Day 120. 162 pages, 74,076 words. Finished.
(for a total word count, in the paperback template for Greyblade, of 706 pages, 199,366 words, at a deadline ten days shorter than Bad Cow. More metrics to come later)
They were still quite a long way out when it became obvious that they were going to crash.
“I’ve checked the numbers eight times,” Lelhmak said in frustration. “We’re going to hit the atmosphere too fast and before completing our turning and braking. We can dump speed, brake harder and complete our manoeuvres, but the planet isn’t going to wait for us to do that. The optimal result I can arrive at still leaves us coming apart to some degree or other on the way down. I think it’s survivable, but ‘survivable’ is going to take luck, not piloting.”
“Could we radio the humans for assistance?” Predericon asked without much hope.
“Are you out of your mind?” Lelhmak snapped. “They’re almost completely landbound. I guess we could ask them to go and spread pillows for us at the impact site-”
“Can we call it a landing site?” Gyden asked.
“Not with these numbers,” Lelhmak replied grimly. “And besides, if we contact them they’re just as likely to shoot us out of the sky as come to our aid.”
“‘Just as likely’?” Gyden echoed.
“I’m trying to think positive,” Lelhmak said. “Apparently that’s going to be the deciding factor in this debacle.”
“Why didn’t we spot this in time to make corrective actions?” Predericon asked as even-handedly as she could.
“To be fair to all of us, it looks like we would have had to’ve spotted this as we rounded Jupiter,” Gyden replied. They’d taken to using the human names for the planets of the solar system that they’d managed to piece together – although they still preferred ‘Lelhmak’s Moon’ to ‘Europa’. Nevertheless, the familiar Roman names for the assortment of Gods in the human pantheon was reassuring. At least some things hadn’t been lost over the centuries, even if humanity seemed to have forgotten the origins of many of the names. “And we didn’t know much about the atmospheric composition or orbital speeds then, so it still would have been guesswork and luck that got us down in one piece. Added to that, the computer is still trying to apply base assumptions to the physics – flatworld base assumptions.”
“Alright,” Predericon said. “I guess we’re crashing. What can we do to optimise our chances of survival?”
“I’m already making the attitude and velocity adjustments I can without leaving us suffocating while the planet dwindles in our rear viewscreens,” Lelhmak said. “The rest is a matter of bracing for impact, maybe working on a fallback to ditch just before we make the final descent. We could parachute down, dump as much velocity as possible, and hope to bounce a few times and come out of it with minor injuries.”
“We don’t really have anything to make parachutes out of,” Predericon said.
“True,” Lelhmak conceded. “We might be able to prepare by removing some of the interior hull shielding and making braking boards from the panels. Wait until we’re through the first few layers of atmosphere and have slowed as much as possible, then jump out and-”
“And air-surf to the ground?” Predericon finished in disbelief.
“We’re not going to shed all our speed but at least maximising our surface area and hitting the dirt by ourselves might be slightly safer than hitting it while wrapped in a metal coffin,” Lelhmak pointed out.
“Who are you?” Gyden exclaimed.
“Look, I’m just thinking of ways to minimise our chances of being killed,” Lelhmak said, “not eliminate them entirely. Air-surfing is still fantastically dangerous without parachutes or…” he paused.
“Or?” Predericon prompted with a sinking feeling that had nothing to do with the planet slowly growing in their viewscreens.
“Or jets,” Lelhmak said. “We take the air processors and dismantle the attitude jets after final manoeuvres, and we use them as velocity control-”
“You want to air-surf to the ground using cobbled-together jetpacks now,” Predericon said.
“Or we can pack ourselves together in the last compartment projected to hit the surface,” Lelhmak said, “with as much of the food, water and compressed air as we have left and can fit around ourselves to distribute the impact, and hope we don’t wind up mashed to a collective pulp.”
“That’s what you’re worried about, isn’t it?” Gyden said in amusement. “You can’t bear the idea that we might end up being crushed and having all our juices and things mixed together.”
“Frankly I’m a little worried that you can bear the idea,” Lelhmak huffed.
“Oh, I don’t like the idea of dying,” Gyden said, “especially since the Destarion won’t be able to put me back together this time … but if we have to die, it doesn’t matter if we do it together or separately, does it? As long as it happens fast and with a minimum of pain. To me, dying is the worst that can happen. Dying grossly isn’t really a concern.”
“More proof, if any was needed, that you’re no true phobe,” Lelhmak said in tones of injured dignity.
“I don’t see why we can’t combine these approaches to optimise our chances, like you were saying,” Predericon suggested. “We’re already basically using the Speed to air-surf through the majority of the atmosphere. Can we ditch at a certain point and try to decelerate further? Or distance ourselves from the wreck at least?”
“Whatever we intend to do, we’ve got about a week to prepare for it,” Lelhmak remarked.
The Earth-planet grew steadily larger ahead.
– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while on the bus.