A Work-In-Progress, Adapted From the Brave Saint Saturn storyline

by Steven Reynolds

          Steam rose from the coffee-filled cup held by Science Technician Michael Reese Roper, as he slowly stirred its contents and breathed in its comforting warmth. Charts, drawings, pages with incomprehensible data covered his already-crowded desk, sparing just enough room for his computer, a lamp, and a blue pen that sat delicately balancing on the desk's edge. He noted the time on his watch; midnight had come and gone. All through the third floor of the NASA space and technology building, dim fluorescent lights lit the narrow hallways that wound tediously through the building, and only the bustling of the late-night janitor could be heard echoing down the halls. The flickering of the computer screen caught his gaze for a few minutes, then, slowly regaining consciousness, he rose, grabbing his jacket and car keys from the office floor. He exited the room, locking the door behind him, leaving the untouched coffee on his desk. Anxieties harassed his already preoccupied mind as he wandered out of the Science and Technology building, through the parking lot to his car. It's going to be one heck of a week, he thought as he started his car and drove off, the exhaust leaving a trail of cooled steam as he slowly slipped from view, plagued by his worries and his doubts.

          An inviting voice and an open hand welcomed four men into the mission control head's office. Introductions were exchanged, and each person found their respective seats. The mission control head, known by all as Mr. Schull, and only by a few as James, sank into his seat at his desk, facing his visitors. His visitors, however, positioned in four consecutive fabric chairs that lined the wall, were not without their own acclaim. Before Mr. James T. Schull sat the crew of the Saturn V space shuttle, due for takeoff in the first manned orbit of the planet Saturn. The first man, an eager science professor in his early thirties with the name of Michael Reese Roper, was also the proposed Science Technician for the mission's onboard experiments of the planet's atmosphere and chemical makeup. The second, Payload Specialist Dennis Bayne Culp, also in his early thirties, added a lanky component to the otherwise stocky group. The third and scruffy looking one of the group, Shuttle Technician Andrew "Chaka" Verdecchio, sat in his bleak gray jumpsuit lined with a myriad of tools and grease stains, his glasses off-center, and his hair untouched from his waking earlier that morning. In the fourth seat sat the Mission Commander, Keith Hoerig, his jet-black hair and somewhat rebellious eyebrow piercing revealed a small part of his wild past, although his ability to take control of chaotic situations proved him fit for his job. This team, hand picked and trained from January to mid-April, were appointed to live onboard a space shuttle for a three year flight to the planet Saturn, a never-before attempted mission because of its high risks. In spite of the seemingly inevitable failure of this mission, they gladly accepted the invitation. In just six short days, the crew would be launching from their planet into the frigid deep of space.
          "I am proud to have such fine men in my own office," continued Mr. Schull, with an air of remembrance about him."Through the years many other great men have sat in the very chairs you are sitting in. Great men like Neil Armstrong, Alan Shepard, and Lou Colins [get names]. Do you know what made these men great? Courage."
He paused, then paced to one wall, his brow very furrowed. "Courage, determination, and willpower. Without these three points, we would not be looking at these men today as being 'great'. And we have chosen you for your strength in these points. We believe you will surpass the feats of those past, and raise the bar of space exploration to a new level." The age old Mission Control Head James T. Schull, or "Chief", as they called him, waved a pen about in his hands as he spoke, gesturing with each inflected syllable, and subconsciously reveling at his profound speech. Reese Roper glanced at his watch, then back up at the verbose Chief. Sleep was not a state that Mr. Roper fell easily into as of late, and you could tell it just by looking at him. His hair was messy, his eyes, tired and baggy, and he couldn't help but slouch in the chair that had held so many prominent figures in American history. A yawn escaped from his lungs, but his hand quickly hid it. Before he realized it was over, the Chief's speech ended, and his distant mind rocketed back to reality just in time to catch the last few words: "Hope, gentlemen. It is your friend, and it will be your savior. Hold on to it. Always hope." Hope. He was too tired to think about hope. Home. That was more like it. He drove back to his house that wet, gray afternoon with the Chief's words still echoing in his head, though he couldn't understand at this point how true they actually were.

