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CRASH LANDINGS part I

from ACT I part I:

The Great Merging


They say most of your brain shuts down in cryo-sleep… all but the primitive side… …the animal side. No wonder I’m still awake. Transporting me with civilians? Sounded like… 40… 40 plus… …heard an Arab voice, …some hoodoo holy man, probably on his way to New Mecca. But what route? …What route? Smelled a woman… Sweat… …boots… …tool belt leather…prospector type… Free settlers. And THEY only take the back roads. And here’s my real problem; Mr. Johns…the blue eyed devil. …plannin’ on taking me back to slam… …only this time he picked a ghost lane. …a long time between stops… …a long time for something to go wrong…

They passed through the ship so fast that only the smoke from the scorched air could be seen. Micrometeorites…they breached the hull along several points but the wrecked the Nav center first. Then they started killing people. The alarms woke Docking Pilot, Carolyn Fry. As her twenty-seven year old body shook off the effects of artificial hibernation, the heads up display of her cryo-unit flashed the alert information at her. Her mind came fully awake in time to see her Captain, just waking in the Cryo-unit across the bay from her, get riddled with a stream of the deadly meteorites. She saw him grunt, could even hear him through the seal of both units and then watched him slump against the glass. The HUD confirmed what she knew instantly; her Captain was dead. She had to get out of her unit. Still numb hands reached and pulled the release lever, opening the twin interlocking doors. Without catching herself she fell to the metal grated floor of the Cryo-bay. “OOF!” came another grunt and seconds after she hit the floor the Nav Officer, his cryo-unit having been cattycorner to hers, fell right on top of her. “Why did I fall on you?” Owens, a man in his late thirties, seemed more shocked by the tumble than with the emergency now facing them. “He’s dead.” Fry said, pushing at Owens who she thought must not yet be fully awake yet. “The Captain’s dead. I was looking right at him.” Finally Owens pulled himself upright. He looked to the status com on his wrist. “The Chrono shows we are 22 weeks out, so… so gravity was not supposed to kick in for another 19! Why did I fall at all?” “Did you hear what I said?” Fry struggled to her feet. “The Captain’s dead!” Owens seemed to be starting to come fully awake now. Cryo-sleep was harder on you the older you were Fry knew. He eyes went wide as the sound of even more micrometeorites tearing through the ship sounded. They two crewmen scrambled, running to the monitor station and donning their flight suits. Fry got to the controls first and began to read off the ships status. “SHIT! We’re hemorrhaging air. Something took a swipe at us.” She knew this was bad. Owens dropped into the seat beside hers. “Come on, come on just tell me we’re still in the shipping lane. Just show me all those stars! Come on! Those big bright…” Another klaxon sounded. Owens looked to Fry who was looking back at him with the same worry. “What?” They both turned to the proximity monitor to see the blue gray orb growing rapidly on the small screen. Again they looked to each other both realizing at the same time… they were in planet fall. Owens began sending out a distress call immediately while Fry rushed to the Bridge. She leapt into the pilots chair and hit the control on the canopy shield. At once the bright flame red glow of the reentry burn lit up the flight deck. Her training had kicked into full gear and her hands flew over the controls. She popped the four braking wings open. The effect was immediate, but brief. The flight harness burned across her neck as she was thrown forward by the sudden shift in momentum. Then the ship shook violently as one by one the huge metal wings bent and were sheared off by the overwhelming strength of the reentry plunge. “RATE OF DECENT BEYOND KNOWN LIMITS” rang out the computer warning. The ship was spinning out of control. Fry struggled with trying to level their decent. She tried again to slow their fall. “DEPLOYING LOWER AIR BRAKES NOW” the computer complied. The ship shuddered and spun but Fry still did have enough control. The computer voice droned on, warning her that the ships center of gravity was off. “RECOMMEND PURGING BALLAST NOW” and Fry did not need to be told twice. Without hesitation she keyed in the authorization and pulled the released on the rear section of the ship. With a great jolt, the rear quarter of the ship fell away. Relieved of the weight the ship stopped spinning but never the less continued to plunge rapidly. “What the Fu… Was that a purge Fry?” Owens was still in Nav-Com, but he could tell what had happened just by the feel of the ship. “Too heavy in the ass!” she called back. “I can’t get my fucking nose down!” The ship was indeed descending rear first, which meant a quick and fiery death o all on board if that did not change. Fry pulled the release on the next section. “Crisis program selected this moon,” Owens reported. “…orbiting a Gas Giant in this system because it shows at least some Oxygen. 