Before Ryan could register the meaning of the alarm sirens and flashing lights, his uncle was already dragging him into the back compartment of the ship. With a speed and fury Ryan had never seen before, Uncle Ed pried open a giant utility box and dumped the contents onto the deck.
"What are you doing?" Ryan fought to be heard over the blare of the alarm.
"Trying to save your life!" Uncle Ed tossed the final item, a large bundle of wiring, out of the box. He frowned into the pile of junk before retrieving the crowbar he had used to pry the lid open. "Here. You might need this."
As Ryan took the crowbar, his uncle manhandled him towards the box. "Are you crazy?" Ryan screamed. "Shouldn’t we be strapping into our seats?"
Uncle Ed stopped his frenzied motion and stared into Ryan’s eyes. "Do you really think a few inches of padding and some fake leather will protect you when this bird falls out of orbit?"
Ryan felt his insides turn to ice.
"Just get in the box," Uncle Ed ordered. "And don’t get out until you are positive that we’re on the ground."
Ryan stepped into the utility box. "What about you?"
Uncle Ed offered him a grim smile. "I’ve got a plan for me, so you just worry about yourself."
Ryan crouched into the box.
"Stay safe," said his uncle. Then the lid closed and everything went dark.
The siren sounds were muffled inside the box, but Ryan’s breathing seemed to grow maddeningly loud. Loud and uncomfortably stuffy as well. Ryan squeezed his eyes shut, then laughed bitterly at the result. Eyes open or eyes closed, the view looked exactly the same.
A distant drone made its way to his ear, becoming louder and louder. Ryan realized the ship must be entering the atmosphere, but it wasn’t supposed to be this hot. Especially not inside an insulated box. Something was very wrong. Ryan’s thoughts flashed to the other passengers strapped into their seats, and he shuddered. He hoped his uncle was safe.
His box started shaking. The walls were searing his skin. He tried to pull away, but there was nowhere to go. Suddenly, the box jerked up, then slammed down. The crowbar slammed into Ryan’s cheek. When he yelled, his lungs burned from the heat of the air. The box bounced again.
Just when Ryan thought he couldn’t handle any more darkness, turbulence, worry, or heat, his own brain did him a giant favor. It made him pass out.
Ryan woke to darkness. For a terrifying moment, he didn’t know where he was. Then he remembered the alarms, which had since gone silent. He tested the inside surfaces of the box and found them cool to the touch. Surely, the ship must have landed safely. Ryan stretched his aching limbs as best he could, and tried to open the box. It took him a few minutes before he realized the lid was now on the side of the box instead of above him. Pushing panic aside, he forced himself to work in the slow, deliberate way he had been trained. Finally, he pried the lid open.
Ryan was rewarded with a wave of fresh air and a sky so blue it made him squint. There were trees all around, or at least they looked a bit like the trees he was used to back home. He was no longer in the spaceship, and the harsh scrapes on the ground could only have come from his box, skidding and bouncing to a stop. Ryan stretched his legs to make them uncramp. He stumbled along the trail of scarred earth, stopping here and there to examine some mangled piece of debris. How could he have lived through this?
How could anyone have lived through this?
In the distance, he saw someone walking toward him. Ryan broke into a run, relieved at the thought of other survivors. He willed his legs, still awkward in planetary gravity, to move faster.
A girl came into focus, and Ryan stopped at the sight of her face. She had not been on the spaceship with him. "Did you come from the ship?" she asked grimly.
"Oh," she said.
"My uncle." His mouth formed the words awkwardly. "Are there any...others?"
She shook her head.
Ryan felt his body clench.
Tears streamed down the girl’s face. "No other survivors. No food. No water. No medicines. No supplies. There’s nothing left."
Ryan forced his thoughts past his uncle and the others. Without the ship’s supplies, their deaths were just the start of tragedy for the planet’s expedition force. "What are we going to do?"
Then, behind the trees that weren’t quite trees, something roared. The girl’s eyes grew wide. "Run!" she shouted.