The Kallans – Academy: Freefall

The Kallans – Academy: Freefall

“THIRTY seconds before the jump,” the tall and blonde Masian instructor called out to the group of students sat in the small cargo hold of the little starship. It was currently in low orbit over Kalla 9b.

Emma Jarayka groaned, putting her face in her hands and trying to control her breathing. She was struggling not to hyperventilate, but if she started to, then it would make the jump worse.

“Are you going to be ok?” asked Sara Niryka, one of her friends from the Academy. Sara leaned in towards her slightly, placing her hand reassuringly on Emma’s back.

“Yeah,” Emma replied, “I’ll be fine.”

She straightened herself up, and smiled at Sara. “Let’s get it over with,” she added.

The light above the door lit up green and the external door moved out of the way, just leaving the forcefield holding the vacuum of space at bay. The brown and orange landscape of the moon’s surface was visible through the doorway.

“Students, line up in your jump order,” called out the Masian instructor again. The students all got into their positions. Emma was last in the queue, all the worse for the nerves she was feeling. “Why am I doing this,” she kept asking herself.

She looked at the line of students in front of her, all dressed in their MAoC uniforms.

“Ready… Jump!” shouted out the instructor to the first in the queue. Sara was just in front of Emma, the next to last of the students in the line to go out.

The first student went through the door suddenly, the ship creating a forcefield around the back of them as they stood at the door, before removing the forcefield in front and catapulting them into space. As each student moved forward and into place, the ship catapulted the student forward and through the door.

Quickly the line of people shrunk, until it came to the point where Emma was standing and watching Sara Niryka disappearing through the doorway… and suddenly she was next.

“Ready…” she heard the instructor say. She knew what was coming next. Her mind drifted back to earlier in the day.

“SO, what shuttle are you in for spacejumping today?” asked Sara as she came bounding up to her at her table for lunch. Emma was sat with Daniel, calmly eating there meal when the energy of Sara invaded their section of the dining room.

“The third one,” she said after she swallowed the mouthful of food she was in the middle of eating. “You?”

“I’m in the third one too!” Sara exclaimed. “It looks like we’ll be jump buddies!”

Emma smiled. “It’s nice I’m jumping with one of my friends,” she said.

“You excited about it?” asked Sara, taking the seat across from the couple.

Emma took a deep breath. “No,” she said, “I don’t find the idea of jumping out of a spaceship at the edge of space something to be excited about.”

Sara laughed. Emma shuffled in her seat slightly, not sure whether Sara was laughing at her feelings or just at the situation.

“We don’t have much choice,” Sara responded after a moment.

“Maybe we do,” Emma replied. Daniel looked at her, seemingly puzzled by her reply.

“How so?” Daniel asked her.

“I was talking with a couple of the professors,” Emma said, looking towards Daniel now, and not at Sara, “and they said I didn’t have to do it if I didn’t want to.”

Daniel laughed slightly, annoying Emma in the process.

“No, you don’t ‘have’ to do it,” he said, “but you won’t be flying as crew on any starships for the Masian Colonial Institute.”

Emma put her face down, pushing her remaining food around her plate. She knew she had no choice if she wanted to go into space. She just hoped she could find a way around it.

She sighed. “I know.”

“It won’t be that bad,” Sarah said. Emma knew she was trying to encourage her, but it wasn’t working.

“You know I prefer books and language study to spacewalking or spacejumping.”

“Yeah,” Daniel nodded, putting down his knife and fork before leaning across to hug her, resting his forehead against hers. “You’ll be fine.”

“We’ve got the debriefing to do this afternoon,” Sara added.

“I just wish I was with you,” Emma said, turning to Daniel, hugging him tighter.

“I know,” Daniel replied, kissing her gently on the lips. “I’ll be waiting for you on the ground.”

Emma smiled, a little happier, but still not looking forward to the spacejump later.

IN one of the lecture halls later that day the students waited for one of the professors to arrive to talk through the spacejump they would be doing. The students were all quietly chatting among themselves. Daniel was sat next to Emma along with their friend Christophe Vitogra.

“Sara says that you were nervous this morning,” said Christophe, “you feeling better now?”

“Not really,” said Emma, shaking her head.

“You’ll be fine, you’re going to be in good hands with the jump and we’re all here for you,” Vitogra said, trying to be reassuring.

“Hmm, yeah,” responded Emma sarcastically, “here on the ground after you’ve finished your jump… not up there during it though.”

Daniel laughed. “Sara will be with you,” he responded back to her.

