A fireball blazed across the sky. Its tail, a plume of smoke with bright sparkles raining from it like fireworks. Inside the cockpit, Subtext couldn't hear the explosion of his auxiliary batteries over the fiery orchestra of re-entry plasma ripping away at the remains of his ship. He had to eject, but not now. If he were to eject in the plasma stream, his suit would disintegrate in seconds, swiftly followed by his flesh and bones. He had to ride it out, and what a ride it was. Coming to terms with the fact that he was likely to perish, Subtext's mind wandered to odd thoughts, such as what the hull temperature was, and if this is what John Stapp felt like a thousand years ago when he rode his rocket sled , pulling forty five G's; eyeballs out.
Almost without noticing, Subtext heard the pitch of the roar changing. Either the hornet had lost total structural integrity and was about to come apart in a million pieces, or he'd slowed enough that the plasma was subsiding. Soon though, he realized that both were happening at the same time as the canopy windscreen shattered outward. He watched the nose, red from heat, peel upward before breaking apart like water rising up from a shock wave and raining into the sky in red droplets of molten metal.
He had no choice, he let his hands fly up and gripped the rings over his shoulders then pulled down toward his chest.
The roaring went silent, replaced with the twanging of a solid tone in his ears. In a numbed silence, he looked down at the rubble he rode in on. It fell away from him, fragmenting in hundreds of dark shards of cooling metal, spiraling trails of smoke following each piece as they plummeted to the surface. The seat clips released and his chair fell so slowly he felt he could swim down and catch up to it. He looked up and saw the fluttering drogue chute, tattered strings of it wildly flapping in the wind. “Open God damn you!” he said, his breath fogging his helmets faceplate. The plume of smoke that zipped past him pulled his eyes to follow the snaking gray line until the dark speck of the debris exploded below him. Something struck his helmet and a spider web fracture expanded over his visor. Then, without warning, his body slammed into the harness. He grunted, throwing up into his helmet as a sickening crack echoed through his chest. He rolled his head over to one shoulder, gasping in painful breaths and looked up at the corner of his eye as the vomit pooled against his chin and cheek. The chute had opened. To his surprise, his vision became a blurred mess, and darkened until his mind shut down.
His eyes opened and he swallowed painfully. In front of him, wet mud and grass was pressed against his visor, specks of blood and vomit plastered to the inside. “I'm alive,” he said out loud; his muffled voice resonated in the confines of the helmet. With a grunt, he got to all fours and stopped. He stayed there for a moment; assessing the damage mentally. He realized getting up was out of the question and lowered himself slowly to his side, gritting his teeth when his ribs pressed against the grass as he rolled to rest on his back. Breathing was difficult. That was when a droplet of water fell to the back of his throat. It was salty and he coughed, then he heard the grit of sand between his teeth. His eyes widened. A sharp whistle rang through the helmet and he felt wind on his sweat covered face.
The seal on his helmet was broken.
He shot up to his feet, ignoring the pain searing in his torso. Gloved hands clawed at the chest panel of the suit, ripping the front velcro to reveal a series of buttons. His fingers went to work, and soon he heard the capacitors in his suit whining up as they charged. A beep rang in one ear, the other heard a shot of static rammed through a broken speaker.
The suit activated. * Beep beep * “Fractures detected.”
Subtext laughed. “No shit sherlock.”
* Beep beep * “Lacerations detected.”
“Hurry up and tell me if I'm breathing poison.”
* Beep beep * “Administering treatment.”
A sharp pain shot into his arm. “Argh. I don't need needles bitch I need atmospheric data.”
His helmet lit up a fragmented holographic image displaying the contents of the atmosphere. Subtext's eyes shot left, then right, then left as he scanned the data. He took in a deep breath, then unlocked the collar of his helmet and slid it off.
The sound rushed at him like he'd had a bucket of water poured on his head; leaves rustling in the wind; animals chirping and cawing; the trickling flow of water nearby.
It was then that he realized how thirsty he was. How long had it been since he'd drank? How long had he been unconscious in the Hornet, or here on the planets surface? Had it been more then a day? It must have been at least a day. He walked, slowly and painfully toward the sound of the water. Not far from where his chute had automatically uncoupled, a stream rolled over smooth stones and slithered down a very faint gradient, disappearing into the tall grass. Subtext fell to his knees and let the clear liquid fill up his cupped hands. He sucked the water from his palms and went for more. It was a frenzy. He couldn't seem to get enough water to quench the sensation of thirst. The more he tried, the more thirsty he felt. After five minutes of vigorously splashing water into his mouth, he collapsed from exhaustion. He rolled over, away from the stream and was still panting when sleep took him; water dripping from his mouth.