(The Silence of Ancient Light, continued)
(Caution: the opening paragraph of this scene contains a major spoiler for those who have not read the previous scene, so if you have not yet read that one, please consider going back to do so now)
With the inner airlock hatch opened, Anna floated Jaci’s lifeless body into the warmth of the lander’s crew compartment. Laxmi awaited her on the other side and gently took Jaci from Anna, quickly and efficiently moving him to a stable surface to remove his helmet. With a gasp of equalizing pressure, Anna removed her own, her vision still blurred by tear droplets clinging to her eyelashes. She watched Laxmi cut away Jaci’s e-suit to reveal the wound in his abdomen, red, raw, and angry, a deep two-inch gash of frozen blood and vacuum-cauterized flesh. She had to look away and focus on her breathing for a moment.
“Anna, there’s nothing more you can do for him now. He was exposed for a good ten minutes, and even without the other trauma, that would not have been survivable.”
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(1,815 words; 7 min 15 sec reading time)
I told you at the top of the page that there would be a major spoiler, so if that paragraph surprised you, well, you have only yourself to blame! Now do yourself a favor, and go back and read the previous scene… actually, you need to read at least the previous two scenes for the lead-up to this one. Of course, I’m assuming you’ve been reading all the scenes up to this point, right?
So yes, dear reader, it appears a beloved character has met with an awful fate, and the few remaining survivors are left to pick up the pieces and deal with the emotional fallout. How many have we killed off now? Two that we know of — Takashi much earlier in the story and now Jaci — and one more that we strongly suspect. Remember David? He remained behind on Aniara to mind the shop while everyone else piled into the shuttle to go investigate the ring station when they first arrived, and he hasn’t been heard from since. He could be just hanging out, enjoying some me-time after three years cooped up in a small space with this crew, but it has been a couple months with no word, so yeah, not looking good.
That leaves only Anna and Laxmi from the original crew, plus Ca-Tren whom they’ve picked up along the way, and now they are finally — finally! — enroute back to Aniara. Where, no doubt, they will discover David’s fate.
I really do want to get into some discussion about the lander that Anna remotely piloted to come pick them up, and in which they are now heading back. This is a spacecraft fundamentally different from the shuttle they first set out in to investigate the station. The shuttle, remember, was really intended for ship-to-ship orbital transfers, but in a pinch it was capable of atmospheric re-entry and landing, which turned out to be a very useful feature. However, once down on the surface of a high-G world, it isn’t capable of boosting itself back into orbit without being strapped onto some big rocket, even if it hadn’t sustained major damage during the crash-landing.
The lander, on the other hand, is just what it sounds like: a vehicle intended for trips down to the surface, and then back. This thing has only a very small crew compartment and a very BIG engine, with most of its gross mass being fuel, and it is capable of continuous high specific impulse and high thrust operation, something today’s rockets can’t actually do. Don’t worry about what those things mean right now — I’ll go into more detail in a future blog post where we can geek out properly — but suffice it to say these twin properties mean the lander can choose to ignore normal orbital maneuvers and make a straight-line brachistochrone between two points, albeit at a greatly increased fuel consumption rate. In other words, Anna and crew can get back to Aniara, 22,000 kilometers away, in about 50 minutes of 1/2-G thrusting instead of spending a day and a full orbit to raise themselves 100 kilometers higher and fall back to Aniara‘s position.
So, go read the scene, and then if you haven’t already, hit that Follow button, and hit those Like buttons, or better yet, leave a comment!
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