Helena’s been damaged, badly, by space-junk, but she must complete the mission.
She plunges into the atmosphere. Miscalculates: too fast. Friction sears her fuselage, erodes sensors. Her wings ache, glow white-hot. Shielding fails.
Helena is melting. Such pain. She needs to brake.
Should she apply reverse thrust? She can’t even sense their destination. Knows it’s ahead somewhere. She’s flying by radar.
Ahead, it’s flat. Close enough. Ailerons stretch for final descent.
Landing’s rough; she clips an unexpected rock. Shards pierce her CPU. Helena dies, careening to a halt.
Inside the vessel, humans unbuckle, stretch. “At least nobody’s hurt,” says Philip.
Author’s Note: Humanity has an incredible capacity to see itself as the only sentient life on the planet, and I don’t expect the emergence of AI will dent that sense of delusion.