" Daniel shook his head. She had on some simple shoes that gave her a little more height. The dress cut off just below her knees. She had her hair flowing just of her shoulders. He pulled his eyes away as they boarded the shuttle.
"You look as great as always, not even a hair out of place." Daniel sat down and fastened the seat harness. "Let’s just hope Mom didn’t need dad to help out cooking. He tends to forget and burn things. Or undercooks them thinking they will burn."

Cynthia laughed, "maybe you should give him cooking lessons," she joked. They started laughing and then started talking about the day and the week at school. The session was actually going well. Testing every week had them at the top of the class. Professor Kingston even asked if they could stay and help with the lab class when they finished. Daniel didn’t want to but Cynthia made a face at him. She always jumped at the chance to help and do things for just about anyone. When Daniel didn’t, she would harass him until he gave in. She often pointed out that if more people helped when they had the chance then life would be vastly different. Her good nature added more work on their already busy days. The librarian had opened up three of the study rooms for them since the number of kids join their study time increased.

Their flight was over an hour and a half. Neither of them had brought any schoolbooks to read or anything for that matter. Instead, they just sat and talked. When they arrived, Daniel led the way. She was a little surprised when he made a stop at a shop to buy some fresh baked bread. It wasn’t very cheap, ten credits for the loaf. Daniel had turned around and seen the look on face when he paid.

"Both my parents love the taste of fresh bread. My mother has made it a few times but the cost of the ingredients to makes it difficult to do often." He reached down and took her hand before he started walking again. "She thinks it’s some conspiracy that the prices are so high. I gave her the credits to buy everything, and explained why it was so high but she insists that she will wait for prices that are more reasonable. So now, I just bring the bread. She’ll complain about it, tell me silly and not to waste credits. She’ll even say the only reason she will eat it is so it doesn’t go to waste." Cynthia was staring her mouth open unsure what to say. "From that look you agree with her." Daniel grinned and waved the bread under her nose. "Credits are meant to be spent. May as well spend them on something you’re going to enjoy."

They were laughing when Daniel brought them up to the housing level and stopped at the apartment door. "This is it."

Cynthia nodded and squeezed his hand as a wash of nervousness ran through her.

Daniel looked into her face and smiled. He opened his mouth but shook it off and started for the door. Cynthia pulled him back. "What?"

"Nothing I was just, …. it’s nothing."

"Daniel I thought we were past this. You have to learn.."

He didn’t let her finish as he pulled her tightly and kissed her on the lips. He leaned into the kiss drawing her as close as he could. It lasted less than a minute before he pulled back. "Just in case I don’t get another chance," he said as he pulled away and opened the door, before she could react. He didn’t even give her time to let the blush fade from her cheeks. She was smiling as she came into the door and her jaw dropped. Sitting in the room they entered was her parents.

Daniel was shocked but recovered a little faster than Cynthia. "Mom, didn’t know we were having extra company tonight. I would have come early and helped out or brought more stuff."

His mother got up and crossed to them. "Well we didn’t want to add any more pressure to your two. We know how much work you been putting into the schoolwork and the extra that you’re doing with Captain Sims. But Daniel, you didn’t do her justice when you talked about her. She’s much prettier than your have been going on about."
A blushing Daniel frowned and moved so an equally blushing Cynthia could get past him. She went over and hugged both of her parents. "Mom, Dad this is Daniel, Daniel my mother and father."

Daniel looked sideways at his mother before stepping up and shaking both their hands. "Mr. and Mrs. Prieto, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Please accept my apologies that we have not met sooner. I am sorry if tonight has caused any inconvenience. If the session had not turned out as busy as it has I’m sure Cynthia would have made sure we met sooner."

Her mother laughed and gushed, "Very polite and a little chivalrous. I am impressed. I thought Cynthia was exaggerating. I didn’t think teenagers had those traits these days."
Daniel looked at Cynthia who was blushing even harder and avoiding looking directly at him. "Well then I better get the introductions away. Cynthia, my mother, Edna, my father, Benjamin. Mom dad this is Cynthia."

