Part One: Descent
“This is Amunet Insfet. Final survivor and commanding
officer first class, of the Adalay Selene. And this is the day I died.”
In the vacuum of space, all is deadly silent. The silence is so absolute in fact that it is deafening. Being born into a world of constant sounds and noises, humans grow so used to every subtle sound that they do not notice it until it is not there. It isn’t like the movies you saw back and watched on the local stream. Films where space ships fired lasers that sounded like insects fucking and exploding in dramatic concussive blasts. It is totally silent. Aside from the in and out breathing you hear inside your own helmet. And perhaps the concussive feeling of your ship tearing itself apart twelve hundred light years from the nearest person who may or may not respond to your limited range distress calls.
There was no sound as the Adalay Selene approached Jupiter. No roar as her breaking thrusters began to fire. Only the soft waltz of the ship as it appeared to float slowly in at over 19,000 miles per hour.
“Breaking thrusters are nominal. Checking all pressure sensors 18-33. Final check all clear. Beginning rotation. Gravity checks confirmed.”
“Begin secondary checks. Monitor all pressure levels on decks 4, 7 and 9. Cut power by two thirds.”
“ Jordan, Reverse rotation by 8% and increase breaking thrusters by 33%.”
“We have a green light Captain.”
“Confirmed, green light across the board and ready for atmospheric entry.”
“Any reading on wind velocity Bennett?”
“As expected Captain, the readings are off the scale. Close to 400 miles per hour. You sure the Selene can take that much pressure?”
“The Selene was tested at 300 miles per hour major. She may buck but she sure can fuck!”
“Focus on the task at hand Analora!”
“Sorry Captain,” Analora said grinning at Jordan who winked back at her.
“Entry into upper atmosphere in 48 seconds. Breaking thrusters now on full capacity.”
“Get ready for some chop kids!” said Jordan.
Amunet swallowed hard. She never liked the feeling of falling, despite her many off world excursions. And this felt exactly like being strapped to an office chair and thrown down a bottomless well. She swallowed hard again and tightened the belts across her chest. The g-forces made them feel like a pair of anacondas embracing her chest. She looked over her crew and was not at all surprised to see the rest of them in much the same condition.
All except Terrence, the Security Chief. She took a moment to smile at the title again. Security chief. More like professional mercenary and a man of stone. He never spoke a word that was not necessary. And spent hours cleaning and modifying his vast array of weaponry. He had come over from Harmony Kismet’s rival corporation, Nepenthe Inc. after a brawl that had left a rising for mineral ores a complete failure. It had also left three combatants in intensive care and Terrence a reputation for “Not to be fucked with.”
Bennett, the Chief Engineer, looked to be turning green, but he would not even acknowledge his nausea till he had the time to reflect on it. He’d puke his guts out later but until then he was all business.
Analora the Trauma Surgeon and Chief Medical Officer was a real piece of work. Amunet had shipped out with her before and was not sure, for all her brilliance if she was not slightly mad. She once told Amunet that sex during re-entry was better than shooting up a triple dose of Inanna and making love to a man, a woman, and an octopus, all at the same time. The way she and Jordan kept sneaking smiling glances at each other, Amunet was sure she had told him the same thing. May have even proven it to him for all Amunet knew.
Jordan was the Chief Navigator and secondary co-pilot. A young kid in comparison and it was only his second “rising” as off world ventures had become known. He was pale and sweating but smiling at the adventure of it all. Young, dumb and full of cum is how the new “Risers” were often referred to and Jordan was no exception.
Dahlia was the Captain of the Adalay Selene, and he was a stone-faced commander. Word had it that he had flown over twenty suicide missions during the “Lazarus Wars” and had lost an entire crew on the final mission over Mali, Africa. His ship, the Incubence, was supposed to be on a rescue mission. It turned out that it was a bombing run; one that reigned Hell upon a simple village of non-combatants.
It was in fact an infection free zone. Whatever the truth was, he had returned home and had put an entire clip into the head of his commanding officer. Three trials and two years of Mittageisen sanctioned therapy and he now worked for the Harmony Kismet Corporation just like the rest of them. All were members of the Storm Corps. A front for corporately sponsored mercenaries, made up of ex-soldiers, bounty hunters, mercs and specialists, well known to be expendable. Captain Dahlia had been the one that brought Amunet into the company. He had also saved her life in the very same war. His and the rest of the Zed Corps. They were all gone now. Only Amunet and Dahlia remained. She didn’t like to think about that brief time in her life. And despite being a reminder of that time, Amunet was grateful to ship out with Dahlia anytime she could.
