As soon as Fostriades is satisfied that the jump
has been successful, Chiang Ho asks him if they can talk privately.
They go to The Boss's suite.
"What did you want to talk about?" asks Fostriades, pouring them both a glass of ouzo. Achilles and Zenobia curl up with Linus on the couch.
"I'm going to quit when we land at Vilis. I'm a scout, not a spy, and this is not at all how I want to spend my retirement. I'll be taking high passage to Spirelle, and return to the Woodstock. After that, who knows? I want to just relax for a while and study TDS stuff in peace. I thought you might want to come with me. I've already talked to NoName, and he wants to leave too."
Fostriades is speechless.
"This ship is just becoming too complicated and dangerous," Chiang Ho continues. "You're the one who's always saying you want to work for the Emperor, and that seems to be getting you into more and more trouble here. We've done about all we can with this ship against the cockroaches, and every time we jump we get closer to losing the drives. You know how bad it is to be running without regular maintenance. How much can you help the Emperor if you're dead in jumpspace? Come with me, pick up the Hermes, put one of your hot jump drives in it if you want, and work for Archduke Norris undercover or something. There's enough conspiracies going on in the Imperium itself to keep you busy for a long time to come."
The crew is re-arranged. Threasis Fostriades, Lia, Chiang Ho, and NoName are taking High Passage to Spirelle.
The Captain orders the following measures, effective immediately:
Down in the Sickbay, Sir Bridgehead recovers quickly too. Unlike the Bridge, emergency systems are working here. Steve Howard, here for a routine jump sickness examination, floats in mid-air unmoving. Sir Bridgehead starts working on him immediately, but it's far too late -- he's clearly been dead for hours.
In Engineering, Jenny Roberts has her own problems. The compartment is heavy with smoke, and the air is hot and stale. Using her flashlight she makes her way to the locker and struggles into an emergency vacc suit. For a while, all she can do is rest there and breathe the fresh air. After a short while, she's strong enough to go back into the section. Damage in Engineering is heavy; some of the machinery has exploded, several fires have burnt themselves out, and everything is offline. Lacking the skills to bring the power plant online, she concentrates on searching for survivors. Mich is alive but unconscious. Paula and Jeffry are not so lucky -- both are already dead.
Teri wakes to a view of stars through the faceplate of her battledress. A quick check of the suit's systems indicates both she and the suit are in good health. Slowly, as the suit rotates in the zero-g, she sees she's in the open vehicle deck. She's not the only one -- several others are hanging there too, some in suits, some not. No one is moving. The GCarrier and one air/raft are missing; the other air/raft is floating up by the open deck door. She sees no immediate threat, so flips around and moves over to the air/raft. It is not working, but she secures it in case it can be repaired. A moment to secure herself, then, and she moves out to try to recover the people floating around in the vacuum. Suitless bodies she leaves alone, but pulls half a dozen suited marines into the relative safety of the deck. Kara is by the manual controls for the hangar door -- her helmet floats nearby. With a quiet "Time for the last drop, girl," Teri gives her a good push out into space, and watches for a short while as Kara floats off. Teri then starts the long slow process of closing the hangar manually.
William wakes up in his stateroom. Alice is apparently unhurt, but unconscious. He tucks her into the bunk so she won't be hurt if the grav plates come back on, and then sets out to discover what's happening. He grabs some duct tape and straps a flashlight to his gauss rifle, then cranks the stateroom door open and moves carefully into the corridor.
Linda stares out the window at the planet. She's supposed to land the Anastasia with no sensors and no information about the planet -- not even what gravity they'll be facing. Everyone agrees it should have an atmosphere, though, and that's all she'll need to glide the ship in. She hopes there's some water for a nice skimming splashdown.
Linda says, "OK, here we go. No turning back
now," and fires the engines to start the Anastasia falling into
the gravity well. She's bringing the ship in "upside down" so that
they all have a better view of the planet through the windows, and will
flip it "upright" when they're closer to the ground.
Right now they're on the night side of the planet. There are no lights visible.
Linda brings them further down. They seem to be falling quite rapidly -- she explains that is because they haven't had any assistance from the atmosphere yet. Avon points out they are approaching the day side, and there's no sign of an atmosphere at the edge of the world -- it's as crisp and clear at vacuum.
