The Drowned City (Beta/WIP)

(The Silence of Ancient Light, continued)


The days and the nights passed, and if it were not for the desperation of their situation, Anna would have found the sailing nearly idyllic. The small trimaran performed brilliantly on the broad reach of their course, the skies remained clear and the tradewind constant. Occasionally a brief squall passed over, enough to keep their water jugs full, but not so much as to cause alarm. They had enough food if they were careful, though it became increasingly bland as they relied upon the salted fish and seaweed that Ca-Seti had thoughtfully left on board, supplemented with their own dwindling supply of prepackaged meal bars.

Ca-Tren continued to ask questions about the stars in the sky, and Anna tried to teach her the basics of astronomy and the structure of the galaxy. Ca-Tren struggled with the human names for the stars and constellations, and Anna wondered if she really grasped the distances involved or was just being agreeable. How does one teach the idea that light has a velocity to someone who has never before had to learn more than how or why their world has seasons? At least Li-Estl taught her students that their planet was a sphere and that it revolved around their sun, so thankfully Anna didn’t have to broach that particular subject, and Ca-Tren had been exposed to the idea that the stars in her sky were other suns, far away. Yet the speed of light remained a difficult concept.

If our boat could fly, could we sail to your world? Ca-Tren asked on one of these nights.


The Drowned City

(2,659 words; 10 min 38 sec reading time)


If someone lights a fire in front of you, you see the fire instantly, right? Even if the fire is a mile away, assuming it’s large enough, your sense is that it takes no time for the light of that fire to reach your eyes. It could be many miles away, at the edge of the horizon, and it will seem this way to you. Of course, you’re an educated person, and you know from school or books you’ve read that the speed of light is not instantaneous, but it is very fast. In fact, it is so fast that to travel from a huge bonfire on the horizon, which for sake of argument we’ll call 20 km away, it takes a mere 67 microseconds to reach you, or 0.000067 seconds.

According to a 2017 MIT study, it takes 13 milliseconds (0.013) for the electrochemical signal to travel from the lens of your eye through your optic nerve and thalamus and finally reach your cerebral cortex, where your brain recognizes it as a visual signal. I’m sure you can do the math from here, but yes, that means that in the time it took for your brain to “see” the light already at your eye, additional photons from that same bonfire have traveled the 20 km to reach you 195 times. In fact, the only reason you see the light of that fire at all is because it continues to shine longer than 13 ms, as otherwise it would be so fast as to be unperceivable by you or I. This is beyond subliminal.

So, a civilization with no experience of anything beyond the surface of their world could be forgiven for not thinking of light as something that has to travel at all, but rather something which simply is.

In this circumstance, how would you begin to explain to someone from that civilization that the stars they see in the sky are not as they are, but as they were hundreds or even thousands of years ago?

This is where Anna begins as she attempts to instruct Ca-Tren in the nature of the galaxy around her.

Of course, such near-philosophical discussions are but a pleasant interlude, as Anna, Ca-Tren, Laxmi, and Jaci are about to arrive at the island housing the ancient base of the space elevator they have been seeing in the sky for months. What will they find upon arrival?

You’ll have to click that link and read on to find out.

As always, drop me a line and let me know what you think of the story so far!

header image credit: Enrique Meseguer / via Pixabay License

So Many Stars, and So Quiet (beta/WIP)

(The Silence of Ancient Light, continued)


Grey skies gave way to blue, relieving Anna’s anxiety when she could once again sight the thin line of the elevator descending from orbit to the horizon ahead, confirming they remained on track. Navigation by assuming the seas rolled in their direction did not fill her with confidence, and in those hours and days she most keenly felt the lack of the inertial compass, lost to the depths with their makeshift raft weeks earlier. Ca-Tren appeared sure of their direction, but her comments to the Orta notwithstanding, she remained an adolescent, and not in Anna’s mind a proven ocean navigator.

