Before the Phoenix: Countdown

Ienith Steamweaver tried and failed to restrain a grin as the techs tightened the straps holding him down, hooked up his oxygen mask, and slammed the hatch of the Skyreach capsule shut above him. It was happening. It was happening today. He was going to orbit.

…on top of a couple of hundred thousands of pounds of liquid hydrox.

Well, either way, he’d still end up in orbit.

* * *

“Flight, Skyreach Zero, primary comm check if you would?”

“Flight copies on the main, Skyreach, got you 12 by 12. Switch to aux channel and repeat, over.”

“Flight, Skyreach Zero on aux channel.”

“Comm check passed, Skyreach, ready to start the clock?”

“Ready as I’ll ever be, Flight.”

“Copy that, Skyreach Zero, ready to start MET clock at minus twelve minutes on our mark. Three, two, one, mark.”

“Clock is running, Flight.”

* * *

“Skyreach, Flight at minus ten minutes, ready for systems checkout. Life support?”

“Tank pressures are nominal, oxygen flow is positive, cabin pressure test shows no leaks. Life support is go flight.”

“Life support diagnostics show all blue here, confirming go flight. Power?”

“Batteries show full charge, drain is nominal on external power. Fuel cells are stable shutdown. Power systems are go flight.”

“Power is blue across, confirming go flight. Guidance?”

“Gyros at speed and clutched. Instruments show nominal values for index location. Guidance systems are go flight.”

“Guidance is blue across, confirming go flight. Motors?”

“The Roughneck shows tank pressures nominal and diagnostics all blue. Decoupler self-test circuits, blue and blue. Booster self-test, blue. Motors are go flight.”

“Our diagnostics agree, confirming go flight. Data systems?”

“Three cores up and running, in agreement. Diagnostic request gives all-zeros-optimal. Telemetry ping is positive, main and aux channels. Data systems are go flight.”

“Ground mirror agrees, confirming go flight. Cargo?”

“That’s Flight Commander Cargo to you, Nellis,” Ienith said dryly, “and I’m go flight.”

* * *

“Flight, Skyreach at minus six minutes. Fuel cells prestarted and ready for load, over.”

“Stand by, Skyreach… Skyreach, you are on internal power. Umbilical is disconnected.”

“Skyreach confirms internal power.”

“The pad is clear, Skyreach. You are go for hydro power unit start.”

“HPU start, stand by… Flight, we show HPU start. Hydro pressure climbing on nominal curve.”

* * *

“Skyreach, Flight at minus one minute. Sequencer is running in automatic. You are launch commit. Acknowledge.”

“Skyreach is launch commit, acknowledged.”

* * *

“Flight at minus twelve beats, launching on the solids alone, ignition at minus three with clamp release on burn-through. Good flight, Skyreach.

“Six.

“Five. 

“Four.

“Thr-”

Even within the sealed confines of launch control, the remainder of the count was obliterated by indescribable thunder. 

* * *

Down in the launch control bunker, the mission coordinator shook off momentary paralysis and stared at his unhelpful monitors: the display from the pad showing nothing but clouds of fire, the downlinks showing loss-of-signal markers. 

“Status! Status reports, by stations. Do we have the ship?”

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