"Are you Captain John Carlyle of the freighter, Argon, Sir?" they asked.
I answered the two policemen in the affirmative and listened carefully. Alice, my copilot, was missing. She had apparently gone out for a short hike at another resort, up in the mountains, and never returned. Search and rescue was looking for her at the moment.
A shiver ran down my spine as I thought of my beautiful blond shipmate out in this planet's teaming primitive jungle, lost and alone. The dinosaurs, I'd read, could be as vicious and instinctual as alligators back on old earth. The planet was no place for unescorted travel and she'd apparently done just that. It scared the hell out of me.
I rushed back to the ship on my air cycle and got some of my own survival gear then headed out to the resort she had disappeared from. There were erupting volcanoes in the far blue distance and steep, newly created peaks of black and gray capped with snow and ice, rising to dizzy heights in every direction as I passed range after range. Why she had chosen such an out of the way place for a three day layover was beyond me. I was scared, worried, mad and cold. I had the throttle opened wide and my body tucked under the tiny windscreen flying over the conifers in the cool mountain air and it was getting colder as it tore at my recreational clothing, speeding further into the deeply forested higher interior. As the minutes passed, I couldn't keep Alice or her loveliness out of my mind and reminisced on how we had gotten to this backwater dangerous planet, recalling her cute forceful voice and strong words during landing.
"John! Trim aft boosters eight and six," Alice shouted, her voice echoing throughout the pilot's chamber of carbon fiber walls.
We could hear the dense atmosphere howling against the outer hull of metal-composite. It sounded like a hurricane outside at the speed the ship was coming through the dense atmosphere on approach to this young planet. But it was more in the nature of a gas-giant's wind as if our rocket was flowing through Saturn's upper cloud layers. And as a freighter isn't exactly aerodynamic, they do make a heck of a racket plowing though thick oxygenated air. The noise would, however, subside soon enough as we decelerated.
I pulled way back on the throttles and Alice's specified boosters, the fourteen main grav-engines dropping their thrusts with dramatic results and with some creative stick, handled by her, the ship's noisy vibrations smoothed considerably.
"That's it," I said, more to myself than to my copilot, keeping a careful eye on the descent rate and trim while she dutifully maneuvered the ship.
"Four Ninety-two," Alice called out the vastly decreasing speed every twelve seconds, out of habit. She was doing her job and mine, for the most part, for practice. "Four Eighty! Four Sixty-Eight.--Opening Air brakes."
The ship protested with a howl again and the spacecraft shuddered like a flimsy airplane hitting the runway of some earth-environed airport. Our bodies strained forward against the thick Kevlar safety restraints.
I cut thrust on all but two of the engines. We were letting the ship's hull slow us like a parachute as we watched the readouts on the ship's needs and soon enough it was less than noisy.
After a few minutes, Alice broke the silence in our much quieted pilot's chamber, speaking this time instead of shouting: "One eighty! One sixty!"
The ship was essentially falling through the sky though the shape of the fuselage made it a somewhat controlled glide.
"Landing gear deployed," I said, in support.
"Activating ground hover," Alice communicated. The huge space craft's tons of structure reacted as if it were suddenly sitting calmly on a permacrete airfield when the air brakes retracted and the landing engines kicked in far above the distant criss-crossed runways of the field. We had now slowed to less than seventy kilometers per hour.
"Deactivating main engines," I said, locking back the silver throttles while punching keys and flipping incidental switches. "All red," I said, gazing at the panel. The distant humming of the grav-drive subsided.
"Okay," Alice commented, looking at an overhead monitor, "There's Port Angeles, such as it is..."
I followed her gaze. The airfield sat off to one side of the growing city. There were enormous buildings that had to be the main hangers and various smaller ones under construction. Large and not so large craft were docked hap-hazardly around the field in what appeared to be a chaos of ship, port and machinery.
"A little on the primitive side, I'd say," I replied. Besides the seeming disarray of the docking, large trees and plant life infiltrated the space port everywhere, which normally isn't tolerated inside the boundaries of a landing field, especially near taxi ways. It was a coarse, newly settled planet, we knew from the latest reports, and though it was both Alice and my first experience there, we both came to the same conclusion about it.
"Y-e-a-h," she agreed, drawing out the word.
I glanced at her sitting straight-backed in her black pilot's chair looking up at the monitors, her beautiful chin-line raised gracefully to the multiple screens, her deep set blue eyes flickering quickly from one system read-out to the next, checking flow rates, trim and ship position and adjusting her guidance systems as needed. I couldn't help but be enamored by her. She's is gorgeous, I thought. She's gotta be the sexiest woman I've ever been around and certainly the best rookie co-'p' I've ever had; And she was driven, as well as independent, determined to advance quickly to full pilot status.
