Title : The Slingshot Effect
Rating : K+
Beads of sweat formed on my body as I slowly gained consciousness, the thin blanket that had once covered me now scrunched up at the end of the bed, discarded due to the ever growing heat. My mind was foggy, unclear of exactly what was happening as I slowly dragged myself out of sleep. The world was blurry for a moment, then cleared and focused as I opened my eyes to see the strange room before me. I pulled myself out of the bed, and stared around at the room. Its walls were slightly curved on the left side, a large shuttered window taking up most of that wall. The other wall came down vertically, to a cold metallic floor that caused my footsteps to echo through the room. Other beds lined the rest of the room, some made, and others were left in a sloppy state, the blankets draped over the side or on the floor. Only one thing was common between all of the beds. They were all empty.
Moving towards the window, I noticed a computer terminal near the door, its light slightly illuminating the room. Forgoing the window, I turned my attention to the glow of the computer, its cursor blinking on and off on the screen. Unfortunately the terminal seemed to be somewhat of an older model, and didn’t even present options to me, just the steady blinking of the cursor. Unsure of what to do with the terminal, I turned back towards the window, and then hit a button opening the shutters on the window. The shutters turned from vertical to flat, allowing blinding light to leak in, blasting my eyes. After a few moments, my eyes adjusted to the point where I could see out of the corners of my eye, and I could see a star. It was large and getting slightly closer with each passing second. I quickly hit the button to close the shutters once again, shielding myself from the blinding light.
So what did I know so far? Well, I knew I was in space, probably on a ship or a small space station, and I seemed to be getting closer to the star in whatever solar system I was in. It was a start. It would at least give an explanation for the heat at any rate. I once again returned to the computer, now vaguely aware of what to search for. My fingers hammered the keys, searching for answers. After several denied commands, I typed “—Systems Status” and got what I was looking for.
> Starship Odyssey Systems Report
--Engines 0 %
-Fuel Core 1 Depleted
-Fuel Core 2 Depleted
-- Fusion Reactor Online
- Warning! Meltdown T-30min
- Torpedo Bay – EMPTY
- Ion Cannons – ION BATTERY DEPLETED
-- Life Support
- SYSTEMS CRITICAL 30% FUNCITONALITY
- Oxygen Scrubbers Require Cleaning
- H2O Levels Critical – Request Immediate Landing to Restock
- Main Forward Shields – OFFLINE
- Rear Shields – OFFLINE
- Shield Dampeners – ONLINE
- MULTIPLE HULL BREACHES – SUGGEST IMMEDIATE EVAC
-- Escape Pods
- All Escape Pods Jettisoned
-- Artificial Gravity
- SYSTEMS CRITICAL
The list went on and on, most things offline or barely functional. The ship was certainly in a sorry state, and probably wouldn’t last much longer. I figured I only had about fifteen or twenty minutes to escape before the gravity of the star would pull me in regardless of what I was doing, in the ship or not.
I typed a few more commands to open the door, which ground to a halt about halfway open, the screen reading “Door Malfunction, Requesting Immediate Service”. Of course it would malfunction. It was still large enough of an opening for me to get through. I pulled myself through, then stared into the corridor which went both left and right from my doorway, both ways completely empty. I mentally flipped a coin, then started down the left passage hoping just to get lucky. I ran through the halls, my eyes flicking up to the signs above various doorways, most of them useless. Mess hall, Bathrooms, Ammunitions Storage, and on went the list. I was losing hope as I finally came to the doorway marked “Escape Pods”. The computer had said that they were all jettisoned, but if the computer was malfunctioning like the rest of the ship, then it might be worthwhile to at least check. Sure enough though, a red light flashed above each hatch, each one mocking me saying that there was no escape.
As I ran back into the hallway, a female voice came out of loudspeakers throughout the ship. “Warning, Artificial Gravity Failure”. My momentum from running out of the escape pod room sent me flying into the wall on the other side of the hallway, slamming me into the metal, now warm from the rising temperatures. Fortunately, the corridor was narrow enough so that if I stretched my arms across, I could reach each and propel myself forward, although my progress was much slower than previously. I paused once again at another window, and risked another glance at the always approaching star. It had gotten even larger, and I guessed that I only had about ten minutes before I really needed to leave. If only there was a way to leave. If only I could get to the hangar, I might be able to find a small ship that I could use to escape from the gravitational pull of the star. At this point, jumping out into space in a space suit would be out of the question, the sun would pull me in just as fast as if I was in the station. No, I needed something that would propel me away, and that meant a ship.
