We are over the half-way point in days but I am now a mere 6599 words short of where I should be in terms of word count target! 20073 down. 29927 to go…
After a grueling couple of days hard at it, I feel like I am very much back on target with the novel. I’ve decided to change the working title to Bright Endeavour after the ship a good deal of the action is going to be set on. I am also celebrating the fact that I not only managed to get the characters onto the aforementioned ship but got them to launch from the Space Station and make the jump to Saturn!
Here is a great big juicy excerpt from the most recent work…
“Eva, give me an external of the veiled ship, sub-screen direct forward view and give me a visual count down, please.”
“Yes, captain.” Eva’s soothing voice replied and instantly complied, the televisor springing into life above the console. The larger part of the image showing the space station, the other ships docked nearby and the draped area where the ship they were in lay hidden. The sub-image of the ship’s own forward view was just darkness. The countdown showed fifty-nine minutes and fifty seconds.
Daryl tapped a control on the console in front of him and addressed the whole ship. “Look lively people, we’ve just passed the one hour mark!”
“Sir, mission control reports that they are ready to unveil on your command.” Mica reported to the captain.
Daryl nodded and addressed the computer, “Eva, patch me into the news feed we’re delivering, please.”
“Yes, Captain. Broadcasting now.” A patch of blue light appeared at the top centre of the view screen and Daryl looked up at it and smiled broadly.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my pleasure to unveil to you all,” a pause for dramatic effect, “The Bright Endeavour. Mica, if you please?”
“Yes, sir.” Mica tapped some controls on her console and all eyes turned to feeds showing the cloaked ship. Daryl waved the off control for the camera and watched the viewscreen with everyone else.
“Stand-by on the external lights, please Mica.” Mica nodded assent gently, her hand hovering over the control as she too watched the screen.
Slowly the long drapes fell back away along the gantries in towards the hull of the great Space Station revealing a long and sleek craft with a narrow neck ending at a rounded bridge to the front and a wider rear section, gracefully curved. But for the lack of wings she looked a little like a swan. The dark colour was an illusion however, with a nod to Mica she brought up the external running lights. To collective gasps across the connected world a dazzling display of blue and white lights awoke and glowed up into a strong light, highlighting ever curve, contour and seam of the elegant hull. Finally the name of the ship itself, emblazoned on both sides of the neck awoke in an icy blue glow.
Ceilidh clapped as she stared wide-eyed at the beautiful ship, docked on the side of the Station. “Yeah! Pretty!” she squealed with delight. Grace and Susie Carter were also staring transfixed at the televisor screen on the wall, the remains of dinner scattered around the table between them.
“She’s right, it is pretty.” commented Susie. Picking up her wine glass and draining the last of the wine her glass, “Thanks again for inviting me, it’s been very nice to meet you both… you know… properly. You’re very different from what I thought.”
Grace smiled “Thank you, we’re all pretty different from what we present to the camera, including you. You’ll stay for the launch?”
“If I may, I haven’t got any other real plans at the moment.” Suzie became a little glum at this and twisted her glass around in her hand by the stem.
“Of course.” Grace got up and crossed the room to a cupboard, pulled out another bottle of wine and proceeded to open it. The televisor in the room was showing various shots of the ship along with three dimensional models and all other publicly available information on her capabilities with sub-screen options to explore any of these topics in more detail. A new message icon started flashing at the top of the screen. Grace glanced over and noticed it. “Hm. Open new message.” she commanded it.
The envelope icon spread open to reveal a single short lines of text, unusual in itself, all the more so as the message did not indicate who the sender was nor give a return path. It said:
Tell your husband to check the jump emitter coils manually.
“That’s a bit odd.” said Suzie, frowning and also looking at the screen. “Televisor, what is the source of this message?” A fresh line of text appeared under the message: Source Unknown. Grace was still holding the new bottle of wine with the cork half prised out as she gazed at the screen.
“Delete message. Place a call to Grant SecondName on the Bright Endeavour. Authorisation: Grace SecondName.” She commanded, her voice shaking slightly.
“What do you suppose this means?” asked Suzie, taking the bottle from Grace’s hand and finishing opening it before doling some out into her glass.
