Friday, June 10, 2011


Bobby Derie

I burnt my finger on the sun.

Oh c’mon, you can’t just end it like that, it’s a cop out.

I was taking an interstellar ramscoop on its fueling run, ready to abandon this tired system for a new world with five thousand other colonists. Before we left, I wanted to take a spacewalk: one last goodbye to everything I had ever known.

The Helios had broken out of solar orbit, and my monomer cable unspoiled faster than I could really see as I approached the outer coronasphere. We dipped down closer, and I started flailing around, one hand on the line, and the pinky of my left hand just brushed the outer surface. A little plasma charge like an arc welder sheered the tip of my finger off.

A little better, but I know you’re still holding back on me.

Our ship was spiraling inwards toward Sol, the magnetic ramscoop picking up fuel for our journey out of the solar system and our ship picking up delta v to make escape velocity. Any miscalculation and we’d dive straight down into the sun.

I’d gone out for a space walk – it’s really pretty safe within the magnetic field, and the experience is unique, like bathing in the Aurora Borealis. Imagine standing under a zero-gravity waterfall made of cosmic rays and you’ll come close to it. I swam in eddies and gusts of low-density plasma like surf at a beach. The ramscoop field was bent and rippled as we passed through the magnetosphere, and static discharges of solar lightning like waves upon a beach. By comparison, I was little more than a soft-shelled crab watching a storm from the relative safety beneath the waves.

The solar flare hit us broadsides. Our velocity was way too high for it to slow us down, but it upset our angle of approach and the pilot systems turned on the emergency jets and took us in for a tighter spin, hedging the coronasphere.

The flare blew me of my feet and left me trailing, still secured by the macromolecular cable and at the barest periphery of the magnetic field. We were skimming the surface of the sun – everything except the ship and the inside of my suit was nuclear flame, the corona speeding past below me. I felt like a cosmic jet skier on an ocean of fire.

Just like in class, I managed to keep one hand on the cable. My left hand was unsecured, and as the ship passed infinitesimally closer to the sun, the tip of my glove penetrated the ramscoop field. I wasn’t the first human being to touch the sun – over the years there had been any number of accidents, including when a ramscoop ship like ours had miscalculated, badly, and crash directly into the coronasphere. I was the first one to touch the sun and live.

A pure white flash incinerated the tip of my smallest finger in less than a second. You can’t even feel that sort of heat when it touches you, but the image of the flash was seared into the back of my retinas. I had blisters on my eyelids for weeks afterwards, and I can still see it in my sleep.

Just as I brought my hand up to admire the clean, mirror-like shine where the suit had fused shut, the ship completed its turn and headed out, away from Sol. The sun had exacted its tribute to me, and I managed to bring myself in one-handed.

With one hell of a story to tell. See? Was that so hard?


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