April 17, 2003
the year 2054:
is entirely enshrouded in satellites, both old and new, space stations,
and debris left over from old multi-stage rockets. No efforts
have ever been made to clean up the old space detritus, so it's just
continued to build up and build up. Satellites of every make and
model, from a hundred different countries, some working, some dead,
endlessly circle the planet. The misty blue-green ball of Earth
is now severely obscured and utterly surrounded.
all over the Earth keep a constant, twenty-four hour watch on all of
the space debris, satellites, and space stations. Should any of
these items hit each other, moving at over twenty thousand miles an
hour in orbit, it could be catastrophic.
At the Evergreen
radio telescope installation in Colorado in the Rocky Mountains, an
attractive, female, astronomer with black hair, Dr. Erika Hanford, is
talking to a politician, Senator LeFarge, and his entourage, all wearing
suits and ties of the period, which are all bright colors, have wide
lapels, and loud wide ties. And clearly facial hair on the men
is in, with big sideburns, mustaches and beards. The women have
odd, tall, styled hairdos.
turns from a three-dimensional holographic representation of Earth and
all its orbiting satellites, space stations, and debris, to the Senator
and his people.
face facts, shall we. There's way too much crap up there, and
we can't keep an eye on it all anymore. It's jamming the space
lanes. What happened to all of the programs to remove and destroy
some of it?"
LeFarge shrugs. "The funding never comes through. It's
far cheaper to keep hiring more astronomers like you than implement
any of the programs."
shakes her head. "Well, you do know what'll happen if any
of this stuff starts colliding with anything else, right?"
snorts derisively. "Yeah, yeah. The Cascade Effect.
Scientists have been bitching about that for over fifty years, but it
hasn't happened yet, has it?"
not yet. And it's a miracle, if you ask me. Every little
fleck of paint up there is whizzing around at over twenty thousand miles
per hour. There's so much junk up there that it's become a series
of holes that the spaceliners have to maneuver through. I sure
wouldn't want to be one of those pilots." She steps over
to another 3-D holographic image of a Boeing 7007 Spaceliner sitting
on a runway -- it looks a lot like the present-day space shuttle, though
much larger, that takes off on a runway like an airplane. "Right
now, for instance, the lunar launch is just preparing for take-off from
Edwards SpacePort. Although the course will be triangulated and
plotted for the ship's auto-pilot from telescopes all over the Earth
like this one, the human pilots have to be ready and able to take over
navigation at any moment in the forty-eight hour flight. This
is particularly stressful because the courses the ships are maneuvering
are absurdly crooked and twisted due to all the space debris.
walks away. "But a pilot has never had to take over the controls
of a spaceliner in the ten years of regular space travel between here
and Lunaville on the moon. And now with two ships they have three
flights a week going in both directions, for goodness sake."
nods. "I'm well aware of how many flights there are, senator,
that's why you're here. We, the scientific community, believe
the odds are turning against us."
LaFarge walks away and all his people follow along, like ducklings.
Yes, well, I'll certainly do what I can, you can count on that."
watches the Senator and his people depart, then turns back to the hologram
of the spaceliner, warming up on the runway.
actual Boeing 7007 Galactic Spaceways spaceliner, sitting on the actual
runway at Edwards SpacePort, outside Los Angeles, is a huge ship.
Baggage-handlers and the runway crew go about their various jobs beneath
a plane that's four-times the size of a 747. Luggage is loaded
and food is brought aboard. Humans look like ants compared with
the ship. A long line of water trucks are lined up emptying their
contents into the enormous 200,000 gallon water tank in the belly of
Spaceliner, it's not that much larger than modern 747, since most of
the girth is the heat and radiation shields in the fuselage, as well
as the huge water tank. The front pilot's windows are tiny compared
to the size of the ship.
in the cockpit is the co-pilot, a beautiful, intense, blonde woman in
a uniform, Lt. Sarah Simonson, who is going through the standard, routine
take-off prep. A moment later the pilot steps in and he's a tall,
good-looking man in his mid-forties with short hair named Capt. Bill
McCormack, known to his friends as Mac or Big Mac, depending on how
well they know him.
