Luminosity: A Novella

The First Three Chapters of a Dream Suite to the Edge of the Solar System

R D Francis
16 min readAug 10, 2020
Book cover and banner design by R.D Francis/courtesy of Pixabay and PicFont


THE future is now. The science is no longer fiction. The science is a reality.

True, man hasn’t perfected a one-push-of-a-button gravity field that miraculously allows us to effortless take a causal walk through the park of a space vessel, but man is now able to pilot their own, unmanned versions of Bishop Wilkins’s mythical “flying chariots” for travels far beyond the limited parameters of Jules Verne’s fantasies of traveling From the Earth to the Moon.

And while man may never achieve the technology to bridge the 70,000 Earth-year gap journey to Promixa Centauri down to the span of man’s current life expectancy (in this year of our Lord of 2045) of 110 years, man has conquered the confines of Earth’s solar system, with manned travel to our solar system’s outermost rim within a span of twenty two to twenty four years — depending on a ship’s size and payload factored against its propulsion systems. So, when considering man’s earliest days of propulsion-based travel with wheeled steam engines, it is an admirable feat that man has achieved the abilities to travel the speeds up to 25,000 miles per hour necessary for interplanetary travel — but will man forever be 669,975,000 miles per hour short for a neck-to-neck race with light velocity? That is the question.

Meanwhile, for the Earth-bound astrophysicist, their “new reality” is the confined, unglamorous surroundings of a mission control center, which possesses none of the hardware or architectural features of a science fiction film from years gone by. Today’s mission control center is nothing but a commons area office space with countertops populated by flat-panel monitors and portable Surface-droids. In reality, a typical MCC resembles a slightly more high-tech version of the long abolished boiler room-inspired call centers of the late 20th early 21st century.

There are no fancy uniforms or dress codes of crisp white shirt and ties. Today’s mission control is a unisex work environment of Izod-shirted equality. To be honest, working in a mission control center is just a “job” most days. And like most jobs, it can be uneventful and boring.

Then, on a classified day in 2015, an occurrence interrupted the monotony for twenty mission techs in New Horizon’s Mission Control. As the New Horizon’s probe uploaded data that began scrolling on the monitors — the techs, at first, rubbed their eyes and shook off a case of double vision.

At first, wooziness washed over Mission Tech Palmer. Rubbing her face and running her fingers through her lavender-colored hair, she quickly regained her bearings to update the Mission Control Officer. “MOM, this is RF on Pluto One with stat — ,” then a smile washed over Palmer’s face. “They’re beautiful . . . colorful seraphim with three sets of wings!”

All the monitors displayed twisting, rotating kaleidoscopes accompanied by an audio pitch that squealed from 20 hertz to 20 megahertz in a manner of seconds. None of the techs raised their hands to their ears in pain. While a few were able to rise from their chairs and stagger drunk for a few steps, they soon fell to the floor with the rest of the techs who spilled out of their chairs at the first sign of the computer-generated color tunnels.

One common trait among all of them: their irises took on the appearance of the spinning kaleidoscopes on their monitors.


THE U.S.S Burdett, a white cigar-shaped aircraft carrier-sized pupa encased in latticework, orbits the Moon in dry-dock. The second Tombaugh-class vessel of its kind, some refer to her design as the “Great White Whale” of the space program. Her sister ship, the Gustav Holtz, broke away from her perch several years ago for a mission to Saturn’s rings — and never returned.

A centrifuge near the tapered mission center nosecone of the Burdett slowly rotates. Courtesy of recent scientific advances, the floor of the centrifuge is fitted with portals around its circumference, constructed with a variant of transparent aluminum — a type of faux-glass that is opaque to ultra-violet light, passes ordinary light, offers a clear view, and can support the weight and force of a man running on its non-skid surface (for exercise) around the inner hull. The windows are positioned that whether you are looking down at your feet, ahead, or above you, the centrifuge offers spectacular views of the stars. Centrifuge portals, however, were not the invention of engineers, but of psychologists who believed the ability to “look out” of a window — even in deep space — deterred a man’s natural tendencies of isolation and estrangement and promoted a crew’s good mental health.

A photo of a then twenty-four-year-old Clyde Tombaugh — pictured with one of his homemade telescopes — is displayed on the wall of the crew’s Commons Area inside the centrifuge. The frame’s glass reflects the forty-something images of Commander Virgil Chaffee, his pilot, of Sioux Indian heritage, Kimimella Kamara, and his flight engineer, Robert Cornthwaite. While he was not named after him, one of Corny’s distant relatives was actor Robert Cornthwaite, who starred in one of Kim’s cherished science fiction films from the 1950s, The Thing from another World.

