A Short Story
He’s been trapped on the planet for over six months.
In that time he had learned how to survive. Hyman grew fond of eating animals that looked like snakes and drinking water tasting mildly like excrement. Those were the least of his worries; getting off this planet and back home were the only things on his mind, everyday.
It was simply a pleasure trip, Hyman and his buddies: Rich and Junior. The idea wasn't even his…
“C’mon Hyman, let’s do it!” said Rich.
“Yeah, it’ll be fun,” added Junior. “We’ll checkout this new system Rich is talking about, whadaya say?”
Hyman was skeptical. He knew these guys for years, but they certainly were not space rangers. To go over and visit an uncharted solar system, just to say they were there, sounded ridiculous. Yet with the pleading, puppy-dog looks staring back at him, how could he say ‘no’?
Hyman answered, “All right. But we’re not going to land on any planet. Go over take a look around that’s it.”
Off they had gone, Rich in command of Hyman’s craft with Hyman as the co-pilot. Junior, as always, was just along for the ride. That bugged Hyman, it always seemed Junior was just freeloading. Of course, Rich had his faults too. He always dared Hyman into these situations, like the time with the mud-wolves on Outpost 3.
“Here we are gentlemen, said Rich, leaning back in the pilot’s seat, “the Malory System. There’re only 5 planets and none of them have moons. Isn’t that odd?”
“That’s not so odd, replied Junior.
“Junior, it is odd,” said Hyman. “Don’t you remember basic astronomy? The lack of moons only exists in one other part of the galaxy.”
“I suppose so,” mumbled Junior, he sounded self-conscious.
“Rich, remind me why we bring him along?” said Hyman, a little agitated. He hated how ignorant Junior seemed at times.
Rich laughed at the question then replied, “My little buddy can come along anytime he wants. No problem with me.” Rich turned to Junior and winked.
Hyman then remembered, Junior’s more Rich’s sidekick than anything else, even though he is married to my...
Rich broke the train of thought when he said, “Hey, lookie there. That fourth planet looks cool, I going in for a closer look.”
“No you don't chief,” said Hyman sarcastically. “Remember, we’re just taking a tour. Get in, get out, bam.”
“Come on, wuss. Let’s take a closer look and then we’ll go.”
Hyman didn’t like this. He knew Rich would then want to take a closer look by reentry and flying around. The thought really worried Hyman.
“Odd color of brown and green,” continued Rich, playing the sensor controls expertly. “Well I’ll be—the planet’s got an oxygen atmosphere. Hey, there’s even mountains down their. Hyman buddy, I'm going in!”
"The hell you are pal,” Hyman replied angrily. He knew this was going to happen. “Just turn this ship around right now.”
“Geez, Hymie-boy. What’re you afraid of? Some large flying insect in the sky? Junior, are we going in or not?”
Junior was caught flat-footed – Rich never asked him his opinion.
He answered the only way he knew.
“Sounds good to me,” said Junior, shaking his head slowly in agreement.
Thanks Junior, thought Hyman sarcastically. Hyman now had to make a stand.
“Rich, we’ve come this far, it’s late, and we should be getting back. Just turn my ship around. Don't piss me off.”
Rich looked over to Hyman from head to toe, then snorted “Yeah, right.”
Hyman knew Rich wasn’t scared, ever since the fight back in school when Rich beat the crap out of him.
“Dammit!” said Hyman, giving in. “Go ahead but don't land the damn thing, PLEASE!”
Rich stretched a mocking smile across his face, a smile that Hyman hated. It reminded him how much of a bully Rich really was.
As they approached the planet Hyman noticed hundreds of meteorites crashing into the atmosphere, and he knew they were moving at horrifying speeds. He shuddered thinking of a hull breach.
“Hey guys?” chimed Junior. “Look at all those meteors. Maybe it’s not a good idea to land. Rich, Rich, what do think?”
“Junior, most if not all of those are burning up,” said Rich annoyed. “We already have one den-mother, just sit back and relax.” Relaxing his frown, Rich then added, “Where do you think shooting stars come from anyway?” He chuckled.
“What do you mean, ‘shooting stars’?” said Junior, sounding confused.
Hyman glanced at Rich surprised by the statement. Rich smiled back and now laughed.
