Chapter Four | Stuck Station

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4.01 - Options?

Apr 25 2011 Published by under Chapter Four

Chapter Four

The venting plasma acted as an ion thruster—an ancient human method of spaceship propulsion— pushing the weapon and the still-docked Afterthought alongside the Garage.

Faster and faster, the cannon moved past an unending gallery of spaceships.

Thinking about Alitma's daughter, Daniel ignored the pretty vessels.

Instead, he looked on sullenly as superheated matter continued pouring from the cannon’s ruptured hull.

At the fissure’s mouth, it looked like the flame of a giant welding torch. Every few seconds, spatters of molten metal shot from the breach and mingled with the neon purple of the plasma.

Daniel swore he could feel the heat … then curiosity cut through his melancholy.

“Guys,” Daniel said. “How are we still alive?”

You already asked that,” Rachel-7 said. “You and Trak repeat yourselves. A lot.”

“Rach, if we survive, I swear I’m burning ‘Must shut up’ into the first page of your contract.”

“Lucky for me we’re not going to survive,” Rachel-7 said. “And that your species hasn’t used paper contracts for hundreds of years.”

“Fine. You haven’t answered my question!” Daniel asked. “That plasma's hot as a star. We’re alive because …?”

“Headlight shield’s still holding,” Trak said quickly.

“Barely,” Rachel-7 said.

“Oh. ... Wait, wait, wait!  Alitma’s gone!” Daniel said. “We can undock from the cannon without him killing us!”

“Do that and we lose the shield," Rachel-7 said. "Then the plasma plume turns our ship into slag.”

“We could … Ok, I got nothing. We have any other options?” Daniel asked.

Rachel-7 was impressed—some part of Daniel refused to give up.

Probably the drunkest part, Rachel-7 thought pessimistically.

Then she resumed singing.

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4.02 - Suggestions

Apr 26 2011 Published by under Chapter Four

“Please stop,” said Daniel, for what seemed like the 50th time.

“Too beautiful?” Rachel-7 asked, completely serious.

“You know what? Doesn’t matter anymore. Keep singing,” Daniel said. “Just tell me our options.”

Don’t want to spend my last moments arguing, Daniel thought.

Trak looked at Daniel silently. Rachel-7 kept singing, but tried to avoid Daniel’s gaze.

“So … no options? Zero?” Daniel said, incredulously. “Say anything that comes to mind.”

He realized he was slurring his words. Daniel had reached the limit of what he could handle, booze-wise.

Trak spoke up, increasing his volume so he could be heard over the now nonstop cannon rumblings.

“I could exit the Afterthought, try to break through the Onean shield, and then weld the fissure shut with one of my cutters. Might buy us some time."

"You'd die," Daniel said.

"Plus if he pierces the shield in any way, it turns off," Rachel-7 said. "It's an all or nothing piece of tech. We lose the shield, we burn up before he gets anywhere near the fissure."

“That’s why I didn't volunteer it as an option,” Trak said.

Rachel-7 and Trak grew quiet again.

“So that's out,” Daniel said. “How about if we … Can’t we Quantum jump from inside the shield?

“Our engine's too old,” Trak said. “A newer model could calculate a path through the energy barrier, but this one can’t. Too many variables for it to process.”

"A child's Aye could find that path," Rachel-7  said, disgusted.

"Can we upgrade it?" Daniel asked.

"Not unless you have a few days on hand," Rachel-7 said.

"You don't," Trak said, still not recognizing Rachel-7's sarcasm.

“OK. ... How about we send out a distress call?” Daniel said, though he knew there wasn’t time for anyone to rescue them.

“Been doing that since Alitma arrived. No one’s coming to save us, Daniel,” Rachel-7 said.

"So no one has any ideas?" Daniel said.

"You two could sing with me..."

“No,” Daniel said.

"Never," Trak said.

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4.03 - Goodbyes

Apr 27 2011 Published by under Chapter Four

Still spewing a fog of purple plasma, liquid metal, and bluish gas, the fissure was now a ten-foot wide gash.

And it was getting wider by the second.

“Not much time now,” Trak said.

“Gods,” Daniel said softly.

Just then, the Belmont radiation became too much for the Afterthought’s artificial gravity engine. The system shut off.

