After a few more hours under way, Ribald was at home on the boat. It was nice to have someone else to take watch for a while, and I took the opportunity to get a decent sleep. I’d been down for several hours, when I felt a hand on my shoulder, shaking me awake.
“There’s something on the radar,” Ribald said. “About twenty miles out.”
I rolled out of my berth and clambered up to the cockpit. I squinted at the screen then looked at the time. “That’s probably your ride,” I said.
We sat quietly, watching the waves lift Lucky Lady’s stern and roll under us. “This is really very pleasant, once you get used to it,” he said, eventually. I just smiled. “You know,” he said, looking up at me, “if you ever want a trip up to the stars, just drop me a line.”
“You’re going to build another ship?” I asked.
“The project has a life of its own, now,” he said. “It’s not just about me anymore.” He leaned back over the rail, looking up at the darkening sky. “Besides,” he said, “they haven’t stopped calling to me.” He looked back at me. “Maybe I ought to give the next one a more auspicious name, though. Major Tom didn’t really have the most successful trip either.”
I laughed. “You have anything in mind?”
“I’m sure I’ll come up with something,” he said.
The Navy boat got within a mile of our position, and I hove to. I found an old ditty bag for Ribald’s sodden spacesuit, and gave him my card. He promised that if I could arrange a mailing address he’d send me back my clothes, and I laughed. “I don’t really need pyjamas and a too-big sweater in the South Seas,” I said.
“You won’t always be in the islands,” he said, and I nodded. “It’s just an excuse to stay in touch,” he added. The Navy had launched a boat, and the inflatable was speeding toward us, its red and green lights bright against the darkness of the sea. Ribald stuck out his hand, and I took it. We shook, then he pulled me toward him for a brief hug.
“I don’t know how to thank you,” he said, looking away.
“You don’t owe me anything,” I said. “Just don’t give up on answering that call.”
The Navy boat pulled alongside, and Ribald climbed to the rail. The Navy men helped him into the inflatable, and I passed down the bag with his suit. One of the boatsmen noticed the name on my hull, and said, “Looks like he’s the lucky one today, ma’am.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Thanks for making the detour.”
“Glad we could help,” the Navy man said. “You the captain?” he asked, and I told him I was. “Nice work here,” he said.
Ribald looked up at me. “Don’t forget my offer,” he said. “I might need crew someday, on my next ship.”
“I won’t forget,” I said. “I owe you a stint on watch, anyway.” We shared a brief smile, then the Navy inflatable fired up its motors. “Nice to meet you, Pete,” I said, loudly, over the noise.
“Likewise, Captain Kate.”
The Navy boat turned and sped away. I watched as they reached the mothership and cargo and crew were loaded aboard. I waited until I saw them turn toward land before I spun the wheel, eased the sheets, and got back on course.
© M. Darusha Wehm
Image: “Rocket Firefall” by Steve Jurvetson