Mission 51- Final Approach

I would like to share with you a sample of a book I am writing on Inkshares. This is the tagline on my Inkshares project page:

“After a tragic, fifty light-year voyage, sole survivor Mat crash lands on a hostile alien world. Beyond tolerance, beyond acceptance, he must learn to embrace the diversity of his new home planet if he is to ever find peace.”

This is a draft of a chapter called Final Approach.  The book is called Mission 51. I hope you enjoy!

 

Final Approach

After releasing Dirk’s body, and repairing Janusia for a second time, he had performed his usual inspection of the navigational stars to determine his position. Janusia had warmed him out of cryo as intended, when the ship had reached the ordered coordinates. He knew he was in Cerulea’s planetary system. By the small appearance of the system’s star, he could tell he still had some distance to go. Close by, he had identified two planets. He had actually seen them before, through the powerful space telescopes back home. The one with the beautiful rings was the sixth planet from the star. The largest one was the fifth from the star. He had found himself to be somewhere between those planets, but had not been able to quite see Cerulea at that point. He made a decision to head directly towards the star, to hopefully intercept Cerulea in orbit around it.

A slow and lonely year went by. For most of this time, he was unable to appreciate any progress by looking at the distant stars. He was traveling as fast as the tiny positional engines allowed, but 3D speed was miserably slow compared to 4D. “I only know I’m moving when I see the planets,” he said out loud. He had grown accustomed to speaking to himself, even with arguments and conversation. Anything to keep from going insane in the solitary confinement inside Janusia.

The fourth planet from the star came into view. He knew this planet was still too cold to easily harbor life, but that would not be the case for the next planet, his destination, Cerulea! Looking out a different window, he could see the star appeared larger now. Cerulea was believed to be in the same warm zone as his own planet. As he approached its supposed position, he became more anxious about that known fact. “After all this, it better be as warm as we think. It better have water. It better have life, or my own life has been for nothing!”

As it circled in its orbit from behind the sun, Cerulea, the thrid planet from the star, finally came into view. “The legendary Cerulea! There you are!” Mat’s face broke into a rare smile of true joy. He spent hours and days looking at the beautiful blue orb, imagining what else he might observe as he drew nearer. His joy mixed with a strong anxiety as he wondered if he could possibly make a landing in such a damaged ship. He eyed the gauges and worried about his dwindling fuel supply. “Damn you,” he said to the cold, dead main engines. “I need you now.” He thought about his three small positional engines. “It’s just you and me now,” he said to the inanimate objects that propelled Janusia, and that could maybe slow her down during descent.

Mat felt sluggish. He was weak and hungry, trying to stretch his dwindling food supply. He shivered in Janusia’s cold cabin, keeping the heaters off most of the time to preserve as much fuel as possible. “This is why I saved you,” he said to the fuel.

He used a minimum of fuel to thrust Janusia into a path to intercept Cerulea in its orbit around the star. He made his calculations by hand, as the ship’s navigational computers were dead. It was easier to do the calculations now, as Cerulea was becoming visibly larger with each passing day. He refigured his calculations time and time again, anxious to get it right. “Let’s do this Janusia. My life depends on it, you know.”

Now he was almost there! This past year had seemed interminably long. Progress had been so difficult to judge. But now Cerulea seemed to be fast approaching, even traveling at a slow, conventional speed. Against all odds he was finally arriving at his planned destination. “Cerulea, here I am,” he announced. “A frakking miracle, and nobody to witness it.” He was too tired to generate the enthusiasm this moment deserved.

On final approach, he ever-so-gently tweaked the positional engines, using as little of the precious remaining fuel as possible to achieve his first stable orbit around this alien world. He sat back in awe and wonder as views of the planet came and went through the window of the spinning ship. He stopped to consider his whirl of emotions, which to his surprise were mostly morose. ”Historic,” he thought, sarcastic and miserable in his loneliness. “Dirk would have loved this.”

Despite the obvious beauty of the planet below him, Mat was overwhelmed with feelings of sadness and loss. “What’s the point if there is no one to share this with?” He cringed at the sudden memory of loosening the ties to release Dirk’s dried-up body into the darkness.

He was haunted by the memory of seeing Dirk disappear silently into space. He remembered saying some ceremonial words that seemed important at the time. Mat realized now that at his own death no one would be left to say any words and to see him off. “Damn Dirk.” He sighed. “Damn cheap-ass cryo bed.”  They hadn’t noticed the micro-crack when they sealed Dirk in that last time. The cryo fluid had leaked out. Dirk had died ages ago. “He should be here with me right now.” Mat wiped the tear streaming down his face.

