"And it was, like, amazing! They almost died, people seriously thought they were going to, but then somehow they managed to-"
"Jamie, eat," her cousin Colin said.
Jamie rolled her eyes. "Considering I'm the oldest one at this table, you have spent a lot of time telling me what to do," she muttered, but she obediently grabbed a couple of fries, stabbed them into the cup of ketchup , and ate them. Then she picked right back up. "They managed to finish the burns they had to-"
Her little sister Gina cut her off, sliding down in the booth. "We know. We've heard it over and over and over..."
"Be quiet. You probably don't even understand it."
Bobbie, the middle sister, jumped in then. "Well, I understand it. It's the same thing you've been talking about for the past week. And you're not the only one who read the book. So would you please eat already?"
"What book? Did I miss something? Last time I checked she was talking about a space flight," Colin's younger brother Scott said.
"I am. I'm talking about Apollo 13. The commander wrote a book about it. Bobbie read it, and so did I. Sort of. I skipped some of the technobabble, and probably she did too-"
"Eat! Now! You can explain later!" Bobbie sighed dramatically and leaned back in her seat, only to lunge forward again as Jamie reached in front of her. "No more fries! You've had enough!"
Jamie snagged about 7 and pulled her hand back. "Okay, no more," she agreed.
"Get her!" Colin yelled, and then he and the other 2 girls lunged.
Jamie put a protective hand around the fries. "Mommy!" she yelled.
Her parents, grandparents, aunt and uncle all looked over from the table the grown-ups were at. "Kids..." her mother finally said. "What is going on over there?"
Predictably, all three of the attackers dropped back to where they'd been sitting. "Nothing," they said in perfect unison.
"Why do I doubt that?" their grandma said.
"Hey," Scott said, sticking his hands up in the air. "I had absolutely nothing to do with it."
"Colin..." his father said at his older brother.
Colin was the picture of innocence. "Yes, Dad?"
"Cool it, please."
"Same to you, Bobbie, Gina," their father said. The grown-ups went back to their food.
"All right, Jame," Colin said, taking charge as soon as the grown-ups' eyes were off them. "Eat, would you, so we can go play."
For once, Jamie didn't complain. Instead she just gobbled the last of her cheeseburger and finished the stolen fries.
Everyone else was too busy eating to notice. Colin finished first and streaked for the door to the playplace. He was inside and halfway up the tower of steps to the tunnels at the top when Scott and Bobbie followed. Gina got up a second after them, and as Jamie followed her sister, she said in a low voice, "You know, that playplace does look a little like a space station..."
Mott was the last one out of the leg that connected the space station to the ground- not a good thing for the commander. "Hey! People!" she yelled at the others in front of her. Nobody answered. She had to get their attention somehow, so she went for the one who would take it best. "Martin! I'm talking to you!"
Mott pushed her way past the others- Shepard, Hill, and- what's a good last name for Gina?- Andrews, got in front of Martin, and planted herself where the hallway opened out so he couldn't pass her. "Martin, you blockhead. Would you pay attention?"
"Hmm? What?" was Martin's answer, or what passed for one. Mott rolled her eyes, and he tacked on, "What's going on?" Well, that about sums it up, Colin thought. Best way to get in on what Jamie's doing is to find out what she's up to as fast as possible, and write yourself into a good part.
Mott's voice went icy. "Allow me to refresh your memory," she said drily. "Your name is Martin, you're an astronaut, and you haven't been answering your commander. I suggest you start as soon as possible."
Ah, okay, then. "Yes, but I am your second in command..." Just before she could yell at him, Martin tacked on, "Commander."
"Watch your mouth, Martin."
Bobbie grinned. My turn now. "Hey," said Hill's voice from behind Mott. "You told him to answer, and he did. Commander."
Mott spun around to face her. "The next person who uses 'Commander' as an excuse to get out of trouble is going to be...in very big trouble," she finished up weakly.
"What is going on here?" Gina whispered at Scott.
"I have absolutely no idea. She's your sister."
"No she's not. Not now. Now she's 'the commander.'"
If Mott heard any more than the last few words of the sentence, she didn't show it. "And there you have it," she said, waving a hand in Martin's face. "Some people here have no problem acknowledging their commander, even when they're not about to be in trouble."
"Some people here are rookies," Hill retorted before Martin could even decide whether or not he should.
Emboldened, Martin added, "Some people here will never insult their precious commander, cause they think then they'll never be up here again."
