The wind screamed past her, rippling over Spant’s skimship in tiny, flashing waves. She shot between two Andean mountain peaks at Mach four. One of her telescopic eyes swept the sloping grey and brown foothills below for anything unexpected, and an ear slid through the crackling radio bands. Another ear listened to the wind. There was no particular reason to do that; Spant just enjoyed it.
Thirteen-year-olds don’t need any more reason than that.
The required samples — the leaves, rocks, soil and air — had already been collected, and in record time. Spant smiled to herself. She turned the ship up towards space and burned hard for home, at seven and half gees.
* * *
Home was Yuri, a boulder-encrusted station in a Clarke orbit above the Pacific. It was puny compared with many of the Spacemod communities or the manufacturing stations, and it would have been even smaller beside one of the spinning O’Neill grounder colonies, but Yuri was the only place where starship crews were trained, and the ships themselves were built at the yards just a hundred klicks away.
Spant came back to herself in her small, dark, spherical telecontrol niche. She floated still for a moment, settling back into her body, then called the lights on and pushed the Face away from her. The contacts came free of her skin with a little sucking, popping sensation. For a moment, she felt blind and deaf – without the contacts, she could no longer scan the infrared or listen in on cosmic rays. Or control the little remote skimship. And as usual, she had a headache, but it would go away in a few seconds. She unclenched her legclamps from the rail and pushed herself over to the door.
David was at the station, on one of his passenger or supply runs; she’d seen his shuttle docking on her way in. He didn’t usually stay more than a day or two, so Spant was anxious not to waste any time. She undogged the door and sent herself into the hall.
Eyes turned inward, she sailed past the man in blue without noticing who it was. Then a hand snagged her and swung them both around in a lazy circle.
“Mr. Sirazhev! I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t see you.”
Arsen Sirazhev gripped a rail to steady them. “I watched your run. A good one.”
“Thank you, sir.” Spant eyed the hall, biting her lip.
“Eager to get away from me, cadet? You still have your eval.”
“I thought maybe I could take a short break, first. Usually we have a few minutes. Sir.”
“Need a bathroom, I suppose. It’s easy to forget all about your body here, when your mind is out there in the ship, skimming. Very well. Meet me in fifteen minutes, then.”
Spant turned to go, but Sirazhev’s gaze held her. “I see Ogar’s ship, Bluebird, just came in. Did you notice that as you arrived?”
“Uh, yes, sir. I mean not really. But I couldn’t really miss it.”
“No, I don’t suppose you could have. Go on, then.”
“Sir.” And Spant was off, leaving Sirazhev shaking his graying head and grinning.
* * *
He was just coming out of Bluebird’s airlock when Spant flew into the docking bay. He stopped to say a few words to the cargo chief, and Spant snagged a line with a legclamp to stop herself and just looked.
It had been three weeks since she’d last seen David Abua Ogar, and the sight of him — those long, useless legs and all — was as dizzying as oxygen depletion. Tall, with short black hair and flashing eyes, teeth impossibly white in his dark face. He finished talking to the chief, and was turning towards her — she called out just before he could look up to see her.
He smiled. “Susan! How’s it going, girl?”
Spant grinned and launched herself. She pretended to miss a line and collided with him. Together they spun about their common center; David’s arms and legs flailed comically. Spant finally twisted about, snagged a line with a free hand (the other was firmly entangled in his shirt; she could feel him breathe, feel the warmth of his skin beneath the fabric), and brought them to a gentle stop.
“Whoa! Let me get steady, here,” David said, now grabbing the line himself. His voice was a little pinched — what the flatland spacers called stuffy nose syndrome. Engineered as she was not to fall prey to the ills inflicted on flatlanders by micro-g, Spant had never experienced it, but it gave David’s words an exotic sound.
“How’re you doing? Good flight? Are you going to stay long this time?”
David laughed. “Fine, fine, and yes — three days.” He snagged a handloop with his other hand. “I got myself under control now.”
“Oh.” Spant let of his sleeve.
“How’s training?” he asked.
“Just got back from a skimship run.”
“Those must be fun.”
“Yeah! Especially after a week of stellar types and tech maintena -- [End of Preview.]