"'dancer, this is Blackbird. Come in, 'dancer. How do you read?"
"Loud and clear, Blackbird. How do you read me?"
"Loud and clear. Requesting permission to dock."
Commander Holley clicked over to call down to Mission Control, "This is Blackbird. I'm docking with Stardancer now."
"Roger that. Thank you, Blackbird."
Commander Holley looked out the windows, lined up, and neatly pulled into the station. "We're docked," he called down. "I'll be back in touch later, once we're all aboard and set up."
"Roger. Over and out."
Commander Holley, second-in-command Eva Cameron, and the other crew members Erica Shaugnessy and Bianca Marlen pulled open doors and hopped out of the ship into the station. Krista Rothbauer, the youngest of the five, hung back, tapped her mike, and called down, "Hey, before I get out of here?"
"Yes, Krista?" answered the voice from so far below.
"You know those instructions I left, just in case?"
"Just make sure they get to my brother, okay?" Her twin brother, Kyle Rothbauer, should have been on this mission, which was extremely dangerous after all- no one knew whether a station orbiting so close to an unknown planet could survive. Krista had taken his place when he had gotten too sick to come just a few days before the launch, but it was a quick sickness, and she knew that he would probably recover by the time they made it out here. She had left him instructions for how to follow, just in case anything happened, and a signed paper telling Mission Control to let him. No one knew what was in the envelope, though. Not even Kyle. He'd find out if he needed to- the envelope told him only to open it if there was a disaster.
"We will," the voice promised.
"Okay. Thanks. Over and out."
"Mommy! Jamie's just sitting in the car doing nothing!"
Crap. Jamie grabbed her bag and was about to jump out when her dad appeared. "Jamie Lauren, you will get out here and help along with everybody else."
"Okay." Dragging the bag over her shoulder, Jamie hopped out and followed the others to the trailer. "Okay, so, what are we doing?"
Her dad turned to her mom. "Key, please."
Staring back, her mom answered, "I gave it to you before we left."
"I gave it back, remember? I didn't want it in my pocket while I was driving. You were going to put them in my purse."
"I did put them-" Jamie's mom reached under her arm and came up empty when she realized the bag wasn't there. Then her face got almost horrified. "I don't have my purse. I never bring my purse on camping trips."
"That's why I was so surprised when you said you were putting it in your purse!"
"Well, why didn't you say something instead of just sitting there and thinking about how surprised you were?!"
Gina crept over closer to Jamie.
Normally this was the part where Jamie would have to tell her everything was okay, but now she was actually getting worried. If they didn't have the trailer key, then what were they going to do?
"What are we supposed to do now? Drive three hours back to get it, and then three hours more back here?"
"Either that or drive three hours back home and stay there! We don't even have a tent until Mom and Dad get here!"
"We could call your parents and ask them to turn back and get it."
"I wouldn't ask them to do that!"
"They're almost here anyway," Bobbie butted in, "so it really wouldn't work better than us going back. Would it?"
"If you'll excuse me," said her father, turning to face her with a dangerous calm in his voice, "we're trying to have a conversation here."
No, they were trying to have an argument here. Jamie was really starting to worry about how this was going to end- if one of them had enough of a temper fit, they probably would get loaded right back into the car to drive all the way home, and the camping trip would be over without the trailer even being unhitched.
"Well-" her father spread his hands. "What are we going to do?"
Her mother, looking exasperated, grabbed the keys out of his hand. "I'll go. Do you want to empty the car first or-"
"It looks like rain," said Jamie. She immediately regretted it, because both her parents turned to look at her. "So it probably wouldn't be a good idea..." she said very carefully.
"Well, I'm not looking forward to driving all the way back, I am certainly not looking forward to getting back here and then having to set the whole thing up also."
"We can have part of it set up!" Bobbie pointed out, and was ignored.
"It doesn't matter whether we leave the stuff in the car or unload it," her dad pointed out in his painfully patient voice. "We will still have exactly the same amount of setting up left to do when you get back with the key."
