I trust those of you who have read my Jock Boucher thrillers will like this new direction. I would like to hear from you. Please leave your remarks in the Comments section of this blog, or through my website, davidlyonsauthor.com. Following are the first few pages. I hope you enjoy them.
This novel is dedicated to all those involved in the NASA program TESS, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. I wish this mission much success, and hope that its discoveries will be steps along the path to converting much of science fiction to science fact.
Escape to Aldiron
A Jock Boucher Sci-Fi Thriller
By David Lyons
From whence had they come? One hundred or more galaxies could have been the source of the binary neutron stars—neither larger than a city—but each weighing more than twice as much as the Sun. Around each other they had revolved for hundreds of millions of years, all the while circling each other in deep space ever faster, ever closer, till spinning at the speed of light, reaching one hundred orbits per second. And as they spun, the pair was drawn to separate partners in yet another cosmic dance; two super massive black holes, also approaching one another, drawn inexorably into an immense union. The collapsed stars spun in one direction as the black holes in the cosmos whirled in yet another till they met, their repulsive forces hurling the twin remnants of stars across eons at a speed beyond measure, till finally they came to an inexplicable halt after an eternal trek across the seemingly endless universe.
Straining against muscle spasms accompanying the terror that had roused him from his troubled sleep, he swung his legs over the bed, sat up and listened to the rustling outside. They were here. He must face them. He could not fight. Fight with what?
Stumbling to the staircase, he gripped the wooden banister, and descended, his shoulders hunched like an old man. Reaching his front door, he opened it and was assaulted by a light far brighter than any he had ever seen, could ever describe. It was blinding, all encompassing. Dazed, he entered its brilliance, drawn from his house onto the stoop, enveloped in illumination and warmth. His legs, muscle, bone and flesh, ceased supporting his body.
And Trevor Phelps collapsed unconscious onto his front steps.
“Hey, I’m walking my dog in the four hundred block of D Street, Northeast. There’s a man sprawled out in front of his house. I don’t know if he’s dead or alive. My dog is growling at him; a Doberman Pinscher, not afraid of a damned thing, but he won’t move and I can’t check on the guy. I’ll stay here, but I can’t get any closer.”
The pedestrian closed his phone and stood there. It occurred to him how foolish he’d look if the man just sat up and went inside, but his dog continued growling, baring fangs at the motionless body.
An ambulance turned the corner, screeching to a halt in front of the house. Emergency responders leapt out. They knelt over Trevor, placed the unconscious man on a gurney and rolled him into the ambulance.
“Where are you taking him?” the neighbor asked.
“George Washington University Hospital emergency room. Does he live here?”
“I think so. Don’t know him well. The owner drinks.”
“Ahhh,” they said, confirming their initial assessment.
The ambulance was on its way, the patient still unconscious. One aspect of their preliminary examination while racing to the emergency room was surprisingly difficult to accomplish.
“Mike,” said the paramedic, “he’s breathing and I’ve got a pulse, but I need to see the dilation of his pupils. I can’t get the eyelids open.”
LIGO. As with most acronyms representing the name of a governmental facility—especially one with a scientific function—it was an abbreviation essential for verbal communication. ‘I’m going to LIGO.’ ‘Call LIGO.’ ‘Look what LIGO discovered.’ The two syllables rolled off one’s tongue. Not so the cumbersome moniker ‘Laser Interferometry Gravitational-wave Observatory.’
LIGO could have stood for ‘least interesting government office’ until that morning in 2017, when astrophysicists publicly announced their first recording—which had actually been received months earlier—of a gravitational wave. Some scientists said the wave could have come from a merger of super massive black holes, which had created in an instant more force than fifty times the energy of all the stars in the universe.
This, one of the most enigmatic of all cosmological events, had occurred over a billion years before, and more than a billion light-years away. Using an earthly unit of time to measure a celestial unit of distance? Blame it on Einstein, who envisaged the concept of space-time.
Neil Madison had been present at LIGO on that memorable day. The data was cited as further proof of Einstein’s general relativity theory, which took more time to explain than how this research facility had come into being in the woods of this rural locale, Livingston, Louisiana, twenty-five miles east of Baton Rouge, fifty miles northwest of New Orleans.
After a fortune had been invested in this most sophisticated equipment, the first gravitational wave ever discovered had moved the recalibrated detector arm of the observatory less than the diameter of a single proton, a subatomic particle. Yet this infinitesimal measurement was a stunning scientific achievement. Nobel Prizes would follow. The world news media would fawn. But Neil had noted that the experts, what few there were, ignored the temporizing effect of the incalculable length of time and inconceivable distance traveled, minimizing the potential dangers of gravitational waves. Evidence of their destructive powers had long since dissipated throughout the universe.
The readings registered this morning scared the crap out of him. The interferometer graphic was literally off the charts. Something with enormous force had struck, damaging these delicate measuring devices. He picked up the phone and called the LIGO facility in Hanford, Washington, and then the newest member of the trio in Europe. His readings were confirmed. They’d been duplicated in both of the other locations. Before he could put a pencil to paper, the phone rang and he picked up a call from NASA.
