The Darkest Side of Saturn: Odyssey of a Reluctant Prophet of Doom

The Darkest Side of Saturn: Odyssey of a Reluctant Prophet of Doom

by Tony Taylor

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ISBN-13: 9781491734216
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 07/03/2014
Pages: 492
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)

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The Darkest Side of Saturn

Odyssey of a Reluctant Prophet of Doom


By Tony Taylor

iUniverse

Copyright © 2014 Tony Taylor
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4917-3421-6



CHAPTER 1

Discovery


1997
July 24th, 00:37 Pacific Daylight Savings Time
Thursday
B minus sixteen years


The constellations had wheeled through the sky past midnight. Harris had worked all evening. He was weary. Diana would soon come to take the telescope away.

He sighed and leaned back in the rolling chair in front of a computer monitor filled with stars and the small streak of a satellite. Harris Mitchel closed his eyes, dug his knuckles into the sockets, and rubbed. Stars flashed beneath his lids—blue twinkling sparkles. If he stopped just a moment and allowed himself to relax, to doze just a few seconds ...

No! She'd come in and find him sleeping. He kicked up from the warm, overstuffed chair, paced in a circle around it twice, lifted his mug from the console, and took a sip of hours old coffee. He slapped his face twice and pinched his thigh.

He'd fought the system all evening. Everything that could go wrong had gone wrong. He'd finally gotten past the network hang-ups and the broken liquid nitrogen tube and the intermittent power failures that made him redo the pointing calibrations each time. Now that he was just about to get productive data, Diana would waltz in at any minute to kibitz and ultimately demand her time on the telescope. Thus it was written in The Schedule.

Harris was more than tired; he hurt. He'd been up since four o'clock the previous morning and his body didn't like it at all. His bladder complained. His back was sore and catchy; there was a kink in it from moving across the observatory floor all night long. His lower spine just behind the kidneys felt as if it might buckle—fold and snap like a dry stick—if he was careless and bent the wrong way. It would be so easy to relax in the chair.

He pushed through the door from the warm observing room into the noticeably cooler telescope dome, stepped down to the hydraulic platform and crossed the dark interior, guided by a tiny red light, an unblinking animal eye over the frame of the exit.

He stepped onto the top of the outside stairway. Stars hit him in the face. He wanted to stand there and suck them down into his center, wallow in them, worship them. But first things first. He descended the steps to the ground, shuffled cautiously a few feet down the side of the hill, unzipped and sent a warm stream of liquid whizzing into blackness.

The wind had died completely and the air was cool and still. The smell of pines and aromatic tobacco from Emil Cartwright's pipe blended pleasantly in his nostrils. It was comforting to know that Emil was out there somewhere in the darkness, puttering efficiently to keep the observatory humming.

The Big Dipper lay nearly on its back just above the piney ridge in front of him, upright to catch the liquid—a celestial blend of tea or coffee, thank you—pouring from its companion, the Little Dipper, above it. He followed the handle out past the end star, Alkaid, and extended the curving line across the sky in his imagination, arcing around to ... There! Sinking low over the western horizon was a bright topaz gem. Arc around to Arcturus. Star of Gladness.

To his right, the majestic glowing smoke of the Milky Way climbed straight up out of the northeast horizon. He tilted his head back, following it to the brilliant blue Deneb and blue-white Vega nearly at the zenith. He sighed, zipped up, and turned to follow the glow down the southern sky through the Teapot pouring out steam and stars, through the galactic center to the setting tail of Scorpius whose baleful red eye, Antares, glared at him. The Milky Way plunged into the mountains on the southern horizon.

He turned left to see the waning gibbous moon sitting like a cocked-over rugby ball above the eastern horizon. He'd prefer a darker sky, but it wouldn't bother him as much as it would Diana later on when the moon was higher and brighter.

Harris stepped carefully back up the hill and up the steps to the dome. He stood on the platform at the top of the steps and looked around one more time before going in.

Somewhere out there is my asteroid, he mused, looking eastward. He punched a button on his watch; the display lit up. Forty-five minutes after midnight.

Somewhere out there is my wife. Still at the party? Or in bed? Whose bed?

Night smells teased his nostrils. Emil's pipe smoke had drifted away, leaving behind evergreen and the faintest odor of skunk.

And bacon. Diana. Having a midnight breakfast.


