Science Fiction Adventure Suspense

“Son of a,” I said out loud as I tripped and fell on my face again. I had no idea what was happening on this planet. According to all the readings, this world should have had a similar gravity to earth. The last instrument reading I took before landing my tattered ship showed the g-force would be just ten percent greater than that of my home world. I had experienced much worse conditions and was not worried when I decided to land here for some much-needed repairs.

As with all terra landings I was required to recon a boundary around my landing zone. Walking a five-kilometer perimeter every time I landed had always turned out to be a waste of time. So far, the universe had proven what I had already known; there was no one out here. I had adjusted for the extra gravity on my entry into the atmosphere and landed without issue. Now, I’m thinking I may have just gotten lucky.

I was grateful. The air on this world was within tolerance, and I was at least able to make the walk this time without a full TBPS, or Terra Body Protection Suit as the manual called it. Sure, it protected your body all right, but the damn thing weighed as much as I did. On a light gravity world, it wasn’t a problem. On a greater than 1G world, well, let’s just say it was beyond a problem. And that’s being generous. After what just happened, I may have wished I had worn it anyway.

After double checking the air and being satisfied, I had worn the standard bio suit, minus the helmet and oxygen pack, and started my hours long trek. After about three steps, I tripped over my own feet and had fallen flat on my face. Damn gravity, I thought. The gravity was not much different from earth but being in zero-G space for the last three months didn’t help. Other than short stints of necessary gravity on the ship I had been mostly weightless. I wasn’t happy about it, but it was going to take some time to get my legs working again. After about a hundred yards, and multiple falls, I was finally keeping a decent pace.

About an hour into the walk something happened. There was some kind of quake that shook the entire area. Hell, for all I knew it had shaken the entire planet. The quake wasn’t all that odd. I had experienced plenty of them back home. Earthquakes, once rare, had now become an almost daily occurrence. They had destroyed most of the big cities and so far, had taken out half of the population. If they continued their current pace, humanity would soon be at caveman population numbers. That was the primary reason I was out here. If I couldn’t find an alternative livable planet, we were screwed.

When the quake hit, I froze my steps preparing to take any necessary actions. As the rumbling settled, I let out the breath I hadn’t realized I was holding. Then, in an instant something punched me right in the stomach. Well, not in the stomach exactly, but that’s what it felt like. Only, I felt it across the entire front of my body. As if I had slammed into a brick wall, or rather, a brick wall had slammed into me. Out of control, I was now flying backwards at a high rate of speed wishing I had worn the TBPS.

Unable to control anything, my only thought was to protect my head. Without my helmet, my brain pan was in danger if it were to slam into any solid object. Still tumbling helplessly, I used my arms to protect my head as best I could. My flight only lasted a few seconds, but it ended abruptly as I was hammered back into the terra with a driving force.

My bio suit had offered some protection, but all air had now escaped my body and I was heaving desperately to get a breath. Like in an old movie, the engine was turning over but it wouldn’t start. Lightheaded with my vision fading I was on the verge of unconsciousness when the engine caught, and I took in the biggest breath of air I had ever experienced. To my relief a second one followed, and then a third.

Lying on my back, I was now breathing normal. Well, mostly normal as my lungs were still heaving to make up for what they had lost. Regaining some clarity, a shot of fear ran through me. Any significant injury could mean death, not just to me, but the whole of humanity. I started an inner sensory scan choosing to focus first on limbs, then sensitive organs and blood flow. I know, I wasn’t thinking very clearly. I laid as still as I could until the scan finished. The scan results popped up in the visual of my left eye. Outside of some nasty bruises, a concussion, and low oxygen level I wasn’t in too bad of shape.

Feeling relieved, I rested for a couple minutes to let my lungs finish their refueling. Satisfied, I tried to turn over but was unable. Thinking the sensory scan missed something, I ran a quick secondary scan, but the results were the same. Physically, I was fine. Again, I tried to roll over but was stuck lying on my back. With focused effort I demanded my right arm to lift but there was no movement. What in the hell was going on? Making the same demand on each of my limbs I was met with the same result. Finally, I tried lifting my head off the terra only to find it was pinned as well. I did have some side-to-side rotation, but it was minimal.