As the trio sits at the commons table, Virgil reads a copy of Rene Descartes’s 1641 dissertation, Mediation and Other Metaphysical Writings.

Kamara wears wireless ear buds as she watches one of the numerous films from her I-Pad’s sci-fi film library: the then “groundbreaking” Russian film, Planeta Bur.

Cornthwaite sketches with a charcoal pencil on a paper sketchpad an image of Clyde Tombaugh in a Kansas cereal grass field perched over a telescope. In addition to his aeronautical accomplishments (he was a U.S Navy fighter pilot during the North African conflict of 2032) Corny is also well known for his lithography of the Universe’s wonders utilized in scholastic texts. “. . . but I’m no Trouvelot,” he would oft say.

Their pre-mission meditations are broken by com-bleeps. “Time to tuck in the caterpillars,” breaks the Mission Center-based voice of Flight Officer Polikwaptiwa over the com.

Inside the stasis chamber section of the centrifuge, Virgil, Kamara, and Cornthwaite, adorned in undergarments peppered with discs of wireless monitors, climb into their respective stasis pods. On the stasis control center’s main control panel reads the mission start date: January 15, 2045.

“May a sexy, green-skinned Queen of Blood greet me in twenty years,” jokes Kamara.

“What dreams may come on Pluto and in the Kuiper, Kim, as we bathe in the western stars,” counters Cornthwaite.

“And may man realize,” interjects Virgil, “that, in space, we are not gilded butterflies. The stars are our body.”

As they settle into their pods, hydraulics hiss and the pod seal. Sightless gases consume the pods as the crew’s eye flutter and the quickly fall asleep. . . .

Virgil’s “view” pushes out of the viewport of his stasis pod, through the circumference of the centrifuge, and out of a centrifuge portal into his lifelong, boyhood dream: to see the Milky Way Galaxy from deep space — on a voyage home from points beyond man’s current technological constraints of space travel.

As Virgil’s dream travels through the stars, the first hint of the Kuiper Belt’s field debris of the Earth’s solar system appears. Then, Pluto and his five moons pans into Virgil’s view. Quicker than an REM-blink, Jupiter fills his sight; then he jets through the asteroid belt on an approach to the Asteroid classified on star charts as 7-Iris. Then, he’s on an approach to Mars. As he approaches the Earth’s moon, his view travels downward, on the far north region of the near side of the Moon. His spirit travels over the southern border of Mars Frigoris (The Sea of Cold) and the Vallis Alpes (The Alpine Valley), then onto the Trouvelot Impact Crater. Then his soul speeds toward Earth and downward through her atmosphere, and onto the eastern European coastline. The land mass of England appears, and soon, he’s traveling the streets of Cambridge, England — in the year of 1666.

Morpho and Ulysses Butterflies flutter under a rainbow streak that dangles under cloudless, blue skies. They come to rest on tree branches — and on a window sill of a dorm room at the University of Cambridge. The hand of a twenty-four-year-old Isaac Newton twirls insect pins stuck in the thorax of Morpho and Ulysses Butterflies. He studies the Morpho’s shimmering, iridescent shades of blue and green under the window’s borrowed sunlight.

“What creates a rainbow?” Newton silently ponders. “Is sunlight a mixture of colored light? If color resides in objects,” thinks Newton as he picks up feather, “then why do Morpho and Ulysses butterflies, and a fowl’s white feather, take on various colors under sunlight?”

The following day, Newton composes an alphabetized list on a large sheet of white parchment of the letters “A” through “G” to represent the seven-color spectrum of “Red,” “Orange,” “Yellow,” “Green,” “Blue,” and “Indigo.” After the letter “G,” he writes the color: “Violet.”

“Pure, white light holds the colors of the rainbow. Not the glass itself,” wonders Newton as he turns a 12-inch tall, triangular glass prism in the sunlight. A seven-color rainbow spectrum projects onto the parchment tacked on the wall. “Light consists of rays that, when bent at different degrees, the angle of illumination changes.”


A nineteen-year-old Clyde Tombaugh wakes from his dream-nap in a rocking chair on the porch of the Tombaugh farmstead. He lifts a hardcover book from his lap — composed in 1704 by Isaac Newton: Opticks: Or a Treatise of the Reflections, Refractions, and Inflexions and Colors of Light — and places it on an end table.