Alice had a perfect Scandinavian face with rosy cheeks and dramatically arched eyebrows that gave her a serious Viking look though still extremely feminine in appearance. Long golden hair fell as if it were a shower of silk strands across her broad beautiful shoulders and athletic back. However, one's eyes couldn't help but be drawn to the rest of her figure. Those long shapely legs wrapped in the skin tight flight suit curled beneath her chair, the beautiful wedge shape of her hips and with the cross-your-chest safety harness exaggerating her already dramatically sculpted charms even more than was normal for her, the restraints pushing and spreading her body to a point of intolerable obviousness, for me. I don't know if I'd ever witnessed such a perfect being as her before and after three months of being almost completely alone with Alice, except during ports of call, shuttling freight from planet to planet, it was still difficult not to stare. I was completely taken with her.
I'd seriously tried to convince myself that maybe she was someone I actually wanted to get to know better in a permanent fashion, but so far hadn't made a move in that direction, which is why I had kept things on a strictly professional level. Looking back, now, I don't know why. Perhaps it was nothing more than my strict bachelorhood and ego wanting to work unencumbered to get rich before I was thirty.
"Argon--Angeles-Control," the field's air controller hailed to us for the fourth time. "You are cleared for docking at berth sixty-seven. Confirm."
"Understood," Alice replied. "Berth sixty-seven."
I leaned back in my flight chair. "It's all yours," I relinquished, letting Alice take over the landing sequence while I merely kept watch.
She had felt uncomfortable, at first, when I asked her to do these manual landings, but after six planet falls she was getting as good at it as I was and I had been doing them for years.
Just over the berth we got yet another, and this time frantic, call from the control tower. "Control to Argon: Hold position, Argon! I say again, Hold position!" It was highly unusual for them to interrupt the last few meters of landing for a craft our size.
"Argon holding, tower," Alice replied. I watched her efficiently make some quick adjustments. The ship halted in mid-air and it felt like an elevator coming to a stop. I brought the microphone closer to my mouth.
"Argon, here. What's going on, tower?" I asked. We were only forty meters off the permacrete.
"Watch your monitors. We have a few indigenous residents migrating beneath you."
A glance at the tri-pad landing monitors quickly showed what appeared to be Hadrosaurs passing beneath the ship. They didn't look the same as earth's imagined renditions but they were similar in many ways. It was a whole herd of them, maybe a hundred or so. They were big elegant magnificent animals and seemingly unafraid of the ship in it's silent magnetic landing mode, meters above their heads. We waited in awe over the field as they passed beneath us.
"I've never seen dinosaurs before," said Alice, straining to get a better look as she tested the form fitting seams of her purple, almost black, flight suit, stretching against the strength of that harness.
"I have, once before," I announced, dragging my eyes away from stressed clothing and back to the monitors. "Two years ago on Mallidor. It's in a Jurassic stage also."
"How cute," she said, ooing over the young ones in the screens and making me smile as she sounded like a little girl. "They're so-o-o beautiful," Alice added.
I glanced briefly at her beaming face and agreed, though my agreement wasn't necessarily aimed at the dinos. I shook my thoughts away from her smile and figure, trying to get beyond her physique as the tower calmly came back over our ear sets.
"Control to Argon. You are now clear to land."
"Argon landing. Thank you, Control," Alice informed them.
I watched her movements as she efficiently threw a couple of switches and maneuvered Argon to a slightly jolted landing. The stoppage transferred the shock to our flight chairs and I noticed how her body bounced. You can't imagine how wonderfully distracting she could be. "Nice landing," I said.
We stood on the infield in the hot shade of the ship with the acrid scent and ticking sounds of the cooling grav' engines lingering in the air as the unloading crew of one arrived. Twenty or so antiquated robotic sleds, followed dutifully behind his lead vehicle. How primitive can you get, I thought. No air lifts? The smoky internal combustion engine machines rattled away behind him with tines extending like huge forks, eager to get at the job.
I was standing down-wind from Alice as her long golden hair feathered against my shoulder and bare neck in the warm breeze. I took a step forward away from the maddening touch to address the unloading crew-chief, but he beat me to the punch.
"Welcome to the Western Rim of the Cruize-Nebula, Argon. How'd you like our little zoo display?" he asked as he jumped off his field sled. A sewn-on tag announced his name as, 'Gil.'