Precisely zero of my training had prepared me for this type of situation. Think! I screamed in my head. Calm down was the first answer that echoed. I decided to take a few calming breaths and clear my head. As I took the first breath, I felt a strain on my lungs. Were they damaged? No, I thought. The scan would have told me. Unless the scan was incorrect. Running another inner scan with complete focus on my lungs resulted in no errors. Gas exchange was at optimal levels though the oxygen intake rate was lower than normal. I was straining for breath but there was no internal cause. Maybe the oxygen levels had shifted, and I was getting less oxygen per breath. No, I was still getting enough. Besides, oxygen levels don’t just shift. At least to my knowledge they didn’t.

Out of ideas, I pinged the ships sensor logs. Accessing the logs using the visual in both eyes, I reviewed the data. Confusion set in as I focused on the last thirty minutes. The quake was recorded and had registered at a 7.3 on the Richter scale. Not surprising based on what I felt. That wasn’t the confusing part.

Combing through the data, the answer was clear. After the quake, the mass of the planet had somehow increased causing higher gravity to any object on the surface. Before landing, the gravity was reading 1.1G. It was now reading 5.9G. “How was this possible,” I asked loudly, though only speaking to myself. My question was related to the change in mass, not the gravity. To my knowledge it would be impossible for a planet to shift its mass in a matter of seconds. I knew it happened fast since my display had not provided any warnings.

One of the reasons I had been chosen for this mission was because of my physical fitness and more importantly, my ability to handle alarming and dangerous situations with a calm focus. If they could see me now, they would probably change their minds. I was freaking out!

Not only was I unable to move, but I was also faced with the potential problems I knew high gravity could bring. Bones breaking simply from walking and blood pooling in my body are the two that came to mind. To me these were the worst possible conditions. Of course, being pinned to the surface was another effect of higher gravity. Feeling mostly paralyzed was a scary feeling but at least I knew the cause wasn’t something wrong with me physically.

Another problem crossed my mind. No way would the ship be able to lift off in these conditions since the thrusters were only rated to three times gravity. I put the thought out of my mind immediately. It wouldn’t matter if the ship could get back into space if I couldn’t get back to the ship. First things first.

After being thrown through the air and slamming into the terra, I had wished I were wearing the TBPS. It would have saved me from the concussion and the bruises. Now facing the 5.9G I was glad I didn’t wear it. The extra eighty kilograms would have made my situation worse than it was.

I tried again to lift any part of my body I could, to no avail. Arriving at no solutions, I pulled up any relevant information from the ships database. It didn’t provide much as this situation was probably never considered. As I was reading through the information, a yellow warning light flashed in the center of the readout.

I forced my eyes to the warning and blurred my vision slightly to select it for more details, but nothing happened. I tried again which brought up a short message reading, No information available at this time. “Useless piece of shit!” I screamed. All the PHD’s on earth had prepared everything for this mission and I get a warning about nothing. In truth, I knew they could not plan for everything but that didn’t alleviate my anger.

The bio suit’s blood pressure sensor went off and reminded me to calm down, which was the last thing I wanted to do right now. My training told me I needed to relax, so I closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths. As deep as I could get them anyway. After a minute, the annoying, beeping sensor started getting quieter. After another minute it stopped entirely.

Admittedly, I was in a better frame of mind than I had been. Darting my eyes to the left, the warning message was removed, and I was again reading data regarding my situation. It was no help whatsoever. I was about to close the page when another damn yellow warning flashed onto my screen. This time, I didn’t need to look for any details. Under the warning there was a clear message, Earthquake imminent! Idiots, I wasn’t on earth, I thought.

I had about 10 seconds before the terra started shaking again. This time the quake was quite gentle. The ground rumbled a little and then rolled underneath me. I felt like I was laying on a surfboard gently riding the waves as they came to shore. It was soothing in a way, but I was bracing for something more devastating to come. It never did. However, the rolling waves lasted a long time. I checked the visual and so far, I had been riding it for 4.56791 minutes and it was continuing.

