In this installment, an alien shipping worker catches a glimpse of a cargo vessel plummeting out of control toward the surface of the planet.
Coming In Hot
14th Oct. 413P.C. Outside the Primary Loading Bay, Island of Baro-Lii / Planet: Bronos
Lark Il-Hazra took a long drag from his cigarette and regretfully tossed it to the ground. His only break for the day was almost over; it was time to leave the cool fall air behind and return to the scorching heat of the loading bay inside the massive structure looming behind him. He glanced up again, marveling at the beautiful grey moon perched high in the afternoon sky.
Lark breathed deep; he loved that smell – the scent of the coming rains that would descend throughout the evening and night, replenishing the vast oceans and bringing life once again to all the beautiful plants that covered the small islands scattered about the surface of the planet. He would have to wait to enjoy feeling the hard wet drops pelting against his flesh until his shift ended after sunset. For now, it was “back to the grind” as his human companions liked to say.
Born on the largest island of Bronos, called Baro-Lii, Lark had known no life other than working in the human’s loading bays. They were built before he was born, when his mother was still only a child. Back then, the peaceful people of Baro-Lii feared and hated the newcomers from the distant blue planet, who came in large ships from the heavens – bringing weapons, violence, and disease to an otherwise harmless indigenous tribe that was untouched by the ways of the rest of the galaxy for tens of thousands of years.
He had to admit though, it wasn’t all bad – the visitors brought other things with them, too; large machines used for building, or “terra-forming” as they called it, with which they erected several fine structures in the towns: a library full of off-world books; a large recreational center where children and the younger adults could go after school to play and get exercise; even a school, where the humans taught classes in navigation, engineering, math, reading, medicine, history and more. Lark had grown up studying in the school his whole life, spending almost every day during the dry months learning about everything from Advanced Starship Navigation and Interstellar Cartography to FDE System-Troubleshooting and Quantum Mechanics. He enjoyed his days at the Academy; secretly, he dreamed of someday becoming Captain of his very own Starship. Aspirations such as these were forbidden among the Bronosian people, and generally no one left the planet aboard one of the space vessels unless they were to work as slaves.
In addition to a formal education system, the humans also provided many fine products for trading: the alien foods, wines, and malt-liquors were very popular with the local market dealers, as well as the exquisite tobacco-leaf cigarettes he so thoroughly enjoyed during the short breaks from his grueling work.
Il-Hazra turned and headed for the door. He let out a long, sad sigh and held his hand up to the security touch-screen, placing all three fingers on the pad, which instantly lit up and scanned his fingertips. Glancing back over his shoulder one last time, a faint glimmer far above the planet’s surface caught the Bronosian’s keen eyes. He turned around, ignoring the bay doors sliding open behind him with a loud hiss as he gazed up into the sky, mouth half-open. That must be the new cargo ship, he thought to himself.
The workers had been preparing to receive the vessel all day, frantically clearing space in the (typically off-limits) A-Zone Bay – the structure’s “High Priority” area reserved only for the highest-paying carriers of extremely valuable cargo from across the galaxy.
Two seasons ago, he and his friends narrowly managed to smuggle a crate out of the high-security bay while the rest of the workers were busy unloading the cargo. It was a risky endeavor; one that would’ve cost them each an arm as punishment if they’d been caught. It paid off in the end, however: the crate contained many boxes full of beautiful stones that were en route to Corolis, a moon on the outer edge of Cygnus where such stones and precious minerals were processed and turned into expensive jewelry to be sold in the mass-markets of the inner colony planets.
Lark had eagerly taken his fair share of the stones; some he gave to his mother and sisters, and the rest he sold to the greedy peddlers in the town square for half the price they would’ve paid to buy them from the humans. He ended up making enough money to replenish his family’s food supply room for the rest of the season, with plenty left over to buy himself an entire crate of his favorite cigarettes, fresh off the ship from one of the nearby ag-colony farming planets.
Lark was startled by a buzzer-alarm sounding from the bay door behind him – a warning that his break was past-over and he was late to return to his shift. He tuned it out; it was unlikely anyone would notice his absence for a few minutes, at least. Long enough for him to watch the cargo ship that was currently careening out of control through the planet’s atmosphere, glowing bright orange and leaving a long trail of thick black smoke behind it as it plummeted toward the surface.
They’re coming in too fast, Lark thought as he stared up at the blazing inferno speeding towards him, mouth open and wide-eyed. The scene brought to mind the vessel Odyssey that crash-landed in the middle of Hura-Lii – the nearest island-city to the west – during the last dry season. The devastating collision took the lives of almost 10,000 Bronosian workers and caused irreparable damage to the island’s largest loading bay structure. It took months to clean up the chaos; shifting through the rubble, finding only scattered bits of charred cargo and severed limbs, in a feeble attempt to recover any survivors. The experience left many of the townspeople with vivid nightmares.
“Lark Il-Hazra, report to A-Zone immediately, or you forfeit today’s wages!” A harsh voice over the intercom barked in his ear from the doorway behind him, and Lark decided he would have to find out what would become of the vessel later; he couldn’t even be certain it was the same ship they were expecting in the loading bay that evening. He was, however, certain of one thing: that ship looked like it was about to crash, and he didn’t want to be anywhere nearby when it did.
• • •
On the flight deck, Captain Vizirov gripped the side of his command station, trying his best to stay on his feet. With one hand, he reached over and took hold of a large lever in the middle of the panel, flipping it quickly in the other direction to close the ship’s manifold intake. He prayed it would slow their forward momentum enough… If it didn’t, then what he was about to do next would rip all four outer engines away from the ship and send them speeding toward the planet at full speed. Vizirov took a deep breath and braced himself against the metal console.
“Dullard, on my mark I want you to reverse all four outer engines and route all power to the front burners.”
There was a slight pause from the pilot– “Aye, Cap’n. Preparing for full-spin reverse now.”
The Captain looked worried; his eyes remained fixated on the viewscreen in front of them. “We’ve only got one shot at this,” he said, jolting forward suddenly as the ship’s hull made a violent lurch down toward the ground, “better make it count! On my command.” He took one more deep breath. “Three…” Dullard craned his neck around, shooting the Captain a look that said, are you sure about this?
“Two…” Vizirov didn’t avert his gaze for even a second. The ship began shaking harder; two empty chairs toppled over and slid across the smooth floor of the deck, slamming against the back wall with a loud clank as metal struck against metal.
In that instant, only for a brief moment, everything seemed to slow down. The bright white flames wrapping around the hull appeared to melt across the viewscreen like liquid as the Captain shifted his weight forward and dropped to one knee, bracing himself against the solid weight of the command station. The two men’s eyes met and the world fell silent for a split-second.
“Do it NOW!”
Dullard flipped a wide switch on the dash directly in front of him with one hand and simultaneously shifted a large black lever in the center of the console with the other, throwing his right arm up across his face as he braced for the worst…
To be continued…
Episode 3 coming next Thursday, August 1st.
Find out what happens to the Icarus and continue the adventure!