Chapter 1: Remember Your Training

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Part 9

I just start turning things off. CO2 scrubbers. Don’t need them right now. Thermal management. Let it get hot. Reserve lighting. It’s already dark as hell. Radiation mitigation. Must be for the RTGs, maybe stellar radiation, who knows, but we can survive without it for a few minutes. I even give cryo pods two seconds of thought. My understanding was that they used a ton of power to put people to sleep and almost as much to wake them up again, but they run on minimal power while we were asleep. That‘s a dead-end for now. Once we land… If we land…

After I run out of things to kill, I just start killing terminals. The central computer is independent from all of them anyway, just another power suck that we can live without. The last thing I flip off is my own terminal. As I do, everything goes dark.

Mr. Military and I just sit there, quiet in the dark. The ship jitters and bounces as it tries to glide through the atmosphere, like the shuttle and the starship so many centuries ago. Killing off speed, and giving our brains a stir.

From the bridge, everything is still mostly silent. Silent except for the groaning of the ship, metal that had enjoyed weightlessness and little strain for centuries is being put to the test, and it’s protesting. There is no way to know if there are giant gaping holes running through the ship and fire pouring in. The temperature rises in the bridge as if in answer to my question. I just keep telling myself that everything is normal. This is what was meant to happen. The ship shudders violently rattling my teeth together, but I just tell myself that was inevitable. We’re a slab of metal streaking with flames through an alien atmosphere with thermal management deactivated. Getting hot just means we are still alive.

The harness digs into my bare flesh around my genitals and at my shoulders with every tremble of the ship. It feels like 200 extra kilos are sitting on my shoulders. Would this chair collapse? I shot my feet out just in case envisioning them getting caught under and being turned to mush.

Suddenly, the ride smooths out. Maybe the cold gas thrusters finally gained control. Maybe we hit our terminal velocity, something that skydivers race toward from the other end of the speed spectrum. Maybe I just died.

“Did we land?” Mr. Military asks, sounding more like a scared boy than the scared man I’d first encountered.

“I don’t think so,” I said, picking up on the small trembles still present in the ship. Then the g-force shoots up again, and I feel myself pressed back into the jump seat. The ship dips one way and then another as a roar fills the room. This could be it. One way or another it had to be it.

In the space of ten seconds, it’s over. We are in blackness, the ship is calm, we are either dead or resting peacefully on Warlock 4. “We’re here,” I said in a tone that was much more ominous than I intended.

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