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Beth Shaw scanned the cabin to see how the other prisoners were taking the ride. There were three others--two vicious looking white men and one black woman. The men were both heavily muscled and tattooed. The woman looked to be somewhere close to Beth's thirty-two years. Her black hair was cut short and she wore the weathered expression of someone who'd seen a lot of misery in her life. Well, lady, here is one more for you. Like the men, the woman was muscular, and Beth felt as if she'd come to a dinner party terribly underdressed.
The force from the shuttle's descent pinned her to the seat. She was sure they were going to crash. The cabin lights blinked on and off once then went off for almost a full minute before flashing back to life again. She dug her nails into the padding of her armrests, mutely cursing the handcuffs that kept her arms locked down. An unexpected dip sucked her breath away. When they leveled off, she took a few deep, calming breaths trying to slow her heart rate.
The shuttle hit another air pocket and dropped a terrifying four feet. Beth's mind exploded in panic. Leaning over, she looked out the window to see if they had broken through the clouds. Great puffy blue clouds engulfed them obscuring her view of the planet below. The sight of the atmosphere was so surreal it made her feel as if she was shrouded in a magician's spell.
A hard right roll shifted her in her seat and she clenched her teeth so hard it made her jaw ache. A shriek from the shuttle's metal plates filled the air as they protested under each maneuver's intense pressure. The engines whined as they struggled to remain functional, causing the entire shuttle tovibrate. Beth caught a glimpse of something large moving fast outside her window and gasped. Only a few feet from their wing flew another shuttle, rocking back and forth as it fought to gain altitude. Their shuttle boomed from the close contact as if it had been struck.
One of the men inside the cabin was screaming obscenities, no longer caring how cowardly he sounded. The others, including their armed guards, sat like mannequins, their faces pale with fright.
Their shuttle was obviously out of control, banking to the right and going into a horizontal spin that made her stomach turn. Beth pushed back into the seat cushion as they sped toward the planet's surface. I'm dead. There is no way the pilot is going to be able to land this thing. As if in response to her thoughts, she felt the force of the engines give off an ear-shattering roar and the shuttle stopped its spin. But it didn't slow their rate of descent.
The first ground strike was a bone-jarring bounce that sent them ricocheting off the planet's surface and back into the air. The impact broke the shuttle in two, with the aft section hitting again a moment after break up. The shuttle body filled with an avalanche of sand and flying debris. Beth closed her eyes in a desperate attempt to protect them. When she finally stopped being flung around, she realized they'd landed on their side and she was still attached to her intact chair.
The taste of blood filled her mouth and she ran her tongue along her teeth to make sure they were all in place. After careful inventory, she realized the only injury she'd sustained was biting her lip. Unbelievable.
Twisting her wrists, she managed to break off the seat arm and slide her right arm free of the cuffs. To free her left required more effort, and Beth spent the next twenty minutes hammering at it with a nearby metal rod from the landing gear. Once off, she squirmed out of her seat, dusting off some small bits of debris.
Every muscle in her body ached as she stumbled from her piece of the ship. She looked around for other survivors and saw the other woman from the ship gripping her leg. Beth stumbled over to the woman and crouched by her.
The woman hissed through her teeth, while holding her injury. Beth hoped it wasn't broken. "Try not to move," she said.
Beth looked out over the barren landscape. "Well," she said thoughtfully. "I don't think they're going to send anyone to help us, so we're going to have to try and make it to the station on our own." Placing an arm around the other woman, Beth helped her to her feet and led her over to a section of the ship's intact hull. The woman leaned against it.
"Wait here while I check around." Beth walked over to other sections of the ship, scattered around the desert. A few still housed some seats. The two male prisoners were dead, one still chained to his seat and the other torn into three gory pieces. Little was left of him but a carcass of bloody meat. She wondered if maybe they were luckier than she was.
Next, Beth made her way over to the cockpit, which lay torn in two only a few yards from the rest of the debris. Both pilots were dead in their seats, peppered by sand and wreckage when the cockpit was breached. She lifted the pilot's sidearm and checked to make sure it was loaded. Opening a storage box nearby, she grabbed as much ammunition as she could fit in her pockets.