Coffee and (Out of) Control (Beta/WIP)

(The Silence of Ancient Light, continued)


Anna did not talk to Jaci in the morning. When she awoke, she was alone, and she half wondered if it had all been in her imagination. She swung her feet out of the bunk and sat up, then stood up and stretched her arms over her head. The chamber was sized for Kwakitl, so she had to bend her elbows to keep from smacking the ceiling, but after sleeping curled in the short bunk she needed to get the kinks out of her joints. She ran her hands through her hair, remembering how it had looked in the mirror the previous night, and wondered why the cab’s designers didn’t see fit to put a doorway direct between the dormitory and lavatory. With that thought, she realized that for the first time in a long time she was self-conscious about going out into the main room in a state of just-awakened disarray.

Get over it, Anna. This was ridiculous. She palmed the door open and stepped out to face the others.

Morning sunlight flooded the primary chamber, golden through tinted windows. Laxmi, Jaci, and Ca-Tren sat on couches facing each other, finishing off the remains of a breakfast they had shared. Jaci looked up at Anna’s entrance and smiled.

“Good morning, sunshine!”

Anna grunted a response, not meeting his eye, and shuffled over to look out the windows. “Is there coffee?”


Coffee and Control

(2,189 words; 8 min 45 sec reading time)


It’s no secret Anna likes to be in control of the situation. She’s a pilot, after all; control is central to what she does. She has felt out of control for a while now, however, and her own emotional state is just one more area where this is true. She feels a need to reign things in and get back on track.

But first, she needs coffee. They’ve been relying on emergency ration freeze-dried coffee that is at least three years old, so right about now she would do anything for a decent cup of coffee.

I’m just going to say it, this scene was not easy to write. Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that I’ve been grumbling about it a small bit. But only a small bit. I’ve wanted to write this, I just haven’t known how. That said, however, I’m happy with where it ended up. Have a read, then let me know what you think. Did I handle it well? Do you like where it’s going? Or is it all wrong? Where do you want this to go?

Normally, after six scenes, this would mark a chapter end, but I’m not quite there yet. There’s one scene left in this chapter. What do you think will happen? Pour yourself a cup of coffee, enjoy the scene, and let’s talk.

header image credit: Oleg Gamulinskiy / via Pixabay License

The Climber (Beta/WIP)

(The Silence of Ancient Light, continued)


The terminator, dividing day from night, advanced westward across the oceanic expanse several hundred kilometers below, though from the cab’s altitude the sun continued to shine through the large, curved left-hand window, illuminating the interior. That window automatically dimmed its view, providing relief from the otherwise relentless solar glare, and Anna noted among the console dials she had earlier designated as probable environmental controls that one of them slowly adjusted its color bar in step with the window’s dimming. Satisfied they were not immediately about to die, she turned away from the console.

Ca-Tren remained glued to the view through the windows. Laxmi and Jaci, however, both appeared to have succumbed to exhaustion from their near-constant stress. Each had claimed a lounger and stretched out upon it, sleeping or perhaps just resting. Anna moved to the inner wall of the cabin to investigate the four small doors set into it.

This was the only straight wall inside the cabin. Behind her, the main outer wall curved in nearly a complete semi-circle, closely matching the outer wall beyond of the tubular cable up which they traveled. The inner wall, a bit more than twenty meters wide, bisected the diameter of the cable, or nearly so. The cable was closer to thirty meters in diameter, so Anna figured the cab took up a bit less than half of that cross-section. Perhaps the answer to what took up the remainder would lie behind these doors.


The Climber

(1,915 words; 7 min 39 sec reading time)


Anna has had one hell of a day. In fact, it’s been a hell of a couple months, and she hasn’t had many opportunities for true rest since crash-landing on the planet all those weeks ago. Now she, Laxmi, Jaci, and their Kwakitl friend Ca-Tren are finally on the space elevator, riding the cab — or climber, more accurately — up the cable toward geostationary orbit, and they’ve figured out that the journey is likely to take about five days.

Nothing to do but chill in the meantime, right?

But you know Anna, she can’t rest until she’s investigated her environment, made sure everything’s safe. “Satisfied they were not immediately about to die,” she does finally start to relax, and even let her hair down a little, figuratively speaking. Well, maybe literally speaking; in this scene she gets her first glimpse in a mirror in a very long time.

