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Cultural Exchange - Part 15

"Okay... power's at 76% capacity for potential drives... main powerplant is within standard limits... Looks good down here."

"Tuvi?... all set?"

"Life support and auxilliary power are fuctioning normally, Mister Stracker."

"Let's burn!"

I felt the deck wobble a bit; we're flying! Nothing can compare to that feeling. Nothing. Its almost enough to get past the artificial excitement that whites and blues can give you.

My body is running on empty and I had to put something in the tank... haven't slept in 3 days. Between finishing flight qual check-outs and looking for sabotage, there's been no time for sleep. But I can't slack off; I know now that Fred or Rory might be setting us up to fry without even knowing it.

Of course they think I'm crazy...

Fred's stomped on 14 of my foil hats so far. I think he's given up on me. And I'm sure that the psyche jockeys have added still more pages to my file. Someone was watching us over the last 2 days. I caught the glint of unshielded binocs on a rooftop across the field. I didn't mention it to anyone. They all think I'm paranoid anyways.

I got up and walked over to another panel set. The gentle sway of the ship made me stagger like a sea puppy on a floater. We're just hovering now. I haven't felt any accelerations to indicate that we're moving. Oh, sure, g-comp is on, but you can still feel the li'l shifts in the gap between start of thrusting and the g-comp's reaction time.

I tap the mic and earpiece to switch to Rory's set.

"Looking good on 23 and 54... How's the flow rates holding up?"

Rortuvu's feminine barky-talk sounds nervous. I wonder if she's actually been in the air before. As a non-passenger anyways.

"There are some fluctuations, Mister James, but they seem to be within proper limits."

I went over to her station and peeked over her shoulder at the gauges. She didn't notice me at first until I put a hand on her shoulder as I leaned over her; she was staring at the needles jumping a tiny bit on the fuel-flow monitors. Looked okay to me, so I slapped her back a couple of times and shot her a smile. Aren't white'n'blues wonderful things? I love everyone.

After dimming the lights for the sake of pure superstition, I gave the thumbs up to head out.

"We're good to go, bro. Got the flight path from COACC yet? Don't wanna bump into one of their jets while running, do we."

"Should have it in a few minutes. We're over the north-end runway right now... Gear's up and won't be let down until we get back."

Usually, I don't go in for pre-flight chatter...you know, just flip the tale-tells and when everything's green, you know is go-time. This time was different though; new crew member and I'm hopped up on happy-pills and someone wants us dead.

Hmmm... maybe things aren't so different after all. Heh... drugged and hated ain't so unusual; but there is the new chickie to worry about. Gosh but she's so cute and fluffy and I could just rub her belly all day long. Chemical happiness sure is convenient. I'm talking and I can't even concentrate on what I'm saying... oh well...the chatter helps to keep me from pacing like a tigris in its cage. Never thought I'd call my ship a cage.

I need some fresh air.

Rory can keep track of some gauges while I poke My head out for a sec. Over-riding the airlock safeties, I open both doors and watch the runway from the airlock vestibule. I know Fred's aware that I've done this; I know the warning lights have gone off on the bridge. I give him my own warning just to be safe. He's used to it by now. This is something I always do when leaving dirtside. Call it my own li'l bit of superstition.

"Hey...I got the door open for a bit....let me know when you think we're gonna top 250 k's... no funny business."

He just grunts in my earpiece and Rory looks panicked in my direction. I give her a thumbs up and lean out the feel the wind. Nothing feels like flying....nothing.

"We're cleared...time to burn..."

"Rory! keep a close eye on the high-output reactors. They're what's keeping us aloft."

I did some quick calcs in my head.

"We'll switch to standard power and drives at oh...about 30,000 meters"

The tarmac slid away quickly under the hull now and the wind whipped faster and faster.

Friedrich steered us on a course that took us out over the sea. We cleared the runway's end at shot out over the breakwater; I leaned out and waved to a fishing boat. And the fisherman waved back and there was a kid sitting on the stern covering his ears with his hands. Heh... wait'll we light off the torch.. I still leaned out and let the slipstream hold me up... look at me, ma! I'm flying.!!

Below me, white caps shot away behind us and when I glanced back, I could see the beginnings of a rooster tail forming aft from the slipstream. The entire ship tilted as it banked for the turn west into the final traffic corridor for orbitals.

From where I stood, the ship's bank made it seem as if I would be pitched out of the airlock and to a quick plummet into the ocean; artificial grav from our life support systems had already been activated so I 'felt' as if I were still on my own two feet, firmly on the deck-plates.

Spreading my arms out, I stood as if crucified by time or I was a diver standing on the lip, ready for the final swan dive. There I flew, alone until the speed grew and a gust of turbulence rocked me hard enough to knock me down to my knees...

Okay... enough fun ( sigh ) back to work. I scowled as the lock doors shut tight. Rory glanced at me, then past me and laid her ears back. The cage door's bolted closed now...time for the pacing to begin....

"Fire in the hole!!! On...5...4...3...2...1...go!"

Pushed back into the couch, I sat breathing as best as I could. We had gotten the okay to test our mains at up to 3 g's in atmosphere. Hope Rory was okay. Last temp junior birdman we had to coddle passed out during a burn like this. I always wondered how he expected to survive when he had to face real g's and not baby g's...

With eyes closed, I waited and imagined how a burn like this appears from the ground. A flaming ball of light punching a hole in the cloud layer, blasting a wide pathway though the high mists. Too bright to look at directly, like a welder's cutter and casting odd shadows different from the red-orange sun.

Somehow, I had always been too busy to pay attention when someone else got to blast away. I never liked watching other people leave when I had to stay behind... I hated to admit it, but I had no real idea what it must look like.

Must be at the top now... the weight was going away until it was safe to move around the ship again. I pulled up life support stats on my heads-up and yep... a good old comfy .8 g's, with 3 g's of accel compensation for quick transients. A quick click to pull up the exterior views... I smiled big... it was black.

"Low orbit achieved... next burn in 30 minutes to outbound trajectory... Trojan point 'B' in 7 hours 35 minutes.... nice work. The Ace was smooth as silk. Ishmael, start a full system check-out on the potential drives so they'll be ready for inbound."

I grunted in response. Somehow, I didn't feel like talking the chatter anymore. I shook Rory and helped her unbuckle from her seat harness. She was clumsy and kept looking at My nose. A little bit shaky but okay otherwise...she'll get use to things soon enough. I had worried when I heard her pant in an odd way under thrust. I clasped her shoulder and let her know she done good without actually saying anything; like I said...I felt a let-down and didn't want to talk.

She kept staring at my nose.


Rory just made a gesture of wiping her nose.

"OH nevermind!...C'mon, We've got work to do. I'll check the control section while you check the main units. Fred says he wants it done before the return trip."

The happy pills must be wearing off, because I was becoming very annoyed with everything. Not only that, my allergies must be acting up as well, or was that a side effect of the blue'n'whites... aw puff it all anyways.. I wiped my nose on my sleeve when no one was looking...

Dammit...blood...I had a floopin' bloody nose from the g's we pulled like a floopin' groundhog junior birdman. I must be getting too old for this.

It's also a bad omen that any old school spacer wants to avoid; it's very bad luck. I looked over at Rory...worse than having females on board... or aliens... or being on someone's dead list... dammit...

I had to head back to my room for my toolbag...

...and some more happy pills.

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