Authors: Simon Cheshire
It was the most amazing thing George had ever seen.
He held his breath, hardly daring to move or blink, in case he missed a micro-second of it. Through the wide, oval windows of the passenger cabin, he could see the planet Earth far below him. It looked like a gigantic blue ball, covered in swirling patterns of cloud. Surrounding it was the deep blackness of space, scattered with a sprinkling of bright stars. By craning his neck, George could make out the coastlines of northern Europe.
It felt strange to know that only a couple of hours ago, he'd been standing in the vast CentralCity Air and Space Port looking up at the sky through which
he was now travelling. He had gazed at the stars above and wondered what his journey was going to be like. And now, here he was in space!
A delicate chime sounded overhead.
The high, calm voice of the stewardess said, “Ladies and gentlemen, we will shortly be approaching our destination, the
Orbital Platform. The shuttle will bank to your left in a moment, and we will have our first sight of the space station. Thank you for travelling MaxiBoost Spaceways. My assistant Roj will soon be handing out free souvenir MaxiBoost baseball caps. Thank you.”
George glanced over to where his friends Josh and Amira were sitting. They looked just as excited as him. Amira was intently scrolling through data on her mini-screen, looking up the technical details of the passenger shuttle in which they were travelling, her fold-down table covered in books packed full of MaxiBoost Spaceways trivia. Josh was finishing off the packed lunch he'd brought with him, his jumper covered in crumbs as he licked his lips clean.
“For goodness' sake, Josh,” muttered Mr Snodbury. “You were supposed to save that until
lunchtime. It said so quite clearly on the letter home to your parents.”
“Sorry, Mr Snodbury,” said Josh through a mouth full of food, spraying crumbs everywhere as he spoke. “I was hungry.”
Mr Snodbury flicked the crumbs off his jacket with a look of distaste on his face. He was George, Josh and Amira's head teacher. There were only two things George wasn't enjoying about this school trip: one was having Mr Snodbury in charge, instead of their form teacher Miss Astro; the other was having Dwayne with them too.
“Mr Snodbury,” said Dwayne, as Mr Snodbury brushed the last of the crumbs away, “George ate his packed lunch too. I saw him.” Dwayne sneered at George.
“Did you, George?” said Mr Snodbury.
“Umm,” said George, going a bit red. “I ate it before we took off from Earth.”
Mr Snodbury tutted and shook his head. “I can see I'm going to have to keep a close eye on you. The four of you are representing the school on this trip, and I expect good behaviour and a mature attitude from all of you, at all times. I'm sure Amira hasn't
been an oinky pig-wig and gobbled up her packed lunch already, have you, Amira?”
Amira didn't even look away from her mini-screen as she held up the empty packet that had contained her packed lunch. Mr Snodbury sighed. Dwayne showed Mr Snodbury that his packed lunch was completely intact, not so much as nibbled. Then he sneered at George again. George's eyes narrowed. He could see that Dwayne was going to be trouble.
At that moment, the view through the windows suddenly veered to one side. Nobody inside the shuttle felt any movement, because the craft's artificial gravity kept them all safely in their seats. With no air turbulence and no gravity in space, the ride inside the shuttle was as smooth as glass. Only the view outside changed.
George found the sensation of space flight odd but exciting. Mr Snodbury had said it made him want to be sick. As the view through the windows shifted, without giving any other feeling of movement, Mr Snodbury gripped the sides of his seat and went slightly green.
“Are you feeling spacesick again, Mr Snodbury?” asked Amira.
Mr Snodbury simply shut his eyes and nodded.
The shuttle's engines changed tone. Since the spacecraft had left Earth, George had heard a steady, low, pulsing rumble vibrating gently through the ship. Now, as the shuttle turned and manoeuvred, the rumble rose slightly in pitch.
The huge space station
glided into view. It was about the size of a block of flats. It was a long, curving structure of steel, wrapped in solar panels. At one end was a bulbous section out of which
stuck huge nozzles. At the other end was a box-like section covered in large windows.
It was the most amazing thing George had ever seen. He had studied countless images of it in his school books but to see it in real life was a completely different experience. He held his breath, hardly daring to move or blink.
Mr Snodbury still had his eyes shut.
“Don't miss this, Mr Snodbury,” said Amira. “Look, you can see people moving around inside! The station is parked in geostationary orbit at the moment.”
Mr Snodbury opened one eye. “Geoâ¦ what?”
“Geostationary orbit,” explained Amira. “It's when an object is exactly the right distance away from the Earth, so that the pull of the Earth's gravity keeps it in balance.”
