She would be little more than a passenger on this voyage, and yet it was the most amazing and exhilarating experience of her life. It was also the most terrified she had felt since falling into her uncle's pond at seven years old, and she tried not to let it show as she walked down the agonisingly long footbridge to the airlock. Even the sheer number of cameras capturing every detail of the moment, right down to the beads of sweat she was trying to keep from emerging from her pores - with little success - was unprecedented. People would be watching reruns of this footage for decades, perhaps even centuries or more, from every angle and in three dimensions, on screens and in holograms all over the world. In fact, she reflected, if all went well they would be watching it on other worlds too before long.
Finally, she reached the airlock and it swung open in front of her. Without hesitation, she crossed the threshold, her boots clanking on the metal as she stepped into her compartment. She tried, and failed, to ignore the vessel's name written in gold-plated aluminium above the entryway. It was a daunting name to be connected with, and the first on a list to which she could soon be the latest addition. She settled into the pilot seat, strapping herself in and beginning her startup drill with the standard call to Space Traffic Control.
"STC Meridian, this is ESSA flight Horizon Ten standing by on launchpad one for takeoff."
"ESSA flight Horizon Ten," came the immediate response, "this is STC Meridian. All traffic is clear from your route and you have a green light to proceed. Good luck, Lieutenant Plover."
"Thank you, STC Meridian," she replied. She knew exactly what he had meant by all traffic being clear: thousands of kilometres out from the Earth, a cordon had been set up inside of which only ships with the priceless exclusive passes could enter. These included several hundred camera drones from the major news networks, as well as those few private citizens who were wealthy enough to afford a front-row seat to history being made.
She ran through her takeoff cycle with the ease that came from a lifetime of experience behind the stick of one spacecraft or another, and eased the shuttle up from the unicrete of the landing pad. Intertial dampeners came online and took the edge off the G-forces as she accelerated up through the atmosphere and into space. Once beyond Earth orbit, she adjusted her velocity to bring the vessel to a halt and opened the communications channel once again.
"ESSA control, this is Lieutenant Plover on Horizon Ten. I am out of orbit in position Alpha, and preparing to travel to position Bravo."
"Acknowledged Horizon Ten," came the response. "All systems show green across the board, proceed to Bravo."
The journey out to the position chosen took well over an hour to complete, and she spent the time going over the procedures in her mind, and trying to keep from thinking about what might happen if things went awry. Every unmanned drone they had sent out using the same route and the same setup had returned on schedule, so there was no reason to expect that anything might happen. Still, if it did, the consequences would hardly bear thinking about. She mentally counted the number of failsafes they had in place, trying to take some measure of comfort from the knowledge that even if she passed out from stress, there were exactly thirteen different systems that would work together to get her safely home again.
"Horizon Ten, ESSA control. We show you T minus one minute to position Bravo," came the call, snapping her out of her increasingly melancholy thoughts.
"Acknowledged ESSA control," she replied. "Preparing to halt at Bravo coordinates." She brought the shuttle to a halt once more, and immediately her heart began pounding; this was where it would all begin. She flicked the switch that transferred power from the main thrusters to the hyperdrive, and the unfamiliar sound of the new technology powering up came from some three metres behind her seat. All the readouts showed exactly what was expected at this point, and she allowed herself to hope that everything would go according to plan.
"ESSA control, Horizon Ten," she called. "I show green across the board, permission to engage hyperspace drive."
"Now's the time for your famous historical quote, Plover," a new voice told her over the radio. She recognised it as her instructor and mentor, Maria Escuela, and she smiled to herself. It was a discussion they had had several times over the course of the last few months, with Maria reminding her student that every word she spoke that day would be indelibly carved into the history books. It was not a responsibility she relished, but it had occupied her mind for many sleepless nights.
"Alright," she began. "This is Lieutenant Daria Plover aboard the ESSA shuttle Gagarin, on flight Horizon Ten out of Meridian Base. Our world is about to get immeasurably larger. I'll see you on the other side." Not the most elegant of speeches, she was aware, but history would just have to make do. Perhaps she would have more interesting things to say if the mission was a success.
"Good luck, Lieutenant Plover," came the response. "We'll keep the light on and see you in seventy five hours."
There was no lurch as the ship entered hyperspace, it was more like someone had flicked a switch and suddenly she was elsewhere - and yet nowhere at the same time. It was a strange sensation, but not uncomfortable. This was just as well, she reflected, as she was going to spend the next thirty seven hours in the same non-place, and might as well get used to it. After a brief check of the instruments, which could tell her little except that she was in hyperspace and everything was fine, she decided to try to sleep.
- - - - -
She had never been so relieved as when the chime sounded to warn her that the scheduled end to her hyperspace jump was approaching. It was certainly exciting to be on the very forefront of discovery, but when this entailed spending a day and a half - by Earth reckoning - sat staring at nothingness, it took the edge off the thrill. She was grateful for her PDA, and had been meaning to catch up on her reading for several months, which this flight had allowed her to do. She imagined entire industries growing up around hyperspace entertainments, and with no need for the passengers to be strapped into their seats, the possibilities were nigh endless.
The exit from hyperspace was far more dramatic than the entrance, though it was still like a switch had been pulled. This time, however, the stars suddenly burst into flame out of the blackness, and in front of them all was a star she had only ever seen as a pinprick in the sky, suddenly become a sun now that she could see it from proximity. Switching power from the hyperdrive to the main thrusters, she swung the shuttle around and gaped as an entirely alien planet came into view, almost as close to her as Earth had been when she began her jump.
All the shipboard cameras were diligently recording every possible view at every possible angle, but she nevertheless raised her PDA to the viewscreen and took a picture herself. She was suddenly glad that she had almost an hour there in Centauri before the autopilot kicked in and took her back to Earth. A quick check of the systems told her that everything was still operating as it should, and that the return journey ought to be no more eventful than the outward. So she spent the time gazing out of the viewscreen, drinking in the experience of being the first human - and probably the first intelligent being - to behold the beauty of the third planet of the Centauri solar system.
Mankind had taken another fateful step deeper into the unknown, and Lieutenant Daria Plover's name was to be added to the list of those who had gone before us, who had blazed a trail into the blackness of the frontier.