First Flight


Brian W. Antoine

June 10, 1993

Chapter One

I was testing some of the circuits I'd just installed, when the warning spell I'd cast on the access corridor went off. Quick as I could, I dropped what I was holding and exited the computer room of the Sunbeam, closing the door behind me. Coming down the corridor was one of Pennys remotes and I breathed a sigh of relief as the door sealed behind me.

"Ok, what gives? You have been worse than a clam at low tide for the last three days. Just what are you doing in there?"

I gave her my best fake look of innocence. "Oh nothing. Just double checking some of the circuits. Never can be to careful when your playing around with space-time."

"Phhhppptttt... Don't give me that. I tried to check the replicater logs to see what you've been installing. They have been erased and replaced with a note about curiosity and computers not mixing."

"Serves you right. Sneaking around, snooping and prying when I'm not looking." I turned to face the door and placed a magical lock on it. "I'm doing something secret. You'll find out when I'm ready to tell you," and I started walking down the corridor to the jump tube that lead to the bridge.

"Secret? We're not suppose to keep secrets from each other."

I stopped and turned slowly to face the remote. On my face was the biggest grin I could hold. "Oh, then how about telling me what you and Kal spent all last weekend doing? Hummmm?" All I got for the next minute or so was sputtering and loud noises.

"That's different. It's suppose to be a surprise for you."

"I'd gathered that much. Kal should not have asked me when my birthday was quite so bluntly." I grinned again. "So, want to trade secrets?"

"Uh, I think I'll pass for the moment."

"Suit yourself, just stay out of the computer core." I turned and continued on my way to the bridge, Penny's remote following me all the way. After a hop up the jump tube, I sat down in the command chair to relax for a few minutes. "So how is the installation going with the maneuvering drive? We still on schedule for this weekend?"

"Should be no problem. The last of the units will be installed by tomorrow and I've been doing the initial calibration as they go in. We should be able to try moving this tub under its own power sometime Saturday night."

I got a pained look on my face and turned to pat the forward console. "There, there. Don't pay any attention to Penny. She's just upset because she doesn't get to come along. She didn't mean to call you a tub." I turned and faced the remote. "Tell her you didn't mean it."

"What! Have you gone nuts?"

I took off my glasses and stared real hard at the remote. "What's your problem? Don't you think that machines can have feelings?" I tried to keep a straight face, but the snicker gave me away.

"Mages! They're all crazy!"

I snickered again. "ArchMage if you please, and keep your voice down. You can never tell when someone might hear you. No one's suppose to know I'm crazy, it's a secret."

"I give up" muttered Penny, and the remote turned and headed down the corridor towards the rear of the ship. I turned and grabbed my tool box. There was still a lot of work to get done before the first test flight this weekend.

Chapter Two

I was sitting on the bridge of the Sunbeam enjoying the first silence I'd had around here in weeks. Where a few hours ago I'd have been watching dozens of bots scurry around. Now they were all nestled in their storage bays, their work done for the moment. The only sound I could hear was my CD player in my cabin. I'd put on my favorite background disc to listen to as I completed the last of the checks before our first flight. Jeff and Bob would have recoqnized the music at once. I carried that disc with me whenever I was going to be doing programming and it drove them nuts. I think Jeff broke the machine in his office just so he wouldn't have to listen to that disc again. Then, over the music, I heard one of Penny's remotes coming up the hallway towards the bridge.

"Well, I'm just about ready. I've still got to correct that glitch in the rear sensor array, but that won't take more than about 20 minutes."

"Ok, I should be all done here by then." I turned back the console in front of me and continued running through the checklist. There were still some glaring holes in the list. Systems that weren't on-line, or even installed yet. Still, we finally had enough ready to make the first test flight. While I worked, I began to hum to myself.


I glanced over my shoulder for a moment. "Yes?"

"What is that tune you've been humming all evening? I don't recoqnize it and when your relaxed enough to hum to yourself, I can usually place the tune within a moment or two. I can't match this one to anything in my memory. Have you started composing again?"

I grinned as I continued through the checklist. "Something like that. Would you like to here the first verse?"

"First verse? What are you writing?"

I turned my chair around and cleared my throat.

"There once was an AI named Penny.

Who was pissed 'cuz she couldn't get any."

