Chapter 1: Liftoff!
“Uuuuuuuuhhhh…what even was that horrible dream?” a 5-foot-1-inch-tall English woman said as she lifted two brown, embroidered felt blankets gently from the right side into the air, landing them gently off to the side of her single-size, white captain’s bed with a FLUMP. She arose slowly, her bright-blue eyes dazed and confused by their sudden opening, her dark-brown skin and dark-red pajamas starkly contrasting with the white cloth undersheets of her bed, her body of a moderately-thin size. Her long, straight, black hair was disheveled by the way she had tossed and turned while experiencing her dream, and it dragged across the plastic pillowcase as she swiveled her head gently from left to right. The rectangular room slowly came into view as her eyes began to adjust. It was very plain as far as hotels went: ordinary matching white walls and carpet which nearly blended into the brown plastic furniture in the dim light. She hit the round, silver, plastic switch above her bed to turn on all twelve of the LED arrays embedded in the ceiling, and the room quietly buzzed to life as her feet hit the floor.
As she suddenly switched her attention to her beeping smartphone, which was still blaring its usual tune off the walls of the room, she quickly swiped the circular red ‘X’ button to the right of its 6-inch-long by 3-inch-wide screen with her thin right index finger, its nail coated in red nail polish. She peered inquisitively at the four white digits of 06:35 and the white characters of 21 June 4194 near the top of the screen, smiling cheerfully as she looked down to stare at the background image of a chrome-and-black late-model starfighter parked on an airfield in the middle of a desert. A 21-year-old version of herself in her dark-grey flight suit standing in front of its nose, holding her light-grey space helmet in her left arm, and waving and shining her evenly-spaced white teeth back at her future self. The sun’s eye-searing light had been intensified by the reflectivity of the ship when it had been taken two years previously on the date of the English lady’s graduation from starflight school, but in the beautifully-clear background picture, barely a hint of glare was to be seen.
“Oh, how I remember that day…how I remember all the nice people I met and all the amazing things I saw in California. All those lovely old 1950s and 1960s cars and those big barbecue parties and crazy air shows…there’s nothing like that in Europe. Shame, really…it was what attracted me to America in the first place: getting to experience the great old traditions of a slightly-backwards country that still can be modern at the same time. And to think that I had just been a little black girl in Manchester, hanging out with my friends after school at the local playground, playing with our paper planes and…” the young lady said, a look of nostalgia drenching her face as she turned her head to look through the rectangular insulated-plastic window on the opposite end of the front door.
She lifted herself out of her bed, its memory-foam mattress reforming itself gently, and walked towards the bed to view the glimmering city skyline of Brussels, Belgium, the sun’s rays peeking between the gaps that a few of the skyscrapers left. As she came closer to the window, it automatically dimmed to a dark-brown tint, allowing her to better view the shops and parks around her 20-story-tall, rectangular-prism-shaped hotel. She stared awestruck at the gorgeous sunrise, glancing to the right to view the dense evergreen forest outside the city limits, their green needles gilded brilliantly by sunlight, until the loud doorbell jump scared her from her pleasant activities.
“Ophelia, are you up yet?” an American middle-aged lady’s voice echoed through the walls.
“Coming, Mum!” Ophelia shouted pleasantly, turning around rapidly to face the plain, white, plastic front door.
She quickly got undressed in her room, took a 3-minute-long, warm shower in the rectangular bathroom across the room from her bed, and then re-dressed herself in her new work uniform in the bedroom. As Ophelia walked into the bathroom to look at herself in the rectangular bathroom mirror, she bolstered herself up as she proudly stood smiling in her new uniform, its bright-red long sleeves, V-neck collar, and flat cuffs, along with the single gold bands on her shoulders splashing the otherwise black suit with color. A similar design adorned her black-and-red slacks, and she wore plain-black Chelsea boots on her feet. She had already pinned onto the right shoulder area of her suit a grey metal California Starflight Academy badge, which was about 3 inches wide and 2 inches high, its design of the same late-model starfighter that she had flown in for her flying lessons hugging the cloth-like plastic that it was pinned to. On her left shoulder were two more pins, both rectangular and stacked on top of one another: a black, plastic name plate, proudly shining her full name, Ophelia Adams, in white Times New Roman 16-point font; and a smaller, plastic nationality badge placed below it, shimmering the green, red, and white Union Jack of Great Britain into the surrounding atmosphere. The white walls bounced light from the flush overhead light, its thousands of LEDs combining their photons together to provide a reasonable amount of brightness to the bathroom.
Someone knocked on the front door to the room, rudely interrupting the beginning of Ophelia’s dream of herself flying her little starfighter through space, desperately avoiding attacks from all sides. She shook in surprise almost as hard as she had in the ship in the dream.
