The sun was just rising over the Atlantiko, the light had that grey early-morning quality and the grass was still damp, but Cape Race already hummed with feverish activity. The aethernauts scrambled over the six machines, last-minute screwing and tightening, swatting aside the journalists who tugged at their sleeves and shoved cameras in their faces, desperate for a few sentences, a word, a syllable, from the dashing heroes of the Race-Wiswayne Boothe Prize. "How do you fancy your chances?" "Are you nervous?" "What would you do with the money?" Most of these questions were too idiotic to be worth answering.
Behind the journalists was the public, awe-struck, craning over heads and round elbows, squinting in the grey morning light, shivering in the cold, whispering to each other in a constant low-level buzz. "They don't look a bit like the press pictures." "They're better-looking, I think." "Is it true that young Jackson's married?" "I wouldn't let my husband space race."
At the other end of Port Race, the canvas aetherships sprawled like helium-filled slugs, gently rocking in the breeze from the sea while a few small figures scurried around, patching and darning—crucially important—loading and unloading and carrying on the usual business of Port Race. No one took any notice of them. The electric tension was focussed on the space race. The newspapers were already saying it was the biggest send-off of any space race ever, and the crowd was still growing. Because it was the biggest space race ever. The longest distance, the biggest prize, the most dangerous course. Humphrey Boothe, the editor of the Daily Intelligencer, was space crazy, and the Cape Race-Wiswayne run was worth a thousand guineas.
Wiswayne was a desolate uranium mine on Saturn. A voyage by aethership—if anyone ever wanted to go—took six months. Far too long. The future lay with these new machines. The difference was that aetherships used rudders to angle enormous sails against the currents of the luminiferous aether, like a sailing ship. The new machine, however, sucked the aether into an internal motor and plunged straight through the currents, powering herself with the substance through which she moved. Although this miraculous invention was now two years old, no one was quite sure what to call it. "Capsule," it was felt, was non-descript, "flying can" was silly, "aethplongeur" (from "aether" and "plongeur") was a possibility, sounding suitably scientific, and certainly the new machines did somewhat resemble, in shape, plongeurs, and certainly caused the same feverish excitement as the early plongeurs had twenty years ago. The inventor's suggestion of calling it the Henrietta, after the love of his life, had not been taken up, mainly because this lady's husband, after shooting Professor Walton, had threatened to shoot anyone else who did. For the present, they were simply machines, and from Greenland to Tierra del Fuego anyone overhearing a casual mention of "the machines" would know exactly what was being discussed.
Robert Farral noticed the clear sky with approval. Excellent flying weather. Clouds were a nuisance, but a cloudless sky and only the slightest wind was as close to an aethernaut's dream as he could realistically hope for. Someone grabbed his sleeve. "Lieutenant Farral?" It was a journalist, notepad in hand, nearly hitting him in the face with the camera. "Could you give a few words to the Daily Lamp?"
"I'm afraid not. I'm busy," trying to sound as if he didn't want to punch him. After all, he was only doing his job.
"How do you feel?"
How did he feel? Wonderful. He had spent two weeks crawling around the Earth like a worm. Now, he was going back to space. A ray of sun-light brushed against his face, the stars above him were fading in the day-light, but he would see them again in an hour or two, bigger and brighter than ever seen from Earth. Space was his element and he was raring to go. So was Jennifer. Rubbing his hand over her steel plating, he felt her happiness and excitement. Let's get out there, baby girl. He realised he hadn't answered the journalist, but the journalist had finally given up and turned his back.
Robert caught young Hamilton's eye, and Hamilton grinned sympathetically and rolled his eyes.
Robert grinned back. "Whatever perils space may hold, there won't be any bloody journalists."
"That's what you think." Hamilton tightened a screw on Lady Luck's nose. "They'll come popping out from behind an asteroid. Oh, bugger!" The screw snapped. "Got a screwdriver?"
"Here." Robert tossed over his Swiss Army knife.
"Thanks," Hamilton pulled out the screwdriver and turned his attention to Lady Luck's nose plating.
Mae Murry stumbled over the tussocks to the orange glow of Cape Race light-house. She looked behind her, but it was too dark to tell if Dalton was following her. She had been walking for hours, she was frozen to the bone. She tripped and almost fell, but hauled herself up and ran faster. Her limbs were ice and her lungs were burning, but she couldn't let Dalton catch up. He'd kill her. She remembered the blood-soaked cabin in Natashquan and would have thrown up if she had eaten in the past twenty-four hours.
