The novel has finally made it past the 10k milestone. Admittedly I should have been at this stage on Sunday and am still about 5k words behind where I should be, but the creative juices seem to be flowing and I finally seem to be getting towards the point where I can let the characters get on with things.
In this writing session I managed to kill a character and have another explosion. Explosions, as any role players out there will know, are one of my literary specialities – I didn’t really go to town on this one but I’m sure I can spruce it up when we get to redraft time.
10 218 words down, 39 782 to go.
On the space lift, Daryl Baxter was feeling neither relaxed nor comfortable. The rapid acceleration only tailed off once they broke through the last of the Mesosphere twenty two miles straight up from where they started. The horrible compression of his stomach into his back began to ease only to be replaced by a feeling of being propelled upwards toward the televisor screen above his head, prevented from smashing into it only by the straps tying him down to the seat.
“Ooh! I hate this bit!” His wife commented from the seat next to him. She sounded breathless and agitated.
“It’s OK honey, only a few more minutes to go and we’ll be there. ‘s perfectly safe.”
“I know it’s safe! It’s just not fecking…” she paused to snatch another short forced breath “…comfortable!”
Daryl started to laugh but quickly stopped, the only thing less comfortable than talking or breathing whilst being rapidly accelerated then decelerated again was laughing. A few minutes more and finally the straps were not cutting into him as the level of deceleration tailed off and he sank gratefully down into the seat. “’Visor! Show me an external of the station.” he snapped at the screen above him. It obliged: The International Space Station was a multi-layered extravagance in space, huge living quarters sections were linked by long corridor pipes with port-hole windows onto the inky depths of space to laboratories and bio-support units. The whole structure was semi-circular looking inwardly at the four threads that emerged from the planet below and continued on, up and away above. Three of the threads already had the torus shaped craft clinging to them and docked with the station itself. The view shifted away slightly and Daryl could see not only the approaching fourth space-lift that he was on but stretched out on gantries on the far side were space craft docked and ready for departure.
He recognised the Asaph Hall, a giant cruiser that famously made the Mars run and back once a day. A few small, sleek moon-skiff pleasure craft and the stunningly elegant Queen Elizabeth luxury liner dwarfing them, berthed here as she awaited her next group of thrill seekers wishing to take in the delights of the solar system in a luxury environment.
He’d taken one of their cruises before but found it extremely sedentary, unsurprising as he’d led missions to explore deep caves and inaccessible mountain ranges on Mars, Venus and Titan. Emelda had liked it though, or at least she had enjoyed relaxing in the Saunas and beauty parlours, and the time they’d been able to spend together was welcome. They were both very busy members of the space agency, she a top mission controller and he a veteran explorer. When they were not actually involved in the preparation or execution of missions they seemed to have an endless round of social engagements entirely centred around the promotion of past or future missions for the feeds, at times it seemed that going on the actual mission was a welcome break.
He watched as the great torus he was on, eased into the waiting bay in the empty bite out of the side of the station and a series of audible thumps told him that the docking mechanism was engaging. The loudspeaker broke into life with another recorded message inviting him to remain in his seat with the straps fastened while they completed the docking manoeuvres. A few of the rest of the crew half-heartedly chorused along but everyone was feeling the unwelcome effects of their relaxing and enjoyable flight.
“Why can’t they compensate for all that G with anti-grav?” Emelda was complaining to Admiral Swanhausen.
“Something to do with weight and inverse thrust, I’m told.” The old man replied, unclipping his straps despite the warning not to.
“That’s right,” piped in Grant “AG are heavy bits of equipment that the lift can do without hauling and besides, for every force there’s and equal and opposite and all that. The lift would have to work twice as hard and put twice as much tension on the thread which could be… erm… interesting.”
“You mean it’d snap?”
“It certainly might. They stress test the threads regularly to one point five times normal weight and there has never been any sign of deformation but you don’t want to actually break one of them, the whip lash planet-side would be pretty unpleasant.”
“Don’t talk about it snapping! We’re not off this tub yet!” Mica chimed in, sounding slightly irate and undoing her own straps. A final loud click emanated through the ship followed by another recorded announcement telling them that the ship was secure and they were welcome to disengage their straps and disembark. The cabin filled with the noises of people undoing their straps and engaging in low-grade chatter with each other.
“We need to wait here till we get the signal, there’s a fresh media gauntlet to run before we get to the briefing room and we need everyone else off of here first.” Admiral Swanhausen addressed Daryl, Grant, Mica and Emelda. “Look lively you lot! We’ve got to wait for the rest of you and we haven’t got all day!” he shouted to the rest of the cabin at large. His order was met with a smattering of “Yessir”s and the buzz of activity and clumps of booted feet increased a notch as the other passengers hastened their departure from the lift.