Cynthia smiled and came over. She didn’t just shake their hands but pulled them into short tight embrace. Daniel rolled his eyes and stepped away to the kitchen. "Mom is there anything you need help with? Anything we need?"

"Don’t be silly Daniel. We have everything under control." Cynthia’s mother said as she followed him in. "We brought a few things along. Your mother told me that you always bring a nice loaf of bread and we bought another just to be sure there’s enough. We even have a nice bottle of wine. Your mom said it would be a nice thing for your both to try. We would have brought over a nice brandy we have been saving but your mother wouldn’t have it."

"I insisted they save it," his mother added as she came in, Cynthia was right behind her. "This is a nice occasion but something like that should be for a special one. Now dinner is still cooking and you two need to go out of my kitchen," she looked at Cynthia as she stood over between her mother and Daniel. "You have been working hard all week and should sit relax." She pushed them back to the living room. "Maybe you should show Cynthia your room. You can show her those certifications you keep hiding. I put them up on your wall."

"I rather not, " he grumbled. "They’re not that important and I wish you would leave them where I put them. Maybe next time I’ll just incinerate them."
"Daniel Miller you will do no such thing. You should be proud to show them to people. They are proof I need when I tell everyone how smart my son is. You can’t deny a mother that."

His father nearly choked as he took a drink. "Yeah, smart, right. Maybe she can figure out how such a smart boy graduated only ninety-ninth. I think those test were a scam and we were taken."

His mother walked over and gently smacked his father in the head. "Don’t you say that. He’s a smart boy and you know it."

"Come on," Daniel sighed as their parents started laughing. They were still going on when Daniel opened the door to his room. "I took most things with me to the dorm so it’s a little sparse."

Cynthia went in and looked around. She laughed as she spun. "I would say it’s barren. It’s almost as if you weren’t planning on coming back here." She said as she sat on the bed. The room was small but it had everything that he would need growing up. There were some photos in a frame on the stand, most of his parents, some of animals and birds. She looked at the one wall and saw three framed documents. "So that’s your big secret, that you’re smart?" Daniel nodded with a groan. "Well," she stood," I already knew that mister smarty pants." She continued as she stepped over to the door and looked out. "I knew that the second day of classes. You shouldn’t correct professors so much, it’s a giveaway." She walked to him and wrapped her arms around him to see if it helped comfort him any.

Daniel let out a gasp as his heart rate jumped. He resisted the desire to hug her back as he pushed her away and towards the wall. "Take a closer look," he said as he left the room.

Cynthia took a few minutes smiling as she walked over and started reading each of the plaques. After the first one, she looked at where Daniel had been then read the other two. She didn’t know what to make of it. It did explain a lot. She didn’t see how this was as bad as he made it out to be. That is when she had a thought. Her eyes narrowed and her lips pursed she went out to find Daniel. Fortunately, for him, they were about ready to sit to eat.

The dinner went off without a hitch. They ate talked and the parents shared stories of days when the kids were younger. Cynthia had almost forgotten about the matter she wanted to discuss with Daniel. Everyone was talking in the living room when Cynthia’s parents decided it was time to go. They had just about enough time to make the next shuttle leaving.

"Mom, Dad give me a moment I need to talk to Daniel about something," Cynthia said as she started to pull Daniel to his room.

"We will talk more about this, but now I have one question and you better answer me straight out or so help me I will hit you where boys don’t want to be hit." She said in a hushed tone shutting the door. "How is it that a genius is partnered with me? My IQ scores were nowhere near that. How much did you have to dumb down?"

