Spacecraft Testing course, Karhu System
The nose of the small spacecraft jerked upwards and the craft disappeared. The second craft shot past the wormhole mouth, then came to a stop and hovered. The pilot waited for instructions.
“He’s done it again!” shouted Lauri. “If he doesn’t move left before he reaches the wormhole he’s going to get thrown back to the beginning of the course every time!”
The technicians in the control room were doubled over with laughter.
“That’s the fourth time today,” said Lauri, nowhere nearly as amused as his technicians. “If he doesn’t get it right this time I’m calling him in.”
Lucy’s voice came clearly over the coms unit, “Do you want me to give it a try?”
“That’s a good idea,” replied Lauri. “Come on in and swap ships with Jake. We’ll see if a another pilot makes any difference.”
As Lauri spoke Jake’s spacecraft popped back into view at the start of the course. He grabbed the coms unit and shouted into it.
“Jake, listen to me! You have to pull left after the last pylon or you’ll keep going straight into the wormhole. Do you hear me?”
Jake’s tired voice echoed into the control centre. “Yes, I hear you. I think there’s something wrong with the steering. It’s just not responding to me and I keep going straight on. I’ll give it one more try and then come back in.”
“Do you think that’s wise?” asked Lauri. “If you think there’s something wrong with it you’d better come back in now and we’ll run some diagnostics on the system.”
“One more try,” responded Jake, determined not to be the pilot who failed the testing run.
“OK,” replied Lauri, “When you come back in, plug the diagnostics unit in. If it’s clear then swap with Lucy. Let’s see if she has the same trouble.”
The craft began accelerating away from the start line. Lauri watched anxiously from the viewing deck as it skipped around the pylons, weaving left to right like a skier dancing down a slalom course. The craft was responding well. Its sleek lines were designed for optimum handling in space. And it could travel just as easily to the surface of the planet below.
As he rounded the last pylon, Jake slowed the craft and veered left, this time missing the wormhole mouth that had catapulted him back to the start on the last run.
“That was weird,” Jake’s voice came over the coms unit. “I didn’t slow down just then. The ship slowed itself. Weird. As if it made the decision for me.”
Lauri laughed. “Yeah, right. A sentient ship! Sure thing! Just get back in here and we’ll take a look at what’s going on with it.”
Jake swung the craft around and headed back towards the shipyard docking bays. The technician monitoring the small crafts’ systems looked at Lauri.
“He’s right,” he said. “The craft adjusted the speed itself. Look, right here.” He brought the display up on the screen in front of him and they both looked at it in amazement.
“Better find Lucy, quickly. I’m not letting another pilot into a ship that’s behaving that way.”
Lauri strode back to his control panel. He glanced from the viewing deck and realised he was too late. Lucy was already in Jake’s ship and accelerating towards the start of the course. Jake appeared at the rear of the control centre, listening to the interchange between the head of space design testing and his pilot.
“Lucy!” Lauri shouted over the coms unit. “Stop! Right now!”
“Just one run Lauri,” she called back to him. “The diagnostics were all clear. I’ll be right back!”
The craft accelerated towards the first pylon and began its rhythmical dance. Lauri found he was holding his breath. Every technician was glued to the viewing screen, watching Lucy manoeuvre the craft gracefully through the course.
“She’s the best pilot we have,” said Jake quietly, “be damned if I can fly like that!”
“Oh crap!” Lucy’s voice was loud through the coms unit.
“What’s wrong?” asked Lauri.
“The steering’s gone. Completely. Oh crap!” Lucy’s voice echoed through the control room. Jake sprinted to the emergency rescue craft moored in the docking bay.
Lauri watched in horror as the spacecraft plowed nose first into the last pylon on the course, sending the magnetised beam spinning away into the vacuum. The impact slowed the crafts speed, but the nose of the ship crumpled and a crack slithered across the windscreen. Lucy was knocked unconscious. The spacecraft rotated lazily where the pylon had been.