This is my entry for the June 2017 TCWG short story competition. As usual it’s a science fiction story and it has about 1845 words.
An Alien Solution to a Problem with the A36
“Captain, we’re out of control, our engines are dead a we’re destined to crash into that planet! Our only hope is our thrusters, which may enable us to avoid burning up in the atmosphere.” The Chief Engineer’s voice yelled through the speaker.
“Navigator, do what you can with thrusters and everyone else, strap yourselves down and prepare for a crash landing!” The captain made the extraordinary order and then just prayed that he and his crew would survive.
The Navigator did remarkably well, keeping the spacecraft turning on its axis so it didn’t overheat, and as it approached a landing site, he got the spaceship into a good position for landing. However, the landing was a disaster. Seconds before touchdown, the spaceship collided with the top ten feet of a tall tree. This threw the spaceship up into the air, turning it so that its orientation was now perpendicular to the planet’s surface. Still turning on its axis, it drilled its way into the centre of the junction between the A36 and the A366, where the latter goes east to Farleigh Hungerford and Trowbridge. The spaceship was buried to just above its middle and all exits were sealed by the ground and melting asphalt from the road.
The Captain called out, “Casualty reports, damage reports! Why are we suspended with everything on its side?”
Fortunately no one was hurt but the spaceship was stuck fast with everything at 90° to how it should be. Getting from deck to deck was OK but getting from one compartment or cabin to the next was very difficult. Injuries had been avoided because everything heavy was securely fastened to the floor and people were securely fastened to the things. But this meant that most equipment and basic things like beds and tables were unusable because they were now stuck to the “walls”. As for bathrooms, they were quite unusable.
The Captain managed to assemble his senior staff in one of the meeting rooms and they sat on the wall that was now the floor, looking at the table, chairs and computer that were stuck to the floor that was now a wall. The captain had a laptop, which was connected by wifi to the spaceship’s computer. He began, “Somehow we’ve got stuck nose down. How can we extricate ourselves from this? How long will it take?”
The Chief Engineer said, “I don’t think that we can get out of this by ourselves. We’re well and truly stuck. We can repair the engines but we can’t start them because the lubricant won’t be in contact with the right parts. Kearsian, the immensely strong material that protects us from damage when we collide with space debris also means that, with the doors totally jammed, we’re completely imprisoned and reliant on being rescued. Without engines we only have electricity from solar panels and 90% of their output is needed to run the recycling plant. The remaining 10% will have to be rationed for all other uses.”
The Ship’s Doctor added his comments, “There were no injuries in the crash, and so my main concern is that sooner or later we will all need to use the lavatory. Right now, I’ve put buckets on every deck for people to use but they’ll be disgusting by evening and we’ll start to run out of buckets pretty quickly. Having liaised with Maintenance, I have established that there are only four lavatories that can be easily reoriented for use in our current position. That’s not many for 250 people. The other issue is air and ventilation. I understand that the engine vents have been opened and they will supply sufficient ventilation, even though that’s not their purpose.”
The Communications Officer was next to speak, “Without more power, it’s not possible to send a distress signal to the homeworld. However, there’s a chance that we can use this planet’s technology. I’m trying to hack in to their systems and I hope that I might be able to do something in two or three weeks. In the short-term, all cameras are offline and we have no idea in what we have become ensnared. I hope to have the aft cameras operational within a couple of hours. They don’t use much energy, so at least we can look to see where we are.”
The Captain gave orders, the most important of which were to conserve energy wherever possible and to get at least one loo working by the end of the day.
It was 0535 when Avon and Somerset police received the emergency call. The caller phoned to say that a meteorite had crashed into the A36 where it intersects the A366 eastbound. A patrol car was despatched and confirmed the report. A civil engineer was called from the Highways Agency to assess the damage to the road and the degree of obstruction caused by the meteorite.
Geoffrey Palmer and some workmen arrived at the scene at 0620. He was surprised to see that there was no crater surrounding the area of impact. He didn’t know that the spaceship had gone in like a drill. He also didn’t know that it was a spaceship. To him and every other observer, it looked like a huge shard of obsidian, which was actually the coating of Kearsian. He correctly estimated that the spaceship was about seventeen or eighteen feet long, the shape of a double-ended pencil and about eight feet in diameter, with about eight feet showing above the surface of the road. Around the point at the top there appeared to be a number of holes but it was not possible to see how deeply the holes went into the meteorite.
