For no reason whatsoever I've decided to have a go at a Starbound fanfic. It will (hopefully) be a more realistic retelling of the main storyline. That means there will be some hard sci-fi elements like specific scientific terms and mention of certain concepts. It also means there won't be game mechanics like crafting things on an anvil or upgrading the size of a spaceship. Some caveats: - There will be bad language words. But nothing too harsh and shouldn't happen too frequently. - There will be no update schedule. Don't worry if there isn't an update for a month or something. Updates may happen quickly, though. - I may lose interest in this. I often write things only to drop them shortly after. However, I'll try my best to stay motivated and interested in this project. If I do lose interest I'll make a post and the story will be dead/discontinued at that point. There is always the chance I'll pick it back up, however. - I have no idea how long this may take to finish. - The chapters will be relatively short and the pace may be slow. - There will be minimal editing so there may be some typos and things but I'm not necessarily looking for critique. With that said, let's get to it! “Wake up...” “Ugh,” grunted Carina without opening her eyes. “Wake up you have overslept.” Upon hearing that Carina sat up in bed with a gasp, her eyes wide open. “Oh shit!” She quickly jumped down from her bunk and ran to her locker. She changed as quickly as she could but her leg got stuck in her uniform pants for a moment. With a grunt she pulled the garment on. Every second would matter if she wanted to make it on time. There was no time to brush her hair or teeth. She ran out of her dorm room. The dorm rooms on the main Protectorate campus were large rooms with six bunks and lockers. You were randomly assigned room-mates each year. It was to help broaden your horizon and help acclimate to different races. Usually peers were assigned as room-mates but sometimes upper- and underclass recruits would room together. All different majors bunked together to help build a sense of team spirit and so recruits could help one another. Carina's room-mates were: an avian named Necua, an apex named Takad, a hylotl named Suzu, a novakid named Octyl, and another human named Reed. It was not uncommon for different genders to share a room, though they had different bathrooms. This was, once again, done to increase exposure to different kinds of people and ideas to better shape the recruits into Protectors. Carina was in her last year of the six-year biology course and it was graduation day. Being late would mean at least a demerit and probably required cleaning duties. At least that's what the punishment was when she missed most of her 'Advanced Interaction of Nanotech and the Avian Circulatory System' classes. It would also delay her receiving an official assignment to a ship and crew. She ran down the hallway toward the door. With another swear she flung the door open and ran down the path towards the main auditorium. She almost ran into an underclass glitch who was sweeping petals off the path. “It is quite impressive that you can remain so serene when you are running so late. Well done, you,” said her P.A.I.A. “I'm not serene, I'm freaking out!” As she turned down the main pathway she overheard an underclass avian complaining about losing pixels to one of the vending machines. She distinctly heard him say, “Could this day get any worse?” If only that statement meant nothing. No one knew the horror that was to come in a few minutes. Carina rushed into the auditorium and quickly entered the seating area for graduates. She found her seat and sat down just as the opening statements were finishing. Leda Portia, the current Grand Protector, hadn't even taken to the stage yet. There was some applauding about whatever was just said. Carina joined in as an attempt to be less conspicuous about her tardiness. It was futile as nearly everyone in the graduate seating area saw her come in and take her seat. Carina thought she felt a small rumble but it was gone as soon as it appeared. She looked around to see if anyone else noticed but everyone's attention was on the stage. Leda Portia was approaching the podium. “My fellow Protectors … today we come together to witness the Protectorate grow,” said Leda. There was applause from all over the auditorium. Leda waved her hand for people to quiet down but had a smile on her face. There it was again. Carina felt a small tremor. This time it seemed others felt it too because there was some whispers running through the graduate seating area. “For over 500 years we have stood proud here on Earth, drawing together races of all kinds in the name of peace. Our task: to protect our fellow beings; to support, house, and educate those that seek our aid; and to foster accord between those that aspire to it,” said Leda once everyone stopped clapping. Carina recognised the speech. It seemed they gave the same one every graduation. “Today in the name of peace we welcome our newest compatriots and present them each with our greatest tool … the matter manipulator,” said Leda as she held up the device. Again there was applause. Leda smiled again and let the audience clap for several moments before again motioning for everyone to quiet down. Suddenly there was a loud rumble and a strong tremor. It felt like an earthquake. People around the auditorium were falling out of their seats. Pictures and tapestries were falling off the walls. Carina