This would have been bad luck for a clean and orderly spaceship, but on Daniel’s disaster area of vessel it made for pure chaos.

Any object not cloudbonded to the cabin (or to use an archaic human expression, anything not nailed down) began to bounce about the ship.

“Gods!” Daniel said, as floated up toward the ceiling, joining a storm of silverware, heirlooms, and old clothes that randomly formed a spiral pattern in the air.

Trak extended his arms to the nearby walls and held his four feet to the floor.

“That’s it then. We’re starpaste,” Rachel-7 said. “You lot have anything you want to say before we go?”

Daniel thought a moment, then looked down at Trak.

“Trak, you’re a cool guy,” Daniel said, with deep emotion.

“You too, Daniel,” Trak said, without hesitation.

“And Rachel-7? You’ve been an amazing pilot,” Daniel said. “And a surprisingly great friend.”

“Surprisingly,” Trak said, in agreement.

“Thank you,” Rachel-7 said.

Trak and Daniel waited a moment.

Then Daniel couldn't stand it any longer.

“Rache, would you like to—”

“You know I care about both of you idiots," she said, quickly cutting him off. "Don't make me say anything else.”

“Thank you,” Trak and Daniel said simultaneously.

Under the incredible heat and pressure washing over it, the powerful Onean headlight shield began to spark.

The shield's generator—which had survived the destruction of the cannon's core—was fighting to stay online.

“Nothing to be done," Rachel-7 said. "Might as well watch the rest of the show."

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4.04 - Memories 2.0

Apr 28 2011 Published by under Chapter Four

With no options left, a still airborne Daniel finally gave in to the advice of his augmented internal memory system.

The biografted computer had been pestering him for days.

“FLASH LIFE BEFORE EYESCREENS?” it asked over and over.

A few years back, Daniel, out of morbid curiosity, had bought a MS-2 Mortality Tracker app for his augmem.

Using sophisticated calculations, the program would estimate when a user was about to die, and then ask if the user wanted to view a memory recording of his or her existence.

Since the app had a rather pessimistic view of Daniel’s chances, it had asked him the question 324 times in the past couple of days.

Each time, Daniel had declined to answer.

However, as he watched the Onean shield dying around his ship, Daniel said yes.

His vision went black. Then bits of his life flooded past.

He watched his mother’s disappearance, his childhood in the Wei Cloudyard, his father’s funeral, his meeting with Trak—all in fragments almost too fast to see.

The images had emotional impact, sure, but they were quick—each one a brief psychological slap in the face.

Unlike normal memories, Daniel could freeze these ones for closer examination.  However, if he did that, he wouldn’t get through them before the cannon killed him.

He saw the first time Rachel-7 made him laugh, his first kiss with Jeska, and his first day at the Cassandra Cloud facility.

Then the memories became too painful. He saw Jeska leaving him without a word. He saw the accident.

And he abruptly turned off the program.

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4.05 - Last call

Apr 29 2011 Published by under Chapter Four

Daniel had seen a good memory just before the torrent of bad ones.

He ordered his augmem to pull up the recording of him and Jeska touring the Taree’al Asteroid Belt.

He paused the replay, capturing a perfect image of Jeska on his eyescreens. Jeska was looking at him with what he, at the time, thought was love.

That was the last day he had been truly happy. The day before she vanished. The day before the accident.

Not that any of that matters now, Daniel thought.

At the same time, Trak and Rachel-7 had also decided what they wanted to do in their last moments.

Rachel-7 stared at the Garage, examining the spaceships she would prefer to die in.

Trak focused his attention on the former site of Alitma’s ship, where the opaque ball of Kep energy had continued expanding through the plasma cloud.

Even while facing death, Trak still found the Kep Sphere intriguing. It was a globe of purest white, enveloping everything it touched.

Nothing marred its surface, not even the derelict spaceships it swallowed whole. Its curved edge was moving ever closer to the Afterthought.

“I like the way the plasma's color plays off the white of the Kep Effect,” Trak said.

Rachel-7 quickly changed all viewscreen displays to the image Trak was observing and was surprised to find that she agreed.

“It's beautiful,” Rachel-7 said.

Daniel glanced at the phenomenon before returning his gaze to Jeska's face.

"Rare to see the Kep Sphere up close," he said absently.

The realization hit Daniel, Trak, and Rachel-7 at the same time.

