Author Topic: Chapter 19  (Read 239 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 19
« on: July 21, 2022, 01:01:36 AM »
Chapter 19

As he'd expected, Diana had agreed right away to fly the plane. Despite all the risk of her being discovered. As dangerous as it was, it was also necessary. Besides, she'd obviously had enough practice, and was getting sick of using nothing but the simulator.

But then, simulations were just that. What if she had vertigo, or motion sickness?

Getting her out here had been easy enough. Simon didn't know what lies she'd told Sarah and the others to explain her disappearance, or if she'd said anything at all. Still, with everyone either trying to sleep to conserve oxygen, or busy fixing things and caring for the younger kids, no one had even given them a second glance on their way to the airlock. As usual, opening the airlock without power had taken some elbow grease, but Diana was stronger than she looked.

Flight-checking the plane had taken all night, and it was starting to get light again. Thankfully the plane was sealed with its own internal life support system, so he could do most of the work without a breather. The breathers in the plane were more durable than the ones over in Harmony, and had connectors to O2 containers that were meant to be worn on the back, like scuba tanks. Simon was grateful he didn't have to wear that just yet.

EMPs actually did affect electronics even if they were off, to a small degree. The larger the power source, the more the damage, which was why their transformer station had apparently been turned into a huge paperweight. Still, this plane had been easy enough to repair, if a little slowly.

Despite the urgency and danger of their situation, Simon marveled out at the sky and the air. He'd never actually seen a sunrise before, at least not since he'd been a kid back at the old settlement. Noah didn't let people out of the dome until well after Siagis was up in the sky. He glanced over, and could see Diana also staring at it in awe. Were sunrises on Earth just as spectacular?

It was Diana who broke him out of his reverie. She leaned back, shivering in her improvised flight suit. "So the good news is, the shuttle will fly. Your work on the electronics was enough to get the flight systems up and running, and I got the diagnostics going. The bad news is that we barely have any fuel for the trip. Noah redirected some of the hydrogen from the ocean electrolysis to fill up the tank, but he only started the process yesterday, and then the power failed and it stopped. I don't know if it'll be enough." She looked at him somberly. "Even if we do get out there safely, it'll be a one-way trip. We'll have a few days of O2 for our breathers, but that's it."

It sounded grim, but it wasn't. "Not necessarily. The mining facility has a hangar for flying drones. There have to be a few undamaged ones in there. When we get communications up again, Noah can send one of them back here to pick up more breathers. There should be enough oxygen here for them by then. If push comes to shove and we have to walk back, the drones can carry food to us as well. We may be in for a rough week or so, but at least we'll be alive."

Diana shook her head. "You don't get it. Weight is also a big issue. I've already tossed out all the stuff in here that wasn't nailed down. I'd dump the landing gear too if I could. I'm not above belly-landing this thing. Every kilogram matters, Simon."

Simon hadn't expected that. Somehow he'd thought that a plane this big would have gobs of fuel to take them halfway across the planet. It had been designed to carry at least fifty people, and Noah had others, elsewhere on the continent. He glanced at the other two briefly. "We may need all of this, depending on the damage," he said slowly. "I don't want to risk leaving any of it behind."

She nodded, so he raised his radio and made sure it was on the right channel. This was kind of exciting too. He'd never had much reason to use a radio before now. "Adam, this is Simon."

"Go ahead," the voice on the other end crackled slightly.

"The plane's good to go. I'm ready to head out."

"You sure you don't want anyone go with you? For company if nothing else."

Simon glanced up at Diana, and they shared a smile. "No, I don't have much fuel here, so weight will be an issue."

There was a pause on the other end. "Understood. Godspeed, Simon, and good luck."

"Thanks. See you in a few days, I hope."

Diana wasn't wasting any time. As soon Adam was done speaking, she was already sitting down in the cockpit. At least this thing's electronics were fine. She ran through the preflight as quickly as she could, from what little he'd been able to glean from watching her in the simulator. Then before he knew it, the engines on both sides flared into life and the whole shuttle started trembling.

Just like him. Simon hurriedly strapped himself in, getting a brief glance of the dome out the window, as the shuttle lifted off.


