Up in the cloud layer over Venus, something just went wrong. And for one explorer, time is running out.


In “Mission: Tomorrow”, Bryan Thomas Schmidt (ed.) Baen Books (2015)

hard SF (short story)


Two hundred kilometers above Ishtar Terra, the aeroshell completed its last braking curve and settled into level flight, its flight control systems counting down the seconds until separation. It was still slowing as it passed over Maxwell Montes, hull cherry-red from the heat of re-entry. Ionized gases crackled in its wake as it blazed like a meteor across the Venusian sky.

One hundred kilometers high now, and explosive bolts fired automatically. The aeroshell's hull split cleanly into four segments that folded back like the petals of a flower, revealing the streamlined shape of the recovery dart nestled inside. The dart's systems came alive as the thin atmosphere kissed its skin and it slipped smoothly into the air like a diver entering water.

The aeroshell was gone now, tumbling on a high-altitude wind. In thirty minutes what remained of it would scatter itself across the surface far below, burned and crushed beyond recognition. High above, the dart spread its wings and flew free.

The dart banked left, searching for a data downlink from the command station in orbit. Diagnostics checked the state of its flight systems, registering a shallow gash in its port canard where something had slashed across it during aeroshell separation. The aircraft’s bio-electronic brain assessed the damage, concluded that the integrity of the wing was unaffected and adjusted its trim to compensate for the additional drag.

Still seventy kilometers up, the dart slid downwards through the thickening atmosphere. Gusts pawed at its surfaces, weak echoes of the tempests below. Its brain sorted radar returns, filtering out the echoes of thunder cells, searching for solid objects. It registered and ignored a hovering aerostat the size of an oil tanker. At last, it found what it was looking for: seven objects shaped like stubby arrowheads, strung out in a loose ‘V’.

The dart flared its air brakes and pinged the lead aircraft with a radio pulse. The reply came back at once: come on down, we’re waiting for you.


“... The story is fast paced with good characterization but, like too many of the stories of the collection, this story embraces the ‘soulless, evil corporation’ trope ... That major issue aside, it’s a good rescue story and worth a read.”

-- Tangent Online