“Cabin lockdowns engaged,” Mom said out loud. Terence took a deep breath. He could hear Alissa’s indrawn breath and a gasp as she found that she was as immobilized as he was.
“I didn’t want that!” She snapped. “Mom, I don’t like this!”
“You insisted on coming. If you cannot abide then we will abort and…”
“I’m all right!” She whined. “I just don’t like it.”
He closed his eyes.
“All ready, Mom.” He said. They’d gone over every possible variation in miniature before. The time to do this, the attempt on Station, was now. Agador’s bubble of code was on the moon. They’d be able to aim for that.
Once they were actually up and stationary, they would be able to tiptoe around Station and see if Alissa’s codes were still valid. There was no way to tell, from the planetary surface, except through Xanadu, whether the ancient old codes had been changed. Prime tended not to change things very often, even when presented with compelling reason to.
“If Station hasn’t been manned since I left,” Terry said, as Mom scuttled out to the canyon rim, above and away from the reservoirs. “Then they’ll be behind in updates from outside. That might be our chance.”
“Prepare for launch.” The screen Mom called up showed them the edge of the canyon and the whole flock of FireDrakes, grey-blue and each with a corona of heat and white fire, flickering with every slow wingbeat. The sling they held looked far too gossamer to hold Mom’s weight, though he knew that it was much stronger than it looked. Like stone-spider webs, Hara had said. “It’s hard as rock but not brittle at all.” Terry found that even in Mom his hindbrain wasn’t listening and he’d broken out into a sweat. This wasn’t like a shuttle where you walked on, put your bag into the clips under your seat, locked your own harness, then sat back and let the pilot and the machine take you down as smoothly and calmly as if you were in an elevator.
“We’re ready, Mom.” Alissa swallowed loudly enough for him to hear.
Mom crouched, then leapt, flung herself out into the netting that Eight, Fifty-three and Four were all supporting, with brand new feet. Eight kept accidentally ripping his off because he didn’t want to fold them out of sight, but he’d promised to be careful of these.
Her leap was at least as impressive as when she’d arrowed in to land with a screeching crunch on the stone column under the city. One of the boys had either jumped or fallen and she’d caught him with one limb as he hurtled past her. Every other street rat had, very sensibly, gone completely still. Mom had opened her hatch, tucked the rescued boy inside and anesthetized him, while Kyrus and Terry had stepped inside under their own power.
The rest of the rats were gathered up just as easily, though they stank of incontinence. Emilien had been last, and Kyrus had let go the rock pinning his arm. He’d jumped rather than tamely get rounded up like the rest of his boys, and had been caught and shut down as well.
Mom landed in the net, curled into a ball and rolled around for a few moments, even her internal dampers not able to keep Terry and Alissa from being shaken up.
*Catch made, * One said. *Gaining altitude. *
Rather than row up into the atmosphere with their wings, they folded them and locked straight, their scales going from a mild rumble to a full out roar as they fought both friction and gravity. *500 metres* … *5 kilometres* *10 kilometres*
The sound grew thin and faint as they rose out of the air. “I don’t like this,” Alissa said, in a whisper. “I don’t like trusting other people. They’re too unpredictable.”
“Don’t worry on that account, princess,” Terry said, using his own word rather than the Lainz. “You’re trusting machines and their precision.”
“Oh, that’s all right then.” She didn’t sound terribly reassured but looked less green.
*Coming up on snap* Mom and One said, simultaneously. There was no way they could brace themselves any more than they were. Terry closed his eyes then popped them open. He had to see.
The FireDrakes began their spin, up here at the very limit of where they could go, the outer edge of atmosphere where their scales would burn, and the long, strand of net began its enormous swing.
Terry could hear his breath thundering in his ears. If anything broke here there were hundreds of ways it could go horribly wrong. Horribly wrong in ways that neither Mom, nor the FireDrakes could save them from.
*SNAP* The Drakes announced, and the sling snapped open, spinning Mom up an out of the atmosphere, perfectly on trajectory to the Moon.
Things went from wild to completely silent, and completely smooth. *We now have two point four five days before we will be caught in the moon’s gravity * Mom said. *On track*