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Altitude, Part 2

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They climbed up the side of the rocket. Halfway up, Cord pointed out her friend's house. "The tracking's broken on their solar panels. They're all pointing in different directions." Cliff looked down and his sister, just below his feet. The ground was far and he felt he hands begin to sweat. "Don't look down," said his sister. "Look sideways or up."

"Shut up," said Cliff. He turned his head to the right and saw the patchwork browns and greens of the fields and the metal sheathed rooftops. He felt the beating of his heart grow loud and quicken. His breathing was too fast.

"You want to go down?" asked Cord. She knew her brother didn't like heights.

"Shut up. Please," he said. He closed his eyes and calmed down. "I'm doing this, I'm doing this." He opened his eyes and started climbing again.

Closer to the top, the slope changed and the climb became less like a ladder and more like stairs, which helped Cliff. Captain Ray had already reached the cabin and had opened the circular hatch. When the children got to the door, he pulled them in, disconnected their safety leads and stowed the gekko ends in a niche by the side of the hatch.

"Glad you made it," said Captain Ray.

"Thanks, sir."

Cord asked, "Where do we sit?"

Captain Ray pointed to acceleration couches in the first row behind the instrumentation and the controls for the ship. "You can sit beside me. Just don't touch anything."

"Does everybody get to sit up front?" asked Cord as she clambered over the couches.

"People usually ride second or third row. If I really don't like you, then you go in the cargo hold."

Cliff climbed into his seat beside his sister. "How often does that happen?"

Captain Ray laughed. "Not as often as I'd like." He slapped a button and the hatch swung shut. The seals hissed and the hatch clicked and the button blinked that it was locked. He dropped into his couch and strapped himself in. The two children copied him. "Good, good," he said, looking over their progress. "Who wants to do the countdown?" he asked.

Cord looked over at her brother. "You go ahead," she said.

Cliff rolled his eyes. "We can both do it unless counting backwards is too hard for you."

Cord scowled. "Ten." Cliff joined in. "Nine. Eight. Seven. Six. Five -" Captain Ray started with the dials and switches, "- Four! Three! TWO! ONE!! LIFTOFF!!"

"Liftoff," drawled Captain Ray. The drive torches thundered to life and the rocket shook with power. "We'll do a low temp lift and mix in a lot of air to keep from setting everything on fire."

The children looked out the canopy and watched the ground move away. "There's our house!" Cord cried out. Cliff tried to see if anyone was watching, but the vibration was shaking him so, he couldn't tell. The ship moved faster and they could see all of the countryside falling below them. They could see the shape of the land, the soft humps of hills and valleys, until everything shrank into a map of terrain where even the roads were but fine lines cut into the earth.

They burst through the sky and looked down upon clouds. The horizon was the meeting between the land and the air. "Let's open her up," said Captain Jay. The press of acceleration pushed them down on their couches and they were breathless. Soon, they could see the curve of the world and above was the black reaches of space.