“We’ve failed,” XDS-4 blinked flatly, solar fins hanging dejectedly from her torso. “Now millions will die and there’s nothing we can do.”
No one else in the pod liked what she was saying, but no one could argue with the facts. Their human pilot was dead, struck through the head by a micrometeorite. What speed they’d had was lost, wasted trying to avoid the meteor shower.
“Wha-what will happen to us?” asked YYB-9, his dorsal light stuttering in fear.
“Oh, we’ll probably be fine,” answered XDS-4. Her words were resigned, and fell calmly from her dorsal light. “Space dolphins have survived for years on their own. There are even rumors of dolphins living wild in Jupiter’s orbit — perhaps we’ll join them. It’s the humans on Titan I’m worried about.”
“Yes,” BLT-0 spoke up. “The nanobots we carry are the only hope they have of becoming methane-breathing life forms. They’ve only got a few months of traditional supplies left before they run out of oxygen or freeze to death. And that’s why we can’t give up.”
The other dolphins jerked up to look at him. “But we’re almost out of fuel! And the solar wind out here is too weak to give us any sort of speed — we’ll barely be able to leave Jupiter!”
“We don’t need to leave Jupiter yet. We need to fall into it,” BLT-0 flashed cryptically.
What would have been obvious to a human took several moments to become clear to the genetically-altered dolphins. “A sling-shot maneuver!”
“Exactly. We can gain enough speed to make it to Saturn and use the rest of our fuel to slow our approach.”
“Are you sure that will work?”
“Absolutely not. But we have to try.”
“And that, child, is why there’s a monolith in Dolphin Park for BLT-0 and the rest of his pod. Now how ’bout we go get a methane-sicle to cool down, eh? It’s almost 100K out today!”
Tygan Shelton writes in Wisconsin, where he lives with his wife and two children.