The Countdown

Experimental. It was experimental. That was what was shaking me to my core as I watched the console. Worse was knowing who was on board, locked into the safety restraints. They said they’d injected her with sedatives. If the screams coming through the communication system were any sign, either they’d lied or she’d woken up.
There was no aborting this mission. No fail-safe measures that could be taken. Not with a gun to the head of our commander and dozens more aimed around the room. My hands shook over the controls at my station. What could I do? Nothing. Save her, kill us all. Kill her, we live.
“I’m sorry.”
The words fell from my mouth, their thorns digging into my lips. The numbers were consonant with a successful launch by our calculations. But that was all they were: calculations. We were go-green across the board. She was crying.
The fuels were mixing. This part was still a traditional launch, just enough to escape the atmosphere before we moved on to the second stage of the flight. I ran the figures through in my head, remembered all the simulations that had succeeded. Or I tried. The images were replaced with the failures instead.
Science. That was all this was to them. They didn’t care who they had strapped to the top of the missile. That’s all it really was. No matter how pretty we made the rockets, no matter how many safety features we thought we had added. In the grand scheme of things, it was just another nuclear missile that we hoped we were aiming correctly.
The floor had long ago started to shake. A launch does that. It shakes the whole building and you can hear the shutters banging against the windows and they seem to glow a dull red. Listening to the comms was all that mattered to me now. I just needed to keep hearing her voice.
Silence is a kind of nightmare, one I knew was coming. When a shuttle passes through the atmosphere, the radios go silent. It has to do with the makeup of our atmosphere and how the magnetosphere works. I knew that silence well, and I dreaded it.
The rocket would be decoupling from the launch platform now. Most people think all the important things come at the last moment, but the launch procedure is a carefully timed and orchestrated dance. The slightest misstep would mean an aborted launch. Normally, at least.
“I love you.”
Those words were for me. Those wonderful, terrifying, sorrowful words were mine. She was still crying, I knew that. But she also knew I was listening. Moving slowly, not wanting to attract attention, I flipped the switch that turned my microphone live.
“I love you too. Forever.”
The roar was deafening. I turned my microphone back off, not wanting the rest of the launch crew to hear me crying. The odds of success were so low. Untested, untried. We should have sent an unmanned mission, a monkey mission, a pig mission, even. But we didn’t get that choice. The glory of the state came first and no one got a choice.

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