“Come on man!” sadi Rich. “You don’t know what a shooting star is?”
“You didn’t think shooting stars were real?” said Hyman. “Man...”
“Uh—” said Junior, dumbfounded. “Yeah. I mean, yeah I know what a shooting star is.”
“What the heck does my sister see in you?” said Hyman, shaking his head. “Those meteorites are seen as streaks of lights coming down, when you’re on the surface. Geez, dude, don’t you know anything?”
Rich commanded the craft for reentry. The moment they hit the atmosphere something went wrong. The engines whined and the hull creaked as the control console blinked several times.
“What’sgoingon?” said Hyman quickly. “What wrong with the craft?”
Rich ignored the questions. He hastily worked the controls. Rich tried more power to the engines, no good. He tried flight mode…still no good. Nothing worked as they lost altitude.
“Hey, we’re starting to fall, we’re gonna die,” shrilled Junior.
"Shut up you idiot!” yelled Rich. “Buckle and keep quiet! Hyman—the propulsion system—give me a reading.”
Hyman scanned the monitors, shocked by what he saw: A total loss of all propulsion and only half-power to flight mode.
If I switch remaining power to flight we can try to land, thought Hyman
“Rich, all power’s to flight. Try it!”
“I've got some control…but not enough. Something’s wrong with directional.”
“Directional’s fine, replied Hyman, looking at it. He then looked closer and realized something was wrong.
“Oh, no, we’ve got a problem. You’re clearly moving east but the system says your moving west. Dammit, no computer control. You’re gonna have to do it manual.”
“Manual? Well this is freakin’ great!” barked Rich. “How the hell do I land without knowing the terrian? We’re screwed.” Rich fought with the controls, thinking. There was a way, it was there only way, he said, “Hyman, can I get a visual of the terrain, a heads-up?”
Hyman quickly worked his co-pilot controls and gave Rich what he asked for, a camera sight of the outside. This didn’t work either.
Okay…, thought Hyman, let me give him altitude and radar-terrain data, then we’ll go from there.
“I asked for visual, not this crap,” groused Rich. “Hurry up man!”
Hyman snapped back, “Dammit, we’ve got a problem with the cameras that’s all I can do.”
No it’s not, thought Rich. He didn’t want to but he had to see the terrain. This was the only way he knew how to fly.
“Don’t argue with me, just do it—blow the shield,” said Rich angrily.
Hyman couldn't believe his ears. Blow the shield. The shield was in place for these types of situations.
“You’ve got to be kiddin’ me. Once it’s blown we can’t get it back, you know that, right?”
“Yes I know, just do it. I can’t land without seeing the terrain.”
The truth comes out, thought Hyman. He looked at Rich and sighed heavily. Hyman then stared at the pyro controls for the shield.
The shield was a metallic covering for the craft’s view window. Only blown under extreme circumstances, this really not being one of them. With the shield blown, the glass beneath was at the mercy of the elements. Even though the glass was over 10 centimeters thick, it was like flying in a craft made centuries ago – absolutely dangerous.
Glass windows on space crafts? Why anyone would designed them in was unbelievable, thought Hyman. That's why there’s terrain cameras and radar.
With a slight wince, Hyman released the safety lock and then threw the switch. Four small explosions and a jolt later, off flung the shield. At once the crew cabin was engulfed with sunlight. All three men covered their eyes as pupils quickly contracted. Looking outside the men saw they were traveling among the clouds, at least they were still high up.
Rich checked altimeter, they were only 600 meters high. Those weren’t clouds, it was fog, really thick fog. The thought of crashing into a mountain clearly entered his head. It was only know he realized the emergency beacon had not been activated.
“Dammit, the emergency beacon isn’t on,” said Rich. “Why didn’t you turn it on?”
They knew that with no beacon there was no way of notifying space rangers for rescue.
“What the hell do you mean?” Hyman replied defensively. “You’re the pilot, you should’ve remembered.”
In reality both men were to blame. The emergency beacon enable was positioned between the pilot and co-pilot seats.
They both reached at the same time, both pulled back, then an irritated Rich punched it.
