The TF-65 was universally hated by the cadets. One of the old lifter type aircraft, it was old, slow and prone to be grounded due to a complicated four way gear box system that often broke down for one reason or another. The bright blue aircraft skimmed over a field of white snow covered ground that extended below them in all directions, stopping only at the base of a tall group of snow peaked mountains in the distance.
“Ponderous piece of crap.” Cadet Fourth Class John Winslow Pratt grumbled to himself as he fought to keep the aircraft level as he, his fellow student co-pilot seated next to him waged her own battle with the secondary systems, and a flight instructor sat behind them taking notes. “We should be using newer equipment.”
“We don’t always have the luxury of the latest and greatest equipment when we are out in Space, Mr. Pratt.” Flight Instructor Marsh, a dour officer with an order of magnitude of experience on his blue jump-suited chest, admonished him. “You have to learn how to get the most out of what you are given.” He made a few notes on a clipboard as a gust of wind turbulence shook the quadcopter. “Which you are certainly not attaining at this point.” He turned to the co-pilot, an intense young woman with dark hair and darker eyes. “Ms. Pendrake, would you like to take the controls?”
Pendrake raised a hand. “Not just yet, Sir. I’m still working out how to bypass a short circuit I detected in the Number Four Rotor Array that’s throwing engine coordination out of sync. Clearing that up should make for a smoother ride.”
“I could have told you that.” Pratt muttered. “Teacher’s Pet.”
“We don’t get points for could have.” Pendrake shot back angrily. “Shut up and drive while I keep us in the air.”
“Teamwork, please.” Marsh said, his tone belying the potential for a laugh at their expense. “Always remember that your communications may be monitored in flight. Keep it as professional as possible.”
Pratt held the stick tight with his left hand while reaching upwards with his right to turn off the system’s auto-leveling system. “Xia, wait two seconds and then give me a manual reset of all flight surfaces.”
“Jack, we could stall at this altitude and we don’t have enough speed to recover from that.” Pendrake warned. “I don’t like the idea of becoming a pancake this close to Finals.”
“Who wants to live forever?” Pratt gave her a reassuring wink. “Trust me.”
Pratt watched Marsh from the corner of his eye. Marsh had put his clipboard down and was following his movement with great interest. A red light appeared on his console. “That short circuit has now become a system warning. We’re about to lose both Starboard engines. Xia, do it. Now.”
“This goes against everything the manual says to do.” Pendrake’s slender hands danced across her control panel. Outside the forward windows, the drum shaped engine nacelles stopped their movements and for the briefest of moments, the aircraft traveled downward at an angle that made every stomach in the cockpit a few ounces lighter. “System restart in four point two seconds.”
The altimeter displays counted down the distance to crash while the airspeed indicators spooled upward. An automatic altitude warning indicator began to blare.
Pratt looked over at Pendrake. “How about having dinner with me later?”
“You’re asking me now?”
“Why not? It may be my last chance.”
“You pull us out of this.” She said. “And I’ll pick up the check.”
“Very well.” Pratt reached down and turned a small yellow T-Handle clockwise until they heard a click and the nacelles swiveled to vertical, slowing their descent to a halt.
“You bastard.” Pendrake said, her expression mixed. “You knew how to fix this problem all the time.”
“I took a chance.” He replied. “The manual said there was a manual bypass in case a system reset took too long.” He grinned as the automatic systems came back online. “I’ll tell you what, you can pay your own way, if you want.”
“No, no, a bet is a bet.” She said, stifling a smile of her own. “I’ll meet you after class. Do you think you can get us on the ground without killing us?”
“Okay, Cadets, that’s enough for today.” Marsh said, raising his console into operating position and taking control. “Mr. Pratt, I don’t approve of how you work, but you and Ms. Pendrake make an adequate team. You both get an A for this session. Ms. Pendrake, please notify Anchorage Spaceport that we’re on our way back.”
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