“I don’t know but I’m going to do what it says. After the Space Lift…” her voice trailed off. The televisor screen had returned to the feed of the ship hanging next to the station with a bar at the top that said “Placing Call, Please Wait.”
Grace and Suzie waited.
The mission control room on the space station was a hive of activity. All around the walls were acres of televisors showing internal and external shots of the ship, data and readouts from all aspects of her preparation and the ubiquitous countdown now at T minus thirty one minutes and twenty one seconds. The room was filled with rows of desks and consoles with an array of civilian and uniformed officials working at them or buzzing between them like ants in a nest. At the centre on a raised dais was a circular desk, sat behind it was the queen of the operation. Emelda was giving final instructions on fuel supply disconnection, via a console on the desk in front of her to one of the throng somewhere on the floor below while simultaneously retieing the tight bun on the top of her head to trap a lock of hair that had escaped and jumped down onto her face. She was interrupted by a flashing incoming call from a different operator. She finished fixing her hair and waved a hand over the control. “Yes?”
“Ma’am. I have a call request from Grace SecondName to speak to her husband.” the man’s voice appeared out of the console.
“Don’t call me ‘Ma’am’, ‘Chief’ will do nicely.” She snapped at him. “Put her through to him but warn him he’s got five minutes max.”
“Yes, chief.” The comm broke off and Emelda gazed around the buzzing hive of activity. Little blue lights here and there around the room indicated that everything was being recorded for posterity but she was allowing no live feeds until all final checks were complete and they were ready for the final sequence and launch. She looked over the read-outs in front of her. Everything looked to be in order and running to time, a check list on one readout beside had more than half the items on it highlighted green indicating that they were ready to go. As she looked at it the fuel disconnect item changed colour as well, she allowed herself a brief smile.
She picked the group of operatives in charge of communications from the list in front of her and addressed them through the console. “OK guys, you’re up. I want physical comm disconnect and switch over to the subspace array as soon as you can. Keep it synced and let’s not see any break in transmission.”
“Yes, chief.” a voice answered back from somewhere across the room where the team was seated. Emelda pulled up the progress chart for the comms switch-over and noticed the active channel from Antarctica Base Station routed to the Engine room. More tearful goodbye’s no doubt.
“I don’t understand, honey, who…” Grant was trying to make sense of what he was hearing from his clearly distressed wife.
“I don’t know, Grant. I got a message from an unknown source that said ‘Tell your husband to check the jump emitter coils manually.’.” A gasp escaped from the exasperated Grace. “I don’t know the source or who it’s from or why. That’s it. Will you do it though? Please?”
The door to the engine room slid open and Rex Ghetti walked in carrying a hypodermic needle and headed over toward Grant who was stood, leaning with both hands on a console as he talked to his wife over a televisor on the wall.
The engine room was a wide rough circle, with a door at one end from whence Rex had emerged and a wide opening at the other. Under the grated floor was a torus, with trails of wires and lights and coils connected around it, the fusion reactor that powered the ship humming gently to itself. Mighty conduits ran up from the floor at the rear of the room, some broke out left and right into the banks of consoles around the edges and the rest ran back into the sprawling mass of glowing circuitry and coils that were the ship’s giant jump engines, powerful enough to fold space itself around the ship.
“Pre-jump shot, Grant.” Rex announced, raising the needle in explanation. Grant glanced in his direction and smiled with half his mouth.
“Sure.” he replied, shook off the coat of his uniform and started rolling up a shirt sleeve. He turned back to the Televisor “OK, honey, I’ll go do it – but try and find out who sent that message, it all seems a bit odd to me. I’ve got to go, launch is in…” he glanced at a different console “Fifteen minutes. I love you both!” He kissed the fingers of his right hand and placed them on the glowing blue camera point then winced as Rex stuck the needle into his other arm.
“Thank you, darling.” Grace looked relieved as she blew a kiss in return, “I love you too, good luck and see you soon!” A tear filled her eye as she waved an arm at the Televisor in her room and the image in front of Grant winked off to be replaced by power conduit readings.
“Problem?” asked Rex as he withdrew the empty hypo. Grant rubbed the spot on his arm where he had received the injection and shook his head.
