A young man maybe 13 or 14 years old sat on the back porch of the aging two bedroom ramshackle home. It badly needed a new coat of paint, the scorching sun and salt that blew in from across the white flats wreaked havoc on everything.
His mother had named him Ajax, because she had always liked the name from her childhood obsession with science fiction vids. Ajax was the most heroic flying space hero who blasted mutant aliens with his trusty golden ray gun.
Unfortunately for this boy his name got him teased by his schoolmates. It didn’t matter, he knew some day he would fly away from this crappy rock. When this world was discovered after FTL drives became invented one of the first explorers remarked that much of the planet’s surface looked like the Bonneville Salt Flats back on earth and the name stuck.
Being an out of the way border planet it had become poor and lawless after most of the larger companies had pulled out due to repeated attacks from bandits, and the hostile wildlife. Even though it had rich deposits of gold, titanium, oil and uranium it had been years since Bonneville had been properly exploited.
In his hand he held a tiny metal spaceship; one like his father had boarded three years ago. He left his wife and two children to earn enough IPD to set his family up on a planet with sunny beaches and palm trees. Unfortunately the young father never came home. His ship, the “Fist of Orion” disappeared on a cargo run to “Peor es Nada.” His ship never made it to port.
As Ajax sat gazing at the heavens as shooting star streaked across the sky. He closed his eyes and made a wish. “Please let today be the day dad comes home.” he said to the cold dark sky. He held his breath and listened for the space freighter that never came.
The boy sighed and turned around to go back into the house. His mother was passed out from too many prescription painkillers, and half a box of wine. As he reached for the rusty screen door he heard a faint rumbling in the distance. In moments it grew from a low buzz to a roar that he felt deep down in his bones. He turned and a glowing streak of light was headed straight for him.
“Dad?” he asked the rapidly approaching space freighter. “Dad! You’ve come back! I always knew you would!” Tears streamed down his face as he ran out across the white salt and waved his arms in the air.
The “Canis Minor” was coming in too fast; the heat shield temperature gauge was too hot to be good.
“Red status!” The captain yelled.
Red smacked the heat gauge with a meaty finger; the needle was nearly in the orange zone. “The shield aint gonna’ hold much longer!” He didn’t understand it. How in the hells had they built up that much heat?
“Are we coming in too steep?” Captain Hunter yelled over the blaring klaxons.
“Negative! I done checked it three times! Our angle ‘o decent is normal!”
Rex felt sick to his stomach, and it wasn’t the thought of an imminent fiery death. Something was wrong. “Captain!”
“The computer is wrong!” Rex barked.
“How in the hells do you know?” Captain Hunter asked. The dog was good but he was no computer tech. Beads of sweat rolled off his forehead.
The intercom buzzed, it was Chuck down in engineering. “Hey, boss it’s getting hot down here, what are you fools doing to my ship?”
“Not now Chuck!” the captain said as he muted the intercom.
“Captain! The computer is wrong, we’re too steep!” Rex said again.
Red slammed his console. “But damn it dog, if you’re wrong we’ll skip right off the atmo, and probably slam into a satellite or some other orbitin’ junk!”
Rex flattened his ears back on his head. “If I’m right we’ll burn up!”
James took a deep breath, “Do it Red, back off decent by three degrees.”
“Aye, aye sir!” Red just hoped the mutt was right. “Backin’ off by three degrees!” He stared at the temperature gauge, the ship groaned as the course was adjusted, everything was shaking as the craft was buffeted by the strong upper atmosphere winds.
The needle didn’t move for what seemed like an eternity. Much longer in the red zone and their cargo, and pieces of the crew would be scattered down below for a thousand miles. Finally the needle inched slowly back toward yellow. “It’s workin’ good dog!” Red exclaimed as he wiped his brow.
A few moments later the temperature stabilized high in the yellow zone, well within heat shield tolerance limits. “Cancel, the alarm.” James said, and the ear splitting klaxons quit blasting.
“Rex, how’d you know the comp was wrong?” Red asked.
