Fiction Fragment Friday
This story was inspired by a dream I had last night. In the dream an alarm was going off. It wasn’t on a spaceship and nothing else in the story was in the dream. Mostly that was just a jumping off point to start. A few lines as I wrote them shaped the story that came after.
It wasn’t the blaring alarms that made me panic, it was seeing the captain run down the corridor towards engineering. The flashing red lights and ear-splitting sounds were certainly concerning. I didn’t have any of the context of what was happening at that time though, so it just generated a general anxiety. Seeing a man known for being so stoic that he made robots seem warm running when he had previously never done more than a controlled fast pace told me just how serious the situation had to be. While I still lacked details, I knew that whatever my worst-case scenario was it probably didn’t live up to reality.
In my four years aboard, I had never been to engineering. That shouldn’t really be a surprise because there is no reason for a xenobiologist to visit engineering. You don’t go into that field though without a serious tendency towards curiosity. Before I consciously thought about what I was doing my body started moving to follow Captain Christie. It didn’t matter that I had no idea what was going on and most likely would not be able to contribute to the solution. I had to know what was so bad it would elicit that reaction.
By the time I reached the entrance to engineering I had a pounding headache. The alarms hurt my ears and the flashing lights assaulted my eyes. I understood the point of alarms, but were ship wide alarms really the most efficient way to address emergencies? They had to impair the ability to concentrate for those trying to fix the issue. I mentally added that to the list of things I would never understand about shipboard life. While most of the crew saw the ship as home and a chosen career for me it was just a method of transportation between work sites.
Engineering to me seemed like a chaotic nightmare. There were crew everywhere rushing from console to console, climbing into maintenance tunnels, and screaming technical information. This was not how my department functioned, but after a few moments I realized that it was actually very controlled. Chief Engineer Sapkowski was directing everyone in the room like an orchestra and the yelling was actually reporting into him. There certainly was an abundance of concern and waves of urgency radiating from the room, but it was organized.
I could make out the captain’s voice across the room. “Let me get this straight. We are about to rip a hole in reality and don’t have any destination set.”
“That’s the long and short of it cap’n.” The chief walked from station to station while speaking to the captain. He did not let updating him interfere with his work in the slightest. “The engine reaction has spun up and we can’t shut it down. We’re gonna jump and astrogation is still locked out of their systems.”
“What happens if we jump without one?”
“Your guess is as good as mine. No one has ever done it before. Not supposed to even be possible, but we’re about to do it anyway.”
Part of me felt the need to panic, but I wasn’t sure what to be panicking about. I knew that our engines worked by essentially punching a hole in reality and connecting two separate points for a fraction of a second. How that was accomplished or what would happen if we only created a hole in one location was far beyond my understanding. It couldn’t be good though.
“Hey, are you supposed to be in here?” Someone had finally noticed me, and she was walking towards me with a purpose.
“Uhm, well I.” It certainly was not my brightest response to a question. I closed my mouth and focused my thoughts for a moment. My mind raced with ways I could reply to calm her down, but before I could I learned what true chaos looks like.
The engines flared to life, and we jumped. The entire ship started shaking and I was tossed against a wall. The initial impact hurt, but it soon got worse as the women who was confronting me was flung on top of me. I felt her elbow hit my rib and something gave way. The pain was intense, but I seemed to have broken her fall. I’m sure the sounds of pain that escaped my lips were far from dignified.
The captain reached out to the wall and hit a button on the communication system. “Bridge someone report in. What is going on up there?”
The shaking was getting worse, sparks started to fly from multiple panels and I could see a crack forming on the engine. The only thing that seemed to be working correctly was the obnoxious alarms that still blared and flooded the room with red light. Nothing seemed to have any impact on them.
“This is the bridge. We jumped into an atmosphere sir. We’re losing altitude fast. Impact in less than 10 minutes and thrusters are only giving us minor maneuverability.”
It took a moment for the reality of the situation to set in. We had jumped into the atmosphere of a planet. Due to something related to strong gravity wells that was not supposed to even be possible. Our ship was not designed to operate in an atmosphere and had no ability to land on a planet. We were going to crash and there wasn’t anything that could be done about it.
I heard the ship-wide speakers crackle to life and the captain’s voice came from it. I could hear him in the room and at a slight delay over the speakers giving it a bit of an echo. “Calling all hands. Brace for impact. I repeat brace for impact.” That was it. If there was a protocol for this situation, I was unaware of it.
“Hey are you listening?” The woman struggling to get up off of me had apparently been talking. I had no idea what she had been saying, but she was pointing to one of the maintenance tunnels on the wall next to us. I could see the captain and chief engineer entering one across the room. Taking the hint, I crawled in. She followed me and I could see a bright flare as the engine ruptured behind her. Reaching back, she pulled door shut behind us just as the wave of plasma hit it. The scream of pain was loud in the enclosed space as her hands were seared by the heated metal.
The ship impacted the planet in what I would come to learn was a large lake. The combination of engine explosion and crash the ship scattering sections for miles around the impact site. I held on tight to hand holds in the crawlspace, but we were tossed around, and I was knocked unconsciousness in the process. I assume she did too because when I returned to consciousness, she was lying near me with her arms pulled close to her chest.
I crawled over and checked on the engineer. She was breathing, but the breaths were ragged. Her pulse was steady though and that gave me hope. Her hands looked terrible, and I knew if we didn’t get them treated soon, she might lose the ability to use them at all. She needed a medic, but with the crash I bet a lot of people would. I crawled to the other end of the tube and forced it open. I could see water pouring in the hall from cracks in the wall. I did not know this area of the ship very well and wasn’t sure how to get to the nearest airlock.
I pulled her out of the tunnel and lifted her up into my arms. Thankfully she was not particularly big and while a strain I could carry her. We moved slowly down the hall away from the water. I looked for any indications on the walls for directions, but they all just looked the same to me. The portion of the ship we were on was sinking into the lake at an angle, so it was an uphill climb to get away from the rising water. Finally, as we moved around a corner, I could see an opening in the side of the ship.
The sky was green with three visible moons. I didn’t know of any phenomenon that would cause a green sky, but part of me was excited by the idea of figuring it out. We were near the coast and even though it would be difficult I was pretty sure I could make it even with her. I had always been a strong swimmer and had even worked as a lifeguard in college. Holding her close I dove into the water and started paddling my feet. As I got closer to shore, I saw others come out to meet me. We were not the only survivors and they had already gotten a campfire set up.
I looked around my new home and took in the sites of plants and animals that I had never seen before. Part of me couldn’t help be excited about the prospect of being the first person to study this life. Would there be anyone to file the reports with though? Would anyone ever come to rescue us? Not sure what the future would hold I set about meeting my fellow survivors and starting the long process of building a camp.