Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language.
The spacecraft was dark, cold. She drifted through space like flotsam on the open ocean. Her one good engine fired every minute or so, spiraling her like some sort of crazed boomerang. The other was a foreboding, dark husk. It sat on the port wing, almost malevolently, as though it were a sickness, leeching the life out of the wounded craft.
The engine fired again, bringing her closer the massive, green planet she was headed towards. A few more pulses, and she would be within the gravitational pull. The planet drew nearer, coaxing the ship towards her destruction. Another pulse. The ship shook as she entered the field. The jolt startled the two crew members, waking the pilot and his engineer. The lights flickered on and the ship sprang to life. She rumbled as she plummeted farther towards the ground below. The pilot tried to activate the ground thrusters. They refused to come online. He shrieked at the engineer to get them working. Without them, they'd crash into a billion pieces against the unforgiving ground. The in-atmosphere altimeter started reading out to the pilot, indicating they were fifty kilometers from the ground. The thrusters still refused to fire. The engineer worked feverishly, opening the fuel lines to the thrusters, making sure their exhaust vents were open. The altimeter read thirty-five kilometers. The pilot desperately pulled up on the yoke, bringing the craft into an almost controlled descent. The port wing screamed in protest, having been damaged by the destroyed engine. The ship punched through the thick, yellow-green clouds and into a massive storm below. The rain lashed against the hull of the ship and sizzled against the windshield, burning divets into the glass. The altimeter read out twenty kilometers.
The pilot heaved on the yoke again, bringing the ship into a gentle glide. A sense of relief washed over him and the engineer. The storm continued to rage outside the ship, scouring the sand off the side and replacing it with scorch marks. The ship pitched back into a dive from a sudden down draft. The strain, mixed with the rain, tore at the damaged wing. It shook back and forth, the wind buffeting it from all angles. Eventually, it was too much. The outside half of the wing tore off, spiraling away into the storm. The altimeter read out ten kilometers.The craft started a spiral of its own, plummeting towards the ground, intent on the destruction of herself and her crew. The pilot gave one final heave on the yoke, bringing the ship out of its spiral and into a forty-five degree dive. The altimeter read out five kilometers. The dive softened. The speed did not. She picked up speed, tilting what was left of her wings as mountains loomed up in front of her. The altimeter read out two kilometers. She dove closer to the ground as it flattened out, leaving the mountains behind. The rain and wind continued to beat on the ship, tossing her and her crew about, forcing her closer to the ground. The ground thrusters continued to stall. The altimeter read one kilometer. The engineer tried desperately to get the thrusters working. He opened every valve he could. Oil, water, and fuel coursed through the ship, bringing her life. The thrusters gave a feeble cough, then they kicked on. They pulled the ship out of its drop. The ship slowed slightly as the pilot eased off the yoke. The thrusters gave out again, dropping the ship from one and a half kilometers. The ship plummeted again, the pilot and the engineer both letting out strings of profanities. The ground thrusters fired sporadically, alternately throwing the ship towards the ground or slowing her descent. At one quarter of a kilometer, the speedometer read out fifty knots. The ship continued plummeting, the pilot practically stood against the yoke trying anything to keep her out of her dive. It proved to no avail. The ship crashed into the ground, slamming the crew to the floor.
TWO DAYS EARLIER
Edward Buck sat in the common area of his ship. His long legs stuck out before him. He wore his forest green engineer's overalls with his name sewn to the breast. The dim fluorescent lights from above played across his bearded face. It threw his green eyes into deep shadow and made his dark brown hair look jet black. His high cheekbones drew shadows over his cheeks, making him look much thinner than he was. His friend and partner is crime, David Lugton sat in the pilot's seat, trying to ease the ship to a straighter course. He looked like Ed's polar opposite. His platinum blonde hair fell to his shoulders and seemed to radiate light like a policeman's searchlight. His eyes were as blue as a husky's and he was clean shaven. He was of diminutive stature and looked almost unnaturally thin, whereas Ed was a person who obviously had some muscle behind him.
Ed was worried. The lines proving this etched across his weathered face. He and his companion had left Decken five days ago. By all rights, there should have been a Federation patrol on their tails by now. Not to mention the fact that their port engine had been crippled by that moronic, little, weasely man from the Company. After slight analysis, he and his companion had decided to stop at the closest planet, Hellhole. With both functioning engines, it would've taken about four to six hours. Ed had done the math when they first left and found that they would take almost a week to reach Hellhole. He and Dave had done a once-over of the cargo bay looking for supplies, and found that the standard emergency rations would last them just long enough. The problem they did face was a lack of ammunition and supplies for repairs. Many conversations had ensued between the two similar to this;
"Where are you going Dave?"
"Outside to fix the port engine."
"One small problem. We have a disturbing lack of airlocks...and tools...and materials."
Without the port engine functioning, they would continue their nauseating, slow spiral as long as the trip took.