looked at her P.A.I.A. to see if it had anything to say but it seemed just as surprised. The shaking continued and seemed to be getting more intense. There was a grinding sound followed by several loud bangs. “Huh? What was that?” Leda said over the noise. In an instant she was grabbed by a large tentacle that came crashing through the floor beside her. She struggled briefly but was quickly pulled down the hole the tentacle created. Several other tentacles appeared, crashing through the walls and floor. Many people were grabbed by the tentacles as everyone panicked. Carina rolled across the ground only to come face-to-face with a metal support beam that had fallen in the earthquake. The room was shattering apart and several people were already dead from falling objects. The tentacles continued to appear and pull people away. The earthquake continued. Carina stood and looked around. With a chill down her spine she realised she was the only person still present who was not dead or injured. Or so she thought until a small trickle ran down the side of her nose. She wiped it away, surprised to see it was blood. She didn't recall getting hit on the head but everything was happening so fast it was all a blur. Acting on instinct, Carina ran towards where Leda disappeared. She peered down the hole and nearly fell in as another rumble shook the building. She steadied herself and noticed the matter manipulator on the floor. She reacted purely on her training and picked it up, knowing it would be extremely useful. “It is not safe to remain here. You must proceed to the shuttle pad!” said her P.A.I.A. Another rumble caused Carina to stumble and fall. A tentacle burst from the floor just metres away, showering her with splinters of wood. She acted quickly, getting up and running as fast as she could. The screams of the others echoed in her mind like a cacophonous chorus creating an even more scrambled mindset than she was already experiencing. She tripped and nearly fell over as she ran out the broken wall on the east side. The carnage outside was even worse than in the auditorium. Bodies and debris lay scattered everywhere as large tentacles broke through the ground, swinging madly. Carina felt completely numb, her mind unable to grasp what was happening. She ran, but was only vaguely aware of her legs moving. Adrenaline thumped in her ears as she pressed forward down a long hallway. The door at the end was sealed shut. “Scans show the room beyond this door has flooded. It would be best not to go in,” said her P.A.I.A. She quickly scanned the area, again relying on her training. Large beams and chunks of stone lay on the ground nearby, creating a sort of way up onto the roof of the building. The ground shook yet again, reminding Carina just what was happening. She felt like she was on autopilot, not fully able to focus herself. She quickly climbed up the debris and onto the roof. She ran as fast as she could again, hurrying to a nearby ladder that lead down on the opposite side of the building. A tentacle broke through the roof, holding a screaming person. Carina's mind only vaguely understood this as she ran past. The person called for help but the tentacle quickly disappeared back from where it came through. Carina hurried down the ladder and landed on the ground with another terrifying shake of the ground. The building she was on began to collapse in on itself, no longer able to stand after the tremendous damage. Carina continued toward the shuttle pad where she knew there would be a means of escape. Somewhere in the back of her mind she felt guilty for not even attempting to help anyone else. However, her self-preserving instincts were in full control. “The scale of this disaster is immeasurable; the destruction occurring is beyond my capacity to quantify,” said her P.A.I.A. If a computer could sound fearful it would have at this point. The ground shook again. This time Carina fell over and landed with an explosive breath from her lungs. It was a shock enough to make her come to her senses. She reeled around, looking at the destruction around her. It was indescribable. She froze, feeling the ground continue to shake. Fear has a strange way of affecting people. Some are driven to heroic deeds whilst others are frozen, their bodies unable to react. Carina didn't have time to ponder which one she was as her brain screamed to get up and run. The adrenaline coursing through her body made her shake as she slowly got back to her feet. She looked around again, completely dumbfounded at the sight of such wanton ruination of the Protectorate grounds. She clenched her hands into fists and felt the grip of the matter manipulator. She looked down, slightly shocked to see she still had it in hand. She quickly slipped it into its pouch on her belt. She shook her head as her brain continued to scream at her. She let out a cry and began to run again. Tears flowed down her cheeks like a cascading waterfall. There was nothing she could do except try to escape. How could she help anyone? She wasn't in the combat programme so had minimum combat training. She wasn't in the medical field either so couldn't tend to the wounded and dying. The words her P.A.I.A. said next caused the hot blood in her veins to run cold and she again froze in place. “You must leave this planet immediately.” She balked. She had to leave the whole planet? It wasn't just an attack on the Protectorate headquarters but an actual planetary event? Surely there was no way something could