Baby's First Shuttle Flight
Location: Earth Orbit
Timeline: Upon Returning to Earth
Dante strode out of his quarters, as they weren't strictly on duty he'd chosen to forgo the uniform tunic, and was simply in the sleeveless black undershirt, his uniform pants, and boots. A silver metal cup of steaming coffee grasped in one hand, and a data slate in the other he walked purposefully towards the turbolift that would take him down to the level that housed the enlisted quarters. He was scheduled to meet the captain down there in about five minutes, and he was honestly a little bit worried that he was going to be late.
Three minutes later, as the lift stopped at the appropriate floor he took a sip of his coffee. When the doors parted he saw his partner in crime standing just outside the lift waiting for him. Just down the hallway their intended victim presumably slept on, oblivious to the fact that the two of them were coming to abruptly wake him up and put him through his paces. With a nod, and a smile Dante left the lift and approached his commanding officer.
"Good morning, ma'am. How are you?", he asked.
Captain Reynolds gave a coffee salute as the helmsman stepped off the lift. “Good morning, Lieutenant. I’m doing...fine. These early mornings are as much torture for me as for the intended victim.,” she joked. She almost felt bad for the young Crewman. But she keenly remembered the early morning drills from her early years. Was it actually an effective training method or just an continuation of a cycle of abuse? She wasn’t sure. Maybe young Mr. Carter could decide that later in his own career.
She’d opted for a the duty uniform, under the mission jacket for this morning. Her hair was down, not in its usual ponytail. Wearing it down even on duty was growing on her. She turned to the helmsman after taking a sip of her coffee. “Think he suspects anything?”
"From what I gathered from Crewman Ashton, no. She said he was still passed out, snoring when she left twenty minutes ago, and had stayed up late last night thinking he'd be able to sleep in this morning. He should be in just that same state when we arrive.", Dante replied.
Yep, she’d definitly been on the receiving end of this sort of drill before. She recalled more than one splitting hangover she’d had to work through. It had actually made for some creative flying...though it’d been far from pleasant. “Excellent. Why don’t we give him a wake up call, then?”
"Sounds good to me.", Dante replied, heading towards the shared quarters that the young man would be sleeping in. As quietly as possible he overrode the doors, allowing them to enter unannounced. As they walked in he surveyed the room, and noticed that all the other crewmen had already left, either for a duty shift, or for shore leave, and only one bunk had anybody in it, and that rather large, gangly body was none other than Crewman Jovani Carter. Holding his finger up to let the captain know to keep quiet Dante walked over to the lower bunk the young man was currently sleeping in and crouched down.
"Crewman Carter...", he said, softly at first, eliciting a slight groan from the other man, and making him shift in his sleep.
"Crewman Carter..!", he repeated, this time a bit louder, and with more force. "Your shift started twenty minutes ago.", he added, knowing it would cause a sudden surge of adrenaline.
True to form this exact reaction was elicited and a flurry of flying blankets and sheets erupted as Jovani threw himself out of his bunk, dressed in nothing but a pair of standard issue boxer briefs, eyes still puffy from sleep, and began scrambling around trying to find his uniform and get dressed as fast as possible.
After allowing him to flap around like a tall, disoriented chicken with its head cut off Dante cleared his throat to get his attention, holding his hand out with the crewman's pants dangling from his pointer finger. "Looking for these?"
Jovani stopped and turned towards the voice he wasn't used to hearing in his quarters. As his eyes noticed the lieutenant standing there with his pants dangling from his finger he also noticed that the captain was also standing there, and his eyes suddenly went incredibly wide. "Captain, Lieutenant, I'm so sorry, I thought it was my day off, I must have read the roster wrong!", he exclaimed as he grabbed his pants and began to frantically pull them on.
She stepped in to play her part. “Focus up, Crewman,” she said, tossing a uniform shirt from his small closet space. “Are you awake enough, or do I need to pull someone else to cover your shift?”
Barely catching the tossed shirt Jovani looked mortified. "N... no ma'am, I'm good, I can do it.", he managed to stammer out as he tugged the tunic over his head and tried to fumble his way into it still barely managing to keep his balance. He was about halfway through it when something hit him and he slowed down and pulled the shirt the rest of the way on more calmly. "Wait a second... Why would you be coming to wake me up?", he asked, looking at Dante suspiciously at first, and with dawning understanding that finally turned into a wry smile. "Damn, you got me.", he added once he finally realized what was going on.
"Yes, yes we did.", Dante replied with a huge smile. "But you do need to get ready, we've got a shuttle prepped and ready for your first tryout at helm.", he added.
Jovani looked over at the Captain with a hesitant smile. "Really?", he asked, obviously excited about the idea.
