Author’s Note: Here is a short excerpt from a short story I’m working on, which should be published later this year.
The Space Exploration Vehicle Atlas slammed into the planet’s atmosphere, kicking up a trail of fire and smoke as friction started to slow it down. Colliding with all that gas shook the vessel mercilessly, rattling the teeth of the three explorers inside. Alarms and warnings screeched in protest to add extra reminders that the ship wasn’t built to go from interstellar travel directly into a planetary approach. Inside, the cabin got a few degrees warmer while smoke clouded every view screen. Outside, the hull glowed red hot.
Nick Trumbull, the ship’s science officer, screamed at the navigator and pilot, “Hit the thrusters! We need to get altitude now or we’re all dead!” He told them as much earlier. Skipping off the atmosphere is better than being disintegrated by it.
Pilot Joanne Fontaine growled her response, her words shaking with the wheel she tried to steady with both hands, “Can’t do it! Any ships guarding the planet would hunt us down! We’ll be fine!” On the starboard side, something broke away with a giant metallic clang. A piece of the hull must have fallen off. She could feel Nick’s smirk burning the back of her head. “If I’m wrong, at least you won’t be around to gloat,” she added.
Nick tried thinking of something to say, but the ship stopped shaking, and the smoke and fire cleared from the screens. He breathed in a sigh of relief, but he saw the barren landscape below coming up fast. It looked like a giant swath of broken rock formations and dust getting blown about, definitely not the safest place to have a crash landing. “Pull up, Joanne,” he begged.
The controls didn’t respond to Joanne’s commands. At about 2,000 kph, the ship crashed into their destination’s crust. Nick heard a loud groan and felt his entire body press into his seat straps. Joanne whipped her head forward and smashed her forehead into the wheel. It opened a red gash which bled into her left eye. All the alarms went silent, the lights went off, and a few thin wisps of smoke wafted into the cabin.
Captain Violet Anderson calmly brushed off her shoulders and unfastened her straps. “I can’t do many more landings like this, Joanne.” She rotated her right shoulder, then caught the pilot’s bloody wound. “Neither can you.”