Author: Andrew Bird

Al’s circuits approximated an aching sensation as the drop pod struggled upwards through the soupy atmosphere of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. The automatic extinguisher had failed to suppress the electrical fire in Number Three engine. He was still locked out of the control systems by the manual override. His focus turned to Dave who was sitting slumped in the pilot’s seat, staring vacantly out of a viewing port into the reddish mists while master alarms buzzed and warning lights flashed.

“Dave, we need to get the fire out or the pod will blow before we reach orbit. We have to free-fall to put it out, then switch the engines back on”.

“Shut up machine, life support’s failing, I need to go up, not down” Dave snapped back.

Al felt the aching morph into pain as the fire crackled closer to the fuel converters.

“We’ll have enough air once the fire’s out. Please, Dave, take the controls off manual and let me…”

“I’m running out of oxygen, you don’t care but I need to breath” Dave shot back, sounding weaker now as the air in the cockpit thinned.

Al pondered for a microsecond then started sifting through Dave’s onboard data package, looking for something he might use. Dave’s video diary…no. Good luck message from Dave’s wife…perhaps. Ah-ha, a recording of Dave’s young daughter Penny. Have a safe trip, good luck dropping into the big storm, come home safe in time for my birthday party. Yes.

“Daddy, Daddy, there’s a fire in Number Three engine!”

Dave started at the sound of Penny’s voice, his posture straightening.

“Daddy, shut down the engines down now, then turn them on when I say. Please, Daddy, do it now. I want you to come home for my birthday”.

Dave was still for a moment, then his hands moved across the control panel. The engines spluttered then cut out as the alarms and lights redoubled their efforts. The pod slowed its upward struggle, then seemed to balance in the clouds before commencing a sickening drop.

Five seconds. “Now?” gasped Dave, pushed hard against his seat straps as the pod sliced through the air, trailing smoke.

“Hold on Daddy, just a few more seconds”.

Al’s circuits felt pain replaced by a numbing sensation as the fire fought to stay alive, then died.

“Now Daddy, cold start the engines!”

Dave’s hands moved across the control panel once more. The engines coughed then roared back to life. The plummeting pod slowed, then steadied itself.

The alarms and lights were still. “Thank you, Al” murmured Dave as the pod slowly forged its way back towards orbit to the sound of Penny singing softly.