Disclaimer: Space Cases is the creation of Bill Mumy and Peter David and Nickelodeon Television; they are not mine. Written for the 1st Annual Space Cases Promptathon, prompt: "no matter where you go; there you are."
"The Great Space Race" by Karen
It had seemed like a good idea at the time, seemed being the operative word and even Ms. Davenport had been all for it.
An invitation to join in a bit of competitive harmless fun, did not come their way very often and after all, what could possibly go wrong?
Commander Goddard stared out the screen at the gleaming hulls of the alien space craft strung along the outer arms of the docking pays of the hollowed out shell of the Viridian V's huge orbital space platform forcing himself to remain outwardly calm and composed. It would be difficult and not just because they were one ship out of so many.
He darted a quick glance over his shoulder at Harlan Band who stood at the helm with hands locked onto the controls with an eager glimmer in his dark eyes and a sheen of sweat not of fear certainly, but one rather of stored anticipation. He was looking forward to this race since the invitation had first be issued.
Goddard sighed and thought in the back of his mind, "So we're on ship out of many, so
were the others have crews of experienced adults, I've got a bunch of Star Academy cadets and 'I say, so what? They're a good crew and it what will it hurt to give the Christa and the kids a chance to experience this for everything's it worth? '
While he mulled over this last thought over in his mind for a bit trying out for size and weighing the pros and cons as a small smile creased the corners of his mouth and with a start he realized that going through with the race now that were here and more or less committed, actually had begun to excite as much as it Band. Aloud, he said to Rosie who stood by her communications console, "Miss Ianni, radio our readiness to the Grand Marshall."
Rosie nodded and opened a channel as instructed receiving in response the instructions and their assigned number in the staggered starting formation. They were to go out in the third wave of ships.
"We're good to go, Sir," Rosie cheerfully stated as she glanced over at Harlan who would pilot the Christa and then over at Radu who stood ready at his navigation and Catalina at engineering and Bova at the science station half-expecting to make some gloomy prediction on the odds or their chances; and a little surprised when he did not.
Harlan whose often sincere feelings usually outstripped his better judgment was the most obvious member of the grew who appeared quite literally full of nervous energy to do and to go.
Commander Goddard had only broken the news of the opportunity to them only forty eight hours ago and instead of making their participation in the race as an order he had instead put it to them as a matter of their own choice.
Up until now the great space race was something more along the lines of a distant rumor in the nearer inhabited planets of the Sol System and growing up on Mercury it was even less than that. Harlan had heard of it, not a doubt about, so had Catalina.
Earlier that morning Rosie, her intense curiosity to learn about it had broken and she had kept pressing at both Harlan and Catalina to give her more details about the race. That it was a free and open event to anyone with a reliable space craft regardless of planet of origin or registration, or make. It did not matter to the grand marshals of Viridian V who you were or what your political affiliations were, was exciting.
Harlan had been more excited at the chance to prove his ;legendary' well in his own mind at least, piloting skills. The course the race would follow was difficult which the challenge of participating in the race that much more exciting.
Any and all comers were given the opportunity before and up until the moment the race actually began to back minus a small handling fee by the Grand Marshalls of the planet; to back out if they chose.
Once Goddard and Davenport had asked each of them if they wanted to participate and seen the way the wind blew, had sent their response that they would be there at the time and designated coordinates. So forty eight hours later; they were prepared to get underway. Aloud she said, "We're good to go, Commander."
Davenport came over to stand beside Commander nervously clenching and unclenching her hands. "It's not too late to back out of this. Commander."
"We're committed and I won't have it said that we backed down from a challenge.
Goddard shrugged. "Nothing ventured, nothing gained as the old saying goes. Turning to regard the crew one by one he smiled a slightly rakish and off-center smile. "All right, people, If we're going to do this, let's do it right. Mr. Radu do you have our designated starting coordinates?"
"Yes, Sir," replied Radu.
"Patch them through to helm. Mr. Band, take us out."
Harlan received the corridates and pushed up on the helm controls
taking the Christa out at a slow impulse speed slotting their space ship
neatly in between two much larger and bulkier freighters as neatly where they
waited for the first two waves to begin to run the course.