For Daniel, the idea was so surprising it caused him to jerk his head back, bumping the back of his skull on the ceiling. The motion sent him spinning forward until he grabbed Trak's shoulder to steady himself.

“Gods!” Daniel said. “The Kep Effect!”

Judging from Daniel’s reaction and the hopeful emotion Trak was emitting from his datacore, Rachel-7 felt sure they were all thinking the same thing.

“Boys,” Rachel-7 said, “there's a small chance we just lucked out.”

They had not lucked out.

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4.06 - Seat belts

May 02 2011 Published by under Chapter Four

“The Kep Effect could benefit us,” Trak said. “But the odds are 1 in 47,048,402,4824—"

“Trak…” Daniel said, hovering in freefall and sitting cross-legged above  his friend.

“40494804,” Trak finished. “You said I should always list exact probabilities, even in life and death situations. Remember?”

“Right...’ Daniel said. He didn't really remember.

Trak continued, “Anyway, as you can tell, the odds are very high that the Kep Effect will kill us before the cannon explosion.”

“So we die no matter what?” Daniel said.

“Of course,” Rachel-7 said. “But with the Kep Effect our survival odds are slightly higher.”

“Infinitesimally higher,” Trak corrected.

Daniel nodded.

Despite his predicament, Daniel was thinking more clearly. His internal medical cloud had removed most of the alcohol from his system and stored it as fuel for later.

Daniel shook his flask and saw that it was almost empty. He held it up to his mouth ... but something made him put it back in his pocket without taking that last drink.

He then pushed off the ceiling with his legs, turned in the air, and landed in his faded command chair.

Slightly more sober, he had decided he wanted to die with a little dignity in the captain’s seat.

The fact that he landed upside-down didn't help. But he soon righted himself and strapped in.

That’s right. Strapped in.

Most ships have cloud restraints. The Afterthought still had seat belts.

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4.07 - Helping

May 03 2011 Published by under Chapter Four

“Rachel, the second that thing hits us, fire up the Quantum drive,” Daniel said.

“Sure, why not,” Rachel-7 said.

With the ship still shaking under his feet, Daniel said, “Trak, I’ve got a good feeling about this.”

“You also had a good feeling about working for Alitma,” Rachel-7 said

“And buying this ship,” Trak said.

“And hiding out at the hospital.”

“And tracking down Jeska.”

“Neither of you is helping,” Daniel said.

“I thought I was,” Trak said, confused.

Stuck On: The Kep Effect (Part Two)

The Kep Effect is difficult to explain because no one knows why or how it works. There are theories. No good ones.

Scientists, however, can easily describe what the field does.

Once spawned by a Quantum engine, the Kep Effect is visible as the rapidly growing Kep Sphere. When the Kep Sphere reaches 11.5 miles in diameter it becomes the hazy Kep Wave, which expands an additional 11.5 miles before disappearing.

There is little to no difference between the two Kep Effect stages, except that the first  is impermeable to visible light.

Whatever its appearance, the Kep Effect randomly adds energy, order, or some combination of energy and order to any matter it touches. For exactly 23 seconds.

Here's an example:

If you push five granite wheels one at a time down a steep slope that ends in a small ramp—assuming you stand on a medium-sized H7-rated world—the wheels will pick up speed, jump the ramp, and eventually roll to a stop.

However, with the Kep Effect, the same experiment could result in any of the following outcomes—all at the same time:

  • The first wheel gaining enough speed to achieve orbital velocity.
    (Addition of kinetic energy)
  • The second wheel transforming into a helical column of granite molecules.
    (Addition of structural order)
  • The third wheel liquefying into a pool of molten stone.
    (Addition of electromagnetic energy)
  • The fourth wheel shattering into a pile of radioactive granite crystals.
    (Addition of multiple types of order and energy)
  • The fifth and final wheel simply coming to a stop after jumping the ramp.
    (Because of its random nature, sometimes the Kep Effect adds nothing.)

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4.08 - A little more Kep

May 04 2011 Published by under Chapter Four

The crew gaped as the Kep Sphere hit the changing point, the transitional moment when it became the Kep Wave.

Instantly, the white globe became transparent, save for a faint milky outline of still expanding globe.

The change gave Rachel-7, Daniel and Trak a window into the physical and chemical mess the Kep Effect had left behind in the ship graveyard.

