Bob was happy to have survived the deep downturn in the mid-forties when high-speed intercontinental seafloor rail service took a heavy toll on the airline business. The recovery from that bust began when the combined rocket-hybrid synergistic particle-impulse engines were developed in the fifties, becoming the revolutionary breakthrough the aerospace industry had long awaited. Finally, fuel was no longer a major problem. Aircraft designers’ new challenge was to make the ships as big and heavy as possible. With the new engines, more weight meant more efficiency. Ground facilities seemed to be the only limiting factor. Bob pondered it with fascination. What a radical turnaround!
So much had changed it boggled his mind. Suddenly he wondered how long it had been since he had actually spoken on the radio to a controller. How many years?
As he shook off his musings and began his re-entry preparations, a bright object caught his eye. It was the comforting sight of the glistening emergency docking station 50 miles overhead. He had been there only once when an electrical fire had broken out on his 937 a few years ago. All 700 passengers had evacuated safely into the station and stayed for several orbits until another plane picked them up. But that was a costly flight for his company. Haliburton didn’t operate those stations out of kindness.
Just as he was becoming agitated that he might not get his meal before re-entry he heard the chime. The serving door opened behind them and out rolled the trays. He gave one to Jennifer and placed his tray on his velcro-lined retractable table.
Then the chime rang again. A flight attendant in the left upper aft sub-cabin said it was too hot. He made an adjustment and mumbled that the automatic temperature controller must have been designed by the Seattle town drunk. Jennifer giggled while tearing off a printed message. She frowned and handed it to him: drug test at McMurdo. He let out a heavy sigh and wished he had lived in the old days when pilots could just fly and not have to put up with pointless annoyances.
He munched on his chicken flavored alpha-keratin soy sticks while watching Antarctica, brilliant and magnificent, rolling out of the south toward him. It was hard to believe so many people lived in South Victoria. Too cold for him, though.
He noticed Jennifer eyeing his tray. “Are you going to eat that?” she asked, gesturing toward his untouched tube of broccoli paste. He shook his head and gave it to her. He hated his company might lose Jennifer, but he knew she was logging time for a big airline job.
He realized it was time to get to work. He had two more legs to fly today, up to Mumbai and on over the top, back to Chicagoland. Already he felt tired. He hated these one-day trips. It was too bad he would never have the seniority to fly the big new long-haul birds with all the latest bells and whistles. Thinking about it, he slowly shook his head. Yeah, those guys really had it made.
When Jennifer finished her meal Bob said, “Okay, time to take her on in and land her. Make it so, Number One.”
“As you wish, Captain.”
He smiled thoughtfully and took in all the sights and sounds he could pack for future memories. Yeah, was going to miss this job. Most of it.
Never make predictions, especially about the future.