* * *

"Why thank you, Harris." A sarcastic female voice roused him from his nap. He started awake. Damn! How long? Five minutes? Ten? While he'd snoozed in his chair in front of the console, Diana Muse-Jones had come in to claim her telescope. She'd caught him napping. The scope had finished its appointed exposure while Harris drifted away, nodding, dreaming, finally snoring. She'd tiptoed to the console and tip-tapped quietly on the keyboard to bring his just-finished image onto the screen.

"Bingo." She tapped a neatly trimmed red fingernail against the glass of the monitor. "Earth crosser."

"What? What the hell are you ... Crosser?" A fading dream—something involving a woman, a boat, and a beach—filigreed his mind. He rubbed his face to brush the remnants away.

"It's so nice of you to help me with my job." Diana leaned over Harris, both hands on the armrests of his chair and looked him straight in the eye from two feet away, grinning asymmetrically. Black hair framed her pretty Asian face. Black eyes taunted him. She tilted her head. "I guess I'll have to share it with you, though. Technically it is your image." She laughed and smiled righteously. A princess. "But I saw it first."

"What? Where?" Harris jumped up from the chair, rubbed his eyes and leaned closer to a monitor full of stars and electronic fuzz.

Diana cocked her head to slide hair away from her eye. "There." Her fingernail traced a white streak almost six inches long diagonally across the face of the monitor. "Right there. For anybody who can see."

Yes. For anybody who could see. It almost knocked him down. Serendipity had struck. Snuck up behind him while he snoozed and bonked him on the head.

"What was your exposure?" Abruptly she was all business.

"Two minutes. It could be cataloged, you know."

"Nope. There was nothing for tonight that would be this close. I'd know."

"Could be a satellite."

"No way. No! A satellite would be across the whole screen and brighter. This is way too slow for a satellite, but way faster than most asteroids." Her brow furrowed. "Wait, wait, did you say two minutes? Only two? Wow! Fast! About three arc-minutes per minute. What's the pointing? Never mind." Diana had already displayed the set-up data and scanned it before Harris could recall the right ascension and declination he'd fed the pointing program. "It's low inclination, probably less than five degrees."

Harris marveled that she could integrate the information in her head so quickly.

"Damn, it's close, Harris. Are you sure it was only two minutes? Look at that streak!"

Harris watched her excitement mount. He enjoyed seeing her lose a struggle with her composure. "It doesn't have to be a crosser, y'know. It could be just plain old vanilla near-earth, y'know." He sank back into the chair. His eyelids drooped. He was pushing twenty-four hours without sleep.

"Just my logical and highly educated guess," Diana responded smugly. "Wanna bet?"

Harris nodded wearily. "Sure. Same as before?" He smiled at the line he'd handed her and waited to see if she'd take the bait.

She didn't even notice. She tapped furiously at the keyboard. "Let's have a closer look." The image grew twice as large. She boxed the streak with the mouse, tapped, and the image jumped again. "Bigger, bigger."

The streak went across the entire monitor now. She boxed a small segment near the middle and tapped again.

"Oh my god."

Harris's eyes opened wide. "What?"

Her nose was inches from the monitor. "Harris, look!"

He reluctantly hauled himself from the chair and put his face beside Diana's.

"Resolved!" She squealed with glee like a teenaged girl.

"What?"

"Look, look, you dummy! It's three pixels wide! And it varies, it's only two over here, see, and the stars are sharp. So it's not bad focusing. We can see the diameter!" She danced from foot to foot in excitement. "It's big. Or really close. Or both."

Harris could almost feel heat radiating from her.

"We have to catch it, Harris! It'll get away if we don't get some more images right now."

"Diana, I'm so tired." He shook his head and put his hand on her arm.

She stiffened and pulled her arm away. Then softened. "Harris. Help me."

He wanted to help, he would help, even though his back hurt and he desperately needed to crawl into a warm bed and oblivion.

"Well, I ..."

At that moment the image on the monitor distorted and filled with stripes, the lights flickered once, twice, and then the room went black.

"Harris?" Her voice turned panicky. "What happened?"

"Goddamn power has been going out all night."

"Harris. Help! We've got to catch it."

