By Robert Lynch
“It looks to be a good harvest this cycle,” Joe said, examining the tomato plants. Vibrant and green, the sprays of small yellow flowers displayed how healthy the plants were.
“That new nutrient mix is an improvement.” Celia agreed, delicately pruning an unwanted stem.
The radiation alarm whooped throughout the orbital farm dome. “Dammit,” Joe spat, “Another setback.” He and Celia headed for the faraday cage at the centre of the dome.
“The dome isn’t going into protective mode,” Celia said. The star stayed firmly at the midday configuration in the dome; a radiation alarm should have spun the platform around to increase the protection from radiation.
“So long as we get to the cage, we should be fine,” Joe said, “There will be hell to pay if we have to waste the crop though.”
At the centre of the dome the operations centre was heavily shielded from radiological events, having been the first part of the station built, it could also be used as a lifeboat in the event of a complete system failure. Joe and Celia reached safety and headed for the command centre.
Overseer Max Lignum was bashing at the computer.
“Max, what is going on?” Celia asked, “Why haven’t we started a protective spin?”
“That is exactly what I’m trying to prevent,” Max said. “The systems assume that any radiation is coming from the star, but the source of this burst is deep space. The ship is trying to turn us into the burst, not away from it. Grab a console and give me a hand.”
Joe and Celia each sat at a console. “Whoa,” Joe said, “Are these rad readings correct? 10 Sieverts? Can the station shield us from that much?”
“The internal station readings on show slightly above normal,” Celia said.
“What could be causing this?” Joe asked, “High rads from outer space? What does that?”
“A close supernova,” Max said. “The Fortusia star has been teetering on the brink of nova for the last few thousand years; I guess it finally popped.”
“Fortusia is about, what? 150 light-years from here?” Joe asked, “How long is this going to last?”
“About three weeks,” Max answered.
“Three weeks? Can we hold out for three weeks?” Joe asked.
“No,” Celia answered. “The base of the station will absorb and slowly become a radiator itself. We have to evacuate to the planet.”
“There may be a way,” Max said. “If we can drop our orbit deeper into the planet’s magnetosphere, we may be able to get sufficient shielding, plus the closer our orbit, the more time we spend behind the planet.”
“How much deeper would we need to go?” Joe asked.
“We need to be at 150kms above the surface,” Max replied.
“So that’s a bad plan then,” Celia said. “The drag on the station would be extreme, and the fuel required to keep us in orbit would be immense.”
“Immense, yes,” Max replied, “But not beyond our stores, we would have to convert much of the biomass into fuel, but I think we could do it.”
“But we don’t get to change our mind once we are in low orbit, we couldn’t launch a ship in that much drag,” Celia said.
“So the choice is leave now, but the station is lost; or risk everything trying to save the station, at the end of which we will have nothing left anyway?” Joe asked.
“This nova isn’t just affecting us,” Max said, “We may be waiting for rescue for a long time.”
“Dammit.” Joe said, “I knew something like this would happen; I finally got the tomatoes right.”