolerate. I further state for the record that anyone from Bonaparte should not be allowed to stock the rovers’ rations. And in case I wasn’t clear earlier, I really hate gelava fruit. There’s a reason I left Bonaparte. Well, that and I’m somewhat difficult to employ. Does not play well with others was a comment I used to get before I enlisted for the Polygamy Wars.


LOG ENTRY: 0928 14-Sagan, 429


I’ve got the rover going again and have found the sensor road. Whatever happened to the domes did not happen to the sensor road. The beacons laid out on either side of this marvelous, mythical path that only exists physically on a map have to be hardened against 2 Mainzer’s constant tantrums. In theory, Farigha is supposed to have an ozone layer in about ten years to cut back on all that. What’s that, you say? Mars has an artificial ozone layer and still gets smacked in the face by Sol? Well, Farigha has something Mars will never have unless there’s a handwavium deposit nearby they haven’t found. Farigha has a magnetic field. It just needs ozone for that extra boost. Plus, I kinda want to settle here once we get the temperature up above freezing. That’d be easier if I could walk outside without needing lead sunblock and a winter jacket on a summer’s day. And an oxygen scrubber.

The rover’s EMP protocols worked. I was able to get the motors back online, followed by the full comm system (the radio is pretty much a primary school science project, no hardening required), and the main heater and oxygenator. Just in time, too. The backup tanks used up half their oxygen overnight. Apparently, snoring uses up a lot of oxygen. Who knew?

The rover’s drive platform and AI came next. The drive platform doesn’t require much. I could have run it off the hardened core. The AI is what concerned me. I don’t know why we call the rover’s soft brain an AI. Technically, we humans don’t use artificial intelligence. Not since one tried to punish us for World War III. The United Nations Artificial Intelligence Decree of 2165 declared that all AIs henceforth would be nice and stupid. So what I’m riding shotgun with is about as smart as a cockroach. Assuming the cockroach ate a lot of lead paint.

Is lead paint still a thing?

I digress. Getting the soft brain back online lets the rover drive itself. And let’s be honest. On the off-chance that I’m the last man on Farigha, letting me drive the rover is still a threat to humanity. The self-driving car is a four-hundred-year-old technology, a worthy successor to the horse-and-buggy, where one told the horse what to do so that stupid human in the back couldn’t wreck it. Besides, as soon as we let ourselves drive our own vehicles, we had World Wars. That’s right, unlucky person who gets to listen to this log. Henry Ford damn near destroyed the cradle of humanity by pricing the Model T reasonably. The filthy bastard.

Okay, so I’m probably exaggerating that driving the rover myself would start World War IV. For starters, wrong planet.

The soft brain complained it could not reach Musk Traffic Control. It did not comprehend the phrase No shit, Sherlock and proceeded to load and read A Study in Scarlet to me in the original English. Artificial stupidity, ladies and gentlemen. It got us to the stars.

Anyway, I need to get to Musk. Otherwise, I’m going to be out here in the scenic wilderness that is Ragnarok Planitia with nary a squirrel or hot nurse to focus my otherwise short attention span.


LOG ENTRY: 1007 14-Sagan, 429


It occurs to me that I should have smuggled some homemade beer out of Kremlin before I left. Hey, what are they going to do to me? Kick me off Farigha? Well, damn. I’d have to breathe free air and deal with heat that comes directly from one or more suns.


LOG ENTRY: 1028 14-Sagan, 429


Hallelujah, brethren and sistren. I got the soft brain to at least read A Study in Scarlet to me in modern Humanic. That Watson. What a card.


LOG ENTRY: 1107 14-Sagan, 429


I just crested Mt. Palaya, which gives you a stunning view of Utopia Paradisia and the dome of Musk.

Except there is no dome now.

Nothing but a sheet of blackened glass.

I am fucked.


LOG ENTRY: 1115 14-Sagan, 429


OK, let’s not panic here. I knew something happened to both Musk and Kremlin, and I’m betting that it happened to New Ares as well. In fact, with no satellite and not even the faintest radio signals coming from anything but the dawn of the universe, I’m pretty sure all the domes are gone. Which means...

Yeah. It means everyone I know is dead. Tenbeck at Kremlin, my girlfriend Amy, the motorpool crew who kept me shuttling between Musk and the other domes.

I’m still a hundred kilometers away from Musk, and all I see is a flattened sheet of smoking glass.

So... Yeah. I’m screwed. Musk is the promised land, my home. Flowers grow there. Marigolds, in fact. Now there’s a hole in the ground. Yeah.