A little distance from the light-house was the dry-dock. The light-house, the dry-dock and a small Marconi station were the only buildings for miles. Port Race was not one of the big ports like Halifax and Quebec. Mae ducked into the lean-to shack at the end of the dry-dock and caught her breath. She realised she was losing a sole and getting a blister. The lean-to was dead quiet, empty except for one lady sitting at the table in the corner, poring over the thick, leather-bound log of arrivals and departures. Everyone else was outside, watching with mounting excitement as the clock on Cape Race light-house ticked towards six a.m. The gas lamps were still lighted, filling the little shed with a soft orange glow. Mae was distracted from her fear by the stained, faded yellow ocean and space maps on the wall. She had always loved maps, and for as long as she could remember had lain on the floor with maps in front of her, fantasising about voyages she had never expected to make. And here she was in Port Race, only two hundred yards from the nearest huge black silk aethership. Warming her hands on a gas lamp, she stared out of the lean-to door at the dockers scrambling like ants over the gas-bags. On the other side of the light-house were the new machines. The race.
Mae's heart raced. Aetherships were romantic, but nothing in her wildest dreams had prepared her for the first time, two years ago, that she had seen a gleaming steal aethplongeur, or whatever they called them, rising above the forests of southern Quebec. But she had never been so close to one as she was now. Her heart began to race again, but not with fear, now, with excitement. This was the Boothe race, the talk of the headlines for months. She was seeing it with her eyes. She had finally reached Port Race. She was going to space.
"Are you all right, dear?" The lady smiled kindly. "Coffee?"
Mae, distracted from staring, noticed that her hands were hurting from the blood flow so suddenly rushing back into them. She withdrew them from the lamp and rummaged in her pocket. Twenty Newfoundland cents. Not enough to pay her fare on an aethership to an outer planet, somewhere Dalton would never find her, but perhaps enough for a coffee.
"It's free," said the lady.
"Thank you." Mae gulped down the hot sweet coffee, ignoring that it burned her mouth. She was weak with hunger and hadn't slept for a day. The caffeine and sugar woke her up.
"Goodness," said the lady, who had never seen anyone drink steaming hot coffee so quickly before. "Are you all right?"
"Yes, thank you," said Mae, distracted again. Her limbs were no longer trembling and she could move her fingers again. She wondered if she could join an aethership as a cabin boy. The Boothe race was nearer, and the aethernauts were distracted by someone giving a speech. Mae slipped out of the lean-to and flitted like a shadow across the grass.
Close to, the machine looked more beautiful than ever. Not that she had been designed to be beautiful, but in her somewhat amateur functionality was the beauty of an engineering marvel. She was made of steel plates, screwed together, but the front part of the bridge was glass and there were glass port-holes in the sides. The motor was at the back, enclosed. She couldn't see it. About half-way down the port and starboard sides were air-locks—she knew what they were, aetherships had always had them. The machine narrowed slightly towards the front—to be aerodynamic, she supposed—but bulged in places. The shape was vaguely like that of a tiny, upside-down ironclad, but with wheels, and with more glass in her, and less pointy in the stern, and with no external decks. The one concession to aesthetics was the name stencilled on the bows in beautiful curling script. Jennifer.
No-one noticed an eleven-year-old girl looking at the flying machines. What could be more natural than that a child would be interested in a space race? Mae glanced round to make sure nobody was watching, but they were all listening to the droner in the top hat. She reached out and pulled the leaver on the air-lock. As soon as the door started to open, she darted inside and curled up under a cold tank at the back, near the engine.
When would they start? It was cramped under the tank and she couldn't see more than an inch in front of her. It could have been minutes or hours. Every second, Dalton drew nearer. Mae could see him in her mind, clutching the rifle he'd killed her father with, blood still on his shirt. The coffee felt like a long time ago. She was cold, so cold. She realised she was starting to fall asleep.
Robert was bored. A local dignitary—God knew who, some sort of mayor or something—had been talking for what felt like hours. "As mankind ventures into the void, we look forward to a new age of discovery and exploration," he bleated for the twentieth time. "As these brave souls venture into the void, let us join together to pray for their safety…" Ah, that sounded promising. As if the end were in sight. "Because space is infamously dangerous. Only last week we lost the unfortunate Isabella with all hands." That wasn't really what Robert wanted to think about right now. "So we are united in the hope than nothing similar happens. Hip hip!"
