Sewing Strange Threads Part 2 - by D.M. Pruden
Not too long ago I asked readers to submit some titles for a possible short story for me to write.
A final winner of five of the best suggestions was chosen by popular vote.
What follows below is Part 2 of the story, Sewing Strange Threads. If you haven't read the first part of the story, you can go here to find Part 1 of Sewing Strange Threads.
I invite you to read what I have written and send me your comments via email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
So, without further ado, I present Part 2 of Sewing Strange Threads...
Sewing Strange Threads Part 2 - First draft
As Father adjusts the parameters, I monitor the sun’s response to our efforts. After a time, erratic readings appear on my terminal. “Graviton flux is building rapidly,” I say.
“I know. Give me a moment. I'm adjusting a variable to compensate.”
I watch his progress on my monitor, my eyes darting between it and the view out of the window. The distant sun seems to pulsate. “Solar radius has decreased by 0.01%,” I say, trying to keep the panic from my voice.
“Something’s not right.” Father rises from his station and dashes for the door.
“Where are you going?” I ask, but he does not hear me. I continue to watch the decay of the solar gravity field as the collapse accelerates. Before long the star is almost half a percent smaller and contracting rapidly.
“Ari,” comes Father’s voice over the speaker, “I need your help with this— quickly! I’m in the magneto control room.”
I am on my feet and on my way to the door before I stop myself. After I rummage through the locker and grab the tools I think we need, I sprint through the long winding corridors to where he's located, almost a kilometre away. With every step my legs wobble as if the floor under me moves. Local gravity variations affect the structure of the accelerator, roiling through it like a rippling wave. I mentally calculate what degree of stress is being applied to the station. There's a real risk the structure will break apart before we correct what’s gone wrong.
Father wears an EVA suit, helmet in hand.
“What are you doing?” I say.
“There is a frozen control valve out there; possibly damaged by a micro-meteor. I need to replace it.” He held up a small palm sized device.
“Are you sure it's the only one damaged?”
“No, but it's the one I can't get a reading from. I need you to stay here and monitor the readings. When it becomes active, hit the abort button and shut down the reaction.”
“Why can't we simply cut the power feed?”
“Because we're harmonically linked to the sun. We have to ease it back or the abrupt change will tear the ring apart.”
I helplessly watch him step into the airlock, then hurry to the observation portal to keep him in my sight. He momentarily vanishes behind a support strut and my heart stops until I seem him emerge on the other side of it. I know I'm supposed to keep an eye on the instrument readout, but I have a bad feeling that something is going to happen. This is so much like the events around what happened to Mother and I can't shake the paralyzing grip that my fear has on me.
Father is too busy to notice me. Despite his magnetic boots, his attention is riveted on his footing as the structure continues to shake under the stress.
A clatter comes from outside and I'm confused about what could cause it. Something explodes on the hull outside, 10 metres from him followed by another smaller one a little further beyond. In rapid succession more and more micro-meteors impact us, jostled about by the rapidly varying gravity field.
I call out to warn him.
“I’m okay, Ari. The unit is installed and I'll be in inside as soon as I connect the telemetry.”
Holding my breath, I wait for him to complete the operation and begin the laborious journey back to the airlock. I’m startled when he staggers back a pace and his helmet is enveloped in a cloud of pink mist.
I peer through the window, wondering why he moves so strangely. He sways unsteadily, and his arms float freely, as if he floats in a pool of water, while his feet remain firmly affixed to the gantry by magnetic boots. Gradually the mist disperses, revealing half of his helmet gone as if blasted away.
Confused, I stare at him, failing to accept what my brain tells me is the only explanation; a micro-meteor struck him.
My father has died before my eyes.
Barely able to conceive of what has happened, I fight to breathe. Weeping hysterically, I scream in the microphone for him. The hiss of static on the speaker is like sharp claws tearing at my hearing.
There's nothing I can do. He's gone and all I can think of is how I am responsible because of the years I’d held him accountable for Mother’s death.
