Half an hour later I’d gone through the League jet’s flight checklist, moved through the passageway into Grand Lake, floated to the surface, and took flight.
I flew it over Lake Michigan, and then started to ascend. After we hit 30,000 feet, I started pouring on the speed, knowing that we’d have to be moving extremely quickly to get into space.
I learned later that the ship could be seen on both sides of the lake (Wisconsin and Michigan) because of the trail of flame behind it.
At the same time, the Heroes League message boards on the Double V forums had lit up as someone reported a jet sighting, and people speculated on exactly what sort of emergency we were rushing to meet in space.
I didn’t know it at the time, but if I had, I like to think I’d have felt at least a little embarrassed.
Mind you, I wasn’t thinking about it at all.
I was monitoring our engines, the fusion reactor, life support, and watching the radar for planes (and other flying objects, identified or not).
When I had time to think, I marveled at how quiet the League jet was, and how different it felt from the Rocket suit. With the suit, I’d gotten used to feeling my stomach sink at take-off, and everything inside me shift with turns.
Inside the jet, the anti-gravity, and anti-inertial devices made it feel like we were at home using a flight simulator.
The windows, instruments, and information screens were the only way to know we were flying.
“Nick, is there anything I can do?” Haley asked.
“I don’t know.” I tried to think of something. Haley had been training on the simulator, but the simulator only went so far.
Was there anything?
“Are you familiar with the weapons systems and the shields?”
She looked over at me. “I thought you said it was safe.”
“It is, but better to be cautious, right?”
I smiled at her, and she opened her mouth to say something, but stopped, and looked out the window. We’d flown far enough out that we could see Earth.
Haley stared. “I can’t believe it. There’s so much water.”
I followed her gaze. We were over the Pacific ocean. From here, the whole planet seemed to be water.
Past Earth, the stars were little pinpricks of light. Without an atmosphere, they didn’t twinkle.
“Hey,” I said, “I’m going to orbit Earth once. Tell me if you notice the International Space Station.”
“Once? Where are you going after that?”
“I don’t know. I’m still thinking about it.”
She frowned. “You’re lying.”
“Sorry. I was thinking we could fly past Lagrange point four, and take a look at the jump gate.”
“Don’t the Xiniti frown on that?”
“I don’t think so. We’re not going to try to use the gate. My grandpa took me on a flyby once when I was twelve.”
I took a wide orbit of the earth, letting it grow wider as we circled.
“There’s the space station. And a ship.”
A blocky, rectangular ship floated in space. Several times as long as the space station, it orbited further out from the planet.
The monitor on the instrument panel lab labeled it the UNS Jay. I wondered where the UNS Kay had gone. The Xiniti were loaning us both of them. I supposed they could have sent the Kay elsewhere in the solar system, or kept it hidden somehow.
I decided not to worry about it, and pointed us toward L4. Even if the Xiniti wouldn’t let us use it, the jump gate was pretty cool. The idea of it at least.
And it wasn’t quite true that the Xiniti wouldn’t let us use it. They were under orders not to let us use it until we could build ships on our own (without alien tech) that could handle the stress of going through the gate.
Grandpa had said we’d tried, had our work inspected, and been told it didn’t meet criteria. The inspectors wouldn’t say why.
In short, alien bureaucracy sucked just as bad as any other kind.