He gazes out to the horizon of cereal grasses on the plains of Burdett, Kansas.

The “Burdett” water tower stands at the westbound lane of Broadway Avenue and State Highway 156, which cuts through fields of cereal grasses of oat, wheat, and barley cultivated by a 1925 John Deer Model-D Spoker.

A teen-farmer reads an August 1, 1925 copy of the Burdett Gazette as he sits on grain sacks loaded on an eastbound Model-T Ford pick-up that speeds along the 156. Distracted by an oncoming westbound dairy truck entering town, the teen picks up a pebble from the flatbed and tosses it at the truck’s haul of empty milk bottles as the Model-T and dairy truck simultaneously pass a “Burdett City Limits” road sign.

The dairy truck driver pays no mind to three persons adorned in flight jackets with logos and name patches — out-of-time for the 1920s — who gather around a Clyde Tombaugh Metal Historical Marker set under the shadow of the town’s water tower — in commemoration of the “Discoverer of Pluto.”

Virgil Chaffe, Kimimela Kamara, and Robert Cornthwaite pour a lime-based sport drink into Nasa Shot glasses. “To Clyde,” proclaims Virgil. “The future belongs to those who prepare for it.” As they clink their glasses together, they also clink the marker.

The dairy truck swings onto the Tombaugh Farmstead — a two-story home complete with a barn and coops originally constructed in the late-1800s — surrounded by oat crops.

In the distance, a forty-seven-year-old Muron Tombaugh drives a well-worn, 1925 John Deer Model-D Spoker as it tows a four-row listed cultivator.

The honk of the dairy truck’s horn catches the attention of a nineteen-year-old Clyde Tombaugh, who gazes out the window of his bedroom on the second floor.

The walls of Clyde’s bedroom display prize ribbons and framed certificates for excellence in science and math. A University of Kansas banner flag hangs beside a Trouvelot lithograph of Jupiter. Books on solid geometry and trigonometry, physics and astronomy fill a bookshelf. An early 1920s telescope from Sears & Roebuck’s (a long gone and iconic, influential brick-and-mortar retail chain from the days before online retailing) stands in the corner.

Clyde returns to his desk and continues to read an article in an astronomy magazine that features a black-and-white portrait of a distinguished, forty-one-year-old man with thick, side-parted hair and overgrown beard. The caption under the photo reads: Etienne Leopold Trouvelot, December 26, 1827 — April, 22, 1895.

Clyde then turns his attention to the homework assignment on his desk:

An Artist brought the Heavens to the Earth
Clyde Tombaugh

He reads his opening sentence:

Etienne Leopold Trouvelot was 19th century French astronomer whose iconic images gave man his first detailed look into the heavens.

Clyde gazes at the wall-framed Jupiter lithograph by Trouvelot that features the giant’s cloud bands and ubiquitous red spot. He puts his pencil back to the paper — .

As he continues to recite his report inside a two-story brick building with a flat roof on a campus dotted with Pine and Elm Trees. Welcome to Burdett High School.

Clyde stands at a lectern in front of a teacher and sixteen fellow students.

“Trouvelot’s premature death at the age of sixty-eight was hastened by an illness he contracted in the South Pacific while observing a solar eclipse, and searching for Vulcan, a theoretical planet beyond the orbit of the solar system’s first planet: Mercury.”

Thor, Zeus, Jove, and Set unleashed their anger across the plains of Burdett, Kansas, as a green, discolored thundercloud forms and dispenses a distant cyclone — a hailstorm approaches.

Filled with grains and feed sacks in the flatbed, Muron Tombaugh’s Model-T Ford pick-up speeds westbound by the road sign and water tank at the Burdett City Limits, but . . . the Clyde Tombaugh Metal Historical Marker isn’t there — not yet. Pluto won’t be discovered until February 18, 1930. . . .

Muron drives, with his thirteen-year-old son Charles and fifteen-year-old son Ray next to him in the cab. In their sights is the Tombaugh farmstead.

As the Model-T Ford pick-up speeds onto the property, a now twenty-one-year-old Clyde dashes toward the barn under falling twigs and branches shaken loose from the immense canopies of two Elm trees. Clyde opens the barn doors as the Model-T skids to a stop inside the barn. Muron, Charles, and Ray jump out. Clyde shuts the barn door.

“Did you and yer sister git all the livestock inside?” Muron says as he latches the door.

