The Fall

20 years prior, Professor Akayama didn’t have time to scream when the Hurricane ripped her spaceship in half. Both halves of her Zephyr’s head spun into space while she lost consciousness. Each time she woke, she saw the sun-sized Hurricane Planet grow larger as she fell toward it. She prayed to die before she woke again and had to see the Hurricane once more.

She wasn’t so lucky. She splashed in an ocean of warm, pearly pulp.

Akayama had no strength to swim, but her lab-coat kept her afloat. She languished in half-awareness for what felt like days. She had to guess the duration because only red Hurricane Planets speckled the black sky. She would starve to death without the familiar sight of the Milky Way.

She couldn’t move an inch. Whenever she guessed a day had passed, she tested her broken bones and found a greater range of motion. She knew these oceans of pearly pulp accumulated on wounded Hurricane Planets to repair their injuries. She’d seen similar seas flood and drain while studying the Hurricane through powerful telescopes. She considered it cruel irony that the pearly pulp sustained her. Her death would not come so easily.

On the ninth day (she guessed) even her arthritis was gone. She flipped to float on her belly and shed her lab-coat. Inside the lab-coat were buoyant plastic air-pockets which inflated during the fall. If she’d left without her lab-coat, she could’ve just drowned, and this would all be over. Now she wore the lab-coat back-to-front so the buoyancy was suitable for swimming. She tread water (well, not water, but she didn’t want to think about it) and surveyed the horizon. She finally saw a thin plume of dark smoke against the black sky’s red speckling of Hurricane Planets.

She’d never seen a Hurricane Planet expel dark smoke. Was this her crash-landed Zephyr? She had no other guess, and her stomach rumbled at the thought of rations stored aboard. She wasn’t hungry—the Hurricane’s wound-goo sustained her—but the wound would soon heal and the sustaining pulp would be absorbed. Besides, she kept a cockroach in the Zephyr’s glove-compartment, and she craved a good smoke.

After swimming thirteen hours (she guessed) she grazed a gritty shoreline. She pulled herself onto the painful beach and slept on her lab-coat. As she slept, the tide of pearly pulp grew shallow, and she woke to see the shore was paved with human teeth. She shuddered, stood, and pulled her lab-coat around her shoulders. She limped over the teeth toward the dark smoke-plume in the distance.

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About seven decades ago, when Akayama experimented with human mind-mergers, her failed test-subjects bristled with painful teeth. She surgically rectified her subjects and recorded the incompatibilities so the mistakes were never repeated. Today her largest failure, the Hurricane, cordoned its injuries with densely impacted chompers.

Beyond the teeth, Akayama walked on fresh pink flesh. Walking further, the Hurricane’s flesh reddened and shed dead skin rough as sand. Her feet sank six inches in the desert-like dust.

The plume of dark smoke drew closer every hour. She crested a final dune and saw the right half of her Zephyr in a deep, sandy crater. It had just one eye, one ear, and half a nose and mouth, but its unflappable expression filled Akayama with confidence. Maybe the engines worked and she could escape.

She slid down the crater’s slope.

The soft sand rippled under her like a trampoline. When the ripples reached the crater’s walls, the crater’s walls grew higher. Akayama scrambled back up the steepening slope, but the walls became vertical and caved overhead like a tidal wave. She tumbled into the crater and rolled next to her Zephyr as the horizon sealed shut above her.

Akayama heard rumbling subterranean hydraulics. After days of trekking, she now considered that it was statistically improbable for her and her Zephyr to land within even a year’s travel of one-another on the sun-sized cosmic object. This had been a trap.

The Hurricane Planet swallowed her and her spaceship, and rushed them to the core with churning peristalsis.

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