Diving rapidly through the shimmering, folded moonlight towards certain death, I braced for the inevitable crash. Absorbed by my panic, I missed the spectacular view of the planet beneath; a rugged brocade, stained with the ochre-blood of the land. Jagged rust-tipped outcroppings interspersed between the gently sculpted plains broke the monotony of the dusty scene, which merged seamlessly into the birth of a coppery sunrise.
My head jerked alarmingly as the freighter clipped house-sized boulders like a frog evading the cleaver of a French chef. The impact left chunks of the container ship, akin to a breadcrumb trail, strewn across the planetscape, its cargo of EVA suits scattered like the clothing of young lovers.
Grinding to a halt amidst clouds of choking red dust, the remains of the ship teetered on the brink of a precipice. A held breath (one I had feared would be my final gasp) escaped my lungs as I checked myself over for compound fractures, broken nails and tears in my dress. Apart from whiplash and a skinned knee I had survived virtually unscathed. Had I been a cat, I would have been down to my ninth life…. Not feeling particularly feline, I considered buying a lottery ticket but discarded the idea since I had already used up a triple-helping of good fortune.
My luck held out long enough for the entire crew to drag themselves from the wreckage moments before the crumpled shell lurched and tipped over the rim to slide down the cliff, finally exploding in a ball of flames. We peered over the edge, watching in awe a scene which rivalled the special effects of a Hollywood cinematic experience.
The restless world, alive with distant deep rumblings, dragged us back from our silent gaping. We fled the onslaught of dust storms and twisters, giving a wide berth to abandoned vessels and space junk in which the local wildlife (human-sized reptilian creatures and giant goggle-eyed slug beasts) had taken up residence.
Tripping over each other as we scurried across the uneven ground, my comrades and I distractedly tumbled into a valley which housed a remote weather station. The commotion drew the attention of a sanitation droid who was busy washing clothes. For a nominal fee the robot cleaned my discoloured dress and gave us directions to the major mining outpost on the planet.
The droid also offered us fresh vegetables from his crop, but cautioned us against using the station’s vending machine which had not been restocked in the last decade. In true vandal style, my team set to tilting and rocking the machine until it yielded up an assortment of comestibles including a sludge-filled foam cup (smelling vaguely of coffee) and two suspiciously pulsating burritos which were instantly devoured by the ravenous horde.
I opted to sample some fresh hydroponically grown produce from the greenhouse as much to escape the burrito-induced methane expulsions of my lackeys as from any desire to dine.
We continued walking, the crunching of pebbles underfoot covering the sound (if not the disturbing odour) of my fellows as we marched towards the harsh afternoon sun. As the sun sank into bronzed twilight, drawing with it our depleted spirits, the fractious band of stranded pirates began throwing rocks. A challenge to pitch the farthest distance ensued, with boasts far exceeding the skill of the participants.
Missiles flew in all directions, with one arcing over the mount we were scaling. A loud crash of shattering plexiglass indicated an unexpected obstacle in the projectile’s path, and we sheepishly crested the hill to inspect the damage. Parked on the landing strip at the foot of the basin below was a spacepod with a suspiciously large crack in its shielding. In the absence of witnesses we descended, as the deepening dusk covered our passage.
Following the only obvious path, we wilted as we approached a steaming pit of molten rock. The churning and bubbling lava was being used to generate energy for the nearby mine as well as for the teleport from the surface. Crowding into the transporter proved to be an unpleasant experience after my companions’ Mexican fiesta. We hurriedly evacuated the compartment only to halt before an immense metal portal.
The towering airlock swung open with a ponderous effort, a whoosh of escaping air blowing us back a few paces as it begrudgingly admitted us to the rocky chamber. A confusion of identical hatches faced us at every orientation. After passing through several access points, we became more directionally challenged than a political policy document, but my team ploughed on with the single-mindedness of a charging rhino.
One gateway opened into a massive cavity filled with swirling pink clouds and brightly patterned medusae floating lazily around an enclosed observation deck. With fears of airborne hallucinogens, I slammed the locking mechanism and retreated down the corridor which had become inexplicably congested with green dancing bears and snails riding bicycles….
Although egged on by a chorus from the snails, I vacillated with a shaking hand as I released the next hatch. The sliding door revealed a spacious storeroom of mining equipment which lured my wide-eyed team as only bizarre and expensive dangerous toys could. Unsure that half-drugged cavalier brigands should be allowed to operate machinery (especially around tankers of fuel and cylinders of various volatile gasses) I appealed vainly, but was drowned out by their gleeful whoops. We quickly discovered that diggers are not sturdy enough to be used as dodgem cars, and puncturing a fuel tanker does not automatically trigger an explosion…
Making yet another rushed exit from a scene of wanton destruction, my oblivious fellows swarmed ahead like a plague of locusts, releasing every door they encountered until something caught their collective attention. A blinding vibrantly kaleidoscopic glow battered my senses as I thrust my head through the portal. The effect was comparable to being poked in the eye with a thousand cocktail umbrellas.
Hungrily grasping handfuls of the extraordinary iridescent gems from a stockpile, the pirate faces took on an inhuman gleam. Unable to convince my team to discard the peculiar stones, I hastened them away from the glowing plunder with the timeless ploy of appealing to the stomach - using the promise of a hot home-cooked meal for enticement.
Coming to a well-used gateway, we encountered an off-world teleport device, with a complicated crystalline control panel. Peering over the mechanism I deciphered its cryptic sequencing and punched in the coordinates for home with a sigh of mixed apprehension and relief.
As the gate activated, I was filled with fear like a kitten straying onto a playground teeming with enthusiastic toddlers. Donning the steely expression of a matriarch, I solemnly stepped into the swirling flow of particles – fervently willing myself to come out in one piece at the other end. In a final fleeting glimpse before I was thrown across the reaches of space I saw my crew begin a dazzling transformation - and then, in a flash, I was gone.
Copy and images (c) 2008, Aribella Lafleur. All Rights Reserved.
Produced with the editorial assistance of Must Packbiers.
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