Belden bit down hard, holding his breath and grunting, as he rolled through the Ephalon field, bracing himself with his knees against the sides of the cockpit and avoiding the other skirmishes surrounding him. He fought to maintain control of his craft stressing itself now to its design limits, then turning directly into the dreadnaught's wake. The propulsion turbulence was volatile and he and his craft shook like a rag doll in the mouth of a terrier. But Belden knew he was close enough now that no armament fired would miss its target and did it with that knowledge and armed the atomic, via the stick, and fired the rocket.
As the trajectory staid its course Belden lifted the nose of his craft as hard and as fast as he could, heading away from both the fight and the dreadnaught. He flipped the warning signal for any of his other intercept shipmates to scatter from the enemy ship in liew of impending danger and hoped all, or at least most, of them got away.
He was eleven seconds back when the rocket timed down, tearing itself into the propulsion systems of the battle ship, then detonating. You weren't supposed to hear things in space but being this close there was an eerie concussion that shook his guts like dropped gelatin. The light was blinding, even coming from behind, and Belden knew the fight was over. The enemy fighters would surrender. They had no place to go, if they weren't suicidal, so they'd seek sanctuary as prisoners of war. They were too far out to survive alone in this dark, uninhabited, region of space.
They'd won and Belden thought he'd begin to feel good about it but then something came up.
His craft began to shudder. Something wasn't right, he figured. Belden checked everything, fast, and discovered his electrics were failing and fading quick. Just as he reached to activate his emergency beacon, it all flickered out. Dead. Everything went blank except for the emergency battery which was on an independent system, sort of like an exit sign, even though there were none for him at this point. He had cockpit lights but little else. Belden didn't relish the idea of dying out there, adrift, and completely alone. He had been at full thrust when it happened and he was heading in the opposite direction of the conflict. They'd never find him, most likely. The suddenness of that realization was more than a little profound to him.
Belden shut everything off, even though there was no power to any of his electrics, in case of a short. He didn't want a fire. Then threw several levers, converting his craft, essentially into a manual glider. The mechanical thrusters could control the direction, to some degree, but that was about it.
He was alone. There was nothing but battle debris, here and there, and a whole lot of metallic asteroids, but he was leaving those far behind, too. He angled himself back into a parallel course with the asteroids, but not amongst them.
He remembered the radar screens before they flickered out. There was a small planetoid nearby to starboard. He drifted in that direction, hoping he hadn't overshot it, but saw it looming in the cold distance. It was spherical and about the size of the Eppy moons, orbiting Quenton. Yeah, he'd make it there, but then what?
There was nothing to do but attempt a safe landing.
He came in low and was shocked to see a thin atmosphere over the small world, with clouds below the glow. It was a good thing, in spite of his dead electrics. He manually maneuver much more easily in the planet hugging gases and soon grew comfortable with the controls.
The atmosphere was forming into condensation buffets, off his arced wings, as he shed speed in a controlled, high lift deceleration maneuver near the surface, just prior to touchdown, then noting the plant life, very briefly. It was low lying stuff, but actually living things.
He cranked down the landing bays and let the spring loaded skids drop out of their hiding bays, since he had no hovering capability, and touched down. His skids raised an enormous cloud of dust behind him over the flat plain and his heavy ship came roughly to a stop, almost a minute later, it's skids half sunk into the soft red dirt.
Belden exhaled. "That was lucky," he said to himself. A landing of this sort usually meant a nasty crash. "Whew!" he exclaimed, much relieved, while sliding open the small panel with the static readings on exterior conditions. "Hmmm! Oxygen and nitrogen atmosphere. Great. And in just the right amounts." It was suppose to be warm out there, besides. Still, he cracked the canopy of the scalloped shaped hull's cockpit cautiously and waited. The temperature was good. Warm, even, just as the gage indicated. He cracked the face shield on his helmet and took a short breath then shut it again, taking in the alien air. It was good, clean, almost sweet, he noticed, realizing some little yellow flowers were in bloom all around his fighter.
Belden removed his helmet slowly, and set it on the consol panel in front of him and sat up on the edge of the canopy seal, taking careful short breaths.
He surveyed the surrounding landscape and noticed he was on fairly even ground, but infrequent peaks of jagged rock that from a distance looked like crystal, jutted up from the benign surface to point their enormous spear tips defiantly upward into the bluish sky for several hundred meters.
Not a bad place, if there's any water around, he thought. That was his first need. He had shelter, his ship. But if he couldn't repair his craft, and chances are he couldn't, he would need water more than anything else, in the short run.
A gust of breeze blew his long hair and Belden turned his face into the pleasant wind. It was refreshing and when he looked, he saw in the distance a rock with something flowing out of it. He was sure it was water. He walked aft, on top of the hull, and opened a small compartment that housed all his extended survival gear. He removed it all, put the backpack on, holstered his sizeable but compact rifle, and retrieved the monocular. Yes, he thought, gazing at the outcropping through the monocular. It was water, most likely.
He slid off the low profile of the craft and walked to the stone, taking the analyzer from the pack's hip belt, as he approached the spot, making sure there were no hazards nearby, like hidden life forms or a weak crust to the surface of the ground. Only then did Belden take a sample of the water, holding it in his bare hand and found it to be perfectly safe. The analyzer did, however, tell him to wash his dirty hands.
I guess they are... 'dirty', and smiled.
"Yes mother," he said, absently, looking around from that spot, and back at his craft. It was low slung, sunk into the ground like that, and battle scared, true, and streaked with blast and shrapnel punctures, but still beautiful to him. Belden would miss flying it, he knew, as he walked back to assess the damage.