"Course fully loaded?"
says, "Yes, sir."
it look like?"
bent corkscrew tied in a knot."
See how the seating is going, okay?"
stands and leaves. She looks great in her tight uniform.
down in his seat, straps himself in, then glances down at his right
hand which is balled-up in a fist in his lap. He flexes his fingers
and sees that he's shaking. Mac looks around cautiously, grimaces,
then quickly opens a pill bottle and pops a little white pill.
He then hits a button and the holographic head of the Flight Controller,
a black man in his thirties with pointy sideburns, appears before him.
Controller says, "Mac, I hear Galactic has offered you a free house
in Lunaville, and you're not taking it."
don't want to live in Lunaville. I can't uproot my family and
move 'em to the moon. Jessica would never forgive me."
Controller smiles. "Those are nice houses up there, Mac.
Swimming pools, golf courses, five thousand square feet each, the works.
If they offered it to me, I'd take it."
"Honestly, Jim, I'm having a little trouble at home these days
and I can't be rockin' the boat, know what I mean?"
Controller nods. "Oh, sure. Still . . ."
returns with a confused expression on her face. "Captain,
I think you need to come back and take look."
a bit annoyed. "Can't you handle it?"
frowns. "Just come back and take a look. Please."
and follows her out of the cockpit.
and the Lieutenant walk back through the passenger compartment, where
every seat is a full-sized lounge with a glass enclosure. The
Captain and Lieutenant smile, say hi, and wave to everyone. Lt.
Simonson points and Mac sees his wife, Jessica, and their two children,
Tim who is ten, and Judy who's seven, all seated in their lounges and
ready to leave. Mac is flabbergasted.
Jessica, "What's going on?"
a pretty, hawk-like woman in her mid-thirties, says, "I'm leaving
Mac is completely
shocked. "What?" He looks around to see
who's listening, then sits down beside her so they can speak more softly.
"Why like this?"
shakes her head. "Because I've tried to tell you fifty other
times and you wouldn't listen. You completely stopped listening
to me years ago. Well, are you listening now?"
I'm leaving you. I'm taking the kids, as you see . . . "
Tim and Judy both smile at him from their lounges. ". . .
And we're moving to Lunaville, to the free house you turned down."
"But I turned it down."
you told me to turn it down, but I took it."
Mac is stunned.
face it, you're not a husband and you're not a father, you're a pilot,
and a damn good one, but that's it. And that's not enough for
steps up and Jessica throws her a look filled with daggers.
coughs. "Excuse me, sir, but it's time to go. If we
miss this window it will be eight more hours before we can leave."
Mac stands. "I've got to go."
says, "As always."
the Lieutenant walk back to the cockpit in silence.
themselves in for take-off. Simonson glances at Mac, but he doesn't
look back. They both go through the standard take-off procedure.
on the huge spaceliner fire up, the baggage-handlers get out of the
way, the conga-line of water trucks drive off, and the connecting chute
is moved away.
Up in the
tower in flight control, which is a lot like NASA's flight control,
except there are 3-D holographic images above each controller's instruments.
We see the Flight Controller in person, standing with a tiny earphone
in his ear that's also a microphone, speaking to the ship, which he
sees as a 3-D image, as well as for real out the tower's window.
Controller says, "Galactic Spaceliner, number B-2, you are cleared
says, "Roger that, flight control."
taxies down the tarmac, builds up tremendous speed over the course of
a mile-long runway before it has sufficient thrust and lift to take
off. The spaceliner takes off into the sky just like a big jet,
then begins circling the Earth to build up the sufficient speed to leave
the Earth's atmosphere. To achieve this, the ship keeps going
higher and higher and faster and faster . . .
and stewardesses serve dinner to the five hundred passengers, then prepare
them for sleep in their lounges. At a point after dinner, when
all of the passengers have relaxed back in their lounges and are watching
holovision, all the lounges seal over and the hiss of some sort of sleep
gas is emitted. Everyone promptly falls asleep. Their holovisions
automatically go off, as do the interior lights of the lounges.
The passengers will be asleep for the next forty-seven hours.
That includes Jessica, Tim, and Judy.
