Professor Akayama didn’t have time to scream when the Hurricane ripped her spaceship in half. Each half of her Zephyr’s head spun into space, while she seemed to spin in place until she lost consciousness. Each time she woke she saw the red Hurricane Planet approaching as she fell toward it. She prayed to die before she woke once more and had to see the Hurricane again.
She wasn’t so lucky. She splashed in an ocean of warm, white, pearly pulp.
She had no strength to swim, but her lab coat kept her afloat. She languished in half-awareness for what felt like days. She had to guess the duration because only red Hurricane Planets speckled 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.
She felt broken bones; she could not move an inch. Whenever she felt like a day had passed, she tested her limbs and found a greater range of motion. She knew these oceans of pearly pulp accumulated on wounded Hurricane Planets to repair damage to their exterior. She’d seen similar seas flood and drain as she studied the Hurricane from the moon. She’d never seen the pulp up close; indeed, no one had and survived. She considered it cruel irony that the pearly pulp sustained her; her death would not come so easily.
On the ninth day (she guessed), even her arthritis was gone. She flipped to float on her belly and shed her lab coat. Inside the lab coat were buoyant plastic air-pockets which inflated during the fall. If she’d left without her lab coat, she could have drowned and this would all be over. Now she wore the lab coat back-to-front so the buoyancy was suited for swimming. She tread water (well, not water, but she didn’t want to think about it) and surveyed the horizon. Her eyes were excellent for a 120-year-old even by the standards of twenty-fifth century medicine, but the horizon provided no landmarks. She finally saw a thin plume of dark smoke against the black sky’s red speckling of Hurricane Planets.
She’d never seen a Hurricane Planet expel dark smoke. Was this her crash-landed Zephyr? She had no other guess, and her stomach rumbled at the thought of rations stored aboard. She wasn’t hungry—the Hurricane’s wound-goo sustained her—but the wound would heal soon and the sustaining pulp would be absorbed. Besides, she kept a cockroach in the Zephyr’s glove compartment, and she craved a good smoke.
After swimming a few days (she guessed) she felt a gritty shoreline. She pulled herself onto the painful shore and slept on her lab coat. As she slept the tide of pearly pulp grew shallow, and she woke to see the shore was paved with human teeth. She shuddered, stood, and pulled her lab coat around her shoulders. She limped over the teeth toward the dark smoke-plume in the distance.
Decades ago, when she experimented with human mind-mergers, her failed test subjects bristled with painful teeth. She would surgically return them to their natural states, and record the incompatibility so the mistake was never repeated. Today her largest failure, the Hurricane, used densely impacted teeth to cordon its wounds.
Beyond the teeth Akayama walked on smooth, pink, freshly-healed flesh. The farther she walked the more the Hurricane’s flesh reddened and shed dead skin cells, like a dusty desert. Her feet sank six inches in the sand.
The plume of dark smoke grew closer every hour. Soon she saw individual coils of smog. She crested a final dune and found half her Zephyr in a deep crater. For a wrecked spaceship, it was 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 expression filled Akayama with confidence. Maybe the engines worked and she could escape.
As she slid down the crater’s slopes, her feet sank a full foot in the soft sand. The terrain rippled like a trampoline.
When the ripples reached the crater’s walls, the walls grew higher and caved inward. Akayama scrambled back up the steepening slopes, but the slopes became vertical and flipped her like a tidal wave. She tumbled into the crater and rolled next to her Zephyr as the horizon sealed shut above her.
Akayama heard the rumbling of enormous subterranean hydraulics. She now considered, after days of trekking, that it was statistically improbable for her and her Zephyr to land within even a year’s travel of one-another on the sun-sized cosmic object. If her Zephyr had crash-landed, the crater would have filled with pearly pulp, or teeth, or healing tissue. This had always been a trap.
The planet swallowed her and her spaceship, and rushed them to its core with churning peristalsis.