Daniel waited and took several deep breaths. "That’s actually two questions. Which is it you want me to answer?" he tried to sound serious and not amused at her effort. She looked deep in his eyes and her lips pursed as her knee rose. Daniel backed away holding his hands up in defense. "The university uses the IQ tests to see what classes will hold the best potential for students, what fields of study they will do best in. They use cerebral monitoring to ensure that students are doing their best on the tests. It shows them when students are guessing but can also show if they are intentionally making wrong choices. I didn’t hold anything back. You and I are assigned partners because of traits we each have help us counter and balance the other. IQ is just a small part of what they look at. We wouldn’t be working out as partners if that wasn’t the case. I’m not sure it would have worked with anyone else."

Cynthia studied him. She didn’t have long before he father was calling out to her. "Ok, smart boy, I’ll accept that for now." She said as she got in front of him and wrapped her arms around him. "Now Smart boy," she leaned in and kissed him slipping her tongue in his mouth as he slowly pulled in on her lower lip. "We will talk about this kissing thing when we have more time." Slightly out of breath, she pulled away and ran out the door.

Time was going by fast. It had been three weeks since the dinner. The only thing that changed was that both sets of parents had agreed that Daniel and Cynthia would go to one home or the other for dinner once a week. They were on week eight of Captain Sims’s training program and he had been giving over more of flight tasks to them. Daniel was seated in the pilot’s seat going over the preflight list. Cynthia was double-checking everything when the com chimed. For some reason it was voice only. Daniel frowned wondering if there was a comm issue but keyed the system to answer. "This is Daniel Miller, Captain Sims is not yet aboard. Is there a message you wish me to relay to him?"
"This is Captain Sims, Daniel. Tom and I are caught up in some bureaucratic nonsense. I can’t come to the shuttle for the flight. I need you and Cynthia to make the next two scheduled runs. I should be able to clear this up by the time you come back for the third runoff the day. You both have been doing great and can do this. It is no different from when I am there in the cockpit with you. Those passengers are relying on you to get them to their destination. One last thing. Remember the rule. No arguing of who is going to pilot. Both of you take a run.

Daniel looked at Cynthia who was brimming with excitement. "We don’t have a problem with doing the runs Captain. I’m sure flight control is having a hissy fit though. Isn’t there another pilot that can sit in with us?

"Unfortunately no there are no other pilots here. They are not happy but they also know they can’t cancel flights without a major problem. This is the better solution. This is what you have been training for after all. You know what to do and how your need to do it."

"Appreciate the confidence Captain. Take care of what you need to. We’ll give them a smooth ride."

"I know you will. Good luck both of you."

The call ended and they both went back to doing checks.

"Ladies and gentlemen please have a seat we will be departing shortly. Please refrain from eating or drinking as we exit the shuttle bay. You may resume doing so when we reach cruising speed. Thank your for using the shuttle service today and you all have a wonderful day." Daniel said as he opened the shuttles interior speakers.

Daniel started the engine and looked at the monitors as he saw every passenger seated and ready to depart. " Flight control this is shuttle four. All Flights systems are green. Request permission to depart."

"Shuttle four you are green for flight. Please be advised that station two is currently having technical difficulties with the moorings in the primary shuttle bay. You are cleared to alter normal route to station two and set for docking in the secondary bay, we are forwarding coordinates now. Smooth ride Mister Miller."

"Thank you flight, shuttle four out. We will catch you on the return."

Cynthia released the moorings and began planning the new route. Daniel slid his fingers over the controls and slowly eased the shuttle out of the launch bay. It was only a minor course correction to get them on course for station two. Daniel eased the thrusters up to power and they sped away. They both looked out the shuttle windows and watched for any possible debris that could cause damage. They did have sensory equipment but they liked the human touch as well.

It wasn’t until they reached station two that they had a problem. "Shuttle four to Station two flight control. We are inbound and on schedule. Station one has informed us that your having issues with the primary shuttle launch bay we are on course for the given coordinates for the secondary. Request clearance." Daniel watched his controls and started to slow to docking speed.

"Shuttle four we have blockage in the secondary. You are directed to use the hard dock. Alter course to the coordinates that follow. You will be using the secondary port. Your passengers will be directed from there. All out going passengers are already being directed to the waiting area."

