Long moments passed.
White noise hissed on the receiver.
Lisa could not take a breath until a staticky voice finally came through.
“Dad, this is Jad. I’m through, but The Amalgan’s not doing well. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to make it.”
“How close are you?”
“Maybe fifty miles.”
“Have you reopened the fuel valves?”
“Yeah, but I’m still coming in on fumes.”
“Ok, try to get within ten miles and pull the shoot. Larry? I need you on reconnaissance.”
“We need him to bring it home,” Larry said.
“We need him alive,” Carl replied.
“Dad, the shoot’s got a red indicator.”
“Sarsaparilla.” Carl said under his breath. He wanted to say something else, but he’d long ago learned to watch his language in Lisa’s presence. His mind worked hard for a solution.
“Jad, you try kicking up the Pendleton?” Larry asked through the staticky comm link.
“Larry, you beautiful man, why didn’t I think of that?” Carl asked. “Ok, Jad, if we can kick the Pendleton into high gear we can make every ounce of fuel count that much more. The Pendleton dial is on the right hand side below and to the left of the main switches on a green board.”
“I don’t see it. Is it marked?” Jad asked. The engines coughed and sputtered as fuel began to run out.
“It’s marked ‘Lunatic Switch,’” Larry said.
Lisa’s brow furrowed.
“When you find it turn it up to twelve,” Carl said.
“That won’t be enough,” Larry said.
“Found it,” Jad called.
“Ok, turn it up to thirteen,” Carl said, “we’ve never gone this high, but you’re gonna need it.”
Jad’s engine coughed and spluttered some more as he turned the dial, but his speed increased.
“It’s working,” Jad said.
“Bring her home,” Carl said.
Ten miles out The Amalgam’s engines gave out completely. Every last ounce of fuel and fume had been exhausted.
“Dad, it’s empty,” Jad said. The Amalgam began to turn her nose down. Without wings, gliding the rocket to a safe landing would be impossible even for a seasoned pilot.
“Larry, get eyes on him,” Carl said.
“Going,” Larry said.
“Alright, Jad, keep your nose up and turn the dial up to fourteen,” Carl said. “Your maneuvering thrusters use a different type of fuel. What’s their gauge read?”
“It’s at an eighth,” Jad said.
“Perfect,” Carl said in a voice he hoped Jad wouldn’t see through. “More than enough.”
Jad turned the dial on the Pendleton. The unit sparked and began to hum.
“It’s on fourteen,” Jad said. Fear finally crept into his voice. “It doesn’t sound good.”
Lisa let out a squeak.
“Ok,” Carl said, “we’re going to have to time this just right. On my mark fire the bottom thruster for five seconds. Three… two… one… mark.”
Jad fired the thruster. The Amalgam hopped in the air.
“Two more hops and you’re home, mark,” Carl said.
Jad hit the thruster, and The Amalgam hopped again.
“I’m only at four thousand feet,” Jad said. “With five miles to go. I’m not going to make it.”
“Don’t talk like that, Jad. Stay with me. One more, this time burn for ten seconds. And… Mark.”
Jad hit the button and The Amalgam leaped into the air.
“Alright, Jad you’re right on target. Keep your nose up and brace for impact. You can do this.”
“Ok,” Jad replied.
Within a minute Carl and Lisa heard a crash in the back yard. They raced through the empty rooms and out through the back door.
The Amalgam had skidded across the yard, crashed through the fence, and landed in the neighbor’s pool. It floated next to the diving board in the deep end. The hatch faced the water. Without thinking Carl ran to The Amalgam, grabbed it by the nose and heaved it out of the water. It landed with a small plunk on the ground and rolled over. Then Carl heard a zap and the rocket sank two feet in the emerald grass of his neighbor’s lawn.
Carl and Lisa ran to the rocket. A dark scourge down The Amalgam’s side showed half melted innards. Carl’s fingers scrambled across the airlock controls. He yanked open the hatch once the seal released. He dropped into the craft and disappeared from view. Breathless moments passed while Lisa feared the worst. Soon Carl emerged, he pulled himself out then turned and reached down into the hole. With Carl’s help, Jad pulled himself, bulky spacesuit and all, out of the hatch and onto the hull. Before he knew what was happening his mothers arms were wrapped around him. She smothered his fish bowl helmet with kisses.
To Be Continued…