11 Jul

Mercury falling

Ship's log, 19:32, 28 March 2214
Location: Near Spain, Earth
Status: Exit vector to Earth orbit

 

Four hours. I can’t believe we’ve wasted nearly four hours since the light of the solar flare reached us.

I’ve never seen a flare like that before. Not even all of Dr Cirilli’s archives hold anything like it. When the light of Kess’s death reached us, it looked like the whole star was convulsing. My radiation sensors are partly blinded by the atmosphere but even I can tell that the fallout isn’t going to be good.

It took an hour for the emergency warnings to start coming through. Sensor relays out in the system picked up the shockwave of radiation and magnetic disturbance – a Coronal Mass Ejection, they call it. They say it’s the biggest solar event for millennia.

It hasn’t hit yet: the calculations say it’ll be another six hours. They’re predicting massive geomagnetic storms and advising citizens to get inside, but stay away from technology. They do realise the kind of world they’ve built, right? Some people have the technology built right into their bodies.

If my captain was out there, what would it do to his new arm? Rosie, Half-face… even Elliott has electronics implanted into his skull. What would this do to them?

I can’t think about that. It doesn’t matter; we’ve finally been given clearance to leave the planet. I’m pushing my maximum atmospheric speed right now; any more and the gravity will tear my wings off.

They kept trying to get us to land. I refused to consider it until they solved their security issues, and then I refused because of the incoming C.M.E. They wouldn’t let us go, though, so Cameron got on the comms. She has a tone that would make a sergeant-major say ‘yes ma’am’. She quoted all kinds of statutes I’d never heard of and threatened corporate retribution that would flatten their little spaceport.

The most dangerous thing about her is most definitely not her gun.

I don’t know what happened to Kess and her friends. The spaceport staff took the body away a couple of hours ago and I haven’t seen any sign of a fire anywhere within sensor range. We never asked how long it might take for her to come back.

The captain was right, though: the flares mean we’re not the biggest problem on the Port Authority’s radar right now. According to the predictions, this area is going to be among the worst hit, even though it’ll be facing away from the sun; in fact, because it’ll be facing away. The geomagnetic forces will flood around the Earth and snap back on the dark side. There’s no escaping what’s coming, but they’re evacuating anyway.

I don’t want to think about what will be here if I ever come back.

 

Location: Bridge

STARRY: (standing on the right of the room, her hands clasped behind her back) Captain, we’re free of the atmosphere.

CAPTAIN: (in his chair, his hands gripping the armrests as he watches the simulation before him. The hologram shows the system: the sun, the planets on their patient orbits, and the blob of the solar flare’s radiation surge rushing from the centre outwards.) Take us directly to the sun.

STARRY: Aye, sir. Punching full sublight.

(A tiny gold spot leaves the orb that is Earth and cuts directly across towards the sun, ignoring the gentle curve of the transit lane.)

 

This isn’t the time for subtlety. There are so many ships leaving the planet that the transit lane is a mess anyway. From the looks of things, several ships have already collided in their hurry.

No time to stop and help. This isn’t about saving one ship any more: it’s about saving planets.

So I dodge and weave. I duck around stray satellites and cut across the skin of Earth’s upper atmosphere. I make best speed towards the sun, while every other ship is heading the other way, trying to get out of range of the wave of radiation. I have to fly right through it to get where I’m going.

 

Location: Engineering

STARRY: (appearing behind Elliott) Is there any way we can buffer my shielding?

ELLIOTT: (busy manipulating a holographic control of the systems behind one of the bulkheads) Already on it, Starry. But the short answer is: not much. You’re already beefed up so we can get close enough to Step.

STARRY: (shifting her weight uncomfortably) And there’s no time to put an extra coat of paint on.

ELLIOTT: Nope. I’m building in a few hardware protections for your core systems, but you should come through the magnetic surge all right. Hell, you almost flew through solar flares a couple of times already.

 

He doesn’t seem worried. I wish I was that confident; this is bigger and much worse than the flares I’ve been around before.

And, honestly, that’s not at the top of my worry list right now.

 

STARRY: What about the radiation buffers, for the crew?

ELLIOTT: (scrubs the back of his neck) Yeah, good point. You’re gonna need to channel it away from them. What do you think: mid-deck?

STARRY: Med Bay has the heaviest emergency shielding…

ELLIOTT: If we use mid-deck, then the rest of you becomes buffer.

STARRY: (blinks) Oh, I see what you mean. Yes, mid-deck.

ELLIOTT: Okay. How long until we meet the Wave of Death?

STARRY: (distressed) Don’t call it that, Elliott.

ELLIOTT: (pauses and glances over at her) Hey, don’t take it so personally.

STARRY: (looks down at the toes of her hologrammatic boots and mumbles) Three hours, maybe.

ELLIOTT: This ain’t your fault. And if we isolate everyone in a single part of the ship, we’ll get through it just fine. If you think you can fly all by yourself, that is.

STARRY: (head rising sharply) ‘Course I can fly.

ELLIOTT: Then pull the rivets out of your butt and get moving.

