The Return

“Holy shit Gary, where did you learn to fly?” Sara gripped the seat tighter, and drew a sharp look from her boyfriend.

“That’s real leather, all the way from earth, don’t do that!”

“Then slow the fuck down!” Sara didn’t loosen her hold.

“The belts are on, you won’t fly off anywhere!”

“I don’t care!”

“Jeez, just slow down Gary!” His friend Victor admonished. “Let’s get there in one piece!”

It had seemed like a good idea at the time. Gary’s father owned the Mercedes, not the latest model but less than two years old and lined with brown leather, a well-stocked mini-bar behind an oak panel, and seamless fold-away sofas. The most beautiful aspect of the sleek silver craft had to be the hot tub on the second deck, and the glorious 75″ holo projector. It was just a question of finding the right planet to land on, for some secluded one-on-one time between boyfriend and girlfriend.

Except, Gary had barely passed his test, and certainly not piloting something as powerful as a Mercedes. The fusion engines were pushing the ship through space at close to 75,000 miles per hour – nearly twice as fast as the little shuttle his parents had earmarked for him. Now their destination – a nice, quiet planet with lush beaches and secluded natural pools – loomed larger than it should, and Gary was fighting not only the controls but his own, rising panic.

“We’re gonna crash!” Shrieked Amy, Victor’s girlfriend, from the seats behind Gary and Sara. Her piercing cry made Gary wince.

“No we’re not! I’m throttling back, see…”

Sure enough, the speed was coming down, 70,000 mph, then 65k… but then the ship juddered violently.

“What was that?” Asked Sara.

“I don’t… oh shit! The reverse thrusters have burnt out, I can’t slow us down!”

“Kill the engines!”

“I did!”

“Use the manoeuvring thrusters, gently.” Victor’s advice was usually pretty sound. All too often people that considered Gary and Victor to be an odd pairing – Gary was the jock, the athlete, the one who was destined to be a star in the sector’s Football Leagues – stocky, muscular and over 6,6″, he had the looks and the physique, and the skill at the sport. Not only that, he knew it too. ‘Love or hate’ was what people said of Gary Wallace – he was either confident or conceited, depending on who you spoke to.

But Gary did understand something. He knew he wasn’t the smartest kid academically, and getting through college and getting his prize of a football career meant good grades – so he’d befriended Victor. The short, gawky kid who hated sports but excelled at maths and science. Though at first it had been an acquaintance of convenience, it had become a friendship built on their differences as much as anything else, and right now, as the ship’s alarm systems began to whine, Gary was more grateful than ever Victor had come along.

“Let’s give it a try…” Gary flicked a couple of switches and the ship lurched upwards as though kicked, but the speed was once again coming down.

“55K, 50… ”

“Um, Gary, we’re about to skim the atmosphere…” Victor’s warning was just a fraction too late. Dad’s expensive craft was now zipping into the planet’s upper layers, and driving deeper as well. Gary tried to enact a hard turn to starboard, but the blown reverse thrusters had affected the handling, and the ship wobbled as it steadily fell toward the ground.

“We need to level out!” Victor yelled. Gary was frantic, pushing buttons and fighting the stick in a bid to regain some measure of control.

To anyone watching from below, a small yet intense fireball was making itself known in the sky, cutting across the blue and the clouds. Instead of the lush beaches, they were descending all too rapidly for the planet’s equator, and the thick, dense jungle that occupied that specific region.

Gary stabbed another set of controls and the landing thrusters fired again. Bones were rattled as the shuttle seemed to groan under the stress of the unothordox landing approach. Victor exchanged a worried glance with his girlfriend, Hannah.

“I don’t want to die.” She said quietly, loud enough only for Victor to here. He looked her straight in her hazel eyes.

“We won’t.”

The thrusters were starting to have an effect. Gradually, the ship was gaining a cleaner vector, though still far from ideal. The blue and red tops of a thick canopy were looming, and the leaves billowed, spilling native birds from their hiding places as the ship zipped overhead.

“Hold on!” Gary gripped the console in front of him. One more burst from the thrusters…

Then came the moment of impact. The shuttle had slowed dramatically, but it still smashed into the tree tops at over a hundred miles per hour, sending branches tumbling down to the ground below. As the ship continued to fall, it carved a path of destruction.

It wasn’t a one-sided event. Sparks burst from several consoles and power relays as they shorted out, whilst the alarms whined that the exterior hull was developing fractures and cracks from repeated high-speed crunches. The powerful trunks of the jungle trees were spearing the shuttle’s underbelly and puncturing the delicate systems the hull protected. The rate of descent slowed, for the trees were sapping some of the craft’s momentum, so that when it hit the ground, it was travelling at ‘only’ 30 mph, but it still skidded, smacking into a couple more trees before coming to a final halt.

Hannah was the first to recover. She scrambled to undo her seatbelt and grabbed Victor’s hand. He snapped out of his shock almost immediately and wrapped his arms around her. It was now that she began to sob, and so he began to sob as well – relieved as much as anything to still be alive. That relief was short-lived – Sara let out a cry.

“Gary, oh shit, shit shit shit, Gary!”

Gary was slumped over the driver’s control console, blood seeping out of a wound on his right temple. It occured to Victor and Hannah they were nursing some cuts and bruises, and Sara wasn’t in much better shape, but Gary…

“Sit him up!” Victor unclipped his own belt and stepped around, helping Sara to ease Gary back into the seat. His friend let out a soft groan, which told Victor he was at least alive.

“Don’t move him too much!” Hannah stepped around as well. “If he’s got a head injury, you need to keep him still, and see if you can wake him up. Is there a medical kit on this thing?”

Sara piped up. “I, ah, I think so…”

“Go get it. I need to know what’s in there.”

Sara gave Hannah a nervous look. “What are you gonna do?”

“I’m training to be a doctor, I’ll clean the wound then see from there.”

It had been a last minute thing to bring Hannah along. She and Victor had only recently met, and that had only been by the grace of Gary’s non-stop pestering to get Victor to the gym. Victor had been trying to bulk up, Hannah had been trying to shed a few pounds. Victor watched as Hannah took the medical kit from Sara and went to work, pulling out anti-bacterial wipes first of all, and gently dabbing the gash on Gary’s head. She spoke to Gary continously, in that sweet accent that had originally hailed from South Africa. Gary murmured and groaned and showed signs of coming around; he made some noises that sounded like irritation when Hannah pulled out an eye scanner and opened Gary’s eyes.

“Eyes are focusing on the light, good, they’re responsive. I think he’s just been knocked out.”

“Oh thank God…” Sara clasped her hands around Gary’s. “It’ll be alright babe, I’m right here, can you hear me?”

“Unnnhhh… yeah…”


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