47,700 words now. In the home stretch, word-count-wise. Story-wise, too, I think.
du-Razh was a pale circle, swelling even as he watched. Igraine was snoozing in her chair. Part of him wondered if she wanted to be wakened for this pass; the rest didn’t care. Let her sleep.
The display shifted a little, automatic corrections to their trajectory. He’d puzzled out enough of the drifted Englisch to be able to toy with certain aspects of the display. du-Razh’s moons were labeled now, all of them tagged with numeric identifiers; the Earth ship didn’t have the names built into its database. They’d passed by IX‑4 and VIII‑4 already, and VII‑4, known locally as Shiva, largest of du-Razh’s satellites, was approaching. They would pass below its tilted orbit, no closer than one hundred thousand kilometers to the moon at any point.
And now the gas giant was near enough to make out the bands of atmosphere, the murky swirls of hydrogen and methane, nitrogen and oxygen. Storms larger than worlds crawled across its surface, some of them older than human settlement in this system. A thin band of rings orbited its equator, tilted thirty degrees to the ecliptic, made up, it was theorized, of a shattered moon, or perhaps a comet that had long ago strayed too near the giant world’s gravity well.
A world three-quarters the size of Jupiter, in the Home System. A world whose gravity could tear apart lesser worlds.
They dove toward it, the little navette making corrections as they fell.
Shiva fell behind them, and then scarred, stony ViÅ¡nu, Laxmi with its sulfur-dioxide volcanoes. They crossed the orbit of retrograde Prana, a little wisp of captured comet, and still they fell, still du-Razh swelled.
The bands swirled, yellow and brown, ochre and tan. The world was huge now in the display, taking up nearly half the landscape the display had to offer. A minor course correction swung the gas giant to the left, a little bit.
He was struck with wonder and awe. Never had he seen images like this. Even in textbooks, the photos of du-Razh and Persephone were grainy blowups of images from ground-based telescopes. There wasn’t a lot of money for an exploration program; they’d become a largely ground-based society, the cities on King Moon notwithstanding.
And now it was spread across three-quarters of the display, the whorls of its storms sharp and clear, the blackness behind it absolute. It was bright enough to blot out the stars.
Another correction, and another. II‑4 swept behind them, named Brahmin by the local standards. The last moon, Narasinha, another captured comet, orbited pole-to-pole, once every ten hours.
So close now that the display was filled with a roiling yellow-brown plain, the limb at the edge of the world almost a straight line, and every second there was a minute correction. The stacked displays showed countdown timers, hull-stress indicators, monitors on electrical permittivity and gaseous heating, none of which meant a damn thing to Yakoub. He watched, eyes wide, as the world grew larger and larger still.
And around, accelerating, stealing momentum from the vast world. It swelled so large that for a moment all there was on the display was a slab of yellow cloud, and Yakoub could see fine detail within it, minute variations in color and shade that were invisible in his textbooks. Igraine turned on the sniffer, and the navette was filled with the hiss and pop of du-Razh’s electrical fields. A bright strike of lightning arced between two clouds, a trillion volts bridging a gap two hundred kilometers wide, and the sniffer howled and keened with the interference. It went on and on, the lightning lasting for almost twenty seconds, continuous and sustained.
And then they were around, receding, and the sun set on the limb of du-Razh, leaving the flickers of lightning as the only light in a plain, a disc, a dot, a tiny spot of darkness, receding…