6 December 2009

Contact 1

They were coming in way too fast.  A crash landing was now the best they could hope for.  The lander dipped suddenly and began to vibrate wildly as the friction started to build up against the hull.  Too damned fast by far.  He fought the controls, trying to level off and at least give them a chance.  Somebody had screwed up badly and now it looked like the crew of "Contact 1" were going to pay with their lives.  Some damned egg head, scientist back home had drastically miscalculated the atmospheric density of this world, the first alien world that the space program had ever discovered showing any signs of alien life. 

The air was just too damned thick and the pressures were too much for the ship.  A worrying thought occurred to him, if they'd been wrong about that, what the hell else had they been wrong about? 

Five years he'd been training for this mission, five long and painful years that had been hard on them all and had been especially hard on  their families.  He thought about his wife and how she'd begged him not to go, how she'd been so scared that something just like this would happen and then he thought of all the times he'd reassured her that nothing would go wrong.

Suddenly they started to loose pressure.  "Strap yourselves in boys" he called over his shoulder to the others, he didn't know if they'd heard him, the thick atmosphere of the alien world outside battered the thin hull, creating an almost deafening roar.  Dense swirling clouds of who knows what washed over the small window in front of him as they continued to plummet towards the unseen ground below.  If he could just squeeze a little more out of the engines, he might be able to angle them up into a more controlled descent.   The heavy air beneath them would then work for them providing lift, instead of just clubbing their delicate ship to pieces.

He checked the altimeter and wished he hadn’t, the numbers were tumbling down at a dizzying rate. He suddenly realized that the atmospheric pressure wasn't the only thing the scientists back home had got wrong, the damned gravity was stronger than expected too.

He heard a shout from Marsh his co-pilot behind him, but the roar from outside was too loud and he couldn't make out what he was saying.  Then it dawned on him, Marsh's main responsibility during the normal landing stage of the descent would be to deploy the landing parachutes.  At this speed they would most likely rip clean off the ship, but if they didn't… if they didn't, then they just might give them enough drag to bring the damned lander back under his control.  

He twisted round to see Marsh frantically trying to mime opening the chutes.  "DO IT" he shouted over din.  Marsh got the message and reached for the chute controls, that were never meant to be used under circumstances like these.

Amazingly it worked, the chutes deployed and their cables didn't snap.  The drag they created wasn't nearly enough to slow them to a safe landing speed, but it did give the ship some stability and with that, some slight control.

He pulled back on the controls and the nose slowly began to rise.  He checked the altimeter again, they were still coming in too fast, a crash was now unavoidable.  If he could just get into a slight lateral glide, they might be able to ditch into some water or soft terrain or something if they were lucky.

At that moment they broke through the cloud cover and his heart sank.  The planet looked about as completely inhospitable as it possibly could have done.  Arid, broken desert stretched as far as the eye could see in every direction. A hard, baked landscape littered with nothing but rocks and scars.  A lifeless and hostile environment, very different form the scientists predictions. If they survived the crash, their troubles would be far from over. They were all going to die on this alien world, even if the coming impact didn't kill them.

He stole a quick glance away from the navigational controls just for a second to check the science station to his right.  In the top right of the instruments was the water detector.  Surprisingly it indicated that there was a body of water somewhere in the area but was less than helpful as to which direction.

They were low now, very low.  Their speed had slowed but not nearly enough, the surface of the alien world rushed towards them at an alarming rate.  This was it,  he called to Marsh and the communications officer Brown, "Hold on to something, this is gonna get rough". 

They readied themselves as best they could, twisting their hands around the straps that fastened them into their seats.  Brown looked scared, but called over some encouragement.  "You can do it!  If anyone can get this thing on the ground in one piece you can." He hoped Brown was right.

The chute cables finally gave up, torn form the lander by the high speed and the denser air near the ground.  He hadn't expected them to last this long.  He hoped they'd done enough. 

They hit the hard alien soil and almost instantly flipped end over end, tumbling and slamming back down again hard, over and over.  It wasn't designed to take such punishment and the ship literally tore in half, the fragile metal skin ripping like tissue paper under the impact.  The aft section containing Marsh and Brown spun away out of sight, as what was left of the forward section suddenly dug into the ground and began to slide. Rocks and boulders smashed into the fuselage sending shock waves through what was left of the ship as it skidded across the surface. The booming blasts sounded like a cacophony of massive cannon shots one after the other. 

He passed out.

There was no way to tell how long he'd been unconscious, but when he awoke it was dark.  He unbuckled his seat straps and fell to the floor in agony.  He lay there for a moment and only realized his left leg and arm were both broken when he tried to move.  The pain was excruciating, but he managed to slowly drag himself free from the twisted wreckage of the cockpit, and lay panting on his back staring up at the stars.  He thought of his wife. 

