Snakes and Pills

122 - skip

A low rumble began to move across the frame of Joanne's ship. Re-entry was inevitable, then. There was nothing she could do but wait.

She had been standing, looming over the windows to give herself a better view of the planet below. Little point in that now, she thought, as she allowed her body to slump down into the captain's chair.

Joanne's earpiece was silent except for an occasional crackle of static. At first, she had held out for some sort of hope each time the little pulse of static rang out in her ear, but by now she knew to never expect anything more. Random radiation from the universe bouncing across her radio arrays, that was her only companion now.

Was everything down there dead, too? She tried not to linger for too long on that thought. The complete and total silence since dropping into the system was rather damning to her logical mind, though. There were other possibilities. Perhaps some sort of cataclysm on the surface had rendered their technology useless. Or maybe her own ship's communication systems were damaged. Maybe they had been trying to contact her all along, but she was simply unable to receive their message.

Maybe. Or maybe they were all dead.

After the ordeals on her ship, that seemed far more likely. The Courage used to be a proud ship, with a crew over a hundred strong. But their unexpected encounter with a strange, sentient blue cloud was not a pleasant one. The Courage's shields were quickly overloaded and unknown forces began tearing the ship apart. Joanne, always reluctant to use force, had no option but to retaliate in defense of her vessel.

The counterattack seemed to work, the blue cloud dissipated and the damage to her ship ceased. The crew had begun surveying the damage and seeing what could be salvaged. Only a couple of hours had passed, when the captain herself began feeling sick. Extreme nausea, fever, and body pain, that was all she remembered. The onslaught was so fierce and quick that she soon lost consciousness.

When she awoke, she was all alone. Tended to by the automated systems in the infirmary, she regained her strength. What had happened to everyone else on board, she could not figure out. In truth, she didn't even know if they were dead, or simply elsewhere.

The damage to the Courage had been much worse than she remembered before the illness overtook her. Plotting a course for home, she fired up the engines, half-expecting them to fail and blow what was left of the ship to kingdom come. They didn't destruct, they lit. And Joanne was on her way home.

The problem would ultimately come from the damaged navigation system, which ended up delivering her deep within the planet's gravity well. There was no turning back, she knew. The rumble grew heavier and stronger with each passing moment. Control consoles around her were beginning to shake, infrequently at first, but growing ever more constant.

Finally, a slight glimmer of orangish-yellow plasma let her know that re-entry was happening for real. Joanne strapped herself into her chair, not sure of how much good it would do.

The shields were long gone, so her only defense was the ship itself. If it could ablatively burn up and provide enough protection for her on the bridge, she just might be able to make it through. It was an extreme long shot.

So was her being here at all, though. The temperatures were rising, and the glowing light out the windows was now blinding.


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