March 29, 2034
Somewhere in the North Pacific
Chief slapped a thick white envelope onto Keith’s chest as he walked past on his mail delivery run. It fell to his lap, face up so he could see the NASA logo on the return address. Any thoughts of berating the NCO died in his throat as he held his breath. It had too many pages inside to be another rejection. This time, he’d been accepted. Into something, for sure. Taking a deep breath, he picked it up reverently and steeled himself to read the letter inside.
“What’s that?” Ensign Kramer snatched it out of his hands. “Woot, looks like you’re going to the moon, yeah? Or maybe this is for that Mars mission. You ready for that?”
“Shut it, Ensign.” Keith grabbed for the envelope only to have it yanked out of his reach. “Hand it over. That’s confidential. It has a stamp saying so.”
Behind Kramer, Pettis nicked the envelope and raised it aloft in triumph. “Looie’s gonna be an astronaut!”
The locker room erupted into applause and cheers while Keith rolled his eyes and sighed. “Give it back, that’s an order.”
Fuller snatched it away from Pettis and brought it back to Keith. He held it out, then whipped it away when he reached for it. “Only if you read it out loud,” he warned.
“Hand it over or you’ll get KP duty for the next month.”
“Aw, you’re no fun.” Fuller flung it at him in disappointment. It hit his chest again and fell to the floor this time.
“That’s right. Just call me Lieutenant NoFun.” Keith smirked and picked the envelope up, now able to rip it open and pull the folded stack of paper out. Their antics had taken his nerves away, at least. He took a deep breath and unfolded it, then read the cover letter.
US Navy Lieutenant Keith Hatris,
As of March 17, 2034, you have been transferred to the purview and oversight of NASA’s astronaut program. Enclosed find your transfer orders and authorization to requisition transportation. You are granted leave until 0600 EDT 3/30/34, at which time you are required to present yourself at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL. Due to the classified nature of NASA programs, your specific mission will be detailed upon arrival.
NASA HEO Mission Directorate Administrator Leon Perkins
He ran his fingers over the letterhead, savoring the moment. Twenty years ago, he’d looked up into the sky and known he wanted to go there. At the tender age of seven, he’d made his choice, and that desire had never wavered, not even when he overheard the prettiest girl at his high school talking about the pornographic things she wanted to do with the quarterback.
It took a few seconds for the date to register. Someone screwed the pooch on this, because he had about twenty hours to get to Alabama. Jumping to his feet, he grabbed his gear from his locker and ran out. “Make a hole,” he shouted ahead of himself. Sailors jumped out of his way as he leaped through doorways and darted up ladder-stairs.
By the time he reached the command deck of the USS John C. Stennis, he had to pause and catch his breath before presenting himself to the duty officer with a crisp salute. “Commander, I need a ride.” Handing over his orders, he let the idea sink in. One more little word added to his name, and it made all the difference in the world: astronaut.