The crew of Songbird had been taking it easy. It had been a couple weeks since Ash was cleared to be on his feet. And while Martens hadn’t heard the whole story, he was more than happy to provide a little assistance on the subject of Ash’s medical expenses. As he had said, “you guys are an investment.”
But now they were flying again. Not quite as hard as usual, but flying nevertheless.
Ash was at around 80%, which was all he could hope for. His nose had gained an interesting new angle, but besides that he was mostly recovered. “Hey… Jayna, can you pass me that converter module… it’s the… squiggly shaped one over there.”
Jayna looked curiously at the rack of parts. “This one?” she said, holding it up.
“No, the other squiggly one,” said Ash, patiently. “The one with the thing on the end.”
Jayna sighed. “This room always makes me feel like a baby a few months behind everyone else.”
“You should have seen me when I was trying to learn all of this stuff,” said Ash.
Jayna shrugged. “Everything looking good, at least?” she said.
“Fine and dandy,” he said. “We’ll have to make a stopover to refuel at some point, but we should be fine for the long haul once-“
“Hey guys!” came Zane’s voice over the intercom. “Martens just sent us the coordinates!”
Ash looked up. “Well, the squiggly things can wait for a bit. Help me get down?”
Jayna helped him down, and the two made their way back up.
“This is a long one,” said Zane. “We’re taking the payload all the way to the far end of Tiamat sector.”
Both Jayna and Ash winced. Mari raised her hand.
“Out of all the colonized sectors, Tiamat is the least populous,” said Jayna. “And the most dangerous. There’s not many worlds suitable for terraformation there, so getting anywhere tends to mean long trips.”
“Also the wormhole network is kind of dodgy in these parts,” Ash said and settled down on the chair. “We’ll make a pit stop on the first world out of the gate to refuel and pick up any extra supplies, and then make the haul across.”
“Every day’s a new adventure, right?” said Zane.
“I could do with a little less adventure,” grumbled Mari.
“And now you’re a real spacer,” said Ash, patting her shoulder. “Congrats.”
Jayna smiled. “A little adventure never killed anybody. Or at least not yet.”
Ash rubbed at his shoulder. “Adventure leads to bullets,” he said. “Just call me when we’re ready to touch down.”
The journey to Tiamat sector always seemed extra wobbly, even to veteran spacers. One had to wonder if it was just all in their head. But out they came, into a completely unremarkable patch of space.
“I was expecting something slightly more foreboding,” said Mari. She liked to sit in the cockpit when they were going through wormholes.
Zane shrugged. “It’s still all just space,” he said.
“Yeah, the creepy fog that should be here just turns into ice crystals and floats off,” said Ash, as he entered the cockpit.
Mari gave him a shove.
“Anyway, it should be smooth sailing,” said Ash. “We’ll stop at refuel at Metzli Station and after that it’s a straight shot to our destination.”
“Um, about that,” said Zane. “I just heard on the ticker that Metzli Station is shut down for extended maintenance.”
Ash sighed. “Alright, let’s take a look at the maps then,” he said, moving slowly over to the navigation panel. “Mari… why don’t you come take a look.”
“How much fuel do we have?” said Mari.
“We can get to about… here, safely,” said Zane, gesturing. Mari winced.
“There are not a lot of colonized worlds in that radius,” she said.
“Welcome to Tiamat,” said Ash.
“What about this one here?” said Mari. “Oxomo. That’s pretty close, right?”
“Already looking it up,” said Zane. “Let’s see, Oxomo, Oxomo… hmm. Terraformed about ten sol-years ago, notable exports, none. Natural resources… none. Capital city… Paraiso, population indeterminate. Resort town, notable for… nothing that’s listed.” Zane looked up and shrugged.
“Another garden planet then,” said Ash. “A lot of these little moons or satellites are nothing but glorified hotels and tourist traps.” He paused to make a dramatic gesture. “‘Come see the famous pillars of whatchamacallit that you can see during the day because there’s nothing else around!’ That sort of thing. They’ll have fuel though, and that’s all we need.”
“Setting a course for Oxomo, then,” said Zane. “We don’t even have to detour all that far to get there. Perfect.”
Ash nodded. “I just hope we have enough money in the coffers. Places like this always have monsters running the pump stations. They want to charge a billion chits a unit.”
“I’m sure we’ll be fine,” said Mari. “We’ll just get Jayna to scowl at them, that usually gets us a deal.”
It was dusk by local time when they finally broke into Oxomo’s atmosphere, and began their descent. Ash and Zane were sitting in the cockpit, watching the horizon.
“Paraiso should be coming up in the distance soon,” said Zane. He squinted forward. “You’d think there would be more lights on.”
“Must be the off-season,” said Ash.
“I don’t know,” said Zane, withdrawing a bit. Ash looked over him.
“Everything alright, man?” asked Ash.
“I don’t know,” replied Zane. “Something feels kind of… squinchy.”
Ash knew better at this point than to go against Zane’s hunches. “Well, we won’t stay. We grabbed plenty of food and stuff, we’ll just refuel and then head out.”
“Good idea,” she said. “We’ll just pop in and YAAAGH!”
The whole ship suddenly lurched, bobbing up and down in the air.
Ash winced as the power fluctuated wildly. He swore, running with the gait of the bobbing. He sprinted into the engine room.
Ash nearly bowled Mari out of the way as she staggered out of her bunk. “What’s happening?” she yelled.
“The engine’s losing power!” yelled Ash. “Zane!”
“I’m trying to stabilize us as best I can!” said Zane. “Hang onto something!”
Mari buckled herself in, and Jayna slid towards the navigation panel. “We’re heading in too fast. Ports on the north side of the city. but we’re going to crash into a building at this pace. We need to slow up!” she called to Zane.
“I’m trying!” said Zane. “But the controls aren’t responding! We’re gonna have a rough landing!”
Zane pulled a lever, and the ship stabilized somewhat, her nose lifting, but they were still barreling toward the ground, faster and faster… and then, everything was noise and chaos as they impacted.
When Mari could see and hear again, she made a quick checklist of her vital organs and limbs. Seeing that everything was there, even if in protest, she got to her feet, and started to look around.
“Ash? Jayna? Zane?”
“I’m alright,” said Zane, pulling himself to his feet. “All my bits intact.”
“Nothing hurts that didn’t already hurt,” said Ash, bracing against a bulkhead.
Jayna groaned, getting to her feet. “I’m here, I’m fine. Just rattled. We haven’t crashed like that in… a long time.”
“At least the ship is more or less intact,” said Ash. “And once we get settled in, we can get some repairs done.”
“Um,” said Zane. “That might be difficult. Look out the window.”
Ash frowned. He crawled up to the port windows, and sighed.
It was around mid-evening, judging by the waning daylight. While they had landed relatively close to the shipyards, it didn’t look like anyone had used them in a long time.
The area looked like it was a few years past its expiration date. In the background, he could see the buildings were starting to crumble into disarray.
Ash sighed, sitting back. “Cataclysm planet.”
Mari gaped as she looked over the wrecked landscape. “Is this really a thing that happens often enough for them to have a word for it?”
“Humans name everything,” Ash said. “I can only think of two times I’ve heard of it happening. But normally there’s announcements and the pokers come and deal with evacuations. It’s all really messy.” He sighed. “I was really hoping for not messy.”
“Welcome to Tiamat,” said Jayna, giving him a pat on the shoulder. “Enjoy your stay.”