GoPro has all three of the available UAVs lined up in a single file, ready for takeoff. “We’re all set, LT.”
I look over at Greaser and he confirms with a nod.
As small as this building is compared to Soundstage 16, there is still plenty of room for the UAVs to takeoff. GoPro and I will be manually controlling each one through the portal, at which time Brooklyn will link them to the satellite. From there, the UAVs will be guided by their pre-determined flight plan.
With a wingspan of twenty feet, Greaser opens the portal to a width of thirty to make sure we don’t accidentally lop off a wing on the way through. Once all three UAVs cross over, Greaser will reduce the size of the portal, without closing it completely. This will allow us to monitor the video feeds for as long as possible before the Continuum has to be powered down.
GoPro throttles up the first UAV and sends it speeding toward the Continuum. When the UAV is halfway down the soundstage I follow it with the second. GoPro’s UAV lifts into the air, passes through the portal, and then quickly disappears out of view. As soon as Brooklyn confirms she has a satellite lock, GoPro drops the control and throttles up the third.
All three UAVs make it through the portal without incident and each is locked onto its flight path. As the rest of us gather around the monitors that are displaying the drone camera feeds, Greaser and KJ continue to watch their screens that are monitoring the Continuum’s connection to the wormhole.
“Greaser, we got a problem,” I hear KJ say.
“What’s is it?” I ask
“We’re getting more interference with the connection to the wormhole. This doesn’t look good.”
Greaser studies what KJ has been looking at and then confirms, “I think we’re going to have to shut it down.”
“Already?” GoPro complains.
“Brooklyn, are all three UAVs recording?” I ask her.
She checks her monitors and confirms.
“Okay, Greaser, go ahead and shut it down. But work fast, I want to start reviewing footage as soon as possible.”
“Wait! Wait! Wait!” Brooklyn interjects, panicking. “Don’t shut it down yet, Greaser. UAV Three just lost contact with the satellite. GoPro! Take control until I can re-establish a connection.”
GoPro jumps into action and runs back to table where we dropped the three controllers. “Which one is it?”
“Three! UAV Three!”
GoPro grabs the remote for UAV Three and turns his attention to the monitors. “There’s no video feed! I can’t fly it if I can’t see it.”
Brooklyn curses. “Okay, I’m switching the transmission feed to go through the sat phone, you should be able to see the signal again… now!”
The monitor comes to life again, giving us the UAV’s camera feed. It barely had time to get up to cruising elevation before the connection was lost. It’s now rapidly descending back toward earth. Getting his bearings through the monitor, GoPro uses the control to give the UAV some lift. We can see it level off and then begin to climb again.
“I think we got an equipment malfunction,” Brooklyn tells me. “The other two UAVs are fine, but I can’t get this one to reestablish communication with the satellite.”
GoPro looks at me, wondering what to do, “LT?”
“Let’s bring her back in,” I sigh. “We still have a working bird circling the Studio. Can we bring that down and send it out as a replacement?”
“I can land it and have it ready to go within thirty minutes,” GoPro tells me.
“Greaser, how long can you keep the connection open?”
“I don’t know,” he says. “I’ve reduced the size of the portal, which should buy us more time, but I can’t say for sure how much. I’ll need to open it back up again to bring the UAV through, but at this point, that’s going to push us to our limits. We’ll have to hold off on getting the replacement UAV in the air until I can fix the connection.”
“Ok, whatever we have to do,” I say. “GoPro, let Greaser know when to widen the portal so you can bring the UAV back through. But not too soon,” I add.
“Uh, not me, boss,” he says holding the control out toward me. “I’m not qualified to fly a twenty foot wide aircraft through a thirty-foot invisible hole at high speed.”
“You’ll do just fine, GoPro,” I say reassuringly. “You’re the most qualified person here. It has to be you.”
GoPro swears under his breath. On the monitor, we see the UAV heading toward the remains of Studio D. From the distance we have a general idea where the portal opening is, but can’t yet see the small red marker we put out.
It suddenly dawns on me the sheer impossibility of the situation. From the camera’s point of view, there is no visible portal, no soundstage, and no landing strip to speak of.
KJ is intently monitoring the connection to the wormhole. “You need to hurry, GoPro. We can’t keep the portal open much longer.”
“Don’t pressure him!” I bark.
Keeping an eye on the video monitors, I see a faint speck of red in the sea of blandness. “There’s the marker!”
“Where?” GoPro yells.
I point at the monitor, “There.”
“Are you sure that’s it?
I’m not, but as the UAV gets closer, I become more confident.
The UAV wobbles as GoPro fights the wind gusts.
“Take it steady,” I say.
