Category Archives: space opera

Episode Eight of Dinosaur Planet

Between doing our taxes, editing my unpublished novelette, and various and sundry crises of everyday life, Princess of Fire is effectively on hold at the moment. I hope to get back to it as soon as Amazon mails me my 1099-MISC form and I can complete my taxes.

Meanwhile, sometime back I promised a new episode of Dinosaur Planet, and it’s past time to fulfill that promise. I don’t know if anyone is reading these episodes, but I am having fun just writing them and posting them, without major revisions, more or less on the fly. This episode turned out a little long, but hopefully it’s enjoyable.

Copyright by Douglas Daniel, 2014.

***************************
DINOSAUR PLANET

Episode 8

Weasels, Weasels Everywhere….

For the next three days Paul walked eastward, roughly paralleling the river. He stayed in the riverine forest, not wanting to dare the plains. He slept in the same faux-olive trees every night, which were scattered about the woods everywhere the sunlight could reach the ground for more than half the day. He saw no more of the raptors, although he frequently saw the remains of their kills. Of other species, he saw plenty of examples– several different species and variety of iguanodons, two or three smaller herbivores, a small, fast and furtive scavenger type that Paul glimpsed around the carnivore kills, but didn’t really get a good look at, a tiny tree-dweller about the size of a terrier, and any number of birds or pseudo-birds. He may have also gotten glimpses of ground-dwelling mammaloids, but they were even more furtive than the scavenger.

Jasper was helpful. He identified a half-dozen plants and fruits that were safe for Paul to eat, all abundant in the woods; more than that, he was quick to identify items that were toxic. He was able to locate potable water-sources away from the river, which turned out to be both turbulent and filled with very large pseudo-crocodilians. He continued to keep a wide sensor watch, which Paul found reassuring. They didn’t get any readings of weasels or raptors. Unfortunately, neither did they get any readings of Alliance flotillas or well-armed rescue teams. It was obvious that the Alliance had no idea the S-54 had crashed on Dinosauria.

The fact that Jasper was helpful did not necessarily mean that Jasper was tolerable. Most of the time he varied between surly silence and surly sarcasm. Paul put up with it, only occasionally threatening to shove Jasper into one of the mudbanks that overlooked the river and leave him there. He didn’t follow through with the threat because it would be the end of their mission, and because, as irritating as Jasper could be, the AI was the only company Paul had.

Despite Jasper’s help, Paul realized that he himself was not an outdoorsman. Three months in the scout ship had left him ill-conditioned for a long march, despite the daily isometric and enhancement regimens. At the end of each day’s walk he was exhausted. His sleep in the trees was fitful; he was constantly afraid of falling out.

He grew grubby, sweaty and grizzled. He reckoned that by about the end of the second day his stink alone would scare off any hostile wildlife. At times he wished he could flee from it himself.

By the third day he was dull and his pace dragged. His muscles ached and his feet were blistered. He slugged along, head down, not really noticing anything, while Jasper gave his snappish course corrections.

Just before noon, though, Jasper went silent. It took Paul a moment to realize the AI wasn’t talking. “What’s up?” he asked.

“Shh,” Jasper said. “Something…something isn’t right.”

Paul stopped. Nothing moved in the forest around them. “What is it?”

Jasper didn’t answer at once; then he said, “Get down!”

There was no cover in that spot– it was open forest floor under tall trees. Paul went to one knee. There was still nothing moving among the trees. Even the flyers had disappeared. Paul got a shivery feeling down his neck.

The ground jerked sideways. Paul fell. He managed to roll so as to protect Jasper, but the earth itself undulated beneath him. His hands instinctively clawed at the soil beneath him. The giant trees around him swayed. Paul felt more than heard a deep, deep rumble that came out of the ground itself.

“Hang on!” Jasper shouted, with fine illogic.

