Ship in the Void – Pt.2

Welcome back to my dream story! As a reminder, this series is based on an odd dream I had a bit ago. More details stuck with me than usual, so I decided to turn it into a short science fiction story for the blog even though I usually write fantasy. This one has a bit more exposition to it.

I’m still not doing any beta read revisions on these, so they will read like the draft version they are. These will just be fun little shorts between other posts. 

If this is your first time coming to the story, you can find part 1 at the link below, and I’m tagging them with the Dream Journal tag if you want to search. 

The Story Continues…

“Mark twelve, go!” 

At Tryss’s command, I hit the button on my interface and tucked my chin, bracing for what was next. The first ascent chute deployed, yanking on my suit and rocketing me upward. While the suit took some force from my body, it was still similar to what the astronauts felt back when they took shuttles into space.

The ascent chute itself looked like a parachute made of golden lace, but that lace was not fabric. Thousands of solar-powered AG filaments connect in a flexible web that is stronger than steel. Once deployed, the filaments charge and react to gravity the same way similar magnetic poles react to each other. The filaments, once charged, are repelled from the Earth’s center of gravity. 

The force and speed driven by the repulsion are extreme upon initialization. Then, like a magnetic force, the impact dissipates with distance. This dissipation is why we have three ascent chutes in our equipment. One is strictly a redundancy, but a second chute is necessary to leave the atmosphere and navigate once in orbit.

The extreme forces lasted for about five minutes before easing enough for me to look around. Earth’s curvature grew more distinct even as other details faded with my rising altitude. It was a sight that never failed to take my breath away. The world glowed like a living blue marble, giving me a contradictory sense of enormity and insignificance. I could reach out and hold the world in the palm of my hand.

What will it feel like to be the first humans to leave our solar system? I wondered. What would it be like to watch the world fade until it was nothing in the vastness all around you?

That was not my mission. I wasn’t selected for the first flight, but with any luck, I would maintain my spotless record and be on the second mission once it was approved and ready. 

My HUD flashed with a thirty-second countdown, and I brought my mind back to the mission. At this point, without a second chute, I would see my speed drop until I fell into a stable orbit around the planet unless I reduced the charge flowing to the filaments and allowed my orbit to degrade. As my objective was further out, the second chute would deploy on this new mark.

The HUD flashed again at fifteen seconds, and I prepared for the second chute deployment. I could already see my squadmates ahead of me navigating with their two chutes on the target trajectory. Below, a line of chutes followed me up like a migration of glowing golden jellyfish.

Another flash and my second chute deployed, unfurling quickly to catch the sun. It filled with solar energy as a sail with the wind and pulled tautly against the connecting lines. A current shot through the lines for both chutes, making them solidify. With easy hand movements, I could now shift the position of each chute relative to myself and each other. 

Using my HUD, I triangulated my target and shifted my trajectory to intercept. It was still too distant to make out more than a fleck flashing silver in the distance. Unlike my training lifts or my one mission to the space station, this one would take me to Inspiration. Despite not being able to see the ship yet, I felt my excitement grow once more.

Inspiration was the first human vessel capable of interstellar travel. At least, it will be capable once the final modifications, uploads, and tests are completed. The massive construction project was a cooperative effort between fifteen countries and more than twice as many corporations and research organizations. It began nearly a half-century ago with a group of scientists living around the world. They all met regularly online as a club to exchange ideas and build upon those ideas together.

Some of those scientists had the right connections to politicians and investors. Some had connections to patent and international lawyers. What could have ended in unrest, conflict, or even war, was instead the trigger for an unprecedented level of international cooperation. The standard of living rose globally, driving increases in education and freedoms in nearly every corner of the world.

Earth was in a scientific Renaissance, and this ship was the guiding light. Initial construction happened in pieces around the world for the ship and all of the assembly robots. When they were finally ready, AG platforms lifted and maneuvered every piece into place. For the next twelve months, the bots and remote operators joined the sections and installed final components.

Since that time, six supply ships with additional materials and installation bots had docked and delivered supplies. One month ago, ground control powered up Inspiration on a live broadcast to begin live testing on the software. Celebrations sprung up around the world and lasted for days. When the initial tests cleared successfully, plans for an unmanned, automated test drive moved into their next phase.

It would be a short program to initiate travel to open space, scan the area, then jump back. The entire process was expected to take less than four hours and bring back a wealth of knowledge. The first target date for a manned trip would be six months from that initial jump, pending a “go” from all departments based on the initial data, including analysis of the physical impacts on the mice going on the three-plus-hour tour. 

Then, a week ago, there was a glitch detected by a tech monitoring some of the programs, a malfunction in a system. A second problem followed, then a third, and all ground investigations came up empty as to the cause of the malfunctions. All the operators, bots, and measures read as though nothing was wrong, but the glitches continued.

Yesterday, my unit was activated, and a lift was authorized. We specialize in space repairs, and three of my squadmates were members of previous supply drop checks on Inspiration, including Tryss. Our mission was to perform a complete system check, hardware, and software, looking to isolate what could be causing the problems. If we needed to dismantle entire sections of hardware to find a shorted wire or bent screw, that is what we were authorized to do. We had two days to find an answer and a solution, or the test flight would be postponed. 

“Mark One reporting in. G-9 docking bay identified and perimeter guiding lights are lit. Report green for dive.” Ace’s voice came over the mic in my helmet. 

“They called it a dive because docking during a lift was a little like cave diving. You had a docking bay that was effectively a black hole in the ship surrounded by a circle of lights”

They called it a dive because docking during a lift was a little like cave diving. You had a docking bay that was effectively a black hole in the ship surrounded by a circle of lights. You shot for the hole, dove in with your chutes, and a magnetic field in the void caught your chutes and automatically guided you down to a force field net where you could retract your chutes. 

The net had some give to it in case there was a malfunction and you came in hot. It would catch you gently and stabilize. When you cleared safely, the net glowed gently under your feet and in a path guiding you to the airlock. 

“You have a go, Mark One,” Tryss replied to Ace.

The daunting responsibility of our mission hit home for me as the ship loomed closer. A large sphere made up the ship’s core, with starbursts spearing out of it like rays of the sun. Each “ray,” known officially as “spires,” could be detached and independently navigated or used together to navigate the ship as a whole at sub-light speeds. The center of the sphere held the interstellar drive. From afar, it looked like one of those old spikey ocean mines, but that was before you realized the gargantuan size of the ship.

As I passed along the nearest spire, the golden glimmer of my chutes faded. This mini-ship was the size of a skyscraper, and it blocked out the light of the sun at this angle. The faint glow of the ship’s exterior lights was dark in comparison, but it would make identifying the docking bay easier. 

Beyond my chutes, I could make out the ring of lights circling the pit. The HUD’s infrared showed me where my unit was gathering one by one. I adjusted my chutes a final time, aiming for the darkness ahead. With a final nudge, the ship swallowed me whole.

To be continued…

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