|Posted on March 2, 2011 at 9:49 PM|
Quick author's ramble - sorry I've not been about much, I will read what I can as soon as I can. Anyway, I've been applying Project 52 to my writing and I have 60,000 or so words. I know its cheating not to post before I've finished but my ego wants to know the damn thing holds together before I take the risk.
Anyway, here's a related piece to my P-52 tale that may well end up in the final edit, albeit in a slightly different form.
The calamity was not unexpected but the timing was. By every calculation, checked countless times over the previous centuries by the best and brightest of them all, there should have been at least another thousand years before the exodus had to begin. There should have been time to finish all of the ships, not just the solitary arc orbiting the doomed planet.
Seventy-five planetoids, the smallest with a diameter of nearly seven hundred miles and the largest almost three thousand, a potential moon if it had ever strayed beyond its Oort cloud home into the inner regions, orbited the dying sun, room enough for every one of them to escape into the reaches of space but only one had been completed. The smallest, with room for only a fraction of the desperate souls watching as their sun swelled each day and the radiation and solar wind stripped more of their world away. They hadn’t worked fast enough, complacent in the face of Armageddon.
All but one of the arcs was ready in terms of structure, the carefully designed networks of tunnels and rooms designed to save an entire planet all excavated and waiting to be used, most even had all the fittings installed. They were ready for use except for one vital aspect, the only aspect that rendered them useless by its absence. They had at best incomplete cores, over half were still waiting for the installation to begin. Without the cores, the engines to power them, they were just more rocks orbiting a star at the end of its life, a temporary refuge for people in the remaining years before the star’s expansion ended and it shrank to a dwarf, robbing them of even the minimal energy needed to survive.
Until a century ago the cores – engine was too simple a word for them – had been nothing but theory and possibility, a desperate grab at survival based on extremes of physics. A fission reactor, the material packed in almost as densely as a neutron star, sat in the centre of the planetoid, the unbelievable gravitational forces kept at bay by a network of electro-magnetic fields that took up seven or eight times as much room as the reactor itself, was intended for the core of each arc but only the smallest, the prototype, was finished. No-one had wanted to run the risk of creating a major black hole if the containment field failed to work, the small one that would have been created by the prototype’s failure would have posed no greater threat than the dying star, built as it was nearly two light years away – by the time it had grown enough to threaten the homeworld it would have been burnt away.
When the prototype returned from the test voyage, the skeleton crew of one-hundred perfectly fine having warped space for the first time in history and travelling nearly a thousand light years and back in just over three days the entire world had celebrated. The escape, the grandest exodus the universe could ever hope to see had been started. Stable planetoids had been hunted down, they needed to be almost completely iron to withstand the forces they’d be subjected to and the prototype had spent thirty years fetching the necessary material from nearby star systems and bringing them back to a safe orbit – the technology required to piggy-back the far larger planetoids home another technological feat. A few philosophers and theologians quibbled about the ethics of harvesting proto-planets from star systems in their infancy, particularly when the decision was taken to remove the still accreting iron core of the largest arc from a potentially stable Goldilocks orbit and blast away the useless outer layers but they were drowned out by the clamour for survival.
As each new planetoid was brought in a willing army of workers descended to start carving out the inside and others lined up to argue why their part of the homeworld should be given room in the arc, why their favourite ecosystem needed to be preserved. If there had been the time to finish the cores, to provide the energy they all needed, nearly ninety-seven percent of the organisms on the homeworld would have been preserved, there were eight arcs alone that were almost entirely hollow and specially pressurised to house the inhabitants of the oceans. A fractured but complete world would have fled the dying star to roam the galaxy if the calculations had been right, both about the cores and the longevity of the star.
Each core was really a miniature star, pure hydrogen fusing and the energy created carefully filtered away and not left to blaze as nature allows. The products of that fusion, the heavier elements that eventually drive every star to death were carefully extracted as the process went on – providing a near limitless supply of almost everything but also preventing the decay that would eventually threaten the arcs. The complex of electromagnets did more than just counteract the gravity of the dense mass, they kept the burning core clean and safe, drawing the heavier elements to the surface where they could be skimmed away rather than allowing them to sink to the centre as nature demanded. Every once in awhile the core would need to be topped up with more hydrogen but only every few million-million years but that was all.
The first big mistake the scientists made was about how much hydrogen they would need to power the entire fleet. The prototype had been fuelled directly from their own star, the inefficiency of nature providing enough in the increasingly frequent and violent coronal mass ejections. Harvesting enough to fuel the comparatively small ten mile sphere that powered the prototype had been deceptively simple. Harvesting enough to fuel the other seventy-four arcs was harder, the amount needed to achieve critical mass increasing exponentially with size and the amount of power needed just to run the regulatory magnetic fields just as bad.
Their lonely, average star didn’t have enough and the devices, the mile wide magnetic cables used to drag the planetoids back through warped space were useless for collecting the abundant hydrogen available outside the system.
Still, they didn’t relent. They had mastered the power of the stars, they had learnt how to warp space to their ends. Harvesting the power of a thousand suns was nothing they weren’t able to achieve and, confident in their abilities, they had set about overcoming the latest obstacle in the path of their survival. The crew of the prototype, swollen to nearly ten-thousand now, set out with the new hydrogen ‘nets’ three years before the second mistake was realised.
It wasn’t really a mistake, just an unfortunate turn of the ‘give-or-take’ factor that has to be worked into anything that takes place over a time-span far in excess of the minds performing the mathematics. One thousand years is a long time, unless you are a force that works over billions of years. Mountains are ephemeral to a planet and a miscalculation of the exact moment a dying star will consume a planet is even vaguer to an organic mind.
A more basic mistake is to overestimate how large a star needs to be for iron to form in the core, and a far more fatal one.
Caught on the hop by the sudden expansion of their star, the beauty like an atomic bomb as their atmosphere was stripped away over just a few days and the ground started to melt, the people fled to the short hop shuttles and fled to the Oort cloud and the half-finished arcs, taking everything they could with them. Watching their planet melt, barely four percent of the fauna and flora saved, the decision was made to send the prototype out to gather hydrogen and the leaders told the people that they would survive the hard times ahead, the sun was dead but the people lived on.
When a star manufactures iron in its core everything changes. A star is made by gravity sucking in and fission expanding out, creating a balance that can last for billions of years. The expansion gives light, heat and life, the suck creates ever heavier elements and when atoms and electrons are fused into iron gravity wins. The reaction runs away fast, fast as you can blink your eye. All the burning matter, all the fusing and splitting atoms are sucked into the centre at the same time as the centre explodes – there are shockwaves everywhere and its like being a newborn baby in a moshpit.
The crew of the prototype, blissfully warping space to their needs returned from a star system nineteen light-years away into the eye of the storm, their brief journey away just long enough to save them from annihilation. The shockwave of the blast had already passed through their port and they were saved destruction, although the radiation outside detonated the hydrogen ‘net’ they were towing and quickly started to melt the outside of their arc. Quick thinking and a determination to save their species, the only intelligent species they had discovered and worth saving for that reason alone, made them activate the core and fly away.
It was twenty-seven years before they saw the light of their dying star and by then it was too late, their society had changed almost as much as their bodies. They were twisted and ravenous, desperate to reclaim what was theirs.