“Bet they got ‘em an awesome snack bar on that thing.” Prusella smacked her gum, her eyes on the aerodynamic FlashMychat capsule in the pink-and-cranberry Tour Launch Aerodome.
“That all you can think about?” groused Dexter. “Food? You got your dim brain fixated on food. This is space you’re going into. Why don’t you get your mind on bigger things?” Dexter scratched the bulging stomach-covering portion of his powder-blue polo shirt. “Like…dog nebulas…or some circumference of something.”
“I got a good reason to be thinking on food, Dexter. I’m on the edge of making my lifetime dream true: becoming the sure-enough first cocktail waitress in space.”
Dexter shook his head grimly. “There ain’t going to be no cocktails served on that space machine.”
“I don’t plan on serving cocktails up there. I’m just saying, I’ll be the first cocktail waitress, of that occupation, that ever boarded one of these space capsules. I asked the Director here. He said, yes, to the best of his expert knowledge, which he is a space expert, there has never been a cocktail waitress lifted outside the orbit of this planet.”
“So that is the sum total of your life endeavor? To be this waitress you been all these years so you could go up in some rocket tube and wave back down here on all the waitresses that didn’t make it? Hell, you’ll be back dishing out drinks and curlicue fries next week, same as normal.”
Prusella turned on him with a determined face. “It will not be the same as normal. It’s going to be me walking around the casino on feet that were up in the stars. And there ain’t no cocktail waitress anywhere that can say that.”
Dexter gave a sneer that fell into its accustomed place on his face, which was built to be especially accommodating to sneers of every variety. “Them feet are gonna be aching just the same whether they were space feet or not. Can’t believe I give up my huntin’ to drive you out here for nothin’ but a two hour wait.”
“It ain’t just a wait.” Prusella glanced anxiously at the sunken area near the classrooms. Her soon-to-be fellow trainees milled about, trading anecdotes and obscure space facts. A small wave of doubt washed over Prusella’s eyes. The other trainees looked like the type of person that was always on the space shows: fit, young, brainy people dressed in muted, vaguely unisex attire.
“Well, when does that training start then?”
Just then the huge video screen on the south wall came to life displaying the unlined, confidence-inspiring face of Emil Dutchbag, CEO of FlashMychat and fearless space tourism pioneer. He wore a gray FlashMychat spacesuit and cradled a gray FlashMychat helmet in one arm. “Welcome Spaceketeers!”
The trainees gave a rousing cheer and Prusella contributed an excited yelp. She’d always thought Emil Dutchbag was the kind of man she could’ve really shown true appreciation as a husband. The kind of man who would organize the house properly and raise their kids to be respectful, well-groomed entrepreneurs.
“Today you set off on adventure like no other! From the normal pedestrian people you are, you will soon join the elite of space pioneers. Believe me, no exhilaration matches taking off and speeding into the wild beyond of the stars! See you in space!”
The classroom doors slid open with a whoosh and the trainees excitedly flowed in.
Prusella spent the four days of training in a trance-like state of unbelieving excitement. All her space dreams were coming to life and she barely noticed the skeptical looks and muttered comments that the other smug trainees directed her way. She whooped when they experienced zero gravity in the test pod and shamelessly raced to be the first to fire compacted garbage squares from the ejection chamber. By the time she received her silvery Certified Astronaut foil diploma, most of the students were thoroughly annoyed by her.
By the voyage’s third day, some travelers were openly grumbling that they were more than ready to return to Earth. The initial elation of careening away from gravity and seeing their home planet suspended in space like a ball in a juggler’s trick had worn off and the monotonous scenery outside the massive portholes had grown tiresome. But Prusella was still enraptured. She could stand at a porthole for hours, staring at the very slowly shifting panorama of stars.
“It’s just like I dreamed it would be, only bigger.”
Pergo Rasmussen, an intense, dark-haired young man beside her, raised an eyebrow. “Bigger? What, you didn’t realize space is infinite and expanding in all directions? How can you get bigger than that?”
“You know so much about space, Pergo!”
