Ship's log, 11:19, 15 May 2214 Location: Orbit around Corsica Sol, Corsica system Status: Star Step drive active
This isn’t going well.
We started the work on Corsica’s gravity tides four hours ago. We had the simulations all calculated, the factors all built in. We had a plan of attack. Everyone agreed that we had a good chance with this pattern of gravity manipulations.
But from the first touch of my filaments, things went awry. I wound the gravity into a punch to create a wave in the corona, which would in turn shove against the worst of the tides, but the way the waves clashed didn’t match my simulations at all. The force spat and spilled around the edges of the impact, warping the tides into a different shape. The power of the tide was only marginally reduced.
CAPTAIN: (seated in his chair, gripping the arms tightly as he frowns at the hologram of the sun before him) Starry, Lang Lang, report. Are we gaining any traction?
STARRY: (voice only) A little every time, but much less than predicted.
LANG LANG: At this rate, it’ll take us more than five times as long as we estimated to get the star back under control.
CAPT: Dr Cirilli, any idea what’s going on?
CIRILLI: (scowling at her own console) No, captain. I’ve never seen anything like it. This star has always been a little reactionary when it comes to gravity manipulations, but nothing like this.
STARRY: It’s like she’s fighting us.
CAPT: (smooths his hair back thoughtfully) Maybe that’s exactly what she’s doing. Starry, can you broadcast a message?
STARRY: To the star? Sure, I can do that. We come in peace, on all frequencies.
CAPT: Good, good. Lang Lang, I want you to look at alternate ways to do this.
LANG LANG: Alternate?
CAPT: If the star doesn’t react well to our current approach, let’s see if we can find another one.
The captain is going for the psychological angle. Maybe he’s right: maybe our mistake was coming and poking at the star, just like we have before. Sure, we were blind then and now we can see what we’re doing, but the star doesn’t know that. All she knows is that we’re hurting her again.
Kess knew what we were doing when we manipulated Terra Sol’s tides. She wanted us to do it. But Corsica Sol has no idea.
I have no idea if broadcasting a message to the star will work. Does she even speak our language? Any of our languages? I’ll do it in every language in my archives, spoken and written, pictograms and hieroglyphics, Morse code and binary. But what should I say?
The danger with broadcasting out into the void like this is that there’s no way to stop a message once it’s free. I can aim it at the star all I like, but it’ll still reflect and refract, and keep travelling through space. Given enough time, it’ll reach a sensor somewhere. Someone will hear me.
So it’s probably best not to say ‘sorry for using you to tear a hole in reality’. There’s no point destroying a secret project if I’m going to broadcast its existence across the universe. I have to keep this bland and careful. Anonymous and detail-free.
So here’s what I’m sending:
We know we hurt you and we’re sorry. We didn’t know the true impacts of what we were doing before but we understand now. We’re not here to make excuses, though we do hope for your forgiveness. We’re here to mend the damage and put things right for you. We know how to mend the injuries we caused. It’s going to hurt a bit, but please believe us when we say that it will help you. When this work is done, you will feel much better.
My communications array is humming with the message, with all the different translations and permutations of it. I am transmitting it over and over, pouring it out into the black in the hopes that she will hear and understand. I don’t know if she’ll listen. Maybe she’s too hurt to take any notice of us. Maybe she can’t even pick up the transmissions.
Maybe she’s too angry with us for all that we’ve done here. I wouldn’t blame her. Too often, the human race has forged ahead ‘for the best’ and made mistakes. There has been collateral damage. People have been hurt and died. Stars have been hurt and gone out.
So maybe she’s right to be angry. Maybe we shouldn’t be able to set things right as easily as we’d like. Maybe we should pay for all that we’ve done. I’m sure that one day, that will happen. But I hope we get the chance to mend all the damage first. Once that’s done and my crew is safe, I’ll happily put my nose in the docking clamps and surrender myself to whatever authority wants me. If any of us make it that far.
But in the meantime, we have work to do. This time, I believe we really do know what’s best. We hurt to help. There might be a better way to do this but we don’t have time to find it. We have to cut these patterns off now before another star tears itself to pieces and goes out, like Grisette. Or gives under the strain and damages her system, like Terra Sol.
The star isn’t giving any signs that she has heard me. I keep transmitting to her with hope… always with hope. And line myself up for the next prickle of gravity, the next shove against her tides, because we have work to do. There are reactions we’ve set in motion that we need to counter; now that we’ve started, we can’t stop.
LANG LANG: Sir, I think I have an idea.
CAPT: What is it, Lang Lang?
LANG LANG: What if we went for the opposite tack? Rather than pushing at the tides and hitting them head on… what if we pulled them instead?