"And some are facing exactly the same fate, except that they have no fear, not even a healthy amount." Mott threw back. Jamie grinned. Always wanted to use that. Ever since I read... What was it?
By now, Colin was completely into it. "You wouldn't dare send me back, Commander. You just like me too much."
Mott let out a laugh, followed by a slight sigh. "You know what, you idiot? You might actually be right about that." She closed her eyes, then opened them again. "I only hope it doesn't cost me too much."
For a moment, the other four astronauts stared at her without saying a thing.
It was all Jamie could do to keep from jumping up and down. Gotta love foreshadowing. Just gotta love it. Boy, when I do get it right, I get it right!
As soon as Mott realized everyone was paying attention to her, she shook it off. "Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to show these two 'rookies,' if you insist on calling them that, the different parts of the station. Obviously, you don't have to come, Martin, since you built the entire place with your own two, spacesuit-ed hands."
Okay, thought Gina. I may not know much about space, but... "Really?" said Andrews.
"No, of course not, rookie," said Hill, fighting hysterical laughter.
"Just come with me," Mott said, sweeping an arm grandly to show that Andrews and Shepard were to go ahead of her. As they walked away into the next 'room.' Martin and Hill heard their commander saying, "Rule number 1: Unless I agree with it, don't believe a word Martin says."
Mott was walking backwards as she led the two rookies down the empty hallway of the station. Empty... not right, Jamie thought. Since we're in space, they could use any empty...uh...space. "And here," she continued, as if she knew the place by heart- which she did, having been up 3 times already- "we have the lockers and extra storage space. Since there are no closets in your rooms. Lockers on all the walls. Everything stored here except food. Got it?"
The other two nodded. "Yeah. No problem," Shepard said.
There was a footstep behind the three of them. Andrews moved closer to Mott."Hey, don't look now, I think it's Martin."
"Oh, go ahead and interrupt the conversation." Mott started to turn. "Don't be polite just because I-" Jamie stopped short. Yes, there was a dark-haired boy standing 10 feet away down the tunnel. Problem number one was that he wasn't her cousin. Problem number two was that she'd never seen him before.
Jamie being Jamie, she was too deep in her story to care much about either of those problems. "Oh, sorry, I thought you were Martin," Mott said smoothly to the newcomer. To the others, she said, "The sixth crewmember I told you about? David Parker." She looked back to Parker and said, still with the same slightly apologetic smile, "Parker, these are Charlie Shepard and Sarah Andrews."
Joey had the feeling he had just walked into something weird. Crewmember? "Parker?"
"That's your name, right?" Mott said.
"Or not, that's fine, if he's sick or something and you're backup. Just as long as you're a legitimate astronaut and not someone who climbed up for fun."
Astronaut? Oh. I can do that. Parker grinned. "Yeah, like someone would climb up just off the street."
"...since the station's legs are in the middle of the ocean," Mott finished for him.
Oops. Better just be quiet and pay attention.
"Anyway, then you are Parker."
Parker nodded. "Yeah."
"Good." Nodding to the others, she said, "Shepard and Andrews, like I said... I'm, um, Libby Mott, I'm the commander here, and Jeff Martin and Abby Hill are... somewhere around here. I think. Unless Martin got sick of me being commander and went right back down to where he came from."
"Well, since it's in the middle of the ocean, he couldn't... Uh, could he?" Shepard asked.
"He'd have to wait for a boat to come get him. But he might not mind that. Then again, they'd kill him in Houston- Shoot!" Mott fumbled with the microphone she wore. In a much more perfect voice than she'd been using until then, she said, "Houston, Liberty... Yes, we're here... Yes, um, sorry about that. We were just waiting for Parker to come up, he was a little late... Okay, thanks. Um, Peterson's not going to kill me for this, is h- Oh, good. Oh, thanks." The perfect tone fell out of her voice as she clicked off of the contact with Houston. "Great. I'm not going to die today!"
"Peterson?" Parker asked.
"Flight director this shift."
"Oh, okay." Good thing I've read enough about space, Joey thought. This could actually be pretty fun.
"I was just thinking he might yell at me for not contacting them as soon as we got up here," Mott went on. She grinned. "Carter said he'll cover for us."
"Cart-" Parker started. "Oh, right. Capcom this shift, right?"
