Episode 1: Like a Brick
Compensate and put us into orbit!” Gold
took in the situation in a split second and determined that they had
too slowly to establish an orbit. The planet below
from the cockpit
and was silently growing larger.
“Working,” said Cobalt, “What kind of orbit would you like?”
“Any orbit! Just a standard damn orbit!”
“What altitude? Equatorial or polar? Circular or elliptical? I need some parameters.”
“I don't care! Just make it stable!”
“Okay, hold on, my math is a little rusty.”
“For crying out loud, Cobalt! You're made of math!”
“I know. Just teasing.”
Cobalt manipulated the thrusters to point the Hideyoshi's nose a few dozen degrees above the ever-widening horizon.
“Prepare for burn,” Cobalt said. Gold leaned back against the headrest.
The main engines fired and the acceleration pressed Gold further into his seat. He monitored the orbital elements readout and watched as Cobalt expertly maneuvered the ship into a stable orbit.
The engines cut off. “Done,” said Cobalt, “We're stable, but the orbit is slightly elliptical. Should I adjust it?”
“No. Save the fuel for now. We'll do a full revolution and scan the surface as we go. Then we can decide the best place to land.”
The cockpit was quiet for a moment.
Cobalt spoke up, “Gold? You know we were never in any danger right? I was only joking.”
Gold sighed, “Yeah, I know. It's just been a while, is all. Anyway, what happened with the wormhole? We should have come out already in orbit.”
“Processing.” Cobalt scanned the area. “Got it. The wormhole anchor is still in orbit, but appears to have deteriorated slightly. Most likely, it had enough power to open the wormhole, but not enough to keep the opening moving at orbital velocity. We came out of a stationary wormhole.”
Gold shook his head. “That explains why we fell like a brick. Any chance of repairing it?”
“We don't have the resources for that. I hate to say it, but I think we're stuck here unless we find another anchor or do an anchorless jump.”
“We're not doing an anchorless jump, not in a ship this small.”
“Now that's just rude.”
“Sorry. What do you want to do, then?” asked Cobalt.
Gold went to massage his brow, but forgot he was wearing a helmet and his hand knocked against the visor. It really had been a long time since he had done this.
“We'll continue as planned,” he said, “We may be able to find something on the surface that'll help us.”
“Aye, Captain,” said Cobalt, then added with an audible smirk, “Proceeding to keep calm and carry on.”
The next few hours passed in silence as the Hideyoshi moved along its orbit. Cobalt rolled the ship over so the planet was “above” the cockpit and Gold could view the surface in full. Cobalt was scanning the planet and analyzing scientific data while Gold calculated the atmospheric entry maneuvers by hand (Cobalt could have computed those in an instant, but Gold liked knowing he could do it himself if he had to). Finally bored of his calculations, Gold closed his console and stared out at the planet.
The planet was named Carson, after the astronomer who first discovered it. Sadly, Dr. Carson never set foot on the planet herself. It was 250 years after her discovery that an expedition finally landed on it. What a discovery it was; one of the first semi-habitable planets humanity was able to colonize. The planet's one Pangaea-like continent had a massive desert plateau in the center with mountain ranges and rivers winding out to the coast. The rest of the planet was ocean, dotted with archipelagos and volcanic chains. The magnetic field was stronger than that of Earth, allowing fewer cosmic rays to reach the surface and as a result life on Carson had mutated at a slower rate. Even though Carson formed some 12 billion years before Earth, by the time humanity arrived, only insect-like creatures were the planet's most complex life form.
Gold returned his attention to the cockpit. “What do you have so far, Cobalt?”
“Not much has changed since the last time we were here. There are large cities along the coast as well as in the foothills. There are smaller settlements on the islands and on the desert plateau. Judging by the debris in orbit, it doesn't seem anyone has launched an artificial satellite in centuries; not since the war, I would guess.”
“What about our destination?”
“Abandoned, it seems.” There was a pause. “Captain?”
“I think we may be the first Union ship to come through here in 300 years. Do you think they even remember the war?”
“Don't know. As long as they don't remember us, we're okay.”
“Begin the entry procedures, and let's pick a nice clear spot to land.”
Cobalt turned the Hideyoshi around and put a countdown to retrograde burn on Gold's helmet display. Gold reopened his console and brought up Cobalt's map of the planet. A yellow dot in the center of the desert plateau indicated their destination.