Somewhere not far away a tree crashed to the ground. Paul barely heard it over the tumult. He tried to calculate if he were in the line of fire of any other toppling trees, but he could not think straight.

The shaking died. Paul lay panting, stunned, unwilling to move for fear it was going to start again. Then a bird called, and then another.

“That,” Jasper said, “was quite a ride.”

Moving on shaky legs, Paul tried to resume the march. Within minutes of the end of the quake, though, Jasper started getting unusual aerosol trace readings. He sputtered about the necessity of getting a clear view of the surrounding terrain. They found a bare knoll half a mile away and climbed cautiously to the top, with Jasper scanning as they went.

The first thing Paul noticed, when they reached the summit of the knoll, was that the topography of the mountains to the east was more complicated that he had thought. Now that they were kilometers closer, he could see that an outlying range of hills separated them from the high peaks further east. The river appeared to pass through a narrow pass in these outer hills.

Among the hills, still miles distant but high and formidable, stood a volcano. Not a picturesque, dormant volcano, the type one sent e-cards about saying “wish you were here”. This volcano was very much alive; a tall column of smoke rose, boiling, from the summit.

“Ah, hell,” Paul moaned. “What else could go wrong?”

“Well, the universe could collapse to a lower quantum state and our very existences could be wiped out,” Jasper offered.

“It was a rhetorical question!” Paul snapped.

“Geez, don’t get your corset in a knot,” Jasper said. “At least we have a good idea what caused the quake.”

“Can we avoid that smoker?” Paul asked.

Jasper projected another holo-map. “Perhaps, if the river-gorge is passable. It’s at least another day’s march– probably two, the way you’re dragging.”

“Well, I don’t have a one hundred year battery pack,” Paul said.

“And it shows,” Jasper said.

They came down the knoll and re-entered the forest. Jasper gave Paul a new course and they set out. It was getting late– Paul started looking for a place to roost for the night, while wondering how safe a tree branch would be if there were aftershocks.

They had gone perhaps two kilometers when Jasper yelled, “Alert!” just as a silver, winged form shrieked overhead, headed eastward.

“Dammit!” Paul said. “Are those Weasels?”

“It ain’t the local Chamber of Commerce,” Jasper said. “You remember when you asked how things could get worse? Well, you just got your answer.”

Paul sprinted ahead and took cover among the roots of one the largest trees in sight. “Are you tracking them?”

“Do sheep bleat? Of course I’m tracking them, although this forest cover is really giving me some serious interference….uh, oh.”

“What, ‘uh-oh’?” Paul said. “Uh-oh, what? That’s a very ugly phrase, uh-oh.”

“Looked at first as if they were headed toward the volcano, but they’re circling back.” For once, Jasper sounded abashed. “They probably got an indication on my power-pack.”

Shit,” Paul said, with more sincerity than he had ever used before. “Where do we go?”

“For starters, to your right, down to the river.”

Paul ran. He tried to move from the cover of one tree trunk to another. If he ran into anything at the moment, he knew he would either run it over or be eaten.

“To your left,” Jasper said. Paul angled left around a tree.

“Stop, stop!” Jasper said. Paul skidded on the leaf-litter underfoot, so suddenly that he fell and landed on his butt.

“What?”

“Weasels in front of us,” Jasper said. He was actually whispering. “Coming up from the river. Go back.”

Paul scrambled back the way he had come. Panic, more than exertion, made his heart pound in his chest. “How close?” he panted.

“Don’t ask– just run,” Jasper said. “More to our right.”

They crossed a shallow ravine– Paul had to pull himself up the other side by roots that trailed down the bank– and dashed through a clearing with another of the ubiquitous pseudo-olive trees and gold-leaved bushes. The sun beat hot on them until they reached the shade of the trees on the other side of the clearing.

Paul barely had the opportunity to register relief when Jasper cried, “Stop!”

“What, more Weasels?” Paul said.

“A line, coming toward us,” Jasper said. “They’re sweeping us into a trap.”

