I woke up to the vibrations of the ship's ventilation system running in high gear. The place smelled again like a space-faring vessel and gone was the scent of the wilderness. The sterile, familiar "aroma" helped me get into my work routine very quickly. I welcomed the relief of slipping back into the old habits that suppressed the emotional roller coaster of the last couple of days. We would deal with it later. When Joey woke up, I sent him to help with the never-ending cleanup in the engine room. I wanted him to swing the broom, to do anything that would get him physically active. Then it hit me why the ventilation system was so loud. Abby was still trying to get rid of the particulate contamination. Joey could help them kick it up into the air and, hopefully, most of it would end up in the filters.
I reviewed everything I've done since the day before, prepared my part of the pre-liftoff briefing, and I went where else but to the engine room. I took the magneto-wiper from Abby and did some of the cleanup myself. She, Pancake, and Ava hopped off to the flight deck to give the chrono-chromium injector one last test. The rest of us finished the cleanup, and at last, we got the green light on the contamination detector. The engine room was clean enough. Well, at least the sensors were happy, and to be honest, we were reaching the "don't care" level of burnout. Joey looked lively again. He gripped his broom proudly and mused with a stern, sardonic, almost frown on his m. "Is this our equivalent of having clean underwear?"
All I could do was to pat Joey on his shoulder as I headed to the flight deck. The launch briefing was extensive. We checked all the data I had entered into the control systems. I went through the different stages of liftoff, and we verified all the flight parameters. There was one thing we added to the checklist and executed that item right then and there. Penny thought it would be prudent to turn on the emergency comm system before we took off. Should we be lucky enough to return to when we came from and were incapacitated for some reason, the ship would broadcast the emergency distress signal on our behalf.
The clock said we still had a good deal of time left before we had to suit up, so Abby and I went to our pod for one last snorgle. We put on our oxygen masks to pre-breathe the pure oxygen. It wasn't the most romantic date, but we made due, and a cozy nap was a cozy nap.
Later, we suited up and made the very awkward hop to our seats. It was nighttime again, and in the first row stood Joey, telescoping and gazing outside. I instinctively looked at the consoles expecting to see a critter or a biped alert. I realized that Joey was looking out because there was no alert, not the one he was still hoping for. Finally, Penny hopped up to him and said, "It's time, Joey. If anybun is out there tonight, let's hope they are all well and far away from us." Joey slowly turned around from the window, looked at us, then at the woods and staring at his feet, hopped to his couch. I helped him get strapped in. Yes, I was the last bun standing and had to help myself into my couch.
Every bun's pressure checks came back solid green. Then, my couch started to mold itself around my head, torso, and legs. This fitting process would continue once the liftoff commenced. The mold would correct itself to provide the optimal support as we accelerated. Two minutes before liftoff, Pancake blasted the outside warning system for everybunny to get the thump as far away from us as possible. Usually, that would be sufficient for any stragglers on the launchpad to take cover. Here, we hoped it would scare the pants off every light bug and owl alike and made them run.
The sounds and vibration of our main engines coming up to full power cleared my head of any worries. I glanced at Joey to my left. He looked composed but kept his eyes closed. I said nothing. Today that would make no difference. There was very little any bun of us could have done to affect how this story would end. Soon, no amount of monitoring would help us. Still, I transferred my console display to my visor to make monitoring easier.
The liftoff started gently enough. The ship lifted slowly with a slight, nose down attitude and started accelerating. As we passed over the woods, I caught a glimpse of a small orange spark outside. Maybe the bipeds had a bonfire. Or was it Hopmeric and his tribe? The ship began to change its attitude from horizontal to almost vertical as the main engines redirected their full power to the rear thrusters.
I started to feel the Gs pushing me into the couch. They built up slowly at first until we got to the thinning parts of the atmosphere. Then, the pressure on my body started to increase again considerably. There would be no letup until we made it to "the other side." I called out, "I have the switch," as my paw flipped off the injector switch cover and rested next to it. "You have the switch," confirmed Joey. I looked at him. His eyes were open, and I swear he had a half a smile on his mouf! Then we heard Ava, Penny, Molly, and Pancake make the same call-outs. We treated the chrono-chromium injector switches like flight controls, and we needed to be sure who was handling them. The last thing we wanted was colliding while trying to get to them and ending up with no bun throwing them. "Fifteen seconds to injection!" called out Penny. The heavier I felt, the longer those seconds felt, stretching and approaching infinity as they passed. My switch started flashing yellow. My paw was ready. "Five seconds!" announced Penny, her voice straining.
That switch turned red just in time. I managed to slide my paw sideways over it, and I felt it click through my glove. I had hoped that maybe this would finally relieve the pressure I felt, but instead I felt like somebun jumped on my chest. Then my vision grayed out and I heard humming, like the sound of pouring sand, but harsher. I felt numb and thought that this was it. I don't recall being afraid. Under that kind of pressure, even fear couldn't crawl out from its hiding hole to do any more damage. My vision turned white then black, my hearing went completely out, and everything got quiet.