Some of the debris was now smoldering. Some of it had grown jagged crystals. Some of it looked exactly the same.

As they watched, the wave hit a half-functioning mobile distillery, igniting the flammable liquids inside like a volcanic eruption.

The wave hit an abandoned stellar skiff, cracking it into a mist of burgundy shards.

The wave hit the destroyed Dominian Deathcruiser, rebuilding it in seconds.

The wave hit the Afterthought.

Stuck On: The Kep Effect (Part 3)

Given the random and volatile nature of the Kep Effect, most interstellar governments impose severe Quantum engine restrictions:

Under penalty of death, starship pilots cannot activate the device within 100 miles of any sentient beings.

Under penalty of expensive fines, pilots cannot activate the device within 200 miles of any uninhabited object that an interstellar government might want to use later.

Though dangerous, sometimes the Kep Effect produces lasting beneficial effects:

Organic cells may spontaneously develop more efficient ways of processing nutrients. Damaged objects may return to their undamaged states. Ayes and Meks may learn new processing skills.

Great and impossibly wonderful things can happen with the Kep Effect.

But none of them were going to happen this time.

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4.09 - The Kep Effect's effects

May 05 2011 Published by under Chapter Four

The white shimmer of the Kep Wave flashed through the Afterthought.

For a split-second, Daniel saw a wall of milky haze pass from the ship’s ceiling to the floor. Then it was gone, as if it had never existed.

But, even in a violently shaking cabin filled with floating litter, its effects were obvious.

The ship’s food forge, its programming completely warped by the Kep Wave, started producing slice after slice eggplant-and-tiny-wrenches pizza. Several two-foot high crystalline stalagmites grew from the shag carpet. The garbage floating about the cabin turned a brilliant navy blue, its cells now reflecting a different wavelength of light.

Daniel felt his chair moving underneath him and looked down just in time to see the seat change shape.

He didn’t know this, but the atoms that made up the chair were now ordered vertically from highest to lowest density.

With his fists still tightly gripping his seat belt—which was no longer attached to anything—Daniel found himself floating above an inverted pyramid of grayish chair substance.

Daniel had just enough time to look surprised, and then the gravity returned. With a thump, Daniel and Trak fell to the ceiling, along with a hail of azure garbage.

The Kep Wave had repaired the artificial gravity engine ... but with the settings inverted.

Daniel was unaware of some other oddities occurring throughout Afterthought.

  • Water in the plumbing system came very close to absolute zero.
  • The ship's repair cloud became 300,000 times smarter ...  burning out every processor it had.
  • A concentrated shower of gamma radiation converted Daniel's maintenance room locker into an iridescent gas.
  • The clothing in Daniel’s quarters, which rested above the ship’s cabin, began shooting about the room, charged with kinetic energy.

All of this happened in less than five seconds.

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4.10 - Imminent

May 06 2011 Published by under Chapter Four

“The weapon's Belmont radiation has hit its apex,” Trak said, as he reviewed the Afterthought's muddled sensor data. “Less than a minute before the cannon explodes."

Standing on the ceiling, Daniel leaned against a nearby wall to steady himself. The Afterthought's shock absorbers kept the weapon’s motion from tearing them apart, but it couldn't hold back every vibration.

There’s still a chance the Kep Effect will upgrade our engine, he thought desperately. Or make the engine more efficient, or —

“Daniel?” Trak said.

Daniel turned and watched in horror as the lower half of his friend started melting.

Trak's legs smoked and burned, all four of them torched with blistering infrared radiation from the Kep Wave. As evidence of the Kep Effect's random nature, the ceiling around Trak went untouched by the heat.

“This is certainly different,” Trak said.

While Trak felt no pain or fear, his internal sensors told him he was missing 50 percent of his mass. He had multiple redundant systems and found the injury merely an interesting occurrence.

Daniel, however, was shocked. He hadn’t really thought Trak could be damaged. Now his best friend sat in a metal slurry of what had been legs.

“I’m so sorry, Trak,” Daniel said. “We’ll fix you after the engine’s repaired—

Then Daniel realized he hadn’t heard the ping sound of the Quantum engine’s activation.

I ordered Rachel to fire it up the second the Kep Wave hit!