get past the Earth's defence systems. Not to mention there wasn't any known species in the galaxy that would even want to attack Earth. The florans attempted something a few centuries prior during the first encounter between humans and florans but it proved futile as the technology of humanity vastly out-powered that of the florans. The two species had long since made a relative peace. “You must leave this planet immediately,” repeated her P.A.I.A. It jolted her back into action. She ran again, the small hanger for the shuttle pad coming into view as she exited a corridor. The main shuttle pad was on the other side of the extensive Protectorate grounds. This auxiliary pad was for small missions. Normally only scout or similarly sized ships were docked there. Getting to the moon might be enough. The moon's vast metropolises were probably already well aware of the attack and were likely sending their military to Earth. Carina absently wondered if a true planetary attack event was even possible. Maybe her P.A.I.A. was exaggerated because it was overloaded by the current data. As Carina came into the hanger she was met with another terrifying sight. Tentacles wrapped around most of the building, preventing any ships from being able to leave. She ran around for a few moments trying to spot some means of escape. She doubted she could survive the trip across the grounds to the main shuttle pad. The sounds of the carnage continued to ring in her ears as she spotted a small scout ship still out at the dock. It looked a little worn, likely from its time in the radiation of space. Carina knew she had to get to that ship if she hoped to make it out alive. She quickly scanned the immediate area and spotted a small cargo hold. Perhaps something there could help her get past the tentacles. As she rushed over another tremendous shock-wave knocked her off her feet. “Please,” she whimpered as she began to crawl. Her entire body ached and her mind continued to ran a thousand kilometres a second. She stood when the trembling stopped. She threw open what was left of the door leading into the cargo hold. It was mostly empty. All she found of use was a heavily used Protectorate broadsword. She could use that to cut a path to freedom. She grabbed it with a renewed determination to flee. When she hacked into the thick tentacle she expect there to be blood and gore but instead she was meat with bright white meat inside. No fluids of any kind seeped out. She continued to hack away, grunting with every swing. “Please let me leave,” she pleaded. Finally the tentacle trembled and retracted some, opening a small enough space for her to slip through. She ran full force and didn't stop until she was in the ship's cockpit. Her eyes glazed at the variety of controls and buttons. She understood very little of it. She only knew how to pilot a small, one person transport because she had some classes on the moon in prior years. She began pressing random buttons in a vain attempt to escape. The shaking was less noticeable in the small ship. Suddenly there was a loud bang from the hull. Carina rushed back to the open door and quickly hit the button to close it. She didn't want any wayward tentacles to find her. She returned to the cockpit and tried to think of the controls for the transport. She recognised the button for take-off but wasn't sure if the pre-flight checks were finished. Normally there would be a ground crew in addition to the captain to ensure the ship was truly ready to lift off. Furthermore, there was a whole other set of checks before the ship could jump. Did she really have to jump though? She wasn't thinking clearly as she continued to press buttons. The on-screen navigation came up and showed the ship's last destination. It was somewhere near Jupiter if Carina's memory of coordinates was correct. That should be far enough away. The vast gas mines of Jupiter should provide some semblance of safety. Carina sat down and threw the thrusters' control into full gear. There was a loud tearing sound as she was pushed back into her seat. She tried to see just what the tentacles were and where they were coming from but Earth was already out of view. There was another loud bang as the navigation panel flickered. She pressed some more buttons but it didn't seem to do anything. Suddenly a red flashing light and small siren caught her attention. She was going forward with so much momentum that she was pressed into the captain's seat and couldn't turn her head to see what was happening. Suddenly she felt herself falling forward as a weird whining sounded from behind her. She looked around in shock as she realised the ship was about to jump. She scurried back to the captain's chair in an attempt to strap in but it was too late. The ship's FTL drive activated and she was throw backward. She hit her head so hard she was knocked unconscious. The first thing Carina noticed when she came to was the pain. Her head throbbed with every heartbeat. The next thing she realised as she opened her eyes was that she was upside down. It was only evident because of the orientation of the interior of the ship. The last thing she noticed was how cold it seemed. She floated there for several moments trying to forget what happened. The images of death and destruction clouded her mind and she felt hot tears forming. As she tried to blink them away she noticed several red globs of liquid floating near her. She quickly ran her hand over her hand and felt the wet warmth of blood. She