By the time
the spaceliner reaches escape velocity, they are pulling two Gs, or
the equivalent of two gravities equal to that of the Earth's gravity.
that the pilot and co-pilot are seated in are mushy and filled with
a jelly-like substance and have fully reclined to help their bodies
withstand the tremendous force pressing on them. Just reaching
your hand up and scratching your nose is a big ordeal at two Gs.
pilot and the co-pilot legitimately don't do anything. Everything
is done automatically. They are there strictly as emergency back-up,
in the unlikely event that every other back-up system should fail.
This has never occurred in the history of commercial space travel.
the ship finally leaves Earth's atmosphere, still with a lot of vibration
and a tremendous amount of heat building up on the ship's heat shields,
they suddenly glide soundlessly into the black void of space --
at this distance from Earth, is completely filled with satellites and
space debris! There's literally stuff everywhere. The ship
begins veering left, right, up, down, sideways, and around to avoid
hitting things. Mac and Simonson watch the 3-D displays in front
of them with complete and total concentration, although they're not
doing anything but watching. The auto-pilot steers them through
the labyrinth of obstacles with information beamed in from radio telescopes
all over the Earth.
it's an incredibly hairy ride for over an hour, and if the passengers
weren't anesthetized, they'd all be barfing into their vomit bags.
In fact, if they knew they probably wouldn't have taken the trip.
The ship goes whizzing past live bleeping satellites; dead, darkened
satellites; hunks of old spaceships; as well as some old nuclear weapons,
American, Russian, Chinese and Indian.
Simonson keep watch, and even though all's well so far, it's like being
on a roller-coaster and knowing everything is working right, except
you might have to take over at any second, should the need arise.
usual, it doesn't. Soon the ship is traveling silently through
clear open void of space, moving toward the glowing orb of the moon.
The G-forces go back to normal and Mac and Simonson both sit up.
Mac glances down at his right hand and it's really shaking. He
makes a fist and grits his teeth. Simonson sees, but acts like
says offhandedly, "I'll take the first watch, you catch some sleep."
his head. "Naw, I'm fine. I'll take the first watch."
and reclines back in her lounge, "Yes, sir." Her lounge
seals over and the light goes out.
a deep breath. He flexes his fingers, and rubs his right hand
with his left. He exhales loudly and shakes his head. He
looks over at Lt. Sarah Simonson and he remembers the fun-filled weekend
they had on the moon together a year ago. Swimming, gambling,
seeing a show, making love. Then both of them finally vowing that
this would never happen again, and it hasn't. Mac sighs deeply.
and Simonson switch off on eight-hour shifts, the passengers sleep,
and forty-five hours later the spaceliner begins orbiting the moon.
The passengers are all awakened and their sealed lounges open at the
same time with a hiss. They all sit up one by one and stretch,
their hair sticking up in goofy directions.
high to land, the spaceliner passes over Lunaville, a ten mile square
glass-enclosed city with green rolling hills, big houses, and many golf
courses. It looks like Palm Springs under glass domes. The
passengers look down, point, and ooh and ahh. Beside the city
is a ten-mile long illuminated landing strip.
circles the moon and comes back around on Lunaville, only this time
they are coming in very low. Housings on the front of the ship's
wings open up revealing reverse retro-rockets.
the huge ship down is exceptionally smooth on the moon, at one-sixth
the gravity of Earth. Stopping the ship's forward movement is
the big issue. The retro-rockets fire, working as brakes, and
slowly over the course of the ten-mile runway the spaceliner slows down
and finally stops. The landing crew, wearing space suits, converge
on the ship, and a walkway is pushed into place, which locks in and
seals to the side of the ship.
Simonson look at each other and shrug, another job well-done.
Simonson glances back toward the passengers and Mac catches her look.
Oh, yeah, that. Mac sighs, stands and heads back.
says, "Good luck."
looking pained. "Thanks." He leaves.
watches him go, and what can she do? She loves him.
his wife and kids off the ship. Jessica won't talk to him or even
look at him. They step into the terminal and find a welcoming
committee waiting for them, with a brass band and the Mayor of Lunaville,
and all of the leading residents waiting to greet them. It turns
out that the McCormack's are the 500th family to immigrate to the moon
and are the people of the hour.
and the kids are driven to their new home in a limo, with a parade following
along behind. Mac and Jessica smile at everyone but each other.
the other spaceliner is preparing for take-off to go back to Earth.
