Star runner, p.1
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       Star Runner, p.1

           Mark McDonough
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Star Runner

  By Mark McDonough

  Copyright 2012 Mark McDonough


  This book is for Peta, who always believed that I could.

  And also for my own three adventurers - Chris, Toby and Rowan.


  Chapter One – Ace

  Nick “Ace” Daniels grinned as he banked the shuttle around Space Station Cygnus. Looking out the port to his left, he could just make out the windows in the station as it blew past. The central core rose above and dropped down below the outer ring.

  His fingers moved instinctively as he flipped the shuttle around. The metal groaned around him – it wasn’t designed for this type of stress. Nick knew that it’d hold together, he’d only ever exceeded a shuttle’s stress limits so much that it literally came apart at the seams twice before, and they’d both been years ago.

  The shuttle dived down and under the outer ring. Nick held it for a few seconds, before simultaneously bringing the nose up and gunning the engines. The shuttle shot straight up, between two of the station’s crosswalks. Ace held it, following the curve of the ring, now above his head. He completed the loop and rolled the shuttle, righting her as he shot away from the station.

  “Yee-hah!” Nick yelled, the adrenaline pumping as he flicked his longish brown hair back from his face.

  He’d performed it perfectly. It’d taken him months of practise. At first he’d overshot under the ring, nearly ramming the central core. Then he’d had to work on his trajectory to avoid the crosswalks as he shot back up. He’d nearly flown straight into the outer ring half a dozen times until he’d learnt the feel of when to pull out so that he could complete the circle perfectly.

  After that, it was just a case of practising until he had the speed up to his usual high velocities.

  Not bad for a kid who was only eleven.

  Nick looked down at the board. Fuel, computers, navigation, engines, shields, gravity, structural integrity all read green. Good to go, he thought to himself.

  Looking up, he brought the nose of the shuttle around until he was once again facing the space station. He cut the engines, letting her drift. The station hung in space ahead of him. Somewhere behind it, and slightly to the right, was his next goal.

  His fingers drummed on the instrument panel as he sat in thought. His aim was to skim the event horizon of the black hole. He knew roughly how close he could get before his shuttle’d be pulled off course and lost in the black hole.

  His brother, Alex, had hardly talked about anything but the black hole since he’d joined the station crew two years ago.

  But Alex’s talk was all theory.

  Nick’s question was how close could you really fly to a black holes’ event horizon?

  As much as he hated to admit it, he knew that flying straight in probably wasn’t the smartest idea. His instruments would tell him how far out he was, but that wasn’t quite good enough for him. He wanted to be able to feel it.

  His mind made up, Nick nodded and immediately had to flick his hair out of his face again as it flopped over his eyes.

  Ace Daniels brought up the engines to three-quarter power, smiling as the feel of the powerful engines throbbed underneath and around him. The shuttle shot forward. Nick let his fingers dance over the instruments, setting a heading that would let him cruise across the face of the black hole about a hundred and fifty kilometres from the event horizon.

  He reasoned that that should be close enough for a first pass; it was more than twice the distance that Alex had thought was safe, even allowing for his usual margin for error.

  The shuttle flashed past the station. It curved around, ready for the pass that Nick had programmed into the computer. The star of Cygnus X-1 drew rapidly closer. Somewhere nearby, Nick knew the black hole was sitting, quietly drawing in any matter that floated too close to it. Nick’s forehead grew damp as his adrenaline started pumping again.

  Beeep! Beeep!

  Wildly, Nick looked down at the board, trying to find the source of the alarm. It came again. There was nothing on his boards to show anything was wrong. The third time it came, Nick realised that it came from his watch, not his shuttle.

  “Oh, no,” Nick groaned.

  He was going to be late.


  Slapping panels, he quickly shut down the shuttle and the simulation. If he didn’t run for it, there was no way that he’d make it in time for class. And it’d be his second time that week. Lieutenant Keegan would be sure to tell his parents.

  Nick grabbed his bag as he scrambled from his chair, slinging its strap over his head. Tucking the bag into his side, he punched the door release button and ran out. He hadn’t gone two steps before being jerked to a stop by the strap across his body.

  Nick looked back and up, immediately clamping down on the groan that threatened to escape as he recognised the large man who had a hold of the strap of his bag.

  “Well, well, well, what do we have here?” Lieutenant O’Lochlan sneered, his thin red moustache curling up with his lip.

  Nick glared. Why’d it have to be him? he thought to himself. There was no love lost between Lt. Kevin O’Lochlan and the Daniels boys.

  “I assume that you don’t have clearance to use this simulator?” he asked, puffing out his already considerable stomach as he leaned over to punch some buttons on the pad beside the simulator door.

