Author : Helstrom

“What are you doing?”

I looked up from the astrogation table and into the curious eyes of a five-year-old girl hovering in the access hatch.

“Hey, hey,” I said, “I don’t think you’re supposed to be here.”

“I wanted to see out the window. Captain said it was okay.”

Of course he had. The captain was a ‘fourth generation’ spacer. Back in my time, with mining operations just beginning, spacers were recruited from the ranks of kumpels, roughnecks and sat-divers, resulting in strongly reeking ships populated by loud men with short necks and the very strong absence of curiosity that comes from living in an environment where any moving part you don’t know intimately can probably kill you. These days the profit margins were so huge they were shipping out whole families who would spend most of their life on one of the colonies – including their children.

“Okay then,” I smiled, “But just a few minutes. I’m doing important stuff.”

She flashed a grin revealing a few missing teeth and pushed herself through the hatch, deftly settling into a corner between the tracking telescope and the cupola frame. Children adapted to free-fall in next to no time at all. At the turn of a switch, the cupola blinds withdrew and space unfolded before us. She glued herself to the window for a while, but deep space isn’t much to look at and she soon took more interest in the myriad of astrogation equipment in the room.

Settling herself in the cupola, she asked: “Is that the map?”

“No, not really. I don’t use a lot of maps. This is a plot, it shows me how much time it takes until we have to make another burn, like when we left. Remember how you had to stay in bed and got real heavy? That was a burn,”

She scowled, “I know what a burn is, silly. So it tells you where we’re going?”

“Well, pretty much, yes.”

“Then it’s a map!” She giggled triumphantly.

“You’re smarter than you look with those missing teeth.”

“Don’t you have a computer for this?”

“I do – three, in fact. But computers can be wrong sometimes, and most of the knobs and dials in here let me check things for myself. If it gets really bad I can even do it on paper.”

“What if you’re wrong too?”

“Well, that depends on how far wrong I am We could crash into Venus instead of going into orbit. Or we could shoot past her, pick up a gravity boost and fly into the sun if we’re too fast for a rescue boat to catch up with us. But my job is to make sure that doesn’t happen so you get to your new home safely.”

She nodded, a serious frown on her face, “That’s very important.”

It was the nicest thing anyone had said about my work in a while – I laughed and gave her a hug before pushing her back towards the hatch: “Now, go back to the ring and let me work, okay? I’ll show you more after dinner if you want. Oh, and if you see the captain, make sure you tell him how important my job is.”

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