(Do not be alarmed at the chapter number. This story intentionally starts in media res)
Iain was trying to turn so he could at least see how Cygnus was doing. He wasn’t given the opportunity, however, because he the next thing he knew he was pressed into the seat as the shuttle accelerated, and had to close his eyes hard to block the brilliance exploding towards them in streaks of what seemed to be thousand watt lights. Another thunk followed by another groan came from the rear compartment.
Even closed, the back of his eyelids burned the brightest yellow he’d ever seen, and it felt like a truck was resting on his chest.
“Get a hold of that thing!” he heard Cygnus shout from somewhere behind him. “We could be going in the wrong direction.”
That would be bad, yes.
“Um, yeah…” Iain forced out, then relaxed as the acceleration eased.
He stared at the controls before him. They were unrecognizable as anything he could work, or at least know he could work, other than the joystick.
Iain grabbed the thick stick and turned it slightly, feeling significant resistance in the effort. The stream of light twisted and swirled. How the hell was he supposed to find the star cluster they were looking for in the swirling glare? Oddly enough, he didn’t get dizzy or lose his lunch. But that was mostly because by the time he was considering that he realized he’s closed his eyes as tight as possible.
I think we are in a spin, the autopilot offered in helpful tone. Is that what you want?
“No!” Iain shouted. “I want us going in a straight line towards the Lesser Xemorian Bubble.”
I think you’re going about it the wrong way, the voice offered in a tentative tone.
“What should I do then?” Iain demanded.
Be gentle, was the response. Once you’ve stabilized our trajectory you can point the shuttle anywhere you would like to.
“I thought you were the autopilot,” he complained. “Shouldn’t you be controlling things after takeoff?”
I believe ‘was the autopilot’ is the correct terminology, the voice replied. I don’t appear to be able to control much of anything, I am afraid. I’m sorry if you are finding that inconvenient. My last round of maintenance was seventy-four thousand years ago.
Iain swore, then followed the autopilots advice, eased a bit off on the force he was putting into the stick. The brightness trying to burn a hole through his eyelids faded a bit, to more of a bright green. He peaked out through his right eye, though just a crack. There was a rainbow shooting at him through the screen in front of him.
“Is that better?” he wondered aloud.
That’s much better, the voice said. You done this before, haven’t you?
The tone of the synthetic voice made Iain feel for a moment that he was involved in kind of dirty, but he decided to just not think about it further. As Skipper had proved, being a bit perverted came with the AI territory. And if the shuttle hadn’t been flown in millennia its AI couldn’t be blamed for getting a bit lonely. So he gave the response he figured he should and held on.
“No,” he said. “This is my first space shuttle.”
Hell, I’m an astronaut!
You’re doing fine now, the voice assured him. Why don’t you try using both hands. And relax. We’re in no imminent danger of collision. Not this far above the Geffe Arm.
Great, now he had something more to worry about. Iain, for a moment, thought about how fast they must be still going. Faster than light, they had to be.
As it turned out, the autopilot was spot on. it wasn’t so difficult once he grasped the control stick with both hands, although it meant he was straining against the straps holding him to the chair. The streams of white light stopped swirling, straightened out completely. The pressure he was experiencing faded almost completely even as Iain keep his full attention on what was ahead of him..
He felt a hand on his shoulder.
“Got the hang of it, did you?” Cygnus asked from behind his right ear.
He turned to her. She looked okay, although she seem to be favoring her left leg and did wince when the shuttle shuddered while he looked.
“Want to take over?” he offered.
She shook her head.
“No, everything is still a little fuzzy,” she admitted, blinking rapidly. “I’d probably fly us straight into a supernova.”
Yeah, that would end their trip real quick, came to mind from out of nowhere. Then Cygnus pointed to the right. Between some shooting lights, there was a spot peppered of bright points.
“That’s where we want to go,” she told him. “That binary star cluster. It’s home to a few civilizations we could make use of.”
He adjusted the stick just a touch, and the round collection of condensed lights swung over to the center of the screen. He squeezed the control again, and the stars locked, dead center.
“It’s getting pretty easy,” he said smiling. “You were right. It seems I’m pretty good at this after all.”
And you said you’ve never done this before, the autopilot offered in a disbelieving yet coy tone. So modest.
Then the whole shuttle shuddered again hard. Cygnus yelped and her fingers dug into his shoulder as she tried to stay upright.
“Uh, oh,” she said, then pointed past his shoulder at the side screens, which, from the directions the stars were flying, were their view of what was behind them. To make that even more clear, dominating them was what appeared to be a gargantuan starship growing in size by the moment. It seemed rather asymmetrical from the outside, surprising Iain. And it did kind of look like an Airport. George Bush International in particular. Or maybe JFK. Huh.
“I don’t suppose we can wave it past,” he hoped.
The shuttle shuddered again.
“I think it’s trying to catch us in a tractor beam,” Cygnus offered, hanging on for dear life.
Iain grew anxious.
“Are we fucked then?” he asked, remembering all the sci-fi he’d watched. “Or can we get out of range, maybe?”
“Probably not if we’re feeling this kind of resonance,” she stated. “My guess is The Transient Void’s tractor beams aren’t at 100%.”
“Any suggestions then?” he asked.
Go to Chapter One
Go to Chapter Twenty Nine
Go to Chapter Thirty One