Ship's log, 06:30, 16 May 2214 Location: Orbit around Corsica Sol, Corsica system Status: Star Step drive active
It’s a new morning and everyone is eager to get going today. We have a new plan, a new way to help this star. The latest simulations ran smoother than our previous ones, and returned the star to a calmer state much more quickly than our poke-and-prod method did.
Of course, it’s a lot more dangerous for us and the previous simulations proved to be inaccurate. I have to get between the surface of the star and the gravity distortion I’m creating, and close enough to affect the star itself. It’s going to get hot.
But we’re going to give it a go. I’ve told the captain a hundred times that I’m ready to do this. He seems wary of the whole idea – that’s his job, really – but he’s willing to try it. The kinder approach to fixing the star sits well with him.
Everyone is on the Bridge except Elliott and the doc (and the Lieutenant, of course; he never leaves his cell).
Elliott is down in Engineering, grumbling to himself. He’s more like his old self today: bitching and griping and throwing tools around. He has lost the lingering paleness from being sick and stomps around with offended authority. But at the same time, he barely has a smile for me at all, and he hasn’t been to visit me in a few days. Even Bit is keeping his head down.
I think I’ve upset him, though I’m not sure how. We’ve been over the projections for this plan several times and he agrees – albeit grudgingly – that it should be within my tolerances. Of course, he won’t tell me what’s bothering him, so it can’t be anything to do with what we’re about to do, so… I’ll have to catch him later and find out what it is.
CAPTAIN: (standing before the huge hologram of Corsica Sol and looking up at the green lines swirling precisely around it, plotting out the ship’s course to come) Starry, are we ready?
STARRY: (standing behind his right shoulder) I’m on my last pass to charge up now, captain. Filaments are almost at 100%.
CAPT: All right, get us into position. Is everyone good?
STARRY: Everyone except you, sir.
CAPT: (twists to give her a surprised look.)
STARRY: (gestures towards his chair) This is going to get a bit rough. You all need to be sitting and strapped in for this.
CAPT: (steps to his chair) Monaghan and Dr Valdimir are secure?
STARRY: (grins) Everyone except you. Coming around now.
(On the holographic projection, the glowing blue ship-shape swerves around towards the start of the green path.)
Here we go. It’s time to cast my net. The fabric of it is heavy in my hands, buzzing and pulsing as the charge in my filaments grows. I’ve gathered such a fine skein of power and now I need to weave it into the right shape to catch a wave of fire.
Filament charging: 100% Star Step drive ready...
I’m a couple of hundred kilometres above where I need to be. Getting everything set, everything in place. The tips of my filaments glow and dance, and I think about music again. I think about the song I felt the last time I opened up the universe and looked inside, the elusive melody that is somehow the key to everything. Or the key to undoing everything.
That isn’t what I’m here to do today. This is a different dance, but maybe the melody can be similar. Maybe it can help me choose the right steps, the best tempo. My filaments weave and I push with my sublights to descend towards the corona. I am a gold fragment upon a sea of fire, diving fast.
(All over the ship, safety harnesses lash out and around the crew. On the Bridge, the chairs snug their charges in close: chest, lap, and legs. The arms are left loose for now; they’ll lock down only if it gets rough.
In Med Bay, the doctor is subjected to similar treatment. He sighs and submits, then goes back to his reading.
In Engineering, Elliott is swearing to himself as he’s forced to sit in a proper chair rather than perched on a stool. He waits until the harness is fastened, then goes about pulling up the diagnostics of the ship’s systems again. He’s monitoring everything with a scowl and jabbing at the interface with his fingers.)
Filaments weave faster, picking up the pace of the dance. Star-fire burns my belly as I swoop down and fling my arms wide, flaring my net before me. Sublights push hard, fighting the pull of the hot maw below me. I bleed heat. I shove the net and try to chase it.
The roil of incandescent gas below me is responding. It feels the attraction of my net and reaches for it, fiery fingertips grasping near my tail. My engines burn hard to avoid burning, and I briefly make no sense at all. I tremble and grit my electronic teeth, my crew grip their chairs, and the fire around me shifts. I move forward.
I am a bubble caught between two destructive fronts: the gravity pull before me and the molten wave behind. Both would like to tear me apart. I power forward, pushing one and pulling the other, and gradually we pick up pace. There’s too much to concentrate on and my avatar flicks off on the Bridge. I have to focus. I have to weave and dance; I have to keep my sublights at full throttle to avoid falling into the fire. For a brief moment, I think I hear the star roaring at me.
CAPT: (sitting stiffly in his harness) How are we doing?
CAMERON: Pushing tolerances, sir.
CIRILLI: We have traction, though. The wave is following us.
CAPT: (over internal comms) Monaghan?
ELLIOTT: (over internal comms, from Engineering) Heat sinks are at max, captain. We can’t keep this up for much longer.
STARRY: (voice only, sounding tense) Little busy right now. We’re on track.
LANG LANG: Another thirty seconds for this first pass, captain.
CAPT: (over comms) Monaghan, will we make that?
ELLIOTT: (over comms) Barely. Ask me again in twenty seconds.
The star is chasing me. She reaches for me with burning hands; I dodge to the right to avoid the fingertip lunging at my tailfins. I push faster and faster, drawing her onwards, stretching her out, and wrapping the fabric of her around the curve of her own belly.
