Friday Night Story

Love with Rockets

She was important to them, she knew that. After a female crew member was raped last year while in orbit around the moon, the nation fell out of love with its space program. NASA caught even more flack when the two men couldn't be formally charged in the U.S. judicial system, because the rape happened far outside the court's jurisdiction. She was the first female shuttle captain since the incident, and they needed her enough that when she requested the launch date be bumped up from February 22nd to the 14th, nobody complained.

When she was a kid, her mother told her she was crazy. Women couldn't be astronauts. Back then women couldn't be doctors or lawyers, either, so she was probably being practical. But Kate never gave a damn about that. She was going to be an astronaut. She knew that.

When she was in college, her mother told her to find a man. She told her she'd been lucky to get into such a prestigious school, but that she'd never be allowed to join the work force as anything greater than a secretary. She had an obligation, she was told, to latch onto the handsomest, smartest man she could find. But Kate regularly turned those men down. Turned the occasional woman down, too. She was going to be an astronaut, damnit, and this was crunch time, what separated the spacemen from the fighter pilots.

Last year, Kate's mother died from cancer. She fought long and hard, hoping against hope that the space-age medicines her daughter's organization were researching would get to her in time. The night she died Kate was with her, and her mother asked that she hold her hand. "I was wrong," she whispered. "All these years I've been a damned old fool. But I was always proud, and always loved you. My daughter, the astronaut." Kate kissed her mother as she fell asleep for the last time.

The next week was Kate's first flight 50 miles above the Earth. Her superiors asked to move her to another mission, on account of her mother, but she said no. She'd waited too long as it was. And now, a year later, she was commanding her mission on the 14th of February. Jokes had been made in the media, about the date, the phallic nature of rocketry, and the perennially single captain, but none of it bothered her. She had waited her whole life for this. And when control said, “We have lift-off,” it wasn’t the rumble of the engines, or the beautiful fireworks, or even the majestic way it shed its icy mantle. She loved her rocket, and that rocket loved her right back.

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