"Are you just going to sit around, then, while I'm gone?"
Dad snatched the keys back. "I'll go back and get the keys, honey, you can be the one to just sit here and wait."
'Honey' was a good thing for most other people, including most of Jamie's aunts and uncles. 'Honey' was a very scary thing coming from one of her parents. It usually meant that one of them was doing something they really did not want to do just to get the other one to shut up, and it almost always led to exact the same reaction from the other person.
"I said I was going to go," said Mom, grabbing the keys again. "There is no need to be the hero, Randall, I am going!"
"I am not trying to be heroic, I am trying to save you the aggravation!" They were standing the same way, feet planted, face-to-face, Dad with his hands actually on her hips and Mom with her arms crossed, keys in the hand that was tucked in. "I am also trying," Dad continued, "to save myself the aggravation of having to deal with your aggravation!"
Mom broke into a run. The two of them, like a couple of four-year-olds, proceeded to race to the driver's door of the car and then fight over the keys once they got there. It would have been extremely funny if it hadn't been their parents acting this way.
"Why don't you both go?" said Gina.
"Because," said Mom, since Dad was now leaning against the door of the car, preventing her from getting in even though she still had the keys, "we are not leaving the three of you here by yourselves. Or driving all the way home and back with the three of you."
Bobbie spoke up, as calmly as if she hadn't even been paying attention to what had been going on right in front of her. "Why can't you leave the three of us here by ourselves?"
Jamie cringed. This was not going to be pretty.
"Grandma and Grandpa are going to be here in just half an hour. It's not like anything would happen, right?"
"We'd just sit here, and be good," said Gina, helping out.
Jamie had no idea what either of them expected this idea to do. She knew what the idea was going to do, and it definitely wasn't going to get their parents to stop arguing. Dad was going to start being ultra-patient with them too, telling them how thoughtful they were, but how it really wasn't going to help here, and then Mom was going to start yelling at him for distracting her from the argument, and then eventually one of them was going to accuse the other, in a whisper they thought was too quiet to be heard more than a couple feet away but really wasn't, of 'scaring the girls'...
Dad looked at Mom. "She's got a point," he said.
"Randall, are you crazy? Jamie is seven years old. She is not going to babysit her sisters!"
"This is not babysitting. They are going to take their things, sit here at the picnic table, and wait until their grandparents get here. You can drive up, I'll drive back, and your parents will be here long before any of them needs anything."
"You are saying that we should just leave them here, with no way of getting in touch with us if anything goes wrong."
Jamie figured if they kept arguing a little longer, Grandma and Grandpa would be here and there would be nothing left to argue about, but if she said that they would probably yell at her for being a smartmouth.
"What is going to happen? It's a campground, and all the sites in this loop are taken."
"So if something bad happens all we have to do is yell really loud," said Gina.
Bobbie went back to something their mom always said they should do if they got lost. "There's probably lots of moms with children camping here, don't you think?"
"Well, if we're going to go, we're going to go," said Mom, much more calmly. "Shall we?"
"Better unhitch the trailer first," said Dad, also far more rational now, "so we're not towing that all the way back and forth. Mom and Dad can get to work setting it up if they want- as much as they can without the key, I mean- when they get here."
Mom tucked the keys into her pocket. Jamie watched as they got to work undoing the hitch, because sooner or later she was going to be allowed to help with it. When they finished, Mom automatically reached for her pocket, where the trailer keys weren't, so she could open the little storage door on the trailer and take out the chalks. When she realized what she was doing and that she couldn't do that, she turned to the girls and told them, "Don't touch the trailer. We can't chalk it, and we don't want it to start rolling away."
That was another thing to worry about, thought Jamie, but she kept that to herself too. No need to give them more reason not to go. It wasn't only that she wanted them to get going so that they would get back sooner with the keys, and wanted both of them to go so that she wouldn't have to spend the rest of the vacation hearing arguments about someone 'owing' someone. By now she was kind of looking forward to this. Really, it pretty much was babysitting her sisters... Mom had said so. And she was only nine!
