Orbital 6 was as bustling as it ever was.
Which wasn’t much compared to most planetside docking facilities. Smugglers were the most numerous to grace the station’s facilities, though they never announced themselves of course. They brought trade to the place.
Ari Habi was one such smuggler.
His vessel, the light freighter Alice’s Bedlam, was docked up, the station’s enlisted pulling the cargo from the hold. He was waiting in one of their lounges, not wanting to get in their way. The hot food and drink weren’t too bad, but he could taste the reconstituted protein. It would do before the run to Pegasus Galaxy.
As he sipped his ‘enhanced’ dark cafi, his special ingredient sat in a bottle in his pocket, he watched the activity around him. Or lack of.
Contact with Terra was currently out of the question, something he wasn’t bothered by. He wasn’t born there, had visited the gargantuan cities only once; he was quite happy to know that communications were out in the area. It would give him a chance to slip away if needed.
The mess hall he was in was largely empty.
People were on duty, or the station just wasn’t seeing any traffic besides himself.
Warning lights flashed on just as he was tucking into something called pecan pie. The mess hall was bathed in red light.
It was bad.
Red was never a good sign.
He looked out of the wraparound windows that afforded an incredible view of the curve of Mars, the red planet showing off its natural beauty. Ari’s attention, though, was on the rock that tumbled towards it.
He couldn’t tell from this distance, but the rock was huge.
Where had it come from?
Why did the crew seem surprised?
His ship was still in the hangar. He pulled out a digipad, and tapped in commands to be sent through a tiny link to the Alice’s Bedlam’s computer. The digipad showed that the engine was starting up and its systems were ready to go when he needed.
He was frozen to the spot.
The rock showed little flashes all across the edge nearest the planet.
He realised with some horror that that was the ships and orbitals being squashed. He felt sick. He had seen worlds devastated, of course, he was a smuggler, every now and again places like the Savage Halo offered up such events. But this was Mars, only a hop from Terra itself.
The asteroid didn’t burn, Mars still having no atmosphere to really speak of.
It slammed fully into the planet’s surface, and he swore he could see cracks smash their way across the rust-red surface. A glow came from beneath as the planet’s core crumbled and forced its way up and out. The asteroid crumpled, smashing further in as it folded like an accordion.
Orbital 6 shook as the planet’s atmosphere and magnetic field was blasted away.
Fear gripped him then.
He needed to get to the Bedlam, but he couldn’t help but watch.
Parts of Mars’ surface began sinking, shockwaves kicking up the dust so he couldn’t see what happened next.
The station’s commander spoke through the tannoy.
“All hands, this is the station commander; brace yourselves. We are attempting to leave orbit using the thrusters. This could be very bumpy. When the planet begins to break apart fully, it could explode.”
Ari’s eyes widened, and he was snapped out of his horrific view.
“Explode?” he wailed.
The digipad in his hand beeped.
The ship was ready.
The station started to vibrate at first, then shake as the large construct tried to break away from the dying planet and its now-unpredictable gravitic pull.
The corridor lurched and he was thrown into the nearest wall. He twisted to take the hit on his shoulder, tying to roll with it as if he was in a fight. He gave out a cry, the pain incredible as he tumbled to the floor.
His arm refused to move quickly.
It wasn’t dislocated, but he knew it was bruised badly.
“Gods,” he breathed, the pain knocking the wind from his lungs.
The station was shaking badly.
Either the station was being hit by something, or it hadn’t used its thrusters to move itself for a long time, if at all.
More sirens and alarms squealed in the distance, and the station shook again.
This time, he was ready, and barely moved, holding himself against the wall with his good arm. He could hear cries of fear, and the clinking of tumbling metal in the distance as something came loose.
The lights flickered and sparks jumped from power conduits.
The hangar was a nightmare.
The station had shaken some of the other ships out of their docking cradles.
Panic set in, and he searched around for the Bedlam.
He sighed with relief.
It was still where he had left it, hidden behind a Navy shuttle that had upended in front of it. The hangar doors were open to space, the magcon field flashing and twisting as the station fought against the planet’s gravity.
He didn’t have time to watch the planet come apart, running around the gantries until he reached the Bedlam. The station shook again, this time harder, smashing him against the railings and knocking the wind out of his lungs.
Horror filled him as he watched Olympus Mons crack and fall apart far below.
The hangar’s a death trap, he thought, worry about Mars in a minute.
The Bedlam was humming gently away, running lights and engines lit.
The power to the hangar went, and a hurricane knocked him from his feet.
He yelped and scrabbled for a handhold, tumbling towards space; he flailed, accidentally slapping the digipad on his belt.
A great roaring sound pierced the wind of the air escaping from the hangar.
He could hear a voice coming through the tannoy speakers, but it was drowned out.
The roaring got louder as he struggled for breath.
Something brushed his forearm and he grabbed it, realising belatedly it was the Bedlam’s rear fin. The rear access hatch opened, and he pulled himself hand over hand towards it, running low on energy, his lungs searing like the lava far below.
A metallic hand popped out and snared his wrist, nearly breaking it.
As the life started to ebb away from him, warmth covered him like a blanket and the wind eased off entirely.
“Greetings, Captain,” a voice said.
He took in a deep breath, and looked up into the bright glowing eyes of his droid-servant Mix.
“Hello, Mix,” he breathed. “Get the ship moving; get us away from Mars.”
“Of course, Captain,” the half-height machine replied a little too cheerily.
Ari pulled himself to his feet, and stumbled towards the cockpit. By the time he flopped down in the co-pilot’s chair, Mars was coming apart entirely. The inner cores were spewing out into space, cooling down as it moulded with the rock of the dead planet.
Orbital 6 was nowhere to be seen.
With a lump in his throat, he turned to his droid.
“Let’s get out of here, Mix. Set a course for somewhere far away.”
“Of course, Captain.”