Without thinking, Paul went back into the clearing. There was no place to go, except…. He dashed for the brush around the pseudo-olive.

“What are you doing?” Jasper said.

“Hiding,” Paul replied. “The only option we have.”

They dived into the brush. Paul crawled through golden leaves until he more-or-less in the middle of the bushes. He reckoned he was deep enough in to be out of sight from anyone outside the stand of brush.

“This isn’t going to work,” Jasper said.

“It’s our only chance,” Paul said. “Go to minimum power/sleep mode.”

“They’ll still pick that up if they’re close enough with the right gear,” Jasper said.

“Do it,” Paul said.

Jasper said nothing else. Paul was a little surprised he didn’t argue further; perhaps he understood the necessity. The AI’s sensor eye faded down to the faintest pinprick of reddish light.

Quickly, Paul slipped the carrying-sling off his shoulder and put Jasper on the ground. He drew the pulse pistol. He didn’t arm it yet; sensors would pick that up, too. But he could do it in a moment.

Obviously, with one charge it wouldn’t stand off a company of Weasels. Paul had understood the math of the situation from the moment he’d thought of crawling into the bushes. One charge equaled either death for himself or destruction for Jasper. Paul did not want to fall alive into the hands, or the claws, of the Weasels. They enjoyed torturing human prisoners, and had ways of prolonging their agony. Some people said they had ideas about appropriating the power of their victims through inflicted pain. Paul had no idea whether that was true, and it didn’t really matter.

But he absolutely could not allow Jasper to fall into enemy hands, and preventing Jasper’s capture was orders of magnitude more important than anything that might happen to Paul. Jasper had all manner of classified information in his memory, included up-to-date starcharts of Alliance space. Pre-emptive destruction of the AI was standard procedure in the event of a scout ship’s imminent capture. Paul reasoned this was really just an extension of the same standing order; there was no question, in the end, what the correct answer to the math was.

To his ears came the sound of crackling undergrowth, from the forest they had just quit. He got down low, hugging the ground under the bushes. In this position, he could see little glimpses, flashes of sight, of what was happening out there.

Ten or more Weasels came striding into the sunshine. Paul’s face tightened with an instinctive grimace. There was just something atavistic about the sight of a Weasel.

Take an ordinary Earth mustelid, Mustela nivalis or, perhaps, Mustela sibirica. Give it upright, bipedal posture and fully opposable thumbs and fingers. Increase its size to about two meters tall and a mass of about one hundred kilograms. Endow it with intelligence at least equal to that of any human who ever breathed. Equip it with an advanced technology centered chiefly about the tools needed conquer and enslave other sentient species. Finally, infect it with a pack-hunter psychology far more avaricious than any wolf-pack that ever loped, and you would have a faint approximation of the vicious predators that now stalked out into the clearing.

Paul didn’t have to tell himself consciously to lie quiet. Something about these beings sparked a response deep, deep down in his primate brain. These were beings who came into the nest to kill and eat. They should be driven away with sticks and rocks and screams. Paul rather wished at the moment he had a sharpened stick; he could do more with that than he could with a single pulse charge. The ending, of course, would be the same either way.

The Weasels came into the clearing, peering about. Most of them carried their version of a pulse-rifle; a couple carried portable sensor rigs. All wore body armor and communication headsets. Otherwise they were naked, except for their fur. They even went barefoot, or bare-pawed. One difference between themselves and Earth weasels was that the aliens’ tails were vestigial.

Paul tightened his grip on the pulse-pistol. He would wait until the last moment, until it was certain that they had discovered him. Then he would arm the pistol, fry Jasper, then fight to the death, if possible, with his bare hands. He took in a breath, trying to steady himself. He had so many things he regretted never doing, he had no time to catalog them.

