18 Jul

Ripples

Ship's log, 22:17, 29 March 2214
Location: Orbit around Terra Sol, Home system
Status: Maintaining orbit

 

It is done. I am smoking and glowing in places I shouldn’t, but I’ve done everything I can here.

I can’t begin to describe the past day. I thought about starting up a log a thousand times, but there was no space for words. No time to think or reflect. There was just doing and hoping, and trying not to look back.

It has been so hard not to look behind me. Not to wonder how Earth is faring. Not to peek at the shock-wave rippling over Venus, or Mars, or any of the other planets. Not to measure Mercury’s falter and try to simulate what effect it’ll have.

There has been no time for that and I’m glad. On the one hand, I want to know; on the other, the thought makes me feel sick. Which is impressive, considering that I don’t have a stomach or guts or any ability to vomit even if I want to. I could vent some waste but it’s not at all the same.

I held the captain’s words in my head to keep me on course: our job is to stop this happening again. As much as we can do has to be enough. I can’t change what’s happening on Earth. I can’t save them. But I can do this.

None of us have slept for the past two days. I’m used to it, because I never sleep, but my crew are feeling the strain. I sent them all to bed half an hour ago, promising to monitor everything closely and wake them if needed. I’m doing my best not to need them right away; they need to rest.

I thought getting past the surge of radiation and gravity was the hard part, but that was over surprisingly quickly. The bulk of the Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) wasn’t aimed directly for Earth (I spent twenty minutes re-checking calculations to be sure of that, though as these things go, it’s a small mercy), but it was wide enough to be in my flight path. Which means it was wide enough to impact the planet. It’s hard not to think about that.

Anyway. I swung around to the upper left quadrant to slide through the side of the swell and across the CME’s wake. It was still dangerous: the ride was rough and my inertial dampeners struggled to balance out the impact on my innards. My crew clung to the bulkheads and, in some cases, each other. I twisted and fought my way through. The tide tried to bowl me over and sweep me under. I was flooded with radiation, but it didn’t penetrate mid-deck’s protected sections. That part of our plan worked perfectly.

Pushing through the CME took a roiling couple of minutes, and then it was over. My hull felt like it had been scoured by a huge, sand-papery hand, and I was warm in all the wrong places, but I was through. My sensors were clear and I finally got a good look at Terra Sol. And I knew that we’d just done the easy bit.

Terra Sol was bucking like a pain-whipped stallion. Tides tore across her surface; pressure fronts collided and lashed out at the universe. If there was sound in space, I think she’d have been screaming. When I reached her, I sped to where another flare was building and opened a tiny portal, enough to cause a backlash that pushed the flare back down again. The pressure had to go somewhere, so no sooner had I sealed off that portal than I was rushing on to the next point, charging up the filaments as I went.

That was the pattern for the next few hours: weave filaments, push open a tiny portal, measure the shockwaves, close it off, and scurry on to the next point before something slipped out of control. There was no time to catch my breath; there were always more waves to counter, more spots that darkened or brightened or needed to be balanced. I was a novice with an acupuncture needle, desperately trying to head off disaster, relieve pressure, and cancel out the awful tides at the same time.

My crew fell into patterns without really trying, crammed into mid-deck so closely they merged into each other. It was like their hearts beat in sync and they were one machine, part of me, my arms and hands and eyes. My SecOffs watched my sensor readings in case the gravity surges or Mercury’s debris passed too close. Dr Valdimir watched the crew’s vital signs to make sure the radiation wasn’t affecting them. Elliott monitored my systems for overloads and radiation venting. Ebling and Cirilli were watching the wave patterns for spikes and forming flares. Lang Lang was running the longer simulations and plugging in the algorithms we’d created, so we could move from putting out fires to calming the tides.

Eventually, the emergencies eased and we shifted into a less reactionary mode. Cirilli moved over to help Lang Lang with the predictive models that would help us to heal the star. Ripples and counter-ripples, dropping stones into the pond with needle-point precision. The flare build-up eased off and we were able to keep the crashing waves under some kind of control. In the last few hours, it was more about nudging tides in a direction less likely to cause clashes.

We had a few close calls. I had to push the safety boundaries too many times: skimming the sun’s boiling corona to get to the next flare point; dipping in close enough to open a portal at the right distance; straining my engines to get into position in time. I had to back off a few times to vent heat and radiation before diving in again. Dr Valdimir says he’s going to give everyone anti-radiation meds, just in case.

