The Goodbye Kids

Jorden lund isn't the chosen one

He's the guy who volunteered

The day teen eco-terrorist Jorden Lund left Earth he had 4 months left to live.

His suicide mission: Build a bomb, destroy a space ship and save the world.

But falling in love wasn't part of the plan and completing his mission means sacrificing the girl he loves.

Chapter 1 - Jorden (T -120) – Cape Canaveral, Earth

 

I know I'm supposed to die soon, but not like this.

I press my back to the warm glass and try focusing for a minute on the view instead of on the dizzying drop to the crashing waves pounding the cliff below me.

This was an awful plan.

The sound of the waves is so loud it almost drowns out the thundering of my heart and the roar of a transport taking off from the other side of the space port.

"Breathe Jorden, breathe."

I take a deep breath and try to center myself, stop my knees shaking so much. For a big strong guy, I'm not living up to my own expectations of bravery. I take another moment, fixing my eyes on the horizon.

It's the first time I've seen the ocean. The expanse of blue visible from up here, outside the top floor of the passenger terminal, seems unreal. I've never seen so much blue. Sparkling water stretches for as far as the eye can see till it connects to the azure sky above. It doesn't seem right. You can't see the pollution. The world looks so beautiful from up here it breaks my heart. It looks perfect.

I tear my gaze from the beauty of the Atlantic Ocean to focus on the distance left between me and the entrance I'm creeping towards along the window ledge, one tiny step at a time.

The man my father bribed to get me through the main gates the usual way backed out at the last minute. This is our plan B, though it should really be a plan Z because this is insane and damn near impossible.

My cover family, not likely to be recognized, are already inside the passenger hall. In fact, when I twist my head, I can see Dawn and Nancy at the back of the line, waiting for me. The line is inching forward, slowly but it's moving.

I've got to get moving too.

I'm so close and yet so far. I just need to make it to the door.  

The door in question is the entrance to the VIP lounge, designed for small private craft. When shuttles dock the building extends a landing platform and an umbilical passage, allowing passengers to disembark directly into the lounge. Though at the moment all the door opens to is a fifty-foot drop into the crashing surf.

I peel my back reluctantly away from the glass and a gust of wind darts behind me as though it was just waiting for the chance to shove me off the ledge. I sway forwards and back, my life flashing before my eyes, before steadying myself.

Pushing past my fear, I use the momentum to take a quivering step along the narrow ledge and then another. Only a few feet left to go now before my wrist brushes up against the external door panel. I pray the codes to open the door programmed into my fake implant are valid. An eternal pause goes by while my mind reviews the various horrible deaths I'd face if I fall; smashed to small pulpy bits on the rocks, drowned beneath the surf or becoming a gourmet meal of fillet Jorden for the crabs.

Then the door whooshes open and the wind practically shoves me into the opening as though it's had enough of me clinging to the building like a six-foot blob of trembling Jell-O.

I slap my wrist to the internal panel and the door zips closed, sealing me safely inside the building. I give myself a few seconds to kiss the solid floor beneath my feet and thank all relevant deities for keeping me alive, for now. Then again, even if we pass this checkpoint successfully, I'll still die completing my mission. Maybe I shouldn't be so eager for this to succeed. I should also probably redefine success because most people don't see death as an accomplishment. 

It's not that I want to die. I don’t, but some things are worth dying for. Like the Earth, or what's left of it, and all the people still on it. I just want to make a difference for once in my life. My short life, that will end in just over four months. 

 

Crawling to the end of the sealed off hall I peek through the partition dividing the VIP area from the rest of the passenger lounge. Since boarding started all the passengers are facing the gates and there is still a large crowd hiding me from the guards and flight crew at the front of the hall.

Imagining myself small and transparent, two qualities I don’t possess in the slightest, I slip through into the main hall and join Nancy and Dawn at the back of the crowd. They barely spare me a sideways glance.

"Didn't think you were going to make it," Dawn mumbles out of the side of her mouth, keeping her eyes fixed forward.

I take my place next to her. "Almost didn't."

She sneaks a peek at me but doesn't comment on my wind-messed hair or the state of my shirt and trousers that have just wiped a fifty feet swath of windows outside the building.

Nobody seems to have noticed my arrival. At this point we are past most of the security checks. The only guard left is the one checking passports and boarding passes at the gate. The security around the transport ships is on high alert since the last attacks. They are afraid of sabotage.