"Hooray!" yelled everyone, hurling their flowers at the brave souls. A carnation hit Robert in the eye. He grabbed it and shoved it in his collar, wanting to seem grateful to these people who had been up since the small hours to see him off, and a few people wolf-whistled. Dammit! What a stupid thing to do!
"Gentlemen, we wish you luck in the void of space. Thank you," he added vaguely, "for your time".
Then there was shaking hands all round. Best wishes and sporting hopes that the best man would win. Then Robert turned back to Jennifer. Strange, he could have sworn the port air-lock had been shut.
Footsteps approached the tank. Someone was whistling cheerfully. Finally! They were getting started. But oh! if he saw her! Mae shrank back, but it was no good. A man of about twenty-four was staring down at her.
"Sorry," she began.
"Jesus!" He grabbed her arm and yanked her up. "What are you doing under the liquid nitrogen tank? You'll freeze to death."
On the other side of the forward window, the top-hatted gentleman had begun gesturing with flags. The young man glanced at the flags, then back at Mae. "If you don't want a trip to Saturn, young lady, get off now."
"But I do want! Take me with you! Otherwise he'll kill me!"
"Gentlemen!" called the top hat. "Start your motors!"
The young man swore, glanced from Mae to the top hat and gunned the motor. A high whine swelled from the engines, Jennifer lurched forward and Mae was sent tumbling across the floor.
"Sorry," said the young man, busying himself at the controls.
Mae picked herself up, wincing as she felt the blood from her lip trickle down her chin, and looked out of the bows window. The ground was already rushing away below them. Mae could see the whole east coast of Canada, the distant blue Atlantiko spreading out like the maps she had loved as a little child. She was high enough to see the Earth curve.
"Oh my God!" she whispered. "We're flying!"
The young man looked at the expression on her face and grinned. "Pretty cool, ain't it?"
"It's amazing." Mae's head reeled. She propped herself up on the dashboard. "That's Hudson Bay, that's New Amsterdam, that's Florida, oh my God, I can see Florida!" Jennifer climbed and climbed, more and more of Mother Earth unfurled below. "That's Africa! I'm seeing Africa from…" She realised she didn't know how high they were and peered at the dashboard.
"A hundred thousand feet. A hundred fifty. A hundred eighty…" The young man grinned.
Mae burst out laughing.
"I don't think we've been introduced," said the young man politely. "Lieutenant Robert Farral, at your service."
"Mae Murry. At yours." She shook hands, suddenly shy.
Lieutenant Farral smiled kindly. "Welcome aboard, Miss Murry."
"Now, suppose you tell me who wants to kill you and why?"
"My folks were smugglers."
Farral smiled and nodded. No further explanation was needed of the Saint Lawrence smugglers. They ran furs and booze across the Great Lakes to the States and east to Montreal, Quebec and the ocean. They ran the tobacco picked up in Montreal and Quebec back to the backwood folks who could never afford the duties. They were a variable bunch, whose traditional reputation for affability, charm and fair business dealings was giving way to a rising new generation, who had learned their trade on the streets of New Amsterdam.
"Father-" Mae's lip wobbled. She wished her father would pull her onto his lap the way he used to do, muss up her hair and say "You'll be a'right now, little miss". She wasn't all right. She didn't think she'd ever be all right again. Dalton had killed father. She took a deep breath. What was it father had said? "That's my brave girl." Whenever she was injured, or put a bullet in a wild cat that was menacing Aura Lee. She was going to Saturn. She was going to escape Dalton. Then, and only then, she would curl up and cry. "Father met Dalton in a tavern in Sault Sainte Marie. They made some kind of deal. I forget the details, the grown-ups thought it was a wonderful idea. It was… furs, I think. He wanted to sell them abroad."
Farral squeezed Mae's hand. She choked down a sob. She decided she liked Farral, he had warm brown eyes and a kind smile.
