Interlude: Falcon 419

A small group of mercenaries crash-land on an unforgiving planet.

Sirens blared. The instrument panel of the stricken bird bled crimson light all over the Falcon’s pilot. “General S.O.S. This is the IMS Falcon designation 419. We are going down on planet UE 85. Repeat, Falcon 419…”

His copilot slapped him in the shoulder. “Just fly, damn it! Nobody’s going to hear us out here, anyway.”

The pilot glared at him, but said nothing. He looked over his shoulder. “Better buckle in, Jacob!”

“Just fly the damn ship, Henson.” The grizzled old man chewed on his cigar, latching his harness in place. The ship started shuddering violently. “Can we breathe down there, Coop?”

The copilot looked over the readouts before him. “Air’s a little thick. We’ll manage.” The ship shook violently, tilting to one side. “Shit! We’re in the atmosphere.”

Orange-yellow plasma crept over the nose of the Falcon. The ship shuddered violently, rumbling loudly in protest. The temperature quickly increased.

Jacob screamed to be heard. “Are we gonna fuckin’ die or what!”

“Now’s not a really good time, Jacob!” Henson shot back. “You’ll know in a minute!”

The plasma attacking the front of the ship faded away, leaving the windscreen covered in black soot. Cooper flipped a switch and held down a button. A white electric field crackled briefly across the glass.

The soot broke free of the windscreen, showing blue sky and far too much green and brown land screaming by. “Pull up! Pull up!

“Shit, shit, shit…” Henson pulled back hard on his controls. The control panel rapidly beeped as the ship shuddered, beginning to wobble. “This is it!

The Falcon tagged a hilltop with its aft end, tipping it forward. It over-corrected, digging the aft into the next rise and tearing it apart. The front of the ship slammed hard into the turf.

It slid and jumped for half a mile, jagged rocks tearing at the ship’s underbelly. It crested a steep hill and ground to a stop on the sharp rocks. It rocked dangerously for a moment, balanced on a pin. the nose settled on the ground with a thunk.

Henson silenced the blaring alarms with a few key presses. Smoke began to find its way out of the air vents. “I’m okay! Jacob, Cooper, report!”

Cooper groaned. “I’ll live. Henson?”

“No, I ain’t okay! My ship’s in pieces and I lost my damn stogie!” Henson flipped his harness open. “Let’s get the fuck out of here. Grab pistols!”

The three men coughed as the smoke in the cramped cabin grew thicker. Jacob pushed on the hatch release. It buzzed back at him. “Hatch is seized!”

Henson pushed him out of the way. He entered a series of numbers on the keypad by the hatch. “Stand clear!”

The men pushed back against the far side of the cabin as the keypad beeped rhythmically.  It let out one long beep. Charges on each side of the hatch ignited, blowing the hatch out. It slid clattering several feet across the craggy earth.

They poured out of the exit, running clear of the ship. What was left of the aft end was burning. Black smoke billowed into the atmosphere.

Henson walked to the front of the ship, staring out at the surrounding land from the top of the hill. “Nothing.” He turned and faced the ship. “I don’t suppose you can fix that, Coop?”

“Yeah, I’m thinking no.” He pushed up his wire-rimmed glasses. Best we can hope for is getting it broadcasting a beacon and…” The ground underneath them shifted without warning.

“Run!” Jacob yelled. It was too late. The ground underneath them disappeared, replaced with darkness. They tumbled down a rocky embankment into a pitch black abyss.

The three men laid crumpled in the shadows, groaning. Henson touched his forehead and winced. His hand came away bloody. He spit. “Everyone alive?”

“I’m in one piece.” Cooper pushed himself to a sitting position.

Jacob rolled over, coughing. “I’m still here… unfortunately.” The ground above them began to rumble again. “Oh, come on!” All three men scrambled back from the rubble-strewn slope.

The Falcon dropped slightly and tilted downward. It slipped forward, steel screaming in protest against the rocks. It wedged fast in the hole that had opened before it, plunging the men into darkness.

Henson stared up towards the now-hidden ship. “What a day… What a glorious fucking day!” He screamed at the remains of the ship.

“Flashlights?” Jacob slapped at his wrist in the dark. “Mine’s gone.”