My eyes flick up to the huge transport ship that will take us from Earth to VOR space station at the edge of the solar system. The ship looms outside the floor to ceiling windows in front of us, a lumbering behemoth, blocking out the sunlight. It's looking a bit worse for wear after two decades of making these trips. Paint flaking off in places and visible repairs to the hull. As the only way to leave Earth it's decrepit look is smoothed over by the glossy coat of hope in the travelers eyes.

It will take it almost a month to traverse the first leg of our journey. Tasked with transporting over a thousand travelers and their luggage to the edge of the solar system, it's weighed down by the provisions and fuel for the long trip and expectations of a brighter future. 

As the line creeps forward, I take the time to breathe but I can't stop fidgeting. Leaving Earth is the biggest sin an Earther can commit but I'm about to do just that. I'm hope I'm not drawing attention. I keep fiddling with my fake implant, making my passport data flash across my wrist. 

Name: Jorden Fowler 

Age: 17

Date of birth: May 15th, 2162 

Eyes: Green

Hair: Light brown 

Height: 5'11"

Weight: 220 lbs. 

 

That much is true, except for my last name.

Finally, we reach the front of the hall. The guard takes my arm and brings up my passport data with a quick flick of my wrist. As my info scrolls down the system beeps and I freeze in fear, sure that something has gone wrong and my identity has been exposed. But the guard doesn't react, he looks bored and more than ready to finish his shift checking passports and head out to the nearest pleasure parlor. 

As he reads my data, he flicks his eyes to me now and then to garner my expression and I follow his gaze trying to look calm and confident. He pauses when he reads

Mother: Nancy Fowler, 39. 

He glances skeptically at the slight woman beside me.

"This is your mother? You look nothing like her."

Tell me about it, some brilliant cover they found me.

Nancy looks even twitchier than I feel. She looks wrong. All the other travelers are nervous and excited but she is wrapped in a kind of daze, an almost psychotic glee. I'm sure the guard will pull her aside, I would.

Still, I grin at the guard, trying to conceal my nervousness, "Everyone says I look like my father." He grunts and keeps reading.

Unbidden my father's handsome face flashes in my mind; chiseled jaw, intense green eyes and sandy hair cut in a military style. They say I look just like him. I wish I didn't. I'm so sick of people looking at me and seeing my father. As though all I am is the Earther leader's son. We look so similar my prep team were afraid I would set off the facial recognition bots searching for my father, the most wanted man in North America. Which is why I couldn't just walk in the front doors like a normal person.

Right now, I need the guard to see something else, not make that connection.

Luckily Dawn chooses that moment to come to my rescue. She takes a step forward, staring the guard down with her cool blue eyes etched in dark makeup.

His gaze drops past me to Dawn. His eyes flicker up and down her figure. When his wandering gaze returns to her face he blanches at her furious expression. Oops, better you than me buddy.

The guard gulps visibly and I notice he's younger than I thought at first, maybe nineteen or twenty, only two or three years older than me. Which would make him maybe four years older than Dawn. 

For a moment it bothers me, the way he's looking at her. Then again, she's not really my sister so why should I care? She's taking his focus off of me and that's a good thing. That's what Dawn and Nancy are here for. 

I'll admit that Dawn isn't a bad view. She's not too tall, pouty lips, raven black hair with purple tips. She's wearing a tight black flexi-fabric t-shirt with just enough cleavage to make it interesting. I should stop thinking about her cleavage before the space ship isn't the only thing that lifts off.

Anyway, I can't think about her that way. She's my "sister" for the duration of the mission. Also, I'm pretty sure she doesn't like me. I tried being friendly when we first met but she has a chip on her shoulder the size of a redwood. I don't know if it’s just me she hates or the world in general. Based on the scathing glare she gives the guard as she holds her wrist out, I'd say the latter.

He grabs it gingerly, as though she might bite him.

She might. I don't know her that well.

He scans Nancy next but I can see he's already lost interest. We were the last in line. The guard narrows his eyes at me and I finally manage to hear him above the thumping of my heart.

"Move along, son".

I command my feet to take a step. Darting a glance backward I check that my "family" are beside me. I'm still scared he will change his mind, make a move to stop us but his stance of alert rigidity has already shifted into a more relaxed pose as we head towards the gate.

The other passengers are still crowding the passageway ahead of us. We slow as the river of bodies press close, all trying to thread through the same narrow gangway at once. 