The Weasels stopped halfway to the brush. They hissed and skreeked. A set of answering skreeks came from behind Paul. He pressed himself even closer to the ground and froze as heavy bodies pushed through the brush around him. It was another line of Weasels, doubtless the group coming up from the river. Some of these Weasels passed within yards of Paul, but none of them raised an alarm. They passed by him so quickly that he had no time to arm the pistol. Paul would have thought the Weasels would have smelled him; then he remembered the aliens’ senses of smell and hearing were less acute than humans. Their eyesight, though, was just as good or better, and Paul held absolutely still.

The second group of Weasels met up with the first. There was a great deal of hissing, whistling and screeching. From his vantage point Paul, without moving, glimpsed Weasels moving about. The aliens appeared to be upset and arguing with one another. Paul glimpsed one of the Weasels, one of those carrying a sensor unit, shake the device, then give it a slap on the side, a gesture of frustration very nearly human.

Their sensors are not working. Paul clenched his teeth against a dawning hope. Lying here and continuing to pretend to be part of the brush’s root system was still a necessity.

The arguments in Weaselese went on for a few minutes, until a large Weasel with a graying muzzle and four concentric rings emblazoned on his body-armor– an Overmaster of the pack– cut through the discussion with a piercing whistle and a couple of roundhouse blows that knocked the recipients flat. The other Weasels fell into two orderly lines. The overmaster harangued them for a minute or so. Heads drooped. Paul almost felt sorry for them.

The harangue over, the overmaster led the Weasels, in a column of twos, out of the clearing. Paul lay there listening to them march away, and then lay there some more, not wanting to trust his reprieve. He lay there, un-moving, until he heard the Weasel ship take off, from somewhere nearby, and doppler away into the distance.

“Jasper,” he whispered. “Wake up.”

A second passed. Jasper’s sensor eye flickered, then brightened. “What…we’re still here?” the AI said.

“Apparently,” Paul said. “Although I’m not sure why.

Next episode: Down By The Riverside

***************************
One thing about this story– as an exercise in turning off the censor and just writing, it’s been great. I am not sure, though, that I am exactly capturing the B-movie quality I was looking for in the beginning. It seems as if the action should be a little more breathless and unrelenting; I’ve instead slipped into a more leisurely pace. I will have to see what I can do about that; but then, we haven’t gotten to the cave-women yet….

Advertisements

A review of the movie Gravity.

I have, for the time being, suspended actively writing on Princess of Fire in favor of doing research. I anticipated having to do this at some point, and this seems the opportune moment, before I get too deep into the first draft.

As for Princess of Shadows, I’m still waiting on my other two beta readers. I am past pleading and just about at the point of bribery. Which is kinda problematic, as I am currently quite broke. I am open to suggestions.

I just saw Gravity with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.

I am not going to engage in spoilers, as is my usual wont; that would be cruel and might possibly get me lynched. Here’s what I can say, as it’s all over the film’s IMDB entry– Bullock and Clooney are astronauts literally stranded in orbit after an accident destroys their spacecraft; they then have to figure out how to get home. The film was directed by Alfonso Cuarón, a director with whose work I am largely unfamiliar, except for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

There are some points I need to make clear at the start–

1. Don’t see this movie if you can’t stand to be on the edge of your seat.
2. Don’t see this movie if terrifying scenes of destruction upset you.
3. Don’t see this movie if you’re claustrophobic.
4. Don’t see this movie if you’re acrophobic.
5. Don’t see this movie if you get motion sickness (at least, not while you’re sitting behind me in the theater).

Clooney and Bullock are the only actors with face-time on screen, although there is a nice nod to previous space films with Ed Harris as the voice of Mission Control. Clooney is very good as a veteran astronaut, but this is Bullock’s film, and she delivers as a woman who carries the pain of a great loss, stuck in a desperate situation. She’s set up more-or-less as the Everywoman struggling to survive. Bullock’s performance is great, and she quickly hooks you into her struggle.