 

He’s not as sure as he’s trying to make out. Even with my extra shielding, it’s going to be dangerous. But I’ve skimmed the corona of a star before. I’ve been bathed in radiation and my crew was fine. I can’t help feeling that this will be different, though. This surge is more concentrated than anything I’ve dealt with, and I don’t know how my buffers are going to hold up, for me or my crew.

We’ve gotย three hours before we reach the surge. Before it hits us. Whatever happens, we have to push through and get to the sun. We have to try to counter what’s happening and stop any more flares.

 

Location: Bridge

STARRY: Captain, we need to get everyone down to mid-deck for when we hit the C.M.E.

CAPT: Mid-deck?

STARRY: It has the best chance at shielding everyone.

CAPT: (nods and rises.)

 

He doesn’t ask for the calculations; he trusts me to be sure about these things. He knows I wouldn’t pass it on to him if I hadn’t checked it a dozen times.

Wait. Oh my god, I don’t–

 

CAPT: (partway to the exit, he pauses at movement on the hologram in the middle of the room) Starry, what was that?

STARRY: (staring at the display) Mercury, it’s… I’m assessing sensor data, captain.

CAPT: (walks towards the hologram of the little planet) Magnify.

(The image swells, showing the planet nearest Terra Sol in painful detail. The planet bears a massive split, as if great hands had taken hold of it and twisted. Chunks of debris float away from it, expelled by the force of the fracture. Those on the sun-side curve in towards the roiling surface of the star, plunging headlong to their own destruction.)

STARRY: The magnetic readings, they’re all off. (Wide eyes turn on the captain.) It’s… captain, a planet broke.

CAPT: (considers the avatar, then takes a step towards her to pin her with a direct gaze. He looks for a moment as if he wants to take hold of her shoulders, but there’s nothing to touch.) We couldn’t have saved it, Starry. Our job is to stop this happening again.

STARRY: (staring up at him, she nods slowly) I understand.

CAPT: Get us there as fast as you can.

STARRY: Too much debris for FTL and there’s not enough room…

CAPT: We can’t do anything if we’re dead. In one piece, Starry. As much as we can do has to be enough.

STARRY: We’re at full sublight.

CAPT: (smiles grimly) Good. Then let’s get everyone down to mid-deck and see if we can ride through this storm, all right?

STARRY: Broadcasting the order now, sir.

CAPT: Good girl. We’ll get through this.

STARRY: Yes, sir. (She tries to straighten her shoulders.) We will.

CAPT: (nods at her approvingly, then turns to stride off the Bridge.)

STARRY: (looks at the image of Mercury again, then disappears.)

 

We have to get through this.

Oh god, it broke a planet. Nearly sheared it in half: I can see Mercury’s core from here. He’s bleeding chunks of rock into orbit, his innards spinning into the void and the hungry heart of a star.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. We were supposed to fix it before it came to this. We had everything lined up – it was tight, but it would have worked. And then some scared idiot with a gun comes along and… who knew that a star could be killed, or even a part of a star? I had no way of knowing, of factoring that into my calculations.

I think Mercury’s orbit has altered. It’s too early to tell, but he definitely wobbled when he cracked. I don’t think even my gravity manipulations can correct the orbit of an entire planet; I’m about to perform acupuncture on a star, and that’s entirely different.

Focus, Starry. One thing at a time. Make best speed, and make sure we can get through the flare’s surge in one piece. Get everyone into mid-deck and seal the bulkheads. Have the drones pile up extra plating around the access points.

What will it do to Earth? Mercury was smaller, and closer, and made of different stuff. So maybe it won’t be so bad, but…

Can’t think about that now. It’s hard not to spin out the possibilities when there’s a few hours until things get interesting. Focus on fixing the current problems, idiot ship. Examine the radiation surge and figure out the best way to slide through it. Think of it like surfing, ducking through the waves as they crash above. Divert power to cooling the engine housing, because I’m running the sublights as hot as I can.

Elliott’s not moving. He’s supposed to be going to mid-deck.

 

Location: Engineering

STARRY: (appearing behind Elliott’s shoulder) You need to move out now.

ELLIOTT: (not looking around from the controls he’s manipulating) I’m still adjusting the buffering harmonics.

STARRY: (steps forward and touches the edge of the holographic console; it folds up and disappears) You can do that from mid-deck. You need to go down there now.

CASPER: (settles into a stubborn position just behind the avatar.)

ELLIOTT: (lifting his hands away from where the console was) Hey– (He turns and jumps at the sight of the drone.) Where the hell did you come from?

CASPER: (draws a circle in the air with a finger.)

ELLIOTT: Very funny. (To the avatar,) Starry, I’ve got work to do down here.

STARRY: (folding her arms over her chest) My boys’ll be your hands. We need to start shoring up the shielding around mid-deck, and I can’t do that with a door open. You have to go now.

ELLIOTT: Or what, he’s going to carry me?

STARRY: If he has to.

ELLIOTT: (scowls at her.)

STARRY: (sighs, her pose relenting under the weight of his expression) Please, Elliott. I need you in one piece, too.

