In our last episode, the Space Fleet headed by Vice Admiral Quentin DiPaullo found itself in a trap. In a desperate escape, all the ships of the fleet were ordered into hyperspace. The crew of the space destroyer GSF Pickett found itself trapped in the atmosphere of the unknown Planet X.
“Captain the hull is now at 3500 Celsius,” Science Officer Sheldon Leonard reported.
“JR, full reverse thrust,” Captain Jake Evans ordered.
“Sir, I only have maneuvering thrusters available.”
Evans hit the intercom, “Smitty! I need forward thrusters. If we don’t slow down we’ll burn up in the atmosphere!”
“Captain, you getting all she’s got right now!” Chief Engineering Officer Irene Smithson reported.
“Can’t we redirect some of the plasma drive flow?”
“It might be dangerous, Captain.”
“As dangerous as burning up in the atmosphere?”
“Aye, Captain. I’ll see what I can do?”
“3600 degrees, Captain,” Leonard reported.
“JR, see if you can pull the nose up about ten degrees.”
The crew felt the angle of the deck change. They were well within the gravity field of the planet.
“JR,” Evans wondered. “What is this planet?”
“Harv from the Beauregard and I call it Planet X,” JR answered.
“Yes sir. It’s not a known system. We found it quite by accident. It seemed like an out of the way place.”
“You mean like a place rescue ships won’t search?” Evans asked.
JR’s face turned white. “I, we, didn’t think we would need rescue, Sir.”
“Apparently not, JR. Yet here we are,” Evans complained.
“Sir, front of the ship is cooling while the aft is near 4000 degrees.”
“We’re at 4200 kilometers per hour, sir. That nose trick is slowing us down a lot.”
The intercom buzzed, “Captain, you have some forward thrusters. Do not put it on maximum thrust, it may back up and blow out the equipment.”
“Thanks, Smitty,” Evans answered.
“You heard the lady, JR. Easy on the reverse thrust,” Evans ordered.
The ship began to shudder. “Captain, she wants to flip.”
“Lower the nose, son. It should steady out.”
The angle lowered and the shuddering stopped.
“Mr. Leonard, can we get the scanners to find a place to land.”
“Sir, the hull is too hot. I’m trying to use alternative methods.”
“Keep me informed, Mr. Leonard.”
“Ensign, what is the speed?” Evans asked after several minutes of the crew concentrating.
“We’re down to 2800 kph, sir.”
“Mr. Leonard, the hull temperature?”
“It’s lowering. Captain. The instruments are not working properly at this point. We are about two thousand degrees.”
“Captain, we’re losing power on the forward thrusters.”
Evans punched the intercom. “Smitty, what’s happening?”
“Captain, the power generators can’t process the plasma quick enough. We need more power.”
“What systems can we divert from?” Evans asked.
“The life support is fighting to keep us from roasting, that and the fuel conversion are taking the most energy. I can shut down the plasma guns, that will give us some more for the thrusters.”
“OK Smitty, but I need number one gun ready.”
“That takes the most power! What are you going to shoot here anyway?”
“Smitty, you must have never been a SkyScout. ‘Always be prepared’ is their motto.”
“Aye, Captain. Whatever you need.”
“Sir, I’m starting to get imaging of the planet,” Leonard said.
“We need to find a level place to land. Not too many bumps.”
“Captain, all I see is water. I see no land.”
“We can’t land in water. This thing is not built to float.”
“I am aware of that, sir. I am expanding the search.”
“JR, how fast are we dropping?” Evans asked.
“About 500 meters per second, sir. That’s at this speed. As we slow it might be faster.”
“Can you calculate our maximum range?”
“Assuming we continue on the same slowing curve, about 1800 kilometers.”
“Captain!” Leonard announced suddenly. “I found an island!”
“About time something went right. Where is it?”
“Downrange, sir. Twenty-five hundred Kilometers.”
The silence on the bridge was deafening. Everyone knew that the end was near.
“XO, what are the co-ordinates of the island?”
“On you panel, sir.” Leonard replied.
Evans scanned and entered the co-ordinates in his computer. He hit the save button.
“Launching buoy number two,” Evans announced. The ship shuddered as the small rocket launched. The second buoy was designed to maintain a geosynchronous orbit over the crash site. It provided a subspace communication channel with buoy one, which had a neutrino communication system for interstellar communication. It would provide a link with the fleet when, and if, the ship was able to land.
“Did that buys us any distance, JR?”
“Compensating for the weight difference, sir, it buys us about 125 km. Sir, may I suggest cancelling the reverse thrusters.”
“Where do we stand?” Evans asked.
“We’ll still be about a hundred kilometers short, sir.”
Evans hit the intercom. “Smitty, do we have any fuel in the ship?”
“Captain, the externals are gone, as you know. We do have enough for a twenty-second burn,” she answered.
“What does twenty seconds buy us, JR?”
“Roughly eighty kilometers, sir.”
“Captain,” Leonard spoke. “The island is only about 3km by 5km. It will tough to land on it, assuming we get there, sir”
Evans smiled, “Mr. Leonard, didn’t you ever hear the ancient stories. The ones about faster than sound aircraft landing on ships in the middle of the ocean?”
“I always thought those were fairy tales, sir.”
“I saw a vidchip about once, sir,” JR spoke up. “But if those guys missed, they could always go around again. We’ve only got one shot, if we get that far, sir.”
Evans smiled, “JR, I think you mean that you only have one shot. But, I have no worries. I know I have the best helmsman in the fleet.”
“Thank you, sir. But I’m not feeling real god right now.”
“Don’t worry, JR. I’ll but you a beer when we’re on the ground.”
Evans punched the intercom. “Smitty, I need twenty-eight seconds.”
“How much plasma do you have know that we’re not burning the reverse thrusters?”
“I only can fire that through the aft maneuvering thrusters. I can get you about thirty seconds of that.”
“Captain, those won’t keep us in the air,” JR said.
“Don’t worry, JR, we won’t need to be.”
“How far?” Evans asked.
“We have six hundred kilos to the island. We’re 3000 meters above the water.”
“Keep me posted, JR.”
“Fire main thrusters, full burn!” Evans ordered.
The ship lurched. Evans watched as the crew dealt with the G-forces of a full burn. The roar reverberated through the hull. The crew was silent, knowing that sound would never again echo through the doomed ship.
The sound stopped.
“JR, maintain a ten degree up angle, not matter what.”
“Forward screens,” Evan ordered. The view showed water. “Keep reporting, JR.”
“Fire thrusters. All crew buckle in, it’s going to get rough.”
The ship skipped over the surface of the water several times. The thrusters kept enough forward motion to keep it afloat.
“Sir!” Leonard pointed to the screen. A thin shadow appeared in the center of the ship’s path.
The crew watched the screen. The island approached. Features appeared. There were tree, rocks, and various shrubbery. The thrusters died, the ship faltered.
“Smitty!” Evans yelled punching the intercom.
“I found a little fuel, sir, for the main engines.”
“Punch it, JR.”
The main engines flared again. The ship charged forward. There was more than enough speed to make it to the shore. A large black rock loomed in the way.
“Gunner, fire number one!” Evans commanded.
A triple blast sent shards of rock flying. The ship ground to a halt in the smoldering ruins of the stone.
“The Pickett has landed,” Evans announced.