Symon rhythmically tapped his fingers against his desk, eyes locked on the clock hanging on the wall next to the classroom’s door.
‘Any minute now,’ he thought tiredly as he waited for the school’s dismissal bell to ring. He had correctly predicted that his morning coffee wouldn’t keep him awake for very long. Almost immediately after the start of third period, he was out like a light. After sleeping through the entirety of his economics class, he was now slightly more awake. Slightly. With the end of the day so close at hand, all he wanted to do was go home and take a nap. Although, he had planned on making a stop at the grocery store after school to pick up some pop for the weekend.
‘Maybe I’ll buy a Monster,’ he thought. ‘That’ll wake me right up.’
The clock struck 2:45 and the dismissal bell rang loud and clear throughout the high school. All of Symon’s classmates quickly packed up their things and stepped out of the room, sharing their plans for the weekend with one another.
‘Hell, maybe I’ll buy several Monsters. I have money to burn,’ Symon thought as he haphazardly stuffed his sheet of half-written algebraic equations into his folder. He then shoved his folder into his backpack and slung it over his shoulder as he stood up from his desk and made his way over to the classroom door.
“Mister Redfern,” called a man’s voice from the other end of the room.
Symon stopped in his tracks when he heard his surname being called. He sighed and turned around to face Mr. Burton, his algebra teacher.
“Sir?” Symon asked.
The middle-aged man leaned forward in his chair and rested his elbows on his desk. “Mister Redfern,” he repeated in his usual, indifferent tone. “Would you care to explain why you didn’t come into my room this morning to make up the test you missed on Wednesday?”
Symon groaned and slapped a hand against his face. “Crap, I completely forgot about that,” he said. “Will I be able to make it up on Monday before school?”
“Is there a reason why you can’t make it up right now?” Mr. Burton asked.
“Yeah. I have a dentist appointment in twenty minutes,” Symon said, hoping that the teacher wouldn’t catch on to his lie.
Thankfully, he didn’t. Mr. Burton simply shrugged and said, “Very well. I’ll allow you to make up the test on Monday.”
“Thank you, sir.” Symon turned around and started for the door again.
“But, mister Redfern,” the man called, stopping Symon in his tracks again. “If you don’t show up to take the test, you’re getting a zero and will not be able to make it up afterwards. Is that clear?”
Symon looked over his shoulder at the man. “Crystal, sir,” he replied.
Mr. Burton nodded in acknowledgment. “Alright. Go on, now. Wouldn’t want to be late for your appointment.”
The dark-haired teen returned the nod. “Right,” he said simply before stepping out of the classroom.
“You look set for the weekend.”
Symon looked up to the sound of his sister’s voice as he stepped into the house. Candace was sitting in one of the armchairs in the living room. Her long, brown hair was tied up in a ponytail, and her emerald eyes were locked on what her younger brother was carrying. Symon’s right arm was weighed down by a twenty-four pack of Mountain Dew, his left by a four-pack of Monster energy drinks.
“How much money did Mom and Dad leave you?” Candace asked, walking from the living room to the front door.
“More than they probably should’ve,” Symon said as he kicked the door closed behind him. “This stuff didn’t come cheap,” he added, setting down his cargo.
“How much did you spend?”
“Like, ten dollars.”
Candace rolled her eyes and smiled. “That’s not that expensive.”
“It is for me,” Symon said. “Ten dollars is quite the windfall for me.”
Candace laughed. “I see money still burns a hole in your pocket,” she said. “You haven’t changed a bit, Sy.”
A small chuckle escaped Symon’s lungs. “Yeah, I guess I haven’t.”
His sister wrapped her arms around him and held him close in a loving embrace.
“It’s good to see you again, sis,” Symon said, returning Candace’s hug.
“You, too, little bro,” Candace said. “It’s good to be home.”
As the two came apart, Symon picked up the Monster and Mountain Dew again and made his way over to the kitchen.
“So, how’s university life treating you?” he asked as he placed the four-pack of energy drinks in the refrigerator.
Candace shrugged. “Well enough,” she said. “I only have a few classes each day, the earliest of which starts at nine in the morning.”
“Lucky,” Symon grunted, ripping open the pack of Mountain Dew and placing a couple of cans in the fridge. “High school sucks. Junior year can’t be over fast enough,” he added as he shut the refrigerator door.
“I know that feel, little bro,” Candace said. “So, got any grand plans for the weekend?”
“If you consider staying up obscenely late playing video games a ‘grand plan,’ then yes, I do.”
Candace rolled her eyes. “Wow, you really haven’t changed.”
Symon just shrugged. “Hey, some things never change.”
Sol System, 3rd Age of Stability; Year 388
The Harbinger suddenly and viciously rocked forwards, throwing Veda from her bunk and onto her bedchamber’s cold, metal floor. She was awake instantly, eyes frantically darting around the room as if searching for what caused the ship to toss her out of bed. It was then that she noticed just how dark the room was. None of the lights in the ceiling panel were lit, not even the dark red emergency lights that automatically flicked on when there was a power failure that forced the ship to run off of backup power.