Mica sat on the edge of the reclined seat, freshening her make-up with a hand held mirror and blusher brush. She looked critically at all angles of her face then snapped the compact shut and pushed it into a pocket. Standing up she straightened her uniform and touched the button on her sleeve that activated her display. “Acquire, acquire, acqu… ah! Logged in.” she muttered to herself as the device synchronised to the station’s signal. With practised movements she analysed the level of feed coverage they had attained today, expected penetration reports for their upcoming disembarkation and President’s interview and replied politely but firmly to several dozen interview requests. Finally she brought up the pre-mission schedule. “Admiral, Captain, we are expected to disembark in five minutes.” she informed them.
Emelda Baxter similarly finished a re-touch of her make-up and stowed the tools away in a handbag. She walked over to her husband and started poking and prodding at his hair and imaginary specks of dust on his uniform. “Thank you, dear! I’m sure I’m presentable enough.”
“I’ll be the judge of that, this is only the single biggest media event of the century we’re in the middle of, you know.”
“Can’t we even pretend that this has something to do with the exploration of space for the sheer advancement of humankind’s knowledge?” Asked the Admiral with a note of bitterness in his voice.
“Of course it is, sorry Admiral, but it is also a media event that will be seen by very nearly every human on the planet.
Grant was not listening, he had undone his straps but hadn’t climbed out of the reclining seat, instead he was gazing up at the televisor screen which he had got to show him a live station-shot of the Earth below, grey oceans and dark brown land with tiny oasis patches of green visible where the sun fell across it and sprawling cities, glowing brightly on the night-side.
“Grant? Are you joining this party?” Daryl had moved over beside him and placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Yes sir, sorry, I just…”
“Miss them already?”
“Yup. Pretty much!” He pulled his eyes away from the screen and grinned at the Captain then hauled himself up out of his seat, dusted down and straightened his uniform. “OK. I’m ready.”
“Good man, Grant, come on.” The pair of them crossed the cabin and headed back round to where the others had already assembled near the airlock doors which were standing open. As they approached a load and shrill klaxon started screaming and a dull thump rocked the deck.
“Get out!” the admiral yelled and pushed Mica and Emelda bodily through the airlock doors they stumbled into the space station corridor taking the assembled press pack by surprise. The lights flashed from their normal mellow yellow to a deep angry red, the familiar recorded voice started explaining an unfamiliar message over the noise of the klaxon. “A breach on the hull has been detected. Please do not panic, emergency pressure doors are operating to contain the breach.”
“Come on!” The admiral yelled down the corridor at Daryl and Grant who had both already broken into a run. Another heavy crash occurred rocking the deck violently followed by the sound of air escaping nearby. The air started whipping past the three men at an alarming rate as the last two finally got near the airlock which was beginning to close.
“Go!” The admiral put hands behind each of their backs and thrust them through the gap in the closing blast doors as a third explosion rocked the ship. Media feeds around the globe switched to camera feeds from remote units hovering around the space station, the two gaping holes had appeared in the side of the space lift and the metal had bent and buckled outwards, shards of debris tumbling silently away into space. The Admiral was thrown backwards against the wall away from the airlock. He hauled himself to his feet and rushed forward but it was already too late, the airlock had sealed shut. The whistling of air escaping was rising to a torrent now and he felt his ears begin to pop.
Daryl flung himself back at the airlock door and hammered on it “Admiral!” he peered through the tiny window set in the heavy door and saw the Admiral glance once at him and wink before sprinting off down the corridor. He turned around and barked at Mica “What the hell’s going on?” Mica was already feverishly tapping the invisible controls in front of her.
“Multiple explosive decompressions on the space lift. Automatic systems are disengaging the craft. Hold on!” The last words she barked over the clammer coming from the media people, bewildered but still filming behind her. The station rocked violently and the screech of metal tearing filled the corridor as the far side of the airlock was wrenched away without properly disengaging.
Outside the camera drones watched on behalf of shocked audiences across the planet as the space lift fell away from the station, a thruster pushing it down towards the planet. Four small explosions occurred at the compass points of the torus and the craft broke into even segments falling and spinning away from the central thread. One of the sections disintegrated into further constituent parts as another explosion rocked through it, the flames dying in an instant as they consumed the finite air and hit the edge of the deadly vacuum.
“Oh my God. The automatics scuttled her… protect the thread… Peter…” Mica’s voice trailed off as she picked herself off of the floor as were most of the rest of the crowd. Daryl Baxter alone was still standing, his hands grasping handles on the airlock door looking out the small window into space where a moment before his old friend and commanding officer had been.
Alarms were sounding throughout the station now, some pieces of debris from the destroyed space lift were in danger of impacting with the giant craft and calm recorded voices were telling people to move into the inner sections of the station. A team of uniformed personnel came rushing into the corridor and started ushering out the media people, some of whom were visibly in shock, others of whom were trying to shout questions at the crew men evacuating them and others were interviewing each other.
Daryl ignored the clamour around him and continued to stare out of the tiny window until Emelda laid a hand gently on his back. “Dar. We need to go it isn’t safe here.” He nodded, turned around and headed out of the corridor deeper into the sprawling space station, his mind still filled with the image of the space lift falling away from him as he stood and watched, helpless in the face of a friend’s death.