Flash FIction - Training Flight
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Flash FIction - Training Flight

A routine training flight goes horribly wrong...

Flash FIction - Training Flight

“This is bad… This is really bad!” Cassie panicked from the cockpit’s rear engineering console.

“Something hit us! We’re caught in a spin and I can’t break us free!” came copilot Samantha Hawkins’ clenched jaw report as she wrestled with the controls attempting to right the craft.

The Space Fleet Academy (SFA) crew of the Mk III InterSystem Craft had been performing a training flight on a routine patrol route through the Sol System Asteroid Belt, out on the near side of Jupiter. This route had become notorious among the other cadet classes for its consistent and complete lack of excitement. Roughly three, uneventful hours had elapsed thus far. The crewmates had spent most of the time in casual conversation, discussing classes and upcoming training assignments in an effort to stave off the inescapable boredom. The all cadet crew of four consisted of: Cassie Jenkins, engineer, Russell White on sensors and astrometrics, copilot Samantha Hawkins, and acting Commander Joel Nero.

“Cassie, what’s the status on that drive pod?” Joel called over his shoulder, raising his voice to be heard over the whine of the failing drive pod and groaning protests of the craft’s battered hull.

“Left drive pod is completely inoperative! Right pod is firing erratically! Registering massive damage… I can’t get it back online!” Cassie called back, her voice pitching up at the end, betraying her fear.

“Stay calm and get that right pod stabilized!” Joel ordered. “Russell, what hit us and are we in danger of hitting anything else?”

“Telemetry shows it was a rogue asteroid, sir! Just came out of nowhere and slammed into the left drive pod!” Russell shouted up to the Commander’s seat. “And sensors are showing we’re not out of danger yet. There’s a dense cluster of micro-asteroids approximately 1000 meters dead ahead!”

Samantha had been sharing with her crewmates the technical specifications from a recent journal article extolling the improved features and performance of the upcoming Mk IV InterSystem Craft, when their own Mk III had been violently jolted, sending the stars seen out the front view-port into a nauseating spin. Alarms blared, power fluctuated. The once routine flight now suddenly anything but routine.

The young crew of cadets had never experienced a life-threatening scenario like this before, and each struggled to regain their composure against the flood of adrenaline in their body’s systems. It was Joel, awareness of his leadership role hitting him nearly as hard as the asteroid, who came to his senses first.

“Status… Status report!” he’d barked over the cacophony, his first attempt catching in his throat. Cassie’s panicked exclamation had followed.

“Sam, I’ve got the controls. Jump back there and see if you can’t manually override that right drive pod. If we don’t get it shut down, it’s going to fling us into that cloud!” Joel ordered his copilot as he switched over control to his station. “On it!” she replied, swinging out of her seat towards the rear compartment.

Joel took hold of the Mk III’s flight controls, desperately trying to bring the ship out of its tumultuous spin. With the right drive pod firing erratically as it was, the craft’s maneuvering thrusters weren’t able to provide enough push in any direction to counter it. From the outside, the craft’s trajectory resembled a ping pong ball in a washing machine. Joel knew that despite his strenuous efforts, there was no way he would get the craft under control in time if Sam didn’t shut that drive pod down now.

“500 meters to the asteroid cloud!” Russell announced.

“Sam…?” Joel called back to her, “Now would be a good time…”

“The circuits are fried!” she yelled over the din while leaning half into an open maintenance panel, “I’m trying to cut power entirely, but I’m…” she cut off as showers of sparks erupted over her head, “Argh! I can’t get to it!”

“150 meters! We’re so screwed!” Russell practically screamed.

Micro-asteroids, pebble sized chunks left over from asteroid collisions, whirling around in dense clouds and traveling many times faster than the speed of sound, were extremely hazardous to spacecraft. They could easily penetrate the crafts hull, causing atmosphere to rapidly decompress, or damage internal systems, wreaking havoc with the craft. In worse case scenarios, such as a dense cloud like the one the crew was plummeting towards, they’d cause catastrophic failure.

“Cassie! Maximum power to the…” was Commander Joel’s last attempted command, which was cut short by the roaring sound of the micro-asteroids pelting the craft’s hull from all directions. The deafening sound was reminiscent of a hail storm on an old tin roof. The cockpit became a tumult of sparks and rushing atmosphere as it escaped through hundreds of punctures created by the stones. The cadets cried in terror as the craft completely destabilized around them. A single heartbeat later, everything went black.

“Surprise! You’re dead!” came a gruff and familiar voice bellowing over the whoosh of the opening hatch and spinning down of motors. Lt. Commander Briggs’ weathered face appeared in the hatch through a cloud of vapor. “Now that did not go according to plan, did it?”

“No, sir!” Joel replied, rising from his command console and filing in behind his crewmates as they each rose from their positions to exit the Mk III ISC simulator.

“Something hit us out there, sir!” Cassie began to plead, “Whatever it was came out of nowhere and…”

“Whatever it was destroyed your craft and killed you, cadet!” Briggs cut her off. “Space is an unpredictable and dangerous place. You can not get complacent out there!” he chided the crew as they exited the simulator and lined up at attention.

Looking to each of them in turn, Briggs continued, “While you four were too busy chatting about nonsense and taking this training flight for granted, it didn’t occur to you that we might throw you a curveball, did it? Space is full of curveballs, and you’d do well to remember that the next time you step into my simulator!”

“Yes sir!” the cadet crew shouted in response.

“Debrief in ten minutes. And I’ll be expecting a full report tomorrow explaining how you blew this mission. Dismissed!” Briggs said.

The crew stepped away from the simulator, grumbling to each other and gesturing with their hands as they recounted their individual interpretations of the flight. Joel however, hung back.

“Sir, one question?” he asked Briggs who’d remained as well. “Yes, Nero?” he replied. “That asteroid, sir…” Joel went on, “I was paying attention to the sensor readouts. It did appear out of nowhere. There’s no way to avoid it, is there?” he asked his training officer.

“Maybe, maybe not.” Briggs said, “Or maybe avoiding the asteroid wasn’t the lesson?” he questioned back.

A hint of confusion flashed over Joel’s face. “You think on that, Nero. Debriefing in ten minutes. Dismissed.”

As Joel walked away, he considered what Lt. Commander Briggs had said. If he was ever going to become a full-fledged officer, he’d do well to figure out what he’d meant by it.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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