"He tipped off the Mounties. They sank Aura Lee. We were in a shack in Natashquan. Dalton double-crossed the Mounties, I think." She couldn't remember the details any more, just the grown-ups being worried. Father's face, tense and drawn, mother biting her lip, Ted shaking with barely-contained rage, Jasper quietly bitter, an old, tired man who had finally seen the worst of the world. "We were in a cabin in Natashquan. Dalton killed us." She skipped over that bit as quickly as she could. Her parents and brother and uncle on the floor in the cold shack in the dark. Dead. "He wants to kill me because I'm the only one who knows what he's done, and where he put the money for those furs."
"What are you going to do when you get to Saturn?"
"I don't know."
"You have family there?"
Farral thought for a moment. "Do you want to go to sleep? How long has it been since you slept?"
"Oh, ages. But I'm not tired. I was before, but not now." She looked around the bridge and peered out of the port-hole. Earth was a shrinking greenish-blue ball behind them. In all other directions was the blackness of space. "I couldn't sleep through all this excitement."
"Are you all right?"
"I think so." She wasn't, but she didn't want to think about that. Not while hurtling through the void of space in a metal tin.
Farral pulled that expression grown-ups pull when they're considering whether or not to say something, then smiled and said "would you like something to eat?".
"Yes, please, sir." The coffee was a long time ago and Mae was ravenous.
"Don't call me sir, call me Robert."
As they ate Kendal mint cake, Robert showed Mae how Jennifer worked. The only instruments in the dashboard were a joystick and a speedometer. Underneath the dashboard were pedals. The throttle was attached to the ceiling. Steering was done by maps and altitude gauged by eye. Sitting on top of the dashboard was a metal box with two coils on top.
"Pull the joystick to rise, push to descend. Move it left and right to roll, astonishingly, left and right—port and starboard, as we say. Oh, and press the left pedal to turn port and the right pedal to turn starboard." He grinned. "Have a go."
"Is this all there is to it?" She couldn't believe that something so miraculous could be so simple.
"That's all there is to it. Well, there's the throttle. Pull back to slow down. Forward to speed up."
Mae slid into the pilot's chair. She could barely touch the pedals with her toes.
"How does the engine work?"
The details of the engine proved highly technical. The gist was that the motor ran on luminiferous aether, essentially harnessing a controlled explosion, and could move faster than any aethership ever built. The motor was cooled with liquid nitrogen. Occasionally engines exploded for reasons no one really understood, which would probably have to be sorted out before this scientific curiosity could be a viable commercial venture.
The air-locks were controlled by pulling the lever up to open and down to close.
"Where did you get her?"
"Jennifer? Built her myself."
"Did you name her after your young lady?"
Robert grinned. "After my sister."
"How long have you been a pilot?"
"A couple of years. When I was a kid I went to sea. Not much older than you are. It was wonderful. But space is the future. So I gave up the navy for the void of space."
"Do you miss the ocean?"
Robert thought for a moment. "I miss the birds. Once we sailed round Cape Horn with an albatross following all the way. Space is lonelier."
"What are the coils?" Mae gestured at the box on top of the dashboard.
"That's a Marconi." Robert glowed with pride. "I built it myself."
"Can you send signals?"
"Send and receive. But there's no one much to hear them now." Beyond the asteroid belt was still mostly empty and uninhabited. They were trying to build long-range transmitters which, built on Mars for example, could broadcast the solar shipping forecast as far as Monnier's Belt, but the signals still petered out. "Not until we approach Saturn."
There was a faint noise in the gap between the engine and the roof.
"What was that?"
Robert frowned. "I don't know."
For the first time since launch, Mae felt scared. Robert was the pilot. He was supposed to know.
"It could be a rat," said Robert thoughtfully. "They stow away on aetherships sometimes."
Another faint noise. And Mae knew it wasn't a rat.
"Robert," she whispered, barely able to breathe. "It's…"
Her voice gave out. Black dots swirled before her eyes. Dalton descended from the ceiling like a nightmare come to life. Could it be a nightmare? Please? Her legs were frozen the way they sometimes were in nightmares. But then he snarled like a wild boar and she knew that it wasn't a nightmare. There was no mistaking that animal snarl for anything other than a flesh-and-blood man who was going to kill her.
Robert's pistol was lying on the arm of the chair. For an agonising moment, Robert and Dalton stared at each other, then at the pistol, then at the same moment they lunged. They grabbed it at the same time.
Robert kicked the dashboard and the Marconi machine fell off and bounced across the floor.
