This story contains sex between minor boys and teen-agers. If such things
offend you, or you are not at least 18 years of age, then please don't read
on. This story is not true, but who knows, maybe some day it will be.

CHAPTER 41

"Everybody Walked Away"

by Douglas DD

The day after the Ceremony and festival everybody rested. Matthew had slept
with Enghar, in celebration of their Joining. They went all the way, both
ways, each being top and bottom. It was a night so full of love for each
other it left them breathless.

After breakfast Enghar asked Matthew to go someplace with him. Matthew
followed him out the door. They ended up walking to Mycroff's house.
Enghar rang the doorbell and Mycroff opened the door. He almost shut it on
them, but decided to hear them out and invited them in, even though he
really didn't want to. He couldn't see what Enghar saw in the smooth
backed, round eared boy he chose to be his Meshanna, but he still loved
Enghar, so he let them in to find out what they had today.

They went up to his room. Mycroff sat in his desk chair, so Enghar and
Matthew sat on his bed. Enghar did the talking, helping Matthew understand
when he had to.

"Mycroff, I know you're really disappointed about me making Matthew my
Meshanna."

Mycroff lowered his head. "Yeah," he said quietly.

"I love you, Mycroff. I always will. But Matthew and I..well..we made a
connection. I knew it the moment I met him. It was instant and it was
something I couldn't help. You know about Meshannas, and how it is with
them, how when you find him you just know it."

"I know that. It's how I felt about you. I wanted you, and you know I
wanted you."

"Why?"

"Huh? What do you mean?"

"Why did you want me?"

"Because we've been friends for life!"

"Let me tell you this Mycroff. That wouldn't pass the interview. It
wouldn't be enough. I learned you gotta really get inside somebody, and we
never did that. You or me both." Enghar got off the bed and walked over to
Mycroff. He stood him up off the chair and hugged him. "I love you,
Mycroff."

Mycroff's hug was stiff at first, then he hugged Enghar tightly and started
to cry. "I...I....I wanted you to be my Meshanna so bad. I thought you
were it. We've been friends so long I figured I was the one. I don't know
where to start now. But I still love you, Enghar and I want to be your
friend." He looked over at Matthew. "And Mattoo's." Mycroff sat next to
Matthew on the bed and hugged him.

"My Meshanna is out there," Mycroff said. "I will find him." Deep in his
heart, though, he still wished it was Enghar.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


Bandar and Hajo took Douglas's group to the airport. They went out to the
two large hangars at the south end of the airport. Douglas, Scooter, Mike,
Alex, Stevie, Travis, and Jim were in the group. Ryan stayed behind to be
with the twins, and Brett and Jeremy wanted to spend the day with their
hosts. Their hosts had an eleven year old boy who wanted to find out what
it was like messing around with the round ears. They decided, after the
ceremony of yesterday, that this would be the day to show him what he wanted
to know and to find out about Hakaan sex. Douglas certainly didn't have a
problem with that. He wanted to find out too, and knew he would get his
chance real soon. Bandar and Hajo were going to get them into some of their
sex groups.

The door to the hangar was unlocked, just like all the doors in the valley
were. They opened it and turned on the light, catching their breath at
what they saw.

The aircraft in the hangar was almost the same size as the "Moonduster" and
the "Sundancer", maybe a little bigger. Its wings folded inward, like those
on the shuttle, which kept the hanger from being too crowded. Even though
it hadn't been used for 25 years the boys could see it was being cared for.
The metal was shiny and polished and the hangar was spotlessly clean.

"Who takes care of it?" Scooter asked.

"The same workers who did it when it actually flew," Bandar said. "What
else can they do? Everybody keeps hoping some time we will have the chance
to return to space. They hope a ship will come once again from our home
planet."

"And the other hangar has a shuttle in it too?" Douglas asked.

"Yes, but it's missing a lot of parts," Bandar told him. "We need parts for
our other machines and electronics. It's a source for them. Some of them
have to be retooled, but we make it all work. I think they're going to have
to use this one soon. Everything is wearing out."

Alex was already climbing up the stairs that lead to the door behind the
cockpit. He went inside the open door and looked around the inside of the
shuttle. The air was stale, but the inside was clean. To his right was a
long row of seats and to his left was the door leading into the cockpit. He
opened the cockpit door and went inside. The other boys started coming up
the stairs and into the shuttle.

