Threading a Needle by David Macfie
Following Komando-Ka’s instructions, the humans left to get on with their project activities, while the Taurians and Jamie made for the bridge. There three workstations side by side, were moved to face the big screen. Orders were given to the technicians, the screen settings were adjusted to match those that the commander had requested and the ship was aligned with the start of its new course. Now the three pilots could see the enormity of the task before them. The picture showed a three dimensional obstacle course of awesome proportions. The size and spacing of the asteroids was totally random.
“Bloody Hell,” cried Jamie, in astonishment. “That’s impossible. There’s no way we can get through that lot.”
“Nervous passenger, are you?” replied the commander, with a big grin.
“Not really, but I like the odds to be evens at worst. This looks stacked against us in chunks.”
“Your problem is that you aren’t seeing the image as three dimensional,” explained Komando-Ka. “You need to get your special focus adjusted. The image looks more crammed than it actually is, because your depth perception hasn’t compensated properly yet. Let me make it easier for you.”
He punched a few instructions into the keyboard and then refreshed the image.
Jamie gasped. To him, it felt as if he’d just put on 3D glasses. The asteroids jumped out at him and he saw clearly the arrangement of obstacles above, below and around each other. Now, all of a sudden he could see ways of navigating the path through the clutter.
“OK, commander, I get it now. Thanks,” he said, with a sigh of relief. “I was worried for a moment there, that I wouldn’t be able to help you with this. But now I’m sure I can drive this bus through the boulders.”
“My first time through this stuff was exactly the same,” he said with a smile of encouragement. “It took me four flights in a simulator before I could see the 3D. You’ve done pretty well, I think, to get it in one.”
“Don’t give me that compliment yet,” Jamie grinned in reply. “I haven’t driven the bus yet. I might smash us up on the first rock pile.”
“Relax, I’ll stay with you during your first spell,” promised Romalu-Do. “I value my skin as much as you do yours.”
“Thanks,” replied Jamie, who was interrupted by the commander before he could say more.
“On the count of three, we go. Be ready. Three, two one, go!” The commander began the first of many grueling sessions at the wheel. He brought the ship up to the target speed and started threading the three dimensional needle through the rocky skyscape before him.
“You two please sit for a while and watch what I’m doing. I’ll explain everything and then I’ll give each of you a turn at the controls to get the feel of the ship. It’s a question of understanding the speed and distance balance – everything must done gently and in good time or you may over-steer or overshoot. Once you get the hang of it, it’s a matter of focus and concentration. You’ll find that the controls are simple, responsive and easy to use.”
Komando-Ka spent the next four hours coaching his two co-pilots, making sure they really had grasped the skills needed to fly the ship through the obstacle course. Both were quick on the uptake and keen to do well so the coaching was comprehensive and effective. Romalu-Do had piloted before but not through such a cluttered asteroid field so he already had the basic skills, which only needed refinement. Each of the two then piloted for a full hour and at the end the commander was satisfied that both would manage the task. Romalu-Do took the next shift and then it was Jamie’s turn. Romalu-Do stayed with him for a while, as promised, but soon he decided Jamie was good to go and left him to it. At first, Jamie was nervous with no friendly supervision on hand. So he overcompensated by concentrating harder. He made several small mistakes and came close to nudging boulders, which increased his nervousness. He began to talk to himself, giving warnings and instructions.
“Watch out for the two boulders on the next turn. They’re very close together. And don’t over-steer as you go through because that large boulder on the left of the turn is in the way. You’ll have to swerve back quickly from the turn.”
The talking helped his rhythm and he augmented it with breathing exercises to release his tension. Gradually, he relaxed and began to enjoy himself. It started to really feel like a computer game and he’d always had good eye-hand coordination. Also he realized the obstacles were further apart than they looked, at first sight, so steering wasn’t as difficult as his nerves had insisted it was. The asteroids were all stationary relative to each other so it wasn’t the same as the hair-raising flight through the meteor shower that he’d witnessed before.
“I think I’ve got the hang of this now,” he whispered to himself, relaxing still further. From then on he became a real pilot and the task became manageable.
Over the next twenty five days the three pilots worked continuously in four hour rotation while the normal business of the ship and its human passengers went on at optimum speed. When Androm appeared in the image on the big screen, Jamie was on shift and he breathed a sigh of relief… They’d made it.