Daniel looked at the transmitted corrections and then at Cynthia. "If they are going to be making more shuttles and adding more traffic they better hurry up and increase bay sizes. This could cause a problem all day." Cynthia just nodded and started to set the shuttle for a hard dock. Daniel keyed the internal communications. " Ladies and gentlemen Station two is currently experience some technical difficulties. We will be using a secondary method to dock at the station. For those of you that have not had this experience, this procedure requires that we dock outside the station. The shuttle will be attached and a gangplank extended. As you exit the shuttle keep your hands on the rail at all times until you reach the other side. You may experience some gravity loss so please secure all personal objects before crossing. There will be station staff to help you through if needed. On behalf of the station, I offer apologies for any inconveniences this causes. Have a better day."

A hard dock actually would take both of them at the controls. Daniel monitored the station’s rotation while keeping the thrusters firing without cutting off completely. Cynthia had maneuvering controls and had to line the docking port with the shuttles hatchway.

"Daniel, ease back on the thrust I can’t get a lock," Cynthia told him as she let her fingers move over several controls.

"Okay, we are matching the Stations rotational speed, I take over the vertical thrusters while concentrate on the horizontal. It took a few extra minutes but Cynthia finally guided the hatchway in lined up Daniel sent out the moorings and locked and secured the position. Cynthia locked on the gangplanks outer seal and started the decompression. Once they had a green light for a complete seal, Cynthia stood. "I’ll help from this side. It’s early so we shouldn’t have many coming aboard. Think you can handle this by yourself Smart Boy?"

Daniel groaned at the nickname she started to use. "Maybe I should just leave you here." He grumbled as he began checking all the equipment.

"Breakfast with mom and dad does sound good but then I think you’d miss me to much. I couldn’t have it on my conscience if you crashed this thing thinking of me." She smiled and caressed his cheek as she walked by him.

Daniel didn’t bother to watch her go. He had his attention where it was supposed to be, on the shuttle monitors. The thrusters were off and the shuttle was secured but he had an uneasy feeling about this kind of docking. It was so seldom used to connect to a station. Every station had a main shuttle bay and a backup. The odds were against them both being out at the same time. The hard docks on any station were reserved for used in emergency evacuation. They were more readily used on the mining asteroids where space was limited.

Daniel watched the passenger cabin monitor and saw the passengers start to board. "All passengers are aboard Daniel. I’ll seal the gangway from here ."Cynthia called from the cabin. Daniel nodded even though she couldn’t see and watched the monitor controls for the gangway. Once it was locked back in place the hatch sealed. Daniel gave the passengers the same message as he did on station one.

"Shuttle four to station two flight control. We are loaded and all shows green. Request approval for departure." Daniel was saying as Cynthia got back to her seat.
"Flight control to shuttle four, excellent job on the docking. Passengers have already stopped to relay their compliments. They didn’t feel anything unusual."
"That was the plan flight. No need to agitate them any more than necessary," Daniel replied.

"Well you succeeded Mister Miller. You are cleared to depart for station three, way looks clear and you are on schedule."

"Thank you flight, shuttle four out."

Everything went as it should for the rest of the flight. They even stopped for a moment of silence at the Station Five memorial. The explosion that destroyed it was before either Daniel or Cynthia was born, but as they watched the passengers, several bowed their head. Every flight made this stop, so those that did have memories of it could have that moment. Daniel looked the other way, at the Earth, two hundred fifty thousand miles away. It was a beautiful site that many didn’t notice anymore. He often suspected it was like the moon in the days before humanity left Earth, thought of in pome, song and minds of scientists.

There stop was over way to soon in Daniels opinion. They had to go to Station Six. It was built with the debris of station five, and expanded to accommodate the loss. It was financed by business and private funds. It was to be a refining station but it turned out to be more. Every kind of market was built there. If it was bought and sold, there was a place to find it on station six. Working on the station meant living there, and the corporations didn’t make it cheap. Since they paid most of the bill to build it, the corporations were allowed to make their own rules for the people that lived and worked there. Some of them not very pleasant. Slavery among other things was a common practice. It made Daniel cringe each time he was even near the place.

