he Lexington burned through the upper atmosphere shedding heavy blocks of near-molten armoured nickel-iron hull. Trent Lucharge battled with the stick, firing those retros which hadn't melted yet, helping the guidance system to keep them level and nose up. The four thousand foot long ship shuddered and shook as it tore apart in the thickening atmosphere.

"We're about out of fuel, all the big guns have gone," Laney said. "The shuttle got wiped out when they tried to leave the bay." She peeled off her jacket. "It's getting real hot in here without shields."

"It's only going to get hotter," Trent said. "Are there any escape capsules left?"

"Two. Most of the crew got away during the last moments of the battle." Trent smiled. The Battleship Gallileo had come off worse. They had disabled the Lexington's main propulsion, but then a good hit had nearly split Gallileo in half and they'd nosed almost straight down into the atmosphere, burning up in moments. Lexington was lucky, their angle was low enough that they might even survive this. "You better take one," he said. "Send off a distress beacon too."

"What about you?"

He grimaced at her, clutching the shuddering control stick. "I'm riding her down."

"I don't even know why we're here, fighting over this world." Laney unstrapped and leant over to him, pressing her lips to his and holding.

"No indigenents, sustainable atmosphere. Get out of here."

"Good luck," she said, her face still a quarter inch from his.

"Get going."

"You better come find me," she said, and slipped down the companionway to the capsules.

Trent kept fighting with the ship as it continued to break apart in chunks. On his readouts he saw the capsule get away, flipping back from the main ship. He let go of the controls with one hand to grab a tracker. He stuffed it in his pocket.

The ship ducked, tipping and he punched buttons on the console, firing port retros and opening starboard hatches to ratchet up the drag. Back almost level. Deep in atmo now, forty-five hundred feet above the surface. The Lexington's skin was blazing hot, but the speed was coming down. Not many control surfaces left, but he did what he could, trying to arc back so he could put her down somewhere near the escape capsule's landing spot.

Three thousand feet, two point five. Almost all the readouts were dead now, but Trent knew that the green world had a breathable atmosphere and marginally above Earth-normal gravity. Nineteen, eighteen hundred feet. Assuming he lived through this at least he would be able to breathe.

Fifteen, fourteen.

He fired the aft turning retros, trying to bring the nose up more. All the forward nacelles were just slag now, so whatever he did, he was coming down hard.

One thousand feet.

Trent pulled his harness tighter.

Nine hundred. Eight.

He flicked the switch for the emergency foam.

Six, five. The cockpit began filling with aerated gel. Four hundred. He had no airspeed information. He didn't know how fast he was coming in. There were no outside feeds left at all, just the internal radar giving him his altitude.

One hundred feet.

The Lexington slammed into the ground flinging Trent against his harness. The chair's mounting ripped out and the chair, with Trent in it, went tumbling forwards through the foam. The ship bumped and bounced across the landscape, more parts breaking off as it went. The structure boomed and groaned with each new stress and impact, slowing, but tipping over.

He could feel the plates jarring underneath as the remains of the vessel slowed. There was a final shake and they stopped moving. He tried to hold onto consciousness, but it forced its way from him with blackness and stars and a slight feeling of relief.

Trent awoke aching. His watch was smashed, he didn't know how long he'd been out.

He released himself from the harness and struggled up from the foam, grabbing a console so that he didn't slide down the sloping deck. The ship still groaned and creaked as it settled into the soil, the remnants of the hull still cracking as it cooled.

Trent pulled the tracking device out and activated it. Laney was close by, perhaps only ten miles away. She must have been swept up in his wake.

He moved fast then. No telling what this environment was like. He grabbed a blaster and a couple of small pistols from a locker, then scrambled up a ladder to an overhead hatchway, hoping that the hatch wasn't fused shut. It clanged open and he stepped out onto the deck. The impact scar must have been five miles long, through tall dense vegetation. He heard something howling from nearby.

He tried the communicator, but there was no response. She could be unconscious, or her receiver could have been smashed. He tried to avoid thinking that she was dead.

Leaping to the ground, he began running across the spongey surface in the direction of the tracker blip. He fought his way through lianas and scrubby, leafy bushes, over fallen logs and muddy puddles.