The rest of the crew was still in stasis. Travis was a secondary engineer and known to be a licensed troubleshooter of sorts. The joke amongst the crew was that he joined the off world risings of Harmony Kismet to escape the world and the legendary gambling debts to Brandt Industries that he had accrued. Whatever troubles he may have gotten into with the mafia, or even worse, the Nahemoth, he was still a brilliant engineer.
There was Argo, who Amunet related to the leathernecks and miners of the late 20th century. Always seeming to be dusty and grease streaked and always smiling with witty country cheer. No one would look across from him and the twenty or so crushed beer cans invariably in front of him and mistake him for a brilliant geologist. This was however exactly what he was, and so much more.
Then there was Oni. The HK Corporation’s required mission Anthropologist and Linguist. Of all of them he was the strangest. He had solid white corneas. So white that they shone out in contrast over the white’s of the rest of his eyes. Story went that he was blind from birth and had undergone a company sponsored operation that left him not only able to see, but able to complete complex analysis of mineral compositions on sight and translate any language that he did not already know. He had flatly told Amunet, when she had asked, that he could speak over thirty different dialects. He always had a very deep and flat tone and always seemed to be analyzing everything. She found looking into his white eyes to be unsettling. As if he were analyzing the very chemical make up of her body. Analora had joked about what it may be like to lay Oni and what those eyes may see when she did. Amunet did not find this amusing. She did however feel a certain flush thinking about it and pushed it back in her mind.
It was quite a crew of misfits she thought. Not that her own past was not also quite colorful. Not long ago in Earth’s history they would have all been in prison. Now they were officers and explorers. HK sponsored salvage and search teams. Operating in a civilization that had abandoned its own home world to its dead.
This particular mission was a rising to Jupiter. The second attempted landing on what some theorized to be a core of solid diamond, created from carbon under thousands of pounds of pressure per square inch. Nepenthe Inc. had attempted it first and lost two ships in the process. HK was second to the planet and hopefully first to the prize.
“Thirty-three seconds to outer atmosphere entry,” Captain Dahlia announced. Everyone was madly hitting switches and buttons.
As the Atmospheric Pilot, Amunet knew that this was her cue. Almost time to take control. The whole crew reached up and brought the harnesses down over themselves. They clicked into place and Amunet rolled forward and activated the atmosphere piloting controls. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, in through the nose and out through the mouth. Focusing past the several seconds of plummeting to come, and the task that would be at hand once they were at piloting distance.
She saw Bastet in her mind. The ancient deity of Egypt, her lineage from which she owed her dark eyes and hair. It calmed her mind to think of Bastet. And it brought her conscious into focus. She opened her eyes and took the controls.
“Entry in five… four… three… two…” she spoke, and then it began. The dive.
Plummeting straight down at speeds unimaginable. She breathed. In through her nose and out through her mouth. All became silent but her breathing. She didn’t watch the controls but counted. Their entry angle was perfect. The fall smooth despite the winds. It would not always be.
The feeling of all of her organs rising into her throat passed as she focused on the calm black face of Bastet in her mind’s eye. Her own eyes closed. Her concentration a study in controlled meditation. The Adalay Selene dove down and down into the clouds of the planet, riding storms that would tear her own home world to pieces in moments. She listened to the sound of inhalation and exhalation. Not focusing on the hundreds of miles she was falling. Not thinking of the flesh ripping winds all around her. Nor the fact that she was hundreds of thousands of miles away from anyone that could help if anything so much as an “o” ring went wrong. She counted. She fell. They all fell deep into darkness.
Then her eyes flew open and sound returned. The smooth but gut wrenching feeling of falling suddenly reversed and the ship ratcheted with turbulence. Amunet’s eyes squinted with concentration and she ground her teeth as she steered the Adalay Selene into the course of the atmospheric storms that gave Jupiter its beauty.
She felt her very teeth and eyes rattling in her skull and her stomach lurched as the ship would drop hundreds of feet in a second and rise hundreds more in half the time.
“Wind velocity at plus 0.5, 0.8 still climbing!” Bennett yelled.
“Re-calibrate breakers and increase by 3.3% to compensate.” Yelled Captain Dahlia.
Amunet stared hard into the H.U.D. she wore, bringing the course in line with the monitor. Half of piloting in atmos was through thought. What her belly was unsure of, her mind never failed. The ship broke against the winds that pushed her like an ancient galleon in a hurricane. They were constant and almost uncomprehendingly violent and unpredictable.