"This is cool," Scooter said. "It looks in perfect shape, but will it fly?"

Stevie joined Alex in the cockpit. The rest of the boys walked along the
rows of seats. Each row had four seats, two on each side of the aisle.

"Well?" Douglas said, repeating Scooter's question. "Will it fly?"

"I don't know," Bandar said. "It hasn't been out of this hangar in 25 years
I guess. That's longer then I've been around," the fourtenn year old boy
said.

"Why didn't they ever fly back to the starship?"

"I guess from what I heard the starship had fuel to just go one way, from
Hakaan to here. And besides, only one person knows anything about flying a
starship. The Chief Engineer of the Building of Life worked on Engineering
on a starship, but decided to stay on Inferno after a trip. And it takes a
lot of people to fly a starship."

"Yeah, but they flew one here with nobody on it at all. It came all the way
from Hakaan and got into orbit, all automatically. So one person should be
able to go back on it. I wonder if the program can be reversed, so it could
fly back to Hakaan. As long as there is fuel, you just use reverse
coordinates." Stevie was doing the thinking now. He had just come out from
the cockpit. "We should be able to do it easily."

"Two things," Alex asked. "First, is there enough fuel, or did they really
fuel it for just a one way trip. And second, do we really want to do it?"

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Later that day some of the boys were hanging around together. They were
trying to figure out what the date was.

"Sometime in June from what I can figure," Travis said. "It's hard to say."

"No it's not," Stevie said. "I think the laser guns have an ongoing date
readout inside their works. Let's take a look."

The boys went up to the room Douglas and Scooter used and pulled a laser gun
out of its storage box. Stevie took a cover off, then unscrewed another
cover. He could see a number readout. He squited to look at the date on
the readout. It was June 10th. He told the group what the date was.

"Guess what guys," Stevie said with a bit of a wistful look on his face.
"My birthday was the sixth."

"No shit?" Ryan said. "So was mine." Ryan could feel tears starting up.
The idea that he missed his birthday was making him incredibly homesick.
Stevie could feel the same emotions inside of himself.

"Happy Birthday guys," Douglas said. How many more birthdays would be
forgotten? he thought to himself. Maybe not as many as had been, now that
they knew how to track the date. Stevie always seemed to have a way of
coming up with some electronic answer to a problem.

Ryan and Stevie, the birthday boys, didn't have to worry about being
forgotten that night. They each had sex with their boyfriends, and with a
few more guys as well. The both fell asleep exhausted but fully satisfied.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


The next day the trial of Robert Charles and the Shkah men started. That,
and the election, was the biggest news in the valley since the Hakaan first
colonized the valley. The courtroom was full. The Earth boys didn't have
to come back to school until the trial ended, which if it went like most
Hakaan trials, wouldn't take long.

The first day a jury was picked. To the Hakaan, if someone had a Meshanna
they were whole and could vote and be full citizens. On some issues young
ones could see things just as well as adults. They might not hold jobs
until they were out of school, but that was because jobs needed an
education. But they could be full citizens. So, some Hakaan became full
citizens when they were twelve, and others not until they were older, like
the two eighteen year old girls at The Joining. Enghar's mother didn't find
her Meshanna until she was 24. Enghar was already a year old. The lady she
found was the cashier at a grocery store in another village they were
visiting. The line got held up when they found each other. They knew
instantly they were meant to be Meshannas. At the next Joining they became
Meshannas. So it could happen to someone young or old.

The jury had eleven members. A Hakaan jury only needed a majority vote not
a unanimous vote. The jury had seven males and four females. The males
were all in their 20's except for a boy named Gregonni, who was thirteen,
and a boy named Nordio, who was fourteen The females were fourteen,
seventeen, thirty-eight, and fifty. Douglas couldn't believe "young ones'"
were being trusted to be on a jury, especially when he thought of the
Governor's attitude toward them.

After court was adjourned the Earth boys met in the community room.

"Sure is different from an Earth trial. At least the ones on the vids,"
Jeremy said.

"I like it," Scooter said. "I like seeing kids on the jury."

"Tomorrow Matthew meets with the judge," Douglas said.

