07 Mar

Flare

Ship's log, 22:37, 14 March 2214
Location: 8 light-minutes from Terra Sol, Home System
Status: Sublight transit

 

Kess asked to talk to Cirilli and now the scientist is here. The two of them are looking at each other, sizing and weighing. If they were dogs, they’d be sniffing each other’s butts right now. If they were cats, they’d be circling with their backs arched and fur sticking out. Kess has put away the flames and folded her wings down, but she still looks more than a match for Cirilli, even if she is a head shorter.

Behind Cirilli, Ebling is watching with an expression that suspects he should have opted for the escape pod after all. His gaze is narrowed; he’s looking for an angle he can play to his own advantage. Lang Lang is less complicated: she’s gaping at Kess with wonder curling at the corners of her mouth. The only reason she hasn’t bounced forward with a question is that she’s still figuring out which one to start with.

 

Location: Cargo Bay 3

DR CIRILLI: (ignoring the pair behind her, focussed on the star’s avatar) You wanted to speak to me.

KESS: (looking more like a regular, un-star-like woman without her fiery aura or mantled wings, but just as determined and angry as before) Yes. It’s time for your project to end.

CIRILLI: If you came here to destroy this ship, then why haven’t you done it already?

KESS: No, Dr Cirilli. Not just this piece of it: all of it.

CIRILLI: But for that, you’d have to go to… It’s impossible. Why would you want to, anyway? Is a revolution in space travel really so terrible?

KESS: When it comes at the price of the stars themselves, yes.

CIRILLI: That’s a little dramat–

KESS: (holds up a hand abruptly, her gaze unfocussing.)

CIRILLI: (scowls) What is it now?

 

MALE RESCUEE: (standing by the second recovered escape pod, he’s watching with concern. The blood on his head seems to have stopped flowing but he still looks pale. He spots the change in Kess’s demeanour and calls over to the group around his shipmate.) Kess?

FEMALE RESCUEE: (looks at the male and back to Kess) What? Oh, shit, is she flaring?

SWANN: (twitching the tip of his gun at the pair meaningfully) You two just stay quiet.

ROSIE: (frowns and glances over at the other group.)

 

CIRILLI: (when there’s no answer from Kess) I said–

STARRY: (watching the star’s avatar with a frown) Give her a minute, Dr Cirilli. Something is… I’m getting weird readings. Energy fluctuations.

LANG LANG: (from behind Cirilli’s shoulder) Can you show me?

STARRY: (nods, and a holographic display of the data appears in front of the navigator.)

 

Kess seems paler than she did before. Not just because she’s not glowing: the colour of her skin seems to have drained away. She’s standing there, quite still, looking at something we can’t see. She’s breathing shallowly – my visual sensors can pick that up even if my medical monitors can’t – and she blinks every now and then.

But inside, she’s all action. It’s like watching an entire ocean’s worth of power and currents caught up in a tiny bottle. It seems to be trying to fight its way free. Her expression flickers; she’s struggling.

Her crewmates look concerned but not for themselves; they’re worried about her. They want to go to her but my SecOffs with their weapons are in the way.

 

STARRY: (quietly, to Captain Warwick) Captain, I think we should let her people through. (She nods to the other group.)

CAPTAIN: (glances at the other rescuees) You think they can help?

STARRY: I don’t think they can hurt right now.

LANG LANG: (gazing at the readout in the air before her) It looks like solar flare activity, but…

EBLING: (leaning over her shoulder) Yeah, definitely a solar flare building.

LANG LANG: But I’ve never seen currents that large on Terra Sol.

EBLING: (shrugs.)

CIRILLI: (eyes the data and keeps her mouth firmly shut.)

CAPT: (looking to Cameron) Chief, bring those people here and see if they can explain this.

CAMERON: (nods and gestures to Rosie and Swann.)

 

ROSIE: (sees the signal and turns to the pair in front of her) All right, you two. Let’s go see your weird little friend.

RESCUEES: (nod and hurry across the cargo to where Kess is, almost out-pacing their security escort.)

SWANN: (looks like he’s going to get in the way.)

ROSIE: (shakes her head, following them) Let ’em. They can’t outrun bullets and the Chief thinks it’s okay.

SWANN: (scowls and shadows them instead, jogging alongside Rosie.)

MALE RESCUEE: (goes straight to the star’s avatar and takes hold of her arms) Kess? Can you hear me?

KESS: (sounding distant and distracted. A hand bunches up the front of her shipsuit and she hunches as if she’s in pain.) Yes, I hear you, Tolle.

MALE: It’s Warren, ma’am. Tolle Junior, remember?

KESS: (squeezes her eyes shut and nods.)

FEMALE RESCUEE: (standing off to one side) Shit, it’s a bad one.

WARREN: (nods.)

FEMALE: (glares at the Starwalker crew around her) You see what you did? It’s getting worse.

CIRILLI: You don’t know that we caused this.

FEMALE: (folds her arms over her chest) Oh yeah? You punched into this system a week ago, right?

STARRY: How did you know that?

