The Terra Debacle: Prisoners at Area 51
Release Date: May 30, 2017
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It’s May 1978 and a normal night at Hill Air Force Base in Ogden, Utah—until a bogey shows up in their air space. It gets even stranger when the UFO requests permission to land. It changes its mind, but by then F-16s escort it to the ground. A human girl in her early teens and a robot exit the craft, a strange botanical lifeform found onboard later that night by a USAF landing party. The vehicle, robot, and the strange plant are impounded and subsequently sent to Area 51.
NASA astrobiologist, Gabriel Greenley, PhD, is called in to study this new lifeform that at first appears similar to a botanical species known as oxalis. As a psi-sensitive, Greenley quickly learns the specimen is highly intelligent and potentially dangerous when he attempts to take a leaf sample. He backs off, frustrated, desperate to investigate the scientific details of this new botanical species that combines intelligence with a metabolism based on photosynthesis. Meanwhile, the specimen, a flora peda telepathis named Thyron from the planet Sapphira, is investigating his new environment through all frequencies of the electro-magnetic spectrum as well as his suite of psychic abilities that includes remote viewing.
Greenley eventually gets his leaf sample and makes a ground-breaking discovery that he can never share, due to his security oaths and research agreement at this Top Secret facility. Eventually, however, he’s confronted by an ethical dilemma that forces him to make a treasonous and potentially deadly decision.
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(Sound familiar? If so, you’ve probably read one or both of the first two volumes of the Star Trails Tetralogy. Yes, this is the story you’ve been waiting for, of what happened to Thyron and Aggie while they were detained at Area 51. If you’re not familiar with the series, this story stands alone, but you’ll undoubtedly want to read the proverbial “rest of the story” when finished. )
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Onboard Impounded UFO
May 30, 1978
1445 MDT/2045 GMT
THYRON SAT PERFECTLY STILL on the bench occupying the Cerulean Nimrod’s lower deck, the very spot where he’d tromped the ‘troid in a tysa game during their recent journey; one of his most cherished moments of botanical victory. That association was fading rapidly, however, as a bearded man with dark brown hair streaked with shoots of grey scrutinized him with curious green eyes.
“Clearly it’s a botanical lifeform,” the man stated to a small cluster of uniformed humans, then removed a small light source from one of many pockets in his tan jacket.
Invisible behind his carefully arranged leaves, Thyron rolled his botanical eyes. Lifeform, indeed. Classifying these people as morons was far too generous.
“Strange,” the man went on.. “It looks like an oxalis palmifrons – gigantea hybrid, a type of wood sorrel quite common in Brazil. South Africa and Mexico, too, as I recall. I wonder if it was brought here or harvested? They’re known to have medicinal properties, which could make them of interest.”
“What do you suggest we do with it, Doctor Greenley?” asked an older soldier of considerable rank, judging by the cluster of decorative ribbons and dangling metallic ornaments on his chest. His uniform, unlike the others, was a shade of blue, similar in color to coagulated Sapphiran blood.
“We need to secure the specimen in a sealed unit to assure its safe arrival at the Nellis lab, Colonel. It looks rather hardy, but we don’t know what its heat tolerance is, which could be exceeded during the trip across the desert. Furthermore, it shouldn’t be exposed to contaminants like molds, fungi, bacteria, and such, which could prove lethal. Hopefully, that hasn’t already occurred.”
“Yeah, I know,” the colonel grumbled, expression grim. “We were so taken back, we jumped in without proper precautions. It’s not like we have an SOP, at least around here. We usually send in a specially trained detachment for this kind of thing. By the time I checked the manual, it was too late. I’m sure I’ll hear plenty about it from my superiors. At least so far no one’s gotten sick.”
“Spilt milk, Colonel Jenkins. Fortunately, I brought along an ECV.”
“Environmentally controlled vivarium—an isolation chamber. To protect it from the environment, at least from this point on. Designed and built it myself, but on loan from NASA’s Astrobiology Branch.”
