Strapped in and secure for reentry, Jemma Sean again had second and then third thoughts about the wisdom of such a maneuver – steep atmospheric entry into the earth’s gravity well. She wished she had paid more attention to the flight safety briefing prior to her departure from Black Star. Jemma had many talents, but piloting a saucer was definitely not on her resume.
Earlier, the ride had been uneventful. Jemma sat comfortably in her cocoon-like chair that served as acceleration couch and her emergency personal protection pod, or 3P. This was certainly not her first space flight, though it was her first time-trip to Earth’s 21st century. She had never set foot inside one of these retro-pop-culture-saucer contraptions, but had become thoroughly familiar with its stark interior over the hours of travel time through the inner solar system. The pilot, a short gray being, was also short on conversation. Jemma thought of the pilot as an ‘it’ because she couldn’t determine its gender. It seemed preoccupied with approach and reentry to Earth, indifferent to Jemma’s presence.
The first sign that something was not quite right was the sudden increase in turbulence. Jemma glanced up at the pilot who also did not present the appearance of situation normal. The pilot’s hands were straining against the controls protruding from the chair arms, its head pressed back against the cradle, mouth open in a silent agonized grimace.
Jemma was about to say something to the pilot when audible and visual warning came to life. The lights dimmed, she smelled an acrid burning seeping from control panels. Jemma wrinkled her nose at the nasty odor just as an alarm loudly proclaimed its participation.
Jemma decided to check on her pilot but was forced back into her seat as the pilot’s chair opposite her sparked, erupting with miniature explosions. Her 3P acceleration couch sounded its own alarms, activating emergency restraints, preparing to seal her up. The saucer was shaking violently now and the cabin filled with smoke and steam. The last thing Jemma saw was the burned, and quite dead, body of her pilot.
This was not what Jemma had signed up for. Most definitely not, she thought. Now it was her turn to grip the arm rests tightly, knuckles white with the effort. The saucer continued its turbulent descent and Jemma could see patches of the earth as the narrow band of wrap-around displays dissolved into window mode, an automatic emergency response by the saucer’s systems. Jemma continued to breathe in the acrid smell of burned circuits mingled with burned flesh, choking back her gag reflex.
Jemma felt herself become heavy, unable to move easily. She had no idea what to do. Turning her head was an uncomfortable strain and reaching up was a serious effort. It was as if invisible hands gripped her, wrapping around her body. Oh no, she thought, centrifugal force. She was spinning, or rather; the saucer was spinning, as in way out of control. Bugger, she silently swore. The craft was spinning and plummeting into a gravity well – no pilot and no control.
Terror nearly overwhelmed her. She knew the end was near as the crash-cage snapped down over the top of her body; as secure and safe, strapped in her cocoon, as she could be. If the saucer made contact with terra firma, her mission would abruptly end. If she crashed into water, the end would be marginally less certain. Jemma could not decide whether to be grateful or scared to be in the dark, unable to see planet Earth rushing up to greet her.