This is chapter 16 of my novel, Foreign. I release a new chapter each Friday at noon. To catch up on previous chapters, you can check out the archives by clicking here. Make sure to subscribe to my blog. That way you’ll get each new chapter in your inbox every week. And spread the word about Mark and Justin’s adventure!
The next few minutes somehow both flew by and felt like slow motion all at the same time. Justin and Mark weren’t harmed from the impact, but a flurry of alert lights and sounds were activated as the front end of the vehicle was smashed. Mark’s stomach lurched up into his chest as the vehicle started its dive.
Instinct guided his behaviors. He unbuckled his seat restraint, reached forward, clenched the front passenger seat, and climbed into the front area. Just like any aircraft on earth, this vehicle had two sets of controls.
Sitting in the copilot’s chair, he had a complete view out the front windshield. There was a thick stream of cars moving perpendicular to them. They were heading straight into it. If they didn’t hit another vehicle, they were maybe 1500 feet from the commercial loop platform. There were mere seconds to figure something out. Gripping the controls, he pulled the stick inward to break the drive. There was no response.
Please tell me we didn’t jack up the controls in the crash!
He jerked the controls to the left and the vehicle rotated to the left. Moving the stick to the right rotated them in the opposite direction.
So I can add to his controls, but I can’t counteract them.
Mark yelled back at Justin, ”See if you can separate the pilot from his controls. We have seconds or we’re dead!”
They were pointing almost straight down toward the platform. Mark scanned the platform, looking for a gap somewhere. Far to the right, down by the routing station, it looked like there was a gap in the platform. If they could make it through there it would buy them some time. He pulled the stick far to the right, hopefully getting closer to the gap. Their sudden change in direction brought them dangerously close to other vehicles that had tried to change their course to avoid them. Narrowly avoiding the rear of another aircraft, their car cut through the other car’s jet wash. The whole vehicle shuttered from traversing the hot, turbulent air.
With the extra movement, Justin was able to reach his arms fully around the pilot’s head. His arms met resistance as they tugged at the pilot’s head. Like pulling out a tooth, there was a sudden release of pressure as the head was separated from the control stick.
“It’s all yours!” Justin yelled over to Mark.
He rotated the car so that it was no longer inverted, and he pulled the stick back to level the car out. To his relief, they were no longer aiming straight down, but they continued to lose altitude.
“What’s wrong?” Justin cried out.
“I don’t know. We don’t have full power any more, though.” Mark replied as he tried to keep the vehicle steady, keeping the gap in the platform directly in front of them. It was no more than 500 hundred feet away and they were quickly approaching, falling more than flying. Fortunately, they were lower than almost all of the air traffic they had been in just seconds before.
The gap increased in size as they approached it. Compared to all the bright lights and flashy effects around them in the loop, the space they could see through the gap was plain and dark. It made a good target to aim for.
“Shit! Look out!” Justin pointed to their right. Mark hadn’t been able to see it just yet, but there was a TMT departing from the routing station to their right. At its speed they were sure to collide with it. Mark was tempted to adjust his approach, but he didn’t have enough power to maneuver their car too drastically.
The TMT continued on its course. Before long, its front end had come between them and the gap in the platform. Mark furiously scanned the control panel looking for a particular button or lever. It was nowhere on the dashboard. He looked to his left on the center console, hoping it would be where it often is on normal aircraft.
He could see that the TMT was still in front of them in the periphery of his vision. He was zeroed in on a lever, looking for an identifying label. There was none that he could recognize.
Screw it! Do or die.
He yanked on the lever. The entire aircraft slowed so much that it felt like they had hit something again. The instant change in velocity was so intense that Mark almost flew out the front windshield. Instead the control stick jammed into him, right between his legs. Other than a thud, he didn’t feel much of anything. Surprised, he remembered that he was in his suit.
Thanks, Corti! I owe ya one.
Their drastic deceleration gave them just enough time for the TMT to pass completely by. They continued forward and down, barely making it through the platform gap.
The instantaneous change in aesthetic was jarring. No longer were there flashy lights or 3D images and videos. Instead, the buildings were dark in color and light was scarce. There was a fraction of the traffic they encountered above, and what traffic they did see was organized and much less frantic.
Buildings grew wider than their higher sections from above, and there were less interconnecting bridges and platforms. Everything appeared more functional, less garish than the commercial district above. With less obstructions and traffic, it was easier to avoid crashing into buildings, too.