When they finally came around again to Station One Daniel got up and stretched. Cynthia got up with him and just as he was putting his arms down she moved in letting his arms fall over her shoulders. She kissed him softly and then a little more. With her arms around his back, she tightened the embrace and felt his arms do the same. "Careful I might start to think that you like me or something," Daniel laid his head on her shoulder and whispered in her ear. He liked the way she trembled.
"Like you?" she feigned a little shock as she pulled away. "Only in your dreams smart boy. You’re lucky I even associate with you at all let alone touch me."
Daniel gasped hiding a grin, "Why I never, fine if that’s how you feel," he turned in her arms and pulled as he stepped backwards. Cynthia lunged at him. "Idiot smarty pants." She mumbled.

Daniel held her another minute before kissing her forehead and pushing her away. "You have some flight checks to start. I’m going for a drink would you like something?"
"Yeah, some coffee. I can’t believe you got me hooked on that stuff."

Daniel grinned. "I didn’t exactly hold a gun to your head miss. It was amusing watching you buzz around and that was on the artificial stuff. You should try the real stuff one day. Only it’s about fifteen credits a cup, a bit steep but sometimes way worth it."

Daniel returned with just enough time to double check the secondary controls. The issue with the secondary bay at station two was still ongoing so they talked about the hard dock. They both agreed to do things a little different. Cynthia got them matching the speed but settle just ahead of the hatch cutting the main thrusters. They then used the maneuvering thrusters to get in position. It took less time and they even got a couple inches closer to the station.

They were halfway done with the run when Daniel asked her how everything was handling.

"Seems fine one moment then a little sluggish the next. Controls are a bit stiff."

"Are you using the thruster more or less?"

"More, but only to increase speed, we are staying on course. We seem to be slowing steadily."

"Take a look here. I think there’s a blockage in the flow of the fuel to the thruster. It looks like it’s some kind of bubble in the line. It’s making the thrusters loose power in spurts. If it gets worse we could lose it all together."

"We can fix that." she said and looked at her display. " We are steady so we can shut the thruster off enough for you to do what you need to. I’ll use the navigational thrusters if necessary."

"Wait, its hot fuel, we can’t dump it back to the reactor. I’m going to shunt off the main line, let the thrusters burn it out before we switch to the secondary line. Timed right we might not even have a shutdown at all."

They did manage it and the only other issue that came up was a runaway asteroid near Station Five’s memorial. Cynthia had to do some impressive maneuvering to miss it. The rapid movements startled some but they were happy to be shaken up and not dead from the impact.

They returned to Station One started flight checks and filed logs reports. Cynthia frowned when the reports came back incomplete, and triple checked them. "We didn’t forget anything. This is as completed as it gets. What are they talking about?" Daniel took the report and looked it over again. "I don’t know," he shrugged, "maybe a glitch in the transmission. Try resending it."

"Maybe I can answer that," a voice behind them said. Captain Sims and Tom, his copilot, were there standing smiling. "May I?"

Daniel frowned but handed Captain Sims the report pad. He shook his head a few times and even had Tom looking over his shoulder. It felt like forever before they both nodded and agreed at something Captain Sims pointed to.

He passed the tablet back to Daniel and pointed. "I think it’s here."

Daniel read it and read it again. "It’s my signature, same way I have been signing them all along." He said and flipped to Cynthia’s report and looked at the same section. She nodded as he looked to her for confirmation. "Maybe it’s not the exact signature, but it’s a signature. Most people never sign things the same exact way. Are they really being that hardcore about it?"

Captain Sims smiled, "Not the signature Daniel, the line beside it."

"Title, Student training," Daniel read "that’s how you said…" Captain Sims cut him off.