Capt. Buck Krandall is the pilot and Lt. Jeffery Jackson is the co-pilot.
During reentry the auto-pilot malfunctions for the very first time.
Capt. Krandall has to take over the controls and fly the ship manually
through the space junk, which is an insane ride. When it appears
they've made it, the spaceliner just nicks an old satellite that goes
whizzing off into space end over end.
collides with another old satellite and they both explode, sending out
thousands of pieces of shrapnel, which begin hitting other things and
causing them to explode, sending out more speeding shrapnel in all directions.
The Cascade Effect has begun.
on Earth, at the radio telescope installation, Dr. Hanford and her team
are watching as the monitored space junk begins to holographically flying
out of control, collide with other space junk and explode. Everyone
stands there helpless. There's nothing they can do.
shakes her head sadly. "I told them and I told them, they
just wouldn't listen."
says, "Maybe they'll listen now."
shrugs. "Now it's too late."
the control tower at the Lunaville Spaceport, the flight controllers
have spotted the explosion on their advanced-looking radar screens.
One flight controller turns to another.
think this is just going to keep going?"
"It sure looks like it." He turns to an assistant.
"Get Captain McCormack and Lieutenant Simonson in here. They
need to see this." A guy goes running out.
spaceliner, now with a damaged wing, completes its next orbit of the
Earth, not knowing what it left behind in its wake. Both pilots
feel like they just escaped with their lives and are busy mopping their
brows when they see they are flying head-on into a roiling wall of flaming
shrapnel and exploding satellites. There's no stopping their course
and they fly right into it. Pieces of speeding debris come ripping
through the spaceliner like machine gun bullets, killing every passenger
aboard in their lounges, as well as the Captain and Lieutenant.
spaceliner explodes, creating even more shrapnel and debris that begins
colliding with other floating detritus. The Cascade Effect keeps
expanding and growing.
Mac's new house on the moon, his family is asleep upstairs and he's
camped-out on the couch. But Mac can't sleep. He goes over
to his suitcase, removes a bottle of whiskey, as well as a pill bottle,
and takes them both back over to the couch. Mac dumps a couple
of white pills into his hand, then washes them down with liquor straight
from the bottle. Jessica's voice comes from behind him.
around and sees his wife standing on the stairs. "You ever
don't knock it."
comes over and stands before him. "Why do you need that?"
"Because my nerves are shot, okay?"
up at her, "Because I'm stuck in a bad marriage and I work too
sits down beside him looking sad. "You want out of this marriage?
So you can get together with your co-pilot? What's her name?
She's very pretty."
looks surprised. "Lieutenant, eh? When you sleep with
her does she call you Captain?"
his head and sighs deeply. "It was one weekend over a year
ago. I've said I'm sorry a million times. What do you want?"
wanted you, Mac. I wanted you around, to be a husband, to be a
father. All you ever did was come home to change clothes.
Sleeping with the pretty lieutenant was just the last straw. You'd
obviously found everything else you needed at work, so once you found
sex there, too, I knew there was nothing left for me."
a slug of whiskey. "You married a pilot, Jessica. This
is what I do."
pilots don't leave the Earth. You took the most difficult pilot
job there is. You chose your work over your wife and family.
So live with it."
having trouble living with it." Mac takes another drink.
says, "I see that."
the radio telescope on Earth, Dr. Hanford and her assistants watch the
holographic images as one explosion after another continue to occur
in space. One by one the holographic images begin to blink out
and disappear as the radio telescope stops functioning. An assistant
turns to Dr. Hanford and asks in a frightened tone, "What happens
when the nuclear weapons in space explode?"
sighs, "I guess we'll find out pretty soon. Whatever it is,
it can't be good."
the moon, a car comes screeching up in front of the McCormack's house.
Mac is asleep on the couch when the doorbell begins ringing insistently.
