Authors: David Lee Summers
Copyright ©2008 by David Lee Summers
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any person or persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
The Solar Sea
, David Lee Summers creates a page-turning yarn with some of the most dramatic characters I've read in years. You won't want to put it down, and when you're done, you'll only want more."
—J. Alan Erwine, author of
The Opium of the People
The Solar Sea
is a high-tech science fiction adventure that spins a new twist on space exploration and alien encounters. Summers’ descriptions of technology and scientific theories, along with his alien species, work together to raise the stakes and makes for an entertaining read for teens or adults alike.
—Erin Durante, author of the
Much like the journey recounted in this novel, the story of its writing is something of an adventure. I conceived the idea for this novel in 1983 and started writing it then. A few years later, after I had grown as a writer, I found the first humble chapters and, embarrassed by them, threw them away. I tried writing the novel again around 1994 and again, I wasn't satisfied with where it went. Finally, in 2004, Jacqueline Druga-Johnston, then editor of LBF Books, challenged me to try the National Novel Writing Month. I decided it was time to finally write this novel and complete it. The novel you hold in your hands is the result. So, first and foremost, thank you, Jake!
Many thanks also go to my first readers who gave me valuable feedback and helped to improve this novel: Janni Lee Simner, Laura Givens, Kumie Wise, Myranda and Verity Summers. Finally, I would like to send thanks to my physics and astronomy professors: Paul Heckert, Mike Zeilik, Jean Eilek, and Steve Shore. You gave me the tools to lend plausibility to the journey recounted in this novel.
Thomas Quinn was nine years old when he went to his father, the trillionaire technology magnate and said, “It's been over a hundred years since the Apollo missions and humans still haven't gone farther than Mars. Even that was only two missions. Why is that?"
"It's a matter of practicality, son,” said Jerome Quinn. He was an imposing man—tall and muscular. While many men of his social standing jogged or played tennis to stay fit, Jerome Quinn boxed.
"What's practicality mean?” asked Thomas, a slim wisp of a boy who liked to lay atop grassy mounds on his father's estate late at night looking up at the stars more than he liked to run and play with the other boys at the private school he attended. In that way, he was very different from his younger brother Henry who took a strong interest in the family business and was constantly surrounded by friends.
"Space flight costs a lot of money.” Jerome stood. The light streaming in from the tall window behind his great mahogany desk caused the big man to cast a shadow over the little boy. “In this case, practicality means that people want to make more money than they spend. The two Mars missions cost taxpayers too much money. All people ever saw were some red rocks and fossils of long-dead creatures—and they weren't even interesting creatures like dinosaurs.” Jerome laughed at his own comment, but the boy remained serious.
"What if spaceships could be built cheap? Cheaper than the Mars rockets?” he asked.
"That would be a start,” his father said.
"What if I could find a way for a spaceship to earn money?” pressed the boy.
Jerome threw back his head and laughed even louder. “Then you might just get me to invest in your dream, son."
Young Thomas Quinn pursed his lips. “I'm gonna do it, Dad."
Jerome looked down at his son with good humor in his eyes. “I'm sure you will, son. Now run along and play. I've got work to do."
Thomas turned and sulked to the door. He looked over his shoulder as though he were going to say something, but seeing his father already back at work, he sighed, thrust his hands in his pockets, and continued through the door.
He wound his way through the corridors until he arrived in the den. His brother Henry sat in front of a wall-sized video screen, playing a computer game. Henry's warrior lunged and stabbed a monster through the heart, then swung around and sliced another monster in the leg, disabling it.
"Not bad.” Thomas grudgingly admired his little brother's skill.
"Yeah.” Henry shrugged. He dropped the keyboard to the floor. “But it's kind of boring. The characters behave the same way each time."
"You know,” Thomas’ eyebrows came together, “I think we could reprogram the game, so the characters are a little more lifelike."
"Can you really?” Henry's eyes grew wide.
"Sure.” Thomas shrugged. “Quinn Corp owns the company that makes the game. Shouldn't be too hard to find the source code and change the character stats.” Thomas took the keyboard from his younger brother and searched for the appropriate files. As he thought about the ways he could make the characters in Henry's game more realistic, he saw a way he could get his father to take his ideas more seriously.
Thomas Quinn was fifteen years old when he brought a set of crudely drawn blueprints to his father. He dropped them right on top of a stack of papers in the center of the great mahogany desk.
Jerome—a little grayer, muscle beginning to turn to fat—looked up from the computer. “What's this?” he harrumphed. Several investors had recently pulled out of Quinn Corp when earnings did not come in as high as expected. In spite of the fact Thomas knew Jerome was working hard to recover his losses and did not appreciate interruptions, the boy was anxious to show his father the blueprints.
"Plans for a heliogyro,” announced Thomas proudly as he pointed to the top sheet of the plans. The drawing looked a little like a flower constructed of steel beams and aluminum foil.
"What's a heliogyro?” Jerome Quinn inclined his head and Thomas knew he had captured his father's interest.
Thomas Quinn, who'd grown taller, though he was still quite thin, explained, “A heliogyro is a spaceship. You might call it a sailing ship to the planets. The crew quarters are in this ball in the center.” He pointed to the picture. Then he pointed to the ‘petals’ of the flower. “These are giant reflectors made of aluminized quinitite.” He referred to the plastic-like substance his father had invented that had revolutionized the computer industry. “Sunlight could push this ship all the way out to Pluto. When the crew was ready to return, it would just need to slingshot around the last planet in its voyage, adjust the sails, and it would be homeward bound. Sunlight also makes the ship spin like a giant pinwheel, so the crew would have simulated gravity."
"Sunlight?” Jerome rubbed the bridge of his nose. “If it's a sailing ship, wouldn't it be pushed by the solar wind?"
Thomas rolled his eyes, exasperated at his father's ignorance. “The solar wind's just charged particles, it doesn't produce enough energy to move the ship."
Jerome folded his arms across his chest, not appreciating Thomas’ tone. Thomas stood his ground, well aware that an employee would have been dismissed by now. “If it's propelled by sunlight, I'm guessing this thing wouldn't go very fast."
"Theoretically, it could get to Mars in about six months ... to Jupiter, about a year after that ... beyond that, it depends on planetary alignments, but with gravitational assist from Jupiter, the ship could make it to Saturn in as little as six more months...."
Thomas’ father's eyes went wide and his hands dropped to his knees. “I applaud your imagination, son, but it all sounds like science fiction."
"No, it's not. The Planetary Society launched Cosmos II in 2010, but it had problems because of heat absorption. Carnegie Mellon University built a nanosatellite using an improved design back in 2017, but it was expensive because they used aluminized Mylar for the sails. Your quinitite is vastly cheaper to produce—and better for the job, I might add. It doesn't absorb heat as badly as other plastics,” said Thomas, hopefully.
"How much would it cost?” For a moment, Jerome appeared caught by Thomas’ dream.
"I think we could build this ship for about ten billion dollars.” Thomas was proud he'd performed a cost analysis in spite of his distaste for financial matters.
Jerome Quinn whistled long and low, then shook his head again. “That's hardly cheap, son."
"But it's only a fraction of your fortune, Dad,” pleaded Thomas.
"What would I get in return?” asked Jerome Quinn, darkly. “Ten billion dollars is too much just to throw away. You've got to tell me how I'll benefit from this."
"I don't know.” Thomas thrust his hands into his pockets. When his father said nothing further, he sighed and gathered the plans. He caught sight of one particular paper, and his frown momentarily flashed into a grin. “Who's Thomas Alonzo?” He did his best to sound nonchalant.