By Matt Lao
“Do you ever think anything through?” Talon’s eyes fell to the ship’s floor, darting around as if looking for rodents.
“To be perfectly honest, I-”
“What if you died out there? Orion can’t save you out there. I can’t go out there.”
“If I told you what I’d planned, would you have let me go?”
“That is not the point,” Demora scowled.
“You know you can’t-”
“Stop. Just, stop.” Talon and Demora exchanged glances, sharp and cutting. Another smile sprouted upon Vert’s face.
“You two are downright adorable.” In a flash, Demora hid her face and began fidgeting with the Endurance, probably worrying over nonexistent excess neutrinos and asteroid dust. Talon wandered over, sat down adjacent to the deserter and polished his cannon with the tattered remains of his cape.
Talon rested at the pilot’s helm, silently observing the Endurance’s intended destination. Devoid of motion, his eyes darted from one corner of the ship’s viewport to the other. Behind him slept Vert, lying down across the cabin seats and incessantly snoring. Opposite of Vert, Demora sat. Her eyes closed, her legs crossed. The engine lullaby of the ship had tranquilized its passengers for the moment, at least. The planet now took up over eighty percent of Talon’s view. From his position, the planet’s meteorologic characteristics could already be observed. The gunslinger took in a useless breath.
“It’s time,” Talon announced as he turned to face his team. “Hold onto something.” Demora’s emerald eyes sparked to life, her palms collapsing into tightly-knit fists. Vert responded to the call to action with a series of nasal bellows. Vexed by Vert’s incompetence, Demora pointed her finger at him and sent a small current directed to him. After another painful wake-up call and a somewhat childish yelp, Vert was more than eager to express his frustration.
“The hell did ya do that for?” His face was contorted by either pain or personal offense.
“Buckle yourself in. I refuse to be responsible for your lifeless corpse flying around this cabin once we hit the atmosphere.” Demora refused to even look in the raggedy scoundrel’s direction.
“Well. Ain’t that just adorable? Didn’t think you’d come around to likin’ me til after I’da saved both of yer sorry behinds.”
“Do not even think for a moment that I actually care for a single cell in that putrid body of yours. I would just prefer you to not become an airborne projectile that could potentially harm me or my partner.”
“Who cares? Death’s just an inconvenience for us.”
Talon quickly interjected. “One: losing a finger is inconvenient, but you wouldn’t want me to cut one off of you. Two: your Pyre is… dead.” At the arrival of this news, Vert’s eyes quickly met the floor. His shoulders rolled forwards as he slumped into his seat. Silently, Vert strapped himself in. Talon and Demora did the same. “This is the hand we’ve been dealt,” Talon mumbled.
The Endurance pierced the thick yolk of the planet’s thermosphere. The ship trembled and reddened; excited gas particles burst and flayed against the outer bulkhead. Without the grace of an eagle, Talon’s ship tumbled through the air like a directionless stone. Immense g-forces weighed down upon the three castaways, forcing both Vert and Demora to the edge of consciousness. Talon however, was nearly unaffected by the extreme motion of the ship. Though wishing he could somehow help his companions, Talon knew his only option was to survive. He could help after they’d landed. After they’d crashed. For now, all he could do was sit back and enjoy the ride.
Talon knew in his mind how loud everything was just before impact. Loose molecules bounced and tumbled around the inside of the ship, the outer bulkhead was practically boiling, and the pressure differences caused the inside cabin’s oxygen to scream. Despite the pandemonium ensuing around him, Talon could have believed that there was absolute and unforgiving silence.
With a force more rattling than a thousand freight trains colliding with one another, the Endurance struck the ground.
The impact had spurned a crater nearly three times the length of the ship. The Endurance had landed belly-up upon the rockface. Still strapped into the pilot’s chair, Talon’s vision could finally rest on a still image—though the resolution only seemed to be half as it used to be. Evidently, a renegade piece of his ship the size of a small pen had broken off and lodged itself into one of Talon’s artificial eyes. He quickly unbuckled himself and dropped onto the roof of the ship, inciting an ominous groan from the already battered hull.
Talon swiftly ventured towards his partner, still dangling from her chair. Gently, he shook her into consciousness. After releasing herself from the seat, Demora elegantly floated down to the floor, trying her best not to drop all her weight at once. She looked at her partner’s face.
“I wish you would stop letting that happen.”
“Can’t help it.”
“Here,” Demora lightly poked Talon’s face. “Don’t move.” Lifting her arm, her palm began to glow a faint blue. Seemingly of its own volition, the piece of metal began to free itself from Talon’s disabled eye. He winced.
“There. You look slightly less ridiculous.” She exhaled, slowly. “It is so difficult to move,” Demora noted. “Everything is so… Heavy.” Refocusing herself, Demora looked over to Vert. She had noticed that he’d also been knocked out by their violent orbital drop. Once unbuckled, the Knights lowered Vert onto the ground.
“Let him be for now. We have supplies to gather.” Talon’s voice maintained its same, steady and low overtone. He quickly began to rummage through the ship’s top cabinets now flush against the floor. Without looking away from his work, Talon pointed above and behind him.
“Check if our E-suits are intact.” Demora opened up what seemed to be a metal dresser, revealing two bloated, black suits which were secured in tight foam-like cutouts. Their helmets, akin to a bigger and more rectangular version of bikers’ helmets, remained clamped in place just above the suits. By each suit rested a gray and sleek plasma revolver, blue stripes lining the sides of their barrels.
“Good. Suit up.”
“And what of you?”
“You really think I need one?” Talon noticed Demora almost grin. Almost.
“And the dirt-picker?”
“Leave him. We’ll be back. Where do you think he could to run off to on an alien planet without a Pyre?” Demora slipped off her gaudy black robes in exchange for the loosely fit exo-planet fabrics. The E-suit hung from her body at first; she looked as if she a wore grayed-out sauna get-up. With the tap of a button seamless against her chest, the suit had seemingly shrunken in size to securely fit its host. After a few moments of calibration, the E-suit had materialized a thin exo-skeleton around her. Demora resembled a slick city-age hot-shot racer. Neon-blue streams sparked to life on the seams of her suit, low running hums indicating one-hundred percent functionality. Equipping her helmet such as to donning the ancient soldier’s heroic helm, Demora heard the rush of oxygen and a dozen other chemicals flood around her head.
“How do I look?”
“What was it called when kids played dress-up during the harvest season?”
Before their departure, Demora paused. She had frantically searched around the cabin’s ruins. Underneath the wreckage of what used to be the Endurance’s central data console rested two small and inanimate machines. No longer did their eyes shine like Earth’s sky. “Our Pyres. Are they…?” Talon trudged over to the inactive Pyres, and scooped them into his palms. Their ophidian frames were no longer neatly coiled, but instead were cranked and twisted in all the wrong directions. He looked over to his partner, and shook his head.
“When we step out there, we’re on our own. Don’t die—there’s no coming back.”