“Don’t think so, just my wife getting a little bit paranoid.” he pulled his shirt back down and slung his uniform jacket back over his shoulders. “If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a bit of climbing to do.”
“No problem! Everyone else is prepped already, I’ll see you at the jump beds ten minutes after launch, OK?”
“Sure.” Grant was already distracted by the readings on his console as he flew through the remaining checks he had to do. Climbing inside the engine took time he technically didn’t have. Rex turned and went back out of the door into the main body of the ship. “Eva, prep the jump engines for manual check.” Grant requested.
“Certainly, Lieutenant. You shall have to be fast to complete this without delaying launch.” A note of chiding in the strange feminine voice.
“I know, Eva. And call me Grant, will you?”
“Of course, Grant. I have disconnected the main power couple, the engines are safe to enter.”
“Thank you.” Grant walked down to the back of the engine room and mounted a short steel ladder that led to a crawlspace into the depths of the engines. He pulled himself along with his hands and knees around to the emitter coils and started checking connections and readouts. Over a comms line Daryl Baxter’s voice suddenly interrupted him.
“Grant? Emelda’s biting my ear because the jump power coupling is down. Is there a problem?” He sounded agitated, this was not on the launch schedule.
“No sir, just doing a quick manual check. You can assure the chief that I’ll be ready in time!” Grant replied to the air as he unclipped and opened a covering and bent further down to peer inside. His brow furrowed as he reached in and pushed a regulator conduit back into it’s socket from which it was disconnected. “Eva: run a level one on regulator 412A please.”
“I’m reading that 412A has been reconnected. I have no log that it was disconnected. Diagnostic indicates it is working correctly.” Eva replied.
“OK, good. As soon as I’m out of here, power the conduits back up and run a test feed through all of the regulators, make sure there aren’t any others mysteriously disconnected.” Grant started easing himself backwards out of the jump engines.
“Of course, Grant,” Eva’s voice seemed to leave the sentence hanging for a moment, “Grant, you realise that the regulator must have been deliberately disconnected. At best we could have blown out one of the jump coils. At worst we might have lost the ship.” Grant was not sure but he thought he could detect almost a hint of fear in the computer’s voice. He eased himself back out of the crawlspace and down the ladder.
“I’m out, Eva and yes, I do realise that. Can you explain how this could have been disconnected without you logging it?” Grant stretched a kink out of his back and went back over to a console to view Eva’s progress on testing the regulators.
“I have no explanation, Grant. I find this… disconcerting.” Eva’s voice certainly sounded disconcerted and Grant told her so. “Yes, Grant, I have continuous awareness of all systems on the ship. This feels very much like discovering a toe had been disconnected without your noticing it. Would you like me to report to the Captain?”
“No, I’ll do it, let’s see the results of the regulator tests first.” Eva completed the tests a few seconds later and grant poured over the results. “Everything looks good to me now, how about you?”
“I concur that all jump coil regulators are now definitely connected and operating normally.”
“Good. Run a sequence of soft power tests through the rest of the jump system and let me know if there is anything out of the ordinary. How long have we got?” He was really asking himself the question as he looked at one of the countdown displays but Eva answered anyway.
“Nine minutes and twenty seconds, Grant. We wont be powering up the jump engines to full capacity until twenty minutes after launch. There is time to complete a soft power test before then.”
“I’ve finished all other pre-flight checks. I’m going up to the bridge to talk to the Captain, you get on with the soft power tests.” Grant was already marching quickly towards the door as he left this instruction with Eva.
On the bridge Daryl Baxter was watching a long checklist of his own slowly turn green as his crew completed their pre-flight system tests. Everything was back on schedule after Grant’s sudden impulse to do a manual check in the engines. It had taken a bit of quick sweet talking to get Emelda to calm down about that, especially since Grant had taken an, admittedly brief, call from his wife but everything seemed to be back on schedule and he trusted his engineer’s instinct – if he thought it needed to be done then Daryl was not going to argue.
“Mission Control reports that they have green lights across the board.” Mica reported to him, she had reverted to using her Personal Retina Display having found the time a little earlier to reconfigure it for access all of the ship’s systems and set her console just for further information readouts. Grant looked again at his check list and saw Helena had just ticked off the last item for tests on the sensor arrays.