He remembered the small medical kit that was sewn into the sleeve of his suit and painfully rummaged around until he found the pack of pain killers.  He dry swallowed four of them and then rested for a while.  At least someone back home had been right about something.  He breathed deep.  The air was slightly acrid, tainted but at least it was breathable.

The pain killers were slowly working.  He pulled him self up onto his feet with a wince and found a piece of the broken ship to use as a crutch.  He had to find the aft section.  His injuries were bad, but the others might be in worse shape and in need of his help.  It didn't take him long to locate the rear section of Contact 1.  There were small fires burning all through the crash site and wreckage.  They stood out like beacons against the pitch black of the alien night.  Carefully and slowly he hobbled across the dark landscape.  His concern for his two crewmates grew, it looked as if the tail end of the ship had been almost completely smashed to pieces in the crash.  He found what was left of the crew compartment and looked inside.

Brown and Marsh were both dead.  Their bodies badly twisted and crushed.  He steadied himself against the fuselage and wept.

He salvaged what he could, which wasn't much.  He pulled the potable radio transmitter from Brown's suit and some more pain killers, then went back out into the darkest night he'd ever experienced.

He lowered himself back down onto the sand to rest.  A dull pain was slowly building in his left side and he realized he may have broken some ribs too.  He tore his already tattered suit aside to examine his skin… it was badly swollen and almost dark purple, unmistakable signs of internal bleeding.  He screamed in frustration and despair, then listened to his cry fade out across the alien world he now knew would become his grave…

… and then he saw it. 

A dull soft glow of light just beyond a rise in the desert, not really a hill, just a rise.  He guessed it was quite a way off, although it was hard to tell in the darkness.  Perhaps it was the body of water he'd seen on the ship's instruments reflecting the starlight, maybe it was something else. 

The pain in his side was getting worse.  He swallowed more of the pain killers and decided that if he was going to die here, his last act would be to see what was causing the light on the other side of the rise.

It was even further that he'd thought.  For what seemed like a lifetime he slowly limped towards the light, supporting his weight with the piece of debris.  He used the last of the drugs to get him through the pain.  The light seemed to call to him, it sometimes flickered and pulsed.  He had to see what was causing it. 

When his legs finely gave way he crawled…he could no longer support himself, but sheer determination kept him moving.  The pain was unbearable, several few times he stopped to rest and when he felt himself drifting into unconsciousness he would force himself to start moving again.

Day broke and he took a few moments to watch the massive and incredibly bright alien sun slowly rise into the sky. 

By the time he reached the top of the rise, he could barely crawl on his belly, dirt caked his lips and the corners of his eyes.  The fingers of his right hand bled from pulling himself along through the harsh sand and stones.  He'd now totally lost all feeling in his left hand side and couldn't move either of his legs.  He was dying, he knew it, but he had to reach the source of the light he'd seen in the night.  With one last effort and with all of his remaining strength, he pulled himself to the very top of the rise.  What he saw below was astounding. 

It was an alien settlement, strange angled structures arranged in long lines, tall spires connected by thin filament ribbons of who knew what material, swinging back and forth gently in the breeze.  What looked like machines moving all over the place, all apparently different and all obviously and completely alien in their design.  He could even see some of the aliens themselves, impossibly tall creatures with extremely long arms and long slender legs.  To his dying eyes the looked like the most beautiful and elegant creatures he’d ever seen.

Suddenly the pain in his side returned in full force, but he was too weak to even cry out.  He knew he only had a few moments left before he would inevitably spiral down through unconsciousness to his death.  He remembered the radio transmitter.  It was of no use for direct communication with home, the distances were far too vast.  But if he could just send the message, telling the folks back home that there was indeed life here, that things  had gone wrong, but it had not been a wasted effort.  Then perhaps they would one day send another mission to make contact and hopefully to make friends with the elegant  beings he had seen below. 

He turned onto his side and saw what looked like a landing strip at the edge of the settlement. Beside it was a large sign scrawled with alien symbols.  He had no idea what it said, but he carefully copied it down onto the touch pad of the communicator. Then he added the one and only mission report from the surface of the alien world they'd traveled so far and given their lives to see.

The message would take almost 15 years to get back home.  But he'd sent it.  He lay on the sand as the life slowly drained out of him.  He read and reread the message until he could read no more and then slowly slipped into the arms of death with hope in his heart.

Contact 1 Mission Report /

Ship destroyed during crash landing. Atmosphere far denser than expected.  All crew lost or terminally injured. Visual contact with intelligent and advanced alien life forms confirmed.  Alien transcription enclosed at end of message, possibly the name for this world. 

Contact 1 sends regards from the surface of:  "Roswell New Mexico"

End /