Beowulf Two. Approaching Galador III.
October 19th 2151.
There's something inherently amusing about a dog in zero gravity. After checking with Mayweather that they would have several minutes of uninterrupted straight flight, Captain Archer released Porthos from his cage to float freely about the hold. The little dog clearly loved it, his tail a blur. Soon a bizarre game of catch was under-way, with the passengers gently tossing the beagle back and forth. Everyone seemed to enjoy the experience. Even Dr. Locke issued a rare chuckle, and despite her queasiness Polly managed a thin lipped smile as the dog corkscrewed past her.
All too soon the word came down from the cockpit that they were about to enter the atmosphere. Porthos was returned to his cage. Crewman Scott reminded everyone to double check their harnesses.
It began with a whistling hiss, almost below perception. Quickly it built to a rushing howl. The landing craft began to shake, and gradually a sense of weight crept upon them. Archer looked round. The marines, perhaps unsurprisingly, seemed calmest. They talked amongst themselves, experience modulating their voices, loud enough to be heard amongst themselves without carrying to the others. Of course, they were used to travelling in this craft. Most of the UESPA people seemed to be taking it in their stride, though he noticed a few of them gripping the armrests tightly. The civilians looked most tense, apart from Locke, who's expression suggested boredom. Porthos was obviously upset, but calmed somewhat when Archer fussed over him. Partridge clutched a sick bag in front of her as if it were a talisman against evil. Her eyes were screwed shut, her teeth clenched. From somewhere she had produced a pair of earphones. Even over the roar of the atmosphere he could hear the music she listened to, though it was unlike any he'd heard before. It was loud, frenetic, with pounding drums and the wailing of unknown instruments.
He nudged her. "What is that?"
One blue eye opened, swivelling in his direction. "Metal."
That left him none the wiser. "What?"
"Metal!" she repeated, holding up a fist, index and little fingers extended. She pulled one earphone away from her head so he can hear. He listened for a few moments and winced.
"And that's what you like to listen to?"
She shrugged. "I figure it might keep me distracted. Or pulverize my brain. Either way I'm not noticing this." She gestured to the hold around them.
Sato's voice came over the intercom. "Ladies and gentlemen, we've got a bit of turbulence coming up. It's nothing serious and we'll be through it soon.
Almost as she finished speaking the craft gave a sudden downwards lurch. Partridge yelped with fear and grasped Archer's hand tightly,
"Sir! Sir! Can I change places with you sir?" Corporal James asked with a cheeky grin.
"If there's any way to swap, then yes. Assuming your pain threshold is higher than mine, that is." he grimaced. Polly's grip really was tight. With his free hand he prised at her thumb, trying to loosen it. She noticed his actions, looking down at her hand as if unaware of what she was doing, then released him with a muttered apology.
After a few more seconds the craft steadied in it's course, and the roaring dropped away, replaced by the dull thrum of the engines. There were relieved looks around the cabin. The intercom came on again. "We're just coming up on our destination, please remain in your seats. Landing cycle commencing...now
There was one last swoop, then the Beowulf lowered straight down, as if on an elevator. A sudden rattling came from below, grit and pebbles kicked up by the landing jets to rain against the underside. The craft rocked gently from side to side before settling, and the engines died slowly away.
Mayweather came over the intercom. "And...we're down
He said more, but it was drowned out in the sudden burst of applause and wild cheering from the passengers. Porthos, not understanding the situation but glad that the noise and movement had stopped, yapped excitedly and pressed his front paws against the cage's door.
"Patience, buddy." Archer said. "We've got to wait 'till we get the all clear before we unfasten---"
He broke off at the sight of Partridge scrabbling desperately at the buckle on her harness. As soon as it came free she leant forward, head between her knees, taking deep breaths and muttering "OK...OK...OK" over and over again, with the occasional "Sick as a dog." or "Oh god." thrown in for good measure.
"For crying out loud," Doctor Locke grumbled, "someone give her oxygen. Though if the damn flighty idiot took her medicine we wouldn't have all this palaver."
"Don't like the side effects." Partridge said, her voice muffled slightly by the oxygen mask that Salome Murray now pressed to her face.
"Side effects." Locke echoed. "Shouldn't be any. Psychosomatic, if you ask me. Can we smoke yet?" he added.
"Not yet." Archer said. "Let's wait until we get outside, shall we? Ah, on the subject of which, is it safe now Hoshi?"
