Apollo 17 was all systems go. Steve was fastened in his seat aboard the space capsule, going over the instrument panel before NASA Command Center initiated the countdown.
Oscar and Rudy were standing by the window, their eyes riveted on the majestic rocket standing tall on the launch pad, their hearts pounding in excitement at the thought of Steve’s first command mission. The countdown was on. Ten seconds before blastoff.
“This is it, Rudy,” Oscar patted the doctor on the back. “I wonder what is going through Steve’s mind at this very minute.”
“Three…two…one…we have liftoff,” the voice announced. “All systems go.”
The two men’s proud gaze dwelled on the majestic rocket being propelled up towards the dusty-pink heavens until horror stuck them. An explosion occurred in mid air.
Steve’s eyes shot wide open as he sprung up in his bed, sweat pouring out of him. He strived to regulate his frantic heart rate before sinking his spent body into the mattress. He cast a sidelong glance at the digital clock on the night table that indicated 3:55AM. He rolled over on his left side and hugged his pillow. He exhaled a sustained breath, shut his eyes and waited for sleep to claim him once again. He tossed and turned, entangling his legs in the sheets until his frustration reached a peak. In one angry swing, he flung the covers aside and hauled himself out of bed to go down to his kitchen to fix himself a cup of warm milk.
The vividness of the nightmare continued to haunt Steve’s mind during the drive to the OSI the next morning where he was scheduled to attend a meeting with Oscar and Calvin Billings, the head of the Space Exploration Program. The spicy Mexican dish he had feasted on the night before was most likely to blame for the frightening episode.
I met with Steve in the underground parking lot. He was stepping out of his car just as I was pulling mine into my reserved space. “Steve!” I shouted to catch his attention.
“Cassie?” What are you doing here?” he asked quizzically. “I thought you were on assignment in Chicago?”
“Was. Came back last night.” I locked the car door and walked over to him. “I’m here for the meeting.”
“What meeting? The one with Billings?”
“That’s the one.”
“The main topic of discussion will be the Space Exploration Program.”
“I fail to see the practical relevance of your presence at that particular meeting, seeing how you’re not part of the program.”
“Oh they asked me to take notes,” I said with a slight tease about my voice. I then broke into a devilish grin. “I’m joshing with you Blue Eyes. I’m here to see Rudy for my annual physical.”
I slanted my head sideways and frowned with worry at the pallor of his face. “Are you okay? You look kind of drawn.”
“I didn’t get much sleep last night,” he yawned his head off, covering his mouth with his hand.
“Let me guess: Chinese food again?”
“Ah! Well tonight you’re coming to my apartment for some good wholesome food.”
“Is that an invitation?”
“Yep! Besides we have to celebrate.”
“Ooops!” I grimaced at my blunder. “I said too much. Sorry.” I hastened the pace toward the elevator.
“35! There’s something you’re not telling me,” Steve chafed as he followed me at a brisk pace.
“You’ll find out soon enough, 34.”
Inside the elevator taking us to the OSI floor, Steve kept pestering me to reveal the information. Much to his frustration I remained tight-lipped. When the doors slid open and Steve stepped out, I wished him luck with the meeting.
“Thanks. Catch you later?”
He walked down to Oscar’s office and pushed his way through the glass doors into the reception area where he greeted Callahan good-morning.
“Go right ahead Steve. They’re waiting for you,” Callahan said with an unusual beaming smile, one that aroused Steve’s suspicions that something was going on behind his back.
Steve entered Oscar’s office to find him chatting with Calvin Billings over a cup of coffee.
“Steve!” Oscar waved from his desk. “Come on in.”
Steve flashed a constrained half smile. “I’m not late, am I?”
“No, you’re just in time,” Oscar assured, wrapping his arm around Steve’s shoulders to usher him to a chair. As he sat, Steve’s eyes darted warily between the two men wearing knowing grins.
“I suppose this is as good as time as any to spring the news on you,” Billings said, glancing over at Oscar who nodded in agreement.
“Apollo 17 will be launched in six weeks and you have been chosen to lead the lunar expedition.
Steve’s eyes widened in shock and remained fastened on Billings, unblinking. He was rooted to the spot, numb, and unable to move an inch or utter a single sound; his breath caught in his throat, choking him; his body broke into a cold sweat. He was momentarily lost in a maelstrom of horrific flashbacks from the night before.
“Steve? Pal, are you okay?” Oscar asked, a bit concerned by the blood draining from his friend’s face. “Steve!”
Oscar’s voice broke into his thoughts. “What?”
“Are you okay?”
“Yes. Of course I’m okay,” Steve replied monotone.
“This is what you wanted.”