Charlotte felt herself swept up by his excitement and a smile spread across her face. He’d figured it out faster than she had back in the day. She’d been tripping her way down the hall as she finished pulling her pants and boots on when it’d finally dawned on her. “Really,” she said with a grin. “But you do need to hurry. We’re in Earth orbit, so they’re a bit stingy with launch windows.”
Tugging his socks and boots on Jovani nodded, "Let's get going then!", he said, and waved for his superiors to lead the way.
Charlotte turned on her heel and led the other two back down the hall to the turbolift. "Shuttlebay." Her command sent the lift into motion.
Less than two minutes later the turbolift came to a smooth stop and the doors swished open before them. As he was closest to the front Jovani stepped out and then waited for the other two officers to join him. Right in the middle of the bay, obviously prepped and ready for a flight was a shuttlecraft. "This the one?", he asked with a gleam in his eyes, and a smile on his face.
Dante nodded, smiling as well. "Yep, sure is. I know you've got some experience with this type of craft in the simulators, and you've probably ridden in a few like it, but I think you will find the experience of actually flying one to be a very different animal than what you are expecting.", he said. Then, reaching over to the control terminal off to his left he grabbed an electronic keyboard, and held it out.
"First things first, you have to do the pre-flight checklist, and I'm only going to give you twenty minutes to get it done. Normally it should only take about five, but you've never done this before. If you reach a step you are unsure of tap on it and it will give you a short explanation. We are here, but we aren't helping unless you literally can't figure something out on your own, so don't expect us to give you the answers, and unless it gets to an emergency level situation we won't be taking over. For the next two hours this is your show, so make it a good one.", he added.
Jovani nodded solemnly as he accepted the clip-board. "Yes, sir. Can I ask one question thought, of both of you?", he asked.
Dante nodded, "Of course. Only way to learn is to ask questions.", he replied.
"Alright, what one piece of advice would you give me to make this as successful as possible?", Jovani asked, looking a bit nervous.
Dante didn't even hesitate before responding, "Don't rush it. When you rush you make mistakes, and you'd be surprised how quickly that can take a good situation straight to hell.", he replied.
"And trust your instincts. You know how to do this, even if you haven't flown the real thing before. Don't over think things. Especially if you're in a difficult situation, overthinking it is a sure way to waste valuable time," Charlotte said. "That's not to say, don't think. But don't let it become an anchor."
Jovani seemed to pause for a few moments, pondering what they said, and then looked up smiling again. "Let's get to it!", he said, moving into the shuttlecraft. Sitting down in the pilots chair he pulled up the checklist on the clip-board, bringing up the checklist. It was a long list, but none of it seemed particularly hard, so he set to work on it, only having to request clarification once or twice as he went along. When he was finally done he fully powered up the systems and put them into flight-mode.
"You guys ready to head out?", he asked.
Dante glanced over, "Seventeen minutes, not bad. Unless the captain's got any objections I'm ready to go.", he said.
Charlotte settles into a seat behind the young pilot. “No objections from me. Let’s do it.”
"Do you have a flight plan in mind?", Dante asked once the captain had given her response.
“A bit of one. But nothing that can’t adapt if the feeling hits us.” The Captain’s voice sounded entertained. “Let’s take her out of the hanger, do a close pass of Defiant, and then start some high atmosphere maneuvers.”
"Sounds great to me. Nothing too stressful, but nothing too super easy either.", Dante replied. "How does it sound to you?", he asked, turning to Jovani.
"I agree, sounds like a good first try at it.", Jovani replied, trying to hide the fact that he was nervous as all hell, but excited at the same time.
"Alright then, let's get on our way. Do you know what the first thing you'll need to do is?", Dante asked, settling into the copilot's chair and facing forward.
Jovani nodded, and reached out to tap the control panel before him, opening a hailing channel. "Carter to launch bay control, requesting permission to launch.", he said, with only the slightest quaver in his voice.
"Clear for launch, Carter, enjoy your lesson.", came the cheery voice of one of the few remaining members of the ship's regular crew still aboard.
Once outside the shuttle bay Jovani immediately began a swooping path that would take them around the much larger ship, showing off the better parts of her quite well. Now it was showtime. Setting the coordinates to take them into the upper atmosphere Jovani began putting the small shuttle through its paces. He remembered quite a bit from the simulations he'd taken part in, and began to go through the moves he'd learned, from making a smooth entry with a minimal of turbulence, to making quick, evasive maneuvers with the boxy craft inside an atmosphere. By the time the two hour mark hit he was so in the zone that the sound of the alarm actually made him jump.
"Alright, that's enough for today.", Dante said, placing his hand on the other man's shoulder, "That was pretty damned impressive. It will take more than successfully piloting a shuttle to prove it, but I think you'll be a definite asset to my team.", he added. Then, turning to the captain he smiled, "Any thoughts, ma'am?" he asked
Charlotte gave a sly smile as a she climbed out of her seat and made her way toward the controls. "That was a very impressive display, Crewman. I think you're going to do very well in helm." She patted him on the shoulder with her left hand. "So I promise this isn't a punishment."
