It was the first commercial space launch in years, but the purpose was purely scientific. No one on board was going to make 'Colewalder and Phip Propulsion', 'Pentadyne industries' or any of the companies involved in this any money. On board were 3 scientists and 3 civilians how where going to orbit the planet for 6 months and test the living accommodations aboard the new exploratory vessels that where being produced in the new rush toward the stars. They were basically comfort testing the vessel while ground crews monitored them and the equipment remotely. These 3 civilian volunteers had been hard to come by, society at large was still skeptical about going back into space after the failed efforts 25 years ago left a batch of 10 prospective colonists to die of system failures on their nearest planet. it had taken a month to get there and a month for a rescue vessel to reach them but by then it was too late and the world had watched. So while many people wanted to try again it had been hard to find people who were willing to drop everything and give it a go.
But they had found 3 and each had their reasons. There was a former accountant who had just quit his job and decided he wanted to go to space. There was an unemployed photographer who had walked in with all the cash he had and signed up, and there was a young woman who decided that furthering space colonization was more important than marrying and settling down. Those are all the details they gave out to the reporters anyway. The Truth was that there was more to them than they let on. They all secretly thought about how they came to be here as the engines rumbled to life and they were pressed against their seats.
Renard Flemoux had been standing outside of his highrise office building. He was looking down and felt he had no choice but to jump. He had somehow lost track of millions of dollars and spent months tracking it down. Now that he found it he knew how hopeless it was. The money had been taken by the Coo who happened to be the Ceo's son. The thief had done it in such as fashion as to have plausible deniability and lined up some scapegoats. One of whom was Renard Flemoux his reputation would be ruined and he would most likely go to jail. So now he was standing outside of his office building looking down. He was still frozen but felt like down was the only way out. He had brought his briefcase for some reason. He didn't know why. He was standing there still feeling the wind on his fur and wondering if it would hurt. He heard a window off to his left open he looked over to see a bear in a business suit, rolls of fat poking over his suit collar. He had no idea who that was he thought it was probably someone who worked at the business that they shared the floor with.
" Just stay right there, you don't need to make any rash decisions, i am going to come over just stay right there for a minute." The bear said in a comforting tone then popped back into his own window.
Renard looked down and thought about jumping before the bear got there. His heard pounded in his ears and he could hear the wind whipping in his ears as if he had already jumped. The it all stopped, his heart beat, the wind, the sound of traffic far bellow. All these things cut off as if by a knife and filling that sudden void was the gentle notes of a flute. He turned around to see a 20 something raccoon in a well worn hoody standing behind him and gently playing a sweet melody on what looked to be a homemade flute. Instead of a tinny whistle the notes were clear and and sweet and were piercing Renard's heart like a dagger, all the heart pounding fear and despair was pushed aside by the tender notes. He had a sudden urge to look down but when he did he didn't see a place to end his life he saw little smears of color that were people going about vivid and interesting lives, his eyes darted around and he took the city in with a sudden new wonder. His eyes suddenly caught the far off forests and the trees so distantly swaying. He vividly began imagining all the birds flitting between the trees and singing with no care in the world. His eyes wandered up the hills and mountains till he caught sight of the mountain top space port that had been refurbished for the rumored second go at space flight. His eyes kept going up and he stared into the blue sky. The melody of the flute filling him and making him feel like he was being carried upward toward the stars hidden by the blue veil of the sky. He knew that his future lay not plummeting toward the ground but hurtling toward the sky. The music suddenly stopped. He turned to thank the flute player and compliment him on his beautiful playing but he was gone. There was no sign of the young raccoon. Just a blank ledge. Actually there wouldn't have been room for another persona anyway. he was taking up the whole ledge. He was standing just outside his open window. The flute player would have had to be in his office but he remembered him being on the ledge behind him. No matter. It was time for a new plan. He turned back and waited for the wind to pick up then he opened his briefcase. All the papers and the documents flew out into the wind, some of them were sensitive but Renard no longer cared. The door to his office burst open and the bear, huffing with effort, Renard looked back still shaking his briefcase out.
" Oh sorry if my dramatic resignation gave you the wrong impression, the only suicide i am committing is career suicide." He stepped off the ledge and started filling his briefcase with the things on his desk he wanted.
