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Altitude, Part 1

sim's picture

The sign was handmade and read "Ride into Space $10" in black marker on brown cardboard. It was posted at the edge of the field. In the very middle of the timothy grass, in the center of a burnt-out circle, was a rocket. It was taller than a grain silo and was a squat obelisk resting on three legs.

Two children walked close together. They had seen a meteor trail last night and had heard the sonic boom and the roar of the braking engines. They had listened to the pinging of cooling metal after it had landed. Their parents paid scant attention, but the boy and girl could barely keep still, knowing that nearby, a rocket had landed. After breakfast and their chores, they looked around and saw the tip of the rocket over the trees.

"Why'd it land here?" asked Cord, the younger sister.

"Who cares?" said Cliff. "Do we have ten bucks?" He pulled out wadded scrip from the front pocket on his overalls. Cord showed her brother a handful of coins. "Eleven dollars."

"You can have it," said Cord. "Most of it's yours."

They reached the perimeter of the patch of burnt earth. The charred stems of grass crunched under their feet. They looked up at three large bells of the drive torches that were on the bottom of the ship. "Look at that," said Cliff and he punched his sister in the shoulder.

"Yeah!" answered Cord who broke from her brother and dashed underneath the rocket. "Hello!" she yelled and her voice echoed from the bells. Cliff caught up with her and called out to hear his own echoes.

"You don't want to be there when I take off," said a man stepping out from behind the nearest landing strut. He was tall and dressed in a worn p-suit with silver rings at all the joints. "You youngsters come to ride?"

Cliff nodded. "I've got eleven dollars."

Cord said, "I'll stand over there," and pointed behind a busted evaporator at the edge of the field.

The man looked at the two and said, "Well, ten dollars is what I charge a grown-up. But both of you together wouldn't mass as much as your mama, I bet."

Cord ventured, "I can go, too?"

"Sure."

She hooted and punched her brother in the shoulder. "All right!" Cliff grinned ear-to-ear and thanked the man.

"You're welcome. What are your names?"

"I'm Clifford."

"I'm Cord."

The man raised an eyebrow. "Cord? Short for Cordwainer?"

Cord shook her head. "Cordelia," she said, biting her lower lip. "But I go by Cord."

"Cliff and Cord. Your parents okay with you being out here?"

Cliff straightened up and got in his talk-to-teachers stance and answered, "Oh, yes sir! We did our chores and everything."

The man laughed. "Did you now?"

"What's your name?" asked Cord.

"You can call me Ray. But when we're inside the ship, you can call me Captain."

"Yes sir!" said Cliff.

"I guess we can go now, if you two have done all your chores," said Captain Ray. Cliff nodded and handed the spaceman the money. "Oh, you can pay me when we land. Flight's not over till we touchdown safe and sound." He motioned them over to where he had come from.

There were circular rungs going from the pad at the bottom of the landing strut all the way to the top of the ship. "Hope you're not afraid of heights," said Captain Ray.

Cord gave a fierce grin, "I like heights. I climbed up the barn and the cracker on the waste distillery and I've got a treehouse."

"Good, good. This'll be a walk in a park for you," said Captain Ray.

"A rocketplane is easier to board," Cliff said.

Captain Ray looked down sternly at the boy. "This rocket does vertical takeoff and landing, like God and Robert Heinlein intended." He put safety leads on the two. "Now follow me."

sim's picture

How About That?

Heck, Richard, you were right! Having a spaceship land in the field works just fine!

=S=

kelson.philo's picture

Hehehe..I cracked up at "You

Hehehe..I cracked up at "You can call me Ray"...

but you doesn't...

have to call him Johnson?