The sensation of falling was never a good feeling. Bradley especially hated it. That was probably because he was trapped in a disintegrating space station plummeting at several thousand kilometres an hour towards the jungle planet of Kalixa. The outer edges of the oval space station began to glow, not designed for atmospheric re-entry. The station shook like it was having a seizure. Bradley was pinned to his seat by gee-force, watching the station’s systems steadily falling into red. There was a roaring sound in Bradley’s ears and he shook like a human maraca. There was a shriek of metal as the outer ring of the space station began to disintegrate. Then Bradley was thrown from his seat as power failed across the space station and he began to tumble as the artificial gravity failed. Bradley, luckily for him, was in the space station’s control room – the most heavily shielded part of the space station. But even it was not designed for re-entry. There was a horrible rending shriek and the space station’s reactor core exploded, blasting the space station into pieces. The control room had shielding 3 meters thick but the walls were beginning to glow with heat. Bradley began to pass out from heat exhaustion. He had to stay focused. Bradley looked at the speedometer. Terminal velocity. He had to do something. There. A red button marked ‘use only in emergencies’. He spread his arms to slow his tumbling and managed to swipe the button. He was slammed to the floor as a rocket booster fired. Not enough. The screens began to go black as the emergency batteries began to fail. He was still going too fast. There were no parachutes on the module… but there was something. Bradley pulled himself back towards the control panel and struggled to read the shaking labels. There. Sunshield. He pushed the button and around the module metallic anti-radiation fabric spooled out to from a disk. The module immediately jerked to one side and Bradley was thrown brutally against one burning wall. But it did the trick. The fabric was almost instantaneously melted to tatters but it had stopped his plummet considerably. Bradley pulled himself back up to the controls and activated all the remaining thrusters. 4000 meters. Gritting his teeth, he ejected all the downwards-facing panels. 3000 meters. 2000. All he could see was the jungle rushing towards him. 1000 meters. 500. 200. 100. 50. 0. CRASH!!!
Bradley slowly pulled himself upright. He could smell the acrid stench of burning circuits and every inch of his body hurt but, surprisingly, he was still alive and reasonably unharmed. He wobbled to his feet on the mildly sloping floor. The screens and instruments were all black and/or smouldering. Pulling himself over to the airlock door, he twisted the manual release. The hatch wouldn’t open. He kicked it, hard. It still wouldn’t budge. Picking up a discarded fire extinguisher, he smashed the door open. Around the edge he could see where the metal had begun to fuse together. The module was resting in a cloud of steam in the middle of a dark jungle pool. The air outside was hot, humid and steamy. Luckily none of the many giant trees nearby had caught fire, although he could see singed branches where he had come down. Slowly, he climbed out of the downed space station, burning himself on the exterior even through his astronaut’s suit. Wading through the pool towards dry land he noticed a lack of animal noises. From what he’d heard, the planet Kalixa was famous for its wide and varied animal calls. At the time he attributed it to his crash. Then he heard the growling. He spun to find himself face to face with an animal which closely resembled an earth lion but was skinnier and had a leaner mane. It was also a curious hybrid of mammal and amphibian. But Bradley wasn’t worrying about this – he was too busy being scared to death.
“N-n-nice kitty…” he stammered.
The lion growled again. Then slowly sank to its haunches.
“You would be wise not to call me ‘kitty’ again if you value your internal organs. Humans taste disgusting but I would be willing to make an exception.” The lion spoke in a version of English that seemed at once regal and animal. Sentient then, with human level intelligence.
“S-s-sorry. I didn’t mean to… If you point me in the direction of the colony I’ll be on my way.” Bradley stammered.
“Due west.” The lion indicated with his tail. “Don’t you dare ruin my hunting again. You humans are doing far too much damage as it is with your machines and robots. Hardly any decent prey left around here.”
“Thanks” he uttered and decided to leave before the lion decided he was a reasonable food source.
He walked off in the direction the lion had indicated. He pulled off his heavy and rather sweltering spacesuit and left it behind. The trees closed around him as he trudged through the mess of tangled plants. It wasn’t long before he found a track which he followed until he reached the shadow of the volcano Praxis. The volcano was made of black stone with rivers of lava flowing from many pipes sticking up from the outside. The top of the volcano was covered by a silvery biodome. At the base of the volcano was a small cable-car station. Bradley looked in. Inside was the one man he didn’t want to see.
“You, you killed them! The entire space station?” He yelled
The man turned.
“Oh, you survived then.”
“How could you! You horrible, evil -”
He was cut off as the man shot him once with a dart gun. The submission nanites infected Bradley’s bloodstream almost immediately and brought him to his knees. A few seconds later Bradley got to his feet and looked at the man with newly bloodshot eyes.
“Terminate the members of this colony” the man ordered.