Rings of Fire and Ice
By Tom Chmielewski
Genre: Science Fiction
Ed Ferald prepares to fly the Cydonia Zach on the fastest trip ever from Mars to Saturn, revolutionizing interplanetary travel time from months and weeks into days. So why are so many corporate execs, lawyers, politicians and thugs determined to stop the Zach from getting there?
Even if the Zach reaches Saturn Science Station safely, Ed doesn’t expect the Titan staff to welcome him and his crew with open arms. Open rebellion seems more likely, for the mission of Zach's is to evict the staff and close the station.
But what haunts the captain most are his own memories of what occurred at Saturn. Worse is his fear of repercussions should a reporter on board finally unravel the 15-year mystery behind the wreck of a legendary ship, a mystery buried among the dark reaches of Saturn’s frigid moons.
There are some secrets that best stay buried.
The story is set in a plausible science fiction setting of the early 22nd century, yet the plot doesn’t delve into the nuts, bolts, and protons of the technology involved. The author, after all, is an English major, not a physicist. Instead, the story focuses on the people who live and work on Mars and elsewhere off Earth, interjected with humor, and sharpened by the dangers they face. Ed and his uncle’s “business consultant,” Faizah, an expert in corporate intelligence and who knows what else, struggle to keep one step ahead of forces trying to stop them. They face the threat through wit and guile, and a few sparks between them, along with help from unexpected sources.
Rings of Fire and Ice is a complete story in itself, yet continues the arc that began with Lunar Dust, Martian Sands, and will continue in a third novel.
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About the Author
Tom Chmielewski is a writer and editor who has worked on newspapers, magazines, websites, books, and ebooks. He has nurtured a longtime interest in space travel and science fiction stories that peer into the future of our exploration of the Solar System and beyond. Tom grew up with the space race and was on a Florida Beach to watch Apollo 11 launch for the moon.
He started his journalism career as a cop reporter at a small daily along the Lake Michigan shoreline, but his interest in Science Fiction prompted him to take a break in 1982 so he could attend the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop. Tom, however, wasn’t ready to leave journalism behind and continued to gather experience covering a variety of beats including higher education, the arts and theater.
His more recent freelance work has him writing features for regional magazines and science articles for The Atlantic Magazine’s website.
In the past few years, Tom has written two novels in the Martian Sands Series, beginning with Lunar Dust, Martian Sands. The second, Rings of Fire and Ice, was released in the spring of 2018. Tom has also written and produced a short story audio drama, Shalbatana Solstice, in the same setting as the Martian Sands Series but independent of the plot in the two novels.
In late 2016, tom joined the board of The Clarion Foundation as treasurer. The Foundation is celebrating the Clarion Workshop’s 50th year in 2018.
Tom grew up in Detroit and currently lives in Kalamazoo, MI.
Rings of Fire Ice, Excerpt
“Rings of Fire, Saturn Station. Telemetry shows you below the altitude limit for Enceladus.” The communications officer spoke in a calm monotone, but no one could mistake his urgency. “We need you to regain altitude immediately.”
The control room’s main speaker spat out only static in response. A silent, barely perceptible wave of tension swept through Saturn Science Station’s small, darkened operations center on Titan, the stale smell of discarded lunches and sweat from controllers at the end of their long shifts hanging in the air. Most of the morning the controllers leaned back and casually kept an eye on their screens. Now as one they hunched over their controls, scrutinizing the ship’s telemetry and hoping to find a minor glitch, afraid they would find much worse. The operations director cut off a scientist’s droning recitation of early data from the Rings of Fire, turning instead to the center’s main screen for any hint of what was going wrong.
The Rings made several passes over Enceladus, deploying a new sensor array to probe geysers in the small moon’s south polar region. Those geysers fed Saturn’s thin E-ring, orbiting beyond the rings visible from Earth. Everything had gone as planned until this last pass. Treaty regulations prohibited a crewed ship from approaching closer than 15 kilometers to avoid any risk of contaminating life thought to exist in the moon’s subsurface ocean. The ship’s crew and the station could face hefty fines if the Rings didn’t regain altitude fast.
The flight director leaned over the com officer’s shoulders, his hands gripping the back of the officer’s seat. “Keep trying to raise them.”
“Rings of Fire, Saturn,” Com called again. “You’re still dropping below altitude restrictions. We need you to correct your course now.”
Again, the only response was static. The operations director scanned the telemetry, confirming the problem was getting worse.
“Flight,” Ops called out, “what’s going on?”
“Everything looked fine, then suddenly the ship began drifting under the altitude limit.”
“A ship doesn’t suddenly drift. Com, keep trying to raise them.” The Operations Director hastened to the front row of computer screens “Flight, you said its trajectory was right on target.”
Flight, baffled, looked up from his screen. “The ship was on track. But it’s under power now and should be gaining…. Check that. The ship’s thrusting downward.”
“What!?” Ops realized the situation just went from a bureaucratic mess to a looming disaster. “Com, tell them to abort.”
“Rings of Fire. Abort, Abort, Abort. Gain altitude now!”
“Do we have a radar image yet from the Aquarius probe?”
“The probe’s coming into line of sight now, Ops,” another controller answered. “Putting it on the main screen.”
The screen flickered, replacing the data stream with a detailed black-and-white image of the Rings of Fire turning in a herky-jerky fashion.
“Flight,” Ops called out, but kept her eyes on the screen. “What’s happening?”
“I’m now showing multiple thruster firings. They may be trying to get the ship back under control.”
“Still dropping, approaching 10 kilometers.”
The radio speaker suddenly sparked alive with sounds of commotion and voices, angry or scared, barely breaking through the static. Only a few desperate words got through — “Stop … get main eng…. still fi…. no good” — before the signal faded. The radar image showed the exploration ship cartwheeling over the horizon. A band of interference briefly streaked across the screen, followed by a bright flash and a cloud of debris rising from the surface.
The official investigation lasted two years, and unofficial investigations much longer. In the end, all that was left of the Rings of Fire was an ugly scar on the surface of Enceladus, a 15-year mystery on what caused the crash, and a scrap of its charred, shattered hull hanging on a Martian barroom wall.