Rich had no choice but to use radar data. Concentrating on the heads-up he saw the terrain seemed mostly flat, though it did contain boulders in the immediate area. He desperately hoped they would reach somewhere smoother before he actually had no choice but to ditch.
“What’s our situation?” said Rich. “What do we have and don’t we?”
“No propulsion, only half power to flight, and the directional system’s flaked out.” replied Hyman resigned.
“Okay, without propulsion there’s no hope of leaving the planet, we leave the beacon running. With only half power to flight the craft should be able land safely. Although, with directional unreliable, I’ll have to land the craft manually, we can’t rely on the auto-pilot,” He had reviewed the control console as he talked.
“Uh guys, are we gonna be okay?” said Junior, speaking up timidly. “I mean, we’ll be all right, won’t we?”
Rich at first got annoyed, pursing his lips. But then he realized Junior had kept quiet for some time. It was better to keep him that way.
“We’ll be all right bud,” said Rich firmly, “I'll land this thing. Now just keep quiet!” He glanced behind him to Junior and saw him nodding.
Turning back around, he focused on the view out the window. They were coming out of the fog. A wave of relief starting to wash over him when he notice something in the distance, it was coming up rapidly.
“Crap!” said Rich. “We're in trouble, look out the view window.”
Hyman looked and his eyes bugged-out, “I’m diverting power right now to flight mode, go!”
Rich tried pulling the craft higher altitude, it wouldn’t budge. They were at five hundred meters and falling.
“Hyman—” grunted Rich, “not—working…Do—something—quick.”
“What does the terrain data say about the mountain?”
“The mountain’s—six maybe—eight hundred meters high.” He continued to fight with the controls when a thought popped in his head. “Switch everything—off—except beacon—NOW!”
Hyman furiously redirected everything to flight mode, all the while keeping a keen eye on a mountain getting closer and closer…they were almost upon it. Done!
“Rich, try it now! Go! GO!”
With the mountain side framed by the window, Rich put the craft in a high-steep climb. At first the craft was unresponsive, but slowly it pulled up. Rich tried adjusting power allowing for a faster climb, with just meters to go he was afraid they wouldn’t clear the mountain.
He was right.
They hit the mountain-top with a loud, crunching sound, like metal grinding. All three men screamed fear.
Careening off the other side, the craft was surprisingly still maneuverable, but only for a moment. First sensing he could level and control the craft, Rich tried, but the craft fell fast instead. It was all Rich could do to keep the craft from barrel-rolling.
“Damage report, I want a damage report,” said Rich. He could guess it but he asked anyway.
“The entire bottom half is damaged, and there’s no propulsion or flight mode," said Hyman, glancing at Rich with fear. “We're falling like a rock.”
“The hell we are!”
Junior was sobbing in the background, Hyman felt sorry for him.
Damn Rich for getting us into this, thought Hyman. He verified the emergency beacon was still running, yes. At least they’ll be able to find the bodies once we hit the ground. He pursed his lips and watched as Rich tried to land the craft.
Staring at the altimeter, Rich watched it decrease way to fast from fifty meters to forty, then thirty. He checked the terrain outside the window. Although it seemed wide open and sandy, there were still a few large boulders sprinkled about. He watched the altimeter again, twenty meters, fifteen, ten...
“Assume the crash position—hold on!"
Hyman and Junior tucked their heads and placed their arms above them.
Rich watched the terrain approach, trying to find somewhere soft to ditch. He read the altimeter one last time, five meters, four, three, two...
Rich tried pulling the nose up – no chance.
The nose penetrated sand and the ship began to cartwheel. All three men screamed. The craft tumbled as metal crunched and ripped.
Rich never knew what hit him.
The craft had crashed into a large, alien rock and broke enough off to come roaring through the window and right into Rich. It smashed into Rich with so much speed and energy that it ripped his face off and tore his head partially off his neck. The craft was now at a stand still.
Heat and sand dust filled the cabin waking Hyman up. He had no idea how long he was unconscious, passing out with the g-forces his body experienced during the crash. Rubbing his forehead, Hyman remembed spinning and then blackness.
How long was I out?, thought Hyman groggily.
He looked down at his watch and noticed its face was condensed; the heat entering the craft was almost unbearable.
Must not have been out long, he thought. Hyman wiped the watch and noticed it was not working. Damn.