"Absolutely," Mott sang. In Andrews' direction she explained, "That's the only guy in Houston who can actually talk to us." Glancing toward where she'd left Martin and Hill, she went on, "So, what do you say we go find those strange people they sent up here with us and see if they want to eat anything. If not, we can always starve them to death."
"That wouldn't be a good idea," Andrews said seriously. Then, "Would it?"
Mott's look said, "Get real." All her voice said was, "You know, I don't think so. Like I said, I don't want to die today. Peterson might let me get away with not telling them we're up here right away, but I don't think I could starve someone on his watch and survive."
"And now, I have a surprise for you." Mott moved over to the freezer and pulled it open. "We're going to fill this up with experiments we do so that they're preserved for later, but for now, since it's pretty much empty, they put some special stuff into it."
"Who?" said Martin.
"The last group here. And what they put up here was... ice creams. Carter says they even found out our favorites."
"Um, now that you said that, somebody asked me what kind I like awhile ago," Parker jumped in.
"Who?" This time it was Shepard.
Parker just shrugged. "Don't know. Someone in training. Don't remember their name."
"Well, whatever. Come look. Me, I get this one." Reaching in, she pulled something out. "A Rocketpop!"
Andrews was the next one to run over. "I get a Klondike!" she yelled.
Then it was Hill. "Me too!"
Shepard. "Ice cream sandwich!"
Martin wandered over casually and reached in. "Oh. Fudgesicle. Sweet."
"Drumstick!" Everyone gave him a weird look and Parker explained, "You know, one of those ice cream cone thingies."
They ate in silence for a few minutes. As they were finishing up, Andrews said slowly, "You know, don't you think we should go down and check the time- Uh, I mean, didn't they want, um..."
"Oh, yeah, almost forgot," Martin said. He tossed his stick into the garbage and went on, "They want some experiments done on seawater, so we better go down and get some."
"What kind of experiments?"
Hill took over. "Oh, I remember now. They want to see if you can do that thing... Uh, what's it called, where you take the salt out of the water? If you can do it in zero-g."
"But we're not in zero-g." Shepard caught himself. "I mean, are we?"
Oh, shoot, what a mess. Jamie thought fast. Obviously we can't be, since nobody would have asked that question if we were... But the experiment...
"There's one room that is," Parker said. "You know, that room off the storage hall? The blue one, kind of round? You can turn off the gravity-making machine in that room."
"Yeah. It has its own gravity generator, and you can turn it off and leave the main one on," Mott finished smoothly. "All right, you're right, Martin, we better go down and get some water."
"All of us?" Andrews asked.
"I'll stay," offered Hill.
Mott shook her head. "I'd rather Parker did, if it's okay. He's had some pilot training."
"So have I!"
"Martin, you're the one in charge of this experiment. You can't be two places at once. And who's the commander here?"
"Oh, fine." Martin followed the others down the stairs.
"So, Mom, how much longer do we have?"
His mother looked around at the other grown-ups. "Well, let's see..."
"We'll call you, all right?" Jamie's mother broke in. She looked around at the others too. They nodded.
"'Kay, gotta go, bye!" Colin ran back to the stairs to catch up with the others.
"Hey, Commander!" The call rang across the station as soon as the five astronauts had returned.
"Parker?" Mott yelled.
"Come on," said Parker's voice. He appeared from the storage tunnel, with two others following him. When he got to Mott, he motioned at the ones following him. "Logan and Miller. They're here to do some experiments, shouldn't take long, then they have to go back."
Mott nodded. "Oh, all right. Martin's got his to do." Turning to the newcomers, she asked, "Would you mind taking his stuff back down with you?"
"His... stuff?" Miller asked. She glanced over at Parker, as if she was about to ask what was going on.
Mott headed that off. "Yeah. He's got to send down the results, um..." Turning to Martin, she passed on the question. "What all's got to go?"
"Em, uh, you know... I'm really not sure either." Martin reached up to his microphone. "Houston, Liberty... Yeah, about those experiments... Well, what all do you want of the results?... Okay... Uh-huh... Uh-huh... Okay, thanks." He clicked off. "Okay. The results, printed off, and the water."
Miller suddenly seemed to catch on. "So, test tubes, or something, and papers?"
"Yeah. Is that okay with you guys?"
"Oh, yeah, fine," said Logan.
"Um... You don't need me here, do you?" Mott was already edging into the cockpit. "I want to check on our...position. That kind of thing. So you guys go do your experiments, and I'll be right in here."