Hellhole was a Free Planet, on the border of the Federation and the area the Federation had named "The Chaos Region." The Federation couldn't pursue them there without risking another war. The problem would be getting there and surviving the landing. Hellhole was perhaps the only discovered planet more hostile than Decken. The planet had been heavily sought over by both sides due to it's natural supplies of titanium. However, it declared itself to be a Free Planet, and the acid storms it hosted discouraged any invasion from the Federation. The Federation had made one attempt to control it. It had ended in failure as the dropships had been old models and had not had adequate acid shielding and had been destroyed before they touched the ground. The Federation instead turned its eyes towards Ra, another desert planet that had smaller titanium veins, but still reasonably sized.
Hellhole's location as well as political affiliation was why Ed and Dave had set their navs on it. Without the port engine, the ship would most likely crash immediately into the ground, but Ed and Dave knew that that would be a better fate than being captured by the Federation.
Ed got up from his seat. Their situation was a stressful one indeed. The non-stop spinning of the ship didn't help matters in the slightest. He decided to do something he'd been putting off for the last four days. The cargo hold had needed inventorying since they had first left Decken's territory. They were in dire need of supplies and finding something of use in the hold would greatly increase their chances of surviving after the fall to Hellhole, provided they didn't die from the fall. The things they needed most would likely be in short supply. Federation regulations required that all ships have emergency rations, water, and medical equipment lasting two weeks, but the repair necessities, such as tools and sheet metal, would be harder to come by. And even more difficult to find would be certain items to fix something very dear to Ed's heart.
Regardless of the probability of success, it needed to be done. So Ed opened the ramp from the cargo to the living area, and trudged down it, knowing several hours of boring, tiring, occasionally laborious work awaited him. He started with the crates nearest the ramp. They were small, about one cubic foot each, and he knew they probably wouldn't contain anything of much value. Eight of them were stacked in a large cube next to the ramp. He opened the ones on top first, finding exactly what he expected; food, water, a few bags of baking materials (no doubt headed for a planet near by) such as flour, milk, and eggs. He replaced the tops and slid the crates to the side to open the ones underneath them. These ones greeted him with canisters of refined starship fuel, a valuable commodity if they could repair the port engine. He worked his way through the rest of the cargo, finding more or less what he would expect; food, water, and meds. He did have the occasional good find, such as the tiniest pouch of gems that would go for maybe 5,000 credits, or the entire crate of metal fasteners; screws, nuts and bolts, and the like. He was looking forward to opening the last box. It had become like a game to him; ten points for each item identified correctly, five for the general contents. He went to press the unlock button on the side. This one didn't want to open as freely as the others before it did. He looked around the box, checking to see if the lid was caught on something. It wasn't. He walked behind it again, checking to see if he'd missed something. He had. There was a Federation six-digit lock on the box. A sly smile came onto his face. It would be a pain in the ass to open it, but if the Federation thought it was worth protecting like this, then it would be worth the effort. He shouted back up the ramp in the general direction of Dave. "Yo, Dave! We have anything on board that can break a Fed lock?" There was no reply. "Dave?" No sooner had the words left his mouth than when Dave came bounding down the ramp, his trusty pipe wrench in hand.
"Try this." he said, offering his prized possession to Ed. Ed reached behind himself to grab it and turned around to stare at it when it met his hand.
"Why...uh...why do you still have this?" he asked.
"You have the F-6, I have a pipe wrench I definitely did not steal off a maintenance worker." he responded, his British voice somewhat too cheery for the subject. "It's my heart and soul, my right hand. I couldn't operate without it." he finished with a dramatic flourish with his hands. Ed rolled his eyes and turned back to the lock. He levered the wrench underneath it and tried to pry open the box. Dave stood behind him, alternately opening and closing his mouth as he continued to watch Ed fail. The sounds of this time-passing activity passed to Ed, making him more and more annoyed all the time. After five minutes, and the box staying closed, Ed whirled around to face Dave.
"What?! What in the hell do you think I'm doing wrong?!" he yelled. Dave's face remained the mock calm it had been since the beginning of the endeavor. He shook his head, tutting as he did so.
"Ed, Ed, Ed, Ed, Ed. Lockpicking requires finesse. It's like dancing with a Ketellian. You can't use domination here. It has to be subtle. Watch me, I'll show you how it's done." He took the wrench from Ed and went to stand in front of the crate. He stared at it for a moment, running his hands over it. Then in one swift move, he raised the wrench and smashed it against the lock. The box around the lock shattered, and the mechanism itself went skittering across the cargo bay.
"That's a hell of a kind of finesse you got there Dave." said Ed, picking pieces of the box out of his beard and hair. Dave laughed and set the wrench aside.
"You didn't let me finish. If you hit a Ketellian with a real heavy object, you can dominate the subtle dance all you want. Now let's open this box." It was a large box, about six feet tall, six feet wide, and six feet long. Ed and Dave reached up and launched the heavy lid off of the container. It crashed to the floor with a deafening clang. Both men, being under six feet tall, couldn't see over the rim. Ed went and dragged one of the smaller crates over and climbed up onto it. He peered over the edge.