“Great. Let’s do it. We need to get this thing off the tarmac. A crane’s on its way to load it up on an eighteen wheeler so we can get it out of sight until departure tonight.”
Greenley removed a notched strip of metal from one of his pockets and handed it to the nearest soldier with hair the color of deciduous leaves after a frost. “Here’s the key to my rental car, airman. It’s in the back seat. Two of you should be able to handle it.”
Airman? Thyron thought. Odd. He didn’t look as if he could fly.
“While your men retrieve the ECV, I’m going to take a sample to study in the astrobionics lab when I get back to Houston. Then I’ll be able to determine conclusively whether it’s native or extraterrestrial.”
Thyron gasped as the botanist reached into another pocket and extracted a cutting device. Take a sample?
Instantaneously, an ancestral defense mechanism lurking in his DNA activated. Thyron froze, having never experienced anything quite like it before. His cytoplasm tingled as deep within his primary bulb potassium transmuted to sulfur that bonded with two oxygen molecules, forming sulfur dioxide. Fortunately, the burning sensation tipped him off before it combined with water being drawn from his leaves, allowing him to stop the process before it emitted a toxic cloud of gaseous sulfuric acid, injuring and possibly killing everyone within ten meters.
The mental concentration required to perform this humane action, however, prevented him from cloaking his thoughts. As soon as it escaped, all he could do was hope that no one within range was psi-sensitive enough to pick it up.
No such luck. The botanist’s eyes widened and jaw dropped, hand gripping the cutting device frozen in midair.
“What’s wrong, Dr. Greenley?” Jenkins asked, stepping closer. “Are you all right?”
The scientist closed his mouth, blinked a few times, then turned in the officer’s direction. “Holy guacamole! It just refused! Rather adamantly, in fact. I swear! To be exact, I had the distinct impression it said, Like hell you will.”
Several more mouths fell open amid chuckles of disbelief.
“What’s that smell?” one of the airmen asked.
“Well, it wasn’t me,” the scientist stated. “Whatever this species is, Colonel Jenkins, I suspect it’s intelligent, perhaps highly so, and possibly dangerous.” He shook his head, muttering, “Too bad Backster isn’t here to see this,” which earned even more mystified expressions.
Greenley dismounted from the bench, narrowing his eyes as he returned the obnoxious tool to his jacket’s breast pocket, then stared at Thyron with elevated suspicion.
“I’ve seen thousands of botanical species, from the tropics to Antarctica, from the Andes to the depths of the Mariana Trench,” he said. “But this specimen’s unlike anything I’ve ever encountered, anywhere on Planet Earth.”
The colonel took a deep breath and blew out his cheeks. “Yeah. If it’s a talking plant, I’d say that’s intuitively obvious, Dr. Greenley. Intuitively obvious.
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Q: What can readers new to Star Trails expect from “The Terra Debacle: Prisoners at Area 51”?
A: Like the other books in the Star Trails Tetralogy, this one is hard science fiction with a liberal dose of known science embellished with speculation. Instead of focusing on physics and engineering, however, this one addresses botany and the possibility of intelligent plantlife. We’ve all enjoyed characters such as Audrey in “Little Shop of Horrors” or Groot in “Guardians of the Galaxy” and Star Trails fans already have met Thyron. But what kind of scientific investigation would provide evidence that a plant has consciousness? Do they have it already, but we just haven’t noticed? This is what Gabe Greenley wants to find out: What makes Thyron so different when he looks so much like domestic oxalis?
In addition, there’s a generous dose of satire, humor, and wisdom seeing Earth through the eyes of a telepathic walking plant. As stated on the print version’s back cover, this story is “A unique combination of hard science fiction, suspense, intrigue, and a touch of humor, this story has been described as a “dark version of ET: The Extraterrestrial.” Strong characterizations, a mysterious setting loaded with intrigue, and unexpected plot twists make this an unforgettable tale whether you’re a science fiction fan, botanist, UFO aficionado, or simply enjoy a good story.”
