Creeping Death

I’m sorry everyone, but I failed to keep this story as short as the others recently. So it’s a longer one (roughly 15,700 words). Not going to say much about it other than they have a really rough time, the characters I mean, in this Sci-Fi story. So without further delay here is Creeping Death.

The Dorian Three, a colony establishment starship with flat dull grey angular lines that make it look as though several cuboids and cubes have been bolted together to form its silhouette, drops out of faster than light travel now that it has entered the fringes of a system dubbed Parrus.

The exterior of the Dorian is not in any way smooth like most other kinds of starship used by humanity. No, instead its surface is a mesh of layered panels and semi-exposed sections of piping and conduit, all also grey, which keep the starship in working order. After all, the Dorian is not being piloted and sustained by people; no, the entire roughly forty person group of human lifeforms aboard are in a slumber within cryogenic suspension tanks that line the walls of a room deep within the core of the ship. Rather, the Dorian is piloted by an automated navigation and maintenance system. To call it an AI would be over ambitious as it has no ability to work beyond its pre-defined parameters. If it did what happens next would likely have never occurred, even though the likelihood of an asteroid being in the path of the colony establishment ship as it drops out of FTL are incalculable low, even for an AI to predict.

And so the Dorian and this unnamed asteroid collide. The impact is a marvellous spectacle, though there is no one there to see it. The layered plates of the starships hull rended and shredded by the solid bulk of the dull coloured asteroid’s jagged and misshapen surface along the point of first contact.

Seconds pass without any sign that the collision is near its conclusion. Rather, the asteroid and the starship continue to tear chunks out of one another. Though, the damage wrought to the asteroid will have little effect to its intended future, the same cannot be said for the Dorian, or to be more precise it’s colonists. They are unaware of the tragedy that is occurring around them. A more advanced starship might possess emergency cryogenic procedures to quickly re-awaken them, but that is not the case here and so the colonists sleep through the Dorian being forced off its intended trajectory. Its engines obliterated either by the crushing impact of the ball of space rock or the debris that is flung into them as they continue their burn.

The onboard computer system tries to counteract the devastation that it is acutely aware is decimating its mission, but it simply doesn’t have the dexterity or fortitude to accomplish what would be necessary to regain control of what is now a dead weight in space drifting across the Parrus system with a gaping hole that has drastically changed the shape and structural integrity of the rear third of the Dorian Three. If that were the worst of it then perhaps, if someone were aware, there could be a sigh of relief. However it is not and the initial impact is only the beginning of the horror.

The asteroid meanwhile manages to tear itself free after nearly a minute of mingling violently with the starship. As it does so it severs vital cabling that kills power to the computer system, thus making the Dorian a giant semi-operational ball of degraded metal that is now hurtling not to the fifth planet in the system, given the provisional moniker of Site A, but an entirely different planet. It’s a planet that very little is known about, other than to say that it was immediately discarded from being a candidate in the colony expansion program. No reasons for why were ever detailed in any of the public reports, which when you consider that the planet is a sizable world with an atmosphere, land, seas and mountains seems strange.

But with the asteroid and the starship having parted, and the asteroid carrying on its merry way now on a different trajectory, the Dorian soon finds itself in the unrelenting and unavoidable gravitational pull of the planet, dubbed Parrus Beta.

In truth, even if the onboard computer system were still operational along with the engines the Dorian would struggle to escape the pull of Parrus Beta’s gravity. However, as the starship tumbles through the atmosphere, building ever greater momentum, layered sections of the hull, already damaged in some way or another, are wrenched from their mountings only to end up liquefied in the searing heat caused that is normal when entering any planet’s atmosphere.

The flames tearing at the already compromised colony vessel as it begins to roll along its own axis, barrelling down toward a section of ground covered in green/brown vegetation similar to grass. If, of course, grass never grew to be no more than several centimetres out of whatever ground lies below it and blanketed said ground it in a manner that makes it look more like a moss.