More to the point, however, with the immediate danger at bay, it’s time for Anna to take stock of her own emotional state. It’s no secret that she and Jaci have been growing closer lately, but circumstances haven’t allowed them much time to explore that, nor even to figure out just how they feel about it. How does Anna feel about that? She isn’t too sure herself.

So, reach back into the climber’s well-stocked bar, pour yourself a cold one, and click that link to find out. Then drop a comment and let me know what you think.

header image credit: Alex Myers / via Pixabay License

‘Hycean’ Worlds: A New Candidate for Biosignatures? — Centauri Dreams — Imagining and Planning Interstellar Exploration

We’ve just seen the coinage of a new word that denotes an entirely novel category of planets. Out of research at the University of Cambridge comes a paper on a subset of habitable worlds the scientists have dubbed ‘Hycean’ planets. These are hot, ocean-covered planets with habitable surface conditions under atmospheres rich in hydrogen. The…

‘Hycean’ Worlds: A New Candidate for Biosignatures? — Centauri Dreams — Imagining and Planning Interstellar Exploration

Paul Gilster of Centauri Dreams writes not fiction, but analyses and discussions on the latest findings in deep space research. He unabashedly is a proponent of efforts toward interstellar travel, frequently writing about the reasons we should invest in such a future. In this piece, he discusses a new category of exoplanets, Hycean worlds, worlds which may have water surfaces under hydrogen atmospheres, and which could potentially support life under a wider range of stellar and planetary conditions than Earth-like worlds.

Within my own fictional imaginings, we have the Orta, a seemingly water-breathing species, though we don’t yet know where they come from. Perhaps their home planet is a Hycean world like those described here?

Ascent to the Void (Beta/WIP)

(The Silence of Ancient Light, continued)


The island rapidly dwindled with distance below them, the sparkling sea stretching away to distant horizons in all directions, while the sun hung low to the west in a blaze of fiery orange and pale yellow. Directly overhead, the sky quickly took on a deep blue tone, set against the now familiar pale turquoise to north and darkening east. Other mountainous island chains dotted the sea in the distance, tiny, as if on a relief map.

Acceleration pushed at them all floorwards, but only gently, and only for a few minutes. Ca-Tren squawked in surprise and wobbled on her feet, Laxmi and Jaci both squatted slightly and reached to the low furniture for support, while Anna held onto the main control console. After the initial rush, they all found their feet, and in less than five minutes the acceleration eased and the cabin assumed a constant, smooth, and noiseless velocity as it climbed the interior of the cable.


Ascent to the Void

(1,387 words; 5 min 32 sec reading time)


Last week I mentioned I had one more scene ready to go, and here it is. What’s more, the next scene is already written, too, so you may fully expect that one next week. Wow, three scenes to be published with only a week between them? What is the world coming to? More to the point, will I be able to keep it up? That, my friends, is a bigger question.

Last week we left our heroes having just started the alien space elevator on its upward journey, as Anna whispered to herself, “Next stop, orbit.” So just how long will this ride take?

Remember, the other end of the ride is the ring station, which is at geostationary orbit, 41,000 kilometers above the ground. That’s pretty high up there. By contrast, back here at Earth the International Space Station orbits a mere 400 km high, so we are talking an altitude a hundred times greater. Why so high? Because this is the altitude at which the angular velocity of the planet’s rotation matches the required velocity to maintain a constant state of free fall, or in other words, a stable orbit. Remember, the greater the altitude, the less velocity is required to maintain orbit. At 400 km, the ISS zips along at about 17,000 miles per hour in order to stay in orbit, which is pretty fast. At 41,000 km, the ring station orbits at closer to 6,700 mph (3,000 meters per second), still really fast, but quite a bit slower than the ISS. And, it has to move at this speed, because this is how fast the elevator cable is moving at that height, since it must remain stationary with respect to the ground.

So, the elevator cab, or more precisely, the climber, has a long way to go. How fast it can climb the cable is determined by a number of factors, not least of which is not crushing the passengers with acceleration. In fact, in order to keep the ride comfortable, after the initial acceleration, the climber will maintain a consistent velocity, so it won’t impart any additional g-forces on the passengers beyond what the planet’s gravity provides.