Waiting was the hardest part Harlan thought his grip on the controls nearly white-knuckled not from anticipation. At last, here was the chance he had been waiting for to show everyone just how good, scratch that, not just good, but something special." On the edge of his concentration he heard Rosie report that the third starting wave of ships had been cleared. "Here we go!" Harlan grinned and with a deft touch edged the Christa out into the first lap of the course.
The course is designed to be deceptively easy at the outer fringes and then become progressively more dangerous the farther along with several checkpoints along the way, and the designers had incorporated a natural formation of an asteroid belt instead of going to the time and effort of constructing an artificial one.
What with the sheer number of ships participating in the race the Christa's relatively smaller size and better maneuverability was proving to be something of an advantage; enabling the ship to slip past quickly where the pilots of the larger ships were jostling with each other for favorable positions.
From his position at navigation Radu called out course corrections and normally while Harlan still was a bit undecided in his own mind about trusting Radu mainly because he was an Andromedan; he realized that piloting through the course regarded more of his undivided concentration and for another; he was having way too much fun to make the effort to second-guess Radu.
"We've passed the first check-point," Rosie sang out after an half an hour into the race.
"They're two routes into the next course," said Radu. "One is slightly easier to go through but its once through it means a longer way around."
"Huh?" Harlan asked.
"It means looping back around and coming at from another trajectory," the other boy replied.
"What's our other option," asked Commander Goddard.
"It's a little more difficult but a shorter route to the next lap," Rosie replied.
"I say we take the shorter route," added Harlan reaching up to brush a tendril of dark curly hair that his sweat had plastered to his forward.
Just then a bone-rattling tremor shook the ship and all of the crew where knocked off the feet.
"What the heck was that?" Goddard yelled once he realized that everyone had more or less recovered their balance and resumed their stations, and in the next reflexively catching Miss Davenport in his arms before she crashed to the deck in a dead faint.
Catalina rapidly scanned the readings and blips that were flashing across the screen of her engineering console. "Some kind of energy wave. I think it's some of pre-set signal to indicate that we have a very narrow window of opportunity to decide which way to go.
Goddard gently lowered the unconscious Miss Davenport to the deck. "You would think they could have found a better way to say, 'make up your mind.'
"I say we go the shorter route," said Harlan.
"I agree," added Catalina. "I don't want to take another hit like that and I don't think the Christa would either."
"Band, go for it!" Goddard grinned despite a sheen of sweat that coated his face and made the fabric of his uniform stick to his chest. They had known the dangers going in, and hell if this wasn't turning out to be exciting and nerve-racking at the same time.
Harlan nodded and the Christa passed the checkpoint its silver-tipped wings folded into its sleek hull as it diving into the gap.
The next run was a long expanse of a canyon gorge stretching for hundreds of kilometers in either direction. Bova risked one glance out the view screen and looked away. To his way of thinking whoever designed this course had a warped sense of humor. He was glad that he did not have to pilot the ship, that way he could avoid looking at what was out there. As far as he was concerned he did not care whether or not they won; as long as when they did so, the ship, the crew and everything aboard her was still in one piece at the end.
"Starboard, 30 degrees to starboard," called out Radu at one point interrupting Bova's gloom train of thoughts.
"I heard you the first time," Harlan yelled back with a muffled groan; this was getting harder than he had thought.
"Did I say two choices,"
Catalina cried out: "Watch out, there's a massive wall up ahead."
"I saw it," Harlan muttered bringing the ship and around the obstacle in their path when the proximity alarms began to blare in their ears, not loud enough so that those with standard hearing levels could not hear each other, but for Radu whose Andromedan hearing enabled him to hear a pin drop from a mile away was forced to cover his extraordinarily sensitive ears.
"Another ship just pulled up along side, sir," reported Bova and they're nearly grazed us. That's was caused the alarms to go off."
"Shut it off, will you, Mr. Bova!" yelled Goddard over the whine of the alarms.
"Yes, Sir," Bova replied and punched in the command to the ship's computer and the alarms went silent.
"We're clear of the second course," Rosie reported," the second check point coming up within the next half an hour.
"What's next, an asteroid belt?" Bova muttered under his breath. "I just hope they don't have any more surprises in store for us like the last one."
Rosie giggled, unable to stop herself. "Bova, could you be any more gloomy if you tried?