Dad cast one more look back at the trailer and then started back over to the car. "Are you driving or am I?"
"I'll drive," said Mom, taking the keys out of her pocket, clicking the unlock, reaching her door and pulling it open. She looked back too, but it was at her daughters. "You girls stay right here until Grandma and Grandpa show up, got it? Exploring can wait."
"Got it," said Jamie.
"We're good," said Bobbie.
"You can go!" said Gina, very pointedly.
Mom shook her head just a little, still looking not so sure, but she slid into the driver's seat and firmly shut the door. The car started. Dad opened his door and got in, waving goodbye over his shoulder. A moment later the car pulled out. Bobbie ran to the end of the road to watch it disappear around the corner at the end of the loop, and Gina followed her. Jamie stayed behind, pacing a little and thinking about what this meant. Not only was she in charge of her sisters, but for the story...
Krista was the youngest of the three left behind as the commander and second-in-command headed back for the station they'd come from, to find the missing...um...thing that they had forgotten. It must be pretty bad if they hadn't even told the others what it was. Just a whispered conversation over the mikes with Mission Control, and then they were back in the ship and leaving. Commander Holley hadn't even said which of them was in charge while he was gone. Probably Erica, since she was the oldest. Also she had been on missions before, while Krista and Bianca were both on their first. Since he hadn't said, though, there could be a problem if something bad happened and someone had to be in charge.
"Okay," said Bobbie, coming back from the edge of the site, "I don't know about you guys-" this was one of her favorite phrases; she had probably heard it somewhere "-but I'm going to read." She pulled a book out of her bag- probably Sarah Plain and Tall, Jamie remembered her packing that one- and plopped herself down on the picnic bench.
"Well, I'm going to color," said Gina, and started pulling out stuff from her bag. "You can have the other one on the page," she said to Jamie.
"Maybe later," said Jamie, since that usually worked long enough that Gina forgot what she'd originally asked for. She walked around towards the back of the trailer, then behind it to the other side.
"No leaving the campsite!" Bobbie yelled after her.
...also because Erica Sh- Shannon (that wasn't it) was a big-time boss. "I'm not," Jamie yelled back. "I'm still in the campsite. They didn't have to say we all had to be able to see each other the whole time."
"But we don't know you're here if we can't see you," Bobbie yelled back.
"Come look for me if you think I decided to disappear. I promise you I'll be right here." The fact was, it was so much easier to make up a story if she didn't have to worry she'd get yelled at for talking out loud (which she did sometimes).
Erica. Erica what-was-her last name. Anyway. Let's see.
The problem with Erica was not that she had all this extra knowledge about how crews worked and things like that from being on a couple of missions before this. The problem was Erica thought that just because Bianca and Krista hadn't been on a mission before, they weren't smart enough to think of the easiest things. Like, they couldn't leave the docking area. Duh! They couldn't get into the rest of the station without whatever it was that the Commander and Eva had gone back for, and if they tried to go out into space they'd, well, die. It did not take missions to Pluto to be able to figure that out. Even a nine-year-old girl would know that!
"Hey, Mission Control," Krista called down over her mike.
"How long do you think it's going to take for them to get back?"
"About twice as long as it took you to get there."
Well, that made sense. It was nice of them not to say how stupid the question had been. "Right. Thanks. You'll let us know how things are going, right?"
Now she needed to add some more drama. "Well..." They obviously didn't want to tell her how bad things were, but they had to, so after a minute the voice started talking again. "We'll only be able to talk to you for another..."Hmm. "...five minutes. After that the planet will block our communication with you for awhile."