The main computer had taken a direct hit and along with it the main battery pack. No wonder everything died so quickly. Unless his own dreadnaught ship returned and picked up the shape of his craft, that was nothing more than salvageable scrap at this point, and rebuilt the thing, which they never did, his beloved fighter would never fly again. That's a disappointing reality check, isn't it? Then sat on the ground in an exhausted slump.
He took one of the canisters of water off the side of the backpack and opened the lid, taking a deep swallow. It was foul tasting stuff, it was so old, but it was wet. He thought of emptying it out and refilling it with that bubbling spring's water, but he didn't want to take anything alien into him until he had to. Err on the side of caution, he thought. Far away in his mind he hoped there was still a chance of rescue.
He stayed with the fighter three days and three nights, as per his training, but on the forth day, Belden knew he really was alone. There would be no rescue. Wars didn't wait for one missing pilot. They were most likely three systems away by now.
He sealed the cockpit and left his ship to go explore, taking a reading with his manual compass and the direction of travel. He took a direct line between the ship and the spring. That would be a good point to start since it led into the thicker foliage, off this plain of low sparse grasses and ankle high plants. The red dirt was particularly fine but it had a crust on it's surface that made it easy to walk on, especially in the low gravity.
As of yet, Belden had seen nothing of any animal larger than insects and some kind of small black and red bird. It rested on one of his plane's wings, a day ago, looked at him, chirped a couple of times, then jutted off into the sky.
The grasses were taller inside this island of trees. The islands were scattered throughout the plain. He looked around at this one and found little of interest. There were the chirping of those birds but he couldn't see any.
With all the deadfall wood laying around, he could make himself a cozy fire but why would he? He had nothing to cook. He would need to find something to eat here, eventually, his concentrated rations wouldn't last but a few more days. If there was food here, he'd find it. You have to think positive in situations like this, he told himself.
Belden left the little forest of trees and headed for another island of them. They were barely higher than the surrounding plain, he noted, but it was just enough to form a mini forest, there, whatever the complimentary conditions were that allowed it to exist.
The crunching of the ground beneath his flight boots reminded him of his many, many campouts back home. The volcanic soils, the deserts, the mountain crests, they were all good memories. It was all nostalgic for him but he tried not to think too much about it. He was here and unless he was rescued, he might have to spend the rest of his days on this little orb, watching his step with every stride, especially in this kind of gravity.
It was a beautiful place, almost jungle-like within the trees, and then the semi arid look of the plain between them. He could adapt, he knew, but without companionship, it might get very lonely around here.
Belden noticed something hanging from one of the trees, in the second island of forest. Some kind of fruit. It looked like a squash, pale beige, about a foot long and half that wide, and possibly edible.
He went below the tree and was about to put his pack down and climb it when one of the pods dropped. It would have landed at his feet or bopped him on the head if he hadn't been looking up, but Belden caught it instead. It was as heavy as a squash. Maybe a kilo or two.
"Thank you," he said, looking up at the tree for some reason. You might be my only friends in the future, he thought, if I'm going to have any, thinking of the trees.
Belden set the fruit pod down and took off his pack, then sat on the ground Indian style, smelling the fruit. It did have a pleasant aroma to it, he'd give it that. It didn't remind him of anything he could recall, but it was pleasant enough. He took his small survival knife out and cut it open. The pulp was substantial, with only a small inner hollow area that was filled with one large seed. Shaped similar to a Mango seed. He cut off a small piece, less than a millimeter big, and chewed it. It was delightful to the taste, juicy too, and Belden wanted to try more, but didn't dare. He wanted to see if his body would reject it and make him sick. He was on another world and food from other places were not always kind to human visitors. He had to give it 24 hours. He stored the two halves in a sealed bag and put them in his pack and would have moved on but saw and felt the wind picking up. It was really picking up fast.
Clouds rolled up over the horizon of the small planet just as he was about to leave the second island. A front of rain would hit his location within minutes, he knew, as those clouds came up so quick. He could see it falling across the plain in the distance and approaching. He quickly dressed in dry coverings when he saw it coming across the near ground and hunkered down beneath the tree of fruit pods. It seemed to have the broadest leaves. He didn't want to be caught out in the open in this storm.
Belden was going to set up the shelter, too, his little tarp, but the tree pulled in its limbs and seemed to bend lower, the leaves forming a perfect umbrella canopy around him. He hesitated, thinking of leaving, seeing it move. Slowly, but it did move. It scared him at first but it wasn't threatening. Just unusual and then he relaxed. But there wasn't a drop of rain that touched him. Some tree, he thought. It feeds you and protects you from the elements, too. Pretty nice.
Another anomaly was the tree, the entirety of it, glowed. There was a discernable aura about the thing. Belden sensed a feeling of comfort from its warm glowing mass and looked up at the limbs and leaves of the upper canopy. He even went and touched the bark of the trunk and it filled him with some kind of tingling. It was pleasant, but that was all. Was this tree intelligent, he wondered? Was it, sentient? No. That was silly. It was just some kind of alien phosphorus and a defense mechanism in the tree. Strange, but quite natural.
He removed his dry suite and stored it, drawing in the red dirt with a stick, waiting for the sudden storm to pass. Thunder roared across the plain and lightning lit up the world like flashes from a huge camera. It was all very noisy and windy. Belden decided he'd stay the rest of the day there, and if need be, the night.
The storm didn't dissipate for three days, however. It was hard staying beneath the tree for so long and Belden entertained himself by exercising and reading the survival brochure several times, that, or working on mathematic problems. He had his electronic pocket book with him that contained hundreds of books to read, and various journals, but he couldn't get into the one novel he'd been reading, thinking of so many things he felt he had to consider to survive on this world.