Just ahead of me there is a mother with a baby in a stroller and a little boy struggling down the gangway. The stroller gyro-tread keeps sticking and she's trying to push it with one hand. Holding the boy's hand in hers and not making much progress. 

For a moment I watch as the tide flows around them. Then I step forward, "Can I help?" She smiles gratefully. I pick up the stroller, carrying it the few feet to the smooth floor of the flight deck. 

The little boy looks up at me, with big round eyes. I must look huge from where he's standing. I crouch down and ruffle his hair, giving him my best smile. "What's your name?" 

He scoots behind his mother's leg and peeks out at me timidly. "Billy." 

"Hi, Billy. I'm Jorden." 

"Thanks for your help," the mother says to me and I bob my head civilly. I watch as they disappear into the flow of pressing bodies, releasing a deep breath. 

I shouldn't have done that. I don't need to know their names. Though maybe I should. Maybe I owe them that. They don't deserve to die. All the Billy's and the Moms, but it's them or the people stuck on earth.  

I turn back to see Dawn and her mother enter the ship. Dawn pushes right past me, butting me with her shoulder. "Come on, bro." 

I sigh and follow her towards our seats. The padded chairs are supposed to protect us during liftoff and maneuvering but after twenty years of service and thousands of passengers they are looking a bit worse for wear. The syntho-fabric is flaking off in places and showing some of the padding underneath. As I fasten my harness another fleck of fabric rubs off and falls away. I try not to take it as an omen.

I close my eyes as the engine's pitch rises and the ship gears for liftoff. Praying Just let us get away safely. I feel a member of the flight crew tug on my harness, checking it's secure.

The sound of the engine rises to a scream and the ship leaps, ripping us away from Earth's gravity. The pressure pins me back into my seat, and I wipe my sweaty palms on my trousers, and shove them into my pockets, trying not to look as stressed as I feel. 

I grasp the pendant from my mother's necklace hidden in my pocket. Clutching it so tightly that it's going to leave a mark. I know I shouldn't have brought it, but I needed it, to give me courage, as a reminder of why I'm doing this.

As we climb the ship rocks violently and a few people cry out. A woman gasps, "It's sabotage, the Earthers are trying to blow us out of the sky." Before more people join in the panic the ship's captain's voice resonates from the loudspeakers, cool and reassuring, "Calm down folks, it's just turbulence, we'll be out of the atmosphere and through it in a few moments."

I try not to roll my eyes. They blame Earthers for everything that goes wrong nowadays. Funny really. There is no point in blowing up the earth transport. There are dozens of earth transports, but only one jump ship. Anyway, they wouldn't blow this vessel up with me on it.

I breathe deeply. All around me people are chattering. Excited, anxious, hopeful. They think they are the lucky ones. They think they are going to start over on a new world, leave behind the hunger and the fear that is life on earth for 99% of the population these days. I'm trying not to think about them too much. About their hopes and dreams or what they went through on earth. I push away those thoughts. The only way I can do this is if I think of them only as part of my mission — future collateral damage.

It's all their fault anyway. We tried to tell them not to leave Earth, but they just wouldn't listen. One small step for man, one huge mistake for mankind. Abandoning the overheated, overpopulated planet like a sinking ship. Why bother to stop the destruction of our world, when there are shiny new planets out there, beckoning from afar? Do these travelers even care about the billions that this space adventure is condemning to death?

Shoving the incriminating necklace deeper so nobody sees it, I free my hands and grip the arm rests. The motion is making me queasy. I look at Dawn, sitting just across from me next to her mother. She sees me looking at her and frowns and I look away.

There's a family sitting across the aisle to my right. The woman looks about the same age my mother would be. A little girl with brown pigtails is holding her hand and looking about with bright curious eyes. On her other side are a middle-aged man and a lanky teenage boy a bit younger than me. The whole family looks like a poster for functional homes. I try not to resent them and fail. The woman notices my squirming and gives me a sympathetic smile. "Don’t worry, son. They know what they are doing. They make this trip all the time".

I nod at the woman, giving her a small smile to thank her for her reassurance. 

Finally, the G's let up and the passenger caution lights click off. We can release our harnesses and move about the cabin now. I float up a bit as soon as I release my harness. Being light is kind of fun, especially since I'm so used to being heavy. Still, it doesn't help the queasy feeling in my stomach. Dawn looks as green as I feel, holding on to the railings that run the length of the cabin ceiling. I try smiling at her, but she doesn't smile back. 

