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.
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Privateer Space: a Galactic Mistake… by Aribella Lafleur
For a select few, the thirst for adventure can never be slaked; whilst others are the unwilling victims of circumstance - dragged through Interesting Times with their designer sunglasses blinkering their eyes and iTunes filling their ears. Some choose to seize the day with gold-tipped tweezers or attempt to hurriedly capture it under a glass, lest it escape and bite them. Caught with both tweezers and glass in hand, I….
…Stirred to the disquieting awareness that I was trapped in the frigid confines of a space vessel, glazed eyes staring out through fogged breath and frosted portals into the swirling abyss. Wiping a trace of drool from my chin, I tried to comprehend how I could have been transported to the far reaches of the cosmos. Seeds of remembrance awakened slowly within the swirling miasma inside my skull. Replaying the scene in my mind, it became yet another tardy reminder about the hazards of drinking with a crowd of pirates in a seedy tavern.
It has been said that in the depths of the void no one can hear your scream. My crew heard. Far-reaching galaxies will hear, in millennia to come, that primal scream and the angry tirade that ensued…to no avail. I was caught like a hamster in a wheel, with nowhere to run. As asteroids whizzed past faster than I could say “Where’s the brake?” I closed my gaping mouth and reached for a seatbelt, assuming the increasingly familiar crash position.
Our route meandered through the treacherous asteroid field towards a giant hunk of rock which appeared to contain a drab and dreary refueling station. The promise of a chocolate bar was enough to add a mote of excitement, but the turbulent landing dampened my growing enthusiasm.
We carefully entered a dimly-lit teleport chamber, the walls slick from years of grease deposits. Abruptly and haphazardly transported in a jumbled huddle, we landed in a rather unexceptional galactic truck stop convenience store. Passing the reeking rest rooms (which were, of course, out of order; a mandatory feature of truck stops throughout the known universe and possibly beyond) my space-pirate crew followed their assaulted olfactory organs to the source of the fried, fatty cooking smells – the diner.
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The Great Fissure: Falling Through the Cracks by Aribella Lafleur
We struggled against the inescapable tug of a howling wind as it grasped the barren terrain with scouring fingers, forcing sand into every crevasse. Stumbling upon some kind of shelter, we piled in and huddled together like a colony of bats, my luggage long-forsaken in our blind wandering.
As the wind died down, I gritted my teeth - and then choked as my lungs tried to expel an entire sandcastle. I calmly explained to my underlings that I had requested DESSERT (the chocolatey kind with lashings of cream and a cherry on top), not DESERT (with lashings of fine grit causing abrasions which would have removed years of wrinkles, had I any to begin with). I discreetly shook sand from my underwear and took stock of our surroundings.
Our refuge was a crudely constructed hut, with rotting animal skins stitched together and bound to the bleached bones of some (hopefully) long-extinct class of gargantuan beast. The scene outside the tent was equally unpleasant; my designer suitcases were nowhere to be found, and the rugged, empty landscape did not look like it would support a 7-Eleven or handy toothbrush-and-soap-selling drugstore.
With ever-increasing necessity to find decent amenities, I boldly strode across a very dubious looking bridge, towards the nearest habitation. My overconfidence nearly precipitated an abrupt and very messy demise as the rotten planks gave way beneath my feet. I prudently decided to test safety with more expendable lives than my own in the future.
With deluded intentions, my underlings bounded off towards a potentially salvageable space craft, doubtlessly discarded after it crash-landed in such an isolated location. When their vehicle procurement skills proved no match for the broken and neglected vessel, they quickly abandoned their mission, turning their attention to roasting an unidentifiable rodent over a hastily-built fire in a toxic waste drum. My innate sense of self preservation led me to decline the proffered portion of their meal and move further afield, upwind of the appalling odour.
We trudged onward across the scorching sand, encountering only crumbling ruins and rusting metallic towers, with no other living organisms anywhere in sight. This came as no surprise, since any sensible creature would have packed up and fled, and even the most unintelligent animal would have taken shelter from the blistering sun (which I deemed a wise plan in the absence of sunscreen and a parasol to protect my complexion)…
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Tongues loosened by ale tell strange tales, so I discovered, as the convoluted rumours of a mysterious but deadly jungle were whispered lecherously in my ear. Despite the drunkard’s foetid breath and leering glances, which caused me to recoil in horror, his compelling depiction of fantastic sights in a lethal landscape drew me in and held me in thrall.
Not in the habit of crediting gossip from the inebriated, I would have dismissed this yarn but for the mention of incalculable riches to be found in the crumbling ruins of an ancient civilisation swallowed up by noxious trailing vines. Designer gowns don’t come cheap, and Aribella Lafleur is too proud to resort to buying them second-hand off eBay. I needed financial security that didn’t involve marrying a wealthy coma patient, pyramid schemes or metal detectors.
After much diligent investigation, I unearthed the location of the underground entranceway to our treasure garden. With my crew assembled in the dimly lit enclosed chamber, we donned protective armbands filled with slow-release antitoxins. Oblivious to the risks and dangers of the two precarious and claustrophobic elevators, we avariciously relied on our certainty that they lead to great fortune above. We steeled ourselves, paired off, and rode topside.
Instantly assaulted by cloying scents, which hung in the moist air like monkeys on a bunch of bananas, we reeled and staggered into the clutches of a giant pulsating fleshy floral behemoth. I heard whispers of “Feed me, Seymour” as the hungry bloom attempted to ingest my motley crew. As a diversion to allow the remainder of us to escape I contemplated sacrificing at least one of my dysfunctional assistants, (preferably the boor who saw fit to hoard food amongst the costly garments in my suitcase) but, upon reflection, I recognised their continued value as human shields….
Feeling slightly over-pollinated, I brushed off sticky yellow residue as I headed my team in the direction of a derelict chapel. I hung back slightly, to determine whether the mass of throbbing, lashing vines, the dominant life form in this untamed ecosystem, would claim one of my minions as an unhealthy snack. After it became clear that none would be devoured, I boldly ventured into the eerie ruins, gazing in awe at the remnant of the once imposing structure, reduced to rubble by the strangling tendrils.
Following what appeared to be a path through the jungle, we glimpsed a glassy enclosed edifice, possibly one of the original laboratory structures housing the initial genetically mutated species of this unnatural environment. The enticing exotic fragrance trail from the greenhouse lulled us into an opiate stupor, from which we were caught totally unawares by giant cyborg ants which spat fountains of a formic-like acid towards us. Before we had even realised our peril, two of our number were down, writhing in agony as the acid steamed through flesh and bone alike.
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