(Doing these flash bits first because they’re fun, and second because I’m way behind having a million words of fiction to throw away.)
He had thought this whole life-flashes-before-your-eyes thing was a myth, but here he stood, illuminated by the growing red glow on the towering view screen, watching the reel run:
- that time he handed his little brother the cat, then jumped in the crunchy leaves just so the cat would freak out and claw his way free.
- his first girlfriend at age 15. Oh, boy.
- that game-winning shot, the only one of his life, for a team and coach that didn’t care.
- the blur of college, with girlfriends 2 – whatever as mere punctuation.
- the deep hollowness at the center of having crushed his competitors and graduated summa cum laude.
- the odd edge of emotional failure that somehow tinged his ultimate success – acceptance on this mission.
- the day his wife left him. How his kids didn’t cry.
- the unnatural calm with which he watched the coronal mass ejection on the view system speed its way toward them.
He snapped back to the present. Claxons rang. They had been ringing for some time, but he had tuned them out. He’d also turned off communications. The panic and pleading and cries of the colonists were not helping his thought processes. He was a dead man anyway you sliced it, stuck on the soon-to-be-irradiated Array. Hard radiation, and plenty of it. Who and what else were going to die was the current question.
The Fresnel Array would not survive if he ran it long enough to push the lightsail far enough out with enough velocity to give those mewling colonists a decent chance of survival. Even then, if they did survive, they’d have to somehow tack their way back to the inner system without the aid of his lasers. Would be years, maybe a lifetime.
They’d all kill each other before they pulled it off. If they could pull it off. If they didn’t starve first. Hadn’t they murdered Williams already?
His lasers. That was the issue. Destroy his lasers trying to save a bunch of murderous cretins. Or save the Array for future batches of murderous cretins. Were any on the way? Would they draw near, counting on his lasers to decelerate them for capture, only to see ruins as they helplessly sped past the system into almost certain slow death among the stars?
He could broadcast a warning – but that could propagate only at light speed. Too slow, too late for any already in route.
He could be a hero to at least some people for at least a little while, he thought bitterly. That hero bit hadn’t played out too well with his wife and kids. He had been seriously miscast. His whole soon to be over life was a case of poor casting.
He made his decision, and retired to a suspension pod. Might as well sleep out his own death. A hiss as the pod sealed itself, then silence.
The command system processed his orders.
A blaze of light illuminated the heavens.
Working on the families who people this novel I’m pretending to write, had a bit of a breakthrough – figured out who they all are and how it all has to work. Way cool. Now, it’s making sure I understand, in detail, how it all ends, and backing it up through the generations so that it seems right. But as far as personalities and events and crises and challenges, I’ve found a gold mine.
Now, let’s see if I can actually do this thing.