Science Fiction

We stood there, all 500 of us, waiting for the big announcement. I looked around at my fellow high school graduates. At first, all I saw were eager faces. Young women and men, ready to face whatever the world had to offer. Then I noticed others like me; nervous, unsure, perhaps hoping against hope that ours would not be the name chosen.

“Congratulations, class of 2133!” The Dean stood beside a large glass bowl. A bowl that could have held about three or four dozen beautiful goldfish. But it didn’t. It was three-quarters full of pieces of paper. Business cards, the current version of High School Diplomas. Five hundred of them, to be precise. One of each of us.

“You each stand on the edge of greatness. Ready to explore the final frontier.”

Each year one of us was selected to go to the moon. Only one, whether the graduating class was a large class (1,000 or more some years), small (fewer than 100 at times) or medium-sized, like mine (500 exactly this year.)

What are the odds?” I thought. “Obviously 1 in 500; pretty good chance my name wouldn’t be drawn.

“I encourage those of you who remain behind,” the Dean exhorted, “to take the chosen one out to celebrate. Don’t envy them this wonderful opportunity; encourage them to embrace it. Share in their joy. Take your last chances to say goodbye to them, before they leave on board the rocket ship Galileo tomorrow.”

There were murmurs. I could make out the words from some of those around me. 

“I hope it’s me.” 

“I’m looking forward to a great party, whether I’m the chosen one or not.”

“I hope it’s not me.” Wait, did I say that out loud? No. That was Jenna, standing to my right.

The Dean reached her hand into the large glass bowl and rummaged around, trying to pick out one name and only one. She pulled out a pair of cards, shuffled them around without looking at them, and dropped one back into the bowl. She brought the chosen card up where she could read it.

“Rachel.” The Dean paused, looking over the crowd. Most of the boys sighed, wishing they had been chosen.

Let me think; there are five Rachel’s in our class. Now my odds were horrible; one in five.

“Rachel . . . Timone.”

Rachel Timone. That’s me. 

“Report to the loading dock at 0800 tomorrow morning. Enjoy your party!” The Dean stood there, staring right at me. Suddenly a pair of hands clapped me on the back, congratulating me. Jenna came over to stand in front of me with a big smile on her face.

“Rachel. You are the chosen one! I want to give you the biggest send-off party ever.” She grabbed my hand and pumped. Then she started pulling me towards the party room, just outside the loading dock. I couldn’t have ignored her offer if I tried. All four hundred ninety-eight of the other graduates were pushing the two of us toward the party room, beginning to chant.

“Party. Rachel. Party. Rachel.”

“Come on, Rachel. Let’s celebrate.”

The party room was huge; large enough to accommodate at least 2,000 people, just in case we ever had a baby boom, and years later, a large graduating class. Tables loaded with hors-d’oeuvres and punch bowls as big as the one the Dean pulled my name from lined the walls. We entered through doors in one long wall. And beyond the long wall on the other side of the room - the dreaded loading dock. As soon as we pushed through the doors everyone started to disperse, rushing to one of the tables around the perimeter. 

Almost everyone. Jenna was still beside me, although she wasn’t holding my hand anymore. And Scott. My lab partner and a good friend. Scott lived down the street from my parents and me.

“I’ll go get us some punch,” Jenna offered, still smiling.

As soon as she left Scott leaned over and whispered in my ear. “I’m so sorry, Rachel.” He knew I didn’t want to go. I would have asked him to go in my place, but there was no way he could pass as any of the Rachel’s in my class, with his broad shoulders, well-muscled arms, and close-cropped hair.


“Let me go get some food at least,” he offered. “To go with the punch. That is if you’re OK being alone for a minute.”

“Sure. Food. Punch.” I was still in shock.

Scott left and someone else stepped up to take his place. Someone I didn’t know.

“Hey. I’m Sunny.”

“Hi. I’m Rachel.”

“Rachel Timone. Yes, I know. Everyone knows.” Sunny had a serious look on her face. “You didn’t look too happy when you heard your name called.”