"Then we're screwed," says Linda. "Just keep looking for something soft to land on."
The Anastasia suddenly emerges into bright sunshine. The ground is now only a few kilometers away. It seems to be featureless vacuum, a dust plain or something, except for the occasional vast canyon.
There is a brief discussion about whether it's better to come down on the softer dust, or nearer the edge of the canyons where they're less likely to sink under. They'll have to decide very soon.
Suddenly Avon points out the window. "Linda,
get us into that canyon! Fly along it!"
She spins the ship around rapidly, firing pulses from the thrusters which hammer everyone into their seats, and deftly lines them up on the canyon. "I see it!" she says, and flips the ship upright. "We're going to make it!"
The Anastasia drops into the canyon. The ship starts shuddering violently. Sir Bridgehead lets out an involuntary yelp, but Linda is grinning and laughing like a maniac. "We've got air! We've got air!"
They do indeed have air -- enough to slow down the ship and put them into a glide, albeit a hypersonic glide. As the canyon floor passes rapidly below them, there are flashes of green at the bottom, and occasional glints as if there's liquid somewhere down there.
The shuddering gets worse, but Linda has the ship under control. The air inside the ship is getting warm. The canyon is passing less rapidly now, though, and now that they're actually flying Linda can use the thrusters to slow the ship without fear of dropping into the ground.
A loud crack is followed by a heavy thud. The vibration gets much worse, and the ship slews hard left until Linda can pull it back, almost scraping the canyon wall before getting back on course.
Now they're almost skimming the floor of the canyon. Vegetation flashes by below them, and there's a ribbon of fluid meandering along the lowest part.
"I'm going into ground-effect," says Linda, and pushes the Anastasia even lower. They can feel the ship rising and falling with the terrain below, even through the shaking, and Linda seems to relax for a moment. She takes a deep breath.
"OK," she says, "First lake and we'll land."
A silver glare ahead.
Linda taps the controls.
An explosion of steam rocks the valley over the roar of rushing air. The river downstream flows backwards as water pours in both ends to refill the rapidly boiling lake. For kilometers back along the flight path, the vegetation is shredded and scattered widely. In places the earth itself has been torn up and dust hangs in the air, twirling in vortices left behind. The roar of the hypersonic flight continues to catch up with the ship, echoing from wall to wall and back again, barely seeming to fade. A dense fog envelops the lake as the river resumes its sluggish crawl.
It's not just fog that obscures the windows of the Anastasia's Bridge. Linda's blood is smeared across the glass, a wet trail down to where a rag doll in her clothing lies tossed in a heap on the floor. Blood stains the navigator's console as well, trickling from Avon's forehead. All is quiet.
Sir Bridgehead coughs.
Slowly, painfully, Sir Bridgehead unstraps himself, then frees Avon from his stretched restraints. The cut on William's forehead is minor and easily treated. A quick spritz of pain-killer and stimulant, and Avon is awake. Time to check the rest of the crew...
The Anastasia is damaged beyond field repair.
Power cannot be restored with the tools and supplies available. The
ship is ever so slowly sinking as water seeps through the distorted cargo
door frame. Time to take what they can, seal the rest, and set up
camp on shore.
Amazingly the air/raft is intact enough to float, and with an improvised paddle can be used to ferry people and supplies back and forth to dry land. The port vehicle deck door is already open, looking like a broken wing on the stricken ship. Distorted in the misjump, it tore open in the descent -- the crack. The thud that followed was the air rushing in to the ship under high pressure, popping weakened hatches and killing all the marines but Teri -- and she sustained bad internal injuries herself.
The air is thin but breathable, the water drinkable, and the temperature comfortable. Exertion is a real problem, though, and the respirators in the stores won't last forever -- they are reserved for essential activity only.
Of the crew, Avon, Alice, and Jenny are the only ones capable of real work. Richard died like Linda, smashed into the forward Engineering bulkhead. Sir Bridgehead is too weak to do much in this atmosphere, even with a respirator.
Still, prospects are good for the survivors. There's enough gear that can be salvaged from the ship to set up a comfortable TL-15 camp on the shore, including a portable med unit to treat Teri and Mich. The latter is still unconscious, his wounds worsened by the shock of landing, but stable under Sir Bridgehead's care.
The six humans settle in to wait for rescue.