"What for?" Travis asked.

"Enghar is his Meshanna. But he isn't Hakaan. So, Doctor Mandor, Enghar's
dad, is wondering if he has the right to vote tomorrow. It could be
interesting."

Alex told them that tomorrow after the trial was over he, Mike, Douglas, and
Scooter were going to visit the guy who took care of the shuttle . They
would report on what they found when they returned.

After that, they all went back to the places they were staying. In two
weeks their permanent homes were going to be chosen. Most of them knew what
they were already. That night each boy made love with his partner. Even
the twins enjoyed a mutual jerking off. All of them talked and wondered if
there was a chance of returning home, or if Inferno would become their home
for life.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


The second day of the trial was also election day. Enghar was able to vote,
because he now had a Meshanna. But could Matthew? Because there had never
been people other than Hakaan on Inferno before, they never had to face this
question. The morning before the election, and before he commenced the
trial of Robert Charles, the judge ruled the only requirement for voting and
the rights of citizenship was one must have experienced The Joining with
their Meshanna. Because Matthew met this requirement, he was entitled to
the full rights of citizenship, including the right to vote.

After the judge's ruling, he and Enghar went to the community room and
filled out their ballots. They both voted for Mayor Andorn. Matthew didn't
feel like he knew enough for any of the other votes this time, so that was
all he filled out. Enghar had studied all the issues, and heknew that the
next time Matthew voted he would be on top of everything. Then he wondered
with fear in his heart if there would be a next time for Matthew. What if
the round ears were able to find a way to get back to their own planet?
What would happen to his Mattoo then?

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

At the end of the day they got the election results. The Governor had
campaigned saying that the big problems with the Shkah were mostly the fault
of the round ears. They were too reckless, and Mayor Andorn had helped them
against the wishes of the government. He thanked them for bringing and end
to the problem, but said without them the problem would never have been such
a big one. The Governor said he could have found a responsible solution
with nobody getting killed if the Mayor had stayed out of it. He accused
the Mayor of allowing the flyer to be stolen. Mayor Andorn said lives were
at stake. The kidnapping of the two round eared boys and the attack on
Scooter and Douglas showed that the Shkah were stepping things up. When
strong decisions were needed they weren't made, and a group of boys showed
how to get things done. He just helped to make sure that two young boys
would be rescued. In the end Mayor Andorn beat the governor with 65% of the
vote. It was obvious what the citizens of the big valley thought about what
had happened.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The trial was over by noon of the third day. The judge told the jury that
it was time to decide on whether Robert Charles was guilty or innocent.
They went into the jury room. Each juror had five mintues to say how they
felt, although no one was required to speak openly . The deliberation was
short and the ballots were cast. Guitly by unanimous vote.

When the judge read the verdict Robert Charles didn't flinch or say
anything. The judge said he would give the sentence after the trial of the
two Shkah raiders was over.

The boys left the courtroom thinking about how far Robert Charles had gone
downhill. On the "Starkeeper" he had everything. Now he was down to
nothing. He knew was he wasn't going to die, since the Hakaanen didn't have
the death penalty. His life was ruined though. He was never going to have
the power and leadership he wanted.

Matthew, for one, didn't care what happened to Robert Charles. He
remembered the sex on the "Starkeeper". He remembered somebody pulling out
the tent pole in the wind storm. He remembered Drew's fears after RC
threatened him with a knife. Whatever RC got, he deserved.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


Douglas, Scooter, Mike, and Alex opened the door to the hangar. A man was
waiting for them inside. He introduced himself to the boys, telling them
his name was Petras. Douglas figured he was probably in his forties, but it
was hard to tell with Hakaan because they often looked younger than they
really were. Douglas knew that he was the man who took care of the
shuttles.

He took them up the stairs and on board the shuttle. He told them how he
kept the shuttle in perfect flying condition, but that it hadn't been out of
the hangar in 25 years.

"Is there fuel for it?" Alex asked.

"In an underground tank. Enough for probably ten trips into space and
back."

"Why hasn't anybody flown it?"

"No reason to. What is there to fly up to? The two moons?"

"The starship," Mike said.

"No reason to do that either. We got a broadcast from the starship. It was
an automatic signal. It told about the epidemic on Hakaan. It said no
other ships would come until a cure was found, and we should never try to
go to the ship or we would get the disease and spread it. So we never have
gone to it."