“Good timing, Helena!” He called across to her, “Mica, tell Mission Control that we also have green lights all the way and expect safe launch in T minus…” he glanced at a countdown display, “… seven minutes and thirty five seconds.” Daryl relaxed back into his seat as the door to the bridge opened behind him and Grant entered.
“Captain? Could I have a word in private?” Grant asked him with a clear note of urgency in his voice. Daryl swung his chair round and heaved himself out of it and walked towards Grant and the door.
“Of course.” He gestured out of the door and led him a short way down the corridor and into the Captain’s quarters. The quarters consisted of a small bunk set into one wall and a sealed wash and shower unit in one corner. A desk stuck out from the wall opposite the bunk, Daryl eased himself into a fairly large chair for the size of the room and gestured at the remaining smaller one for Grant. “What’s up?” Grant quickly filled him in on the sequence of discoveries in the engine room without explaining that his suspicion was aroused directly from a mystery message to his wife, Daryl didn’t interrupt until he had completely finished. He exhaled a long slow breath between his teeth before finally speaking.
“This is serious.” he said.
“Can we be sure that no other systems have been tampered with?”
“No, sir. Not while Eva has no explanation for how this escaped her notice. What we can be sure of is that the soft power tests will prove the jump engines are safe, or not.”
“Is the safety of the ship compromised, in your estimation?”
Grant gulped once and considered his answer carefully. “We’re embarking on a whole bunch of unknowns, sir. No one has jumped so far out before. We have no idea what we might encounter in the Alpha Centauri system. Adding any more unknowns, like a saboteur having been on board, does increase that risk. I can give you reasonable assurance that the soft power tests will spot any other similar problems and frankly, anything that doesn’t spot would require the engines to be stripped to go looking for. Months of delay. I recommend we proceed, there’s too much riding on this.”
Daryl absorbed his engineer’s assessment and steepled his fingers, leaning back in his chair to think. “OK. I concur that we are good to go depending on the results of the soft power tests, get back to Engineering and double check everything, I’ll consult with the chief.” he smiled wanly at referring to his own wife as chief.
“OK, sir.” Grant got up and left the quarters, heading back down the ship to engineering. Daryl stayed where he was and placed a call to the mission controller from and small console in the desk.
“Emelda, can you secure the line and go private please?” Daryl opened the moment his wife picked up the call. She nodded once and pushed a button on the console in front of her to hold the call. A minute later her picture re-appeared and she was in a small office nearby the the mission control room.
“Three minutes to launch. What’s up, Daryl?” she asked, clearly a little annoyed at the interruption.
The executive was pacing back and forth agitated. She stopped in front of one of the screens and gazed at it for a second. “Why haven’t they given us the live feed from Mission Control yet?” she barked over her shoulder.
“No explanation ma’am, we’ve repeated the request.” One of the media controllers behind her answered quickly. The executive sighed and returned to the screen, as she looked the countdown timer stopped at two minutes fifteen seconds. Her heart skipped a beat and there was a moment of stunned silence behind her. She spun on her heal with an eyebrow raised. “Anyone?” she enquired of the cowering crowd.
“No explanation, ma’am. Enquiring… ‘Operational reasons.’, ma’am.” the young man gulped and dared to look into the executive’s narrowed eyes.
“Get an agency rep on interview. Now.”
The executive’s eyes returned to the feed statistics screen and winced slightly as subscription rates began a slow decline. No feed from Mission Control and a stopped countdown. Something was wrong and they weren’t telling them. She placed a call to one of the directors, it was time to wield the big guns at these people.
“They’ve stopped the countdown.” Suzie was looking at the televisor screen, Grace was playing with Ceilidh and a couple of dolls on the other side of the room.
“What? Why?” Grace looked up from what she was doing, much to the annoyance of Ceilidh who had been deep in conversation with the doll her mother was holding, she started tugging at her sleeve.
Suzie shook her head. “No explanation. Do you suppose Grant found something?”
“Maybe. Maybe.” Grace furrowed her brow in thought, “How am I meant to investigate that message! I have no idea where to start!”
“I do. I still have my contacts even if I don’t have my reputation. Can I use your console?”