“Sara will be through the door before I am,” Emma said, still anxious. She realised her tone wasn’t helping her. She hadn’t meant it to be so sharp. “I appreciate you trying to help me though,” she added, trying to smooth over her previous responses.

“Did I hear my name?” asked Sara as she arrived, moments before the class was due to start.

“You always hear your name,” responded Christophe, looping his arm around Sara’s waist and pulling her closer to him.

“But we were trying to encourage Emma,” added Daniel.

At that moment professor Xaravika arrived in the lecture hall.

“Welcome to the class everyone,” he said as he moved on to the stage and up to the lectern. He waited for everyone to settle down and for him to get their attention.

“We won’t spend long here,” he began once the silence had settled in, “and we won’t go over things too much, you’ve had time for that in the previous classes you’ve had. But it would be good to review some of the key things regarding the spacejump tests later today.”

Xaravika paused, checking a list in front of him on the electronic pad he held.

“Firstly, we’re not making any changes to the ship assignments for the spacejumps.”

There was an audible sigh from many in the audience. Emma looked at Daniel. She’d hoped he might be moved on to her ship or vice versa. Xaravika smiled, before continuing.

“We picked the groups we did to make sure you weren’t in your ‘comfort zone’ for the jump. This is meant to help you prepare for emergencies. Jumping with friends or being with your relatives isn’t what we want from this first jump and training session.”

There were still some complaining voices to be heard, but Xaravika continued on.

“Secondly, let’s review some of they key aspects of the jump. Your chip is acting as your spacesuit.”

Xaravika was referring to the chip that was implanted in all space crew and personnel in the Kallan fleet. The device was controlled by the person’s mind, and could create a thin protective shield that prevented harm to the owner. One of the features was that it allowed for a person to be pulled into space and to provide them protection from outside space, while allowing them a few hours of oxygen. Emma didn’t understand how it worked, but it was a very important device to regular space travelers. Other less regular travelers would be given an attachable wrist bracelet that would do similar. All the students had their wrist chips installed either during their first week arriving at the Academy or just after.

Xaravika continued, “It can protect you from the reentry heat and speeds, as well as the extreme cold of space. It will let you breathe, and it will let you create a holographic or virtual wingsuit that will allow you to land at the other end of the jump.”

The listening students were nodding as he ran through the details of the chip. Emma looked at and rubbed her right wrist where the chip was embedded below the surface of the skin with her left hand.

“Don’t forget that you need to activate the shielding before the jump is initiated, otherwise it will activate automatically when you exit the ship. That’s less comfortable than doing it before the event.”

Emma’s heart started to race even more. This was sounding more and more dangerous.

Daniel saw the nervousness on her face and reassuringly grabbed her hand, squeezing it to remind her that he was there. “He won’t be there later when I’m making the jump,” she mused to herself inwardly.

“The chip will do a lot of things automatically to help you through your descent, but you need to take control of it. This lesson is about you being in control of emergencies. Make use of the chips features, make this chip behave as part of you as naturally as your body controls your hand or arm.”

Emma nodded, taking a deeper breath. She could do this. She could take control of this situation, take control of her nerves.

“JUMP!” the instructor called out. The sound of the air around her changed, she heard the silence as the forward force field disengaged and the vast vacuum of space pulled her forward at high speed, out of the ship and towards the moon below. She had remembered to engage her chip’s shielding system, so the coldness of space wasn’t something she could feel. She could breathe. The respiration system was working correctly too, though her heart was beating rapidly. It felt like it would explode.

“Keep control of yourself,” she muttered to herself, under her breath even though no one could hear her unless she linked with them.

“Jarayka,” called a voice in her ears. She realised it was one of the monitoring team on board the MAoC ship. “You have a slight spin in your forward trajectory, work to correct it.”

She realised the voice was right. She was spinning very slightly. Using the control mechanism of the shielding to adjust her heading slightly, she corrected it and orientated herself forward along the trajectory she was taking, almost like she was flying. The HUD the chip gave her when in space showed her the trajectory and how far she was away from reentry. They had only been dropped from the MAoC ship a minute or so above the beginning of reentry into the moon’s atmosphere. The HUD also showed her the locations of the other students that had jumped before her.

“Are you ok?” she heard. It was Sara Niryka, positioned just a short distance in front of her.

“Yeah,” she replied, sounding a little breathless. “I’m fine.”

“Good,” Sara replied, “I’m about to start reentry any moment.”

“Ok, I’ll see you down there.”

Looking in the direction of where Sara was she saw the flames envelop her location as the heating up of reentry took hold. Any second she would experience the same.