Movement in the bushes nearby, and another unworldly howl.

After the second time he stumbled into a knee-deep puddle, Trent tried the communicator again. He got only static.

More movement, and a flock of birds rattled out of the nearby bushes, clacking and flapping just inches from his head. Some circled above and Trent saw their complex alien wing structures and odd feathers. Then they were gone, vanishing into another bush. Their rattling continued for a moment, then stopped, as if they had settled in hiding. Another howl, from the direction the birds had been fleeing. A crashing sound, like a tree being felled. Trent began running again.

The tree-toppling thing roared. Trent skidded on the ground. He turned to confront the beast.

Sixty feet tall. Upright like a carniverous dinosaur. Muscled legs and six arms with scimitar claws. A mouth big enough to fly a skiff into, lined with rows of jagged teeth like a shark. Above that, a dozen eyes like a spider.

The thing canted its head, looking at Trent. Then it leaned back and let forth a roar that made the trees shake.

Trent took the opportunity to resume his flight. He was still miles from Laney. That xeno-dino could probably run at a hundred miles an hour.

He leapt across another fallen tree. The thing was still roaring.

Weren't alien life forms supposed to be allergic to humans? That's what they taught in the xenophobe course in basic training. Different biology made everything suspect. "Don't eat the fruit or the leaves or the game," they'd said. "Treat all biologicals as is worse than the most lethal poison back home." Shouldn't that apply both ways?

The roar quietened and Trent slipped under a low tree heavy with dark leaves.

The forest shook as the beast lumbered after him. In just a few crashing steps it had made up the ground he'd gained. Trent pushed through another tree and fell into a stream. He rolled onto his back and pulled the blaster. As the monster came through after him he took aim at its eyes. He squeezed the trigger.

Nothing.

The creature's head tipped back again and it roared.

Trent looked at the charge meter on the blaster. The needle pointed at full. He couldn't see any damage to it, so he aimed at the open mouth and squeezed again.

Still nothing.

At least the pistols used good old-fashioned gunpowder. He fumbled for the holster, but it was empty. He must have dropped both of them in his flight.

Trent scrambled to his feet again and sprinted under the beast. He turned and crouched by a boulder at the stream's edge.

"Trent," someone shouted. Laney.

The monster turned.

He wondered how she could be so close.

She called again, "Trent Lucharge." The beast took a step in her direction.

"Shut up," he shouted. "This thing will eat you." It was already turning back towards him.

"It's okay, we've got it figured."

We? he thought.

Then a banshee screech came from the forest. The monster leapt in the air, landing in the stream just inches from Trent. It put its head down and raced along the water. After a hundred yards it darted off to the left, smashing through the trees.

"Well," Laney said, stepping from the forest and reaching out to help him up. "Looks like we got here just in time."

He took her hand and got to his feet. "Thanks. Who is 'we'?"

"Them." Filtering from the forest were a dozen or more multi-eyed hominids, dressed in tribal skirts. Their skin was dark and they had two tiny vestigal arms on each shoulder. They were holding spears and shields, and one had a kind of trumpet.

"Eight limbs," he murmured, then said, "I thought there weren't any sentients here?"

"That's what we were told, but I landed near their village. They've been following me, seem friendly enough"

"Now that I've found you I guess we-"

"You found me?" she said.

"I was tracking you." He held up the tracking device.

She glanced over her shoulder. "I suppose that it's picking up the capsule."

"Well, we better get back to the ship and radio for backup," he said

"You mean rescue."

"If you want to call it that. They will have our signal, but won't know we're alive yet." Trent heard another animal sound, a screech. Airborne. He jerked, looking up and saw a condor-sized reptilian bird swooping. He started to duck into the forest, but saw that the natives already had their spears poised. The bird saw them and turned away.

"Come on, let's find the ship then," Laney said. "The anthropologists will be excited anyway." The natives were already heading into the dense forest.

Trent watched them and started following Laney into the dark trees. "Well," he said. "The anthropologists can have it."


Originally published in the Static Movement anthology "Adventures in Other Worlds".


CONTENTS

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