I gotta think. Maybe there’s a package of opiates here I can swallow. Beats freezing to death in the rover.

DAY 1 (Afternoon)

LOG ENTRY: 1202 14-Sagan, 429


Okay, I found the opiates. Sweet, sweet Vicodin, that most ancient of painkillers. I opened the tube, shook out the entire contents.

And put them back.

I think staring at the glass pancake that was once my home and everyone I’ve known for the past four standard years made me stop. I’m the last man alive on Farigha, or at least the last man alive in the eastern hemisphere. Looking at the core computer’s warnings from last night and the bouncing around I when they came through, I’m guessing both Kremlin and Musk were flattened. I haven’t been able to raise Kremlin, nor have I gotten through to New Ares.

I remember when the Cubists bombed that mosque in Rashidun on The Caliphate. Thousands of morning commuters stopping off for a quick morning prayer while thousands more tourists stood in the gallery watching. We all were numb. Every six hours, we’d hunch over our consoles, stand around a video wall, or look at our palm tattoos to get the latest hyperdrone update. Was it a fusion device? Was it the whole city? Was it deliberate or did some employee light a match near a methane feed? And who did it? Underground Goshenites for whom the Polygamy Wars never ended? Christian separatists? Atheist separatists? Blackmailers? Teenagers whose love of explosives went horribly wrong? Was it, in fact, the hand of God? Worse, was it the hand of aliens? Yedevan legends had been making rounds again, and the latest theory whenever a ship disappears now includes the crew and passengers getting eaten by Yedevans. 

The thing is Rashidun, while one of the largest cities in the Compact, is light-years away. Somewhere beyond the hypergate. Musk, what’s left of it, lies smoking and flattened in the distance. This is real. This is my home. These are the people I’ve loved, hated, or generally ignored, assuming they’d always be there to get to know at some point.

Amy was in there. I can’t kid myself. Whatever happened went down in the middle of the night, she’d have been asleep, same as me. She’d have never known what hit her. I’m thankful for that. Don’t ask me who I’m thanking. I’m one of those many humans who never stopped to take time to figure out who, if anyone, is either running the show or watching it from beyond. I’ve known a lot of spiritual people in my day. Admired them. It’s when you get large, organized groups of them that they go off the rails. Just look at the Goshenites, who took legalized polygamy to the extreme. Or the Cubists. What the hell are Cubists anyway?

Or that weird cult to the giant blonde in the white dress on Jefivah. At least their goddess is cute.

Boy, the destruction of everything you hold dear makes you philosophical, doesn’t it?

Anyway, I normally do these log entries for my bosses at the OCD Annex. I’d make a joke playing on OCD standing for Office of Colonial Development and obsessive-compulsive disorder, but it doesn’t seem very funny right now. Since the OCD Annex and my coworkers have been vaporized, I need to record this log for two reasons:

One, someone someday will find this rover and probably my bones nearby. They’ll probably want to know what happened. I hope they’re human. I hope they find me alive. Dying out in the wastes of Farigha would be worse than finding everyone else dead.

Two, if I don’t keep track of what I’m doing, I’ll go insane.

So, posterity, hello. I suppose I should introduce myself. I am John Farno. I am a drone wrangler for the Office of Colonial Development on detached duty to the Mars Terraforming Commission. And I am the last man on Farigha.


LOG ENTRY: 1619 14-Sagan, 429


Hi, it’s me again. Yeah, I know. You were expecting some lone survivor who happened to leave the dome last night in a pressure suit to go spelunking before he went to bed. Instead it’s me. John Farno, last man on Farigha. So, you ask, what does one do when one has finally accepted that everyone else in the world has been killed?

I’m not assuming that yet. For starters, I’m can't be the only person who was out in a rover last night. There are seven domes, six of which were operational, ringing the equator of Farigha. Don’t ask me who came up with that strategy. Whether the planet is a cold desert like this with unbreathable air or a shining, pristine replica of humanity’s cradle before the Earthers crapped in the oceans and farted garbage into the atmosphere, most colonization efforts are dictated by two things: Water and geography. Well, Farigha has a layer of permafrost from pole to pole. So, all we have to do for water is drill, melt, and filter. And here I am, drinking my own piss. The first settlement on any world is usually near the equator. It’s just easier to get to and from orbit from there. But depending on how solid the surface is, the second wave of settlements usually go nearer to the poles, especially if an Earth-like planet is particularly warm. My homeworld of Bonaparte clusters its major cities in the northernmost and southernmost latitudes.  Why? Have you ever been to Nouveau Versailles, our capital? Year-round, it’s like a sauna.