"I’m sorry we couldn’t do this a bit more formal but we still have a day of runs to do. Come on back to the passenger cabin. Tom will get the rest of the preflight done."
Daniel froze when he stepped into the cabin and saw his parents and Cynthia’s all standing next to the Director of flight operations.

"Cynthia Pietro, step up please," the director ordered. "When Captain Sims made this proposal to me I admit I was a little concerned. I didn’t believe that there would be any so young that would be dedicated enough to learn what is required to be a shuttle pilot. I have read all the reports and still didn’t believe it until today. Young lady we were all a little concerned when that asteroid entered the flight path. It took great piloting to miss it and get your passengers to the station safely." He turned and nodded to her mother who came around and stood next to her. "It is with honor that I hereby welcome you to the Flight Service and grant you the position of Shuttle pilot with the rank of lieutenant." He said as Cynthia’s mother started pinning a set of wings on her chest and a small gold circle on her collar. There was a round of applause as Cynthia started to cry and hugged her mother.

"Daniel Miller please step forward."

Daniel dragged his feet a little. He hated these situations. He finally stood next to Cynthia who casually reached down and took his hand.

"A pilot must know his ship and its workings. We set up the test to see how you would react to situations. You managed to notice the changes even before we had a chance to set the test in motion. Your actions prevented it. It came to my attention a short time ago that there was a malfunction with the test. If it had been initialize as planned, it would have caused the line to open up in the opposite direction. You would not have been able to stop the fuel from being dumped into the reactor. The shuttle would have exploded. Even our experts don’t know how you did it, but whatever the cause we are grateful. " Again he turned and nodded to Daniel’s mother. "It is with It is with honor that I hereby welcome you to the Flight Service and grant you the position of Shuttle pilot with the rank of lieutenant." The Director turned around and faced the crowd. "Ladies and gentlemen I present the newest and youngest of our flight crews." It was only after releasing his mother that Daniel noticed that the whole thing was being videoed.

"Director, as nice as this all is, Shuttle four is schedule to depart in ten minutes," Daniel looked at Captain Sims. "We don’t think Captain Sims wouldn’t want to hold any of his passengers up."

The Director looked at the video team and nodded. "New to the position and ever the professional. Ladies and gentlemen, Lieutenant Miller is correct. If you’re not boarding for the next flight, please join me in the shuttle waiting room.

Captain Sims waited until they all left. "You both did great." He put a hand one hand on each of their shoulders and gently squeezed. "I couldn’t be more pleased. Now go out and celebrate with your parents. Go to the counter and see Grace, she will take you around the back and away from the press." He let Cynthia go but pulled Daniel back to him as she went to her parents. "There is some more training we need to talk about. We will talk about it in a few days." Daniel just frowned and gave him a curious look. "Go on, I have a flight to make." Captain Sims gave him a little push toward Cynthia and their parents.

They managed to avoid being seen. They went out and had a nice lunch. They endured the constant pats on the back they were getting from their parents even thought they were at times embarrassing. It wasn’t until the afternoon when the news report came out that everyone started to recognize them.

The school week was filled with even more people congratulating them and asking how it felt and what was going to happen next. They were so caught up in the celebration neither had thought to think about that.

"We do what we have been doing all this time. If they need us, we will go and do our part. Until then maybe we will get some extra sleep at night." Cynthia offered up.
For a few weeks that worked out. They took one of the early morning flights to help Captain Sims and then spent the rest of the day in class or studying. Due to the project they were attempting to do, the professors didn’t ask much additional form them. Still somehow, they managed to get pulled into helping around the chemistry lab and in Culinary.

That ended as they started studying for final exams. Daniel was spending more and more time with the project. As he studied and made notes, he started to realize that he hadn’t really done anything new. He made a miniature version of what was already being done. Again he over thought. He just hoped it didn’t affect the grades. He had done what was needed. There were aspects of almost every class. Culinary wasn’t directly, but the results of the experiment would be used for that class. And the wait began.

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Pub: 05 Mar 2024 15:26 UTC
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