“Of course,” Grace seemed relieved as she waved her had to a desk at the edge of the room. “Ceilidh, play on your own for a while, pumpkin.” she said as she got up from the floor and joined Suzie at the desk.
“Aw… mum!” Ceilidh complained half-heartedly before returning to her dolls.
Suzie was already typing industriously on the console surface, her eyes quickly skimming through the information she was filtering. “No explanation for the halt and an unexpected lack of live feed from Mission Control. Something’s up.” She continued cycling through information and pulled up the publicly available information on the ship’s jump engines and specifically the emitter coils. “Don’t understand jump engines that well, in fact not many people do it involves some pretty mind-bending sub-space theory, but the emitter coils generate the sub-space field that drops the ship out of normal space and allows it to travel FTL. The system is closely regulated by the ship’s AI so if someone had tampered with them they must also have tampered with the AI to prevent the problem being noticed.”
“Does that help?” asked Grace, squinting at the data over Suzie’s shoulder.
“Don’t know yet, but if someone has done something they must have had high level access to both systems or an infiltration system somewhere beyond world class.”
“You’re saying it’s an inside job?”
“Hmm.” Suzie was non-committal, “Let’s see what we can find out.” her fingers continued to fly over the console as she dug for more information and fired off text message questions to contacts. Grace straightened herself up and went back over to the Televisor screen. A space agency representative was explaining to an interviewer that there was a small problem with a minor system during the pre-flight checks that they had to be sure was OK and they would be underway directly. Grace turned the volume up and listened closely, she did not feel reassured as the man kept dodging specific questions about which system was affected. While he was speaking the countdown timer suddenly restarted and a sub-screen appeared finally showing a live feed from the Mission Control room. “They’re back on!” Grace called over her shoulder, “Ceilidh, come see Daddy’s ship launching!”
“Uh-huh.” Suzie acknowledged her eyes still glued to her own work.
Back on the bridge Daryl was filling in the crew who he had all assembled before him. “So after much discussion we have decided to go ahead and launch, unless anyone of you has any objection?” The crew were all looking at him as he glanced round at each in turn, holding their gaze for a second. None of them gave him a negative answer.
“I also agree we should proceed, Captain.” Eva chimed in out of the ether.
“OK, good. I want everyone to remain vigilant though, we’ll be double checking all systems before we bring power up on any of them. Clear?”
“Yes, sir.” The crew chorused.
“Alright. Take your seats and strap in, launch is in under a minute. Grant, go!”
Grant turned and sprinted down the corridor, he had the furtherest distance to cover to get to his seat in engineering. Rex pulled down a seat from it’s stow-away position on the back wall to one side of the door and proceeded to strap himself in. Helena, Mica and Daryl himself were already finishing doing up their straps as the countdown reached the thirty second mark.
“Mica, disengage final locks on the station. Eva, warm up the manoeuvring thrusters.”
“Yes, sir.” replied Mica and Eva in unison. A couple of metallic snap sounds echoed through the ship as the airlock and gantries pulled away. On the view-screen at the front of the bridge the main picture showed the forward view, the forward two gantries that had held the drapes in place pivoted up out of the field of view revealing the star-scape beyond. A sub-screen displayed an external view, of the station, the ship and the Earth itself a long way below. Some crumbs of dust melted away into the vacuum from the hard points where the gantries had connected with the ship. The countdown melted away to zero and burst of gas from pushed the ship up and away from the station, out of it’s shadow and into a bright beam of sunlight that washed over the white hull.
In mission control on the Space Station a huge round of applause broke out, fed on sub-screens to subscribers around the world. In a media control room in Geneva, an executive dared have a small smile and didn’t stop the staff from applauding for fully five seconds. In Antarctica Ceilidh jumped up and down with excitement and Grace held her fingers over her mouth not sure if she was excited or scared. Suzie placed a comforting hand on her shoulder as she also admired the beauty of the launch.
The ship yawed up and away from the space station then fired her heavy thrusters beginning a hard burn up and away into high orbit away from the planet leaving a trail of blueish fire behind her for a few moments before that too dissolved into the vacuum.
“We have full disengage and full burn active. Estimated time to jump point for Saturn, twenty one minutes.” Eva informed the crew, her voice sounding light and excited.
