When I got to the "white room," Zoomer was already waiting for me. The white room was a small, final preparation area at the end of a long gantry leading to our ship perched on top of the Red Hop rocket. The suite tech and a couple of his assistants, students I think, already had Zoomer ready to go. She was sitting on her hind paws, looking way too calm and composed. Her suit looked like it doubled her tiny, Lionhead body, and you could almost mistake her for a Dutchie. I think this was the first time I saw my very young cousin all ready to go on a flight. We had spent the last two days going over and over the plans for her final check flight, and we had worked through a lot of the emergency scenarios in the sim. She had been training in that sim for a long time before her check flight became a date on the calendar. For us, it was mostly a chance to see how well we would work together. Now, we were about to face the real thing.
I am not sure how she rigged the lottery or manipulated the system to draw my name as her Flight Examiner. I almost declined the assignment because of that, but then again, it could have been pure luck. The last thing I wanted to deal with was the possibility that she may bust the ride and I would have to flank a blood relative of mine. Of course, she knew her stuff, and our simulator sessions were great, yet I was apprehensive. After all, you can simulate all you want, but if you give the low-orbit environment half a chance, it will put you in your place feet first in a blink of an eye.
The tech felt around, and tugged and pulled and thumped from time to time. His two "assistants," more like hopping distractions, sniffed and watched and tapped on the gauges with concern. One of them frowned and proudly announced that my diaper light had turned amber. So, I had to make a small deposit already – big deal. Anyway, he felt smart and observant – good for him. I finally asked the tech if they could help Zoomer get situated in the capsule.
He motioned to his assistants, and Zoomer settled in on her couch. As the couch molded itself to fit Zoomer's contour perfectly, the students secured her restraints, plugged in her life-support system, and started checking for leaks one more time. Their supervisor inspected their work and nodded with approval.
I got the go-ahead to settle into my couch as they rolled Zoomer into the capsule. As I took my place, I felt the cushion press against and adjust around my torso and hind paws. Even through the suit, the shape-shifting couch felt a little strange. I checked my front paws, making sure I had the required freedom of movement to reach everything on the console in front and a little below me. For now, the most important piece of equipment was the launch abort handle. I say "for now" because up until a certain altitude, this would be our last chance to get the capsule away from the rocket if things got bad enough. Until now, no bun yet had to use it, thank stars, but if we had to, I sure didn't want to be the first one to screw it up. I wiggled my duff to check the fit and comfort of the couch. I already felt like I was floating on air.
They finally rolled me into the capsule, and I heard and felt the heavy clangs when the couch locked in place. On my right, Zoomer was already scrolling through the final systems checks and paid no attention to me. Her head was in the game as it should have been. She was the Commander after all. So far, everything looked pretty good. The tech finished mucking about with us and slowly tried to crawl out of the ship. That's the only thing I didn't like about the Stratoberry capsule. Somehow, engineering never figured out a graceful means for the technicians to do their jobs. I watched the indicator lights as I felt the guy still trying to claw his way out of the ship. A little later, the sound of the main hatch closing let us know that the capsule was about to get sealed off, for better or for worse. For a moment, the cabin became strangely peaceful and serene. The only noticeable sound came from the ventilation system in my suit as the freshly recycled air gently meandered around my mouf and whiskers. I caught Zoomer looking at me with a big grin on her mouf as our countdown clock kept on running down closer to zero.