He shrugged, “Something didn’t smell right.”
“Where?” The captain asked.
Rex shrugged as he sniffed and moved in closer to the navigation computer console. Sweaty humans, mixed with gun oil, and ozone. He got down on all fours and sniffed the bottom of the console. Red got up and out of the way. There was a new faint human smell, almost lost in the cocktail of scents up on the bridge. Why hadn’t he smelled it before? He smelled everyone who set foot on the ship.
Rex pulled a black tactical multi-tool out of a pants pocket and snapped out the square head screw driver. Four screws later the bottom of the navigation console was opened. Mixed in with the smells of dust and warm computer parts, was the scent of a strange man. It definitely wasn’t one of the crew.
“Captain, a man has been in here. Not the scent of a crew member. I don’t know who it belongs to.”
“Are you sayin’ someone got up here ‘n messed with our nav comp?” Red asked.
The captain leaned back in his chair. “Rex, save that scent in your library for further use.”
“Already archived, sir.”
“Good let’s land this tub.”
The “Canis Minor” approached the outskirts of Barro, thanks to nearly burning up in orbit they were hundreds of miles away from their preferred landing site in New Wendover. Thankfully due to the endless stretches of salt flats putting the freighter down wasn’t a problem. Well that is until engines two and four went out 2000 meters above the ground.
Captain Hunter fought with the helm, “Chuck! Damn it, I need four engines!”
“Hey you shouldn’t have come in so steep!” He yelled as he pounded on some equipment with a wrench. “These babies don’t like being burned, everything is all seized up!”
The ship plummeted down toward the surface careening wildly as the crew struggled to keep the ungainly freighter airborne. The collision alarm sounded, blaring in a calm sterile female computer voice. “Pull up, pull up!”
Hunter yelled back, “I know! Shut up!”
Red pulled a heavy lever on the floor. “Lowering gear!”
“Pull up, pull up!” came the warning system again.
The captain keyed the intercom again, “All hands… HOLD ON!”
Hot and fast the freighter struck the salt flat and bounced back in the air. The tires squealed as they struck the ground a second time. The ship pitched and rolled, careening like a drunken madman.
Jess screamed as a rack of medical supplies came unhooked and crashed to the floor. “Stupid, stupid, stupid! Why did I skip out on my internship for this?”
The tires finally stayed put on the ground and Red slammed the nacelle position controls to reverse thrust. The two remaining working engines pointed forward firing to slow the careening freighter down. “Reversing thrust! Watch them houses!” Red yelled, as the rickety shacks approached rapidly in the windows.
“Nobody lives there!” The captain replied as he saw lights coming on in bedrooms. “Wheel brakes!”
Red pulled hard on the rusty lever, it stuck halfway back. Rex lunged at it with his shoulder sending it to full lock.
Ajax couldn’t believe his eyes; he looked down at the model ship in his hand and back at the one careening madly toward his house. It was the same, a Sunspot Heavy Industries SV-142. He ran back into the house, “Mom! Mom! Dad’s back! His ship is landing in the back yard!”
His mother woke up for a bleary eyed moment. “That’s nice honey.” And settled back into the stained brown couch.
Ajax knew it wouldn’t be any use to try waking her again. He ran back to the cracked back window, and watched as the freighter careened madly toward the house. “Coming in a bit fast aren’t we dad?”
The whole house began to shake as the massive ship approached. “Demons take me!” he yelled and ran to the front of the house throwing himself over top of his mother.
The back wall exploded as the bow of the cargo ship crushed through the rickety wood and plaster, sending debris flying. The kitchen table was tossed through the front wall, nearly killing the pair huddled on the couch.
Finally the ship came to a stop, its front cargo door mere centimeters from Ajax’s head.
The young man laid there stunned for a few moments, his mother had slept through it all, a bit of drool clung to her lips.
The front airlock door hissed as it opened. Captain James Hunter stood in the doorway. “Anyone home? Sorry about the mess.”
Ajax sat up still a bit dazed, “Dad is that you?”
“Umm no, Luke I’m not your father.”