Andrews spun around. "Can I come?"
Mott shook her head no. "Parker?"
Grinning, Parker followed.
Wait, that's supposed to be what I say! "What?" Mott said, turning to look at what Parker had been watching.
"Look at this."
"Here." Pointing at the screen, he said, "Um, this is kind of scary to ask, but what's this right here?" As Mott's face practically went white, he added an unnecessary, "This thing that's coming right toward us?"
Mott, eyes still locked on the screen, whispered something under her breath. That's even better than the disaster I was going to have!
"Meteor," hissed Mott in a low voice.
"Okay. I really hoped that wasn't it." She hadn't moved, so he nudged her lightly. "Commander?"
"Um, yes, um... Oh, shoot." Finally snapping out of it, Mott hollered through the doorway at the others, "Everybody in here now. This minute, this exact minute, I mean it!"
Footsteps clattered down the hall. Martin was first in. "The experiment's done, if you want to know."
"I don't, actually. Are Logan and Miller gone?"
"Of course they are," mumbled Mott.
Hill showed up in time to hear the last bit. "What? What happened?"
Mott waited until Shepard and Andrews had appeared- Andrews didn't even manage to cram her way into the full cockpit- before she announced, "We have got a major, major problem."
For some reason, Hill and Andrews both found this hysterical. "So did you tell Houston yet?" Hill somehow got out, practically doubled over with laughter. "Did you say, 'Houston, we have a problem?' Or did you go with the actual thing he said, which was, 'Hey, we've got a problem here'?"
Parker spun to face her. "If you're talking about Apollo 13, you better hope we get out of this like they did," he barked.
He knows about Apollo 13. I think I'm in love, Jamie thought dramatically. "Exactly, Parker. All right. I need to- Um-" She broke off for a minute. "Okay. I want this station ready to move ASAP. Martin, go raise the leg on the other end. Andrews, this one. Hill and Shepard, check the rest of the ship and make sure everything's ready to move."
"And me?" Parker said.
"Stay right here." As the others scattered, she grabbed her microphone. "Houston, Liberty. We have a problem here. A big problem, okay? Uh, we're... Wait, okay, you see that?... Good. We need to... Yes, and actually, I already sent the others out for that..." She smiled. "Thanks. All right, so then do you want us to..." That trailed off into a series of "Mm-hmm," "Uh-huh," and "Okay" that lasted for about a minute, and finally, "Right," a sigh, and, "That's not going to be easy, did you notice- Right, we're on it." She broke the contact and sank to the floor. "I don't know if we can do this."
Parker hit the floor almost as fast. "What? What's wrong?"
Mott shook her head, which had already fallen into her hands. "We aren't supposed to be able to do this. To burn the engines hard enough to move that fast... We probably don't have enough power."
"Well, no, I didn't say that right. I mean we need to use a ton of power at the same time to do this burn, but we're already using up too much every second to do that... I think."
"You think." Parker repeated. He scrambled to his feet. "Well, um, we need 6,000 a second for this burn, right?"
Mott's head came up and she stared at him. "You memorized the chart?"
"Well. I'm impressed." Shaking her head, she got up, walked over to the right meter, and examined it. Parker watched silently. After staring at it for a minute, as if that would change the reading, she shook her head again. "We can only use thirty-five hundred." She turned back to Parker and sighed. "Guess that's it, then. We better get out of here." Don't you dare take that seriously, Jamie thought hard at him.
"No way. Can't we make more power?"
"We could, but that doesn't matter, cause we still couldn't use 6,000 all at the same time."
"No. I mean, couldn't we be able to use more power at the same time? Like, for example, by turning off some other stuff."
"Oh..." Mott considered it for a second, then went out into the hall and clicked off the light. She ran back into the cockpit and looked at the meter. "Thirty-six hundred, now. This could work." Raising her voice, she hollered, "Everyone! Back here as soon as you finish."
Andrews came running within seconds. "Yes?"
"Where were you?" Mott said, glaring at the rookie. "What were you doing? You were supposed to raise the leg- you could have been back here within five seconds if you used the automatic button."
"Um, well..." Andrews shifted nervously. "You did said we might have to escape, so..."
"So you wanted to be first out." Mott rolled her eyes.
Parker agreed. "Incredibly brave," he muttered sarcastically.
By now the other three had appeared in the doorway. "What?" Martin said in a very annoyed voice.
