21 Aug Chapter 8: Shuttle
The Bavul shuttle I’m in is almost at the midway point. I look out the window at the faint nebula in the distance, and wonder what the view will be when the shuttle swings around 180 degrees. Laik, Gian, Rills and I are en route to a planet called Rynamd where our next project is located. Rynamd and Threa are at a close point in their orbits at the moment, so the flight will only take half a day or so.
The mere fact that we can so easily travel between worlds still amazes me. I grew up with space travel so I guess it should seem completely normal, but the complexity of the technology required to get us to another planet and back I find staggering. It’s a testament to the Bavul.
Like all the other colonies, the Bavul toughed it out for thousands of years on their own. They had a particularly hard time because their planet has almost no natural resources other than rock. Somehow, through sheer force of will they developed their own advanced technology, and decided to devote all their efforts towards space travel. I’m sure it was slow going, but over the centuries they refined their ships and drive engines until they were able to put a viable commercial fleet into service.
It was a brilliant move, as it raised large amounts of hard currency through shuttle ticket sales that they could use to buy all the raw materials and finished goods they wanted. And those tickets prices aren’t cheap by any stretch—luckily my company expense account easily covers it.
I was surprised to learn on my first flight that the shuttle’s drive engine produces constant acceleration throughout the entire trip, which means that passengers don’t float around the cabin. Instead the thrust pushes everything towards the floor continuously, just like gravity would on a planet. Think of it this way: you know the feeling of being pushed back in your seat when accelerating in a car? If you were to keep accelerating forever that feeling would never stop. Out in space that feeling is indistinguishable from gravity.
You can’t just keep accelerating for the whole journey though. If you did you’d scream right past the planet you’re trying to reach. So about halfway through the trip the engines stop and the shuttle spins completely around. Then the engines kick back in and the shuttle decelerates at the same constant rate until you reach your destination. During the switchover the cabin reverts to weightlessness, which is a fun bonus if you’ve never experienced it. Unless you get seasick like me in which case it can be somewhat barf-inducing. The Bavul have come up with a wonderful anti-nausea drug though. The last shuttle ride I was on I tried it and didn’t feel sick at all.
The truly amazing thing about the shuttles is that they’re fully automated. No pilot! There are stewards, of course, on passenger flights, but I’ve been told that there’s no crew at all on the larger cargo ships. Our flight is staffed by fellow Threans, who are treating me extra nice since I flashed my new Bavul VIP card on the way in. I have noticed that every flight I’ve been on has a non-Bavul crew. No one’s ever seen a Bavul before as far as I can tell. I guess they like to keep to themselves.
The stewards are going through the cabin making sure everyone has stowed away all their belongings and loose items. Wouldn’t want everyone’s stuff to float away during the switchover. The overhead lights change to a pale red color, and I slowly feel my stomach rising up towards my throat. After a minute we’re in zero g. The paper napkin on the floor beside me floats up past my knee. I grab it out of the air and stuff it in my pocket.
Now the ship starts rotating. I can see the stars revolving through the window. Soon enough the engines restart and my stomach resettles back to where it should be. I get up from my skycradle and walk to the back of the cabin where Gian and the gang have congregated around a bar table.
“So, how are you liking your first shuttle ride, Laik? Have you started feeling SPACE MADNESS yet?” Rills conjures up his best spooky voice.
“I am so into this. The weightlessness part was… it was…” Laik has a huge smile on his face.
Rills puts his hand on Laik’s forehead. “He’s definitely going mad folks, get the medic over here.”
Ah, to be sixteen again. I’m not really jealous. Okay, maybe a little bit.
Laik puts his arm around Rills. “Does it take awhile to get used to being on a planet again? Will I walk funny… once we land?”
Rills laughs. “No, but spacelag can be a bitch. You’ll be fine the first day, as we’ll all be full-on mainlining adrenaline. But the next afternoon you’ll probably crash hard.”
Laik shakes his head. “I’ll be fine. I want to see everything and go everywhere. I don’t think I’ll sleep at all.”
Gian laughs. “Hey we have a job to do when we get there, remember?”
This project has been months in the making, based on another Laik discovery while combing through company order data. He came across a disturbing custom-formulated drug that for years has been shipped in large quantities to Rynamd. It causes the subject to experience pain whenever having sexual thoughts. I suppose one could justify giving a questionable drug like that to repeat rapists, but the order quantity was so large it could have easily medicated every prisoner in the entire solar system. It turns out it was worse than that.
In digging deeper we found that a few years ago on Rynamd there was an unusually high number of teenagers sexually assaulting other teens. Maybe it was a stupid stunt by a group of kids, or a copy-cat thing—whatever the cause, officials there decided to use drugs to ‘solve the problem.’ In what would be hard to view as anything but a complete overreaction, they made it mandatory for every child aged thirteen to seventeen to take the new medication. They used public outrage over the assaults to push through the legislation and inertia after that to keep it in place.
I watched a video of the drug trials. Kids in quiet agony, struggling to fight their natural urges. What teenager doesn’t think sexual thoughts every day if not every minute? And my company, Mizem—no not just Mizem, I was partly to blame.
So I put feelers out and got connected to a group of activists on Rynamd who are working to stop use of the drug. They’ve done all the ground work and pressured the government to initiate hearings, we just have to back them up with whatever help we can give.
Somehow Rills did the impossible and secured me a chance to speak before the deputy chancellor, who we’ve been told is the one that really pulls the strings in parliament. Their society is more matriarchal, so I’m dressed up in my girly best in case that helps. Laik and Gian will work with the local activists to keep pressure on key officials.
“I get it, job comes first. I won’t let you guys down,” Laik says.
Rills kisses him on the forehead. “I know you won’t, buddy.”
“It’s still hours until we land, I’m going to try to get some sleep,” Gian says, already walking back to her skycradle.
Laik is twisting back and forth on his bar stool. “There’s no way I could sleep right now.”
I doubt I can either, so I walk over to the window which now features a field of deep black pinpricked with thousands of tiny stars.