“Confirmed, Captain Hoban, there are green lights across the board here, too,” a female voice said. “You have permission to take off, the runway is clear.”
Captain Hoban gazes over at Paul who’s sitting opposite watching the dials in front of him. “You know, Professor Starr, shuttles are too heavy to take off like a regular plane, so this will be a first,” he said.
Paul smiles at the man. “You don’t have to take off like a regular plane,” he said. “Just point the gravity above us, and we’ll lift off like a helicopter. Just as you practiced in my Lexus, remember.”
“Yeah, but this is no Lexus.”
Paul shrugs. “It makes no difference if this was an aircraft carrier, let the gravity do the work.”
“Roger that,” Captain Hoban said nodding. “Mission control, we’re … Lifting off.”
“In your own time, Captain,” the female voice said on the radio. “The sky is clear.”
As the pilot had learned in the Lexus, he uses the GFM to bend Earth’s gravity above the shuttle called ‘Hawking-Three,’ and it starts to rise into the air in total silence.
“Mission Control, this is Hawking-Three, we have lift-off,” the pilot announces.
“Roger that Hawking-Three, looking good.”
Very quickly, mission control announces they’re at thirty-five thousand feet.
“Getting ready to engage neutron engine,” Paul said.
“Copy that,” Hoban said. “Just don’t blow us up.”
Paul chuckles. “Engine on in three … two … one…”
A low hum from the back of the shuttle and a slight rattle worries the pilot.
“What the fuck was that?” he asks Paul.
“Just the engine powering up, nothing to worry about, Captain.”
“Hey, I can feel more gravity in here?”
Paul nods. Yes, residual gravitons from the engine will create a localized effect.”
“Forty-thousand feet, ready the use neutron engine for orbital insertion,” Hoban said into his radio.
“Roger that, Hawking-Three, all the lights are green down here,” the female voice said. “You have the stick.”
“OK…” Paul said with tension, “Just like you practiced in the simulator…”
“Got it,” Hoban said and flicks a few switches. “Neutron drive engaged, let’s take this bird into space.”
As Hoban pulls back on the stick the shuttle starts to rise sharply, the hum from the engine gets a little louder, and they pick up speed climbing at a thirty-degree tilt. The blueness of the sky soon fades, and both men gasp as they see the globe of Earth appear below them.
“This is incredible,” Hoban said. “Imagine doing this and not feeling all those G’s crushing you to a near blackout. I really feel like we’re falling up, it’s weird.”
“Take us right out, and step on the gas will you,” Paul said not used to flying so slow. “There’s no need to drive like a little old lady going to church on Sunday.”
Paul just has to sit and watch the computer screen; something that irks the man knowing he has more space flight experience than this ‘astronaut’ has had hot dinners. The pilot does punch it, and the shuttle speeds away from the planet heading for a small asteroid passing Earth some two-hundred thousand kilometers away.
“Faster, come on…” Paul urges.
The pilot feeling the ease at which they can travel is becoming bolder, and the shuttle reaches speeds no previous one had ever in space.
“Mission control, speed now at one-K,” the pilot said meaning they were traveling one thousand kilometers per second.
“Roger that, Hawking-Three, we still have green lights across the board here, the female voice said with obvious happiness in her voice. “The target will be in range in three minutes.”
“Roger that, Mission Control. Can you believe we’ve traveled near two hundred thousand K’s in three minutes?”
“We do now,” the female voice said. “Is the weapon ready to fire, Doctor Starr?”
Paul glances at the dial to see they’ve already accumulated more than enough antimatter to form a disruptor burst. The disruptor encases the antimatter in a plasma gas bubble and then fires it. When the plasma gas bubble hits a solid object, it bursts, as any bubble does, and the antimatter becomes exposed to matter, causing annihilation.
“The weapon is deployed and ready to fire mission control,” Paul said.
“Roger that. The asteroid will be in range in two minutes and counting, Doctor.”
“Roger, Mission Control.”
There’s silence in the shuttle, as the asteroid grows more substantial in the front window. The rock is a kilometer long and approx half that at its thickest point. One side glows light as it faces the sun with small craters on its surface from other impacts. The asteroid also has a slow rotating motion, but it is easy enough to target. Paul locks the target on the thickest point of the asteroid and glances at the clock, twenty-seconds until firing.
“Firing in ten,” Paul announces. “Get ready for evasive maneuvers.”
“I’m ready,” Hoban said.
As the clock hits one, Paul fires the disruptor causing a sound similar to a rush of wind through tall trees inside the shuttle. The shuttle starts to bank without slowing, no need to in space, and Paul grabs his chair to hold on.
