01 Aug

The fate of stars

Ship's log, 09:00, 3 April 2214
Location: Orbit around Terra Sol, Home system
Status: Maintaining orbit

 

The captain hasn’t told us why he wants everyone together but they’re coming anyway. It was hard to prise some of them away from their consoles: Elliott and Lang Lang in particular, and, oddly, Dr Cirilli. But I find that disabling their consoles and having a drone looming nearby gets people moving.

The captain has been sitting in his chair on the Bridge for fifteen minutes, greeting everyone calmly as they enter the room. Left to himself, his expression slides down into a thoughtfulness so deep I’d almost call it brooding. The fingers of his right hand rub together when he’s not paying attention; I wonder if that’s something to do with the changes they made when they reattached his arm or if he’s just nervous.

Everyone’s here now. I have chairs for them all: the central ring of Bridge stations and additional seats around the edge of the room. They’re all turned inwards, and their murmurs fall silent as the last of them – Dr Valdimir – sinks into his seat.

 

Location: Bridge

CAPTAIN: (clears his throat and sits straighter) Let’s get straight to it, shall we? We’ve all seen what’s happening with Earth, and I know I’m not the only one who wishes we could offer our aid.

(There are a few shuffles among the crew, mute signals of assent, but no-one speaks.)

CAPT: (looking around the room slowly) You all know the position we’re in, with the Judiciary overseeing the rescue and recovery efforts. You know what we risk if we try to help. But though it may not seem like it, we have already done the most important thing we could have done in this emergency. Lang Lang, if you please?

LANG LANG: (nods and activates the console in front of her. A moment later, a hologram appears in the middle of the Bridge, an image of Terra Sol with her planets circling her.) This is… when the flare happened.

(The star ripples convulsively and a spurt erupts from its side. With painful inevitability, the shockwave strikes Mercury, creating a rift in the tiny planet, and then continues outwards to batter at Earth. Around the Bridge, expressions are grim and unhappy.)

LANG LANG: We arrived shortly after this time. But if we had not, this is what would have happened.

(Another flare surges out of the sun’s surface, aiming past the planets, though its wake washes over them and disrupts the transit lanes. A third flare splits Mercury clean in half along the faultline opened up by the first one. The fourth destroys a swathe of ships gathering to help Earth. Another punches a hole into Venus’s side and spills gases into the void.)

CAPT: (quietly) Thank you, that’s enough, Lang Lang.

LANG LANG: (nods and quickly halts the simulation. A chunk of red earth freezes partway through being chipped off Mars.)

CAPT: We all wish that we could help those in trouble right now. The truth is that we’ve already helped more than any of those gathered around Earth will know. Because of us, they have something left to save.

(Around the Bridge, eyes pull away from the frozen simulation and up to the captain again.)

 

He’s right. Of course he is; he’s the captain.

I already knew we had helped. My broad calculations said that it would have been a lot worse if we hadn’t worked so hard to suppress the flares and balance out the tides. But just making it ‘not worse’ didn’t feel like an important difference, not like saving lives would have been. Not like doing something would have been. But now, seeing that… seeing what might have been if we hadn’t acted…

We made all the difference in the world.

 

STARRY: (from the front of the Bridge, the avatar walks up and touches the frozen simulation of destruction. The hologram shatters into light motes that fall to the deck, to bounce and trickle into nothing.)

CAPT: We’ve done everything we can here. Dr Cirilli, you tell me that we only need to stay another two days to ensure that the changes we made to the star stick?

DR CIRILLI: (nods stiffly) That’s correct.

CAPT: Then that’s what we’ll do. After that, there are other stars that need our help. We have to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again. And we’ll have to go the long way; we won’t wait for another crisis before we act.

ROSIE: (surprised) No more Stepping?

CAPT: We can’t risk undoing all our work here.

CIRILLI: (says nothing, but looks tense.)

ROSIE: (nods and subsides, seeming satisfied.)

CAPT: Now, I know that some of you have family down on Earth. We will try to get word of them before we leave the system.

STARRY: I’ve contacted a couple of civilian ships but the authorities aren’t releasing casualty or survivor lists yet. Word is that communications are down all over the planet, so it might be a while before there’s any reliable information.

CAPT: The plan is to complete the ident fix and return to this system when we have finished the repairs on the stars. We’ll search for word of your families then.

STARRY: If you make sure I have the details of any family you have on Earth, I’ll scan any reports I find for them.