“Thank goodness, “he whispered to himself. “ I don’t think I could have gone on much longer”.
He called the commander and Romalu-Do to report the sighting and both came to the bridge to join him.
“I’m glad that’s over,” said Romalu-Do, with sincerity and feeling. “I was starting to unravel at the edges.”
“That goes for me too,” laughed Jamie. “It felt as if it would never end. But it was fun too, once I managed to relax. Thanks, commander for trusting me.”
“You’re welcome, Jamie. But I must say that you’ve proved your worth many times already so I didn’t think you’d have a problem. And I’ve known Romalu-Do for a long time, so I knew he’d be OK. Still, I’m proud of both of you. Well done. Now you’re relieved of this duty. I’ll take it from here. Go and see your wife, Jamie.”
Jamie needed no second order. He rushed all the way to the human quarters and pulled up breathless when he found them deserted. He guessed that a meeting was in progress and moved quickly to the training room. He found his team in deep discussion, and moved silently to Jenny’s side. He bent and kissed her neck, gently. She turned and jumped into his arms to the cheers of the group. After a toe-curling welcome kiss, she let him go, and smiling widely returned to her seat. He grinned to the group.
“I’m glad somebody missed me,” he said, with a happy chuckle. “Peter, will you and Gillian please bring me up to date.”
“We’ve made really good progress while you’ve been playing with your new toy,” replied Peter, with a roguish grin. That got a laugh, which glossed over the fact that Jamie looked exhausted. Peter continued.
“The new skills we identified before are fully integrated and we have found more who have also been brought in. I’ll give you summaries later. The town planners provided the five options and we chose the one that looked the most effective. As a bonus, it was also the most elegant and we think it will become a really nice place to live. We provided annotated copies to the engineers on Androm and they have finished laying out the site.”
Gillian took over.
“We have completed the infrastructure plans and layouts and picked sites for our first solar generation plant, the sewage treatment plant, the water purification plant as well as the site for the hospital. These have all been cleared and laid out ready for development. We have site plans for the whole project. I’ll make a set up for you. We have also completed materials requirements plans for all the separate buildings that we need to start with. The chemical engineers led by Rebecca Jones, the one who was working before on prefabricated housing, have perfected a material they can use for all the buildings. It is durable, weatherproof and can be molded when molten. This new building material is white but can be infused with any colors we want. We have sourced a variety of dies to produce a range of color combinations. Each type of building combines parts from a specific set of molds. The engineers have designed the various molds, which were made from clay from the site then baked into tough pottery. We’ve set up the manufacturing plants well away from the town on the other side of the lake, adjacent to the space port for convenience. They have been designed for minimal impact on the surroundings and the atmosphere and construction has been completed. The process is simple and production and installation started two weeks ago. We are delivering and erecting the components of two hundred dwellings a day.”
Peter took over again to complete the briefing.
“One thing that has helped us is that the arrival of the refugees has been delayed. Abnormally severe weather conditions prevail over the pick-up points for the refugees. They have had to retreat to underground shelters for the time being. Already their arrival is delayed by two weeks and there is no sign of a let up. On the plus side, the dwellings can be erected in less than two hours by a single person since the foundations have been laid already. So the critical paths are manufacturing and infrastructure. We have both of those going at full speed. Current plans indicate about six thousand dwellings will be ready by the time the refugees start to arrive, if the weather were to clear up today and the first ships took off tomorrow. So each extra day we get we will deliver two hundred more houses. Labor reinforcements have been pulled from all over Androm and inflated from Taurus to expedite everything. Finally, we have organized several shipments of tents for temporary accommodation for those who arrive before their houses are ready and we have had storage facilities erected to warehouse the food supplies we will need for this instant population. It will take a while for our agriculture to get going so we have organized a system of deliveries from Taurus in the meantime.”
“The progress is astounding,” commented Jamie, with enthusiasm. “All of you have done an outstanding job. I’m proud to be part of this team.”
The mutual back-slapping stimulated by this compliment was interrupted by Romalu-Do.
“I thought I’d tell you myself,” he began. “Landfall on Androm will be four days from now and the other twenty three ships will start dropping off their passengers two days later at the rate of one per day.”
Jamie nearly got the last word. “On that note, I suddenly feel exhausted. I’m going to get some sleep,” he said.
“Not for a little while yet,” replied Jenny, with a sweet smile. “Let’s go!”