Hyman shook his head and realized his neck hurt, he then proceeded to check for anything broken…no, just sore. He looked at the console all condensed but some power was still on: damage reporting, and the beacon. Yes! The beacon – some good news. Suddenly, he remembered about the guys.
He turned to Rich and was shocked. So repulsed by what he saw, he turned away and vomited.
Oh my God, poor Rich, Hyman thought, what a way to go.
Glancing again after wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he noticed a portion of spine sticking out of Rich’s neck. Hyman stared with morbid interest at the head – almost completely torn off and hanging like a balloon full of water. He then looked at Rich’s face, or where his face should have been. He was going to look for it then decided not to.
Poor bastard, better him than me though. He pauses for a second looking around, feeling guilty about what he had just thought. Looking at the destruction around him, he wondered who the luckier one was. Smelling the sickening stench of the body along with the vomit he just dropped – he dry-heaved.
Hyman tried to sit up but was still buckled in. He guessed the automatic release locked, good thing. He reached for the manual release under the seat, a small lever to pull, and the restraining harness fell away. Getting up and stretching, still a little groggy, he noticed he had a severe headache. It was only now he now thinks about Junior.
Hyman stepped to Junior and noticed him slumped over in his seat. Hyman took Junior’s pulse and saw he was still breathing.
Thank god. He’s still alive! thought Hyman.
Concerned Junior might have broken bones or worse, he looked at the body for any obvious signs of trauma. Seeing none he decided to wake him up carefully.
“Junior, Junior, are you all right?” said Hyman loudly.
Junior moaned slowly, it sounded a little like a cry as he awoke from his passed-out state.
“That’s it, wake up bud, you okay?” said Hyman.
“Uh...Uh, what happened, man...Oh, my head!” replied Junior.
“What’s wrong with your head?”
Junior looked at Hyman still dazed, “Hyman...you’re all right, that’s great. I thought you and...Rich were gonna die. I guess...since you were sitting up front and all.”
Hyman smiled realizing he was lucky to be alive: It could have easily been his side. Junior broke his train of thought.
“Don’t look Junior, but he’s dead,” said Hyman, after a short pause.
“DEAD? What happened?” Junior looked to where Rich body slumped in the pilot’s chair.
Junior stared, still in a daze, at the torn and bloodied body, completely unaffected by what he saw. Soon after tears welled in his eyes, Junior cried.
“Oh man, Rich is dead, damn, this sucks, oh, this is terrible,” rambled Junior.
“Junior, it’s all right bud,” said Hyman, “we hit a rock and that chunk – ” he pointed to a rock at the rear of the crew cabin “ – flew in. It probably killed him instantly."
Junior looked again, wiped his eyes, and then with determination said, “Well, were gonna bury him, right? I mean, we just can’t leave him there.”
The thought of getting close to the body disgusted Hyman, but Junior was right. The least Rich deserved was a decent burial.
“Of course, man. We’ll do it as soon as we put the supplies together. Now get out of your seat. You’ll need to manually unbuckle yourself.”
Junior reached for the manual release pulling on the lever, but the harness did not unbuckle. He tried a second time – no good. Junior tried even harder a third and fourth time, still buckled in. He looks over to Hyman, apparently oblivious to his predicament; Hyman was starting to collecting items stored away in the craft.
“Uh, Hyman,” said Junior, “I’ve got a problem. I can’t seem to get out.”
Annoyed at first, Hyman then figured Junior’s release was probably damaged during the crash.
“Just sit tight. When I find a knife I’ll cut you out, okay?"
“Alright, no problem,” said Junior, with a smile. “You’re doing all the work.”
Hyman smiled back but gritted his teeth, Somehow, I always end up doing all the work.
Hyman collected the emergency supplies stored in the craft, first by pulling out the special backpack for carrying all the essentials then looking for the remaining items. He found food and water for one week, a flashlight, night-vision gear, and a laser gun. He held it in his hand for a moment, glad to have it. The gun might come in handy for finding something to eat. He then packed the last two items: A portable, low-powered version of the craft’s beacon, and a tent. With all of it stored neatly inside the backpack, he moved it next to the hatch.
