A short space drama to get a feel for characters in my other story I'm working on.
Lorna and Tiber sat in silence, sullen and quietly afraid, watching the setting star from the crashed, torn open hulk of Longbow.
When they had begun to decelerate in the prior system to deploy mining drones for resupply, they hadn’t guessed they were going to be ambushed. A storm of plasma had erupted from the system’s star and overwhelmed their sensors, and shortly thereafter, a matter of hours, the missile had struck them. It took them by surprise so completely that they hadn’t been able to accelerate fast enough. The damage dealt was devastating, and they were lucky to have repaired to the degree they had as they slingshotted around the star, lucky to not get sucked in to its corona, their dead hulk drifting lightyears in the wrong direction. They had jettisoned the Ark Module when they realized how bad it was, and after an emergency breaking retroburn it settled in to a protective orbit around a gas giant's moon which it would, eventually, land on to hide. Like some great and mythical whale spawn separated from its mother, awaiting their return or for a friendly IFF that would never come.
Weeks of frantic labor with what materials and systems they still had allowed them to generate enough thrust to make some course corrections, and that had brought them to a neighboring system, and a planet suitable to land on. What they hadn’t realized was that the twelve year orbit it appeared to be on was merely part of a greater journey in to deep space.
They had been through so much together, and it was ending on this rogue planet. They had been on the surface for two years, struggling to survive but managing as they attempted repairs on Longbow. The atmosphere was at least present, but respirator units were necessary for more than a few hours outside of the ship’s breach. They didn’t have enough to work with, lacked the proper tools and databases. Power systems and manufacturing required such extensive manual repairs that they had been unable to construct new miners, and this multiplied all of their challenges. And now this planet was slowly drifting out into interstellar nothingness after its quiet, slow pass through this new system.
It had all happened too perfectly. But the answers to the question of ‘how’ were both too unnerving and too complex to warrant giving much thought during their trials planetside. They had been pursued, certainly, and the surprises laid in their own ships code had nearly spelled the end in the early days. But this was so much more than that, and the prospects were genuinely terrifying.
Tiber shivered a little as the temperature dropped, the alien sun falling below the horizon and slowly revealing a sea of stars. How long had they navigated that endless ocean, the two of them? Countless years, endless ages.
Lorna sighed a nervous, restless sigh and tightened her mouth in worry, a gnawing anxiety in the pit of her stomach. The star would be colder tomorrow, and the surface had been slowly shedding heat for weeks. It was time, while they could still undergo stasis initiation with the next few days of passive solar before the deep sleep. The backup fusion unit was running enough to maintain them for centuries, even with the modest harvest capacities still left to them, but they needed every desperate advantage they could get now. A few more years and perhaps they could have had it; but with no photons and no heat, they and their project were doomed. The waiting and foreboding of what they faced was too much now; better to get it over with while the time was right and they had their resolve.
But tonight, they needed the stars, one last time.
“lets walk the Spar, one more time, Tiber. Please.” she stood and pushed a smile, offering a hand. He looked away down the open corridor to their chambers and blinked away tears before taking her hand and standing. “We might as well. It’s why we waited for night. Lets go.”
The Spar was a portion of alloy spine that had spanned the ship but now lay jutting out, broken free of the hull. It had become a landmark at the crash site because walking to its tip offered amazing views and a bit of a thrill to distract them. An hour after darkness, in the brisk cold, clear air, it offered a near unrivaled view of the Milky Way. Somewhere in that mess lay Earth. Somewhere, their original destination, but they had no astral computer to tell them where and it didn’t matter anyway. The planet had picked up some speed through this system, and by rough analog calculation Lorna thought they might be roughly heading for another star cluster reachable in only four or five hundred years. But precision was out of the question with such brief observation, and they didn’t hold out hope.
Up there, they both thought, their souls were still living. They had been spaceborn for so long that they had truly become born of space. It may be, for them, the eternal sleep was best; had they managed to reach their new system cluster, could they have truthfully laid roots enough to find or terraform a suitable planet? To found a new society? They were too wild, now. Tiber needed the interstellar vastness to live, needed the unknown and its challenges. Lorna needed the next star, the next nebula to study and catalog, the howling sound of myriad astral bodies in her ear as she drifted dreamlike through sonified plasma fields and errant background radiation. She needed the vastness as much as Tiber, and anything else seemed maddening. No, had been maddening, for two years now.
They shared small words and were able for a time to ignore what was to come. They shoved the doubts deep within themselves and piled them over with love and wonderment. But it was dark now, and they shivered in the cold. After their walk back down the Spar, the grim reality of what they had to do returned. They wasted no time and spared few words. With determination they entered their sleep chamber, stripped, and redressed in their sleep suits. They popped the supplements, shaved their heads. They stopped and looked at one another in the middle of the cold and spartan room, only the lighting and sleeper pods active to save power load.
They embraced and kissed through sobs and tears, grasped at each other with desperation. They trembled against one another with trepidation. For a brief eternity they felt the last warmth pressed between them that they may ever feel again. This was it.
“I love you Tiber. I will always love you. I would not leave you even if help came for me alone.”
Tiber held both her hands at her side and brushed his lips against hers one last time. “You are my stars, Lorna, lights in the void, forever drawing me. I only hope that you will haunt my sleep. I love you.”
They walked backwards from each other and stepped in to their caskets with anticipatory fatalism. Brief words were best before this ugly business, lest they have time to think about it. Lorna felt herself begin to hyperventilate as the glass closed and the cold encroached. As they were sealed in, Tiber forced a smile for her sake and she steadied herself at last. “I’ll see you in the void.” she told him, as the doors sealed with a hiss, the lights turned off, and the cold began to take her at last.
Minutes turned to hours, and one by one Longbow’s systems shut down until all that remained running was cryogenic support and the basic maintenance systems that were yet serviceable. The solar arrays, their efficiency having waned to the brink these last days, folded in to protective cowlings to await the next star. A freezing wind swept the plateau upon which Longbow had come to rest and in the perfect dark, the last light went out. At the mercy of fate and gravity, they hurtled through the black.