Another quick reaction to Chuck Wendig’s weekly flash fiction challenge.
You could consider this to be the chapter after Cargo, since I’m five chapters in now and this seems to be turning into a thing.
This isn’t how it was supposed to go down. It was supposed to be a surveying job, just looking at some goddamn mineral readings—go to a sector, do a basic scan, report on any rare minerals. It’s supposed to be easy pay for easy work, then you fly back in fifty more years and start over. It was supposed to be a simple way to forget your past. WXE-52 is as far away from the past as you could get.
Captain Phillip Kendel watches as the planet grows to a monumental size filling the screen. Alarms buzz and crackle. He looks to his left and sees Michael Indiigan with his head split open in a parody of a grin. One eye hangs out of the socket, squeezed free by the piece of bulkhead that fell on him. Now Michael looks like he is piloting the ship with his face.
Kendel turns to his right and it’s nothing but smoke and gore. Bodies lay across the controls and panels, some of them in one piece. The explosion had been sudden and devastating.
“Engines…” he says into the hidden mic on his throat. Nothing. Static. A klaxon chirps somewhere behind him. “Security… Medical…” More static. Kendel is alone, the captain going down with his ship. Wind howls through the flute holes torn in the ship.
They had woken up on impact. The rock had been no bigger than a human fist, but at relativistic speeds it had hit the hull with the force of a nuke, tearing at superstructure and fuel tanks. Everyone on that side of the ship had died instantly. Kendel thinks now that he should have been so lucky.
You don’t get lucky, Phil. You were busy drinking in your bunk. Luck isn’t something on your menu of cocktails.
Decompression killed another fifty of the crew. They died screaming while he was stuck in his cabin, cranking the manual override trying escape his own room. The bridge was on fire when he finally arrived. More screams, the smell of burnt meat. He had taken his seat, hoping the graphene filaments would still work their way into his nerve endings allowing him to do something. Anything. They didn’t.
All he sees in his peripheral vision are red flashing lights, static. A feedback loop goes off in his ear as the ship’s AI screams and dies.
Now he falls down, down, down, straight into the giant green and brown planet.
He laughs as it grows in the view screen. The atmosphere down there is barely breathable. I’ll be living like a man hiking Everest. I’d be lucky to walk fifty yards without sweating.
Mountains, oceans, gorges, jungles. It all rolls past as he tumbles in a three-hundred yard metal coffin.
You could always run to the pods, says a voice.
And abandon my ship…
And what a ship she is, Chief! Spacious and capable of jumping across star systems. And now it even comes with a sunroof. You always wanted a convertible.
I have a job to do.
Your job is to live, Chief. Your ship is dead. Your crew is dead.
I have nothing to live for then.
You’ve got you. But feel free to piss that away.
He admits to himself he doesn’t have a good reply to that one.
Aren’t you at least curious? says the voice. Even if it’s the last thing you see, don’t you at least want to see what’s down there? Isn’t that worth dropping your self-righteous duty for once?
I have responsibilities.
Who exactly are you trying to impress?
He watches the scenery scroll past for what feels like minutes. Finally he stands and says, “Fuck it.”
Microscopic filaments tear away from his skin as he rises from the chair. The bridge rescue pod is laughably close. The body of his navigator lays just three yards from it… well half of him. Kendel steps over Tom Bixby and slams his fist against the red panel along the wall. A door opens with a hiss—he can feel the air escaping around it.
I’ll probably come apart in reentry. This pod probably took a piece of debris on the way in.
Kendel steps inside as the door seals itself. A white cushioned chair sits in front of him. It looks like the sort of accessory you’d find in a house, something in a living room to relax in and watch a sports game.
Another humorless laugh escapes as he spins on a heel to fall into it. Webbing covers him instantly, embracing him like a spider’s cocoon—it feels snug and warm, releasing drugs to calm him. Oxygen fills the empty spaces around his sealed face. He feels a heavy clunk! The clamps have just let go.
Then he is falling, falling, falling into the unknown.
As the capsule spins he can make out the USAS Luxemburg, a wounded bird tumbling through the air, shedding great black feathers of steel and graphene. A long ragged strip is torn from its flank, billowing smoke in a long trail behind a ragged aft. He sees pieces of debris emerge and twist like confetti from newly formed holes. Some of them are people.
Less of the ship is visible now as atmospheric friction eats away at the hull. The USAS symbol that once was so prominent below the bridge tears away as the nose of the ship flattens, superheats, and explodes.
The Luxemburg is how a cloud of smoke, lit in pink by an alien sunset. Arms of dust shoot off at crazy angles like drunk bats. They tumble away.
It is just a cloud now, distant and fading. In the pink light of the alien sun it looks almost to Kendel like a flower.
Then the capsule begins to shake as he falls into the gravity well, the air heating the pod’s casing. He is only three feet away from ten-thousand degrees of hot metal, traveling at three times the speed of sound.
Mineral deposits, he thinks. A surveying ship, done in by a rock.
He spins and blacks out. Kendel doesn’t even feel the impact.
(c) 2012 marlanesque (Martin Kee)