Calm and Chaos

(c) 2000 Simon Challands

     Fine drizzle drifted slowly down from the dark sky, glowing when it passed close to the spaceport floodlights, eddying into all imperfect shelter with random breaths of wind. Bright lights shone everywhere, giving a surreal daylight to the night above. Behind the terminal windows people read books, browsed through the shops, ate and drank in cafés and restaurants, in all possibility ignorant of the weather outside. The robots making flight checks on the Lakon Spaceways Transporter on the launch pad couldn't have cared less.
     The flexible tunnel between the terminal and ship was manoeuvred into place; people started moving along it. Drops of water on the windows slowly ran down, sometimes coalescing with one another and moving faster. Where the tunnel met the ship a puddle was beginning to form in the slight sag of the roof. When everyone was aboard and the entrance detached a small waterfall cascaded down onto the ground.
     Machinery scurried out of the way to wait in dark corners. The ship fired thrusters, vaporising the damp beneath it. Straight up for a hundred feet, then it pivoted around, hanging in mid air. Nose to the sky, it accelerated, the bright blue of its exhaust being all that was visible from the ground.
     A few seconds later it dulled and blurred in the cloud cover, quickly fading out completely. Calm and rain returned to the port.
     The planet was a vast dark curve below. Cloudtops glowed faintly in the light of a moon that was little more than a captured asteroid. On one far horizon was the faint red of the departing evening, on the other the imagination may have seen mountain peaks rising proud above the mist.
     A point emerged, rapidly gaining height. Navigation lights winked, a blue tail stretched out beneath it. Closer to, it would be a scene of harnessed power - the violence of the engines pushing the blunt-nosed craft against the air, buffeted by the unpredictability of the troposhere and the drives' response in it. On board a steward was serving drinks to relaxed passengers whilst complex machinery maintained them in stillness.
     The ship's progress gradually became less uncomfortable. Without turning by the tiniest fraction of a degree its direction changed from upwards to forwards, the dark mass of a world could be perceived as being behind and not below.
     Now the vessel did alter its course, heading for a bright point of light against the starry space. A flood of light hit it, rapidly growing brighter as the sun's disc appeared from behind the planet to bathe the ship in its private dawn.
     The last vestiges of atmosphere contained little warmth, half of the hull was lying in the star's radiation. Panels absorbed the heat and expanded in minutely calculated directions, advanced materials taking it with no noticeable effect. Beneath them webs of supports and carefully considered curves were pressed against each other by the pressure of the air inside. In which some people were dozing, others playing games or watching films on small screens that seemed to fill the world.
     The point was brighter still, and a sharp-eyed observer would have made out a roughly cube-like structure. Occasionally it flared up to dazzle against the general darkness as a facet caught the light. The ship had brought itself to a stop relative to the space station. Here and there other craft hung in the darkness. Every now and then the space around one seemed to twist bizarrely, then it vanished leaving a quickly fading haze around that point.
     The captain of the Transporter saw none of this. His eyes were fixed firmly on his ship's scanner display, where the vessels were marked as dull clubs that sometimes disappeared without fuss. When one of them started to converge on their position he spoke a few words into his mouthpiece. The voice of SysCon came back to him, reassuring.
     Sliding through the void like some exotic fish, the stars reflected in its polished surfaces, the Racer drifted past the ugly transport. Behind closed ports powerful lasers were hidden, missile racks lay deep within its hull. What else might an expensive ship like that be carrying? Unknown extra weaponry and defences, an expensive cargo, an illicit haul of narcotics?
     Eventually another message reached the Transporter. Again it turned, and again its drives pushed it away.
     A few hours passed. The signs of movement were few - a steady hum from the engines, the star gradually growing brighter, the departure point all but vanished. Slowly the sun passed beneath the ship and grew dimmer again. The environmental controls could slacken their activity of radiating away all the heat without anyone even being aware that they were doing it.
     A flash across the bows was also unnoticed, where a tiny dust particle impacted against the navigational shielding. Which had it not been present might have caused significant damage even to stressed duralium plating.
     On the ship's bridge various messages from across the system were listened to, with idle curiosity for the most part. In a point high above the system's ecliptic lasers were slamming into the shields of a Cobra MK III. A Caiman fighter had its front blown off by an opportunistic missile launch, and the Salamander that had been following it had to jerk aside as the remnants of the wreck flew past. Rapidly converging on this point were two sleek triangles, Viper Police ships, seeking to end this blatant piracy with their abrupt and complete form of justice.
     A greyish-brown disc now lay in the path of the shuttle, the end of its journey. It was committed to its final approach, heading towards the solid rock at a still incredible speed, but lessening all the while.
     Thrusters changed the course in subtle directions. The ship slowly turned about its main axis, until from its point of view it was heading for the top of the disc. Only the disc was now a large orb.
     Streamers of plasma shot off the hull and shielding as it descended into noticeable atmosphere, creating a brilliant streamer as it passed into star's shadow. Not even all the high tech equipment it carried could prevent something from being communicated through the hull to those on board. At last there was an air of excitement, as if something was finally happening.
     Now the craft was speeding high over the surface. Some people had switched on external monitors, and idly watching as lights from small surface outposts and the odd town came into view and gradually passed astern.
     The smaller circle of the sun resulted in the dawn being sudden - almost visible as a line across the landscape to those who were watching. The light revealed arid harshness, a cold desert unbroken by plant or stream. Plains of boulders and mountains of stone, some with patches of early morning frost and mist arount their summits quickly dispersing in the light.
     On the horizon was a more regular outline, which resolved itself into towers and domes. A few of them added colour to the desolate scene. Small flyers passed to and fro, and streets sealed with clear canopies lay between them.
     The Transporter was now moving slowly, approaching an empty gap in one corner of the city. Soon it was hovering above, then lowering itself down, the jets blowing dust up from beneath it. With a slight movement it touched down. The dust began to drift slowly down, sometimes eddying into corners when it was caught by some wind in the thin atmosphere.
     Robots scurried out from various crannies, manoeuvring into position an airtight tunnel so that the humans and aliens on board could leave the ship safely. There was bustling for some time as people gathered up their belongings and stretched stiff limbs. Then all was quiet for a while.
     Some time later the ship had been cleaned and checked over, and fuel had been provided. Inside were different people, reading their books and drinking their drinks as it pulled itself off the desert to journey to the rain.

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