Henson replied in the dark. “Nothing here. Damn it.”

Light poured from Cooper’s wrist. “Hallelujah, money!” He swept it over Jacob and Henson. “Dang, boss. You got it good!”

Henson waved a hand. “Get that damn thing out of my face.” He squinted his eyes, waving a finger behind Cooper.

Cooper turned around and held out his hand. They were in some sort of cave. His flashlight was the only source of illumination. “Doesn’t look good. You suppose we’re trapped?”

Jacob stepped forward. A slight breeze blew across his face. “No. There’s a breeze. Gotta be an opening somewhere down there.”

Henson pulled his laser pistol from its holster on his thigh. “Arm up! We don’t know what lives here. Step up, Coop.”

Jacob and Henson fell in line behind a reluctant Cooper. He stepped deliberately, slowly swinging his light back and forth as he went. Their steps were lost in the cave, the walls absorbing the sound instead of reflecting it.

Cooper stopped. “Do you hear that?”

Henson frowned in the dark. “Hear what, Cooper?”

“It was like a hiss.” He listened quietly for a moment. “There!” A quiet hiss came from their right.

“Point your light over…” Something black streaked at Henson before he could finish the sentence. “Gahhh!” He fired his laser pistol wildly, striking Jacob in the arm.

Cooper pointed his light and his pistol at Henson. The flashlight illuminated an ebony creature as jagged and sharp as the rocks that surrounded them. Its eye flared red in the bluish light, its gray teeth glistening with Henson’s blood.

He pulled his trigger. The red beam of light from the laser hit the alien in the chest. Bright yellow blood streamed from the resulting hole. It shrieked, lashing out at Cooper.

He screamed, grabbing his arm where the light had been. They were in the darkness again. “Henson! Jacob!”

“Henson got me in the arm! I’m alright. I’ll be alright.” He spoke the last few words to himself.

Cooper pulled out a small plastic stick and snapped it. Dull yellow light emanated from it, falling off only a couple feet from where he stood. “Where’s Henson?” He swept the ground with the light stick.

He gasped as the yellow light fell on Henson. His eyes stared blankly at the ceiling. His throat was a torn, bloody mess. “Damn it!”

Jacob stared at Henson, trembling. “No…” He shook him violently. “Come on, man! No!” He shoved at the lifeless body. Something quietly hissed in the distance.

“We need to get out of here.” Jacob didn’t move. Cooper grabbed his arm. “Come on!

“Fuck off!” Jacob pulled his arm back. He shook his head after a moment and stood. He activated his own light stick and pulled his laser pistol back out.

Cooper nodded to him and started forward again. Silence fell heavily around them, broken only by their footsteps grinding in the dirt beneath them. More hissing drifted to them from up ahead.

Jacob hooked Cooper’s arm. He jumped and gave Jacob a dirty look. Jacob mouthed “Up ahead” and pointed with his pistol. Cooper’s eyes flashed there and back. He nodded.

Cooper held up a finger and pointed his pistol in the direction of the hiss. Jacob nodded. Cooper squeezed the trigger. The hiding alien screamed in the red glow of the laser beam.

Another alien shrieked to their right and bore down on Jacob. He screamed, firing his laser pistol wildly. His screams turned to gurgles as the alien tore into his throat and ended his life.

Cooper screamed out, shooting the alien multiple times with his laser pistol. He turned away and sprinted forward. More hisses came from up ahead. He fired wildly at the sounds. An alien screamed somewhere in the darkness.

The gentle breeze grew stronger. The slightest hint of light filtered into the cave ahead. Cooper’s chest heaved as he fought to breathe the heavy air.

He rounded the corner and was blinded by sudden daylight. He poured on one last burst of speed as the aliens screamed at him from the shadows. He leaped into the daylight, tumbling into the grass outside.

He knelt, hands on his knees, fighting to breathe, but smiling. He wearily stood a few moments later, turning to face the cave. “I beat you, you sons of…” His wide eyes trailed up above the cave opening. “Oh, shit…”

A large reptile-like alien leaped down on top of Cooper. Man and alien cried out in unison. It’s long, steel-like fangs tore into his neck, cutting short his scream.