volunteer

The pain woke me on the morning of my first flight, racinglike molten steel through my body. I turned on the light and rummaged in my nightstand for my injector. I pressed it against my leg and pushed the button twice. I could feel the ice cold tingles of the medicine enter my bloodstream, clashing with the pain in my limbs. I closed my eyes and sighed in relief.

It had been a long time since I had a pain flare like that. I wondered if it had anything to do with the fact that soon I would never feel it again.

I took a quick shower, taking care to not use more water than allowed, and then I stood in my bedroom, eyeing the suit that I had, ever so carefully, placed on the chair next to my bed the night before. It gleamed at me. I put it on, the sentient fabric adjusted to my skin.

I moved, for the first time, in the suit that would be my home for the next year. At least. I felt the whispers of energy dash over my skin. I smiled. I put the hood over my head, careful to push every stray hair underneath. I moved my fingers in the motions I had trained for so long. I thought of the sacrifices I had made to get to this point.

Pain flared again. I bit my lips and turned my back on the apartment that had been mine for two years. I shuffled through the hallway into bay 12. My bay.

Hermes 11 waited for me, shiny and new. I would be her first, the beautiful star class shuttle was all mine.

I smiled a half smile in the direction of the control room, and then I entered the ship.

The hatch was already open. I smiled to myself when I thought of the rules. I had to get in there voluntarily. I had to show until the very end that I was going ahead with this. My own free will. I bit the pain away as I draped myself into my new home, the contours fit perfectly with my body. The suit whirred into action.

A smiling face hovered over my head. “Are you ready, Leona?”

“I am.”

Hands working above and below me attached tubes, adjusted straps and placed the mask over my face. Then the moment I was born for came. The doctor placed the connector in the base of my brain and connected the IV line.

“Ready?”

I wanted to cheer, scream, giggle, all at the same time. “Oh hell yes.”

“Here we go.”

Pain screamed for bright, final moment, and then there was serenity, calm, joy. I could hear my maniacal laughter come through Hermes’ speakers. My speakers.

I viewed the closing of the hatch from my internal sensor.

We ran tests for the next hour or so. It was boring, I had done the simulations countless times. But, I knew they would never let me go before I got all signs on OK.

I yearned to fly.

Eventually, everyone left. I was left all by my lonesome, waiting for my pilot or as I tend to call him: company. I played with the sound system until I got a stern talking to from Control.

Finally, the door opened. Ray came in. I loved Ray. He had the kind of personality you just had to love, so heartwarming, open, gentle and kind.

I loved him since forever, but he never saw me. He only saw my pain and responded to it with tenderness and kindness, never with the longing I so yearned to see in him.

“Hey, Ray. Ready to kick some alien butt?”

Ray grinned and put his helmet on my dashboard. “Let’s first do a test run to the moon and back. You are new at this and all.”

I revved my engines. He squeaked and sat down in his chair. “Had no idea you were in such a rush, Leona.”

I laughed away years and years of pain and suffering in one split second. “You have no idea, Ray. Strap in, departure in ten, nine, eight…”

I ignored his protests as I sent the clear for take-off signal to Control.

I cheered as I revved my engines and turned my nose towards the sky.

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