He broke himself from his depressive reverie because now, at long last, here he was, floating just a few miles over the legendary planet so very far away from his own. The time had come. Mat sent another “final” report to mission control, knowing the light speed message would now take about 50 years to be received, that is if the communications system still worked at all. “Goodbye, Torkiya,” he said, with a final salute to his old home planet, as he turned his attention completely to the job at hand. “Hello, Cerulea.”

He allowed Janusia to make several orbits around the planet, taking careful note of the lay of the land and the blue water. He was specifically looking for a place to land, imagining landing at a much faster speed than he would prefer. Thinking about the small positional engines, he said, “You can’t slow me down enough for a true landing. It will have to be in the water.”

“Large body of land, small body of water. Small body of land, large body of water.” He memorized the pattern with each passing orbit. He targeted a landing in the middle of the largest body of water. Now it was just a matter of executing it. “Yeah, right. Simple,” he said sarcastically, but now his training was starting to kick in. He had a series of maneuvers to perform and his mind started going through the preparatory routines to deorbit, descend and land. “You can do it!” he encouraged himself.

Slowly and weakly he worked the damaged controls. Truly, there was no choice. He was almost out of food. The ship was dark and cold, nearly out of fuel. He and the ship were dying. “If I’m going to die, I want to die down there,” he said, looking down at Cerulea, the beautiful blue alien planet.

He calculated the exact point at which to start the process. He oriented the ship to take maximum advantage of his small positional engines and started a long burn to slow way down. When he could feel the ship starting to descend, he stopped the burn. He now oriented the engines so they could slow down the growing accleration of descent. And shortly after that, he realized he had made a crucial miscalculation. “Janusia, what are you doing!? You’re dropping way too fast!”

With no way of knowing, Mat’s mistake had been made many times before. Cerulea’s mass, and the gravitational pull that went along with it, were much greater than those of his own planet. He was accelerating to the land much faster than expected. “Little engines, do your best!” he implored. He slammed the lever down to burn the engines at full throttle, trying his best to slow his rate of descent.

About half-way down, he felt the effect of the planet’s atmosphere. “Good that there is an atmosphere this high up,” he thought. “Bad that it’s heating things up so soon!” He could see Janusia’s forward hull starting to glow red hot. He briefly thought of his Father, and the family holograms. “Mat to mission control, I’m coming in hot!”

Mat then tried a series of long S-shaped curves in an effort to shed more speed. He was flying by feel. He was re-energized now, with the high stress of an extremely dangerous descent and landing. There was no time for fear. He was at full attention, trying his best to maybe survive. Then, as he looked out the windows to check his position, he was blinded by a sudden bright light. The ship had burst into flames. “Oh nooo!” He screamed.

The inside of the ship got hotter and hotter as his descent speed continued to increase. Between the flames, he could see the rapidly approaching land. He realized with a panic, “I’m not going to reach the water at all!” He was falling to ground at an alarming rate.

Mat tried the best he could to flatten out the steep trajectory. Janusia tried to respond, but it was brief and in vain. He was going to crash. Mat could now see the shapes and countour of the terrain as he flew by at an incredible speed. “This is it,” he thought. “It’s all over.”

In the final moments of Janusia’s flight, he could see a mountain range in the distance ahead. He hoped he could clear the highest peak, or at least fly between the highest ridges, to the flatter land that lay further ahead.

At the very last moment, Mat knew he would not clear the mountain. By instinct, he crossed his arms in front of his face and turned away in a protective gesture, preparing for impact.

The mountaintop and Janusia exploded into a million pieces.

#

Shortly after the final moments of Mat’s historic voyage, someone in Texas reported seeing a flash of light streak across the sky. Several people in New Mexico and Arizona saw a similar flash, or heard a whooshing rumble.

The bleary-eyed people in the Las Vegas casinos were mostly oblivious. At a Blackjack table, a man thought he maybe felt a brief jolt. “What was that?” he asked, though no one cared to respond. He shrugged his shoulders and pointed to his cards, ordering the dealer, “Hit me again.”

~~~~~

 

If you care to read further, this chapter is followed by The Crash.

 

~~~~~

 

I hope you enjoyed this early draft of a chapter in the book! If so, please consider a pre-order to help get Mission 51 off the ground! You can get your pre-order at Inkshares here.

Thank you for reading! 🙂

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