All too soon, they were at the spaceport entrance. Less than an hour ago, Grace had been waking up, pinching the skin of her arm like her graft had been a dream. Now she was going to Mars. Was she still dreaming?
The launch complex was a vast circular area, with individual launch pads along the circumference and a gleaming three-story structure in the center. Each pad sported a tall, white number.
“Pad three,” Raj said. “I don’t see any buggies. We should probably run.”
Grace unceremoniously scooped up Tim and followed Raj through an open gate.
“Have you gained weight?” she said, and heard a playful growl through her dot.
As they sprinted, Grace looked at their cruiser. It was small by Belt standards, roughly twenty meters in length. Very industrial looking, Grace thought. Not many windows. Utilitarian, with three large ion drives.
A dour man in a dark green uniform raised his hand as they approached the cruiser.
“Scan check,” Tim whispered in her dermal.
“Please place the dog on the ground during your scan. Also, note the regulations: animals are not permitted in the cabin.”
No, she thought, Tim will not be going below. Grace transmitted her credentials and watched the man’s face change. He waved all three of them aboard.
The ship was empty except for five roiders in the back. They chose seats up front. Tim sat on Raj’s lap while Grace adjusted her four-point harness. She tightened the belts and helped Raj strap in.
“Here, I’ll hold Tim,” she said, and lifted the PodPooch onto her lap. He curled up.
Raj’s fingers danced on his ptenda. “That’s strange.”
“What?” Her voice cracked. Relax, she thought.
“Probably just a glitch. Djoser gave me the comm addresses for Elysium Planitia, but there’s no data. Not even a transmission heartbeat.”
“Can we have one day without a glitch, please!”
“Heh. Sorry, Grace.”
“Conspiracy theorist,” she grumbled.
She punched Raj.
“You’re jostling my seat,” Tim complained.
They were interrupted by the chatter of safety protocols, and then the vast sound of the engines coming to life. The cruiser left its moorings and, without ceremony, lifted into the sky. As they pitched higher, Grace closed her eyes and imagined the view from below. How many ships had she seen leave the spaceport? Watched from the outside. And now she was going, leaving only a transient contrail behind. Her Dad might pause and watch it from the ranch, and then return to his cattle.
Huber had been right all along, she wasn’t meant for cloister. She had too many cravings.
“Know what, Raj? I’m still hungry.”