It's an officer from the spaceport. Capt. McCormack must report
immediately to the spaceport. Mac goes to put on his uniform as
Jessica comes down the stairs and watches him leave.
runs on a modern-looking treadmill really hauling ass and sweating.
She turns the treadmill higher and runs faster, than faster still.
Finally, she got it up too fast and gets thrown back onto the floor
in a heap. She stands up and glances over at a 3-D photograph
of her and Mac standing in front of the spaceliner in their uniforms.
She drops her face into her hand and begins to cry.
wipes her tear-stained face on her sleeve, then tears off her sweaty
clothes, savagely tossing each piece across the room, then goes to take
Earth, people from all over the world are looking up into the sky and
watching explosions occur. It's like a fireworks display, but
higher up in space.
warheads float in space, some of them American, some Russian (with the
old U.S.S.R. markings), some Chinese, and even an Indian missile, too.
All aiming down at the Earth, waiting to start the ultimate war.
tiny pieces of debris begin whizzing past like bullets, then more and
more, until the missiles are finally struck and detonated.
on Earth, the entire planet experiences a huge Earthquake. The
sky turns to blazing fire and becomes too bright to look at. Most
people crouch down or fall down. Buildings and bridges collapse.
Avalanches crash down the sides of mountains. Enormous tidal waves
are kicked up, that start moving around the globe, smashing and drowning
entire islands nations.
the moon, the residents of Lunaville have all come out of their houses
and look up through the clear glass of the bubble over the city at the
blue-green ball of Earth floating in the sky like the moon does on Earth.
Only there are explosions going off all around the planet.
there is a series of huge ripping explosions around the Earth that can
be felt all the way on the moon. The people all look horrified.
Mac is in
the control tower at the spaceport and is watching the explosions rocking
the Earth with the rest of the flight crew and the navigators.
They are in contact with Earth, then the transmission is cut off and
the line goes dead.
the radio telescope installation, Dr. Hanford and her team pick themselves
up off the floor to find most of their equipment smoking and in ruins.
The younger astronomers look to their leader and ask, "What's going
to happen now?"
brushes the dirt off of her clothes and looks up. "Most communications
will stop working. Space travel has just ended for about a hundred
years, and since the moon base is not yet self-sustaining -- meaning
they have no water supply up there -- they're all dead."
the moon, after a few days have passed without a single word from Earth,
everyone understands their dilemma. Suddenly, water is more valuable
than gold. Policemen are stationed around all of the water tanks
with electric stun rifles. Everyone begins hoarding water, draining
their toilets and hot water heaters, as well as siphoning off all the
water from the water hazards on the golf courses, and the fountains
in front of buildings. All of the stored ice in freezers is melted
back into water and saved in containers.
In the spaceport
tower, more and more top officials are showing up, including the Mayor,
who says, "We've got to get everybody out of here and back to Earth,
otherwise we'll all die of thirst."
flight controller, Tom Hastings, says, "We've lost communications
with Earth. But given the size of those explosions -- the nuclear
weapons going off -- Earth may possibly be not be worth going back
to. Also, with all of that new debris in space, I don't think
we can get a ship through the space lanes anymore."
turns to Captain McCormack. "What do you think, Captain?
Can you get your ship back home?"
"I don't know. We're all still monitoring the situation.
But it sure doesn't look good."
panics. "Then we're all doomed!"
a very distinct possibility. Everybody looks grim.
the radio telescope, Dr. Hanford and her people have some of their equipment
back up and running, but not most of it, and not the radio telescope.
They do have numerous conventional telescopes set up, though, and some
of them are quite large. People are writing with pens on paper,
which is a new experience for them.
is looking through the largest of the telescopes. She suddenly
turns and looks at an assistant wearing headphones and says, "Anything?"
listens even harder. We see that they have jerry-rigged a small
dish receiver aiming up into space. The assistant says, "Nope,
not yet." He keeps listening, then his face lights up.
