It was just over a year ago I had an idea for a new science fiction story about a young woman whose lifelong dream was to find and explore another planet. The idea was different from what I had been writing for the last ten or so years, taking me away from the post-apocalyptic world of Pandemic Dawn.
I found the break refreshing. It is not that I don’t love everything apocalyptic, from Planet of the Apes to Mad Max. It’s just nice to step away from a world for a while to get a new perspective and return refreshed.
The plot was simple, the first woman astronaut to explore an alien world gets stranded alone and has to survive until rescue arrives.
The plot is similar to many science fiction novels written over the last 100 years. However, I wouldn’t say I like writing about the surrounding events as much as the characters and their interactions. Here is the book description;
Dani was a natural in school, her only distraction, an absent mother, and a suicidal brother whom she felt overly protective. Maybe because she assumed the role when her mother abandoned them, or perhaps it was just her nurturing way.
She worked hard after graduating, joining the military to expedite her acceptance and training in the Institute, which almost guaranteed her entrance into the New Earth Corps.
The New Earth Corps is where she would set her sights on a once in a lifetime mission to Tau Ceti e, the nearest Earth-like planet, where she would become the first woman explorer in deep space.
The mission was only possible once every 60 years because of the strange elliptical orbit of Tau Ceti e, which made it impossible to reach in a person’s lifetime. However, modern technology did allow humankind to get to the edge of the planet’s orbit every 60 years for approximately three months. Deep sleep, or hypersleep, allows Dani to travel a great distance to carry out this dangerous and previously failed mission.
The last mission team was never heard from after a scouting trip to the planet 60 years earlier.
Dani dreamed her entire life of this mission.
Her job was a simple one. Release scientific orbital satellites around Tau Ceti e to gather important information for team two, which would form a landing and exploration party.
What could go wrong?
Within minutes of releasing the second satellite, something did go wrong, horribly wrong.
Dani would find herself scrambling for the emergency escape pod to escape a dying ship, and before long, on an alien planet with two weeks of supplies, two days of oxygen, a broken leg, and her rescue nearly two months away.
Losing Dani Strumm is part exploration story, part self-discovery, and it features a compelling and surprising tale of forgiveness. It’s about love, luck, fate, and a complex woman with one last shot at her lifelong dream.
Here is an excerpt from Losing Dani Strumm.
"BEEP—BEEP—BEEP—the warning buzzers continued blaring, the lights flashed as the pod shook and rumbled with a deafening sound. Her teeth chattered from the vibrations as she tried speaking.
“Mayday! Mayday! Alvarez, do you copy? Alvarez, this is Devo-1. Do you copy?” her voice vibrated as she struggled to concentrate. Items began to break loose and shake throughout the cabin as Dani grasped the control stick with both hands. Trying to correct the pod, “come on!” she yelled, pulling with all her strength as the ship continued to spin out of control.
“Devo-1, this is the Alvarez, we copy, over.”
“Alvarez, I’m in the escape pod. I’m going down. I can’t get it under control. The explosion must have damaged the pod,” she continued hitting buttons and manipulating the stick, trying to regain command.
“Devo-1, shut the system down and deploy chutes, over.”
“I’m too hot, going too fast. It will tear the chutes right off!”
“Devo-1, kill the system and deploy chutes, over.”
“I can’t! I’m coming in too fast!”
“Devo-1, we’re running a system override, prepare for a hard landing, over.”
“NO! I’m going too fast!”
The lights cut out, buzzers stop, the only glow in the pod shines through one of the two small windows. Dani immediately checks her gear, ensuring to fasten all her belts, trying to secure some of the flying debris in the cabin, but it was too late. The chutes explode, exiting its containment as the pod stutters hard from its decent as if hitting an invisible barrier in the sky.
Dani exhaled from the force. Gasping to regain her breath, the stratosphere tears through the chutes with much pressure, causing the rumbling inside the cabin to increase. Dani tried to look out the window, but the vibrations blurred her vision with its rhythmic purr.
Within moments she felt a release as one of the chutes, unable to withstand the force, it tore away, allowing the pod to regain some momentum. She crossed her arms across her chest, grabbing the harness tightly, and closed her eyes, praying for it to end.
The pod rotated as it descended quickly through the sky, entering the troposphere. The remaining chutes were spinning from the ship’s speed, pulling, and ripping at the reinforced material causing tears. Bits and pieces scattering a brightly lit trail behind the pod as it continues to rocket towards the planet’s surface.
Ding—a few lights return on the dash, and Dani begins to feel the pods vibrations lessen. Please, Lord, just let me make it to the ground, please, she prayed.
A moment later, the system rebooted. The radio began to operate as callsigns and protocol were now ignored, “Dani!” one of the voices called out.
Dani wanted to answer, but her fear of hitting the ground at this speed overwhelmed her thoughts.
Her vision began to blur as she fought the centrifugal force to reach for the radio control, “Alvarez, I can--”
“Dani, hold on, you’re about to make contact!” the voice filled with dread tried to reassure.
“Dani, are you there?”
The pod blasted its landing thrusters at the appropriate time. Still, the speed of the descent was more significant than the thruster’s ability. The force of the landing was more severe than Dani’s imagination made her believe it would be, and the crash hurt.
Her arms flailed as her entire body pressed downward. For a moment, she felt as if time had slowed, noises muting, and a feeling of peace swept over her; I’m dying, she thought.
Then the pod began uncontrollably rolling and bashing against the ground repeatedly and spinning out of control. Now Dani fought to pull her arms to her body, trying to push them under the harness to keep them from breaking as the pod tossed itself, skipping on the ground over and over.
The radio crackled as broken words would make their way through, in, and out as the pod eventually rested on its side.
The lights flashed, and the buzzers blared in case Dani did not know she had crashed. She sat for a moment, waiting, wondering if it were truly over.
“Dani, are you OK? Are you there?” the voice called.
She could hear the fear in Kristen’s voice. Dani was afraid too.
She reached for the radio, her hand trembling, and head buzzing, “Alvarez, this is Dani,” she said with a weak voice.
“Dani, are you OK?”
“I think so, give me a minute. Where’s Christopher? Is he OK?”
“We can’t get a response from him. Are you sure he made it to the other pod?”
“Yes, he ejected first.”
“What happened?” Kristen asked as a man’s voice took over, “Dani, are you OK? I want you to look yourself over, do a check,” he demanded, his words unable to disguise his concern.
Dani regained her senses and began to look around, first turning off the annoying alarms, which made her head hurt worse. She started to concentrate on each of her extremities. Paying close attention as she moved around within her harness, “Oh!” she exclaimed as she tried moving her right leg.
“What is it?” Allen asked.
“My leg, I think it’s broken.”
“No!” Kristen cried as Rodney ushered her from the radio.
“OK, we’re going to send Ren and Kristen to get you guys. They’re loading up now.”
“What about Christopher? Where is he?” she asked again.
“We’re not sure, but we have time to find him. We are about to lose communication with you. The satellites are about to go over the horizon. Listen closely, Dani, I want your system shut down, power everything down, we will remain in contact with you each day between 1500 and 1800 hours.”
“Yes, Sir,” she said as her pain grew more intense.
“Dani, you’re going to be OK, we’ll be--” the radio cut out, the voices replaced with static."
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