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matapam
18 July 2018 @ 09:41 am
I think I've already posted this, but what the heck, a lot of you are new here.

Crux

Chapter One

In which everyone realizes they miscalculated

The neutrino alarm gave them a split second to dive for the most protected part of the station.

Odessa swung through the hatch and twisted around the shielded corner into the crew sleeping area; Don, on her heels, hit the close button. Clint and Mathew were doing the same from the lab side of the station. Kenya and Lonnie collided as they tumbled out of their respective beds.

Odessa punched off the radiation alarm, and then the temperature alert. It was hot and getting hotter. Already.

Clint Coutts, the Chief Astronomer smiled crookedly. "Well, I guess we should have packed sooner."

They had been scheduled to leave in three months as Alpha Crux B's core approached the Chandrasekar limit. The station, and its unmanned partner loafed along in orbit around Alpha Crux B, the incipient supernova.

_Scratch the incipient._ Odessa thought. Crux B was exploding now and they were much too close. They were only a little further from the A component of the close double star system – they hadn't expected the station to be in use long enough for the unstable orbit to matter.

She turned to the atmospheric controls and switched the cooler circuits to the heat sump. "It's forty degrees in here already." The heat radiator fins were probably melting.

"The station was designed with a safety margin that allowed for possible early ignition." Clint's eyes were on the temperature gauge. Sweat ran down his face.

"Forty-five."

"I don't believe this. It can't have accumulated enough iron to have gone over the limit already." Don protested.

"We have discussed the time lag in detecting the core buildup, Don." Odessa was stripping out of her baggy overalls as she spoke. "As fast as the temperature is rising, I think it's time for the suits." She was dripping with sweat, and jerked her hand back from the hot latch. The metal was even hotter than the air. She grabbed the discarded overalls and used them to insulate her hand as she popped open the suit storage locker.

Kenya wiped her face angrily. "What does it matter? Why are we even bothering? The shockwave will be here in nine days. We're dead."

"A little over nine days, if we are correct about the wavefront blasting out at 0.23c. And on top of that is the time required for the energy to work its way out from the core. The pressure and inertia of the upper layers will slow it. We've never managed to figure out how fast these later stages take." Clint was studying the controls. "The temps are too high for us mere biological beings, but the station keeping engines are still working. Our best bet is to get the bulk of the A pair between us and the Supernova."

Odessa grabbed the first suit and retreated. One size fit all emergency suits. They weren't expected to do any outside work. The one repair they'd needed, they'd hired one of the local asteroid miners to come and deal with.

"The miners." She shoved a hot damp leg into the suit as she hopped away from the locker to give the others room. "Any idea where they were?"

"All over, as usual."

***

There were eight of them brave enough to turn off their electronics and drop through Bosco's magnetosphere to bob for apples. Except the apples they hoped to scoop up were metal. Iridium and Rhodium if they were lucky.

Jamie was deep into the mess, maneuvering gently by sight through the ice chunks of the inner ring, trailing a magnetized net to hopefully make him a rich man when light like the Wrath of God blazed off of every reflective surface. He ducked and tripped the impact shield by feel. Blinked watering eyes. Eyes open or closed, he couldn't see anything but some big white spots. "This is not good." He was sweating like a pig, his nerves making it feel like the whole ship had heated up.

He reached out for the radio, but stopped. If he unpacked it now, and didn't get it packed again before the magnetopause, he'd fry it. "Oh, hell, I'm so screwed anyway." He unclipped the plastic latch, and opened the layered box. Found the power cord by feel, plugged it in ditto. Flipped the switch.

". . . I'll try and get into the shadow, it's the best bet. Out." That was Luke on the Bounding Main.

"Cougar here. I'm in the shadow and dropping to put myself below the rings when I emerge. Out."

Jamie pushed the send button. "Bellefleur here. What was that?"

"B went supernova." Jeri Kanagi's flat voice was easily recognizable. "Couldn't be anything else. God knows how many rads of X-rays and Gamma rays we just picked up."

"Nut here." Allan Almond's voice was high and worried. "The magnetosphere should have protected us. We just got the light and heat, right?"

Silence.

Jamie finally broke it, "I think they get deflected, don't they? The X-rays have something to do with the auroras, they get defected to the north I think, but the gammas are deflected away altogether, aren't they?"