“Hey, ‘Lia, we need to get going soon!” an American middle-aged man’s voice resonated through the door, becoming slightly muffled as it reached the bathroom. The sound of two teenage boys giggling in the background intertwined with their father’s quiet, but jovial fussing as they stood in the hallway.
Ophelia let out a mild gasp, trotted across the tile-pattered white-and-grey plastic flooring, rushed through the door as soon as it opened. Glancing rapidly across the room, she found her black-and-bright-red, carry-on bag filled with all her belongings, placed in front of her bed. After she pushed the big, silver plastic button on the top of the pack, she grabbed its black, smooth-plastic handle with her right hand, and pulled it along the carpet to place it closer to the front door. She twisted the stainless-steel passenger-type front door handle, tugged the front door open, and grinned gleefully as she opened the door to see her entire foster family. The rest of the Adams family, all with dark-brown eyes and lightly-tanned skin, was composed of two scrawny, blonde-haired 18-year-old twin brothers who were about 6 inches taller than Ophelia, both wearing identical white dress shirts, black slacks, and black leather loafers; a mildly-plump, 44-year-old lady with medium-length, wavy, brown hair who was roughly an inch taller than her, wearing a plain, dark-blue dress that stretched down past her knees, and black loafers on her feet; and a muscular, 45-year-old man with short, black hair who was an inch taller than the twins, wearing the same outfit as they were, but standing closer to the boy on the right than the one on the left. All four of them were standing in front of her in the white-and-grey-checkered hallway, grinning back at her earnestly.
“Hey, ‘Lia!” the brother on the left of the entranceway cheerfully greeted his sister, his short, combed-back hair gently brushing the stainless-steel door frame.
“Hello, Sam,” Ophelia replied as she turned her attention to the first of the twins, before looking at Sam’s sour-looking twin.
“Good morning…” the other twin grumbled, scowling at the interior of his sister’s hotel room.
“Ophelia, have you got all your things yet?” her mother asked, looking slightly worried that they may not be able to check out of the hotel when they needed to.
“They’re all right here, Mum,” Ophelia replied, lifting her carry-on to show it to her family.
“Oh, excellent,” her mother and father said proudly, beaming as they realized that they had almost nothing to worry about now. Her father continued, “Well, let’s get going, then. I’ve already rented us a taxi outside, so we have our transportation covered, as well.
All four of the other Adams family members moved to the right to allow Ophelia enough space to exit Room 242 to the left, walking confidently down the carpet of vibrant red, yellow, green, and blue swirls. The early morning sun’s rays peeked through the city skyline, pierced through the square, insulated-plastic window, and muted some of the colors of the slightly-fading carpet to the east end of the 200-foot-long hallway. The Adams family silently passed the endless rows of flat, utilitarian white doors in an unobtrusive manner that did not disturb other guests at this early hour. As Ophelia checked her phone to see that the time was now 06:43, she suddenly was flanked on her right by Sam, who was towing a black-and-silver carry-on in his right hand, matching her bold strides with ease. They walked side-by-side towards the window, their shoes’ impacts with the plastic floor softened by the well-used carpet.
“I…hope you aren’t bothered by Sean, ‘Lia,” Sam groaned woefully, glancing back to look at his devious twin. “It’s just that…well…”
“I know,” Ophelia replied, looking unconcerned about Sean’s view of her. “He wanted this job as much as I did, but everyone thought of him as too young and inexperienced to even be worth considering. However,” she stated, turning to the right to walk into the medium-length entrance to the standard-size, steel elevator doors, “that doesn’t mean that he can’t have another try in a couple years.”
These doors were placed in the middle of the right side of the hallway, across the hall from the three bright-red, steel vending machines. As a glowering Sean, followed by his two cheerful parents, arrived two feet behind Ophelia and Sam, the whirring of the magnetically-powered elevator car intensified as it slid its way down the shaft. Sam pressed the translucent-red plastic, arrow-shaped button on the wall to the right to indicate his intentions of traveling to the first floor. The doors hissed and retracted into their recesses on either side of the entrance of the empty, plain, standard-size elevator, the Adams family gradually piling into it neatly. Ophelia eagerly tapped the circular, silver, plastic button on the smart display with the number “1” on it in dark-grey lettering.
The elevator then began to descend to the first floor, where the Adams family then headed through the plain, white, large, nearly-empty reception hall. They passed the not-yet-open transparent doors of the medium-sized, plain, white cafeteria, taking in the wonderful aromas of freshly-made blueberry waffle mixes, cheese-and-herb bagels, rye bread, cream cheese, English muffins, freshly-cut strawberries, and peanut butter and jelly. Finally, the Adams family walked urgently through the transparent insulated-plastic doors, the electronic cash register automatically checking them out as they stepped into the barely-active streets of Brussels at 06:44 exactly.