Mae watched them struggle, both of them holding the pistol, Robert's face set rigid, Dalton snarling deep in his throat. She couldn't run, she couldn't scream, she was dumb and frozen with terror. She heard the pistol fire, once, twice, thrice, four times. Then Robert kicked Dalton in the knee and at the same time clipped his thigh with a bullet. The recoil of the gun loosened his grip. Mae knew they were both going to die. She watched as one already dead as Dalton wrenched the gun out of Robert's hand, the snarl rising to a roar, and shot him in the heart. Robert collapsed in a pool of his own blood, crumpled up and very small.
Mae stared down the barrel. She couldn't see, she didn't know if she was standing or not. She heard a click. She didn't hear a bang.
The air rushed into her lungs and she realised she had been holding her breath. She realised she wasn't dead. Dalton was rummaging around for more bullets, swearing. Suddenly, she wanted to laugh. He hadn't killed her after all.
"Where did he keep his bullets?" Dalton didn't even look at her, just barked the question in her direction.
"I don't know." Mae was surprised at how strong her voice sounded. Her brain, which had been so frozen, was now ticking over like the pistons on her steam train, so fast she thought it might run away entirely.
"Then I'll strangle you myself!" He lunged at her, but she dodged. She wasn't afraid of him any more.
"For twenty dollars?"
"My twenty dollars, bitch." He caught her arm.
"There's a thousand guineas for the race," as his fingers closed around her throat.
He stepped back. "What?"
"There's a thousand guineas for the Cape Race-Wiswayne Boothe Prize."
"That's more," said Dalton slowly, thinking.
"But I can't fly her."
"But I can. He showed me." This was mostly a lie. Robert had told her how the controls worked, and she had sat in front of them for five minutes, flying straight and level through empty space. "You need me to win. Hell, if you can't fly this, you need me to stay alive."
Dalton's mind worked slowly behind his eyes. He hadn't thought this through, just as he hadn't thought that his plan of selling the Murrys out to the Mounties would end in Aura Lee sinking and his cargo nearly being seized, necessitating another double cross. He wasn't as clever has he thought he was. Especially now he was angry and frustrated.
"All right. Fly us to Saturn. I'll kill you there." Dalton grabbed the legs of Robert's corpse and dragged it into the air-lock. "I'll space this. Otherwise, we'll be arrested."
Mae bit back a smile. That was exactly what she had hoped he would say. He thought that by removing Robert's corpse, he could remove all suspicion from the fact that Robert had vanished in space, his place taken by a man last seen escaping Mounties in the Saint Lawrence.
Dalton opened the inner door and shuffled forwards.
Moment of truth. What had Robert said? Down to close. She pushed. Nothing. Other lever. The door clunked shut.
Dalton swung round. "Hey! What the Hell-?"
Other lever. Up to open. Dalton was cut off in mid-sentence and send spinning out into space.
For a moment, joy and triumph flooded through Mae, making her head whirl. She had killed Dalton! She could do anything! Then she realised she was in a tin can hurtling through space on top of a controlled explosion, and fainted.
When she came to, she was still in a hurtling tin can, and she almost fainted again, but as it hadn't helped the first time, she decided she would have to formulate an alternative plan of action.
She didn't seem to be in immediate danger of death. She peered out into space, but could see no obstacles. She could also see nothing which might tell her where she was.
She found the maps, and settled down in the pilot's chair with them, some Kendal mint cake and chocolate, to try navigation. She was thirsty, but couldn't find anything except beer and champagne. She didn't want to get drunk, but she didn't want to get dehydrated either. She opened a bottle of beer. She sipped and pulled a face. She missed mother's nettle wine.
The maps made no sense. She couldn't tell which direction was meant to be up. There's no real up in space, no down. It was horribly disorientating. There was a pocket compass, but there's no north in space. She put down the maps, bewildered. She assumed they had been pointing at Saturn when they left Cape Race, but they might have drifted off course on the currents of space. She didn't know how long she had fainted for. The fuel couldn't run out, but the coolant could and that might be worse. The words "controlled explosion" drifted through her head.
She didn't have a watch. Robert had had a wrist-watch but Robert was dead and his watch was in space.
