Warning lights throbbed and sparked out of the corner of my eye. We were losing altitude. The string of half-imaginary nodes upon which we soared was thrown into disarray by the new angle, a lattice of chaotically-growing vines torn apart at the leaves. An engine lurched and fragmented. Red lights leaped into being and stress lines were traced down the hull of the ship by the invisible pen of the system's self-assessment system integrated with my own neural assemblies. The exposed shards of nearly-pure phlostigon from the engine's core casted arcs across the sparsely-lit atmosphere, exploding in a glowing shower of cyan blades. I didn't panic.
Machines don't panic.
But as I allocated repair bots to the wing and redistributed mass across the ship, I became slowly aware of what was going on. We were losing altitude. The belts shouldn't have been activated, and we sure as Qirta didn't do it. We hadn't expected this, but a part of me had wanted to prepare for it nonetheless. A list was procured and risks were taken into consideration. Remaining engines - thrust. Bots - raise shields, group on wing 3 to protect the remaining phlostigon. Lights, comlink, everything that isn't absolutely necessary for landing - off. The ship's internal processors suddenly went dead silent, absent of its typical fervor. That was to be focused on the matter at hand. We were losing altitude.
And then, suddenly, whatever neural border may have existed between myself and the ship's homeostatic systems blinked out of existence. I was the ship, and the ship was me. I knew exactly what was going on, and by the cycle I formulated a recovery plan. And then the second engine blew. It hurt me; pain was simply a deeper implementation of the system's tactile feedback system. I lost RAM and I lost clock speed as more phlostigon punched through the ship's armor. Blue darts cut the atmosphere, trailed by searing sparks of orange and white. And I noticed the same was happening to me. The hull was melting. I called the bots, or what was left after scorching friction peeled half of them into atmosphere and irredeemably charred most of the other half. I could see through their eyes, of course, and this was most of how I saw outside the solid iron plates that coated me. The charring nearly destroyed my depth perception, but the bots spiraling above me gave views I could never have obtained from a body-mounted feed. Still, we were losing altitude and my primary means of contact with the environment was being burned steadily away.
As an auxiliary measure, of course, I could use the arms or the landing gear, but that would increase surface area, and I couldn't afford to get any hotter. Temperature was already nearing the edge of the tolerable zone. The organisms were fatiguing, and ready to collapse. More half-imaginary red lines traced across my exterior and my frame. Firing rockets would be a losing proposition - with this amount of stress, and with the structural damage sustained, we would have all been ripped apart. But there was still phlostigon in the remaining engines. Could I use that?
The lines across thrust port one boldened and pulsed with every microsecond of gas flowing over nanoscopically cracked wings. It was about to blow. I had no choice. A torrent of phlostigon burst into the central store, firegates opened and the ventral wing drained. As I had predicted, this threw off the center of mass, and any hope of a controlled descent vanished. We were tumbling like a leaf in a river, spatial processors churning and trying to render mass models that accounted for inertia and momentum and friction and gravity. And there was still that one remaining property of the phlostigon, the unreliable one that usually ended with an explosion - but this was going to end with an explosion regardless of what I did. So I integrated it with myself and I took a stab in the dark, and I wedged some gas out of the way. Temperature dropped slightly. The atmosphere was difficult to grab, and the ground was far out of my effective range. But I still managed to stabilize the course, if only a little. And phlostigon was wasting away dangerously. But we would survive this landing. Unless something insane happened, which it did.
Out of nowhere. A bat out of Hell. A field of the most powerful energy I'd seen in aeons of travel burst out of nowhere, directing the magnetism around it in ways I could only begin to comprehend. The iron plating buckled, and supports groaned in protest as they twisted tortuously. Virtual red lines sprawled across every visible surface, and internal components thrashed violently. A hole erupted in my skin, and another, and another. The atmosphere rushed in, scorching everything it touched. And then the phlostigon reservoir burst into something approximating flame. Someone did this, I realized suddenly. Magnetic fields like that don't just happen. But what could have created this Hell? I tried to close the fire gates, partition the phlostigon and stop the spread of the flux, but it was too late. The entire body of phlostigon erupted in random chaotic flux, no longer unified under any command. Whatever special properties it had were destroyed almost instantaneously. The sky exploded. Everything was on fire for as far as I could see. My nervous system fragmented, a thousand different pieces cutting out and losing contact. My vision went dark. Everything jolted around, a random slew of pixels and machine code no longer understandable on an intuitive level. And no longer understandable at all. Synchronization was at 0%. It was over. We were losing altitude.