Why did it have to be me?
Flashing lights followed by electronic clicks of fake shutters mimicked by their digital cameras. Big studio lights at either side of me were set up to capture the face of the winner.
I knew why I was chosen this year. As I shook hands with my corporate manager Michael Scottsdale. I was now lead researcher in sustainable animal protein reproduction. It was a fancy title for making fake meat out of vegetation.
Mr. Scott's voice seemed distant even though I was standing beside him. How surreal my situation was.
"I'm so glad, Kim Leung was chosen to represent our company. She will make the lunar company proud as a new member."
I was then politely placed in the background as the higher ups began to explain to the audience what a good addition I would be.
I remained silent.
Why you may ask?
It's because I'm actually a loser.
You see, it took me three attempts to achieve my diploma in research development. I had stayed at the bottom rung of the employment chain for the first five years of my career in Isopro or otherwise known as Integrated Soya Protein Limited.
That was until Mr. Scott started to pay more and more attention to me. He offered me a free lunch. Which said yes to of course. Then a free dinner. Followed by a tour of his house. A cup of a coffee. And then finally a trip to his bedroom. Where I had a taste of his lips.
I was lonely of course. Mr. Scott though, he had a wife. No children though. I was disappointed in myself but I could never say, no. It was so hard, he had such a hold on me that I couldn't leave. It was like entrapment but I placed myself in the cage.
I pushed up my glasses. Yet he was the one to suggest my transfer to the moon. My only guess was he found someone new. And I didn't know how to feel about it. Relieved, disgusted, angry, sad or what. At the moment, I was only really thinking about one thing.
"Now to introduce the crew of the Amaterasu!"
I peeked around the corner. Curious myself because I didn't get introduced to them yet. Totally forgetting my train of thought.
"From right to left we have:
A cheer roared up from the crowd of dignitaries, social elite and investors. People I wouldn't even know how to begin to talk with.
All I could see was the back of the head of the astronauts. Disappointed I waited until everything was over. In short order, I was dismissed. I went to my empty desk and grabbed my coat from the back of my chair and reach under my tabletop. Retrieving my simple brown shoulder bag.
This was it. In a few months I won't be on Earth anymore. I'll be up among the stars and then down on to the Moon. The thought just sounded so ludicrous.
The next day was preparations for take off. A two month period of training and body regulation to make sure I was healthy enough to take off. To that new frontier everyone spoke about.
I found out Cheryl was the pilot and Ethan Grey was the co-pilot. Megan Lao was communications and navigation coordinator. While Witt was the main engineer. Megan bragged a lot about how smart Witt was, but he would never admit a thing. Just giving me a small smile and an eye roll at Megs direction. While Ethan and Cheryl seemed like they were all business, no play.
Cheryl ran me through duties and what I had to watch out for in the cockpit. I was driven through each of the controls at the rear just so I knew what everything did. Not really how to operate it. She told me most likely outcome was that I would lose consciousness, during take off. But she reassured me that she was responsible for making sure I'd be alright.
I told her I wouldn't mind getting K.O.'d because...
I was terribly afraid of heights, roller coasters, altitude changes and flying.
"Hahaha, not a fret dear. You're going to get over all that believe me. I was the same too."
"I'm not sure you understand. I mean deathly afraid." I emphasized.
To which she brought her thumb and forefinger to her face in a thinking pose.
"We can work on that."
Next I was talking with Ethan. He was running me through first aid. I learned the Heimlich maneuver. And through CPR, I felt like a high schooler all over again. Ethan was a handsome rugged, young man with an aura of authority.
"Sorry, is this too uncomfortable for you?" He asked. His face a few inches from mine that I could lift my neck to kiss him. And though it was excruciatingly tempting. I would never do something like that.
"Um, no..." I hesitantly responded. He smiled while looking deeply into my eyes. And could almost see him see my shame and embarrassment.
"It's alright we can wait until Meg and Cheryl are done their duties. Maybe you'll be more comfortable with them." He said as he gave me some more breathing room.
Half of me was literally beating myself up. I could see the stupid shadow of an Asian girl just kicking, flailing and wailing against myself in a corner for being so stupid.
"Uh, thanks Ethan. For being so considerate, I mean."
"Hey it's no worries we are a team now." He put a hand on my shoulder and looked into my eyes again. "And if you want to talk about anything, don't hesitate we all are here for one another. This is a once in a lifetime trip. We have to really trust one another, ok?"
I could barely listen or look into his eyes. I just pushed up my glasses and tilted my head away to hide my blushing cheeks as I thought of him.
Next was G-Force training. Which was basically how much pain can I withstand before crying out like a new born baby. Which resulted in not much. The first session was with Megs. She started me off slow, but as the speed start to escalate. I lost my lunch.
I felt sorry for the custodian that day.
