The clock hit zero. There's not much we can do now. The Cap Com confirms it, laconically, without any hint of the panic my microbiome is starting to feel. I keep one eye on the control panel and one on Zoomer. Neither of us can mess up this part too much. The worst that can happen is that Zoomer's paw gets twitchy, she pulls the abort handle, and it's over for us. We might end up dead. A small rocket mounted on top of our capsule would fire and pull us away from the booster. Then, hopefully, the main parachute would open, and we would be on the ground shortly. We would be done, and Zoomer would be done with her commission. She could fly kites after that, on her own time and dime, of course. Thus, for the moment, doing nothing is considered a satisfactory performance. We watch the gages showing the main engines come up to half power, then three quarters, and finally hundred percent. Just as important are the supporting gages that could betray the first signs of stress on the engines that exceed the safety limits.
Zoomer keeps her cool, and so do the engines. That's an excellent news. I saw one of those engine assemblies melt during a test. When one of the flights aborted before liftoff due to an overheating power coil, they decided to stress test to failure that entire set up. From time to time, they do that to engines at half of their service lifetime, just to test engineering's estimates against the realities that engines face during their service life in the fleet.
That was a spectacular display of angry, vicious, molten metal, ceramic and composite, evaporating, flying in all directions, and raining calamity on everybunny around. Some Rex in a yellow hard hat next to me got half his ear blown off. The good news was that didn't happen to a crew during the launch.
This time, everything is in green, and my gut check agrees. Even my bum, clad in a bulky pressure suit and sitting on a shock absorbent couch, feels that the engines are running just right. With the power plant running so smoothly, you might forget there is a raging, hot catastrophe punishing the ground below, and just then, the acceleration starts and reminds you that this is for keeps. All of a sudden, you are going! You don't feel the speed, but you do feel the pressure on your body. It's becoming harder and harder to move a paw, and something is pushing me into the couch. Something is trying to pull the muscles off my body into a puddle of flesh, and it's getting harder to breathe. That's when I start to appreciate the genius of my couch. I feel pressed into the capsule and become one with it in a perfect fit. Every part of me feels welded to the ship by the g-force, yet the exact fit feels comforting, and my chin feels like it found the right spot to rest in this beast.
I keep watching Zoomer. We cleared the tower a while back, and time and altitude are starting to be on our side. The pressure caused by the hard acceleration eases somewhat, and that's enough to bring on a significant relief. I finally noticed the Cap Com running a commentary and being overly reassuring. I realized he's grating on my nerves. Is he getting chummy with Zoomer or something? Zoomer is smiling though, but I think she is entirely oblivious to the trying-too-hard Cap Com.
In a few minutes, the little window in front of us turned completely black. Another moment and the engines cut out, and I felt myself lifting off the couch. My head and body lurched upwards, relatively speaking, and the helmet and the suit held me in place. It was a violent jolt, a jarring goodbye from the booster letting us know that we were on our own, for now. All the pressure on my body disappeared, and I felt suspended in the cocoon of the suit.
We got very busy after that with a lot of housekeeping chores. We checked the capsule for leaks and got a confirmation from the ground. We had to verify the radiation protection system as well. Only after all that were we able to take off our bubble helmets and get out of the suits. Although Zoomer seemed distraught, she was adjusting to the new environment pretty well. I watched her just to be sure. She tried to scratch her ears a couple of times, and it looked like she was convulsing. After a couple of tries, she figured out that she would have to put one foot in a restraint and use the other one to scratch. Then,she would have to switch to get the other ear. I have to admit it; those are the simple pleasures in life that never get old, the rookies trying to figure out how to do things that, until orbit, have never required any thought.
Once the chores were under control, we rotated the couches on their rear hinges to a position where they were pointing toward the nose of the capsule. After they locked in place, we could use them as seats with restraints or even as beds. Half of their top covers were made of elastic fabric and acted like big pockets. A bun could crawl into one and sleep, and the pocket would "hug" one to the cushion.
Next, we got rid of the booster and sent it flying away from us. Zoomer would have to rendezvous and dock with it a day or two. We would worry about that part later. To finish the day, Zoomer corrected the capsule's attitude. She fine-tuned it by paw and set the computer to keep it aligned. The first adjustment had to be manual, and when she finished, I breathed a sigh of relief. I wanted to binky, but it's almost impossible to do that here, so I bounced from side to side. Zoomer got to a window and became still for a long time.