Sato had just descended from the cockpit. "All systems are A-OK. I don't know if the scientists want to run any more tests, but you've got the green light from the flight crew."
Mayweather followed her down. "Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for flying Air Mayweather, and I hope you had a pleasant..." He trailed off at the site of the Professor. "That good, huh?" he said, his grin fading.
She lifted her head and shot him the best smile she could, under the circumstances. "Tolerable." she managed to say.
"Tolerable." he repeated hollowly. Archer recognised the reason. Mayweather's sense of self worth was heavily dependent on his skills as a pilot. Anything less than perfection was a terrible blow to his ego.
"Travis, where the Professor's concerned, 'tolerable' is high praise indeed." he assured him.
The blonde head cautiously nodded. "Yeah. This is the first time I've gone from orbit to landing without my lunch doing the opposite. It was a good flight. Really."
Mayweather looked slightly mollified, but not much.
Archer stood. "At any rate, we've got work to do. Is there any reason to delay? No? OK then, let's get this show on the road." He made his way towards the port side airlock.
Before he could reach it Corporal James began tugging at his arm. "Sir? Sir? You've forgotten something."
He blinked. "Have I? I don't think I have. What?"
Still in it's holster, an EM-33 plasma pistol. There was a magazine in the butt, a spare in the small pouch attached to the holster.
"Ah, no, corporal. No thank you. I'm not carrying that. That's why you're here, after all." he said.
"Very good sir." she said neutrally. "Now if you'll excuse me...Tipping, I want you on point, Grant go left, I'll go right, Dumont on over-watch. Standard deployment patten."
Archer held up his hands. "Whoah, whoah. What are you doing?"
"Getting ready to leave the LC, sir." LC was the marine term for the landing craft.
He shook his head. "No no. It's a Captain's privilege. I get to be the first to set foot on the planet. You can follow me, but I go first."
"Sir, UESPA Regulation 67-C. Quote. 'Armed personnel shall be present at all times on the surface during surveys of unexplored planetary bodies'. Unquote. Major Reed made me memorise it sir."
"That's ridiculous." Archer scowled. "That regulation only came into effect during the war."
"Yes sir, but it's never been rescinded. At any rate, as acting security chief for this mission, I must insist that no one leaves this craft unless there are armed personnel actually on the surface. So, Captain, either you take a gun, or you send someone with one out there first."
"That's ridiculous." he said again. "You do know I can over-rule you? Off the top of my head I can think of at least two different ways, both legal. There may be more."
She stood, hands behind her back, looking straight ahead. "Yes sir. You can easily over-rule me. This is my first mission where I'm in command of security. You can over-rule me. On my first command. Sir. It'll go on my record, my permanent record, that on my first, my very first
command, I was over-ruled. By a non-military officer. My promotion prospects....I don't want to even think
what that'll do to my prospects sir."
He stared at her slack jawed for a moment. "Are you trying to guilt trip
me into giving in? What are they teaching Marines nowadays?"
"To win, sir, using any weapons or tactics available. I should warn you now, if you continue to refuse, I will start crying. Real tears, sir."
Archer sighed. "Alright, you win. Give me the damn gun." He fastened the holster to his belt. I'm going to have to have a word with Mr. Reed.
"Just out of interest, corporal, can you tell me Regulation 67-B?"
"Haven't a clue sir. The Major only thought 67-C important."
"Hmmph." He stepped into the airlock, hitting the control to extend the gangway. "Alright, let's do this." he said to no one in particular, and opened the exterior hatch.
He kept his eyes closed at first. He always did, at moments like this. One, two, three steps took him to the edge of the ramp, not yet on the planet's surface. It was warm, almost uncomfortably so, but a cherry scented breeze provided pleasant relief. The rustle of leaves in the wind indicated their proximity to the forest they'd detected. The drone of insects, and a distant ape like whooping, showed that other life was present.
Eyes still closed he took a deep breath of the alien air and stepped forward. After so long on a metal hulled starship the slightly spongy surface felt very odd. Gravity was apparently slightly less than Earth, but he couldn't feel the difference.
Finally he opened his eyes. Trees! Real trees, so similar to the ones on Earth. Yet, on closer inspection, so different. Grass under foot. But not grass. Not earthly grass, something different, with broad, almost rectangular blades, and just a hint of blue in the green. In the distance, mountains. Peaks unknown to man. A whole world
unknown to man.
He knew he should give a speech, say some rousing words, but instead he just threw his arms wide and laughed with the sheer joy of it all.