Steve gulped down the lump stuck in his airway before he breathed out, “Yeah.”
Oscar turned to Billings and winked. “I can tell he’s in shock,” He commented with a friendly pat on Steve’s stiff shoulder before making his way to the bar to pour the shaken man a cup of steaming black coffee.
“My thoughts exactly,” Billings chuckled at Steve’s livid expression. “You sure you’re okay Steve?”
“Sure. I’m…I’m just letting the news sink in,” Steve stammered as he tried to silently catch his breath. He hoisted himself out of the chair to clasp Billings’s hand in a grateful handshake. “Thank you. Thank you very much for this opportunity.”
“You deserve it, Steve.”
“And it’s about time,” Oscar added before handing Steve his cup.
Billings perched himself on the edge of Oscar’s desk and took a sip of coffee before continuing,” You’ll be in command of a crew of space architects and engineers hired to design the blue prints for the new lunar base.”
“The one we intend to build on the surface?” Steve specified.
“Who’s on the team?”
Oscar picked up a folder inside which were the names of the chosen candidates. He put on his glasses and read, “Lieutenant Colonel George McCallum; Major Kathleen Harris…” a small devilish grin flickered on Steve’s lips at the mention of the woman’s name, one that didn’t go unnoticed by Billings.
“I believe our colonel here is already well acquainted with Major Harris.”
“Sure he knows her. They once dated,” Oscar informed.
“Steve, is there any woman on the force you haven’t dated?” Billings asked teasingly.
“Hardly,” Oscar spoke up before Steve could place a word. He refocused his attention to the list. “Third member on the team is Captain Leon Hastings and finally we have civilian astrophysicist Peter Colburn.”
Steve’s head jerked up at the mention of Colburn’s name. “Peter Colburn?”
“Know him?” Billings asked with an eyebrow arched in a question mark.
“You might say that,” Steve replied embarrassingly as he shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “I once dated his fiancée. I didn’t know she was engaged at the time. I found out she was using me to make him jealous. He’s never forgiven me.”
“Oh!” Billings threw Oscar a bothered look, one that conveyed his concern at the awkward situation. “When was that?”
“I’d say about five years ago.”
“I’m sure it’s long forgotten,” Oscar assured unconvincingly.
“Maybe. I hope so. I apologized profusely for the misunderstanding. I tried telling him that I had no idea she was his fiancée but he wouldn’t believe me.”
“Did he marry the woman?” Billings asked out of idle curiosity.
Steve flashed an amused grin. “I think he did.”
“Steve, just say the word and we’ll find a replacement for Colburn.”
Steve rose up from his chair and sighed. “No it’s okay. I’m sure you picked him on account of his skills; that he’s the best man for the job.” He stepped over to the bar to refill his cup.
“That he is,” Billings confirmed.
“We’ll make the best of it,” Steve raised his cup in a toast to his good fortune before tossing half the content in two large gulps.
Nearly two hours later, I went up to Oscar’s office to offer my congratulations to Steve before he left. I made small talk with Callahan while waiting for the meeting to conclude. Minutes passed and out came the three men.
“Steve, I’ll see you in my office this afternoon to look over the details for the mission,” Billings said as he gave Steve a firm handshake.
“I’ll be there. And thanks again for this honour. I truly appreciate it.”
“Think nothing of it. Like I said, you deserve it.”
Steve glanced my way and frowned suspiciously at the broad elfish smile crossing my lips.
“So?” I asked with eager expectation.
“35, you knew about this all along, didn’t you?”
“Of course!” I enthused, broadening the grin and outstretching my arms to welcome him. “Come here, 34.” As he stepped up to me, I flung my arms around his neck and clenched him into a bear hug. “Congratulations!”
Billings turned to Oscar with a muddled expression. “34? 35?”
Oscar shook his head in exasperation. “Don’t ask.”
I pulled back from the hug and planted a huge congratulatory kiss on Steve’s blushing cheek. “Don’t forget; my place tonight. I’ll cook us a gourmet feast.”
“I’ll be there,” he said with a contrived smile that disturbed me. Steve was an open book to me. I was a past master in the art of deciphering the signs of distress in his tone of voice and body language. I made a mental note of delving deeper beneath that artificial grin.
I was hovering over a hot stove, mentally measuring the right amount of seasoning to add to my chicken cacciatore when a knock on the door interrupted my concentration. “Just a second!” I shouted from the kitchen. I lowered the heat on the burner and placed a cover over the casserole before hurrying over to the door. I looked through the peephole at Steve holding a paper bag.
“Hey 34! Come on in! What’s in the bag?”
Steve pulled out a bottle of French white wine and a small bottle of sherry. “I remember I drank the last of the sherry the last time I was here.”