“Did you spot any good landing spots?” asked Gold.
“Here,” said Cobalt, and six green dots appeared on the map near the yellow one. “All of these locations are far enough away from any settlements that we should be able to land without attracting attention.”
“Okay. Which one is closest to the target?”
“This one.” All the green dots disappeared except for one. “Five clicks from destination.”
“Go with that one.”
“Excellent choice, sir.”
Gold smiled. He knew Cobalt had already picked that spot and was just humoring his Captain by giving him the illusion of choice.
The deceleration burn and atmospheric entry was bumpy and unpleasant as always, but passed without incident. Cobalt extended the wings, and they were now flying comfortably over the desert. Two hours passed before they finally came to an easy landing on top of a rocky cliff.
Gold started detaching himself from his seat. “Cobalt, perform the post-flight diagnostics while I get the gear ready. I'll offload you when you're done.”
“Way ahead of you. I'll be done in two minutes.”
Gold opened the canopy and climbed out. He briefly surveyed the barren landscape. It was a good spot; the landing zone was surrounded on all sides by large boulders and worn cliff faces so the ship couldn't be seen from a distance. But other than the rocks and cliffs, there were no features. The high mountain walls of the plateau prevented moisture from the ocean from reaching the interior. The forests and rivers of the foothills enjoyed plentiful monsoons, but the plateau itself was left dry; almost lifeless.
Gold opened the ship's storage compartment and removed his gear. It was the usual kit one would expect a space-faring, power-armored soldier to carry, with a couple exceptions. From inside the compartment Gold pulled out a long, thin item wrapped in a wool cloak. He donned the cloak, then turned his attention to the item that had been inside it. It was an ornate spear of modern build but ancient design. Taller than the Captain, it was clearly meant for use, yet was so decorated that it would not look out of place at a royal pageant. Gold inspected the weapon, ensuring nothing happened to it during their descent. He removed the scabbard and checked the spearhead. Satisfied, he replaced the scabbard and walked back to the cockpit.
“Ready, Cobalt?” He asked.
“Yeah. The next time we're in port you'll have to send it in for routine service, but for now we're green across the board. Also, I know you didn't ask, but I did BCCM procedures and activated the sterilization field. Don't want to pull a Cortés.”
“Oh damn, I forgot.”
BCCM, or Biological and Chemical Contaminate Management, was standard procedure for anyone landing on, or leaving, a new planet. Foreign microbes or compounds could devastate an ecosystem. “Pulling a Cortés,” was often used to describe someone who disregarded BCCM procedures. The etymology of the phrase had been lost to history, but for some reason it was considered bad taste to use the phrase in front of someone of Spanish descent.
“Thanks, Cobalt. Ready for offload?”
Gold put his palm against the data transfer pad, and Cobalt downloaded himself into Gold's armor.
“Transfer complete, suit systems optimal,” said Cobalt, “Ready for shenanigans, Captain.”
“Okay. Set a NAV marker and we'll get going.”
They began their trek across the rough terrain. The cliffs and boulders slowed them down, and the lack of foliage made the wind harsh. Fortunately, their destination was not far, and they arrived just before sundown. They came to the edge of a cliff overlooking a massive basin. The basin floor was a thousand feet below them and the far rim was almost too distant to see in the failing light. Most impressive of all was the great city that lay in the basin's center. A magnificent work of stone and metal, with gleaming towers that stood higher than the cliffs around them. Standing on the cliff, Gold noticed that the wind did not blow here and that the evening was now deathly quiet. The city, though staggering in its beauty, was dark and still.
Cobalt broke the silence, “Well, it looks deader then ever.”
“Not dead,” replied Gold, “more like sleeping.”
Cobalt scoffed, “Pretty heavy sleeper, then. Want to go wake it?”
“In the morning.”
“You're dedicated to the metaphor, I'll give you that.”
“I don't want to climb down a thousand-foot cliff in the dark.”
“Plus... I need some time...”
Cobalt sensed in Gold's tone and his elevated heart rate that now was not the best time for jokes.
“Okay. Take as much as you need, sir.”
Gold sat down and watched as the city's silhouette slowly blended into the ever-darkening sky.
“Welcome home, Captain.”