" Wait, what?" the bear huffed. He was well dressed and was probably high up at the company next door.
" Oh my boss's rich brat of a son stole some money from the company and was setting up some of us little people to take the fall, so fuck em' i am quitting and sending out all the evidence to... well pretty much everyone." He said all of this while tapping commands into his palm top, sending the relevant info to everyone in the company and even a few news stations. He cheerfully removes his tie and offers the panting bear his chair.
" Have a seat, don't worry about breaking the chair, i am done with it. I would toss it out the window if it weren't a hazard to any below." Renard said casually. The bear sat and the chair made for Renard's slender fox frame creaked as the large bear sat down. He was starring wide eyed at Renard as he detailed a brief account of how the skimming had been done.
" Anyway sorry for scarring you, you seem a decent sort, not everyone would even lift a finger to stop a suicide they would have just watched." Renard explained as he shut the briefcase around all the things he wanted.
" Well now i am going to tell my boss to go fuck himself then i am going to space, tata." He walked out the door leaving the bear in the nice suit starring goggle eyed at him as he caught his breath. The bear raised his hand and waved and said
" Uh, good luck and have a nice day." in a confused voice.
Renard had run into his boss in a hallway and explained The boss's son had been embezzling and that he was a fuckwit, the boss was a fuckwit and that he hoped to never hear from them again. He didn't wait to let the astonishment slip from his boss's face he just strode to the elevator and made his way down. There he called a cab and had it take him to the train station where he caught a train up into the mountains and into the space center where he volunteered. After 8 months of training he was strapped into a launch vehicle.
He was grinning with pure simple joy the whole time the extra Gs slamed him back into his seat as he hurtled toward the sky. He wasn't on a grand tour of the universe or anything but he felt like he was on his way to contributing to something larger than some CEO's pocket book. He hoped whatever happened, what ever part he played he would contribute to society as a whole. Next to him the almost awkwardly tall and gangling figure of a cheetah sat pressed back into his own chair. He was also thinking of how he had come here.
Pauly Canmendy had been out of work for nearly a year. He was backed up with debt and only had a hundred buck to his name which were all in his pocket as he tracked down a man who would end it all for him. He had read on some forums about services for clients with exotic tastes. He read on and found one of the providers was near by. He had arranged to meet that provider. He sat in his tiny apartment bedroom and waited for that service provider to come up. He was hoping that the provider could "accidentally" arrange so he didn't come back from the experience. He Had sent out some vaguely worded emails who's meaning would be clear afterward.
" I am taking a trip and if all goes well i won't be coming back" It read. When he turned up missing he hoped no one came looking. He had paid off his rent, his loans and everything and was left with the hundred bucks in his poket. He had closed most of his bank accounts but left one open because by that time he had run out of energy to tie up loose ends. He thought about doing it now just to have it done with but he couldn't summon up the energy. The Buzzer rang announcing he had a visitor. He checked the time and saw it was right on time for the service provider. He Hit the door control and let the provider in and minutes later he heard a knock at the door to his tiny apartment. He opened the door to let his end enter.
Inside came a Tanuki, maybe 6 feet tall decently muscled but with a belly that hung out below his plain white shirt he wore under a leather vest. Unlike the picture he wasn't decked out in a bondage harness, chaps and a leather collar but his outfit was much the same in tightly fitting bluejeans and white shirt that was stretched with his girth. He supposed some people would have found his type wildly attractive but Pauly felt nothing at all. He came in wearing a cocky grin that was vaguely predatory but as soon as he entered and looked Pauly up and down it melted off his face. At first Pauly was wondering if he was disappointing in his prey but the look that replaced it was of gentle pity and compassion. He clearly felt sorry for Pauly who now that he thought about it wasn't hiding his dejected expression.
" Ok, so i want you to do your thing, but i don't want to come back from it, here is a hundred..." he began explaining in a dead voice but was cut off when he felt strong arms grasp him and pull him against the big belly. He thought it was about to happen and he couldn't wait for the darkness to take him away from his troubles. Then he noticed the Service provider's hands weren't griping or pulling him toward his doom. The strong arms were wrapped around him in a hug. Pauly felt the tanuki place his chin on top of Pauly's head. He thought about Objecting, to struggling to demanding he do his job and end it all. But it had been so long since anyone had given his a hug. He just sat there and let it happen while his eyes misted. The Big tanuki began rocking him gently and Pauly's eyes began to blur and close. He knew he wasn't falling asleep but seemed to go straight into a dream.
