Step on board and meet the disparate crew of the cargo ship Icarus as they approach their destination hundreds of light years from Earth. (Chapter 1 of a brand new, ongoing Sci-Fi short-series)
The Bronos Approach
1700hrs. 14th Oct. 413P.C.
Aboard the cargo ship Icarus,
near the Cygnus star system, Planet: Bronos
“You see sum’ wrong wi’ dis picsha?” Benjy always laid on the thick English accent whenever he was intentionally being a condescending dick. Presently, he was frowning and pointing at the bright red liquid spurting from a small hose on top of the main fusion drive. The stuff smelled like burning hair – Ruben had no idea what to make of it.
“Do I look like a friggin’ engineer?” Ruben shrugged his shoulders and nodded at a frustrated-looking Chibbers, who was fumbling with the hose trying not to let the stinky red liquid spray him. He pinched off the end of it with a clamp and walked over towards them, wiping his glasses with an oil-soaked rag.
Chibbers was a short, pudgy man with fat red cheeks and glasses too thick to see through. At any given point it was difficult to figure out precisely what he was saying, seeing as how nobody could ever understand a word that came out of his chubby little mouth. He spoke so damn fast, and his words were so muttered, it sounded like a drunken concoction of hillbilly and pikey.
“Bo, reckon eys sum ‘em joh-wollies in eh,” said Chibbers, panting hard and casually pointing a thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the engine, “luckin’ I find ‘em ipin eys bout ‘aff-our go, erwhy dis ‘ing uh-be sha!”
The boys stood there, speechless. Ruben scratched his head; Benjy just stared at him, mouth half opened, completely dumbfounded. “Uhh… yeh. You get right on ‘at Chibs,” Ruben tried not to crack up. Dullard came over the intercom, shouting, “We’re losing pressure to the right burner! Somebody better fix that ruddy shaft before we all end up charbroiled!”
Benjy was closest to the com unit; he leaned over and thumbed the button on the bottom. “Chibs is workin’ on it! He found some… jolly… walls. Uhh, what ’as it again?”
“Joh-wollies,” Chibbers replied, shaking his head, “damn if it ane fool dem sum-bits. I’s sellin’ ‘em up on deg not… too-wees bag.” He looked rather unslaked, as if to say I told you so.
“Joh-wollies, right.” Ruben glanced at Benjy, who’d turned his head away and was trying hard not to shake violently with laughter. “Well, you just – get back to it, Chibs. I’d really like to make it through the atmosphere without blowing everyone to hell. Seeing as how we haven’t been on-planet in eight months and ole’ Benjy here needs to find himself a nice young man to pleasure before he starts flirtin’ with the rookies.” Benjy frowned and held up two fingers. The two of them turned and walked off down the hallway, climbing the stairs to the cargo bay.
“What the hell is a – joh-wollies?”
“I got no bloody clue, mate. Best I reckon, ‘e means Goralls… But we ‘aven’t ‘ad any problems since we shipped out from Capuli, and that ‘as nearly five months back. A Gorall infestation would’ve caused some kinda trouble by now.”
“Goralls… christ – we’ll burn alive before we make it through entry.”
• • •
In the corner of the cargo bay, a handsome recruit named Aran was stacking a tall pile of heavy metal boxes marked FRAGILE – DO NOT STACK. The crew had taken to calling the new kid “tiny”, even though he was over a foot taller than anyone else on the ship. Ruben motioned for him to come over. “Hey Tiny, head downstairs and help Chibbers fix up that fusion drive. Just, do whatever he tells you.”
“Try not to fuck it up and kill us all, mate,” Benjy said with a very serious look on his face. This made the rookie extremely nervous, and he swallowed hard before delivering a crisp, “yes sir!” and scurrying off at a clumsy-jogging pace. As soon as he was out of ear-shot, Benjy cracked up and punched Ruben on the shoulder. “Gotta keep ‘em on ‘is toes, right?”
Ruben shook his head and laughed. He was just ready to get the ship safely docked and unloaded; everyone was long overdue for some R&R. He planned to get shit-faced drunk, maybe proposition a few fine ladies for a little late-night fun; he could afford it with his newly fattened bankroll. This shipment would have a much bigger payout than the last; if everything with the buyer went smoothly, they’d all be sitting pretty for a good long while.