The visual reference of the elevator, however, made all such worries moot. On a clear day it made a better navigation aid than any other tool, as all they need do was point their boat toward it, or slightly upwind of it to account for drift, and sail on.

The clear nights revealed no further lights upon the horizon, no sign of pursuit, giving Anna yet another reason to breathe easier. Far from land, from the lights of any community, and with none aboard their tiny boat, the stars shone brighter than ever, with the ever-present arc of the ring station bisecting the sky. Each passing night brought it that much closer to directly overhead, competing with the arc of the galactic core for brightest object in the sky whenever the moons were below the horizon.


So Many Stars, and So Quiet

(1,149 words; 4 min 35 sec reading time)


Ok, before you read any further here, stop right now, click that link, and read the scene, because I don’t want there to be any spoilers! Then come back here when you’ve done that.

Done? Right, then.

So, some of you may have noticed that, at long last, I am returning to one of the central themes of this story. One might even say it is the central theme, given the title. What is that theme?

Why, the Fermi paradox, of course. I refer to the famous luncheon at which Enrico Fermi exclaimed, somewhat out of the blue, “But where is everybody?” And, of course, everyone else at the table knew precisely what he meant by that.

I won’t go into details here. It’s easy enough to google it, but I do want to discuss Fermi and the Drake equation which sparked his outburst at that luncheon in the first place. However, I think the topic is fully deserving of its own dedicated blog post, so I’ll come to that later, assuming there’s interest.

Hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy, so where is everybody?

On another topic, I have a practical question to ask all of you. No doubt you’re aware that I have a menu at the top of this page, and every scene in the story is accessible through this menu. They’re listed in order, grouped by chapter, of which there are currently eight. Most chapters have six scenes in them. But, I have a problem now with this menu structure, and I need your opinion.

When I first start posting scenes, they were not broken out into chapters, but it didn’t take long before the menu became far too long a list to practically navigate on the page. It was cumbersome and awkward. So that was my main motivation in creating chapters, as a way of adding hierarchy levels to the menu so this would be easier.

But now the list of chapters is long enough that, on my laptop with its 13″ screen, when I select Chapter 8, I can’t see all the scenes in the chapter (and so far there are only five) unless I do some awkward scrolling of the menu. It seems to me that this really detracts from the experience. Does it seem that way to you?

Perhaps you don’t even use the menu structure, and you just use the hyperlinks at the end of each scene to find your way to the next. Or perhaps you follow the link from the post in Twitter, FaceBook, or the WordPress Reader, or from the email notification that some of you receive when I make a new blog post. But if you are coming here for the first time, or after an absence, and are looking for the latest scenes, or wherever you last left off, I think that menu is helpful. So I’d really like it to be user-friendly.

So I might need to add another layer to the structure, grouping chapters together into parts, or even acts (though then I might be giving too much away for those familiar with the standard three- or four-act structure, plus that might not lend itself well to solving this particular problem). So, you would click on the title, and then see a sequence of parts, and in each part a number of chapters, and then in each chapter a number of scenes.

What do you think? Good idea? Bad idea?

header image credit: Evgeni Tcherkasski / via Pixabay License

Fear and Trust (beta/WIP)

(The Silence of Ancient Light, continued)


An awkward pause ensued, filled with the slap of waves against the wooden hull, the creak of timbers as the boat rocked in the swell, and no more. Anna’s heartbeat pounded in her ears, so loud to her that surely the Orta could hear it, and she was certain the game was up, they were caught, when Ca-Tren’s avian squawk sounded and Jaci’s tablet streamed its written translation.

Are you not Orta? What else could you be? Most assuredly you are not Kwakitl, and though you wear a bowl of water over your head, a fish tank you carry with you and yet live within, I also do not believe you are a fish. Our fishermen tell tales of creatures like you in the deep sea, and perhaps that is where you are from, but… I do not think that, either. We have legends about you. Mothers tell their daughters myths about you, and most Kwakitl do not quite believe in you, yet they also fear you. I do not doubt there was trouble at Ar-Danel if you went there. You are the creature in the dark children are taught to fear if they do not heed well their parents.


