Raina stepped into the main hall of the ship and looked out over the trees. She had expected to be amazed, but the sight in front of her was beyond anything she had ever imagined.
The biodome was huge, the size of a football stadium. Inside, maples and conifers reached to the heavens. Literally. Though the UV sun over the forest was almost blinding, Raina knew that above it, the velvet backdrop of space would be visible through a portal in the evenings. She had seen the outside of it reflecting the starlight on her approach.
“Report, please,” she said.
“Toxicity, zero percent,” a male voice answered. The husky, vaguely British voice was at odds with its owner, a tiny origami drone the size of Raina’s palm, currently hovering above her right shoulder.
“Oxygen content twenty-two percent,” he continued. “The air is breathable.”
He floated a few feet away as Raina pulled off her pack and set it down.
She removed her helmet and took a tentative breath.
The air was indeed breathable, and not too stale in spite of the ship having been in space for who knew how many decades. She suspected that was mostly thanks to the forest in front of her.
The temperature in the biodome was comfortable and the air smelled like rain. The weather programming must have just played a storm.
She stripped off the rest of the space suit and pressed the button to deflate it. When it was at its smallest, she placed it in the pocket inside the helmet and clipped it to her pack.
She felt light as air without the helmet and suit. Taking them off seemed more freeing than it should have.
“Can I get a gravity check?” she asked.
“Artificial gravity currently reading sixty-seven percent of standard,” BFF20 said.
So that was why she felt light. Earth’s normal gravity was considered standard on human-inhabited ships. Raina felt a small shift, like when an elevator started to descend.
“Forty-five percent,” the drone said.
“What?” Raina asked.
“Seventy-two percent,” BFF20 amended. “This is quite unusual, darling, the gravity on the vessel is inconsistent.”
“Don’t call me darling,” Raina said distractedly.
She could definitely feel the inconsistency of the ship’s gravity - it was almost like being on a swing. Her stomach was doing little flip-flops.
“Would you like me to continue updating the readings?” the drone asked.
“No, thanks,” Raina said. “Let’s see if we can find the navigation room and check out the control settings.”
“Very good,” BFF20 said, sounding like a sexy butler.
Raina slipped her navigation palette, like a souped-up version of the iPad she’d had back home, from her pocket and slid her fingers over the glass.
A hologram of the rough shape of the ship in front of her lifted from the screen. She held it aloft in her palm and spun around slowly and some of the blanks filled in.
She shaped and adjusted the floors that ran around the forest in rings up as high as she could see but the forest was blocking her from completing the map.
“Hopefully I can get detailed schematics from the navigation room too,” she said to no one in particular.
Raina had always loved maps and mapping. As a child on Earth she had reveled in the tales of explorers and bemoaned the fact that nearly everything on the blue and green planet had already been discovered and mapped long before she was born.
When the opportunity arose to join the space cadet program she’d leapt at the chance, dreaming that maybe one day school kids would read about her adventures.
But there had been issues on entry and the portal to Earth had closed. The ship that had contained her pod and the pods of two other Earth women was lost, and hundreds of years had passed before the three of them were discovered and awakened.
Raina was grateful to be alive. But it was hard not to notice that just enough time had passed that the golden age of near space exploration was coming to a close.
Once again, Raina had missed out on her calling by only a few generations.
“The navigation room is most likely this way,” BFF20 said politely, hovering in front of her.
“Let’s go,” Raina said crisply, swinging her pack onto her back.
The little drone folded himself into a crane shape and flitted through the air, leading the way down a corridor covered in thick carpet.
The whole place had an odd feel, as if a shopping mall had been crossed with a high-end hotel and wrapped around a forest.
But it was the silence that was truly haunting.
Her footsteps were muted by the rug, and BFF20 flew noiselessly.
Raina wasn’t the imaginative type, but something about the enormity of the ship and the profound silence within gave her the creeps. She picked up the pace and BFF20 zoomed on ahead.
Every so often the gravity would unexpectedly drop, and she’d find herself sailing a few inches above the floor and floating along for five feet or so. Then gravity would kick back up a bit and she would land.
It reminded her of the feeling she sometimes had in dreams, where she was jumping and floating. It might even have been fun if she hadn’t had a tingly feeling that they weren’t alone.
She was beginning to get used to her new command of intermittent partial gravity when at last they arrived at a large walnut door bearing a brass plate that said Navigation Room.
“The navigation room, milady,” BFF20 announced needlessly.
“I’m not your lady,” Raina said automatically, pushing the door open.
The plush carpet and glossy millwork of the public space ended at the threshold. The navigation room itself was all gleaming ceramic and carbon fiber.
Raina found it reassuring that this space looked like what she would have expected to be in a navigation room in her own time. She went to the control panel, which ran the length of the room, and scanned the buttons and slides carefully without touching anything.
“I believe the gravitation field access panel is here,” BFF20 said.
He was hovering over a small ivory colored toggle covered by a transparent bubble.
Raina studied it carefully without lifting the dome. There were numbers on it almost like a thermostat. Currently it was set at 1G. The digital readout below was fluctuating between .45G and .72G.
She lifted the bubble and slid the toggle gently upward to 1.1G.
She eased it back down to 1G, hoping that would reset the whole thing.
There was no change in the reading.
“Damn it,” she murmured to herself.
“May I be of assistance?” BFF20 asked politely.
“I don’t think so,” Raina said as she slid the toggle up to 2G.
That should have increased the gravity to twice what she was used to on Earth, but she didn’t feel any difference, and there was no change in the digital read out.
“Something must be wrong with the control panel,” she said.
Gravity kicked in slightly and she felt the weight of her pack again.
A sound echoed in the threshold of the room, where something larger than Raina had just landed.