James T. Kirk and the Eclipse
…Jim came into Main Briefing the next morning to find that Ael was there early, watching Scotty and K’s’t’lk put the final touches on the bones of their scheduled briefing to the Science staff on their progress with the “safing” of the Sunseed routines. “Did you rest well, Commander?” Jim said, standing behind her and looking at the hologram she was examining.
“Not too well,” said Ael. “But any rest which does not involve being shot at is a good one, I suppose.” She turned her attention back to the image presently playing itself out over the center of the table. It was a holographic display of an eclipse of Earth’s sun: a particularly splendid one, the primary’s corona licking and writhing away from the obscured disk of the photosphere like the wind-rippled mane of some furious and glorious beast.
Jim had seen this particular image before, at the Academy, and afterwards occasionally elsewhere. “2218?” he said to Scotty.
“Aye, that’s the one,” Scotty said, not looking up from his work at the table computer for the moment.
Ael glanced from it to Jim. “It is a great wonder,” she said.
“We’re more or less used to it now,” Jim said. “It happens with some frequency.”
Ael laughed, one of those small nearly inaudible breaths of humor that Jim had nearly forgotten the sound of. “Certainly, though, you have considered how astronomically unlikely such an exact fit of the apparent size of star and moon, as seen from Earth, must be.” She gazed at the image again. “I thought, when I saw it for the first time, that the image had been taken by some space vessel or satellite specifically positioned for the purpose.”
“No,” Jim said. “It just came that way.”
She gave him an amused and extremely skeptical look. “You truly believe that this is a coincidence?”
“The universe has seen stranger ones,” Jim said.
Ael raised her eyebrows at him, leaning back in the seat. “Perhaps. Though I should like to discuss the statistical realities of the situation with Spock some day: doubtless even in his dry way he might cast light on the provenance of this miracle which he might not otherwise intend.”
Jim wasn’t sure what to make of that idea. “But there are those of my people who would have taken such an apparition in our own skies as an explicit message from the Powers,” Ael said. “An invitation to venture out and discover what it was that had engineered such a spectacular and transient terror. Or simply a message that so colossal a coincidence could not have simply happened: that it was indeed made, and that there were makers.”
Jim nodded. “Oh, we have our own people who think that the Preservers or some other of the ‘seeding’ species passed through fifty thousand years or so ago, and nudged the Moon just enough in its orbit to produce the effect.” He shrugged. “There’s no proof of it, naturally. The Moon does have some microscopic orbital ‘wobbles’ that can’t be accounted for by its interactions with the Earth and the Sun; but as for what causes them—” He shrugged.
“But meanwhile,” Ael said, “the wonder remains. And may yet do us good, for worlds used to eclipses even without such a perfect fit tend to be further ahead in research on coronal science than others. Earth being one of them.”
Scotty smiled. “Flattery will get you everywhere, lass,” he said, not looking up.
Jim looked back at the eclipse, still caught in the repeating loop of the few minutes of totality as seen from the northern Pacific. The so-called “Great Eclipse” or “Fireball Eclipse” of 2218 had not only had an unusually long totality, but had coincided with a sunspot maximum, and the solar storm ongoing during the umbra’s track across the Earth had produced coronal behavior like nothing ever seen before during an eclipse—outrageous, frightening, enough to give the impression to a viewer that the Sun was actually angry, and might do something terminal to its subject worlds. Ael reached out and touched the control to let the image continue through its normal cycle. “…It’s temporary, at any rate,” Jim said. “The Moon’s getting slowly further away from us. Thirty or thirty-five thousand years from now, and the fit won’t be perfect any more. Nothing but annular eclipses for us, then, until the oscillation stops and the Moon’s orbit begins closing in again.”
“And then what?”
“Then it starts to fall,” Jim said, “and tidal forces pull it apart. If we’re lucky, Earth ends up with rings. If we’re not lucky…rings, and most likely a ‘cometary winter’.”
Ael looked rueful. “Much later, though, I assume.”
“Five or six hundred thousand of our years, give or take a few.”
Ael smiled slightly. “Not something we need worry about overmuch, then. Our own concerns lie closer in time.”
Jim nodded. The corona licked and lashed in apparent fury; then there came a tremor at the trailing limb, the solar brilliance piercing through the lunar valleys, and the “diamond ring” effect flashed out in full glory, blinding. Ael stood up, gazing at it with the expression of someone faced with an insoluble riddle. “The Elements clearly do have a sense of humor,” she said at last, as the Sun showed a full blazing crescent of its limb and the corona faded to invisibility. “Unwise of us to ignore it when we see it being displayed. Few are angrier, the poet says, than those who tell a joke and hear no laughter…”
“I don’t like to step on anyone’s punch lines either,” Jim said.
McCoy came in and paused, looking at the eclipse with a somewhat jaundiced eye. Jim noticed the look. “Problems, Bones?”
“After I saw the recording of the Bridge view from yesterday,” McCoy said, folding his arms, “I don’t much like the look of that.”
“If you like, Doctor,” Spock said as he came in the door, “I will send down to Catering for a pot for you to bang on, to frighten away the wolf.”
“The one you no doubt feel sure is eating the Sun…”
– Star Trek: Rihannsu - Swordhunt, 2000