"Not even to fly up and look at it from the outside?"

"No." Petras thought a bit and then said, "You should have seen this place
25 years ago. A freighter would come and it would land its shuttles for two
or three days straight bringing in freight. Sometimes two would be here at
the same time, and it would be constant landings and taking off. When a
passenger starship came we would use its shuttles plus our two shuttles to
bring new colonists down, plus some visitors. We would get four or five
hundred new colonists. New farms would be started. We'd send food back to
the home planet. We were starting our own industries. We even had started
to build a new colony in a valley across the great desert. Now that's all
done. We just survive and use the parts of machines we don't need to fix
the machines we do need. Life is going backwards."

Everybody stood looking out of the windows after Petras finished his speech.
Finally Alex said, "It looks like somebody needs to go back to Hakaan
then."

"How? The starship is out of fuel. And nobody knows how to pilot it."

"Somebody here must know something about flying the shuttle and the
starship."

Well," Petras said, "Roobine used to fly this shuttle. He owns a supply
store in the west valley now. And the Chief Engineer of the Building of
Life was a Chief Engineer on a star freighter. He decided he wanted to
settle down and live here instead. So he knows starships. I don't think he
could fly one though. But he would know how to get the one up there started
if it had fuel."

Alex got Petras to agree to arrange a meeting with Roobine soon about how to
fly the shuttle.

"You guys are serious, aren't you? You plan to fly this back into space,
don't you?"

"Hell yes, we are," Alex said.

"But what do you have planned once you get into space?"

This time it was Douglas's turn. "I guess we'll find out when we get up
there."

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


The boys all met at Kallama's house that night. Enghar came with Matthew.
Douglas told them this may be the only chance for them to go home and that
they needed to see for themselves if the starship couldn't make it back,
rather than take the Hakaanen's word for it. They had never actually
inspected the starship, so they didn't really know what the fuel situation
was. They took a vote whether to keep going from here. It was unanimous
to continue. Enghar felt a sudden sadness when Matthew's hand went up with
the yes voters. He could already see his Meshanna was thinking of home.
Suddenly he wondered if he made a mistake in picking his Meshanna. He tried
to shake the thought out of his head. It was impossible to make a mistake
picking a Meshanna. He'd been taught that his whole life, but nobody had
ever thought about an alien becoming a Meshanna. Maybe in that case it was
possible to make a mistake.

It was decided Alex would be in charge of the project, and they would start
tomorrow.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The next day Alex, Stevie, Mike, Douglas, Scooter, and Jim went to the
hangar. They met with Petras. He told them Roobine would be there soon.
They went up into the shuttle. Alex sat in the pilot's seat and looked at
the instrument panel. He felt excited, he was ready to fly again, ready to
take his friends back home.

He heard somebody come into the shuttle. It was a man who looked around
fifty. He introduced himself as Roobine, and said he used to be a shuttle
pilot. Petras had told the boys Roobine would answer questions and help,
but that he didn't want to fly any more.

Right away Alex started hitting him up with questions about the shuttle.
Alex, Stevie, and Scooter sat in the cockpit learning about the instruments
and about the shuttle. Alex marked the panel since everything was in Hakaan
letters and numbers. He took exhaustive notes. They stopped for lunch and
then went over more.

When they were done, Alex asked Roobine, "Do you want to fly it?" He wanted
to hear from Roobine himself what he wanted to do.

"No. I'm too old and slow now."

"But you have experience. You know what it will do." Alex wanted to fly,
but even more he wanted to be sure everybody got into space safely. He
remembered his landing, which was a lot like landing an airplane, if it was
done correctly. But a shuttle took off much differently than an airplane,
and the one time he'd done that kind of take off he was just another
passenger.

"No. It's been twenty-five years. And I don't want to go back into space."

"You could at least ride with us the first time. Sit in the cockpit and
help us."

Roobine shook his head no. He had promised himself he would never return to
space. There was no reason to. "I can't do it. I'm very sorry."

"Please," Alex pleaded. "We need to go up there first as a test trip. Just
go with us on the first trip. I won't ask again, I promise."

