From the observation deck, the star seems only a little brighter than usual.
Through the polarised filters and shielding, close enough to touch, filling the entire space. Safe. Comforting.
Unlike the truth of it. The destructive power of it; awesome, in its’ true meaning.
Where he used to come to watch it with Bella. The changing, shifting patterns and tints in the furnace.
Where they would join together. Unable to stop themselves. There, in its’ light.
Creation. Destruction. Renewal. Love.
But Bella was gone, by her own terrible choice.
Pilot the drone, down into the inferno.
It should have been unmanned, but she chose to go, to ride the twisting thermal energy; navigate the eye of rising solar flares; falling through layers of gas and plasma. Fire. Brimstone. Damnation.
The drone was good to forty thousand kelvin and seventy-four G’s. It lasted less than a minute.
To evaporate in a stream of superheated gas, or collapse to an invisible dot of matter?
To leave the man-made monument of the Nikolai, held, locked in an orbit around a dying star. All of man’s ingenuity, a technological marvel. What had it looked like, the Nikolai – shrinking from view at Mach 17, shrinking to a bright speck, then vanishing as the corona enveloped the drone?
Leaving everything behind
Deposited into close-orbit, strapped to a rail-drive, immediately discarded before the irradiated core could destroy the station. The Nikolai sent on a one way-trip to observe the extinction of a star.
In a few hours, when the star reaches critical mass, the mass expands, a radiating supernova, long before the bright tongues of visible light.
“Attention. Stellar expiry in three hundred four minutes, forty-seven seconds.”
A stellar giant, at the very moment of extinction, three hundred and four minutes from its end.
Observed from Earth, it will be more than three hundred years before the bright flash of extinction reaches the home of a tribe of self-aware primates. The accidental thinker. Greedy, needy, guilty, driven. A blink of existence.
Kurt, rested in the medical pod, preserved in cold storage.
To see her laugh, with him.
To see her shine, with him.
Just to see her, with him.
“Attention. Escape pod Cassiopeia; commencement of launch sequence required. Launch in one hundred minutes. Please confirm countdown.”
The pod waits beneath the Nikolai, it’s miniature rail-drive ready to fire for the return home on a shaft of hard-light. The finger of God. So many light-years traversed in a matter of hours.
Thirty years of scientific rigour, reason, rationality, eaten away in just a few months. Consumed.
“Katya – cancel launch sequence.”
Flight Officer Kurtis Romain. Three words in the log, under the heading ‘cause of death.’
“Please confirm cancellation of escape pod launch sequence.”
P97328. Bella’s star. Almost at its’ end.
Her choice. Escape. A one-way trip to –
Watching the data streaming from the drone into Nikolai’s relays. Ending abruptly as heat and compression finally won out. Readings that would never reach home.
They will wonder; did the shielding fail? Did the corona destroy the Nikolai before its time? Did the gravity well overcome Katya’s positioning system? Did the rail-drive rend the Nikolai to dust in a shower of lethal particles? Any number of rational, scientific explanations.
It will never be known.
That the drone launched with a pilot on board.
Bella’s second choice. Anything better than staying.
“Beginning transmission of station logs. Opening Relay Beacon One.”
It will never be known.
The loss of Flight Officer Kurtis Romain.
The loss of science officer Bella Petrova.
The loss of the Nikolai with all three of her crew.
“Katya – Cancel transmission.”
The loss of one man’s reason. The loss of control. The flaw the psychological profile missed.
“Please confirm cancellation of transmission.”
Just a little time left. Just one left, a lonely primate. A jealous primate.