Author : Bob Newbell, Featured Writer
“Ensign, report!” yelled the captain over the ring of klaxons and the groans of metal fatigue that filled the bridge of his starship.
The young officer didn’t respond. His eyestalks were fixed on the kaleidoscope of stars streaking past on the forward viewscreen.
The slug-like being seated in front of the ship’s navigation panel jumped as if he’d been physically struck. “Sorry, sir!” The ensign tapped on a control with one of his tentacles. “We’re down to 1773c, Captain. Engineering reports we can’t decelerate any quicker or the ship will come apart.”
We’re still traveling five times faster than the ship was designed to go, thought the captain as the creaking of the vessel’s shuddering superstructure went up in pitch.
“Hull breach on deck five, section two!” said a crewman seated at a console starboard aft. “Venting atmosphere. Emergency bulkheads have sealed off the section. That area was empty at the time of the breach.”
“Acknowledged,” replied the captain. He thought of the four crew members whose lives were lost in the explosion in the engine room. In the unlikely event his ship actually made it back home, what would he tell their families?
“Down to 600c,” said the ensign.
“Captain to engineering, how long until we can re-enter normal space?”
The haggard image of the chief engineer appeared on a small screen next to the captain’s left tentacle. The damaged quantum impulsion drive was flooding the engine room with radiation. Even if the ship survived, the remaining engineering crew almost certainly wouldn’t.
“Captain,” said the chief engineer in a tired voice, “we’ll need to come out of quantum impulse near a moderately sized gravity well. A small to medium planet, ideally.” The engineer paused and took two wheezing breaths. “The structural reinforcement grid is barely holding the ship together as it is. There’s less turbulence re-entering normal space near something with a bit of mass.”
“Alright, I’ll wait for your word,” said the captain.
“Sir,” said the chief engineer, “would you be so kind as to tell my wife and children–”
“You’re going to tell them you’re a hero because you saved this ship!” the captain interjected.
The chief engineer knew the captain had said that for the benefit of the bridge crew. He knew he was done for and knew that the captain knew it, too. “Yes, sir,” he said and his image faded from the screen.
The captain sat and waited. He heard someone muttering from port aft. He turned one eyestalk in that direction and saw his communication officer fumbling with a small, crystal solicitation dodecahedron with the digits of his left tentacle as he whispered a prayer for deliverance.
“We’re at 25c and dropping!” said the ensign with an inflection of optimism. The squeal of structural fatigue was getting quieter.
“Engineering to bridge. Uploading real space re-entry coordinates to the conn. Going to try to come out close to a planet in a nearby solar system. Hang on. It’s gonna be rough ride.”
The ensign at the conn positioned his tentacle over a flashing blue button.
“We’re going to make it,” said the captain as the strange but beautiful blue and white planet rapidly filled the viewscreen. “We’re going to make it.”
The ship emerged into real space a moment too soon and slammed into the planet at relativistic speed. It hit with the force of an asteroid. The ship’s impact crater wouldn’t be discovered by the planet’s inhabitants for 65 million years.
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