"Got it." The assistant throws a switch and the sound
comes out a speaker for everyone to hear.
in Earth, this the Lunar Spaceport, do you read? Come back."
speaks into a microphone. "Lunar Spaceport, this is this
is the Evergreen, Colorado Radio Telescope Station, we read you.
an audible sigh of relief from the Lunar Spaceport. "Thank
goodness. Then communications are resumed."
not exactly. We're receiving you through a hole in the space debris
created by the exploding nuclear weapons. This hole won't last
very long because we're orbiting past it . . ." Static build
and drops, ". . . We'll be able to communicate for a few minutes
everyday as our transmitter lines up with the hole, until the hole closes
up, that is . . ." As the static builds up again the voices
long will that be?" asks the Lunar Spaceport. But the voice
is gone. Everyone in spaceport control sighs.
One of the
flight controllers says, "That's a sign of hope, don't you think?"
mumbles in the affirmative. Tom Hastings says, "But that's
only as long as the hole lasts, which can't be all that long with all
that debris, even in geosynchronous orbit."
Mac is thinking hard. Sarah Simonson glances at him, then looks
closer. "Mac? What are you thinking?"
up his hands. "If they can transmit through the hole, why
can't we fly through the hole?"
in flight control looks at him.
says, "But they could only receive through the hole for a minute."
"But the hole is at a stationary point and the receiver is moving
past it as the planet turns. The hole would be stationary for
us coming through it."
"But it's full of debris and radiation. Besides, without
the radio telescopes on Earth, we can't plot a course through it for
Mac grins. "Then I guess I'll just have to fly it by sight
and intuition. Just like the old days."
asks eagerly, "Do you actually think you can do it?"
"I don't know. But I started drinking the water I got out
of my toilet today, and I was happy to get it. Do you want to
stay here and die of thirst?"
let's make plans to leave as soon as possible, while the hole is still
many people can you get aboard?" asks Tom.
"We have five hundred lounges, but I'm sure we can jam at least
that many more people in around them."
says, "So that's a thousand people. There's nearly fifteen
hundred people here right now."
"Then smash 'em all in. We'll still be light because the
water tanks are empty. But no one can take any luggage. Just what
fits in their pockets."
says, "Right, I'm on it." He turns and leaves in a hurry.
to all the flight controllers. "I don't know how long this
hole will last, so I say we leave as soon as possible. How soon
can that be?"
head flight controller, says, "An hour at our end, Mac. But
it's getting everyone aboard that'll take some time."
get everyone on it. Cops, baggage-handlers, everyone you can get
in touch with."
People start to run.
around the room. "And do we need any people to actually be
here to allow take-off?"
"Yes, just one. We'll need someone here to tell the people
on Earth that we'll be landing or they won't be ready for us, there
could well be no place to land, or anything could happen. But
the ship won't be able to make that transmission in the middle of the
"Well, keep thinking about that, and who might be willing to stay."
He turns to Lt. Simonson, "Lieutenant, go warm up the engines.
I'm going to go get my family."
is panic and confusion in the streets of Lunaville as the entire population
makes their way to the spaceport. Abandoned dogs and cats don't
know where to go. People with megaphones are saying, "Please
proceed calmly to the spaceport. If you can't get your vehicle
through, leave it and walk. Move quickly, but don't run.
Once again, please proceed calmly to the spaceport . . ."
Mac is running
in the opposite direction as the masses, pushing his way through the
people. Before he even gets to his house he encounter his wife
and children, all holding bags. He grabs his family and says,
"Thank goodness. Quick, we've got to hurry." Mac
tosses their bags away, then hustles them in the same direction everyone
else is going.
an insanely long line of people building up in the terminal waiting
to board the spaceliner. Spaceport officials are keeping everybody
in order and getting rid of their luggage.
and the kids arrive and he tries to push his way through the crowd.
Mac says, "Excuse me."
his way, saying, "Who do you think you are?"
"I'm the pilot of the ship."
the crowd parts like the Red Sea, with people saying, "It's the
pilot, let him through. For God's sake, let him through."
at Jessica and grins, "Sometimes being the pilot's wife isn't so
nods and begrudgingly smiles. "Okay, I'll give you this one."
