T-minus ten and counting.
A spectrum of red, yellow and green lights illuminated at her right, sequentially, like a traffic rainbow. Turbines fully operational. A buzzer squealed above her head, a low tone followed immediately by a higher one. Propulsion jets successfully lit. Even before liftoff, they pushed against the ground with the force of 100,000 pounds per square inch. A faint, heavily buffered remnant of that force shook her seat, and she pulled her straps tight while answering “Check!” into the helmet microphone, loudly enough to be heard over the piercing propulsion unit buzzer.
T-minus nine and counting.
The vital signs monitor notes that her heartbeat 15% elevated, which is well inside the range of normal. Co-pilot is at 28% and rising, so she messages his screen in the second cockpit telling him to slow his breath. The propulsion unit buzzer is louder for him, as he is both closer to the jets and subject to more of the rocket’s sounds. Her prepared message reminds him that the vibrations in his chair – more fervent than hers in the nose cone – are normal and that he must consciously disassociate them from the buzzing.
T-minus eight and counting.
He responds: “Roger.” She checks the latest wind speed estimates: 31 knots, south-southeast. She adjusts the thruster package to maintain orbit trajectory, taking that wind into account. The buzzer has become more shrill…
T-minus seven and counting.
…and her heart rate and respiration remain firmly within the normal range. The co-pilot’s vitals have stopped increasing. She sends a pre-programmed message congratulating him. She sees the results of his machine checks and knows he can, at least, focus on his tasks. She approves his machine checks and moves on to her own.
T-minus six and counting.
Her eyes sweep the indicator lights and she counts off the machine checks for which she is responsible. “Oxygen. Check. Coolant. Check…”
T-minus five and counting.
“…Comms. Check. Seals. Check.” It is time. She initiates decoupling from the scaffold supports that hold the rocket upright…
T-minus four and counting.
…and from the platform below. Hydraulic sounds compete briefly with the propulsion unit buzzer, which dominates the soundscape inside the rocket. She steals a glance at the vital signs readout. Her co-pilot’s levels are rising again, particularly blood pressure. “Fight-or-flight” has kicked in. She changes his screen to a photograph of the beach scene where he proposed to his wife, and…
T-minus three and counting.
…tunes her headset to listen to his reactions: breathing rapid and shallow. “Breathe with me, Will. In…” She hears his breath accompanied by a slight wheeze…
T-minus two and counting.
“And push all the breath out.” His vitals stabilize on her screen.
T-minus one and counting.
The side-bearing scaffolding disconnects completely and the rocket takes its wobbly first step up onto the heat and propulsion of its jet engines. The rocket steadies, triggering the final disconnect from the launch pad, with a hydraulic whimpering that sounds far away. She ignites all remaining thrusters in one sweep of her hand and feels the…
…4,000,000 foot-pounds of torque push against the bounds of earth. She blinks, feels her own adrenaline as if it were rising in her throat, and checks on the co-pilot. He’s still quite alive, but he has passed out.