Deorbit

By Tiro

Red flares into gold. Gold spreads out like fire along the curve of the world, and the yellow sun rises from the horizon, washing out the star-scattered blackness. High above gleaming cloud and glittering ocean, a shining arrowhead falls in silent orbit, coasting towards the breaking dawn.

The ship’s flight deck is unattended. Behind the empty pilot’s seat, in an open living area, a dark-haired woman sprawls on a scruffy sofa and watches a comedy show on an old TV monitor. As the sunlight falls across the screen she sighs, and lifts a hand to shield her eyes from the glare. The dawn might be beautiful, she thinks. It might be one of the glorious spectacles of Nature; a sight capable of reaching deep into the human soul and elevating the spirit. But it’d be easier to fully appreciate it, she reflects, if she hadn’t already had to watch it fifteen times in as many hours.

With another sigh, she stops the programme, rolls herself off the sofa and slouches over to the flight controls. She scans the display briefly, and jabs a prominent button on the communications screen.

“Whittier Orbital, Victor Romeo Four-Four-One.”

“Victor Romeo Four-Four-One, go ahead for Whittier Orbital.”

“Thank you, Orbital. Any chance of an ETA for my deorbit clearance, please?

There’s a pause. The woman imagines the controller swearing at her, safe behind his deactivated microphone. After a few seconds, the channel hisses back into life.

“Four-Four-One, we apologise for the continuing delay. This is due to heavy traffic around Whittier Base.”

She suppresses a cackle at the thought of Whittier Field, with its one VTOL pad and one runway, experiencing ‘heavy traffic’. Not for the first time, she wonders how the local controllers would handle an hour at Londinium’s Tamesis port. Not well, she suspects.

“We are aware you’re waiting, and you’re currently number three in the queue for clearance. We currently have no estimated time for you, but we will advise as soon as this becomes available.”

Another sigh. She mulls over the new – not so new, in fact – update, and reaches a decision. She prods the transmit key again.

“Roger that, Whittier. In that case, request clearance to deorbit for open landing?”

There’s more pause. The pilot watches the world roll by, creeping gradually underneath her as the ship sails on.

“Negative, Four-Four-One; we have no facilities to accommodate an open landing at this time.”

For a moment, she’s speechless. I’m going to have to log that, she tells herself. That’s got to be a contender for the stupidest remark ever made by an STC officer. She wonders whether to make an issue of it, and point out that an open field landing means landing on open ground away from the spaceport, and thus having ‘no facilities’ is pretty much the definition. Perhaps not. She bugs these people too much, there’d be nothing to stop them keeping her up here for a week. But she does wonder quietly to herself whether it’s something in the air of Whittier’s World that does this to people. Maybe she shouldn’t be so eager to get down there and start breathing it…

“Roger, Orbital, thanks. Will continue to orbit and stand by for further instructions. Victor Romeo Four-Four-One.”

She clicks the channel closed, and glances again at the planet as she sails on, three hundred kilometra above mountains and dusty plains, the ocean now receding out of sight beneath her ship. She has to admit, it is still quite pretty.

Reaching up to the top edge of the console, she nudges a control and a shutter whirrs down over the viewport, blocking out the blazing sun ahead.  She drops herself back onto the sofa and settles in to watch another episode.

(More about Tiro)

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