Pendulum Ch. 14: Transporter

The boat floated out of the hangar and into space without a sound. Unlike the Tuatha De Danann, the transporter had actual windows. There was no way to tell their position within the Milky Way, though. Gliese 667 wasn’t far enough away from Earth to completely change how outer space looked. Star density, general shape of the galaxy, all these things were almost identical with their perspective. Only experts would notice the slightly wrong constellations, and Deirdre was none.

Sixteen hours was a long time. Looking out the window wasn’t very eventful, and the charm of their new environment wore off quickly. Stars Gliese 667 A and B were far away. The distance made them seem small. On the cosmological scale, they were close together, orbiting each other, even though that movement was way too slow to notice in real-time. As the little transport ship came closer, star Gliese 667 C came into sight. Its size didn’t seem to differ so much from Sol, even though it was objectively smaller. It wasn’t yellow like its sister stars, glowed in a deep, vibrant orange, and it was way less bright than the sun at their destination.

Unlike Earth, planet Gliese 667 Cc wasn’t blue. There were bodies of water down there; though no oceans, and the surface of the planet was a mixture of reds and browns.

The closer they came, the more details they could make out from space. Enormous clouds drifted over the sky, covering and revealing features of the landscape like mountain ranges, large rivers, of which there were a vast amount, and large lakes. It was impossible to see details yet.

“Do you think there is life on the planet?” Deirdre asked.

Adams looked up. He had dozed off, but not really fallen asleep.

“Hard to say.”

She let her gaze rest on him for a moment, and out the window again.

“There seems to be water down there. I wonder if we’ll find animals, too.”

“I really can’t tell from space. We have to get a lot closer. Even if there is no life at all down there, as long as the conditions are right, we can settle on the planet and migrate life forms from Earth.”

How might that work? Bringing plants and animals from home would lead to a very similar biosphere, at worst—if they could even survive on the planet. The high gravity worried her. If they had to import life from Earth, it would have to be genetically redesigned to withstand the conditions down there. This was about the extent of her educated guesses.

“I don’t think we will have to bring in life forms, though. This is an old star system, and erosion patterns are telling me that the planet itself is relatively old, too. It looks promising. I can’t tell for sure, but I’d be surprised if there was no life at all here,” Adams said, with a slight smile she couldn’t read.

Deirdre dozed off several times, too, without noticing. A message from the pilot’s cockpit woke her up after only a brief nap. The planet filled the complete window, didn’t even appear to be a ball anymore.

“All right, get ready. We will enter the atmosphere now and go down as far as possible. You have about five minutes to prepare yourself.”

A service robot came to life. It moved over the ground quickly, picked up several of the equipment pieces they had connected with parachutes, and transported them to the airlock.

Deirdre and Adams got up and checked each other’s parachutes as well.

“Wanna go first?” Adams asked with a nervous smile.

She shook her head. No, she didn’t. But maybe it was best if she did. Without the pressure of watching eyes on her, she might not have the strength to follow him after all.

“No. But I will. And if I won’t… push me out the door.” She smiled a nervous smile and coughed.

“Don’t worry, leave it to me. Plunging people to their death is my speciality.”

Adams stood up, stretched his body and checked the equipment and the parachutes. He nodded, satisfied several times, and she dried the sweaty palms of her hands on her suit. Repeatedly. She hadn’t even jumped with a parachute while on Earth, and this here was completely unknown territory. An environment with possible life forms that could kill her on contact if she was unlucky. Or she could fall into a lake full of acid and dissolve within seconds. Or the parachute could rip and she’d end as a small, red dot on the ground. Anything was possible. Well, maybe not anything, and surely the pilot would drop them over an area that looked safe, but still. Gravity would pull her down much faster, too, wouldn’t it? If so, was her parachute designed for this? There was no way they would drop them off on an unknown planet without making sure they would survive the fall. Or would they?

“Don’t be such a drama queen,” she scolded herself.

Adams looked at her and raised an eyebrow. She shook her head and smiled.

“Don’t mind me.”

He was already busy with his equipment again, but she caught curious glances from their other team members, who she had paid no attention to so far.

The robot just transported the last piece over to the airlock, then returned to his old position by the wall and deactivated itself.

Static noise followed again by the voice of the pilot.

“Looks like you are ready. I will open the outer lock now, get ready to drop the equipment, but be careful to not fall out while doing it. Good luck.”

A metallic clank told her that the outer hatch was now unlocked. Adams looked up, walked over, grabbed the handle, and pulled the door open just a little. Nothing happened, and he entered the antechamber. He looked at Deirdre.

