Signal Loss

I've just completed a new short story, Signal Loss, 9600 words. Signal Loss takes place the day after the events in 43 Seconds, following a different set of characters in a very different location. Kyan Anders is a middle-aged data runner piloting the science ship Aristarchus at the edge of the solar system. His daily chats with his daughter are about to be interrupted as the Earth is occulted by the Sun, leaving him only with the ship's computer, Rios. When another runner and a mysterious object appear, things get complicated quickly and life-or-death decisions need to be made thirteen billion kilometers from home.

Solar conjunctions are real, and we usually think of them in terms of Mars slipping behind the sun, causing communications loss with satellites or rovers. At present we don't think of Earth/Sun conjunctions because there's no one to view them, but once people are on Mars or elsewhere in the solar system they'll become a thing.

Solar flares are well-known and affect Earth's communications. These will also be a complication for intrasystem comms.

In my previous story, 43 Seconds, William says "You can literally fly to the end of the solar system in fifteen days." He's talking about how a one gee continuous acceleration gets you to Pluto in fifteen days. But, Pluto is not the end of the solar system. In 2012, Voyager 1 reached the heliopause at 121 AU. Pluto only ranges 30-49 AU. The Aristarchus is somewhere between the two, at 86 AU. So, Kyan is twenty-six travel days from Earth (using the Aristarchus's RF drive). Even at lightspeed his conversations with his daughter have a full 24 hour turn around due to the distance.

Just as an aside, I think it's amazing that, as far out as Kyan is in the story, there's a real life spaceship (Voyager 1) that is much farther. Voyager 1 is nearly 40 AU past Kyan's location. To put this to scale, if Kyan were the Sun, Voyager 1 would be Pluto. That's how far 40 AU is.

I liked the idea that, even with RF drives, someone could be so far out that help was nearly a month away. Throw in Earth comms loss and you're truly on your own dealing with whatever situation develops.

The role of A.I.s and non-A.I. computer intelligences is also explored. If you enjoyed Ananke paired with James in 43 Seconds, you'll like the reluctant roommates of Kyan and Rios in Signal Loss.

There's a few other technological consequences which 43 Seconds mentions that are explored in Signal Loss. I'll keep those under wraps for the time being, though, to avoid spoilers, but I'll write about them once the story is published.