The soothing female voice of the computer announces each step as it goes through the final system checks. “Power Plant Operating at 100%, Power Usage 35%”, “Power Distributor Operating at 100%”Life Support Operating at 100%”, “Hull Plating Integrity 100%”, “All systems at 100%”, “Ready for thruster powerup.”
I could have turned off the voice announcements; most pilots do. Still, for some reason, even after all of these years, the slightly accented female voice of the computer calms me as I prepare to once again jump out into the unknown. Putting on my flight helmet, I can now see all of the system screens instead of just the basic cockpit. The basic cockpit controls will work in a pinch, you can take off and land with them, but full control requires a custom helmet tuned to the specific pilot. One last look at the system screen to verify everything is ready for launch off of this godforsaken rock; everything looks good. Reaching over to the left console, I find the turbine start button and push it in. You can not accidentally start the turbine; you have to hold the button down for 10 seconds. This is one countdown that you can not turn off; the computer announces it every time. Holding the button in, waiting for the countdown to start, I instead hear “Warning, High Gravity Launch, Excessive G Forces, Proceed With Caution. Continue Holding Button to Launch.” But I knew this would happen.
As I continue to hold the start button, I start to feel the same sensations I have many times before. The pressure starts very high in the feet and gradually lessens until just below the waist. It is almost painful but not quite. Next, I feel my head pull back against the seat as my flight chair more or less reaches out and grabs my flight helmet, pulling it slowly but firmly back against the seat’s locking mechanism. Then the countdown starts 5,4,3,2,1 “Please put hands in launch position.”. I move my hands down to the armrests of the seat. These are really more like mini control centers. But still, armrests none the less. The computer can detect if your hands are not on the armrest and will not launch if they are not. You can bypass this with a computer hack, some pirates and bounty hunters do this, but for me, in this ship, there is no reason to modify it.
With my hands firmly on the armrests, I hear “Launch Initiated.” Being that this is a high gravity planet, the computer has calculated a launch thrust of 31 million pounds, which it shows on the center HUD in my helmet. It also shows the chances of survival at 65% for a human. I think I will probably survive. As I hear the turbines start to spin up, I prepare my mind for the launch. I settle in and think, “The term turbines has been passed down by pilots of all kinds of craft thought out the ages. In our ship here, the turbines are somewhat like fusion reactors. They fuse atoms together to create high temperatures needed for other work.” I can hear the light muffled “bump, bump, bump” as the reactors slam atoms together to create the power required by the whole ship and the anti-mater needed to do a full power Frame Shift Jump.
I am startled out of my thoughts by the computer announcing the launch “Go Launch,” and I brace myself.
For a split second, before we actually move, I feel the ship start to shake. I hear the turbines reaching full power with a muffled but noticeable scream that sounds like 1000 demons screaming at you for what you are about to do. Then, with no further notice, wham my ship is moving straight up at over 100 meters per second. The initial jolt tries to force all of the blood out of my upper body to my lower body. The squeezing of the chair helps to keep this blood distributed evenly throughout my body. You would think they would have a better system for this by now, but I guess why change what works. The turbines continue to increase in power, trying to defeat this 10G gravity of this planet. 80%, 85%, 90%, 100%, 101%, as the turbines approach overdrive, the relentless gravity of this planet does not want to let go of my precious ship.
I knew this mission was dangerous when I accepted it, and with my ship already damaged, I am really starting to rethink if it was worth it. What could be so important about this barren rock that made the contract worth so much money? There was nothing here but what you would find on any other hot rock on any other solar system in the galaxy. Why this one? It makes no sense, no sense at all. Rattled out of my thoughts by a warning from the computer “Core Temperature Approaching 100% of Maximum”. Damnit, why won’t this planet let go?
“Core Temperature Has Surpassed 110%, Approaching Automated Shutdown” the computer kindly lets me know. Knowing from past experience that a high-temperature full shutdown could seize the turbines, melting them into a radioactive mass of useless junk and more than likely taking the whole ship with it, I quickly sideload the GOFAST launch code into the running launch sequence.
As the computer verifies the GOFAST code, I continue to hear the countdown, now with a new warning, “Power Coupler Overheating, Operating at 90% Efficiency”, “Core Temperature 115%.” Still, on the HUD, you see Verifying GOFAST. “Core temperature 125%, Shutdown Imminent.” As thoughts of being just another piece of dead floating space junk race through my head I close my eyes and wait for the inevitable conclusion to my stupidity for even landing on this devil planet. Just as I had given up hope and the countdown that will surely kill me starts to blast throughout the ship, I hear the most lovely words ever come through my headset “Program sideloaded.”
10,9,8,7,6 “Run the damn program!” I scream into the microphone as the computer coldly counts down the seconds until my death. Then everything goes dark. There are no sounds; everything is black. There is no turbine hum, no computer voice, no feelings, just nothingness. Is this how death feels? Cold and alone? I think I am still alive, am I alive? Did the program work? The count was only at 6, maybe I was too slow, and the ship ate itself into a black hole; I would never remember that. I feel like I am falling. Am I falling? I don’t know.
Just as the space sickness begins to take hold, I hear a faint sound, the sound of a voice, a female voice. Is it? Who is it? Where am I? “All systems at 100%”, Then, somewhere off in the ether, as I begin to remember where I am, I hear faint pinging sounds, “ping, ping, ping, ping,” . “All Heatsinks Launched”, “Operating Temperatures Returning to Normal”, “Prepare for Anti Matter Boost,” 5,4,3,2,1 “Boost.” If I could be pushed any further back in my seat, I would become part of the seat, this one will be close, but I think I will survive. And just like that, 400 meters per second straight up, clearing the gravity of the planet in a matter of minutes.
End Part 1