Strapped into his chair on the ship’s bridge, Trigg couldn’t help but smile as the g-forces shoved him deeper into the cushions. Unlike the seats on the launch deck, the seats in the bridge were comfortable and well-built. Of course, also unlike the seats on the launch deck, they got used a lot more too.
If he allowed himself to admit the truth, his favorite part of the space flight was the takeoff. It had always been his favorite part and had been the reason he’d become a pilot in the first place. The flight surfaces on the ships had been re-engineered relentlessly over the last decade and the space ships had gone from moving like cows to moving like gigantic, metallic manta rays. They were even shaped similarly, with the top-of the line ships looking like giant flying delta shapes.
His hands twitched on the arm rests. Damn, he missed flying. The feel of the ship vibrating and fighting the yoke was something he never got bored with, especially as he fought the inevitable loop the ships always tried to make coming off the ramp. The rush and the thrill of defeating the loop and driving hard for space was irreplaceable. Even simulator time wasn’t the same.
Who am I kidding? He glanced down at the screens near his chair, checking their position and the vital signs of the ship. I’ll be in the simulator almost instantly after we leave the catapult. Everyone on the ship had their way of chilling out, whether it be hitting the fitness center, or reading in their bunks, or just listening to music (Ruiz was always vibrating the walls with her rock music, no matter how many times he asked her to turn it down). For Trigg, nothing was as good as a long, difficult flight pattern in the simulator on the cargo deck.
He heard the pilot announce thirty seconds until catapult connection and brought his attention back to the task at hand. Jackson, the pilot, was was among the top pilots in the space lanes and spent a lot of time practicing takeoffs and landings and dockings and evasive maneuvers, but Trigg was among the worst passengers in all of existence. He double checked Jackson’s calculations and approaches every time, no matter how simple or complex. It was standard procedure, really, but Trigg also had to admit he was always a little paranoid when he was not in control of the ship.
As normal, the approach checked out and Jackson had worked in just the right amount of error. “Jack,” he called to the pilot. “You have permission to engage the catapult.”
“Roger that,” the pilot responded. His hands remained tight on the yoke and he gave orders to Stubb, who doubled as copilot for takeoffs and landings. The copilot’s primary job was to manage the throttle levels as they left the magtrack and as they approached the catapult.
“Five seconds to docking,” Jack announced. “Four, three, two…”
The ship engaged the catapult with a metallic vibration that was more felt than heard. Jack finally removed his hands from the control yoke and began tapping the keyboard by his station. Trigg knew that this was quite possibly the most frustrating part of the entire trip for most pilots. The procedure required the pilot to file a flight plan that was routed to avoid any major obstacles or gravity wells. Once submitted, the flight plan was validated by the catapult’s mainframe computer. Once validated by the mainframe, the flight plan was sent to a planet-side flight controller, who re-checked all the numbers and distances. Once rechecked by the flight controller, the flight plan was sent to the Chief Flight Officer of the planet for final check-off. Once approved by the Chief Flight Officer, the flight plan was sent back to the catapult for a final validation. Once this entire dog and pony show was completed, the ship would receive clearance to launch. The entire process typically only took fifteen to twenty minutes for Jackson’s flight plans, since they were about as precise as one could make a multi-light-year jump. When he was younger, Trigg had seen flight plan validation processes take up to four hours, as when a change was made by any of the parts of the process it immediately circled back to the pilot and requested for him to restart the validation from square one. There was this one pilot in particular that never in two years managed to validate a flight plan in less than two hours. Trigg blamed some of the gray in his hair on that guy. After the first three flights with him, the crew of that ship had changed his name from “Bill Stokowski” to “Damnyoutohell Stokowski.”
“Flight plan validated,” Jack announced to the bridge. “Catapult prepped and ready. Permission to fire, Commander?”
Trigg nodded. “You may catapult when ready, Jack.”
“T-minus two minutes,” the pilot said, tapping the commands into his keyboard.
Captain Conerly keyed on his intercom mike and addressed passengers and crew on the launch deck, warning them to stay seated and telling them to expect some dizziness and nausea as the ship was catapulted.
Trigg settled lower in his seat and tried not to hold his breath. No matter how many times he did this, the first catapult was always the hardest part to handle. The acceleration was so fast that it only took a matter of seconds, but it never failed to cause some vision narrowing in the experienced spacers, and often caused blackouts in the passengers. If an injury was going to happen on a flight, ten-to-one it would happen during the first catapult.
“Here we go!” Jack called to the bridge, just as the countdown clock next to his station reached zero. Trigg locked his hands on his armrests until his knuckles turned white. He forced himself not to close his eyes as the light outside the bridge window turned unbearably white. The bright white meant that the catapult had launched them. As it faded back to black, he knew they’d succeeded in their first jump. He felt his head getting light for a few seconds.
“Artificial gravity coming online,” Stubb announced. Slowly, Trigg’s head cleared and his vision returned to normal.
“Did it take a little longer than normal for the gravity to come on?” he asked Stubb as he unbuckled his harness.
“Yeah, I’m sorry about that,” Stubb said. “I’m not sure what was going on.”
Trigg gave an experimental jump, testing the pull of the grav plates on his feet. He landed a little harder than expected. “Are they operating at one hundred percent?”
Stubb nodded, looking perplexed. “Do they not feel right?”
Trigg frowned. “No, I guess they’re okay. I must just be really tired.” He turned back to his seat and sat down. “Report, bridge.”
“Rosebud on course. Looking at next catapult in t-minus two hours,” Jack said.
“Gravity plating and internal environmental support reading at one hundred percent,” Stubb said. “Can you confirm, Chief?”
“Confirmed,” the chief said, rotating in her chair. Nan Levitt was Chief of the Ship and was in charge of confirming almost every call and decision made by any member of the crew. She was the engineering boss of the ship, making sure that all the technology and engines that kept the ship moving kept moving. In Trigg’s opinion, if anything ever went wrong, it would be Nan who saved the day by sheer force of will. There wasn’t a man on the ship who could cower her indomitable spirit and forcible personality.
“Thanks,” Trigg said. “Captain, can the passengers be released from their couches?”
Captain Conerly nodded. “With only a two hour jump, the acceleration from the second catapult shouldn’t be noticeable at all.”
Trigg keyed his intercom mike. “Good news, passengers! We’ve successfully made our first jump and reached our cruising speed of point-niner. We’ll be approaching our next catapult in about two hours, but our pilot is very good and the acceleration shouldn’t be noticeable at all. For now, you are free to move about the ship and enjoy the flight. You will have free run of the ship, except for those areas marked ‘crew only’. This is for your own safety. Thank you for your patience and cooperation. All crew members, report to your stations. Miss Luckenbach, report to the bridge.”