FICTION: Hard Landing

The rocks pelted down around Kace, staccato little explosions in the speakers of her helmet. She slipped and slid, her eyes stinging from sweat. This is a hot world, she thought. Below her spread forth a mottled grey-brown valley. Far beyond those, dun-colored hills bordered a dark blue, jagged mountain range.

She scanned the valley with her helmet lenses: nothing. No sign of the other ship. She glanced over her shoulder at the smoldering wreck behind her.

Well now. I’m in a situation.

Kace had tried contacting the other ship already. Static crinkled in her ears each time. The controls had flickered after her hard landing, and shut off entirely. That wasn’t supposed to happen, she knew.

Still in a daze, she took long, careful steps into the gravel of the hillside. Her boots hissed down in the loose dirt, exposing red soil beneath. It reminded her of the huge sand dunes near the lake back on Earth. She was glad to be going down, and not up, at least for now.

Plenty of time to go get supplies later. Maybe, she thought.

There were three large boulders down to her left, and not seeing any other shade so close by, she skidded down to them. She stumbled near the end and fell on her side. But soon she clambered up and made her way into the crevices of the boulders. She sank with relief into the shade, glad to be away from the ferocity of the binary suns above.

She felt the surge of coolness inside her helmet, as the suit recycled her sweat. She leaned against the cool surface of one of the boulders. She felt just enough relief that she almost dozed off. Until she saw it.

On the side of the rock to her left, a long horizontal gash appeared. And inside it a dull orange something flickered. She pressed up against the rock behind her in shock. Then a small shift in the rock made her squeal, and she turned to look at it.

As with the other boulder, a slit glowed. Now there were two. Frantic, she stood, risking the hot sun again, and could see in the third boulder yet another opening. All three rocks were splitting in horizontal lines. And Kace could deny it no longer. She was looking at three huge eyes, and they were widening to look at her.

She staggered backward. The ground shook. She wheeled around to look at the valley. She could run for it, maybe. Or she could run back to the ship, and take her chances inside it.

The hillside rumbled and made her choice for her. A cascade of gravel tumbled down to her, and she fell onto her bottom and watched. Her ship was coming down to meet her.

Or rather, it was coming to the rocks. The rocks with eyes. That stared lidless and unblinking at her.

With her left hand she grabbed a gun from her utility belt and held it high. SHHH-WAP! The flare shot up.

Please see this. Please. Anyone.

Her ship slid down. She watched it warp and fold and buckle and pop, as something drew it under the shifting hillside. And then it disappeared.

But the eyes remained. And all she could do was wait, or run. Kace, under the heat of two stars, whose only relief had been the shade of boulders… which could eat a ship.

Dianne is the science fiction and fantasy author of Heliopause: The Questrison Saga: Book One and its upcoming sequels. She is also a science writer. web:

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