The shuttle descended through the ceiling hatch into the city’s portal room and hovered there, waiting.
“All right we’re here, now what?”
Isamura rested her hand on the dimensional portal interface and punched in the sequence that would open a portal to her own world. It had been some time since she’d been there and she wondered how things might have changed.
In front of them, the alien machinery engaged and a dimensional rift formed in front of them, large enough to accomodate the shuttle and its occupants.
“Here we go then,” Caroline muttered, easing the shuttle forward into the portal, bracing herself for the jarring sensation of finding herself in another place.
The enveloping glow of the portal was replaced by a grassy clearing and sunny skies. Caroline breathed easy as she took the shuttle into a short climb.
“I’m engaging stealth mode,” she said. The shuttle vanished from sight as they reached a comfortable altitude and levelled off.
“Here, I’ll show you where we need to go,” Isamura said, operating the navigation console and overlaying their destination on the heads-up display.
As she gazed at the blinking red dot, Caroline felt their shuttle turn and accelerate, anticipating her desire to fly there. She glanced sideways at Isamura and smiled uneasily. Even though she had flown it before, Caroline found the neural interface a bit unsettling. That nagging feeling of not being in complete control made her palms sweaty, even though she was barely gripping the control sticks. She tried to calm herself with a few cleansing breaths as she watched the green hills and trees pass under her.
“You seem to know those controls better than me,” she commented.
“They are similar to the controls in the city. I learned those quite literally in my sleep.”
“Right. That… of course that makes sense,” Caroline said hesitantly.
Isamura smiled faintly. Caroline had a way of stumbling over her words when the two of them were close and she found it to be an endearing quirk.
“Caroline, am I making you nervous?”
“No, not really.” Caroline glanced at Isamura and smiled. “The neural interface is weird. It doesn’t seem to require much conscious effort, but sometimes it’s like I’m off in a world of my own,” she added by way of explanation.
“Mm, it sounds like an intriguing paradox.”
“Not really. If I actually had to consciously think of every step or check required to fly this shuttle, I wouldn’t be able to fly more than a couple of feet before crashing. Dr. MacNeil says that while I’m piloting, those little things are handled by some clever feedback and adjustment, so all I have to consciously do is pick a direction to go in.”
“Well, she would know.”
“Looks like we’re almost there,” Caroline noted, changing the subject. “Shall I set her down somewhere nearby?”
“We should land in one of the clearings in the woods near the town. Some of the people here have the means to detect things which are hidden,” Isamura suggested, referring to the invisibility screen. “Best not to get too close.”
Isamura’s gaze was drawn to Caroline’s hands as the dexterous fingers flexed around the controls. She recalled fondly how when they made love, it was her shoulders and arms that were first to feel the caress of those hands. She was excited by the thought of feeling their touch again.
The shuttle’s course adjusted as Caroline brought it in for a landing.
“So when are you going to teach me how to fly one of these?” Isamura asked.
“Soon. Really, now that I’m the only one who knows how to fly it, I haven’t had much time to teach anyone else,” Caroline said. “It might take a few hours to get you to the point where you can actually pilot with some skill. But it’s a very forgiving craft.”
“The only craft I have ever steered rode over the waves, not through the air.”
“It’s not so different, except you have to worry about steering towards the sky or the ground,” Caroline said half-smiling.
Isamura watched closely as Caroline landed the shuttle, but even with Caroline explaining the procedure she wasn’t convinced that she could learn to fly the shuttle in a few hours, never mind land it. There were some things that even a dream state linked to an alien city’s computer could not teach her.