Day 117. 143 pages, 64,886 words.
They stood in their heavy radiation-shielded EVA suits and admired their handiwork.
The suits, as Old Man Lelhmak was also fond of pointing out, had become antiques in their own right. The Destarion had thoughtfully added them to the collection of spare parts for the repair work, since outside of the Godfang the Molren would once again need protection from the brutal levels of radiation sleeting through the system from the dangerously unregulated star in its centre. The fact that the suits had been lying around in Segment Four for almost two thousand years had done nothing for their effectiveness, but they’d been able to replace some of the broken-down parts and replenish their batteries, and the rest of the gear was sturdily and simply built.
They weren’t perfect, but they’d keep them alive. On the assumption, of course, that the populated worlds of the inner system had sufficient atmosphere and magnetic fields to shrug off the radiation. If they didn’t, then there would be nothing alive in there anyway – and the Molren would not be making a return trip to Lelhmak’s Moon with this vessel.
“She looks like a giant shwinkel disc,” Gyden remarked.
Predericon tilted her head as much as she could in the stiff old suit, and squinted.
“She’s right,” she said. “I was going to say a dinner bowl, but it definitely looks more like a shwinkel.”
“Well, in a way aren’t we about to play the longest game of shwinkel in history?” Lelhmak said, and pointed up into the velvety darkness. “Our home plate is six hundred million kilometres that way, and we’re basically just going to hurl ourselves at it and hope for the best.”
“We’re doing a little bit more than hoping for the best,” Predericon protested, but was compelled to concede, “not much more though.”
“I still don’t understand how something so stupidly formed is going to fly us across a solar system,” Gyden said.
“Brute force, for the first stage at least,” Lelhmak reminded them. “Just a big old punch of solid-fuel and electrochem energy to get us out of the moon’s gravity well and whatever passes for an atmosphere. Then we swing around this gas giant we’re orbiting, and coast on that momentum and the occasional corrective jet for the next five years or so. When we finally arrive at the inhabited planets, the shape of the ship acts as a brake, heat shield and landing plate.”
“So, exactly like a shwinkel disc,” Predericon concluded.
“Well, sure,” Lelhmak said, “except if you ever needed a heat shield, you were playing harder than I ever have.”
Predericon snorted in amusement. “What does the Destarion want us to do when we arrive, again?”
“Nothing we weren’t going to do anyway,” Old Man Lelhmak said. “Establish contact with the authorities, whoever they happen to be. Send a party back here to bring the Destarion out of stowage-standby. Find out what exactly has happened to the Four Realms.”
“Nothing too hard then,” Gyden remarked.
“Why hasn’t a party been sent out here already?” Predericon asked. “It’s been – what was it? One thousand, nine hundred and forty-one years? Even with the Destarion in stowage-standby, our ship was sitting out here giving off a low-level power signal. They couldn’t have failed to get off the ground over there, could they?”
“The life-supporting ballworlds likely have higher gravity and much thicker atmospheres,” Lelhmak noted, his tone uncertain.
“But not so thick that they couldn’t fly out of them,” Gyden said. “Surely.”
“Just one of the questions we’re going to have to answer when we get there,” Lelhmak said with a shrug in his voice.
“Engine efficiency check and trajectory calculations complete,” Gyden reported after consulting the remains of the computer, now little more than an advanced orbit and velocity calculator. “We’ll never be more ready to do this.”
“Alright then,” Lelhmak thumped both researchers on the backs with a reassuring clang. “I’m not getting any younger. Let’s get off this chunk of frozen piss already.”
“You do recall we named it after you,” Predericon reminded Lelhmak as he stumped away towards the Speed’s Virtues (Survival).
“I remember,” Lelhmak grumbled. “Still trying to think of a suitable way to pay you back.”
Two hours later, after final triple-checks and calculations, the cobbled-together shwinkel disc thundered into the sky on a pillar of dirty electrochemical fire.