The fortnight did indeed pass slowly. All too soon, Jude and Hennessey were saying their goodbyes. He was headed for the Hibakusha Corporations shiny offices in Gifu, she for Oslo and from there a connecting flight to Svalbard. Their schedules looked as if it would be some time before they could manage to meet up again.
“Hey now, my Sadsacko,” Hennessey tilted Jude’s chin up. “We’re gonna get through this. You. Me. For keeps, yeah?”
“Yeah,” Jude assented, kissing him for one last time. “Now get out of here, before I comm Alice duVale and tell her to stick her job where the moon never sets.”
“I am utterly, utterly freezing,” Alta moaned as they waited in the crew lounge in Ny-Ålesund. Although to call the saggy couches in what was little more than a Nissen hut a “crew lounge” was being overtly imaginative. “I mean,” Jude’s companion continued, “I’ve lived in Poland all my life and boy, do we get winters there. But this. This is bitter.”
“Well, it is about minus sixteen degrees, “ Jude said, stamping her booted feet in an attempt to keep warm. “What time is it?”
“Just left nine. I wish they’d hurry up.”
At that, the door to the lounge swung open, letting in a blast of freezing air, reminding Jude of the icy plains of Titan. A man in a flight suit addressed them.
“Resnik. Sadako.” The two women nodded. “Follow me.”
“Ooh, this is exciting,” Alta cooed. “I’ve never been called just ‘Resnik’ before.”
The VNSS Mishima waited out on the ice. A huge cruiser, bigger than anything Jude had flown on recently except maybe for intergalactic travel, she sat on the SvalRak launch pad. Their guide directed them to an elevator, which they clambered into and rode up to the engines. They were met by an officious looking woman in green coveralls. The name on them read “Mitchell”. She checked their names off on her pad. “This way.” They followed her to a small cabin with two bunks and a pair of lockers. It smelled of sweat and oil. On each bunk was a medium sized duffle bag, containing their belongings – Jude could imagine Alta’s reaction when it would have been delivered to her over the holidays – and a neatly folded set of greens.
“Get changed and meet me in the muster room. Don’t take too long.” Mitchell slammed the door behind her. They quickly divested themselves of their snow gear and boots and changed into long-sleeved tees and the overalls provided. Pulling on the heavy soled work boots, Alta commented, “It’s kind of hot in here.”
“Will you ever be happy?” Jude poked at her friend. “Now get a shift on – I don’t think that Mitchell likes late-comers.”
Fortunately not far down the dimly lit corridor they found a sign with “Muster” typed on it and an arrow pointing to a room at the end of the way. Mitchell was waiting for them.
“Ah, now, Sadako and Resnik. All the way from the Calvin-Gorvobski Institute. Good school – I went there for a spell. But here’s no school. So you gotta do what I tell you, no questions, and no hesitation. Understood?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Both Jude and Alta agreed.
“We don’t hold with no ‘sirring” nor ’ma’aming’ on my ship. Here I’m “Chief Mitchell” or just “Chief”. “Mitch” or Marie if you get to know me better. Clear?”
“Good. Now, Sadako, it says here you have some flight time logged already?”
“You were on the Tiandong? Nasty business and we’ll say no more about it. You’re Vale now. I’ll put you with Roth to start with. “
Mitchell looked Alta up and down. “And Resnik, I think I’ll start you in navs with Monks. Ease you in.”
She pressed a button on her pad. “Roth, Monks. Muster room ASAP.”
A man and a woman hustled into the ready room.
“Sadako, Roth.” Her crew-mate nodded his head in greeting. “Start her off on phase transitions, get this bucket’s engines warming up ready to launch in twenty.” Roth left the room and Jude tailed him.
“She’s a bit much at first,” Jude’s new colleague stated in a soft burr redolent of her mother’s accent.
“Who? The Chief?”
“Aye, but she’s a pussycat underneath. Just keep this baby in the air and she’ll thank you for it.” He turned to the display. “Look familiar?”
Yes, in a classroom. Jude gazed open mouthed at the array of dials and screens.
“All the latest gear. Cruella doesn’t stint when it comes to the latest tech. The flyboys and girls up front kid themselves on that they drive this tub, but here,” and he swept his hand across the bank of equipment, “this is where the magic happens.” He began pressing buttons and adjusting dials.
“Cruella?” Jude questioned him.
“The big boss. Cruella duVale – geddit? Just a bit of fun. But don’t ever let Chief Mitchell hear you call her that?”
“She’s the missus.”
The call came down from the flight deck. “Power her up Chief.” Mitchell had joined Jude and Roth in the engineering hub.
“You heard the woman. Let her rip.”
