The Fate Of The Simulator Pilot
Peta snuck out of the cramped room that they had been squished in. Not that she was allowed to complain, the fact that they had allowed her and her mother to come on the ship was a miracle. Still Peta couldn’t help but feel miserable. At least back on earth she could go about normal life ignoring the fact that she had been rejected for the pilot academy. But here on a real space ship, there was no way to ignore it. As she crept through the darkened ship the anger and hurt from the rejection was replaced with awe and wonderment.
The smooth metal and cool of space washed over her. It was perfect, a dream. She wandered the corridors, the lay out was classic of a space jumper 780. Peta knew it like the back of her hand. With wide eyes she crept towards the cockpit. The thick grey door was ajar giving her a glimpse of the room, she craned her neck to try and see more.
Peta gasped. Lights blinked out from a real control panel. The pilots chair sat empty in the middle of the room. She nudged the door open and slipped inside. Even more amazing then the spread of the control panel was the wide window that looked out into space, stars twinkled out at her. They seemed somehow larger and brighter than on earth. Almost like they were breathing. Peta held her breath walking closer, none of her simulations could come close to the astonishing beauty in front of her.
“Who are you?” a male voice said from behind her.
She jumped and spun. The man had cropped brown hair, a sneer and a distinctive pilot’s uniform. “Oh, I just got um lost and I was looking for ……” she trailed off, “something else.”
He gave her a bored look. “Just don’t touch anything.” Then he wandered to the chair and sat with his feet propped up on the desk. He sunk down comfortably focusing his attention on the magazine in his hands.
For a few moments Peta remained frozen. The pilot hadn’t looked at her since he sat down. Her gaze moved back to the control panel, she longed to reach out a hand and try it. Fly a real ship.
Peta cleared her throat. “How long have you been a pilot?”
“Two years.” His eyes didn’t move from the magazine.
“So, you still know people in the academy?”
He sighed and dropped the magazine. “Look kid, I’m not here to chat or get you into the academy or any of that crap. Have your awe inspired look and then leave.”
“But I’m the best simulator pilot back on earth and I am sure-” He held up a hand.
“I’ll let you in on a secret, simulator pilots will never be real pilots.” She opened her mouth to reply, he continued before she could get a word in. “That’s just the way of the world, you have to be space born to be a pilot.”
“That doesn’t make any sense, if I’m good then I should let into the academy.”
The pilot shrugged and returned to his magazine. Peta crossed her arms and turned her gaze back to the controls. The autopilot blinked up at her across it flashed the word direct, the button next to it said avoid, it was dull. “You have the direct autopilot on.” She said snapping up to look out the big window.
“Avoidance was broken when I started it up.”
“Shit.” She breathed, the asteroid belt that surrounded the new planet sat right in front of them and the ship was heading straight for it. “You have to do something.”
The pilot dropped the magazine down an inch and gazed at the belt. He shrugged, “It’ll be fine.”
“We’re going to have a head on collision with an asteroid and die.”
“Then turn on Avoidance protocol.” He shrugged again.
“You just said that it was broken.” She screeched pulling at her hair.
A large asteroid loomed above them and on instinct Peta turned off the autopilot and grappled the steering. She managed to move the ship down so it scraped under the rock then swerved to the left to avoid a second asteroid. “Are you going to help?” she glanced back at the pilot.
“You seem to be doing just fine without me.” He said loftily.
“Damn it.” She spun the ship on a diagonal to squeeze between two asteroids. The pilot fell out of his chair and slid across the floor. Peta kept her feet planted and stayed upright at the controls.
“What the hell?” he yelled at her.
She righted the ship and pointed a finger at him, “I’m saving your ass.”
He grumbled and stood. This time however he didn’t sit in his chair with his magazine. He stood behind her and watched her. “Huh you are pretty good.” He mused.
Peta rolled her eyes, “I already told you that.”
A football sized rock hurdled towards them. She turned the ship fast enough that it didn’t crash through the massive window but instead it plowed through the wing and one of the engines.
“You broke my ship.” The pilot said.
“At least,” she gritted her teeth as she grappled with the steering, “I got us through the belt. Now we just have to land on the planet.”
He waved a hand, “Turn on the autopilot.”
“You are the worst pilot I have ever seen. The auto is calibrated for four engines, with three it will go haywire. Plus,” she added, “it’s not that far.”
There was a moment of silence as he examined her. “You look like you’re doing fine with this.” He sat back in his chair, propped up his feet and opened his magazine.
“You can’t be serious.” Peta said. He ignored her. “The academy won’t accept me yet they graduate him.” She mumbled as she carefully balanced the ship with the unstable engines to land. It took a lot of effort and was very delicate. Once they finally touched down she let out a whoop of laughter, the academy had to accept her now. She had flown through an asteroid field and had landed a space jumper with a missing engine.
The pilot stood and tossed his magazine across the room. “Now,” he said, “follow my lead.”
“Follow you… what, hey let go of me.” She pulled against the hand grasping her, but his grip was strong. “What are you doing?”
He pulled them to the doors as they began to open, “You should have left it alone. I had an easy job, click autopilot was all I had to do and you had to wreak everything.” He hissed at her.
“We would have died.”
“You’ll regret interfering.” He said and pulled her down the ramp. There were people waiting for them.
“Quite impressive Captain March.” A plump man nodded his head in approval.
“What?” Peta said in fake astonishment, “you’re a captain.”
March glared at her mocking, the official’s gaze moved to her, “And this is?”
“Hey,” she pulled at him again. “I saved our lives.” She raised her voice to get over his as he spoke at the same time.
“She tried to take over the ship.”
Peta stomped her foot, “The camera footage in the cockpit, it will show you everything.” A big burly man stepped forward and placed handcuffs on her. “Get these things the hell off me. You can’t just arrest me with no evidence.”
“Shut her up.” The official said and the man covered her mouth with his hand. “You’re not on earth anymore girl,” he spat, “don’t try to steal the great accomplishments of Captain March.”
March sent her a crooked smile and winked. She tried to struggle free, if they would only look at the camera footage. “Sir,” March said, “as you know the camera in my cockpit has been broken for some time.” he glanced at her as he said it. “but you can see her on the other camera footage sneaking into the cockpit. She tried to take the ship and forced us into the belt rather than the usual route around it.”
Peta tried desperately to get away from the man holding her. If they would only listen to her, then there had to be a way to prove that she was innocent. Or at least prove that she’d saved them from being obliterated.
“We’ll lock her up right away.” The official said. “But before you rest we have another ship ready to go with a repair team on board.”
“Oh?” March said cautiously.
“Losing your engine then adjusting and balancing your flight path, that takes quite a bit of skill. So, we need you to fly back into the belt and get the repair crew to a ship that misguidedly tried to get through it.”
March went pale, “Me, fly up there?”
“Yes.” the official nodded eagerly. “Everyone thought you got your license just because of your Dad. After the performance today we realized that you are more skilled then we ever imagined.” Peta hummed in annoyance. The official turned to her in surprise, “Why hasn’t she been locked in the cells yet?” He said to the man holding her then he turned back to March. “You leave immediately.”
Peta bit down on the hand holding her and he pulled it away from her mouth. She yelled. The man dragged her away as she screamed at March. He payed her little attention, the officials ushered him towards a lighter space craft, looking a little sick and as if he were about to faint. She yelled anyway. She yelled once they were off the landing deck. She yelled when they left her in a cell. She yelled as there was a second crash asteroid belt that day.