dylan jeninga

Solar Resources, INC.
Meri Solar Orbital Station Report
Date: 9.16.2732
Subject: Account of the incident involving Neutron Collection Rig #1313 given by Neutron Rig Operator 115386

I'm not crazy.

I know how intense it is, I've been a neutron miner for six years. The surface where we work is nearly six thousand Kelvin and the gravity is twenty-eight times Earth normal. Nothing could survive in that. I'm a Jovian kid and even I think that's too much.

But I know what I saw.

It was near the end of my rotation, and I was getting ready for three months on Venus with the family - we’ve been saving up, and I couldn't wait to get away from the sharp edges of the Rig for some tropical beaches. I had already started cleaning up for Alejandra, my alternate, since she always leaves the place tidy and I like to return the favor. After all, our rig is our home for half the year.

I was in the nest - the bridge. I get pretty cozy in there, with snacks and pillows and the last season of whatever show I'm watching. I can never get the current season, solar interference makes radio and laser communication a lost cause, and it's not like corporate’ll let me dispatch a courier droid to pick up the latest episode of Far Horizons.

I was keeping an eye on the systems when I noticed the temperature on A deck was way up. That’s the observation deck.  I didn't bother to check the readings from the heat-funnels in question, they konk out sometimes and it's a pretty quick fix. If I had, I might have suspected something was up.

I threw on my sunsuit and grabbed my tools. I always wear my suit when I'm working on a technical issue in case of unexpected accidents. They’ll save you from getting fried, though not everybody likes ‘em because they’re cumbersome to work in. I know one guy who just prefers to go naked unless it's an EVA.

I was heading up the stairs when I got an alert on my Heads Up Display. The photonic force shield was triggering on A deck. Unusual, but not unheard of, the shield mostly keeps us floating on the photosphere, but occasionally a solar flare comes down on top of us. In fact, I thought, that explained the heat spike. It didn't strike me then that with a flare, the shield is triggered first, and the spike follows after.

So I got to A deck and checked the thermometer beside the door. The temperature inside had gone up since I left the nest by almost four hundred Kelvin. No going naked then even if I'd wanted to, it was at a sunsuit-mandatory level; something was dangerously wrong with the funnel in there. I grabbed the handle. It was warm to the touch even through my insulated gauntlet. I pulled the door open...

And damn near went blind. The visor on my helmet adjusted as quickly as it could, and the wide duraglass windows struggled to compensate as well, but they couldn't dim it completely. There was this incandescent... thing blazing right outside. It floated by the window, flickering brilliantly like a nuclear candle, and It moved, pushing against the shields and making them ripple. Even through my clamped eyelids, I saw it flit luminously back and forth, like it was trying to get in. And the heat - even through my suit, it hit me like a wave!

I slammed the door. I’m not ashamed to admit, I was sweating, and from more than just the heat. I stood there staring straight ahead, watching the afterimage dance before my eyes, taking deep breaths and trying to get a grip.

I know there isn't any life on the Sun. How can there be? But I saw something, some kind of… being, and there really was a temperature jump. You can check the system alerts on my suit.

I ran back up to the nest and threw myself into my chair. For an hour I stared at the thermometers, shields and funnel readings, not even taking off my suit. When nothing happened, I began to scold myself. An experienced neutron miner like me, getting jumpy at what was probably just a coronal mass ejection? I wondered if maybe the solitude was finally getting to me. That was when I sent the first courier, the one asking for a few days early leave on psychological grounds, just in case.

But then it happened again. A heat spike on B deck, just one deck down from the first - recreation - and then a hit to the shields.

The funnels were working full bore, trying to keep up, but the temperature was climbing steadily. Part of me wanted to hide in the nest, but I had to find out if I had really seen what I thought I had. I went down to G deck first, to grab the biggest wrench in the workshop. Never mind that it would probably be a useless weapon, it made me feel safer.

When I got up to B deck, perspiration was already collecting inside my visor. The thermal readings on my HUD told me it was hotter up here than last time, by several hundred degrees, and there was a smoke alert inside the rec room. The handle of the door was scorching when I threw it open.

Everything within was burning, the workout benches, the pool table, the gaming station. The walls, ceiling and floor glowed a dull red. The small viewports were beginning to warp, but nonetheless it was unmistakable - the ephemeral light of the thing I had seen before, right outside.

I slammed the door shut and hurried back to the nest, hindered by my clumsy suit, and focused the shield around B deck. The temperature dipped slightly, and when I drained the air from the room to put the fires out the heat funnels were able to really cool things off. What slipped my mind was that focusing the shield on one spot weakened them everywhere else.

There was a spike and a hit on C deck, habitation. In a panic I refocused the shield again. There was another spike on D, and then K, I, F - the thing was jumping around, and I swear it was testing my defenses.  I strengthened the shields wherever they took a hit, but I was playing catch up, and the unwieldy gloves meant I was hardly agile. I don’t know how long that went on, time became lost to me, but I knew a slip up was inevitable.

Suddenly, there was a blow to the shields like nothing that had come before on J deck, neutron storage and fuel processing. Now, the shields around that deck are normally thinner, that's where the magnetic sifters are, and they need to be able to pull neutrons through from the photosphere. It wouldn't take much to penetrate them.

You hear about accidents in space, a spaceship vaporized because a few grams of neutron fuel weren’t contained properly. I was sitting on thousands of tons of the stuff, and that thing was doing damage from outside, even if it never got in.

I didn't think, I just pulled all the shields there, cocooned J deck so totally that it would have taken all the guns of Solfleet to get through them. I don't know how it knew I would do that, maybe it didn't. But it left me wide open.

My monitor went red. There was a breach on D, life support. Evacuate.

That was when I sent the second courier, letting you know I was abandoning my post.

I stumbled to my feet, clutching my wrench, and stepped onto the stairwell. The searing heat hit me like an avalanche, made me stagger back into the nest. The thing was a few decks below me, but the rig felt like the mouth of a volcano. The thermometer on my HUD read thousands of Kelvin, near the limits of my protection.

The lights flickered and died, and the red emergency lights shown through the smoke. Tentatively, I stepped back out onto the stairs. Out of the darkness below, there was an infernal glow, the devil rising out of hell. It was getting closer. It was coming for me.

I ran so hard, I didn't even notice the sunsuit.

I realize now that if the gravity filters had cut out, I would have died right then, squished by the pull of the Sun. That didn't occur to me at the time, but I'm surprised it didn't happen before I got out. The fury of Sol had got inside and it wouldn't be long before the rig collapsed like it was made of wax.

The station interior was a furnace, the angry orange glow of the steel walls illuminating a thick smoke that shrouded everything. If I didn’t know the layout so well, I never would have made it to the escape pod.

I wasn't fast enough. I only remember getting inside the pod and looking out of the unclosed hatch, seeing it come up the stairs. It was like Moses seeing the face of Jehovah. I only caught a glimpse of it before I lost my vision, burned out my retinas, the doctors say. But for a moment, I stared into that god of searing fire, and I think it saw me too.

I guess I got away. Someone picked me up in orbit and brought me to Meri Station. I don’t really remember any of that.

You corporate suits won’t believe me. Mental stress, you’ll say, or I just got lazy and let a flare trash my rig. I don’t think that much neutron fuel has ever gone up at once, they could probably see the flash from Pluto. Trillions of dollars lost, I’m fired of course. I’ll probably go to jail for criminal neglect of company property, or else you’ll sue me into oblivion.

But the surface area of the Sun is more than six billion kilometers squared, more than enough room for there to be things that we, who have conquered the Solar System, have never seen.

It was real. You'll see. There are other rigs out on the photosphere.

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