"Martin. I want every light in this ship off- except the ones in here. We're using flashlights until further notice. Hill. Everything else off that we don't need. In fact, Shepard, you too."
"Like what? The oven or something?"
"Everything. The oven, that's good, and anything else that's plugged in or wireless connected to the station. Anything using up power. Now go!"
Parker and Mott (with Andrews trying to peek over their shoulders) watched the meter slowly go up. After a few minutes it hit 5,900, and Parker hissed, "Almost there..."
A voice behind him said, "Good."
Mott spun around. "Lights out, Martin?"
"Got it." He leaned against the cockpit wall. "All of 'em, except in here."
"So's, like, everything else I could find," Hill added, appearing in the doorway with Shepard.
"Like everything?" Mott repeated. "Do you mean everything or almost everything."
"Everything we could find," Shepard said. "Why? Is that okay?"
"No, it's not!" roared Parker. "We're using up too much power to do the burn!" Glancing up at the light, he said slowly, "Commander? How about this light?"
"Hang on." She reached into her pocket- "I've got some flashlights-" and pulled out one for herself. Then she dug in the only drawer in the room and tossed another to Parker, took a deep breath, turned around and flipped off the cockpit light. The room went dark.
And the meter clicked up to 6,000.
Parker had been watching. "6,000! Yes! We can do this!"
"Wait! Oh, my gosh, wait! Maybe not!" Mott whipped around. "Somebody, please tell me your mike is on."
"Mine's not," Martin said quickly.
"Shepard? Andrews? Someone tell me yours is on."
"Mine's not. Why?" Hill said.
"Because we're going to need one on during the burn, and the mikes are wireless. They use up power. If one's not on now, we'll be using up too much as soon as one comes on."
Shepard flinched. "I don't think-"
Mott checked hers just in case, and then swallowed and looked around the cockpit. "All right. Get everything important, we need to be out of here in an hour."
"Why?" Shepard's voice shook.
"Cause we can't burn. We're going to lose the ship."
There were a couple of gasps, and one "Um..."
Parker stared at the floor. "Sorry. Mine was on."
Mott's eyes flew to the meter. "6,020. Okay. Thank you." She switched tactics fast. "Okay. First of all, no mikes during burn. We can only use one, and if anything else is turned on, we'll have shutdown and have to start over. Parker, mike."
"Yeah, you. I want to be control of the switches. Tell Houston what's going on."
"Okay." Parker clicked his mike back on and started, "Um, we're-"
"Houston, Liberty!" Mott corrected.
"What? Oh, yeah. Houston, Liberty." Obediently Parker explained the situation to Houston. Then he started mumbling affirmatives. "Okay. Got it," he finished up, and said, "They want guards put up."
"To watch if anything goes wrong anywhere."
"Oh, okay." Mott pointed at the others. "Shepard, over by the other leg. Martin, your room. Hill, the experiment room. Not yet!" She waited until Hill turned back. "Keep an eye out the window. If anything happens that's weird, I want to know. I don't care if you have to shake me to get my attention. Something going to hit us, us going in the wrong direction, anything."
"What direction should we be going?" Martin said, serious for once.
"This angle. Diagonal, between where the windshield is and the leg on this side. Now you can go."
"So what do we do?" Andrews said.
"Well, listen. Right now, they're going around down in Houston, making sure everybody's ready for the burn. Right, Parker?"
"Hmm? Yeah. Oh, wait. Yeah, this is Liberty, ready when you are. Six minute burn," he said to Mott when he was done with Houston.
"So," Mott went on to Andrews, "they'll say 'Fire on my mark.' Then they'll count down from five- Hey, Parker. I want the count a full second early, so after you pass it to me I'll still be firing on time."
Parker repeated that to Houston.
"And they'll say 'mark,' and I'll fire. And then we just need to flip whatever switches they say to. Speaking of that-" She moved so she could look both of them in the eye and went on. "From now until we finish this, Parker's got command, got that? Do not ask me whether to do something, what he says from Houston goes, okay? Parker, got that?"
"Me? Commander?" he mouthed.
He might have argued, but just then he was interrupted. "Copy," he said into the mike, then to Mott and Andrews, "Fire on my mark."
Mott swallowed and nodded again.
"Five, four, three, two, one, mark!"
Mott punched the button.
Seconds ticked past with no comments. "Throttle?" Mott said.