She entered a brief code on the board and suddenly the instrumentation went dead. No readouts on yoke, direction, or speed. No path guidance. "Last little bit to this lesson. I want you to fly the shuttle back to Defiant blind. All manual. It's a good way to prepare yourself for a situation where your sensors are jammed or damaged. If you can fly home blind, you can fly through anything."
Dante barely suppressed a smile as the young man suddenly had a look of absolute, sheer panic fall across his face. At first he began to react almost without any thought, making the situation even worse for himself, but, somehow, he caught himself in time. It started with a deep breath, and he could actually see the young man force himself to focus. It was pretty impressive, actually, and he just assumed it was from his security training.
Jovani, for his own part felt like he'd been thrown out of a frying pan, and into a fire. He reacted, at first in a blind panic, immediately reaching out to try to reestablish control of the vessel before it began to drift out of his control completely. He'd only done a couple of simulations on instrument failure, and wasn't sure how to react. Then, remembering something the woman who'd been his tutor on the sims had told him he brought himself back to center, took a very deep breath, and exhaled slowly. Looking outside for the first time since the panels went dark he established a baseline for his location, and began adjusting the systems manually.
"All you need is a single star to guide you.", he muttered, more to himself than to anyone else. Just outside he could see more than just one, he could see millions, and there was the large blue green ball of the Earth, and the shining silver of the moon. Glancing around he also found the Defiant not too far, off his starboard stern and began to bring the shuttle around, making sure to keep an eye on the planet as well so he wouldn't get too close and start to skim the atmosphere.
It took far longer than it would have with instruments, and he did find himself dealing with unexpected problems along the way. Who knew that the gravity around a large body has slight fluctuations as you get a bit further out, and that they can sort of drag you off course, and bounce you around a bit, because the simulations certainly didn't make it very apparent. But still, he managed, and he was proud of himself, even once he found that the comms had also been disabled and just rolled with it instead of letting it bother him.
Once he was finally lined up for a good approach to the launch bay he flicked his forward spot lights to let the shuttle bay know he was approaching, and inside the bay he saw the landing strip lights come on and begin to flicker from the bay door to the landing pad where he'd set the shuttle down so it could be gone over by the shuttle bay crew and then put back in its proper place once it all checked out. He brought it in slowly, and then as gently as he could he set her down. It wasn't a text book landing, and they all got jostled around a bit, and when he stepped out of the shuttle he did catch a frown or two from the shuttle bay crew, but at least he got them back in one piece.
Turning to his two instructors he smiled, "That was amazing. I never knew how much fun it could be.", he said, and the excitement lit up his young face.
Dante returned his smile and clapped him on the back. "You did great, man. That was a tough little curve ball she threw you, but you didn't let it get you down, you just kept on trucking. Good job!", he said.
Charlotte chuckled at his celebration. The Crewman had performed phenomenally. She also found she was still settling into this "tough love" thing, and didn't feel like keeping it up too much longer than she had to. "You did very well, Crewman. Good job keeping yourself from panicking. In piloting, instincts are just as important as instruments, and you seem to have some pretty solid instincts. Keep it up and I think you'll have a definite future in helm." She smiled at that before turning to her helm officer. "I think I've put him through his paces enough for today. Think we should let him loose?"
Dante pursed his lips, looking pensive for a moment as he crossed his arms and tapped his finger on his lips. He could see Jovani practically vibrating with his desire to get out of there and tell all his friends about the experience, and he savored it a little longer. Finally he smiled, "Yeah, I think that would probably be a good idea before he flies apart and makes a mess all over the shuttle bay.", he said with a chuckle. "Enjoy some time off, crewman, and I look forward to further sessions with you to see if you've got what it takes. Before long we'll be sitting you up in the big seat on the bridge and letting you take a crack at something this big.", he added, waving his hand around to indicate the larger ship they were standing in.
"I look forward to that too!", Jovani replied with a huge grin, "and thank you both! That was a great experience.", he added before turning to leave the shuttle bay.
Turning to the captain Dante laughed, "That was actually a lot more fun than I thought it would be.", he quipped.
"It was a ton of fun for me," the woman joked in response. "That's the one downside of command. I don't get to do this crazy stuff as often. I'll need to remember to do it more often."
Dante nodded, "That's understandable. Just remember my helm station is always open if you ever want to take her for a spin.", he replied. "Now, I'd probably better leave you to your day, I'm sure you have more important things to do that stand around talking to me," he added.
She made a slight groan. "Nothing I'm looking forward to. But putting it off won't help. See you around, Lieutenant."