Chapter 7: Shipping Out
Raphe Secarra was going to be late. Most of his gear had already shipped out in advance, but today he was scheduled to be on a shuttle to Medjmith, a space station where the Laeril was currently docked. That's where the next and final pre-launch phase of the mission would occur.
The only thing comparable to his excitement for the mission was how much he was going to miss Bec and Alden.
He stuffed the last of his short-term clothes into his bag, closed it up and heaved it up from the bed to his shoulder. He walked to the door, then turned and looked back for a moment one last time. If everything went according to plan, he would never see this room again.
Bec was waiting for him near the front door. Both of them tried to treat this goodbye like a regular day, or at least like an ordinary contract or term assignment. "You got your badge?" she asked.
"Badge." He patted the pockets of his pants, then his jacket. "Check."
"Did you hear from Michal?"
"Yeah. He's gonna meet me at the shuttle."
"He's out already? The doctor cleared him?"
"Yeah, Dr. Reitessa gave him an armguard brace and said he's okay to go."
"I still can't believe how that whole thing happened. He saved that woman at the assembly, and almost got himself killed."
"He's a hero. My brother is a certified hero." He paused. "Come to think of it, I'll probably never hear the end of this."
"Six months of listening to him retell the story should be fun," she joked, smiling. "Are you sure you want to go?"
"It'll be a nice change from quoting those lines from all the e-shows."
" 'Look out!' 'Run to the shuttle!' " she quipped.
Raphe laughed. "You really missed your calling."
His comm beeped a reminder of his schedule. He muted it, then opened his arms wide to hold her.
Bec's eyed narrowed. "You're not going to do that spaceman thing again, are you?"
Raphe slowly moved his arms up and down, feigning weightlessness. "Fsssshhhh!"
She shook her head, then embraced him. They held each other and kissed.
"Before the Flying Secarra Brothers ride again, go up and talk to him. He's gonna miss you."
"I know. I'm gonna miss him. And maybe you too," He winked.
Raphe left his bag by the front door and walked up the stairs of their Rescan house for the last time. He walked along the upper level hallway past the photos of his grandparents and parents, he and Bec's wedding photos, baby pictures of his son, and last year's family photo, then stopped outside his son's door. It was halfway open, and he could hear Alden playing inside.
"Psssssssshheewwww!" came the unmistakable sound of a spaceship in flight as emulated by a child. He was playing with a scale model of the Laeril that Raphe had given him a few weeks ago. It was still his favorite toy, for now.
"Hey buddy," Raphe said with a smile as he gentle pushed the door open. "How's she flying?"
"Okay, I guess," Alden shrugged. "Trying to find a safe way to land."
"Really?" Raphe stared at his little boy, trying to commit every part of his brain to remembering Alden's face, his voice, his expressions.
"Yeah. It's pretty big and it's got kind of a weird shape."
"It does, right?" Raphe agreed. He walked inside and sat down on the floor next to Alden. "Wanna know a secret?"
Alden looked up at him, intrigued. "A secret?"
"It never lands."
There it was. The eye-widening look of wonder. "Never?"
"Nope. When we get to New Letarr, we press a few buttons and move some pieces of the ship around a bit, and it becomes a space station. It sits way, way up in the sky, so far up that you could barely see it from the ground. It'll just be a little tiny dot."
Raphe nodded back at him. "Yep."
"But then how do you make the colony?"
"Well," Raphe answered thoughtfully, "The Laeril's pretty big right?"
"Yeah. Really big." Alden agreed.
"Part of the reason that it's so big is because there's a whole factory inside it. And we're gonna use that factory to make all the vehicles and materials we need to build the colony."
Alden looked at the big model in his hands and turned it around a few times, perhaps considering where the factory might be located. "But how do you get all that stuff down to the ground? Won't it break if you drop it from that high up?"
Raphe smiled. That was almost as good a question as the time Alden had asked about a giant straw going up into space and whether it might suck all the air off the planet because he heard at school that "space is a vacuum". Such is the interpretive imagination of a seven-year-old engineer-in-the-making.
"It probably would. Luckily for us, there's a hangar in there, too, which is kinda like a mini-spaceport where small ships – like shuttles – can come and go. And those shuttles get loaded up with all kinds of equipment and materials that we've built in the factory. Then they fly down to the surface and that stuff is used to build the colony. Little by little, we build it up, and before you know it, we're gonna have a brand new home."
"Will it take a long time?"
"It'll take about six months. And during that time, you and Mom are gonna pack up your things here and then you'll be able to get on another space ship that comes to the colony, and then we're all gonna move into our new home together."
"Six months," Alden echoed. "Is that a long time?"
Raphe took a deep breath and steeled himself a bit. "Well, it would be, except that the space ship that you're gonna ride in is special. You and Mom will get onto the ship and you'll lay down for a nap, and when you wake up, you'll be there with me."
"And we'll have a new home?"
"That's right," Raphe answered. He found himself staring intently at his son again. "What do you think about that?"
Alden shrugged again. "Okay, I guess."
"Alright. How about a hug?"
"Okay," Alden begrudgingly put down his space ship, stood up, and hugged his dad. After a moment, he sat back down and picked up the Laeril again, ready to resume his adventures.
Raphe stood up and headed for the door. "See you, Alden."
Raphe pulled the door halfway closed, and just as he was about to step away, his son spoke up again.
Raphe leaned back into the room. "Yeah?"
"Can I have a bigger room?"
Raphe chuckled. "I'll see what I can do."