23:3 Light’s Out

Back on Earth, Gustavo Clement removed his headset and placed it at his console in the thronging hive of Mission Control. His was one station of dozens that were monitoring the final departure of the Jefferson One spacecraft.

“Luci, I need to get some air,” he said, touching the shoulder of the tech sitting next to him. “Keep an eye on crew vitals. I’ll be right back.”

“Roger that, Gus,” the tech answered without taking her eyes off of the scrolling data she was responsible for. “Grab me a coffee, will you?”

“Cream and sugar, Ms. Laurant?” Clement kidded, knowing full well that his partner took it black as a politician’s soul.

“Sure, why don’t you put your dick in it while you’re at it,” she parried.

“Ouch, you got it. One double fuckuccino, coming up.”

“Fuck you very much.”

Clement was grinning to himself as he exited the crowded room of scientists and technicians from every scientifically savvy nation on Earth. All these brilliant minds, and I get placed next to a foul-mouthed Quebecoise from Montreal, he mused, knowing full well that he hit the jackpot.

When he stepped out of the building onto the steaming tarmac, the bright Milakale sun of midday made him spontaneously break into a paroxysm of violent sneezes, so Clement didn’t notice the rented moving truck that had just rolled up to the guard station at the base’s lone checkpoint, that is, until it exploded.

The blast erased the truck, the guard shack—presumably along with the guard—and lifted all 180 pounds of Gustavo Clement off his feet, throwing him up against the steel door he had just come through.

Through blurred vision, Clement saw a crowd manifest seemingly out of thin air and begin to stream through the smoking breach in the base’s security. He had the presence of mind to use his ID badge to get back into the building where he pulled the dented door closed tight behind him.

Clement staggered down the hall to the command center without running into anyone. The mission had reached a critical phase and every other soul was needed at their station. Although in shock, he retained his wits enough to register that the blast hadn’t raised an alarm; he then remembered that the building was built to facilitate sending rockets into space. The sound of an meager truck bomb wasn’t going to penetrate several cubic feet of concrete and steel.

All eyes were on the main screen showing the Jefferson One floating peacefully above the blue planet; when Clement collapsed into his chair, not even Laurant bothered to turn and look at him.

“Where’s my coffee?” she chided, not realizing that her partner was slowly slipping out of this world. “Gus, take a look at Bjoern’s numbers. I think we have a malfunctioning … ” It would be some time until Luciana Laurant would have a the luxury of a moment to ponder what had been more disturbing: when Clement’s unconscious head hit the console, or when all the lights went out.

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