The Climber (Beta/WIP)

(The Silence of Ancient Light, continued)

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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.

Read more at

The Climber

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

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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 / pixabay.com 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)

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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.

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Ascent to the Void

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

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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 / flickr.com via CC BY-NC 2.0

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

(The Silence of Ancient Light, continued)

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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.

Read more at

So Many Stars, and So Quiet

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

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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 / pixabay.com via Pixabay License

Chapter 8 and Escape (WIP)

(The Silence of Ancient Light, continued)

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Silently they slipped between the rocky headlands forming the lagoon, seeing them as no more than dark patches blotting the multitudinous stars from the sky above and their reflection from the still waters below. With but a whisper of wind to pull the lateen sail, the small trimaran all but ghosted beyond reach of the solid shore and into the vast deep of the ocean beyond.

A subtle glow emanated from beyond one shoulder of the island, limning the cliff edges along the lower slopes. That way lay the main lagoon and the docks on the beach, Anna knew. That way lay the Orta craft, and the glow no doubt was its landing lights. Anna took comfort that the high-tech craft remained in the lagoon and not out searching the waters for she and her companions, even as she realized it bode poorly for the Kwakitl of the island.

She turned away from the island, allowing her eyes to adjust to the night sky and the sea. Though moonless, the stars lit the nighttime waters to the far horizon, and there, just west of due north, though she needed no compass to tell her the direction, fell the straight, thin line of the space elevator, its impossibly high reaches still lit by the long-set sun, until it descended into darkness. For many weeks this beacon had called out to her, and finally she could point her tiny ship, her craft of avian manufacture, straight toward it. No more detours, all her crew were aboard, and as they pulled away from the lee of the island in their wake, the southeast trades steadily grew and pushed them toward their goal.

Read more at

Escape

(1,874 words; 7 min 29 sec reading time)

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Thus begins Chapter 8 of our continuing story, and also a new phase of Anna’s, Laxmi’s, and Jaci’s adventure. Our intrepid heroes have slipped the bonds of Ar-Danel, the island of the Kwakitl, with the aid of none other than Ca-Seti, or Gamma as Anna first knew the grizzled old fisherman-soldier. Those they thought their captors have become their accomplices, and those they think friends… well, none can say at this point who is friend, and who is foe. Escaping the Orta invasion, Anna and her friends hope to sail the small Kwakitl boat to the base of the space elevator, a shining goal always visible, and so far always just out of reach. They don’t know what they will find when they get there; they don’t know if it will help them return to orbit or, like so much else on this poor planet, it will be yet another piece of ancient technology long fallen into disrepair.

They don’t even know if they will get that far, as the newly-arrived Orta with their high-tech machines are clearly looking for them.

What will happen next? Read on, and stay tuned!

Have a thought about the story so far, or a question, or a suggestion? Drop me a line in the comments below!


header image credit: user:enriquelopezgarre / pixabay.com under Pixabay License