“What no man has seen before.”
Ballantyne Alysom is Galactographic! Magazine’s most intrepid explorer, Davis Jansen is the cameraman he takes on his most dangerous expedition so far.
When things go wrong and the survivors of the group are stranded on an unexplored planet, Davis sees the real man behind the carefully constructed public face.
Now he has a choice, does the world need to know the truth? And which one’s story will they believe?
Hoskiss surveyed and reinforced the hull around the damage that had been caused by the rain of debris from the planet. He assured us that there was no chance of hull breach but we needed the hull to be strong for the stress of re-entry, if we ever found a planet to land on. We would find out just how strong the hull was when we tried to land.
Walt got started on fixing his electronics, the main communications system was a mess of burnt circuit boards and wiring, “there’s no way I can fix that, a lot of the wiring goes through the hull and I can’t get to it.”
The sensors were less of a problem, a lot of them had been offline when we were hit by the radiation and so were unaffected and by using spare parts and a lot of skill he managed to get more of them working. The navigation computer was more problematic; it seemed unable to find our whereabouts. But it did give us hope.
“Good news,” said Lev after a lot of fiddling as we moved closer to the star.
“There appears to be a planet we can land on, as far as I can tell it has an oxygen atmosphere and it’s about the right distance from the star.”
“How will the hull hold up to re-entry?”
“We’ll have to wait and see.”
We headed in and the information about the planet built up, it had an atmosphere with twenty-five percent oxygen so it would be a bit rich for us but liveable and there were no signs of electromagnetic radiation or lighting on its night side. So it was uninhabited and maybe undiscovered.
“Perhaps we’ll be the first to land here,” Alysom mused, “I’ve been to some places but never a virgin world, Alysom has a ring to it don’t you think.” Once again he was thinking of his place in history, worlds were named by the discoverers, so why hadn’t he done it before if he was so keen?
The planet grew in our view as we got closer, “the atmosphere is starting to bite, “said Lev, “the outside temperature is increasing.”
He went into a nose up position to deflect the heat away from the upper hull, “don’t worry,” he said,” the base of the ship is built to take this.”
What he didn’t say was that was the hull of the ship before it had been damaged. He checked his instruments and adjusted the angle of descent, all the time explaining what he was doing, “I’m trying to keep the angle shallow enough to reduce the heat without us skimming over and bouncing out, If I make to too steep, we will overheat and plummet.”
We started bouncing from the resistance, “and I have to minimise that as well,” he added.
“I’m losing systems from the vibration,” Hoskiss called up from the engine room, behind his voice you could hear alarms and the crackle of electrical sparking. “Hurry up and get us down.”
As the hull started to heat up we could feel it flexing and hear the groans from the metal. “We’re losing control,” called Lev as he battled with the thrusters to keep us level. Lights on the control panel turned red and alarms sounded almost faster than they could be cancelled. Suddenly, the dampers failed and we lurched, sprawling across the deck. I saw Bal fall head first into the console; he lay unconscious, rocking to the motion, blood was oozing from his head. Mel and one of the students tried to get to him but they were thrown the other way as we lurched again. I managed to cling on to my camera; I wondered if I was filming my own demise? Perhaps the video would be found a hundred years hence, when we were just a memory, or maybe it would never be found at all.
There was no time to get down to the lounge and strap ourselves in. The Far Explorer rocked as it broke into the lower atmosphere, ahead of us lay a vast forest, dotted with clouds. The air was clear and we could see rivers and what looked like an ocean below, certainly a large body of water. The sun was low in the sky, it was getting late in the day where we were on this world.
“I’ve lost most of the controls,” shouted Lev; “the landing might be a little rough, hold on.” We rolled from side to side as the engine power came and went. We clipped trees as he tried to hold the Far Explorer in the air, a heavy branch smashed through the viewport and we all ducked as it shot across the wheelhouse, snapping off as we passed it, the impact swung us around and we smacked into a low hill, we were moving backwards now and could only guess at what was approaching. All we could see was a line of destruction where we had been, with a faint line of smoke hovering over it all.
We bounced again and landed further up its slope. Trees fell around us as our speed dropped and every loose thing in the ship shot to the end of the hull. Dust obscured our passage. We swung around again as we hit more tree trunks and rocks, the impacts slowed us down until we were barely moving. We slowly leant over to one side and finally came to a halt with a shuddering crash, our momentum and the tilted deck sent us staggering till we fell, joining together in a pile of bodies against the rear bulkhead.
It was suddenly quiet and we lay there for a few moments before starting to untangle ourselves and stand upright. As I made it to the vertical I saw Bal, he had regained consciousness and was swaying as he held onto the console. Dried blood drew a line down the side of his head.
“Everyone OK?” called Bal as we stood, swaying, ears ringing. He was injured and concussed, his gaze vacant, he looked him around in disbelief.
It was pretty obvious that the Far Explorer would not be going anywhere, apart from anything else there was the enormous branch protruding into the wheelhouse through one of the ports, unless we had a spare port, and a means of fitting it there was no way that we could make the hull space-tight.
Hoskiss called from the engine room, “I’ve shut everything down that wasn’t already broken, except the number two generator.”
“At least we still have electrical power,” said Lev, “we can set up a distress beacon and try and attract attention.”
As we looked out on the jungle the sun must have set, dusk fell, suddenly we were in semi-darkness, “we must be near the equator,” said Mel, as if it mattered where we were.
“Let’s go and have a look outside,” someone suggested.
“Better to wait till morning,” suggested Mel. “Less wildlife about for one thing, and we can see where we’re going.”
“I think,” said Bal, trying to seize the initiative, “we should check the ship for damage before we do anything else, make sure the hull is secure and that nothing can get in while we sleep. Then we can have a meal and decide what to do.”
The way he said it sounded like he still thought that we were going to fly away from here and resume our journey. Walt was stood behind him shaking his head, he was as aware as everyone else, except Bal that this was our new home, for the foreseeable future.
I had thought that Bal meant that we would have to crawl around the hull to check it for ruptures but Hoskiss, who knew what he was doing, had a better idea. Hoskiss over-pressurised the hull from the air tanks and watched the pressure gauge. Before he started he isolated the wheelhouse, the only place we knew for sure that had a leak. At least the atmosphere outside was breathable.
After half an hour Hoskiss called the messroom, where we were eating a meal, “Hulls tight Bal, except the wheelhouse, no other breaches.”
And that was it. With little else to do, we finished our food and went to our cabins.
“What do you reckon?” Anisia asked me as we got ready for bed, “will we get rescued?”
I had to be honest, “who knows,” I said, “it depends on where we’ve ended up. If the Navigation computer was sending us somewhere else when it reckoned we were heading back to Earth for six days then we could be anywhere.”
“Certus was well outside the explored part of the arm wasn’t it?”
“That’s the biggest problem, we might be further than anyone has ever gone before, or there could be a settlement we didn’t spot just over the hill. We have no way of knowing.”
She held me, I’m glad you didn’t go on your own then, she said, “at least, whatever happens, we’re together.”
I stroked her hair, “and maybe we’ll be the first settlers, we might have to start a whole new civilisation.”
She gripped me tighter, “there’s going to be trouble, you know that don’t you, seven women and four men stuck on an unexplored planet, sooner or later it’ll all kick off”
She was right, the only question was how long we could survive as a group before the tension that had built up so far got to be too much for us?
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