Jamie couldn't decide on a good amount of time for it to be. Looking at her watch, she could tell that her grandparents would probably be here at any minute- probably within those five minutes- but of course it would have to be way longer for the Commander's ship to get to the space station and back. She hadn't even decided how long it had taken to get there in the first place- she had started making up the story right before her dad said they were twenty minutes from getting there.
"There's no time to figure that out," said the voice from the ground. "We need to give you some instructions. You know that the room you're in is made for ships to sit in, so we don't keep air in it all the time. The air is set to automatically drain out after a certain amount of time."
"Which is how long?"
"An hour or so."
At that, Krista lost it. "That is way too short!" she screamed at them. "We're going to be here way more than an hour and you know it!"
"Jamie, what are you doing back there?"
She hadn't said that out loud, had she? Bobbie shouldn't have been able to hear her from way back here. She was probably just wondering because Jamie had been back here for so long. Well. "I'm staying away from you," she yelled back.
"That's not very nice!" It was Gina's voice this time.
"Well, I'm not bothering you, because I'm not even there, so stop bothering me! Thank you!" She waited to see if they were going to say something else, but it looked like that had shut them up. Good. Where did she leave off?
"That is way too short!" Krista yelled into her microphone. "We're going to be here for way longer than that, and you know it!"
"Don't worry," the voice said, sounding still stressed but mostly calm. "More astronauts are coming to help. They were supposed to meet you there anyway, and they've been at the station before, so they know the code to stop the air from being drained. Once they get there you'll be able to stay in the docking area until Commander Holley and Eva get back and you can get in to the rest of the station."
"Okay. Good. Will I be able to talk to the people in the station when I can't talk to you anymore?"
"I don't know. Why don't you try it out? Not yet, though, I need to finish talking to you."
"Okay. What else do you need to tell me?"
That was a good question. What else would they need to tell her?
"You need to make sure..." Of something. Of something. She had had an idea and now she couldn't think of what it had been. Oh, yeah. "You need to make sure you don't tell Bianca and Erica about this. Especially Erica."
"Because knowing Erica Shannon-"but that wasn't it, she'd had a really good name and now she couldn't remember it. "-she would start to panic. There's no point panicking because there's nothing they can do about it. That's why we're telling you, because you're the most calm person there."
"Thanks," said Krista. "Um, so the air is going to drain out in an hour?"
"But not all at the same time. It's made so that it only drains out very slowly so that if someone was in there and needed to, they could put in the code and stop it."
"That makes sense."
"So when the the alarm starts going off, the air will start very slowly draining out."
"How long does it take?"
There was a very, very long pause.
"We'd rather not tell you that."
Jamie was starting to give herself goosebumps. This was kind of a creepy story, but hey, it was dramatic. And she could always have them be wrong about the hour. Or just make it take a very, very long time to drain all the way out.
"Okay. Um, I'll just say goodbye now, then."
"Goodbye," said the voice. And then, "Godspeed, Krista Rothbaeur."
She knew why they had said her whole name and so seriously. This could be the last time they ever talked to her.
Nobody had said anything from the other side of the trailer in a couple minutes, but she probably better get back over there before one of them started getting suspicious or yelling at her again. And stay, at least for a minute or two.
Neither of them even looked up when she came around the back of the trailer. Bobbie's head was buried in her book, and Gina had every single crayon from the box spread out over the table- as if she needed all of them sitting there while she worked, as if you didn't color with only one crayon at a time anyhow. Jamie thought about singing out, "I'm back!" but decided she didn't really want the attention. She went over to her own bag, sitting on the picnic bench, grabbed a book, and walked to the front of the trailer, where she sat down on the ground and opened the book. Before she went on she thought to turn her back to her sisters so if they looked at her they wouldn't notice she wasn't turning pages.
"Hey, Stardancer?" Krista called quietly over her mike.
Jamie debated for a minute whether someone should hear her and answer or not. Not answering would make it more dramatic...but it would also make it a lot more boring. You could only get so much fun out of sitting here pretending to be waiting until the alarm went off. That was almost as bad as sitting here waiting for her grandparents to get here. If it was real, that would be different. But if it was real she would be completely panicking.
