Chapter 11 Begins With Destruction

(The Silence of Ancient Life, continued)

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The blue-green expanse of ocean covered the planetary disc, horizon to horizon, broken only by white wisps of cloud cover and the approaching dark terminator of night. The dissipating cyclone spun its radial ferocity in trailing spirals, peaceful grace from orbit’s distant remove. Where the blue and white of the planet met the blackness of space, a hazy glow hinted at the atmosphere, razor thin from this altitude. For a moment Anna flashed back to her view of this scene upon first arrival, months ago, when all seemed full of promise.

Intermittent bright flashes and sparks interrupted the velvety darkness around the planet, a silent light show of shrapnel collisions against the backdrop of the disintegrating ring station behind her, yet her focus remained on the solitary human figure spinning away toward the distant surface, limbs unmoving. She held on to the small antenna that saved her from a similar fate, legs dangling, her other arm still outstretched toward Jaci in vain, fading hope. Her heart thumped rapidly in her chest, her breath fogged her visor only to have the oxygen flow clear it. She still couldn’t quite believe that he had slipped from her grasp, that he was gone.

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Recovery

(1,918 words; 7 min 40 sec reading time)

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And thus begins Chapter 11 of The Silence of Ancient Light, with dashed dreams and fading hope as disaster unfolds all around. As you’ll recall (spoiler alert! If you haven’t yet read through the previous scene, you must do so before proceeding with this one! Indeed, you should do so before reading further in this blog post), the previous chapter ended with the loss of a major character, and the new chapter begins with our precious few survivors hanging on by the most slender of supports — a bent antenna, anyone?

The shockwave from the severed space elevator cable has arrived at the ring station in orbit, followed closely by the lifting segments of the cable itself. Recall that the cable was severed near its base at the surface of the planet, 41,100 km below the station’s orbital altitude. Approximately 10,000 more km of cable extend farther out from the station, with a counterweight at the top end. That counterweight, with the same radial velocity as the station and the enter cable, is thus orbiting faster than a free object at that altitude would. If the elevator cable were not holding it down, it would spin off to a higher orbit, or perhaps escape the planet’s gravity well entirely. Thus, that centrifugal force on the counterweight’s mass is what holds up the cable, relieving the station of the need to support it. If the cable is no longer tethered at ground level, what happens? We explored this first in my post Is This Plan B? Or Plan C? (Chapter 10 Begins)

The ring station orbiting Kepler 62f once had twelve elevator cables between it and the planet’s surface, set at equidistant intervals around the equator. This was once a society very busy with ground-to-orbit commerce! Today, most of these cables are in disrepair, or in ruins, and parts of the ring station are ruined as well. However, as we know now, at least one still works, or did up until this part of the story.

If the cables are equidistant around the globe, and the station’s geosynchronous altitude is 41,100 km, and the planet’s diameter is 17,862 km, then basic trigonometry tells us that the distance between elevators at the station is 26,196 km. When the severed cable lifts, it doesn’t lift straight up, due essentially to Coriolis forces acting upon its length. Instead, it will tend to precess westward, trailing behind the rotation of both the planet at its base and the station at its top. Hypothetically, if the cable were to precess westward in a straight line, it would impact upon the next cable to the west, most likely severing that one as well. However, its more likely that it will tend to curl up as it lifts, which is not likely to be beneficial to the structural integrity of the carbon nanotube filaments that are its major strength component (carbon nanotubes have amazing longitudinal strength, but could easily be shattered by perpendicular shear forces, which is why the cable has an outer protective shell).

When this curling cable ultimately reaches the station, it likely is no longer a single component, but will already have been shattered into multiple segments. Some of these will fall back to the planet, causing massive damage along the equator (mostly ocean, but certainly tsunamis will result), but others will indeed impact the station for a good portion of its length. Meanwhile, the counterweight is still lifting on the station at the point where the cable meets it, and without the cable providing a downward force, that counterweight will likely pull the station apart, too.