The great appeal of the film for sci-fi fans (although there’s really nothing terribly fantastic or sci-fi about the premise and how it plays out) is that Cuarón made an effort to try to get the physics of free-fall right, and the problems created by Newtonian mechanics play a central role in the story. In addition, refreshingly, sound itself is largely missing, except for radio transmissions, speech inside spacecraft and what the astronauts might possibly detect as vibrations in solid objects. Entire spacecraft get disassembled in total silence, which is certainly an improvement compared to the general run of science-fiction movies.

Having said that, Cuarón himself admits that the film is not one hundred percent scientifically accurate, and that some scientific laws were bent for the sake of the story. If anyone is curious, some of these technical inaccuracies have been called out online, but they were not glaring to this layman and my suspension of disbelief was never in serious danger of going spung.

The ride we go through with Bullock is terrifying, extreme, heart-rending and even occasionally funny– there are a couple of in-jokes slipped into the picture, and at least one homage to WALL-E. There may be even more, but that would require me seeing the movie again, which I intend to do soon– or, at least, once I secure a large supply of Dramamine and a heat-shield.

On the whole, five retro-rockets out of five.

Later.

Episode Six of Dinosaur Planet

I have about 28 or so pages left to do on the hard-copy edit of Shadows. I should be able to get this done this weekend, assuming the power doesn’t go out (the rain is blowing sideways, and I am considering moving the family into the ark, just to be on the safe side).

I’ve doodled up the next episode of Dinosaur Planet. Now that I have a few of these episodes under my belt, I’ve noticed something interesting. I am more-or-less typing these up and posting them, with just a spell-check and a quick read-through, and I am writing these pieces so as to keep the action going– not a lot of time being taken out for character introspection. As a consequence these episodes have a pretty clean feel to them, especially in comparison to Princess of Shadows. It makes me wonder if Shadows is too top-heavy with internal ruminations and such. On the other hand, I want the reader in Kathy’s head. Somewhere in there is a happy balance. Hopefully I can find it before I publish.

On another topic, I’ve located a few more abandoned fragments I’ll be posting in the near future. This is good thing; otherwise I might be tempted to start posting my poetry, and then we would all be sorry.

PUBLIC SERVICE NOTICE: All bloggers are advised that they read the following at their own risk. In other words, it’s not my fault if your eyeballs fall out or catch fire. You’re on your own. Still, it’s copyrighted, by me, the perpetrator, 2013.

************************************************
DINOSAUR PLANET

Episode 6

Up A Tree Without A Pulse Rifle

A tree, Paul told himself as he ran, I need a tree.

In reality, though, the problem was not finding a tree; it was finding one with limbs low enough to the ground for him to reach. All about him were giants, whose limbs started twenty or thirty meters off the ground. The only way Paul could have climbed those was with mountaineering gear he didn’t have.

He heard a shriek from behind him—an ear-rending sound that conveyed hunger and blood-lust. He could see nothing moving among the trees—yet. But the sound of large, heavy bodies crashing through brush echoed through the woods.

“You’re going to want to move it a little faster, there, Paulie, old son,” Jasper said, sounding nonchalant. “I doubt those carnivores are going to be interested in me, but I would prefer not having to watch you get torn limb-from-limb. It would sort of ruin my day.”

“Shut up unless you’ve got something to actually contribute,” Paul panted.

“Okay, how about this—the bad guys are two hundred meters away and closing fast.”

There—in the midst of a clearing, three or four smaller trees, a different species that the giants, poking their crowns up out of the brush. They were shorter, with branches diverging out of the central trunk only a few meters off the ground. The trees uppermost branches, or at least the ones that looked as if they would bear Paul’s weight, were fifteen meters high.

Paul shoved himself into the stand of brush. The plants were yellow-leaved, their branches gnarled, the ends brittle under his hands as he pushed and broke his way through. Twigs stabbed at his eyes in his haste.