FEMALE: Because that’s when she starting screaming. You ever heard a star scream? She nearly tore the hull open. With sound. I was deaf for three days!

WARREN: And she’s been sick for years. Says it’s your research. My father knew her, and he said that she used to be different.

CAPT: How can the research be a factor in this? Is-Tech had it done in another system.

WARREN: Before that, it was conducted on Terra Sol.

CIRILLI: (looking uncomfortable) That much is true. The project started here; it’s where the first tests were done. Before Is-Tech bought it and moved it off-planet.

KESS: (distantly) Ran away, but you didn’t listen.

LANG LANG: (sounding honestly worried) Solar flares really hurt stars? But they’re a natural part of them. Aren’t they?

WARREN: Normally, but not like this.

KESS: (sags and blinks her eyes open. She leans heavily on Warren.) Not when I have to try to contain them. I can only hold the tide back so much.

LANG LANG: Wouldn’t it be better to release the pressure?

KESS: (draws in a long breath and lets it out again, letting Warren’s arm around her hold her up. She casts around until she finds the navigator’s face.) Yes, but if I do that, Earth will burn.

EBLING: You sound like the doomsayers.

KESS: This time, they might be right.

LANG LANG: (with dismay) There were stories about that while we were on Earth. Predictions that the poles are going to invert themselves. Theories that the sun’s instability is the lead-up to something… big. (She looks around at her fellow crewmates.) Didn’t anyone see the news? Not just doomsayers – real scientists are saying this.

CAPT: (looks unhappily at Cirilli but doesn’t demand anything of her right away.)

KESS: Earth is heading for a catastrophe, and I don’t know if I can prevent it. (She looks to the head scientist too.) When you stretch something, one of three things happens: it snaps back; it breaks; or it is warped into a new shape. Which would you prefer when you stretch a star?

CIRILLI: (blinks with surprise at Kess) Someone said that to me once. It was… nearly forty years ago.

KESS: You wouldn’t listen to me then. Are you listening now, doctor?

CIRILLI: That was… (Her eyes widen.) It was you. But we had only just started testing then. The instabilities were already there; we didn’t cause them.

KESS: (sighs.)

 

Something is spiking in my external sensors. Terra Sol: the solar flare is reaching us now. It’s a huge one; I can see it bubbling under the surface. It should shoot out in a single, long spurt, but it isn’t doing that. Many small flares are popping out instead, releasing the pressure a little at a time. But each ‘small’ flare is as big as a regular flare should be on a star that size.

No wonder Kess was struggling. How much can you fight the tide? How much can you deny your own gravity?

She might have spread the load but the gravity distortion is still coming at us. It’s no surprise that the scientists on Earth are worried; I can detect the fluctuations already and it hasn’t quite reached us yet.

 

STARRY: (standing behind the captain’s shoulder) Solar flare incoming. Might get a little rough.

CAPT: (glances at the ship’s avatar and nods.)

CIRILLI: (focussed on Kess, frowning) You’ve spent fourty years blaming me and my project for this. How can we have caused what was already there when we started?

 

Oh no. Nonono. I know the answer to that question.

 

STARRY: (staring at Cirilli and Kess) By being there before you started.

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12 Responses to “Flare”

  1. targetdrone Says:

    ouch… rarely was a written word so palpably laced with emotion like that “oh no. nonono” at the end there… you could feel starrys thoughts spin into overdrive 😉

    right now i wish i had a step drive, even at the danger of blowing out a couple of stars, it might allow me to go forward in time to read the next chapter allready 😛

  2. targetdrone Says:

    but then, i got a sollution that will make nearly everybody happy… i mean, cirilli obviously hasn’t done what caused the anomaly yet, or else she would know…. so push her out of the airlock, and terra might be fine… no harm done, (nearly) everybody wins…

    does it show i am no big fan of the lead scientist? 😛

  3. eduardo Says:

    I hope there is a way out that does not involve stopping Stary from stepping.
    The damage was done when they first stepped into the solar system. From this point, it may have gotten worse with the second trip.
    Solution? First it is needed to know and understand the problem.

  4. EdorFaus Says:

    targetdrone: It’s too late for that. The deed has already been done – and Cirilli was there, IIRC.

    Remember, back when they got away from the pirates by going /where/ they were directed, but not /when/? Pretending they didn’t mean to?

    At that time, they went to Terra Sol, many years before they were supposed to, thus avoiding the arranged meeting – and IIRC, making Cirilli realize they had just caused the instability that lead to the project getting started in the first place, something she’s apparently forgotten about at this time… But Starry remembers.

    I don’t know how causality paradoxes are dealt with in this universe, but Kess being unable to stop Cirilli’s project before it got itself started suggests they’re not allowed. However, events /can/ be circular without paradox, they just follow infinitely weirder rules when they are (to paraphrase Saundra)…

  5. daymon34 Says:

    Ah yes Starwalker is the whole reason for the research, because they popped into Sol early on and the readings where what started this mess. Time travel can be such fun.

