April, 2035 - T-minus 14 hours to launch.
It was Asami's pride and joy. Nearly half her life had been spent working on this project. A child prodigy, the genius behind a multinational effort and her family had . She'd been there from the design stage, all the way through testing, and now she was preparing for the launch. It wasn't her first launch. Two years ago they'd sent an automated system to prepare the landing site. But this was it. This was the big mission. The important mission. If something went wrong, people would die.
It was a little like sending your baby to school, if your baby was a space ship and the lives of six human beings depended on everything functioning perfectly. She was running final inspections in the Pallas lander, knuckles white and barely able to breathe. Excitement made the blood pound in her ears and nerves made her stomach twist into knots.
"Ms. Sato. Ms. Sato. Asami."
Her head jerked up from her umpteenth inspection of the lander. She focused on the tall Chinese woman peering into the vehicle. "What is it, Jia?"
"You know, you're not going to find anything by now." Jia drifted down the ladder. "Even though you're still going to keep looking right up until the launch."
"I want everything to go off without a hitch," she insisted. And so far everything had. All the parts had gotten launched into orbit on time and only a little over budget. The crew training had gone smoothly. And she'd trained right along with them. If she was going to have people working in her ship, she was going to experience the same training they did.
Asami's head snapped around so quickly she started to spin. She caught herself on a console and stared fire at her co-worker. "Excuse me?"
"Zhu Li Moon was in a car accident. She's okay, but she fractured her collar bone."
"And if we delay the launch we'll miss our window. There's no way she'll heal in time." Asami kicked off the wall and sailed towards the ladder and climbed out. "Who do we have on standby?"
Jia followed. She didn't need to consult her clipboard, but she did anyway. "Opal Beifong, Eska, and Ahnah."
The ship was elongated, and while the design team and strived to make her beautiful, she still followed form over function. Three sections. A crew quarters, a research section, and a space that served like a living room. There were also zero-g exercise equipment spaced throughout the ship. Asami used one to propel herself along. "Eska won't accept without her brother."
"The men all made it. They're probably strapping in right now."
"Opal. She's the best choice to replace Zhu li." The airlock loomed ahead and she caught the lip. "And she paid better attention to the mechanics. Damn damn damn. We need someone besides Baatar on the technical side of things."
Asami had made it from ship to the space station and Jia still hadn't responded. She spun around. "Jia?"
"Opal declined the opportunity."
"Why in the world would she ever do that?" Asami would have jumped at the chance. She'd wasted hours arguing for a chance to go.
To her credit, Jia was blunt. "She's pregnant." Her eyes narrowed, and she put a hand on Asami's arm. "I already know what you're thinking. You already know the answer."
"We are not missing that launch window, and we can't launch one person down." She kicked away down the hallway. She wanted to go, and not just because she'd dreamed of it since she was young. This was her ship, built by her team and her people. It wasn't right to risk the crew without being willing to put herself up to the danger too. "There isn't any other choice."
The station had been built before most of the crew had been born. It was a relic from another time, cramped and in places falling apart but it had been repurposed for the building and launch of the Mars mission. The hope for a renewed push for funding and exploration and a public excited about space again. The hope to prove that life on other worlds was possible and sustainable. Asami believed the future of the species depended on that.
Korra already felt excited. Wide blue eyes stared out the cockpit as the shuttle began it's final approach to the station. From this angle they had a fantastic view of the ship that would be their home for the next six months. Two hundred meters long, wider at the front and back than in the middle, with massive rockets for the initial launch. Nuclear electric engines would power most of the journey and Korra strained to see them as they flew past. She could make out Athena in bold letters on the side.
"Six months there, four months on the ground, six months back."
She glanced at the man beside her, and gave him a cocky grin. "Chanting a mantra, Mako?"
"It's just kind of occurred to me. This is really happening. We're going to be gone a year and a half." His face fell into a frown. "I'm going to have a niece or nephew when I get back."