"What? I'd have thought it'd be at least- Never mind." The throttle was adjusted to 20%.
"Andrews, that blue switch. Turn it off."
"Um, how's altitude?"
Mott checked it. "Haven't lost any."
Footsteps echoed down the hall. Martin's head appeared. "We're drifting!"
"Ah, shoot!" Mott yelled.
Parker glanced up, but couldn't ask what was wrong. "Throttle at 30%."
Andrews adjusted it.
"Commander!" Martin complained.
This was not the time to explain she'd given up command for the time being. "Parker!"
"Handle that," Parker ordered her quickly. "Andrews, lower the thrusters."
"I can't handle it!" whispered Mott, then said quickly, "Okay, uh, why would we be drifting?"
"That's what I'm asking!"
"Thrusters..." Parker warned.
"I don't know how to lower them!"
"Well, I..." Mott leaned into the hall. "Shepard! Hill! Someone tell me why we're drifting!"
"Thrusters! Now!" roared Parker.
Martin lunged across the cockpit and hit the button. "Got it."
Hill burst in. "Gas cloud! We're venting something!"
"What?" three voices yelled.
"50% throttle," Parker ordered calmly. "Martin, go back. We've got this."
Martin glanced between Mott and Parker for a minute. Something was going on, but he knew better than to ask. "Going back," he said, and did.
Andrews adjusted the throttle.
"Gas cloud. That's why we're drifting." Mott shoved her hair out of her eyes. "Okay. Okay, uh..."
"Handle it," Parker told her. He shot another order at Andrews, who ran to obey.
"Ask Houston what we're venting!" hollered Mott.
Parker relayed the question, and yelled at her, "Fuel tank."
"DANG!" screamed Mott. Andrews jumped.
Parker wasn't done. "Throttle down and switch to backup."
"Down to what?"
This time Mott didn't even react to the setting, except to say, "Backup fuel tank, Andrews," and throttle down. "What time we at, Parker?"
"2 minutes 30."
"And I'll be so glad when it's over."
As if to punctuate that, a scream came from the other end of the station.
"Oh, what now?" Mott wailed. "What?" she screamed out the door. "Shepard, that you? What is it?"
"The leg came loose!"
Martin burst in. "That leg he was watching came loose, Commander. I don't know what to do about it, except I told him to hold the lever that lets you lower it by hand."
"Go help him, then!" When Martin vanished, Mott leaned back against the wall, muttering under her breath, "He would start calling me Commander as soon as I give up command..."
"Got it!" Martin called.
"All right, let's try throttle to 30%..."
"Do we look good?" barked Mott. "Hill?"
"We're all right."
The throttle went to 30%.
Mott was almost shaking. "Okay. Okay, okay, okay..."
"3 and a half..."
"Ow!" came from Shepard and Martin's side.
"Everything okay?" Hill's voice called before Mott could.
"Just fine," Martin yelled back. "Banged into Shepard there by accident. We're totally okay though."
"Well, good." That one was Mott.
Parker nodded. "Okay. We're going to try throttle back to 50%."
"Okay..." Mott reached for it.
For the first time since they'd started the burn, Parker looked directly at her. "I mean, you're okay with that, right?"
Pointedly, Mott said, "I'm getting it, Commander." She adjusted the throttle and called, "Are we okay, guys?"
"Oh, no!" yelled Hill's voice.
Hill appeared in the doorway. "We're venting again."
"Yes, Hill just... Okay, got that..." Parker, who had been talking to Houston, now looked over at Mott. "Check the switch."
"It's a really slow leak. Maybe the switch is wrong."
Mott reached over and grabbed the backup fuel tank switch. It jerked down easily in her hand. "Darn thing's loose!"
"Okay. Hill, go back. Houston, the switch is loose." After a minute he told Mott, "Hold it in the right place."
"Four and a half... You can hold it, right?"
"Is everything okay over there?" Martin yelled.
"We're good." Mott hung onto the switch.
Parker was back in conversation with Houston. A moment later he surfaced and said, "They want us to throttle up to 70."
"Not now." Mott spun to face him.
"Either that, or burn another 2 minutes."
"Well, we're going to have to do that-" Suddenly Mott remembered her two crewmates down the hall, hanging onto that lever for dear life. "Oh, shoot..."
"Well, what do we do?"
Mott locked her eyes with his. "Your command, Parker."
Parker thought about it. Then he looked away from her. "All right, copy that, Houston. Throttling up."