“One hundred yards,” Jasper said.

The shriek came again, terribly close now. Sweating, straining, Paul fought the brush. Something exploded out of the cover in front of him, some flyer that fled into the air with sharp cries of alarm. Paul trampled down branches, wood breaking under his boots.

He reached the closest tree. The lowest branch was three meters up. Paul didn’t try jumping for it. Instead, the tree’s bark was very rough. Paul grabbed handfuls of bark with both hands, wedged a boot-toe on top of a burl, and pulled himself up.

“Here they come!” Jasper said.

Paul didn’t look; he climbed. The bark threatened to give way under his weight. He shifted his grip, pulled himself up, grabbed the lowest branch with one hand.

“Look out!” Jasper yelled.

Paul looked over his shoulder; he saw a reptilian form come crashing through the brush, glimpsed teeth in a pointed snout. Yelling in fear, he leapt for the branch. The carnivore leapt as well. The top of the creatures head collided with the bottom of the branch just as Paul swarmed up it. The blow nearly knocked Paul out of the tree. He flailed his arms and managed to grab a higher branch. He hauled himself up on it as another carnivore made an impressive leap and snapped its jaws inches short of Paul’s dangling feet.

Paul stood on the upper branch, held on to a third with both hands, and caught his breath. The carnivore tried another jump, but now Paul was a good meter or more above what appeared to the creatures’ best leap. He hung on to the branch, panting.

“Not that I am complaining, mind,” Jasper said, “but that was entirely too damn close.”

“No argument,” Paul gasped.

There were three of the creatures. Each were a couple of meters long, and appeared to be mostly teeth, claws, and powerful hind legs, on which they were now wandering around the base of the tree. They snarled and hissed, peering up at Paul with hungry eyes that as black as a shark’s.

Just to be sure, Paul pulled himself up a little higher into a fork, where he could lean back and rest.

“Well, here we are,” Jasper said, “up a tree without a pulse rifle. You got a plan to get us out of here?”

“Give me a minute,” Paul said. He studied the…well, raptors, for lack of a better name. They showed no sign of leaving anytime soon; apparently they were not eager to pass up a potential free lunch. They snarled and circled about; they seemed cranky and short-tempered creatures, for they snapped and growled at each other as much as they hissed up at Paul.

Paul studied the tree in which he and Jasper now lodged, and the adjacent trees. The trees in the little grove stood close together, so much so that their branches intertwined. He would be easily able to cross from one tree to the other.

The raptors continued to snarl and snap at one another; they seemed almost willing to make a lunch of each other, if they couldn’t get Paul.

Ah.

“Hang on,” Paul told Jasper.

“I’m sure you mean that in the metaphorical sense,” Jasper said, “or do I actually need to remind you I have no hands?”

Paul ignored the AI. He changed position on the branch so that he could look down on the raptors. He drew the pulse pistol.

“That probably doesn’t have enough power to kill chickens that big,” Jasper said. “Unless you get lucky with a head shot….”

“Not looking to kill them,” Paul said. He took a bead on one of the raptors.

“What?” Jasper said.

Paul pulled the trigger. The pulse gun cracked. The raptor screamed and tried to run away, but its left leg crumpled under it, broken.

The other two raptors, just as Paul had hoped, attacked the wounded one. The injured raptor screamed louder as the other two bit into its flesh.

Paul didn’t wait to watch the feast; he turned and, as quickly as he could, moved from branch to branch into the next tree. He moved around to the other side of this tree, and then swung down to the ground.

“They’re not leaving their former buddy,” Jasper said. “The dinner bell has definitely rung. Go, go.”

Paul didn’t need encouragement; he immediately pushed his way into the brush, moving as fast as he could away from the raptors. The screams had stopped.

“Have to hand it to you, slick,” Jasper said. “As much as it pains me to admit it, that was a nice piece of animal psychology…LOOK OUT!”