CAPT: (nods towards the avatar) Good. Starry and Lang Lang, plot us the shortest FTL routes between the stars we need to visit, please. Include Dyne if you can, to fix the ident.

LANG LANG and STARRY: (nod in acknowledgement.)

CAMERON: What about Grisette?

CAPT: (hesitates, glancing towards Cirilli.)

CIRILLI: (frown tugging) Grisette’s death is part of our history now. We don’t know what changing the timeline will do, or even if we can. And it would be pointless unless we find a way to Step without damaging the stars, or we’d undo all of our work as soon as we Stepped back to this time.

ROSIE: But hey, if we can fix her, we could go back and fix all this shit, right?

 

Rosie’s right: if we can change history, then we could go back and prevent Terra Sol’s flare from damaging this system. Save Earth before it needed saving. Maybe even prevent Kess from dying at all.

But how would that work? How would we do that without meeting ourselves? We’ve crossed our own timeline before; that’s how this project started. Cirilli saw me enter and leave this system forty years ago, saw the ship her future self was riding on. So if we go back to fix this, we would already have seen ourselves and it would have been fixed. Dammit, I can feel my processors overheating already. I can’t even figure out the right tense to talk about it in.

There’s something else the crew doesn’t know, too. I’m not sure how to tell them.

 

CAPT: (frowning at the avatar) Starry, what is it?

STARRY: (blinks, not realising how troubled she looked) Um. Well… when we Stepped to Grisette, I remember that her path was short.

CAPT: What does that mean?

STARRY: (turning to the centre of the room, she raises a hand and summons up a hologram. Golden spirals twine through the air, spinning out from a central point.) Outside the universe, I see everything. All of space and time. These paths, they’re every time and place a star is – was, will be – in its lifetime.

(The image zooms in on a single spiral and shows it made up of hundreds of images of a star, overlaid and offset to create a single, glowing thread.)

SWANN: You can see the history of the universe?

STARRY: Yup. It’s too much information to store, though, or even process fully.

EBLING: That’s why it needs a human… component. (He eyes the avatar briefly.)

STARRY: (ignores Ebling) But I do keep the navigational data from each Step. (The hologram shifts again, showing a long, slender thread and a shorter one. She points towards the long one first.) That’s Corsica. The short one is Grisette.

LANG LANG: (leaning forward in her seat to gaze into the image) She was always going to die so soon.

CIRILLI: Those readings are from before we Stepped?

STARRY: Mid-Step, but before we Stepped through Grisette, yes.

CAPT: So there’s no evidence that we have – or can – change history.

EBLING: No, none. These readings suggest the opposite.

CAPT: Then it’s our lowest priority. Dr Cirilli is right: there’s no point in trying unless we can find a way to prevent the Step from damaging the stars. We have stars we know we can save, so that’s where our energies have to be right now.

 

He sounds so sure. He’s not asking us; he’s commanding, the way a captain should. The crew is nodding. They’re sitting straight in their chairs, as if a weight has lifted off them. We have direction and hope. We might be a strange mix of people but I think we all want to do good things. We all want to know that we’re not doing harm. I’m not the only one who wants to be a good ship.

Having him there on my Bridge with the crew gathered around feels right. Suddenly, I’m proud of him. Proud to be his ship.

 

DOCTOR VALDIMIR: So what happens after that? We figure out how to Step without damaging stars?

CIRILLI: (frowns.)

EBLING: Of course.

DOC: How long will that take?

EBLING: Hard to say. This is new data and we’ve never tried to buffer a portal that way.

DOC: What about what you’re using it for now? Isn’t that close?

STARRY: (shaking her head) That’s using the impact of the portals to counteract the tidal flows. It’s not the same as stopping the portals from having an effect; it’s relying on that destructive effect.

CAPT: (watching Dr Cirilli, he holds up a hand for quiet) Lorena, what is it?

 

Oh. She does look like she’s holding something back. There’s something going on with her, behind the shutters she has drawn down over her expression. Whatever it is, she knows we won’t like it; her chin is lifted as if she’s tensed for a strike.

She’s looking around the room as if weighing each person, and there’s a darkness in her gaze. If I didn’t know her better, I’d say it was despair. How can she take no comfort from what the captain just showed us? Is it worry over her daughter, or is something else going on that we don’t know about?

She’s drawing herself up to speak. I’m within licking distance of the surface of a sun, but suddenly I’m cold all the way through.

What do you think of this post?
  • Love it (5)
  • OMG (1)
  • Hilarious (0)
  • Awww (0)

14 Responses to “The fate of stars”

  1. Francisco Says:

    I suspect that Dr Cirilli thinks that trying to counteract the tides won’t work or may even kill any avatars.