I can see the Earth out of the viewport. It looks so serene from up here. My heart tightens. I'll never see it again. I want to press my forehead to the cold glass, say 'goodbye', but I don't. I don't want to draw attention.

I push off, floating across the cabin till I reach Dawn's side. Rolling her blue eyes, she pins them on me, "What do you want Jorden?"

I move in closer so we can talk in private and she puts her hand on my shoulder, leaning near. I'm rather surprised she's touching me, thinking maybe I was wrong about how she felt, until I hear her breath hissing in my ear, "Keep your smiles and dimples for the air heads, pretty boy. They won't work on me."

She pushes me back hard and I go flying off in the zero grav, tumbling head over heels as I grab for the hand rail and miss. I can hear her laughing as I struggle to catch onto something and right myself. When I turn back to her, she smirks at me, pleased with herself. Bitch.

It will take more than a push to get rid of me. We have to put up with each other for the next four months. That means learning to cooperate. I'm willing to be the bigger man here. No pun intended. I don't care if she likes me. I'm not here to make friends. Just as long as she doesn't get in the way of my mission.

I drag myself back over, maintaining distance this time and lower my voice, hoping she'll lower hers. "Listen, we don't have to be friends, but we should at least get to know each other a bit, get our story straight."

She looks at me doubtfully, scanning her surroundings, as if assessing threat levels even here, in the most secure environment our planet has to offer. I guess years in the city's lower levels will do that to you. After checking there is no one near enough to hear us she leans forward, scowling in an undertone.

"I'd rather you stay away from me. I don't trust you. I'm not stupid. I know my mom and I wouldn't just get picked to go to New Horizons. I know your contacts got us onboard to help with whatever scam you're running. I may not know what trouble she's gotten us into this time, but we're here. We're going and I won't let you mess this up for us. If I feel you are a threat, I will take you down." 

I do my best not to smile, it will only annoy her more, but it's hard. Dawn is glaring at me with her five-foot-nothing height and her alley cat vibe, the kind that looks scrawny and flea bitten but given the chance will claw your face off. Even though I have eight inches and seventy pounds on her, not to mention years of combat training, she looks mean enough to try it. I mean come on. It's like a kitten hissing at a Pitbull. Still, I feel sorry for the Pitt in this scenario. 

Raising my hands in mock defeat I back off, for now. I should talk to Nancy too. 

Nancy is still in her seat, her shoulders hunched, her whole-body tense and twitchy. She stands out like a sore thumb amongst the other travelers. Her skin has an unhealthy pallor. She's thin even for current Earth standards, her hair floating in mousy black strands in the low-G. 

I pull into the seat next to her and she shies away, as though she's not sure who I am. I place my hand just above hers, not really touching her skin. Speaking through my teeth, I pretend to smile. "Pull yourself together." 

She blinks, but doesn't move back any more, swallowing nervously. "Sorry. How long is this trip?"

I sigh. "You should know that. A month to the space station, training on the station for three months, till the jump ship gets there to take us to New Horizons." We're not going to make it to New Horizons.

Nancy licks her lips, her eyes darting from side to side. "Right, right."

Her breathing is raspy and smells foul. Her watery blue eyes have a sickly yellowish tint mixing with the white, like rotten eggs. Some cover they picked for me. I just hope she isn't going to be a problem. I leave my place after another moment. I can't do this right now. I just want to get through this trip. 

Now that we are on our way the passengers are free to move around the ship and the crew turns the food printers on. Dawn gets in line at once. They are all eating, all the travelers. As though this is the first time they have had unlimited access to food. Maybe it is. 

I'm too queasy to eat, going over the details of my mission in my mind. I'll have three months once we get to the space station to scope out the materials I need, build a bomb and get it onto the damn jump ship when it arrives to pick up the travelers. If it works, destroying the jump ship should grind the Conglomerate's plans of colonization to a halt. Bring their focus back to Earth. If they understand we're not going anywhere maybe they'll work harder to save it. 

Sounds simple doesn't it? But so many things can go wrong.

I'm worried about Nancy. I'm worried she's going to snap and blow my cover. She passed a tox-screen before the flight, but something is messing with her mind. I wonder if her condition was kept dormant by the drugs she was taking. Till we tried to clean her up and let whatever was lurking underneath the surface break free. 

