Author : David Stevenson
A yellow flashing beacon. Another package spinning through space. I reach out and snag the drag line carefully. The beacon is attached to one end of a line, at the other end is the supply crate with another flashing beacon. It’s a lot easier to catch a line than a small mass, but in this gravitational field the tides are fierce, and if I try to grab a line being spun round with a weight at either end I could lose an arm.
Maybe I’ll do that sometime; might be a quick way to go. For now I snag the line using a crude hook I keep for this purpose.
Power cells; food blocks; fresh water; filters for the suit; all the usual suspects. That’s entropy staved off for another while. I tie these supplies onto the raft of similar crates floating in space beside me. I’m much more interested in the datapod, if there’s one there.
There always is. I take the datapod, and I plug it into my suit. Some virtual reality recordings of classical music. Good. A month’s worth of current events newscasts. That’s alright, but I’m out of sync. These are from last year and I’ve already seen more recent ones. Another bunch of letters and videos from friends and family. Not sure whether to start with those or leave them until last.
I remember the first pod I found, and the letters it contained. All the first 50 or so pods had the same message in them. They were all sent at the same time and they had no way of knowing which one I would encounter first. I still occasionally pick up one of the first batch.
“If you’re reading this then you didn’t plunge to your doom on the neutron star.” That’s Steve’s sense of humour for you.
“We think the accident blew you into a stable orbit that’s high enough up that it won’t immediately decay.” Correct. Not high enough up that they can rescue me, of course. Any ship coming this low would be ripped apart by tidal forces.
“We can’t transmit through the radiation, but we can send these pods into the same orbit as you and you can pick them up.” Ah yes, that radiation. The radiation that would kill me if it weren’t for my suit and the medical nanochines repairing the damage.
“We have to take the ship back to Earth now, but we’re leaving a field manufacturing unit in the asteroid belt. It’s going to scavenge matter and it will keep on turning out these pods and inserting them into your orbit. We can communicate with the factory and send new data to be forwarded.” Great. I can’t even die of boredom.
I have a virtually endless supply of consumables, both for me, and the suit. The medichines will keep me alive indefinitely. My suit needs a lot of fuel to keep my orbit from decaying, but they make sure to send me plenty.
So, I have a choice. Staying here forever orbiting a neutron star wearing only a spacesuit until I die of old age, or explosive decompression and a quick death.
I’m going for the third option. I don’t know if I’ll still be in one piece, or if I’ll be ripped apart. I don’t know if I’ll be conscious, but if not then the suit will keep my feet pointing towards the star. I’m burning all my fuel, I’m going in, and I’m going to be the first man ever to stand, just for a microsecond, on the surface of a star.
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