Rendezvous with Calisto - Part Two
The final rounds of tests on the latest modifications to the deployment mechanisms on the rockets were a success. Alex stood there and stared at the screen with its flashing one hundred percents unable to fathom how far he'd come in only a few short days. Between Goog, Bethany and plain only trial and error, adjusting to this new level of technology wasn't difficult at all. The names of things were different, their components were different, but overall, a machine was a machine was a machine--take it apart, put it together, figure it out.
"We did it!" Bethany squealed. Before Alex could agree, she jumped into his arms and hugged him fiercely. "We did it!" Her cheeks flushed as she slipped away. "Well done, old timer. I had my doubts about you." She tugged at the hem of her tee-shirt, overalls abandoned a few days ago, before suddenly busying herself by piling the rockets together in a single crate.
Alex quirked an eyebrow but said nothing. The hug, while unexpected, seemed friendly enough. He chalked it up to youth and excitement, forgetting about it. He had doubts about his abilities too. "Nothing can stop me once I set my mind to it." As if admitting he didn't know if he could do it ever crossed his mind.
"Well," Bethany called over her shoulder. "The room is yours until after this mission. Feel free to set up your own little corner and get to work trying to find a way home."
Now there was a thought. His mind raced over all the possibilities, had been racing since he got to this hellhole. Finally he'd get to work on a way back to his own time and escape these lunatics before they got him arrested or killed.
Bethany carried the crate of rockets toward the door, pausing long enough for one more warning. "If Franky comes by, tell him I'll be in the cargo bay."
Nodding in agreement, Alex wondered, again, whom this mysterious Franky was she kept mentioning. More importantly, though, how had he not run into the invisible man in all this time? Maybe Bethany was fruitier than he though and Franky was some kind of imaginary friend.
Alone at last, Alex pulled up a chair and just sat. Plenty of parts, plenty of time--now the only thing that held him back was himself. In his short talks with Katlyn, he'd discovered that she was learning how to fly. Fly! Why on Earth (or is that in space?) would she be learning how to fly? They'd be home in the next week, two weeks tops and flying a spaceship would do absolutely nothing for her employment possibilities in the present, the past, their present. It made some sense, he supposed. It's not like she would ever get the opportunity again, not in her lifetime, and she wouldn't be any help down here. Therefore, maybe it wasn't such a bad thing after all. If it kept her busy, more power to her.
Alex eased out of his chair, headed toward the far right corner. Boxes and crates filled to their brims with old, rusting machinery soon made way for a work area. He shoved the equipment aside in order to clear an acceptable swatch of space and then grabbed one of the folded up tables and created his new workstation. With that done, he wandered through the stacks of discarded crap in hopes of finding everything he needed.
It was going to be a long night.
Katlyn glared at the console in front of her, arms crossed tightly over her chest. In the seat next to her on the cramped bridge of the ship, Jared sat forward, elbows on knees, head in hands, ticking her off even more with his bitching and moaning.
Learning to fly a spaceship was not at all like learning to drive a car, but Jared efficiency at summoning five-hundred-year dead spirit of her father was uncanny. Every little button she went to press caused Jared's eyes to bulge, his voice to rise, and his temper to boil. With a little leeway and some experimentation, Katlyn knew the correct sequences and operations would come to her. However, try convincing dear old dad there that she wasn't going to plow the ship into--what you ask--that's right, nothing. Not a single object in space for who knows how far and Jared is worried she's somehow going to send the ship into some ultra-speed that'll end of spiraling everyone to their doom as we plummet into a moon.
"A natural you are not," Jared mumbled. "I could live with an inexperienced natural, but you have zero--and I mean zero--aptitude for flying a ship. How does Sela expect me to teach you to fly? It'd be easier to teach an Albranian sea slug table manners!"
Katlyn fumed. "You are supposed to be the best? I don't know how you convinced people of that outlandish lie!"
Sputtering, Jared clenched his fists against his temples. "I am the best, but even the best can only do so much with such a thick-headed imbecile like you!"
This exchange of words did nothing for the lesson. "Just give me the basics," said Katlyn. "I don't need to know all these little things like how to plot a randomly rotating course that'll get us where were going without being followed. I just need to know how to take off, how to send a distress signal, and how to set a basic course toward the nearest Pure League base."
"You'd be safer staying on the planet. Once you get into space, if you can't keep the ship away from Interpol scouts, you're as good as toast."
Katlyn wanted to kick him, repeated, in the head. The frustration clumped in the muscles of her shoulders and neck, straining her body as much as her mind. Admittedly, Jared was right. She had no feel for flying a ship and that, more than anything, was what had her nerves blazing with fire. All the insults in the world usually didn't faze her, but her inability to comprehend the simplest of maneuvers drove her insane.
Jared yanked a small black flask from his back pocket and guzzled the liquid inside. "All right," he said between gulps. "We're going to do this. I'm going to make you learn this, even if I have to cram every last eetee direction into your brain by hand."
"Fine," Katlyn snapped. "Flying Ships for Dummies - The Kentucky Version. Let's go."
Stress killed many great plans before they reached fruition. Moral dropped, taking with it the motivation to succeed; anxiety whittled away at people until they began to drop from the pressure, dead before the battle even started. Sela saw the fissures of stress taking hold on her small but deadly loyal crew. Slow, eroding stress chipped away at a person's soul unnoticed until it was too late for the damage completely and no simple remedy lay about for the quick fix.
High on the first row of catwalks surrounding the cargo bay, Sela's eyes drifted over Horus and Yerik arguing around a pile of guns too close to set any at ease. Flaring egos and guns didn't belong in the same room, the danger of a heated accident begging for life.
Horus never took to taking commands. His loyal was strong, but that didn't excuse his inability to listen, his unwillingness to do what needed to be done in order to keep the chain strong. Always wanting to do his own thing on his own time, Sela often debated her decision to keep him around. He was useful when her plans coincided with his, but once they deviated, even just a little, things rumbled out of control.
Taking her eyes off the boys, Sela turned to the sound of the voice. Bethany stood there, unusually dressed in a tee shirt and slacks. It was the first time in a month Sela had seen her without those hideous overalls and not a single smug of dirt on her face.
"What's in the crate?" Sela asked.
A proud smile spread across Bethany's face. "We fix the problem. These rockets are guaranteed to do exactly as you want them to do. No course deviations, no misfirings, no premature explosions--nothing will go wrong with them."
"Excellent work, Beth."
The girl peered over Sela's shoulder, eyebrows rising. "Again?"
Just far enough away that the words were undeterminable, yet close enough you could hear the heated volume, the embedded anger, carrying in the artificially created air.
Bethany's eyes no longer held that glimmer of joy for doing a job well done when they met Sela's eyes. "Someone's going to get hurt," she said. "Or worse."
"Horus is out of here as soon as we stop the election."
"Hope it's not too late."To be continued...