The next day was with Cheryl. She pumped the speed up so fast that I had to scream for her to stop. Which she did and came down concerned.
"Are you alright?"
"I can barely breathe." I said through huffs. At least I learned my lesson to come to these with an empty stomach. "Thanks for stopping."
"You're doing wonderful, Kim. You almost made it to the minimum requirements for breaking orbit."
"yay." I said with as little luster as I could manage.
The last person to test me was Witt. He gave me quite the lesson. As I was going around I started to feel my body acclimatize to the pressure until it the reach the point that the blood could no longer reach my brain.
Needless to say everything went black.
A pungent smell woke me up. Witt was kneeling beside me with a bottle.
"Whoa what happened." I asked.
"I might've pushed you too hard, but the others were treating you too easy."
"You knocked me out, Witt. What the hell is wrong with you?"
"Look little missy, the world is tough. But we are going into space. The slightest mistake going through orbit or navigating to the moon can kill us all, cost the colony valuable community members and not to mention the effect upon our families."
I was still angry, but couldn't really argue with that.
"I was feeling comfortable for a moment there until you kicked it into overdrive."
"Your lucky, Kim. Woman have a much better time taking this sort of pressure."
"Tell me about it..." I replied half to myself.
"Something on your mind?"
"Um, no it's nothing..." But remembering Ethan's words, I decided to tell Witt.
"I've always felt like this scared rabbit. Like I can only run away from making the tough decision and going for what I want. Like this whole trip to space, my past relationships, my job and even my cat. He walks all over me and I don't say anything."
"Hahaha, whose cat doesn't do that. Look there's nothing to be ashamed off about having weakness. We are all born with them. Throughout my life I've dropped a few and taken on others. I use to be an overweight couch potato. It's why I decided to be an astronaut."
I looked Witt up and down. There was no way. He had as much meat on him as a bundle of sticks.
"Plus I used to drink like a donkey. But I gave up all that. Made use of my engineering doctorate and voila. Here I am."
"I wish I could do that, but it's so hard. Like I can feel the fear in me just telling me to runaway, but at the same time I've grown so much learning and training. I feel so much stronger than the person I was."
"That's because you are. Look, I let you in on something. And it'll be corny, but hear me out. You are who believe you can be. It's a simple as that. There is of course things you can't do, like breathe in the vacuum of space without any gear. But hell one day, even that may be possible."
Witt was a great guy, and I learned to start to trust the crew more and more as the days passed. During the last month was physical training and dieting preparations. I realized now more than ever this is what I wanted. I'd leave Michael behind, my old job and my old life. And start anew.
And then it hit.
We were in the dressing rooms. And then I realized I would be lifting up into the atmosphere. At first it started as this stomach ache and then it began to solidify into this hard numb suffocating pain. Breathing became difficult. And I could only start to think of all the things that could go wrong.
A gas leak.
A computer malfunction.
A unsealed cabin
Cheryl loses consciousness or Ethan
Us getting stranded in space between Earth and the Moon
Us missing the trajectory
The landing going awry
And all that I would leave behind...
The thoughts just continued to circle in my mind and I began to sweat heavily. The more I thought about possible ways the rocket would crash and how believing it will crash might cause it to crash. It just was too much.
I started to tug at my suit.
"Get this off me," I yelled. "I can't do this. I can't do this."
The other crew members looked at me with concern, but Ethan was first to react.
"Hey, hey. Kim. Everything's going to be alright."
"No, you don't understand. We might crash, I can't go up there. I'm not fit to live on the moon."
My concern now turned to fear was nearing full panic.
"Kim, you can't back down now." Cheryl warned me as she tried to assist Ethan. Who was waving Cheryl away.
"Of course I can, you guys can go." I stated hysterically. Now full blown terror mounting as I realized that I was stuck again. Just like with Michael, my old job and my old life. I was expected to say yes."
"Witt, you told me I could stand up for who I believe I am. Right? Tell me you're on my side."
"I am Kim, but you also have to understand another thing. We are all here for you today. So that you can help those people establish our future. The human race's future. This is more than just our own personal fears and misgivings. It's about helping one another."
Megs came up to me holding to a needle with a bit of serum in it.
"Now look this is only to take off the edge. I can give it to you if you want, otherwise we can take it away."
"Get that fucking needle away from me, Meg!" My panicked mind already racing what was within.
A crackle is heard over the PA.
"The Amaterasu is to take of in T-minus 10 minutes"
My heart was about to burst out of my chest. I suddenly sank to the ground.
"Step back give her some air." Ethan said.
"I'll get her some water," Megs set down the needle on a nearby table.
Cheryl threw up her hands and cursed. Witt helped Kim get out of her suit.
