When the alarm sounded at 15:45 Standard Time, Ella stepped out of the airlock, onto the outer decks of the Starjumper, a modified barge designed for close-orbit tours around high-output stars. She struggled to move in the suit, a heat-shielded, heavy, layered plate that was every bit the nuisance she had expected, even in vacuum.
Not that it was any surprise. Ella had been training for weeks inside this monstrosity. Three steps in, warmth from the nearby star trickled through her the plate. At five steps, she was sweating. It was difficult to tell whether the sweat was from her anxiousness or the sun sitting just off the bow.
Starjumper’s orbit took it on a comfortable, elliptical orbit around ELA-88Q, designated “Ela” by the interstellar community. That Ella was standing just above the surface of what many considered a namesake was no accident.
It made for great broadcast.
“And there she is, ladies and gents,” a presenter’s voice crackled in her ear, “Daredevil Ella — Da” —static— “looking fierce” —static— “she makes her way to the launch platform.” She tried to keep her head level as she listened. It was difficult to get signal due to high solar winds.
Was that Channel 8? She hated those bastards. After they botched the signal for her last jump, and half the regional viewership had missed the big moment. They’d paid for it in plummeting stock prices, but still. How do you screw up the one thing you’re there to do?
Static. New frequency.
“Ella, you there?” Jason, her coordinator. Good guy. Marketing genius. She’d slept with him once, not too long after she took this assignment, and why not? By talking her into this jump, he might well have made her sign her own death warrant.
Her last few months had been a wild ride of tourism, sex, and saying goodbye. She’d even made one last trip home to see her folks. You know, just in case. But now, playtime was over. This was it. Make-it-or-break-it. One jump, she was a hero.
Or dead. Could go either way.
“Go ahead,” she said.
“Just wanted to wish you luck. You make this, you’re a billionaire.”
He didn’t mention the other part.
“Thanks,” she said before the solar wind swept the broadcast away.
She gritted her teeth. The suit around her body adjusted to the heat, funneling it away from her body and into space. This wasn’t a battle of the human spirit. She had that in stride.
For Ella, this was a simple question of technology: Could her jumpsuit withstand the temperatures at the surface of the sun?
Ella believed it. She’d looked at the math herself, down to the last digit in the long line of equations that leading up to this moment. As she glanced over the edge, at the star below her, she found her throat dry.
Through her visor, the solar filtering dialed to its maximum setting, she could make out the molten surface. It was a long way down. A tether shot out of the back of her visor and latched onto an automated service arm jutting from the side of the ship. That arm locked the cable fast to the hull of the ship.
It would pull her back up after the jump.
“And here is it, folks.” The anchorman’s frequency filtered back into her ears. “Daredevil Ellen Davanis” – static – “to make the jump.”
He pronouced “Davanis” wrong.
Dammit, Channel 8.
It was the last thought Ella had before she stepped to the edge of the Starjumper and plummeted toward the sun.