Free, Standing

It brings tears to my eyes, the power it must have taken to do this.

The planets Allatiouray A and B were close together to begin with. When they were discovered, their atmospheres were abrading against each other, slowly leeching momentum. They were only a few hundred years away from colliding. And there was no reason not to let them; the planets were bald and sterile; their collision would have been spectacular, but unproblematic. But some insane sculptor had a better idea... and when you have power...

Recruiting an enthusiastic fleet of like-minded sentient starships, he stripped both planets of their atmosphere, spiralling the cocktail of gases off in a thousand-kilometre-wide display which is still on the system's outskirts, a work of art in its own right. Then he siphoned heat energy from the planets' interiors, cooling them and slowing the magma motion inside them until they became inert. That would prevent minor gravitational fluctuations from perturbing their shared orbits. Then he flattened them, and killed their (nominal) magnetic fields. There could not be imperfections.

Inert, rigid, solid spheres. It could have been done with the atmosphere and the rest still present, sure - but it would have required constant maintenance, and that wasn't the point. He wanted his work to be free-standing, and for that he needed to remove additional variables.

After that it was just mathematics; unbelievably ancient mathematics, applied with surgical precision. Rotation. Relative motion. Matching. Matching perfectly, to make Allatiouray A and B two planets, locked permanently face-to-face in orbit around each other...

Using my suit's inertia controls I pivot in space and plant my feet on fused marble, below me. Then I stretch up and plant my palms against the rock ceiling above.

Allatiouray A and B are locked in orbit around each other. And they are separated by a distance of six feet.

I am Atlas, stopping the sky from falling. I am an action hero, being crushed in a villainous trap. I am gravity, invisibly binding worlds together.

I am Ed MacPherson, and I am standing on one planet while touching another.

Discussion (6)

2013-12-14 00:45:39 by David:

That last line was just beautiful. My only question is who's speaking here?

2014-07-14 14:53:35 by cryptologicalMystic:

This is the best ending that could possibly have been. You make a regular, angsty ending, and then you put this uplifting, optimistic piece after it. It makes you think that even though Ed eventually died, he still had a fantastic life. This is pure happiness in story form and it's impossible for me to say how much I love it, okay?

2015-06-05 13:00:38 by Alchymist:

I like the idea of the story and it's a fitting epilogue to the whole Ed saga. Roche may have something to say about getting the planets this close together without them falling to pieces, however. Poincaré might have something to say about the stability of their orbits as well, assuming that they still orbit a sun as well.

2021-03-25 01:48:26 by jeremy:

I just finished reading the paperback edition and I’m wondering if it was Ed minus 10 who’s doing this, or if Ed plus 10 somehow escaped when his ship was destroyed.

2021-03-25 01:48:27 by jeremy:

I just finished reading the paperback edition and I’m wondering if it was Ed minus 10 who’s doing this, or if Ed plus 10 somehow escaped when his ship was destroyed.

2021-07-21 07:58:30 by john:

> Roche may have something to say about getting the planets this close together without them falling to pieces, however. For rigid, tide-locked bodies of exactly identical density and mass? Pretty sure minimum orbital radius works out to twice equatorial radius, that is, contact. Think about it like Newton's shell theorem. Probably lots of tricky internal stresses, and the shapes might be visibly non-spherical, but the kind of people who build space elevators for fun could find a way to make it work, or at least close enough for regular maintenance to involve a broom and a tire jack.

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