silently swore to herself and swung her arms madly in an attempt to right herself. She had felt the weightless feeling of being in space before so she wasn't too shocked. What did shock her was how dim the lights were. Carina managed to orient herself in a somewhat upright position according to the ship and simply floated there trying to stop her mind from racing. What exactly happened on Earth? What kind of attack was it? Who did it? Why? How many people survived? The tears came again as she sobbed. The images in her mind were too fresh. There was no way she could talk about it when she met with the people at the gas mines. She pushed herself off the nearby wall and angled herself through the door. She made her way through the crew's section of the ship and into the cockpit. She looked out the window and saw nothing of interest. The view was always breathtaking in space with no atmosphere to hide the stars. It was lost on Carina as she continued to silently cry to herself. She looked at the control panels. All of them were off except the screen on the back wall with the flashing 'Offline' message. She frowned and looked out the window again. There was no sign of Jupiter. She pushed off the controls and headed to the rear of the ship where the cargo area was. She knew enough to at least know there were more windows there in scout ships. What met her eyes completely blanked her racing mind. Instead of the great gas giant she saw a blue and green planet. It looked a lot like Earth, complete with white clouds in the atmosphere. She could tell from her proximity to it that she was in high orbit. The exact position a ship would be after jumping to a planet. She stared for an indeterminate time before blinking away her tears. She quietly hoped it was Earth she was looking at and everything she remember was just a terrible nightmare. She knew that hope was futile. She finally tore her eyes away and made her way back to the cockpit. Again, she was met with no indication of her current location because all the control panels, including navigation, were off. “The ship appears to be off,” said her P.A.I.A. The voice startled her. She had unconsciously grown used to the silence of the last several minutes. “How do I turn it back on?” she asked looking at her right wrist. Her P.A.I.A. displayed a general schematic of the ship with some locations of interest like the cockpit highlighted. “Logic would dictate the main circuit was shut off during the jump to conserve power. Luckily the life support is still functional,” said P.A.I.A. That would explain why it was cold. The heaters were off as well. In fact, now that Carina looked around she realised most of the ship seemed to be off. Even the dim lights were flickering to conserve energy. But why would the ship conserve energy for a small jump from Earth to Jupiter? Carina froze in place. She wasn't near Jupiter. She was near a rocky planet she didn't recognise. It was clearly not from her home solar system. Scout ships were not designed nor meant to travel beyond a single solar system. Something was very wrong here. “P.A.I.A., where are we?” she asked quickly. “I cannot answer without access to the ship's navigation instruments.” The response made sense. “Shit,” said Carina looking around again in some feeble attempt to see something that could help the immediate situation. “What do I do?” “Logic would suggest you return power to the ship,” said her P.A.I.A. “Thanks,” mumbled Carina, already well aware of that fact. She looked around again before checking her P.A.I.A. It wasn't displayed but she knew there had to be a general manual for the ship somewhere. She pushed off from the captain's chair and made her way into the crew's area before beginning her search. She checked each of the four seats and any compartments she could find. Nothing. She hoped the cargo hold would have her prize. She pushed off the nearest chair and entered the back of the ship. She opened a cupboard and was greeted with several red cans strapped into place in the deep cabinet. “They appear to be food cans,” said P.A.I.A. “At least you won't go hungry.” Carina glanced out the window and saw a dark shape some distance away from the planet. She squinted and stared before her orbit took her to the far side of the planet again. What was that? It definitely wasn't a moon. She absently wondered if this planet had a moon. Earth had a good moon. The moon was the first thing humans colonised in the Sol system. In fact, it was one of the few true human colonies in the galaxy. Carina would often spend time at night looking at the lights of the cities coming from the surface of the moon. They were a contrast to the normal luminosity of the moonlight. Carina felt a longing to be on Earth again. She wanted to go to sleep and wake up on graduation day with nothing wrong. She knew that was no longer possible. She was now in some other system with a broken ship and no ideas how to fix it. She didn't even know if she could manage with the manual. She had taken exactly one engineering class because it was mandatory. She also had some basic ship repair skills and knowledge from her father who worked as a mechanic before he died in an antimatter accident. A sudden light-headedness swept over the young Earthling. Carina put a hand to her head and was reminded that she was, in fact, injured. She shut the food cabinet and looked for the bright marking of the first aid station. It was easy to spot even in the dim, flickering light. She opened