    Poor Kess that must be painful, I wonder if Cirilli will listen now. Maybe with Kess they can find a way to reduce the damage that has been done.

    Lang Lang is so cute being unable to decide what to ask. Then again if an avatar showed up from something I studied I probably would have the same problem.

  6. Retsof Says:

    Well, I’d be grouchy too if I’d been holding in a fart for forty yeas… Anyway, I already see a few possible solutions to this. A: Just point in the opposite direction of Terra and Let ‘er rip. Or funnel off the poles and out of the plane of the solar system (the extra radiation might make Terra a little more toasty, but isn’t as bad as whatever a full impact would be). Or, if they could get thier hands on a chunk of neutronium (the hard part is keeping it from exploding back to normal matter…) they could use it’s insane gravity gradient to effectively tell the laws of physics to go make them a sandwich and build some kind of fancy warp gate. Funnel the flare out to Pluto or something. Anyhow that’s my thoughts, and I’ll be watching for more.

  7. Medic Says:

    Here’s a thought to chew on. What if it’s not the Stepping that’s the issue, but the TEMPORAL Stepping. As I reminded once before, they killed a star already by jumping back in time with the /first/ successful Step.

    Another thought has occurred to me. If Starry is able to use her filliments to gather gravimetric energy, couldn’t she use the same to assist Terra Sol/Kess in containing the flares?

    @ Retsof> Nice anology. I never thought of a solar flare as a stellar fart, but it fits better than anything I can think of. 🙂

  8. Retsof Says:

    Well, I was in a rather odd state of mind when I thought of that… But put it up anyway in hopes of getting a laugh. (and you’ve got to admit, Kess’ episode their does remind one of the last time they had that triple-bean burrito and regretted it, though it was the “release the pressure” comment that did it) I don’t remember the first star being killed, I thought it was just fan conjecture…

    Anyhow, another thought i had last night while staring at the ceiling, was about the star avatars. If they become more common, it probably wouldn’t be long until Humanity does one of the things it does best, and “Boldly goes where no man has gone before.” But as I continued to work it over, I actually thought it could make a good story, “In the Heart of a Star”. Too bad I have all the writing skill of a ferret…

    Also, are other celestial bodies sapient too? Does the kind of star effect it’s personality? (would a variable star be bipolar or manic depressive? :P) Would a young star seem young and naive, and excitable? Do they fear their death as they approach it? (after all, gravitational collapse can’t be a pleasant way to go…) Are things like white dwarfs, neutron stars, and black holes still sapient, or are they just corpses?

    Whew… just a few more… Why does Sol even care about humanity? I’m surprised she even knows we exist. at least until we started punching holes in her. You’d think she would take about as much notice of us as we do of bacteria…

    Okay… I think I’m done now, question-dump over.

  9. Melanie Says:

    Targetdrone – overdrive? You’re gonna love the next post. 😉 (ahahahaha)

    eduardo – very true! Understanding is half the battle, and that’s what this chapter is centred around. 🙂

    EdorFaus – yup, you hit it on the head. More on this in the next post, so I won’t say too much here!

    daymon34 – I love Lang Lang! I wonder if I can work in a Kess/Lang Lang interview session somewhere….

    Retsof – I almost worked in a fart metaphor! 😀 It popped into my head when I was writing this, too. 😉 I might use it down the line. You and Medic are right: it fits so well!

    Medic – all good questions/suggestions. They will be answered in the fullness of time! (I try not to spoiler)

    Retsof – I’ve got a couple of ideas for stories relating to the star avatars. One of them centres on a black hole!

    As for why Sol/Kess cares about humanity, well, they’re her children. Stars have quite different life cycles to organic life (they don’t breed, for example). Creating planets, nurturing a system, fostering life, and ultimately supporting sentient life… these are all things that a star might like to do. Others might like to simply consume every atom they can get their gravity on.

    Kess has a number of reasons to be tied to humanity (some of which are spoilers), but I can say that she’s a maternal kind of star. Sentient life and the nature of souls are important to her (you’ll probably see more about this later, too). On the other hand, she’s probably almost as fond of bacteria as a life form as she is of humans (though she prefers sentience, she’s all about systems that work together). 😉

  10. Gorkamorka Says:

    I thought the Sun was so tied to humanity *because* her(its?) system harbours life… the other “colonized” systems probably have way less developed or interested avatars, and the “barren” ones maybe does not feel the need for one in the first place.

    Anyway, this whole mess is the Sun’s fault! If she never had hired the pirates in the first place then there would had been no reason for Starwalker to jump 40 year ago to Earth either, and the sidereals would have not risen… no wait, wrong setting. 🙂

  11. Melanie Says:

    Gorkamorka – hi and welcome! 🙂
    Yes, that is a reason why Kess is attached to humanity – they’re ‘her’ life, sprung from her and her system.
    As for whose fault it is… well, check out the next post. 😉

  12. mjkj Says:

    Wow, poor Starry is realizing that it was her step back in time that caused it…

    *hugs Starry*

    I hope Starry and Kess will find a solution…

    mjkj