CHAPTER 2

The Lab


At 5:05 the previous morning, Harris had driven into an empty parking lot at the Advanced Technology Laboratory. He'd fixed a pot of coffee in the common area down the hall from his cubicle, filled up his Nomad cup, stirred in a spoonful of sugar, and returned to his desk, squeezing between knee-high stacks of computer printouts littering the floor of his office. He moved aside mounds of paper and textbooks on the desk to make room to the right of his keyboard and put a fresh yellow legal pad in the middle of the space. He rummaged through his filing cabinet to fish out four folders, which he set down carefully onto teetering piles of paper and other folders at strategic locations around the desk. A half-eaten doughnut hardened into staleness sufficient for driving nails hid on a cafeteria napkin behind stacks of overdue library journals beneath an overflowing bookshelf at the back of his desk.

Harris plopped down in his chair, clicked through a few layers of folders on his computer desktop, and brought a short document onto the screen.

NAVIGATING TO ASTEROID KUNJII-SMYTHE
by
Harris T. Mitchel, Jr.
Member of Technical Staff
Lord of the Solar System
& etc., etc.


It was a very short document—that was all he'd written for an upcoming conference. This was July; the conference was in September. He had six weeks to write and polish a paper and get it through a tortuous approval cycle. Then he had to generate and rehearse a presentation.

Over the next few hours he made several trips between coffee pot, filing cabinet, and desk, adding the men's room to the itinerary towards the end. It was hard-slogging work. He made two figures and a table. He formed phrases and sentences, paragraphs and sub-sections, sections and divisions, marching words like soldiers down the page toward the grand fallacy that this paper would result in anything that would be read, understood, and appreciated by anyone other than himself and a handful of other people in the world, many of them right here at the Lab.

He hated technical writing. It was one of the hardest things he'd ever done, yet he was better than most—more readable than ninety-nine percent of all the other engineers and scientists that mutilated the language with excessive modifiers, passionless prose, dense logic, convoluted sentences, weak watered-down verbs, passive construction, arcane points of analysis, and over-utilization of the verb utilize. Only a handful of people would ever care about the contents of this paper. Why did he?

He didn't know, except ... maybe it was the travel, the opportunity to mix with others of his kind ... or the technical work: the analysis itself—the math, the computing, the observing and hypothesizing and iterative process of learning ...

No! He was going to a new world. He was on a mission and was going to an asteroid. He was the navigator, and he would ride a spacecraft—figuratively at least—past the islands of the inner solar system to a tiny blip that nobody had ever seen up close before in the great ocean of space. That was why he did it. The tedious work on the computer screen in front of him was just one of the undesirable side effects. Someone had to write the paper. Tag, you're it!

He'd built up a full head of steam, generating three full pages of deathless technical prose—four, if you count the figures and the table—when the sleeping Lab began to awaken and the normal morning hubbub started chipping away at his attention.

Sybil-the-Secretary called: "Don't forget, I need your timecard today. Early." While Harris tallied up his time and began to fill out the card, Roy White stopped by to chat in his interminable fashion, slouched just outside the opening of his office, thumb parked over the lip of a coffee cup. Harris felt momentum draining away like blood out of his head.

It was a blessing when the telephone rang ("Scuse me a sec"), because it drove Roy away, but it was a curse because Kevin, the mission engineer for the Hokule'a project, wanted more orbit analysis. While Harris listened, his computer beeped with new email. He idly brought up the message while Kevin droned in his ear and found that it contained a mandatory Lab-wide survey. Fill in the squares and write comments. Due today.

The rest of what had begun as a promising early morning agenda expired little by little until dead, gummed to death by the entropy of a bureaucracy-infested major national laboratory. All momentum on the paper was lost, nibbled to death by ducks. Harris glanced at his watch. It was a few minutes after 10 o'clock. Damn!

He grabbed the file folder containing transparencies that he'd generated the night before and raced off to the large conference room down the hall. The meeting had already started and the room was filled almost to overflowing.

This one was for Saturn Explorer, the other project Harris worked on. Hokule'a was a cheap little project going to a tiny little body, an asteroid. Saturn Explorer was a great big project going to a great big body—Saturn—and it cost a lot of money. This would be the Lab's money cow for a very long time, because it takes a long time to get to Saturn, and once you're there, for all the expense and effort, you want to stay awhile. The project was too big for Harris's taste, but he'd been sweet-talked into doing some of the orbit analysis. As if he'd had a choice. As with everything else in the world, money rules.