Her eye fell on the Marconi. Could she get through to someone who could help her, tell her where to go? She picked up the Marconi, heavier than it looked, and lugged it over to the dashboard. She sat back down and twiddled a knob experimentally. She didn't know how to work a Marconi. Nothing but dead silence. She twiddled some more knobs. Suppose the Marconi had been damaged when it fell on the floor? She suddenly felt horribly, achingly alone. There was probably no other human for millions of miles.
An asteroid. Directly in front, hurtling towards her. It was bigger than Jennifer, and faster. Mae acted on instinct. Robert had said you pull the joystick left to go port, right to go starboard. She pulled left as hard as she could. Jennifer banked so sharply that Mae was sent tumbling out of the chair and sliding across the floor. The Marconi descended with a heavy thud. The asteroid hurtled past, so close she could see the pockmarks on its surface.
Jennifer was now off course. Mae nudged the joystick—more gently this time—round to the right, until she guessed she was heading in the same direction as before. The stars seemed to be in the right place, but stars are millions of miles apart.
Mae didn't know how long she sat behind the dashboard, tinkering with the Marconi, wondering what would kill her first—cold, starvation or the engine overheating?—before she saw a greenish blob on the port bow. Saturn?
She banked, carefully, then carefully levelled. She grinned. She was getting better at this. The trick was not to overdo it, the joystick responded to a very light touch.
The green blob got bigger. She squinted. She thought it was Saturn, she could see the famous rings, but she couldn't make out the moons. She wanted Enceladus.
She swivelled the dial on the Marconi again, at random. Saturn was getting bigger and bigger and she suddenly fully realised how fast she was going. A crackling noise. She turned faster, a faint buzz of voices, getting louder and more distinct.
"Hello," she yelled.
No response. Then, loud and clear. "Wiswayne Marconi station calling unidentified signal blocker. You have blocked all transmissions for the past half hour, including crucial safety information. Identify yourself or clear the airways. Wiswayne Marconi station calling unidentified signal blocker-"
Mae could have wept for joy and gnashed her teeth in frustration. They were talking to her, but no matter how loudly she yelled "hello", they didn't seem able to hear. She jabbed a button. Silence fell. "Hello!"
Still silence. They hadn't heard. Hell. Wrong button.
She jabbed again. The man's voice came back, with a touch of anxiety this time. "Please respond! Are you receiving? Are you receiving?"
She pushed another button. This made no difference. Every time she released the button, the man's voice came back.
Then he said, with the air of one striving to be calm, "Is your Marconi set operational?". "No!" she shouted, but nobody responded.
Saturn was huge now. Should she slow down? She couldn't bear the thought of dying within sight of harbour.
"Is your set operational? If you are hearing me, press the large button to transmit. I don't know where it is, because every set is different. If you can hear me, hold that button and reply. Please come in. Please come in…"
Mae couldn't control the tears of relief. She pressed the button again, this time held it.
Silence again. "Hello! Jennifer calling-" she released the button. "Wiswayne! Jennifer calling Wiswayne! Calling Wiswayne!"
The man came in again, talking over her. "Hello, Jennifer." His voice shook. Mae guessed that he, too, was struggling to control sobs of relief. "You cut out. Please repeat. Hold the button down."
She pressed the button again and this time she held it. "Hello! Jennifer calling Wiswayne! Jennifer calling Wiswayne! Calling Wiswayne!" She released the button.
After a moment, the man's voice came back, sounding as happy as Mae felt. "Copy that! Wiswayne receiving you, loud and clear. Nice to meet you, Jennifer. Now, young lady, how can I be of service? Over."
There was background murmuring which sounded just as happy and relieved.
"I need to land. But I've never flown before."
"I see. That's explains your unique approach to Marconi transmission. Now listen." The man controlled his emotion and talked calmly and clearly. It reminded her of Robert. She relaxed, caught her breath and listened. It wasn't over yet. But now she was no longer alone, it was easier to be calm and focus. "You're two hundred thousand feet from Wiswayne, Enceladus. Your coming in at six hundred knots. I'm going to talk you down. Are all your instruments operational?"
"Yes." There was a faint whirring in the engine behind her.
"Can you see Wiswayne?"
Mae peered out of the bridge window. Below her—what a relief to have a definite up and down!—was a small grey ball, which appeared, although she knew it must be travelling very fast, to be hanging in space. She squinted and saw, almost dead in front of her, slightly to port, a small lump on the surface."
"You are approaching the surface. Decelerate."
The throttle was too high for her to reach. She stood up and pulled. It was heavy and barely moved.