Veda also noticed something else. ‘Why is it so quiet?’ she thought. She sat herself upright and listened closely, her vulpine ears pivoting in the direction of the engine room. There was nothing. The distinct, loud hum of the Harbinger’s main reactor had gone completely silent.
“Oh no,” she said. “No, no, no, no, no, no!” She stood up and frenetically bumbled around in the darkness as she struggled to put her clothes back on. She picked up her aurasword and clipped it back onto her belt before running out of the bedchamber towards the engine room.
Just as she feared, the main reactor had gone completely dark. Without the reactor powering the ship, flight through warp-space was impossible. The sudden lurching was the Harbinger being forced back into real-space. But more pressing than that was the lack of life- support. Without the reactor, there was no way to recycle the ship’s oxygen supply. Veda had maybe two hours worth of air before she would begin to suffocate.
“Damn it!” Veda cursed. “I knew I should’ve double checked the reactor before takeoff! Now I’m screwed! Nice planning, Veda!”
But then she thought of something: the backup reactor might still work. With the rapid shutdown of the main reactor, there was a chance that the backup didn’t have time to register it was offline before everything went dark. It wouldn’t generate enough power to run the ship’s engines at full strength, and certainly wouldn’t be enough to jump into warp-space. But, it would be just enough power to drop an SOS beacon and to keep the life-support systems running.
‘It’s worth a shot,’ Veda thought, turning to make her way to the cockpit. She moved to take a seat in the pilot’s chair, but she stopped when she caught a glimpse of what was outside the main viewport.
About two-thousand kilometers from the Harbinger was a planet, a little bit smaller than Corneria. From what she could see, the surface was mostly water with several fairly large continents laid out against the vast oceans. Off behind the planet itself, Veda saw a single, medium-sized moon. She felt like she recognized the planet, like she had seen it before, but the world had an appearance that was generic of planets that could support life. With the nav-computer offline, she had no way of knowing where exactly she had been spat out of warp-space.
‘Where the hell am I?’ she thought to herself as she sat down in the pilot’s chair. She looked to her control board and hit the ignition key. The main reactor was still dead, but the backup recognized this and intercepted the ignition signal from the cockpit. A couple of seconds later, the backup turned over and the cockpit was flooded with dark red light.
Veda gushed a sigh of relief. “Thank the Goddess,” she said. She turned her attention to the control panel to her left and checked the allocation of power to the ship’s systems. Life- support and communications were both being powered, but just about everything else remained offline. She still didn’t know where she was, so she had no idea how long it would take for somebody to find her if she dropped an SOS beacon. If she could safely land on the planet’s surface, she could allocate additional power to the navigation computer. She could then determine where in the galaxy she was and adjust the strength of the communication system accordingly. If she was close enough to Corneria, she might even be able to directly contact somebody back at the Sanctuary Temple.
‘If I can set down on that planet,’ Veda thought. ‘I have no idea if this thing will survive entry into the atmosphere. But, I won’t know unless I try.’
She pressed a series of buttons on the control panel, allocating enough power to the engines and deflector shields to bring the systems online. When she heard the Harbinger’s dual plasma engines purr to life, she applied a small amount of throttle to get the ship moving. But she needed to make sure she didn’t throttle up too much. The faster she went, the harder the backup reactor would need to work to maintain the speed. If she pushed it too hard, it would overheat and could severely damage many of the ship’s systems.
“Slow and steady, Veda,” she assured herself as she guided the ship along a course to the surface. “Take it slow and steady and you’ll be fine.”
As the Harbinger entered the atmosphere, the force of gravity became significantly more prominent. The ship was being pulled towards the surface at an increasingly fast rate. And now that it was within the confines of a planet’s gravity well, its lack of repulsorlifts on the right side of the hull had caused it to begin rolling to the right.
Veda pulled her control yoke to the left in an effort to keep the ship level, a battle that only got more difficult as she passed from the stratosphere into the troposphere. As she fought to keep the ship under control, she neglected paying attention to the deflector shield monitor.
The massive amount of friction from entering the atmosphere had put an enormous strain on the shields. It didn’t take long for them to collapse entirely, leaving the hull completely exposed to the extreme heat generated from the friction. As the hull got hotter, so too did the engines.
As the engine temperature reached critical levels, a loud warning alarm sounded in the cockpit. Startled by the sudden noise, Veda gasped and looked to her control panel.
“Shit!” she cursed loudly. Her fingers frantically danced across the control panel as she attempted to get some coolant pumped to the engines. But she didn’t act fast enough. When the engines could no longer handle the amount of heat they were building up, they exploded.
The entire ship shuddered violently. Veda’s heart-rate skyrocketed, her eyes were wide open with fear. The pulled back hard on the throttle in a vain attempt to slow down as the Harbinger rapidly approached solid ground.
“This isn’t going to end well!” she shouted, leaning back in her chair and bracing herself for impact.