After almost a decade at the Lab, he still marveled that a roomful of apparently sober men and women could discuss a planet and its moons as if they were talking about a business venture—as if designing a marketing strategy for women's apparel. Saturn! Really! And the satellites: Mimas, Enceladus, Tethys, Dione, Rhea, Titan, Hyperion, Iapetus, Phoebe, and clouds of assorted orbiting rocks, not to mention the rings. Here were people talking about outer space right down here on earth.

Not that they couldn't make it boring. Harris listened with half an ear, daydreaming about rockets and weightlessness while the first presenter buzzed on about the joys of telemetry data modes. He dozed, head bobbing up and down in random jerks, while the second presenter talked in exquisitely sonorous detail about spacecraft sequencing, using a long wooden pointer to tap here and there on slides filled with boxes and labels and arrows and bullets and graphs.

Then it was his turn to talk about the orbit analysis he'd done on the moons. All those children, a brood of siblings circling the planet! Where were they? Exactly?

That was part of his job: track them down with a telescope, pin them against the stars, fold in data from other observatories and missions, and project them years into the future, years forward in their orbits, so that by the time Saturn Explorer got there it would know exactly where to find them.

His phone rang as he walked back into his office.

"Hello, Harris Mitchel speaking."

A pseudo-sultry female voice answered. "Hello, Harris Mitchel.

You're fucked."

"Ahh ... right. Hi Di. Whaddaya mean?"

Diana slipped back into her normal voice. "Are you observing tonight?"

"Yeah, of course. You knew that."

"Then you better get started. It's a long drive up, and there's a lot of prep time."

"Uhh ... I don't get it. I'm telecommuting in. Aren't you? I already built my observations schedule file and I just need to upload it and Emil can ..."

"Not any more. Clive got down from Tabletop about an hour ago. You remember those thunderstorms that were hanging around the mountains yesterday? Well they struck. He says all the landlines at Tabletop are down. A big tree fell. No power, no phone, no data. They're on generator. So if you want to ..."

"Oh crap, Di. I hadn't counted on ... I mean I have a social event tonight."

"Tsk, tsk, there's always something. Well, you know, I'm letting you know because I'm a good girl, and now I can be an ever better girl and do you a favor by taking your time slot off your hands and ..."

"No way, Diana! I'm coming up. Later this afternoon after two more meetings."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Darkest Side of Saturn by Tony Taylor. Copyright © 2014 Tony Taylor. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents

Prologue, 1,
1 Discovery, 5,
2 The Lab, 10,
3 Radio Sermon, 24,
4 Tabletop Mountain, 27,
5 The Chase, 33,
6 Religious Experience, 40,
7 Cooling It, 51,
8 Prophecies I, 61,
9 Religious Experience, 63,
10 Neptune, 80,
11 Asteroid 1997 OI13, 98,
12 Dance for One, 106,
13 The Righteous Path, 111,
14 Ye of Little Faith, 121,
15 First Words, 126,
16 The Choir, 137,
17 Bridge to Nowhere, 141,
18 Dear Ed, 161,
19 Dreamers and Schemers, 163,
20 Hymn 438, 167,
21 The Abstract, 169,
22 Entrée, 172,
23 Visitor Control, 176,
24 One More Data Point, 178,
25 Multiplication, 185,
26 Tour and Tennis, 188,
27 Hokule'a, 207,
28 Canoes and Spaceships, 218,
29 Missile, 230,
30 Dinner, 232,
31 Adagio, 236,
32 Two Phone Calls, 241,
33 Error, 243,
34 Improbabilities, 246,
35 Locked Out, 254,
36 Writing, 255,
37 Dancing with the Devil, 265,
38 Doubts, 270,
39 Paranoia, 272,
40 Romance of the Dance, 279,
41 The Representative, 284,
42 Pas de Deux, 289,
43 The Conference, 291,
44 Escape, 296,
45 Dance of Duality, 306,
46 The News, 311,
Intermission, 317,
47 Hymn 96, 319,
48 The Ernestness of Being Important, 320,
49 Inquisition, 322,
50 Mister President, 340,
51 Saint Lydia, 343,
52 Down to Earth, 347,
53 On a Roll, 351,
54 Believers, 360,
55 Dancing and Groceries, 371,
56 Cornbread Theology, 374,
57 Visions, 380,
58 An Intimate Little Gettogether, 383,
59 In the Beginning, 393,
60 Violence of the Lambs, 409,
61 Hymn 297, 415,
62 Dinner, 417,
63 Late Night, 422,
64 Religious Experience, 425,
65 Last Words, 432,
66 Letter, 450,
67 In the Ending, 452,
68 Begin Again, 457,
69 EarthStrike, 459,
70 Saint James, 460,
Epilogue, 472,