Roobine looked at Alex and the other boys. He knew what the round ears had
done for the big valley, and he knew how badly they wanted to get back home.
He also knew that stubborn promises were made to be broken. He took a
deep breath.

"Okay. Just the first trip. But I won't fly it."

"Yessssssss," Alex said. "Thank you. Thank you very much! When do we go?"

"We can have the shuttle fueled and ready to go tomorrow," Petras said.

"Then tomorrow it is," Roobine said. "As long as I'm here we might as well
go."

The boys smiled. They were at least going to have a chance to see if they
could go home.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

That night Alex and Stevie played at a club in the center of town. The club
was packed to hear the kind of music they had played at Jordan's ceremony.
The Hakaanen loved the new beats and sounds they came up with. The club was
sold out, and Alex and Stevie were at their best, playing and singing. The
Hakaanen didn't understand the words, but they loved the music.

It was late when Alex and Stevie got home. They cuddled up in bed together.
Mike and Jim were already asleep, cuddle up in Mike's bed. Alex smiled
thinking of getting the chance to fly again. Stevie and Alex fell right to
sleep. Tomorrow was going to come very early.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The next morning the first news the boys heard was that the two Shkah boys
who had run from the shooting had been found. They were locked up now while
the Hakaanen tried to figure out what to do with them.

All of the boys went to the airport, but only Scooter, Alex and Stevie were
going to fly. Stevie was going to be Alex's copilot, since they knew each
other best and Stevie had a natural aptitude with electronic things. Also,
he had flown some on Earth. Scooter was needed to translate between the
pilots and Roobine. Douglas wanted to go, but knew he was needed more on
the planet. This was only a test trip, and it would be his job to coordinate
things down here. He was going to miss Scooter terribly, even for the short
trip. He was worried. Even with an experienced pilot with them, the
shuttle hadn't flown for 25 years and Alex had never flown one like it.

>From a distance they could see the great tail of the shuttle towering up
above the old terminal building. They didn't realize how large it was.
They turned the corner of the terminal and saw the great wings were
unfolded, making the shuttle look even bigger.

Alex and Stevie saw Roobine waiting for them. They started toward the steps
leading up to the shuttle's door. Mike grabbed Alex and stopped him.

"You aren't going without me, love," he said with a smile.

"Mike, we've been through this. You can't do a thing to help and it's going
to be dangerous."

"I don't care. I can sit in a passenger seat. I want to be with you when
you make the galaxy's smoothest landing."

Alex smiled at his friend and his love. "Well, be sure your seat belt is
buckled."

Mike smiled and followed the crew up the stairs. Jim came running up after
them.

"If you are going to stowaway, I better do it too. No use your sitting
alone in the passenger cabin."

Mike sat by a window and Jim sat at a window seat across the aisle from him.
Alex, Stevie, and Roobine were in the cockpit. Petras was aboard to help
with any technical problems that might come up. The shuttle had been towed
to the terminal, but Petras knew the rocket engines worked because he
started them once a month and taxied the shuttle up and down the runway. He
had kept the ship in excellent condition. For what he wasn't quite sure,
since he knew some day it would have to be cannibalized too.

Alex started the engines, and for the first time in twenty-five years, the
shuttle was going to take off into space. He was in the pilot's seat,
Stevie was in the copilot's seat, and Roobine and Scooter were sitting
behind them. The engines purred smoothly. Alex released the brakes and the
shuttle jerked forward.

"Watch the throttle. Ease up," Roobine said.

Alex eased up some, getting a feel for them, and started taxiing north up
the runway. When he got to the end he carefully turned it on to the runway
until it was facing south.

Alex went over the takeoff checklist with Stevie and Roobine. That took
them almost fifteen minutes, because everything had to be translated by
Scooter. Alex knew that without Roobine with them it would have taken a
couple of weeks to get to this point. He wished the simulator was still
working so they could have practiced, but it had been dismantled for parts
years ago.

Alex looked back at Roobine. "Thanks for being with us. You know we
couldn't do it without you. Why did you change your mind?"

"For that reason. Because you couldn't do it without me. And you will
after this one time. I think you will find nothing up there, but I think
you need to find that out for yourselves, or you will never be happy on our
planet. We want you to be totally happy with us. You won't be if you never
tried to return to your own home."