“Amunet take us down on a course of 55570, Jordan confirm!”
The ship banked hard right and began a somewhat controlled spiraling decline into the thick gas clouds that raced by so fast they were a blur. Amunet turned the ship into its maximum angle and dove into the next level of the atmosphere. The idea was to use gravity and the angle of the winds to slingshot down into the center of the planet; a trip so far into the storms that a normal decent would have taken days.
“Amunet we have twenty seconds to secondary dive,” Captain Dahlia spoke. Amunet did not need to look around to know that everyone not in stasis was subtly rechecking their harnesses and praying to whatever gods they held to. Re-entry was risky enough. This however was the step that had sent two Nepenthe ships plummeting hundreds of thousands of miles into unimaginable hurricanes to finally break up and crash into whatever core this planet had. That is, if the ships ever did crash. Some believed they were still riding these storms and would for all eternity.
Amunet did not close her eyes. She could not do so now. Constant contact must be kept with visual cues to complete the precision of the dive. Her eyes kept from drying out by a suspended moisture mist within the goggles she wore. Instead she closed her minds eye for only a moment, focusing on the black feline face of Bastet. Then, gripping the controls with grim force, she began the dive.
It is said that everyone has a dream of falling. Most of these dreams are so violent and sudden that you wake from jumping.
Everyone remembered that dream as the dive began. It was not like falling or even plummeting. There was no human word for this sensation. And even steel faced Terrence reflected a ghost of fear on his face as the Adalay Selene dove thousands of miles a second into the winds with no visibility to speak of. The brightness of the clouds vanished as the light of the sun was smothered and blotted out. Twilight became night. Night became utter blackness. Only then comes the deep. Darkness so ancient it is nearly physical.
They dove straight into the planet and into that unimaginable darkness.
“Bennett, confirm structural integrity!” Yelled the Captain.
“Structural capacity is at 67.584%”
“Amunet, distance to landing zone!”
“I think,” was the part she did not speak aloud. There was plenty of research to support the theories of just how far down it was to the core of the planet. Plenty of probes were sent. Lots of scans and research. It all looked great “on paper” as they used to say. The eggheads who put the numbers “on paper” however were not here. And Amunet had to concentrate extra hard on not imagining the core of a gas giant planet racing up to meet them at thousands of miles per hour in utter darkness. Spiraling crystal diamond mountains ready to skewer their ship like an olive in a Bloody Mary. At least at that speed, death would be so fast and sudden that none of them would have been able to register it.
Amunet snarled as she turned the controls, following and analyzing incoming data and calibrating updated patterns and routes based on angle and trajectory. It took a very special kind of mind to focus and do the math under conditions that would make other human beings pass out just from fear alone.
She heard the Captain barking orders to the others. Heard them yelling back responses. Dahlia however, only asked her the one question. This was her gig. The others did their part. This was her baby. And if they did land safely, they would all owe her their lives.
Amunet registered the increasing alarm in the tone, she saw out of the corner of her eye beyond the H.U.D. the shower of sparks. She smelt the burning smell of electricity and fusing glass and burning metal. She heard the scream from one of the crew and smelt the sudden tang in the air of what the ancient mariners would have referred to as long pork. She did not look around. She did not ask questions. She filed the information away to the back of her mind for future use. And Amunet did her job. Never losing her focus.
She did the math. As each new factor presented itself. As the ship went off course and as systems failed and things went wrong…
She did the math.
“All crew report!” The Captain yelled.
“Bennett is down!” Jordan yelled.
“Unconscious and burnt up pretty bad.”
“On it Captain!”“Gravity is at 103% E.G.M. Earth Gravity Measure Captain,” Terrence spoke back calmly. Sparks showered down from a part of the ceiling and Terrence hosed it down with the sand extinguisher.
“Analora,” what is Bennett’s condition?
“Possible head trauma and multiple second and third degree burns.”
“The Selene is stationary and resting at an angle of plus 13 degrees. Systems are online but we have damage to the secondary regulator and we are losing oxygen production efficiency at about a rate of 12% per hour unless we can dry dock and do repairs. Hull has not been compromised but integrity is down. I cannot give a detailed report until further analysis is complete.”