"Why do you say that?" he asked.
"Because you must be psychic, the next run is through an asteroid field, a natural one at that," she replied.
"Wonderful," Goddard sighed and realized with a start that Miss Davenport had finally regained consciousness. "Try and avoid the big ones, Mr. Band. Mr. Radu continue to call out course corrections. And, people, prepare to brace for impact. All right, let's do this!
How any ship bigger than theirs could navigate successfully through this was beyond Radu but he would see them all safely through this, no matter what. He briefly took his concentration off his console to glance at Harlan who to all appearances appeared to being enjoying this crazy, scary run; and glanced away. In the back of his mind Radu thought, "Better you than I, Harlan. This type of crazy is tailor-made for you. And if anyone can get the Christa out of this business it's you.'
"Three down, only two more to go," Goddard muttered under his breath.
Miss Davenport shook her head to clear it of the inevitable cobwebs and a slight buzzing in her ears and there was a taste in her mouth that was vaguely reminiscent of cotton balls, but turned to Commander Goddard. "Commander, may I remind that space hates catchphrases."
"Space also hates waste. Who knows, at the rate we're going we may actually the whole shebang."
"I'd settle for finishing in one piece," she replied.
"So would I," Goddard replied, "but Miss Davenport, truth to tell, I am having way too much damn fun!"
"May I also remind you that these students are our responsibility."
"I'm well aware that," replied Goddard.
She nodded. "Good, just so you remember that."
The fourth course was extremely easy; it was as if the designers after the two more difficult runs had decided to give the ships and their crews a break; there was even a space station whose brilliant neon signs indicated to all and sundry a chance to come relax, eat, drink and be merry. Goddard found it a bit disconcerting not to mention it bit aggravating. Still, now they were that much closer to the finish line.
The prize money would be nice, but he really had not given it much thought up until this moment; he just wanted to be able to finish the race for the sake of a job well done, and if it meant more than a little hard-earned bragging rights where was the harm in that?
The final run was a tight spiraling narrow corridor through the outer arm of a gas giant forcing them to sling shot around its gravity well and then back around to where another orbiting space platform. Streaking by to either side of the Christa numerous other space craft appeared all making a mad dash for the finish line.
"More power to main thrusters; Cat. Mr. Radu, lay in a course. Punch it, Mr. Band!" Goddard yelled.
Time mattered in this race, not just who happened to cross the finish line first. Suddenly, by unspoken agreement each of the members of the Christa's crew wanted very badly to win and after hours of grueling concentration and teamwork, they wanted to finish, heck, winning would be the proverbial icing on the cake. "Let's do this!" they shouted almost simultaneously.
The Christa, seemingly, to pick up on the moods and needs of her crew responded and darted out like a bird of prey into the confusion of space craft with a sleek economy of motion and a blur of increased speed, as eager as her crew to complete the race.
Almost four hours later, relaxing in the generously appointed and luxurious lounge reserved for finalists of the race the crew of the Christa's shared a long-held burst of laugher an outlet for the tension and concentration and teamwork that had been necessary to get through the race not only in one piece but also to finish in the top ten.
"Man, that was totally rad! Harlan exulted as reached over for the plate of snacks on the coffee table in the middle of the lounge.
Catalina nodded and finger-combed the snarls of her rainbow -hued hair with a sheer grin of excitement creasing her face.
"Wow. I can't believe we just ran the legendary greatest space race of all time, and we nearly won! Just wait until I tell Suzee all about it!"
Bova sighed. "It was not as terrible as I thought it would be."
Rosie giggled. "Oh, come off it, Bova. You're not fooling anyone anymore. Admit, you actually had fun!"
"I will not. And I did not. So, just shut up about it, will you!" Bova frowned and slumped back into a more comfortable position on the sofa, turning his face slightly away from the others so they would not see the tell-tale blush spreading over his dusky features.
Radu listened to the others talk before he added. "As exciting as that race was, I for one, would not like to go through it again any time soon."
"Hey, man," Harlan replied turning around to regard him with something approaching friendless and a grudging respect. "That's why they call it an once-in- a lifetime opportunity! And we got bragging rights for it and a share in the prize money! Is that so cool or what?"
Radu nodded. "Very cool."