Gravity doesn’t just fade away in orbit, by the way, at least not until you get much farther from the planet. In low orbit, where the ISS flies, the astronauts on board are still subject to about 90% of the gravity we feel here on the surface. The difference is that they are forever falling, with the station itself, but they are falling fast enough that they keep missing the earth and instead curve around it, endlessly (subject to a slight atmospheric drag and inevitable entropy).

So our elevator passengers feel gravity, and while it will eventually become somewhat less strong as they ascend, they won’t really notice, at least not at first. Instead, the higher up they climb, the faster they, and the climber, and the cable, are moving laterally in order to maintain rotation with the planet. They won’t be in free fall until they reach their destination, at geostationary altitude, but they will gradually feel lighter on their fee right up until that moment.

Ok, back to the speed of the climber’s ascent. We’ve established that it shouldn’t go so fast as to cause discomfort to the passengers, but it also shouldn’t go too fast or it might impart undue stress on the cable itself. The faster the climber moves, the more lateral force the cable must impart upon it to keep it rotating around the planet, which will tend to precess the cable westwards due to coriolis forces. Too much force, and the cable could break, and that would be bad.

We also don’t want to go so slowly, however, that the journey becomes impractical for how long it takes. We need a happy medium. How about as fast as high speed commuter train, or perhaps just a tad over that? This seems to be a good compromise, and we arrive at about 300 kph. That’s pretty fast, too, or it would be for an object on the ground. At 300 kph, the climber will reach the same altitude as the ISS in just about an hour and a half. That seems pretty good!

But remember, we’re going a hundred times higher than the ISS.

This journey is going to take about five days.

And that, my friends, is why the climber is stocked with a bar.

header image credit: Official SpaceX Photos / via CC BY-NC 2.0

Decisions and Departures (Beta/WIP)

(The Silence of Ancient Light, continued)


Anna peered through the open doorway into the elevator cab interior, no longer dark, but now well-lit. The low seats and couches they had observed earlier through the window appeared surprisingly comfortable, a far cry from the stone benches of Ar-Danel, each accompanied by a side table and small console. Surviving cushions remained mostly mold-free, if a bit thin and stiff. A musty odor persisted, surprisingly mild given the centuries this chamber had remained sealed up, disused. Along the convex back wall, next to one of the closed doorways, an alcove sported what to Anna’s eye appeared like nothing so much as a bar. After so many weeks of effort to get to this place, weeks of intense focus upon this singular goal, she finally felt she could relax just long enough to let the wonder of where she was wash over her.

A working space elevator! Well, it remained to be seen if it was fully operational, but the signs so far were encouraging. After some experimentation, Anna and her crew had deciphered the written labels for power, light, and ventilation, and possibly also the color codes for more or less temperature. Some of the other labels remained a mystery for the moment, though she suspected she knew which ones were probably indicators for up and down, concepts Ca-Tren certainly understood, but perhaps these were written with more technical terms.

Laxmi pressed past Anna into the cab, a bundle of gear in her arms which she added to the pile of their equipment already moved inside. A sense of bemusement displaced Anna’s wonder and awe. Laxmi was now the impatient one, eager to move forward, while Anna wanted to study the alien technology, now that they had powered it up. Then her bemusement gave way to concern.


Decisions and Departures

(1,556 words; 6 min 13 sec reading time)


Hey ho, my hearties! I’m just back from a three-week cruise, sailing around and among the famous San Juan Islands in the Pacific Northwest, arrr! No doubt you’ve missed me, eh? I’ll post a photo or two for you shortly. Meanwhile, though, the good news for you is that while I was lounging around on the boat, I put fingers to keyboard and tapped out two more scenes, the first of which is linked just above. So quick, go click that link and read it! And rest assured the next one is already written, and I’ll get it published here in a matter of a few more days or so.

By now you know, of course, that Anna and her crew have figured out how to power up the space elevator, or at least the cab and the departure lounge, even if they aren’t always sure what the next button they press (or dial they circle) will do. It’s all a grand experiment, and Anna just hopes it won’t go boom in their faces, or more likely, under their feet. But before they can head up the long stalk to geostationary orbit, they are going to have some tough decisions to make. Life isn’t all sunshine and roses, and there is that musty smell coming from somewhere.

So go spend six minutes reading the scene, then drop me a comment and let me know what you think. Meanwhile, I’ll be getting the next one ready…

header image credit: user:Parker_West / under Pixabay License