“Rachel! Why didn't you—?! Never mind. Fire up the engine now! NOW!” he yelled.

“Don't shout. And I didn't activate the engine because I can't tell if the Kep Wave has upgraded it yet,” Rachel-7 said, sounding strangely distant.

“If we activate the drive before—” she said, and stopped.

Daniel could have sworn he heard her grunt in pain.

He knew what she was going to say: if they activated the drive and the Kep Effect hadn't upgraded it ... the ship would burn up trying to pass through the Onean shield.

But we can't wait any more! Daniel thought. The cannon could go at any time!

“Just do it!” Daniel shouted.

Rachel-7 entered the activation code. Daniel heard a satisfying ping sound.

And the 17-ton Quantum drive fell apart.

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4.11 - Broken

May 09 2011 Published by under Chapter Four

“The engine's broken,” said a shocked Trak, relaying the muddled sensor data from the ship’s aft maintenance compartment.

“It broke? … Oh ... Well, that doesn’t matter!” Daniel said, even though he knew it did.

With a crazed look in his eyes, he said, “We have five seconds left of the Kep Effect. It could still fix the engine!”

They waited five seconds.

“Let's see that wonderful Kep effect…” Daniel said, still hoping.

In that five seconds, the Kep Wave improved the Afterthought's viewscreens, making them 10 times more efficient. They now pumped out 1,000 percent more light.

"C'mon, Kep Effect," said Daniel squinting in the brightness.

Then the effects of the Kep Wave dissipated. The Afterthought had finished changing.

“Anything?” Daniel asked hurriedly.

“Engine remains dead,” Trak reported.

Daniel cursed the Kep Effect, its discover, the mother of its discoverer, and anyone who had ever even said the word "Kep".

To be fair, the Kep Effect had nothing to do with the destruction of the Afterthought’s propulsion system. The drive was an antique.

The lack of proper maintenance, the six weeks of straight use, the missile barrage, and the cannon’s shaking had been too much for the engine. Trak, Rachel-7 and Daniel had overestimated the drive's usefulness.

“But the Kep effect could still stop the cannon explosion ... right?” Daniel said, sounding manic. “Right? Right?!”

Trak, who was trying to collect some of the metal of his lower limbs that had dribbled in different directions, said, “The odds are even lower that anything good …”

Daniel glared at his injured friend, who stopped listing another long string of probabilities.

“It is possible,” Trak said. “Technically.”

“Rachel! I can’t see what’s happening,” Daniel said

He mentally ordering his augmem to reduce his eye's exposure levels to cope with the extra light in the cabin.

“Did the Kep Wave repair the cannon?!”

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4.12 - Helpless

May 10 2011 Published by under Chapter Four

“The … fissure is closed … I think …” Rachel-7 said.

To Daniel, Rachel-7 sounded somehow damaged.

Something was definitely wrong. She wasn’t even singing anymore.

“My thoughts are … fuzzy,” she said. “Yes, the fissure is fixed… My thoughts are… fuzzy. My thoughts are … fuzzy. Yes, the fissure is fixed … But that only bought, bought, bought, bought us a few more, more seconds. ”

Trak looked down at the ship’s floor, scanning the former site of the cannon fissure through the Afterthought’s bulk. The  crack was gone.

“She’s right. We have a little more time until the cannon explodes,” Trak yelled. ‘Probably 17 sec—

“Stop … listing how much time, time we have left!” Rachel-7 said, obviously in agony. “It’s … not helping, helping!”

Her avatar now had one green eye and one orange eye, and one of them was spinning wildly.

Suddenly she shrieked.

“Daniel! It hurts, it hurts, it hurts!” Rachel-7 said.

Before the Kep Wave disappeared, it had bombarded part of Rachel-7’s datacore with ionizing radiation. Some of her memories had disappeared, cauterized from her mind.

The Kep Wave had then undone the damage … but, like it done to the the ship’s artificial gravity engine, the wave put the pieces together out of order.

As Rachel-7 recalled, she had been expelled from the academy and then went to the first day of orientation. Her thoughts were a dizzying, painful mess.

She screamed again. Her mind felt like it was on fire.

Daniel felt helpless: There was nothing he could do to fix Trak’s body or Rachel-7’s mind.

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4.13 - No exceptions

May 11 2011 Published by under Chapter Four

Trak continued dissolving.

