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Fifthworld

Faster Than a Speeding Shuttle

The Garuda shook violently, more violently than it should. Commander Fox listened to the unfamiliar rattling. It concerned him but his feelings were focused on the large alien marble approaching at high velocity. He would have gauged his speed but the numbers on the digital screen were sporadically jumping through digits, backwards and forwards. With the combined fuels and the jerry-rigged nature of the Garuda, he couldn’t trust the numbers. Half of his readouts were non-functional and he wasn’t sure about the other half.
A console popped off the ceiling, dangling from its fiber optic cables. Loose cables wiggled like worms. He couldn’t afford to take his hands off the controls, not even to push the console back into place. The thought crossed his mind, his sense of keeping his shuttle in an orderly manner. It bothered him to see it swinging just outside of his peripheral vision. He denied that craving and kept his eyes on the window.
Outside the front windows, he saw the reentry heat dissipate and the horizon fill with cloud cover. He felt a certain relief at seeing the clouds but he knew that the crash landing was only just beginning. The windows were tight, small awkward squares; it was barely visible through them. What made it worse was the crystalline ice forming around its edges. And then the cracks formed. The first one started in the right corner; his heartbeat sped up at the sight of it. And then a longer crack slithered across the top. It stopped for a moment and then spread out in tributaries. Commander Fox was stunned. He could have sworn that the windows were reinforced. The Garuda was a fairly new vessel; such wear and tear should not have been so easy. However, the Garuda had been through combat and a slew of other strange things in the last week or so. Its refit had been rushed so they could take the Special Forces team to the Blue Star.
The tank gauges dropped exponentially. The fuel depleted at a faster pace than normal. Fox tried to joke, “Uh, remember what I said about gliding.” His comment was met by a deaf and somber audience.
Something strange happened. A red splatter dotted the windows. It started small and then spread across the window. Fox was confused. He exchanged a look with Commander Libertine from the sides of their eyes. Neither understood where the splatter came from; it was something that they had never seen. Fox dreaded that it was something else, something involving blood but he pushed the thoughts aside.
The ice crystals started to break off. Between the red splatter and the ice it was nearly impossible for them to see. The clouds were rushing past the vehicle. The uncontrolled rattling made the view look like a continuous blur. The cloud cover dissipated from their path but they still could see nothing but blur, a wide and green blur. Then the crystals melted and washed away the red splatter. He could barely discern the leg of the Nazca fly. Trying to think positive, he decided to land on the leg because it seemed like a flat strip of brown grass, but it could have easily been a canyon or a stretch of rocks. Blindly, he steered for the fly’s legs, hoping that the creators had cut into the earth making it flat and unobstructed, a natural runway for the shuttle. The landing strip’s width was impossible to measure with their instruments but it still was their best and only chance.
The shuttle jerked violently left, and both Commanders struggled to steer the vehicle straight. They overcompensated too much and the shuttle wagged towards the right. They heard some of the crew make some noises. The soldiers tried to hide their fears with macho swear words and disagreeing grumbles but it was obvious that they were scared. The pilots lost sight of the fly’s leg; nothing but clouds swirled outside the windows. They were off course. After a lot of readjusting maneuvers, they managed to steer the vehicle back on course.
The final stretch moved too fast. The ground raced towards them at an increasing speed. Twice, they had to readjust their heading for the leg. Fox noted the forest of trees on both sides, looming darkness filled their ocean of greens. On the far right side, the earth was layered with a red fungus, stretching over mountains like a velvet blanket. A flock of fat birds scattered from their trajectory, just as the Garuda’s wings scraped over the treetops. The impact made the vessel shudder. At first, it seemed that the forest trees would tear off their wings but the fly’s leg opened up like an inverted funnel, and they were clear of them.
The ground was a flat pathway of dead grass and gravel. Gutters lined both sides. The strangest notion came to Fox’s mind; he wanted to go bowling. It immediately made him sad, reminding him that his bowling partner was dead.
The wheel gears dropped; the nose lifted forty-five degrees. Fox knew that the only thing to do now was to let go. At that point, there was nothing that he could do, except pray for a healthy landing. A quiet moment paused, following before a slow whisper of silence, right before the wheels struck the ground. The nose dropped with a crash. The front wheels collapsed into the cabin and the nose dug into the earth. Dirt spilled over the windows. The shuttle slid sideways as the earth pushed it awkwardly. The vehicle wagged violently. Consoles popped off the walls. Soldiers tumbled in the fuselage as the seats and other materials were set loose. A gunshot rang out.
The Garuda squealed, an unhealthy drum role of metal screeches and ripping. The vehicle slowed. Then it stopped with a sudden jerk.

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