Down through layer after layer of cloud, until they finally dropped below it, into a dimmer world of dark water below with the distant cliffs of Miksland well off to port. Ky could not see much detail in the water surface. The Commandant, peering out the viewport in the direction they were going, shook his head. “I don’t see anything to land on. They should’ve tried for Miksland.”
“Does it have a landing—?”
“Attention-attention-attention.” A recorded voice, not one of the pilots, interrupted her. “Emergency—” A click, then another voice came over the com.
“This is the pilot.” His voice sounded strained, as if he were in pain. Certainly he was busy. “We are about to jettison the passenger survival capsule; the shuttle controls are inoperable and we have reached low enough altitude. Take emergency positions immediately. On my count of ten, we will disengage—”
Ky slapped her faceplate closed and locked it, as did the Commandant. Passenger survival capsule…that meant coming down without any controls at all, with only parachutes. If those had not been sabotaged as well. The thought of death intruded; she pushed it away. Nothing she could do now but follow procedures—as in the battle at Moray, when she’d survived something as dangerous as this, but without gravity. Or atmosphere. The shuttle would have all the standard tracking devices; the net of navigation, weather, and scan satellites around the planet would be receiving data, sending it on to multiple facilities. Someone was watching; someone would know exactly where they landed.
“…four…three…two…disengage…” A loud bang, a jolt as if the shuttle had been hit by something—explosive bolts, Ky thought—and the passenger module slewed sideways then fell, tipping down and sideways. The dark water, flecked with foam, came nearer. Ky could not guess their height at first, but they were certainly not the ripples of the bay at Corleigh on a quiet day. This was not how she’d planned to die, but then she’d never planned to die. She realized the absurdity of those thoughts, then the module jerked again—once, twice, three times—and returned to level. Their fall slowed. Ky could not see the parachutes out the viewport, but could think of nothing else that might have caused the change.
“Chutes deployed,” said the recorded voice. “Do not leave your seats. Do not unfasten safety restraints. Do not unseal helmets until after landing, on crew instruction. Landing may be rough; module may tip or even roll. Items may fall or fly about the cabins. Landing cushions will deploy at three hundred meters above the surface.”
The module swung beneath the chutes. Out the viewport, Ky could see water below and the coast of Miksland again; she could tell they were lower, but not how much lower. As they came down, she could see more of the water—that there were waves, large ones, the kind she associated with open ocean from her sailing experience as a teenager. Wind direction—she had no reference, but surely the wind would be acting on the parachutes, moving them downwind. Was that likely to be helpful or not? Something popped below the deck; out the port, Ky could now see an expanding curved shape—the landing cushions? She hoped they were flotation devices as well.
Across the table from her, the Commandant’s expression—what she could see of it through his faceplate—was fixed, the same steady, emotionless look she had seen so often in her Academy years. She said nothing; if he wanted a conversation, surely he would speak first. The pilots, she supposed, were too busy to talk to the passengers; she heard nothing from the rear compartments.
“Landing imminent, less than ten seconds.” The recorded voice again. Outside, the waves looked much bigger—bigger than she would have sailed in, in the small boat her family owned. She counted down silently. Eight, seven, six, five…a jolt; the shuttle tilted sharply nose-down as the aft cushions caught a wave crest, and again as the other cushions hit and splashed high enough to spatter on the windows, obscuring her view. She could feel the cabin roll as the crest of the wave passed under them, the forward end now tilting up. Through the blurry wet window she could see another wave bearing down on them.
She heard a scream from the middle compartment, then the hatch between them flew open and Jen staggered in, grabbing at the back of the Commandant’s seat for balance. “Admiral—the Commandant’s aide! He’s dead!” She lost her grip on the seatback as the module lurched again and fell, her head banging the edge of the table.