Parts of me are glowing almost as brightly as she is. This is not a good thing; a ship should not outshine a star.
CAPT: (tensely, over internal comms) Monaghan?
ELLIOTT: (from Engineering) No breaches yet. Keep going.
CAPT: (frowns as a shudder works its way through the ship) It’s getting rough.
ELLIOTT: IDs are struggling with our proximity to the star. They’ll hold, don’t worry.
Too many sources of force to balance. The crew is feeling it. The doc looks green; so does Lang Lang. I protect them as much as I can.
Another 10 seconds. I slide to the left to pull that side of the wave onwards; it was falling behind. It spurts and I rock back again, teasing the star’s surface now. The wave is building in my wake, piling up and up in my rear sensors, rage ready to be unleashed.
5 seconds. I am tiny and running. I’m the rabbit and the greyhounds are hungry, slavering at my heels.
My net is full of sharks when I let it go. The filaments bow out of their dance and the gravity net fizzles. I punch through it, feel it shiver over my hull, picking at my seams with failing fingers. Fiery mouths yawn behind me, snap closed on the space behind my fins, but it’s the last leap, the last chance, because it’s not running on my strength any more.
The wave stretches and stumbles, drawing itself out to its limits before it starts to fall back onto itself. It tumbles back down to the surface, shattering across the star. Flares jump up in protest as ripples spread outwards, and the wake of it bubbles, smoothing down with grumbling reluctance.
I arc up and away from the corona, streaming heat behind me. Parts of me are glowing, and my gold heat-shielding paint feels far too thin.
(All over the ship, the harnesses release the crew.)
STARRY: (voice only, shipwide) First pass complete. Retreating to standard orbit distance.
CAPT: (over internal comms) Monaghan, report.
ELLIOTT: (poring over the diagnostic data) Got some heat-related issues, captain. Couple of systems shorting out. Gonna take me a few to assess it.
CAPT: Is the damage bad?
ELLIOTT: Probably not. Ask me again once we’ve cooled down.
CAPT: (on the Bridge) Lang Lang, Dr Cirilli? How’s the star looking?
LANG LANG: (swallowing and blinking at her readouts) Gravity tide patterns are following what we predicted. They’re still settling after our pass, but so far, it seems to be doing what we hoped.
CIRILLI: Star Step drive is looking good. The new algorithms seem to be working the way we predicted.
CAPT: Starry? How are you?
STARRY: (voice only) A little hot under the collar, sir. Took longer to get going than we anticipated.
CAPT: (nods, satisfied.)
STARRY: Thirty minutes until the next pass, according to the simulations.
CAPT: Let’s see if we can find a way to avoid scorching ourselves before then.
I’m not sure how we can reduce the impact of the heat any more than we already have, but right now I’ll accept any solutions the captain can come up with.
Cirilli calls the filament patterns an algorithm; I call it music. It just makes more sense that way; my processors see code and maths, but it’s not that different to how I have songs encoded in my archives. I could probably write algorithms to describe them, too, if I wanted to. And there’s something artistic in the way the maths is interpreted, something improvisational in the translation of the equation to the movements of the filaments. They describe the code, painting patterns on the void in gravitational forces.
I guess it’s just what makes sense to me, where my human brain-code tries to understand the complexity of warping the fabric of the universe. It’s not like I’m going to go around humming it to myself, or turning it into an aria I sing to the stars. They’d probably gang up and lynch me whenever they heard it (and rightly so, considering).
Heat is still pouring off my skin, venting out into the black. I have to be careful with how quickly I let the heat-sinks work; if I chill too quickly, my hull will warp, and possibly the bulkheads beneath too. I could fracture the metal and undo all of Elliott’s hard work installing the new gear. It could split me open like an overripe melon. Carefully, carefully, and hope that there isn’t too much damage underneath.
I do have a few systems shorting out. Rear and belly sensors are intermittent, but they should come back up once the weight of the heat has been lifted. A couple of them might be burnt out, but I had to keep them active so I could spot any danger coming up at me from the star. It was worth the price and it’s not like I don’t have plenty of replacement sensors in my stores if I need them.
Of course, half an hour isn’t long when it comes to replacing parts like that. It will barely be enough time to assess the true extent of the damage, and then I’ll have to dive back down and start it all over again. We’re setting chain reactions in motion and we have to capitalise on them while we can, or true balance is going to take days and days to achieve.
The next time, perhaps I’ll set the net in place before I dip down to the surface, rather than during, and I could make the dive shallower so I can build up momentum before the star’s pull can interfere. Maybe that’ll stop that awful pause while I struggle for traction. But the charge in the filaments only lasts so long, and I’ll have to be sure that I can complete the pass. It’s a small window to work within.
Looking back to where I’ve been, I can see a smooth, calm plain forming across the star’s surface. That sight makes the singed tips of my tailfins worth it. It makes me know that this just might work. We can pull and tug this star into shape. It’s like performing a facelift on her in small strips; she has a huge face with many wrinkles. It’s like wrapping her in bandages, to heal her, and to settle her into a happier pattern. It’s like smoothing a garden of sand, one fingertip at a time.
Phase one of the new plan: complete and successful.