Short Story | ‘Helios Fallen’ by William Drummond, Illustration by Delilah Buckle
“Everyone up, stand up, everyone up,” Curtis said. They stood. He walked the row. “You will follow every command to the letter, or, you sit, understood,” he said. The jumpers bowed acknowledgement. One bowed a little after the rest. Inside his suit Curtis smiled. Some of them were a bit nervous. No one wanted to sit down after three months of training.
“You’ve all come a long way,” he said. “I want you to know that once certified, I’d be honored to jump with you.” The confidence boost helped calm some students. To himself he thought “After they are certified I’ll never see them again.” Outside of training he had not jumped with a student. He never jumped with anyone that had less than ten jumps. He had fifty on his jump chip. He turned and marched back to the head of the row. “Jump control I see green lights on seven pill hatches,” Curtis said.
“Jump master all pill pods as good to go,” responded jump control. The pill pods were ready to receive students and jump master.
“Jump master Curtis W. James has the pleasure of presenting to you class 6602,” he said. The jumpers bowed again. Everyone onboard the Sirocco Lightning knew each other. The three month trip sunward made sure they did. He liked the traditional formality anyway.
“Welcome class 6602,” replied jump control, “and good jump”. Jump control began the final suit check with the jumpers. Curtis went down the line, assisting each during their suit check. He helped make adjustments impossible on their own. On the jump control monitor they looked like chrome plated chess pieces.
“6602rc, Rosalinda Cao, you are green to go” said jump control. Roz felt the goose bumps rise inside her suit. She acknowledged the go and double checked her helmet display. “6602bm, Bertrand Milik, you are green to go” confirmed jump control.
Bert answered “green to go,” sweating inside his suit.
The suits’ cooling systems ready for scorching rays of the sun. Heaters online for the freezing shadows of space. The bulky shielding was ready for radiation and micro-meteor strikes. The suits looked like engorged ticks. Jump control said, “all jumpers are ready.”
Curtis said, “jumpers approach your pods.” They took three steps to the wide yellow line marking their pill hatch rim. Curtis smiled. “Not a toe out of line. They know what they are doing,” he thought. The pods came up. “Jumpers confirm your pod systems are ready,” he said. The jumpers plugged cables in to their pods. Pod lights turned green. Chest plate lights turned green. “Jumper two will you assist jumper one in to pill one,” he said stooping to observe the jumpers progress in to the pill.
As he spoke jumper three stepped forward setting a boot down in to the bottom of pill pod three. Jumper three waved to jumper four to assist. “Pill lock-out on number three,” Curtis shouted as he straightened. Pill number three went dark. The jumper slowly stood, taking a few steps back. Curtis paced down the row. He stopped and turned to face jumper three. Curtis pulled a slim cord from his suits chest plate compartment and stabbed it in to a port in the jumpers suit. The others could only guess the conversation.
His helmet display confirmed the comm link. Curtis said plainly “Sit down Robert.” Robert gave reasons, made accusations, and threatened formal complaint. Curtis listened then unplugged the cable. It hung between them for a moment then retracted in to the jump masters suit. Behind him the pill pod hatch was closing. Robert stepped back making motions that dislodged him from the floor. Floating between floor and ceiling he continued to gyrate. On the jump control monitor Curtis bowed as he spoke to the jumpers on either side of Robert. They each took an arm.
Returned to firm footing Robert shrugged off the helpers, stepped back, and sat. The bench mechanism grasped Roberts back plate pulling his suit to its proper position and locked him in place. On the bulkhead above his helmet a light turned from white to red. Curtis did another crisp turn and walked back to the head of the row. He looked down in to pill pod one and said “Good job Bert. I’ll assist you since Robert is sitting this one out.” Jumper two tapped number one on the helmet. Jumper one, gloved hand on the center post, gave a thumbs up. Jump control lowered the pill pod in to the floor. The hatch door closed over it.
Two silver pods shot out in quick succession from the belly of the ship. Four more followed a moment later. The Sirocco Lightning turned away making its accent away from the sun. The first pod’s top cover spun off trailing twenty four filaments, each a kilometer long. The cords snapped taunt pulling the sides of the pill off. Sitting inside the bottom cover was a suited figure. The shock through the cords jarred the occupant. The sun jumper gripped the center post though being strapped to the seat. The pills six sides fanned out unfurling thin gold sheets between them. The panel ends trailed out more ultra-thin cord. The cable tension again jolted the sun jumper.
Roz was ready. She pressed her faceplate against the monitor as it came on. The screen tracked its target, the distant top cover of the pod. She reeled cable in and out using levers attached to the post, keeping her target centered on the monitor. The gold sheets spread out in to a disk. Driven by the solar wind the pill accelerated away from the sun producing another jolt. The disk continued to fan out bringing Roz closer to its center. She could put the accent sequence on auto at any time. Roz wanted to do this herself. She watched the distance and speed graphs as she played cable in and out to control her accent to the cover. She pulled both levers down and the post extended sixty meters up and locked in to the top cover. The gold disk billowed out to a parasol shape. On the outer surface of the sail was etched a butterfly. Out of its cocoon now her butterfly lunged away from the sun.
Roz had no idea when the goose bumps turned to sweat. The seat straps retracted in to the seat. Standing she smiled, her boots still anchored to control pedals in the floor. Roz attached a safety cable from her suit plate to the center post. Leaning back she locked it in at a comfortable length. In flight mode, hands free, she controlled the cables with the pedals. The rim of the bottom cover she stood in came waist high to her suit. She could not see the sun below her. The light reflected off the sail above her though was intense. Without the protection of her suit she would be blinded, vacuum boiled, freeze dried, dead in seconds. She checked her suits status. The seals, heaters, cooling systems, and shielding were good.
Roz radioed the Sirocco Lightning using her call sign. “Monarch to Sirocco Lightning. Sail deployed. I’m going dancing.” She pressed one pedal forward initiating a slow graceful turn. The Monarch dipped, spun, and rose, again and again on the solar winds.
Some six years later an airlock on Mars chimed. Roz went to the view screen. At first she did not recognize the name on, or the face in, the helmet. “Curtis W. James,” she said pressing the access permission button. Thirty minutes later he sat facing her. Behind him a framed photo, a monarch butterfly etched on a gold disk.
Curtis said, “I wanted to give you time, to adjust.”
“Thank you,” she said, “six years is not enough.”
He looked away, “I’ve never lost a jumper.”
“I’ve never lost a husband,” Roz said.
Curtis paused, “I’m sorry, that was selfish.”
She stood, “More tea?”
Roz returned saying, “You stayed out there scanning for Bert. It wasn’t your fault.”
“No one saw Robert cut his comm cable and toss it in to Bert’s pod,” he said, “jump control recorded it. We suspect it sliced some cables when Bert locked the center post in.”
“I read that too,” Roz said, starring at the picture. Below the Monarch was a bright gold dot, not a star. “The jump was a honeymoon gift” she said.
Curtis looked at his helmet on the floor, “yes.”
“Mom who is that,” asked Fiona as she walked in to the room.
“Mr. James, Fiona, he knew your father,” Roz said.
Curtis said “Fiona, did you know that, unofficially, you are the youngest sun jumper ever.” Turning to Roz he said, “Had I known, I never would have let you suit up.”
Roz smiled, “I’m glad you didn’t know,” squeezing Fiona and looking again at the photo.
Illustration by: Delilah Buckle