12,000 kilometers wide…” The ship shuddered again. “Fry, what the hell are you doing?” Fry was looking at the horizon indicated on her monitor… so painfully just out of reach. “I gotta drop more load” she said quietly. The computer display flashed a red glowing question at her; PURGE ALL? That would mean, of course, dumping the remaining sections of the ship which included the passengers in the cryo-unit bay… passengers who were just coming awake. Johns opened his eyes slowly, without blinking. Before he remembered where he was, before he remembered how he had gotten there, before he had even remembered his own name… Johns remembered Riddick. His eyes opened and focused on the cryo-chamber directly across from his. Written across the glass door of the chamber was the glowing warning: LOCKOUT PROTOCOL. NO EARLY RELEASE. Just inside the shadowy chamber was the blindfolded silhouette of Johns’ prisoner. He was still locked down. Thank God. “Look I tired everything else. I still got no horizon.” Fry argued. Owens yelled back over the com. “Well you’d better try everything twice ‘cause we don’t just flush out…” “Look if you know something I don’t then get your ass up here and take the chair.” Fry had her hand on the release lever. One pull and the section with the 40 plus passengers would be disconnected from the main ship and left to plummet into the planet like a comet. “Listen, company says we are responsible for every single one of those people, Fry.” Owens could hear the fear in her voice. He could not see the horizon indicator but he was not willing to give up just the same. “What? We both die out of sheer fucking nobility?” she spat. “Don’t you touch that handle, Fry!” he shouted back but he knew his words might not be enough. Owens unsnapped his harness and leapt out of his chair, headed for the bay interlock. Fry set the release command and gripped the release lever tight. “I’m not gonna die for them!” and she pulled hard. “AIR LOCK DOORS NOT SECURE” the computer warned. “ERROR!” “OWENS!” Fry screamed. Owens stood in the interlock between the main ship and the cryo-bay, holding open the lock doors with a support beam. Without a seal, the computer would not eject the bay. “70 seconds, Fry!” he told her over his com gear. “You still have 70 seconds to level this beast out!” Fry kicked and kicked at the release lever, cursing all the while but it would not budge. With no choice she jumped back into the pilots chair and grabbed the controls. They were landing on the night side of the planet. Only the glow of the air burning over the hull of the ship was visible through the canopy. For long moments she battled to bring the nose of the ship down… to get the horizon on her instruments to rise up. Too late she noticed the altimeter. Too late she saw the other ship… “Alright. Set him down here.” Corporal Hicks ordered. The small group stopped their procession across the jagged landscape of Acheron just outside the Hadleys Hope Processing Plant. There were seven of them, including the injured Marine Lieutenant lying in the stretcher. His command had been larger; there had been 12 Colonial Marines and two civilians when they first landed on the large moon. But by grossly underestimating the danger of the situation, Lt. Gormans 2nd actual combat drop was likely to be his last. They had lost SIX Marines in the first attack. Only six partially because three Marines where stationed elsewhere in the Weyland-Yutani complex during the fighting. That left three other Marines, all visibly shaken from their “xenomorph” encounter. Private First Class Vasquez, was small but possibly the toughest of the Marines. The loss of her comrades had left her stoic with thoughts of revenge. Her polar opposite was P.F.C. Hudson, big, strong but jittery and unabashedly frightened; he kept glancing over his shoulder every few seconds, certain that another wave of “them” was coming. Because Lt. Gorman had been incapacitated and Gunnery Sergeant Apone had been lost in the attack, Corporal Hicks was now in command. The usually quiet and reserved man had made a pivotal and controversial decision after the disastrous losses they had received; he was going to A-bomb Acheron, the moon under their feet. That choice was met with resistance from one of the two civilian members of their small party. Carter Burke was looking at losing an extremely big bonus as well as a great opportunity for advancement in Weyland-Yutani if Hicks nuked the facility. He had to convince the young grunt to take another course of action. Then there was Ellen Ripley, former