I went back up to the cockpit, and saw that the man was coming around. He was sitting up, and covering himself with the blanket. He looked up at me shyly, and I smiled and pointed at the clothes. I turned my back, and heard him get dressed. Before I turned around again, I heard a soft but surprisingly strong voice say, “Before I forget, thank you.”
I turned and smiled. “You’re welcome. Let’s get a nice cup of tea into you, and there’s some fish stew on the stove. Caught only yesterday.” I helped him down the companionway steps and sat him at the small salon table. I put the kettle on, and got a small bowl. I opened the lid of the pot, and the aroma of tarragon, fish and cream filled the boat.
“I don’t really…” the man mumbled a protest, as I ladled a spoonful of the chowder into the bowl.
“Anything you don’t eat can just go back in the pot,” I said, setting the bowl and a spoon in front of him, and going back to the galley to organize the tea things. I let him alone, and when I returned with mugs of tea for us both, his bowl was empty.
“So,” I said, after we’d both had sips of tea. “Peter Ribald, I presume?”
“Guilty,” he said, smiling slightly.
“I’m Kate Mulgawwy, and you’re on Lucky Lady. I guess that’s the Major Tom out there,” I waved my hand vaguely in the direction of the wreckage.
“What’s left of it,” Ribald said, looking into the dregs of the soup bowl.
“More stew?” I asked, and he nodded. I ladled out another bowlful, and one for myself. As we sat across from each other, eating, I asked, “So, what happened?”
“A problem with re-entry,” he said. “Or maybe just with the splashdown, it’s hard to say. It all happened so fast. The ocean landing was as per spec, but the craft wasn’t supposed to break apart on impact. It’s a good thing we included the inner pod, or that would have been it.”
“You must have some kind of positioning beacon, right?” I asked.
He nodded. “The ship, the pod and my suit are all wired. I don’t know if any of them are firing, though.” He looked at me through salty eyelashes. “It’s a good thing you were there. So, what happens now,” he asked. “Can you just take me into shore somewhere? Where are we, anyway?”
I gave him the general idea of our location, then said, “I’m at least four days out of the nearest port. Once I get these dishes squared away, we’ll head off toward shore. But I bet we can find someone faster to come pick you up.” I looked at my brass ship’s clock. “There’s a radio net in a bit; I’ll call in and we’ll see what we can do.”
He stayed seated at the salon table while I stowed our bowls. I told him about calling Angus, including his put upon attitude. “Some people just don’t get it,” I said.
“No,” Ribald agreed. “They don’t. But give me his address. I’ll see to it that he gets a nice thank you card,” Ribald said, smiling. When I’d cleared the galley, we both went up to the cockpit, and he watched as I turned us off the wind and eased the sails. We gybed and I pulled the sheets in a little as we headed off back the way I’d come. I engaged the self steering again, and sat down across from Ribald.
The motion of the seas was low and mild, but Ribald hadn’t had the four days — or the decade of sailing — I’d had to become accustomed to it. He looked a little shaky, but kept his eyes on the horizon. I let him be, but was watching for any signs of imminent seasickness. After about a half hour, I guessed that he was going to be fine.
“So, it’s just you out here?” he asked, eventually.
“This time,” I said. “Sometimes I’ve got crew, a friend or two along for the ride. But usually it’s just me and the Lady and the ocean.”
“Isn’t that dangerous?” he asked.
I laughed. “Coming from the man who fell from space, that’s a bit rich,” I said and he smiled. “Sure, a big crew makes some things easier, but you can’t beat the freedom of being solo. And I’m not entirely alone.”
Ribald looked around the small boat, and raised an eyebrow. I smiled. “I’m alone onboard,” I clarified, “but I couldn’t do it by myself. Angus takes care of a lot for me, even if he does seem to begrudge every second. And there are other sailors I talk to on the radio and in port — we help each other a lot out here. I’ve never felt lonely or stranded. Besides, it’s actually a lot safer out here than people think it is. The danger come from ships and shore; out in the open it’s usually safe as houses.” I took a sip of tea. “What about you?” I asked. “Space? That’s about as alone as you can get, isn’t it?”
He sighed. “All the media ever wants to talk about is the first solo spaceflight by an amateur,” he said. “As if there’s only me and Major Tom,” Ribald said. “But flying is the extent of the solo part of the endeavour. I have a huge team behind me, not just building the craft, but navigation and ground control, too. And there’s plenty of potential for the project down the road. I might be the first, but I surely won’t be the last solo space flyer, not by a long shot.” He sipped his tea. “Being the money man behind the project has its advantages, though.”
“You get to be the name in the history books,” I said. He smiled and nodded. “Still,” I continued, “the first singlehanded private spaceflight has to be some kind of adrenaline rush.”
He smiled. “It’s exciting for sure, but I don’t know about a rush. Take off is a thrill and the crash was certainly a heart thumper, but once you’re up there, it’s something else, you know?” I nodded. “People picture a rocket and all they think of is the speed,” he continued. “That’s not the important part for me. I’ve never gone skydiving or bungee jumping or any of that stuff. I don’t see the appeal. But being in space is different.” He sipped from his cup, and gingerly moved closer to the rail to look out at the sky. A thin sliver of moon was already rising in the blue sky. “I know it sounds stupid, but they call to me. The stars.”
“It doesn’t sound stupid,” I said. We were both silent for awhile. “The sea is different, too,” I said.
He looked at me and smiled. We sat together looking at the horizon, the slight whoosh of the waves under Lucky Lady’s keel the only sound until the ship’s clock chimed the hour.