Awen: Tongue of Flame

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'Sharpe, you should be in sickbay!' Dares said.

'You know me better than that, Captain. What happened?' she asked.

'See for yourself.' he replied.

Hobbling over to the sensor screen at the centre of the bridge, Sharpe looked perplexed.

Several large supply shuttles bearing the infamous markings of Red Star Tech Conglomerate broke free of the mother ship with an eager, yet somewhat careless charge to reach the planet first.

They were the largest investor in the Proxima project, and their corporation was arguably the most ruthless of all those to have ever taken to the stars. To the misfortune of all onboard 'Aspire', they employed many people who believed themselves to be above the law.

Dares cursed 'Those damned idiots, if we don't know where we are going to set up camp, there's no way in hell that they can, right?' he asked.

Dares heard a tumultuous clatter behind him, and turning swiftly, he noticed that Jackson was causing mischief upon the bridge again.

Over the last few years, Sharpe had inadvertently become the boy's sister and motherly figure. She was his role model, even though she was only in her twenties.

'Sit back down, Jackson!' Sharpe scolded. The boy froze, he knew that he was in trouble, and he began stomping his feet in a tantrum.

Sitting down next to her brother at the back of the bridge, blotches of red started to seep through wet bandages. With dripping blood from open wounds spilling onto the watch station next to her, Sharpe knew that she had exerted herself too much.

Jackson was worried about her, but before he could say another word, she stood up abruptly. Isabella Sharpe had work to do; she was the ship's Executive Officer after all.

'Sir, you know those guys as well as I do. They had technology that was one hundred years better than our own, even before our ancestors' left Earth. Their corporation is secretive, and they have had all of this time to dream up new inventions. I'd say follow them, Sir.' she reported.

'And those guys?' Captain Dares asked.

Sharpe chuckled. 'Who is that?'

The Red-Star Tech shuttles', in their reckless efforts to reach the planet first, had inspired other malcontents and would-be pioneers to participate in the futile attempt.

Most shuttles would have enough structural integrity to reach the surface, not these though. Their design was only suited to short-range space flight and planetary surface to stratospheric transportation.

Captain Dares could barely watch as one derelict shuttle slammed on its brakes. The unbearable sounds of metal grating upon metal boomed with an eternal torment across the shared communications network.

'Damn it! Who is driving that thing?' Captain Dares asked.

Scanning through the ship's manifest, she answered her question right away. Fingers swiped repeatedly left until she found the correct person. 'That's Rubin... no... Hal Lockwood.' Sharpe replied.

'He's a damned truck driver Sharpe! A truck driver for the Huntington Timber Group. What's that man doing flying a cobbled-together space ship. Heavens above, Hal and the others with him are in construction; they're here to build timber frames for schools and housing, they have no reason to be rushing off like this.' he screamed.

'Is that a smiley face?' Sharpe asked the bridge. She was trying to hold back a fit of laughter.

Each shuttle boasted it's own unique flag; the flag was a projection of course. A real flag would freeze and break apart within the hard vacuum of space. Draping across the top side of the shuttle's flat outer hull, was a giant smiley face; no doubt a bold attempt to add a little character.

The seconds until the run-away shuttle collided with the planet's gravity field were crawling by. Standing before the bridge crew of 'Aspire' lay an image of horror entwined with an innate sense of humour. They could only wait and hope for the best.

The shuttle crew finally replied. 'Anybody want some oranges?' Hal's voice boomed sarcastically.

'Oranges, what the hell is he talking about?' Captain Dares asked.

It took a moment, but Sharpe finally understood the meaning behind the absurd question.

'I got it! It's from the old, tacky colonisation training advert that they created decades ago,' Sharpe replied. 'That guy is old.' she muttered.

The Captain shook his head; he was feeling clueless.

'Come on; you remember "Wherever there are fruit and vegetables, there's a happy home?" that one?′ she asked, laughing hysterically.

A dawning realisation flooded over him.

'Those idiots are going house hunting? House hunting, in a glorified bathtub, I can't watch.' Captain Dares marvelled, covering both eyes.

The ancient ship began to slow drastically, and a scattered trail of bent and broken debris fell off of the decrepit hull as they continued their daring charge toward the planet.

Hal had timed the braking manoeuvre perfectly. If he hadn't, the shuttle would have vaporised upon impact as it collided with the planet's upper atmosphere.

The Red-star Tech shuttles' were already touching down at various locations across the uncharted globe, and they had no clue of what awaited them.

Following a brief respite, the Huntington Timber Group shuttle began their much slower approach to the planet. Their shuttle pivoted into a steep descent toward an intriguing area of the landmass. From appearances, it seemed like it would be perfect for farming and construction. They no doubt hoped for a serene valley teeming with life and beauty.

Punching the padding on his chair, Captain Dares fumed. 'Oh hell, let's go before they take all of the good lands. Helm, take us in. Let's follow these bastards!'

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