Sousuke felt like the world was ending.
In retrospect, when wasn’t the world about to end? It was still dark outside but that didn’t stop Sousuke from sitting up in bed to start preparing for the day. He was used to waking up early and at odd times of the day to train and work helping Mithril with their missions.
He walked over to the closet and grabbed a pair of black cargo pants and a black t-shirt to wear for the day. He didn’t need to turn on the lights to know where he was going. This had become his daily routine for years now. Returning to sit on the edge of his bed, he pulled on his boots and secured them in the dark quietly.
He joined Mithril’s Space Administration at the tender age of 7 years old. His adoptive father, Andrey Kalinin, found him in the midst of a warzone in Afghanistan and brought him back to Japan to be taken care of by him. Kalinin was one of the chief advisors contributing to the plans surrounding future projects involving Mithril in space. Kalinin, knowing that Sousuke had the potential to grow as a space cadet at Mithril after already being forced to partake in war as a kid, played a huge role in advocating for his son to join the administration’s novel academy program. It was here that Sousuke was able to develop his skills as a young soldier in training.
A loud snore from the other side of the room interrupted his thoughts. He turned his head to glance at his friend and roommate, Kurz, who was still sleeping deeply in bed. His blonde hair was sticking up in all angles across his face and pillow and he had some light drool slipping out of his mouth.
When Sousuke and Kurz were originally paired to dorm with one another, the former had tried to instill his early morning habits into the blonde man out of courtesy for sharing their room, but they ended up tackling each other after the latter refused to wake up. The boys had caused so much damage to the surrounding area of their room that they were forced to clean and repair everything by themselves for days. Through the process of cleaning and hard work, they soon became close comrades who confided in one another.
Sousuke grabbed his ID card from his desk and latched it to the pin on belt buckle. He walked outside of his room to head towards the indoor training grounds at the command center. The dark feeling he had felt earlier when he awakened gave him an ominous sense that something bad was going to happen soon. He needed to train and prepare for whatever was coming his way.
“Good morning, brave citizens of Japan!” The broadcaster announced through the television. “Today is a wonderful day for our nation - Mithril’s Space Administration has done it again! The space organization will be sending a team of their best space cadets to the Skeld.”
The broadcaster’s voice was bouncing off of the walls of the cafeteria. Despite the momentous event that was underway, there was a quiet hum amongst those eating breakfast that morning rather than the usual stream of noise.
Members of the organization from all ranks were welcome to roam about the command center and associated buildings with ease so long as the rooms were not barred with security padlocks. The cafeteria was a popular room amongst the space cadets in training and the leading scientists in charge of the missions. With free food as an offer to the employees, who else could refuse the temptation to gorge down luxury meals?
“The official reason behind their mission is unknown, as of now,” the broadcaster’s voice was steadily becoming more firm and serious as she continued, “...but our secret sources suggest that there may be intercom problems and machine maintenance aboard the Skeld...”
With this, the comfortable and quiet hum of the cafeteria disappeared. Everyone was now paying deep attention to the television and the broadcaster’s words. People who were eating happily amongst themselves slowly came to a stop. Staff members who were waiting in line to be served were watching the program and held up the line. Even the cleaning and food staff members were pausing their work to hear where the broadcaster’s story was headed.
Although Mithril was known across the world for its unique contributions to the space bevy, the organization preferred to keep their day-to-day business and missions private. The organization was used to having its name in the occasional news story feature for Japan, but nothing more was offered or taken from Mithril.
“...that poses a risk of destroying the nation’s international space station if not worked upon immediately.”
The breath everyone had been holding came out heavily and with an edge of uncertainty. Every member of the staff situated in the room took the situation seriously. Having nosy and gossip-like tabloids on their backs fishing for details was one thing, but it was a whole other situation when a popular news organization was able to vaguely outline the reasons behind your most recent mission launch.
“Our news team will be tracking Mithril’s movements as much as we can to bring the best updates to you!”