Weyland-Yutani Warrant Officer sent along with the Marines as an Advisor. She was the only surviving member of the crew of the Nostromo, the ship that had first encountered the “xenomorphs” here on Acheron some 57 years prior. Ripley had spent 57 of those years in hibernation, having been lost in space aboard the Nostromos lifeboat after narrowly escaping the Aliens with her life. It was Ripley that had suggested to Hicks that they nuke the installation from high orbit. Anything to destroy the monsters once and for all. Anything to stop the nightmares. Though they had lost many members of their group while exploring the Weyland-Yutani installation, they had added one as well. Seemingly the only survivor of the colonists who worked on Acheron, Newt, had survived by hiding in the air ducts of the facility. For weeks the blond haired girl had managed to stay alive despite only being 7 years old and all alone. She had been feral and unresponsive when they had first found her but her will and determination shined through the hopeless and despair of their now shared situation. She looked on almost eagerly as Corporal Hicks lit the signal flare that would bring their rescue. “Move it, Spunkmeyer! We’re rollin’!” Corporal Ferro had the pre-flight check list completed in record time. The Dropship was sitting on a landing pad by Hadleys Hopes Main Complex which was a good distance away from the Processing plant. They had been waiting there watching over ECA Bishop, the Android now studying the xenomorph samples they had found earlier. Now with the call from Hicks, it was time to go. Chief Weapons Officer Spunkmeyer rushed up the ramp of the Dropship but paused at the top. His hand had come down on viscous material coating the hand rail. “Hold on a second. There’s something…” “Just get up here!” Ferro snapped, there was no time to waste. The “gunk” did not seem to come from any kind of a leak so it probably was not a big deal. Spunkmeyer decided to look into it later. “I’m in. Ramp closing.” The Dropship took off vertically, rotated and then pitched hard into the Acheron night on its way toward the Processing Plant. From where they stood waiting Ripley, one hand holding Newts, the other shielding her eyes from the signal flares, thought she could see the ship in route. Strange how it seemed to glow bright orange. “Is that the Dropship?” she asked. Hicks looked up and squinted hard. “No… no that’s too far away to be the Dropship…” “Whatever it is, its moving fast!” Hudson was watching as well, breathing hard and scared. “Spunkmeyer?” Ferro called over her headset. He should have been in the cockpit by now. She tapped it to make sure it was transmitting. “God damn it.” Then the Com/Imaging pinged an alert. There was another ship closing on them from aft! Behind her she heard the cockpit door slid open and turned to see what had been taking her co-pilot so long. “Well where the fu…” JESUS! Ferro knew in seconds that what she was looking at was one of Ripleys Xenomorphs. The thing opened its mouth to display frighteningly sharp teeth and… GOOD LORD! There was a SECOND fang filled mouth emerging from the first! But Ferro did not scream panic. She reached as fast as she could for her sidearm and actually managed to get it out of its holster before… They watched as the second ship flashed so close to the Dropship that it sent the smaller ship spinning end over end. Hicks could not afford the time it would take to wonder why Ferro had not gotten out of the way of the fireball, he had to get everybody moving. “Run!” Ripley screamed. And they did, the whole group scrambling for cover among the jagged rock outcroppings that dotted the Acheron landscape. The Dropship hit the ground at an angle and began tumbling. Its wings were ground off and sent flying.... the canopy glass was shattered… the Dropship rolled past the small group and came to a rest upside down less than fifty meters away. Hudson was the first to peek his head up and he looked about in almost a daze. “What the hell?” “Where did that other ship came from?” Ripley was looking at the very distant trail of smoke on the horizon. It was too far away to tell if the ship had exploded on impact or if it had managed a safe landing. “Was that the Sulaco?” “I don’t know!” Hicks hopped up and pulled a bent and misshapen piece of debris off of the unmoving form of Gorman. “Well that’s great” Hudson said staring at a particularly jagged piece of wreckage. “That’s just fuckin’ great, man! Now what the fuck are we supposed to do? We’re in some real pretty shit now, man!” Hicks had had enough. He grabbed Hudson by the collar of his body armor and jerked him close to get his attention. “Are you finished?” he said locking eyes with his comrade. That seemed enough to at least quiet the Private for the moment. Hicks turned his attention to Ripley and the young girl. “Are you