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Beating Pete

Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean


A soft chime. “Yes, Moira?

"Please begin the checklist for transition into hypersonic regime."

A display to my left blinks and is populated with a scrolling, indented checklist. Artemis quickly runs through all items it can check, highlighting the ones I need to verify. Once done, unable to suppress a grin, I strap my O2 mask on and prep the G-suit for the batshit thing I am about to do.


A soft chime. “Yes, Moira?

"Please begin all-channel recording for Gamma Flight Test One-Eighty-Eight. Pilot's notes: Fifty-six years and four months ago today, Pete Knight set the as-yet unbroken human speed record of Mach six point seven. I, Moira McIntyre, fully intend to break that record today with Gamma zero two four India Oscar."

With that done, I glance across the various blue and orange gauges on my instrument panels. Lucille is flying stable and clean at thirty thousand feet at a comfortable Mach 0.85. Below us, the Atlantic Ocean sparkles in the noon sun. I toggle off the autopilot, taking the sidestick in my left hand and lightly resting my right hand on the throttles and engine mode selector. I take a deep breath of O2-laden air to clear my mind, then breathe out "Poyekhali!"

I ease the throttles forward. The twin GLAIVEs under and behind me spool up from 43% to 70% N1 compressor power effortlessly and kick me in the back. I watch the Mach number steadily rise from 0.85 to 1.2 in a matter of a few seconds.

Feeling OK, I push the throttles forward further, caressing the mode selector without toggling it. I can feel the cryogenic fuel racing through the engines now as they rise to N1 of 87% and the Mach number ticks up to 4.1.

Artemis says something but I am entranced by the G-loading and the sensation of speed.

I click the mode selector to shift the GLAIVEs into ramjet mode, spooling down the compressor stages and using the sheer speed of the aircraft itself to pump air into the combustion chambers. There is a brief feeling of weightlessness as the engines change over and begin to build up thrust again, then I am slammed back into my seat as they catch back up with the aircraft.

Mach 4.5

Mach 5.1

Mach 5.5

I click the mode selector again to bring the engines into scramjet mode, the airstream now too fast for the spike cones to slow. There is another moment of weightlessness as the engines alter geometry to allow combustion from a supersonic intake, and then I am flattened as the engines catch and flare into the new regime.

Mach 5.7

Mach 5.9

Mach 6.1

Mach 6.5

Mach 6.6

Mach 6.7

Mach 6.6

Mach 6.6

Mach 6.7

Mach 6.8

Mach 7.0

Mach 7.2

I have no words. I barely have thoughts. I am racing the skyline over seven times faster than sound, the fastest airborne human in the history of the world.

The inky black of the sky and the dwindling curvature below me begin to creep into my awareness. Concerned, I notice finally that I have allowed the altitude to creep up to over 75,000 feet, busting my flight plan altitude by a wide margin. I ease the sidestick forward, cautiously feeling out the handling at this tremendous velocity. Lucille is as graceful as ever, the fly-by-wire computers doing their job translating my intent into the correct controls for this flight regime.


A soft chime. “Yes, Moira?

"Has anyone been in contact about my deviation from flight plan?"

Not at this time.

"Good. File an amendment, I want to see how far I can push this. I wanna hit the Kármán line."

Amendment to two-hundred-seventy-five thousand feet made to filed flight plan. Waiting for approvals...

FAA approved...

EASA approved...

"Good enough for me. Punch it!"

I slide the throttles all the way forward and click the mode selector once more. The GLAIVEs perform one last transformation, the spike cones sliding all the way forward to close the intakes entirely. A pair of high-power electric turbopumps spool up to force LOx into the combustion chambers to make up for the loss of atmospheric air, turning my gorgeous machines into rocket engines. The airframe rumbles and shakes with the fury of the combustion and the edges of my vision begin to darken.

I hit the control for my G-suit, forcing more air into the compression garment and hopefully more blood into the parts of me that are in control of this bird.

Mach 8.4, 75,000ft.

Mach 9.0, 90,000ft.

Mach 9.1, 120,000ft.

Mach 9.1, 200,000ft.

Mach 9.2, 250,000ft.

Mach 9.2, 260,000ft.

I ease forward on the stick again, wanting to just cross the line.

Mach 9.2, 276,409ft.

"Good enough." I switch the autopilot on again in altitude and speed hold. "Hey, Artemis?"

A soft chime. “Yes, Moira?

"Call Janais."

Janais currently has a priority-two do-not-disturb set. Is this priority-one?

"Fuck it, yes, this is a priority-one."

Calling Janais on your earpiece” followed by a soft chime, then the characteristic sound of the telephone network connecting me to my partner.

"hey, this is janais brown. sorry i missed your call. leave a message i guess." the deadened voicemail message cuts into my elation like a dull cleaver. "Balls. I forgot. Fuck. Ass. Shit. Artemis?"

A soft chime. “Yes, Moira?

"Call Kian."

Calling Kian on your earpiece” followed by a soft chime, then the characteristic sound of the telephone network connecting me to my other partner.

"Ma mie, are you calling me while you are flying again?"

"Yes, but autopilot is on it is ok. Heyguesswhatguesswhat? Guess!? What!?"

A rumbling chuckle comes from the earpiece. "What is it?"

"I broke both Pete's record and I am above the Kármán line! Mach...9.2!" I grunt, realising that the G-suit is too tight now that I am not accelerating. "One moment, my britches are too tight." I let the compression off a bit and take a deep breath. "OK, good. I tried calling Janais but..." I trail off heavily.

"...yes, she is not well. I hope to help this evening. I am working on a project in the synth."

"Oh! I know your talented fingers; you will do great work!"

"I hope so. Well, fly safe and return to me soon, mon ciel étoilé."

"I love you too. I should be on the ground again in a couple hours."

I hang up, feeling a little better that Kian is on the case of helping Janais out of her funk. Turning to the autopilot controls, I program in a sensible return path to KPTK, making sure to drop out of the supersonic regime long before I am over land.

The GLAIVEs perform admirably, shifting modes back from rocket to scramjet to ramjet to turbojet smooth as simulation. Fuel and oxidiser consumption figures were just about on point as well! Everything coming up Moira today.

I retake manual control on approach to KPTK, following the tower guidance down to runway 27L and a perfect touchdown and rollout. I taxi back to the TLMC stand and hangar, climb out of Lucille, and tow her into the hangar with the tug.

As I fit her with the shore power, comms, and fluid lines, I assess the critical flight surfaces, all the leading edges and potential turbulence spots. The gleaming turquoise titanium skin is unblemished and intact in all places; another win for Janais' Moonshot and Kian's simulations.

I change out of my flight suit and into a more-or-less clean dark tee-shirt and jeans, check that the hangar is secure, grab my keys, and turn off the lights. I hop into Lavernge and drive back home to The Den in the waning light, ebullient from my success.