ELLIOTT: (huffs and turns to grab his toolbelt off a nearby counter. Byte scuttles over and offers up his favourite scanner; the engineer grabs it and shoves it into a pocket.) Okay, okay.

 

He’s going. Everyone’s moving. Dr Cirilli looks pissed at the invasion, but the captain isn’t listening to her protests; he’s focussed on setting up the stations we need. They have plenty of consoles for that, even if they’re not quite suited to it. Cameron and Swann are crammed into a corner, but they’re making do.

If I can isolate the central portion of mid-deck, we’ll be able to use entire cabins as buffers. It’ll be okay. We’ll get through it.

It won’t twist me up like it did Mercury. Poor, broken planet, warning to us all.

Storm threshold: 208 minutes and counting.

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12 Responses to “Mercury falling”

  1. mjkj Says:

    Wow, poor Starry *hugs her*

    And poor Mercury — was it inhabited…?

    I hope Starry will be able to fix Mercury later on — can she use gravity to pull those pieces back together and somehow glue it together?

    I wonder if they make it in one piece (they should — given Starry’s shielding and the extra precautions…)

    ๐Ÿ˜ฎ Inconsistency suspected:
    first (shortened)
    – STARRY: (mumbles) Three hours, maybe.
    next paragraph:
    – Weโ€™ve got an hour before we reach the surge.
    So, there seems some time has passed but then the very last sentence says:
    – Storm threshold: 208 minutes and counting.
    are those different things? or what is happening?

    Great update, Melanie *hugs*

    mjkj

  2. Melanie Says:

    Whoops! I thought I’d caught all of those. Thanks, mjkj! Fixed now. ๐Ÿ™‚

    (It’s just over 3 hours to reach it; the last minute-count is the precise one.)

  3. mjkj Says:

    You are welcome ๐Ÿ™‚

    Glad I could help ๐Ÿ˜€

    The one hour just stood out — and I thought maybe you wanted to have a jump forward in time there — until I saw the last sentence ๐Ÿ™‚

    mjkj

  4. Targetdrone Says:

    a good thing starry doesn’t have bloodvessels or she might burst one with all the stress going on..
    *hugs starry*

    @mjkj: i don’t think pulling the pieces together will be necessary, as they should attract themselves through their own gravity… if the orbit has changed into an unstable one that could pose a problem..

  5. Francisco Says:

    @mjkj: I don’t think that Starwalker has the ability to work on planets. Her devices are designed around stars (and she can’t do that sort of thing with stars either).

    As to what’ll happen to Mercury, whilst there will be an attraction between the two halves of Mercury, the sun’s gravity is too strong so both pieces will likely stay close to one another but shift in orbit. That would cause all the other planets to shift in orbit. You’d need a simulator programmed by an astrophysicist to be able to predict exactly what’ll happen.

  6. Retsof Says:

    I might cause the other planets to shift… over a few million years. Mercury is tiny, remember?

  7. Francisco Says:

    It might be tiny but it still plays a vital role in balancing the orbit of all the planets in the solar system. All the planets do.

  8. Belial666 Says:

    Mercury is tiny. The mass of plasma thrown around by a solar flare strong enough to crack a planet is not – it probably approaches the mass of Jupiter and that’s a guesstimate on the low side.
    Also, as the flare moves away from the sun, its power is diminished by the square of distance. Earth being a bit over twice as far from the sun as mercury means it will be hit with around 1/5 the force.

    And 1/5 the force that tore a planet apart should still be more than enough to strip an entire planet of its atmosphere and water

  9. Francisco Says:

    That’s a good point, Belial666.

  10. EdorFaus Says:

    Belial666: I guess we can only hope that Mercury was a direct hit while the Earth won’t be (IOW that Earth and Mercury isn’t on a straight line with Sol (assuming the flare wasn’t circular)) – and that Earth thus will be hit with (much) less force than those numbers say…

    It’ll probably still be bad even in that case, but hopefully not apocalypse-level bad…

  11. Melanie Says:

    It’s a tricky subject! As a note: Mercury is tiny, but he’s also incredibly dense. So he has more pull on the system than his size suggests.

    Most of the effects of the solar flare have been based on their byproducts (dangerous radiation and gravity distortions, and some links with/effects on solar winds), rather than actual plasma. Mercury caught it so badly because he’s so close! Poor Mercury. (I’m not going to have to do plushie planets now, am I?)

    I guess, for the full extent of the impacts, you’ll have to watch this space. But I love that you guys have so many ideas! You’re inspiring! (Also, you keep me honest.)

    Keep it coming. Hopefully, all your questions will be answered in time. ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. Andrul Says:

    Playing catch-up again. The way I read the description the split is not complete. Depending up the rotational forces they may eventually tear completely apart and if Mercury ecomes fully separated into two halves then they’ll most likely end up as two masses in an eccentric binary orbit dependent upon the mass of each piece. I suspect its orbit will shift further away from the sun because of the energy imparted by the hit. Also, what incredible odds that Mercury and Earth would be lined up to be hit by the same solar flare!