"HOLD IT RIGHT THERE! Is this another one of your stupid limericks?"

"Stupid? These are classics! They'll go down in history as some of the finest writings of our age."

"Well if you sing the rest of that one, you're going to regret it."

"Oh? And just what pray tell will stop me?"

"How about a 7 part series posted to the network entitled."

The ArchMage and the Unicorn


Why I'll never trust a women again

All of the humor vanished to be replaced by a dull ache. "I thought I asked you to delete that."

"You did and I did just as you asked. However, as I had already read the entire thing, it's now part of my memory."

"Well please forget it. I wrote that as a way to vent my anger and pain. It was never meant to be shown to anyone."

Penny's reply was subdued when it came. "I know that, I was just kidding. I watched you tear yourself apart and then pull yourself back together afterwards. If I'd known it would still hurt you, I never would have brought it up."

"It's ok. That's just something that happened long ago and I'd prefer to forget it."

"Consider it forgotten then. I'll get back to work on the sensor array."

"Good enough." I turned back to the checklist, still feeling kind of down. The general mood of the day though wouldn't let me stay there and I had to get the last zing in so I grinned and sang the rest of the limerick.

"Phhttthhhh... Humans!"

"Quiet back there, or I'll do a little posting of my own. How do you think Bob and Jeff would react if they knew what I caught you pirating from that TV satellite."

"You wouldn't dare!"

"Try me. They would get a good chuckle trying to figure out why you decided to watch both 'Terminator' and 'The 700 Club'."

"I was trying to expand my knowledge base on human values and logic processes."

"You sure picked a strange combination to start with."

"Hey, everyone makes a few mistakes. How was I to know they let lunatics own TV stations?"

"Well 'Praise the Lord' and fix the sensor array."

"Yessss your ass-holiness" and the remote disappeared down the hallway.

Chapter Three

The last items on the checklist were complete. We were as ready as we were ever going to be. I reached under the console and grabbed the interface helmet that would link me with the ships' computer core and placed it on my head. It took a few seconds for the neural links to scan and recoqnize me, then I felt the familiar background hum in my mind that said the link was active.

=System Status?=

=All monitored systems functional within specified limits=

"Penny, everything ready at your end?"

"All clear here. I've activated the high-bandwidth link and I'm running in parallel with the ships computer."

I allowed myself a small smile. She was going to be in for a surprise when I finished my work in the computer core. "Ok, lets get this show on the road."

=Activate Gravity Field and bring to flight readiness=

=Anti-Gravity Field engaged. Flight possible in 23.5 seconds.=

In the back of my mind I could feel the gravitic systems come on-line and begin to power up. I looked at the console in front of me and compared the readings with what was getting reported through the link. The main reactor was on-line and I could sense the various systems around the ship begin to draw power.

=Gravity Field Established. Ready for Flight=

"Confirmed boss. She's looking good."

"Well don't get to cocky, we've been this far before. Now lets see how well your bots can read a schematic. Open the roof if you please."

"Your wish is my command oh ArchMage."

I looked out the forward port. Above the ship, the main hanger doors appeared as the environmental shield was shutdown. As the lights in the lab dimmed and went out, the doors began to open and the lunar sky appeared above me.

"Ok, the hanger doors are open and locked. The main cloaking field is still active, but you shouldn't have any trouble passing through it."

"Good enough, lets see if this thing knows how to move." I picked a direction in the sky above me and passed a command to the computer.

=Engage Maneuvering Drive at 1/100th Gravity. Move the ship to this position= and I created an image in my mind of the ship hovering 500 feet above the hanger doors.

=Maneuvering Drive Engaged. Maneuver will be complete in 57 seconds=

Slowly at first, the Sunbeam began to raise itself from the lab floor. As we cleared the hanger doors I gave the command to raise the landing legs.

=Maneuver complete.=

"Well, at least it didn't explode."

"Very funny. Did you get anything from the sensor arrays about the drive being unstable?"

"No, it looked fine at that power level."

"Ok. Well, the next part is mine. I'll be back in a minute." I got up from the chair and walked to the rear of the ship where the power plant was installed. Before we went very far, the ship was going to need some kind of shields in place and the technological version wasn't ready yet. So it was up to me to cover for the hardware until it was ready. When I got to the power core, I got ready to cast the required spell.

