Star Trek: The Original Series: The Rings of Time
June 28, 2020
The space shuttle
Inside the cockpit, Shaun was strapped into his seat, staring up at the nose of the ship. A flight suit and helmet provided meager protection from the titanic forces about to be unleashed. The Atlantic Ocean could be glimpsed out the starboard window. A pair of old-fashioned military dog tags dangled above the lighted instrument panel in front of him. A good-luck charm, the tags had accompanied him into space before.
“Ready to go, Colonel?” the pilot sitting next to him said. Commander Shirin Ludden was among the first of a new breed of shuttle pilots. She seemed shockingly young to Shaun, who was in his early fifties.
“You tell me,” he answered. “I’m just a passenger on this flight.”
Despite their banter, the launch procedure continued on schedule. The sound-and-heat-suppression system fired up far below the cockpit, but Shaun could feel the vibration from all that water where he was sitting. He and Ludden closed the visors on their flight helmets. He took a deep breath of piped-in oxygen. The entire shuttle trembled as the launch engines gradually came online. Shaun felt a familiar excitement growing inside him.
Still, at least she would get him where he was going.
The engines ignited, and the shuttle strained to escape the eight-inch metal bolts holding it down. The spaceplane swayed violently before turning its nose back up toward the sky. Computerized systems went through their paces. Even though Ludden was nominally the pilot, the launch was out of her hands now. Rattling inside the cockpit, Shaun braced himself for what came next. A grin spread across his rugged face.
This never got old.
Explosive charges blew away the hold-down bolts. The
The g-forces pressing down on him felt like an elephant standing on his chest. Shaun gritted his teeth; this part did get old after the first few minutes. He craned his neck to try to read the gauges on the instrument panel. So far, everything looked okay, although the elephant seemed to have gained weight since the last time he took this ride.
Just when he thought he couldn’t take it anymore, the elephant disappeared as though conjured away by a Las Vegas magician. One last jerk shook the ship as the empty fuel tank fell away. The pressure on Shaun abruptly went from three g’s to zero. His body lifted away from the seat cushions, held in place only by his safety straps. Glancing at the instrument panel, he saw the lucky dog tags floating weightlessly.
The tags had been worn by his father, Captain John Christopher, during his Air Force jet-pilot days. The senior Christopher had applied to the astronaut program back in the 1960s but hadn’t quite made the cut. Shaun had taken his dad’s tags up with him on every mission, so that even though the real John Christopher had only watched the liftoff from the bleachers eight miles away, he was also flying beside his son.
“So much for the fireworks,” Ludden said, sounding almost disappointed that the thrill-ride component of the launch was over. “Smooth sailing from now on.”
“Knock on wood,” Shaun said.
She used the shuttle’s smaller space engines to guide the
“Tell you the truth,” Ludden said, “I wish I was going all the way with you.”
“Now, Commander, you know NASA frowns on that kind of fraternization.”
She punched him in the shoulder. “You know what I mean. This is just a taxi ride to the airport. You’re making the real trip.”
“Maybe next time,” Shaun said to console her.
“Well, let’s make sure you don’t miss your flight.”
The shuttle’s launch was just the first leg of a much longer journey. Shaun waited impatiently, occupying himself with routine flight operations, while the shuttle caught up with his destination. Hours passed before Ludden nudged him.
“Heads up,” she said. “There’s your ride up ahead.”
Peering through the cockpit window, he glimpsed a bright reflective object cruising above them. At first, it was only a shiny lure in the distance, but as they closed on the other vessel, a truly awe-inspiring spacecraft came into view. More than forty-five meters long, the ship was many times larger than the
Ludden whistled in appreciation. “Quite a ship.”