it up and rummaged until she found a bandage and some analgesics. She knew how to work the injector pen and felt an instant wave of relief as the medicine raced through her veins. She carefully wound the bandage around her head where she thought was wounded. Some moments later she felt more at ease. She sniffed and looked back out the window. Again, the large shape in the distance came into view. Carina stared as long as it was in view. It was hard to tell but judging from the general shape but she had to guess it was a jumpgate. But jumpgates were practically ancient. Since the advent of the FTL drive they were rarely used. In fact, most of them around Earth were long since dismantled for scrap. However, it gave her a small amount of hope. It meant there was a way out of orbit and back home. If she could fix the ship, that is. “Damn it,” she said twisting herself so she was looking in the cargo room again. This time she noticed it. On the panel above the door was a thick tablet attached to the wall. She pushed off and grabbed it as soon as it came within reach. She fumbled with it for a moment and quickly turned it on. The manual came to life with a beep. There was a welcome screen followed by the input for search as well as a general 'Help' option. Carina quickly used the on-screen keypad to type in 'Power on' in the search field. Text flashed onto the screen. It was quite lengthy. She was so engrossed in the the text that she didn't realise she was slowly rotating back to an upside down orientation. She read it over, hoping it would also explain how to restore power after an emergency shut down. Luckily there was a whole section for the proper procedures for such things. The list was long. 'Power on after collision' 'Power on after refuel' 'Power on after jump' There it was! Carina quickly pressed her finger against the option and more text appeared on screen. This time there was schematics and images of the interior. She read it over carefully trying to understand some of the technical words. She stared hard at the pictures trying to understand them. She read over the instructions again. She silently nodded to herself and returned to the crew area. She located the access panel in the centre of the floor. She pulled it open and pulled herself into the maintenance area. She immediately felt the warmer temperature now that was no longer fully insulated from the ship's reactor. She looked around before noticing the large panel toward the front of the ship. She pulled her way along the narrow hall and stopped in front of the panel. She pulled up the manual again and read over the instructions. She opened the panel and was greeted with glowing green buttons and switches. The main power switch was slightly offset from the main components. She took a deep breath and pulled it down. Instantly the ship whirred to life. The lights grew bright and stopped flickering as the heaters turned back on. She heard several beeps come from the cockpit above. “Rebooting ...” said a computerised voice. Carina felt a huge rush of relief and a slight tinge of pride at being able to successfully complete her mission. She quickly closed the panel and pulled herself back out into the crew area. She finally had a chance to look at the ship's interior. It was not impressive. Cold metal surrounded her with lifeless colours. Even the crew seats were a dull black. She grimaced slightly hoping the bright lights would do more to cheer her up. The victory of restarting the ship was short-lived it seemed as there was a bang from the area below her. She froze and waited. Nothing else happened. She waited for several minutes silently praying nothing more would go wrong. Finally she closed the access panel and entered the cockpit again. The lights on the control panels were lit up and some were flashing. She recognised the navigation panel but it was still off. She turned to the display that previous said 'Offline'. It was now on with text speeding along on the screen. It appeared to be the boot up process was still running. Finally the text stopped and the word 'S.A.I.L.' appeared. There were a few options on screen. One of them was 'Run Diagnostics'. Carina knew that was the first priority. She pressed it and again text sped through on the screen. Finally the screen displayed an image of the ship with several locations highlighted red. Carina grimaced, not bothering to count them all. She touched the cockpit and the screen brought up a list of issues with the controls. 'Navigation Offline' caught her attention. She crossed her arms and slowly floated away from the screen. She looked out the window again, seeing the supposed jumpgate come into view again. “How do I fix this?” she asked no one. “Logic would suggest you check the manual,” said P.A.I.A. Carina nodded to no one. At the very least her P.A.I.A. made her not feel absolutely alone. She absently began touching the S.A.I.L. screen to read through some of the other issues with the ship. She froze in place when she got to the ship's reactor. 