18 01 2008

Texas Crisis Meeting

 "…’Race Headquarters’ was the affectionate title given to Ground Station Alpha-1, a round-the-clock hive of activity dedicated to rectifying the mess made by the wayward rock known as Texas.  Fram’s top orbital engineers cross-checked data relays with the settlements’ best physicists as radio chatter from the orbital crews high above crackled endlessly.  Both Texas and the decaying Quoqasi needed cleaning up.  And fast…"

The rush was on.

Over the gentle curve of Fram’s horizon we could see Texas, the body we’d tagged and wrapped last week, and which had been sent spiralling downwards by those idiots in the solar station. Texas was another two hundred and sixty something orbits from entry into the atmosphere, and it was moving in a slow tumble – all the energy imparted by the Quoqasi when Texas smashed clean through her, eight hours ago.

I willed Texas closer, or rather, our orbiter closer to Texas. Time was running out. We’d catch up with the body in another two or three orbits, but by then it would be so deep in the gravity well of Fram that our solar station had no chance of moving it higher. We would have to dock and capture, EVA, strap solid-fuel boosters to it, and try and stabilize its orbit.

We didn’t have enough reaction mass to bring it out of the gravity well, only to stabilize its orbit. There was a rush because the lower it slipped with each orbit, the deeper it fell into the well, and the harder it was for us to stabilize the orbit. Texas wasn’t huge, nothing on the scale of the bodies that created the largest craters on Fram’s surface, but it was a lot larger than the object which had ripped through Alpha-2, all those weeks and lifetimes ago.

Our projections put Texas, were we unsuccessful, crashing down about eight hundred kilometers north east of our settlement. A new crater would be punched in Fram’s surface, the latest in a long history of bombardment, fresh and crisp in the duricrust. Regolith would be thrown into the sky, carried by the wind fronts gathering in strength the closer the planet drew to Alpha B and the further it receded from Alpha A. Light would diminish, the air would become as abrasive as the upper regolith, and we’d have no chance of unfurling the nanoribbon from Wilbur to Charlotte.

The Mayflower would be here in five days. Its fusion torch was now distinguishable from Sol, an arc second or two away from the star which had hurled it toward us, an optical binary in our skies. As it was, even if we stabilized the orbit of Texas, we had five days to send it back to where it came from: in its stable, lower orbit, our window for launch and recovery was ruined by the piece of misaligned rock, spinning around our planet just above the atmosphere.

Hundreds of kilometers ticked by as the orbiter rushed toward Texas. Fram slid by beneath – bland, featureless, a dusty world pocked by endless bombardment, swallowed by carbon dioxide and clouds of argon and methane.

Then we saw the Quoqasi, or rather, what was left of its forward section. It was below us, trailing ice crystals and debris. It had snapped just behind the centrifugal shucks for the colony pods – devoid of these and now its main drives, we saw only the forward repellers and a long, thin strut, the spine of the ship. The whole wreck was glowing a cherry red, brightening to highlight of pink and orange at the edges. And then flames leapt from all along its length – not flames, I realized, but superheated plasma, the atmosphere of Fram setting the wreck ablaze as it plummeted in an uncontrolled reentry.

We watched the ship which we had all boarded five years ago above Jupiter, the ship we’d lived within for all those years, the ship which had carried us across light years on the greatest adventure in human history – we watched this ship break up, section by section, level by level, and the component pieces scattered across a burning sky, trailing fire.

I set my eyes toward Texas, and counted down the kilometres.




One response

24 08 2012
Epilogue « Orbital Shipyards: Alpha Centauri System

[…] began on refitting the wreck of the Quoqasi, so terribly damaged during the Texas Crisis. Most of the drive section had been salvaged, which was fortunate in that the engines were the most […]

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