by James S.A. Corey

Acceleration throws Solomon back into the captain’s chair, then presses his chest like a weight. His right hand lands on his belly, his left falls onto the upholstery beside his ear. His ankles press back against the leg rests. The shock is a blow, an assault. His brain is the product of millions of years of primate evolution, and it isn’t prepared for this. It decides that he’s being attacked, and then that he’s falling, and then that he’s had some kind of terrible dream. The yacht isn’t the product of evolution. Its alarms trigger in a strictly informational way. By the way, we’re accelerating at four gravities. Five. Six. Seven. More than seven. In the exterior camera feed, Phobos darts past, and then there is only the star field, as seemingly unchanging as a still image.

It takes almost a full minute to understand what’s happened, then he tries to grin. His laboring heart labors a little harder with elation. The interior of the yacht is cream and orange. The control panel is a simple touchscreen model, old enough that the surface has started going grey at the corners. It’s not pretty, but it is functional. Solid. An alert pops up that the water recycler has gone off-line. Solomon’s not surprised—he’s outside the design specs—and he starts guessing where exactly the system failed. His guess, given that all the thrust is along the primary axis of the ship, is the reservoir back-flow valve, but he’s looking forward to checking it when the run is finished. He tries to move his hand, but the weight of it astounds him. A human hand weighs something like three hundred grams. At seven g, that’s still only a little over two thousand. He should still be able to move it. He pushes his arm toward the control panel, muscles trembling. He wonders how much above seven he’s going. Since the sensors are pegged, he’ll have to figure it out when the run is over. How long the burn lasted and whatever his final velocity winds up being. Simple math. Kids could do it. He’s not worried. He reaches for the control panel, really pushing it this time, and something wet and painful happens in his elbow.

Oops, he thinks. He wants to grit his teeth, but that’s no more effective than grinning had been. This is going to be embarrassing. If he can’t shut off the drive, he’ll have to wait until the fuel runs out and then call for help. That might be problematic. Depending on how fast he’s accelerating, the rescue ship’s burn will have to be a very long one compared with his own. Maybe twice as long. They may need some sort of long-range craft to come get him. The fuel supply readout is a small number on the lower left side of the panel, green against black. It’s hard to focus on it. Acceleration is pressing his eyeballs out of their right shape. High tech astigmatism. He squints. The yacht is built for long burns, and he started with the ejection tanks at ninety percent. The readout now shows the burn at ten minutes. The fuel supply ticks down to eighty-nine point six. That can’t be right.

Two minutes later, it drops to point five. Two and a half minutes later, point four. That puts the burn at over thirty-seven hours and the final velocity at something just under five percent of c.

Solomon starts getting nervous.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck