In two and half minutes, I’d either become the twelfth certified wormhole pilot or the seventieth-odd loser ripped apart by Jupiter’s storm shear. The decisive moment was speeding up to me. I’d ghost my electricals, coast through the eye of the storm, and slide through the tiny aperture halfway to another world. Even after all these years, we still don’t know if the bridge across hundreds of light-years hidden was natural or artificial. But even if you don’t get how something works, it doesn’t mean you can’t make money off it.
It’s all about aiming just right and cutting my power down at the right moment; you’ll glide right through the hole and out the other side. If your math sucks or don’t, you cut the power at precisely the right moment. You make it.
If you miss, you’re pushed into a 700 km storm shear at ten times earth’s gravity.
I’m about to make that decision, but it doesn’t feel right. Not yet, in one minute forty seconds.
Camilla Sandile was the first. A pilot running a dinky transport pod operating out of the LaGrange Station between Ganymede and Jupiter. Then her fuel tank popped. She’d banked some reserve thrust but not enough to get break orbit, and she couldn’t afford a rescue.
So, Camilla chose between dying slowly in the void or a more profitable death. She dipped her course straight into the eye of Jupiter’s famous storm and cut all her power so that her scanners and comms beamed out profitable data for her next-of-kin. But then she survived the storm. The center was eerily calm on that narrow path, and her ship dove right into the same hole in space that I’m falling into now.
On the other side, she found her own gas giant, Sandile, with another storm. It provided enough escape velocity to do a preliminary scan of the system. And then refreshed by survival and a wealth of information. She did it again. Turns out it’s easier coming back than leaving.
She sold some of the data, bought a rescue, started a company, and went through again. She snapped beautiful high-resolution scans of the distant system, including habitable worlds (a planet and two moons). Employers trotted out contracts, governments quoted laws and punishments, but she didn’t budge. She kept her knowledge and its value to herself.
Dozens tried to copy her, littering Jupiter with their remains, until then Xiran succeeded, and then the race was on. Anybody who could pilot into the tiny hole between worlds could start a transport company and set their price. The governments, companies, and trillionaire dynasties paid what they must to exploit these new worlds. The pilots kept to an informal agreement to only charge a modest fortune.
I learned all their names, their companies’ names, even their ship’s names, and I wanted to add mine to the list, and I would in fifty-one seconds or die trying. My fingers rest on the switch. Soon, would come the right moment to cut the power.
I’m a good pilot. I got an instinct back by math. I easily plot courses between moving bodies across a field of gravity wells. I skip on fuel and pass a portion of the savings onto the customer. I designed and built my ship. I copied the best ideas I could glean from the successes and avoid the worst ideas from the failures. I think I got it, so I threw my name, reputation, and life out there.
Thirty-three seconds, the storm closed around me, and ahead I saw the gleam of the wormhole. My small viewport faded to protect my eyes. It would close soon after I hit the switch. Most of the ships with large viewports crashed, and all the successes had a shutter system. Perhaps the last-minute doubt to the pilots did them in. Best to seal yourself off after the right minute and wait for success. My math was spot on, my entry trajectory was perfect, and everything looked optimal, but I didn’t flip the power cut switch. I couldn’t. Once I did, I had to live or die with whatever decisions I’d made.
The switch was a lock, and it would trap me into whatever path I was on. Ahead I saw the ring outline of the wormhole. I didn’t know if that bright deadly ring was what made Camilla, Xiran, and all the other successes give in and accept, but I did. I flipped the switch fourteen seconds away.
I closed the shutter and watched the ring burn an afterglow in my retina. Finally, I took what might be my last few breaths or my last few breaths as a schlub.
A rattle began and crept up the side of my hull. I designed this ship to withstand any shear. Maybe my ship was too brittle. Too late now.
Crap, I lost count of the seconds.