LXXXI

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Submitted Date 09/15/2022
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"You want chili?" Adele asked with a sneer. She threw a plastic pouch on the small table and sat down across from Victor. "There's your chili." Behind her, a portion of the huge mass of Jupiter turned in the large porthole. The ship was still eleven days away from orbit, but already the planet could not be viewed in its entirety through the window from the table.

"I only said I wanted some if you were going to make some," Victor responded. "You can make two as easy as one, can't you?"

Adele put her cup down, leaned back in the chair, and folded her hands against her chest. "I could. But I don't want you getting the idea that I'm your wifey or anything like that."

"Oh, for God's sake." Victor picked up the pouch, stood up, and stepped over to the galley. He pulled a square container out of its place in the wall and set it on the counter. "My wife is about 400 million miles away, thank you very much." He tore open the package and dumped the contents into the container. "You want me to put one in for you?"

Adele brought the cup to her lips and gingerly sipped; when she realized the tea was not hot, she drank it in a gulp and then sat the empty cup back on the table. "The oven isn't heating water right," she said. "This was in there for six minutes and it's still lukewarm."

Victor opened a drawer and pulled a second pouch of chili out. "Chili for you, yes or no?"

"Nah," Adele got up and stepped over to the navigation station. "I had some tuna earlier."

"The oven is working just fine. You just don't get to it before it cools off." He deftly filled the container with the required amount of water and then put it in the oven and pressed the timer button. The oven came on. Victor stepped over to the status station, at the end of the counter where Adele was standing, and manipulated a control located there. "We're down to 88 liters of water," he said. "We'll need to make more in the next day or two."

"Yeah, well, it's always something," Adele muttered. She had her head down and was staring at something on the monitor in the panel there. "Hey, look at this."

"Look at what?"

There was a moment of silence as Adele operated controls on the panel. "What the hell is that?"

"What the hell is what?"

"Come over here and tell me why Callisto isn't in the right place."

"Not in the right place?" Victor repeated as he stepped over. Adele had already moved away from that station and was at the helm, where she sat down. He studied the display and when he realized that she was warming up the thrusters, he looked up. "What are you doing?"

"We're off course and we're going to have to make a burn."

"We can't be off course," Victor said. "We've been ballistic since we left lunar orbit."

"Yeah, well, we're off. Come over here and get strapped in, I'm going to make a burn."

"Delly, wait." She ignored him. "Wait, wait a minute," he said. The oven dinged, but Victor ignored it and in a moment, he was seated at the helm beside her. "Wait, don't start steering around yet. Let's have some chili and take a moment to look at this thing."

"I said I don't want any chili, and every moment we wait to correct we get further off." Adele reached over and pressed a button on the panel where Victor sat. "Are you going to help me or do I have to drive this thing by myself?"

Victor rolled his eyes and sighed, then he reached up and started pulling the seat straps over his shoulders. "Jesus Christ, Delly." He strapped himself in, activated the panels on his side, and started manipulating the controls. "All I wanted this afternoon was some chili, and here I am about to drive off into the darkness."

"Forward thrusters at operating temperature," Adele said. "Back thrusters will be there in a second."

"Forward at operating, back warming," Victor responded. Adele had shifted herself into commander mode, and Victor naturally joined her, falling comfortably into the standard read-and-repeat procedures for two-person operations.

"Pressurize front tank."

"Pressurizing front," Victor said as he activated that control. Things were happening on both their panels now—each could see the others, but each was concentrating on their own panel. Victor looked over and saw that Adele had not strapped herself in, and just before he was about to say something, she threw back her arms and started twisting into the straps. There was a ding from his panel. "Front tank pressurized."

"We're only going to need the front. Burn is, um…." She was studying her own displays. "Burn is 140 seconds at 2.2," she said. Victor reached up and tightened his own straps as Adele continued. "Tighten restraints and confirm burn time."

"Restraints and confirmed one four zero at two point two."

"Correct readback." She turned to face Victor. "You want to get that chili out of the oven before we burn?"

"Nah," Victor said. "I'm already strapped in. Let's get this over with."

"Good." Adele turned back and put her hand on what was called the Chicken Switch on the panel between the two of them—it was a control that would shut off the engine in case the automated system failed to do so, or if there was some sort of emergency. "Countdown for engine start."

"Countdown for engine start," Victor repeated.

"Three. Two. One—" Adele said start, but that word was drowned out by the sound and vibration of the thruster motors igniting. As they came to full power, the sound and vibration increased, and the two of them were pushed back into their seats, but the acceleration was not overwhelming. They monitored the various factors that would affect the burn—engine and fuel temperature, nozzle efficiency, and so forth—but the ships computer conducted the burn precisely as planned and as the counters that were counting down the seconds got to 000, the engine turned off and the gravity gradient in the crew area went back to 0.85 G.

"Burn completed," Adele said as she unfastened her straps.

Victor was doing the same. "Burn completed," he repeated.

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