Not a good place to be when it happens. Now imagine having to attempt a rescue in the midst of everything falling apart into millions of razor-sharp fast-moving shards of shrapnel around you.

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header image credit: user:AndreyС / pixabay.com via Pixabay License

A Leap Across Fifty Meters of Emptiness

(The Silence of Ancient Light, continued)

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Launching herself across fifty meters of emptiness between two spacecraft without a tether or a mobility pack, in nothing but an environmental suit not quite rated for hard vacuum, struck Anna as perhaps the most foolhardy thing she had ever done in her life. The moment her boots left contact with the surface of the orbital ring station, she knew two things for certain: first, her instructors at the EASEA academy, thirty-five years earlier, would never have sanctioned such a risky maneuver; and second, it was going to work. Her aim was true, and after twisting around her center of gravity she watched the lander’s airlock grow steadily closer between her boots. Roughly a minute later she landed, absorbing the meter per second momentum with her legs, crouching to soften the impact and grasp the airlock handles.

Moments later she had the outer hatch open and pulled herself and Ca-Tren inside. When she secured the hatch and saw the main status indicator switch from red to yellow, with Englese labels clearly explaining the status meanings, Anna first experienced a brief moment of disorientation and finally a sense of coming home, after the past week of interpreting ancient alien control indicators. No more wondering what pressing a certain switch might do or what a blinking light meant; Anna knew these controls as well as she knew the back of her own hand.

Under normal circumstances, re-pressurizing the airlock following an EVA would be an eight-minute procedure, but time was of the essence here, so Anna mashed the big red emergency button with her palm, then held onto the handle to avoid being blown around the small chamber as oxygen and nitrogen rushed in. Forty-five seconds later, the status indicator turned green, and she opened the inner hatch to the warm, familiar glow of lighting designed for human eyes.

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Fifty Meters of Emptiness

(2,674 words; 10 min 41 sec reading time)

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The lander has arrived under autopilot, and salvation lies a mere fifty meters away. One giant leap, but the consequences of missing are severe indeed. Of course, from the snippet above, you already know that Anna makes it, but she needs to do this trip several more times to get all of her crew to safety. Furthermore, time is rapidly running out, as the shockwave from the severed space elevator races up the tether shaft toward the station.

We explore a few concepts related to microgravity in this scene, including momentum and inertia, and Newton’s third law: for every action, there must be an equal and opposite reaction. Leap across the void and miss your target by merely an inch, and even if your motion wouldn’t carry you on past (which it would), no amount of reaching or kicking or twisting will move you closer. Without something to push against, if it’s out of reach, you’re toast. An astronaut in free fall can twist and turn herself around her center of gravity, but she cannot otherwise move herself up, down, forward, back, or sideways.

For those of you just now discovering The Silence of Ancient Light, and hopefully inspired to read more, I encourage you to click that link for an overview that includes links to all the individual chapters and scenes published so far. Each scene also includes links to the scene before and after, so it’s easy to read through without having to return to the table of contents. This is still a work in progress, of course, an unfinished first draft, but I assure you that we are now in the third act, rapidly approaching the dramatic climax, so (hopefully) you will not have to wait too much longer for the exciting conclusion! Also, as it is a first draft, please feel free to comment and critique the work as a beta reader, if you are so moved. Or, if you prefer, just enjoy the story as it is, knowing you are getting a sneak peek before final publication of the finished product.

And don’t forget to hit that Follow button! I promise I will not divulge your email address to another soul, I am not in the business of selling contact lists to anyone, and I will not spam you; it is merely used so that you can receive a notification whenever I post something new, and you can opt out at any time. And, sadly, I don’t post nearly often enough, so you are not likely to be overwhelmed by emails.


header image credit: NASA-Imagery / pixabay.com via Pixabay License

Fire in the Dark (WIP)

(The Silence of Ancient Light, continued)

Darkness fell on the steep-sloped jungle with near the speed of turning out a light. Laxmi and Anna descended the cliff as rapidly as they dared in fading twilight, and by the time they retrieved the rope, shouldered their packs, and hacked their way back into the brush, the leafy green canopy turned black with night. Not a star penetrated to guide their way, and the twin moons were yet both below the horizon. The powerful beams of their headlamps created a circle of light only as far as the next set of creepers and fronds, and half a meter beyond the reach of their knives darkness ruled the forest.