The shuttle flew steadily and evenly over the featureless grey-and-brown rocks below. The flight itself would take several hours, so Simon had plenty of time to get over his fear. The takeoff had been terrifying, but now that they were up, he unstrapped himself and went out a window to look. And... immediately regretted it as his stomach did a backflip. He knew better than to bother Diana up in the cockpit, but he did glance up there to look at the dials before hurriedly returning to his seat. They were traveling slowly to conserve fuel, but fast enough to maintain lift.

From the movies he'd gained some idea of what to expect, but this was so much more intense! Now he felt some idea of what the Wright brothers had accomplished, and what Da Vinci had tried centuries earlier. Mankind had taken the promise of their mind, and used it to create wings!

As a distraction, he tried to imagine what those ancient souls had been like. Had a desire for innovation been their main drive, or the promise of the money such inventions could bring? Or perhaps did they just envy the birds? He'd read up on all of them, but the information was limited. Yet again he regretted that so much historical data had been lost.

Then he realized that he was farther from home than anyone had ever been before! Adam had once led a camping trip outside the settlement, but they'd barely walked a day before pitching tents, and then coming back the next day. Actually, Diana was farther—as she was closer to the front of the plane. Simon shook his head in amazement at their predicament. Despite the dire circumstances, and the literally extinction-level stakes, he couldn't help but think about how amazing this must be for her.

He could see a trace of a smile on her lips, as she carefully held the stick steady.

She did something with her left hand out of sight, and a light came on next to the flight controls. That was when her smile slipped. "Simon, get up here."

He was at her side in an instant. "What's wrong?"

Diana flipped one of the switches again several times. "The nozzles aren't moving back into VTOL configuration."

That was a problem. There was no runway at their destination, which had to be close now. Trying not to look out the front window, Simon pulled up the diagnostics and tried to track down the problem. VTOL configuration settings... "There. There's an error code that pops up. I don't recognize it," he admitted.

Diana glanced at it, and then grimaced. "I do. It's a fuel warning. It must be a safety feature to keep us from burning up what's left of it. VTOL takes a lot more fuel than normal landing."

"So what do we do?" Simon looked back at the rest of the plane. He didn't see any parachutes, and even if there were some, he doubted they were high up enough to survive jumping.

Diana hissed, as one of the engines to the side shut down, and pulled the stick to compensate. "The only thing we can do. We land the old fashioned way."

A cold chill ran through him. "Without a runway? Is the ground flat enough for that?"

She shook her head. "I don't know. Looks like I'll be belly-landing this beauty after all. You better strap in."

He hurriedly did as he was told, choosing a seat right behind the cockpit. Hopefully it would be more protected than the rest of the plane. Horror stories of plane crashes from back on Earth flooded through his mind. Noah considered plane crashes to be too graphic for kids, but Simon had gotten past those lockouts once. The story about the plane crash victims who'd been forced into cannibalism in order to survive had been particularly disturbing.

Diana did her best to get them as close as possible. Simon could see the plateau up ahead, upon which Noah's original fabrication unit had landed over a decade ago. His core drive was inside, shielded but currently helpless. Eventually the plane started dipping again, and even she couldn't keep them aloft.

The first hit was incredible, bouncing him out of his seat entirely for a millisecond. The restraints kept him from going too far, but he hung on for dear life to both sides. The landing gear strained under the impact, and then the repeated bashes as more rock outcroppings loomed ahead.

Diana had set them on a declining surface, so they wouldn't just plow nose-first into a hillside. The scraping of stone against metal was still deafening, though, drilling into Simon's mind as he held on tightly. He was unable to cover his ears against the cacophony, enduring it as best he could.

Another big impact rocked the shuttle, and the landing gear collapsed under the strain. Diana hurriedly retracted the rear gear to keep them level, lessening the turbulence slightly. The lights inside the cabin flickered and died, as the internal power supply gave up the ghost.

Then, finally, it was over. They were down.

Feeling like he'd taken a three-day beating, Simon groaned and sat up in his seat. The silence following their landing felt like a ringing noise in his head, in comparison to the riotous scraping from before. He unstrapped himself and stood up, swaying to get his balance. The plane had rolled a bit to the left, and he was careful to adjust to that.