Pergo snorted. “Just enough to get by. I’m a simple nanotech engineer on vacation. Last year, Costa Rica, this year, moon orbit.”
Prusella continued gazing out of the porthole. “Did you ever wonder about the moon? Like, what it’s really all about.”
“Ha. I think it’s about 2,000 miles across.”
Suddenly, a strangely familiar pattern of pulsing beeps blasted through the capsule.
Pergo raised his surprisingly small eyebrows. “The distress signal!”
“Damn, Pergo! That’s right! What’s the emergency?”
Their intensive training kicked in and they hurried to the lounge deck, quickstepping even as the capsule wobbled slightly.
The lounge deck, designated as the emergency assembly point, was packed with travelers. The frantic siren pulsed on as everyone looked around in various states of panic. The giant video screen, which was supposed to display instructions or at least soothing images of a fatherly Emil Dutchbag, crackled with weird static energy, showing only a barrage of buzzing black and white pixels.
“What the hell’s happening?” screamed Gerta Hembone, the high-strung wife of an extremely successful billiards executive.
“We’ve been hit!”
“No,” said Pergo, looking at his mobile device. “It’s a navigation system failure. My postphone is receiving a message from the shipboard systems. That slimeball Dutchbag must’ve used substandard materials in the production.”
“That space douche! What do we do?” cried Gerta Hembone.
“I don’t know,” admitted Pergo. “This failure will set us off course and we’ll inevitably careen into some desolate void of empty space.”
“Damn it!” yelled Sanders Oxley, a rough-hewn, grim-faced fisherman. “I came out here to get away from halibut, not become part of a moralistic fable about the perils of space tourism!”
“We should all just calm down.” Prusella’s voice trembled, but she wasn’t going to miss her opportunity for a major cocktail waitress moment in space. “If we only had rum on board, I’d mix us all a round of soothing hot toddies.”
“I don’t want any toddies, hot or otherwise,” groused Oxley. “This voyage is doomed. No amount of intoxicating beverages will change the fact that we’re going to perish in the empty vacuum of space.”
“Actually, space is not as empty and vacuous as most people think,” said Pergo. “There are numerous waves and particles that our human senses can’t detect.”
Oxley was a fuming container of outrage. “Shut up, Rasmussen, or I’m storming over there to beat some sense into your crazed skull.”
Suddenly the wobbling of the space capsule stopped and the giant screen of static gave way to a surprisingly stable shot of a laughing Emil Dutchbag. “Ha, ha, Spaceketeers. Congratulations! You survived the emergency simulation!”
Most of the travelers looked confused or embarrassed. Oxley turned boldly to face the screen. “What the hell’s wrong with you, Dutchbag? Playing with people like that!”
“Ha, ha. That’s nothing, Oxley. I’m a multi-gazillionaire. I play with people every day.” Dutchbag gave a combination of a smirk and chuckle. “The good news is that only one of you displayed total trust in FlashMychat and remained completely calm. And that’s you Prusella. You know what that means, don’t you?”
“I’m going to be named as the heir to the FlashMychat empire and inherit your entire fortune?”
“No, but you do get to be the first guest in my deluxe Double Dutchbag All-Moon Inn! You’ve just won a six week, all-expenses paid moon getaway for one!” Dutchbag rubbed his hands and laughed with deep self-satisfaction. “I’m so glad you’re the lucky one!”
Prusella looked anxiously out of the nearest porthole at the approaching moon. “But six weeks is a long time! I only put in for a week off work. And it looks lonely on the moon!”
“Don’t worry. We have a satellite hook-up so you and I can chat anytime. And of course your stay will be broadcast worldwide, ensuring a niche following of devotees. Plus, the bell boy is very outgoing.”
“No! No! I wanted to be the first cocktail waitress in space, not the first cocktail waitress stranded for six weeks on the moon! This is ruining my entire dream!”
“Don’t worry. In space, no one can see your dream!” Emil Dutchbag laughed and then laughed some more as his capsule flew inexorably on to the gray, desolate moon.