  Nick continued to glare. He half considered slipping out of his bag and running for it, but on a station this large, there really wasn’t anywhere to hide. Especially with the internal sensors that had been built into it.

  “Nothing to say, boy?” he gloated.

  Again Nick refused to answer him.

  “In that case, I think that it would be nothing less than my duty to take you to the Captain and report this.”

  Nick gulped.

  The Captain.

  His father.

  He guessed that things could be worse, although at that moment he found it hard to imagine it. Bad enough that he’d been using the simulator without permission. Worse still that he’d been caught by O’Lochlan. If only it’d been his brother Pete’s engineering friend, A.B., Nick knew that he’d have been able to talk his way out of it. But not with this guy.

  As Nick was frog-marched through the station, he was sure that nearly all of the one hundred and ninety-seven station residents were out and about to see him being taken to his father.

  A sea of faces in royal blue jumpsuits with yellow shoulder-pads and black boots watched him as he passed. Some smiled. Most, though, frowned. Particularly the ones with the tan wrist stripes of engineering and the red ones of security.

  In what seemed no time at all, Nick had been marched through the outer ring, across a walkway and into the central core. A short ’lift ride later and the doors opened onto the command deck of Space Station Cygnus.

  As the doors whispered open, Nick craned his head from side to side, trying to see if his father was in sight. He wasn’t, but that didn’t mean anything. He was probably just in his office. The half-dozen officers present glanced their way, but only one let their gaze linger on them, before slowing shaking his head.

  His oldest brother, Alex.

  O’Lochlan didn’t pause. Dragging Nick along beside him, he made his way straight towards the Captain’s Office.

  Nick was made to stand in front of his father’s door and watch as his captor pressed the buzzer. His father’s voice had barely spoken before Nick was shoved inside.

  “Ah, Kevin, to what do I owe this pleasure?” asked Captain Daniels pleasantly, his gaze raking over his son before coming to rest on Lieutenant O’Lochlan.

  “Captain, I caugh
t this boy coming out of Simulator Four. According to the log, he’d been in there for nearly an hour.”

  “I assume you checked to see if he had clearance?” Captain Daniels asked, his stern gaze fixed on his junior officer.

  “Yes, sir, I asked the boy. He refused to answer. But he never has clearance. So I brought him straight to you,” Lieutenant O’Lochlan related.

  Nick bristled. Never? He always had clearance. Or, at least, most of the time he did.

  “Thank you, Kevin. I’ll take it from here,” said Captain Daniels, dismissing him.

  “But, sir. . .” O’Lochlan protested.

  Nick could feel O’Lochlan’s eyes on him, but he refused to look. The sooner that he was gone, the sooner that he’d be alone with his father. And there was much more of a chance of his father being lenient with him when there was no one else around to see.

  “That’s all, Lieutenant,” Captain Daniels repeated firmly. “I’ll let you get back to your duties.”

  From the corner of his eye, Nick could see O’Lochlan’s mouth open and close a few times before he turned and stormed from the room. Captain Daniels let the door slide closed behind O’Lochlan before he even looked at his son.

  “Oh, Ace,” Ian Daniels sighed as he came around to perch on the front of his desk.

  ‘Ace’, that was a good sign, Nick thought to himself. It was the nickname that his father had given him because of his love of flying.

  “What’d you do? Hotwire the door controls or use my clearance codes again?”

  Nick looked down, trying to avoid seeing the disappointment in his father’s eyes. “Hotwired it,” he mumbled.

  “Nick, you’ve got to stop doing this! Think about what it says about me. I’m the Station Commander and I can’t even get my own son to obey station rules. And what’s your mother going to say?”

  “I’m sorry, Dad. It won’t happen again,” he murmured.

  Captain Daniels snorted. “I’ll believe that when I see it.” He moved around his desk and fell heavily into his chair. “Your simulator privileges are suspended for a month.”

  “But, Dad, you can’t!” Nick gasped, his head snapping up. “I’ve only got three hours a week as it is!”

  “If you want to learn to be a pilot, then you’ve got to learn to obey the rules. They’re there for a reason. To keep you alive. You’ll never be a great pilot until you’ve learnt that. Maybe suspending your sim privileges will help you learn that.”

  “Yes, Dad,” Nick mumbled to his boots again. This wasn’t the first time his father had had this conversation with him.

  “You’re late for school, aren’t you? We’ll talk about this some more tonight.”

  “Yes, Dad,” he repeated glumly.

  Nick turned, heading for the door.

  “Ace, was it worth it?” his father called after him.

  “Oh, yeah, Dad,” Nick grinned. “I looped the station at five hundred k’s.”

  “Get out of here,” Captain Daniels called. “And please, try to stay out trouble for the rest of the day!”

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