Fear and Trust

(1,506 words; 6 min 1 sec reading time)


“You are the creature in the dark children are taught to fear if they do not heed well their parents.”

How’s that for being typecast? Clearly Ca-Tren is not going to let an eight-limbed tentacled water-breathing spacesuited alien three times her size intimidate her, as she shoves all her cultural conditioning deep down beneath her educated knowledge about how the world really works. Well, her world, anyway. But how will this Orta emissary react to her defiant spirit?

Astute readers will notice that Jaci’s translator seems to be doing a much finer job of turning Kwakitl avian squawks into English language than it was just a few days before. And sure, Ca-Tren has a certain style to her manner of speech, but is that really her, or an artifact of the translator? I may be moving too fast here, but remember this. It will come up again.

Thoughts about this scene? Sure, if you just came upon this without reading the previous scenes, it won’t make much sense, but I’m assuming by now that you have been following along since the beginning.

What’s that you say? You just now found me, and you’re confused but want to learn more? Fear not! You can see the full overview list of all the scenes, from the beginning, here:

The Silence of Ancient Light

Settle in, as there are 45 scenes like this one, over 73,000 words (200 paperback pages), and according to my fancy reading-time calculator, that’s almost five hours of reading (though you might read faster than that), and we aren’t done yet.

When you get back here, drop me a line or two to tell me what you think. I’ll keep the light on for you.

header image credit: Lumina Obscura / under Pixabay License

Interrogated by the Orta (beta/WIP)

(The Silence of Ancient Light, continued)


An hour passed, and then another one, or at least so it seemed to Anna. Without sight of the sky, and without easy access to Jaci’s tablet, she could not really be sure. Once her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she realized it was not quite complete, though nearly so. The hatch was well sealed, but still a faint circle of dim grey outlined its circumference and provided some small reference in the pitch black. Occasionally the circle would be obscured, and she knew that was Jaci, between the hatch and her, shifting about to find some less uncomfortable position.

The hold may have been dark, but it was far from silent. Only a few centimeters of wood separated Anna’s ear from the ocean waters outside. The port outrigger in which she and Jaci were hiding was windward, and with the trimaran beating upwind on its southerly course the narrow hull spent most of its time lifted out of the water. The water was not flat, however, and as the boat climbed each wave the outrigger plunged into it, surrounding them with frothy, noisy, bubbling sounds of the sea sluicing past, until the stomach-dropping moment when the boat crested the wave before tipping down into the next trough. These were not big waves, nor deep troughs, and it was not a strong wind, but with only sound and motion to go by, it felt like the previous night’s storm remained with them.

Fortunately, Anna’s nose gradually adjusted to the initially overwhelming odor of fish. The hold was mostly dry, though not completely, and didn’t seem to have been used for quite some time, but the not-quite-rotten smell permeated the wooden planking. In the first hour, she could hear Jaci trying hard not to retch, and he muttered a few choice comments about the environment, but equally fortunately he managed to control his reaction. Anna sympathized, as she too fought not to feel sick. By the third hour, however, the aroma, like the noise, had become background: present, but no longer overpowering.


Interrogated by the Orta

(2,093 words; 8 min 22 sec reading time)


When last we left our heroes, they had locked themselves into the dark, smelly, claustrophobic holds of a small fishing boat and entrusted their fates to a teenage alien. The invading Orta were hot on their trail and about to intercept their boat at any moment. What would happen when they arrive? Could Ca-Tren, the youthful Kwakitl, talk their way out of a jam? Or would the Orta simply shoot her on sight, as they had already done to others back at her village? Or would Ca-Tren give them up to save her own feathered skin?

