“Heat shield will fail,” the emergency protocol said in its calm, feminine voice, “in ten, nine, eight…”

“By Zartoc’s beard!” Captain Wade Baker of the Starship Aurora cursed. He white-knuckled the small vessel’s control stick as the entire interface vibrated. “That’s fuckin’ it then.” He had less than five seconds remaining to breach the unknown planet’s atmosphere, or he would be burned to a crisp before the radiation could fry his organs. Lights flashed and alarms sounded all around him. The heavy nylon straps holding him in his seat cut into his chest from the force of the shaking.

That moment did not last long enough for his life to flash before his eyes. Instead a single emotion all but obliterated him, leaving him raw and open to the memories that followed.


He had been on a routine reconnaissance mission with the crew of the Aurora. The ship’s star drive had malfunctioned during a scheduled jump through hyperspace, and he and his crew had become stranded orbiting the planet called Althanas. They’d had no hyperdrive and, and their life support was rapidly failing. Fortunately the planet was rich in prevalida, the very metal they needed in order to repair the ship’s damaged systems. Wade had ordered the crew into their stasis pods, deciding to undergo the perilous journey alone.

For that, he was going to die alone, and within six months every soul aboard the Aurora would wake from stasis with no life support and no means of saving themselves. By trying to be brave, by trying to be a good leader, Wade had condemned them all to death.

“Heat shield failing in three, two…”

The starburst of fire flashing across the transparent windscreen vanished, replaced by thick cloud cover. A pulse of adrenaline welled inside Wade’s veins, fighting to surge out in a scream of victory. But he had not survived yet. He still needed to land the vessel safely, and the controls were not responding to his touch.

As the craft dipped below the clouds, Wade saw the arid continent which had become his target. He had completely missed the larger land mass to the north, which the Aurora’s scans had indicated was rich in prevalida. He had hoped to set down gently on a tiny spit of land near the south-eastern point. Instead he was hoping not to crash land on the coast of the desert many miles to the south. The extreme miss had resulted from the smallest of miscalculations… but Wade did not have time to berate himself over that.

The control stick vibrated violently, and he knew he would be lucky if he survived the landing. He was coming in too steep, and too fast. The ground raced up to meet him, changing from the size of a penny to the size of a large city in the blink of an eye. He caught a glimpse of craggy cliffs and mountains, golden dunes, and breaking waves, and then the vessel struck the water beside a rocky embankment and blackness consumed him.