The floor lurches and I am tossed into a bulkhead. The high-pitched whine of stressed metal competes with my screams. Primal concern for my own survival overwhelms my grief. I struggle to my feet and hurry to the control room to verify if the module Father installed is active.
To my dismay, it is not.
The thought of him brings forth a tide of emotion I cannot afford. I force my grief to the back of my mind and frantically access the interface, trying to do something to bring the unit online. All of my efforts are in vain, and the sickening realization dawns on me that Father was not able to complete the connection before he was taken.
Another jolt sends me sprawling to the deck. Pipes burst, spewing clouds of scalding steam above my head. I curl into a ball and cover my head as metal tears and debris is hurled about me.
As abruptly as it began, the wave of destruction ends. Save for the hiss of escaping steam, the station is quiet once more. I fearfully raise my head to confirm it has passed.
Struggling to stand, I hurry on unsteady legs to the storage locker. One EVA suit remains, which I grab.
My hand sticks to the fabric. Stupidly I stare at it until it registers that I am covered in blood. A bloody tear runs down the arm of my jacket where a piece of rent conduit cut me.
Silently apologizing to Sasha, I tear a strip from the hem of my jacket and clumsily tie it around my injury using my teeth to tighten the knot. My wound tended, I finish putting on the suit and test the pressure seal.
When the outer door of the airlock opens, a vast, empty darkness studded with an infinity of stars greets me in silence. It is beautiful, and terrifying. A single misstep, and I will fall endlessly into the hypnotic darkness, with only my grief and guilt to keep me company until death takes me in its icy embrace.
I swallow reflexively, breaking the spell. Unnerved, I activate the magnetic boots. My feet become fixed to the hull, and with the sensation of connection, all temptation to step into the void vanishes. My attention is on my feet as I awkwardly shuffle along the gangway. Even with magnetic boots the wild variations that are rippling the skin of the accelerator could hurl me into space without a moment’s notice. Remembering my tether, I attach it to the guide rail and gather the courage to look up.
Immediately, I regret it.
Affixed to the station by his feet is the lifeless body of Father. His helmet is half gone and a pink smear coats the shoulders of his EVA suit.
I force back my rising gorge and make myself move forward. Keeping my attention on my objective, I squeeze past his body to reach the module. Vision grows difficult as my visor fogs and I realize I was so rattled I didn’t take time to adjust the flow regulator. My training reasserts itself and I correct my oversight before returning my attention to my task.
A few seconds later the connections are made and the module’s exterior light indicates it is operative. Unthinking, I turn to tell Father that it’s done, and almost vomit in my helmet at the sight of his mutilated body.
My fogged vision does not permit me to see him distinctly, so I turn away, accepting the small kindness. I do not have the strength to do anything but focus on my feet as I move past him to return to the airlock.
At first, I think I should bring his body back inside, but I cannot make myself touch it. Convinced that there is no time, I make my way without looking back. I pray that there is only one damaged module, because I have neither the time nor the courage to return and locate another.
It is only as I raise my head that I notice my vision has worsened and there is a clattering on my helmet. Micro-meteors continue to strike the station. So preoccupied was I with my task I did not notice them.
No more like the one that took Father have struck, but a multitude of smaller ones rain down, wearing away everything they strike.
With a start, I realize my visor is not fogged by condensation, but has been pitted by the invisible, microscopic missiles. I rub my gloved hand along an arm, and strain through the obscuring damage to see the fabric flaking away at my touch. The heavy, resistant outer layer of the EVA suit is compromised.
A renewed urgency drives me toward the airlock, now only ten metres away.
Something ricochets off the hull, centimetres from me. Agonizing pain explodes down my forearm. Staggering backward, I grasp my injured arm as I struggle to process what’s happened. With delayed horror I realize I’ve been struck.
My pulse races and my breath becomes shallow. A growing mist of frozen water vapour around me confirms my worst fear.
The hiss of escaping air drives me forward.