What People are Saying About This

Barry N. Malzberg

The novel is extraordinary, a fusion of fanaticism and hard science, the visionary and the profane, the obstinately secular and prophetic religion, a union of two streams of metaphysics and literature which flow into a sea of overwhelming consequence. It has the visionary sprawl of Baxter, Macauley, Stross, in an unromanticized view of religious process which refracts Sinclair Lewis' ELMER GANTRY. An impressive work which coming to terms with the menacing grace of religious exploration can stand with James Blish's A CASE OF CONSCIENCE or Walter Miller's CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ as serious uncompromising statement. Most impressive. And to its benefit and mine, utterly accessible. Humanity prime. --Barry N. Malzberg

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The Darkest Side of Saturn: Odyssey of a Reluctant Prophet of Doom 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is defining a new genre in literature. A combination of science-fiction, novel and philosophical discussion of the Science vs. Religion dynamic, this is a really fun book to read. The dynamics of the Science/Religion dichotomy are explored in down-to-earth and sometimes bawdy and humorous ways. I was saddened when I got to the end because the ride was over too soon. The author is a good writer with colorful descriptions that put the reader in a vivid and entertaining spot. If an asteroid was really headed for a collision with Earth, this scenario would be all too likely.
ReadersFavorite More than 1 year ago
Reviewed by Tracy A. Fischer for Readers' Favorite Wow! I just finished reading The Darkest Side of Saturn: Odyssey of a Reluctant Prophet of Doom, the newest work by author Tony Taylor, and I have to say it was completely worth the read! Follow the stories of spacecraft navigator Harris Mitchel and astronomer Diana Muse-Jones after their discovery that an asteroid appears to be on a collisions course with Earth, with likely disastrous effects, within the next twenty years. They aren't sure how to make their discovery known, and have a terrible argument regarding what to do. When Harris goes ahead and lets the disbelieving public know, and both he and Diana lose their jobs, it seems like their relationship will never be the same again. Harris becomes the unwilling soothsayer to a group of followers desperate for details regarding the coming end of days, led by a fanatical preacher. One thing remains uncertain, however, how will the world deal with the possibility of an asteroid strike? With the world be saved, or are we headed toward disaster? I so enjoyed this book! Author Tony Taylor writes with authenticity that can only come from someone who has worked as a NASA navigator for most of his career. His knowledge and expertise come shining through in The Darkest Side of Saturn and his readers will certainly appreciate it! This book had me turning the pages from the very beginning, and I simply could not put it down until the end. The only piece of advice I have for readers, other than to be sure to read this book, would be to set aside enough time to read the entire thing. You simply won't be able to stop reading. Readers who enjoy science fiction, space, or simply a great read would love The Darkest Side of Saturn: Odyssey of a Reluctant Prophet of Doom, and I am so pleased to highly recommend it. I will certainly be keeping my eye out for more work by author Tony Taylor. If it's anything like his current offering, it will be an absolute must-read!
lteal More than 1 year ago
I loved this book and could not put it down until I finished it. Excellent descriptions, fascinating science, plenty of drama and food for the mind and soul.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
There was nothing science friction about this book. It was all human interactions and motivations of scientists and religious figures. And, unfortunately, the interactions were stupid. My wife and I are both practicing scientists and I have visited JPL on several occasions -- the interactions between the scientists in the book were stunted, contrived, amazingly unrealistic, and boring!!! The book could have had potential as an exploration of scientific and human responses to a large NEA on an impact course, unfortunately it just didn't deliver for me. Extremely slow plot development made it difficult to stay engaged. I only paid 5 bucks, but it was a big waste.
SGNN More than 1 year ago
This book is packed full of space talk, romance, religion and suspense - a real page turner! I was captivated by the complexity and breath of the story and it was a very entertaining read for me. I've also read Tony Taylor's book, Counters, which I found very enjoyable and informative. Tony gets a big "thumbs up" from me!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was quite possibly the worst book I've ever read. Would not recommend this book.