Nature Walk

Something’s wrong with the transmitter and I’m taking the chance to have a nature walk. The cockpit lies before me. The craft it’s attached to is not parked as on larger ships but rather docked on the underside, the canopy sticking up through the flight deck floor. This deck is tiny, only holding five Heron Starfighters and a few shuttles. But it still is pungent with the aroma of fuel, lubricants and just a whiff of smoke. The canopy rises noiselessly and I am welcomed within. The cockpit lowers into the waiting Heron’s body with a solid clunk and doors close above me to seal the gap. The barest puff of Reaction Control Jets and I am away, free-floating in night’s endless ocean.

I should have taken the shuttle. A commander ought to be more pragmatic than this, but I wanted some time in a light and lively bird, the chance to view the cosmos on its own terms. The throttles leap to my gloved hand, fitting my fist with a smooth mass that knows me well. The seat, the straps, the enclosing hull feel intimate and I have wings again. I want to firewall her and rocket out as she was made to, executing acrobatics never thought of while in atmosphere. The fusion thrusters vibrate just enough to urge me on. Gentling the RCS, I move away from my ship, named Ayame, and have a look at her. She’s a perfect spearhead, titanium-bright, reflecting hard edged starlight, a creature of the deeps. I will heal her wound first, soothe her hurts, and then steal away a few moments of unfettered thought before returning to the needs of my crew.

Her bent antenna is quickly found, the victim of a micrometeorite. It will be simple to put to rights. I set my craft to match course with Ayame exactly. Two objects on the same trajectory might as well be chained by durasteel. And Ayame’s navigator knows better than to change orbits without warning. I depressurize my cockpit and float free, my helmet and flight suit a thin but adequate barrier against hard vacuum. The air tank takes care of my last real need. I clip a line to my fighter and push off, making a heart-stopping vault across endless nothing, to the safety of a hand-hold.

The grip forms a loop to link my cable. Just as I thought, the antenna only needs a little tweak to put it right. The work is simple yet significant. A bend here, a bolt there, and primary communication is back on line. I turn and take my reward. It’s easy to feel insulated while walking on a world, staring up through thick and cloudy sky. Aboard a ship you live and work inside a hull. Even out here, you are weightless and dependent upon a suit and helmet to sustain your fragile life. A gloved hand cannot truly touch. But the sight of the undimmed stars always renews my vital connection, slamming me gasping into reality. They are not blurred or diminished here, as when viewed through atmosphere. Out here, they shine with unmatched glory in vibrant, prismatic colors.

A red dwarf gleams a perfect crimson. That blue giant an eye-searing sapphire. Over there a wash of gems spilled from a velvet pouch. That nebula, humble dust and gas, is a cotton candy mass that glows as it was meant to. Even the planet we are circling, a rather muddy looking gas giant, has its own swirls of marbleized oil or paint. From it, we scoop hydrogen that never saw a sea. Instead it forms its own thick ocean and we pelicans dip it up for heat and light and thrust and survival.

There, further in-system, past mineral rich asteroids, lies the primary. Its golden orange light warms the side of Ayame’s hull, where I cling limpet-fashion. With a final glance out at the deeps I pat her fondly and vault back to my heron, reeling my spider-line behind me. It’s time to go in. I think I’ll take the long way ‘round.