I’m trying not to think about what effect the radiation might have had on my structure and integrity. My diagnostics are coming back clear, but sometimes that kind of thing doesn’t show itself right away. Elliott was gruff about it, scowling at his favourite hand-unit like it had offended him. When we called a halt to the work, I didn’t want to let the crew out of their protected space on mid-deck, but the captain insisted. Anti-radiation meds would be enough, he said, and if there’s damage, we’ll get warning before anything fails. And besides, there weren’t enough beds on mid-deck.

Running diagnostics again. Probably be hours, even days, before I can tell anything. No harm in having them ticking over in the meantime, just in case.

I’m still running tight monitoring sweeps of the star’s surface as I circle her slowly. There hasn’t been anything that looked like it might breach the corona for the past hour; that was how we decided it was time to stop our work. The tides are moving, swishing in a slow churn. Looks almost like a normal star.

It’s hard to believe it’s really over. Maybe she’s just catching her breath. Maybe something will tip her over again. Could we really have fixed her? It took longer than we had predicted, but she was worse than the models we worked from and it’s not like we have any real historical data to base this on anyway. No-one has ever rebalanced a star like this before. Have they? How do we know if it has worked? Do I just sit here and wait? How long is long enough?

I’ll just sit here and chew on my virtual nails, and be glad of the break that lets my crew sleep. They need it.

Sometimes, I miss sleeping.

I wonder if Kess has come back yet. I wonder if her friends are still there with her.

I’m passing by the Earth-side of the star now. Just keep focussed on the sensor sweeps, silly ship; there’s nothing you can do for the planet. It’s not within sensor range, not really, and it’s too soon to be sure the acupuncture is going to stick.

There hasn’t even been a distress beacon from the planet. A few from damaged ships, gone as quickly as they appeared, but not transmission I expected. The system is eerily silent.

I can pick up the light reflected back by the planet. I can see her, just make out her blue-green marble. Actually, it looks bluer than ever right now. It’s prettier, but not familiar that way…

Oh, shit, the satellites. The clutter of space junk and satellites that created a layer around the planet, dirtying up the sky: it’s gone. Knocked out of orbit and… into the planet? Did they rain down? Bounce away? Did they take the brunt of the CME, or were they just the fore-runners?

Don’t look, Starry, don’t look. There’s nothing you can do. There’s not even a ripple across the darkness to call you in to help. Here is where you’re needed. Your crew is safe and sleeping, and they’re what matter. They’re all that matters.

Why, then, do I ache? Its as if my bulkheads are still glowing, like over-irradiated bones trying to push out from under my skin.

Maybe I’ll go scan the other side of the star for a while. It’s quieter there, away from Earth’s blank stare and Mercury’s limping orbit. It’s easier to think I might not have failed.

I’m going to listen to the heartbeats of the ten people slumbering in my arms, and remind myself that without us, it would all have been so much worse.

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6 Responses to “Ripples”

  1. mjkj Says:

    Awww…

    *hugs and comforts Starry*

    Poor Starry definitely need hugs…

    mjkj

    .
    PS: Melanie, it would be nice if you would explain abbreviations they first show up each page: CME (Coronal Mass Ejection); šŸ™‚ since the last read is at least a week old and not everybody is a native English speaker… šŸ˜‰

  2. Melanie Says:

    Whoops! I had meant to do that, mjkj, sorry! Fixed now. šŸ™‚

    *hugs!*

  3. mjkj Says:

    šŸ˜€ No problem, Melanie šŸ™‚

    *returns hugs* šŸ˜€

    mjkj

    .
    (PS: It would be even more obvious if you would put the CME in brackets after the first mention of Coronal Mass Ejection)

  4. eduardo Says:

    Only question that remains: will they find a way to make the step drive work while not destroying stars?

  5. mjkj Says:

    I hope so…

    …maybe even calm down stars while stepping…

    mjkj

  6. Andrul Says:

    Obviously now that they are aware of the problem they can probably “fix” any disturbance they cause after the step before continuing on their journey and would still be saving lots of time. However, now that they are aware of stars being sentient there’s a moral issue. How would we feel if somebody could randomly walk up, tear a kidney out, say excuse me and put it back in? Combine that with the problems of people knowing that time travel is possible and you’ve got a whole nest egg of “Oh Schieze!”