The Kep Wave, after it had turned Trak’s lower half into liquid metal, had moved some of the molecules in Trak’s body down the Intragalactic PH Scale.

He was now highly acidic.

Trak began burning a hole in the ceiling, and it wouldn’t be long before he fell into Daniel’s quarters. His frame cracked and wilted like a flower in a furnace.

“Trak, is there anything I can—” Daniel asked.

“Don’t touch me!” Trak said with uncharacteristic urgency. “I am now a danger to you! Stay back!”

Daniel couldn’t even place a comforting hand on Trak’s shoulder.

Watching his friend fall apart, Daniel had a bittersweet insight: he had made it through the Kep Effect untouched!

I don't feel any different! Daniel thought, a little guiltily. Maybe we will beat the odds and survive this!

Then he went blind in one eye. And his left side started to shake. And he began dancing and couldn’t seem to stop.

“Gods,” Daniel said.

The Kep Effect had remapped a few hundred-thousand of Daniel’s neuronal pathways. It had just taken a couple moments for the disastrous changes to pile up.

“Nice, nice dance moves,” Rachel-7 said. She wasn’t being sarcastic. That’s how much pain she was in.

Daniel tasted copper, and his extremities felt like they were on fire.

My own body is killing me, Daniel realized. The symptoms sounded familiar, but he couldn’t remember where …

It was hard to breathe.

The world is blurry. Blurrrrrry. Daniel thought, still dancing.

Then he blacked out.

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4.14 - One last time

May 12 2011 Published by under Chapter Four

Daniel fought his way back to consciousness a few moments later, and immediately wished he hadn’t.

Because, as soon as he opened his eyes, things got worse.

Cracks grew on every wall. Viewscreens shattered. The ceiling bent underneath him.

The Afterthought was breaking up. The cannon’s erratic motion had finally been too much for it.

In terrible pain, Rachel-7 wept, her agony-wracked sobs echoing through the cabin. Wasting away, Trak silently waited for the end.

Daniel saw and heard his friends dying, and it made him feel broken— as if his very self had shattered.

So Daniel gave up.

Even if the cannon didn’t explode, he still faced death by brain damage, suffocation, or exposure to the vacuum of space.

So why do anything?

Barely able to move, he closed his eyes and ordered his augmem to play a good memory to die to.

The augmem didn’t respond.

Daniel tried again.


He didn’t know this, but his augmem– so confused by the distorted brainwaves his owner was now generating – had concluded Daniel was dead and shut itself off.

This sucks, Daniel thought. … At least I’m not dancing any more.

Daniel opened his eyes and saw Trak trying to get his attention, waving at him with his remaining good arm.

Above the death rattle of his ship and his pounding headache, Daniel heard Trak say something.

It sounded like nonsense.

With Trak's audio transmitter disintegrating, Trak tried again, speaking as clearly as possible.

And Daniel finally got the message.

The words were slurred but obvious: “Gggoodbyyyye.”

“Goodbye, bye,” Rachel-7 said, through her virtual tears.

“… Goodbye,” Daniel said, somehow managing to force the words out. “Wait … didn’t we already say this?”

They thought about it. Then they began to laugh hysterically.

And Daniel thought of Jeska one last …

Then the cannon exploded.

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4.15 - The untimely demise of the Afterthought

May 13 2011 Published by under Chapter Four

... Sort of.

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4.16 - The explosion

May 16 2011 Published by under Chapter Four

In 0.000000001 seconds, the energy of 74 middle-aged main sequence stars burst from the Z-click fusion cannon, propelling plasma outward at roughly 9 percent the speed of light.

That’s roughly 80,943,963.6 feet per second. 

In five minutes, 4.6 million miles of the ship graveyard was gone, destroyed by the superheated plasma.

Many creatures would see the explosion long before they felt its effects; the light would outrun the blast wave.

In ten minutes, the light reached Alitma, who had stopped a safe distance away in the off-chance  that Daniel had been bluffing one last time.

When he saw the weapon flare, Alitma felt a part of him die. His daughter's only hope was gone.

He sighed and added “Curse Daniel Wei Until My Dying Breath” to the list of his life goals.

It was just below “Never Use Temp Agency That Recommended Daniel Wei Again,” but just above "Keep My Temper In Check."