"So you did it all for us? Not just because you wanted to back into space
at all?"

Roobine said nothing. He looked straight ahead through the windshield.
Alex went back to the checklist. Roobine told him again what was going to
happen. It was going to be fast, and while Alex had lots of room flying
south, he needed to gain altitude fast to get over the hills at the south
end of the valley. Alex could feel his heart starting to beat hard. Sweat
was dripping down his face. Up to this point he had felt really confident.
Now the runway was looking too short and the hills and mountains to the
south seemed to be an awful lot closer. His hands started sweating. He
wished he was back in the club playing music.

"Well, are you going to move, or are you going to just stare out of the
window?" Stevie asked.

"Sorry," Alex said. Leave it to Stevie to wake me up, he thought. I
couldn't have a better brother. The control tower had been closed for
years. There were only two flyers and they were both on the ground, so the
air was clear. Alex could go whenever he was ready.

He listened as Roobine gave him instructions one more time. He pulled the
throttle back and the shuttle started down the runway. Roobine had told him
how far to pull it. The shuttle picked up speed. Alex pulled it back
farther. They were pushed against the seat. The runway went flying by.
The engines roared and for the first time in twenty-five years the shuttle
left the ground. Roobine told Alex to climb quickly. He did and they
cleared the mountains with plenty of room to spare.

Douglas felt his heart pounding as he watched the shuttle start down the
runway with a loud roar. The boys cheered as the wheels left the ground.
They watched it head down the valley, climbing up over the mountains,
climbing high into the bright blue sky. Even Enghar found himself yelling.

Alex was working hard keeping the shuttle flying straight and level. The
sweat was pouring down his face.

"You're doing great," Roobine said. "Keep your climb steady. We're getting
close to the launch point."

The shuttle's climb got steeper. Mike and Jim were both looking out their
windows watching the ground drop away fast. They knew if this shuttle flew
like the Earth shuttles it would soon be pointing straight up and the main
rockets would kick in, shooting it up into space.

Alex's face was soaked with sweat. He was concentrating hard looking at the
instruments, watching for the launch point time. He knew that Stevie and
Roobine were keeping a close watch too. He kept fighting off memories of
the "Moonduster." Memories of a damaged ship flying around mountains,
almost out of control, falling with a crash into the desert. He felt fear
as he wondered if he was really a good enough pilot to fly a ship like this.
How can a sixteen year old boy expect to fly and safely land a machine
like this? He shook the ideas out of his head, and wiped the sweat off his
face.

"Watch the second gauge. When the arrow hits the green mark it's time,"
Roobine reminded him. Alex knew that and wished Roobine didn't tell him
everything. But he knew it was better than missing things by him saying
nothing.

The arrow hit the green mark. "LAUNCH TIME!" Stevie and Roobine yelled
together. Roobine said it in English. Scooter had taught him the words
before they got on board.

Alex pushed the throttle all the way forward and pulled back on the yoke,
while Stevie hit the switch igniting the main rockets. For having only
talked about it and dummied it, their timing was pretty good. Everybody was
thrust back in their seats by the massive acceleration of the shuttle. The
shuttle was pointing straight up in the air. The rockets roared sending it
shooting up out of the atmosphere. Alex had been amazed the Hakaan had come
up with almost the same system the Earth shuttles had. The first shuttles
needed booster rockets, but more efficient fuel and engines made it so that
a shuttle could launch itself and still have fuel to land.

Smoke and flame poured out of the back as the shuttle kept climbing. Even
though it was a long way from them, the boys on the ground could see the
trail of smoke rising up into the air. Soon the shuttle was completely out
of their sight, and all they could do was wait for it to return.

Mike and Jim saw the sky darkening outside their windows, and then they saw
the stars shining brighter than in any sky. They were in space.

In the cockpit Alex finally relaxed. He cut the main booster rockets while
Roobine helped him put the shuttle into an orbit. They worked to locate the
starship. Alex did some calculating, with Scooter double checking him.
They had the figures from the observatory on a mountain at the North end of
the valley. Stevie put the figures into the computer and soon Alex had the
shuttle moving in the right direction.

