2949-03-01 – Tales from the Inbox: A Spacer’s Tempest

[Note from the C.B. main office on Planet at Centauri: Fifth Fleet’s representatives at Maribel say they’re able to confirm that a major fleet action has taken place in the Håkøya system. Saint-Lô was involved but is not destroyed, and they assured us that all of our personnel survived the battle. How they know this for certain was not explained. According to analysis by experts here on Centauri, the most likely explanation is that a long-range, low-bandwidth hypercast relay was set up at the outskirts of the system for limited communication on military channels.] 

Looks like we didn’t get a story into the feed system before ingest time this week. That probably means our embed team aboard Saint-Lô has not been near a hypercast relay for at least eight days.   

This is an expected consequence of wartime maneuvers and operations, and as such your Cosmic Background Embed Team has prepared a number of interesting accounts to publish in advance should the vagaries of war cause a lapse in communication with the greater interstellar datasphere.   

Most likely, last week’s entry warned that this might be the case; if not, Duncan or Nojus will give an account of what’s been happening on the battle front in weeks to come.   

The names used in this account are all pseudonymous, and it is a continuation of another item we set aside for this eventuality which you should have already seen (Tales from the Inbox: A Spacer’s Ruination).

“This is not going to work, Liv.” 

“Come on, Ramie, you’re going to let a little w- Augh!” 

Ramiro wrestled with the controls as Jen Daley bucked in the eddying wind and the flat ground approaching dead ahead suddenly lurched into a vertical cliff. He’d landed his ship on open ground without the benefit of a spaceport’s guidance systems and sensors before, but Bettendorf’s notoriously unpredictable weather was far beyond his comfort zone. Punching up maximum thrust, he hauled the nose up and held it there until blue-white light from the planet’s primary broke through the clouds. 

Livia Farran, strapped into one of the secondary consoles, pushed her loose, straight black hair out of her face. “Well, that was interesting.” 

Ramiro scowled. He hated interesting, and his life since he’d let Livia fund the repairs to his ship had been all kinds of interesting. “We’re going back up to orbit until this storm clears. Call your contact and tell him we’ll be late.” 

“I’ll try, but you know how these guys are.” 

“Let me guess.” Ramiro set the ship’s autopilot to an orbital trajectory. “Twitchy?” 

“A little.” Livia giggled in that way she probably hoped was disarming. Ramiro had long ago learned to ignore the con-artist's affectations, knowing that her mannerisms were as carefully selected as her wardrobe. “They tend to treat everything like a test of loyalty.” 

“So they’ll think, if we don’t risk our lives flying into those thunderheads to land, we aren’t loyal enough to do business with?” 

“You know, you catch onto all this stuff way too fast to be an honest spacer. Honestly I think they still suspect we might be with BCI or something." 

Ramiro massaged his forehead with one palm for a moment before cancelling the autopilot and returning the ship to manual control. “Looks like I’m going to try that approach again.” While he and his erstwhile partner were hardly working for the Confederated government’s Bureau of Counter-Intelligence, the fact that they were planning to steal from Livia’s contacts made reinforcing such suspicions incredibly unhealthy. 

“Probably a good idea.” Livia tapped away at her console for a moment. “No beacons to fix a comms beam on anyway, and they’ll probably shoot us if we start broadcasting.” 

Ramiro pointed Jen Daley’s nose back at the boiling cloud-tops, and the cheery daylight soon vanished behind swirling gray fog which quickly faded almost to black. Though no motion could be felt from inside the ship’s inertial isolation, Ramiro could tell from his instruments that his trusty ship was being pushed almost onto its side by the wind, and he made a few corrections. If Daley came down on any part of herself besides the landing skids, it would never leave Bettendorf again, and the best case scenario would see the pair of them stranded. 

Fighting wind shears that seemed to change to a new direction for every thousand meters of altitude, Ramiro pointed the ship down at the location where his instruments told him there was a clear field to land on. In such poor weather, the autopilot’s self-landing system probably wouldn’t work, so he prepared to take the ship all the way in by hand. 

Since the only thing visible outside the cockpit was clouds and rain until the last few hundred meters, Livia probably had no idea how dangerous what they were doing was until they broke through the cloud ceiling and once again laid eyes on the landing site. Almost immediately, an updraft nearly flipped Daley over on her back, and Ramiro hauled on the controls to right it. 

"So, uh.” Livia’s tone remained overly conversational, as it always did when she was concealing extreme worry or stress. “How likely is this to kill us, Ramie?” 

“Going to have to land on manual. Say, fifteen or twenty percent.” 

“Ah.” The woman watched the ground, occasionally rolling or pitching out of view, grew steadily closer. “Next time, maybe you should, ah... pick the place.” 

“Liv, I don’t care what you offer me. One way or another...” Ramiro’s fingers ached from how tightly he was squeezing the controls, but he dared not relax. Passing a hundred meters of altitude, he deployed the landing skids, and prayed they’d be on the side of the ship that came down first. “There’s not going to be a next time.” 

One last eddy of wind threatened to push Jen Daley back into the sky, and then, with a heavy thump that reverberated through the ship despite the best efforts of the inertial isolation system, the skids sank into the wet Bettendorf soil. As the ship settled into place, Ramiro slowly took his hands off the controls and took a few long, slow breaths, watching rain streak across the forward viewpanel. 

“You keep saying that, and I still don’t believe you.” Livia, near-death experience apparently already forgotten, unbuckled her restraints and stood from her station. “I’ll go check the cargo. Our friends should be here soon.”