In the wide, open expanse they had a little more time to think as they continued to plummet. Mark stole a few glances at the dashboard displays, hoping to get a better idea of their situation. He found a gauge that said “ionization.” It only registered at 11%. In the middle of the gauge a red message flashed, “Plasma Leak.” The percentage fell another point.
“I can’t say for sure, but I think it looks like we’re losing power,” Mark told Justin.
“I coulda told you that by looking out the window, genius. Is there anything we can do?”
“I already tried the only tricks I knew. I extended our air break which should slow our airspeed, and I took us through the platform to get us more time to figure this out. At this rate, we have maybe 2 minutes, 3 at best, before we reach the bottom of Upper Tielmetra. This thing doesn’t glide for crap and once we lose all our power we’ll essentially be a falling rock,” Mark wasn’t hopeful.
“Then let’s find somewhere to land this thing before we lose all our power,” Justin suggested.
“‘Crash this thing,’ is more like it. There’s no chance to land it at all. We should brace for impact. Do something with that pilot and strap yourself in. Then you can help me look for a slanted surface to ease our impact.”
They were still in a large open area, falling just about straight down. Mark had the aircraft pointed down at a steep angle so that he could see where they were headed. Since the aircraft had nubs for wings, staying level had little impact. It was an odd sensation. They seemed to be floating in the air. It didn’t feel like they were falling fast enough. Mark searched the gauges for an altimeter. It didn’t take him long to find a gauge with a rapidly decreasing number. But it was impossible to read. Losing 1 Zic every 15 seconds meant nothing to him.
Mark kept searching for a suitable surface to slow their descent. Many of the buildings gradually grew wider as they came closer to the base of the sector. Mark brought the car in close to the side of one building that grew in thickness more quickly than some of the others. He slammed the vehicle into the wall. Sparks flew as the contact made an awful screeching, grinding sound.
The altimeter slowed its decrease in Zics.
There were no immediate obstructions so Mark checked around the center console for the throttle control. Near the air break handle he found a lever that resembled the throttle of an airplane. He pulled it back until he felt a natural resting point. The vehicle slowed a bit more.
That must be zero throttle.
His eyes darted to the “ionization” gauge. It registered 6 %. There still might be enough juice to reverse the throttle before impact to slow them down even more.
The car continued to slide down the side of the building, pieces of it breaking off along the way. At its current rate, there wouldn’t be much of a vehicle left by the time they hit the base of the building. Straining his eyes, Mark thought he could make out the street at the bottom of the building. Like the rest of the industrial sector, the lighting was scant. The building had become wider than most small cities. There weren’t many buildings down this low because each one was so large. By the look of it, they had a few thousand more feet until they would hit the bottom. There still wasn’t anything within sight that might help to break their fall, their speed still dangerously high.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, a connecting bridge or a platform, Mark wasn’t sure, emerged from the darkness. In the half second that Mark had to react, he steered the vehicle mostly away from the protrusion. The hull of the craft made it through unscathed, but Mark heard the sound of tearing metal to his right, and then silence.
With the silence also came sudden violent movements. As if caught on a line, the aircraft pulled hard to the left, away from the building’s surface. Their angular velocity increased as they spun away from the building. Mark’s efforts with the control stick yielded no result. It was impossible to know where they were or where they would end up. The aircraft entered a spin.
Limbs felt like lead as the centrifugal forces acted upon them. Mark struggled to force out, “It’s… been… real… man! This…is… it!” Justin was doing everything in his power not to get sick inside his suit.
Mark stole a glance at the altimeter. The negative vertical speed was higher than he had ever seen it.
Speed… That’s it! Half of the air break musta broken off!
As their last hope, he mustered all his strength to counteract the G’s, gripped the air break lever, and pulled it back to its original position. Their tailspin continued, albeit a bit slower, but not enough for Justin or Mark to noticed. They had too much momentum.
But the controls actually felt more responsive.
If I could just stop this spin, dammit!
It was no use. There was no way to distinguish which way they were spinning and what he would need to do to stop it. The altimeter flashed red, probably indicating immanent crash, but Mark couldn’t read it. He was struggling to move his hand from the air brake to the throttle lever. With his hand firmly gripping the lever, he pulled back as hard as he could, hoping to engage the thrust reverser.
This could either save us or kill us faster.
They both felt a quick surge of thrust that instantly changed the direction of the forces they felt on their bodies but maintained the same intensity. Mark’s body was flung through the front window like a rag doll. All he could see was darkness and within an instant his body slammed into a hard flat surface. He heard an explosion from somewhere behind him and then he lost consciousness.
For chapter 17, click here.