He heard a faint whistling noise of air up ahead. The shuttle was normally pressurized, but it was clear the hull had been punctured in many places. He made his way carefully forward to the cockpit.

A massive spit of rock had torn open the front of the plane, being most certainly what had stopped them in the end. It had indented the nose and pushed the steering column back. Almost unwillingly, Simon looked at the pilot's chair. Diana was still there, pinned in place by the steering apparatus. Her head lolled to the side despite her restraints, and the hissing noise he'd heard was coming from her breather!

It looked like the rock had torn the connector between her mask and her oxygen supply. Simon hurriedly took a few deep breaths, and then detached his own. Stripping away her damaged gear, he put his mask over her face and secured it, willing her to breathe.

The air up here was even less dense than the O2-starved air around the dome, making it more difficult to hold in breaths. Once he saw the fog appear in her breather, he nearly wilted with relief. Going back into the fuselage, he removed one of the other breathers and fitted it for himself.

By the time he got back up to the front, she was conscious again. Her eyes focused first on the equipment pinning her in place, and then on the ruined breather resting on top of it. She glanced in his direction. "Thanks."

She could have internal injuries, or damage to her spine. "Do you feel any rushing fluids anywhere?" He asked quickly. "Can you feel your legs and feet?"

"No, and yes," she said faintly, another ghostly smile reaching her lips. "I'm fine, Simon. Just stuck is all." She strained briefly against the weight, but just for a moment. She did look fine, now that he wasn't in a hurry. She had a few cuts and abrasions on her face, neck and arms from the bits of rock that had made it through the windshield. He was sure he had a few of his own as well.

"Geez. Look at all this damage. Noah's gonna kill me."

"That'd be rude, after you helped save his life," Simon said wryly. "Noah's a lot of things, but he's not rude. Hang on. It shouldn't be too hard to get you out of there." He knelt down in the cockpit, looking at the base of the steering controls. "There has to be a manual release somewhere in here."

"Won't work without power," she explained. "The outer doors will though." She pointed back to the right, where the secondary exit was. Unlike the rear, this was only meant for people, and was narrower side to side. "Pull the lever on the door out, and then down."

He followed her instructions, and there was a hiss as the door release activated. It pushed the door outward, then swinging it open. Beyond, he could see mountains and open sky. It would have been beautiful but for the circumstances.

At least he could get out. The drop looked long, but doable. Simon grabbed one of the struts that had come loose during the crash and returned to the cockpit. He jammed it in at the base of the controls, and then began pulling on it. "Just think," he gritted out through the effort. "You've been fidgety and restless for as long as I've known you. Turns out all it took to get you to stay still was one little plane crash."

"Hey," she objected weakly. "This wasn't a crash. This was a landing. I'm one-for-one, you hear?"

He nodded, straining at the bar again. "Whatever you need to tell yourself."

"Simon." Something in her voice cut through his effort, and he turned to face her again. "How much O2 do we have left?"

"Four canisters, counting what we're wearing now. Enough for several days."

"Good. I want you to take the spare canisters and your equipment, and go. Repair the com array, make sure Noah's back up and running, and then get back here, all right?"

He stared at her. "I'm not just gonna leave you here!"

"You are. I did my part, Simon. Now you have to do yours. There's a lot more at stake than just my being alone here. Besides, it's still at least a half hour climb up there, and you don't know how long the repairs might take. Go!"

He growled with frustration. "All right, but I'm leaving one of the canisters here. We should have an equal supply. That's only fair, right?"

"Not if it takes you several days to get Noah back. You might need both canisters."

"Not necessarily," he said, thinking quickly. "On Noah's schematics, I saw a drone repair bay. Welding with this little oxygen in the atmosphere is hard, so he uses concentrated O2 to make the torches burn hotter. I can use that to replenish my supply if things get tight." He was speculating madly, but Diana didn't know as much about Noah's core facility as he did. Maybe she'd buy it.

Diana hesitated. "Fine. Leave one canister. But go already!"

Gratefully, Simon nodded and ran back. A minute or so later he was on the ground, laden with equipment and staggering his way up the steep hill.
« Last Edit: July 21, 2022, 01:12:19 AM by Daen »