Inspecting the hatch he became concerned whether the emergency release would work. Although he didn’t think the hatch would open electronically, he tried it anyway and as expected, no good. Hoping desperately the emergency release would work, he anxiously pulled on its lever. Four small explosions were first heard as the hatch then blew off. A wave of relief engulfed him but it was short-lived, the heat now entering the craft was even worse.
Geez, its gotta be unbearable out there, and it’s getting worse in here, he thought.
Looking out the hatch the opening was about three meters above the ground. Hyman also saw, hopefully, it was above a sandy landing. Before dropping something out as a test, he decided to check once more for anything he might have overlooked. He moved to the rear of the cabin and noticed something. He started to feel funny, a slight tingling feeling all over his body. The same kind of feeling one has when they hit their elbow sharply. It wasn’t as painful but it was certainly noticeable. He remembered enough of space training to know what anyone would feel if an engine-core had been breached.
Instinctively he looked at the control console. The craft’s damage reporting was still operating. Although voice annunciation was not working, the console’s emergency indicators were.
Terror filled him.
The indicators showed the craft’s engine-core had been breached. He stared at the console again in disbelief. Radiation levels were beginning to rise and there were only ten minutes before an involuntary shutdown. Hyman knew a catastrophic explosion was imminent.
Apparently Junior remembered enough of his space training too as radiation began to fill the crew cabin.
“There’s been a breach, I can feel it, get me out of here!” shrilled Junior.
Hyman frantically looked for a knife, scissors – anything to cut Junior out. Hyman’s thoughts then turned to getting the hell out. He peeked at the console, only five minute left. His mind raced.
“Junior, I can’t find anything to cut you out with. I’m gonna go outside and get a rock to break the buckle, hold tight.”
“No you don’t dammit!” screeched Junior loudly. “Don’t you leave me here. Get me out! PLEASE!"
Hyman scanned the cabin for a piece of rock. He picked one up – not very big – and handed it to Junior.
“Use this. Let me go find a larger one, I’ll be right back.”
“No, don’t leave me, dammit, don’t!” yelled Junior. He rocked his chair wildly in a desperate, panic-stricken attempt to break the buckle or rip the chair from its base.
Without looking back Hyman grabbed the backpack and threw it out the hatch.
I only have three minutes or so before shutdown. I’m gonna have to find a rock quick.
He jumped out and braced himself for a hard landing, fortunately, he landed on a sandy dune. He then began looking for a big rock. All around him there were small ones, the bigger ones seemed to be several meters away. Looking up at the hatch he realized there’d be no way of getting a bigger rock up there.
What do I have? A minute or two now. Dammit. I can’t get myself and a rock up there...Sorry Junior.
Instantly overwrought with guilt, Hyman decided to leave him. He heard Junior screaming in terror as he picked up the backpack and ran.
“Hyman, come back, help me...damn you, come back...I can't get out!”
As he continued to run, the screaming from the craft stopped.
Maybe the radiation got him? For his sake...
In the distance he saw an outcropping of rocks to shield him from the blast. Faster he ran.
“Someone, help me...HEEELLLP!!!” It’s the last thing he heard from Junior.
Taking the final steps toward the rocks he wondered how much longer and his guilt grew.
What was I supposed to do? Die along with him?
He climbed the rocks furiously, in a panic really, knowing the explosion was near. His only chance for survival was this cover of rocks. He started to climb down, but was jarred from his hold and fell. The engine-core had finally shutdown and a deafening explosion occurred.
The sky lit up momentarily with the bright, white flash, more intense than the afternoon sun. Dazed and with his breath knocked out, he gasped for air and had enough wits about him to scamper under the rocks and hunker in the fetal position.
How far am I from the ship? A kilometer, maybe? Hopefully what’s said about these explosions is true. They’re loud and catastrophic but only damage a small area.
The main pressure-wave from the explosion reached his spot. An avalanche of rocks, dirt, and dust fell about him, felling like an earthquake. Hyman was bounced, his backpack fell off, and he hit his head hard on a rock. He saw blood on the ground but felt no pain, actually, he began to feel good.
