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.

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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

Visitors (WIP)

(The Silence of Ancient Light, continued…)

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The remainder of the day passed without incident. The guards remained at their post, silent and resolute, completely ignoring any attempt to speak with them. Occasionally others would pass by through the corridor outside, and Anna would catch curious glances into their chamber, but none approached the entrance nor engaged with the guards.

After several hours, with her stomach rumbling, Anna began to wonder if they would simply be left to starve, but just as she determined to speak up, a Kwakitl arrived with a tray of hot food. A quick squawk with the guards, and the Kwakitl was allowed in with the tray. He set the tray down in the center of the chamber without a word and without looking at any of them, and then left.

After eating, they were allowed, one at a time and accompanied by one of the guards, to visit the washroom. For that Anna was thankful.

She did not sleep well that night, turning fitfully on her pallet of cushions while her mind roamed across all that had happened, and all that might be happening at that moment. Who were the new arrivals? Why did the Kwakitl assume culpability or ill intent on the part of the humans? She had no answers for these questions. She rolled over to find Jaci watching her.

Read more at

Visitors

(1,388 words; 5 min 33 sec reading time)

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As promised, this scene is ready for you to read less than a week after the previous scene! That might be almost unprecedented for me, eh? Furthermore, I’m already halfway through writing the next scene, so you won’t have very long to wait for that one. And, given that I’m confined to the condo due to my city being totally smoke-filled at the moment, to point of the air being labeled as very hazardous to breathe, I’d say the chances of me completing that scene this weekend, and perhaps even posting it, are pretty good.

On a side note, yeah, things are pretty smoky in Seattle just now. We’re in no actual fire danger, but it’s definitely not good to be outside. The sky looks almost alien, a dirty yellow obscuring smoke and fog — smog — that makes me think we’re on the surface of Venus. Minus the crushing pressure and melting temperature, of course.

On another side note, this is now my second posting using the new WordPress Block Editor. While I can understand why folks who enjoy getting technical with custom CSS code might like it, overall, I feel this has been a reduction in functionality, and it definitely slows down my productive (and increases my frustration!). Many things I used to do quite easily, including inserting images and hyperlinks, are now much more difficult. Unfortunately, switching back to the Classic Editor is no longer an option. I can insert “Classic Blocks” which will emulate that editor’s look and feel for a particular set of paragraphs, but it’s not just the blocks (horrible name, by the way) — the entire editor’s functionality, toolbars, etc, have changed in a way that feels like a regression to me.

Dang it, who moved my cheese!

Ok, whinging and whining over.

So, tell me what you think about the scene! How about the interactions between the characters (there’s definitely some change going on)?


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

First Contact (WIP)

(The Silence of Ancient Light, continued)

The aliens arrived in less than two hours.

Anna kept reminding herself not to think of them that way, that this was their planet and that she and Laxmi were the aliens. As Laxmi had told her, what now seemed a very long time ago, when they were still safe aboard Aniara. Keplerians, for lack of a better word, was how she would think of them.

Read more at

First Contact


This is it! The moment you’ve all been waiting for! What do the aliens from Kepler 62f really look like? And how will they treat our hapless marooned astronauts?

Oh, right, just like Anna, I have to remind myself, if we’re on their planet, we’re the aliens, not them. But you get my drift.

A reminder for all, if you want to read the story (for free!), all you have to do is click that link above, right here in this blog post. It isn’t going to charge your credit card, and it’s not going to download anything, nor pop up any ads or anything like that. It isn’t even going to redirect you to another website. It’s just going to take you to a static page on this website where the entire scene is available. And, all the scenes so far written leading up to this one are available there, too, so it’s nice and easy to read them in order, each one linking to the next at its end. Don’t miss out!

And another reminder, this is first draft material, destined for ultimate publication as a Kindle e-book and, if it does well enough, in paperback once all revisions and edits and proof-reads are complete. This is your chance to be my alpha reader, and absolutely feel free to comment and let me know what you think works, what you think doesn’t, what you would like to see more of, or less of, or even if you find a grammatical or typographical error. Or just comment and discuss ideas!

What ultimately gets published later will undoubtedly be different from what you read here, but this is where it starts, where the story idea is developed, the characters find their arcs, and the plot resolved.

I look forward to hearing from you!


header image credit: user:Pawel86 / pixabay.com under Pixabay License