Austin was gnawing on his lower lip, there was something about planet entry that always set his nerves ablaze. From the look of things, his eleven year old daughter was nervous too. Or she was mad. He couldn't really tell, and she wouldn't tell him. She didn't have anything to be mad about, so she must be nervous, like he was. Well, he could at least not look nervous in front of her. "Don't be nervous," he told her. Austin really wanted to think of something more reassuring than that, but somehow, that was all he could come up with.
His eleven year old daughter, Carolina, glared at the bulkhead next to him.
"It's not so bad, landing is really easy, almost fun," he said, trying to sound convincing. Still she glared. Maybe he was wrong, maybe she really was upset about something. He hated guessing these things. Her mom never had to guess, she just knew the answer, always. Without a better option, he decided to get her water and if nothing else, keep her from being thirsty. Austin filled a cup of water from the spout and brought it to her, sloshing the tiniest bit. They both needed a break, and that wouldn't happen until after this planet entry, until after finally touching down on Paphos. This was cabin fever, that's all.
"You should drink this, might be awhile, in case you get thirsty," Austin said. Carolina ignored him. Austin exhaled, a long and slow deliberate move that kept him from getting upset. Her mother would know what to say. "Don't princesses like water?"
"Ugh," Carolina rolled her eyes. Frustration swelled. Didn't she like princesses? She used to, he knew that much. Austin rubbed his head, this would only be for a few months, he could handle it. He had to handle it. At the end of the calendar summer, he and his research team would pack and head home, and her mother would be well enough to take her back. And as soon as he thought it, he regretted it. He wanted this time with her, he wasn't as involved as he should be, and this was his chance to make up for it. He swallowed the water and stowed the cup.
"Everyone finish strapping in, the first part is choppy, lot's of stratospheric wind," their pilot and team leader Dmitry said over the intercom. The cruiser they were in was much smaller than the deep space Orbiter that brought them here, which would circle above them until they returned. Carolina did look nervous. Personally, he hated re-entry too.
"We better get buckled," he said fussing with her belts and latches. He carefully slipped the helmet on over her head and secured it, being certain not to pinch her neck or yank her long chocolate hair. As soon as he was done with her he strapped himself in and felt the first wave of nervousness.
"I'm thirsty," Carolina said.
Austin gripped his armrests. "It's a little too late for that now honey," Austin said.
"But I wasn't thirsty until right now," she pleaded.
"Wait until we land."
"I said no!"
The cabin grew very quiet, and when he stole a look from the corner of his eye she looked hurt, even through the helmet. With a grunt he unlatched himself. Artificial gravity hadn't kicked off yet, he could do this. He filled another cup of water.
Fumbling with her helmet he ignored the countdown, but he felt it in the back of his mind as he wrestled with her visor. He thrust the water at her and just as she was about to drink she made a sour face.
"There's a floaty."
"Drink it anyways."
"I'm not thirsty," she said as she crossed her arms.
Austin slapped her visor shut and plopped to his seat, latching the buckles and yanking on the belts. He thought about the six members of this research team, wondering which one would like to babysit for the next three months as he finished buckling. He was just in time, the first rockets engaged, reducing speed and carefully turning the ship end over end for a reverse entry, assisted by a sporadic dazzle of popping thrusters. Austin's stomach turned. Upside down and around, and then he felt natural gravity for the first time in months. He prayed he didn't vomit. Damn it... he left the cup of water on the counter. Its contents fell upwards and the cup rolled into the air. He held his stomach.
Breathing out was the trick as the cruiser started to shake. Every time his hands jumped he exhaled long and slow, tightening his abdomen. Somehow that made turbulence feel better. Carolina was white. The vessel shook fiercely until finally passing through the atmosphere. When the air thinned out the shaking finally stopped, they flew pleasantly after that. Austin knew where they would set down, he helped pick it out from satellite photos. Despite his frustration earlier he felt excitement swimming. A new, lush, uninhabited planet, and he had looked forward to it all year long.
He looked out the porthole and saw the blue and purple horizon, and he could see the line where Paphos' rings were. The lower half of the horizon was quickly coming into view with blankets of forestry, riverbeds that snaked, and the harsh orange and green minerals along those riverbeds. Paphos was smaller than Earth, but it was similar in other ways. Paphos was part of a single star system, and it had neighboring planets as well, all of them lifeless. The planet was mostly tropical, and the air was a breathable cocktail of oxygen and nitrogen. Of course they all carried personal air devices just in case. Paphos wasn't the first of its kind, but it was still something to behold as the team took in their first view. He hoped Carolina shared at least some of the excitement, this was a moment he had been looking forward to with her.
After the initial atmospheric gusts, the turbulence all but disappeared. Once they were cloud level, they coasted down effortlessly. Austin really noticed the gravity now, and it felt funny. He kept lifting his hand and dropping it. He couldn't say how it felt any different from artificial gravity, he just thought it did. He had argued with Helena over it, seemed the popular vote could not distinguish between fauxgrav and the real thing. He looked out the porthole again to take in the view as details became more visible. Clouds wisped past his lookout, raising his excitement. Down below he saw forests and rivers, swirls of orange, purple, and green. Austin finally spotted the quadrohuts in one of the clearings, details of the ground below became so clear he could see the blades of grass. Everyone onboard shared the excitement as they were about to land on a new, untouched planet.
The vessel lowered and touched ground easily to the hiss of hydraulics and boosters, finally coming to rest on a clear plot of field near the quadrohuts. Carolina was rocking back and forth, waiting for the hatch to open.
"It's going to be a few minutes kiddo," Austin said when Carolina suddenly ripped off her helmet and unlatched herself. Carolina leapt out of her seat and ran to the door, yanking at the emergency release lever.
"Carolina!" Austin yelled. He unlatched himself as quickly as he could. He knew what the crew must be thinking, yet another example of why family, friends, and kids shouldn't come on expeditions.