George demonstrated using empty packed lunch bags to represent the Earth and the space station. “The balance of distance and gravity keeps the station in position above a particular place on the Earth's surface. Clever, isn't it?”
“G-G-Gravity,” muttered Mr Snodbury. “B-Balanceâ¦ Excuse me!”
He dashed for the toilets. George, Josh and Amira shrugged and went back to watching the huge space station get closer and closer.
There were several dozen passengers on today's shuttle flight. Most were scientists and technicians arriving at
to work. The return trip, due to leave for Earth in an hour's time, would be full of other scientists and technicians going back home.
George and his friends were going to stay on the station for the rest of the week. This had been their reward for getting the best results in their year's Science class. Amira, as always, had come top of the class and probably knew more about the ship than any member of the crew, while Josh was still amazed that he had passed the exam, never mind coming in the top four.
The shuttle slid into position beside the station. Now George and his friends could no longer see the stars â their whole view was of the solar panels along the station's hull.
A tunnel-like extension emerged from the side of the shuttle and clamped into place around the sliding door which formed the station's main entrance. A hollow KA-KLANG sounded throughout the shuttle.
“Docking Port A sealed,” said the calm voice of the stewardess. “You may now move about the cabin, ladies and gentlemen.”
Passengers began to stand up and retrieve their luggage from the overhead compartments. Voices began to chatter up and down the cabin. A man in a MaxiBoost Spaceways uniform walked along the aisles between the seats, handing out bright blue baseball caps with the MaxiBoost logo on the front. George, Josh, Amira and Dwayne put theirs on and grinned at each other.
“I feel like a real space technician now,” said George.
Dwayne snatched George's cap off his head, ripped the tab at the back so it wouldn't stay on properly, then plonked it back on George's head.
“Now you can feel like a twit,” he sniggered.
For a moment, George was too shocked to react. The cap slid down over his eyes.
Mr Snodbury appeared, making his way along the aisle, clutching at the backs of seats as he went. He didn't look quite so green now. He was more a sort of yellowy-white.
“Come on, everyone,” he said, unsteadily, “gather up all your stuff.”
“Mr Snodbury,” protested George, “Dwayne just ripped my baseball cap!”
“Now now, George,” muttered Mr Snodbury, steadying himself against the seats and looking like he was doing his best to fight back another wave of sickness.
George glared at Dwayne. Dwayne pulled a ha-ha face at George.
All the passengers shuffled forwards towards the exit, bags and knees bumping. As he approached the airlock joining the shuttle to the space station, George could smell the cool, filtered air pumped out by the station's Atmosphere Purifier.
He felt nervous and excited all over again. Above the exit was a glowing display screen which said: “Thank you for travelling MaxiBoost Spaceways, which is not part of MegaZone Corporation in any way, never has been, never will be, because that lot are rubbish. Have a nice day. Local time isâ¦ 11:20am, May 13, 2125.”
George couldn't wait to actually set foot on a real space station. It was a dream come true.
Little did he know that, within hours, his dream would become a nightmare.
George's group assembled on the wide walkway that was just beyond the main airlock. Mr Snodbury fussed and fretted, ticking items off from a list on his mini-screen, all the while trying to juggle his luggage which was so badly packed that items kept falling out and rolling away. George looked around, at the gleaming metallic surfaces and flowing displays all around them. His eyes were wide and his jaw seemed to be dangling loosely. He started to wonder if there was any aspect of this
space station which
going to make him hugely amazed and impressed.
Beside the airlock, the crew of the space shuttle were getting into an argument with a couple of the space station's security guards. They were hissing insults at each other and flapping their baseball caps.
“What's all that about?” whispered Josh.
“Company wars,” replied Amira. “MaxiBoost Spaceways and MegaZone Corporation are bitter business rivals. They've bought armies and held battles back home. Haven't you seen it on the newsfeeds?”
“MegaZone built this station, didn't they?” said George.
“Yes,” said Amira, “and MaxiBoost were furious that MegaZone got the contract.”
Passengers for the return trip to Earth were already filing onto the shuttle. The MaxiBoost shuttle crew went back to their normal, smiling selves as they welcomed the passengers on board.
Two smartly dressed technicians approached George's group: a tall blonde woman and a slightly shorter man with brown curly hair. The woman walked over to Mr Snodbury and held out her hand.
“Hello, I take it you're the group from CentralCity Primary School?” she said, in a voice as smart as her uniform.