Beyond the Black Part 4

Be sure to catch up on the first few instalments Here. “The crashed Voyagers’ ship is Chryl Seven?” Radley turned to Hicklepeck in disbelief. “You’re kidding, right?” “Not at all. You see, during my research

Be sure to catch up on the first few instalments Here.


“The crashed Voyagers’ ship is Chryl Seven?” Radley turned to Hicklepeck in disbelief. “You’re kidding, right?”

“Not at all. You see, during my research into the Voyagers’ travel, I came across an unusual astrological report.”

“Astrological, you mean astronomical?”

“No, it’s a very old report. Back in the earliest days of my people’s space exploration, an astronomer tracked an unusual gravitational anomaly. The records didn’t use those terms of course, but I was able to translate the ancient’s limited scientific understanding—”

“Get to the point, Hicklepeck.”

“But…oh, alright. I was able to determine that the anomaly was the birth of a planet on the edge of Chryl space. Given the timing, I theorize that this world was spawned by the excess running of an early graviton engine.”

“You theorize?”

“That’s why I had to come out here, to test my theory.”

“But if you’re right, wouldn’t someone else have noticed this extra planet by now?”

“I don’t know, but the odds are against it. It was long enough ago that by the time most species got around to mapping Chryl space this planet was probably already here, at least in some form.”

“What about the Chryl?”

“It depends on how aware of their system they were at the time. But maybe, the wreck is still down there, undisturbed for all these years.”

Radley ran a quick scan of the oncoming gas giant. “I wouldn’t say ‘undisturbed’. That atmosphere is so dense the scanner can’t even get a read on the core.”

“We’ll have to get closer.”

“How’d I know that was coming? Hold on.” Radley gave a quick reverse burst with the thrusters, angling the planet-hopper to pass the upper pole of the planet.

“How long until we enter the atmosphere?”

“Are you crazy? I’m not taking us into that. Let alone blind.”

“But if it’s really down there—”

If there’s a ship down there we can talk, but not until then.”

“I suppose that’s fair.” Hicklepeck’s scales faded to a muted blue.

Radley ran several pulse scans of the various moons as they approached. None of them picked up any signs of a Chryl base, but there wasn’t much data in such a short scan. On the other hand, there was less chance of them being picked up by Chryl either.

He waited as long as he dared before he performed a deceleration burn to insert them into a close orbit.

Hicklepeck paced the deck as Radley ran more pulse scans. “Was I right? Is it down there?”

“I still can’t get a reading that deep. But I am picking up unusually high levels of oxygen and nitrogen for a gas giant.”

“Are you saying that atmosphere is breathable?”

“No, I’m just saying there’s a weird combination of elements.” Radley winced. “Which could be caused by a ship leaking atmosphere.”

“You mean…?”

“I’m just saying it’s one explanation. Don’t get your hopes up yet.”

Hicklepeck’s scales brightened to an iridescent blue. “We have to go in. At least far enough to know for sure.”

Radley glanced out the viewport at the swirling gasses below them. He hated to admit it, but the Filtonian’s story had piqued his curiosity.

Could a ship really birth a planet?

With a sigh, he unhooked his harness and turned toward the emergency supplies. “It’ll be a rough ride. Let’s see if we’ve got a pressure suit that will fit you.”

“There’s no need, I brought my own.” Hicklepeck pointed toward his luggage. “I knew where we were headed.”

“You’re not as useless as you look.”

They took a few minutes to suit up before Radley eased the planet-hopper into Chryl Seven’s atmosphere. Swirling winds rocked the ship violently. Radley gradually increased the cabin pressure to ease the strain on the outer hull as they descended.

“Anything?” Hicklepeck spoke through his suit’s speakers.

Radley checked the scanner. “Not yet.”

They staggered as another gust threatened to split the small planet-hopper.

“Take over.” Radley transferred the scanner controls to Hicklepeck’s station in order to focus on navigation.

The next few blasts were smoother, as Radley turned the ship to better meet them, but the swirling gasses were unrelenting, and the deeper they went, the greater the pressure on the hull.

“We can’t take much more of this.”

The Filtonian said nothing, keeping his eyes fixed on the readouts even as the planet-hopper shuddered around them.

A light flashed on Radley’s display, indicating the pressure was growing too great for the outer hull. “That’s it, I’m taking us out.”

“Wait, I’ve almost got a read on the core.”

“If we stay much longer we’ll be stuck here.”

“But we’re so close.”

“There’s nothing down here. You were wrong.”

“No, it has to be.”

The planet-hopper lurched as another wall of atmosphere struck it from above.

“That’s it, we’re out of time, Hicklepeck.”

The Filtonian let out a low-pitched burbling sound.

“Hicklepeck!” Radley risked glancing away from his controls.

His companion gestured wildly at the display in front of him. “There! I’ve found it. I’ve found it.”

“Great, log it in the system, we might be able to get closer with coordinates.” Radley pulled the planet-hopper sharply up.

“What? No, we have to go to the ship, there’s no telling what knowledge the Voyagers might have left in it. That ship could change how we understand the cosmos.”

They rocked again.

“Anything that’s survived this long will last another day, but we won’t if we don’t get out of this atmosphere.”

“But—”

Radley turned to face Hicklepeck. “Nothing changes if we die down there with them. If we regroup we might be able to get a better look later. If we let the winds rip this ship apart we’ll get nothing.”

After a pause, the Filtonian nodded. “You’re right, I’m sorry. I let my excitement get the better of me.”

“We can try again after I have time to make some repairs.” Radley guided the planet-hopper up above the last cloud layer.

And right between two Chryl gunships.

To Be Continued…

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