A Day on a World

This is a short story I wrote for my astronomy assignment. We had to write an account of how a typical day on a colonized planet might pass. What I actually extracted from the assignment prompt was: write a story about some dudes on a planet. So here is my contribution:

 

Liberty.

Ha! What a farce.

The world darkened and quietened as fifteen-g’s of acceleration attempted to fuse my back with the metal. My skin became a series of ripples trapped in space: constantly undulating but never quite moving. I could have plucked it away along with the flesh if I wanted. Alas, I did not. The blood in my torso rushed to my limbs, numbing my senses. One by one, in agony, and electrocuted by nervous impulses, the organs gave up their share of the scarlet nectar. Until at last only two remained: the mind and the heart, pulsating in their reluctant congress. Dichotomies in symbiosis. It was so ironic I wanted to smile. Alas, my lips could not. Just then I felt warmth spreading across my thighs. I willed it to stop. It didn’t; my bladder would not.

Not a moment too late, the pneumatics in my suit hissed into life. The ringing silence in my ears gave way to the faint hum of the ship. I tasted rust on my tongue as blood surged with a renewed vigor through my body. I shook my head to clear my vision. My neck protested with a surge of pain, but I would not listen. No, not today. I was about to witness a monumental reformation in the Sol system. The outcome of this mission would ripple across the solar colonies, changing them forever. Change is good, they said.

“Liberty to Freedom, come in.”, the radio crackled to life somewhere on the control panel. “You are approaching terminal velocity. ETA to corrosive atmospheric drag is sixty seconds. Mark. Engage reverse thrusters. Initiate ion sheath generators. Acknowledge.”

Engage what? With a sudden wave of crippling horror I realized that I had been hearing without listening and looking without seeing. I had been in such awe of the glory of my mission that I had forgotten where I was. Now I was in awe of the prospect of my death. I looked and saw the Jovian North Pole looming ahead, its majestic swirls in a controlled stasis, belying the 360 kilometers an hour winds ripping the clouds apart. The ship was hurtling towards the surface at Mach twenty. At least it would be a quick death.

“Freedom to Liberty. Acknowledged.” The silhouette beside me stirred to life. Ah, the captain; I’d forgotten. “Blackout in ten seconds. See you on the other side.”. He flipped a couple of switches, then solemnly added: “Light in darkness…”

“… and Liberty in chaos” came the reply from the radio, “Godspeed”. The captain gave me a cursory nod as he went about prodding the controls. He was a quiet person, perhaps that was why he was chosen for this mission. Mission: the word seemed grossly inadequate. I recalled our training. My selection had been such an honor. They had told us how our actions today would affect humankind. But our work had to remain a secret, they said, for to put a face on a task of such gravity would polarize the revolution. That was a good reason, I thought, so it was alright.

The emergency light started blinking. Blackout. I braced myself. The ship was getting closer to the north pole. The magnetic field was getting stronger. It would soon disrupt communications and power. Soon afterwards, the ship would leave the Sun below the horizon as it descended into darkness. And then there would be light. I smiled, closing my eyes.

Liberty and Chaos. Chaos and Liberty. Like the light and the dark, opposites in symbiosis. I remembered the struggles of my ancestors two centuries ago. They had rebelled against the tyranny of an empire for liberty. There was chaos, and there was blood, and then there was peace. My struggle was not so different: Man’s curiosity had taken him to the edge of the solar system. All of the planets had been colonized in the name of the Allied Union of Earth. It was a small leap from there to the United Empire of Earth. There was prosperity and peace. But like the light that becomes insignificant in the day, and the darkness that loses meaning in the night, men mistakenly thought that liberty was lost in the peace. And so was formed the Patriots’ League, intent on bringing back the prosperity. The Union, also confounded by the stagnated utopia, enforced new measures to reform the empire. The two groups eventually came into conflict over the colonies’ freedom. Lines were drawn. In the name of liberty, the subjects were forced to choose. My parents chose the wrong side, the side that lost the war. The League went into hiding in stations in the asteroid belt, in underground complexes on Titan, and in the shadow of Olympus Mons. And so I was born, a refugee and an immigrant. Always running and hiding. I lived a life of a prey, indoctrinated to fear the Empire, until one day, tired of running, I just could not. Someone noticed my rebellion. My name came up in the Patriots’ clandestine meetings. And five years later, I was on the mother-ship Liberty, preparing to ride Freedom into the heart of the Jovian stronghold of the Empire.

