Gerald had been to the Moon—a nasty murder case—and twice to stations in Earth orbit. He’d taken the space license classes and passed the tests. Had twelve hours of piloting experience. So he was moderately accustomed to zero g. He’d had no trouble with Spence’s ship, and instructions. But he’d never soloed. Never been in charge of maintenance never really been on the crew of a spaceship.
And Sarah took the classes, with the kids reading over her shoulder . . . but they’d never been off Earth until we headed for Ganymed.
We are really lucky to have tripped over Spence! By the time I get to Ceres and pick up the ship the Marshal’s office bought, I might not kill myself going out alone. And if Sarah, or God forbid, either Fawn or Cody ever needs to pilot a ship . . .
Gerald checked the airlock seals, the pressure in the connecting tube, unlocked the clamps so they could be released from the pilot’s panel. Rechecked interior pressure and toed back to the copilot’s seat.
“Take the pilot’s seat, Sarah.” Spence grinned. “What? You thought I was going to trust the Greyhound to your ham fisted husband? Now, it’s just like practice, except this time It’ll really happen. Fawn? Navigator’s seat. Cody, you get the last seat, and yes, every single on of you will get to pilot and navigate.”
Gerald looked past Sarah at Fawn, who was turning on the instruments. Excited and scared.
The holo opened, showing everything in a thirty thousand kilometer radius, except the broad cone blocked by the bulk of Ganymed.
Cody was clicking away on his other side. “Feed from Ganymed coming in.”
The holo filled in the empty cone.
Spence, from the far side of the control panel, poked a moving light. “This green light is the ship heading out to fetch the off course containers, which at these blue lights.”
“Green for manned and blue for unmanned.” Cody peered down the panel. “For priority in rescue situations.”
Fawn touched the white dot on the surface of Ganymed. “And that’s us. How did they get so far ahead of us . . . they’re going pretty fast, aren’t they?”
“Yep. I have a nasty suspicion they have a lot less experience than I thought. You can see they’re headed for the clump of containers. They aren’t very far off course—that’s, oh, call it three round trips, New York to Los Angeles. In space that’s nothing. And they’re more than half way there, and haven’t started to decelerate.”
Cody snickered. “Hot doggers!”
Spence nodded. “So, turn on the radio and let’s hear the chatter. Receive only, until we need to talk to someone, so we don’t confuse any communications . . .”
“ . . . nanny! We’ll flip and decelerate in a moment. Our upgraded navigation and autopilot program can handle something this simple without . . . whoa!”
In the holo, the green spot showed a diffuse white plume, swinging around with the ship. Yelps and thumps from the speaker.
Spence shook his head. “A powered turn. Did they install a racing program?”
Gerald winced. “Seatbelts are so Downstairs. I hope the idiot didn’t hurt himself.”
The plume died away, miscellaneous thumps and thuds and faint off-mike cursing and questions.
Spence shook his head. “I think Jason cut the deceleration manually, before the autopilot finished stabilizing the turn. At least they did slow down quite a bit. Zoom in on them, Fawn.”
The holo focused on the Faulkner’s ship . . . a standard flattened disk with various things attached and sticking out all over. The thick “pusher plate” sticking out the top, rocket nozzles on the bottom. In a slow tumble.
“Well. That isn’t pretty. Let’s take a flying lesson while they figure out how to get themselves out of trouble. So, Navigator . . . when do we undock?”
“Considering Ganymed’s spin . . . we want to release at 90 degrees to the direction we want to go . . . because our radial velocity will be aimed that way. Saves fuel . . . although not much, really.”
“True, but by heading out the direction we want to go, we don’t have to maneuver around Ganeymed. So?”
“Oh! Two minutes!” She looked at her mom.
Sarah nodded. “Fuel tanks are only at 25% pressure.”
“Plenty for as little maneuvering well be doing immediately. So?”
“Oh, three maneuvering jets . . . spark test green on all. Pressuring their burst tanks, ganging the fire button . . . ready to retract docking clamps. Count down Navigator?”
“Twenty seconds.” Fawn’s voice squeaked and she cleared her throat.
Spence nodded and looked at Sarah. “Clamps at three seconds, triple burst at zero.”
Sarah grinned. “Do I look that nervous?”
The numbers over Fawn’s panel rolled down.
Sarah pushed the clamp retraction button . . . little jolts barely felt . . . she pushed the fire button. A soft shove into his seat.
“Very nice. Now, just for the practice, look up at the stars. See which way the ship is tumbling? Sarah, rather than calculate anything, what do you think you need to do, to stop that little bit of tumble?”
They all looked up and studied the stars sinking on one side and rising on the other.
Sarah pointed to port . . . and then a little forward. “Down jet there, or up up jet opposite . . . we’re tumbling very slowly, does it matter?”
“When we accelerate, it will. So we can just let it tumble while we figure out a course and stop the tumble when it points us about the right direction.
“You save every whiff of fuel you can, don’t you?”
“I’m an old spacer.”
Gerald chuckled. “As opposed to a bold spacer?”