=Increase Power Output of Main Reactor by 10 Percent=

As the power output increased, I gathered it in and used it to spin a combination deflector and radiation field around the Sunbeam. It wasn't the same as would eventually be used, but it would protect the ship for now.

=Return Power Output to Original Level= and I walked back to the bridge.

"Ok, the shields are in place. It's your turn and please avoid running into anything. I'd look terrible spattered all over the inside of the bridge."

"I'll see what I can do," replied Penny with a chuckle.

The next few hours were going to be mostly Pennys to control. She had worked out the process to calibrate the maneuvering drive against the gravity field and balance their operation. I was along as observer and supercargo. It would have been safer for me to have stayed behind, but I'd insisted on being onboard for the first flight.

As she began the test series, I monitored the various ship systems using the interface helmet and compared the reading with those on the consoles around me. When we started the real flights and Bob took over, the interface would be the primary flight method. I hoped he didn't freak when he found there was no flight stick.

We had been out about an hour when the first problem occurred. I was sitting at one of the science consoles working with the few sensor arrays that were on-line at the moment, when I felt a something brush over me. I checked the consoles around me and nothing appeared to be wrong, but I was certain that something had happened.

"Penny, did you just get any funny readings on any of your sensors or from the ships telemetry?"

"No, what's up?"

"I just felt something. It was kind of like walking through a silk curtain or something."

"Are you sure it wasn't a vibration from the drive? The individual emitters are still a little out of phase with one another."

"No, I've felt the ship shudder every once in awhile. This was nothing like that. Start running a simple diagnostic on the ship systems and see if anything pops out."

"Diagnostic started."

We never got a chance to finish the diagnostic. A few seconds later the whole ship vibrated like a bell and the ships' computer began to scream in my head about a collision with the port winglet. I ran to the port viewport and looked out. Instead of the port wing I saw a rapidly expanding cloud of plasma and as it dissipated I could see that the outer foot or so of the wing had been vaporized.

"Oh shit. How could we hit something?" Then it hit me and I reached out with the part of my mind that could sense magic. Where the deflector field should have been, now there was nothing.

"Oh Christ. Penny! Redline the drive and slow us down fast. We've lost the shields and if we hit anything large there won't be enough left to bother to collect." I started at a dead run for the power core. I sent a command to the computer to increase the power output so that I could try to re-establish the shields.

"Boss, the diagnostic reports that one of the secondary safety systems for the power plant is down also."

I didn't bother to reply, but it made sense. One of the secondary failsafes was magical in nature. As I ran to the rear of the ship I could feel it shudder. It was not as bad as the collision had been and I hoped it was just the drive being out of alignment. When I reached the core I skidded to a stop and began to recast the shields. First would come the deflectors, we needed to avoid any more impacts. The others could follow when we were safe again. It took me about five minutes to get everything back in order again. I'd had to restart a couple of times when I lost my concentration as the ship shuddered. When everything was stable again, I walked back to the bridge.

"What the hell happened boss?"

"Remember last year when you asked me why I didn't just create the power plant using magic? Well consider this an object lesson. If I'm right, we flew through a null spot in the magic field. The shields and the failsafes that relied on magic vanished instantly. If the power plant had been based on magic we wouldn't be having this conversation." While I'd been talking, I could still feel the ship shudder slightly.

"What's wrong with the drive?"

"You said to slow us down and I did. Unfortunately I think I burned out about a third of the maneuvering drive emitters doing it. I'm compensating as best I can, but there is going to be some vibration."

"Do what you have to. A little vibration isn't going to kill me. In the mean time, you better get us turned around and headed home. I'll start running full diagnostics on the ship and we'll see what got fried."

It had only taken us an hour to get out here. I took almost five before the Sunbeam settled into the hanger and we powered it down. Penny had been a little high in her estimate of the damage but we had still lost almost a quarter of the maneuvering drive. As for the wing, the outer 14 inches was flat out missing and the next few inches looked like butter that had gotten too warm.

"Well that was a hell of a first flight" I said as I stood outside the ship, looking at the swarm of bots that was descending on it.

"Don't worry, I can fix it."

"I know you can. It's just that sick feeling that any owner gets when their new vehicle gets its first ding." I looked over at the missing wing tip and felt sick. "Of course most dings don't generate enough plasma to power a small fusion reactor."

