Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer
(Circa 2256) Epsilon Indi is an orange-red dwarf star located in Ursa Major, near the bowl of the Big Dipper. By astronomical standards, Epsilon Indi is a newborn, having only become a main sequence star around the time that the Great Pyramid of Giza was being built. Its feeble solar wind is still struggling to blow away the gases and dust in its thin accretion disc. The star is accompanied by two brown gas giants and one nearly insignificant dwarf planet, called Epsilon Indi C, which is affectionately referred to as “Cee.” Cee is approximately one third the mass of Earth’s moon, and orbits relatively close to its cool luminary; closer in fact, than Mercury orbits our sun. For the next 1,000 years or so, because of the sun’s extremely low heat output, Cee will retain a thick methane atmosphere and moderate temperatures. But eventually, Cee’s weak gravitational field will loose its tug-of-war with the solar wind, and its atmosphere will be blown into space. But for now, travelers can enjoy the benefits of this unique world.
Gavin Keaton stood at the precipice of the 5,000 foot tall El Nuevo Capitan, just north of Cee’s equator. The bloated crimson sun hung overhead giving a blood-red hue to the jagged rocks at the base of the cliff. Keaton’s thin, air tight, microsuit covered his entire body, except for his head. His head was enclosed in a fracture proof transparent dome. Flexible tubing connected the dome to his portable life-support backpack, which supplied twelve hours of breathable air. “Okay Gavin,” crackled the small speaker in Keaton’s ear, “cameras are recording. You gonna jump, or not?”
Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, Keaton began to think. Sure, he only weighed 15 pounds on Cee, but his mass was still over 200 lbm. In freefall, it’s all about mass, not weight. He might be moving relatively slowly when he reached the bottom, but he’d have his full momentum. What if this didn’t work? He’d be splattered like a water balloon.
“Come ooooon,” urged the voice in Keaton’s ear. “Do you want Kathleen to go first?”
“Shut up. I’m going,” Keaton snapped. With that, he took a deep breath, crouched down and launched himself, head first, off the edge. To the crowd of spectators standing behind him, Keaton looked like a twentieth century cartoon character that floated in midair until he realized there wasn’t anything below his feet; only then would he begin to fall. After several interminable seconds, Keaton finally disappeared below the line of sight. Ever so slowly, he began to pick up speed. As he plummeted downward, he suddenly realized that he had forgotten to breathe. Following his simulation training, he counted to twenty, and spread his arms into a swan dive, and spread his legs to expose his “tail membrane.” As his airfoil “wings” sliced through the thick atmosphere, Keaton began to arch away from the sides of the cliff. Gradually, he leveled off, and began to glide upward. He started to flap the flexible airfoils in the complicated wavy motion that he had practiced for hours in the training room. A few minutes later, he soared above the horizon to the cheers of the spectators. His lifelong dream of flying like a bird had finally come true.