Science Fiction novel | Probability's Edge by Alistair Potter


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After crash landing on a technologically backward planet, the crew of the Imperial Trade Vessel, Eagle, face a tough decision; save themselves, or save the planet. (This is a work in progress.)


Probability's Edge

 

Copyright © 2005 Alistair Potter

 

Chapter 1

 

Dead before she was thirty was crap-bad planning, but it was Karla's only option. Stretching out her arm, she keyed in the self-destruct command and pressed the final button.

When nothing happened, she repeated the command and stabbed again at the control panel. "Shit!" she growled. "It won't go!"

A hand grabbed her arm and Karla twisted in her acceleration couch. Jont sat alongside her in the ship's redundant weapons station, his thin, almost boyish features were grim.

"You'll have to land us!" he said. "I'll find somewhere."

Karla nodded, fighting panic with deep, painful breaths. Then she felt the skin on her neck and scalp tingle as Jont used his psychic abilities to replace the ship's failing sensors.

They were falling onto a city, the Gravity-drive had lost all functionality, and now they had to lose speed without it. Modern ships rode down on the Grav-drive, but the Eagle was an old ground assault lander, designed when gravity drives could only shed a proportion of a vessel's mass. They still had a Reaction-drive, and, in theory, the ship had some rudimentary aerodynamic properties. Seemingly pointless hours of rocket-assist landings on the flight simulators at Pilot Training School, suddenly didn't seem so pointless.

"It's going to get bumpy," she warned.

The captain of their small trading vessel, Dan Evans, comm'd using a private vidlink, his blocky weatherbeaten face appearing in a tiny window in Karla's eyepiece display.

"What's on your mind, Karla?"

"Air brakes."

"Shit, do they still work?"

"They deploy for the rating board. As to whether they still work, we're about to find out."

"Your show, good luck."

Karla's fingers danced over the controls, then she touched a tiny button on her headset to give her an open comms link. "Hang on everyone, I'm deploying air brakes in…3, 2, 1, now!"

The hull creaked as a ring of large vanes that had never been used in earnest for over twenty years extended into the airflow. The whole ship began to resonate with a deep hollow moan and Karla felt herself sink reassuringly into the resilient padding of the acceleration couch. With the inertial dampers offline she could actually feel these changes.

Jont stretched over and squeezed her shoulder. "I've got a clearing! Forty degrees spinal, I estimate a quarter k."

This was good news. A clearing meant avoiding houses and the certainty of fire and mass casualties. Again, in theory, there was a way to steer them towards it.

She tightened her seat restraints. "Everyone, this could get rough. I mean it. Strap in, hang on, do whatever you can. Don't ask, just do it now!"

Karla punched in a key sequence and said a silent prayer. What she was about to attempt was in the flight manual, but carried a strong advisory warning. She activated the manual controls and stretched out to grip the joystick that operated the manoeuvring thrusters. She would be flying almost by touch, using the pressure of the seat on her body and feedback resistance from the joystick

"Hang on everyone!"

Karla isolated the servos on a semicircular bank of airbrakes and retracted them slightly, tilting the ship in a stately manoeuvre. She then applied a lateral thrust to help push them towards the clearing.

"That's enough," said Jont, "we're almost over it."

Karla rebalanced the airbrakes and steadied the ship.

"Perfect," said Jont.

Karla twisted to look over her shoulder to the Nav station. It was manned by their First Officer, Rafe Corlen. Below a sharp line of jet-black hair, his aristocratic brow was beaded with sweat.

"Rafe, this planet got a name?" she asked.

His hand swept through his holographic display, trying to clear away the haze of smoke that was gathering. "Could be a malfunction, but I've no planetary beacons. In fact I've no comms traffic of any sort."

Dan's voice came over the comms. "Crap! If it's that backward, we're in it up to our necks with IMTRAD."

Karla couldn't fault their captain's ever-buoyant optimism, but as their chances of landing intact were so slim, the last thing on her mind was a breach of the Imperial Trade Commission's first contact rules.

To Karla's amazement, the holographic display above her console flickered to life. Highlighted by a pulsing white band, it showed a small, rectangular target sitting among the criss-cross lines of the city streets. She zoomed the view and the rectangle expanded. It was a clearing, but filled with a tiny patchwork of squares and rectangles. Karla suddenly realised that these were the stalls in a market place, and was horrified to see tiny figures running through the narrow gaps between the stalls, all heading for the perimeter and safety. She checked the readings, the rate of descent was just within acceptable limits. All she had to do was keep the ship steady and they'd make it, the planet's natives too, if they would just get a move on!

Then the tone of the pervasive moan changed subtly and Karla craned nervously to listen. A sudden loud clang reverberated through the vessel and the ship shuddered and and began to roll, veering from its course. She immediately applied a counter thrust, but the ship kept tilting. They'd lost a vane. She had to retract the opposite one to balance the lack of drag, and no decision was as bad as a wrong decision. She gave it her best guess, rattled in a command and waited for the sickening lurch that came before the wild uncontrollable spin to oblivion.

It never came and the ship settled.

She checked the instruments again, they were slightly off target for the clearing, and now in the red for rate of descent. A strange empty calm filled her. If they were going to crash and burn, she could at least get them back on-course and minimise native losses.

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All content © Alistair Potter.

 

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