“Are you sure this is the way we came?” whispered Laxmi. “I don’t remember it being this thick.”

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Fire in the Dark


Anna and Laxmi now have proof that they are not alone on Kepler 62f. Having emerged from the ancient cave ruins of what appear to be a long-lost alien civilization, they see a primitive boat approaching their island from the ocean. They still cannot reach Jaci on the radio, and they are hours away at best from returning to the camp.

With night falling quickly, they descend through the jungle slopes of the mountain, not knowing what they will find.

As always, feedback is welcome! Please remember, this is a first-draft, and you, dear reader, are my alpha reader. Help me improve the story! Perhaps you can even influence what will happen in future scenes, not yet written.


Header image credit: user:Demon989 / wikimedia.org under CC BY-SA 4.0

Indigo Ocean (WIP)

(The Silence of Ancient Light, continued)

Anna opened her eyes to gloom, dimly lit from one side. She lay on her back on a hard, rough surface, and briefly wondered who had hammered a chisel through her forehead. Had she cracked her head against the ground? Had she fallen? She could not clearly remember, and for a moment remained uncertain about her whereabouts. Her head hurt monstrously, she was certain of that, and her stomach…

She turned to her side and retched, dry-heaving her already empty stomach. The effort caused a sharp pain in her chest, and when the heaves stopped she groaned. The pool of light to her side shifted and moved, then a bright light shone on her face. She closed her eyes against the glare.

“Anna. Anna, it’s me, Laxmi. I’m here. You’re safe.”

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Indigo Ocean


After a short hiatus — if you’ve followed the blog, you know I had something of a family emergency which distracted me from writing for a while… well, except for writing about the family emergency — I have returned to these pages to continue the story of Anna, Laxmi, and Jaci. When last we left our intrepid explorers, they were deep into an alien cave, examining artifacts of a long-vanished civilization, when something caused Anna to lose consciousness. What was it? What happens next? And where is Jaci in all of this?

You know what you have to do if you want to find out. And, as always, feedback is welcome!

Until the next scene…


Header image credit: Christy Miller / pixabay.com under Pixabay license

Cavern (WIP)

(The Silence of Ancient Light, continued)

The howl of the storm echoed through the tube, a banshee screaming in furious reverberation, increasing in ferocity and beginning to drive sideways rain many meters in from the cliff entrance. Any thoughts of waiting it out near the entrance now gone from their minds, Anna and Laxmi scrambled toward the inner end and peered into the dark void beyond, their headlamps piercing the gloom with twin beams of focused light.

The roughly eight-meter long by one-meter wide tube ended much as it began, with a sudden and smooth circular opening in the midst of an inward-facing cliff. Beyond lay a dark, cavernous chamber, its size lost in the black, though Anna’s headlamp picked out crystalline reflections sparkling from what might be the far side, a few hundred meters away. The floor of the chamber lay not far below them, a half-dozen meters, with a deeper narrow gully between the main floor and the wall from which she peered.

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Cavern


Yes, I know I told you that I was going to resume work on an older work-in-progress, for the moment called Shadow, but I also said I’ll still continue with Silence, didn’t I? So continue I have done, and will do, and here you go, the latest installment. Anna and Laxmi escape from the hurricane, burrowing deeper into the cave they’ve found, but what awaits them inside? What secrets of the mysterious missing Keplerians might be revealed?

You’ll have to read the scene to find out! And as always, I welcome feedback of any kind.

Until the next scene…


header image credit: user:darkmoon1968 / pixabay.com under Pixabay License