art by Melissa Mead
by Craig Pay
Celeste: 25, Joseph: 26, Susie: 5
"The stars in front of us will turn blue."
A strand of hair dropped down in front of Susie's little face. "Blue?"
"It's called Doppler shift, honey." Celeste reached out and brushed the hair away, tucking it behind her daughter's ear.
Susie scrunched up her face. "What's a Dopple?"
"Doppler. We're going so fast, the light gets squashed up. The stars behind us will turn pink."
Susie's eyes widened. "Pink stars!"
Celeste smiled, feeling a painful knot at the back of her throat. Then she squeezed her little girl until she squirmed from her grip and asked to go play.
He leaned in and kissed her, and when he moved away she felt a cool dampness left behind on her cheek. A pre-flight technician reached inside her helmet, swabbed her lips and shot him a warning look. She tasted the sharp tang of antiseptic.
"You look ridiculous," Celeste said.
Joseph was wearing baggy white overalls complete with a facemask he was now pulling back up into place. Celeste sat in her suit with technicians fussing all around her: checking seals, running calibration checks. The partners were allowed this last visit to the ready room--those that had completed their six-week course of inoculations and then submitted to an uncomfortably thorough medical examination.
"We'll miss you," Joseph said.
She tried to nod but knocked her forehead against the inside of her helmet. They both laughed.
She wriggled her toes, trying to ease the pins and needles in her white-socked feet. Her boots were still on the floor, last to go on because of a last-minute glitch with the telemetry. Joseph knelt down and began to rub her feet. A pre-flight tech stepped forward to intervene but Celeste shot him a warning look.
Joseph seemed to be waiting for something.
"What is it?" she asked.
He looked around at the technicians, and then held up a hand. In his white-gloved palm he held a large, silver coin. It looked old.
"A old sixpence," he said. "For luck."
"Where am I supposed to put that?"
For a moment he looked a little crestfallen, and then they both started giggling. From the far end of the room a technician glanced at them momentarily before going back to his work.
"One of my socks," she said.
She wiggled her toes. "Quickly!"
She could feel the warmth of his hands pull down the sock on her right foot, and then a cool tickle as the coin slipped down inside. Joseph pulled her sock back up and then she shook her foot until the coin worked its way down.
Silence. Joseph continued to rub her feet.
"It's only five years," she said.
"Nine, for us." He frowned.
"T-minus one minute thirty seconds. ET bipod heaters off."
"Harnesses all locked?" The pilot's voice from the upper deck.
"Never lock mine." The commander's voice. "Might need to reach something."
"We got airbags, right?"
The sound of laughter.
"T-minus one minute. Perform SRB forward MDM lockout."
"One minute downstairs," the commander called down.
The crew launch vehicle was arranged in two decks, with the command, pilot, and engineers on the upper deck and the mission specialists on the lower.
"Celeste, got an alarm on your suit." One of the other mission specialists, their doctor. "Right foot."
She heard more laughter.
Then the commander's voice: "What you got stuffed in there, Celeste?"
"Sorry, command, it's a coin--a sixpence."
"Well maybe try a less conductive good luck charm next time around." He paused, then: "Ground, alarm looks good."