I knew where most of the ship’s cameras hid now. No punch-happy guards would sneak up on me this time.
This observation deck—more like a lounge—bore the title, Breaking Free, in beautiful gold script across the upper window. Instead of reproductions of ancient paintings or artful images of worn artifacts, this deck hosted video displays along its walls.
One holographic video showed a man in a shiny space suit and a claustrophobia-inducing helmet making his dramatic walk toward a cramped little capsule.
One showed a handsome, clean-cut man taking the podium before a crowd of media sporting enormous cameras.
One grainy image showed a kid squatting in the sand watching rocket fire disappear into the clouds.
The men from the Apollo program, the men who had strapped rockets to their chairs and gotten away with it.
Keeping to the left of the deck’s camera, I slipped between two of the displays. I settled down on the thick pile carpeting, pulled my legs and bag out of view, rested my head against the display stand.
The wall of the stand rumbled against my head. I didn’t look up. But I listened.
“Somewhere along the line I made a rational, coldhearted decision that, on the one hand, there was a one-in-three chance of not making it back. And I wasn’t just worried about me; I thought about my family. We had no insurance; you couldn’t get insurance. And we had five kids, and how irresponsible that would be…. It certainly was a negative on that side of the balance. Not to mention my own hide. Versus the other things, which were…adventure, exploration, national prestige, personal honor, and excitement… And I had decided that that was acceptable.”
I closed my eyes. Just like that, huh? No comets, plagues, signs from God? Just bye honey, bye kids, see ya on the other side! For…
I opened my eyes and looked up. The projection on the ceiling rumbled me through the visuals of lift off. The blue of the sky growing thinner and thinner until finally it was no more. We continued into the pin-pricked blackness up and up. And then we started to spin. And there was the Earth, an aquamarine opal glowing against black velvet. So impossibly beautiful, growing smaller and smaller.
“Sure, it’s breathtaking to look out and see the Earth. And probably if somebody’d said before the flight, Are you going to get carried away by the Earth view? I’d have said, Nah. That sort of stuff—Are you going to get carried away looking at the Earth from the moon? I would say, No, no way. But yet when I first looked back at the Earth, standing on the surface of the moon, I cried. And if everybody had ever told me I was going to do that I’d have said, ‘No, you’re out of your mind.’ …Whether it was relief, or whether it was the beauty of the Earth, the majesty of the moment—I don’t know, just every—you know, I never would’ve said I was going to do that. But I did.”
We kept spinning and there it was, that too-big moon in all her majesty and secret power, a chunk of hammered silver gleaming on that same depthless velvet.
The wall vibrated with the appearance of the new scene.
“I’ve always believed in exploration… Exploration is the greatest adventure. And exploration is why we’re no longer huddled up in caves. Or no longer huddled up on the eastern seaboard, in thirteen colonies. Or why we carved this tremendous nation out of a wilderness… This spirit that took us to the moon is the same spirit that moved our forefathers west across the country. And as they carried the flag west, why, we carried it to the moon.”
Risking safety, security, risking love and life. For….
For freedom, for the chance to become something more, for the chance to become a part of something greater. Insanity, maybe. I held a secret little smile to myself. But then it took a little divorce from reality to do anything worth doing—chasing a dream, loving a relative stranger, building a new life.
Okay, sometimes a big divorce from reality.
I looked down from the ceiling to the brushed steel and black leather of the seating area. I pressed my fingertips over my still bruised lips. When I closed my eyes I could feel Cam’s arms around me, the scent of him fresh and clean and salty like the sea. If we were any other two people, the physical and the mental rapport we shared would have led us easily into love. Right now we teetered on the edge of it. And I didn’t have long before we fell either one way or the other. I sighed.
I knew what Stephan’s parting laughter meant. He thought he’d found a weakness, a chink in my armor he meant to exploit. A wriggling thread of fear slid down my throat and spooled in the pit of my stomach, coiling and coiling and coiling. Out of time. I was running out of time.
I looked up at the ceiling. We rocketed past planets now, past solar systems and star clusters and nebula. Finally, we began to slow. What was once invisible now unfurled in our vision: a planet marbled with greens and blues and browns, a swirling lace of clouds. Earth-like, but not Earth. Someplace…worth the risk.
“I have learned to use the word impossible with the greatest caution.”
There had to be a way to take these jackasses down. There was no way I was going to let them hurt me or the people I loved. There was no way I was going to let them murder people simply for the thrill of the heist.
I’d told Stephan I’d do what I had to do. If in the end it ended up ripping the beating heart right out of my chest, then that’s just what had to be.
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