'Power at 27%' was flashing at the top of the screen. Was that enough power to use a jumpgate? She had no idea. She decided to assume the worst. There was no way her situation improved beyond now being able to clearly see. Tears began to pool at her eyes again, breaking off into droplets that floated away from her as she shook her head. Carina pulled herself back into the crew area and grabbed the floating manual. She began to search through it as she again rotated to an odd angle as oriented to the ship. After searching for several minutes she couldn't find a way to restart navigation she was able to do. It was simply too technical or required being on planet. “How do I restart navigation?” Carina asked. “The ship's navigation systems were damaged in our escape. We are currently in orbit around an unknown world. The ship is heavily damaged and we are unable to leave orbit,” said S.A.I.L. “I know that. I want to know how to restart navigation. Can you do it?” “Unfortunately restarting navigation after a jump requires the captain's code,” said S.A.I.L. “Damn it,” said Carina. No way to leave orbit? An idea struck her. She began to read over the section on landing sequences. Luckily the process was mostly automated. She gave a silent cheer and entered the cockpit, quickly turning to the S.A.I.L. She followed the manual's instruction and found the command to land the ship. Text flashed across the S.A.I.L. before there was a beep followed by a message. “No landing docks detected,” said the S.A.I.L. Carina pushed the screen again to retry. The result was the same. This was not a good sign. All inhabited planets in the galaxy had landing docks on planet now. How else were people supposed to get in and out of orbit? There should at least be something for small transports to and from the planet's moons. Carina restarted the search yet again and was met with the same result a third time. She simply stared. For each success there was another obstacle to overcome. Every time seemed harder than the previous. But Carina survived this long. She had to think of something. She looked back to the manual and read some more sections on landing sequences. One particular one stood out but she refused to read it. “According to your vital signs you appear to be hungry,” said her P.A.I.A. Carina couldn't even think of eating right now. “You should eat soon.” After several useless minutes reading over various landing sequence sections, Carina realised she did feel very hungry. She begrudgingly headed back to the cargo hold. She opened the food cabinet which was now lit up inside. She could read the labels on the cans. None of them sounded appealing so she grabbed one at random. She popped it open and ate the contents, silently considering her options. She had enough food and water to last some time but without a means of leaving orbit she was only prolonging death. Something had to be done. Something drastic. Carina stuffed the now empty can back into the cabinet and returned to the manual floating in the cockpit. She flipped through the sections until her eyes fell on it. 'Manual Landing' Manually landing is difficult. Blindly manually landing is insane. Blindly manually landing with no experience is suicide. But Carina didn't think about that as she carefully read over the landing procedure. It was daunting. There was a lot of technical explanations and terms. Carina did her best to understand them, constantly checking the control panels before reading over the procedures again. After some minutes she realised she had to just try it. The chance for dying was high but not doing anything was guaranteed death. The presence of the jumpgate and lack of landing docks suggested this planet was not often visited. No help would be coming. Carina only had herself to rely on. Just like when she escaped Earth. Tears began to form again. She quickly blinked them away. There was no time to dwell on those events. She had to focus or hope would be lost for good. If she could land, she might be able to find something on the planet to help fix the ship. She might even find people. The simple fact was: she had to do something. Landing the ship was the only thing. After spending ten full minutes reading and re-reading the instructions Carina nodded to herself. “S.A.I.L. display these instructions on the main screen.” The image flashed to life. Carina situated herself in the captain's chair and strapped in. She read over the instructions again. “It is not advised to land under these conditions,” said S.A.I.L. “I'm well aware,” said Carina as she her eyes went from the instructions to the panels in front of her. There were many controls and she didn't want to push the wrong thing during the landing sequence. as time. With a shaky hand she pressed certain buttons in a sequence. “S.A.I.L., deactivate the ...” Carina trailed off, trying to find the correct term. “Deactivate the orbital stabilisers.” S.A.I.L. flashed red. “Warning: this will destabilise orbit. Are you sure you want to proceed?” “Yes,” said Carina though she didn't sound very sure. Suddenly there was a rocking on the ship. Immediately the ship began to turn to face the planet head-on. Carina pressed some more buttons on the screen and the ship began to fall to the planet. A set of virtual controls popped up in front of Carina along with a lot of data like altitude and degrees of incline. “Run landing sequence 136?” asked S.A.I.L. “No, run 192.” “Landing sequence 136 is the normal landing protocol.” “But I need to steer so run 192,” said Carina, her voice still shaky. “Running landing sequence 192,” said S.A.I.L. Carina did her best to understand all of the information in front of her. She realised the planet was rapidly coming closer. She panicked slightly and quickly turned on the heat-shield. Carina wasn't sure how much time was passing as she descended but it felt like an instant. There was a beep and a warning flashed on one of the side panels. Carina glanced over