    I like the captain’s plan.

  2. mjkj Says:

    Wow, great — except for the cliff that hangs there at the very end 😛

    Great plan of the Captain he certainly succeeded in lifting the moods of the crew. 🙂

    I wonder what bomb Dr. Cirilli is about to drop on them…

    It is great to see Starry in good mood again. Especially her 😛 “I’m not the only one who wants to be a good ship.” 😀
    …well, we all are but ships 🙂

    *hugs her*

    *lol* Well, Ebling almost stepped on her “toes” there with his realisation of the “human… component” that is needed.. 🙂

    Thank you for the great update, Melanie *hugs*

    mjkj

  3. Targetdrone Says:

    hmm…

    someone ever thought about the rammifications of the step drive being able to make a star go nova? (or flare enough to destroy life in the system)

    i mean… so far only the judicary is searching for them… but…something like this could be weaponinzed…. and all of a sudden military, terrorists and what not would be interested in getting their hand on the technology…. after all, a test scenario has allready been provided … :p

  4. Francisco Says:

    Targetdrone, good point. The implications of what you say mean that they can’t go public.

  5. Francisco Says:

    On the other hand, if there’s no publicity there’re not enough people looking of the the shoulders of Isasimo Technologies to make sure that every device in the programme is destroyed.

    When it comes to science what one person has discovered, another would later (that’s inevitable). Therefore, it might be a better idea to publish all the data so that people know the risks and are aware of them.

  6. Melanie Says:

    mjkj – sorry about the cliffhanger! It was going to all be one scene, and then it got really long, and now next week’s is going to be something completely different to what I had originally planned, and… I promise it’s worth it. 😉

    And yes! Starry relates as if everyone is a ship. And she loves her crew. Glad you liked! Yay. 😀

    Targetdrone – shush! Wait till next week. 😉

    Francisco – you too! There might not be enough people looking over Is-Tech’s shoulder, but there seem to be plenty looking over mine while I’m writing!

    Seriously, you guys are awesome. I love where you take this stuff. I think next week’s post will answer at least some of your questions! 😀

  7. Francisco Says:

    We can’t help it if your work is so good that we relate to it as if it was real. 🙂

  8. Melanie Says:

    Awwww, shucks. 😀

  9. Medic Says:

    I can’t remember if this was brought up or not, but what about blackholes? White dwarfs? Black dwarfs (these are dead stars with no fire and not enough gravity to become a hole in space)? There are many gravity sources out there.

    Ooo! That just got me thinking, what would an avatar of a dwarf star look like? These are dead or nearly dead stars.

    Observation: The only way to kill the project comnpletely is to kill Ebling. Cirilly would quit working on the project as it seems to me that she would take the moral high ground. Ebling on the other hand is only worried about his own career progression and making himself look better than everyone else. He would re-start the project the moment everyone was looking away. I wouldn’t put it past him to have copies of all the data squirrled away somewhere.

  10. daymon34 Says:

    All caught up again.

    I wonder if Cirilly new about some of the forces but chose to not worry about them. Could be why she is so upset now, she took the quick and dirty route instead of making it clean.

  11. mjkj Says:

    Ah, well, I am sure I will survive it, Melanie 🙂

    I am glad you rarely use cliffhangers so once every while is ok.

    Hehehehe, yeah, Starry being a ship — that must have swayed her perception — she now sees all people as ships 😀

    *looking forward to the next update*

    mjkj

  12. Andrul Says:

    I love reading the story and hate it when I catch up. My memory’s not so great, do you have any plans to convert your story to ebook once it’s complete? I’d gladly buy a copy if you do.

  13. Melanie Says:

    Medic – you’re absolutely right! Lots of options, lots of possibilities. All of those are varying parts of a star’s life cycle, so… yes, what would their avatars be like? (I actually have an idea for this. Shhh, don’t tell anyone, but there might be a post-book-3 thing about Starry encountering one of those entities in my plans.)

    mjkj – aw good! I shall aim for teasers more than cliffhangers. I do try to keep my lovely readers happy! 😀

    Next update coming soon! I’m about to start posting it (it takes a while, so don’t hold your breath).

    Andrul – yes! I’ve got a few projects on my plate at the moment, but I’m starting to think about editing the first book and pulling together some e-books. Maybe when all three books are done. But there will definitely be e-books. 🙂

  14. mjkj Says:

    Yayy for ebooks 😀