Castaway Planet – Chapter 04

Chapter 4

The stars shone out again, and she sat forward. “Coils recharging. Doing a full survey of the sky again…” She tumbled LS-5 once more around its axes. “Generating full sky view… okay, everyone, start looking. I’m blinking our virtual displays between the first panorama we got and this one. I’m sending different areas of the sky to –“

Got one!” sang out Caroline. “Brightest star in our sky just jumped a beautiful, beautiful big fraction of a degree! Measure that arc, Sakura!”

“It’s… about an eighth of a degree,” she said after a moment, feeling a smile spreading over her face. “That’s less than a light-year off, right?”

“About zero point two seven light years, I think, which given the brightness means we’re probably looking at a G-type star!”

G-type star. She heard the words with a tremendous lightening of her heart. That was the best possible candidate for a world they could live on.

She heard both her parents let out their breaths in a sigh of relief. “That’s wonderful, Caroline, Sakura,” her mother said. “But let’s not jump the gun. See if any other stars move.”

No one else spotted any that they were sure of, and by the time they were done, the second jump had begun. After another tense-yet-boring wait, Sakura repeated the maneuver and started the comparison running again. This time, Hitomi spotted two more that she thought moved. A close comparison showed that she was right, but the movement was small compared to the now very noticeable movement of the first star. One appeared to be a red dwarf about three light years out, and the other a brighter star five light years away.

That was enough for her mother. “All right, then. Sakura, cancel those other jumps and get us headed towards that star, okay?”

“Yes, Mom — I mean, Captain.” She felt much steadier this time as she set the course. “Given that we’re this close and moving as fast as we will be, I don’t need to do a fancy navigation calculation. Just point the nose at our target and drop out to adjust our course maybe once a day. We’ll be about there in a little less than four days.”

“That’s just fine, honey. Hold off on the jump for a little bit. Everyone, unstrap for a moment so we can all talk together,” said her mother.

The others unsnapped quickly. It took Whips a little longer to release all his hold-downs.

“First… all of you, come here,” Laura said. She reached out and hugged little Hitomi to her, and gestured the others close.

Then her mother looked up as the family gathered, straight at Whips. “You too, Harratrer.”

She could sense a momentary protest that he was too old to need special treatment. “Come here, Whips,” she said, and heard her voice waver. “You’re our family too.”

The patterns that rippled chaotically over Whips’ skin showed that he, too, was close to the equivalent of tears. He drifted over to the others and wrapped all three arms around the Kimei family; Sakura and the others gripped his arms and hands, and even though he was so very different… it was still exactly like a hug from their own family.

For a few moments they all hung there, not moving, just accepting that for now, they were together, and a family, and safe.

Mom smiled finally and spoke up. “That’s right. We’re all here, we’re all alive, we’re together, and no one’s hurt. Right?”

Hitomi nodded, brightening. Melody, eyes still huge and frightened, also nodded. She’s smart enough to know we’re not anywhere near safe yet.

“Right!” said Sakura; her attempt to sound confident and ready didn’t fool Whips, she was pretty sure, and probably not her parents.

“Of course, Mom,” Caroline agreed.

“Exactly right,” Dad finished. “I won’t pretend we’re not in trouble — not even to you, Hitomi. But we could be in much worse trouble.”

“We’re already trying to figure out where we are, and where we have to go,” Mom said decisively, letting go, and allowing the others to slowly drift back to their seats. “I’ve never heard of a Trapdoor Drive failure before, but then I suppose if it happened it would be hard to get news of the failure. Is it possible we’re somehow near our destination?”

“I wouldn’t expect so,” Whips said slowly. “I mean, I’m just an apprentice right now, but I’ve been studying real hard to understand all the key engineering stuff. We were only halfway there. I don’t know how it’d be possible for us to jump the rest of the way so fast. If ‘fast’ is a reasonable term, I’m still finding the swimming really hard with understanding relativity and such. Still, it looked like the field just … deformed and dropped us off. We’re still probably about halfway to our destination.”

“But space is pretty much empty,” Melody said, her voice trembling a little but her tone going to the lecturing one that she liked to use whenever showing off what she knew. “And our destination was EC-G5-4-100-11 Tantalus, which doesn’t have any stars I know of right along our route.”

“Can we tell if this is the right star?” Akira asked.

Sakura thought, then shrugged. “How? If we get close enough or we find a planet we might be able to tell. LS-5 doesn’t have any spectroscopic software on board.”

“My omni does,” Melody said.

A ripple of stroboscopic surprise washed down Whips’ body. “Why in all the oceans would you have spectroscopic software?”

“I was playing with chemical analysis packages,” Melody answered defensively.

“It’s all right, Melody; he wasn’t saying there was anything wrong with it, he was just surprised. As am I,” Caroline said, “but if you’ll let me access your omni we might be able to use it.”

Melody gestured vaguely in the air, and her omni-personal communicator, database, toolkit, entertainment center, and more in one — generated a green light. “Go ahead.”

“From the designation,” Caroline said, “we know that Tantalus’ primary is a G-5 star and Tantalus itself is the 4th planet out from the primary. So the first thing to do is to find out what type of star that is.” She looked at Sakura. “Which camera input should I use?”

“Umm… Hold on a minute.” Where are the specs on all these things? Oh, there’s the info tags… Okay!

“The forward nose camera is continuous spectrum sensitivity from deep infrared through far UV — that’s between about twenty-four microns down to two hundred nanometers,” she said finally with relief. For a moment she had wondered if in fact there were any full-spectrum, unfiltered cameras available. She refined the alignment of LS-5 and made sure the target star was centered. “There you go, Caroline.”

“What’s the camera designation?”

“Sorry. It’s simply designated as camera Alpha in the main systems.”

“Okay, I have the input stream. Melody, direct your spectroscopic app output to my omni, okay?”


A few minutes passed, then Caroline sat back with a smile. “Based on emission spectrum and apparent temperature, I’m reasonably confident — though not certain, because these aren’t ideal conditions — that we’re looking at a G-3 main sequence star. So it’s not Tantalus’ system, but it is, at least, the type of system we’d like to be in.”

“The Sun’s a G2, right?” Whips asked.

“That’s right,” Sakura answered, glad she knew some of this. “A G3 will be just a little tiny bit cooler and smaller than the Sun, I think, but we won’t notice the difference.” If there’s a planet to land on, anyway.

“Well, in that case,” Akira said, “I think it’s time to get things started and for me to get out some food. It’s past lunchtime, after all. Hit the jump, Sakura.”

He looked apologetically at her friend. “I’m afraid… we don’t have very many rations for Bemmies, Whips.”

“I didn’t expect you would,” Whips said calmly. Sakura bit her lip. The European Bemmies weren’t obligate carnivores, but they did need a lot more protein — of the generally animal sort — than anything else. The more “balanced” human rations wouldn’t be terribly good for Whips, and he’d have to eat a lot more of them, even in proportion to his size. How long would their supplies hold out?

“We’ll have to make do,” her mother said. “I know they’re not ideal for you, Harratrer, but we have I think three months’ supplies. Even with you onboard, we should be able to keep going for two months, and that should be more than enough now.” Unspoken was the fact that immersion issues might become acute long before then.

“Thank you, Dr. Kimei.” Sakura could tell that Whips’ formal-sounding voice hid much more relief and gratitude.

They’d found a good star. The drive was working. Maybe they’d get out of this after all.