“Ok,” the Captain unharnessed and slid back from his station. “Wake the rest of the crew. I want a detailed report of our exact and precise condition in .30 hours. Analora, take Terrence and get Bennett to the medical bay immediately. Get him pressed, dressed and stabilized ASAP. We need everyone. We have less than ten hours to complete repairs or we die. We have very limited time to complete the mission based on hull integrity and outside pressure. After 24 hours even if we have the regulator fixed, this planet’s pressure will crush the ship to roughly the size of a grape. You all have jobs to do and you know how to do them. Pack em’, stack em’ and rack em’. Move!”
Travis and Argo sat amongst the plumes of steam and dripping engine core humidity, covered in grease and grime, smoking Felicia’s. A brand of cigarette popular for their dark red paper, their sweet flavor and clove like crackle, and the fact that they were 1/3 genetically created THC and 2/3 genetically enhanced tobacco. The fiery red haired bombshell on the front, smiled at Argo as he pulled another one out. He smiled back thinking of how he would like to pull something else out for the model that had originally posed for the brand. He smoked close to a pack a day if he could get them. And he could. He had smuggled three cases aboard and hidden them down here along with the Arial Ale and Blackened Death Whiskey. Argo had a taste for all vices and preferred those with ladies names or faces on them. He did not however, enjoy mechanics. Even though he was quite gifted as a rising venture engineer. He was almost as good at engines and quantum physics as he was at Geology.
“So she says to me, why don’t you like reading from the screen? Why do you spend all the money you haven’t spent on smokes and beers on old books? I say to her, Kayla, I could look at pics of your lovely breasts on the screen, but I would much rather hold them in my hands!”
Travis laughed. “Bet she didn’t really take well to that!”
“She took well to me for the next three hours T-Rex and don’t you mistake it!” Argo said after blowing out a plume of smoke.
“What in the actual HELL are you two DOING?” Captain Dahlia yelled as he emerged from a column of steam and shadow. “We have hours gentlemen before we either run out of air or get crushed and you two are down here smoking and DRINKING?!”
Travis threw his smoke aside and stood to attention. Argo barely took note. Only smiled and flicked his smoke randomly aside and lit another.
“H.K. Union rules say we get a fifteen minute break time every two hours C.D.” Argo said smiling with his face half blackened by grease. “How we spend them fifteen minutes doing drink or even each other ain’t set to no kind of regulation.”
Captain Dahlia stood face to face with Argo and when he leaned down, being nearly a foot taller, their noses nearly touched. “That is Captain Dahlia to you Stoney,” the Captain said, throwing another nickname back at him. Argo only grinned wider through the grease and whiskers. He blew out another sweet smelling plume of smoke into the Captain’s face. The Captain did not blink.
“Ok Captain. Well T-Rex and I have already gotten the secondary regulator back on its feet. It may be limping but that dog’ll hunt. As for the landing gear and the hull integrity well… we’ll get right on her and soon you can ride or all the way to glory or Hell. Up to you… sir.” Argo smiled very wide at the last “sir” and drew on his smoke. It illuminated the Captain’s face a dull red in the low light of the main engine room.
The Captain turned and walked away. “I expect a full report on your progress every 30 minutes Stoney!”
Argo looked sideways at Travis who was only slowly coming to ease. He grinned once more.
“You’ll have it C.D.”
“Like this ship flying down into the planet’s atmosphere. Entry in four…” She grabbed him by his dick and rose up on her knees over him.
“Three…” Analora smiled with a feral look down at Jordan who almost looked like a star crossed virgin on prom night to her.
“Two…” she said hoarsely as her sex brushed the tip of his.
“One!” she growled as her knees parted and she fell hard on top of him and he sunk into her. Analora had a weakness and only one. Risings like these, which were always dangerous as hell and often fatal, got more than a rise out of her.
Jordan was only too willing to let her feed her need. Bennett lay on the other table next to them, breathing in and out through a regulator. He was still out, but she didn’t mind having the presence of more than one person in the room. Nor the fact that the door, which began to slowly open, was unlocked.
Analora rode Jordan hard, still wearing a white lab coat but nothing else. He was young and inexperienced but like all young men he was anxious and willing and didn’t care about either consequence or reprimand. They could all be dead in less than a day anyway. Crushed to the size of a bean. Might as well enjoy life while they could. Neither of them heard Oni as he walked slowly towards them. His eyes analyzing them and breaking apart their structures; separating the layers of their bodies down to skeletons, and taking readings on temperature variations given off by friction and strategic bodily blood flow.
