Eclipse

Solar eclipses are a relatively frequent phenomenon within the Worlds, occurring on any planet which possesses a moon large enough to elevate its occasional traversal of the primary from a mere transit. The majority of these are annular eclipses, although – even if we discount those habitable gas giant and superlithic moons whose parent planet hides the sun for days, weeks, or months at a time – full occultations are hardly rare.

The perfect solar eclipse, however – that moment of impossible beauty when the lunar disk precisely covers the primary’s photosphere at syzygy, allowing the corona to shine forth as a ring of jewels – requires such a serendipitous coincidence of lunar diameters and orbital elements as to be virtually unknown even across ten-thousand systems, rendering minor wonders such as double planets and circumbinary sunrises commonplace by comparison.

While a handful of systems experience them occasionally, and a few have attempted to recreate the phenomenon artificially, the true natural perfect solar eclipse is best witnessed on Mezimiali (Qulomna Maze), the only known system to be blessed with a solar and lunar configuration capable of giving rise to totality somewhere on the planetary surface approximately every 1.5 local years.

Would-be eclipse viewers should be warned, though: plan ahead! The autochthonous moig have taken enthusiastically to their world’s primary source of tourism, relocating an extensive complex of motile resorts to fully cover the predicted path of totality of each and every eclipse to allow as many visitors as possible to enjoy the experience, but even allowing for this, bookings must be made years – even decades – in advance, and travel comply strictly with published schedules to handle the logistics of moving so many sophonts onto and off planet in good order.

Such is the price of observing one of the rarest of all astrophysical phenomena.

– Around the Worlds on ¤1,000 per Sol

 

Once, For a Bet

There is, technically, a less expensive way to reach orbit than an elevator ride, and it has the additional advantage of being the fastest way to reach orbit. However, I cannot recommend it to you for one simple reason: I’ve “ridden freight“, and it’s an experience best saved for when you have no alternative.

It’s inexpensive, in a nutshell, because you’re being squeezed into a gap in the freight schedule. And as you’re riding freight, the accommodations are very much suited for freight: you get a comfortable acceleration seat, certainly, but one fixed inside what remains unmistakably an intermodal freight container fitted with an aeroshell.

Most providers do, as a courtesy to keep their passengers entertained, equip the nose of such capsules with a sapphireglass window. This is less helpful than it might be.

After boarding, it provides you with a fine bullet’s-eye view – for the seconds of your loading slot – of what it’s like to be shoved into the breech of the Worlds’ largest gun. Then the gravomagnetics catch you up and hurl you forward. The featureless sides of the tube rush by, but you won’t be paying attention to them: being on the freight schedule means fitting in the fewest freight slots possible. Eyeballs in, folks, feel the elephant on your chest and watch your vision blue-shade out – it’s six standard gravities from here all the way up the gunspire.

(Unless you’re riding freight on Paltraeth. Then they fire you at the full twelve local gravities and take bets on whether you’ll be conscious at the top. There’s a barrel of the local booze in it for anyone who can climb out of the capsule on their own, starport legend says, just in case the trip upwell didn’t impair you enough.)

Then comes the fun part. In the old days, the brief glimpse you’d get out of the window would have been of the exceptionally solid iris holding out the attenuated atmosphere at the gunspire’s tip, opening for you with such fine calibration that it’s impossible to see. Now, there’s just a brief flash of blue as you pass the kinetic barrier, the sickening lurch – and eyeballs snapping back out – as you pass beyond the magnetics, and the end of the world coming to call.

You see, everything up until this point has been quiet as a moth’s whisper. A mass driver in an evacuated tube makes no noise – the switchgear and the pumps might, but they’re on the outside.

Once you hit the end, though – the air might be attenuated, but there’s still enough of it to hit like a granite cliff. One moment, silence. The next moment, the storm gods of every pantheon you’ve heard of and a few more besides have come to call, with a real urgent need to come in there.

And they brought some friends, it looks like, ’cause that convenient window is making it very clear that everything outside is on fire.

This, you might think, would be a good time to panic.

Well, you’ve got something under of a second before they start hitting you with the lasers, and it’s back to elephants, blue-outs, and now an angry giant whaling on the back of the capsule with a to-scale warhammer to add to the rest of the noise – with your eyeballs vibrating in time.

That’s the worst of it. It only gets quieter from there to orbit, and after the hammering you’ve taken on the way up, the eyeballs-out dangling-in-your-straps deceleration to match velocity with the highport comes as something of a relief.

But I trust you understand, gentle reader, why it is that I cannot recommend this mode of transport.

– Around the Worlds on ¤1,000 per Sol

 

Jumps

The second stage of jump procedure using a Ring Dynamics stargate is obtaining a reference-frame trap, thus ensuring that you arrive in your destination system in the same sequence and association to the empire time frame that you were in when you left, thus preserving chronological consistency.

In urban myth and pulp fiction, this is the procedure that prevents you from wondering why the dinosaurs are warning you off their nice carboniferous planet when you were told to deliver a load of colony prefabs, or from having your extropy sucked out by the ice giants at the end of the universe who are so glad you turned up to feed ‘em high temperatures and ordered states.

In theory, this is the procedure careful adjustment of which permits you to indulge in predestination paradoxes, knight’s-move oracles, and other cunning manipulations of the informational content of your future light-cone.

In practice, this is the procedure that stops you from coming out the other end of the wormhole as a light-year long smear of exotic particles. The universe hates time travel, and is not shy about telling you this.