It took two long weeks before he had Larry satisfied and a clear morning dawned. Carl had found Jad a spacesuit that was only one size too big. The Amalgam did not have multiple seats, but there wasn’t much room behind the pilot seat anyway. Jad wedged himself in behind Carl and held on for dear life. The rocket zoomed to aircraft level within a few minutes. It leveled off at the outer stratosphere near the low-orbiting satellites. Jad had never seen so clear a blue or so deep a black. They fought for dominance of his vision, then got deeper as the blood rushed back into his face.
Larry took the opportunity to test rocket-to-rocket communications. He followed them up in The Sun Skimmer. “You two alright in there?” he asked in his deep baritone.
“He’s got orbit eyes,” Carl said.
“Ha! And you don’t?” Larry asked.
“That little blue and green ball gets me every time.”
“No time for sentimentality, we’ve got work to do.”
“Wait, we’ve got time for one more thing,” Carl said. Jad turned from the side window to the front viewport as Carl counted down from five. On cue the moon shot out from behind the earth, a brilliant beacon of white light.
Jad and Carl both caught their breath.
“Moonrise,” Carl said.
“It’s beautiful,” Jad said.
“You’re gonna land on that piece of heaven for me, aren’t you?”
Jad smiled and whispered, “Yeah.”
“Now can we get to work?” Larry asked, breaking the moment.
Carl spent the next two hours teaching his son flight maneuvering and navigation. Carl had been a pilot before he settled down as an engineer and married Jad’s mom.
Eventually Carl asked, “You wanna fly her?”
Jad’s heart skipped a beat. “Can I?” he asked.
There wasn’t a lot of room in the cockpit, but they managed to switch places. Jad’s hands shook as he reached toward the controls. When he got within an inch or two of the joystick though he paused, fear freezing his hand. With some encouragement from his father and a deep breath he went for the joystick, but instead of grabbing it he knocked it. The Amalgam rolled hard to the left, missing The Sun Skimmer, and starting a spin towards the earth. Jad screamed and tried to get out of the pilot’s chair. Carl spoke smooth and steady. “It’s okay,” he said. “You can do this. Grab the stick and pull us out of the roll. Just like I taught you.”
Somehow Jad found the processing power to listen. He grabbed the stick and tugged to the right until their roll leveled out. He pulled the joystick up toward a more stable orbit just like his Dad and Larry had taught him.
“Can we switch back?” Jad asked.
Carl squeezed Jad’s shoulder and said, “No. This is how we learn.”
They continued working until the fuel indicator lights came on. Then they switched places once more and headed home.
The next day was Sunday and they expected a visit from Lisa. They spent the morning eradicating every pile of clutter they could find. Mostly “eradicate” meant throwing it into an empty room.
Lisa arrived at four o’clock on the dot. She was warm and bubbly and excited. As much as she despised what Carl did to her, she also recognized that there was something she couldn’t provide Jad, something masculine that she couldn’t be. She hoped Carl could be that, would be that. That he’d help his son grow into a man.
The visit went well. Lisa was in a mind to overlook infractions and Carl was in a mind to have them overlooked. It did get dicey once when Lisa asked about the rockets out back. Carl point blank said he didn’t have the money to fly them.
Jad asked him about it later, but Carl said his statement was true.
The next day, Monday, they worked on take off and landing. Jad only crashed once. Luckily they had been just a few feet off the ground. There was little damage except to the neighbor’s petunia garden.
Day after day Carl and Larry taught Jad how to fly a rocket and day-by-day his confidence grew. One morning, five weeks into their time together, Carl turned to him. “Ready for a solo flight?” he asked.
Larry followed Jad up in The Sun Skimmer while Carl played ground control in an unused bedroom.
“Happy Thirteenth Birthday,” Carl said as Jad launched.
Everything was textbook smooth until they started their descent. A red light flashed at Jad as the proximity alarm went off.
“Mr. Crisp, are you getting this?” Jad asked as he tried to locate the object.
Carl smiled. Jad was almost unrecognizable from the boy he had brought home just five weeks earlier. Calm confidence oozed through his voice.
“Nothing here,” Larry said from a thousand feet away in The Sun Skimmer. “I can’t make a visual either.”
Jad scanned the scopes and looked out the windows. He saw the red oval of The Sun Skimmer, but nothing else stood out against the black of space or the blue of the Earth.
Jad stroked the instrument panel. “Ok, Mally, old girl, what are you seeing?”
Carl checked his scopes on the set of computers he used for ground control. “I’ve got nothing down here. Must be smaller than five feet wide.”
“What are you doing?” said a voice behind Carl.
Carl turned around. Lisa stood there holding a wrapped present in one hand and a Mylar balloon in the other.
Carl’s eyes widened. He pulled off his headset. “Lisa, you can’t be here!”
“It’s Jad’s birthday,” she said.
Up in orbit, Jad caught a flicker out the window. “It’s space trash,” he called into the comm link. “It’s coming in fast. Probably parts from an old satellite or a wreck.”
“Erons’ ghost,” Larry muttered.
Lisa had heard Jad’s voice through the external speakers Carl had set up for the press. “Where’s, Jad? What’s he doing?” she asked.
“You can’t be here,” Carl said.
“Where’s my son, Carl?” Lisa asked. Danger dripped from her words.
“I need you to get out of here right now.”
“I’ve gotta bring him home!”
Lisa recognized the tone in Carl’s voice. Whatever she thought of the man, she knew enough to back down for the moment.
“Dad?” Jad’s voice came through the comm link. “Space trash. Please advise.”
Carl threw the headset on and jumped into the chair. “How close?” He checked the computer screens.
“I don’t know, maybe two hundred feet and closing fast,” Jad said.
“Roll away from it, toward a… stable E5 orbit. Larry, follow him, copy?”
“Copy,” both Jad and Larry said.
Jad flipped a few switches then rolled The Amalgam to the lower orbit. As he rolled, the forefront of the trash cloud hit. Alarms blazed in Jad’s cockpit as proximity, pressure, and oxygen alarms all sounded.
To Be Continued…