The planet loomed large in Goldie’s viewscreen.  She zoomed out a little and sat back to study the latest adventure opportunity.  The planet was pretty big, especially compared to the other planets in the system.  She was puzzled – why were the orbits of the others not affected more by this planet?  How did they all manage to survive in the same orbit anyway?  Everything she had ever learnt about astrophysics told her this should not be possible.

Shrugging off the mystery for now, she brought up the sensor analysis of the planet.  The atmosphere was good, mostly oxygen and nitrogen.  A little thicker than she would expect, but nothing too unusual.  There was a smattering of plant matter, mostly small things, but the sensors couldn’t see any animal life.  Half the time the sensors couldn’t pick up animal life when she was over inhabited worlds, though, so that didn’t mean anything.

Idly she wondered when they were going to invent better sensors.  With all the advances they were making in other fields of science she couldn’t understand why sensor technology was so bad.

Well, she wasn’t going to find out anything more about the planet from up here.  She slid along the console to the flight controls and tapped in some commands.  The ship began to descend towards the planet.

When she was still a couple of miles off the surface, Goldie became aware of a strained whine coming from the speakers.  She glanced at the engine logs and noticed that they were straining slightly.  Ever since the 21st century and the advent of the electric car, people had known that engine noise was important.  Originally, it had been so that people noticed the near-silent vehicles, but pretty soon people had realised that the driver got a lot out of it too.  These days, engines made “noise” inside the control room of spaceships to give pilots another way of monitoring what was going on.  Goldie couldn’t remember how many times engine noise had caused her to find a problem that she wouldn’t otherwise have noticed.

The straining wasn’t too bad, though she would have to have a look at the engines before she tried to take off again.  It was probably just one of the drive pods drifting out of alignment again.

Soon she was setting down on the planet.  There hadn’t been any particular features to aim for on this one, so she was in the midst of a large open savannah.  She would take some samples and have a quick look around.  If none of the plants turned out to be toxic this might make a good planet for a colony.

Pulling on her spacesuit, Goldie checked that the bot was fully loaded with supplies.  Gesturing it to follow her, she stepped into the airlock and touched the controls.  Air began hissing out around her, and she stood briefly in a vacuum before the planet’s air began to fill the chamber.  When the cycle was complete she opened the outer door and stepped through.

As soon as she left the spaceship the artificial gravity fell away and she felt a crushing weight pushing down on her.  She staggered and her vision went a little grey around the edges.  The bot, less at the mercy of whimsical human biological responses, merely shifted its weight to compensate for the new circumstances.  After a moment she was able to stand up straight, but she could tell that she would be tiring quickly and the continued greying of her vision was a problem.

The high gravity worried her.  None of her scans had implied that there would be anything like this level of force at surface level.  The size of the planet meant it should be higher than Earth Standard, yes, but not this high.  She took some readings on her data slate.  4.6 times ES!  No wonder she was having trouble standing up.  She couldn’t stay here very long.  She was already going to have a whopping headache from this.  Considering her options, she gratefully decided to go back inside straight away.  She could send the bot out to get the samples.

Head spinning, she stepped back into the airlock and felt the blood rush back to her head.  Instructing the bot to leave most of its supplies in the airlock, she gave it the sampling kit and sent it with the instructions to walk a hundred metres before taking a sample of the earth and the vegetation.  As soon as it stepped outside of the airlock she started the cycle and was soon making her way back into the comfort of the main cabin.

After she stripped off her spacesuit, she focussed the viewscreen on the bot.  It was making slow but steady progress towards its target, so she decided to spend the time checking over the engines.  She headed out of the main cabin and into the bowels of the ship.  The engine room was right at the back, well away from the main cabin.  The door swished open as she approached and she surveyed the room.  Nothing appeared to be out of place, but the sounds she had heard on the descent were more consistent with small mis-alignments than large problems.  She was going to have to check each component individually.

Sighing, Goldie reached for the toolbox that was strapped to the wall by the door and set to work.

—-

Goldie sat back on her heels with a groan, rubbing the small of her back with one hand.  She had found and corrected two minor problems with the engines, but neither of them were large enough to have caused the pained whining from earlier.  She frowned thoughtfully while she put the tools away.

Back in the main cabin, the bot was standing by the airlock, having stopped there after it returned.  It was still holding the samples it had collected, and Goldie examined them carefully before storing them in the lab for later analysis.  For once, it seemed, the bot had done its task well.

Well, if she couldn’t go outside, there was nothing keeping her here.  Perhaps the next planet would be more hospitable and she could have a true adventure.  Slipping into the command chair, Goldie set a course to leave the atmosphere.

The ship slowly took off – more slowly than normal, she thought, and increased the power from the engines.  That whining was back, too.  She must have missed something when she did the inspection earlier.  Well, she couldn’t fix it while in flight, so it would just have to wait.

The whine increased in volume and when she glanced at the instruments she saw that the ship had slowed down again.  They were barely a mile off the ground, when they should have been ten by now.  Even as she watched the speed dropped another notch.  She boosted the power to the engines.

Now running at full speed, the engines were definitely complaining.  What on earth was going on?  She checked the controls again.  Out of the corner of her eye she spotted a red flashing numeral, and glanced at it.  What?

The gravitational force on the ship was now 10.3 ES and climbing.  How was that possible?  She spared a moment to thank whichever deities were listening that it hadn’t been that high while she was outside, then turned her attention back to the problem at hand.

If the gravity was fluctuating, that could be causing the problems with the engines.  They weren’t built to deal with gravity that was so strong.  She glanced at the gauge.  11.8 ES.

Briefly, she considered going back to the surface and waiting until the gravity went back to normal.  But what if it continued to increase?  The ship’s artificial gravity was only built to withstand 20 ES, and if it died she would be crushed like a bug. There hadn’t been any sign of strain while she was in orbit, so hopefully when she got back there whatever effect this was would stop and she would be free.  She was just going to have to push on.

Overriding some safety alerts, she pushed the engines to 110% of their normal maximum.  When the ship started to gain some height she pushed it further.  120%.  130%.  The whining was becoming louder, and she slammed the mute button.  At this point all it was telling her was that the engines were being pushed past their limits, which she knew.

The ship was, incredibly, slowing again.  She glanced at the gravity monitor and winced.  18.9 ES.  If this didn’t let up soon she was going to have problems.  Worse ones, anyway.  She watched with a kind of sick fascination as it ticked upwards.

Just as it reached 19.7 the ship lurched so much that she felt it, and rocketed away into space.  The gravity monitor was saying zero, and the engines were quickly winding down to normal levels.

Wait.  Zero?

Even in deep space there was always something going on, some star exerting force.  Had the exertions of the planet broken her sensors?

Even as she watched, the monitor went into negative figures and the ship began moving away from the planet.  Eyes wide, Goldie stared in disbelief.

Reaching a swift decision, she cut the engines off and allowed the gravitational forces to push the ship away.  She chuckled slightly when she noticed she was being pushed towards the next planet in the system, one of only two she had yet to explore.

Eyes on the controls, alert for any changes to the gravity waves, Goldie rode the storm towards her next adventure.

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