More silence.

"Well, I certainly hope so." That sounded like Althea to him.

"How many of us are here, inside the magnetosphere?" Jamie asked, suddenly wondering how he was going to maneuver to stay inside the magnetosphere. Not to mention out of a suddenly viciously bright sun. He squinted. The white spots were cooling off and had red halos now, and he could see light and dark and linear things that were the edges of his control panel, in between them. A thump shuddered through the ship as it bumped an iceberg. His orbit was just eccentric enough to get him out of the magnetosphere, so as to minimize his velocity difference with the ring rubble. He needed to slow just a bit more, and as Zack had said, get below something. This thump had been substantial enough to be promising – if he could see to maneuver.

"Was that Althea or Melinda a second ago?" Luke asked.

"Althea."

"I'm here too." another feminine voice, "Melinda in Withering High."

"The Wizard of Odd is here, as well." Roslyn had _the_ sexiest voice in space. No argument from anyone who had ever heard her. She claimed to be closing in on eighty years of age.

"OK, eight of us." Jamie said. "Now, how many of us are going to admit to being flash blinded and in trouble?"

After a hesitation, he cleared his throat. "Can anyone see even half decently?"

"Mine's clearing up fast," Zack said, "But I'm on the night side and I don't see anyone else."

"OK, I guess I can maybe see well enough to find a rock to hide under." Jamie unsafed his navigation panel. Swinging his head around, trying look around the blind spots, he finally decided that he'd lucked into one of the larger chunks of ring material. He opened the visual cams as well, dimming them, making sure he could tell which side was sunward. The maneuvering jets hissed as he cautiously dropped and scooted under the iceberg. He could feel the temps drop in the ship and hit the forward thrusters to keep him in the shadow. He was still drifting though, his orbit not matched to the berg's. Back to trying to decipher the navigation panel . . . he rotated the Bellefleur carefully and fired a brief burst from the main engines.

"Well, that'll do for now." He carefully extended the range of his radar. "So, where's everyone else?"

In careful stages, and multiple input, they all managed to get under cover, and their orbits adjusted enough to keep them in the rings.

"But what are we going to do in the long run?" Roslyn asked.

***

They couldn't even leave quarters to erect an antennae. Their quarters were holding steady at 70 to 75 degrees centigrade, the outer parts of the station were running around ninety. They'd used up all their spa and resort, and station-wide sauna jokes two days ago.

The slow steady ion drive had finally pulled them from their orbit and thrown them at the close binary. They'd dropped all the exterior modules, to lower the mass they were moving. All their scientific instruments were fried, anyway and they daren't try a replacement antennae to see if they could pick up any of the more distant stations. Pity the one inhabited station in the chain had been one of the closest.

"The problem is the fuel." Clint poked morosely at the rudimentary control panel. "We use water, and we're going to be out about the time we need to maneuver to get behind the suns."

"So, there's no hope of, say, getting to the wormhole and hanging about hoping someone will come and haul us away?" Odessa hated to ask. She really didn't want to hear the answer.

"No. The jump point's much further out. Even with a full load of water we couldn't reach it. I've maxed the engines out just trying to buy a bit more time." He thumped his helmet with a gloved hand, probably trying to reflexively run his hand through his hair. Or maybe pull it.

"Well," Kenya smiled with forced brightness, "We'll just have to hope the jumpship came early, has seen what we are doing and will come and rescue us."

Don was frowning. "Is there anyway to get close to Bosco? It's got rings of ice, all the outer moons are ice, for that matter."

"We could refuel." Lonnie brightened.

Clive sighed noisily. "Do not mistake a space station for a space ship. We are barely mobile, and not maneuverable by any reasonable definition of the word." He shrugged. "None the less, I'll try to aim for Bosco." his smile looked forced.

Odessa figured they didn't have enough water for even that. They were in an elliptical orbit around the A pair now, an orbit that would take them dangerously close to one of the pair at perihelion, but the gravity well that was pulling them in was also speeding them away from the worse danger at their backs.

How long does it take a star to explode? The question they had come here to study had suddenly become critical to their lives. Somewhere behind them most of the mass of a large star was lifting away from its own core, exploding outward. It would either catch them, or it wouldn't.

