Visiting Quarry hadn't always been such a dangerous proposition. There was a time when it was a thriving planet and active member of the Galactic Alliance; its commitment to open trade brought its native spices to the farthest reaches of the galaxy and, with them, a small piece of Quarrian culture. But that was before the Praxis kingdom used the small planet to show the rest of the galaxy what, exactly, it was capable of.
Still, there was a way to reach the surface without incurring the wrath of the combustible atmosphere. Cade and Tristan, in fact, had a detailed flight plan that would have guided them to a small sliver of airspace that wasn't exploding. It was a hard-won map, learned through the trial and error of previous pilots, some giving their lives to find the one slice of sky that wasn't certain death.
They were nowhere near that sliver right now.
While Cade's penchant for taking unnecessary risks was well-documented—the Well literally had a file detailing his
recklessness—he felt that his reasoning for abandoning the mandated "safe" plan was justified. After all, his and Tristan's pilgrimage was meant to be a clandestine one, and Cade knew how thorough the watchful eye of Praxis tended to be; if the ruthless kingdom was going to monitor any part of Quarry, wouldn't it be looking at the one safe place to land?
Plus, Cade happily admitted to himself, the opportunity to fly his ship—which he'd named the Horizon Dawn, for no other reason than it sounded cool—through Quarry's fabled sky of doom was too good to pass up. Cade just wished they'd get through it already. It felt like an eternity since their starship had plunged into this thunderous, life-threatening turbulence, and Cade was beginning to think that maybe, just maybe, this was a bad idea after all. He acknowledged the white-knuckle grip he had on the stick, which belied his cavalier attitude. But then, as if the galaxy was in a wish-fulfilling mood, the ship began to settle. Cade waited, expecting something horrible to happen to compensate for the galaxy's generosity, and when it didn't, he breathed a sigh of relief. Even the sensors righted themselves, detecting the small amount of light that the nearest moon managed to capture from the flickering sun and deflect to the planetary surface.
"You see?" Cade said, turning toward Tristan and flashing a playful grin. "I told you there was nothing to worry about."
"You're the only person I know who can provoke death with a smile," Tristan replied, unable to hold back a smile of his own. Cade knew that his brother enjoyed the thrill of doing things that you weren't supposed to do, even though he couldn't indulge in them like his brother.
"And what's that supposed to mean?"
Tristan leaned toward Cade and spoke quietly, sharing a secret that no one was around to hear. "You're a good pilot, little brother. But you're not that good."
Cade shot his brother a wounded look. "I can't believe you'd say that. After all, I'm not doing this for me, I'm doing this for y—"
Suddenly, the ship's warning array bellowed to life.
"You were saying?" Tristan yelled over the alarm. He swiped through the control panel's notifications, trying to determine the problem. "There's some kind of pressure building in front of us, it's about to—"
Although the viewport was coated with a gossamer residue, a gift from the atmosphere's strange chemical makeup, Cade couldn't mistake what the electronic screaming and Tristan's truncated warning was all about: A neon-green fireball, large enough to incinerate the entire starship, had burst in the sky ahead and was thundering directly toward them.
Cade jammed the stick to the left, sending them barreling out of the raging fire's path. His reaction to the explosion was instant, but its proximity left no possibility for a clean escape. As the Dawn jerked to the side, the fireball tore across its underbelly, violently whipsawing the craft. Cade flared the ship's stabilizers as he fought the stick, which was bucking out of his grip. The dashboard spat out one damage report after another.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Cade muttered, muting the shrill sensors. He already knew what the most pressing damage was and, at the moment, had no interest in hearing about the functionality of the ice machine or anything else. The rear propulsion engine had been clipped, and unless Cade found a way to compensate for it, and fast, the 'Dawn' was going to drop out of the Quarrian sky in a spinning free fall.
"Cade," Tristan said, trying his very best to stifle the frustration that Cade knew was simmering within him. "We really, really need to stabilize the ship."
At the moment, Cade knew that the only thing that would stabilize the Dawn would be the surface—and only after several bounces.
"I'm. Working. On. It."
That pesky surface. Cade reminded himself that he had no idea when they'd get out of this minefield and, when they finally did, how close they'd be to the ground. That made it a little hard to plot a landing that wouldn't leave parts of them spread across half the planet.