“Thank you, Eva and well done everyone!” Daryl beamed round at his crew. “Doc, final prep on the jump beds, if you please.”
“Yes, sir. I’ll be ready for you all in ten minutes!” Rex stood and dusted down his uniform, saluted and walked out of the bridge. Daryl watched him go then turned back to the view-screen and his console, he waved his hand over the comm channel and addressed his engineer.
“Grant, what’s our status down there?”
“All ship shape, Captain, thrusters are all operating normally with nothing out-of-the-ordinary in performance and the soft power test on the jump engines are proceeding. We’ll be all clear on that in fifteen minutes.”
It took Daryl a second to realise who had made the disgruntled noise after Grant’s words. “Eva?” he asked.
“Yes, Captain?” the silky voice replied.
“Is there a problem?”
“No, Captain, it’s simply that Grant described my thrusters as nothing out-of-the-ordinary. The Bright Endeavour has three hundred and sixty degree degree performance arc in all directions using state of the art Rolls Royce manufactured combine-ion mark six drives which I have personally spent two weeks performance testing to have them operate at 105.4% efficiency versus the standard specification. Nothing out-of-the-ordinary, indeed!” Eva sounded distinctly indignant.
Daryl was stunned for a moment then burst out laughing. “I’m sure Grant didn’t mean to hurt your pride, did you Grant?”
“Of course not!” Grant replied, still hearing all of this over the open comm, “I meant nothing to indicate attempts at sabotage!” he paused for a moment, “Eva, you’re drives are extraordinary.” he finished magnanimously.
“Thank you.” Eva replied with more than a hint of a smirk in her voice.
“Mica, what’s the status of the rest of the ship’s systems. And don’t say anything that might upset Eva.” Daryl turned to his first officer on his right.
“Green lights across the board. Some of them are an especially bright and pretty green, sir.” Mica replied with an eyebrow raised.
“Helena?” Daryl turned in the other direction to face his science officer who was sitting back in the seat relaxed with a few displays on her console showing that almost everything in the lab was powered down.
“All fine, Captain and will remain so until I crank everything back up on the other side of the long hop. Plus,” she added conspiratorially, “I learned a while ago that Eva takes quite a lot of pride in her condition, in my estimation this is a generally good thing.”
Daryl nodded assent and shrugged his shoulders. “Mica, kindly inform Mission Control that we are all ship shape proceeding to the Saturn jump point as planned. We’ll be ready for bed in ten minutes and for jump ten minutes after that.”
“Yes, sir.” Mica waved her hands in front of her face, operating her Personal Retina Display to obey the Captain’s order.
Ceilidh was watching a sub-screen feed from some of the coverage of the Bright Endeavour’s launch which was explaining the next part of the mission, the jump to Saturn, in terms designed for her age group. A man in a white coat filled with pens, bits of string, yo-yo’s and a range of flashy-lights gadgets with a fake extended forehead was doing the science part.
“So here’s the spaceship here, next to the Earth!” he pointed to a brightly painted toy rocket next to a blue and green tennis ball some way off from a large bright orange basketball both sat on a black rug. “And Way Over There!” he shouted and pointed as the camera ran away from him to the other side of the warehouse sized studio “Is Saturn.” he finished at normal volume as he appeared beside, in a small puff of blue smoke, the said object (represented by a brown football with two hula-hoops around it).
Ceilidh giggled at the disappearance and reappearance trick. The scientist reappeared back at Earth once more with a fresh pop of smoke. “Now our ship would take aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaages to get all the way over there travelling over this rug.” he drew out the word ages for considerably longer than Grace found necessary but the longer it went on the funnier Ceilidh found it. “So here’s what it does. It folds the rug… I mean space… around itself,” the scientist gathered some of the rug up and folded it over the rocket like an envelope “so it isn’t really on the rug anymore, it’s more sort of in it or even…” With a flash the scientist was covered by the rug and standing holding the rocket ship on a bear concrete floor, illuminating his face with a torch. “under it! But look at this! The rug isn’t in the way any more… Whee!” He started running along the concrete floor and the camera snapped back to watch the bulge in the huge rug rise and fall as the scientist crossed the floor. Ceilidh descended into a fresh bout of giggles.
