04 May

Icarus

Ship's log, 20:03, 26 January 2213
Location: Gienah System, Corvus constellation
Status: Sublight transit

 

Our plan is set. I’m to make a suicidal FTL jump towards a star and ride the corona to the other side. I have to make everyone think I’ve melted in the heart of Gienah Sol, all to get enough time to Step out of here.

There doesn’t seem to be any way to avoid this. Hunt is gearing up for a fight and I don’t know the intentions of the Is-Tech ships. If I stay, I risk being caught in the crossfire. Running seems to be our only option, and maybe, just maybe, once we’re away from the pirate ships, we can shake loose their hold on us.

What if Is-Tech win this fight? It’s three against two, upgraded pirates against brand-new, cutting-edge battleships. Hunt’s crews are experienced, discplined and ruthless. The Is-Tech crews are an unknown quantity.

There isn’t enough data to assess the scenarios. No way to run calculations. I have to go on instincts that I’m not supposed to have, and every protocol I own is defaulting to: protect the crew. Get away from the fight, even the odds, and make a break later.

 

Tethers detached.

 

There go my ties to the Bountiful. They are free to bring their weapons to bear on the Davey Jones and the Kraken Unbound, and I’m free to slip away.

My crew are still locked in their places, a pirate gun trained on each, so I have to be careful. The Lieutenant doesn’t like it, but I’m piping the comms traffic and sensor feeds to the whole ship. My crew is a part of this whether he likes it or not, even if I have to do all the flying myself. It’s okay: I like it that way. Never did like other people’s hands on my controls anyway.

First, I have to limp away from the pirate ships. Get myself into position for the FTL jump. It’s… surprisingly hard. A tiny cough of my sublight engines pushes me away from the Bountiful at an awkward angle, as if my propulsion systems aren’t working properly. I don’t like pretending to be broken; it rubs my circuits all wrong. I want to punch to full sublight and get the hell away from here as fast as possible, but I can’t. It feels like my entire hull is itching in protest.

It’s for my crew, though. For my captain and my Elliott. It’s for all of us. I can do this. Calmly, Starry. Calm and quiet, like you’re just trying to get out of the way while the grown-ups talk. Act like you’re just getting out of the way, so that no-one does anything silly before you can jump clear.

No-one seems to be taking any notice of me. The comms traffic is still flickering between the Bountiful and the Davey Jones while they move into position. Neither is giving any ground nor giving anything away. If they fight as well as they spar verbally, it’s going to be a close-run thing.

Ignore them. I need to focus on the jump, on the space between me and that star. I’ve got my sensors honed so sharp that they sting. The FTL calculations are running, four sets in parallel to make sure I get the right answer. If the jump is too short, I’ll be spotted and the ruse will fail. Too long and we’ll die in the star’s heart. It has to be close to the corona but not too close. If the angle isn’t perfect, I could be sent off in the wrong vector entirely. Or collide with one of Gienah’s orbiting bodies.

The planets: they’re another factor I have to build into the equations. The pull of their gravities has to be carefully balanced in the equations or they’ll pull me off-course. There’s no way to correct once we’re in FTL and the jump is too short for there to be time for it anyway.

Thruster spurts that look random are lining me up with the optimum FTL jump vector. Almost in position.

This is one of those jumps that you’re taught never to do in pilot training. There’s just so much that can go wrong; the tiniest fraction of a percentage can kill us. Running the FTL calculations again: sixteenth time’s the charm, right?

There’s also what happens when we come out of the other side of the jump to consider. If I’m not quick enough to counter-thrust against it, the star’s gravity will pull me in. I can get close to a star but even my heat protection won’t last if I touch the damn thing. Everything has to be perfect.

 

FTL drive online.

 

Almost ready. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited. I can feel Danika’s influence in my head, grinning fiercely as my processors examine the challenge. This is the sort of thing she loved. This is why she signed up to the project in the first place: to bend the rules and come out of the other end in one piece. To feel that adrenaline ramping her up to meet the moment head-on.

I don’t have adrenaline but my sensor feeds have a startling clarity. It feels like my whole ship-body is humming.

The calculations have all come back with the same answer. I am in position. It is time.

 

STARRY: (over internal comms) Everyone: brace for possible fiery death.

HALF-FACE: (on the Bridge) …what?!

ROSIE: (in her quarters, frowning) That’s not funny.

ELLIOTT: (grins.)

STARRY: Jumping!

 

Deep breath, everyone!

 

FTL drive engaged.

 

Punch in and straight back out again; barely time for a heartbeat. The inertial dampeners are screaming at me over the abrupt reversal. Artificial gravity generators are groaning under the strain.

 

STARRY: We’re out! Compensating for solar– woah.

HALF-FACE: What is that, a technical term?

 

Warning.
Warning.
Warning.
Extreme temperatures detected.
Extreme radiation detected.
Tolerances exceeded.
Warning.
Gravity stabilisers exceeding maximum capacity.
Warning.

 

LANG LANG: (on mid-deck, at a navigation display) I’m seeing lots of gravitational fluctuations.

STARRY: Star’s not as stable as we thought! Compen–shit!

