“Flynn Brickshelm, reporting in.”
“David Nash, reporting in.”
Their voices were calm and steady, despite the fact that they were currently strapped inside one of the most dangerous vehicles ever assembled. John was sitting in the back corner of what had been officially dubbed Mission Control. It was a collection of computers from various parts of town, as well as a few monitors that had once been part of the world ship, but had been adapted for this mission.
The cinema had been transformed.
“Fuel lines are green,” someone reported from the front computer.
“Launch systems are go,” another chimed in near the back.
John looked to Olivia. She was sitting in her chair, leaning back ever so slightly, with a small bundle of her long black hair resting in her mouth. She was nervous, that was clear to him, but she was doing a good job of hiding it from the uninitiated. He only knew her true emotional state because she had told him such in a brief discussion before they’d started their final preparations, and because he’d watched her in enough of these situations to see her tells, such as the chewing on her hair.
“What about the repulsors?” Olivia asked, leaning forward and checking a monitor.
“They’re fine,” Flynn’s voice crackled over the radio. “We’ve tested them a dozen times.”
Despite Flynn’s assurances, Olivia had every right to be nervous.
The repulsors were the key to this mission’s success… or failure.
Explorer One would be accelerated off one of the large platforms in the Grid using a cable launch system. The repulsors would then be triggered manually and, according to the engineers, Flynn could use them to stay in the air as long as the repulsors had power.
The two passengers could test the hardware and then circle back for a controlled landing at the Grid. If the calculations were off, and the repulsors failed their task, the team had an emergency landing area where Explorer One could touch down like an airplane.
All the time they had prepared and designed and built… it was down to this.
“Final call for mission?” Olivia asked.
“Mission Control reports go for mission.”
“You feeling okay?” Flynn asked David as they sat in the cockpit of the Explorer One.
“I’m just ready to roll,” David replied. “You?”
“I’m already planning to break records,” Flynn replied.
“Let’s set some records first, yeah?”
“Roger that, Commander Nash.”
“How much time to launch?”
“Just a few more minutes now,” Flynn replied, turning to look at the clock for verification. It showed that they had just over three minutes to go. He checked his own personal watch to be sure. It showed the same.
“This is happening,” David confirmed. Let’s run through the final checks and make sure we don’t have anything wrong.”
Ruby was biting her nails as she watched the final checks going into place. She had practiced on the simulator with Flynn for weeks now. She had managed to successfully fly the thing once. She wasn’t a fan of the repulsors or how it felt to handle them, but Flynn had eased into it like it was no problem. He had crashed the first time, pulled off his helmet, and looked at her with a smile. “I got it now,” he assured her. “Let’s go again.”
He never crashed another simulation.
Ruby scanned the room. She saw Olivia, halfway between sitting and standing as she quadruple checked the power levels and other systems. In the corner of the room, John Skiles was busy writing something, and a little ways over from him Samantha and Rayland were standing, both looking shockingly unimpressed with what was unfolding here.
“Final safety checks complete,” one of the engineers reported. “Ready to trigger final ignition sequence.”
Olivia managed to take a seat and look over one last piece of data before she smiled and looked to the large monitor that was streaming video from the Grid. “Begin final countdown. T-Minus One Minute.”
They had set up a large monitor for this very moment. It displayed a red set of numbers, counting down from sixty seconds, and everyone in the room was looking at it now. There wasn’t anything left to do aside from wait for the moment the launch systems initiated.
“T-Minus thirty seconds,” Flynn reported.
“The cable system goes taut at five seconds. We’ll clear the platform at zero.”
“Bring it on.”
The two were silent as the clock ran down, but at just ten seconds Flynn piped up one more time. “Hey, David. Listen, if things do go south for any reason. I just want you to know that I’ve enjoyed every moment of this. There’s no one I’d rather die with.”
David chuckled, but before he could respond, the countdown hit five seconds.
The cable pulled and Explorer One lurched forward. The forces pushed both passengers deep into their seats as they hurtled toward the open air. A loud humming rumbled through the ship and Flynn’s chair shook so hard he could feel the vibrations in his teeth.
He heard Olivia echoing over the radio. “T-Minus four, three, two, one. We have launch.”
