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Altitude, Part 3

sim's picture

Captain Ray opened a pocket on his p-suit and pulled out a bar of candy which he broke into three pieces. He passed them to Cord and Cliff. Cord sniffed hers. "This isn't really candy, is it?" asked Cliff.

"We'll be weightless soon. It hits some people the wrong way," said Captain Ray who then popped his piece in his mouth and chewed. He swallowed. "Don't want to chunder, do you?" Cord and Cliff ate their candy.

"What's chunder?" asked Cord.

Captain Ray chuckled. "It's a loud, colorful mess that is especially unpleasant in a weightless environment."

"Have you ever thrown up in your p-suit, with the helmet on?" asked Cliff.

"Once, when I was about your age, maybe a little older, I stowed away on a rocketship. I hid in a little compartment, but the crew found me and gave me twelve different kinds of hell. They were going to the Moon and were on a tight schedule, so they couldn't turn back. The ship was hit by a micrometeorite and we lost atmosphere. I didn't have a p-suit, so they stuck me in a life-bag."

"What's that?" asked Cord.

"It's an inflatable ball. Anyway, the food in the life-bag had spoiled, but I didn't know that when I ate a tube of it. I was sick and I was covered in schmutz and it smelled. Did it smell. And I had to stay in that life-bag until we landed on the Moon."

"Are we going to the Moon," asked Cord.

"You're asking a lot for ten dollars. We're just gonna hang in low earth orbit, girl."

Soon, the drive torches cut off and they coasted into orbit. Captain Ray turned the ship so that the top of the canopy was pointed to the horizon of Earth. He unfastened his safety belts and nodded to the children to do the same. He pushed off the console and drifted to the canopy. The children followed. From their perspective, the canopy was a clear wall and they could see the big blue ball of their home planet.

"Look, there's a superfreighter on the ocean." Captain Ray pointed out the tip of a small V that was making its way across the Big Western Ocean.

"What's it carrying that needs a boat so big?" asked Cord.

Captain Ray squinted. He pulled out a crumpled hud from his p-suit pocket. After he smoothed it out and put it on, he finally said, "It's carrying animals from the Seed Vaults. It's going to the Sa for restocking."

"What kind of animals," asked Cord.

"All kinds of animals," said Captain Ray.


Captain Ray looked at Cord with an expression equal parts of exasperation and amusement. "I don't think they've got dinosaurs, but you never know."

Cord said, "They should bring back dinosaurs. I read all about them. From apatasaurus to zebras."

"Zebras aren't dinosaurs. They're like a striped mule or something," corrected Cliff.

"I know, but the dinosaurs need to eat, too." Cord spun in a pirouette and said, "I love space! It's like I'm a fairy and I can fly!" She extended her arms and slowed her spinning and then sped up again when she brought her arms closer to her chest.

Cliff said, "I didn't think we'd need a giant boat to move stuff across oceans."

Captain Ray looked at Cliff. "See, that what a lot of farmers think. That's why I fly to settlements, find a farm, touchdown in a field, and put my sign up when I'm between runs. Why, I bet you haven't been more than 20 kilometers from your home since you were born."

Cliff wobbled his head. "Well, me, yeah. But Ma and Pa immigrated from the Vesta Transorbital last time it crossed Earth solar orbit."

Captain Ray smiled. "So your parents are rockrats?"

Cord sang out, "Our parents are farmers."

"They raised crops on Vesta, but always wanted to try their hands with soil and naked sky. And besides, there were a couple of thousand people there and they said it was getting crowded," added Cliff.

"Oooh, look," said Cord. She extended an arm and grabbed a handhold ring and stopped her spinning. She stared open-mouthed, watching the terminator line between day and night move from the horizon to underneath the ship. The world disappeared and the cabin of the rocketship was dark. There were no lights from Earthside.

"Can you imagine that there used to be so many people, so much artificial light, that you could see the outline of the land at night. It was like looking at the night sky, but planetside," said Captain Ray.

Cliff stared. "I see something," he said. He pointed at the darkness. There was the slightest dot of blue glow, just barely perceptible. It pulsed faintly.

Captain Ray squinted through the hud. "Hmm, I don't know." He pulled out a phone from another pocket. "Let me see what the ship's telescope can see." He hummed a little tune. "It's a crater and the blue glow is from the bottom."

"But what is it?" asked Cord. She made a face while she scowled at the glow.

"And why is it pulsing like that?" asked Cliff.

"Give me a holding pattern, kids," muttered Captain Ray. He entered a query on his phone. "You know, that blue is Cerenekov radiation. The ship's plotted the oscillation and it's slowing down and getting dimmer. We're going to lose line of sight before too long."

Suddenly, the blue glow faded to black. The rocketship's console chirped like a cricket. "Hurm, we just got a spurt of EM radiation. What is that thing?"

"Let's go see! Let's go see!" clapped Cord.

"Let's call Earth-Luna Volume Net and see if anybody's got anything to say." He thumbed his phone. "This is Gibson's Flying V. Anyone know anything about mysterious blue glows in the middle of crater in Zha?"

"Ray Jay!" said his phone. "This is Chan. Blue glow? It's not showing up, but the weathersat net is being dosed. Seismic apps had an event in Zha about a hundred seconds back. Still correlating magnitude; maybe a volcanic eruption?"

"Chan, what are doing on ELVN?" asked Captain Ray. "And don't call me Ray Jay. And volcanoes aren't blue. I think."

"The Moon made me a good offer. Lot better than slumming in the photosphere making runs to and from the anti-matter distillery. Doesn't qualify me for volcanoes, though."

Captain Ray smiled, "True."

Chan continued, "So you're running passengers and no flight plan filed, I bet."

"No comment, Chan," he winked at Cord and Cliff.

"I'll keep a dedicated link on you from the geosynchronous over Zha, if you want to do a flyby."

"I'll think about it," said Captain Ray. He thumbed off his phone.

"Flyby! Flyby!" squealed Cord.

"You're so getting your money's worth," said the spaceman.

What could possibly go wrong?

Fun so far. Kinda has a Bradbury feel to it.

sim's picture

Ray Bradbury?

Hell, yeah!