I've been trained in chemistry, electronics, basic subterfuge and combat skills. The problem is nothing in my training equipped me to deal with a mentally unstable drug addict. Nancy's supposed to be my cover, but as of now she's the one drawing attention to me. 

Dawn has been trying to keep her calm. Despite her attitude I feel sorry for the girl. Growing up with an unstable mother, who signed her up for a suicide mission without her knowledge.

I ease back into my seat as the ship enters Hyperspace and the stars blur to thin streaks outside the portals. 

At least it will all be over soon.

 

 

Chapter 2 - Haley – VOR space station

 

Influx.

I press my hands to my ears, but the din of humanity is just too loud. The sound crashes over me like an immense wave, threatening to sweep me away. I stand in the middle of the intake deck, planting my feet and let the flood of people flow around me. Babbling excitedly, most are full of hope and wide eyed at being on a space station for the first time. Some are stumbling around looking confused and overwhelmed.

I look for my mom, but she is nowhere to be seen.

As I stand there fixed in place a small woman approaches me. I assume she's going to ask for directions or one of the many questions travelers have right off the ship. Instead she grabs my arms, squeezing hard, her nails digging in to my skin.

I gasp and try to draw back. Though she's tiny she's surprisingly strong and she pulls me down towards her till she can put her mouth to my ear. Her voice is a raspy hiss, "The end is near!"

She lets me go, smiling up at me with wild eyes and crooked teeth and I stumble back, shaking. I can see two teenagers rushing towards her but I'm too shocked to process any more information.

Dumping the packed lunch I'd brought for my mom on the nearest reception counter, I scoop Nano up from the deck, letting the tide carry me out of the door.

I head out and thankfully the crowds thin as the halls branch out from the intake deck. Soon I'm approaching the personnel area. When we are in a relatively quiet place, I put Nano back on the deck, trying to calm myself down.

Nano barks up at me. "Haley okay?" His sensors sync with my station comm bracelet. He can tell when my emotional state is off balance by reading my phys data and visual body language.

"That was so creepy."

"Pet me, Haley," he says it like he's begging for attention, but I know the drill by now. I start running my hand over his soft brown and white pseudo fur, taking deep breaths. He pants up at me, his doggy face looks like it's smiling. After a minute or two I feel calmer.

"Okay?" he tilts his head to the side, and I pick him up and cuddle him. "Okay."

Nano knows influx days are hard for me and getting harder all the time.

He wags his tail, "Want to go flying?" I nod. Flying always calms me down.

I place my hand on the reader next to the door marked "Crew only - No travelers past this point." It closes behind me to blessed silence. A barrier protecting me from the masses of intruders.

Here there is no one in sight. Great.

I enter the elevator and tap my comm to the button for the pod bay. I only gained access to it on my 16th birthday. I'd been so excited to finally start my training on the cargo pods. Tiny vehicles used for moving cargo around outside the station, minor repairs and short hops out to nearby ships. It is a privilege only us station rats, the kids who live on the station, get. There is no point in training travelers, they aren't here long enough to be useful.

The elevator descends to the pod bay – the bottom level of the station. I'm glad to be leaving behind the busy central deck. It includes the leisure and training areas; the rec room, gym, mess hall and training. Above it are the crew quarters and the traveler quarters. We pass through the food production level, affectionately nicknamed 'the garden', and maintenance. The top two levels are admin deck and command where the control room is. I don't have access to those - though I visit my mom in the personnel office on admin where she works sometimes. Not much to see there.

The elevator releases us into the cargo bay where the pods dock. It's cold down here. I love the tinny metal smell with the light overtone of machine grease. It smells like danger and adventure to me.

Training to fly a pod is a status that combines responsibility, hard work, and the reward of pure joy. I need to get my license by the end of this influx in order to apply to Star Academy. It will take three years to apply and hear back. Getting in to the Academy is the only way I can leave for Earth after I turn eighteen, otherwise it's off to New Horizons. I shudder at the thought.

I tell Nano to sit and stay in an alcove by the door. He'll wait till I release him. Gently wagging his tail in 'wait' mode.

I survey the line of pods. About half are in the bay. The rest are out working around the transport. Ferrying in supplies and checking on the repairs. The dock at the end where the rangers' ship docks is empty now. They arrive between transports.

The three training pods are at the end of the line, near the changing area.

I climb the double set of metal stairs up to the control deck on the overhead bridge. Doing my best not to huff at the effort. The stark white lighting makes my shadow stretch out behind me, long and thin. Unlike the shadow's owner. The corners under the stairs are dark. The pod deck can be a bit creepy sometimes. But if you ask me, the most frightening part of pod training by far is dealing with Stacey.

