Prepare for Descent
The great orange-red sphere of Mars loomed large outside the window of the rickety aluminum space pod. Inside sat a man in one of the craft’s four seats as it flew over the red planet to a landing zone in the southern hemisphere.
Almost forty, he was a brutish man with broad shoulders and thick legs, his belly pushed against his suit, and his large hands squeezed into too-tight gloves. The harness that bound him in the chair worked hard to restrain his bulk. Decorative orange stripes ran up the side of his olive drab Atmos suit. Helmet off, he reclined in the flight seat and read a briefing on the tablet in his lap, while chewing the end of a lit cigar. Computer readouts on every surface of the craft’s tight interior flashed telemetry.
Light from the tablet’s screen illuminated his jaw's hard line and reflected against his brown hair and dark blue eyes. Ginger tapped the tablet. The name Alex Patrick Symbol appeared along with an image of a person wearing an atmosphere mask, crimson slits for eyes and a jagged circular outline for the mouth.
“This asshole looks like a real nasty piece of work,” he muttered to himself.
Notification of a call appeared on the screen: “Video call from LUCY.”
Ginger sighed and tapped the tablet to accept it.
“Lucy, honey, baby,” Ginger said in a light tone.
Lucy’s face appeared on the blurry screen, bands of color streaking the broadcast. Heavy distortion marred the image of her blonde hair and blue eyes. The static failed to mask her enraged expression.
“What the fuck, Ginger?” Lucy asked, her stark, feminine voice emanating from the speaker. “Where the fuck are you? I wake up in the middle of the night, and you’re fucking gone. You didn’t even leave a note. It’s been four weeks, you son of a bitch!”
The cheap speaker distorted her voice, turning it shrill.
“Work called.” Ginger smiled around his cigar. “Something important came up.”
“Something important? Are you kidding me? Better be pretty fucking important!”
He looked directly into the camera.
“Biggest off-world contract ever. I gotta bring Alex Symbol back from Mars.”
“Alex Patrick Symbol?” The shriek made Ginger wince. Lucy continued, “That’s crazy, Ginger. He killed the fucking president! How are we going to get married if your fat ass dies out there on Mars?”
“I won’t die! It’s gonna be easy. The Mars bounties were released after the last atmosphere test. They raised the atmosphere forty percent, Luce.”
“The Symbol, huh,” Lucy remarked. “The bounty must be enormous.”
Ginger grinned. “Now you’re seeing the big picture. And it’s real fuckin’ big.”
Lucy’s eyes grew wide on the vidscreen.
“Shit,” she conceded.
“Yeah. Exactly. Aren’t you glad you quit yelling?” Ginger asked.
“I don’t know yet,” Lucy said, anger flashing across her face. “Don’t fucking push it.”
“You’re right, baby, sorry.” He smiled.
“So, how are you supposed to get around? You’ve never been to Mars.”
“They sourced me a guide, someone called Bishop. He’s going to find me once I land.”
Red lights began to flash. A computerized voice blared inside the pod. “Autopilot will engage for landing. Prepare for descent.”
“If you’re lying about anything,” Lucy said and leaned in close to the camera, her curves barely covered by a white tank top, “don’t bother coming back.”
She closed the connection.
“Secure all loose items. Beginning final descent!” A computerized voice cut through the cabin.
Ginger stowed the tablet in his Amphi-seal duffel bag, stacking it on top of his automatic pistol and sealed them in. He grabbed the safety cord attached to his free-floating helmet. As he reeled his helmet toward him the retrorockets fired, jerking the ship into a steep descent trajectory. Centrifugal force jerked Ginger’s helmet toward the top of the craft, pulling the safety cord taut. The capsule began to shake as gravity took hold. He reached for his helmet with one hand, the other gripping the armrest with white-knuckled tenacity. The sensation of falling enveloped Ginger. He clenched his teeth, and bit through his cigar.
The wobbling curve of the horizon sauntered back and forth in the spacecraft’s viewports. The ship’s screens flashed, “Warning! Uneven trajectory!” Ginger stopped reaching for his helmet and grabbed the other armrest, trying to steady himself. The old, unbalanced craft twisted off-course as it became ensnared by the planet’s gravity. He tasted the salt of nervous sweat dripping down around the cigar into his mouth.
“Error! Error! Uneven entry! Brace for impact!”
The pod’s wobble turned into a violent spin.
“Ugh,” Ginger grunted his face beet red, his eyes bulging.
Abruptly, the stabilization thrusters fired and the ship snapped into alignment. Ginger’s Atmos helmet flew back at him, colliding with his forehead and knocking him unconscious.