Chapter 9 and “An Open Door” (Beta/WIP)

(The Silence of Ancient Light, continued)


Kepler 62f’s larger moon hung low over the eastern horizon, following the planet’s sun rising high into the turquoise sky. Gentle waves lapped at the sloped stone roof and washed against the stern of the wrecked trimaran, pulled up onto the rooftop out of harm’s way. A pile of meager belongings, retrieved from the boat, sat on the roof: a knapsack of food, a solar charger, a pair of handheld tablets, and the two e-suits, neatly folded with helmets sitting atop them.

Anna sat beside the pile and looked out at the water, at the broken rooftops and spires of the ancient city pushing their way above the waves, structures she had at first thought to be rocks and reefs, worn down by the ages and the frequent storms of this world. How far had the sea level risen here? How deep down were the streets and avenues these people had once walked? She could not tell.

She turned her gaze upward, following the line of the gleaming space elevator cable, reaching far into the heavens until it dwindled out of sight. The sun was near its noon zenith, so even with Kepler 62’s dimmer light she had to shield her eyes against the brightness of its light, and she could not make out the orbital ring at the elevator cable’s other terminus. Would this millennium-old artifact still work? She knew it was doubtful, but she had pinned their hopes on it, and now they were here. Only one way to find out. She turned and dropped her gaze to the building wall behind them, and the elevator’s base just beyond it.


An Open Door

(2,483 words; 9 min 55 sec reading time)


A while back I mentioned something about how the menu structure on the website, breaking the story down into chapters and scenes, was becoming unwieldy, at least for my 13″ laptop screen. Even more so on a mobile device! So, that is now done. Have a look, you’ll see that under Works in Progress / Alpha Reads and then The Silence of Ancient Light, there are now two entries for Part One and Part Two. Part One has the first six chapters, and Part Two has the rest of what I’ve written so far (which is to say, chapters 7 and 8 and the first scene of chapter 9). Now, I should warn you that the divisions of the chapters into parts is somewhat arbitrary, more around neatly organizing the menu onto the web page that organizing the structure of the story. If and when this story makes into a finished novel format, these part divisions are unlikely to remain with it.

So, with that out of the way, welcome to Part Two, and the beginning of Chapter 9!

When last we left our heroes, they had just shipwrecked (again!?) upon the island of Ar-Makati, the forbidden island that is also home to the thousand-plus-year-old disused and possibly ruined space elevator. The space elevator which Anna is holding out as their best hope of getting back into orbit and thus finding a way to return to their starship. Clearly they have some rather large hurdles to overcome to make all this happen, but just as clearly their next order of business is going to be to find a way into the interior of the ancient buildings of this island.

And so that’s what they are now setting out to do. The only problem is, almost everything is underwater. But come on! These people crossed twelve-hundred light-years of interstellar space to get here! A little water is hardly likely to stand in their way, right?

As always, I welcome your feedback, both on the structure of the website as well as the story itself. Tell me what you like! Tell me what you don’t like, too.

header image credit: user:cottonbro / via Pexels License

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

Chapter 8 and Escape (WIP)

(The Silence of Ancient Light, continued)


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.



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


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 / under Pixabay License