The Phoenix was breaking apart.
Captain Kelso's jaw tightened. If he didn't act fast, the entire ship, along with its three-man crew, would disintegrate, scattering debris across the surface of the God-forsaken planet below.
The ship vibrated so severely it almost loosened the Captain's fillings. He hit the comm link and yelled into it."Peterson! How many escape pods are left?"
"I want everything that's not nailed down out of here."
Kelso turned and locked eyes with McGee, the navigator whose young face wore a mask of terror. "Gimme everything she's got, McGee! This is gonna be close!"
They peered through the main viewport as the darkness of space gave way to white clouds and a blue horizon. The Captain checked the gages on the console in front of him. The needle of every dial sat well past the danger limits.
From the side viewport, the two men witnessed a brilliant flash and felt a shudder course throughout the hull. "Number two pod away!" they heard Peterson's metallic voice state over the ship's speakers.
Kelso's fingers pounded at the keyboard near his waist. "We're still coming in too goddamn heavy!" He went to the mike. "Peterson! Put Bob in the remaining escape pod!"
McGee turned, eyes wide. "No, Captain!"
"We have no choice!" He turned to the mike, "Peterson!? Do you copy?!"
Inside the storage hull, Peterson hung from the overhead railing with both hands. He'd heard the Captain's commandment and stood stoically as the implication washed over him. After a moment, he sighed, then jerkily made his way to the rec room and punched in the access code. The door slid open.
In the center of the room sat a four-hundred pound gorilla by the name of Bob. He swung a half-empty bottle of bourbon in his massive hand. He sang drunkenly, "Nobody knows the trouble I seen, nobody knows..." His great pale eyes looked up and noticed Peterson standing in front of him. "Hey there, Pete," Bob grinned. "What's shakin'?"
"Gotta get in you in the escape pod, buddy."
"Bob go bye-bye?
Peterson nodded solemnly. Bob struggled heavily to his feet. "Okay."
Once Bob was secure inside the escape pod, his eyes seemed to register what was happening to him. He put his huge hand on the plate glass window in a gesture of friendship and longing.
Peterson wiped away a tear and put his hand against the glass next to Bob's.
"Tell the guys I'm gonna miss --"
Peterson hit the eject button and the pod shot from the ship in a blinding flash of light followed by a tremendous shutter. Peterson hurried back to the flight deck.
On the bridge, the doors opened and Peterson appeared. He looked at the Captain with red embers in his eyes. "I hope you're happy, Kelso..."
"Had to be done, Pete. Now, shut up and buckle yourself in. It's gonna get bumpy."
The ship bounced against the surface of the planet, hitting every terrestrial pothole in its path. With every jolt, pieces of the ship tore off, hoses and lines broke free, nuts and bolts sprang loose. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, the ship came to rest on the edge of a gigantic crater.
The three men on the bridge opened their eyes, released the air in their pent-up lungs and looked around. They erupted into cheers as the Captain tore off his restraints. "Well, you know what they say. Any landing you can walk away from --"
And then the ship exploded.
On the other side of the planet, in a lush green forest, an empty escape pod sat on its side. A trail of huge footprints led the way to Bob, who found himself surrounded by a group of curious chimpanzees.
"Speak English?" Bob asked.
"Sprenchen Sie Deutsch?"
Still no reply.
"Oh well." He shrugged.
Two of the chimpanzees approached him, taking his hands in theirs and leading him off into the jungle. Bob turned behind him and looked at the empty escape pod knowing that somehow, things were never going to be the same.