A sense of free fall came over Flynn as the ship cleared the platform and shot straight out into open air. For a brief moment, his stomach rose into his throat, but then he reached forward and initiated the repulsors. The falling sensation stopped almost immediately. He looked to altitude and saw that they were holding steady.
“This is Pilot Brick reporting in. Altitude holding steady.”
“Roger that,” Olivia said, relief in her voice. “Maintain current altitude for one minute to confirm power levels and operational stability.”
Flynn had shortened his last name to Brick when on active missions. It was easier than trying to say the whole thing every time.
“What’s our airspeed?” David Nash asked.
“Just over one hundred eighty,” Flynn replied. “Dropping without main engines.”
“Will repulsors keep us in the air without speed?”
Flynn shrugged. “It should keep us level, even if we don’t move. Right now they’re showing that they’re not under a full load. We could stay up here as long as the batteries hold.”
“Where are we now?”
“Not far out. We’re making our first course adjustment now.”
“Explorer One,” Olivia came over the line. “We have you tracking great. All systems are nominal. If you boys are up for it, we’re ready to fire the main engines.”
“Roger that, Control,” David Nash reported. “We have adjusted our heading and are ready for main ignition.”
“Ignition in ten…nine…”
“You got your hands on the wheel?” David asked jokingly.
“Ten and two,” Flynn joked.
“Three… two… one… ignition!”
Explorer One, from John’s point of view, had launched from the Grid’s platform without much fanfare. It had slid off the edge at a high speed, stabilized, and then continued forward at a steady rate. Mission Control burst into cheering and excitement. The repulsor technology had worked. Explorer One was maintaining altitude without any propulsion to generate necessary lift. There wasn’t a wow factor to the launch at all, visually, but it was a wild success for everyone in the room.
“So, that’s it?” John heard Samantha ask Rayland in a whisper. “I’ve seen more exciting paper airplanes.”
Olivia turned toward Samantha, an eyebrow raised, and smiled. “One more surprise.”
She looked back to the viewing monitor, where the shuttle was currently in sight. “Explorer One, we have you tracking great. All systems are nominal. If you boys are up for it, we’re ready to fire the main engines.”
“Roger that, Control. We have adjusted our heading and are ready for main ignition.”
Olivia gestured to one of the engineers and they signaled back with a thumb in the air. “Ignition in ten… nine… eight… “
As the countdown neared zero, John saw everyone in the room growing tense. At this point, Explorer One had been dealing with a simple situation of repulsors either working or not working. If the repulsors had failed, Flynn would have landed them like a plane at the bottom of the Grid. Firing the main engines was more familiar technology for propulsion, but it still carried big risks.
“Three… two… one… ignition!”
On the monitor, a bright light filled the screen. The camera zoomed out to accommodate and all they could see was a glorious white vapor trail. The camera continued to turn to follow and eventually found the bright light of Explorer One’s main engines.
More cheering from the engineers.
“Report in, Commander,” Olivia said, waving an arm to silence the room.
“Successful ignition of main engines,” David Nash reported in immediately. “We’re hauling in this thing, but Pilot Brick is lowering throttle as we speak.”
“Hey, Olivia?” one engineer piped up. “I’m getting an altitude increase here.”
Olivia frowned. “Commander, is the Explorer One gaining altitude?”
“Yes we are,” David reported.
“They’re exiting the established test parameters,” another engineer called out.
“You hearing this?” Olivia asked.
“We are,” David confirmed. “We’re just climbing a little bit while we’re on the straightaway. We’ll throttle back and let the repulsors take over at end of burn.”
“You’re making a lot of us uncomfortable,” Olivia replied.
“Everything is fine,” David assured her. “Ship is performing great.”
“I’m going to ask that you throttle back and lower ailerons to return to base. Your burn won’t last much longer and you’ve already done great work here today.”
“Listen, we’re just… goi… around…” David’s radio started going in and out.
“It’s the antenna,” one of the engineers explained before Olivia could ask. “We didn’t build a high altitude antenna for this mission. They’ll be out of range until they come back down.”
Olivia cursed. She took a deep breath and then lifted her head. “Alright, Commander Nash, if you can hear this, we’re aware of radio silence and will continue pinging for you until you’re back in range. Continue testing as instructed until then.”
Only static. No response.
“Well,” she grumbled. “That’s not good.”