That would be her, though. Krista was the one they told about the danger because they knew she would be so calm about it.
So they were going to answer her. And then, let's see, she had pictured the person on the ground being a girl, which meant she only had one guy so far. That meant whoever answered her should probably be a guy also, so it would kind of even out.
"Hey, Stardancer, anyone read me?"
"Blackbird?" answered a guy's voice, probably a little older than Krista.
"Not totally," she told him. "They went back to the last station to get something. I'm not sure what."
"The crosspiece?" That sounded nice and technical. "Yeah, wouldn't get too far without that."
Wait, if someone was inside, how come they couldn't open the door? Oh. Well, wait, she wouldn't necessarily know that, better have this guy explain it to her.
"What's a crosspiece?"
"What? You don't know what a crosspiece is?"
"I don't know anything that's going on! I'm only here instead of my brother, Kyle..."
"Oh, you're Kyle's sister."
"Yeah, that's me."
Jamie glanced at her sisters. Bobbie happened to look back and made a face at her, but it was a normal face asking why Jamie was looking at her, not a nasty face like she had caught her talking.
"Carry on," Jamie called over. Bobbie made another face and resumed reading.
"Yeah, I know Kyle. He was on my first mission with me."
"What happened to him? Why isn't he here?"
Krista sighed. "He got sick. They had to call him off, and since I knew some stuff about the mission from him talking to me, they sent me up instead. I mean, I am an astronaut too..."
"I know. That's what he said. You just hadn't flown yet."
"Right. And this isn't a very good start!" said Krista, which made the guy laugh.
Okay. She'd been calling him the guy for way too long.
"What's your name, by the way?"
Might as well waste her favorite name, she could always reuse it later since no one was hearing this.
"Okay. So..." Where had she been going with this? Oh, yeah. "So what is a crosspiece? And what is going on with all this?"
"Oh," said Ryan. "Well... I'm not sure if you were supposed to know this or not, and we can't talk to Mission Control at the moment or I'd ask..."
"Well, they told me about the air drain thing but they didn't want anyone else to know..."
"Oh. That. All right. Then it's probably okay. Well, the thing is, we're stuck in here."
That explained why no one could just come up to the door and let them in.
"Well, before we got here, this station was locked up so that no one else who got here first could take it over. Actually, it wasn't locked, but you needed the crosspiece to get in, and if you didn't use it when you went in you would get locked in and not be able to get out until somebody showed up who did have the crosspiece and they'd deal with you. The thing is, we didn't have the crosspiece, but we didn't realize it hadn't been put on board until we were halfway out, and they didn't want to make us go back. So they just told us to get here and get in, and you guys would have the crosspiece and get in and everything would be fine. But apparently they forgot to pack you guys the crosspiece too."
"Do the people coming before the Commander gets back have one?"
"There is only one crosspiece. Commander Holley will go back and get it. The people who are coming are on their way from another station, they'll stay with us for awhile and then go back to the one you came from and then home. They have the code for the air drain, but they'll have to wait with you out there until Commander Holley gets back."
"Okay. Good." Here she had to stop to think about what she could do now. Would she just sit here talking to him? Maybe he was supposed to be doing something, in which case she should shut up, but then again she would be back to just sitting here reading, which was hardly doing a story at all. Too bad she wasn't allowed to leave the campsite, or she could find a spacesuit somewhere and float around the outside of the station and make sure it was all right.
"What?" she said crabbily. She wasn't sure why. It wasn't like she had been in the middle of something.
"Shouldn't Grandma and Grandpa be here by now?"
"I don't know, should they?"
"I don't have a watch!" Gina whined back. "You know that!"
Bobbie sighed, slammed her book shut even though that was completely unnecessary, and twisted her wrist to look at her watch. "It's three o'clock," she said.
