Gerald pulled out the last wrinkles in his skin suit and checked Sarah's and let her check his backside.
"I wonder how long you have to get in and out of these things for it to stop being embarrassing?"
Sarah snickered. "They are quite . . . revealing . . . but the incompressible jelly in the toes of the socks, the gloves and . . . other more personal spots is really disgusting."
"No kidding." He tilted his head toward the kids' rooms. "Fawn and Dee are having fun, why don't you go make sure they're doing it right and I'll check Cody."
Actually they were all three trying on shoes.
"Dee says they have to be a little loose, else they'll split if the suits activate." Cody stuck his foot out for Dee's inspection.
She pressed and poked and nodded her approval. "Do you have sturdy loose clothing, Mrs. Fallon? We wear canvas overalls, but pants and shirts are fine."
It took a bit, but they got togged out to Dee's approval and headed for the elevator.
Gerald felt . . . odd carrying his little vd9 on his belt. And at that, it’s smaller than most of the pistols the locals carry.
He bloused his heavy shirt over it and walked out. "Dee . . . ? Where's Spence?"
"Oh, he went ahead. He'll turn everything thing on and heat up the air and so forth. He said once you guys knew what a ship was like once it was running, he'd teach start up and trouble shooting.
It was fascinating—and educational—to see the real thing.
In microgravity. With the saucer shaped ship sitting flat on the ground of the huge asteroid—near the pole—there was very little gravity, and slight tendency toward the equator and outward due to spin.
Gerald tip-toed and floated over to the controls in the center of the mostly open circular room.
Much less complex than a plane's control panel. Much, much more navigation.
"Thing is, in space you make tiny, incremental changes, with time to check and compute and get it right. Even though you are going much faster than any plane you've ever flown, your speed relative to everything in the asteroid belt is low. And there's no gravity. In a plane, you can fall, and well, you can't miss the Earth. Out here it's mostly empty space, and you have to aim carefully to find something to hit. Now these sensors all measure different things. Infrared—heat. Asteroids are cold, but still warmer than empty space, this is the active radar, a bit of an energy hog, given that space is so empty. This is passive broadband--visible light is still about as useful as anything else. The collector's two meters across, so it picks up even things you'd swear were utterly dark. The computer integrates everything, so there are very few surprises out there."
Spence was a good teacher, making all of them sit in the pilot's seat and set up programs for small bursts to to rotate the ship--then stop it rotating-- on all three axies. Program trips to Zero, Fifteen and Ceres.
And to several asteroids where he and friends had left emergency supplies. Tools. Parts. Food. Ice.
"When you pick up your ship, we'll have to get together and I'll give it a good checkup and make sure you can find these asteroids."
Cody snickered. "Hey Fawn, want to go see the one named Dog Turd?"
Dee laughed. "It's actually the best one. We fixed it up."
Spence nodded. "Too bad it's not bigger. So, Cody, show me how you'd get from here to Zero, and how much fuel you'd need to have left to brake and match velocity at the end."
Cody started bringing up the info for input. "You know, you can get computers that will do all of this for you."
"I know. In fact I have one. But if it breaks, no big deal." He tip-toed in the micro gravity over to the bulk head and returned with a book. "And if everything breaks, I can use these references and this thing called a sliderule to calculate it. Then I can manually open and close valves to run each engines just as long as I need."
Dee nodded. "He made me do it. Twice. He just sat there looking insufferably smug while I had to do it all myself. It was a real pain."
"I'm good at insufferably smug."
"No. Kidding. But it's also cool to know you can survive losing nearly all electronics on board." Dee grinned. "Not that I ever have, but he claims to of."
Spence looked at Cody's program. "Oooo! A hot rodder. I advise against letting your fuel get that low unless you really need to get somewhere fast. Try it again, but pretend you aren't sure of your welcome. Find one of my emergency stops and see if you can keep enough fuel to get to it."
It kept them all busy for weeks. They learned the life support systems--three of them. Just in case. The engines, the fuel system, from ice to the final mixing chamber. They put on hard suits and climbed around the actual mining equipment and all the spare equipment--he had a whole independent ice separator and hydrolysis system. Tanks of Hydrogen and Oxygen.
"Your backup's backups have backups." The marshal shook his head. "I foresee large expenditures in my future."
"Well, I am well known to be paranoid." Spence pulled a hook off his belt, extended the handle and reached up to snag Cody as he cartwheeled past. "Safety line?"
"It's a pain in the . . . neck." Cody's voice was a little high.
"Yep. Use it anyway. I regret to say that since I didn't have to take the ship out to pick you up, you have not actually earned your Flying Dutchman Badge. Good try, though."
"There's not an actual badge, is there?"
"Nope. You just get kidded a lot."
"Did you ever?"
"Oh sure. I worked orbital construction for years. But out here, there's no sleds standing off a bit, just in case . . . which, frankly, made us all a bit more careless than we ought to have been."
And then Carol Hatenberg asked for help with an off course delivery. "The booster had problems, so all five containers are a bit off course." Her voice flattened. "Those Faulkner boys jumped right in to grab the job as soon as they heard about it. They're hot rodding it out there, so I figured I'd better call you."
"Well, we'll find out how good--or bad--they are while we're close enough to help them. I'll go warm up and give my students a few lessons while actually under way." He glanced over his shoulder at Dee, who was grabbing her skinsuit while talking on her comm.
"The Fallons are all coming." She dashed out the door.
Having a friend has been good for her. I just hope to hell it doesn't end in a disaster.
Gerald tiptoe-skidded into what was fast becoming familiar territory. The kids had bounced ahead and Sarah was right behind him.
"Ready for some zero-g fun?" Spence grinned at their expressions. "It'll only be for a couple of hours."
Sarah swallowed. “I thought you swung around your equipment package, for artificial gravity?”
Dee grinned. “Can’t do that when we’re maneuvering.” She peered over Spence’s shoulder. “We’ve off loaded it all, so we can maneuver with less fuel.”
Gerald eyed the screen where Spence’s big mining shovels—they had a lot in common with earthbound excavators—were setting the equipment frame they were attached to, down, and shifting from moving it to holding it in place. “Why three of them? I see where it’s handy now, but . . . “
“With three I can grab almost any shaped asteroid, and if I surround the smaller gravel heaps, I can get them into the hopper in one piece. Saves a lot of hunting around for that one iridium rich pebble that floated off when the pile broke.”
“Huh. I suppose.”
The three arms locked in place, and Spence shut down that panel.
“Now for you first live lesson in separation. Remember the steps?” Spence headed for the airlock.