Once aloft and headed out of earth’s atmosphere, the Mishima and her crew were on a course for the Taurus belt and the Crab Nebula. The engineering team were able to relax in the lounge before they made a push to leave the Moon’s orbit.
“Here, come sit with us.” Roth kicked out a couple of chairs from the table where he sat with Alta and her mentor, Monks.
“Jude, this is Serah. She’s the celestial navigation guru.” Alta said by way of introduction. Jude smiled at the seated woman, who she guessed to be around the same age as herself. “Serah, this is my friend Jude Sadako. She was my roomie back at Cal-Gor.”
“I see you’ve met my trainer, Roth.” Jude observed.
“Alistair, please. Or Ally. When we’re off the clock.” He insisted.
“Cool. Is that a Glasgow accent I detect? My mum’s from Edinburgh originally.” Jude asked him.
“Greenock. Close enough. I’d never have guessed you had Scottish blood though.”
Mitchell popped her head into the lounge. “Look lively, folks. The big bird’s ready to make the jump.”
The four crewmates gulped down their drinks and snaffled food as they headed to their stations.
Jude stood expectantly next to Roth. The various readouts fluctuated and dials spun and Jude felt the familiar rush of power as the Mishima threw off the pull of the Moon and launched into outer space.
“All good,” Roth noted.
“I feel a bit superfluous here, “Jude remarked. “Like I’m just watching you flip switches.”
Roth turned to his newest crew mate. “Have no fear, Sadako. Your talents will be called into use soon enough.”
As if on cue, Mitchell’s tones came on over the comm.
“Roth, Sadako. Muster room.”
“Told you.” Roth grinned and got up, with Jude close behind him.
“What’s the gen, Chief?” The engineering tech asked of his boss.
“The word from up top is that the secondary thrust’s a tad sluggish. We can cruise for a spell on main and auxiliary as back-up til we’re on path to Betelgeuse. Sadako, you can head out and take a look. Roth, you provide backup.”
“Yes, Chief.” An EVA – Jude was ecstatic.
“Oh, and do Monks a favour and take Resnik out with you. The poor woman’s ears are worn out.” Jude smiled – Alta could be a bit much at first. If anything would be needed to quieten her down, her first trip out should be just the ticket.
“But I’ve never done one before. I’ve not even had all that much time in low or no-grav! Is she mad?” Alta sputtered, even as she donned the lower half of her EMU suit.
Jude and Roth beamed at each other.
“Not all companies have the luxury of test-beds and laboratory simulations like I had back in Kakuda.” Jude told her.
“I did my first EVA on my first trip out.” Roth tried to reassure Resnik as he gently attached her Scooby cap. I remember Wib doing that for me, Jude recalled sadly. Ally continued to try to put the young trainee at ease. “It’s literally like nothing on Earth.”
“But it’s also part of your job, Miss Hot-Shot Engineer.” Jude joked and Resnik laughed a little.
“I guess so. I wish they had something a bit more…flattering.”
The bay doors opened and Jude manoeuvred out towards the thruster. Resnik hung back, fiddling with her tether. Jude beckoned her.
“It’s not going to come loose. I checked it twice myself. Now move along. And bring that tool kit with you.”
Resnik slowly edged towards the exit then, with her eyes closed and her breath held, she stepped out. A familiar voice spoke softly in her ear piece.
“Alta, open your eyes.” Slowly, she did.
“Wow.” Alta echoed Jude’s reaction from her first time, back on the CSS.
“Yeah. Never gets old” Again, Jude remembered Wib’s words to her. “Now, once you’re finished having your sweet mind blown, pass me a wrench, why don’t you.”
Jude located the problem with ease and with Resnik’s assistance, she was able to replace some coupling and close the thruster hatch. They returned to the bay and Roth closed the doors before opening the airlock and letting them back in.
“That was amazing.” Resnik was bouncing around as Jude tried to help her out of her helmet. “I was sure I was going to be sick. Can we do it again?”
“Soon enough, Rez.” Jude sighed.
“Were you like that at, what is she, seventeen?” Roth kidded Jude later, once they were back on phase monitoring.
Jude thought back to the height of her Kiki days, all purple hair and anime style get ups.
“No, Ally. I was much, much worse.”
As she settled in her bunk that night, with Resnik snoring gently above her and occasionally whispering a soft ”wow” in her sleep, Jude flicked through her photo album on her pad. She paused on one she had taken at the beach house on New Year’s Eve. Hennessey stood in a dressing gown and pyjama bottoms – pretty much all he had worn around the place the whole two weeks, when he had any clothes on, she smirked. In one hand he had a flute of champagne, in the other a big fat cigar. He was grinning broadly at the camera.
Quietly, Jude got up and slipped on her boots. She hoped that there was someone on at comms and that they were still in range for her to make a call to Earth.