Odessa sat down in her cubby, a rotatable space that could be bed, office or entertainment center. The station was still spinning around its axis, so there was still an up and down for them. They had plenty of power for their various gadgets. She fired up her computer and wondered if she should write a letter to her sister. It seemed morbid. And useless, although she supposed that a follow up mission might someday find the station at the far end of its emergency orbit.

<Inventory>

She'd inventoried everything that ought to be available to them, everything in the central core area. She scrolled down and stopped at the radio. A radio frequency communicator. Voice only, integral antennae.

It was stored in the engine room tool closet. If it cooled down enough. If any of the asteroid miners had survived the gamma and X rays of the iron implosion. If they gave a damn, and would bring them any water.

They'd all chatted with them, there was a system wide bulletin board on the navigation satellite. It wasn't supposed to be used for idle chat, but the miners had used it, so the scientists had all introduced themselves, and occasionally exchanged views with the thirty or so diverse souls who had lived here.

She stuck her head back out of her cubby. "When was the last time any of you checked the miner's board? Does anyone have any idea how many of them left the system six months ago?"

Kenya looked up. "At least half of them. They had a betting pool, about whether that one or the next would be the last jump ship before the event. Most of them treated it like a joke. They didn't think it was going to happen at all, but it was a low cost ride. There wasn't anything here to keep any of them, and there are always richer systems to explore."

"I suppose they're all dead." Lonnie said, "The X-rays . . . except they're always dipping into Bosco's magnetosphere, aren't they? Looking for Rhodium in some of the nickel-iron bits mixed in with all the ice."

"So, some of them may have survived. We may be able to contact them, get them to bring us some water for fuel."

***

"That is so mind boggling." Jamie leaned back in the pilot's seat, watching the end of the world. The glowing cloud of the outer surface of the star had bulged out until it loomed over the double spark of the distant stellar pair. He had Horatio out of the cage and on his lap, but the guinea pig didn't seem very impressed. Jamie scratched the nape of his neck anyway, before getting up to put him back in his home, with his wife and children (eight this time). Lucky bugger. Until Jamie needed the air tested in one of the cargo holds.

"It's not as bright as I'd expected." Roslyn's beautiful voice caressed his ears. "And I didn't expect it break up like a solid, in hexagonal tiles like this either."

"I guess at these speeds the relatively cool surface acts more like a solid than a gas," Jamie guessed. "When it gets closer to the pair, I expect it'll stop being so text book neat, and scramble all up."

"Will they explode, too?" Zack joined in.

"Don't think so." Luke said, "Look at Sirius, the White Dwarf is a supernova remnant, didn't bother the star. Well, not long term anyway."

"I'm measuring it at close to a tenth of the speed of light." Roslyn said. "That means it'll be here in another forty days. Anybody have any good ideas?"

"Run for it." Jamie said. "We're out pretty far on the far side of the pair. Unfortunately the wormhole is even further out and off to the side."

"No use hoping a jumpship will show up in the nick of time, anyway." Zack argued.

"Any strong magnetic field will suck us through." Jamie pointed out. "It won't be pleasant, nor anything even resembling safe, but the options are looking pretty poor." And I can steer, sort of. Not that he was going to admit that. He knew all too well what happened to people with pilot talent. Lobotomized and hard wired into a jump ship's computers didn't sound like the sort of career he was interested in. "I grew up on a jump ship. I know how to prep for a jump, how to sync the magnetic fields."

"What would we do for wire? Space knows we've got enough iron for a core." Roslyn hummed a bit under her breath. "We'd have to cannibalize our nets."

"The wormhole's still too far away." Zack protested.

"There are two wormholes." Jamie pointed out. "The beta singularity is in close, the magnetospere is sort of tucked in there, the symmetry of the three star system being what it is, plus it's roughly in a direct line away from the blastfront. Twelve days, I figure. I think I'll see about that core – it's not like I've got anything else to do."

"Nobody's gone through Beta sing, Jamie. They didn't want to spend the money before the supernova – because it was a collapse risk." Zack hesitated. "I'm going to run some numbers, see if we can't make the wormhole. The wormhole. Alpha singularity." he added.