"I can't breathe, I can't do this." I knew it was just fear, but I couldn't stop thinking about it. My thoughts stuck in a viscous cycle.
"Listen to me, Kim. All this is in your head. You can breath. You can make it to the moon. Just concentrate on yourself right now. Stay calm, breathe fully in and out and realize that you are having an anxiety attack."
Meg came back with a pitcher and a glass. She filled it up and offered it to me. I waved it away. Unabashedly, Meg thought for a moment before her mind lighted up like Albert Einstein. Reaching into her suit, she pulled out her old stress ball.
"I use this a lot having to deal with some sour people. Maybe it'll help you."
I looked down at the ball a bit quizzically. I'd seen people use them, but never tried them myself. But at this point I was willing to try anything.
I held to the ball and began to squeeze. And it was as if a lot of the pent up stress from my anxiety was absorbed by the ball.
"Scheduled take off at T-minus 7 minutes."
They were all supposed to be doing pre-flight prep.
As I stepped onto the connecting railway with the floor sea level several feet below. I was hit by a second wave of anxiety and I began to back peddle.
Cheryl caught me while Megs and Witt grabbed my arms.
From above a news drone was catching footage. As one astronaut was literally being dragged onto the rocket.
"What the fuck is this, PR is going to have a field day patching this one up. Take that drone off the screen." Yelled out the same news broadcasters that oversaw her inauguration a few months back.
Meanwhile, back on the platform. They were able to somehow carry me in and get me into my seat. Witt was buckling me in and telling me something. My senses felt garbled and I couldn't comprehend his words.
"Witt, Witt... Listen to me please. Let me off the rocket." Tears welling up in my eyes. "Something horrible is going to happen. I know it."
"Hey, your safe, Kim. I promise you, scouts honour, pinky swear." He wiped away some of my tears with his gloved hand. "Your stronger than this Kim. You know it, I know it."
"You can do this Kim," Meg replied desperately trying to complete Witt's duties.
"I say we drug her," Cheryl whisper to Ethan. "She can be a possible danger."
"Have a heart Cheryl, this is the girl's phobia. Imagine your worst fear come to life and having to face it. I'd say she's braver than most of us despite what it looks like."
"What are you talking about, she's balling like a baby and trying to wrestle her way out of the ship."
"Really she could buckle out right now and run before take off. But she's listening to Witt. Because somewhere deep down she wants to do this. We both trained with her and watch her grow."
"Sure, I guess. I still don't know about leaving drugs off the table."
"Take off in T-minus 1 minute."
Ethan gestured to Cheryl to keep her eyes on the control panel. She of course did so, ever the stickler to doing what needed to be done.
"This is Ethan Grey, all pre-flight preparations are complete. Ready for blast off."
"This is Ground Control, affirmative. How are all crew members fairing. Inquiry by the national broadcast agency who witnessed some distress before boarding."
"All members accounted for and healthy?" Ethan said.
Ethan looked over to Witt and I. My face as white as a ghost while Witt was giving a thumbs up.
"This is Ground Control, that is good to hear. Please continue to follow procedure. Best of luck to you, crew of the Amaterasu."
And then that was it.
I held to my seat as Witt buckled up.
T-minus 3 seconds.
Ethan and Cheryl began setting the rocket for it's course through our atmosphere.
T-minus 2 seconds
Megs was double checking the navigational coordinates and data points for take off
T-minus 1 second
Witt looked to me smiled and worded you'll be fine.
Well, I certainly did not feel fine. The whole rocket began rumbling vigorously. And I held on ever more tightly to my safety belts until the color of my knuckles match my face.
At first it was slow. The rise and pressure building. But as the rockets fuel began to burn more brightly. It rose ever higher with such speed that the gravity was pulling down on me.
I wanted to scream, but I couldn't. And before my true fear could grab me. That of a falling rocket or an explosion. Instead, I was greeted with the most beautiful feeling.
I rose from my seat as gravity fell away like my home beneath me. The others smiled at me and I remembered hugging them and apologizing. Going to the window to bask in the beauty of space.
Words will never describe how I felt those hours. Knowing you've crested the life's largest hurdle. It makes you realize you can accomplish anything. And that you can't really do it all alone, sometimes you need help.
The trip to the lunar colony was smooth sailing. The landing was easier on me after I accepted a sedative from Cheryl. In the end, I would do it all again. Because without knowing what you're true fear is like, how can you ever overcome it.
Well that's how I rationalize it anyway...
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Interesting story. I can imagine the fear of taking off into space. The millions of things that can go wrong. Glad it had a happy ending with moral lesson to boot. Thank you for shaing your piece.
Cool story. Felt like a montage while I was reading it.
I really like how realistic everything is! Kim's panic attack, the training, the people, it's amazing! There are a few (very) minor grammatical errors and a missing comma or two, but this story is really cool!