“Now, at the other end, we just unfold the rug… I mean space…” The camera snapped and the scientist was back on the right side of the rug beside the toys masquerading as the solar system’s second largest planet, “And out we pop!” He unfolded the rug to reveal the rocket ship again. “But what’s it like being under the rug like that? Well, a couple of people have done it to see and it looks a lot like….” The camera snapped to a bizarre image of the scientist trapped in a gelatine substance wobbling madly from side to side “Being made of raspberry jello and looking at everything in a Magic Mirror! Whaooooooooo!” Sure enough the jelly-clad man was stumbling between warped mirrors distorting his appearance all over the place. Ceilidh was loving it and started clapping her hands.
With a ping the scientist was now in a dimly lit bedroom and wearing a night gown and hat, complete with pom-pom at the end. “Which isn’t very nice even for the much shorter time it takes to get there! So instead the astronauts, or you if you are lucky enough to go on a cruise, will go to sleep while you travel.” He mimed a theatrical yawn and climbed into the bed as a sub-screen tried to sell Ceilidh a child-friendly solar system cruise for all the family. “See you when we get there!” He clicked out the light and the feed ended.
“Daddy get’s made out of jello!” Ceilidh shrieked with glee.
“I still don’t understand how it works.” Grace noted, shaking her head but Suzie wasn’t listening, she was still engrossed at her console.
Helena was already climbing, naked, into one of the beds in a long narrow room that ran down one edge of the ship’s neck. It was, she reflected, less like a bed and a lot more like a glass coffin. Being knocked unconscious for even the twenty hours or so it would take to reach Saturn required careful medical attention which, of course, had to be automatic. The perspex box was fitted with an array of tubes and wires for feeding, waste removal and the monitoring and adjusting of her body’s rhythms. Once in and hooked up she would be knocked out by a drug then sent into a state of hibernation by a drop in temperature, carefully monitored and maintained by the coffin’s automatic systems.
The doctor carefully helped her attach the tubes and and wires and helped lay her head back onto the stiff pillow. Helena hated doing this, she’d learned the first time (years ago now) that one should take a laxative the day before and get into these things with as little in your system as possible before starting. It wasn’t the recommended method but was certainly the least disgusting once one woke up again.
“Are you OK?” Rex asked sympathetically.
“As I’ll ever be!” Helena tried to laugh but the truth was that these things were damn uncomfortable. “See you at Saturn!”
Rex smiled and sealed the lid over her. Helena experienced a small rush of claustrophobia, as she always did then relaxed as a stream of drugs started to enter her arm and she became drowsy.
Over the next few minutes Mica was also incarcerated and the three men were all hooked in but sitting up in their boxes, waiting for Eva to complete her low-power test on the jump engines.
“We’re all clear sirs, everything is operating normally – we can expect a safe jump.” She finally reported.
Grant tapped at readouts the computer was giving him on a hand held display unit, then powered it off. “She’s right sir. I believe we are good to go.” He tossed the small device onto the top of his folded clothes beside the box.
“Excellent. Eva, give me Mission Control, please.”
“You are connected, sir.” Eva replied.
“We are good to go once Eva confirms we’re all asleep, Mission Control.”
“Thank you and roger that Bright Endeavour,” Emelda’s voice came back “Have a safe trip.” The comm clicked off.
Grant had already lain down and the lid had sealed on his unit, Rex was tapping at another small hand held console, checking his readings.
“Eva, you’re in control till wake up! Put me down, Rex.” Daryl glanced over his shoulder at the doctor who nodded assent. He lay down and watched the lid close over him, he heard Eva say “Sweet dreams, Captain.” as the drug induced drowsiness washed over him.
“OK Eva, he’s down and out and here I go too, see you at Saturn.” Rex discarded his data pad after another couple of taps and lay down himself, the lid slowly closed above him.
Outside the world’s media watched from the feeds supplied by the remote bots that had followed the Bright Endeavour out to her jump point. A wide area at the back of the ship glowed a deep red for a moment then space seemed to twist and fold up around her, as if space itself were a rug being folded around a toy rocket ship. The usual small flash of gossamer thin strands of light, which disappeared as quickly as they had come, accompanied the ship leaving normal space and commencing her jump.