A Longing for Catastrophe

Seleni smiled at the red flashing lights. She could have done without the repeating high pitched beeps.

The ship was going to crash land, and she couldn’t wait.

The beautiful planet spanned the entire porthole window, and she indulged herself in a few moments of drinking in the view from space. She hadn’t seen anything like it, like some kind of anomaly of gravity made possible. A strip of land, like one long super-continent, cut around the entire equator. Massive liquid oceans reached the frozen north and south poles, and the two hemispheres were a richer blue than any artist back home could dream of. High mountains made a jagged line across the exact middle of the planet, with thin rivers spilling to the land north and south of them.

Not being a creative type, she named the planet “Belt”.

Yvra was panicking. Middle-aged and at the height of her exo-planet research career, a crash landing would forever stain her spotless record of exploration.

“Why was the titanium cover open? I don’t understand this damned thing. A micrometeorite could not have pierced the fuel tank if the cover was closed,” she yelled through the beeps to no one in particular. The research ship only had two people on board, and it was obvious what she implied.

“Did you not properly close the cover when you last did your EVA?” Yvra stopped checking the ship’s monitors and looked squarely at Seleni. She was an adult with many years of experience in the field, but looking out the porthole window she seemed more like a teenager, smiling and staring at her one true love.

Seleni’s pupils darted to the corner and caught a quick glance of Yvra. “No, I closed it just like every time I’ve been out there. I have no idea how it became opened,” she didn’t even blush.

Yvra pursed her lips and began to search for something.

Seleni got up and went towards a computer terminal that controlled much of their small ship. After a few keystrokes, the red lights stopped flashing and the sound warnings ceased. The unexpected quiet was all-embracing. Instead of being on a doomed research ship hurtling towards a planet far from home, it seemed as though they were instantly teleported to the doldrums of a silent sea. Seleni could see Yvra was unsettled by the split-second transition, just as she was. She looked into her deep brown eyes for a moment, and then Yvra took a deep breathe, calmed down and went searching again.

Behind a removable panel labelled with an “emergency” sticker, Seleni took out the survival food constructor and checked to see if it worked. Then, she removed a heavier appliance with folded solar cell wings and a sturdy metallic body. That machine was supposed to turn water into hydrogen fuel cells, which would then power the food constructor. She remembered when she was a student at the exo-planet Research Academy back home on Selsteil, and the one prank she could never forget. A few of her friends offered her a rich alien delicacy, an appetizing soft glowing white ball with orange sauce on top which smelled wonderful. After several days being married to her toilet, Seleni firmly grasped the mantra of never eating food from other planets, no matter how delicious it may appear.

“I’m going to fix the leak,” shouted Yvra, then realized how loud her voice was without the alarms going off.

“Wait, what?” Seleni said, and then corrected her tone. “How are you going to do that?”

Yvra grabbed her EVA suit and started to put it on, starting with the boots. “I’m going to patch it,” she said.

Seleni tried her best to hide her shock. She wanted to explore the planet’s surface, but that was not in the research mission’s protocol. If Yvra will fix the ship, then they will never get the chance to explore the uniqueness of Belt ever again.

“But we are approaching Belt’s gravitational well! Our directional thrusters won’t be able to reach escape velocity regardless if the fuel leak is fixed or not,” Seleni pleaded.

“‘Belt’?” Yvra looked at her colleague curiously.

“That’s what I named the planet.”

“That’s a terrible name.”

“It’s better than ZYH-110-350.”

Yvra rolled her eyes. “Anyways, we still have time,” she put her thick gloves on. “Granted, not much time, but if you can find the cold-weld patch kit while I put on my suit, it’ll help.”

Seleni went and acted to search earnestly. She took the patch kit, and when Yvra looked the other way, threw it into the “emergency” storage space and closed the panel.

“I can’t seem to find it, did you put it somewhere else by any chance?” she said.

“No, it should be in the slide-in box next to the second computer terminal,” Yvra was almost finished, and checked her suit’s pumps and cords.

“I looked and it’s not there. What if the pre-flight inspectors forgot about it?”

Yvra shook her head. “We don’t have time to find out,” she pointed to a status monitor. “It says there that the micro-meteorite only pierced the outer surface of the fuel tank, and the mercury fuel stopped it from going any further. If I can seal the little hole it made, the fuel will stabilise, and the engines will work again. The material on the outside of the fuel tank should be the same as the uncoated back part of these removable panels. Can you pass me the small one over there, the one with the flashlight behind it?”

Damn it, she was going to fix the ship, thought Seleni. An improvised cold-weld, of course Yvra could pull it off.

“It’s risky going out there for an EVA, this ship is spiraling down towards a planet after all. I was thinking and perhaps it’s better to just let it crash, rather than risk an EVA. Everything else works, the landing would be smooth, the survival gear works, and at most it will take a quarter-year for someone from neighboring planet Torohol to come pick us up,” she said, and avoided eye contact with Yvra.

“No, we still have a chance, and time is running out. If I can fix the ship quickly, the thrusters will get us out and we can continue our mission from a distance,” she stood up and pulled out the small panel concealing a flashlight compartment. The first set of doors that led to outer space opened as Yvra pressed a button on the wall.

While Yvra was in the other room and prepared to exit the ship, Seleni entered a few lines of code, edited the feed for the spaceship’s gyroscope control, and deleted her edit history. The ship started to spin faster than was comfortable, and Yvra cursed in the other room.

“What the hell is going on Seleni?”

Seleni tried to hold on to something to prevent herself from tumbling about the spaceship. “I don’t know, I think the gyroscope is screwing with us. I don’t know why,” she yelled back.

Yvra crawled back into the main room, grunting and visibly frustrated.

“I can’t get out there and back like this. I can’t fix the damned leak if the ship is spinning. Gods be damned!” she pounded the floor with her gloved fists.

“I’ll send out the distress signal. The cyborgs on Torohol will receive it, and we’ll be out of here in no time, trust me,” Seleni said.

A few minutes passed, and they entered the point of no return. The ship was going to crash to the planet, and nothing could stop it.

***

Despite the uncomfortable spinning, the ship’s systems managed the landing perfectly. It was all too easy with three parachutes slowing the ship down in the planet’s rich atmosphere. They crash landed in the northern ocean, not far from the shores of the long super-continent.

The ship bobbed up and down with the gentle waves. Seleni looked out the porthole, where it was half-submerged in water, and grinned.


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