and saw 'Entering atmosphere'. She braced herself but felt little resistance. She guessed it meant the planet had a thin atmosphere. Minutes past and the planet came closer and closer. Carina quickly checked her displays. There were no significant warnings as far as she could tell. She manoeuvred the ship's degree of incline slightly because she saw it was too steep. “Beginning descent protocol 192,” said S.A.I.L. It made Carina jump. She was so focused on the panels she momentarily forgot about S.A.I.L. “Your readings indicate a high level of stress,” said her P.A.I.A. “Thanks, I know,” said Carina sourly. “30000 metres to planet's surface,” said S.A.I.L. To confirm Carina checked the information display in front of her. It stated the same. She watched the digital projection of her descent for a few moments before turning her attention back to the instructions. So far so good. She looked out the front window and slightly marvelled as she came closer and closer to landing. She was almost fully in the planet's atmosphere and felt like her heart would beat out of her chest. She gripped the arms of the captain's chair and waited. The ship would have to be much closer before she could take over and try to manually land it. “10000 metres to planet's surface,” said S.A.I.L. This was it. It was time to steer the ship to a suitable landing site. However, Carina had no knowledge of this planet. Was it like Earth? Was there going to be a big enough clearing? She couldn't guess and had to just go through with it. It was too late now. She manoeuvred the ship to a ten degree angle from the surface and felt her incredible speed begin to slow. She looked at the outboard displays and saw only water under the ship. This was bad news. Could she do a water landing? Was the ship even equipped for one? Luckily, when she reached 2000 metres, land came into view. It was hilly and covered with trees. Carina braced herself. It would not be a smooth landing. Several warnings rang out and S.A.I.L. was saying something but she was too focused to hear it. She pushed the controls to what she remembered to be the correct configuration and with a heavy jolt, the ship touched down. It sped along the ground with a grinding noise. She had forgotten to extend the manual landing gear. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, the ship came to a stop. Carina felt her stomach in her throat and her heart race. Her mind simply refused to believe what just happened. “Landing sequence 192 successful,” said S.A.I.L. “Damage sustained.” Carina nodded mutely and unfastened the belts holding her in the chair. The gravity of the planet threw her off for a moment; it was less than Earth's for sure. How much less Carina could only guess. She staggered into the crew's area and promptly threw up. “You vital signs indicate you are sick,” said P.A.I.A. Carina wiped her mouth. “Thanks.” She stood with a deep breath and looked around. There was nothing new to see so she returned to the cockpit and looked out the window. If she didn't know better she would have thought she was looking out at Earth; though the green colour of the plants was off and the trees didn't quite look big enough. Still, she was now on planet. Whether or not she was safe had yet to be seen. “S.A.I.L., can you analyse the conditions on this planet?” “Calculating ...” It took a few moments. “The current temperature is 20 degrees. Atmospheric composition: 80 percent nitrogen, 19 percent oxygen, and 1 percent other trace gases.” “So it's similar to Earth!” cheered Carina. This was good news. She wouldn't need an EPP. “Do you detect any lifeforms other than plants?” “Calculating ...” Again, it took several moments. “Negative. No lifeforms are within my scanner's range.” Carina nodded out of habit and considered her options. The best tool she had was the matter manipulator. She could use that for numerous purposes, the most important of which was being able to open a pocket dimension and harvest materials. She also had the worn broadsword so she could defend herself if necessary. She headed into the cargo hold to see if there were any other tools available. She found a supply of flashlights and a box of flares. She took a flashlight and a few flares before returning to the crew area and securing the broadsword on her belt. She pulled the matter manipulator out of its special pouch and turned it over in her hand. “Shit!” “Vital signs suggest you are stressed,” said P.A.I.A. “Of course I am. This thing isn't charged,” said Carina with a defeated sigh. “There is a matter manipulator charging station located in the cargo hold,” said S.A.I.L. “Oh thank god.” Carina returned to the cargo hold and searched around for it. It wasn't hard to find. She opened the matter manipulator and pulled out the power cell before carefully inserting it into the charging slot and watching as it began to faintly glow blue. There was no way to know how long it would take. Carina decided it would be a good idea to eat and drink something to be at her peak strength before exploring the planet any. So she grabbed another food can and a water pouch. She ate slowly, thinking about what she might find outside. The scenery was fairly nondescript with the only thing of interest being the white trees. With an atmosphere so similar to Earth she had to wonder if the species of trees and plants were also similar. A thought occurred. “S.A.I.L., do you detect any kind of radiation?” she asked. “Calculating … radiation levels at 3.7 Sv,” said