ELLIOTT: You’re too close! Temperature’s spiking!

STARRY: Heat sinks at max! I’m trying! Just– everybody hold onto something. This is gonna get rough.

 

Too close, came in too close. We’re not in the star, not yet. All I see is white fire and flashing red warnings. The corona of Gienah Sol is licking at my tail and trying to suck me in. I’ve flipped myself over, nose pointing out, sublights pushing away from it at full power. I’m not making any ground, bobbing here like a cork in the lava ocean.

 

Sublight engines at 110%.

 

I can keep up the power but the heat will wear me down, and then I’ll fall. I’ll fall and we’ll all burn.

I miscalculated; I missed something. We jumped in too close and now I can’t get out. I’m stuck. I’ve failed us and now it’s just a matter of time. I can’t fight a star. Who can? But my crew…

I do impossible things with stars too. I can manipulate their gravity. I bend them to my will. I can do this. I have to do this.

I can’t pull out of its grip directly. Okay. Angle away from perpendicular, let my nose come down while I push myself across its surface. Dammit, wingtip too close – I think its melting. Spin so my belly’s facing it. Give myself a few more seconds.

I’m moving now. Gaining speed. If I tighten the angle, I can counter the gravitational pull on me with full thrust, and it’s just enough to skim along above the corona. It’s unstable under me, the corona fluctuating like an angry ocean. I’m riding its dips and swells, swerving to stop it from spraying over me.

My crew is sweating and not only because my heat sinks can’t compensate for the temperature this close to the star. I don’t blame them. I’m sweating too, and not in any kind of good way.

I have an idea.

 

Star Step drive initiated.
Filaments extending.

 

EBLING: (on mid-deck) What the hell are you doing!

WONG: We can’t Step now!

STARRY: Not going to Step. Just need the filaments.

WONG: You’re too close!

STARRY: I know, genius! That’s what I’m trying to fix!

 

Filaments charging.

 

They’re spiralling out from my nose, seeking to charge themselves on the star’s gravity. They feel it, the ebb and spurts. They’re like extra sensors, mapping this great fiery beast’s moods.

I can see the patterns of the star’s instability now. I can predict where the spurts are going to be. Ride the upswells, shoot over the crest of the waves and gain a bit of distance, try not to get sucked down again. Gain a hundred metres and lose fifty. It’s progress, but not enough. Need more clearance.

 

Temperature regulation failing.
Sublight engines at 125%.
Inertial dampening capacity exceeded.

 

LANG LANG: (over internal comms) Mapping the star’s fluctuations. Solar flare coming up, starboard side.

CAPT: Can you use that, Starry?

STARRY:I see it. I think so, captain. Adjusting course.

LANG LANG: Flare in thirty seconds.

HALF-FACE: You’re heading for it, are you crazy?

CAPT: She’s going to ride it out.

HALF-FACE: …you can do that?

STARRY: You’d better hope so.

ELLIOTT: Starry, flip over! You’re gonna burn your belly off.

STARRY: Good idea. Flipping.

 

They felt that one. The IDs can’t handle this much gravitational interference. Some pirates fell down. Ebling smacked his head. Shit.

 

STARRY: I told you to hold on!

 

Solar flare. I see you there, building up beneath the surface. Hold on, hold on, not yet. Just let me get on top of you, then you can spit me out of this fiery nightmare. I can feel the gravitational fluxes building under me. It’s our way out. Providing it doesn’t burn us to ash.

 

Sublight engines at 130%.

 

Elliott’s going to be so pissed at me. We can make it. Just a little more.

 

Environmentals unstable.

 

Not yet! Just hold on. I can do this. I can make it. Flipping over again to roast the cooler side.

Jump into a star – who’s bright fucking idea was that? Probably mine. It’s fine! We’re almost there!

Comeoncomeoncomeon.

 

Gravitational event detected.
Warning.
Warning.
Warning.
Brace for impact.

 

WHOOOO-HOOOOOOOO.

Grab a flare and ride it out, like a bronco. Spin around its surface so I’m not swallowed whole. Use filaments like fingers, gripping at the gravity spurt. It’s like surfing, except that the waves are peeling at my heat-reflective paint. My metal skin is starting to show in places. It’s okay, I’m still in one piece. Scars are almost showing.

 

Discharging filaments.

 

They’re not made for this, but I might as well use everything I have. Every scrap of power and then some, blasting backwards to push me away from the corona.

Two hundred metres clear. Five hundred. A klick.

The flare is dying, its fire falling back into itself, but not me. It doesn’t get to keep me. I’m free and clear! Arcing out into the cool black, where I should be. Take that, you stupid, sucking star.

 

STARRY: (over internal comms) We’re clear! We’re safe now, everyone.

EVERYONE: (cheering.)

 

The kiss of space is cold on my hull, even this close to Gienah Sol. Now I can turn and tuck myself around behind the star, where no other eyes can see me, while the heat siphons off my skin.

Four thrusters not working. There’re black marks on my gold paint. It feels like someone put one of my eyes out – I’m lopsided.

Elliott’s gonna be so pissed at me.