He saw his Apartment building receding as he slowly pulled back into the sky. He saw the whole continent lush and green, then farther he saw the whole world covered in oceans the most vibrant blue he had ever seen, white clouds dotted the planet he pulled back farther and passed the moon then the small objects that drifted around it. Then he seemed to pick up speed and was rushing passed stars and for the barest moment he saw all the planets and moons in them he felt himself hurtling passed vast distances of space until suddenly he felt his feet touch the ground.
He was starring up at an alien sky, no atmosphere clouded the view of the luminous clouds of gas and dust that hung in the sky like dancing clouds of fire and ice. Stars shown in the small clear patches of the sky and they glimmered like piles of diamonds dumped on a jeweler's black velvet cloth. The Planets sun was up and slightly behind him and he watched his shadow creeping as time flew passed seeming to slither over the rocks that were red and blue-green with Iron and copper oxides. The far off hills were all dotted in stunning patterns of these oxides and seemed to mirror the colors in the sky. Time seemed to jump and he saw buildings spring up, first simple prefabs, then buildings made of native rock, then a small town with people walking about in suits. Those people weren't like any species pauly had seen back home. He realized he was seeing a colony spring up. He could almost smell the collective excitement. The Hope and the years of struggle to get there. He liked it. He wanted it. He Needed it. He remembered the rumors of his own world's push into the stars and knew he needed to be part of it.
He awoke, or at least came back to himself, he was laying on his bed and wondered if it was all a dream but he saw the fat tanuki sitting next to his bed counting out money. He saw he was peeling of hundreds as he counted, it wasn't Pauly's money. The fat tanuki placed the wad of cash down above of pauly's phone which was displaying directions that must have been programed in by the Tanuki. Under the phone was an application form for civilian service in the science division of the multinational space agency. The Tanuki set the bundle of cash on top of the form.
" Application fees." The tanuki said not turning to look but feeling Pauly's eyes on him. " You can only take a small bag, i suggest the Ferickson pro 5 and any lenses for it. It is most versatile but has good quiality for it's size."
" Uh i know, i am a photographer." Pauly says. He got the impression that the big Tanuki guy was mother henning him.
"Right, well take pictures that are out of this world." The Tanuki returns then gets up.
" Hey man, can i get your name?" Pauly asks. he was sure he had seen the guys name when he had contacted him to end it all but that felt like it had been so long ago.
" Uh, its Stopher."
" Well thanks Stopher, for the shift in perspective." pauly says and hold out his hand. Stopher takes it and shakes it.
" Think nothing of it. You might want to ask some of your friends to watch the stuff you don't take." The Tanuki says then just Vanishes with a 'Shwaa' sound. Pauly immeadiatly takes this moment to make a few phone calls. After a few minutes and saying " I'm going to space!" more times then he can count he packs a small bag and his Ferickson and heads out the door With the forms in hand. He runs into some people in the hallways on his way to the stairs and anyone who asks where he is off to he answers with.
" I'm going to space!"
A bus ride and a train up into the mountains he is in the application center with only a few other people. He Fills out his forms and idly chats to some of the examiners as he does so. He is just so glad to be cheerful he lets anything spill out of his mouth. He talks about the things he saw in his dream, he with ought knowing how rattles off coordinates, and features. He is so busy with the forms he doesn't notice one of the doctors frowning as he listens. This doctor slips out of the room and doesn't come back until Pauly's is finished filling out the forms and forks over the application fees. He is just sitting in the waiting room and and tweeting out selfies of himself with things in the waiting room. He hadn't felt like being stupidly excited in a long time and wanted to bask in it. He was so absorbed in this he didn't notice the doctor comeback in and emphatically point toward him and whisper into someone else's ear.
" he knew they were there and we hadn't even finished decoding the data, it took 13 minutes after i asked about it and he was right, there is an extraterrestrial colony at the coordinates he was babbling about. I want him in the program any program. just keep him around."
When told he had been accepted he grabbed the doctor in a hug and took a selfie the pic showed his grinning face and the startled looking doctor, written with all caps.
" I AM GOING TO FUCKING SPACE!"