If I’m not the only poor schmuck who was out and about last night, then there’s someone else alive on this planet. Hopefully human. I am painfully aware that humans are not the only ones who poach each other’s colonies. Someone might have flattened our domes because they decided we pesky Martians (and their hired hands like me) were taking too long to terraform the planet.  But I’m working on the assumption that I’m only sharing the planet with other humans. Why blow everyone up and not come down to inspect the handiwork? If you’re going to take away our planet, then goddammit, take away our planet. Using us for target practice...


LOG ENTRY: 1626 14-Sagan, 429


Sorry. Got a bit worked up there. Surviving the end of the world will do that to you. So instead of rambling about what I think happened, let’s get down to the primary task at hand. Survival.

I said earlier I have enough food and spare oxygen to last about a month. I can replenish the oxygen by using the scrubbing system that turns Farigha’s rustic CO2 atmosphere into sweet, breathable oxygen. As long as the scrubbers hold out, I can breathe. As long as the food holds out, I can eat. To that end, I’m limiting myself to one ration bar every twelve hours. I’m no biologist, so I don’t know if that’s too little food, but it’ll make the bars and whatever snacks I packed for the trip to Kremlin last about a month. I can recycle my own piss and draw water vapor from the air indefinitely. Farigha has a dry atmosphere, but not completely dry. There’s enough water vapor in the frigid air to cause the occasional flurry on the surface. 2 Mainzer hasn’t blown it all away. The fusion battery is good for ten years, so I’ve got heat and a means to get around. Plus I can augment that with solar power. As long as that holds out or the solar wrap gets enough light, the soft brain on the rover is safe.

My first order of business was to weep over the destruction of my entire world. And throw things. I tried to limit that to non-breakables. Hey, I might have been having an emotional breakdown, but at least I was pragmatic about it. Tantrum done, I checked my surroundings. The radiation from the blast at Musk had died down rather quickly, and the fallout from the explosion is only a little hotter than the normal dust in the air. I’m guessing this was a clean fusion device.

Which means this was deliberate.

Well, duh. A meteor strike or an asteroid collision would either have peppered the whole surface with impact sites or left a much larger crater where Musk used to be. I know. Should have considered that theory, but three domes within a thousand kilometers of each other don’t go silent at the same time by accident. One or two of them should have survived, and I should have seen rescue craft from the other side of the planet by now.

Second, I needed to find any supplies I could scavenge. Did a freight drone breakdown on its way to or from Musk? Did the EMP shut down its soft brain and leave its core computer crying for help that will not be coming? Not picking up any automated distress calls, but I’m hoping that changes in the coming days. Even freeze-dried food is food, and the less water I have to process, the less strain I put on my rover.

But there’s another idea. Remember my little joke about a guy going spelunking late at night and missing the blast? Well, we had a guy like that named Ellis, though he preferred going out on his day off and during daylight hours. I half hoped he might have been camping out underground when the blast hit, but he, too, would have been sending out pleas for help.

He maintains a habitat in his favorite cave. It’s not much, and his excuse is he is testing equipment for when terraforming personnel get stranded without a rover. In reality, he does it because he can’t stand people. Oh, he’s likeable enough. Or was before he was melted into glass. He loved solitude more than the pleasure of our company. So, he kept a stash of supplies, much of them generated by himself or shipped to him on supply runs. Sorry, Ellis, but for the good of humanity’s presence on Farigha, I’m going to have to confiscate whatever you have in the cave.

If I can find it. I’m sure I can.

Third, I need to plan where I’m going to go. Staying on the fringes of a settlement that’s now a glass pancake is out of the question. I’ve decided that, after my supply run, I’m going to go east to New Ares, the next dome beyond Musk. Assuming the sensor road is still intact, I should be able to travel around the planet and reach all seven domes. New Ares is odd in that it’s not actually on the equator. It’s a little bit north to take advantage of the high elevation there. Part observatory, part settlement, part terraforming lab. Plus I hope maybe one of the domes survived, and I’m just out of range. If not, well, it’ll take me a month to travel the twenty-four thousand kilometers around Farigha. By then, I’ll know if I need to swallow all that Vicodin.

So, to whoever finds this, centuries from now, sorry about that.


LOG ENTRY: 1912 14-Sagan, 429


Took me an hour of searching, but I found that cave. Thank you, Ellis. Sadly, Ellis himself was not hiding out in the heated pop tent he used to sleep and eat in. Since I’m assuming he now exists only as his component atoms or was fused into the remains of Musk, I’m helping myself to his tent. And his supplies. He packed a lot of rations out here. And

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