Professor Akayama could not quantify the duration of her fall after the Hurricane ripped her spaceship in half. Each half of her Zephyr’s head spun into space in opposite directions, while she seemed to spin in place until she lost consciousness. Each time she woke she saw the red Hurricane Planet approaching beneath her. She lost consciousness like this seven times, and each time she prayed she could hit the ground and die before she woke once more and had to see the Hurricane again.
She wasn’t so lucky. She splashed face-down in a deep ocean of warm, pearly, pulpy liquid.
She had no strength to swim, but she floated to the surface and rolled face-up. Her lab coat kept her afloat as she languished in half-awareness for, it felt like, nine days. She had to guess at the duration because she saw only red Hurricane Planets speckling the black sky; she would die without the familiar sight of the earth and sun from her moon base. She was too distant to even glimpse the Milky Way.
When she tested her limbs she felt the pain of broken bones. Each passing day, or whenever she felt like a day had passed, she tested her limbs again and found a greater range of motion. She knew these seas of pearly liquid accumulated on wounded Hurricane Planets and would repair any damage to their exterior. She had watched similar seas flood and drain as she studied the Hurricane in her telescopes. She had never seen the liquid up close; indeed, no one had. She considered it a cruel irony that the pearly liquid seemed to sustain her as well as the Planet she had landed on; death would not come to her so easily.
On the ninth day she flipped to float on her belly and she shed her lab coat. Inside the lab coat were buoyant plastic air-pockets, which inflated during the emergency. If she had left her lab coat behind, she could have drowned and this would all be over. Now she put on the lab coat back-to-front so the buoyancy was better suited for swimming. She tread water—well, not water, but she didn’t want to think about what it really was—and surveyed the horizon. Her eyes were excellent for a 120 year old even by the medical standards of the twenty-fifth century, but the featureless horizon provided no landmarks to swim toward. She finally noticed a thin plume of dark smoke from the way it blotted out the uniform speckling of red Hurricane Planets in the black sky.
She had never observed a Hurricane Planet expelling dark smoke. Perhaps this was her crash-landed Zephyr? She had no other guess, and her stomach rumbled at the thought of the rations she had stored aboard. She wasn’t hungry—the Hurricane’s wound-goo sustained her—but if her mental calculations were correct, the wound would heal in a few more days and the sustaining liquid would be absorbed. Then what would she eat? Besides, she kept a cockroach in the Zephyr’s glove compartment, and she wanted nothing more than a good smoke.
She swam for the plume of smoke by kicking her legs.
After a few days (she guessed) her hands brushed a gritty shoreline. She pulled herself onto the painful shore and slept on her lab coat in the shallows. As she slept the pearly liquid grew shallower like the tide was going out, and when she woke she saw that the shore was paved with human teeth. She shuddered, pulled herself to her feet, and pulled her lab coat around her shoulders. She limped over the teeth toward where the dark smoke-plume beckoned in the distance.
Decades ago, when she experimented with human mind-mergers, her failed test subjects bristled with painful teeth. She would immediately stop the experiments and surgically return her subjects to their natural states, and record the precise mental incompatibility between subjects so the mistake was never repeated. Today her largest failure, the Hurricane, used teeth to cordon its wounds with dense, impacted masses.
Beyond the teeth Akayama walked on smooth, pink, freshly-healed flesh. The farther she walked toward the plume of smoke, the more the Hurricane’s flesh reddened and wrinkled and shed its uppermost layers of dead skin cells, giving her the impression of traversing an infinite dusty desert. Her feet sank six inches in the sand.
The plume of dark smoke grew closer every hour. Soon she could see individual rolling coils of smog. She crested one last dune and saw half her Zephyr in the center of a deep depression. She wondered if the crater was created when the Zephyr crash-landed. For a wrecked spaceship, it seemed to be in acceptable condition: only half the head was there—the right half, with one eye, one ear, and half a nose and mouth—but its unflappable facial expression filled Akayama with confidence. Maybe the engines still functioned and she could escape.
She entered the crater. As she slid down the slopes, she noticed her feet sank a full foot into the soft sand. The terrain rippled around her like she had stepped on a trampoline.
When the ripples reached the edges of the crater, the crater’s walls grew higher and caved inward. Akayama tried to scramble back up the steepening slopes, but the slopes quickly became vertical and flipped her over like a slow tidal wave. She tumbled into the crater and rolled next to her Zephyr as the horizon sealed shut above her, blocking out the sky.
Everything was dark and quiet until Akayama heard the distant rumbling of enormous subterranean hydraulics. She now considered, after days of trekking, that it was statistically improbable that she and her Zephyr would land within even a year’s travel of one-another on the sun-sized cosmic object. If her Zephyr had crash-landed, she would have found the crater filled with pearly liquid, or teeth, or healing tissue. Ever since she saw the plume of dark smoke, this had been a trap.
The planet swallowed her and her spaceship, and rushed them to its center with churning peristalsis.