Q: What was the most challenging part of writing this story?
A: There were several. First of all, I’m a physicist and former NASA engineer, not a botanist, so I had to have a crash course in plant science, courtesy of Wikipedia and Google. In so doing, I learned some fascinating things, particularly about oxalis, the plant on which Thyron is based. The more I learned, the more ideas came to mind. By the time I was finished, I had 100+ website bookmarks in addition to buying some print books as well.
Next to botany, the next most challenging was learning as much as possible about Area 51. As a UFO fan, I’ve seen several TV shows that talk and speculate about it, but the really cool and creepy details came from books by Maximillien de Lafayette as well as “Alien Disclosure at Area 51”, the story of Dr. Dan Burisch, by C. Ronald Garner. The basic description of Area 51’s subterranean levels found in TDPA-51 is based primarily on what Garner described with a large portion of my own poetic license.
Q: What was the most fascinating thing you discovered from your plant research that related to the story?
A: Several things made me smile. First of all, how appropriately Thyron is named, given the light collecting cells in a plant are known as thylakoids. I had no idea when I named him, though like most characters, he named himself. He’s on a quest toward enlightenment, so this was one of those serendipitous moments. The other that fit nicely was confirming his medicinal qualities.
Q: Tell me about the main human character, Gabe Greenley.
A: Gabe is the NASA astrobiologist called in when Thyron is discovered onboard the UFO. He has such a love and affinity for plants that he’s a fruitarian, a specific type of vegan who only eats the parts of a plant that don’t result in it’s demise. He’s also psychic, enabling him to communicate with Thyron telepathically. He’s worked at Area 51 previously when UFOs with algae-based air purification systems were impounded, but he’s never encountered anything like Thyron. If you’re familiar with the 70s classic, “The Secret Life of Plants,” let’s just say that Gabe is very comfortable with the ideas presented there for plant sentience.
Q: Is this book suitable for Young Adults like the other books in the Star Trails Tetralogy?
A: All the characters (besides Thyron, of course) are adults, and since this story is based on Earth, it does include a few words not found in the tetralogy, but nothing that exceeds the “PG” level or what you hear on television. The science gets a little deep in places, but for someone interested in life sciences, especially botany, it would serve as a great introduction to some basic lab procedures and research methods. The technical parts are concentrated in a few chapters, so if a reader’s eyes glazed over, they could skip over the science without losing track of the plot. It’s primarily included as brain candy for true, hardcore science fiction fans like myself. My objective as an author is to include enough science to lend interest, credibility, and some palatable science lessons for YA readers to demonstrate that science is interesting, fun, and relevant.
Q: Your stories tend to link together. Does this story actually end or will there be sequels?
A: Not exactly what you’d call a sequel, but there will be story elements that continue which readers are sure to recognize as teasers when they occur. TDPA-51 ties into Star Trails Tetralogy Volume II, “A Dark of Endless Days,” actually including some common scenes from that story, but from Thyron’s viewpoint instead of Creena’s. As far as Thyron’s fate is concerned, what happens to him after this story is covered in the tetralogy. In many ways, this is simply a sidebar to Volume II, even though it’s a standalone, full-length novel. Some of the other characters you’ll meet in TDPA-51 will turn up again. 😉 Let’s just say that the various encounters Star Trails characters have had on Earth have ongoing reverberations that aren’t over yet, and they won’t all be pretty.
Q: That sounds pretty ominous! Will you give us a few hints what to expect and when?
A: Let’s just say that Allen Benson from “A Dark of Endless Days” will be back, as will Brad Inglehardt, whom you’ll meet in TDPA-51. There will be more Area 51, especially “Alice’s Floor”, (supposedly named for Alice in Wonderland) some more new characters, and various time travel elements similar to “Refractions of Frozen Time.” It’s title will be “Dark Circles”, but don’t expect to see it for at least a year or more. Nonetheless, rest assured that Star Trails ain’t over yet!
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