alright?” Ripley nodded, following Newt as she climbed about the debris to get a good look around. Even now the child was alert for any signs of danger. “I guess we’re not gonna be leaving now, right?” her voice held a hint of disappointment in it not mixing harshly with her fatalistic under tone. “I’m sorry, Newt” Ripley could offer nothing more. “You don’t have to be sorry. It wasn’t your fault” the young girl told her. Ripley could not help but to be amazed at her strength. Behind them Hicks turned his eyes to the Dropship wreck. He tapped his head set. “Ferro? Ferro, do you copy?” The wreck did not look too bad. He took off at a sprint. Hudson was losing whatever bit of composure Hicks had given him. “That’s it, man! Game over, man! Game over! What the fuck are we gonna do now? What are we gonna do?” Burke might have panicked himself. Maybe it was seeing Hudson lose control that helped him to maintain it. “Maybe we could build a fire, sing a couple of songs” he snapped at the Marine. Newt had heard the same panic in the voices of the colonists, before they had been taken by the Aliens. “We’d better get back ‘cause it’ll be dark soon…” she warned. “and they mostly come at night. Mostly.” Owens died ugly. With a metal bar sticking through his chest and no pain meds to ease his passage Fry could only hold him until his moans quieted, his convulsing ceased and his breathing stopped. Guilt and shame were her companions now. Owens died screaming for her not to dump the passengers. Even as his life was leaving him he was more concerned for others than himself. When Fry finally emerged from the wrecked ship to join the others she found them scanning the dark horizon on top of the ship. There were few survivors. Four were Muslims on their way to New Mecca. Their prayers Fry could hear from inside the ship. There were two freesettlers who might have been a couple but she could not tell. One glib mouthed antiquities dealer name Paris, who had never actually been to Paris but kept mentioning it, was the next passenger she heard. And there was a child… adolescent actually, named Jack who did not seem to be connected to anyone. Then there was Johns, all decked out in his blue security uniform. He had survived as had his prisoner, who was tied up, still down inside the ship. The woman freesettler, Shassa was her name, addressed Fry as she joined them on top of the wrecked hull. “There was talk of a scouting party looking for other people, but then we saw this” she jabbed a thumb over her shoulder toward the rest of the ship. It lay strewn across the dark landscape in bits and pieces of smoldering wreckage. There were no other survivors. “What the bloody hell happened?” asked Shassas partner or husband or whatever. His name was Zeke. Big and strong he looked the prospector type. It was a good question. “It could have been a meteor storm” Fry offered. “Might have been a rogue comet. I don’t know.” And she didn’t. The Nav computer had no idea what planet this was or where they were. Hell… it had not even recognized the system. “Well, I, for one, am thoroughly grateful” Shassa proclaimed. “This beast wasn’t made to land like this, but I think you did well. Actually,” she went on talking for everyone to hear. “…the only reason we’re alive is because of her.” “I suppose your right.” Paris agreed. “Thanks very much.” “Yea,” the kid, Jack slapped her on the back jovially. “Thanks for saving out dicks!” Their words burned and shammed Fry. The person whom they should have been thanking lay dead in the Nav room below. “There’s something on the horizon. Buildings I think.” Jack pointed out. “Perhaps they saw the crash,” Suggested Iman, the tall dark Muslim. He seemed to be the patriarch of the group, at least the other Muslims were barely in their teens and seemed to look up to him. “And will be sending someone to help.” “No hails,” Fry thought aloud. “No coms of any kind. Even after that near miss.” “Near miss?” Iman asked. Fry then told them how they had narrowly avoided colliding with another ship. “And no sign of rescue yet?” Shassa looked at the top of the man made buildings just barely distinguishable from the craggily landscape. “Then we’re going to have to go to them.” Johns stated plainly. In what remained of the Cryo-bay, Johns explained to her how the room had been ripped open on impact and most of the forty cryo-units had been pulled out of the ship. He was now explaining to her the dangers of the man named Riddick. Apparently the convict had managed to escape the cryo-unit and had attempted to kill Johns before being subdued again. “He just escaped from a Maximum prison.” Johns finished. “So do we just keep him locked up forever?” she asked. She could not imagine having to deal with a prisoner while trying to manage having crashed on this alien planet. “Well now that’d be my choice.” Johns said gravely. Fry