“Yes, sir. Esther’s down in the cellar with Momma and Robert,” says Clyde. The first signs of pea-sized hailstones pepper the ground.

“Ray, Charlie,” calls out Muron as larger hailstones land with a thud. “Git ta the cellar. Let’s go, Clyde. Move it, boys.” As the Tombaugh men approach the cellar, Muron pounds on the door, “Adella, sweetie. It’s Muron.” A nineteen-year-old Esther opens the door and the Tombaugh men crawl inside.

Amid the metal canisters of milk and cream, along with wooden vats of butter and shelves of egg-filled baskets, the Tombaugh family cowers in lantern light. Muron hugs his forty-three-year-old wife, Adella, while Esther coddles her four-year-old brother, Robert, alongside Ray, Charles, and Clyde.

Clyde stares out of his second floor bedroom window onto clear, blue skies as Esther, Charles, and Ray rakes leaves and clean up storm debris around the farmstead. Then he gazes out into the once tall, golden fields of healthy oat crops as his father inspects his destroyed lot. Clyde tears down the University of Kansas banner flag.

A black velvet starfield envelops the Tombaugh farmstead as a now twenty-two-year old Clyde rests on a blanket near a lantern light and stares upward — pondering. He pulls out an April 1928 edition of Popular Mechanics Magazine and thumbs the pages to an article:

How to Build Your Own 9-Inch Telescope

The article features a black-and-white diagram that illustrates a sectional view of an outer and inner tube, the correct location of an Objective (Concave-Convex) lens, and an eyepiece (with a plano-concave lens).

Inside the storm cellar, light from a ground-floor window shines on the beginnings of a nine-inch reflector telescope set on a tripod mount constructed from a 1910 Buick crankshaft and dairy separator parts. The scope stands next to a table with bottled and canned abrasives, polish rags, and a glass-on-oak grinding disc mounted on a 20-gallon drum. Adorned in a butcher’s apron and chemical gloves, Clyde swaddles a nine-inch mirror in a polishing cloth and gazes at his reflection in the reflected seven-color spectrum.

As he drags from his pipe, Muron steps out onto the porch on a clear, crisp night and takes a seat next to Adella on the porch glider.

They stare into the backyard at a distant lantern’s glow that reveals a Gypsy Moth that lands and flutters its wings on the eyepiece of Clyde’s homemade nine-inch Reflector Telescope. The moth accepts his fingertip. As he fingers the moth that soon flies off, Clyde perches over the eyepiece and positions a drawing board on his lap. Through the telescope’s eyepiece, he views the planet Jupiter.

He picks up a pencil and, in cursive script on the drawing board’s paper, Clyde writes the centered title of:

Jupiter and his Belts

And underneath the title, on the left-handed corner of the page he writes the date of:

October 3rd 1928

Clyde then sketches a circle under the date. He pulls out an engraved silver pocket watch that displays the time of 1:00 AM; he notes the time and the telescope’s setting and writes:

1:00 AM — 4:00 AM
Power 400

He leans over the eyepiece and begins sketching details inside the circle that represents the red-eye giant that is Jupiter.

In his bedroom, Clyde stares at the Jupiter Lithograph by Trouvelot on the wall, and then he stares down at his own pencil drawings of Jupiter and Mars.

The drawings of Jupiter represent the planet’s six-phases seen from October 3, 1928, through January 3, 1929. Below the images of Jupiter are two-phases of Mars seen on December 24, 1928. All eight-planet phases indicate their viewing times and magnifications.

As he sits at the desk, Clyde takes a pencil to a sheet of letter-sized paper and reads the salutation of:

January 4, 1929

V.M Slipher
Director of Lowell Observatory
Flagstaff, Arizona

Dear Mr. Slipher,

He writes:

My name is Clyde Tombaugh . . .

As Clyde gazes again at Trouvelot’s walled lithograph, he turns his stare out the bedroom window and his views speeds towards the Moon set against the deep, dark starry night cast over the Tombaugh farmstead.

“I graduated high school,” Clyde thinks as his pencil glides across the paper, “four years ago, in 1925. I worked on my dad’s farm with the hopes of saving enough money to attend the University of Kansas.”

On the Far North Region of the Near Side of the Moon, Clyde’s imagination takes him across the southern border of Mare Frigoris (Sea of Cold) and the Vallis Alpes (Alpine Valley), then onto what will become known as the Trouvelot Impact Crater. As his mind’s eye jets off from the Crater, he speeds towards Mars and flies through the asteroid belt, then arrives at Jupiter.