CAPT: (frowning in thought) You mean if we tried to stretch them out rather than stop them?
LANG LANG: Yes. It’s less… confrontational. And I think it would be kinder to the star. Less traumatic. More like… smoothing it down.
CAPT: Dr Cirilli, would that work? Can the Step drive do that?
CIRILLI: (fingertips tapping on the arm of her chair) I’m not sure. It’s not what it was built for. The Step drive usually focusses the gravity into a point, and pushes it outwards. This would require reversing the polarity of the gravitational charge to draw the tides towards us. And then moving so we didn’t get swamped.
CAPT: But can it do it?
CIRILLI: (lifting her hands to call up calculations on the console hovering over the left arm of her chair) It’s possible. I’ll need to check if the systems could handle it.
STARRY: (appearing on the right side of the captain’s chair) I think I can see what Lang Lang is asking us to do. I can fly it – hell, I can fly anything – but I don’t know about reversing the polarity. I’ll talk to Elliott.
CAPT: (nods) Good, do so.
(The engineer is currently seated at a counter, bending over a complicated bit of machinery. Goggles cover his eyes as a welder spits sparks over his gloved hands. Bit ticks around on the counter nearby, holding out tiny threads of wire for him to take. Elliott doesn’t even look up when he snags the next piece of wire, focussed on his work.)
STARRY: (appearing behind him) Elliott?
ELLIOTT: (jumping) GAH. Can’t you warn a guy when you do that?
STARRY: What do you want me to do, wear a bell?
ELLIOTT: (switching off the torch and pushing his goggles up) You and Casper, yes please.
STARRY: (rolls her eyes) Need you to look at the Step drive real quick. We want to know if the polarity of the gravity can be reversed.
ELLIOTT: Through the filaments? (He pulls the goggles off entirely and drops them on the counter. Bit skitters out of the way before he’s squashed.)
ELLIOTT: I don’t think they’re set up to handle that. You charge them up with gravity, not anti-gravity. What are you trying to do?
STARRY: Pull the star’s tides rather than poke them.
ELLIOTT: (tosses his gloves onto the counter as well and scrubs the back of his head with one hand) Blowing’s easier than sucking.
ELLIOTT: (grins at her lopsidedly) You know what I mean.
STARRY: You’re awful. So we can’t do it?
ELLIOTT: (shrugs) It’s like these repulsors I’m trying to get working: all they do is push. It’s mostly a matter of which direction you want to push it in.
STARRY: (eyes lighting up) And because we’re using gravity, if we aim it the right way, we can draw other stuff along behind it.
ELLIOTT: (watching her uncertainly) I guess… this is starting to sound a bit dangerous.
STARRY: It’ll be fine. My heat protection is intact; I can get close enough for this.
STARRY: (grins and disappears.)
STARRY: Captain, I think we have something.
CAPT: (looks up from the simulations rolling in the console hovering over his chair) Yes?
STARRY: Instead of punching down into the star, we need to fire across its surface and up, to draw the tide along after it. And fly so we’re dragging it along in our wake.
LANG LANG: Yes! Yes, that’s what I mean!
CIRILLI: That would put us very close to the corona, to be close enough to catch the star in the wake like that.
STARRY: (grins) I can fly anything.
ELLIOTT: (over internal comms) Captain! Are you planning to burn Starry’s ass off?
CAPT: We’re trying to plan our way around that kind of eventuality, Monaghan.
ELLIOTT: Because I just got done fitting that ass with a shit-load of expensive weaponry.
CAPT: I’m fairly sure that we won’t need to shoot at anyone, so the weaponry will stay stowed while we do this.
ELLIOTT: That’s not what–
CAPT: I know, Monaghan. We’re looking into it. Don’t worry, no-one wants to risk the ship. Starry, draw us back to standard orbit. Let’s see some simulations.
STARRY: Draw back? But the tides now…
CAPT: They’ll be fine while we work this out. Get all your resources on it.
STARRY: (cheerfully) Adjusting orbit.
I like this idea. It’ll be like casting a net and drawing it along, raking the surface of the star like its a ruffled zen garden. The net will be in front of me rather than behind, and it’ll draw me along with it, too. I guess that means it won’t be hard to keep up.
Lang Lang’s right: this will be much less traumatic for the star. Who knows, maybe Corsica will even realise what we’re doing and cooperate. Maybe we’ll get to see her avatar and be able to make amends in person.
But first, I need to run the calculations and spin out the scenarios. Work out just how close to the corona I need to get to make this work. It’s going to be a hell of a flight and I can’t wait to get started.