I look out at the stars. There’s a big greenish one, like Venus, only it isn’t Venus. We are way beyond the solar system now. I’ve never seen this star before. We’re going a long way. I glance at my watch. Four minutes. We should be turning now.
But SPACE RANGER goes on, rushing smoothly through weightless space at a speed I can’t begin to imagine. Maybe this is just a new variation on the ride. A round trip. Any minute now I’ll see the familiar planets. My hands are tight on the arms of my seat.
‘What’s the matter, Nicky?’
‘I’m not sure. It’s just - this ride’s going on a long time.’ I hear a wobble in my voice, like the wobble in the computer figures.
‘Longer than normal?’
‘Yeah. I think so.’ Our whispers are so quiet Dinah doesn’t hear them. She is staring out of the window, her eyes big. I glance cautiously round. It’s OK. No-one else knows what to expect, so they’re not worried. They think they’re having a wonderful long ride. Good value for money.
Suddenly the curtain of stars goes ragged, as if something has bitten holes in it. Big gaps of dark appear. And more dark, and more dark. Soon we are surrounded by empty space. The stars are pricks of light, growing small behind us.
“Where are we now, Nicky? What’s going on?’
“I don’t know! I don’t know, Steve! This has never happened before. Something’s going wrong, I know it is.’
My voice is squeaky, but now I don’t care if Steve knows I’m frightened. I’ve got to get out of this awful silent dark which is deeper than any night I’ve ever known. I want to run. I want to bang at the doors till they open. This isn’t real. We aren’t lost in space. We’re only on SPACE RANGER. Outside there’s sun and grass and our trailer. It’s not real. It can’t be real.
And then a computerised voice breaks the electronic hum inside our rocket section.
‘Attention please! Attention please!’
Heads turn towards the speakers, eager for what’s next. They think this is all part of the ride they’ve paid for.
‘A fatal error has occurred,’ the voice continues smoothly,’resulting in a terminal malfunction of SPACE RANGER. Please wait for further announcements.’
‘What’s going on?’
‘What's she say?’
‘Did you hear that?’
‘Fatal error ...’
‘I don’t like the sound of that.’
‘Where’s the emergency exit?’