Science Fiction

Learning to Fly – Chapter 1.5

Rehki slumped down next to the debris pile that rested on top of her spaceship.  “What the hell?” she muttered to the empty warehouse.  “Why give me a spaceship and then make it impossible for me to fix it!”  In response, the metal roof creaked in the wind of the fading afternoon.  She slammed the junk with the back of her fist.  She had examined every nook and crack of the pile and couldn’t find a single place where any tool, much less the power cell she’d shoved across the slum, could fit through.  Her arms and legs burned with exhaustion.

Rehki pulled the creamy envelope from her overalls pocket and took the card out.  It was not beeping this time, but it shined a steady green.  She knew whoever gave her this letter and the checklist for the spaceship wouldn’t have made it easy for her.  But at the same time, the encouraging notes handwritten alongside the type suggested that there was at least one person who wanted her to succeed.  If that were the case, there had to be a way to get tools and equipment into the duraplas dome under all that junk.  She just had to be clever enough to find it. 

She started to pull at pieces in the pile.  Some of them shifted slightly, but most of them appeared wedged so tightly against each other, they couldn’t be moved without them all crumbling apart.  Even if she could move some of it, she estimated it would take hours to pull all the debris off and return them at the end of the day so no one discovered the dome.  She’d spend more than half her day just dealing with debris rather than working on the spaceship.  There had to be another solution, simple and yet not obvious to the typical slum tenant who got lucky enough to discover the dome, much less the prize inside. 

“Okay, let’s say I’m the guy who left the spaceship here,” she whispered to herself.  “First, they would have had to get the ship inside the building.  With all the holes in the ceiling and walls, that probably wouldn’t have been hard.”  She noticed a dangling chain from a roof-mounted pulley system nearby that had a large hook on the end.  She guessed it was strong enough to support the weight of the spaceship to lower it into place.   

“So, they use the hook to get the spaceship into position.  Next, they build the dome on top of it and then program it to open to anyone with this card.  Then they hide the dome under all this junk.  As long as I’ve got the card, I can open the dome and get to work.”  She stood up and started to walk around the perimeter of the pile.  “Plus, whoever put the ship here expected me to get it working,” she continued.  “But how did they expect me to fly it out of here if it’s stuck inside a dome?” 

The answer hit her like a brick. 

She shoved the grocery cart over by the pulley system and then squeezed back through the debris.  When she reached the dome, she held the card up against it, and it opened just as before.  She slipped inside, and the dome closed behind her.  “Okay, the card opens up the dome to let me in and out.”  She continued towards the spaceship, delighted to see it was still exactly where she’d left it.   

She opened the cockpit and dropped inside again.  She started looking for anything that resembled a garage opener or remote control, but everything was directly attached to the console.   “Maybe they built the opener into the ship’s systems,” she pondered.  “Nah, that doesn’t make sense.  I’d need to open the dome up to get a power cell inside to power the ship, and if the ship doesn’t have power, it’s not opening shit.”  She looked up to the ceiling of the dome, just inches above the tip of the cockpit.  “No,” she exhaled.  “It can’t be that easy.”   

She climbed out of the cockpit onto the top of the spaceship.  It was flat and solid, extending back to the grav pods and the air foils.  She looked at the card.  It still was a bright green.  She held it up above her head as far as she could.  Once she was on her tip toes, she could stretch just far enough for the card to touch the dome.  

With a whoosh of air, a bright crack appeared in the dome and grew into an aperture just above the spaceship.  The dome folded outward, the junk on top moving with it, until after a few seconds there was a clear opening to the world beyond.  Rehki could see the setting sun through a massive hole in the ceiling above.  “YES!” she bellowed as she jumped up and down on the spaceship.  She looked around the edge of the opening and caught sight of the large metal hook at the end of the pulley.  She slid down the side of the spaceship and all be sprinted back out of the junk pile. 

When she emerged, she looked back at the open doors, delighted to see that the junk pieces had been directly bonded to the dome.  When she closed the doors again, the dome would remain hidden underneath the metal.  “Thank you, whoever you are!” Rehki beamed.   

It took her thirty minutes to get the shopping cart cleared of the garbage and hooked up the pulley securely.  There was more than enough chain to wrap around the cart and secure it.  She’d also pulled the solar panel array off the cart since that needed to sit somewhere outside the dome where the sun could hit it.  It didn’t take her long to find the controls to the pulley in a small chamber directly under it.  She wasn’t surprised to find its batteries still held a strong charge, more than enough to get the cart inside and perhaps a few more loads after that.  Whoever left the spaceship definitely thought of ways to help her, as long as she found them.  A small chill ran down her spine as she considered what other discoveries she might find in the days ahead.   

She turned the pulley on and slowly lifted the cart into the air.  She stopped it just a few inches above the ground and let it dangle there for a moment.  Once she was sure she’d secured the cart enough, she continued to lift it up into the air.  The controls were easy enough to operate, although she misjudged how far up the cart was, and it slammed into the side of the debris door with a loud clang.  She winced, hoping no one was nearby to hear that.  She quickly lifted the cart up and over the open doors, then lowered it into the opening.   

A minute later, she was back inside the dome, pulling the chain off of the cart.  The adrenaline rush was so strong, her head was spinning.  She was running out of daylight.  Once the cart was free, she rushed back out and pulled the chain out of the dome.  She returned the pulley system to as close as she could remember she had found it, then shut it down. 

Back under the dome, she climbed on top of the spaceship and touched the card to the side of the dome.  With a soft creak of metal, the doors to the dome started to close.  Rehki experimented, pulling the card away before the doors closed completely, and they stopped.  When she pressed the card back against the dome, the doors continued to close.  She did this a couple of times until the doors were almost completely closed except for the smallest of slits between them.  

Every part of her body ached from a day full of exertion, but she pressed on.  She slipped back outside the pile, gathered up the solar charging station and climbed to the top of the debris pile.  She setup the solar panels directly in line with the opening in the ceiling so they could gather as much light as possible, then dropped the charging cable down through the slit between the doors.  A few minutes later, she was kneeling beside the power cell, and plugged the cable into its side.   

Rehki held her breath.  All the work of the past day, illegal and otherwise, all came down to this.  Did Arjun give her a bad power cell?  Would the charger get enough light to work?  Had the cell been damaged when she bumped the dome? 

She flipped the main power switch on the cell. 

Blue lights inside the cell flickered a couple of times, and then it slowly grew to a steady glow.  The status display on the control panel came to life as the cell continued to power up.  She noted that the battery level was low, as was the water supply, but it was a good start.  She figured she’d need a few ounces of water and a couple hours of sunlight, and the power cell would be ready to go.   

She looked back to the spaceship.  This morning, it had been nothing but a lifeless husk.  By this time tomorrow, she knew it would be on its way to getting her the hell out of the slum to a better life.  She double-checked that the power cell was still recharging and then slipped back into the cockpit.  As she slumped back into the chair, she pulled the checklist out of her pocket and re-read it for the hundredth time.

  1. Get yourself a good ship.
  2. Let your A.I. do all the work. 

Tomorrow she’d deal with the A.I.  She had some ideas on that too.  For now, Rehki had a good ship with power on the way.  As her mind checked step #1 off the checklist, she drifted into a peaceful sleep.