S.A.I.L. “EPP required for survival.” Carina again nodded out of habit and turned to the EPP suits in the crew's area. She tried to gauge which one would fit her best. After suiting up she decided to at least test what outside was like. Hesitantly she opened the airlock With a loud hiss it gave way to the outside. Carina cautiously stepped out and looked around. There was a trail of destroyed ground from where she landed. She frowned and looked around again. Although it seemed similar to Earth at first, now that she was standing outside it didn't feel the same. Carina picked a random direction and began to walk. Walking felt weird to her because the gravity was weaker than Earth's. It was actually kind of fun; it reminded her of walking on the moon. So far the EPP seemed to be protecting her. The status display on the face shield showed no warnings. She walked some distance and crested a small hill. The new view revealed a forested valley. There was a mixture of white and orange trees. Carina couldn't help but feel a sense of awe at the thought of actually standing on an alien world. “Your heart rate has increased,” said her P.A.I.A. “I'm excited.” “Noted.” Carina stood some time simply looking around the valley. She could see rocky formations on the other side and mountains in the distance. She couldn't tell if the white on them was snow or more trees. Did it even snow on this planet? Again, Carina felt awe at being on a different planet. She wished it was under different circumstances and couldn't help but think about Earth again. Tears began to form as the ruin flashed in her mind. They were burned into her memory and she doubted she would ever be able to forget such horror. A deep homesickness filled her and she sobbed slightly. She couldn't wipe the tears because of the suit. After crying for some moments she began to consider her long term plan. Should she stay on the planet and try to survive? With such a high radiation level it was unlikely she would be able to procure edible food or drinkable water. Carina had to wonder how the apparent jumpgate worked. Would she be able to jump somewhere more suited to survival? What about finding others? An intense feeling of loneliness swept over her. She hoped against odds that she might find some sapient life on the planet. She considered the jumpgate again, silently cursing herself for not paying enough attention in history classes to remember enough about them. They could be programmed to launch ships to specific coordinates but she didn't know how to do that. She also didn't know if it even had power. With a gasp, she realised she left the ship on and quickly headed back, not wanting to drain more power than necessary. There was no telling how much power was necessary to continue. She re-entered the ship and stood beneath the radiation scrubbers in the airlock until the timer went off. She quickly took the EPP off and rushed to the cockpit. “S.A.I.L, put the ship in stand-by mode,” she said. “Okay.” The sound of the ship powering down rung in her ears. She knew life support would stay on so she was still safe. Most of the panels in the cockpit turned off except the main display and the S.A.I.L. display. The lights also dimmed. She could hear the quiet hum of the main core but knew it wasn't draining at full power so she felt a little more relaxed. Carina took the time to sit down and think some more. The best option was exploring the planet some to see if there were any resources. Again, she doubted there was going to be anything edible because of the radiation but there might be some minerals that could be useful. At least being on planet meant the ship wouldn't be using power. It gave her a chance to rest before attempting to dock at the jumpgate and heading to a new location. She tried her best to remember coordinates of known planets but her mind blanked. She, of course, knew Earth's but deep down she knew she couldn't return there. Perhaps there would be a list of coordinates on the jumpgate that would show planets where she could survive. She wondered how many others survived the attack on Earth. Surely there were billions of others who escaped. Where did they go? The question of exactly why she was at this planet came to her mind again. Did the ship malfunction? Was that what all the noise was when she took off? A horrifying thought crossed her mind. “S.A.I.L., how damaged is the ship?” she asked. S.A.I.L. didn't answer for several moments. “Hull integrity is intact for space flight. Severe damage to heat-shield and outboard optics.” “Shit.” It meant she couldn't land on another planet. But that might not matter. If she could find a space station or outpost somewhere she wouldn't have to land. She could find other people and ships. But what were the chances of her finding one? She considered it. The jumpgate had to lead somewhere with people. If nothing else it would lead to another jumpgate which would lead to people. But how could she use the jumpgate? Carina wondered if the manual had any information on them. She got up and headed to the crew's area. She found the manual and noticed it was displaying a page already. She read down over it. It appeared to be the introduction to the ship. As she read she felt sorrow building. It mentioned things like the commanding officer and how your crew mates would always be around. When she read the last line she broke down crying again. 'And remember, graduate - wherever you may go, you will always have Earth to come home to.'