As Mac and
his family move through the crowd, people reach out and smack him on
the back. They pass the spacelines officials who give them the
thumbs-up and they board the spacecraft.
a single lounge for his wife and kids, who must all three squeeze into
it. Once you've been tranquilized it doesn't really matter how
many people are in one lounge, but you can only smash two or possibly
three small people into each one, which is a lot of the people, but
not everyone. A couple hundred people will just have to lie on
the floor between the lounges. Stewards and stewardesses attend
to everyone, trying to make them as comfortable as possible.
his way up to the cockpit. He runs into the head flight controller,
Tom Hastings, waiting outside the cockpit door. Mac and Tom nod
at each other.
Lt. Simonson in the co-pilot's seat awaiting him. Mac takes his
seat and straps himself in. Mac asks, "Everything okay?"
"Everything's A-OK, Captain, no problems."
"Excellent. Did they work out the problem in the tower?
Does someone actually have to stay behind?"
"Yeah. One person."
his head. "Did anyone volunteer?"
"Yeah. One person. Me."
Mac is horrified.
"You? You have to co-pilot the ship."
her head and disengages her belt. "You've got to fly this
ship on your own, Mac. You don't need my help, or anyone else's.
Tom Hastings is pilot, and with a lot more experience than me.
But I'll get you through that hole, Mac. And I'll get you a clean
landing, too. I know what needs to be done and I'll get it done."
and takes her into his arms. "I love you, Lieutenant.
You're my kind of woman."
face is on his shoulder, tears streaming out of her eyes. "I
know. If only I'd seen you first, but those are the breaks."
and quickly leaves the cockpit. Mac watches her go. Tom
Hastings steps in and sits down in the co-pilot's seat. He looks
at Mac, but Mac is staring off into the distance. Tom starts hitting
switches the begin the take-off procedure.
Spaceliner taxies down the long runway on the moon. Mac and Tom
sit in the cockpit. There are three times too many people onboard
the ship, sitting in the aisles, smashed uncomfortably together, children
on parents' laps.
holographic image appears before the pilots. "Runway is clear
and ready. Take-off at your discretion."
"Roger that, tower. "
pulls out onto the runway and begins taxiing. Lifting off from
the moon, at one-sixth the gravity isn't very difficult, even with so
many people aboard. The ship glides into the vast expanse of space.
"Mac, I'll calculate your course settings, which you can then set
manually, and I'll get you into that hole for the best possible moment
"I know you will."
to Tom. "Get everyone you can crammed into the lounges and
let's put 'em to sleep."
have several people in them each, are closed, sealed, and the hiss of
the sleeping gas is heard. There are still a several hundred people
in the aisles, though.
the intercom button. "For those of you not in the lounges,
I recommend lying as flat as you can, preferably on your backs, and
with something under your heads for cushions. As we near Earth
we will have to take a rather serpentine course, which will generate
a lot of G-force, pressing you down. It's uncomfortable, but it's
not fatal, and both of us up here in cockpit will be dealing with it,
too, okay? But we'll all get through it just fine, so don't worry."
at him, "'A rather serpentine course'?"
Tom look up at their windshield which is becoming filled with the planet
Earth and all of it's shining, whizzing space junk that engulfs it in
a sparkling, fiery cloud.
"It doesn't even look like Earth. It looks like a different
"It is a different place."
is in the flight tower on the moon. She looks at a clock closely,
then pushes a button on the console. "Come in Evergreen,
this Lunar Space Station, do you read?" Sarah keeps repeating
this, then listening for a moment to the static coming back, then repeats
it again. Finally . . .
Space Station, this is Evergreen, come back."
and says, "Listen Evergreen, we don't have much time. The
spaceliner is on its way back to Earth, and will be traveling through
the very same hole we're transmitting through. It expects to be
landing at Edwards Space Port, so please contact them and have them
waiting. If there's any debris on the runway, please have it cleared.
You will have to give the ship as much information as you have on the
shape and dimension of the hole through the debris as well as course
headings as soon as you detect the ship coming through the hole.
Did you copy all of this, Evergreen?"
up on the button, but all that comes back is static. Did they
get it or not? She doesn't know.
the ship. Her holographic head appears before Mac.
up and smiles. "Yeah?"
spoke with Evergreen, and they will be contacting you shortly, as soon
as you enter the hole, with course headings through the hole.