Pauly Now sat grimacing but still extacik as he was squished into his flight chair. He was thinking about all the things he wanted to photograph. Hell he would take pictures of a toothbrush as long as it was in space and he was about to be somewhere where everything was in space. Namely space.
"sssssppaaaaccceee" he muttered out against the extra Gs.
The Female Shiba inu in the seat next to him gave him a quick glance as she expressionlessly sat and absentmindedly calculated their distance of the ground by dividing the stated velocity from the pre-flight briefing against the time she counted. She was as excited as the other two but kept that excitement in the back of her mind. She was Former military so had an air of professionalism that the other two civilian testers lacked. She admitted their wide eye wonder was amusing and endearing. She was also glad to be off the ground. She concentrates on the mission and does not let herself be distracted by her past. She simply counted. The Shutter felt didn't take her by surprise.
The Launch assist stage Separated and made its way back down. It would land at the dessert complex one continent over from where they launched. After a small pause she felt the engines of the Main Vehicle start up. A flash of something made her look over. A monitor had turned on and it was showing a veiw from one of the external cameras. What she saw on the monitor shattered all the discipline she had.
There on the monitor lay the planet curving away beneath them. She had a moment of of speechless awe. She had come up here to escape but now she was looking at the wide expanse of the world and she felt that her reasons for coming here had been misguided. She should have been thinking about this. The tall cheetah who she always thought was a bit of an Idealistic idiot always going on about space and how cool it was had realized something she hadn't. Namely that this was amazing and worth it for its own sake. She Felt a shortlived moment of shame but then dismissed it because she was changing her mind with new information. She was learning and there was no shame in that. She forgot to track the stages of their mission and just looked over at the monitor. She was so Absorbed that the voice over the com telling them they could unbuckle and move about the cabin Startled her slightly.
Everyone took advantage of this, the fox accountant tentitvally at first and the cheetah photographer with enough enthusiasm to send him self bouncing of the bulkhead. He seemed unphased by it and soon made his way toward the monitor that stood in for a window. They were in a passenger compartment that could hold 6 but the other 3 seats had been removed for this test, instead being replaced by 3 crates secured to the deck. The Scientists and crew where in the cockpit. Instead the company had put 3 crates of micro satellites that were also being tested. They were self deploying so theoretically you could just shove the crate out an airlock with the lid off and they would sort themselves out. Half way through their test stay the crew would test these by deploying a crate in different manners. The passengers were most likely just going to watch. Right now the crates were providing an anchor for the Fox accountant to hold onto as he got used to the micro gravity. The Accommodations they would be staying in had variable gravity provided by plates of some kind of new material that could provide up to 1.5 G of gravity. There was only enough of the stuff to put in the living quarters.
The Door to the cockpit opened and out came one of the pilots to check on everyone. He was in the latested generation spacesuit which had been adapted from a Military design of full body armor so it looked a little intimidating despite being painted blue and white. The Helmet was molded to follow the muzzle of the wearer and made of high impact ballistic plastics and fiber molds. Thankfully the eyes had been left visible through a clear visor, unlike the base it was modeled after. The Orignal Red Knight Arms M7A2 hazardous environmental combat suit was an intimidating monstrosity and some effort had been made to make the non combat pressure suit model look less arch. It had only been partially successful. The Pilot peered at them all.
" Everyone doing alright? No Chunder blunders to scrape off the walls?" he asked cheerfully.
" Who can vomit at a time like this?" the cheetah asks gleefully as he floats slowly in a pinwheel fashion.
" Oh lots of people actually. It is one reason we asked you to leave your helmets off for the ascent." The pilot says.
" Why is your suit different from ours?" Renard asked as he gently let go of crate he was hold onto to float gently in place.
" Oh, yours are newer, they were made from scratch to look more friendly, this stuff is retooled combat gear, one of the Partners in of "Colewalter and Phip" has an arms company so this is their first attempt at space suits. Yours are their 3rd. Cheaper, more comfortable and most importantly doesn't make you look like a storm trooper."
" Cheaper?" the Fox asks, the cheetah is too busy playing in the micro gravity to pay attention.
" Well a lot of the cost of these come from the armor plating which is kinda overkill for most of what we do. Your suits have the amount of protection needed for non combat stuff."
( To be continued )