The year was 2715. The pilot, Dax Partil. The ship, a modified UniFlight International SB-3 racer codenamed Silver Bolt.
A generation of Earth’s brightest aerospace engineers labored on a pan-governmental experiment for nearly forty-seven years. That experiment? Achieving speeds greater than that of light. Twelve other tests had been performed over those forty-seven years—all culminating in the destruction of the prototype and death of the pilot.
Earth was dying. Everyone knew it, even if no one wanted to admit it. It had been slowly happening for centuries. But now, environmentalists were predicting a major shift. If this test failed—so too would humanity. But if it was a success, then the people of Earth could take to the stars, find other planets to colonize.
Dax was acutely aware of this reality as he sat in the cockpit of his sleek craft, running through the preflight checklist. So far, everything seemed to be exactly as it should. “Captain Partil,” the voice of the lead scientist came over Dax’s headset, “are we ready to begin?”
“Everything checks out Dr. Rume. I’m ready when you are.” Dax took a calming breath. To be honest, he wasn’t sure he was ready. In fact, he was secretly terrified. Yet, he soothed himself, he didn’t earn a reputation as the best pilot on Earth by letting his fears rule him.
“Bring her onto the tarmac, Captain.”
Dax answered by firing the maneuvering thrusters and steering the long-nosed, swooped-wing craft out of the hangar and onto the runway. He followed the flagman’s signals to orient the craft in the best possible angle for maximum speed on take-off. Once in position, he signaled to the ground crew and they cleared the runway, dashing to safety behind thick asphalt barriers.
He fired the engines. Silver Bolt was the fastest craft he’d ever flown—in or out of the air. The inertia pressed him tightly into the jump seat, and he was thankful for the oxygen being pumped into his full-faced helmet. The end of the runway was approaching fast, so Dax pulled back gently on the control yoke. Silver Bolt’s front landing wheels slowly rose off the ground. Dax continued to maneuver the stick back against his chest. Just before the tarmac ended, the ship was fully airborne. The sickly gray-green of Earth’s poisoned atmosphere filled the forward view-screen.
In only moments, ship and pilot had left Earth’s decaying stratosphere behind. The blackness of space filled Dax’ view. He had been to space many times before. Twelve times in the last four days alone. But he never quite got over the thrill of being so far away from everything.
“Status report.” Dr. Rume’s voice came over his earpiece.
“Everything running as it should.”
“Are you ready Captain?” Rume couldn’t conceal the excitement in his voice. It nearly trembled with it.
“Let’s see what this bird can do!”
The navigation techs had programmed the navigation computer with the coordinates for an empty part of space just inside of Pluto’s orbit. All Dax had to do was press the activation button and the computer would do the rest. His finger hovered over the flashing amber button. “Here goes nothin’!” And he pressed it.
At first, nothing happened. Dax looked around at his instruments, trying to ascertain the problem. Then, without warning, he was slammed back into his jump seat as Silver Bolt launched itself forward at unprecedented speeds. Light seemed to stream into thick bars outside the cockpit as the ship’s momentum continued to increase. Then, there was nothing at all. Pure blackness surrounded him. If not for the lights in the cockpit he’d be in complete darkness.
Thirty seconds later, Silver Bolt slowed tangibly. The view outside the ship lightened slowly, the bars of light returned. Then Pluto, its pitted and icy surface never beheld by unaided human eyes, appeared in front of him. He was breathless for a long moment.
“We did!” Dax whooped finally, pumping his fist in the air. Of course, no one could hear him, but that didn’t matter. Humanity had a future again, and Dax Partil had helped solidify that future. He gazed at the vista before him then turned Silver Bolt away from Pluto and thumbed the hyperspeed engine’s activator. Moments later he was launched into hyperspace and back home.
Photo Credit: Google Images