“Impact in five … four … three … two … one…”
There’s a flashing bright light, not because of the annihilation of matter but due to the plasma gas dispersing as it hit the asteroid. There’s no sound of an explosion, but a small shockwave does make the Hawking-Three shudder as it pulls away. The TV monitors flicker as the matter annihilation occurs and eventually clears to reveal the asteroid is gone bar a few small rocks.
“Mission control,” Paul said. “I can verify the target has been destroyed.”
Hoban whistles as he stares at the monitor showing the little that’s left of the asteroid. “Mission control, I can also verify the target has been destroyed,” Hoban said.
“Congratulations, Professor Starr,” Julius Octavian suddenly said on the radio. “I think you have just saved Earth.”
“One shuttle is hardly going to save us, Mr. Octavian,” Paul said not hiding his contempt. “But maybe you’ll now approve fitting all shuttles, and the latest jet fighters can be converted to spaceships too.”
“We have already begun the process, now come back to Pine Gap; you have a lot of work to do.”
“Roger that,” Paul said, then turning to Captain Hoban, “You heard the man, take us home.”
After the successful atmosphere reinsertion, the shuttle falls at a steady rate toward Pine Gap. Paul suddenly touches his computer screen, and the stick wrenches out of Captain Hoban’s hand.
“What the fuck?” Hoban swears and grabs the stick to force it back to what he wanted, but instead, the shuttle starts to veer off course. “What’s up with this thing?”
“Is there a problem?” Paul asks gazing at Hoban struggling to wrench back control.
The pilot hits a few buttons, but nothing happens.
“Hawking-Three, you’ve changed course,” the female voice of mission control said. “Is there a problem?”
“Mission control, the shuttle is flying itself,” Hoban said with sweat running down his face. “I no longer have control.”
“STARR…” its Octavian again on the radio. “What the fuck are you doing, Starr?”
“I’m leaving,” Paul said. “You have all you need to defend yourself against any future attack. Friends of mine have published the plans to the neutron engine on the internet and the GFM, so it’s available for everyone.”
“What about the weapon?”
“Starr, you won’t get away with this. We’ll find you again, our mutual friend will find you,” Octavian said.
“I’m counting on that,” Paul said as the shuttle suddenly lands in the middle of the West Australian outback. “Tell our mutual friend I really want to talk to it.”
Paul throws his headset off and undoes his seatbelt. Captain Hoban does nothing to stop him and watches unsure what to do. Then the radio squawks, it’s Octavian.
“Kill him, Hoban. Kill him…”
Hoban reaches beside his chair for a pocket where he had a revolver hidden to find it’s gone.
“Looking for this Captain?” Paul said pointing the gun at the pilot.
“I’m sorry, Doc, I didn’t want to kill you really,” Hoban said and grimaces.
“Once I’m off the shuttle control will revert back to you,” Paul said. “Then you can fly back to Pine Gap. No one needs to get hurt here.”
“I agree, but where are you gonna go?” Hoban said glancing at the miles of nothingness outside the window.
“I have a ride waiting for me, I’ll be long gone by the time your military friends get here.”
“OK, well, thanks for this…: Hoban said indicating the shuttle. “I’ll never forget this trip as long as I live.”
“Give me a chance to get out and then you’ll have to close the hatch after me.”
Paul nods and puts the gun in his belt. He goes to an escape hatch on the bottom of the shuttle and opens it climbing down, drops to the dusty ground. It’s still hot under the shuttle from reentry, so Paul quickly rolls away and starts running. Pulling his cell out of a pocket, he touches a red icon.
“About time,” Jane’s voice said. “I thought maybe you and Hoban had a goodbye hug?”
“Very funny,” Paul said as he ran. “Where in the fuck are you?”
Suddenly, a large teardrop-shaped black object appears in the sky above and lands some fifty meters from Paul. He’s soon on board, and the ship disappears again flying straight up to go back to Ship. On the shuttle, Captain Hoban watches everything from his seat.
“What the fuck was that?” he asks himself.
“Hoban? Hoban? What’s happening?” Octavian screams over the radio.
The pilot had been ignoring it to this point. “Professor Starr is gone, mission control,” he reports.
“No, sir, he escaped.”
“Can you bring the shuttle back?” Octavian asks.
Hoban gazes at the computer and sees he now has control again as Paul promised. “Roger that, Mission Control, I’m heading back to Pine Gap now.”
This is an excerpt from The Long Road Home: Book 4, buy the eBook to read the whole exciting story (14,000+ words).