Also, the runway will be cleared and ready for landing at Edwards."
Tom both shake their heads and Mac says, "Good work, Lieutenant.
Just what I needed to hear."
And good luck to you, too."
head disappears, leaving nothing in their view but the debris-enshrouded
Earth, which is flying up at them very fast. Mac reaches into
his pocket and removes his bottle of pills. Tom sees them.
horrified. "You're kiddin'? Now you tell me?"
not that bad," says Mac.
you need to take those pills? You want me to fly this thing?"
his head vehemently. "Hell no, I'm flying it. I don't
need these damn things, it's just habit." He tosses the bottle
sure?" asks Tom.
But of course
he's not a 100-percent sure. Mac looks down at the controls which
are on auto-pilot, then at his hands which are slightly shaking.
Tom looks straight back at him.
Tom both glance up through the windshield. As they circle the
Earth and its shroud of junk, which is now orbiting past them, they
see the opening to a glowing, snake-like hole through the debris which
reveals a clear view of Earth.
Evergreen becomes audible.
in, spaceliner, this Evergreen."
"Come in, Evergreen. It's good to hear your voice."
too. We cannot compute a course setting for you through debris
this small, we don't have the proper equipment running. You'll
have to steer your course manually, spaceliner. We have, however,
gotten you cleared to land at Edwards. Do you copy?"
"Yes, we do, Evergreen. Have you got any advice for going
through this wormhole?"
static comes back, they've lost them.
comes the wormhole through the space debris that Mac must steer through
manually. Mac takes over the controls and reaches out to press
a button on the console, asks, "Ready?" Tom says, "Yes."
Mac switches from auto to manual, and suddenly it's like a 3-D ride,
but with extremely high G-forces, that smash Mac and Tom back into their
seats and distort their faces. But Mac hangs onto the wheel and
keeps steering through the wormhole.
every now and then little bits of shrapnel come whizzing right at them
and go ricocheting off, but luckily not through them.
lying on the floor of the ship and being mashed down like bugs and several
people barf right back up into their own faces. Someone begins
to choke and another passenger reaches out through the intense G-forces
and turns the vomiting person's head to the side, thus saving their
It's a very
hairy ride, and Mac looks like he's going to lose it a few times, but
he doesn't and they make it through the debris.
appear over Edwards Spaceport, the landing crew is still clearing wreckage
off the runways. Mac suddenly get the holographic image of the
first flight controller on Earth, the black guy with the pointy sideburns.
you're back. It's impossible."
no it's not," states Mac. "Is my runway clear?"
controller grimaces. "Mostly. We just got the information
you were coming a little while ago. We're doing the best we can."
his head, "Well, ready or not, here we come."
the enormous spaceliner in for a landing on a long runway that still
has bulldozers pulling parts of broken spaceships, wrecked ground vehicles,
and other debris out of the way. He narrowly misses everybody,
then pulls up to the walkway, which locks onto the side of the ship.
the steering wheel. "Thanks, tower."
on the floor of the ship, many vomit-spattered, all with their hair
sticking straight up, slowly stand. Tom pushes the button that
releases the lids of the lounges. The sleeping people awaken,
including Jessica and the kids. One by one all of the passengers
realize they're safe on Earth and begin clapping. Mac and Tom
step out of the cockpit smiling and take their bows. They both
shake hands. They made it.
and the kids run into Mac's arms. Mac holds onto them tightly,
then slowly looks up.
months later on the moon, Sarah and all of the stray dogs and cats are
living in the flight terminal. Most of the dogs and cats have
already died of thirst. Sarah is just about to. Her lips
and tongue are white. She speaks one last word which comes out
mostly as dry croak. Sarah says, "Mac," then her eyes
roll back in her head and she dies.
Earth Mac stands in the backyard of his house looking up into the sky.
The moon is obscured by all the twinkling junk, but it's still there.
Jessica steps outside, sees Mac, steps up to his side and puts her arms
around him. Mac puts his arm around her, too, but keeps looking
sadly, painfully, longingly up at the moon. Jessica sees this,
but pulls him tighter. Mac keeps looking up.