Senior Medical Officer Brian Ambrose eyes burned from the lack of sleep. He looked aimlessly at his hands, his dark skin sore with grazing and bruising down the length of his forearms. The ringing sensation that had screamed through his head for the first day or two since the crash had subsided to a dull, aching wave which pulsed outwards from a point located somewhere just behind his left eyeball. The swelling around his previously dislocated knee stubbornly refused to go down, despite having forced the joint back to something like it’s natural position.
He was sat perched on a badly scuffed steamer trunk, the green plastic resin casing with deep cracks snaking around each corner of the lid. Each side of the cuboid container was marked with a blocky white cross, indicating to Ambrose that, in the unlikely event he would ever be required to file a report on the catastrophic failure of the Mani IIX, he would at least be able to write of his personal success in regard of retaining inventory of the ship’s medical supplies.
The prospect offered scant consolation. At any rate, S.M.O Ambrose was all too aware of monumental unlikeliness that such a report would ever be made, at least with his input.
At his feet stood three small crucifixes, made from slivers of plastic that he had collected, shattered remnants of some container that had no doubt had been of critical importance before the wicked hand of fate plucked his unit’s space craft out of the void and hurtled it directly into the surface of the desolate sphere he now found himself on. He had torn strips of fabric from the sleeves of his uniform and bound the plastic pieces together into rudimentary . With a small screw, he had then carved initials into each cross. A pitiful but immensely human tribute to his comrades who had perished in the incident, a nearly incomprehensible distance from the arms of their loved ones. Ambrose reflected on each soul the crosses bore the memory of:
Command Pilot Richard Summers.
A renowned veteran of the South African Air Force before joining the International Expeditionary Commission, Summers had severing peerlessly on half a dozen missions. Before boarding Mani IIX four years previously back in Texas, Summers had enjoyed a mere three months with his first grandchild. Rightly so given his ranking and reputation, Summers had been in the cockpit until the very moment of impact.
Lead Engineer Dr. Vedika Shah
Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh’s finest intellectual product, Shah had spent much of her 20’s and 30’s touring most of Earth’s leading academic institutions attaining honours in the manner teenage boys might collect baseball cards. Vedika had designed Mani IIX’s nuclear engines and saw the craft more as a patient than a machine to be maintained. She had leapt into the engine bay when the first burst of radiation had assaulted the ship. Ambrose personally suspected the second, bigger blast had ruptured the engines and obliterated Shah as well, hopefully in an instantaneous and entirely painless flash.
Pilot Second Class Madeline D’Agostino
Having logged countless hours as part of an Italian contingent in NATO’s aerial force over North Africa and Central Asia during the first of a series of brutal and swift Resource Wars, D’Agostino’s had been recruited to the IEC as a poster girl for the entire operation. A potent combination of fiery charm and smouldering looks had underpinned and sometimes overshadowed her aggressively and seemingly natural affinity for flying. Ambrose had heard D’Agostino’s radio feed cut dead a few minutes prior to impact, as the ship had began to disintegrate upon entering atmosphere. Presumably had been sucked through a jagged crack in the cockpit’s observation windows. He tried not to pondering too long on the specifics on how and where she may have ended up.
Ambrose eyed the small crosses. It was not lost on him that at least one of the deceased wasn’t Christian, but lacking any familiarity with Hindu burial ceremonies he hadn’t had any better ideas. Nor was he blind to futility of it all, as he was unable to recover the remains of Shah or Summers and had no idea as to the location of D’Agostino. Still, it seemed to him that, should he ever make it off of the planet he currently found himself on or any other landing parties ever discover him, it was only proper to have some memorial to the lost.
Inside his helmet, his radio earpiece buzzed and crackled into life. For a few moments it was static, before the line cleared.
“Calling all signals, calling all signals. This is Chief Science Officer Tsang. Does anyone recieve me? All call signs for Mani IIX expedition please respond. Over.”
