I’m probably about to die. Admittedly, it’s my own fault. I’m the one who thought a skiing holiday on Gliese 581d sounded refreshing and relaxing. I’m the one who thought I could get around shipboard without a guide, asking directions, using the comnav panels, or staying in civilian appropriate areas. I’m also the one who decided to book my passage on a r’Ix’ital vessel, whose language I have only a passing familiarity with. And, most importantly, I’m the one who mistook a crew-only escape pod for a lavatory. That bright red button? Not for showing occupied. Well, it does, but only after it launches you away from your comfortable pleasure cruise at four gees.
Four gees, by the way, is more than enough to make untrained personnel, like myself, pass out in the safety of the inner cushioning. Which is how it came to pass that I woke up to find myself headed for the atmosphere of the planet I’d paid good money to visit. Doing so in an escape pod, at higher than safe velocities staring at controls I barely comprehend, is not as relaxing as I’d hoped when I booked my holiday. I can see the headline now: “Singer’s Remains Found In Escape Pod: He Needed to Go, and Away He Went!”
My first hour is spent secure in the knowledge that these things have beacons, and I’ll be picked up as soon as the ship notices I’ve been ejected. That hope fades rapidly by hour three, when 581d looms large in my slender view port, and I’ve yet to hear or see any sign of communication. By hour five, the planet is all I can see, and I’ve located the com panel only to discover that it has no audio translation component for the purely visual language employed by the r’Ix. Even without an audio translator, it manages to be thoroughly unhelpful, stubbornly maintaining the flat shade of gray which indicates “no signal.” I’ve also located the supply cabinet, and made free with a small bottle of “emergency” booze. r’Ix take their drinking seriously, it seems. Not seriously enough to get me drunk, unfortunately, but enough to take a bit of the edge off.
As hour six swings around, I feel the first buffeting winds of 581d’s upper atmosphere. I’ve shouted myself hoarse. A useless gesture, but after all the time I’ve spent shuttling to and fro, voice controls have become a habit and even though I know the pod doesn’t have them, it hasn’t stopped me from hysterically shouting various commands in the hope that I’ll magically find an override. The pod shudders under my feet as its thrusters fire, slowing it down a little and throwing me off my feet. I scramble into a bench that was most definitely not designed with humans in mind, and strap in the best I can.
Which brings us to the present moment, in which I really am expecting to die. While the atmosphere hasn’t set the pod on fire and I’ve only passed out twice from the gees, the thrusters haven’t fired more than a handful of times. r’Ix are a bit sturdier than humans, a fact that dances a nasty little conga across my mind throughout my fall. I can’t help but feel the sudden stop waiting for me at the bottom of this gravity well would have been fine for the r’Ix’ital crewpeople the pod was designed for, but will be inhospitable to me. The ground blurs closer, the thrusters fire in a final attempt to slow the shuttle down, and I’m all but drowning out the thruster’s basso roar with falsetto screams of terror as the pod does its best to tunnel to the center of 581d.
I only stop screaming when I realize it’s the only thing I can hear. No more crunching, rattling, hissing or crackling from the pod striking gods-know-what; no more roaring thrusters; only, as my screaming fades to heaving gasps, the pings and plinks of superheated metal and ceramic coming to terms with the snow covered landscape. Amazingly, at least to me, I’m still intact. A bit bruised, and I won’t be singing arias anytime soon, but otherwise unhurt. I snap the master unlock on my straps, and discover that the pressure across my chest isn’t residual.
Cursing steadily, I pick myself up off what had been the opposite wall, and is now at least partly floor. The pod seems to have landed at an angle, not overly steep, but enough that I rolled down the floor at a brisk pace before encountering the inner wall. At least it was padded, so nothing broke. That would have been a headline for you: “Singer Survives Re-entry! Snaps Neck Falling Across Pod!”
Using the handles spaced around the circumference of the pod I work my way around to the supply cabinet, trying to remember if it had been stocked with cold weather gear. Another round of cursing ensues when I belatedly remember that the door swings open to my right, not my left, and the tide of gear I didn’t properly stow knocks me loose from my hand hold. After catching my breath I squirm free of the detritus of my alcohol search and dig through it for proper gear. Luck, or the gods, are with me as I immediately locate a vac-suit that’s designed for multi-species use. Just step in, slap the only button on the thing, and it will configure to a loose fit. A bit more searching yields rations, a small enclosure, spare power cells for the suit, and a tiny nav-kit designed for planetary use. Thankfully it’s marked in Standard instead of r’Ix. Feeling a bit pleased with myself, and actually looking forward to a quiet overland hike, I haul myself up to the hatch and force it open.
The angling of the pod as it landed, which no doubt saved my life, has left a tunnel back up to the surface. The walls are thickly coated with ice from the rapid melting and refreezing of the snow, but the thick stuff slowed the pod with gratifying speed, so there’s only a dozen or so meters from here to freedom. Hunching over, and hoping the non-skid soles of my vac-suit are up to the task, I start a slow climb upwards. With only a few minor slips, and a serious ache in my back, I break out onto the surface surging with manliness and a sense of rugged outdoorsy-ness. I can see the headline now: “Singer Triumphs Over Alien Planet!”
About that time, three things happened: I got mowed down by a skier coming from over the rise behind me, the com-unit I had no idea was in my vac-suit switched on and began telling me about the planet-wide alert for a stolen escape pod, and local law enforcement showed up.
Two weeks later, my lawyers had sorted things out, and I was working feverishly to record enough songs to get an album out before the press died down. I doubt I’ll need or want another holiday anytime soon, but my agent keeps insisting that any holiday that gets the headline “Buzzed Singer Steals Escape Pod For Joyride” is a good holiday in his book.
I’ll just stick to work for now, thanks. Although, when I get my album finished…I hear Io has some fantastic sights…