The ship shuddered as the aero-brakes deployed and the generators came online, bringing me back from my reverie. We were in the upper clouds of Jupiter, being swept along with the winds, and in a downward spiral towards the core. My muscles sagged under the planets’ gravity. My breathing became labored, but I held on to my senses. I could see the first thunderstorms through the ammonia and the ammonium hydrosulfide clouds. The flashes were bright and the thunder reverberated through Freedom’s body. Down we went, plunging through the starlit sea of gases tinged with red. The pressure was increasing noticeably. Occasionally the ship would creak, and seem to cave under the pressure, but the graphene nanolayers held the fuselage in place.

Once we had passed the water clouds, the ship started accelerating again. The layer below was of supercritical hydrogen cooled to more than two hundred degrees Celsius below zero. It was almost frictionless, and eerily transparent. The lightning flashes above would light up the sky, but just sink through the gas below. It reminded me of the dark pictures of earth’s deep oceans I had seen as a child. No. I could not afford to show fear now. We were almost there.

“Higgs Field Drains activated” the captain informed Liberty. “Walking on water in five…four…three…two…one…success”.

My seat harnesses cut into my shoulders as invisible parachutes slowed down the ship until it was floating on hydrogen. The Higgs Field Drains, they were the cornerstone of our operation. They punctured the Field and decoupled the ship’s atoms from their mass until it was so light that it could float on a gas. They worked the other way around too. We had stolen them from a shipment to Ganymede’s fusion reactors. They would have noticed the missing pieces by now. It didn’t matter to me; it wouldn’t matter to them too in a short while.

“Liberty to Freedom, prepare the canisters.”

“Copy that. Suspension activated. Injecting anti-protons. Stand by.” The Captain nodded at me. I was up.

The Patriots had had their sights on the Jovian system for quite some time. It was the Allied Union’s industrial jewel. If it were rendered useless, the Empire would crumble. The plan was simple. Ever since the colonization of the outer planets, the settlements there had to deal with extremely low temperatures. A lot of solutions had been proposed over the centuries. In one of our raids, we had discovered a two hundred year old document about a project called Operation Lucifer. It was divine intervention. The project files had stated that Jupiter’s thermal energy output could be enhanced by several orders of magnitude. Jupiter was three quarters hydrogen by mass. Hydrogen could be fused to provide the required heat. The only condition was that a stable fusion reaction would need Jupiter to be seventy-five times more massive. That would disrupt its protective magnetic fields, bringing down radiation on the orbiting colonies, thus forcing the imperial loyalists to flee from the Galilean moons. Nobody could manufacture enough field drains to make it possible. My suggestion had solved the conundrum: we would only need a few Drains and a few kilograms of the exotic anti-matter. The drains would increase the mass of the antimatter canisters so that they could sink through the metallic sea of hydrogen and settle near the rocky core of the planet. Then I would turn off the insulating suspension.

If no loyalists was all that the Patriots wanted, then no loyalists was all that the patriots would get.

I finished calibrating the Field Drains. The captain noticed and relayed the progress to Liberty. The radio played static for a few seconds until:

“Liberty to Freedom. Acknowledged. Commence operation Doosra Aaftab.”

Thud.

Thud.

Thud.

One by one the canisters left Freedom. Their descent would take several hours. By then we would be in the safe embrace of Liberty. I harnessed myself in my seat. The captain powered up the Drains, and we started our ascent. At T minus one fifty minutes, we rose through the thunder clouds. At T minus one hundred minutes, we were being buffeted by the rusty swirls of ammonia. A while later, we were in orbit around the planet, rising in small increments. It was several hours before I could make out Liberty orbiting one of the smaller moons in Jupiter’s shadow. It was good that we had completed our mission within a Jovian day. Any stay longer than twelve hours would have registered with the surveillance grid. By the time we boarded Liberty, the canisters had already landed. I was anxious to feel Jupiter’s new warmth, even if it would be there only for a few moments.

And From a distance far, far away. Operation Second Sun did not get its name from dramatic exaggeration. I closed my eyes in wait.

 

Liberty and Chaos. Chaos and liberty. The two seasonal gods of the human race. Each heralding and shadowing the other. Every time in history when they exchanged reins, a human sacrifice was required. Last time, during the first Solar War between the Patriots and the Union, the price had been a million lives. The Galilean moons’ population was only a quarter of that number.

The gods, I mused, were getting cheaper.

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