Actions Taken at Saturn After Encounter

[StoryADay May Prompt: “The Ugly Duckling Story Structure“]

First priority is looming Prometheus, elongated shape rapidly filling the large breach in the skipper. Do not need to respond to damage; flex girders extend automatically at centimeter growth per minute, seeking out other flex girders to form a crosshatch shrinking iris that will take a minimum of eighteen hours to seal. The skipper will shatter on the moon’s surface long before that, and before that there is a high risk of another incoming volley of masses like those fired from the moon’s surface in an arc that intersected with the skipper just moments ago. With impact with moon imminent, fire thrusters. Slow down velocity, change vector, give Prometheus time to roll out of the way. The skipper is a skimmer. Beside it Prometheus tugs, but gently, barely perceptible. Cratered surface under powder from Prometheus gobbling at the F Ring like a bird, giving the ring shape in return. The bird simile is new. Overheard?

Now out in the frosty gap, mountain of ice impact avoided. The skipper picked up a kick from Prometheus. Destination is the F Ring. Expect bullet ice and dust particles.

The unexpected weapon on Prometheus remains uncategorized. Far beyond the skipper’s sensor limits. It is possible that the weapon launched one-meter diameter balls of ice at the skipper approximately 15 minutes before the skipper’s sensors detected they were incoming, traveling at such a high speed to be impossible to avoid. The accuracy of the volley suggests intelligence, superior weaponry, and nothing to be protect against another volley. Sensors at maximum, seeking glints, unexpected motions, in the black field of view.

The skipper will reach the F Ring in mere minutes. If the skipper isn’t already under attack again. The speed the skipper is traveling is so high that the increasing grain sizes of the particles will trend rapidly to bullets as they impact the skipper. Deceleration initiated. Cancelled. Accelerating toward F Ring. Particles already denting the skipper. Rapid fuel consumption to change curve of travel until path is perpendicular to Saturn’s ring plane. Accelerations dangerous to human occupants. Bypassing safeguards. Using all fuel to plot a new course down plane.

The humans have been dead for several minutes now. Annie Sun. Rebel Haley. Anterior impacts punctured their suits and led to quick deaths.

The extreme acceleration causes hull breach containment to malfunction. It is not enough yet to tear the skipper apart. Soon the new orbit is obtained, a polar one that will send the skipper over Saturn’s south pole and up the other side toward the north pole.

The skipper will need to pass through the gap between Saturn and the inner D ring. Plenty of margin, favorable orbital velocity, odds are good. Radiate message anyway: Not alone. Attacked. Preliminary data.

Earth days pass. No fuel left to manage south polar flyby. Hull completely sealed. No air left. Life support deactivated. The bodies freeze solid. Analysis of attack continues. Discovered in remote images faint brightening on surface at launch that suggests high velocity technology embedded on the surface of Prometheus itself. Lack of later attack suggests limitations: only one weapon, or only two ready projectiles. Replay environmental and electromagnetic records leading up to attack. No evidence of prior warning. Attack without provocation, or proximity considered a provocation.

Sun and Haley were tasked with mapping Prometheus from a tight orbit, picking a landing site, and landing to explore surface and collect samples. The skipper was dropping toward the moon prior to deceleration when attacked. Based on distance and timing of attack, sensors on the moon far more advanced than human technology, by a factor or more. Lack of further response puzzling. Lack of prior attacks puzzling. Technology seems to be limited to proximity of Prometheus, and to just one location on moon surface, based on lack of engagement on previous missions to Saturnian system, including several close flybys and landings on other moons.

Several instruments on the skipper are still functioning. Plan science, including close up images of south polar vortex. The fury of the storm poses no threat to skipper at current functionality. Distance and silence. Unable to confirm reception of data sent. Malfunctioning communications array seems to be able to radiate without issue. The bulk of Saturn stands in the way. Likely Earth received if transmitting bells in orbit not destroyed by new attacks.

Through the gap between the planet and its rings without anything to see but Saturn large and banded and always in motion. Science continues without interruption. No nearby bodies. Speculate that Prometheus proper is the center of alien activity in this system, but difficult to assign certainty because past and current missions may not have had the opportunity to encounter such technology. Likelihood of stumbling onto an occupied Prometheus accidentally in vast Saturnian system is remote, but no further data points to apply to problem.

Calculate new orbit will send the skipper far above north pole. Unable to correct orbit. Likelihood of impacts increases exponentially once returning to F Ring region at high velocity.

The mothership has left orbit. Reestablish low bitrate communication. Humans aware of threat. Humans praise for the warning. Thanks. Tears. Lost mates.


Continue to capture science, analyze data, model encounter, modify process. Odds of new era of exploration in Saturn system: extremely favorable after localized alien threat identified.

Will not have learned more when skipper is destroyed in stray impact. Will not think anymore.

“Alone” is a word defined in human language node of artificial brain. Now it has meaning.

Goodbye, Annie. Goodbye, Rebel. Goodbye, mothership. Goodbye.

StoryADay May 2016 Day 9

Published by

Richard Leis

Richard Leis is a writer and poet living in Tucson, Arizona. His poetry has been published in Impossible Archetype. His essays about fairy tales and technology have been published on Tiny Donkey and Fairy Tale Review’s “Fairy-Tale Files“.