No one was moving from their positions. It was like everyone was waiting for something to happen. Finally, the Lieutenant Commander and Sousuke’s father, Andrey Kalinin stood from his seat at one of the tables nearest the television stand and turned it off.
He turned to face everyone in the cafeteria to address them. “What you have all born witness to with the newscast from today is a serious matter.” He paused and his eyes were scanning the room as if to find some sign of confession or guilty conscience from one of the staff. “Nonetheless, none of you shall be repeating any of this information to the space cadets prior to or during the launch.”
Some of the members within the room began to look around the cafeteria in search of the presence of any of the cadets. None of the cadets were in the cafeteria, however. All of the ten space cadets selected for the maintenance mission aboard the Skeld were either outside of the building on the ground launchpad or preparing materials to take aboard the flight.
Kalinin continued, “You all understand the importance of this mission...Not just to Mithril or Japan, but to the entire world. If any of the cadets learn about the news that has transpired today before they land safely at the Skeld, it could be detrimental to the mission. As you were.”
The Lieutenant Commander walked out of the room and outside the building to find his son before the launch. With this, the cafeteria slowly came back to life. The previous chats of the day-long forgotten and now only whispered in fear of what was to come next. Others went about their day, as usual, to help prepare for the launch choosing to forget (or ignore) the ominous meaning left in between the words of Kalinin.
Richard Mardukas, founder and CEO of Mithril and grandfather to Tessa and Leonard Testarossa, nodded in the direction of Andrey Kalinin as he came onto the scene. Mardukas had already given the cadets a farewell speech with heartfelt instructions of what they were supposed to do after arriving at the Skeld. Afterward, he had been wistfully listening to Tessa’s account of the quantum theory of energy and how it related to their launch mission as Leonard chatted away with Kaname Chidori, another member of the space cadets. He was thoroughly engaged with Tessa’s discussion until he realized at that moment how much he was going to miss her.
Tessa and Leonard Testarossa were his only grandchildren and the only surviving link to the precious daughter he had lost in an accident years earlier. He took them into his home immediately and raised them as his own. He encouraged their studies and founded the space cadets program for them to join after realizing how remarkable the twins were in their genius.
Mardukas pulled Tessa into a deep hug and hoped for success in the cadets’ mission. The team would be leaving for a few weeks to apply updates and maintenance on the Skeld, but anything could go wrong. Being alone in space was its own mission in itself. Should anything happen support from Mithril would not come for a few weeks at best. The team of cadets had to work together efficiently and collaboratively to get the job done right.
Mardukas could feel the eyes of Kalinin burning into the back of his neck waiting for his attention. With one last squeeze of his granddaughter’s body, he bid adieu to her and shook Leonard’s hand before walking away.
Mardukas could tell that Kalinin had given his adopted son, Sousuke Sagara, his own conversation and good-bye if the remnants of the sole tear waiting to fall from his eye were any indication. He said nothing about this to Kalinin, however, and stood still near his side as he waited for the Lieutenant Commander to carry on with whatever it was that he wanted to say.
“They know,” Kalinin started, almost in a frazzled state. Mardukas raised his eyebrow in confusion pushing Kalinin to continue. “The news today. They have a source on us. They know about our mission to the Skeld.”
Mardukas’ previous mood darkened hastily. He frowned and he could feel his face scrunching up in displeasure. “Any thoughts on who?” he muttered.
Kalinin shook his head in dismay and looked behind Mardukas to scan the cadets in their presence. Mardukas understood his friend’s silent message and nodded. All of the cadets were on the launchpad with them and it would be nefarious of the older men to allow the young teenagers any chances for doubts to form within them.
He glanced down at his watch to check the time and frowned again. It was time. He cleared his throat and turned to face the cadets. They were all looking at him with expressions full of anxiousness, excitement, worry, and hope. He had to continue.
“Cadets of Mithril’s Space Academy. Complete your mission - nothing less, nothing more. Work together and come back safely.” His eyes locked with Tessa’s grey ones and it took every part of him to not lock her away within the commanding center to keep her safe. “It’s time to go.”