“Don’t worry. I got this. You stay over there for now. I will tell you when I’m done here.”

Deirdre nodded. She wouldn’t move a centimetre. She’d stay right there and watch.

Piece after piece, the equipment fell down towards the surface of the planet. From her spot at the window, she could see some of them, and their falling speed seemed much, much too high.

Adams looked at her again. “I’m finished. So who’s next?”

Her stomach felt like a clenched fist. Her heart rate went up, and she trembled slightly, but she wouldn’t show him her nervousness.

“I’m ready when you are.”

He smiled, then took one step back, as if to make room for her to pass. She got the hint.

“Just a second. Let me make sure everything is alright.” This was such an obvious excuse, and he’d see it for what it was, but she couldn’t help it.

The xenobiologist nodded, as if he understood her feelings. Maybe he actually did. He would jump as well, and even if he didn’t seem to be a nervous wreck like Deirdre, he wouldn’t look forward to it either.

The ghillie dhu marine stepped up first. Her slender frame, that made her seem to be anything but a soldier, filled the opening of the hatch as she looked down on the planet. Her silhouette vanished.

The fir bolg was next. The physician grabbed his bag and stumped to the hatch without so much as a word. He stared out of the opening, as if hesitant, and maybe he was. A few long seconds passed, but he eventually took the plunge.

Corporal Hill exhaled audibly. It was more than obvious that the man had felt uncomfortable with the Aes Sidhe around. How could someone like that do his job on board a closed environment with members of the Otherworld? No, she would not make hasty judgement calls. Maybe he had been nervous for other reasons. He stumbled forward and almost fell out of the hatch, but caught his balance before he did. He, too, stared down at the planet for way too long before he finally let go of his handrail and disappeared below them.

There was no way for her to drag it out much further. She stood up, walked over to the airlock, and the wind grabbed her slender figure. She looked at Adams one last time.

“Please tell me everything’s alright.”

“Everything’s fine. I’m right behind you.”

Deirdre hesitated for a moment and nodded. She disconnected the safety line. The slipstream would have grabbed her and thrown her out of the airlock immediately, but Adams held her arm. She was thankful for him stabilising her. Took one step closer to the hatch, then another. He let go, and she sailed out of the airlock, into the twilight of the early morning, dropping like a rock. Or rather, like a cannonball fired at the planet.

A static sound crackled inside her helmet, then a voice. The pilot.

“Your system will give you a notification when you are ready to engage the parachute. Once it comes, you will have thirty seconds to push that button. Don’t wait too long, you don’t want to land at high speed. You’ll have to stay on the planet for several days without help, while I get back to the ship and have this boat repaired, so I can actually land and pick you up again. That means you will be on your own for several days, and that won’t be fun with broken bones, or worse.”

Well, thanks, much appreciated. The faerie wasn’t wrong, but he could have phrased it in a less unsettling way. Deirdre stared down at the surface of the planet. Did the ground really come closer? There was no way to tell. She had no idea how big things were down there, so the perspectives were very confusing. The wind outside her helmet was loud enough to suppress the sound of her heartbeat, but it drummed violently inside her chest.

Her system’s interface showed her current altitude. The number shrunk rapidly. Deirdre had nothing to compare it to, no idea whether these were normal values for her velocity. It didn’t matter, anyway. She was in free fall now, no way to turn back. Parachute jumps on high-G planets were not what she had signed up for. She clenched her teeth and swore.

A notification icon appeared on her system’s home screen overlay. It pulsed in dark red, like an error message, but this was not an error. It was the signal for her to push the button and engage the parachute. From one moment to the other, her body refused to obey her. She would have to press now, or she would fall all the way down and smash into the ground, but she couldn’t move a finger. Her heart raced, and sweat ran into her eyes. She had to push the damn button now, but she still couldn’t move her hand in the slightest. She couldn’t move anything.

Static noise again, then Adams’ voice.

“What are you waiting for, Deirdre? Push the button.”

She couldn’t even answer. Her throat was tight. Not a single word came out. There was just her now, the sound of the wind and her heart hammering against her throat.

“Deirdre? Relax. Close your eyes. Breathe in, breathe out.”

She barely listened to the content of the words, but the calm voice had the intended effect. She closed her eyes, breathed in, and counted. One, two, three. She opened her eyes, pushed the button, and exhaled.

The jerk was violent, but her parachute unfolded properly, and she drifted towards the surface, slowly now.

“Well done, lieutenant. I was worried for a moment.”

She giggled.

“I might or might not have pissed myself.”

He laughed.


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