An hour after the switch to sublight there was an announcement. “All scout ship pilots and crews report to your ships with all personal belongings you will be requiring for the next several days.Launch sequence will begin as scheduled.” Lt. Arden brought spare uniform gear, changes of underwear, shaving gear, his toothbrush, and most important of all soap and towels. Cleanliness became very important in closed atmospheres.He stored them is his cubbyholes and Jabin Jones did the same.2nd Lt. Clea-rwater was the last to show up, and he had the same.“Double check the stores,” Arden ordered.“If anything is missing, now is the time to order it up.”
Clearwater and Jones checked the stores quickly, other ships were doing the same and stores clerks were running madly across the hangar deck to get all supplies to all ships before any one launched. None of them wanted to be half way across when the deck depressurized pre-paratory to launch.All of them knew how messy it could get if that happened.
“We’ve got everything boss,” Clearwater reported. This included space suits for everyone on board. They were sometimes laughingly referred to as ‘little hell holes’.They could be that for anyone who was even mildly claustrophobic.
“Right,” Arden said. He was a little distracted at the moment.He had seen his roommate running across the hangar deck.Then his attention was attracted to a much prettier tall graceful redhead walking across the deck.He turned on the exterior speakers, only used in the hangar. “Cate,” he called.She turned in his direction, waved and gave him the good luck thumbs up sign.But she was too far away on a busy deck for him to hear anything.“Good luck to you too, beautiful,” he said.She smiled and waved and it was only then that he realized that the entire hangar had heard him.
“Ready for the preflight,” Sgt Jones softly whispered in his ear, bringing him back to where he was. “Ah ya,” he stammered slightly.They did a quick check of the internal controls. Then Lizbet control called, “All ships signal when prepared to seal.”
The ships called in, in order of their expected launch. Red Wing would launch first and had six ships. Alexander heard Cate call in, she was Red 3.He called in as Gold 1.Then Blue Wing and Green Wing called in.In a few minutes Lizbet control announced, “All ships seal and start life support. Notify when done.”The ships went through the same order letting Lizbet control know that their hatches were sealed and their life support was working. When Lt. Micass aboard Green 6 finished his call in, Lizbet control announced, “Prepare for hangar depressurization.”The last of the stores people ran for the door to the corridor now.Alexander could see them getting it shut just in time. Lizbet control announced, “Depres-surization beginning, prepare for launch in 5 minutes.”Alexander knew that he would see very little. But the large hangar bay space doors began to open when the pressure on both sides of them came closer and closer together.He, Jones and Clearwater were all on deck looking out the windows when it happened. The sight of the stars outside the ship was amazing and one that Alex-ander always looked forward to.It was one reason that he joined the space service and the reason that he wanted to be a pilot and the reason that he thought he would rather be dead then give it up.
“All ships prepare to start engines in sequence,” Lizbet control announc-ed, “Red 1.”
Red 1 responded, “Red 1, starting engine.” As the sound of the beast came over the speakers the pilot reported “Launching.” The ship was out the space doors two minutes later.“Red 2,” Lizbet control con-tinued.Red 2 responded. “Red 2, starting engine.Launching.”It was gone after Red 1.“Red 3,” Cate Carstairs responded when called, “Starting engine.Launching.”She was off at a little different angle to check out a different star system. Red 4 was right after her.The voice that responded for Red 4 was Lt. Ree’s.For a moment Alexander wished it was him.
But a moment was all he had. Then Lizbet was calling “Gold 1,”“Gold 1,” he responded, “Starting engine.”He heard the engine roar to life in the cockpit.The greater noise of the engine outside the ship was dam-pened completely by the lack of atmosphere to carry it.“Launching,” he said when the engine had reached sufficient strength to cause the breaking of the clamps that held it in place.Lizbet control released the clamps before they actually broke. The Grapevine moved to and through the space doors in what some thought of as a graceful dance.The ships before him were already heading toward the star systems that they had been ordered to investigate.He waited a moment for his partner Gold 2.
“Ladies,” he said, speaking to the other ship, “Shall we set our course?” “Ready when you are,” Lt Campbell radioed back. The pilots input the numbers that they had been given from Lizbet control. Steering rockets ignited and angled the ships.The flight away from the Lizbet was smooth.“Lizbet control this is Gold 1,” Alexander called.He waited for them to acknowledge them.That took a few minutes as another part of Lizbet Control had to pick him up as well as Red Wing, Blue Wing and Green Wing.He had been listening to a female voice for the launch, now he heard a male voice, “Gold 1,” “Launch went well,” he said, “proceeding on towards target system.”
On the bridge of the Lizbet Lt. Gen. Marcus McCoy reported to General Arden, “All ships launched, sir.They all report life support working.”He paused a moment and listened to the thing in his ear which was a communications device.Then he continued on with his report.“All ships are proceeding towards the coordinates they have been given. ”On the bridge other snippets of conversation were occurring.People were reporting on the condition of the Lizbet , the results of sensor sweeps, noting new signals and checking to see if they were natural or not.
“Thank-you Gen.,” the General said. He was quiet and thoughtful for a moment.“Sir,” the Lt Gen. made so bold as to interrupt the Generals, musings.“He’s well trained; he knows what he is doing.Sgt. Jabin Jones is one of the best men we have and is his friend.He’ll be alright.”
“You tell me that every time he goes off on another mission.” the General commented. “You are always right, but I never tire of hearing it said. Thank- you.”He turned then, and went back to reading the endless reports.There were fuel consump-tion reports, sensor sweep reports, and a report from Dr. McInnis about a wounded Laokan female who laid 6 eggs, which were frozen until the end of the mission.
Among the civilians the observation deck was opened for the first time in the flight. There was nothing there that needed stowing at the time and the view there was nothing short of spectacular.The stars there were seen with a clarity that could never be managed on a planet.Jamie brought her class in for their first lessons in observing the stars.The ships in the wings that had just launched could also be seen from there.So she was the last member of her family to see her brother head-ing out on the first contact of the voyage.She also made a mental note to herself to come here on her dates. It could be very romantic.