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Out of Time

by Nate St. Pierre on March 30, 2015

[Just a fun little 26-sentence writing prompt, using sequential letters of the alphabet to start each sentence.]

Already.

Barring a miracle, the ship would break up long before it reached the planet’s surface. Chronos was supposed to be the salvation of mankind, but colonizing a world with time-bending properties came with a price. “Dilation pockets” still circled the planet in high orbit, and sometimes moved too fast to avoid upon entry.

Even though this one seemed to be small in size, the dilation was a 30x accelerant, by far the strongest one he’d ever seen. For twelve minutes now he had been watching the readouts, and he was very, very worried. Guardian-class spacecraft were rated for a continuous 10 hours of atmospheric friction burn during entry before structural decomposition. His ship had pushed through 12 of the 30 minutes required to make the entry trip, but with the dilation factor, the outer hull had already been exposed to the ravages of six full hours of burn. If they didn’t make it out of the pocket soon, they would be the eighth transport ship lost to Chronos this year.

Just a week ago, a ship carrying heavy organics (settlers, livestock, and small trees) had lost control while trying to avoid a fast-moving dilation pocket, and tumbled out of the atmosphere in a flat spin. Killed on that mission had been 148 souls, the biggest loss of life to date. Luckily for this trip, the eight crew members were the only souls on board – they were hauling building supplies to the surface.

More than the potential loss of life (including his own), however, it was the frustration of the dilation pockets that bothered the captain the most. None of Earth’s scientists had yet been able to make any accurate predictions about the size, speed, strength, or even number of these things floating around the planet. Of the many dozens of ships that had been lost to the phenomena over the last few years, none of them had been able to identify a dilation pocket until they were in visual range, and by then it was often too late.

Politicians had been challenging the high casualty rate of our colonization missions for years, but even the general public sided with the scientists on this one. Questions were the only things resulting from our limited exploration of the galaxy so far, and Chronos seemed to be one of the few answers: yes, it could support human life. Right now that was humanity’s greatest need, so Chronos became the priority. Settling the planet was progressing fairly well, but navigating the time-bending properties of the upper atmosphere was proving difficult.

Taking his mind back to the present, the captain looked at his top row of instrumentation. Underneath the “Heat Shield Warning” label a red light was already flashing. Verification from the time accelerometer confirmed his fear: the dilation pocket was at 40x and rising. Warning alarms now filled the cockpit. Xenon gas began flooding the aft compartments of the ship. Yet he retained a strange sense of peace, finding solace in the fact that though he and his crew had lost this battle, humanity was still winning the war for survival.

“Zulu base, this is the captain of the Hercules with our final transmission…”

—–

Stories by Friends

Melissa Fierce: – Aleph Taw Atbash

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