“Affirmative.” That was Nunes.
“Affirmative, Commander.” An echo of voices from Erich and Schuyler. Three, so far.
“You have my vote, Commander. Dickson out.”
Five votes, she wanted total agreement on this one, their lives were at stake if she or any one of them made the slightest of errors, if one piece of equipment failed – she’d take no hostages in exchange for this record.
Tess had come to stare down the Sun, that downed her colleagues on Daedalus. she was the first commander to pilot a shuttle since, and she had a score to settle with the Sun.
“You have the go-ahead from me, too, Tess.” Mark Ramirez almost whispered his vote, using her first name in deference to his seniority in years and experience, though not in rank. His tone, as always, bore out the respect he felt for Tess, fully twenty-two years his junior, but infinitely capable at the helm of the Phaëton.
“Jackson, Doyle – I need your votes. Silence means no confidence, we land this bird.” she barked at the remaining two as yet still silent crew members.
“Commander, do you need to ask?”
“Pretend Earth is listening, Doyle!” Tess smiled in answer to the question.
“What about you, Jackson?”
“You have it. You know you do, Commander!” laughed Jackson.
“Doyle and I had a bet on who could hold out longest. Guess I claim the greenbacks when we land, eh, Doyle?” Jackson’s laughter lifted the sombre, tense mood in the cabin.
Pride surged in tandem with the rocket boosters as Commander Tess Birch leaned on the controls. They needed more speed if they were to crack seven Earth revolutions in one twenty-four hour stretch. More speed, but more care, too. Death would be the only prize if one mistake, one error, one technical hitch crept in. Shame, eternally, would be its companion. Shuttle crew were heroes, but just as easily, they could be seen as arrogant fools, wasting billions if they screwed up. Phaëton sped on towards a third dawn.
A fourth, and fifth dawn passed without comment, silence a warm support of the task at hand for the crew. Tess appreciated the silence – it gave her space to think out the possible futures she was leading the crew towards: glory or ignominy, each dependent on success of failure and death.
As the sixth dawn approached, without any cataclysm to follow, and the alarms remained silent on all the gauges, Tess thought briefly how different this would be if it was a story told be Hollywood, and if theirs was to retold by the film-makers of home, would they be true to the story, or would they sensationalise it? Hype it up with a clattering of alarms and a thousand near misses? Not if she could have her say. True stories don’t need a million alarms, a thousand explosions, a hundred deaths – the stress of knowing what could go wrong, what had gone wrong on previous missions, these were sensational enough.
“You don’t need CGI when you’re living the dream!” Ibanez’ words gave her a start, more because he seemed to echo her thoughts, than break the silence.
“Damn straight, that man!” she said in answer.
“Dawn in T-minus twenty, Commander.” Ibanez informed. He didn’t need to – all nine pairs of eyes were set firmly on the daylight systems. the sun set the curve of the Earth on fire, lit the azure oceans and rose alarmingly in the cabin ports as the crew were swept onwards at a blistering pace.
Nightfall for the sixth time was met by the scream of alarms. So Hollywood gets their sound effects and drama, Tess thought, as she checked the display in front of her, surprised at her calm at this not unexpected intrusion.
“Fuel low in main rockets, Commander!” reported Nunes.
“Dammit, I can that on my screen, Nunes, keep it together, man!” She didn’t need emotion, and more tension, from her crew – not now.
“Team, we’re at the point of no return – we’ve matched Daedalus – but that’s all I want to match Daedalus on, from here on out we write our own history.”
She waited for a response. None came.
“I can land this bird with no fuel, I need that last punch of speed to take us through the records and through a seventh dawn.”
Silence. She didn’t need a response, though she cried out silently for one.
“Go, Tess.” Ramirez. Another whisper, though she knew all the men heard it.
She breathed in, leaned back, and yanked the controls, perhaps a little too hard, but felt satisfied and confident as Phaëton shot forwards, almost impossibly, accelerating. Silence, and tension, sank down on her, on the crew.
Ninety minutes later, the alarms screamed as the last of the fuel burned out in the boosters. She held the controls.
“Commander, fuel’s out, ease up the controls.” Schuyler almost shouted. She winced, knowing she was uselessly pulling at controls that were so much dead weight, and was possibly damaging their delicate parts doing so.
“Nothing to do but glide this bird onwards.” Ramirez added.
Tess eased the throttle back to its position of rest, and took up the pads on either side that controlled the huge ailerons on Phaëton’s wings. She was in complete control, complete silence.
“Dawn in T-minus ten seconds. Brace for the record books.” Tess spoke quietly.
Ahead of Phaëton the curve of Mother Earth cracked; a searing, golden light racing outwards from a point directly ahead of Phaëton. It was silent, but in the mind of Commander Tess birch and the crew of Phaëton, it cracked like the whip of God himself and the Sun shot upwards in their view, as they entered dawn for the seventh time, on this, their most perfect day.
© Dave Luis 2012. All Rights Reserved.