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Published by Ann Somerville

Chapter 1

A sudden pitch by the podpod to the left and the instantaneous alarm response from the console snapped Temin to attention, his stomach almost turning inside out from the shock. He grabbed for the controls and fought to quell the prickle-sick of adrenaline, even as instinct guided his fingers and his responses, letting him rapidly assess the warning lights and system messages flying across the heads-up display.

What the shefting crack was that?” he muttered, before realising just how bad the problem really was. Frantically he switched to manual to try and boost power, but it was hopeless. The FTL drive was dying—no, dead—and the sudden clarity of stars in front of his small observation window was like a slap in the face, the silence of dead engines loud as a drum as he stared into the endless night. “And where the hell am I?”

The HUD gave him the answer. Pexis system—a good forty light years from his home on Venshu. What the sheft was wrong with the FTL drive? He’d never heard of one of them failing before. He ran through the diagnostics, but communications with the FTL were down so he was getting no usable data. The sublight engines were...sheft it! He was losing power to virtually all the systems...but where...? He sent a chasing programme down the lines as he frantically shut everything but bare life support down. Artificial gravity was failing, and crap, even the CO2 scrubbers were struggling. He had to get into a breathable atmosphere and repair this or he was one dead spacer.

The alarms were more insistent now, and as the artificial gravity failed completely and his stomach lurched in response, he rapidly scanned the HUD, willing his heart to slow down so he could shefting think. Planet U67809 was reachable if his life support could hold on for another twenty hours, by no means assured, but it was the only possible option. With relief he felt the sublights kick in—he had to hand it to the engineers who demanded that the FTL and sublight systems were isolated. Unfortunately, they were the same engineers who insisted there was no point ensuring podpods were capable of atmospheric re-entry, so his gratitude wasn’t exactly unlimited.

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