"WARNING! Atmospheric insertion failure – automatic attitude correction system unable to deploy"
I hit the button to mute the alarm and checked the tell-tales. It looked like one of the steering fins had only half extended. I cursed my maintenance guy, promising that I would knock it free with his face if I ever made it back into orbit. As I switched to manual, the tiny thumb-stick appeared from the console just underneath my hand. Grabbing it gingerly like a fountain pen made of thin glass, I made small, delicate movements trying to correct the long, looping spin that the slightly out of balance pod had dropped into.
"Stop fighting me you bitch, we've done this a thousand times"
The creaking from the armourglass windows told me that the air was starting to get thicker. I chanced a look at the instruments. 100,000 meters up, losing altitude at 400Mps, that gave me a little over 4 minutes before I became a little red smear in an interestingly shaped crater. Options flew through my head and were rejected one by one like marbles going down a drain, until;
"Hippolyta, retract ACS fins!"
"WARNING! Retracting ACS fins will result in total attitude control loss"
"Over-ride and retract!"
I could only just hear the motors retracting the fins over the howling roar of the atmosphere rushing by, but finally the whining stopped and the indicators went out. Almost instantly the looping roll started to gain speed and the ground below moved in ever increasing circles past the viewport.
You know those times when you wish you hadn't had a cooked breakfast? Well this was one of those times and I tried desperately to keep hold of my scrambled eggs and sausage. 70,000 meters, 380Mps, the combination of the thickening atmosphere was starting to slow the descent, but not by anywhere near enough.
"Mayday, Mayday, this is Drop-pod Zero One Niner requesting immediate SAR intervention"
The radio crackled, but there was no reply – Damn these colonies with heavily ionised atmospheres!
As the horizon passed by the viewscreen, I realised that my plan was working; with every rotation there was less ground and more sky visible.
"Hippolyta, on my mark, deploy all external fins, extend airbrakes to maximum and fire main thrusters at 110%"
"Over-ride and confirm!"
The external view was now all sky, little by little the roll was slowing, but the spin was getting worse.
"In 5… 4… 3… 2… 1… MARK!"
The deceleration was intense, my vision started to fade as my eyeballs tried to flatten themselves to the back of my skull. 300Mps, 250… 200… 140… 80… 30… 10… 5…
"Landing systems engaged, touchdown in 5 seconds"
As the dust settled and the hull cooled, I looked out of the viewscreen at the dome of the terraformers hut and checked its ID number.
"Drop-pod Zero One Niner to Amazon Delivery Cruiser Jeff Bezos, address confirmed, final stage of same day delivery in progress, over and out"