After a pointless attempt at a nights sleep Eric stumbled out of his bunk and tripped his way into the shower. 30 seconds of cold to luke warm water followed by 20 seconds of hot air and he was done. Ahhh how refreshing he thought to himself. Nothing like the half hour showers he used to enjoy back on Earth, but what could you expect from an orbiting outpost. He slipped into his undersuit and exited his cabin.
It was officially 21:00 hours, Earth time, but morning to Eric. Time had little or no meaning out in space and Eric had long since abandoned trying to track it. Morning was when he got up and night was when he went to bed.
Several other pilots passed by Eric in the halls but none of them even looked at him. Oh Eric knew them all, it was a pretty tight nit family aboard the stations. However today was different and everyone knew it.
"Hey Eric old bud. Going double today are ya." Eric turned to see a large somewhat overweight man making to zeros with his hands. "Boy you sure got the death warmed over look going for ya today donít ya bud. Listen Eric donít worry about a thing I got a good feeling about you I think your going to make it." Howard was Ericís best friend and an eternal optimist. Howard had gone double zero four days earlier and was still flying high from the experience.
"I hope your right Howard." Ericís voice was somber, deep down he felt like he was going to puke.
"Cheer up old buddy, I hear a positive attitude can increase your chances by almost 20%."
"Yah Yah Iíve read all the reports and seen all the statistics but nobody has ever proven that any of that junk makes any difference." Eric was beginning to lose his patients. Howard was just too damn happy all the time.
"Come on Eric Lets..."
"Listen Howard, 40% of all pilots survive going double zero and 60% of all ships survive going double zero. Now if any of this crap had any influence on our survival rate than how come more ships survive than people. As far as I know my ship hasnít had a good nights sleep and sure as hell doesnít have a positive attitude, in fact Iím pretty sure it has no attitude at all." Eric clenched his right fist and made a swiping motion in the air, this was coordinated with a 180 spin on his left heel and he marched off in the opposite direction.
"Hey Eric." Howard bellowed. "Iím sorry. I forgot that Crazy Legs was going double zero as well today. Your the only one ever to fly that ship arenít ya."
Eric stopped, without turning to face Howard. "Thatís right." Eric mumbled. "Thatís right." His voice trailed off and neither man spoke. After a few seconds Eric headed off down the hallway towards the docking bay.
"Boy both he and old Crazy Legs are going double at the same time. That knocks his chances down to about 25%. Howard mumbled to himself. And then with as much enthusiasm as he could muster he yelled at the disappearing outline of Eric. "Thatís all right Eric you both are gunna come out just fine I can feel it." Howard couldnít make himself believe what he had just said.
"3... 2...1... ignition." The voice was steady and familiar. Eric had heard it 99 times before. Number 100 was no different but somehow it was completely different. Would he ever hear that voice again? He sure hoped so. Eric jammed the throttle forward into the launch position and old Crazy Legs jumped to attention. Immediately Eric was thrust back into his seat as he felt the force of his own weight pressing down on his skeletal structure. A familiar and comfortable feeling for a man who was nervous and down right scared.
Within seconds old Crazy Legs was at cruising speed, it would be several minutes before they would be ready to make to jump to Sub-Space. "Together old boy." Mumbled Eric. "We do this together."
Eric checked his cargo trying to find something to distract him from what was about to happen. For a few seconds Eric entertained the idea of aborting the flight and dropping out of the Air Force all together. But he realized he had to go through with this. His father had gone double zero when Eric was just a boy. He didnít make it. Eric had spent his entire life trying to see why his father would risk his life, his future, and his family, just for the thrill of jumping to Sub-Space. He could remember his father telling him and his brothers stories about Sub-Space and how there was no feeling in the world like it. Well that feeling had cost Eric his Father and now could cost him his life.
After making the jump to Sub-Space 99 times Eric knew why his Father could not stop. It was like a drug, but far more addictive. Once you jump you just have to keep doing it and doing it, you canít stop. Only thing was that for some reason, something nobody has every been able to explain, something happens on your 100th jump. This is true for both the pilot and the ship. About 40% of all pilots survive their 100th jump but nobody knows what happens to the other 60%. They just disappear without any trace. For ships the odds are reversed and again nobody knows why.
"Ten seconds until Sub-Space jump". Came the soft computer voice of Crazy Legs.
Eric focused his attention on the impending jump. He began to sweat as images from his life passed through his mind. Mary Jo Springer, why on Earth would I think of Mary Jo at this moment.
"Sub-Space jump initiated."