“We’ve got damage to the International Space Station,” the caller said. “They said it felt like an earthquake. In space? They’re using emergency power. We’re going to have to bring them down as soon as we can get a recovery vehicle up there. I’ve talked to just about every radio and optical telescopic observatory I know of and…”
“Why call me? One thing it was not was a gravitational wave. They barely move our detectors when we do catch them, and are far too weak to damage a spacecraft.”
“Well, you guys look for stuff no one can see, right?”
“Yeah, we do that alright. Anyway, I’m glad you called. Our link to the Arecibo radio telescope reports a new phenomenon near Jupiter. It can’t be seen either, emits no light or heat. But that observatory can detect pulsars, electro magnetized radiation from neutron stars. But neutron stars in our own solar system? How many astronauts are up there?”
“Six souls. Are we going to get hit by another one of these things?”
“Hell if I know. Something new is in our neighborhood and we just got its calling card. I’d get your astronauts back as soon as possible.”
“Well, there’s always a Soyuz capsule attached to the space station for emergencies. But whatever hit the launch also damaged the capsule. I called Moscow and they said they’d send up another one, a bit vague on the timeframe though, and we’ve got to get those folks back without delay.”
“Why don’t you call that guy who sends up the supply shipments?”
“Jesse Lake? He builds rocket ships. I don’t know if he has any capsules for astronauts.”
“You might ask him.”
“You’re right, I will. Okay. Thanks. Have a nice day.”
Neil then made another call, this one to a curious office in the Capitol Building in Washington D.C., its existence known to few.
“Trevor, this is a heads up,” he said. “I’m calling because I don’t want to put this in an email, not yet. There’s damage to the ISS and they’re going to bring everybody home. We’ve got something near Jupiter. There are no visuals, but the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico is reporting pulsars from what could be binary neutron stars. You know what binary neutron stars are, right?”
“Cores of collapsed stars,” Trevor said, “about the size of a city but twice as dense as our Sun. They can’t be seen because they’ve burned up all their hydrogen and helium. Binary means two.”
“Correct. These newcomers are going to collide, and the explosion will send meteors and gravitational waves our way. Coming from as close as Jupiter, the waves could stretch and compress the shape of Earth as if it were Silly-Putty; and cause seismic shifts that will have our oceans running all over us. But that’s just my personal opinion, and few in the scientific world agree with me. No one believes gravitational waves could reach sufficient amplitude to present a physical danger to us.”
“How did the neutron stars get there?”
“Don’t know. They could be hypervelocity stars, catapulted by the same black hole that sent the waves we recently recorded.”
“But nobody’s actually seen them.”
“Not physically seen. They’re dead, but they’re dangerous.”
“Jupiter is more than 500 million miles away.”
“That’s less than half of one light-year. The wave we detected came from the center of the universe, billions of light-years away, but Jupiter is in our solar system, and if that is where these waves begin their journey… Trevor, keep this to yourself for now. These new stars could be evidence of motion beyond the speed of light; but they may also be nothing more than a bit of undigested beef, a blot of mustard, or whatever the hell Scrooge said after seeing Marley’s ghost. We’ve spent fortunes on our LIGO facilities, and all we’ve really received is a minute vibration moving an arm of our detectors, which are almost two and a half miles in length, less than the width of a hair on your head. I study computer graphs. I’m not about to tell you that the single most basic law of physics, that nothing moves faster than the speed of light, is bunk. And I’m losing sleep about announcing that binary neutron stars are so close to us, I can tell you.”
“You said ghost.”
“A childish metaphor. My daughter’s class is beginning rehearsals for A Christmas Carol. She has the part of Mrs. Cratchet. I practice the play with her in the evenings.”
“You are a good father. Okay. If this information does not reappear, it could have been a ghost, or something like that.”
“No, the binary neutron stars are definitely there. They are each about the size of the meteorite that created our last extermination event, and if they collide, they are going to send debris toward Earth. A teaspoon will weigh millions of tons, and a gravitational wave from that close to us could…”
“Reshape our planet. Got it. Sounds to me like you’ve got some science ahead of you. Please keep me informed.”
“I’ll send you whatever I find immediately. Watch for it.”
“Will do,” Trevor said.
Neil lectured fifth graders on Einstein’s theories of relativity, because it made him a hero to his daughter for one thing, and because he conceived one of his main purposes in life to reduce the theories to an explanation which could be understood by all. He had more than enough time to refine his thoughts. Staring at instruments that measured rare forces from great distances gave one the opportunity to think about such things as time and space, light and gravity. Neil knew his time was short. His daughter Melanie was growing, and by the time she reached thirteen, there would be little likelihood of her being impressed by much of anything her father said or did.
One law of relativity he believed in was the one espoused by that other genius Mark Twain, who as a boy thought his father thick and stupid, but by the time he reached the age of twenty-five, was astounded at how much his pop had learned in the interim. Maybe it was different with daughters.
Studying events from outer space was Neil’s job. This new phenomenon had announced its arrival in a most dramatic manner, and would be well worth his examination. Out of nowhere, or out of somewhere, binary neutron stars had just appeared. How had these interstellar beasts suddenly arrived in our planetary neighborhood? One thing he knew, he needed a more precise word to describe the damage their collision would bring to Earth.
Obliteration. That was close enough.
Explain that to a class of fifth graders.