Friday Flash Fiction: The Sole Survivor

by Oct 8, 2020Blog, Flash Fiction

Faith reemerged into consciousness to the relentless, off-key dirge of the alarms competing for her attention. She forced one eye open and discovered that one of those alarms was signaling that her life-support system was down to thirty-four percent. Only thirty-four percent? That couldn’t be right. She opened her other eye and blinked several times, trying to get her foggy vision to focus, until she realized that the fog was real. It was streaming into her cockpit through the jagged hole in the canopy. That explained the life-support alarm, at least. The atmosphere in her cockpit was compromised, so she was using her flight suit’s air supply.

Her ship had crashed, that much she remembered. But the details of that memory were as hazy as the noxious vapors invading her cockpit. Faith made an effort to sort through them. She’d been trying to dock at the orbital station, when there’d been an explosion. Her ship was damaged, and caught in the gravity well of–what planet was it? Guawei, a class seven planet in the Dahiri System. It was inhospitable to human life, and thus only supported its population in orbital habitats. Following the unknown explosion, she could only recall brief flashes of her struggles to control the failing craft as it was drawn down to the planet’s surface. With what little she could remember about Guawei, her flight suit would be sufficient to protect her at least until her air ran out.

When she reached for the buckle on her safety harness, her arm felt like it was made of lead. The planet’s grav-field was strong, she recalled, meaning her muscular, eighty-four kg form felt like it weighed twice that much. As the buckle came away, she leaned forward and flipped the console switch to silence the alarms. The console displays were a mosaic of red and yellow icons telling her what she already knew: her ship was grounded. Propulsion, Navigation, Communications, and Life Support were all offline. There was still power, though–probably being drawn from the emergency fuel cell.

She flipped the switch on the Comm panel for Emergency Communications. It was a powerful, long-range transmitter and, not surprisingly, was also offline. The Comm panel flashed up a warning stating that the fuel cell didn’t have enough reserve to power E-comm and her cargo. Did that mean the cargo was still intact? Aft sensors were all offline, so she’d have to get out and visually inspect it.

Reaching around behind the pilot’s seat, she pulled on the canopy emergency release lever. Strong pneumatics launched the canopy away from the ship with a dull thunk, leaving her free to climb up over the cockpit’s edge. Making that climb was more challenging than she was used to. The planet’s strong grav-field weighed her down and made her feel weak. But she wasn’t weak, not after all the hours she’d spent in fitness centers trying to maintain her form–a habit drilled into her by her many years in the Service.

Illustration of an alien night sky
It was slow going, but she managed to push herself out of the seat and half climb, half crawl over the lip of the cockpit. She could feel her temp rising as her suit’s enviro-controls struggled to keep up with her exertions. But she kept at it, placing first one foot, then the other onto the access ladder on the hull of the ship before carefully lowering herself down. By the time she had both feet on the hard, rocky ground, she’d already used up another five percent of her air reserves.

The atmosphere was a sickly miasma of pinkish-orange haze floating above the craggy, red-rocked planet surface. Visibility was poor, extending maybe five or six hundred meters from the crash site. In the distance, Faith spotted a piece of wreckage that could’ve come from another ship. She tried placing it in her mental list of hull shapes, when she realized that it was actually an entire section of Guawei Station, and it was much farther away than she’d thought. It had hit the surface so hard that it was partially buried. What the hell had actually happened up there? Had the whole station been destroyed somehow. She didn’t know, but it made her feel a little less guilty about her own crash. If she’d been any less skilled of a pilot, she wouldn’t have survived it.

Using the edge of the ship’s lift surfaces for support, she slowly moved toward the cargo area. Her craft was rated for atmospheric entry under normal conditions, but she doubted that Guawei’s atmosphere had been considered for that rating. It was slow going. Every time she lifted a foot, it felt like a fifty kg weight was attached to it. It gave her plenty of time to inspect the hull for damage, though. There was plenty. Carbon burns streaked the starboard side, and entire pieces of hull plating had been torn away. The first maneuvering thruster she passed was damaged, and the second one was missing entirely. As was the whole starboard drive pod. She chuckled lightly at the thought of trying to land the ship with only one drive active, until she remembered that she’d just done that. Most of the hull behind the drive pod was missing, too, leaving the ship’s frame naked.

She eventually reached the cargo bay. The hull-section that acted as a loading ramp was missing, and the three coffin-sized pods secured to the cargo deck were exposed to the atmosphere. She slowly trudged up onto the deck and inspected the pods. The two closest ones were awash in red warning lights. She tapped the display screen for the nearest one to wake it. Its internal systems had failed, turning the coffin-sized cryo-pod into an actual coffin. Investigating the second cryo-pod yielded the same, disappointing results. The indicator lights on the remaining cryo-pod were all green, though, so she woke its display screen. The occupant was identified as Sillaesa Gedman, aged sixteen, born Laguna Colony. Poor Sillaesa and her family had been bound for Guawei Station, and she was now the only surviving member of the Gedman family.

Faith sighed, then checked the system status of the pod. Everything was reported as being in working order, and its power draw was minimal, so the ship’s emergency fuel cell would be able to keep it running for at least another thirty days. That was more than enough time for the company to send a recovery mission. She just needed to let them know her ship was down there.

Inside the cargo bay, in a forward locker, Faith found the portable e-comm beacon. It was a self-contained unit that ran on its own power cell. The transmitter wasn’t strong enough to send a message out of the system, but it would certainly get picked up by any craft that came to investigate the station incident. She hauled the beacon out of the locker and set it on the deck. There was no need to bring it outside. Enough the hull was missing that the beacon had a clear line of sight to transmit into orbit. Her suit alarm briefly sounded, warning her that she was down to fifteen percent life-support remaining. She ignored it, kneeling in front of the beacon and switching it on. Once her suit’s system connected with the beacon’s, she recorded her mayday message, then hit the transmit button. With that was completed, she sat back onto the deck, then pushed herself up against Sillaesa’s cryo-pod. She didn’t have much life-support left, and she would be damned if she spent her remaining time standing in two G’s. And the e-comm beacon would keep broadcasting its message until someone came to deactivate it, or its power ran out.

“Mayday, mayday. This is Faith Pachari, pilot of the Hammer Systems cargo ship Scassi. My ship was downed on the surface of Guawei. There is one survivor.”

Story Prompt:

Crashed ship on an inhospitable planet

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