“Sadly,” Clyde thinks as he leaves Jupiter and gazes onto the stars, “a hailstorm in 1927 ruined my family’s oat crops and stalled those plans.”

As he returns to the starry night over the Tombaugh farmstead, he finds himself back in his bedroom, where he continues to compose his letter to V.M Slipher. “I have taken to constructing my own telescopes for two years, to study astronomy independently without schooling. . . .”

In an office of the Lowell Observatory, a twenty-something, desk perched V.M Slipher reads Clyde’s letter, “Please find enclosed drawings,” thinks Clyde, “that I have completed from October 3, 1928, to January 3, 1929, of the planets of Jupiter and Mars.”

V.M Slipher unfolds Clyde’s drawing. He raises his eyebrow in amazement at Clyde’s artistic skills. “Any critique,” Clyde continues, “or advice you could provide on my work would be greatly appreciated.”

At the roadside mailbox of the Tombaugh farmstead, Clyde removes and sorts the mail. His eyes go wide at the sight of an envelope with the receiver address and return address of:

Mr. Clyde Tombaugh

V.M Slipher
Lowell Observatory

A grin washes over Clyde’s face. He rips open the envelope and reads the letter to himself. His grin grows bigger. “Whoooo-hooooo!” Clyde races to the farmhouse. “Mom! Dad!”

“As you know,” says V.M Slipher from the letter’s pages, “following the discovery of the planet Neptune in 1846, Percival Lowell speculated that another planet may exist beyond its orbit, “ Clyde races up the front porch stairs as V.M Slipher continues, “which he published in his 1915 paper: Memoir of a Trans-Neptunian Planet.”

In the kitchen, Adella cooks. Clyde shows her the letter, “We are currently working,” V.M Slipher continues, “to prove his predictions and would like to offer you employment. . . .”

By January 15, 1929, Clyde Tombaugh clutches notebooks as he strolls against the background of a thick, Yellow Pine forest towards a cobblestone Rotunda with a single door and two small windows. A white, wooden dome caps the structure. “We are prepared,” continues V.M Slipher, “to offer you room and board, and a paycheck of nineteen dollars a month, to assist us in our search for what is referred to as ‘Planet X,’ by Mr. Lowell.”

The small gable roof that caps the wooden dome splits open onto the starfield overhead.

Through the open gable roof stands an orange-colored, 13-inch astrograph (an optical telescope) where Clyde jots down into a logbook the date of:

January 29, 1930

Then he leans into the eyepiece and snaps photographic plates of the night time sky.

In the hallway of the observatory, light pulses and flashes from an open doorway of the photographic lab as Clyde sits at a Blink Comparator. He looks through the single-lens eyepiece onto two photographic plates.

The left plate, displays the date of January 23; the right plates displays the date of January 29 — each image is composed of hundreds of white dots on a black background. The image through the eyepiece rapidly switches back and forth between the left and right plates — as the images literally “blinks” between the two photographs taken of the same starfield. In the midst of this stationary starfield, Clyde sees one star slightly shift position between the plates.

Clyde’s face sports a wide grin. He looks at his engraved pocket watch — the watch he’s looked at so many times during his astronomy studies — and jots down the date and time into the logbook:

4 PM, February 18, 1930

On the office wall behind the paper and journal-strewn desk of V.M Slipher, a framed reproduction of the 1634 painting of The Muses Urania and Calliope by the French painter, Simon Vouet, catches the light — with Urania adorned in a blue dress and a star crown; Calliope in a pink crown as she holds a harp.

Clyde Tombaugh dashes in. “Sir, Mr. Lowell was right. I think I found ‘Planet X.’”

Later, Clyde and V.M Slipher perch themselves at the base of the 13-inch Astrograph as the gable roof doors open on the Lowell Observatory to expose the nighttime sky.


SEVENTY-SIX years later, on July 19, 2006, the view of the nighttime sky over the Lowell Observatory exposes the Earth with her curvature against a starfield.

“T-Minus one minute and counting,” says the filtered, com-cracking and disembodied voice of Mission Control Officer Davidson.

“Minus fifty-five seconds,” says the com-filtered voice of Mission Control Officer Riley.

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This novelization is based on the copyrighted screenplay of the same name.



R D Francis

Screenwriter, novelist, broadcaster, film critic, and music journalist. Visit at