"Well, that means they left twenty minutes ago. Which means..." Uh-oh. That meant Grandpa and Grandma should be here by now. They should probably already be here and sitting and waiting. This was not good. "... It means they're a little bit late. Calm down."
"You're the one who's not being calm!" said Bobbie, which was a major lie. She was definitely the calmest person here. There was the proof right there. Good idea Mission Control had not telling Erica about the air, or she would really be freaking out.
"I am being calm, thank you very much. I am going to go back to reading now. Goodbye."
"You're just being mean!" Gina yelled at her.
Jamie wasn't even paying attention to her anymore.
"So, who's out there with you?" asked Ryan.
"Oh. Well, Commander Holley and Eva Cameron are the ones who went back to get the crosspiece. Out here there's me and Erica Shaugnessy-" That had been it! "-and Bianca Marlen. Except Erica's being a pain and Bianca's just going crazy but she doesn't want anyone to know it. They don't know about the air problem."Oh, wait, right, she had already said that. "Like I said before. It would be way worse out here if they did know. There would like, like, total panic and chaos going on out here."
Jamie set her book down, walked out to the edge of the site, and looked down the road. Nobody and nothing. What had she expected? They weren't going to appear right when she went to check. Grandma said the thing herself about watched pots never boiling.
What was she going to do now? She wasn't going to be able to concentrate on reading. Well, she could skip up a little bit, and get to the alarms starting to go off and the major... After all, it would probably have taken at least a day to get from the other station here, and in real life it had only been a couple of hours. But then the other people would have to get there pretty fast, and what if Grandma and Grandpa were too far away? Then she would have to pause the story anyhow. So she might as well not skip now.
It was too bad there wasn't some way for her to know when they were about...oh, five minutes away. That would be perfect. Just enough time for the alarms and drama, and then the people would get there...
Well, that wasn't going to happen. Krista was just going to have to sit here in complete boredom and hidden panic, and Jamie was just going to have to read her book and wait. It wasn't even a space book. Why didn't they write more books about space? Maybe they did, but only for grown-ups...
She was two pages in when Bobbie spoke up. "I'm going to go over there and wait." When Jamie looked up, Gina was trailing Bobbie out to the edge of the site again. They sat down on the ground, Bobbie with her book on her lap, Gina with the coloring book on the ground in front of her and a fistful of crayons on her lap.
A couple pages later, Gina hopped up and went to the table, came back with another fistful of crayons, and got back to work.
A couple pages later, Bobbie got up and went back to the table. Gina followed her.
This was getting very boring. You know what?
Suddenly a blaring noise burst out, startling Krista from her thoughts. Lights flashed on. Something over in that corner was blinking so bright red it hurt to look at.
"What is going on?" said Erica, looking just as worried as Krista had known she would.
Bianca didn't say anything, she just kept looking around as if that was going to help her magically understand what was going on.
"They warned me about this," said Krista, which was true. "They knew it was going to happen," which was true, too. "We don't need to worry about it," which was true, again, because it wasn't going to help any if they started worrying about it.
And at the same time, she was probably going to die of worry. Had the air already started draining out? Probably. She tried taking a deep breath and didn't feel weird. So maybe it drained really, really slowly. There was still time for the other ship to show up. How much time, though? She could probably ask Ryan, but she really didn't want to know.
"Is it... Are you... Uh..." He seemed to have a very difficult time actually saying it.
"It's draining," said Krista. Calmly. That famous calm everyone loved so much.
"They should be here by now!"
"I know!" Krista said back in a whisper. She thought for a minute about how to say the next part, but eventually ended up blurting it out. "Isn't there anything you can do?"
Ryan was silent. Obviously there wasn't anything, or he would have brought it up a long time ago. She didn't even know why she had asked that question.
"Just keep talking to me, though? Please?"
"Okay." He sighed. "Okay." He didn't seem like he could think of anything else to say for awhile. What he did say, when he finally came up with something, was really, really obvious. "This is not how this mission was supposed to start."