He went right up close to it to see if he could see anything interesting about it. At that point, the Communications Officer got one of the aft cameras working and the first thing he saw was unmistakeably a huge eyeball! “Oh my God!” He exclaimed. “The aliens on this planet are absolutely gigantic. This eyeball is half the size of a person! A baby could fit in the pupil.” Whether that last statement is actually true is questionable but it expressed his feelings to his colleagues. Geoffrey moved back from the meteorite/spaceship and the Communications Officer could now see the creature looking in. “The aliens are like us”, he said, “but absolutely enormous.”
Geoffrey had no idea that he was being observed and was busy working out whether the road should be closed and how to deal with the meteorite. “I think that the road is stable enough to remain open”, he said. “We’ll have to remove the meteorite but doing so now and closing this road during the working week will be a nightmare. As the road structure is stable, I suggest turning the meteorite into a temporary roundabout.” The workmen had the necessary equipment to restructure the junction as a roundabout and the work was completed as the rush hour reached its peak.
That rush hour was utterly chaotic, as TV and radio stations despatched reporters to report on what was the day’s main news story. Of course, next there were the sightseers but by the next morning’s rush hour the roundabout was working well. In fact, many motorists felt that it worked a lot better than the intended arrangement of the A366 giving way to the A36. Soon there were phone calls to local radio stations, such as BBC Somerset, calling for the roundabout to be made permanent.
Meanwhile, on the spaceship, the crew were adjusting to their bizarre existence and had realized that their spaceship was now being used as a traffic island, the centre of a roundabout. A series of rope ladders meant that people could get around each deck. Work was continuing on trying to find a way to send a distress signal home and the loos had been sorted as well as could be hoped for. Life was strange but at least it wasn’t too unpleasant.
But then something alarmed the crew of the spaceship. To pass the time, they’d tuned in to Earth’s radio stations and they heard a phone-in where people were calling for the meteorite (as the people of Earth still thought the spaceship was) to be left in situ and to become a permanent roundabout. They thought that they’d never escape their incarceration. Then another caller to the phone-in pointed out that just a little further up the road was the massive congestion over the Limpley Stoke Viaduct, Brassknocker Hill and Winsley Hill. Someone asked how one could improve traffic flows in an area of outstanding natural beauty without damaging that scenery. Someone else suggested putting the A36 through a tunnel to bypass the traffic lights and said that would make the A36 a much better road to drive on, together with the roundabout. The crew were quite lost, not knowing anything about parochial issues of Bath and North East Somerset but feeling that they might be left permanently in a hole in the ground.
But after nearly two weeks it was a Sunday and the road was closed. A large crane arrived and workmen drilled away some of the road to free the meteorite/spaceship. Chains were attached to the meteorite and it was lifted onto the back of a lorry. For the first time in nearly a fortnight the spaceship was oriented correctly relative to gravity, though it was only chance that led the crane operator to lay it the right way up. It was then chained to the lorry.
Though as far as anybody on Earth knew, the thing was a meteorite, it was nonetheless decided to take it to the Air Accident Investigation Branch at Farnborough for examination. Once there, it was delivered to a hangar, where it was placed in a specially built cradle.
The people inside the spaceship were still several days from completing repairs to their engines. With the spaceship the right way up, they had started to clean the door mechanisms. On the outside, workers at the AAIB had started to clean the outside in order to look at the whole meteorite without the contamination of pieces of A36. A woman technician on the cleaning team was cleaning an area with indentations when something she prodded caused a panel to spring open. She called out to her supervisor, “I think it’s a spaceship! I’ve found a panel that opens to reveal writing and switches.” As her supervisor ran over to look, she scraped a grain of asphalt-covered sand off a switch and accidentally activated it. A door swung open and there was a little man, the size of a newborn kitten, standing behind it! She picked him up but it was obvious that he was really terrified, so she gently stroked his head and put him back and he signalled a thank you. With that action, both the spaceship occupants and the people of Earth realized that they could be friends with each other.
This was the beginning and not the end.
© Charles Stuart 2017