"Leave them to us. Your job is to kill Doctor Inferno."
Three hours later they were walking up to a sleek beauty. Well, waddling in their spacesuits. not that they were as bad as the old suits, but . . . Will had awesome suits.
I really ought to have turned that plane over to the government, but they had all of Will's plans . . . and since he'd escaped, I figured I might need one . . .
In any case, if the suits aren't as good, it all my fault, so no use in griping.
They'd just met the crew of five an hour ago, as they finished their orientation, interspersing lecture with instructions on putting the suits on, expected conditions, what to do in an emergency--sit still and don't get in the crew's way--and what they were going to do once they got up there.
"Right. Kill Doctor Inferno. Divert the asteroid." Ernie tried to sound determined.
Scotch tried to scratch his scalp and hit his helmet. "And the crew has been tracking the asteroid and knows which way to push it, right?"
"Exactly." The Space force guy glanced at the time and shook his head. "That's all we have time for. Good Luck, Gentlemen."
Five men in spacesuits walked in. The one in the lead spoke. "We're very short on time, so let's do the meet-and-greet on the move . . ."I'm Captain Justin Hendricks. That's Lieutenant Quintin Owens and Lieutenant Tania Castro just behind him. Specialist Napoleon Kaufman, Specialist Lila Brock bringing up the rear."
"Pleased to meet you. I'm Ernest Snead, call me Ernie. This is Scott Whitaker, usually called Scotch."
"Pleased. Do either of you have any space experience, or at least flight?"
Scotch nodded. "US Airforce, jet pilot. Mind you, a century and a half ago. Ernie's the space traveler."
"Only once. When I stole that space plane from Doctor Inferno." Ernie grinned at the looks that got him. "I flew it to the Moon, landed and collected a few rocks, then flew it back to my arctic base, where it's been parked ever since."
Captain Hendricks eyed him. "So you know its weaponry."
"It hasn't got any. That's the proof of concept space plane. I'm amazed he could get it flying at all, let alone in six days."
"How did Doctor Inferno get ahold of the first space plane."
Scotch snickered. "He designed and built it. Flew away in it as the army closed in on his fortress, leaving the original plans and planned improvements in his fortress. All space planes built since have been based on his original design. With a few modifications. Without the heavy push plate and bracing, you have higher acceleration, and can carry more fuel."
Ernie shook his head. "Not an advantage when pushing an asteroid around is the mission." He stepped up on the flat plate with the others and was lifted up to the forward hatch.
Captain Hendricks nodded. "That's why the other space plane is going up on remote control. We may have to slam it into the asteroid."
"Yikes!" Ernie stepped over the gap and walked into something quite different from his stolen plane.
Pilot and copilot up front. Across from the hatch, three seats one in front of the other, with control panels against the wall. "Do they swivel?" And on this side the infamous zero G toilet. And two extra seats, then a wall. Whatever weaponry the plane has, is sealed off in there.
He scooted into the . . . well, there was no window . . . but . . . Scotch sat next to him and buckled himself in as the plane taxied out to the runway.
Throttled up and came close to blasting off.
He fiddled with the helmet comms, and by the time he found the mission channel. and switched to input only, they already broken the sound barrier. He closed his eyes and tried to picture what was going on as they switched to oxidizer assist to the engines, then shut the vents as they shifted to all oxidizer and kept right on going.
They finally throttled back, and the three crew swiveled their seats to face their instrument panels. Hums and bumps behind him.
Perhaps not everything behind the bulkhead is weaponry.
A screen lit with positions. Red and blue spots close together at the top. Two greens, well spaced, at the bottom.
Another screen lit a jittery picture.
"Damn, that's a big asteroid."
And dark. Just a charcoal curve of a crater rim or a nasty sharp spike here and there. Thirty times the length of the little ship circling it, if I remember the plane specks right.
"I'm getting a signal . . . video from the target ship!"
A screen with a fuzzy circle of light playing over the rough surface. And Will talking. "Looks like it's mostly iron. Odd that there's no spin. I'm going to circle around, get a feel for the center of mass before I start pushing.
"Space Force? My data shows that the rock needs to be shoved north and sped up for the most efficient way to clear Earth. Please confirm . . . What the hell are those?"