Then I hear it. “Fuck!” At least it’s not some space beast wolf crocodile thing. I have that much going for me… probably. I maneuver into the room to see a man dressed much like me. Tall, lanky, Latin complexion, short-cropped black hair, and muscled just like you would expect from the military. His skin has a sheen of sweat, and even his issued boxer briefs appear wet.
He must have heard me sigh, “About fucking time you get here,” he says, as his fingers pluck away at a touch screen. “Figure this damn thing out!” This was a man accustomed to giving orders, that much was clear. He left the terminal, still without looking at me.
He may have looked clean-cut when he woke up, but in the bridge now, he has the look of a man who had been up for 36 hours. I’ve seen it on the faces of students around MIT exam time, but somehow I think there is a little more on the line here.
I hike the med kit under my arm determined not to lose it to zero gravity. “What’s wrong?” I ask.
“I don’t know. You’re the tech guy. You tell me!” And people wonder why tech support hates everybody. He floats over to another terminal, some monitoring screen, while I get to work on the faceless problem.
Not knowing where to start, I follow my plan. I start in life support. Circulation, and immediately encounter a problem. Perhaps even the problem. Low voltage warning, air circulation temporarily disabled. Alright, power. Let’s take a look at power then.
My first aid kit slips out from under my arm as the larger problem presents itself. I let the little white and red kit tumble. Objects in motion tend to stay in motion, especially in zero gravity. In zero gravity everything always looks and feels more alive.
Solar panels at 40%. Lower than it should be in orbit at Warlock 4, but at least we are in system. RTGs 79%, 83%, 81%, 22%, inoperable, inoperable. Now that’s a strangeness. RTGs are essentially little nuclear power plants, but they are super simple. They just make heat through radioactive decay, and we take that heat and turn it into power. If we don’t use the energy, it still produces it. It does decay over time, but one shouldn’t be at 22% and two definitely shouldn’t be inoperable. Here comes the big check. Fusion reactors, separated.
They’re designed to separate once in orbit right before we land. Too unsafe to bring two fusion reactors down to the surface when solar and RTGs should provide enough power for surface activities. Plus, they can double as a pair of satellites helping us communicate back home, though at just over 50 light-years, that communication isn’t exactly a priority.
Here’s the problem floating through my mind, solar panels at 40%, in system, but likely not in orbit, separated fusion cores, and by extension primary propulsion, we have no way of stopping. Just the one-time use thrusters designed to give us a gentle landing. Not enough to stop a hulk from spearing the star or slinging off back into the deep black.
I try to shout, “Where are we?” but it comes out as a crack.
“We’ll be on the damn planet in a minute if you don’t do anything,” he answered back irritated.
We’re crashing into the planet? No, we wouldn’t have plotted such a course. Couldn’t have really. Too much precision involved in that extreme idea.
I feel the ship shudder. “What was that?”
“Probably atmosphere. Can you fix it or not?”
“I’m a life support tech,” I say, flipping through more pages of information. The solar should have more power, more people should be awake, a million things should be and none of them are.
Military man lets out a measured sigh. “Well, then we are extra fucked.”