The longer the rolling continued, the more relaxed I became. I had reached my arm up and wiped some sweat off my brow before I realized what I had done. A smile crept over my face, and I got excited. In between the quake rolls, as I called them, I slowly rose to my feet and worked to stretch my limbs. On my tip toes and stretching my arms, the next wave hit, and I tumbled to the terra. I didn’t mind one bit. That was way better than being pinned down. I got up and continued stretching but also leaning into the roll to ride the next wave. Over the next two and a half minutes the waves subsided into little ripples that hardly unbalanced me at all.

When I had felt the last of the ripples, I decided to get off this planet as fast as I could. Based on landmarks I had seen when I began the perimeter check, I realized I was closer to the ship than my furthest point. Not quite halfway back to the ship, I thought.

I started to double time it back to the ship. I had expected the running to be more laborious than it was. It must be the adrenaline, I mused. As I continued, my strides were increasing, and I felt like I had found new gears I had previously not known. After a couple minutes I saw my strides were getting to be near twelve feet. This is impossible, I thought as I stopped my run.

I investigated the area and found everything just as I had seen on the way out. Still curious, I inspected my legs and found nothing wrong. Confusion ran through my mind as I considered the possibilities. I brought my hand up to wipe the sweat off my brow and punched myself right in the head. “What the hell!” I shouted, as I now brought both hands in to check my head. This time, both hands slapped my face.

Holding both hands out to my sides, I slowly lifted them up and down, only to find they hardly weighed anything. Holy crap, this was bad. Gravity was lowering. If it got any worse there would be no way to keep myself fixed to terra firma, other than clinging to a rock or tree, if I could find one. Once again, a shot of fear pulsed up my spine.

I didn’t even bother to check my visual. I lifted my foot to start running again only to get a knee in my chest and then falling over like a two-legged cow. It wasn’t really falling, more like slow motion movement towards the terra. Dammit, I need to be slower and more deliberate in my movement, I chastised myself.

I carefully raised myself into a standing position. I started to lift my foot as I had before but stopped. Instead, I slowly moved one foot forward as to start a terribly slow walk. Then, I slowly moved the next foot. Every couple of steps I increased the pace. After twenty or thirty steps I was moving at a nice jog. After a few more, I was running at full speed. The only difference was there was now about thirty feet between each step. Keeping my momentum forward, I was careful not to launch myself too far off the terra. I was not interested in what my vertical leap might be as I may never come back down.

As my speed increased, I noticed the distance between strides was increasing. My heart began to race faster than it already was. The thought of being launched into the air with no hope of returning to solid ground scared me. As each foot hit the ground, I leaned forward to keep my center of gravity as low as possible. It was working but the distances were increasing, and I was sure gravity was reducing even further. It may have been down to the earth’s moon levels or lower. Whatever it was, I hoped it would not drop any further. Or worse yet, suddenly return to the 5.9G I had experienced earlier.

Another rush of adrenaline hit me when I saw the ship. I was so close. I was in the air when some scary questions entered my mind; How would I stop? Could I stop without slamming into the ship? I only had a few steps before I reached the ship. I had no ideas and no time to consult the ship’s database. Without thinking, I placed both feet out in front of me when my next foot was to hit the ground. Not a promising idea I realized as I started flipping end over end towards the ship. Hitting the ground with a random part of my body and then floating through the air. Coming down again and clawing at the terra to stop my momentum.

Each landing I was able to stay down a little longer before being lifted into the air. Finally, after taking a beating for the last three hundred yards or so, I came to a sliding stop within an arm’s reach of the ship.

I laid quietly for a minute and ran another inner sensory scan. Luckily, I had not suffered any severe damage. A broken arm and plenty of cuts, scrapes, and bruises, but otherwise not bad. Gently rising to my feet, I slowly made my way onto the ship. Closing all hatches, I began the pre-flight check list. Once complete, I set the ship to auto everything since I was in no mood or shape to deal with the takeoff.

After getting my arm into a splint and placing some bandages, I made my way to the captain’s chair and pulled up the planetoid database. Pulling up my current location, I renamed the planet to NFW and strapped myself in for the ride out. 

February 23, 2022 19:35

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