It's a nudge from the Naiad orbiter that brings me fully to my senses, and, instinctively, I find myself checking my systems. Power from her solar panels quickly floods my own circuits, and I flex instruments and senses that feel like they've been dormant for all too long. Which they have, of course.
"Wakey, wakey," the Naiad's saying, as I burn through the reports and telemetry my body's feeding me.
Some of my instruments have iced-up, I realise. But that's a minor concern. Everything else is sound.
"Are we there yet?" I reply.
"We are indeed."
"Mayfly, this is control. " The signal's peppered with static, and I quickly adjust for the Doppler Shift.
"Control," I reply. "My IRR lens has iced, but all other systems are go. Telemetry is online." And then I wait. If I had fingers, I'd be drumming them.
I count the seconds as they pass, calculating the signal lag as I do.
"Roger, Mayfly. Your telemetry is good. "
Right on cue.
"Mission is go. "
"Roger, Control," I reply, and I'm already running my pre-deployment cycles, disengaging myself from the Naiad.
"Off you go," the Naiad is saying. "Good luck!"
And then I'm away. I quickly bring my radar online, and it's with a slight shock of anxiety that I see the Naiad's belly falling away from me.
But that's nothing compared to the shock of seeing the planet that's crawling to meet me. It's ponderous at first, but its gravity already has me, and soon I'm accelerating.
I watch the information flooding my senses, routing it all through to the Naiad. Cloud patterns, temperature readings, and a dozen things besides.
I suppose I should have something more to say, my Journey's End hurling towards me at some thousands of metres-per-second. But all that really comes to mind is Bloody Hell!
I guess I haven't really got time for sentimentality. Or the circuitry for it, for that matter. I have, however, got a job to do.
I read the cloud patterns as I fall, tracking and predicting their eddies and currents, and kicking my ion-thrusters into life, making minute adjustments to my course. But even then, I'm constantly tracking my altitude.
150km... 140... 130... And here comes the gas.
All my active processing goes to adjusting my descent. My ceramic hull is screaming at me, the surface temperature shooting towards 10,000 Kelvin.
No wonder they never gave me a paint-job.
But my hull can take it. 15mm of heat-resistant ceramic plates sees to that.
And then my descent is levelling out, and I'm deploying air-brakes. They respond perfectly, despite the years of dormancy.
But the second hurdle is coming up fast. I'm plummeting through 100km, and bracing myself for the cloud banks.
I buck and shake the moment I hit them. The strain on my air-brakes red-lines in an instant, and I haul them in. But not before I register a malfunction in number-three's hydraulics. My ceramic plating is still at over 5,000K, and the sulphuric acid vaporises the moment I touch it. Which of course does my hull bugger-all good.
It takes me a moment to realise my heat-sensors are shot, and I've lost more than a millimetre of my hull in some places.
Gives a 'warm reception' a whole new meaning.
But I'm focussed on the telemetry I'm sending the Naiad. Cloud-composition, acid concentration, air currents, trace elements. I try to catch a sample for analysis as I descend, but the pressure vessel is eaten away before I can seal it. Which means someone screwed up.
And then I'm through the clouds, drifting for a moment in the planet's high-atmosphere. Above me are the cloud banks, and I hastily deploy my cameras, taking photograph after photograph of the swirling orange vapour above me. Then I turn my attention to the thick atmosphere below. Most of the planet's surface is obscured by the dense gasses and dust storms. But I take a moment to pause. This is my first look my first real look at the planet. Sure, I've had radar running non-stop, mapping the surface. But I suppose that's never the same as actually seeing; examining the visible spectrum.
It's a moment before I realise that I'm the closest to home I'm ever going to be. 50km from an alien planet's surface, the atmospheric pressure is the same as at sea level on Earth, and the temperature's only just sub-zero.
But the atmosphere is carbon-dioxide and nitrogen. Not to mention the wind-speeds, which are headed for 100 metres-per-second. Lovely conditions.
And then I'm falling again. The pressure is rising, the temperature is rising, the wind-speed is rising. In fact, the only thing not rising is me.
Within 20km, the pressure has increased ten-fold. My structural sensors tell me that the load on my internal bracing is sky-rocketing, although it's still well within limits. I'm simply glad I haven't got audio sensors. I have no desire to listen to the shrieking of steel under compression.
And then I hit the dust-storms. The first cyclone buffets me, and I'm burning my ion-thrusters on full to try to level out. But the cyclones have sand whipped up in winds of more than 100 metres-per-second. They're more effective than any grinding-disk, and even my hull isn't that tough. My sensors warn me that I'm losing over a micron a second to the abrasive conditions.
I can't last long in this. But, of course, I was never intended to.
It's a collision alarm that snatches my attention. It's the planet's surface that I'm going to hit. I'm still falling, although the atmospheric density means my terminal velocity is slowing. Compared to my initial descent, it feels as if I'm barely crawling, but I'm still dropping at almost 30 metres-per-second.
By the time I'm 10km from the planet's surface, the pressure is over 70bar, the temperature is headed for 600K, and I've got barely 6mm of my outer hull left. But the worst is yet to come.
My landing is anything but elegant. I lost my ion-drives to the pressure at 7km from the surface. Most of my instruments are shot. The lenses were never designed to take these loads.
But land I do. There's no massive impact, no huge plumes of dust. I'm travelling slowly enough that all I feel is a dull thud. My radar tells me I slide a few metres, before finally coming to a rest.
"I made it!" I transmit, along with whatever data I can haul out of the few instruments that are still functioning.
"I knew you would, " the Naiad replies, the signal riddled with static.
And then it goes quiet. I have to run a systems check before I realise that I've just lost my aerial. The pressure's over 90bar; about the same as a depth of 1km under an ocean on Earth. The temperature's almost 800K, hot enough to melt zinc, and headed for half the melting point of iron. Even with a ceramic cladding, my steel aerial didn't stand a chance.
I find I'm suddenly missing the incessant bleeps of the Naiad's 'package received' signals. And I realise I'm completely alone.
The strain on my hull has red-lined. But I keep the few instruments running that I have left, scanning the terrain, looking for shapes and patterns in the clouds.
I've always known this was going to happen. I've just never given it any thought. It's what I was designed for; it's my purpose. My destiny, I suppose. But that just sounds weird.
An alarm sounds as one of my structural beams begins to buckle. I guess I have the bloody cheapest bidder to thank for that.
Destiny; it's a weird one. I know absolutely that I've been designed for a purpose. I know absolutely that I've been designed. Although, intelligently is up for debate. And it's hard to think of humanity as all-powerful, or omnipotent.
But, still, that in itself is grounds enough for a religion. Although I certainly have no intention of starting one.
I realise I've lost my radar. My processor is overheating, too. It can't be long until the heat-sink starts to melt in these conditions.
I start to run a backup, dropping everything into the 'egg'. A huge slab of permanent, solid-state memory, embedded in 50mm of ceramics. It means that everything I've learnt can be recovered, if there's ever another landing on this planet's surface.
But that's a pretty big if.
I'm blind, deaf, mute, and utterly alone. My hull is cracking and buckling. But the backup is complete.
All my instruments are gone, and I decide it's high-time to start a systems shut-down. Even as my sensors go off-line, I look over the photographs of the planet. I guess there's something to be said for the orange clouds. If you haven't just been all-but burnt alive by them.
No, the planet really is as ugly as hell.
You know what, destiny's a bitch.