"Decelerate now! The throttle-"
"Is above my head. I got it!" She grinned, pulled again and the throttle moved slightly.
"Tell me your speed Jennifer." The man's voice, brisk and professional, kept Mae calm.
"Five hundred knots." The lump grew as she approached into something resembling buildings and a tower. "Yes! I see Wiswayne!"
"Continue decelerating. Can you see the pit-head?"
"Maybe." There was something that looked kind of like a tower in the distance. Mae yanked on the throttle and Jennifer jerked.
"Move smoothly. Do everything smoothly. No jerking. Come in port of the pit-head. Can you steer?"
"Sure," she answered, vaguely.
Port. The pedal was too far beneath to press from the seat. She could only brush it with her toes. Instead she used the joystick and banked.
"You've gone too far. Starboard, Jennifer."
Mae banked round to starboard. She could see the pit-head, with the great pit wheel up its tower, clearly now. Rushing up to her fast. Too fast.
"Continue to decelerate." There was a slight edge to the man's voice. Mae realised that she was perfectly calm. Despite the difficulty manipulating two big heavy instruments at once, despite full knowledge of how close she was to death, she felt a rush of joyful freedom in piloting the ship, in knowing survival was down to her, now. Just her and Jennifer. And she was good at this and she was going to survive.
Decelerate… decelerate… She really didn't have enough hands for the throttle, the joystick and the Marconi, but she flitted from one to the other, a light touch here, and light touch there. She could die wishing she had more limbs and easier instruments, or she could use what she had. And Jennifer handled like a dream. It was as if she could tell what she was thinking. Just took a bit of getting used to.
Mae read the speed of the Marconi. "Two hundred knots… one hundred knots…"
The whine in the engines grew. Then a very faint "pop", like a balloon bursting. Then an eerie silence. Mae froze. Only for a second. Then, decelerating with one hand, she pressed the button on the Marconi with the other.
"I was off course for a while," she said, impressed with her own calmness and assurance. "I steered back towards Saturn, but I don't know how much coolant Robert had." The bridge was getting uncomfortable hot. Mae knew what she was going to see before she turned. The engine was glowing white like something in a blacksmith's forge. "I think the engine just overheated." Her voice drifted over the Marconi as if she were pointing out a scientific curiosity.
There was a moment's pause, then the young man replied in the same tone. "I see. Landing should be possible with no engine.
But she had wasted crucial seconds. She was coming in too fast. This was gonna be a bumpy ride.
Flames flickered in the stern of Jennifer. Smoke began to fill the cabin.
She was heading nose-down. Pull up. Pull back. She knew that if she yanked too hard she would flip over backwards. If she didn't pull hard enough, she would land nose-first. Either way, not good. Not conducive to survival. She had to gauge it right.
A crash, a jolt, she was sent spinning across the bridge, the throttle, still in her hand, disconnected from the ceiling, Jennifer slammed to a stop.
Mae was lying on her back, dazed, bruised, her skirt catching fire, but alive.
Two young men were smashing at the glass airlock with a hammer. Mae got up, opened the doors, staggered out into the cold Enceladus air and collapsed at the young men's feet.
"Are you all right?" She could tell by his voice that he was the Marconi operator.
"Let me tell you, kid, that was real pluck."
"I knew I could do it," she whispered, which was true.
Then everything went black.
When she came to, she was lying on a camp bed in the Marconi station, with most of the population of Wiswayne gathered round staring at her, holding bandages, poultices and champagne flutes. Someone had put a garland of dried flowers round her neck.
"I'm not dead," she mumbled, trying to pull it off.
"No," said the Marconi operator. "You won."
"Despite hull damage and a wrecked engine, salvageable." The Marconi operator smiled. "And despite a sprained wrist and a burnt calf, so are you."
"I'm going to be a pilot when I grow up." And Mae curled up and went to sleep, for fifteen hours straight. She slept right through the first press announcement, in the Wiswayne Gazette (staff, two, circulation, five) that Miss Mae Murry, in Jennifer, had won the Cape-Race-Wiswayne Boothe Prize, in four and a half hours twenty-seven seconds.
She spent the money on an aethplongeur and called her Robert.
When Wiswayne aetherdrome finally invested in such a high-tech contraption as a wind-sock, it was called the Robert Farral wind-sock.