He ordered his crew to activate the cloaking system, and then glumly began the journey home.

In thirty minutes, the light hit Humboldt Sector Judiciary Armada 407, a law enforcement flotilla charged with capturing notorious criminals.

After taking some cursory readings of the area, the armada's commander ordered his captains to shatterwarp out before the brunt of the plasma arrived.

The commander, a would-be politician with a scientific bent, made a note to further investigate the portion of the Quadra sector where the explosion originated.

There wasn’t supposed to be anything in the area that could go supernova.

He decided, however, that his curiosity would have to wait until he captured his quarry: Alitma, Commerce Overseer of Rosov 6.

In fifteen days, the light shined on a stolen spacecraft that had just dropped out of an artificial wormhole.

The psychopath at the controls drank deeply from the explosion's photons, checked his ship’s bearings, and jumped back into another fabricated aperture in space-time.

In one month, the light warmed a small planetoid so much that a down-on-his-luck entrepreneur decided the tiny rock would be a cozy place to set up a kitchen-supply store.

When the explosion's plasma eventually plowed into the little outlet world, the entrepreneur—who had earlier decided it was a bad business venture—was long gone.

Only one escape pod made it out in time.

In six months, the light fell on a human colony that also housed a colony of thrill-seeking bacteria. The sentient germs voted to borrow one of the colonist’s well-shielded ships and visit the supernova.

The bacteria had never seen one up close.

In one year, the light of the explosion lit up the world of the Yi’at’an collective, a warlike race with insect and amphibian traits.

They saw a beautiful star form in the night, a star burning brighter than any galaxy.

To them, it was a sign of hope. Their seers predicted the supernova would usher in a new era of peace. An era where they would end their warlike ways and work together for the betterment of all.

This was true. Because one of their leading scientists pointed out that the light also meant an apocalyptic explosion would soon destroy their world. And if they didn’t work together, they’d all die.

In the ensuing panic, the same scientist noted that the light of the star looked different from other recorded supernovas.

For a brief moment, the scientist said, it appeared misshapen. Distorted.

None of the other Yi’at’ans cared.

They were all very busy trying get off their planet.

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4.17 - The end ... of Chapter Four

May 17 2011 Published by under Chapter Four

The crew didn't see the explosion.

Trak was too busy falling apart to read the ship’s failing sensors, Rachel-7 could barely think—let alone examine what was happening outside the ship—and the event was too fast for Daniel's brain to perceive.

To Daniel, he and his friends said their second goodbyes, laughed, and then there was nothing.

Here's what actually happened:

Before the explosion, the Kep Effect had done strange things to the Z-klik cannon.

  • It converted some of the weapon’s internal heat into radio waves.
  • It swirled the plasma convection currents inside in a counter-clockwise direction.
  • It increased the speed of the cannon’s rotation by 30 miles per hour.

But, most importantly, it hardened 97.8 percent of the metal along the weapon's starboard side. The alloy now had the structural integrity of diamondglass.

(And, it just so happens that, hours earlier, Rachel-7 had on a whim landed the Afterthought on the starboard side of the lower half of the cannon and attached the landing gear.)

As the Kep Effect vanished, the pressure became too much for the 37-million-year-old cannon. The shockwave ripped apart the weapon's very molecules in .000000001 seconds.

… except for the molecules that were now as hard as diamondglass.

The blast pushed the now near-indestructible cannon fragment forward like a leaf in hurricane.

A crescent-shaped chunk of metal, the fragment blocked the photons that the blast emitted, making the explosion appear distorted and misshapen to any distant observers.

Though the Kep-altered alloy saved the Afterthought's crew from instant vaporization, it couldn't hold back all the energy running through it.

Daniel received 100,000 times the lethal dose of radiation for his species. This didn’t bother him much, as 1) it happened too fast for him to see or feel, and 2) he and his crew were already dying.

Riding the blast wave, the cannon fragment rocketed toward the Garage at 9 percent the speed of light, with the Afterthought and its crew still attached.

The Afterthought’s shock absorbers kept the sudden increase in acceleration from crushing the crew into dust.

However, the equipment was not strong enough to protect them when the ship and the 40-story-tall cannon fragment smashed into a 300,000-ton war-frigate at 60,390,000 miles per hour.


Luckily, the Afterthought was empty the moment it entered the Garage.

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