          Roughly five and one half inches from Michael Reese Roper's ear, his accursed telephone burst to life. Covers were thrown back and things that should never be repeated were muttered as Reese tried to discern between what was reality and what was in his mind. Slowly, he became conscious of the phone waiting patiently beside him, and reached to answer it. He brought the receiver to his ear and listened. After a few seconds, he was snapped back into reality, and shot his wrist in front of his eyes to check the time. His watch blinked "1:12 p.m., 1:12 p.m., 1:12 p.m.". Through the phone, he listened in disbelief as news reached his ears, its sudden impact bringing a feeling similar to one's heart being stabbed through with a dull knife. He hung up and cried.

          Keith Hoerig of the Saturn V mission stood in front of the mirror, fixing his hair, clothes, and adjusting his piercing. It was Saturday, and all that stood between him and a launch into the solitary confinement of space was two, very short, hours. He sighed. It was too short. He looked down at his bathroom sink. Staring up at him was a picture of his fiancé, Eryn, and himself, at her birthday dinner. He sighed once more. This whole space thing was going to be a lot harder than he thought. Removing the picture from the sink, he tucked it in his inner coat pocket, patted it, then walked out of the bathroom, out of his house, into the warmed-up car waiting in his drive. He rested his forehead against the steering wheel and cried.

          "Dude!" A shout broke through Dennis Culp's concentration of his current focus, reading the morning's comics, and brought his head up from its lowered position. Andrew Verdecchio bounded into his living room, scooped up Dennis' son Copeland, lifted him into the air, and proceeded to twirl them around with loud, spittle-enhanced rocket sounds. Landing him on the floor, he walked into the adjoining kitchen and gave Dennis a hug.
"Whoa there, buddy," Dennis chided, "we're going to be in the same ship for three years. I don't want to get too used to you."
Chaka laughed, gave him a pat on the back and asked, "You all packed? The car's revved and ready to head down to the launch pad, and I've already got all my stuff in it."
"Yeah, got it right here," he answered, patting a large suitcase and duffel bag sitting on the table next to him. "Let me say goodbye to everyone first, and I'll meet you outside."
Chaka ran out back to his car, waving goodbye to Copeland as he passed, while Dennis walked into the living room to hug his wife and kid. Copeland jumped on his leg, wrestling him down with big gasps of laughter. Dennis laughed, pulled him off, and looked up to see his wife, Melinda, looking back at him. Slowly, he got up, hugged and kissed his wife goodbye, whispered I love yous in her ear, and walked out of the house, the door closing itself behind him. As the car zoomed off, Copeland waved goodbye from the large window in the front of the house. Melinda turned and cried.

          The half-hour drive to the launch pad from Keith's home was a long one. His fiancé was studying in England, and he felt a large gap in his heart. It was April 27th, 2003, and she was scheduled to return in exactly one month. It wouldn't matter. He would be gone for a three-year mission, and wouldn't be able to see her when she came back, or for three years after, for that matter. He fought back his tears and focused his thoughts on the event that was about to take place in just a short while. Closing his eyes, he prayed. He prayed for Eryn, for the crew, and lastly for himself. As the NASA Space center came into view, he repeated his petitions again. A tingling sensation came over his body as he thought about what this cold, gray day held. Later today, he would be in space. In space… His mind wandered for a bit, but he shook it off before he pulled into the security checkpoint.
"Name and I.D., please."
"Keith Hoerig, 122989"
He followed the guard's gesture towards the parking lot, pulling his olive-green Jeep Wrangler into the parking spot bearing his name. It was only a short walk to the main control station, but just long enough for Keith to soak in the humid air and feel the slight tingling of the breeze as it passed over his skin. It started today.