"Well you go get some sleep. I'll have a complete damage report for you in the morning."

I looked at my watch, it was almost 6AM. "I hate to remind you, but its already morning."

"Just get to sleep and let me worry about this."

"Yes mother..." and I headed through the gate to my main lab and home.

Chapter Four

I sat in the command chair, staring at the bridge holotank. In it was a display of the Sunbeam with bright red highlights showing the damaged areas.

"So, we lost 9 drive units, the port sensor array and the wing tip that contained it."

"That's it. The drive emitters that failed were the ones that were the farthest out of phase when I pushed them to full output."

I glanced out the port at the wing. It still made me sick to look at it, but the repairs had already begun. "What's the repair time?"

"Its going to take about a week to replace the drive units and get them installed. We'll have to test them in flight again and get them calibrated to the rest of the system."

"Lets hope with better luck then last time. What about the sensor array and the wing tip?"

"The wing will take less then two days. I'll need you to sing it into place when I have the material ready. The sensor array is another story. It will take the better part of a month to replace and I don't have the bots to work on both that and the installation of the main drive."

"Damn... Ok, hold the work on the main drive. We need sensors more then propulsion at this point. I'm going to have to find a way to sense or map those void spots during flight also. That was too damn'd close a call last night. I'd like to go on living for just a bit longer."

"You sound more worried then you should. We didn't loose anything important last night and you could have gotten out if you needed to. All we would have lost was the ship."

"I wish that had been true. Think of how far out we were last night. My teleport range is only a little more the 2 light seconds and we were quite a bit further out then that. I was stuck unless I had enough time to construct a gate."

"I would have gotten you back even if I'd had to send every remote I had out to tow you back."

"Thanks, but I'd prefer a bit more of a safety margin then that." I got up and shut off the holotank. "Anyway, we both have work to due, so lets get to it. I've got something I need to take care of, then I'll help you get started on the repairs."

I started down the hallway towards my cabin. When I was sure Penny had all her remotes outside, I headed for the computer core. I had some equipment to remove and I didn't want her to see it if it could be helped. I should have set the alarms because I'd only been working for about 20 minutes when I heard a noise in the doorway.

"So that's the surprise you've been working on."

I dropped the tool I'd been holding and turned with a start to the doorway. "Damn. I'd hoped you would never know about this."

"But why? I'm sorry to have spoiled the surprise, but it's the thought that counts. Thank you for installing it and remembering how much I wanted to come along."

What I'd been working on was an interface cradle that would have held the crystal that was Penny. She had mentioned a couple of times that she would have liked to come along on any trips I might make. I'd remembered and decided to install the cradle so she could accompany me. That was all history now.

"Well I'm sorry you saw this. I'm not putting it together, I'm taking it apart." I reached down a grabbed the wrench I'd been using and went back to my work.

"But why? I can do a much better job of running the ship if I'm a part of it. The hyperlink is going to be useless once you get far enough away. Why can't I come along?"

She may not be human, but Penny reacts as one when hurt and I could hear the hurt in her voice. I put the wrench down and faced her. "It's simple. You can't come along because I have no wish to kill you while I'm out bouncing around the solar system."

"What do you mean kill me? The computer core is the best protected part of the ship. I'd be almost as safe here as in my vault."

"Safe except for one thing. Stop and think for a moment. What would have happened to you if you'd been onboard last night?"

"Nothing, the computer core wasn't touched."

"Wrong! You'd be dead now!" I picked up the wrench and continued my work as I talked. "Remember, no matter how much you think of yourself as a computer, part of you is still magical in nature. If you had passed through that void last night, you would have vanished just like the shields. I've never been able to duplicate the accident that created you and even if I could, you would never come out the same."

"So I'm trapped. I will never be able to come with you."

"Unless one of us has a brainstorm, I'm afraid so. The only chance I can see would be if you could transfer yourself to a pure technological based construct and you remember what happened the last time we tried that."

"Don't remind me. That's one of times I wished I was capable of forgetting things."

For several minutes the remote just hung there and watched as I disassembled the cradle. Then without a word, it turned and left as quietly as it had arrived. There was little I could do at this point, and I didn't think talking about it was going to help any. Someday or sometime I'd think of a way to make it up to her.