June 19, 2023
“Initiate landing sequence,” Xander calmly instructed Jo, who reached to tap a button on her digital console.
They were all suited up and strapped into the Crew Dragon capsule for the harrowing six-minute descent that could either establish humanity as a two-planet species or end in disaster.
Nikki and Sunny locked white gloves as they had for every life-or-death moment on the mission, and Nikki once again had to remind herself to breathe. She felt the thrust of the ship’s engines at her back and the level floor give way. The ship’s nose pitched downward, illuminating the previously dark windows with the blood-orange glow of Mars.
Nikki’s jaw dropped without exhale.
Starship accelerated its descent as programmed by the onboard computers, and Xander and Jo studied their digital screens closely to monitor their course toward Planum Australe near the southern polar cap.
“Maintaining current course,” Jo said.
“Accelerate descent to 7.5 kilometers per second,” Xander directed.
“That’s a go,” Jo replied, the engines roaring now and sending Starship into a virtual nose-down free fall toward the heavily cratered Martian surface.
Twenty seconds into that top-of-the-rollercoaster plunge, the ship’s internal lights and digital screens all flickered off and back on in a split-second.
“Electrical malfunction,” Jo reported, pointing to a flashing button on her console. “We’re on backup.”
Nikki and Sunny exchanged alarmed looks and gripped gloves even tighter.
“What the hell happened?” Nikki heard Eddy ask.
“Damage sensor flashing to the rear of the ship,” Xander announced, still amazingly calm.
“Heat shield issue?” Jo theorized.
“Too soon for that,” the commander replied. “How’s our course?”
“Then I’m guessing a plasma surge from micrometeorites,” Xander said.
“Dammit!” Jo shouted.
“Too small and too fast to detect … we might’ve been sandblasted with our ass up in the air.”
“Welcome to Mars, Earthlings,” Jo said with a gallows tone. “We just got hazed.”
20 chapters are now complete:
CHAPTER 1: An International Chorus
CHAPTER 2: Epic Decision
CHAPTER 3: A Long, Long Way
CHAPTER 4: The Link
CHAPTER 5: Red Zeppelin
CHAPTER 6: Parking Lot Reunion
CHAPTER 7: Sisters in Space
CHAPTER 8: No Softballs
CHAPTER 9: Last Supper on Earth
CHAPTER 10: Mars is a Lucky Guy
CHAPTER 11: Dancing with the Stars
CHAPTER 12: Space High
CHAPTER 13: Black Aces
CHAPTER 14: Song in a Letter Box
CHAPTER 15: Hazed
CHAPTER 16: What Now Genius?
CHAPTER 17: 12-Story Horror
CHAPTER 18: No Further Communication
CHAPTER 19: Is Matt Damon Here?
CHAPTER 20: This is Mars
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