"I really wish Commander Holley was here." Wait. "That sounds really bad, doesn't it? I mean, if he was here it wouldn't be doing any good because he couldn't do anything about it either without the crosspiece, but I would just feel better if he was."
"What about Eva?"
"Well, she was the one that was going to go back on her own, before he convinced her they should go together. Actually he tried to convince her that he should go alone and she should stay here, but that didn't work, so they ended up going together."
"Well, it wouldn't have done any good if either of them had stayed. You might as well have gone back with them, then at least you would have air!"
"I don't think they knew about it. And I guess they..."But why wouldn't they have turned back once they found out? Okay, never mind, we'll just say they had a good reason and forget it. "The thing is, those others were supposed to get here! Why are they late?!"
"I don't know!" Apparently Ryan was getting as annoyed as she was, since he was now yelling too. "If I could get in touch with anyone I'd tell you, but I'm just as stuck as you are!"
"Okay, okay, sorry!" Krista had to lower her voice. The others were going to hear. "So, who's supposed to be coming again?"
Now she needed more names. "Cynthia and Victor Labelle. You've heard of them, I guess."
"Oh... the married ones. The ones who did that whole mission out past Pluto, right? Right after they first got married."
"That's them," he said. "Most trusted people in the whole space program, I think. No wonder they're the ones who are coming here."
"It can't be their fault they're late."
"It's not, I'm sure. I wish I could call them and find out what's going on. We have their ship name, it's just that we're still blocked from being able to talk to anyone else."
"Oh, what's the name?"
"Pretty," said Krista. Her voice caught. Oh no... She stopped talking, waited a second, and took a breath. It wasn't terrible, but she definitely had to work a little harder. Like she'd just come up from underwater or something and had to gasp a little to get air.
"Krista!" yelled Ryan.
She couldn't be quiet for too long. "I'm okay. It's just starting to happen. I think."
There was a very long pause from the other end, and then Ryan said, "Wait. I have an idea. Maybe there is something we can try after all."
"Sure. Anything." Nothing to lose, after all.
"Okay. Let me look up the stuff. You go over on the other side of that big panel at the edge of the room, and I'll try and find the information."
"Okay." Krista hopped up and ran around to the back of the panel. "Okay, I'm here whenever you're ready."
"All right. The first thing you need to do is get the cover off the alarm box. The thing making all the noise and lights and stuff."
"There's no screwdriver around here anywhere?" After he told her no- of course not- Krista thought a minute, and then tried her longest fingernail. It worked for the first screw. She twisted the others off too, tucked them into her pocket, and called back to Ryan, "Okay, I got those. What now?"
"Okay, can you still see the...where the buttons push?"
"All right, try code... 9981. I think. See if that does any good."
Krista tried it. She was breathing harder now. "I don't know. The alarm sound changed."
"What are you doing back there, Krista?" Bianca called worriedly from the other side.
"Get back here!" hollered the bossy Erica, sounding annoyed that Krista was up to something that no one else knew about.
The only good thing was that Bobbie and Gina hadn't asked what she was doing back here again yet. Hopefully they kept it up. Now...
"It changed?" Ryan sounded confused. That wasn't good. He made his voice get calm again. "Let me see what I can find out about that..."
"Hurry..." Krista said. She took a breath and held it for as long as she could, let it out, took another and did the same thing over again. It would be nice if she could tell the others about what was going on because they could help with the breath-holding, but she didn't dare. "Ryan? Did you figure anything out yet?"
"I'm trying. Hold up."
"I'm holding my breath!" she told him. "I can't do more holding!" That was really good. Remember that one, maybe she could use it somewhere else. "Please just hurry up."
"Okay, I got it. You need to go to the blue screen down at the other end of the panel."
She ran. Holding her breath.
"Okay. Key in that code again, and it'll come up with some questions you have to answer."
"Like what?" Krista asked. As she typed in the code she went back to holding her breath.