It starts with the eyes Howard had said. First your eyes begin to feel like egg-shells and then your tongue starts to tingle. Next your arms go limp and your head starts to spin. Eric was feeling all of these things one by one just like Howard had said. His feet began to fill with blood and felt like they would explode under the pressure. And then, something started to tug at his stomach. This was the worst feeling of all according to Howard. It felt like something was trying to turn him inside out starting with his stomach. After that everything goes quite for split second and then either your fine and you survived or.. Howard had no answer for the alternative. Nobody did, since nobody has every returned to talk about it.
Eric felt his insides becoming his outsides and then for a split second everything went quiet.
Eric returned to normal. "Hey old Crazy Legs, looks like we made it." Ericís excitement was evident in his voice. He never figured he would survive. In fact he was sure he wouldnít. I survived, pessimistic attitude and all, Eric thought.
"Crazy Legs, why havenít you signaled me for our return from Sub-Space." Eric began to search the instrumentation for his exact coordinates. "Crazy Legs." Eric asked. "Are these coordinated correct."
"Iím afraid they are Eric." Came Crazy Legs soothing voice.
"This canít be.." Eric mumble. "This just doesnít make any sense."
"Iím sorry Eric, but they are correct."
"Crazy Legs, you never signaled our return from Sub-Space."
"That is correct Eric."
"Are we still in Sub-Space?"
How can we still be in Sub-Space, we have no idea how to hold an physical state in Sub-Space. A normal Jump to Sub-Space is instantaneous, thatís the nature of Sub-Space. Eric was yelling at no one in particular but panic was quickly overtaking him.
"Crazy Legs, can you locate the coordinates of Earth for me."
"Then take us there immediately."
"I donít think that is such a good Idea Eric."
"I donít care what you think, your the ship and Iím the pilot, you will do what I say."
Eric could see the familiar glow of Earthís beautiful blue oceans out of the port view screen. This just doesnít make any sense he thought to himself. Letís start at the beginning. I made the jump to Sub-Space and never returned to normal space. Iím currently in Sub-Space, yet I can see the Earth just a few thousand miles away. From what we know about Sub-Space, matter cannot hold any cohesion. So how can there be an entire planet holding together just fine right below me.
"Crazy Legs, am I looking at Earth in the port view screen."
"Can you locate an airport where we can land."
"Because none of the present facilities can accommodate a vessel of this type."
"What do you mean there must be thousands of ports on Earth that can handle a ship like this." Eric voice was confused and hurried.
"Which Earth are you referring to Eric."
"What do you mean which Earth. I mean Earth, you know where we both came from."
"That is a different Earth than the one you are looking at Eric. We can no longer locate that Earth."
It took a few seconds to penetrate the deep fog in Ericís mind but eventually it sunk in.
"Yes Crazy Legs."
"We have company."
Eric looked out his port view screen. Earth was now only about five miles below. But that wasnít what alerted Crazy Legs.
"There are five unknown aircraft headed our way. Your orders sir."
Eric paused for a second. Everything was happening to fast, he needed time to sort things out, time to discover what exactly has happened to him and where exactly he was. Unfortunately he didnít have any time. Whatever was coming his way is possibly unfriendly and most likely very curious. Whatever there intent it would not be good for Eric to hand around and find out.
"Get us out of here, now."
"Wait, tower itís gone. It just disappeared from my radar." "Affirmative Tiger 1, object is gone. Repeat object is gone. Please return to base."
"Hey Steve did you see that, it just blinked out like it was never even there."
"Ya Tom, I had the same thing happen last month, sometimes I wonder If I ever really see anything or if itís just my imagination."
"In other news, hundreds of people in the San Diego area looked to the skies in the early morning hours as they claim to have seen a large bright object racing through the morning air. Air Force officialís have not responded to claims that this might have been a UFO but..."
About the writer in his own words: "My name is Joe Brascher. I am a 30 year old Hydrologist/Computer Programmer from Everett Washington who enjoys playing every game or sport ever invented. I have been writing, or at least I like to think of it as writing, since college but I have never bothered to do anything about it. (lets face it, itís a lot of work putting these stories into a format acceptable for someone else to read) I have dozens of stories, some finished some not. I even have the occasional full length novel lying around, but nothing that I am fully happy with. This is the first time I have ever given my writing to anyone else so I hope you like it. Someday, with some Divine intervention, I hope to take this whole writing thing more seriously. At the moment the only Web sites that I have created are all for other corporations but you can email me at Brascher@AQUATERRA.com."
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