Hyman finished reliving those moments of his life, six months ago. What a hellish six months it had been. Once he woke up from the concussion, he found out he was just outside the explosion zone. He had climbed back over the rocks and saw the vaporized remains of what once was his craft. All of the sand crystallized into glass in over a five hundred meter diameter. It was amazing he was still alive.
After waking up he discovered many items that were stored so carefully in the backpack ended up broken or just plain unusable. The gun and portable beacon were completely inoperable, and the food was more than likely contaminated with radiation. At least he was able to use the food for bait, during the first few weeks he used it to catch those disgusting creatures that roamed the planet. The night-vision gear was partially damaged, it still worked sometimes. Fortunately, the tent was not damaged or torn at all. Without it, he surely would have baked in the daytime temperatures of this hell hole.
Hyman decided returning to the crash site today to pay his respects. In some ways he thought they were luckier than him. With no hint or signs of a rescue, he began to wonder if the craft’s beacon had truly worked. They told no one that day they were going on a trip. All he could do was try to keep his hopes up and pray.
He knew when and if a rescue party would finally arrive they should be able to detect his life signs, assuming he was still alive. As long as he stayed over two kilometers away from the explosion area, he would be safe.
The explosion from an engine-core breach released huge amounts of radiation that afterwards affected Hyman terribly. He had lost his hair, became somewhat weakened, and he had scars from radiation burns on his arms and legs. The 2 km safe zone would allow him to not be radiated, and eventually detected by space-born sensors. Within the radiation zone, space-born sensors could only detect the radiation and nothing else. He was taking a chance, both health-wise and being saved to go to the crash site, but he did anyhow.
It was getting late. Soon it’d be dark but he had to come here today. He wanted to see if there was anything remaining at the crash site. Knowing he wouldn’t be able to get all the way in, Hyman still wanted to get a closer look.
“Alright gentlemen, this is planet Malery 4,” said the captain. “A beacon-signal came from here, some ranger-wannabes crash landed a while back. Let’s begin a quick scan of the planet for any debris, life signs, or remains. Science team, you’ve got control, I’ll be in my quarters.”
“Yes sir. We’ll notify you if we find anything,” replied the science team lead. He turned to his team and continued, “Start the scan, standard quadrant breakdown.”
Hyman saw he was about a kilometer away from the crash site. At this distance he strained his eyes but couldn’t see anything. He also began to feel weaker. When he first dry heaved, it was then he decided to turn back – the thought of losing more hair depressed him. Anyway, it was getting darker, he had to get under cover and begin cooking the earlier day’s catch of food.
The science team lead noticed they were about to complete scanning the upper half of the planet. He looked over all the data and shrugged.
“Nothing here, begin standard breakdown of the lower hemisphere.”
Sensors automatically adjusted themselves as they were entering the evening of the planet.
It was getting darker and Hyman had almost walked all the way out of the radiation area. Knowing he was almost there he paused a second and looked up into the evening sky. Hyman began to wonder when he would be rescued. Looking ahead at a marker he had made of rocks, which showed him where the safe zone began, he trudged toward it.
“Interesting…notify the captain,” said the science team lead.
Another science team member contacted the captain over the craft’s intercom system, “Captain, we think we’ve found something, please come to the bridge.”
After a pause the captain replied, “Is that so? What do you have?”
“Looks like the signature of an engine-core breach. There’s also crash landing tracks. The crew probably died on impact or shortly afterwards. At least it was quick.”
The silence from the intercom told the science team lead that the captain agreed.
The team lead continued, “There’s no other signs of human life on the planet, no debris, nothing. Just one big desert.”
"Okay. If that’s the case then set a course immediately to Outpost 3. We all need some leave after this, wouldn’t you say?”
A smile stretched across the team lead’s face, he said, “Yes sir captain, right away.” He tapped on the nav console then added, “Coordinates for Outpost 3 entered, waiting your command.”
“At you discretion, captain out.”
The science lead turned away from the intercom and looked at his team. All of them were smiling or at least trying to hold their smiles in.
“You heard the captain, men. Engage the engines on my mark...mark.”
Hyman looked up at the sky and noticed a flash, a quickly disappearing blur racing up and away.
A shooting star, he thought. How nice.
Making a wish to soon be found and returned home, he walked the rest of the way into the safe zone, then stopped.
That’s strange, shooting stars normally streak down.