The Climber (Beta/WIP)

(The Silence of Ancient Light, continued)


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.


The Climber

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


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 / via Pixabay License

Ascent to the Void (Beta/WIP)

(The Silence of Ancient Light, continued)


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.


Ascent to the Void

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


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 / via CC BY-NC 2.0

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

Grotto (WIP)

(The Silence of Ancient Light, continued)


She descended into a pool of water, halfway up her calves before the ladder ended and she stood on firm sand. The sounds of conflict from outside became muted and muffled, as if a door had been shut, and while there was no mistaking the shrill whistles of Kwakitl soldiers squaring off against their technologically far superior foe, the reverberating echoes of waves lapping against stone dominated the rocky chamber. Anna’s eyes gradually adjusted to see Laxmi, Jaci, and their juvenile guide waiting for her in the dimly yet colorfully lit grotto. Shafts of sunlight pierced through gaps in the ceiling of boulders, lighting the watery floor in hues of aquamarine and turquoise, reflected to dance across the stone walls.

The young Kwakitl regarded her for just a moment more, then shook her head in an unmistakeable come-hither gesture before darting into a darker gap between two stones making up the chamber’s walls. Jaci turned to follow, with Laxmi and Anna right on his heels.



(1,902 words; 7 min 36 sec reading time)


Things have gone poorly in the first meeting between Orta and Kwakitl in a thousand years, and the breakout of hostilities does not bode well for our heroes’ chances. They have escaped from the initial conflict into a hidden system of sea caves, led by one of Li-Estl’s students. But where do the caves lead? Where are they being taken? And what good will any of it do against the technologically far superior Orta, who have arrived with spaceships, hovercraft, and beam weapons? The Kwakitl have only sailboats and spears, so can they provide any real protection?

For those paying attention, the grotto into which Anna and her friends are escaping is based upon a real place here on Earth. Most likely, there are many such places to be found on this world of mostly water, but I had one place in particular in my mind as I envisioned and described the caves, a place I had the good fortune to visit in 2004 while sailing in the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean. Should it ever be reasonable to do such travel again, and you find yourself there, be sure to visit The Baths on Virgin Gorda. As in our story, those tunnels lead to a different destination as well, though not one quite the same as on Kepler 62f.

As always, tell me what you think! What can I do to improve the story? What don’t you like? What do you like? Where would you like to see our intrepid adventurers go next?

header image credit: Stefan Keller / under Pixabay License

Classroom (WIP)

(The Silence of Ancient Light, continued)


The cave stretched back toward the interior of the mountain, but Anna quickly adjusted her perception of it. Cave was the wrong word, as it had clearly been excavated and enlarged by some form of avian industry. Kwakitl industry. Anna tried the avians’ word for themselves out in her mind as she looked about the spacious cavern.

The floor was smooth and level, well adapted for the passage of many feet. No rocks or cracks to trip on here. To either side of the chamber, the floor joined the walls in a gentle chamfer, sloping up and curving inward to a rounded, domelike ceiling. The walls and ceiling were not as smooth as the floor, showing some evidence of natural formation left mostly to itself, yet still they remained relatively even. Side passages with similarly rounded aspects led away from the main chamber, and rather than appearing dark, they were lit with natural sunlight. The light came from small circular openings in the ceiling, tubular ducts leading at an upward angle back toward the cliff, apparently cut for this purpose. With a start, Anna realized the light ducts were enclosed with round glass or crystal caps nearly identical to those she had seen in the abandoned mountain temple on her jungle island, and the caps served to diffuse and amplify the light.

For all that Kwakitl society seemed primitive, nevertheless they were capable of forging glass and machining lenses. What other surprises might be held in store?



(2,030 words; 8 min 7 sec reading time)


We now know what the avian denizens of Kepler 62f call themselves: Kwakitl. No, I didn’t actually know about the historical Kwakiutl, the First Nations people of British Columbia, when I came up with that name, though I hope both peoples, historic and fictional, will be ok with the similarity. I had in my mind Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec god associated with the divine wind who appears as a feathered serpent, except I misremembered the name. As I live in the Pacific Northwest, almost certainly I had encountered the Kwakiutl name before, but there any intentional similarity or relationship ends.

Yes, I’ll probably have to change that name in the rewrite. The similarity is too close.

For now, though, Jaci has been living among the Kwakitl for a few weeks, and he has not been idle. In that time he has learned how to communicate with them, and now he is leading Anna and Laxmi to meet his “breakthrough,” as he termed her at the end of the last scene. His teacher, and more formally the teacher for the young juvenile Kwakitl who otherwise seem to spend their time running around the docks and taking alien visitors by the hand.

Welcome to the classroom of Li-Estl, venerable teacher, mentor, and historian of Kepler 62f.

Before the lesson is done, another surprise is in store for our lost explorers when they learn…

Well, you’ll have to read the scene to find out what they learn, won’t you? And when you do, let’s discuss it in the comments!

header image credit: user:PhotoVision / under Pixabay License