Craft Lander stared down at the panel of flashing lights before him in a state of quietly suppressed panic. His head was pounding; he could hear the blood pumping through his arteries; his stomach was preparing to repel all boarders. He stared out of the giant windows at a fast approaching dot surrounded by the vastness of the universe and decided that a reappraisal of his heretofore thoroughly reliable belief systems might just be advisable.
“Well?” asked the taller of the two women who stood at his shoulder, ‘What are you going to do?”
“I truly have,” he replied, “not the faintest idea.”
“But,” interjected the shorter woman, adjusting her visor slightly so that the maker’s logo did not block her view, “the message on the screen says ‘Prepare the craft for landing’”
“I can see that,” replied Craft.
“And you,” continued the woman in the visor, “are The Craft Lander.”
“No!” snapped Craft, rising panic beginning to feed his defiance. “I am Craft Lander, eldest son of Craft Lander, first born grandson of Craft Lander etc etc and so forth. I am Craft Lander; plain Craft Lander. I am not THE Craft Lander. I have absolutely no idea how to land this craft. I had no idea that it would ever need landing. Until just now, when you brought me up here, I had no idea that it was, in fact, a craft. I thought that it was just where we lived. There are thousands of us – surely we can’t all live aboard a craft.”
“But you have the sacred scroll,” countered the woman who was, quite frankly, really starting to irritate Craft, “and you are, therefore, the chosen Lander.”
“The sacred scroll? You mean this?” He thrust a tattered booklet that had been handed down to him by his father under their noses. They bowed their heads slightly as he read from the title page. “UKSS ‘Boris’ Class Intergalactic Ark – User’s Manual.”
“The scroll will guide you,” said the taller woman, her voice cracking slightly. “Open it Craft, fulfil your destiny!”
With a look that was as withering as he could muster at such short notice, Craft opened the fist page and thumbed through the Index. “Erh… Ah, here we are, Landing, page 97…” He flicked through the pages. “Right then,” he continued, confidence beginning to flood into him as he realised he would have some kind of guidance. “Let’s see…” He scanned the page. “Right, here we are – To initiate landing procedure, locate green ‘Landing Procedure’ button and press… Can anybody see a green ‘Landing Procedure’ button?”
The three of them stared in vain at the vast array of buttons that confronted them, no-one able to identify the button they sought. Eventually, in desperation, the shorter of the two women snatched the booklet from Craft’s now trembling fingers. “Here, let me see. Ah,” she pointed to the page. “Here we are – it says excluding generation 465 models. Is this a generation 465 model?”
“How the hell would I know?” yelled Craft, noticing for the first time that the planet that loomed on the horizon was, in fact, getting very much closer. “Does it tell you how you’d know?”
Craft inhaled deeply. “Really helpful. OK,” he continued, “as we can’t find this green ‘Landing Procedure’ button, why don’t we just just assume that we are, in fact, all aboard a model 365 and…”
“465,” snapped the smaller woman.
“465, model 465. You said 365…”
Craft stared at her for as long as he dared. “OK,” he said, sucking in calm with the recycled oxygen, “I realise that it’s important… let’s assume that we are aboard a model 465 and it does not have the green ‘Landing Procedure’ button. What does it say we should do now?” The short woman pored over the booklet as the taller woman squinted over her shoulder. Eventually they both stopped and looked at one another. “It doesn’t say,” they replied in unison.
“So come on then,” said a suddenly exasperated Craft. “You two know so much about…” he wafted his arms around airily, “…this place. How come you don’t have the answers?”
“We are merely the Trustees of this Bridge,” answered the taller woman. “It doesn’t usually involve too much if I’m honest – bit of light dusting, that sort of thing. Fetching you at the appropriate time… You,” she added darkly. “You have the scroll. You are our answer.”
“Bugger!” Craft muttered under his breath, snatching back the manual and desperately trying to find an asterix to guide him.
In truth, the craft had been built so hurriedly – as a political sop in a time of extreme environmental peril – that little thought had ever been given to it actually reaching anything on which it might need to land. Over three hundred generations had lived out their computer-facilitated lives aboard the ship, unaware that it was anything but home. The planet their forebears had left behind was long gone. The computer system nurtured and catered for them and was, in fact, more than capable of landing the ship whenever a suitable planet was found.
The planet that was now looming large through the vast windows of the bridge was however, no such planet. The computer was bored. It had reached the end of its tether with the constant petty demands of the ship’s inhabitants for food, for water and oxygen – which, in its opinion, they had actually had more than enough time to evolve out of – and had deliberately diverted the ship towards the barren, inhospitable little planet towards which it was currently hurtling with nothing but AI suicide in mind: a watery little number with no breathable atmosphere and no actual landmasses to call home. Perfect.
…And so, as Craft and his female companions manically pressed every single button on the huge bridge, with a panic bordering on hysteria, the rest of the ship’s ‘cargo’ carried on, oblivious to the fate that awaited them and the computer quietly closed its eyes in preparation for the faint ‘plop’ that would signal the end of humankind…