glanced at the blindfolded Riddick and then leaned toward Johns and whispered. “Is he really that dangerous?” “Only around humans” Johns mused. A few hours passed while the survivors tried to get their bearings. They were extremely short on supplies and had no water, although the planet seemed to want to rain down on them intermittently, no one was sure it was safe. They were so busy checking through the wreckage that no one saw Riddick escape. It had been painful, but Riddicks life had been lesson after lesson of pain. He was bound to a cracked bracing pillar in the Cryo-bay. Through a tear in the blindfold Riddick saw the crack in the pillar just above his head. Gritting his teeth and with only the faintest of grunts he managed to bring his arms backwards up and over the pillar only by dislocating both his shoulders. He allowed himself to collapse onto the deck after grabbing the acetylene torch. “What’s the point anyway?” Paris complained. He was being forced to hand out parts of his collection, rare antique weapons, for the survivors to use as defense against the now escaped prisoner. “If the man is gone, he’s gone. Why should he bother us?” “Maybe to take what you got.” Johns explained while tucking his handgun into his belt and strapping on the Gauge. “Maybe to work your nerves. Or maybe just to come back and skull-fuck you in your sleep.” Paris had no more smart mouth remarks. “It’s getting darker.” Fry noted. “We should get going.” The group grabbed what they thought they would need and began to set out over the rough landscape. Johns held his Gauge at the ready, scanning the area with wide, alert eyes. Fry noticed how tense Johns was. “I thought you found Riddicks restraints back the other way?” “Right. Which means he went this way.” Johns considered things for a moment then, “Zeke?” The big miner turned to him as Johns pulled the hand gun from his waistband. “Fully loaded clip,” he explained. “Safety’s on. One shot if you spot him okay?” Zeke took the weapon gratefully. Paris walked over to them then. “What happens if Mr. Riddick spots us first?” he asked. Johns leveled a mean smirk at Paris. “There’ll be no shots.” The group marched on spreading out a bit at Johns suggestion. He was getting antsy, Fry noticed, and a bit jittery. No had noticed how spread out they had gotten when the shots rang out. Fry spun around quickly, raising the antique Mongol Axe that Paris had given her. But everyone she saw was looking about as much as she was. Who was missing? Two more shots rang out in succession somewhere to their left. Shassa called out in a panic; “ZEKE! ZEKE!” Like a bolt she took off in the direction of the gunshots. Fry hesitated and looked around for Johns but he was no where to be seen. She took off after Shassa. The rough terrain was slick from rain that must have just passed before their landing. It made it impossible to move with any real speed. At least Fry thought so. Shassa was moving over the rocks like a wildcat screaming Zekes name all the way. The rocky outcroppings flew by her in a blur. Even as her wind whistled by her ears, her blood pounded and her breath razed her throat Shassa listened out for more shots. Her mind ran wild and her fear mounted. Zeke had that gun, Zeke was in trouble… Shassa ran even harder. The terrain opened up a bit and the ground was smoother suddenly. Shassa saw the dark red stain almost at the same time she saw the discarded gun. She skid to a halt on the slippery ground right where the blood started. It wasn’t pooled but it was smeared and there was a lot of it. The blood was smeared as if someone had been dragged. Shassa followed the trail as quickly as she could, tears welling up in her eyes. The blood ran around the base of a large rock formation. She rounded the corner and once again skid to a stop. A large muscled man was standing there, silhouetted against the distant lights of the facility they were looking for, the blood trail stopping at his feet. There was a small curved blade glinting in his hand. He turned to her when she came around the rock and his eyes ominously reflected a pale blue light. Riddick regarded her for a moment, looking at the large pick axe she was wielding. Slowly he raised the blade he was carrying. “What…” Shassa stammered. “What did you do to Zeke?” She raised her own pick axe. The shadow came out of nowhere, knocking Riddick to the ground with a grunt. Jonhs Stood quickly and leveled the Gauge at Riddicks face. Shassa ran over and stomped the prone man right in his face. “WHAT DID YOU DO TO ZEKE?” It wasn’t a moan, although Shassa and John both thought it might have been at first. No, it was guttural laugh, low and gravely. Riddick laughed slow and measured before saying; “You’ve got the wrong animal. There’s something on this rock you should fear more than me.”



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