"I don't know. Ask me if you don't know an answer. I'll help you if I can."
"Okay." And there was the first question. The first name of the first person to come to this station. "Hey, Ryan? Were you the first one here?"
"Oh, no," he answered. "Okay, it, um... It kind of depends on what you mean, 'first'. Me and Linda, who's here with me, were the first ones to actually be inside here when it was done, but there were a bunch of people who worked on it."
"Who finished it?"
"That's probably it then, because it only wants one name." She tried that. It accepted it. Oh, this question she could answer without any help from Ryan- it only asked for the first American to go into space.It would have asked for the first person, but that was some Russian guy, and Jamie couldn't remember his name. "John Glenn," she said out loud as she put it in. Accepted. "Okay, this is good. How many more of these?"
"I don't know. Just keep going until you get some other screen."
"Okay." The next question was the callsign of the station, which was also easy. "I hope this doesn't take too long..." she said, as the next question started to appear.
"Jelly Belly, what are you doing back here?"
Jamie whipped around. "Oh, hi, Grandpa," she said, and started following him back around to the other side of the trailer. "Just making up a story," she said.
"Space. Of course." She grinned up at him.
"Now," said Grandma, who was standing over the picnic table looking down upon Bobbie and Gina. "Where are your parents?"
Bobbie must have refused to start telling the story until she had a whole audience. "They went back home to get the key."
"They what?" Grandma and Grandpa said, exactly at the same time.
Bobbie launched into an explanation of the whole thing- leaving out the part about the fight over the keys at the car, which if you asked Jamie was the best part, and making it sound as if she had known all along that something was horribly wrong.
Jamie didn't bother listening.
Oh, thank goodness! They were here!
"Would you please shut this thing off?" said Krista, grinning up at the famous Victor Labelle like he was just some old friend of hers. "I kind of want to keep having air to breathe."
Victor reached over her shoulder and punched in some things. A moment later, the screen went black, the screaming alarms finally stopped, leaving Krista's ears ringing, and the lights stopped flashing, leaving her blinking. "Well, that's a lot better," she said, trying to keep that calm in her voice.
The screen had flashed back on. Something on it made Victor wince, and he looked down at her. "That's cutting it a little too close, is what that is," he said.
Krista didn't even want to think about that. She didn't say a word.
"Everything all right out there, Victor?" Ryan called out.
"We're good," Krista called back. "Great in fact."
"All right, now that I've saved your life-" Victor said in a kind of joking way, not mean- "can I ask you a question?"
"Where's Commander Holley at? And whoever else was with you?"
"Eva. Eva Cameron. Yeah. They're on their way back to get the crosspiece."
Victor raised his eyebrows. "You don't have it?"
"Huh-uh. The Commander and Eva forgot it. I didn't even know about it until Ryan told me awhile ago, but I found out something was wrong when we got here, because the two of them got into a huge fight over which one of them should go back, and whose fault it was that it got left behind. They practically got one of them knocked-"
"Take a seat and stay awhile," said Grandma, patting the picnic table bench.
"Oh." Jamie started to sit, then ran and got her book off the ground where she had left it. Everyone was looking at her when she came back to the table and sat back down. She made a show of opening her book and starting to read before they could ask what she had been doing behind the trailer.
About ten pages later she remembered something. "Hey, Grandpa?"
"Yes?" he said, interrupting the game of I Spy he was playing with Gina.
It wasn't John Glenn, she didn't think. She knew the name John Glenn, but for some reason she thought he wasn't the first. "Who was the first American person to go into space?"
"His name was Alan Shepard," said Grandpa, not asking why she had thought of the question or what it had to do with anything.
"Oh. Thanks." She looked back down at her book. Alan Shepard. All right. She didn't think she'd ever heard of that name before. Have to remember that.
Of course Victor and Ryan didn't have to find out that Krista was wrong, because Krista hadn't been wrong. Good thing the air-drainer machine ran on imagination.