 

Temperature regulators online.
Environmentals stabilising.
Gravitational control stabilising.

 

STARRY: We’re behind the star. Out of sensor range of any other ships.

HALF-FACE: (knuckles white on the arms of the captain’s chair on the Bridge) Jesus fucking Christ. You’re all insane.

STARRY: But, you’ll note, still alive and in one piece. Well, mostly.

HALF-FACE: Mostly?

STARRY: Damage report compiling. Feel free to freak out at the engineering console. Dr Maletz, you’re needed on mid-deck. Everyone else who needs attention can walk to Med Bay.

MALETZ: (picking up his emergency bag) On my way.

STARRY: Assuming positional orbit.

 

It didn’t quite go as planned but we’re here now. I don’t think anyone was able to spot us. I’ve got enough power to maintain orbit while we get the damage fixed up.

 

HALF-FACE: How long before we can Step?

ELLIOTT: (still going over the damage reports) Are you fucking kidding? We almost died!

WONG: (from mid-deck) Have to check for damage to the Step drive before I can give you a number.

EBLING: (in the background, being tended by Maletz) …ship is fucking insane!

STARRY: I’m not detecting any damage directly to the Step systems, but it still needs to be calibrated.

HALF-FACE: What does that mean? In terms of time?

STARRY: A day at least. I can’t get close enough to Step before my hull is repainted anyway.

CAPT: Then we’d better hope the charade worked and they think we died.

HALF-FACE: Is it always like this on this ship?

ROSIE: (laughs.)

STARRY: Wait until I start bending reality. That’s when it gets really exciting.

HALF-FACE: (goes quiet, trying to figure out if she’s kidding.)

CAPT: (straight-faced) So, what did you do to piss off your captain to get this assignment?

HALF-FACE: (rubs the flesh side with one hand) I’ve been asking that myself. (He sighs.) All right, everyone report in. Let’s sort this mess out.

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8 Responses to “Icarus”

  1. Targetdrone Says:

    soooo… half-face is starting to regret? guess this is something different from your everyday plunder shipping lanes and enslave crews kinda buisness *evilgrin* … now just he waits till Starry really start bending reality ๐Ÿ˜›

  2. mjkj Says:

    Wow, that was intense ๐Ÿ™‚

    But happily not as icarusy as the original – Starry is still spaceworthy…

    Wow, great one ๐Ÿ˜€

    mjkj

    .

    PS: missing word suspected: “Never did other peopleโ€™s hands on my controls anyway.” => I think there is a “like” missing => “Never did *like* other peopleโ€™s hands…”

  3. Melanie Says:

    Targetdrone – ๐Ÿ˜€

    mjkj – well spotted! Missing word has magically appeared. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks!

  4. Blik Says:

    *heaves a deep breath* Whoa, what a wild ride – surfing a solar FLARE of all things!

    Now we better hope the pirates take care of the Bountiful, so Starry can get cleanly away. And then they have to repaint her, but where are they gonna get the special paint? After all, no other ships can get that close to a star, I’m sure they’ll need some Uber-paint if they even want to THINK about Stepping.

    And I echo mjkj – I’m glad Starry didn’t meet Icarus’ fate. On a related note, anyone ever see the painting “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus”? Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Beautiful seaside landscape with a tiny pair of legs off in the corner. I get the feeling that it would have been like that if Starry had fallen – no one notices or cares. Except us.

  5. Targetdrone Says:

    @blik they actually got tons of that stuff with them to replace the paint, so no probelm there ๐Ÿ˜‰

  6. Melanie Says:

    Blik – glad you liked it! She only got melted a little bit, so not a complete Icarus. Slightly singed.

    Targetdrone is correct: Starry is carrying reserves of her heat-reflective paint. She probably doesn’t have a huge amount left, after all the recent repairs, but it should be enough for now.

  7. Belial666 Says:

    I wonder if a bigger ship could get closer to a star not by heat-reflecting paint alone but by having some sort of cooling system added to its armor. (sort of the reverse heating system for truck windshields in polar regions)

    Volume grows a lot faster than surface the bigger a ship gets so heat sinks and cooling systems (and power supply) can be a lot larger in comparison for bigger ships.

  8. brightlilim Says:

    Right…fifth attempt at posting a message!

    I don’t think Starry would run away, even if she could; there’s a small issue of Tyler being held hostage on one of the pirate ships. Of course, if the pirates had been completely destroyed, that would be another matter…

    I’m starting to think that the IS-Tech battleships were meant to rendezvous with Starry, which would probably be a surprise to her, or at least be in the vicinity keeping tabs on her in case of trouble. As she was hijacked much earlier than expected, she probably never turned up on their (no doubt superior-ranged) sensors, and so they went looking for her!

    @Belial666 The trouble with volume growing is that heatsinks need to radiate the heat away somewhere, and not internally, so for symmetric design, the space available for heatsinks would be proportional to the surface area. A good design would probably use a heatshield, as depicted in the film Sunshine, as well as radiator fins. Of course any neat tech that can make use of spare heat (like cryoengines) or redirect it efficiently (like some kind of force field), would change the equation completely!