Hard Landings

Captain Filippa Bartlett of the asteroid mining vessel The Devil’s Sooty Brother was bringing her ship down for a surface landing. Problem was, The Devil’s Sooty Brother wasn’t meant for suborbital flight. Teardrop shapes had the same air resistance as a cube in the emptiness of space, and the cube was a much more convenient shape to work with, so most ships were built without consideration to aerodynamics. Spaceships don’t need to worry about lift, or drag—or landing gear, for that matter—but atmospheric flight does account for these variables to some degree. This was, of course, an act of desperation.

Things were happening fast now.

The ship badly wanted to tumble, but Captain Bartlett fought it with the docking thrusters until the propellant was spent, and started extending grapple arms and opening drone hangers to counter the fiery clawing of the air. All the while she fought the sickening pull of natural gravity, which happened to run perpendicular to the graviton bell around the cockpit. The comms arrays were wrenched off like fall leaves in a twister, peeling up hull panels as they went, which themselves became de facto ablative shields. She may as well have been trying to fly a two-headed humpback.

Finally, she punched through the high cloud cover and got a glimpse of the LZ—thank God she was on the day side, otherwise she’d be blind on top of the rest of her troubles. The Devil’s Sooty Brother was coming down like a meteor, and it was headed for coastline. Better than an ocean, even; a lake. She just had to nudge it a little further. Just a little thrust, but how? Not much time. She could cut loose the payload, but that wasn’t going to happen. Not after all this. She had to save the payload somehow. There was one other thing left to ditch. No time to think about it.

Captain Bartlett extended a docking coupler, catching the air and spinning the ship until she faced the shore, and then she ejected the cockpit, giving the ship a little push over the water. She had just enough time to see The Devil’s Sooty Brother splash down. Not half-bad flying.

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