“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 everyone really need to know the truth?
And whose story will they believe?
Here’s a brief extract.
We join the story to find that our heroes are in a stricken spaceship, light-years from Earth.
Hoskiss surveyed as much as he could of the hull and found some small defects in the framing. “It’s a good job we didn’t just bypass everything,” he said. “That would have been enough to solve all our problems, just as soon as we fired up the drive.”
He reinforced the areas around the damage, assuring us that there was no chance of a hull breach. I for one wasn’t too sure; he hadn’t been able to check everywhere. We needed the hull to be strong for the stress of re-entry, if and when we found a planet to land on. The trouble was, we would only find out how strong the hull was when we tried to land.
Walt got on with trying to fix the electronics, the main communications system was beyond him though. “It’s a mess of burnt out circuit boards and wiring, there’s no way I can fix that without going outside,” he said. “A lot of the wiring goes through the hull and I can’t get to it. Maybe when we land I can get a better look at it.”
The sensors were less of a problem, a lot of them had been saved by the fuses when we were hit by the radiation and so were unaffected. By using spare parts and a lot of skill he managed to get more of them working. The navigation computer was more problematic; it still seemed unable to find our whereabouts. It had discovered something though.
“Good news,” said Lev as we moved closer to the star. We all clustered around, fingers crossed.
“There appears to be a planet we can land on,” he said, and the mood brightened instantly. “As far as I can tell it has an oxygen atmosphere and it’s about the right distance from the star.”
We all shouted questions at once.
“How long will it be until we get there?”
“How will the hull hold up to re-entry?”
“Is it Earth-like?”
“What’s the atmosphere like?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know much more yet, we’ll have to wait and see.”
We altered our course towards the planet, as we got closer and more systems were able to focus on it, the information started to build up. Fortunately, it was on the same side of the star as we were, so it was a lot closer than it could have been. It looked like it had an atmosphere with twenty-five per cent oxygen, it would be a bit rich for us but liveable, judging by the position and temperature range that gave there should be liquid water as well. And it had a magnetic field, only a weak one but enough to deflect a lot of the stars harmful radiation.
There didn’t seem to be any poisonous gases, just nitrogen and carbon dioxide in roughly similar proportions to Earth. We could find no signs of man-made electromagnetic radiation or lighting on its night side. It was probably uninhabited, maybe even undiscovered. It was about the same size as Earth, the gravity would be similar, another thing in our favour.
“Perhaps we’ll be the first to land here,” Alysom mused. “I’ve been to some places but I’ve never landed on a virgin world. Alysom has a ring to it don’t you think.”
Once again, he was thinking of his place in history. By convention, worlds were named by the discoverers, so why hadn’t he done it before if he was so keen? It wasn’t as if he had never been able to go and find a new planet with all his roaming around.
The planet grew as we got closer; until it filled the screen, we would be landing as soon as we could decide where. We settled into a high orbit and circled the world several times. There were land masses, large bodies of water and swirling clouds. It was just like Earth, which made it all the harder to accept that it wasn’t.
After a couple more days we had a much better idea of where we would try to land. The polar regions would be too cold for comfort; there was a large land mass that straddled the tropical regions.
“We’ll get into the atmosphere and look for a good place to set down,” Bal said. “Near water and with plenty of room to set up camp. When you’re ready, Lev, let’s get back on solid ground.”
Lev took over from the automatic. “I’m doing this one myself,” he said. “I want to feel like I have some control over my fate.”
That sounded reasonable. “Can you talk us down,” I asked, “for the film.”
“Sure,” he agreed, with a sideways glance at Bal, who nodded. “I’m firing the engines, ready to start our descent,” he said, there was a jolt as he did so. “I have to get the angle right as the atmosphere starts to bite.” There was a bleeping. “The outside temperature is increasing.”
As we dropped and the planet grew larger, we could see the faint haze marking the edge of the atmosphere. Ahead of us, the nose of the Far Explorer started to glow a dull red. Lev pulled the nose up to deflect the heat away from the upper hull. There was a slight rattle and we all looked at each other. “That’s fine.” He glanced at his instruments; or at least the ones that were still working. “It’s just the start of the atmosphere,” he said. “Don’t worry, the base of the ship is built to take this.”
Maybe it was; that was before it had been damaged. He checked his instruments again and adjusted the angle of descent, all of the time explaining what he was doing, for the benefit of my film. Hoskiss called from the engine room, “We’re all OK down here, the stress and temperatures are within acceptable limits.”
Lev carried on with his explanation, “I’m trying to keep the angle of descent shallow enough to reduce the heat without us skimming over and bouncing out. If I make to too steep, we will overheat and plummet. The planet’s gravity has got us now, we’re going in whether we like it or not.”
We started bouncing from the resistance, the inertial dampers were having trouble compensating for the motion, it felt like driving over a bumpy road on broken springs. “I have to try and minimise that as well,” he added, “in case I shake anything else loose.”
“I’m losing systems from all the vibration,” Hoskiss called up from the engine room, behind his voice you could hear alarms and the crackle of electrical sparking. “My repairs can’t take all the vibration, can you hurry up and get us down.”
We could feel the hull flexing now, hear the groans from the metal.
“I’m losing control,” said Lev, mounting urgency in his voice 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 completely and we all staggered, sprawling across the deck.
I saw Bal tumble headfirst into the console; he lay unconscious. He was wedged into the space between the console and the lockers, his head rocking to the motion, blood oozing from a cut on his temple. Mel and one of the students tried to get to him. 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. Maybe it would never be found at all if we burnt up and disintegrated.
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 was a vast forest, mountains and valleys under a blue sky dotted with clouds. The air was clear and we could see rivers and what looked like an ocean below us; certainly a large body of water. The sun was low in the sky, it was getting late in the day on this part of the world.
“I’ve lost most of the controls,” shouted Lev. “I can’t pick a landing spot. Things might be a little rough, hold on.” We yawed from side to side as the engine power came and went. We crossed the coastline and sank below the level of the mountains, into a sort of valley, shaped like a huge crater. A river flashed under us, and then we were over trees again. In front of us was a hillside, covered in jungle. There was no way we would lift over it. Then the treetops were level with the ship, suddenly they were above us.
We clipped them as Lev tried to hold the Far Explorer in the air. With a crash, a heavy branch smashed through the viewport and we all ducked as it shot across the wheelhouse. It snapped off as we passed the tree it had come from. The impact had swung us around and we smacked into the ground and bounced back into the air. 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 haze of smoke from our engines hovering over it all. Time seemed to slow down. I saw huge multicoloured flowers growing in the upper branches of the trees. Leaves rustled as we passed, was it from our motion or from animals trying to get out of the way?
We bounced again and landed further up the slope. Trees fell around us as our speed dropped sharply and every loose thing in the ship shot to the end of the hull. Dust obscured our view. We swung around again as we hit more tree trunks and rocks, the impacts slowed us down until we were barely moving. We slowly leaned over to one side and finally came to a halt with a shuddering crash. Our momentum and the tilted deck sent us staggering again till we fell, joining together in a pile of bodies against the rear bulkhead.
Survive is due to be published on September 1st 2019.
Get an advance copy of the eBook for just 99p HERE