Trying to catch my breath I peek my head into the control room.

Stacey is sitting there, with her back to the door, facing a console. Her flight jumpsuit half off, with the top half tied around her waist, revealing muscled arms in a white tank top. Her blond hair in a messy bun. As the deck chief she oversees the pod training.

I'm kind of scared of her, though I don't like to admit it. Stacey seems hard as nails. She rarely smiles at me, giving off the air that there is no way I'm going to live up to her standards. I'm sure she'll flunk me given the slightest excuse. Even so, I have no choice but to deal with her if I want a chance to escape into the black.

"Stacey… um, hi," my voice is barely more than a whisper, but Stacey's head whips up at once, turning her cold blue eyes on me.

"Can I take a pod out to practice?"

Stacey huffs. "You can take out number three, you have half an hour, stay on comms."

I perk up, once the obstacle of getting permission is behind me. I almost skip down to the lockers. Checking there is no one there, I remove my outer clothing. It takes a minute to struggle into the insulated jumpsuit and boots of my flight suit. They have a funky plasticky smell due to the airtight outer lining, but to me they smell like freedom.

I climb into the pod and buckle in, glancing at the manual attached to the control board. I like having clear rules on how to do something. Following manuals is easy. People are hard. People don't come with manuals. You never know exactly what to do. If you say the wrong thing or look at them funny, they blow up at you and you don't even know why. The pod, even though it could literally blow up and kill me, scares me far less.

I uncouple the docking clamps and gradually ease the pod out of the bay. Using the thrusters to drop it into the launch chute below with an easy slide. The inner airlock shuts behind me with a whoosh.

I progress along the tunnel to its other end. I've been practicing every chance I get for months now. I'm confident I'll pass my test when it comes up in a few months.

"Permission to open airlock."

Stacey's voice comes through the comms.

"Inner airlock closed?"

I check the bay door behind me to make sure that the airlock is closed, and the lock sign is on.

"Confirmed."

"Permission to open outer door granted. Proceed." The air rushes out of the airlock. The light blinks green which means I can now command the outer door of the airlock to open.

The end of the chute is marked with a circle of blinking lights. I guide the pod through it, emerging from the tube into the black. Nothing between me and the stars but the reinforced windshield of the pod.

I love it out here. I don’t remember Earth. The only sky I can remember is black and quiet and full of twinkling stars. That is fine with me. I like the black, it makes sense.

I bring the pod around, finding the row of lights marking the practice track around the station. I start making the loop. I keep checking the hull of the station below me, making sure I'm on course, but the rest of the time I look up at the stars. Sometimes I just want to head out there, I wish I could drift forever, never having to go back.

As I near the place where the transport ship docks, I peer into the dark cargo hold. The other cargo pods are retrieving the shipment from Earth to boost the station's supplies. I'm hoping to join them by the time the jump ship gets here in three months.

The time outside goes by too fast. Before I realize it, I hear Stacey's voice on the comms. "Time's up. Bring it in."

I sigh. I'm in such a calm serene place right now, I feel like I'm still floating. I don't want to destroy the mood. I cycle back through the airlock, using the pod's thrusters to maneuver up to the dock.

As I carefully reverse the pod into its station, there is an awful metal scraping sound. I try to stop but it is too late. Something has gotten wedged between the docking clamp and the hull. I try pulling forward, but the noise is horrible, somehow that's making it worse.

Damn.

I wasn't paying attention, I guess I was still rattled by that weird woman hissing at me. I forgot to secure the equipment in the bay before punching out. At least it wasn't sucked out the airlock while I was departing. Floating equipment can damage the station or the transport ships. I can get into a lot of trouble for this.

I'm already in trouble. If I can’t lock in, I can't disembark and get at whatever is stuck there. If I can't get it unstuck, I can't lock in.

Quite a bind.

According to protocol I should radio Stacey over comms to come down and help me out. To find out what is lodged in the docking bay and remove it. I don't want to. I can barely face her when she doesn't have reason to be mad at me.

I punch the control panel in frustration.

Missing a step on the launch checklist is a big deal. A mistake like this could give Stacey an excuse to kick me off the program. If I'm suspended or she fails me, I'll miss the application deadline and I can kiss my whole future goodbye. But can I solve this without her finding out?