By Jay St John Knight.
Thomas Osbourne stood on the runway before his prototype craft as his assistants checked his pressure suit and ensured all equipment was operating at maximum efficiency. Everything had to be running perfectly; his entire future was dependant on this flight succeeding.
“Sir, pre-flight checks are complete and everything is working at optimal conditions. We’re good to go.” His assistant handed him his helmet.
“Weather conditions are fine, yes? All back up teams are primed?”
“Yes, Mr Osbourne. Everyone’s ready and it’s a clear day out there. Optimum flying conditions, sir.”
From the crowd a sharp dressed man in a white coat emerged reading from a tablet in his hand. His coat was emblazoned with the Sol Space logo of a sun surrounded by a ring of stars.
“Thomas, it’s ready. I’ve run every test possible and I’ve run simulation after simulation and they all come back with a high probability of success, theoretically it’s sound to fly. There’s just one concern of mine.”
“What’s that? If the craft is ready then surely it’s ready?”
“Well we both know this prototype is rushed, it was the last one we could afford and every piece of technology on board has been upgraded using the data from the test flights of the last prototype model but these upgrades are untested. Most of it is fine, however, the engine software and the actual engine systems themselves underwent a significant recalibration and I’m unsure of their reliability and efficiency.”
“The other scientists said the engines are fine.”
“There’s a reason why you put me in charge of this project, Tom. I’ve worked in this field for all my life. I hate trumping myself up but I am the expert. There’s a level of chance improbabilities that nobody can predict and that’s why we have test flights.”
“We can’t afford test flights, Steve. If this doesn’t go to plan then the company will collapse in on itself. You know that. Shares have dropped massively since our last flights and investors are disappearing like rats from a sinking ship.”
“Well at least let a test pilot fly today. Do me that favour please?”
“I can’t. The world’s media has to see that I did this, that I’ve still got confidence in this company. We’ve lost the majority of our ticket deposits in eighteen months. Nobody wants to fly to space with us anymore. You can’t talk me out of this, Steve.”
His stern face melted into compassion. “Well, good luck. Just make sure that you don’t overwork the engines. Keep them under seventy percent and you’ll be able to break into the thermosphere, once that’s done drop it back to Earth and land it. Then we can crack that champagne.”
Steve waved off Thomas Osbourne as he strapped himself into the cockpit and the ground vehicles wheeled the craft onto the runway. Everyone was then ushered over to the observation area and a voice over a loudspeaker started a countdown from thirty. As it reached the fifteen mark a deafening rumble resounded across the complex as the engines roared into life. Then, before the countdown had even reached five, the craft shot across the runway and up into the air. Steve smiled to himself, Thomas always did things his own way.
After nearly five minutes a voice crackled over Steve’s live feed.
“Just breaking into the stratosphere at fifty nine percent engine power. All systems are fully functioning and the view from here is amazing ground team.”
Steve rushed over to the main operational hub and watched the massive projection of the on board cameras.
Steve connected himself in to the communication system. “Tom, keep monitoring that engine power. We’ve still got a hundred and fifty more kilometres until we’re at the height we wanted.”
A few more minutes passed without hitch, the craft soaring into the heavens like it was always meant to.
Then Tom’s voice crackled back. “Just passed the Karman line now and engine’s at sixty four percent power.”
“Keep it steady, Tom. The acceleration will feel like it’s easing off but that’s just the effect of the high altitude. Don’t push it too hard.”
Steve couldn’t help smiling. The craft was working brilliantly.
“Engine’s at sixty nine now and we’re easing it over the hundred and fifty mark. She can do this, Steve. All my systems are operating smoothly. I’ll give it another five percent over.”
Steve’s heart jumped. ”Be patient, it’ll reach the target altitude.”
“I’ll do it slowly and keep a close eye on the diagnostics tools.”
He knew he wouldn’t be able to talk him out of this. Although at three quarter power engines are at their most vulnerable.
“One hundred and seventy five kilometres ground team. Engine’s at a solid seventy five percent and everything is fine.”
Steve’s hands were white as he gripped the back of the seat in front of him.
“Two hundred! We’ve hit target and I’m levelling out. Engine’s still at seventy five. Congratulations everyone!”
Cheers resounded across the facility and everyone was shaking each other’s’ hands and hugging one another. Steve relaxed his grip on the seat and joined the celebrations.
Then, suddenly, a voice came down the coms system.
“Er, ground team, my engine power is locked. I’ve eased off the acceleration for the descent and we’re still at seventy five.”
Steve went pale. An engine lock means an overreaction in the fusion core system.
“Isolate the engine and override, Tom. Shut it down quick.” It was as if someone had muted the crowd as a blanket of fear spread over them.
“I’m trying, it’s not working. It’s actually rising now. I’m at seventy seven percent.”
“Descend Tom! Descend! You’ll never survive ejection at that altitude!”
“I can do it! Just need to manually override the fall back software and then…”
“It’ll take too long, Tom! Descend!”
“Tom, for the love of God, listen to…”
Then Tom’s com channel fell static. The live feed screen fell silent. Messages of connection error flashed everywhere.
“Tom! Tom! Answer me God damn it!”
Silence apart from the noise of static.
“Ground crew start triangulating trajectory! Get me a fix on where about the craft would touch down from his last known position. Mobilise all emergency response teams!”
Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean a brilliant white star began falling out of the sky.