Ambrose sighed before opening his line with a button inside the glove of his one piece, air tight uniform. Both comrades were communicating in Auxil-1, a Lingua Franca developed in the early days of IEC to allow multi-national crews to work together and avoid any politicised squabbles over which native language took preference.
“Still just me, Tsang. Me and you are the only ones on this frequency. Have been for the last 3 days. Just bring it in, pal. Over.”
Through the quiet white noise that fuzzed through the conversation, Ambrose heard the scientist sigh.
“It’s worth trying, Brian. Give me a minute, I’ll be with you. Over.”
Ambrose waited for the line to drop from Tsang’s end. He admired the spirit of his colleague, but the Chinese bio-chemist’s stubborn refusal to admit the weight of the situation the two survivors were in had begun to grate.
Upon impact, the Mani IIX had broken into several sections and been scattered across the terrain like marbles during a child’s game. One of these sections had comprised of the mess, medical and experimental bays and a central, arterial corridor which had run the entire length of the ship. Due to their respective occupations and lack of skills to contribute once the emergency struck, both had stayed at their posts.
The disintegration of the craft had seen this section break away as a tube, open at both ends. However, as the tube had violently ricocheted across the planet’s surface, one end had been closed off as the metal walls buckled and folded in on themselves. The opposite end of the tube had eventually come to rest embedded into the soft, sandy ground.
Shaken and both carrying relatively minor injuries, the two doctors had emerged from their quarters. For what Ambrose had guessed was the first 24 hours, both had been able to do little more than try to sleep and make sense of what had happened. Neither task had been successful.
On the second day, Tsang had recovered enough to become anxious and twichy at being their metallic confinement. Ambrose had raised his concerns, but his knee injury had been too severe to allow him to physically prevent Tsang from forcing a small cavity in the wall of the mess and outer skin of the craft, through which he had taken to exploring the world outside. However, he wasn’t dismayed that the jury kept him from joining his more adventurous companion.
It was through this gap that Tsang suddenly appeared. His arm poked through, waggling like the tentacle of a mad blind squid before the hand made contact with the walls and he was able to pull himself through. S.M.O Ambrose watched, taking slightly comfort in the sight of Tsang’s mild struggle, as it allayed fears of larger, more predatory outsiders being able to enter their compound.
“What’s out there, Tsang?”
Tsang didn’t react to the query and was dusting his uniform down and attempting to finding his footing as the position their section of Mani IIX had come to rest in was a drunken angle. The floor was still the floor and could be traversed, but the severe angle meant walking in the traditional sense was not possible.
“Hey Tsang I sa-” Ambrose began repeated before realising his mistake and cursing to himself. He opened the radio line and asked the question for a third time. It was acknowledged with a dismissive wave of the hand as the bio-chemist clambered up the corridor, using the fittings and fixtures as rungs. Once Tsang had closed the distance, he replied.
“What’s out there, there’s nothing out there dammit.” Tsang was shouting now and not using the two way radio. Despite only being a metre or two away, his bellowing was made muffled by the helmets both men wore. “Nothing at all.” He saw and recognised Ambrose’s confused expression before continuing. “This way will save the batteries on the radio. Anyway, Can’t see the rest of the ship. Hell, past 80 feet you can’t see nothing anything for the fog. Damn luck I made it back here, you could walk around in circles for hours and never go more than a mile from where you started, not that you’d know it.”
Ambrose remained grim-faced at the news, unsure of what answer he had really hoped for and allowing Tsang to continue.
“Gravity is stronger here. I think it’s only subtle, but it weighs on you after a time. You must be feeling it in here, right?”
“I guess so.” Ambrose conceded “Hard to tell really, don’t remember much about before the crash to compare it to. Certainly don’t feel like it’s too much of an immediate concern.”
Tsang chuckled lightly to himself
“Not a…pressing matter, huh?”
To Be Continued…