Okay, I caved in and began writing this a couple days ago. Based on Return to Na Pali, our favorite game's sucky mission pack sequel before UT came along and raped everything up the ass with its awesomeness. This is really just an exercise in descriptions and place and whatnot, and it'll be shorter than Luxie.
I: Rhiannon Rings
The UMS Chantilly struck terra firma at dawn, tearing a neat trench in the peak of a mountain, filling the air with chunks of grey rock and the sounds of metal striking home. Its bulky body bounced once or twice before it came to a grinding stop with its nose poking precariously over the lip of the mountain's ledge. The inhabitants of the small Nali town of Edge, leaving their thatched-roof huts in the salmon colored morning to tend their animals or fish from the lake at the bottom of the valley, looked up in dim surprise as the sudden shadow of a star chariot blotted out the sun. Most of the four-armed creatures merely shrugged and went about their business. The miracle that most of them had been waiting for had came and went, as fast as a flash of lightning across the sky, and most were in the same dire circumstances that they had always known. The Terran ships that crashed onto Na Pali now brought nothing but trouble. So the Nali ignored the great gray shadow and trudged from their huts to their pastures and back again, and some took their fishing poles and woven nets and made the steep journey down to the lowest part of the valley where the water ran fast and cold, standing by the muddy banks all day and trying to ignore the ship looming like a curse above them.
The crash site was quiet for hours after it initially struck, but no place with Terran life is ever still for very long. And so it was the middle part of the day, when the ground was cracked with heat and the clouds wisped away in the dry wind, when a figure came stumbling out of the still smoking Chantilly and into the light, blinking and holding one arm over her eyes to shield herself. Her officer's uniform was singed and her straight red hair was falling out of the severe bun she had pulled it into. Her nails were painted a bright coral color and she smelled like perfume and burning plastic.
Wobbling over chunks of upturned earth and pulverized boulders, the officer made her unsteady way from the Chantilly, looking all around her in search of her fellow colleagues. She had no idea how long she had been knocked out, and she barely remembered the crash at all. There was the sound of an alarm in her memory, and people shouting, and then the Chantilly had spun to the side like a stone that had been kicked. And then there was nothing. She had been in the galley, she recalled suddenly, because she had woken up underneath one of the benches, her back aching and her navy blue flight suit covered with coffee and other spillage from the buffet trays halfway across the room.
Squinting and stumbling, the officer made her slow way up the crashed ship's trench, the loose dirt crumbling under her shoes. When she reached solid ground she turned around and sat down heavily, facing the Chantilly, a look of disbelief twisting her features into a grimace. She looked at the watch on her wrist, tapping it and holding it to her ear. It was broken. She sighed and dropped her head onto her forearms. The sun beat down onto her and plastered her uniform to her skin with sweat, but for some reason she was shivering.
As the hours went by and the clouds built and swelled and were blown away in the sunlit sky, the Chantilly remained silent, but still steamed from its violent reentry. By the time the second sun was a waning wisp of memory against the distant mountains and the cooling air began thrumming with the sound of insect wings, the woman was still the only figure on the face of the mountain. She had fallen into a kind of silent stupor and was lying on the ground with her face hidden in the crook of her arm when she heard a groan. She raised her head. Her cheek was smeared with dirt.
"Hello?" she asked. Her voice had a brittle, bossy quality and was a little bit hoarse. The groan came again, and she got to her feet, squinting through the darkness. The sound was so quiet she didn't know if she was really hearing it. She cupped her hands around her mouth and shouted. "Hello?"
The weak sounds were coming from the very lip of the side of the mountain and the woman started as she saw a limp form hanging halfway off the edge into oblivion. As fast as her limp would allow her to go, she hurried over and dropped to her hands and knees, getting a handful of the figure's bloody flightsuit and hauling backwards, dragging them onto solid ground.
"You idiot," she panted, relief evident in her raw voice. She placed a hand on the figure's shivering back to calm herself and make sure that she really wasn't alone. "You were about to fall."
"We...already…fell," the figure repeated, pushing its upper body up with its forearms. A rattling cough issued from its lungs. The woman peered at the face of her companion and instantly recognized him in the waning light. The joy went out of her face and venom filled her eyes.
The man lifted his head, clenching his square jaw to look with droopy-lidded eyes at the woman across from him. His curly hair, matted to his forehead with blood, obscured his vision, but he recognized that nails-on-chalkboard voice anywhere. "Hello…again, Rhiannon," he said, his voice strained.
"You will address me as Officer Ries," she sniffed. "We may be stranded but I am still a ranking officer."
"And…you are invited to call me…by my title as well, officer," Machiel said with a hint of ire. He was still too weak and dazed to muster up any real anger.
Rhiannon tilted her chin up. "I would rather not, seeing as you're the one responsible for this disaster, pilot Worch."
Machiel, grunting, looked at the lonely hull of the Chantilly, hissing quietly with steam, already looking like a part of the mountain in the murky glow of night. It wasn't an old craft; rather, he and the rest of the pilots in the fleet liked to say it was 'well-loved', but of course that couldn't be said now. Its entire belly and fore were smashed in and turned into scrap metal and the aft thruster had been completely ripped off. The Chantilly was destroyed. Their mission to find their sister ship was lost.
"I didn't crash it."