With the Dorian now fully inside the atmosphere and the flames of re-entry having been extinguished by the limited gases found at the atmospheres highest reaches, the starship begins to shed large sections of itself. Somehow, during being buffeted by the searing heat the starship held together. In part as a result of the metals of its hull and exposed super structure melting to form new welds that stopped the vessel from shattering into what should have been at least four separate pieces. If it had the bulk of the starship would have remained intact, but now that melting heat is gone the weaknesses caused by the asteroid impact and the melting of structural supports can bear no more of the stresses being exerted upon them.

Spectacularly the Dorian’s rear fifth explodes, the fuel in the dead engines igniting as it leaks from its storage conduits. The flames though relatively brief turn that section of the blue-ish white sky brilliant oranges, yellows, red and somehow greens too. Sadly, soon after the flames reach the conduits themselves and explode the vapour still present in the tanks. Four explosions tear shuttle sized chunks out of the Dorian, which quickly fall away now that they are free from their origins. The shower of debris creates an arc of falling specks, many of which burn brightly, as they streak across the cloudless sky devoid of bird-like life.

The remnants of the Dorian, with its rear section now lost, have changed course once more as a result of the detonations and now see the front heavy wreckage plummeting toward the ground in a nosedive.

Inside, the contents of the starships battered carcass are everywhere. Anything that had not been bolted is now strewn haphazardly across every surface and swirls in the weightlessness of the freefall as the vessel plummets. Fires rage throughout as vital systems continue to fail, spark and ignite flammable pieces of the debris, which in some instances result in fireballs literally being held in mid-air by the centrifugal forces being enacted upon them.

Back on the outside of the Dorian ever more panels that had been the main plating for the hull are being torn free, left behind because of their lesser weight so they can spiral and dance as they fall slower and are carried on the winds. The wash being created by the Dorian results in an air void that kills any and all whisking motions of the debris if they so happen to end up cutting into it and then, as a result, drop like small shiny rocks in the wake of the colony ship.

The ground, fast approaching, can offer no remorse or mercy to the ravage vessel. It is rock, ancient and old beneath the moss-grass and soil that seemingly lies under that.

If the Dorian were sentient it might brace itself, but it isn’t and so can’t. Much like the colonists aboard, those that have not been crushed by the forces that sent them hurtling around the room as their cryogenic pods were sheered from their mountings.

Suddenly there is a high-pitched whine. It quickly turns to a shriek and then dies as an explosion rocks the Dorian. This explosion sees the vessel return to spinning along its axis as an entire section of the cryogenics suite is ripped away, the colonists cryo pods attached to that section withdrawn along with it, and tossed unceremoniously out and behind the rest of the starships battered and decayed mass.

Eighteen seconds later the Dorian slams, flat nose first, into the ground. The grass is eviscerated, the soil beneath forced aside, displaced and then thrown high into the air to rain back down again. Except that it does no such thing. Instead, it is flung forward as the Dorian manages to thrown itself end over end, slapping the debris, soil included, forward with it. Four seconds after that the rest of what is left of the Dorian crashes to hard ground. Again soil is flung up into the air as chunks of the starship rain fiery molten lumps larger than cars down all over the area along with the soil, which seems to fuel the myriad of fires that are dotted all over the hulls remnants.

Some of the guts of the Dorian have been spilled brutally in the form of ragged cables and spewing pipe sections across a wide section of one half of the craters basin. And there is certainly a crater. It’s fifteen metres deep and would have been more if not for the density and composition of the rocks that form the crust of this planet, which largely held out, after the first couple metres, against the full force of the starships faceplant into it.

There is no other way of putting it. The Dorian Three is decimated as are almost certainly all the machinery, technology and supplies it had been carrying, largely in its now missing rear cargo section. To make matters worse, of the roughly forty colonists that had been aboard the starship there are now maybe a quarter who’s pods have not be crushed, battered, lost entirely or burned by the decimation that they have been torturously forced to endure.

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