...With the shuttle well into its automated re-entry, the pilot got up to stretch- nothing unusual on a routine drop. As he stood up, the shuttle was violently slammed from what seemed to be an impact. Taken off-guard, he was thrown to the deck and lay there unmoving, as a multitude of alarms sounded.
Wayne started moving to the pilot’s seat when he saw one of the other recruits headed there- a colonial pilot, Lieutenant Sally Gettings. He paused to let her take control and took the unmanned co-pilot/navigator's seat, while she quickly brought the pitching craft under manual control, he ran the damage assessment checklist.
"Grav drive down, comms out, ILS out- hull tight," said Wayne.
"Going to aero-brake profile, optimize a path to dry land, Nav."
"Aye skipper- we don't have reaction mass to land at New Zealand- looks like an overshoot to Australia- that's the big island next door."
"OK- listen up folks- we are going for a crash-landing in a neutral to hostile zone. Secure the casualty and get ready for a bumpy minus-gee ride- I'm using the deck grav planars to retro-brake, so they won't be compensating. Lumps and bumps in sixty seconds," said Sally.
For the next 20 minutes the craft continued its roller coaster ride, as Sally balanced braking against hull temperature. With the comms still down, Wayne's suspicions were all but confirmed- an impact that would do so much damage to these nearly foolproof systems should have destroyed them. Now his remaining instruments were starting to build a terrain picture of their projected LZ.
"Skipper- I have a clear LZ five kilometres past a small watercourse. Reaction mass margin 300 kilos."
"Copy Nav- in the pipe. All hands prepare for impact in 90 seconds."
With the small river in sight, Sally started braking hard with the reaction engines, while overriding the SWL on the deck planars, fighting the effects of the negative g's- then they appeared motionless for a split second and she fought to catch the shuttle on the low-powered planars. The shuttle settled with a jolt and they were down and intact.
"Start power-down- ring-lasers off, planars off, matching pressure. Nav- start a sensor sweep and all hands are clear to unlock."
"Environment shows green, small life readings, no human profile, no local RF emissions. Temperature 35 degrees, humidity low. Clear to unlock hatch."
"Hatch unlocked. Mr Jamieson, you are now the senior here. Will you take command?"
"Aye pilot, I relieve you- and thanks from all of us for a soft landing. Mr Phillips, take five volunteers and sweep the area. Watch for native life- everything here is reputed to be toxic and foul-tempered. Remaining detail- inventory our stores and let's have a look at our casualty," said Wayne. As the rest set off to their tasks, Wayne asked Sally; "Have you ever done an aero-brake re-entry before?"
"Only in sim- I joined up so I could get to do that sort of stuff- didn't think it would happen so soon into the program though."
"Well, if I was still in the business, I would offer you a job right now-ah- our sleeper awakens. How's the head Chief?"...
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