Rhiannon turned a disbelieving look at him. "Do you really think that you are totally innocent of blame? We were going smooth and steady and suddenly we're at a sixty degree dive headed straight for the side of a mountain! Mechanical error? I think not. Please explain this to me. Please tell me how all of this is not your fault. You were piss-drunk, Worch! Completely shitfaced!"
"We were pulled," Machiel said dully, trying to remember what had happened. "We got too close, I think. Nobody told me that we were too close."
"Wake up, bright eyes," Rhiannon said harshly. "There have been three collisions on this planet in the past three months. Neither the Inuit Science Vessel nor the Vortex Rikers were on course with this hunk of rock! And then you decided to botch our UMS rescue mission by hotdogging this entire ship closer to this planet's gravitational pull than we were advised to go. I read the logs, Worch. Yesterday you were advised to alter your trajectory. Did you even read the memo? Of course not—because you got so drunk you couldn't see straight and then decided to fly!"
"I'm a good pilot. You've flown with me before."
Her face screwed into a mask of anger. "You're sick and irresponsible, you know that, Worch? Your drunken idiocy just claimed the lives of nearly fifty people!"
Worch was silent at this, but his face turned a strange shade of green.
"What are we going to do now? Our mission to locate the Vortex Rikers just went to hell and now we're stuck here without a way to let UMS know and all you can say is 'I'm a good pilot'? How are you going to fix this?"
He was overwhelmed. His body, shivering in the windy mountain air, was drowning. He closed his eyes, blocking out Rhiannon's furious tone. How could she possibly understand how he felt? Sure, he had gotten a little tipsy the night before. Just a little. He always drank; it calmed his nerves. And maybe he had been a little shaky at the controls. But how could Rhiannon understand that it was not his error that doomed the crew? The Chantilly, normally as responsive as a yacht under his command, had suddenly shuddered and died all around him as he fought for control; he and his copilot Andy Carver, childhood friend, ladies' man and secret ceramics maker had struggled to get the ship under control amidst blaring alarms and panicked crew members. It had seemed like he and Carver were the only ones doing anything to try and save the stricken vessel and they were failing miserably and they both knew it.
"It was fun, you know," Andy had told him in the final second, when the viewscreen suddenly cleared of clouds and filled with the terrible and beautiful view of a mountain in the morning light.
"We can save her," Machiel said in answer to his memory.
"What?" Rhiannon said. She had still been ranting. "What did you say?"
"I said shut the fuck up, Ries! Jeezus!" Machiel put a hand to his pounding forehead, his pulse throbbing in his vision. "I feel like I'm gonna be sick."
"It serves your right. And another thing-speak to me with the courtesy I deserve, Worch, or I'll report your attitude, along with the fact that you've stranded and almost killed a high-ranking officer, to UMS when we're rescued. I think it's a moot point to say that they will need to know that the Vortex Rikers salvage mission has been completely ruined by your incompetence."
Machiel stared up at the stars. "News flash, Ries. We're not exactly in a chain of command, here. There's only two of us, we're both lost, and UMS won't know we're missing until our scheduled update window-which, last time I checked, is a week from now. You should really stop worrying about regulations and try to comprehend what has just happened. We're in a graveyard, Ries. Stop thinking about yourself and be quiet so I can think. Let's try to respect the dead."
"I want you to respect me!" Rhiannon screeched. "It's the least you can do after murdering everyone else!"
"Ries!" Machiel's dry voice echoed down into the canyon. "Just…please. Please, please, please be quiet. For now. Give me a minute. Just give me a minute."
Rhiannon closed her mouth and pressed her lips into a tight line, fixing her bun in anger. "I'm only being quiet so you can get your rest, Worch. I need you to be in top shape for when we try to get down from here. So go to sleep."
You must insist on telling me what to do, don't you, you bitch, Machiel thought, but he was exhausted and couldn't have fought off unconsciousness even if he tried. The ground was warm from baking in the heat of the newly-gone day and his head was buzzing with pain and guilt and loss. He thought it would be easier to fall asleep and to not wake up. Rhiannon was right. He was responsible. Maybe he would have noticed the Chantilly responding differently if he hadn't been so buzzed.
Please let me die, he thought, thinking of the last glimpse he saw of his best friend's face as they hit the mountain. Good old Carver. Smiling 'till the end. I can't take this.
"It looks like you're bleeding pretty heavily out of your head," Rhiannon said directly into his ear. "I'm going to go find you some bandages."
Don't. Don't help me. He couldn't voice his request. He was too far gone. With Rhiannon leaning like a vulture over him, he closed his eyes and drifted away.
The red-haired officer hung around his prone body for a moment, her face pinched with fear at being left awake in the dark, before she haltingly stood up and wandered back towards the crashed ship that had been her home for the past three months to see if she could salvage anything that could keep them alive for just a little bit longer.
It was supposed to be simple, she thought miserably, feeling tears prick behind her eyes. Get here, tag the Vortex Rikers for tractor beam transport, and get out. And…now? Now what?
She stared up at the sky. The moon, its cratered face impossibly close to the planet, glowed through a filmy cloud layer and cast the mountain in a soft ruddy haze. Fragments of rock in the dirt under her feet sparkled in the reddish light.
We were flying. We were doing fine.