Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Land Leave 3


Land Leave continues:

“Wake up sleepyhead, we gotta get moving,” James was pinching Bill's arm.

“Ow. Lift-off time?” Bill scrambled to start his lift-off sequence.

“Naw, we still have a half hour before we start.” James always thought Bill was a bit stiff about following protocol.

“Jesus, what happened to you last night? You look like hell and smell like a woman.” Such frank statements fell out of his mouth more than came out. James didn't seem to take offense to it though.

“Got in a fight, slept at some broad's house. Just a typical night for a senator's son.” James grinned, then grimaced at the pain of smiling. Bill resented James for constantly name-dropping his status. It was an unwanted truth that James was on the bridge with Bill because of his father.

“You two, can you run a flight simulator? Our flight crews are out on exercises and I need to run a scenario.” The captain was staring at James' disheveled appearance anxiously. The captain's nose twitched slightly at the smell of lavender, booze, and blood.

“Yes sir, I had a 98% on my navigator's tests and a 94% on the pilot's,” Bill stood at attention and answered formally.

“Yeah, I did well too. I'm a better pilot than navigator though,” James was probably too casual.

The captain held back a scoff and told them to report to the simulators, “and ensign Rojas, next time you are on leave, try to take a shower before you get back.”

Bill turned away and snickered, the captain had a sense of humor. Or maybe not. The two made their way to the simulators and entered into the first one. It was the basic set-up, a large white ball with an entrance. Once inside, the universal pilot and nav equipment adjusted for the particular makes and models of the programmed simulation. The simulator was set for a modified fighter with a sensor array—basically a recon unit. Bill strapped in easily. James had a little more trouble; it was obvious that he had to reacquaint himself with the model. The two sat back to back, allowing for the largest field of view. The simulation started up.

“Ok, the simulation is a run of our mission in the Oort cloud,” the captain's voice came over the intercom, “we're going to be going through a small particle cloud. You are the recon unit in charge of finding two things: a path to any large rocky object you find, and finding a large rocky object. Long-range scans from our previous tours have shown that several masses about three to four miles in diameter exist in this cloud. We've charted what we can for you already but we just don't know what there is out there. To compensate for this, your charts will have what we know, and the simulation has been given random objects—rocks and debris—to add that are not on your charts. You are to keep weapons fire to a minimum. This is a scientific mission and destroying particles could jeopardize important artifacts. Is your mission clear?”

“Crystal sir,” James had already fired up the engines and was moving. The simulation went smoothly, new objects were compensated for quickly and there weren't many close calls. The problem was that there was a lot of noise. Then it happened.

The simulator seemed to jolt and swing. Bill looked around and saw a cube, about 3 kilometers across, at about 15 kilometers away. “There. Sir, I've spotted what looks to be a cube. I'm getting some gravitational distortions. Should we proceed forward?”

“No, that's enough for today. Thank you. Return to the bridge. We are starting the lift-off sequence.” The simulation cut-off abruptly and the two scrambled out of the cockpit. Bill didn't think much of the simulation. It had felt like a weird fantasy and he would have rather shaken it off after the restless sleep he had been getting. James was of a different mind.

“What the hell was that? Are we part of some sort of human experiment? Was that a hidden camera show? Why would they put a cube in a simulator like that? It doesn't make sense.” James ranted this way through the entire lift-off sequence, “and I'm going to ask the captain some tough questions...”

Bill listened to him curiously. He decided that it would be best to let James get in trouble and find out through him. Why stick his neck out, it would only get cut-off.

The captain came through on the intercom, “This is your captain speaking, our twelve month tour will commence—now.” And with that the Eve cast off from her moorings at the mega-structure and rumbled slowly. Bill felt the ship start to ascend; it would take forty-three minutes to break the atmosphere this way. The captain was obviously antsy because he came back over the intercom, “we are going to do a rapid ascent everyone has thirty seconds to strap down. We break atmo in 2 minutes.”

Bill strapped in his harness and got ready for rapid ascent; he looked over at James. James was fumbling with his belt; he was so clumsy, always having some problem with fine motor skills. The computer gave a very calm ten second countdown. At the tone, Bill's ears popped, his face melted, and his whole body shook. He looked over at James who seemed to be regretting his night of heavy drinking. Then they were out of the atmosphere in low-earth orbit.

The two of them started to float out of their seats. “Don't get comfy, our grav systems will kick in soon and we are going to be traveling .96c in three, two, one.” The captain was really in a rush, Bill mused. He suddenly felt everything elongate and turn blue around him. The ship was accelerating so rapidly that the light was bending.

“What do you think our first stop is?” James yelled over the rumbling fusion drives. It didn't matter to Bill, they were going nowhere.