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One Last Landing

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Out ride the sons of Terra,

 

Far drives the thundering jet,

 

Up leaps a race of Earthmen,

 

Out, far, and onward yet ---

 

                                       -Robert A. Heinlein, 

                                         The Green Hills of Earth

 

 

May 13, 2056

Boulder, Colorado

Kelley Space Center

 

 

Jim spun the chair around in another circle. For all the time that he’d worked for NASA, the biggest thing he’d gotten his hands on was a new trajectory for a minor probe. They told him to calculate the estimated emissions of rover 387. Code a defense system for some fancy missile off of Florida’s coast. Calculate the number of potatoes Mark would have needed to make it until Ares 4. The last two years had been spent learning that his clearance level was depressingly low and that nobody would tell him anything at all regardless of his friendship with Pike. Which was exactly why he was elated to be on a repair mission—his physical body out in deep space, not just his math. Bones was less pleased, but he wasn’t about to let Jim run off in the black without someone to patch him up. 

It wasn’t that he’d never been in space before—he’d done maintenance of the B51 Gabriel, an earth orbital, once or twice during the last couple months, right before he and Bones had found out they were going to space and cried on each others shoulders for very different reasons. The difference was that this time, they were going for years, and who knew if they were ever coming back. Real space. Uncharted Space.

The thought of departing from the international space station was almost as exhilarating as actually being out there. The place was like a historic monument. To think that in the past, astronauts would spend six months in a tiny shuttle just to get to the station, and most of the time they wouldn’t leave. It looked nothing like it did thirty years ago. There were shuttle ports for takeoff and landing, supply networks and cleverly hidden solar panels that had long surpassed the efficiency of the ones of the twenty first century. They had left the original structure, though, the angular bones of a station, off of the port side like docked ship. He couldn’t wait to visit it.

Today was the first day since Pike had set off to the J130 station that they’d be able to talk face-to-face. Well, face to monitor. The tiny office echoed with the static from the screen. They could see each other, but there was a little bit of a lag, as was known to happen when one of the parties was speaking from outside Jupiter’s orbit.

“So,” Pike started, his voice crackling a little, “when you boys get there, I’m going to require another round of vaccinations. ISS is a zero grav, so until we’re ready to depart for good, your schedule is going to be entirely training. Estinov is going to be in charge of your workout and diet, Ava will get you familiarized with the updated systems. It’s gonna be a hell of a boring two weeks, but it’ll be just enough time to calibrate the sensors to all of your voices. I thought it would be best to give you all a chance to get to know one another before we set off, anyway.”

Jim nodded eagerly. Behind him, Bones looked a little nauseous.

Pike raised an eyebrow. Something was shining blue light on the side of his face, but the smile looked comforting enough. “That means no hamburgers, Jim,” he said.

“What? Not one?” Jim said, clutching a hand to his chest and making it shake a little. 

Pike laughed. “I’m afraid not. Trust me, astronaut food isn’t nearly as fun as the little packets of freeze dried ice cream they give kids.”

“I hated those,” Bones said.

 


Two weeks.

When Pike had said training, he had lied. It wasn’t training. It was torture. They were being spun around in a tiny metal box for eight hours a day. If that wasn’t bad enough, NASA was actively trying to starve them. What Jim wouldn’t do for a burrito. Or a grilled cheese sandwich. Or something with grease, dammit.

“Drink it, Jim.” 

“If you put that anywhere near my mouth, I swear to Christ that I will punt it,” he snarled, batting away the straw.

Jim looked insistently away from the pale beverage. He could tell that Bones was at the end of his rope. It was tense, and he couldn’t fault him for that, but it was the thirtieth nutrient and protein shake that he had been forced to ingest in the last week. Nasa was full of shit. Blueberry, vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry tasted exactly the same. Nothing masked that awful bitterness and no amount of fruit dissolved the chalky texture that crawled down his throat. No, they weren’t smoothies and they weren’t good. They were hell. Hell. 

McCoy sighed. “James Tiberius Kirk, you will—”

“Oh, pulling out the last name, are we?” he snapped, crossing his arms. “I thought I’d managed to avoid that after the seventh grade.”

Bones gave him a wounded look and slumped next to him on the peeling plastic bench. He slurped reluctantly on his own blueberry-chocolate conglomeration. One of his shoes was untied. They had both put on a little bit of weight thanks to the 'special diet', and Bones was wearing his well.  

“Five days,” he said. 

Jim felt his pout lessen into a smile. “Four days and nine hours,” he corrected, brushing their arms together in what was as close to an apology as he was going to manage.

“You think we’re ready?” 

“Are you kidding? We’ll be living in a can with unlimited Netflix for five years. I don’t see how that’s any different than what we’re already doing.” Jim reached out and snuck his protein shake from Leonard’s left hand. He gagged and pretended not to see the victorious smile.