This shipment was different in more ways than one: despite New Galactic Union protocols, Icarus wasn’t told exactly what was in the four dozen metal cargo crates. The mystery fueled rumors that quickly circulated through the halls of the massive cargo vessel.
The shipment came from Capuli: an outer-rim planet best known throughout the galaxy for its rich, naturally-occurring polonium deposits – the largest renewable supply ever discovered. The very rare and unstable element was one of the key ingredients used to heat ships and other space probes, critical for regulating and maintaining a constant internal climate in the near-absolute zero temperatures of deep space.
Ordinarily speaking, the problem with polonium was the element’s extremely short half-life; however, the deposits on Capuli had proven to be much more stable, lasting up to ten times longer than anything found on Earth. It was a fairly safe assumption the forty-eight crates contained this highly valuable element.
Suddenly the ship began shaking violently, knocking Ruben and Benjy off-balance and causing them to grab hold of the vertical metal beams on either side of the cargo bay walls for support. They heard a loud groan coming from the lower deck – where the vessel’s fusion engine was housed.
“What the fuck was that?!”
“Hell if I know,” Benjy said with a nervous look, “I’m just ‘oping rookie can figure out what the fuck a joh-wolly is – ‘fore Chibs gets us all killed.”
• • •
Up on the bridge, Captain Vizirov stood behind his navigator eyeing a holographic map of Bronos. The planet was 2.5 times the size of earth, covered by shallow oceans on over 95% of its surface. The clear-blue water was only about 30 meters (approximately 98 feet) deep at its lowest points. The planet’s surface changed drastically with the seasons; the water dried up in the summer for about four months and was replenished by two straight months of heavy rain during the fall, after which it remained wet and cool for another four months. They were landing in October, which meant the water levels would be higher than any other time in the year. Still, the Icarus wasn’t built for a water-landing. If one of the shafts on the ship’s fusion drive failed, they could miss their target landing zone by several clicks, putting them deep offshore, in a vast ocean called Agaros: one of the largest continuous bodies of water on the planet.
The Captain scowled and spun around to face his command station. He walked over and took a seat in his chair, lit his pipe, and watched as the massive looming planet grew even larger in the deck’s full-length viewscreen. In a few minutes they would break into the outer atmosphere and begin their entry to the planet’s surface. He swore under his breath and shot a look toward the ship’s pilot. Dullard was too busy punching buttons to notice the Captain’s troubled glances; he was trying, to no avail, to disable the annoying alarm which continued to buzz loudly in his ear.
“Son of a bitch!” Dullard yelled, slamming his fist down on a panel of flashing red lights. A small screen above the panel shimmered and then dimmed completely, and the alarm stopped at last. “Captain, the right burner has stabilized, but I don’t know how long it’ll hold once we make entry.” Captain Vizirov sat puffing at his pipe, his face stone cold behind a thick white cloud of smoke.
“Keep an eye on our entry vector. If that engine fails, we’ll need to do some quick math – otherwise, we’ll be floating belly-up in Agoras, three clicks east of Baro-lii.”
“Aye, Cap’n.” Dullard shuddered to think of Icarus, torn to shreds by the shallow water, the crew members floating helplessly in escape pods for days before – if – they were rescued. Not to mention that, in the event of a single-engine failure, half of the ship’s life-support systems would fail as well, leaving half of the crew members to die onboard as the vessel collided with the water.
It was a critical design flaw, as Dullard so often pointed out, that could someday jeopardize half the lives of the crewmen. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the kind of money necessary to upgrade to a better life-support system. They might, if they successfully completed the current shipment. But all of this would be irrelevant if they overshot the trajectory completely and the ship smashed into the ground on Baro-lii. Then, it wouldn’t matter who had an escape pod and who didn’t; the entire crew, along with thousands of innocent civilians, would die instantly in the fiery inferno.
“Thirty seconds on approach, sir!”
“Get ready boys,” Captain Vizirov said as he emptied the ash from his pipe and sat back in his chair, “it’s about to get a little rocky.”
To be continued…
(Episode 2 coming Friday, July 26th!)