Planet Of Doom
“What’s that?” Derek calls from the driver’s seat.
“Standard galactic distress call: bearing firstname.lastname@example.org,” Nate says.
“Do you want to investigate? We’re in no rush to get home, seeing as home won’t exist for another four hundred years,” Derek asks.
“Sure,” Nate says. Hours later, The Silver Storm finds itself dropping to sublight speeds in orbit around a large, cloudy, terrestrial planet.
“Aha! Just as I thought, this planet is not supposed to be here,” Nate announces.
“Nate, those records are from four hundred years in the future; they’re out of date,” Derek says.
“Actually, only seventy-five years. When the early human explorers came into this system seventy-five years from now there were only five planets. It’s a historical fact. Now, how many did we count?” Nate replies.
“Six,” Derek answers.
“Yes, and there are very few things that can cause an entire planet to vanish in only seventy-five years,” Nate says.
“Hey guys, what’s going on?” Keith asks, entering the cockpit/bridge.
“We discovered a new planet in well-known space,” Nate answers.
“And there’s a distress call coming from it, but I can’t pinpoint its source,” Derek adds.
“Oh. Well, keep up the good work,” Keith says. He walks over to the coffee dispenser and pours a cup.
“Maybe if I try a marginal redux scan,” Derek muses.
“You’re not drinking coffee again, are you?” Nate calls.
“No!” Keith calls back in between sips.
“Hey Nate, I’m going to move the ship in closer to see if I can pinpoint that distress signal, okay?” Derek says.
“Sure, I’m not going to stop you, go ahead,” Nate responds.
“All right, wise guy…” Derek starts.
“Ah, a very fitting nickname, reflective of my great wisdom,” Nate responds.
“I’d be careful. In some places, wise is a four letter word,” Derek says.
“In some places?” Nate says.
Suddenly, the ship alarm begins to squeal. “The engines!” Nate and Derek yell, running to different stations.
“Neutrino EQADs are in limbo!” Nate yells.
“Try switching the interface polarity back and forth,” Derek suggests.
“No good: The control frames are also in limbo,” Nate says.
“Darn! The primary thrusters just fired! We’ll dive into the planet!” Derek yells.
“Steer! Steer!” Nate screams.
“I can’t steer if the control frames are in limbo!!” Derek screams louder.
“Shut down all power to the engines! Go to chemical rockets only,” Nate orders.
“We don’t have enough fuel; we used most of it escaping Earth,” Derek reminds Nate.
“Give it everything we’ve got. I want to be going as slow as possible when we hit that surface,” Nate says. The ship begins its plunge through the dense clouds. The crew catches glimpses of lightning. Suddenly, the clouds are gone and they find themselves diving onto a spiny, crystalline surface. “Brace for impact!!” Just as the ship approaches, the ground dissolves and they find themselves diving through clouds again.
“What was that?” Keith asks.
“That’s what I’d like to know,” Derek says. The clouds suddenly part again and they find themselves diving onto a sandy surface.
“Brace for impact!” Nate says again. This time they crash, making a huge crater. The crew is smashed violently into the backs of their seats and their bodies strain against the restraints.
“Are we there yet?” Keith asks.
Nate gets out of his seat and checks his console. “The air outside is cold, humid, and probably smells terrible, but it’s breathable,” he says.
“Wow! The ship is in better shape than I expected. The self-repair mechanisms should have everything but the engines fixed in about three or four hours. The forward sensory package is also cracked; we’ll have to go outside to fix that ourselves,” Derek reports.
“Oh, no. Nobody is going outside; this planet is spooky,” Nate says.
“How do you expect to navigate?” Derek asks.
“I’ll go,” Keith offers.
“I guess we do need it fixed. Be careful,” Nate warns. Keith grabs a bag of tools and steps into the airlock. “Did you ever find the distress beacon?” he asks Derek.
“It’s lost over the horizon now,” Derek says.
Twenty minutes later, Derek asks, “Shouldn’t he be done now?”
“I told you there was something spooky about this planet. Did he bring a communicator?” Nate says.
“Keith! What’s going on out there? Did you get lost?” Derek yells into the communicator. The communicator returns nothing but static. “Nothing but static. Scans show nothing. I can’t even find his communicator homing signal. Hmmmmm.”
“What hmmmmm?” Nate asks.
“My scans can’t seem to penetrate the surrounding surface at all,” Derek says.
“Shoot! We’ll have to go outside,” Nate concedes, “Stay in sight of the ship at all times.”
Nate and Derek walk into the airlock and then exit the ship. They walk around to the front. “Here’s his tool bag,” Derek says. He looks around. “No footprints! Nothing!”
“Keith!” Nate yells. Suddenly the clouds disappear. The men find themselves standing in a brightly-lit meadow. Flowers pop out of the ground. “What the…?”
“I’m going back in the ship,” Derek declares. Then the men fall through the ground as it turns into an ocean. The ship sinks. Lightning and rain come out of the sky even before the clouds return. The whole situation is surreal. Seconds later, the ocean turns to solid rock, trapping Nate and Derek. A volcano spews ash in the distance.
“You know, if we weren’t in so much trouble, this would be kind of funny,” Nate comments. Derek grunts.
Soon, the ground cracks open. The men fall to the ground, but the ground keeps moving farther away as the crack widens. Finally, they fall onto a grassy surface. Small trees grow scattered about. The ship pops out of the ground about seven hundred meters away. Nate tries to walk to see if his ankle is sprained, but finds he is stuck in place. He grabs a tree for leverage, but finds his hand stuck fast to the tree as if by superglue. “Derek? Can I get a little help?” Derek is nowhere to be seen. Then it begins to snow. The temperature drops rapidly. Nate recognizes that he will soon have to go into a hibernation trance in order to survive. Within five minutes he loses consciousness.