The starship came into view. It was quite large, not as big as the
"Starkeeper", but still pretty big. No lights blinking. It was completely
dark, a big back form orbiting Inferno. In three more months it would
become a fiery ball streaking through Inferno's atmosphere. Jim and Mike
were both sitting on the same side now. They saw the ship, then looked down
at the planet trying to find the big valley. As big as it was, it was hard
to see from space.

Alex slowed the starship down. They looked at the huge dark ship.

"Well, we found it," Alex said. "Next trip we dock with it and go in.
Let's dock this time while we have Roobine with us. We just won't go in."
They knew they would need space suits to go into the starship.

Down on the ground, Douglas listened on the radio as Scooter described
finding the starship and told them they planned to do a practice docking.
He felt a rush of happiness knowing that the starship appeared to be
undamaged and whole.

Roobine gave Alex instructions on docking. Alex maneuvered the shuttle
close to the starship. He folded the great wings, so they were tucked under
the belly of the shuttle. Alex moved the shuttle to the side of the
starship and aligned it with the docking target. He eased it in closer and
closer.

"Not too fast now," Roobine said. "Ease it in gently. You don't want to
damage either ship. Nice and easy. Nice and easy."

Alex hit the side rockets and slowed it even more. Mike and Jim watched as
the starship got bigger and bigger in the windows. Alex was within a few
feet of it when Roobine told him to stop. Alex did. He then gave two light
taps to the side rockets, there was a gentle bump, and they were docked.

"Excellent," Roobine said. "Excellent work Alex. I flew shuttles for ten
years and couldn't have done it better."

They stayed docked for an hour while they all used the bathroom, ate, and
rested. Roobine showed them how to set the docking clamps. After the hour
they released the clamps and drifted away from the starship. Next time they
would go inside, but they wouldn't have Roobine with them, although he
promised to be on the radio ready to help.

Alex started the shuttle back towards the atmosphere of Inferno. He
remembered starting the "Moonduster" in the same direction, not knowing what
angle to take. That time he had been the pilot of a crippled ship, fighting
to help his friends survive. He had been inexperienced and scared. He knew
that he had to be within four degrees of the proper entry angle; too steep,
and they would incinerate in the atmosphere; too shallow, and they would
skip helplessly off into space. This time he had an expert pilot with him,
he didn't have Robert Charles in the copilot's seat, he didn't have a
shipload of unhappy, lost, lonely boys, and he had a shuttle in perfect
condition.

The coordinates were put into the computer and the shuttle glided into the
atmosphere. It shook some, but Roobine told Alex his angle was perfect.
Soon Alex caught the homing signal and followed it as it led him towards the
big valley. Stevie was going through the landing checklist with him. He
could now see the valley ahead. Their descent brought them over the
mountains, the small valley, the north hills, then over the big valley.
Alex lowered the wheels as they approached the airport. The wings dipped
suddenly in the wind, but Alex got it straight again. He remembered the
wild crash-landing of the "Moonduster" He never realized how much that
landing had affected him, and how much he wanted a perfect landing now.
They glided over the tree tops, over a field, and over the end of the
runway, the wheels touching and holding to the concrete as Alex hit the
brakes and the reverse thrusters. The shuttle slowed down, and Alex taxied
it to the terminal, stopped it, and shut down the engines.

The stairs were rolled up to the shuttle. Mike, Jim, and Scooter got off
first. Then came Petras, followed by Stevie and Roobine. And lastly came
Alex. As he got out of the shuttle and started down the stairs all the boys
applauded and yelled and cheered for him. As Alex got to the bottom of the
steps, Matthew came hobbling up to him. He had a wreath of flowers, which
he put over Alex's head and around his neck. Alex leaned down and kissed
Matthew, the boy who had gotten so badly hurt in the crash of the
"Moonduster", the sweet boy who they all loved so very much. Suddenly Alex
felt as though a thousand pound weigh had come off him. His last landing
had not been a crash, but one that was perfect. He was ready to fly all of
them to the farthest corner of the galaxy. He had no doubt he could to it.

Mike walked up to him. "Nice landing, love."

"Must have been," Alex said with a smile. "Everybody walked away."

NEXT: CHAPTER 42 The "Jordan M. Paxton"


Constructive comments are welcomed. E-mail me, Douglas DD, at
TheHakaanen@Hotmail.com

 

 

 

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