March 2, 2006

Back In A Flash

Part One

By Dwayne MacInnes

"Data telemetry 95%, adjust two-seven-eight and four-two-niner," the monotonous voice advised over the radio.

"Adjusting two-seven-eight and four-two-niner," Colonel Diana Kemper replied in her British accent. Her calm voice hid the barely controlled emotion of excitement that tried desperately to bubble forth. Diana was about to be the next Chuck Yeager and she was destine to become a historical icon.

"System diagnostic nearly complete," her American co-pilot Major Thomas Barnes sitting beside her in the cockpit said over the radio.

"Data telemetry 100%," the monotonous voice of the ground controller replied.

Over all her years in the military, Diana noticed that no matter where they came from or what age or sex they were, all ground controllers spoke in the same flat emotionless tone. She found it ironic that her in-flight computer displayed more human emotion than the controllers did.

"That must have been something they learned in school. Either that, or the school searched for people with the personality of a tree," she laughed silently as she completed the thought.

"Something I missed?" Tom asked as he looked over to Diana in the pilot seat.

"Nothing," Diana replied realizing she had not laughed as quietly as she thought.

"All systems are in the green. Prepare for acceleration in twenty seconds," the impassionate voice advised.

"Roger, ground control," Diana replied.

This was it. Diana repressed another wave of excitement as she thought about being one of two of the first humans to break the light barrier. The programmed remote drone and the animal flights all proved highly successful. Now, it was the big moment for human flight. The British and American governments collaborated on this program to fly faster than the speed of light. Something thought for over a hundred years to be impossible.

Their spaceship, the Zephyr, would accelerate towards light speed. The closer they got to the speed of light, communications with Earth would become impossible. Therefore, the computer would mostly control the flight. It would fly out to a preordained coordinate and automatically return towards Earth. If the worse case scenario happened and the human crew was unable to respond, the computer would land the Zephyr back on Earth at a base outside Manchester.

"I feel like the train engineer with the dog," Diana thought to herself. From her history studies, she remembered that as 20th century progressed, trains became more and more automated. The owners of railways kept engineers onboard to reassure the public. The old joke was that an engineer and a dog would run the train; the engineer was there to make sure nothing went wrong. The dog was there to make sure the engineer did not touch anything if it did.

"Acceleration in 10, 9, 8..." the ground controller started counting down.

The flat voice brought Diana back to the present. She looked over the flight panel. Everything looked good. She glanced over to her co-pilot and flight engineer Tom sitting next to her. He was taking one last glance out the window at the stars before he returned to reading the flight computer's readout on its screen.

"7, 6, 5..." the voice continued over the radio. There would soon be no communication until the Zephyr finished its flight plan after it had decelerated from light speed and was again in close proximity to Earth. Diana tried to sit back further in her seat. The straps had already secured her to the flight seat so snuggly that she really did not move much.

"4, 3, 2..." the radio relentlessly counted down. Diana's grip tightened on the flight control. She wondered if Major Tom realized that there was a song related to his name composed one hundred years ago. Probably better if he did not.

"1, acceleration go, engines beginning full burn," the voice concluded as the thrust from the Zephyr's engines threw the two passengers further back into their seats. The g-forces grew oppressively greater as the ship sped faster through space.

If the invention of artificial gravity had not come to be in the last couple of decades, acceleration like this would be impossible. As it were, the inertial dampener took a few seconds to catch up to counter-act the g-forces from the thrust. For those few seconds, Diana feared that she would be crushed to death. Fortunately, the g's pushing her back into her seat relented as the artificial gravity inertial dampeners compensated for the thrust.

Diana watched the image of stars beginning to flash past her windscreen. If she could see behind her, she realized that she would not be able to see anything once they reached light speed. All signals from Earth were now effectively severed.

The Zephyr began to shake violently as it approached closer to the barrier. It felt as if the small spaceship was going to rip itself apart struggling to push through and past the light barrier. A quick glance down on the flight panel showed that the navigation shields were holding at full power. Another necessary space flight innovation, without the navigation shields a micro-meteor would end the flight quickly and disastrously.

As suddenly, as it began the Zephyr's flight smoothed out as if it was gliding on glass. Diana glanced down at the flight panel again. A red light flashed on indicating a problem with the quantum flux matrix. Before she could do anything, a bright flash flooded the cockpit for a nanosecond. The illuminate flash indicated the breaking of the light barrier much the same as the sonic boom indicated the breaking of the sound barrier. That was the last thing Diana remembered before she blacked out.

* * * * *

"Colonel?" a voice sounded out from the blackness.

"Colonel Kemper, are you OK?" persisted the voice with an American accent. Diana forced herself to focus on the voice. She willed herself to swim out of the blackness and into the light. As Diana regained consciousness, she fluttered open her eyes. The light burned her retina before her brown irises compensated for the bright sunlight flooding into the cockpit.

"Sunlight?" the thought completely brought Diana back to her consciousness. "Where are we?" she asked.

"According to the computer programming we should be back on Earth outside of Manchester," Major Tom replied.

Diana undid the straps and sat forward in her seat in order to get a better view outside the windscreen. The Zephyr had landed in a vacant field. Trees lined the horizon, bright sunlight flooded through the windows and puffy white clouds floated across the blue sky. They were at least back on the Earth.

"I lost consciousness just as we exited the 'flash'," the American offered. "When I came to, we were here. According to our instruments, we were out only for ten minutes."

"There was a malfunction with the quantum flux matrix. Run a complete system and subsystem diagnostic to make sure that is all that went wrong."

"Yes, ma'am. That will take about two days to run."

"Manchester base this is Zephyr do you copy?" Diana spoke into her radio headset. Nothing came back but static.

"Manchester base this is Zephyr do you copy?" Diana tried again. Again, her only response was static.

Diana made sure that the radio was on the correct frequency. She tried a few alternate emergency frequencies without any results.

"There must be something wrong with our radio. Can you get a fix with the GPS?" Diana asked her co-pilot.

Tom looked at the instrument for a second. He pushed a few buttons and again looked at the GPS.

"Colonel, this doesn't look good. I am not getting a GPS reading at all. Maybe we're more damaged than it looks," offered the major with a hint of concern in his voice.

"You said that the computer is stating that we should be at the Manchester base, correct?"

"Yes, that is its preprogrammed flight course if the human pilots are incapable of flying the ship."

"Computer," ordered Diana.

"Flight computer on line," the mechanical female voice responded in a British accent.

"How did you fly back and land on Earth without the radio and GPS being operational?"

"Radio and GPS are fully operational...my subprogram allows me to use astrogation and highly detailed topographical maps to land at my preprogrammed coordinate," replied the computer.

"Computer, how can the radio and GPS be operational if we are back on Earth and neither one works?"

"There are no signals for the radio or the GPS to pick up."

"Computer, are you sure we are on Earth?" Diana prodded.

"There is a 99.9% probability based on gravity, density, diameter, axial tilt, astrogation position and land masses corresponding to my topographical maps."

"Computer, did we go back in time?" Major Tom asked trying another track.

"Negative, based on astrogation planetary and stellar position we have not gone back in time."

Diana and Tom both silently cursed as the computer gave its analysis.

"However based on the same information," the computer continued, "we are two hundred thirty one years in the future from the date we launched."

Diana and Tom looked at each other as it dawned on them that they were in the year 2299.

Posted by deg at March 2, 2006 5:17 PM

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