I blindly grope at the door control with freezing fingers. Greedily gasping the last of my air, I make it inside the airlock and get the door closed.
Tearing off the helmet, I hurl it aside and gulp the recycled air blowing on my face as if it were one of the cool mountain breezes Sasha speaks so often about.
My thoughts drift to our last visit. The verdant meadow surrounding her family’s home meets a vast forest that rises to the heavens on the flank of a mountain. Gusty winds blow across the glacier at its summit, sending lazy snowflakes down on my uplifted face. Ravens call out in the distance as they circle in the air, seeming to chase after the falling snow.
“Ari, you can’t stay here,” she says. It sounds so strange, coming from her; Sasha is forever begging me to spend time with her.
She and the idyllic valley vanish. The raven caws become the screech of bending metal.
With a start, I find myself lying on the floor of the airlock.
Pain wracks my arm as I lean on it to sit up. The structure shakes violently, filling me with renewed urgency.
Arriving at the control console, I struggle to use my teeth to release the clamp and pull the glove from my good hand. The agonizing sting of returning blood flow to my warming fingers go ignored as I enter the sequence to activate the module array. Watching the readout, I pray that enough of the accelerator structure is intact.
The tremors weaken, until an uneasy peace falls on the station.
I look out the portal at the sun. It burns steadily, its warm colour unvarying. The readings confirm it no longer shrinks. Danger averted, my shaking legs no longer want to support me.
I collapse into the chair, numb.
The station is quiet.
I have the use of my left arm once more; the shattered bone healed quicker than I wanted it to.
Yesterday I decided I was well enough to recover Father’s body. It took me several weeks to work up the courage to return to that part of the station, but I couldn’t leave him outside. I will take him home with me so he can rest on the planet he tried to save. It is fitting that we both be there when the end comes. I only wish Mother could join us.
The one mixed blessing to come from everything that happened is that I now know exactly how much time remains before our star goes nova. Our failed, desperate experiment did not succeed in stopping it, but the data gathered verified Mother’s model.
The collapse of our star’s core is unavoidable and will happen in fifteen-years, ten-months and four-days.
My biggest consolation is that I will spend that time with Sasha. Her gift sits on my bed, next to me. It is ripped in both sleeves and the hem is missing where I tore it away. She would be heartbroken to see it, so I intend to mend it before I return home.
I have decided to not tell anyone how much time remains—not that my news would be greeted with anything but skepticism and derision. Everyone lives in blissful ignorance and I see no point to disrupting that. It would be cruel. When the end comes, it will be sudden and nobody will realize it.
Mother’s sewing kit rests on my lap. I select a spool and wet the end of the thread. While I took easily to her lessons in mathematics, I cannot thread a needle. It is the reason the sewing kit resides in its place beneath my bed. Still, I owe it to Sasha to try, and the effort will be a diversion from the thoughts that dog me.
I cannot help but wonder why we failed.
Mother always said our task was as difficult as threading a needle at the subatomic scale, and my efforts at sewing give me a renewed appreciation for what she meant. But her analogy also carried with it the faith that it could be done; unlike my present miserable attempts with needle and thread.
I squeeze my strained eyes shut to rest them and lower the unthreaded needle to my lap. Mother said she got her best ideas while sewing; setting her thoughts on a simple task freed her subconscious mind to wander unfettered.
Music; sewing; she liked to use such analogies to help make complex concepts understandable. I am more like Father, preferring the cold, pure images that mathematics elicit. If only repairing the damage to our sun was as simple as stitching a garment, instead of searching for an equation that may not even exist.
The needle falls from my fingers. I stare at the jacket absently, my attention owned by a random thought.
Mother’s harmony theory was elegant, but not utilitarian. She wanted to re-weave the fabric of the universe into something new and beautiful.
What if it only needed mending?
Gathering up the jacket and sewing kit, I place them on the bed. I go to the desk and take out my writing pad to put my forming thoughts to paper.
But first, I must contact Sasha.
She will be disappointed by my news.