Finally, after what seemed like ages, although what could have only been a few minutes, I reached the hangars. For a ship this size, there would be multiple hangars, hopefully with multiple ships. Hoping for the best, I pulled myself into the first hangar to find only disappointment. Broken ship parts littered the floor, pieces of scrap metal, but no ship. The story was same for the second and third hangar also, but on the fourth hangar, I struck gold. It was an old beaten down ship, but it would do for my purposes. It was an old fighter, decades old, maybe even dating back a couple centuries ago to the war between Earth and Mars in the war for Martian Independence. If I recall correctly, it was called a Mosquito Fighter, known for striking fast and being more or less irritating. I would need all of its speed if I was going to get out alive.
I pulled myself into the cockpit and hit the starter button to find only more disappointment. Multiple error messages popped up on the HUD showing various problems like low fuel, a broken coolant hose, and broken air scrubbers. In other words, I wasn’t going anywhere, the ship would fry under any amount of engine heat, and I would suffocate to death. Or burn, whichever came first. I pulled myself out of the cockpit, moving slowly to keep myself from flying uncontrollably because of the zero gees, and pulled myself to the rear engine block, finding that the coolant hose had completely torn itself apart, each half of it connection to where they needed to be, but not connecting to each other. Next I checked the fuel rods, to find the symbols indicating that each one was nearly depleted, not even enough to pull myself out of the gravity of the sun. The air scrubbers was a problem I wouldn’t be able to fix in any case, I would need some sort of space suit or means of breathing.
With my shopping list of various parts I needed, I looked around the four hangars, not finding much. I managed to find a couple half depleted fuel rods in hangar two under a broken wing, although I would have preferred another two. These would get me maybe somewhere else in the solar system, but warp drives needed all four fuel rods to function properly in order to work. Oh well, landing on some planet in the solar system with hopefully some atmosphere would be preferable to burning up in the star. He couldn’t find any oxygen scrubbers, which would have taken too long to replace anyway, but he did find a spare space suit and helmet tucked away in a corner of hangar one. The space suit was a couple sizes too small, but the helmet fit fine, which was good, he only needed the oxygen anyway, the life support system in the ship was fine, and would keep him warm enough in space to survive. Remarkably, he couldn’t find any hoses the size that he needed that he would be able to replace the coolant hose with, but he did find some deep space tape. The label read “Good for all space suit repairs! Heat resistant for up to twenty minutes!” Maybe a few layers around the coolant hose tying them together would hold for the duration of his trip.
With my bounty of gear, I made his way back to hangar one, and quickly made my repairs, then put on the space helmet. I reached over and hit the control panel for the hangar doors, then pulled myself into the beaten up ship and closed the cockpit over my head. I started up the engines and checked the readings. Fuel would be good for a little while, but the warp drive was disabled of course. The coolant seemed to be flowing fine, and hopefully would for at least a little while longer, and his oxygen helmet had a good seal and was functioning as it should. I maneuvered the ship towards the doors, then gunned the engines propelling himself out of the hangar into empty space. I shifted the ship so it was facing the exact opposite direction of the pull of gravity of the sun, and then pumped the engines to their maximum. I watched the readings, then he filled with dread. I had taken too long finding parts, and now I couldn’t escape the gravitational pull of the star.
As I sat there, an old physics lecture from college came into mind. I hadn’t really been paying attention, but I remembered hearing something about a slingshot affect, where swinging around a large object would increase speed dramatically. Quickly I turned the ship around angling slightly away from the star, but still bringing myself closer to it. If I brought the ship too close to the star, I would burn up. But if I didn’t go close enough to the star, I wouldn’t have enough momentum to escape the star. Gunning the engines once more, the ship shot forward getting closer and closer to the star. Then after curving around the star, picking up speed but getting even closer each second, I lifted the nose of the ship, the engines bringing it farther and farther away from the sun. I laughed with glee as I saw that my trick had worked, my ship had broken out of the gravitational field, and now I could move forward by the power of my engines. I checked the planet log on the ship searching for any planets that would sustain life in the system…
The old man cleared his throat, done with his story. The children had heard the story a dozen times, but still remained entertained every time he told it. The fire crackled as the children sat in silence imagining the things that they had been told. Then one piped up, “Tell us another story Alex! Please?” The rest of the children joined in, begging him for another story. Alex lifted his hands, silencing the children, “No children, that is the third story tonight! Off to bed with you, there will be another story tomorrow night!” The children groaned as they headed off to their tents, leaving the old man alone with the crackling of the fire. Perhaps sometime he would tell them the real story, about why they had been stranded on the planet, and how he had come here. Perhaps, but not yet. He smiled as he stared at the stars, searching for the one he used to call home.