Analora arched her back, the sides of her jacket spreading and her breasts rising to the ceiling as she came. Feeling Jordan’s hands cover them and feeling his hips rise and his legs flex. As she tilted her head down and lifted herself off of him, grabbing his cock to jerk him to finish, she saw eyes and screamed in surprise. Jordan, reacting to her and mistaking the sound for excitement, came just as he too saw Oni upside down in his vision. As some things reach a certain point however, they cannot be stopped until they are done.
“Gods Eyes! You scared the shit out of me!” Analora said, without covering herself. Even now, she didn’t mind yet another male in the room. And those eyes of his felt good on her.
Oni only grinned. “Captain asked me to check in on Toolbag’s condition,” he turned fluidly and looked at Jordan who was doing a bad job of getting his clothes hastily back on. “And to find Chief Navigator Jordan and have him report to the bridge immediately.”
Jordan left the room hoping on one foot and putting his boot on the other. Oni turned slowly back to Analora who was putting her own clothes back on without any hurry. “So, what is Bennett’s condition Knives?”
“He suffered a mild concussion. He will be out for a while. Possibly a good thing based on the burns. They will be mended shortly. The grafts just have to absorb themselves to the salvageable dermal tissue.”
Oni looked at the slowly breathing Chief Engineer. His own analysis only took moments. He then turned to leave but looked back over his shoulder. “You missed a spot Knives,” he said and then disappeared through the airlock.
Amunet lay back in her seat and breathed a sigh of exhaustion. As if the landing were not stressful enough, all of them had been forced to rush into repairs. A pack of Felicia’s suddenly filled her vision. “Thanks,” she said looking up at Oni who was holding the pack out to her. She pulled one out and put it into her mouth. The sweet taste of cinnamon spread over her lips and she popped a match in one hand, lit the smoke, heard the crackle and drew in deep. Upon exhaling the sweet taste she felt much better. Oni turned and offered another to the firm but equally exhausted Captain. Jordan suddenly joined them and looked confused and more than a little guilty at Oni. Oni only grinned at him again knowingly and offered the pack.
“I know YOU need one,” he said flatly. His smirk however held all of the humor that his voice never did.
“Jordan! Report!” the Captain interrupted. Oni left the room. He turned at the airlock to look back at Amunet. She turned at the same time to smile at him. The smile was returned.
Terrence was busy re-assembling his third Saber Rifle when Oni came in. His limited duties done, not being very mechanically minded, Terrence had finished reviewing the ship’s limited weaponry and had returned to his quarters to inspect and clean his much less limited personal armory. The dog tags with the twin holes in them swung like pendulums under his barrel of a chest as he leaned over them. A blade was in his hands and ready for use three seconds before Oni even stepped in. Seeing Eyes walk through, Terrence relaxed and slid the blade back into his boot to join its mates.
“How are the weapons Brick?” Oni asked. He seemed to enjoy all the nicknames the crew exchanged, including his own. And used them at every chance he got.
“Weapons are nominal. One plasma cannon had to have some minor repair. Finished it twenty minutes ago.”
“Good to know. Captain is just sending me around to ask…”
“Since you ain’t good for much beyond reading lips and quoting manors, yeah, I know that Eyes.” Terrence looked up into his crewmember’s namesake and sneered. “You can tell the Captain that if there is fighting to be done, it will be done and done quick.”
Oni only nodded and left the room. Not fast enough however to avoid hearing Brick speak one last word on the subject.
“Captain you should take a look at this…” Amunet said, with her eyes a little troubled and voice a little shaky. They had all been going for four hours. The ship was repaired at least to minimal standards but time was still running out. Between Jordan and Amunet the analytical gear had been brought online. Though the world beyond their infinitesimally small ship was darker than being buried alive, the science of their instruments could still pierce it. And what they saw beyond their own off course landing was beyond belief.
“That’s… just not possible…” Captain Dahlia spoke with uncharacteristic wonder and disbelief.
“I know the chances sir but they are there. They are both just there. Not fifty yards from us.”
“Angels and ministers of grace defend us…” spoke Travis who had just joined them. He had a habit of quoting The Poet anytime he was anxious. And his feeling was shared by all but perhaps Oni as they looked at the data and the enhanced view from the monitor.
Both Nepenthe ships were there, derelict and silent in the dark storm. Right in front of their own ship. And all three ships sat upon the edge of a vast pit. So vast that even the Selene’s computers could only theorize the distance to the other side. And to the pit’s depth, they could not even make the computerized guess.