"Lift your arms out, ma'am," the technician ordered quickly. Thirteen similar requests were echoing in the small room as the fourteen astronauts were dressed in their suits and sealed.
Kelly opened her eyes and obliged. It was hard to remain still as the four white-clothed scientists around her shoved on the gloves and twisted the seals. Grace had been bundled off somewhere else for now, but Kelly had heard AJ demand to get to see her once more before they left.
"Stand slowly, and walk to the next room," the technician stepped back and two scientists helped her up. The suit was very heavy, and she felt like she was moving underwater.
It took some effort to move forward, but they had been warned of this and had prepared for it as best they could. She shuffled behind Bear, who was having no problems at all, and they walked past the tall screen and into a small round room.
"This is it, huh Bear. No turning back now."
"Was there ever a point to turn back at? All you have to remember is that Harry is in charge, and I don't remember Harry ever not getting something done or doing it wrong."
Kelly grunted and looked back over her shoulder. Her father was waiting for the last of the men to be prepared. This was the most serious she had ever seen him, and he looked older. AJ and Max finished and stood, forcing her to focus on walking once more and find a seat.
A technician check each seal one last time, and the lead tech signaled for each astronaut to be given a helmet. Harry stood now and passed out the mission badges, placing it on each member himself. The pilots took their own badges from him and with a final moment of silence, they all stood and walked into the adjoining hangar.
There was an army of technicians and scientists here to see them off, and Grace was waiting for them as well. Kelly hung in the back of the group and watched Grace and Harry talk quickly, then Grace and AJ embrace one last time. AJ began to sing and twirl her around, and was accompanied by the other guys. Kelly laughed and smiled as they goofed off, but one look at Harry silenced her. He looked like he was brooding over something. AJ tailed off and ended with a kiss. The astronauts were escorted out of the hangar.
They were bombarded with camera flashes and yells from journalists trying to fit in the last question. Kelly shied into the center of the group, using Max as a shield on one side and Oscar on the other. She had never been very photogenic. And had never been fond of reporters either.
No one spoke as they were loaded onto buses that would take them to the shuttles. This was restricted area, and any last chance at contact with the outside world was gone. It all came down to these men around her.
Harry kept an eye on Kelly as they had been dressed and wished he knew what to say. She was still jumpy and anxious, but then again they all were. He really hadn't had a chance to talk privately with her, as he had done with Grace. Kelly was stronger than Grace, and could take care of herself. She would have to.
He looked at the road before them as it led the way straight to the shuttle dock. The two machines loomed into the air as they drew closer. Take off would be toward the middle of the day, and the sun was steadily climbing up from the horizon.
In the mirror above him he could see the faces of his men. Each was turned inward. He paused on AJ. His future son-in-law, fate had decided. He would deal with that when they came back. They passed into the shadows of the shuttles and Harry looked up. This close he could see how tall they really were, but it wasn't too much further up that many of the rigs he had run. Why did this one scare him?
Harry got off first and led his men to the pilots. Together the fourteen men and women entered the lift and rose slowly from the ground to the crew platform. It was time.
Grace watched as her family got onto the buses and twisted the ring on her finger. It would be almost a week before she would see any of them again. If she would see them again. She tried to stay positive, but it was getting harder and harder to every hour. She would smile for them, and laugh and tell them she was fine, but inside she was panicking.
"Grace, come with us to the command center. You can stay there until the mission has ended and will be able to watch the procedure as it progresses." A young man in army fatigues motioned for her to follow him as he led her to a small room. The room overlooked the command center below. Men and women were rushing back and forth as the countdown neared its end. Truman was already there scrubbing his face with his hands.
Grace stood next to him in silence. Together they watched the countdown drop beneath the thirty minute marker. Grace felt tears welling inside her and her heart freeze. She wanted this to be a bad dream, and for it all to be over now. All she had left was her family.
"I have to go down, now. If you need anything let an attendant know. Unfortunately there is no time to let you speak with the teams during the mission. But nothing will go wrong, so just make yourself comfortable." Truman gently placed a hand on her arm and smiled. He stood and left the room and popped up momentarily beneath her.
Brian stopped the car in the parking lot of the small diner and ran inside. It was almost noon, and the last report he had heard was that the shuttles were launching around twelve thirty. He locked the car and jogged inside. The small restaurant was packed with locals and other travelers, but he was able to find a spot standing where he could watch the latest report. The President was giving a speech on one side of the split screen, and on the other side the astronauts were grouped together. He scanned the faces and found Harry. His father-in-law looked very serious but strong. He recognized some of the other faces, but his eyes kept moving.
Finally he saw her. She looked tired, and was flinching slightly at the camera flashes. But her jaw was set and her shoulders were back. She was in her stubborn pose as he called it.
"Can I get you anything? Coffee? A burger?" a waitress darted through the crowd to reach him. Her notepad was out, but he noticed that she had no pen. She probably knew that he wasn't ordering anything like most of the others in the building.
"No, thank you. I'm just here to watch the launch and then I'll be on my way."
She nodded and turned back to the TV. "Unbelievable, isn't it. This happening."
"Huh? Oh, yes."
"You sure you don't need anything, dear? You seem a little off," she looked down at him.
Brian opened his mouth to answer, but nothing came out. The astronauts had lined up and were filing onto buses. Kelly was trying to avoid the cameras without being too obvious, making him smile. She had never been good with cameras. He had bought her three during their marriage, and she had managed to break all three. "Oh, I guess I will take that cup of coffee. How much more of a drive is it to Florida, do you know?"
"Well, on a normal day I would say another hour, but I heard that there is a lot of traffic heading that way now, so it could take upwards of three or four. You going to try to get to the launch? You won't make it," the waitress shoved her pad away and looked at him skeptically.
"No, I know. But I should have been down there yesterday. No hurry now, I suppose."
"If you want my two cents, I always agree that late is better than never, but never too late. But that's just me," she darted back into the crowd and reappeared with a cup to go. "It's on the house, get going. Something tells me that it's important."
Brian looked at the TV once more and watched as the President finished up and the buses reached the shuttles. "Thanks. I think I'll try to get back on the road and see how far I can get. I have to meet someone when she comes home." He stood from the table and grabbed the coffee from the waitress. He didn't need to see the launch, he just had to be there for the return.
AN: Sorry this one is so short! My ideas are all jumbled again, and this was the only thing I could write that felt right. I promise Season 2 will be action packed and full of suspense! Thank you (readers, lurkers, flamers, etc.) for following me! It makes me so happy! ^^
See you in two weeks for Season 2 debue!