Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer
The shuttlecraft was careening out of control in the upper atmosphere of an uncolonized Class-M planet orbiting Alpha Mensae. Lieutenant Ashby reached down and touched the control panel to shut off the alarm. “What’s the Manual say we should do now?”
“Who cares?” responded Ensign Tappan. “The Manual told us to stay with the shuttlecraft. Considering that we’re about to be vaporized, it doesn’t seem like its giving us very good advice.”
“Would you rather be floating around in a spacesuit until your oxygen runs out? At least we have a fighting chance in the shuttle.”
Tappan scanned through the index of his hand held electronic Flight Manual, and displayed the recommended actions. “Well, let’s see. Ah, here it is, right after ‘kiss your ass goodbye.’ It says we should remain calm, disengage the autopilot, increase our angle of attack to 25 degrees, and begin executing S-turns to bleed off our forward velocity. Okay, you do that. I’ll modulate the underbelly force field and manage our life support system.”
“Wow, flying manually,” remarked Ashby. “I haven’t done that since my Academy days.” The ship buffeted erratically. “What’s the Manual say about landing?”
“Landing? Aren’t you being optimistic?” Tappan scrolled to the next section and read aloud. “At an altitude of three kilometers, our velocity needs to be approximately 600 kph. Maintain a glide slope of 22 degrees until we are exactly 80 meters above the ground. Then perform a flare maneuver to change our final glide angle to 1.5 degrees. Try to land on a flat patch of snow, sand or dirt. Water is acceptable if we have flotation gear on board, which we don’t. Oh, this is good; it says don’t attempt to land in a mountainous or rocky area.”
Tappan watched nervously as sheets of hot plasma shot upward past the forward viewport. The shuttlecraft came out of its final arc and headed toward a grassy field. Its landing approach had it passing 50 meters above a heavily wooded area. The radiant heat from the shields started a long, narrow forest fire. Ten seconds later, the ship was skidding on the grass. After half a kilometer, it came to a smoldering stop. The cabin began to fill with acrid smoke. Ashby and Tappan unbuckled themselves and scrambled out of the escape hatch.
The two men were standing 100 meters from the shuttlecraft when it erupted into flames. “That’s just wonderful,” said Ashby. “What does the Manual say we should do now?”
Tappan turned his body to block the sun from the viewscreen, “According to the Manual, we need to look for shelter and water. I say we head toward those mountains. Maybe there are some caves and a creek.” Per the Manual instructions, they used a bunch of rocks to create an arrow pointing toward the mountains, so a rescue team, if one ever came, would know where to begin looking for them.
After they walked several kilometers, they spotted a large cloud of dust heading their way, accompanied by the sound of stampeding animals. Ashby used his hand to shade his eyes. “There must be a thousand of them,” he said. “What does…”
“I know, ‘the Manual say’. Oh great. It depends. If they’re herbivores, we run with them and they’ll run around us. If they’re predators, we stand still, and don’t make eye contact. If we’re unsure, it says we should lie down and play dead. With our luck,” he remarked, “they’re probably scavengers looking for corpses.”