25 July 2020

Note: Read Boy Mechanic first.

Timon was wakened by the sudden feeling of weightlessness. At first, he thought it was just the mid-journey flip before deceleration, but only a couple minutes later there was weight again. Then float again, then thrust.

A course correction? he wondered. The shifts woke Mike too, who stirred in the bunk next to Timon’s.

“What’s going on?” Mike mumbled.

“No idea,” Timon said. He wanted to climb out of his bunk to find out, but without knowing the situation he didn’t dare. It was probably just a shift to avoid unmapped debris. Rare, but it does happen. But if they were under attack, the ship could go to two or three gees, and Timon didn’t want to be unstrapped.

Chief Mara floated past their bunks quickly. “Outta bed, lazybones,” she said. Her tone made it seem that she’d told them twice before, but it was her first. It must be urgent. Timon unstrapped and floated after her. Mike followed a moment later, as did Sara from the bunk across the hall.

“What’s up, Mare?” Sara asked.

“Time to work,” Mara said. “Earn your keep for once.” She turned to face them. Her look said to stay alert, but that there was no immediate danger. “Gather at the lock. I’ll be back before you’re suited.”

Suits on then. Unscheduled suit work probably meant there was an issue with the engines. Timon always enjoyed working on the exterior of the engines. It was hard, sweaty work, but there was no denying then that he was a space mechanic. Working on the engines in ship was no different than working on a planet. Even when you were weightless it didn’t feel special. Hull work was why Timon signed up in the first place.

The three youths floated to their worker lock and started to gather into their suits. Out of habit, Timon scratched his nose before putting on a helmet. He helped Mike and Sara check their seals, and they in turn checked his. They were all set.

Soon after, Chief Mara arrived. She tapped the top of Timon’s helmet as she floated past him to get to her suit. Timon was still impressed at how easily Mare slipped into her spacesuit. Even after a year in space, he struggled with his suit like a turtle climbing into his shell. Old Mare slid into her suit with momentum and grace. In less than a minute she was clamping the seal of her helmet. She nodded to Mike and Sara as she flipped around, and they verified that her seals were good.

“Out we go, little foals,” she said, and the four crammed into the small lock. There was a hiss and thunk as the lock emptied of air, then the latch on the outer hatch shone green. The radios in their suits snapped on, and Timon heard Mara over the com.

“Now we wait,” she said.

“What’s wrong with the engines?” Timon asked.

“Not a thing, my dear,” Mara said. “There’s nothing wrong with the Maranger a few demotions couldn’t fix.” and she chuckled at her own joke.

“Then what’s up?” Mike asked. “Why tumble us out of bed?”

“There’s another ship out there. Floating not a thousand klicks off our trajectory.”

“Which ship?” Sara asked.

“No idea,” Mara said. “It isn’t broadcasting, no transponder, no lights. It was only picked up by the rock trackers as we got near.”

“But surely at a thousand klicks navigation could read the hull,” Sara said. “Even a small ship could be imaged by the telescope array.”

“Correct!” Mara said, smiling. “That’s what we are waiting on. Once navigation identifies it, we’ll get our instructions. If it’s friendly, then we’ll line over to help. If not, well then you got out of bed for nothing.”

Mara looked aside as she put a hand to the side of her helmet. Command must be radioing. After a moment she looked at the three and smiled. “Time to learn, little foals,” she said. “It’s the Darnel, we’re lining over.” She turned and opened the outer hatch. A sea of black seemed to fill the lock.

Timon stared out into the dark. At first, he couldn’t see any sign of a ship, but as his eyes adjusted he could see a faint glitter of light. The ship was small, perhaps less than half the size of the Maranger. And it was tumbling. Something was very wrong, but Timon couldn’t help feeling excited.

“It’s tumbling,” Mike said. “How are we going to tack a line?”

“Good point!” Mara replied. “How do you think we could do it.” Mike was flustered.

“Well,” he said, “if we tack, the line will wrap around the ship. It could fling us, or rip the line off the Maranger.” He looked at Mara. “I don’t have an answer, Chief.”

“No worries,” she replied. “Work it out, foals.”

Sara gazed into the dark, studying the Darnel’s motion. “It’s rotating about once every three minutes,” she said. “That’s fast.”

“When we get there, we’ll be flung off the hull,” Timon said.

“Hold that thought,” Mara said. “One problem at a time.”

The three stared out of the lock, trying to come up with a solution. “Could we just tack a line anyway?” Timon asked. “It would start to wrap, but we could detach it when we get there.”

“Don’t ask me,” Mara said. “Give me an opinion. Work it out.”

Timon did the math. Half a klick travel or more. The need to latch onto the hull. Then detaching the cable. A good forty minutes. The cable would wrap a dozen times or so. Even if they detached the cable from the Dornel it would be hopelessly tangled around the ship.

“It won’t work. The cable will just tangle.” Timon said. “We’ll have to jet all the way over there.”

“Jet packs are for emergencies,” Mara said.

“This is an emergency,” Timon said.

“Not for us,” Mara said. “It’s cables or nothing.”

“But Timon is right,” Sara said. “We can’t detach it from the Darnel when we get there. It will just tangle.”

“Are you certain?” Mara asked.

The three knew this wasn’t a rhetorical question. If they had a way to untangle the cable or keep it from wrapping, now was the time to find the solution.

“Yes,” Mike said. The others nodded in agreement.

“Fine,” Mara said. “Let it wrap.”

“But Mare!” Timon said, then stopped. Mara gave him a look that said she wouldn’t tolerate whining.

“Work. It. Out.” she said slowly.

Timon couldn’t see a solution. If they couldn’t use jets to get there, how else could they do it? But Sara started to list what they knew.

“The cable will wrap when we tack it. We can’t get over there before it tangles, so we can’t detach it when we get there.”

“And if we can’t detach it, the cable will rip itself off the Maranger,” Mike added.

“My!” Mara said. “That would be bad!”

“Well,” Mike said, “we can’t just detach it from the Maranger.”

“Can’t you now?” Mara asked.

“How would we get back then?” asked Mike.

“Bring a second cable,” Timon said. He was starting to see a solution. “Tack a cable to the Darnel, but not the Maranger. It will tangle, but we can still line over. If we bring a second cable we can do the same on the way back.”

“But the cable will fling,” Sara said. “If it strikes us on the way back it could kill us.”

“You see a solution, and the dangers of it,” Mara said. “Excellent. Now gather what you need.”

The cables were outside the lock, but close by. Timon thought they would have to unbolt a couple, but Mara points out where they could be unclamped.

“Just unclamp one for now,” Mara said. “We’ll unclamp the other after it is tacked.” She motioned to Sara to manage the cable controls.

“A cable is free,” Timon said.

“Stow it, then,” Mara said. “Now, Sara, tack us a ship.”

Sara stared at the small screen of the controls. She fiddled with the controls a bit until the screen made a double flash.

“I’m locked on,” she said.

“Fire at will,” Mara said. Sara nodded.

“Fire. Fire. Fire.” Sara said calmly, and the cable shot from the hull. It was powered by a small jet pack, making short, rapid bursts as it adjusted its path to the Darnel. A thin cable unfurled after it. After a few minutes, the control screen flashed twice again, then went green. The cable was tacked.

“Latch on, foals,” Mara said. “I’ll unmount the cable.”

The three attached their suits to the cable. Timon could feel the cable jostle and heard twangs as Mara unclamped the cable and attached her own suit.

“Wagons Ho!” she said.

Timon and the others activated the cable motors in their suits, and they started to pull toward the Darnel.