Paul emerged from the brush at that moment. A raptor charged across the open forest floor at him, mouth agape, ready to bite out his life. Paul, without thinking, lifted the pulse pistol. He fired, missed, fired, missed; the raptor hissed as it came, huge and inexorable, and Paul put the third shot through its open mouth. The back of the raptor’s head exploded; the creature stumbled, fell, and skidded right across the leaf-strewn ground. Yelling in fear, Paul took a step backward and fell. The raptor’s body slid to a stop at his feet.

Paul lay panting for a moment, staring at the twitching corpse. Then he staggered up to his feet. “Any others?”

“No,” Jasper said. “I don’t understand why I didn’t pick that one up. It’s like it didn’t even show up on my sensors until you came out of the brush.”

“We still have to get out of here,” Paul said. “Which way?”

“Ten degrees to your right,” Jasper said. “That’ll be exactly due east.”

Paul circled around the dead raptor, and set out at a jog. He carried the pulse pistol in his hand, ready; but he thought, Just one shot left.

Next episode: One Foot In Front of the Other….

************************************************

Later.

Episode One of Dinosaur Planet

I swore I wasn’t going to spend any time writing anything other than Princess of Shadows, but then I starting doodling with my idea for Dinosaur Planet, and then I had a thousand words or so, so I figured, what the heck, I’d post it here.  I might even post continuing episodes whenever I need a break.

WARNING– the following fiction is derivative, probably bad for your health, and certainly lacking in redeeming social value.  It has also not been closely copy-edited.  It is, however, copywritten by me, Doug Daniel, 2013.

********************************

DINOSAUR PLANET

Episode 1

Escape to Disaster

They came out of sub-space, and the scout ship screamed.  Not with the voice of organic life, but with the sound of ruptured structural members, and the shriek of alarms.  The ship shuddered, as if convulsed with agony.

“Jump complete!” Paul said.  The alarms going off assaulted his ears.  “We’ve got multiple failures…power, jump-drive, internal integrity field…holy crap….”

“Is there any pursuit?” Mackemann called from his command seat, behind Paul’s pilot position.

Paul scanned the holographic readouts.  “Negative, negative…all sensors are clear.  That last push shook them.”

“Thank God,” Mackemann said.  “Jasper, turn off those damn alarms.”

“Those damn alarms are there to tell you something, commander,” the ship’s AI answered.  “The ship was hit hard by the last volley from that Verturi cruiser.  It’s barely holding together.  Primary systems are failing across the board.  Artificial gravity is offline.  Main shielding—scratch that, all shield systems—are down.”

“Damn it,” Mackemann said.  “Luropanca, what’s going on?”

“That hit fried our primary shield generator, and the back-flow overwhelmed the secondary and damaged our power-core.”  The image of the ship’s tech, a marsupialoid from Gettes IV, appeared in the holo-screen on Paul’s right.  He was trying to close an access port as he spoke, and having a difficult time in the sudden free-fall within the ship.  “We got a runaway degenerative cycle, and I can’t control it!  We have to jettison the jump-drives.”

“We’ll never get out of here if we do that!” Mackemann said.  “Wherever the hell here is.”

“We’ll never get out of here if we blow up,” Jasper said.  “God, I wish you organics could think clearly in crisis….”

“Shut up!” Mackemann said.  “Luropanca, dump the damn engines.  Franklin, give me a position report.  Jasper, kill those pilking alarms!”

The ship shuddered with dull thuds.  Paul activated external viewers, just in time to see the jump-drive pods detach from the hull and tumble away.  All three were venting coolant and hydrogen fuel.  Along the ship’s hull Paul glimpsed gaping holes and scorch marks; Class V scout ships of the Alliance were not big vessels, and a distressingly large portion of the ship looked damaged.   

The alarms stopped.  Paul’s ears rang in the sudden silence.  “Jump drives jettisoned,” Luroponca announced.