Mott, one hand still holding the fuel tank switch in place, crossed her other arm over to adjust the throttle. "I hope to heck you know what you're doing..."
There was silence. The readings all stayed steady.
Andrews forced herself to breathe again.
"We okay, Hill? Martin? Shepard?"
"Venting stopped," Hill yelled after the other two had spoken.
"Great," Mott said without much enthusiasm. She turned to face Parker. "We get to five and a half, I want a full countdown, okay? Second early, the works."
Parker repeated that.
Seconds ticked past.
"Five minutes 30... 29... 28..."
"How's it look in there?" Martin thought to ask.
Mott tried twisting around. "Can't see. Someone check."
"I don't know how." Andrews got out of the way.
"Got it... 23... 22..." Still counting, Parker flicked his eyes over the instruments. "We look fine." He had to stop counting. "Yeah, Houston, that was us. We're looking real good up here."
The next ten seconds were silent, except for Parker counting. Finally, voice unsteady, he counted off, "Five, four, three, two, one-"
"SHUTDOWN!" Mott yelled in the same breath as him, mashing the button with her free hand.
There was another 5 seconds of silence. The voice in his headset finally blasted Parker to life. "Yeah, yeah, we're good. We're great, thanks... Thanks." He clicked off for the first time in six long minutes and looked over at Mott. "They want you. I'll tape that switch." He took it from her and reached for the drawer with his other hand.
"Houston, Mott... Oh, thanks. We really appreciate that. Thanks... Okay, right. I'll get that." She clicked off the contact and started yelling. "Martin and Shepard, tape that leg and get in here. Hill, check the other one, would you? Uh, Andrews, how about you go turn some stuff back on for a while, and then we all need to get ready for the braking burn in an hour." She sank back against the wall, and then thought to add, "Oh, and by the way, I'm taking back command."
Parker tried not to laugh.
Martin walked in, still looking serious. "Good burn, Commander?"
Mott scrambled to her feet so they were on the same level. "Very good burn, yeah. Thanks, Martin." When the others assembled, she finally remembered to flip the light back on before she started, "All right. Good burn, guys. Now, just in case, I think we should check this place again before we get to that braking burn."
"And we should tell Houston they need to make us able to use more power at the same time!" Hill added, and everyone laughed.
"Joey! Time to go home!"
The six in the cockpit froze.
"Did you hear that?" Parker asked Mott. When she nodded, he said, "Tell me what they said? I couldn't hear."
"They said..." Mott paused. "Houston wants you back down there. Wants you to take the, uh, landing capsule from in the leg, since the legs aren't down. Just to take a break, they want you, I think. You did a good job on that burn."
The other four agreed right away.
"Thanks," Parker said self-consciously.
Mott looked around at the other four of her crew. "Well? Didn't I just say this place needs checked? You can do it now, or you can wait and have to do it before the burn."
Shepard, Andrews, and Hill scattered. Martin stopped long enough to put a hand on Parker's shoulder for a second. "Nice job. Bet you'd make a pretty good commander, if you wanted to."
After he'd left, Parker turned to Mott, who was already grinning at that comment. "I agree with that," she said. She took a deep breath. "All right, then. Go on. Get some rest, you hear?"
Parker nodded. "Yeah." He turned away and was halfway to the leg when he walked back. "I..."
"Yeah?" said Mott absentmindedly, reading off dials on the dashboard.
"I- I'll never forget you, Commander," he said quickly.
She looked up at him with a smile. "I won't forget you too fast, either, Parker." She hesitated. "Uh, I'll see you, then?"
"Yeah." Parker sighed. "Yeah, I'll see you."
David Parker took one last look at the station he'd helped save, and then went into the leg to find the landing capsule.
"Joey! I called you almost 5 minutes ago!"
"Sorry, Mom," Joey said, picking up the Happy Meal they'd gotten for his younger brother. "Are we going now?"
"Mrs. Reed's going to wonder where we are." His mother held the door out of McDonalds open for him. "At least your brother gets an extra 5 minutes or so with Kurt."
His mother looked sideways at him. "Can I ask what you were doing up there? I kept hearing these names... Hill... Martin... How many kids were up there with you?"
"Five. Well, seven for a little bit. Mostly five. And those were just names we made up for a story."
"Oh. What were their real names, then?"
Joey thought about it. "You know, Mom? I never asked."