She decided to say nothing. Opal had told her first, and she knew it was something the other woman had wanted, but that was before Zhu Li's accident. And no one had told her who was going to replace her. It sure as hell wasn't anybody on the shuttle.
Tapping her finger on the console, she took the shuttle off automatic. "Gonna come in on manual."
"I'm not sure that's wise."
Turning in her seat, she shot Kuvira a look. "Maybe not, but it's going to be fun."
Taking the yolk, she swore she heard Mako mutter something about dying before he could even meet his niece or nephew.
Asami was waiting as the shuttle docked. Her nerves had returned, but not for an entirely different set of reasons. She had to break the news to the crew just who was going with them. She was sure Mako wouldn't take it very well, but she was also worried about some of the others' reactions.
And seeing Korra again always left her feeling a flushed. Characteristically, Korra was the first one through the airlock. She shouted Asami's name and launched herself towards her. The two collided and Asami lost her sense of direction from how fast they were spinning. Korra's hugs were always tight and bear-like, and by the time they'd stopped their rotation, Asami was dizzy from more than the motion.
"I'm glad to see you too," she teased, extracting herself from the mission's commander so she could properly greet the rest of the crew. They looked good in blue and white jumpsuits, brand new patches on each shoulder. Country flag on the right, and mission patch on the left. A stylized shield with a silhouette of the ship over it and "Project Athena" around the circumference.
Korra composed herself and settled into the space next to Asami. This was her crew, her team. And she kind of hoped they didn't kill each other by the time the mission was over.
Kuvira and Baatar Jr were both mission specialists who's objective was to study the rocks and minerals they'd find on Mars. Korra had the most training and experience in extracting water and oxygen from soil. Jinora was the biologist, and youngest member of the crew. She'd just turned twenty a few weeks ago, but she was a genius in her field and Korra had insisted on recruiting her. Korra's didn't think there was any one more suited to confirming the discoveries from all those rovers that had been sent to Mars over the last twenty years than Jinora. And with both her and the girl's green thumb she'd have the hydroponics lab up and running in no time. The hardest part had been convincing her father.
Mako had been her first choice to be her second. He'd been trained to maintain the ship (and command it while the rest of the crew was on the ground) as back up for Zhu Li, though who was going to replace Zhu Li was up in the air. From the nervous tic of Asami's jaw, Korra thought she knew the answer.
"Welcome aboard! It's been too long since I last saw any of you. I've spent the past month meticulously going over the ship with a fine tooth comb."
"Sixteen times," Jia chimed in. Korra stifled a laugh.
"Your safety and the success of this mission is my primary concern," Asami continued. "I know you're wondering what's going to happen, with Zhu Li out of commission and Opal unable to make the launch. Eska declined the opportunity." She took a breath, glanced at Korra out of the corner of her eye, and said. "And since I'm the only other person with the technical expertise and the training, I will be taking Zhu Li's place. Jia will be head of mission control here at Earth in my stead."
Mako looked like he was sucking on a lemon, and she felt momentarily bad for her ex-boyfriend. They had parted on good terms, but could still get a little awkward. Baatar seemed a little peeved, but Jinora was vibrating in mid-air in her excitement. She couldn't read Kuvira at all.
Korra's arm snaked around her shoulder. "You realize this'll put you under me for this mission, don't you?"
Asami turned her head, her eyes meeting Korra's as she thought that under the other woman was exactly where she wanted to be. "I'll do what's best for this mission, Korra."
She turned back to the crew. "Launch is at 0930 tomorrow. I don't need to remind you how important this mission is. The things we can discover, and what we have to prove."
"Don't lie, you're as excited to go as the rest of us." Korra elbowed her lightly. "All right! Lets get our gear stowed on the ship, then our engineering specialist is going to give us the grand tour."
Jia floated nearby. She removed one pin from Asami's suit, and attached another. Asami nodded at her, and affixed her old pin to Jia's uniform. "The station is yours." She spun towards Korra. "And the mission is now yours, Commander."