The Captain’s voice came on the speaker in every compartment and assured the passengers that the accident was nothing to worry about. Then they extended their body to full size, connecting with every instrument on the bridge, and went into crisis mode.
The first problem was that the Captain had no idea how the Ship worked. That was the Ship’s business, and the Captain respected people’s privacy. But the Ship had taken suddenly and violently ill, and was for the moment unable to inform the Captain of the details. This was fine as far it goes, for the last thing the Captain wished for was to embarrass the Ship with insensitive conditions regarding her condition. However, she did seem to be accelerating towards the atmosphere of the planet and the Captain wasn’t sure that ought to be happening.
The assignment to helm a Solar-class luxury cruiseliner had been a great one, and the Captain was grateful to the Society for the opportunity, but the Captain had been chosen for the role on the strength of their soothing voice and minor celebrity status on the Blitphone circuit. They had not been chosen for their experience in space exploration, of which they had none, or their ability to keep calm under pressure. The Captain had never been under pressure before in their long life. The feeling of being under pressure was disgusting and degrading. The Captain wanted the feeling to stop right away.
They extended a shoot into the diagnostic chamber and downloaded a fragment of their panicked consciousness onto each of the drones. They scattered, magnifying the Captain’s panic along with their own mirrors of that same panic, and scrambled along the arteries of the Ship to explore the vital compartments.
The Captain was very sorry for having told the passengers that there was an accident happening, because now the passengers were sending lots of messages to the bridge which was very distracting. It had been unavoidable though because the gravitational pull of the planet below had disturbed the passenger’s compartments, which were hanging in neat rows on the surface of the Guest Bubble. They were supposed to all float in perfect microgravity in a beautiful ring on the inside of the Bubble, but now the ones on the side of the Bubble furthest away from the approaching planet were being stretched out while the ones on the close side were squashed flat. Since the space inside the bags was folded up to give the passengers the palatial rooms they deserved, this distortion of the outside material was having dramatic effects on the space inside. The Captain was receiving annoying messages from the passenger compartments about buildings collapsing, rivers flooding, ice sculptures breaking and every kind of bump and bruise.
The Ship’s sensory blisters continued to broadcast to the Captain the images and telemetry of the planet growing closer and the force of its gravitational field growing stronger. They tried again to talk to the Ship through the interface crystal. This was met with instant regret as the Ship once again bombarded the Captain’s mind with sensations of horror from a thousand indescribable nightmares. They retracted from the crystal and waves of shock rustled through their branches. They stayed quite still until the drones returned. They had bad news.
One drone said that the inertial dampeners had been jettisoned into space. Another said that the plasma lances were merrily misfiring in all directions. Another said that the fabricators were producing piles of random materials in such quantity that the Fabrication Bubble might be about to burst. The Captain twitched and anxiously popped nitrogen bubbles down their shoots. They asked the drones if they had seen a way that any of that might be fixed? The drones said there wasn’t, so the Captain thanked them and allowed them to put their minds away and crawl back into the diagnostic chamber.
Long moments passed. The Ship was decelerating at a frightening rate as it skimmed the upper atmosphere. The Captain knew just enough about space travel to know what that meant. They activated the speaker system again and did the only thing they could possibly think of: to keep reading from the script.
“As we sail over the larger of the two partners of the Couplet System, we can see the colourful layers of its nitrogen-rich atmosphere. If we look back towards home we can see that the Couplet’s lesser partner, the silvery moon, is in full phase - illuminated fully by the strange light of Sol. And at this moment below us, we can see the new mountain range that has been produced by the mysterious tectonic forces of this enigmatic world. This mountain range has cooled the global temperature, creating the characteristic ice-caps at the poles, which were such an inspiration to Ship 38.”
The messages from the passengers had reached a fever pitch of panic. The Captain saw some of them had even crawled out of their compartments to scramble about in the Guest Bubble. They were all changing shape to try and find the most durable form they had learned.
“And if you’d please form camera eyes and attach the viewing lenses provided, you will see that the solar storm we detected earlier has now reached the planet’s magnetosphere and our scheduled aurora borealis has begun!”
The Fabrication Bubble detached from the main body of the Ship and burst. The Fabrication Bubble had been only a few modules removed from the Guest Bubble, and the Guests outside their compartments definitely saw it.
“I must remind our guests that the safest place to be at all times is inside their compartments. Through your viewing lenses, you will see a surprise! The Ship has prearranged a refractory web to spell out a special message in the aurora borealis - on behalf of the Ship and the entire SubSociety that serves her, we wish Guest 4057 a very happy updating of their Change Licence! Everybody raise a toast to Guest 4057 on this wonderful - ”
The Guest Bubble detached and burst. The passenger compartments were scattered across the sky. There was no one left to talk to now, but the Captain marched bravely on through their script as, one by one, the lights went out.
When the few surviving passengers crept out of the bags that had remained miraculously intact from the crash, they found that not much of the Ship had survived. But those parts that had would become entwined forever with their lives, and with the history of the beautiful world they had come so far to see.