It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, so I thought I’d go with something that struck me a few days ago.
As happens on occasion, I was awakened in the middle of the night by a powerful scene that demanded I write it down. It was one of those things that burns in my mind and won’t let go until I jot down at least the basics. So, I got up and started writing. Usually, I can get the bones of something down and go back to sleep. But as I was working on it, I had a random youtube playlist running - and this came on.
I’ve said in the past that I think music is a kind of magic. It transports us, changes us. Well, this piece of music grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. The scene I was working on was intense to begin with, that’s probably why it woke me up. But once a certain part of this music started (at about 1:15) all the hair on my arms stood up and I was taken over, transported. What happened after that was part me, part the music.
It was one of the clearest moments I’ve had where something I wrote was directly impacted by what I was listening to. Usually, music helps keep me in the right head space or emotional place, but this changed the scene as I was writing it. Below are the opening pages. In the music, I could feel the main character’s fear, her desperation and the discipline that keeps her fighting to save her ship and crew.
I have no idea what this story may become, possibly nothing more than this opening. But what’s below is very different than what I would have written had this piece of music not popped up in a playlist. And that in and of itself is powerful. Inspiration, and alteration to inspiration can happen at any instant. I think we just have to be open to it. And when things kick me in the guts, it’s something I’m thankful for because it doesn’t happen all that often.
Have a read. This is pretty much raw and unedited, so take it as it is. And I hope you enjoy it and the magical moment of music that inspired it.
- chapter one-
“We’re burning up!” flight engineer Jim Rosso shouted from his position behind flight commander Jaylen Inosanto’s right shoulder.
There was no hint of fear in Jim’s voice. It was professional, deadpan calm. He was yelling to be heard over the roar as Liminal Aurora plunged into Earth’s atmosphere. But Jaylen knew his heart was hammering in his chest just like hers. Jim and the other two people in the experimental orbiter’s cockpit knew as well as she did that fear wouldn’t save them.
Jaylen wasn’t sure anything could.
“Hull stresses are in the red on all… dorsal… surfaces!“ Jim shouted again, increasing g-forces forcing spaces between his words.
She heard the trained grunt from the seat next to hers as Commander “Martian” Marvin pushed out, “We’re six degrees… below glide slope!” Another grunt. “Coming back from eight!”
Contact with mission control had vanished the moment the control error Jaylen was fighting had struck the ship. They were plummeting into the atmosphere much too steeply, too fast. They were out of the entry window before she could break protocol and take manual control. If she hadn’t, they’d already be dead.
Liminal Aurora bucked violently as she fought to shallow their descent and keep the ship’s heat-shielded underbelly pointed at the Earth - between them and the superheated atmosphere that would otherwise burn them to a cinder. It was like trying to control a polished metal disk rocketing down an ice sheet.
“Seven… g’s… and… climbing!” Doctor Ganeshparima “Perry” Banerjee, Liminal’s payload, sciences and medical specialist shouted from her seat behind Jaylen. Jaylen could visualize her pained expression as she groaned to suck in breaths. “We’ll… lose… Jim… at eight!” In their high-g training Jim always passed out first. Jaylen and Marty were both fighter pilots before becoming astronauts. They wouldn’t pass out until after they’d broken the nine g threshold, even without g-suits.
“Marty! On… the controls… with me!” Jaylen was strong, but her arms were already numb from the jackhammer violent shudder in the control yoke. The death grip she had to keep so that it wouldn’t be torn from her grasp translated the vicious vibration up her arms where it felt like it was trying to tear her shoulders out of their sockets. She grunted with every breath, forcing her belly out against the g-forces as the orbiter decelerated.
She couldn’t pull up against their descent too much or she and Marty would black out and they would all die.
Jaylen’s mind spun with the trade-offs; cold, logical calculations helping her fly the razors edge. Too much speed and they would burn up, too much drag and they would black out.
If it came to it, she’d pull back on the yoke. She would ensure her crew blacked out before she would let them burn to death, still conscious, trapped in their doomed spacecraft.
But she was a driver. Every fiber of her being, everything that made her a pilot fought that possibility. Fly the plane to the ground. The words had been hammered into her until they felt like they were imprinted on her DNA. She hadn’t become mission commander on the most technologically advanced spacecraft on Earth by giving up. She gritted her teeth and pushed her belly out against the crushing g’s again.
Fly the plane to the ground.
“Main… Eng…ines…” she grunted.
There was no question, only a momentary delay as Jim hissed with effort from his station. Then he answered her order, his voice hoarse. “Av… ail… able!” Indicator lights illuminated on the panel above the throttle assembly.
There was always fuel left in the main engine tanks on return to earth. Reaction control thrusters wouldn’t do them any good in the atmosphere. But burning the engines might shallow their descent.
Jaylen’s eyes were locked on the instruments, but she could see Marty’s hand in her peripheral vision, crawling painfully across the panel between them to the throttle controls. She could see his grimace, fighting the weight of his arm, now more than eight times its weight on Earth.
“Lost… Jim…” Perry groaned from behind her.
But he’d enabled the engines before he passed out. He might have just saved their lives.
Jaylen shoved the words out. “Burn… in… Three…”
“Three…” Marty parroted.
“Two…” They said it together.
All color had disappeared from Jaylen’s vision, darkness creeping in from the edges of her sight.
Perry grunted, “Nine… g’s…” from behind her.
Jaylen fought the searing pain in her arms and shoulders, squeezing the yoke with all her strength. If her hands came off now, she’d never get them back onto it. Tears of effort streamed from her eyes.
Marty roared with the effort and shoved the throttles forward.
The normal few tenths of a second it took for the engines to light seemed to drag out forever. If they didn’t light, it was over.
Then she was rammed straight back in her seat. The g’s dropped off and she heaved in a breath as the orbiters main engines eased their savage angle of descent.
Outside the windows there was nothing but fire, burning atmosphere, too dense to get out of the way as the plunging spacecraft plowed downward through it.
“What is that!?” Marty hollered.
Beyond the flames there was a… glimmer? Some visual distortion in the air, like a brighter glow that was powerful enough to be visible through the wall of fire. The burning atmosphere outside seemed to warp, like a heat shimmer in the desert…
There was a flash…
And a bang…