In between plugging away on the sequel to Earthfall, I’ve been moving on a novella called Charges. Set in the very near future, after a catastrophic corona mass discharge (CMD) fries all the electronics on Earth and rolls the clock back to somewhere in the early 1800s…
Here’s the opener. As always, first draft stuff, the usual disclaimers apply.
Over five billion years ago, a star was born.
As a gigantic nebula comprised of gas and dust slowly gained mass, it slowly shrank to form a spinning disk where our solar system sits today. As gravity pulled more and more of the gas and slightly heavier matter to the center of the disk, pressures beyond belief were induced. At first, dust particles collided, generating small, mini-explosions that released energy. By themselves, these explosions were fairly unremarkable. But as the motes met their fiery ends, at first in ones and twos and hundreds, the energy of their demise was transformed into heat. As the collisions mounted, and began to number in the millions, the heat began to mount. Finally, the gases in the mix—most notably, hydrogen on helium—caught alight. But by now, the pressure at the center of the disk was so great that more dust and gases were drawn inward. Over the course of thousands of years, with more and more fuel being added to the fire, the disk began to collapse upon itself. In an explosion of X-rays and gamma rays, the point of nuclear fusion was reached. Spinning faster and faster, the disk grew smaller and smaller. Fusion stabilized, and the newborn star greedily consumed the remnants of the nebula which had sired it, devouring all the hydrogen, helium, and other compounds it contained.
A billion years later, the nebula was no more. But the star remained, a yellow, medium-sized celestial body that illuminated the local firmament with its bright, shining light.
And the star itself gave birth.
Hurling matter outward from its fiery surface, it bathed the rather unremarkable rocks orbiting it. Several of these ejections contained atoms, which adhered to the spinning rock formations. These smaller heavenly bodies also collided with each other. Most of these collisions led to nothing more than obliteration, where gigantic asteroids were reduced to nothing more than a spatter of rubble. But in some cases, larger rocks subsumed the smaller, taking on their mass. They too spun and weaved through the now-illuminated void, and captured by the new star’s gravity, they swung around it, connected to it by gravity’s leash. Many of these survivors became planets. Mercury. Venus. Mars.
For two billion years, the sun cooked these planets, as they themselves went through seismic upheavals. Mercury was far too close, and too small to host a protective atmosphere, so it remained lifeless, nothing more than a planetary oven. Venus developed its own atmosphere, but its composition was wrong; it captured the heat from the sun’s rays and held onto it greedily, reluctant to release it. Mars almost made it, but a chance asteroid strike pushed it farther away from the sun, relegating it to an also-ran. The distant bodies, Neptune and Pluto, remained cold and forbidding, more the afterbirth of the solar system than viable worlds. Even the great gas giant known as Jupiter and its smaller, ringed brother Saturn, were too distant to do more than reflect the sun’s light, though there was hope that several billion years later, some of their moons might be able to make use of this reflected light and form rudimentary biospheres of their own.
It was Earth. Only Earth, which through providence alone found the favor of its host. As the sun beamed great energy toward it and peppered it with energies from its slowly-stabilizing surface, the planet Earth formed. It developed a stable geology and a hospitable mantle which rode atop a dense core made mostly of nickel and iron. Tectonic changes allowed for gases to rise to the surface, gases that when reheated by the sun’s rays, formed a thick, protective atmosphere. This atmosphere, a scant fifty miles high, shielded the terrain below from the sun’s full, withering glare. As the eons slowly clicked by, the sun and its solar system steadied, grew less combative. On Earth, cellular life managed to gain a toehold. Another eon passed, and that existence managed to grab a full handhold. Over the coming millennia, that existence grew, became more complex, flourished. First came bacteria, then more organized life forms. Over the span of millions of years, plants grew and died, seas rose and fell, dinosaurs walked and then passed right into history.
And man was born. Finding his genesis among simple primates, mankind outgrew his simian shackles and, in the fullness of time, managed to obtain some semblance of intelligence. This intelligence was tested routinely, by disease, famine, weather, and on occasion, war. But while these were great matters of importance to man, the sun never took notice.
The sun merely continued to be the bringer of life, of light, of warmth.
Until on the day of June 7th, it decided a change was in order.
Building beneath several cooling areas on the sun’s surface, great energies coiled and flexed. Known as “sun spots,” these cooling regions were a normal occurrence in many latitudes of the star’s surface. In fact, they could be so regular that observers on Earth could literally predict their formations, and what they might yield when they finally gave way. On those occasions, great flares could be witnessed through special telescopes, both on the surface of distant Earth, or in orbit around her. Many times, these flares, while clinically spectacular, were of little importance. They posed no threat to Earth, and beyond the sporadic disruption of telecommunications, were rarely commented upon. In fact, solar flares or the more serious coronal mass ejections had only interrupted Oprah Winfrey’s show once.
But on the seventh day of June, the sun decided to play a different hand.
The gathering of sun spots on the star’s earthward side had lasted longer than usual, and as such, they held back a huge outpouring of stellar energy. When they finally lost their hold, the sun ejected a sizeable—though in comparison to its estimated mass, an irrelevant—amount of itself toward Earth, serenely rolling along in its orbit some 93,000,000 miles distant. This was no solar flare, nor was it as restrained as previous coronal mass ejections had been. This salvo was full of charged particles of iron and other matter, matter that retained its electromagnetic charge even as it cooled. Racing away from the sun’s surface at a speed of seven million miles per hour, the ejecta fanned out, reaching toward the Earth like the hand of an angry god.
It would strike the planet like a mace.
And there you have it. Looking for a release near the end of the month!