05 Oct 40%
“AI, I need to see outside of the ship. Are there any windows here that I’m not seeing?”
Before I finished that sentence, the whole interior wall of the shuttle had disappeared. I gasped, totally disoriented. While I was busy gasping, Tia had grabbed her rifle from under the seat with an unbelievable speed and was ready for an ambush or an alien invasion, even before I understood what had just happened. The shuttle was still there, but its walls had become fully transparent, at least from within. Or, alternatively, they were a giant screen and had projected the view outside so perfectly that I couldn’t tell it wasn’t real. We appeared to be sitting in the air open to all elements. That was unsettling.
I was too scared to be flying, I fully admit that. I needed something to remind me that the wall was there. Then I had an idea.
“AI, please project an artificial horizon along with flight directors, altitude, airspeed and vertical speed indicators, superimpose it on the forward view, similar to Heads-Up Displays of modern aircraft. Can you do that?”
The shuttle didn’t respond – it seemed like it wasn’t big on words, when action was sufficient. Immediately, thin green lines and numbers appeared in front of me, where the wall should be, showing everything I asked for, and then some. As I hoped, it helped to get a sense of a barrier between me and the outside. This had to be good enough.
I studied the joystick. It looked more complicated than normal, especially at its base, which in itself appeared movable. I suspected that beside the usual tilting along the left-right and forward-backward axes the joystick could slide as a whole unit in all directions, including up-down. I gripped the joystick and tentatively tried moving it along its different degrees of freedom, trying to figure out how it works.
The controls were obviously different from a helicopter, as there was no pedals, or a collector control, but it wasn’t a fixed wing aircraft either. If tilting the joystick controlled the craft pitch and roll, sliding it along with the base forwards and backwards without tilting might control the acceleration and braking. The remaining left-right axis might control sliding the shuttle sideways. Altitude control would have to be done via pushing the control down or pulling it up. That only left yaw. The joystick handle rotated along the vertical axis and could be twisted in both directions, so that should take care of the that.
Well, it was time to see if I got it right.
“Gentlemen, start your engines!” I exclaimed. Surprisingly, AI knew I was talking to the shuttle.
“Engines are on, drive carefully,” The AI replied, although nothing has visibly changed. No new sounds, no signs of movement.
I carefully pulled the controls up and the shuttle silently ascended, the forest dropping down and the majestic view of the countryside lit by the orange evening sun opening in front of us.
I made a slow banking turn, getting a feel of the controls, and started accelerating in the eastern direction. That thing was fast. It felt great!
I called Marc again. There was no need to use the hat, instead the messenger window was hanging somewhere around the place an overhead panel would be located on the airplane.
“Hey, tell me what you got,” I asked the moment he picked up.
“I’ve got good news and bad news,” he started. “The good news is that the shipping company the Azov and the Arabella belong to is really sloppy with security. They have so many holes and unpatched vulnerabilities that after selecting the best exploits I had to flip a coin to decide which one to use. I got schedules, plans, specifications, cargo manifests and even near-real-time data on both vessels. There’s even a chance that I can hack into the ship’s controller units and mess with the engines, although this would be short-lived as the crew can override them with manual controls.”
“That’s great news!” I said, “but what about the bad ones?”
“Yes, well, you don’t have much time at all, until it gets within the five hundred kilometer range from the east coast. A couple of hours from now, basically. Ninety minutes if they decide to put the pedal to the metal. I’m sending you the real-time data link.”
Shit, that was way ahead of schedule that I have seen.
“Ship, how fast can you get me to the Azov?”
“14 minutes, if I take full control of the craft.”
I looked at Tia. That was it. The point of no return. She nodded silently.
“Do it,” I said. Now we were committed.
Ship has started accelerating at an amazing rate. We were pushed to the back of our seats in a tolerable but seriously kick-ass G force. And it just kept accelerating. Speed indicator became a blur and we were supersonic faster than it took me to force enough air through my vocal chords to say “please try not to not squish us to death in the process!” The shuttle was slightly shaking, and I could feel a low rumble, either from its engine or the oncoming air, but otherwise it was a quiet and comfortable ride from that point. I think I started seeing a faint plasma glow around the alien craft, but it may have just been my imagination. Going that fast this low in a dense atmosphere was an impressive demonstration of the alien technology.
“Ship, are you still invisible? We have to avoid being seen by humans or Horsemen.”
“Yes, when airborne and sufficiently slow, we are undetectable by visual or radar methods. However we are detectable in the infrared spectrum, as I am not built for stealth. I can’t prevent being slightly warmer than the surrounding air. The difference is minimal though, so human thermal imaging cameras would only see me at very close range. Your aircraft detection systems are not usually based on watching the infra-red spectrum, and Horsemen don’t have advanced technology of their own down here. Unless an Advancer is on board, Horsemen would not sense our presence, therefore our arrival is not likely to be detected. I will slow down on approach to keep our infrared signature to a minimum. Probability of detection is estimated at 0.04%”
“I like that kind of odds,” Tia muttered, abcent-mindedly sliding her finger back and forth against the Tavor’s barrel. I suddenly felt the temperature rise inside the shuttle.
Well, my infrared signature definitely wasn’t getting smaller…