“I’m trying! Do you want to do this?”
The drone is suddenly pushed upward.
“Crap, crap, crap, crap, crap!” GoPro shouts.
“You got this,” I tell him.
“The connection is breaking down,” Greaser says, his tone increasing in urgency.
“Keep that portal open!” I command him.
GoPro performs a hard drop, lowering the UAV to just six feet off the ground. The portal should be straight in front, assuming the red market hasn’t been blown out of place.
A sudden gust of wind causes the UAV to lurch to the left, kicking up a bunch of dust.
“Get it back on course,” I command.
GoPro panics, “Where’d the marker go? I don’t see it! It’s gone!”
“Move further to the right,” I tell him.
“I can’t do this!” GoPro cries.
“Camden!” Greaser yells at me. “The connection is collapsing. I won’t be able to get it wide enough for the UAV.”
Greaser’s comments don’t help GoPro’s already lacking confidence.
“LT, take the control. Please! I can’t do this.”
I point my finger at Greaser, “You will not let the portal collapse, do you hear me?”
Back to GoPro, “Are you back on course?”
“I think so! I don’t know!” He screams. “I don’t want to do this. Someone, please take the control!”
I deliberately calm my voice, trying to sound as reassuring as possible, “You got this, GoPro. You’re doing just fine.” I see tears well up in his eyes. He’s scared. “You need to slow it down or we won’t have enough room bring it to a stop once it lands.”
“I can’t go any slower,” he cries. “The wind is too strong, it’ll knock it off course.”
I look around the building. We only have a hundred feet between the Continuum and the elephant door on the far side. Realizing what I need to do, I point to the far wall. “Cleaner! Get that door open.” He looks as if he wants to object but thinks better of it and takes off.
Still between us and the door is millions of dollars’ worth of scientific equipment. We were able to carve out a thin path for takeoff, but we need a much wider one to land.
I turn to the others crowded around the control center, “Brooklyn! Darwin! Everyone! Get that equipment out of the way. Now!”
Everyone jumps into action as Cleaner and his men open the large door at the end. This gives us an additional thirty feet of runway, but it’s not enough. I have Cleaner run over to Soundstage 32, to see if they can open their elephant door and clear a path for us. “If not, tell them to prepare for impact.”
Half a minute later, the elephant door facing us in Soundstage 32 opens. Inside I see their team scurrying to move equipment out of the way as well.
I turn my attention back to Greaser. “How’s the portal holding up?”
“It’s not going to work, Camden. We need to abort!”
Ignoring him, I ask GoPro how he’s doing.
“Coming in fast,” he complains.
The portal is still the size of an orange. “Greaser, you ready to open it up?”
“Not sure how much I can coax out of it, but I’ll give you what I can.”
“GoPro, give Greaser a countdown, but hold off as long as possible.”
“I’ll try. I’m scared, LT.”
“You’re doing just fine.” The UAV steadies as he approaches, looking as if the wind died down.
“I got it! I got it! On ‘go,’ ready in three!”
Greaser puts his hands on the controls, ready to increase the portal size on “go”.
“Clear out!” I yell at those still moving the last of the equipment out of the way.
“Ready!” Greaser confirms.
“Go! Go! Go!”
Greaser punches at the control panel. “It’s opening!” he says, a thrill in his voice. The UAV suddenly appears through the Continuum, coming at us like a missile.
Greaser curses, “It’s not big enough, Camden! The UAV won’t make it through!”
But it’s too late. The UAV crosses through the portal.
The wings disappear, as they are sliced cleanly off by the portal edge, leaving two twelve inch stubs on either side. As the UAV hits the ground, the landing gear is smashed, breaking into pieces. The fuselage slams down into the concrete floor, sliding fast toward the open elephant door, leaving a trail of sparks in its wake.
The friction is acting as a break, slowing the UAV down. But as it slides, the body begins to turn sideways, launching the fuselage into a roll.
We just lost our brakes.
Pieces of the UAV break off and fly out in all directions as it continues to roll across the floor. It’s not stopping anytime soon.
The roll knocks it off course, redirecting it toward the edge of the open elephant door. Brooklyn and Darwin barely have time to jump out of the way into the relative safety of one of the offices.
With a loud crash, the UAV slams sideways into the door. It instantly breaks into two pieces, half of which continues rolling and bouncing toward Soundstage 32. The other half is flung backward, crashing into a mobile workstation loaded with equipment. Pieces go flying in all directions as the fuselage tears through it and smashes into the glass wall of the office behind it, where Darwin and Brooklyn are hiding behind a desk, shielding themselves.
I watch as pieces of glass, lab equipment, and UAV explode in all directions as if a small bomb had just detonated.