Beyond where Niryka was she could see more of the students as they entered the moon’s atmosphere, a trail of fire just like a meteor burning up in the night sky.

Moments later the vision in front of her started to glow more orange and red. Though her vision was narrowing because of the heat of reentry, the HUD display tracked the other students and nearby objects. The emergency settings of the chip were amazing. She’d never appreciated what it did before now. She was completely protected from the reentry heat, she was able to breath, she could see and identify any objects on her trajectory. Completely amazing.

But her heart was still pounding with the adrenaline running through her. Though the chip helped her keep a forward facing entry, she could feel, or maybe it would be better to say sense, the buffeting of reentry.

After another minute the glow of reentry diminished and the she had slowed enough to not be leaving a trail of fire behind her.

“Jarayka, descend to 1500 metres and then engage the glide system,” came the voice in her ears from the control team.

“Understood,” she replied. She checked the height on the HUD and watched it until she reached 1500 metres, before engaging the glide system.

The glide system allowed her to open her arms and legs wide, the shielding then extending to create ‘wings’ with which she could control her descent. She had to gain control of herself in her freefall safely if she was going to have the safest landing.

“Approach the landing zone,” came the instructions from the voice in her ear again.

She acknowledged the direction and started to move her arms and legs to steer herself. The glide system worked well, and before long she was heading towards the landing zone that was highlighted in her HUD display.

“How’s it going?” asked Sara through the comms system.

“Great,” she replied, “I’m not far from the landing zone.”

“Me too, should be there soon. I’m just about to pass you now!”

Emma looked about her, seeing Sara in the display just as she flew right beneath her, only a few metres away. She spun herself in a barrel roll as she flew past, before dropping steeper and heading towards the zone in front of Emma.

Emma laughed at her, and focused her attention on the zone in front of her.

It approached it quickly and before she knew it was flying fairly low over the ground, still moving too quickly for an ideal approach.

To land using the glide system she needed to push her legs down and forward creating drag which would slow her enough to land. Then she would have to control her level as she slowed almost to a stop, before dropping no more than a metre or so on to the ground. The chip would help lower the tension in the ‘wings’ enough for it to billow out slightly as it read her intention to land. If that didn’t work she could always pull the emergency shoot she had on her back for this training run.

“Here I go,” she thought to herself as she came closer to the ground.

As she approached her ideal landing height, she pushed her legs down and forward, but the extra resistance caught her off guard and she over compensated in an effort to keep level and balanced. Pitching forward she started to roll before she suddenly hit the ground.

EMMA opened her eyes and looked around her. She was sprawled face down in the dirt.

“Jarayka, are you ok? Report!” came the voice in her ear from the control team.

‘Yeah,” she spluttered. “I’m fine.”

Moments later she heard footsteps and looked up to see Daniel running towards her. He slid to a halt on the ground pulling her up slightly.

“You ok?” he asked, panting hard from running as quickly as he had been.

“I’m fine,” she replied, “the chip’s shielding protected me.”

Daniel hugged her head tight to his chest before saying, “You’ll ache later!”

“I know,” she replied, hugging him back, “but I made it. One of my worst fears and I’ve done it! I did my first spacejump!”

LATER, back in the Cragside cafe at the Academy, the four friends sat together, each of them with their favourite drinks. Emma’s favourite was Shotar whiskey. She sat nursing a glass of it in her hands, it’s light red colour refracted onto her palms.

Sara Niryka had been chatting away for a few minutes about the spacejump. Far from being scared of it, she’d loved every moment. ‘Like a duck to water,’ Emma had mused to herself earlier when they’d been on the transport ships back to Avrod and Sara had been talking excitedly all the way back to Kalla.

“Now you’ve had time to settle, what did you think to the jump?” Daniel asked her.

Emma paused before answering.

“It wasn’t as bad as I expected,” she said after thinking. “It could certainly have been far worse. But I don’t think I’ll ever be eager to do spacewalks or spacejumps.”

“You know there are more to do before graduation?” Christophe said as Sara paused for breath and he took the opportunity to join the conversation Daniel and Emma were having.

“I didn’t need reminding of that Vitogra!” Emma said, jokingly acting as if she was upset by his reminder.

He laughed. “You’ll get more used to it.”

“So you say. Though whole idea of being in freefall from space is just not something I’m going to like.”

“You never like not having things planned and organised,” mused Daniel, taking a sip of his drink as he smirked slightly at her.

“Nope,” Emma said, laughing with her boyfriend, “I don’t like freefall in any way!”

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