“I wasn’t,” I confirmed. “I’m not.”

“I wish it was me. I really wanted to go.”

“Sunny? You’re in my class? I don’t remember a Sunny.”

“That’s ‘cause my name’s Twila. Everyone calls me Sunny because I smile most of the time.” She wasn’t smiling now.

“If you really don’t want to go,” Sunny went on, “I have an idea. But we have to hurry before Jenna and Scott get back. Are you game?”

“Game for what?” I asked.

“I know a great hiding spot. If you hide, maybe they’ll delay the launch and hold another drawing. Then maybe I would be the chosen one.”

I saw Jenna headed our way. Then Liz said something to her, and Jenna turned away.

“Let’s go,” I confirmed for Sunny. She smiled at that. Then she took my hand and we started making our way towards the least crowded table along the outer rim of the party room. 

“Come on,” Sunny prompted, dropping into a squat. I squatted next to her. There, behind the party table, was a small, half-sized door. I wouldn’t have been able to see it standing up. We duck walked under the table. Sunny opened the door and we scooted in. When she closed the door behind us, interior LED lights came on.

“How’d you know about this place?” I asked. “Where does it lead? What is it used for?”

“I like to hide in here when I’m not feeling cheerful. I don’t want to risk ruining my reputation for being sunny all the time.” I looked around the small room, but I didn’t see any other doors. Apparently, it didn’t lead anywhere else.

“I think it’s used for storing things,” Sunny suggested. Then she pointed to a pair of harnesses safety harnesses. “Fragile things, I guess. This close to the launch pad it probably gets rocked a lot when there’s a launch.”

“Sounds pretty sketchy to me.”

“Me, too. I don’t have the answers; I was just trying to come up with something.”

“If they decide to put something breakable in here before the launch,” I continued, “then I’m sunk.”

“If you don’t hide, you’re sunk.”

“Good point.”

“Thank you. I’m going to get some sleep.” Sunny buckled herself in and closed her eyes.

I looked around at the tiny room. I looked at Sunny, going to sleep. I weighed my options, but that was easy; there weren’t any. I could hide here, and hope nobody found us, or I could let Sunny sleep and rejoin the party. Then I would be bound for the moon tomorrow. Unless I could find another place to hide.

Sunny was already starting to snore lightly. I felt a little silly, but hopeful, as I buckled myself in and closed my eyes.

I don’t know how long I slept, but being jostled around woke me up. Sunny was awake now, too.

“What’s going on?” I wondered.

“I don’t know,” Sunny shook her head. “But I’m glad we’re buckled in.”

After a few minutes, the erratic movement stopped. We looked at each other. Neither one of us risked unbuckling. We waited for anything else that might happen. We could hear feet moving around. Probably the other students partying. Maybe looking for me, their unwilling guest of honor. I pulled out my smartphone and looked. It read 8:15. The party started around six, so I figured we had been in this little room for about two hours. It felt like it. I wanted to get out and stretch. But I didn’t want to be discovered, cheered, toasted, and surrounded. Or brought forcefully to the loading dock in the morning. So I sat back and waited.

“How much longer do you think they’ll be partying?” I asked Sunny.

“I think they usually party most of the night. But I’m not sure.”

Then we felt a rumbling vibration. Earthquake? Suddenly the vibrating increased and we heard a loud sound, like a roaring waterfall.

“Is it morning?” I wondered. “Is that the launch?” I started to laugh. “If it is, they went without me.” About a minute later the roaring sound stopped and there was another vibration. A brief rumble. And I felt weird. Like I weighed almost nothing. Then a voice sounded over speakers I hadn’t noticed last night.

“Welcome to the Galileo. Welcome to space.”

Panels in the sides of the rooms slid back, exposing rich darkness. Punctuated by distant diamonds.

Sunny laughed, unbuckling herself. She floated freely into the middle of the tiny room.

“Looks like we’re both going to the moon! I guess this little room is a payload capsule.”

July 27, 2020 21:39

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