Follow the link above to read the entire scene, here on this site. And if you do, feel free to drop me a comment, here or on the scene page itself, with your thoughts. This is a work-in-progress, after all, and also an early beta read, so I welcome your feedback. Or, feel free to just read it for your own enjoyment. It’s free!

If you haven’t been following along from the beginning, however, you might want to go back and start from there. With this new scene, we’re currently up to a 72,000 word count for the entire story, and there’s still more to come. And every part of it written so far is available here on the website. Look to the menu at the top of this page, under Works in Progress / Alpha Reads, for the entire chapter and scene listing, also available in list form under the title page for The Silence of Ancient Light, and under each chapter heading. Or, click here on Arrival to go straight to the first scene! A link at the end of each scene will take you straight to the next one, so it’s easy to keep reading in order without having to pop back out to the menu.

header image credit: user:GeorgeB2 / under Pixabay License

A Light Upon the Sea (WIP)

(The Silence of Ancient Light, continued)


Grey waves rolled under grey skies, and the small boat rolled northward with them. The human crew learned their Kwakitl stowaway’s name, Ca-Tren, and Ca-Tren seemed eager to prove her usefulness aboard. Despite her youth, it quickly became clear that Ca-Tren knew the boat’s systems well, and she proved to be quite a good sailor. Growing up in a seafaring community would do that, Anna surmised.

Ca-Tren also impressed the humans with how quickly she seemed to pick up on their verbal instructions, not waiting for the tablet’s translation before carrying out a task. Jaci ascribed it to being a fast learner of languages, while Anna thought it more likely due to Ca-Tren’s knowledge of the boat, knowing what’s needed before being told.

“A bit of both, probably,” Laxmi concluded.

The hours rolled on toward mid-morning, and the southeast trade freshened, quartering around more southerly as the gusts grew stronger. Fragments of cloud, torn from the overcast above, whipped from west to east high overhead, while the southward skies turned ominously dark. The prevailing southeast swell gained a southwest component, taller and steeper, and the small boat surfed down the northeastern faces of the waves as they caught up and rolled under them.

Anna and Ca-Tren went forward together, and wordlessly they reefed the sail, lowering the gaff to reduce its height and lashing the lower quarters to the boom, while Jaci struggled with the tiller to keep the waves to the aft port quarter.

“What is it with these storms always finding us?” Laxmi complained once all were back in the cockpit. She turned and looked aft at the oncoming rollers and blackening sky.


A Light Upon the Sea

(2,539 words; 10 min 9 sec reading time)


Kepler 62f, you’ll recall, is a waterworld, a planet of mostly ocean, with scattered chains of islands strewn like pearls across the deep blue. Yes, as Aniara approached the planet, Anna’s crew did spot some small continents, or perhaps just very large islands, but the total landmass of this planet’s surface is a very small fraction, and much like Earth’s Southern Ocean, that leaves an effectively unlimited fetch for winds and waves to build. So there are a lot of storms.

Mostly, though, these are not huge hurricanes, rather moderate cyclones, quick to appear, and just as quick to disappear. Sometimes as well a storm is not entirely unuseful, especially if it’s sitting right over the top of those who are looking for you when you don’t wish to be found, while you ride it out at the edge.

Anna, Laxmi, Jaci, and their stowaway Ca-Tren, who may be as much guide as she is guest, are desperate to evade the Orta, but just how far can they get in their ancient fishing sailboat when the adversary has high levels of technology at their command?

As always, I welcome your thoughts, comments, and suggestions. One such recently had to do with the scene titles. I must admit that for the most part these titles are afterthoughts, since after all, how many books have you read where each scene has its own title? However, I am trying to give a bit more thought to these titles going forward. They are, after all, representing the work on the website, and if ever I hope to attract readers to an eventual book, first I must attract them to this site. Tell me what you think! How would you have titled some of the earlier scenes? How would you title this scene?

header image credit: user:Artie_Navarre / under Pixabay License