Paul ran a position check.  “I read our position as 95120.00-delta-67, minus 18 degrees from plane–  we’re deep into a system, G2 primary, probably that was the gravity well that pulled us out of jump.  First scan shows several planets, mostly terrestrial.  I’ll cross-reference and get a system information dump in a minute.”

“We’ve still got problems down here!” Luroponca cried.  “I’ve got to scram main power before the containment fields fail.  And the secondary generator….”

His words were wiped out by an explosion.  The shock threw Paul sideways against his restraints.  The ship shuddered again, and Paul felt it tumble and yaw at the same time.  The inertial dampers have failed

“Luroponca!” Mackemann cried.  Amid fresh alarms Paul heard his commander unbuckle from his seat.  He glanced around in time to see Mackemann grab a handhold on his seat in the weightlessness.

“Explosion and fire in the engineering space!” Jasper cried.  “Internal fire suppression system offline!”

“I know!  I’m going down,” Mackemann said.  He opened the floor hatch at the rear of the cockpit. Paul felt a waft of heat and smelled smoke.  Mackemann pulled himself headfirst through the hatch and shut it behind him.   

Paul fought with his controls.  Fly-by-wire was not responding; he switched to manual.  The ship was tumbling in three directions at once.  He activated the reaction control system; with the jump drives gone, he would have to rely on the ship’s reaction jets and its normal-space impulse engines to control it.  He fired the starboard jets, a long burst, and then the forward up-pitch.

After long minutes, and sweating effort, Paul nulled the extraneous motions of the scout-ship.  He found himself panting at the end, but the ship was stabilized on a single vector. Vector to where?  

The lower hatch opened.  Mackemann pulled himself up into the cockpit.  Paul looked back; the commander’s face was smudged with soot, and the back of one hand was red with what looked to be a nasty burn.  “The fire…?” Paul asked.

“It’s out.”

“You’re hurt,” Paul said.

“It’s nothing,” Mackemann said.  He sounded out of breath.  His face was fixed and grim.  He climbed into his seat, strapping in.  “Luropanca is dead.”

Paul closed his eyes.  A memory; he and Luraponca working together, heads down in the main engine housing, trying to chase down a system flutter.  Why?   

“Didn’t have a chance…the explosion….” Mackemann didn’t finish.  “What’s our status, Jasper?”

“We’re screwed,” the AI said. 

“Could you elaborate a little?” Mackemann said, exasperated.

Paul swore he heard the AI sigh.  “We’re on auxiliary power, but we can only function on it for about six hours.  After that, life support for you organics is going to fail, and I won’t be doing so good, either.”

“We have to land,” Mackemann said.  “Any prospects in the area?”

“There is a terrestrial planet, Class V, within range, and not far off our current vector,” Jasper said.  “It reads as habitable, well within you organics’ required tolerances, and with a lot of life form indications.  Aside from that, I have almost no information on this system—it’s not been surveyed by any ship from the Alliance.  There’s no way of knowing what’s down there until we’re there.”

“Can we make it?” Mackemann asked.   

“We have enough power to reach the planet, but I am not too sure about a controlled landing,” Jasper said.  “Once we come out of re-entry we may be dead-sticking it all the way down, and there’s no way to predict if we’re going to find a suitable landing spot.  And then, of course, there’s the junior Space Cadet I-still-got-my-training-wheels flying this thing….”         

Paul felt himself flush.  He wasn’t sure if it was embarrassment or anger.  Mackemann growled, “Keep your damned opinions to yourself, short-circuit.  Paul, lay in a course.  Meanwhile we’ll shut down everything not needed, to save power.  Jasper, generate a list of systems to close out.”

“It’ll be a short list,” Jasper said, “because most of the systems we might have shut down are dead, anyway,” Having said that, though, the AI shut up.  Paul tried to focus on setting up a course.  As he did, system indicators on the control panel began to go dark. 

********************************