Right in front of their hotel was a sleek, black, carbon-fiber, four-door ground-cab. Parked a foot to the right of the grey, cobblestoned-textured, 7-foot-wide plastic sidewalk in front of the hotel doors and basking in the cold glow of the early-morning sun, its normally-hinged right doors sprang into life and opened rapidly as the Adams family approached it. As the twins and their father piled into the plush, black, front-facing, vinyl rear bench seat, Ophelia and her mother slid onto the similar rear-facing front bench seat, the doors automatically closing behind them gently.
Both seats surrounded a 4-foot-wide by 2-foot-long, black, plastic table, held up by two cylindrical supports in the middle. Everyone placed their backpacks behind the front and rear seats to allow for easy access when they got out. Encased in black carpet and translucent-brown-tinted windows, which protected the family’s eyes from the sun’s searing-bright rays, Ophelia entered the name of her destination into the black tablet on the left side of the car and slid her credit card into a slot on the right-hand side of her tablet to play 50 credits for the ride across Brussels. With a mild lurch and a whirr of the four in-wheel electric motors, the taxi intelligently accelerated itself gently up to 50 kilometers an hour in the right lane of the 30-foot-wide street, as its wide, eco-tire-wrapped carbon-fiber wheels whizzed over the grippy solar panel streets, reflecting dazzlingly off the windows of dozens of multi-colored plastic shops and hotels.
“Oh, Ophelia, my dear girl,” her mother cried, staring wonderingly at her foster daughter in her new suit as the taxi passed two city blocks, “how could I have possibly imagined you going off to Mars when we first adopted you?”
“Well…errr…” Ophelia said, chuckling slightly at the thought of what her life had been like just a few weeks before. “Yeah, it really is amazing how I even got this job.”
“Nah…they probably thought that you were just cute,” the other twin said, smirking menacingly at his sister as the rest of the family stared at him, surprised at the audacity that he had of undermining his sister’s intelligence.
“Wha…what…you know that’s rubbish, Sean. I didn’t just get this job; I had to earn it. It’s taken me my entire life just to prepare myself for it,” Ophelia retorted, smiling marginally at her brother as he backed into his chair.
“True, it has…” Sean admitted sarcastically, rolling his eyes as he turned his head to his left to view a slightly angry-looking Sam.
“Bro…knock it off. You’ve been complaining like this ever since we got here a week ago,” Sam said as calmly as he could muster, maintaining as straight of a face as he could. “If ‘Lia got a job on Mars, and it’s fantastic and it allows her to do what she has always dreamed of doing, then that’s fine. In fact,” he continued, beginning to perk up from the increased confidence he had from supporting his sister, “that’s the best thing that could ever happen to her in her life. Why are you so mad about that? Wouldn’t you be happy about seeing your sister become famous and achieve the most she can in life?”
“Mmmmmm….” Sean grunted as he shot an angry glance at a cheerfully-grinning Ophelia. “I’m not sure.”
“Okay, then stop acting so annoyed about it,” Mrs. Adams said as she then stared confusedly at her bemused husband. “What time is it, by the way?”
“It is currently…” Mr. Adams replied, staring down at his blue, plastic, square-faced smartwatch on his right arm, “06:46, 12 seconds, and…”
“That is more than specific enough for people who don’t happen to like wasting time to be exact about the current time, rather than spending that time doing things,” Mrs. Adams interrupted, sounding slightly annoyed at her husband’s insistence on proudly showing the nanosecond-level precision of his new watch.
“Sorry, dear, I just…like my new watch…” Mr. Adams said rather embarrassedly, the taxi turning to the right onto a crowded, 4-lane-wide street. The rest of the journey was slowed down by the vast number of cars that were on the road, most of them heading towards the spaceport across town.
After the taxi parked on the sidewalk to the left of the massive, dark-grey, high-strength-aluminum-plated spaceport terminal, marked in 1-foot-tall white lettering at the top as the International Air and Space Port of Brussels in both English and French (Le Port Aérien et Spatial International de Bruxelles), Ophelia grabbed her rollaway and hopped out of the automatically-opening front left door.
“Bye, Mum! Bye, Dad! Bye, Sam!” Ophelia cheered as she grinned and waved merrily at her family from directly outside the aperture left by the opened door. “Oh, yes, and you, too, Sean,” she said, smiling benevolently at her giggling brother.
“Goodbye!” the Adams replied, their right hands frantically waving from side to side as they all beamed at her.