“You may recall I helped you drain the bottle. It had been a rough day. Thanks anyway Blue Eyes.”
“You’re welcomed.” He handed me both bottles and sauntered over to the couch. “Smells wonderful. Let me guess: chicken cacciatore?”
“Bionic nose strikes again!” I teased.
Steve broke into a laugh. “Spare the nose, please. I have too many bionic parts as it is without adding the nose to the list.”
“Make yourself comfy. Would you pour me a small sherry, please? I’ll join in a minute.” I handed him the bottle of sherry and returned to the kitchen to put the wine in the frig. After pouring two glassfuls he ambled over to the couch, put the glasses down on the coffee table, removed his shoes and stretched out his legs to put his feet up on the sandbag in front of him. He took a sip of sherry and craned his neck back to take a peek in the kitchen. “Need any help in there?”
“Nop! Got everything under control. Twenty more minutes and it’ll be cooked to perfection.” I removed the apron tied around my waist, tossed it on the counter, washed my hands and made my way to the living room to join Steve on the sofa.
I too kicked off my shoes and tucked my legs underneath me. I raised my glass in a toast.” Here’s to the new commander of the Apollo 17 mission!” We clung glasses and took sips, my eyes never left Steve’s harried expression etched on his face. “Let’s talk about this mission.”
“Sure. What do you want to know?”
“To begin with, why it’s bothering you?” I asked bluntly.
Steve shot me an air of surprise. “Bothering me? It’s not bothering me.”
“Nice try, 34. In the last two years we’ve known each other, I’ve learned how to recognize the signs of distress. Does it have anything to do with Peter Colburn?”
“Oscar mentioned he was on the team. I know the two of you aren’t on the best of terms.”
“It’s been over five years. I’m sure it’s forgotten,” Steve stated unconvincingly.
“Don’t forget you’re going to be his commander. He might not take to kindly to receiving orders from you. But that’s not entirely what’s bugging you, is it?”
Steve bit his upper lip and ran a hand through his hair. “It’s silly, really. Not worth mentioning.”
Steve heaved a long drawn-out sigh thick with dismay before hauling himself out of the couch. He quaffed his drink before stepping over to the liquor cabinet to pour himself another glassful of sherry. He inhaled deeply. “When Billings told me the news, I froze.”
“What’s so strange about that? I expect the shock was too much.”
“That’s part of it.” He moved to the window and stared out with a blank look. “Last night I had a dream about that very mission. All systems were go. The countdown was on. I double-checked the instruments for any irregularities. Everything was fine. Then….” he closed his eyes and took another sip to curb the emotions rising to his throat, “shortly after lift off, the….” his voice faltered as the sharp image of the launch flashed before his eyes, “the rocket exploded.”
“Oh my God!”
He turned back to me with hunted eyes. “It seemed so real, Cassie. I jolted out of sleep in a cold sweat. My heart was racing.”
“Could be premonitory.”
Steve flashed me a mocking grin. “Like ESP?”
“You could have seen what’s bound to happen. You do believe in extrasensory perception.”
“I do. I just don’t believe I have that ability.” He allowed a brief intermission in the conversation to gauge my reaction. “Told you it was silly.” He returned to the couch and resumed his seat next to me.
“Have you had that dream before last night?”
“I think it’s worth exploring deeper.”
“I’ll need to monitor your sleeping pattern to see if it becomes a recurring nightmare. For that you’ll sleep in the guest bedroom tonight.”
“I appreciate what you’re trying to do, Cassie, but I’ll pass,” he assured with a pat on my knee. “I’ll be alright. If I have the same nightmare again I…”
“You won’t tell me,” I quickly interjected.
“I was going to say that I’ll splash cold water onto my face and get right back to sleep.”
I leaned closer to him and gripped his arm. “You’re staying here tonight and I don’t want anymore argument about it.”
Steve sighed with resignation. “I don’t have a choice do I?”
I flashed him a smirk. “No.”
“It does feel like we’re married.”
In the hush of night, not a creature was stirring. Only the ticking of my alarm clock sitting on the night table kept me company as I slowly drifted off to sleep.
In his room Steve was tossing and turning in bed, mumbling in his fitful slumber. Just as I predicted, the same horrific nightmare came back to haunt him. Much as he tried he was unable to pry himself free from the powerful grip the taunting devil had on his mind. He was trapped inside a capsule that was doomed to explode.
His wails broke into my peaceful dream and brought me down to earth. I opened my leaden eyes at a crack and pricked up my ears at what I believed were pure figments of my imagination. When Steve shout out a warning, I thrust the covers aside and leapt out of bed. I grabbed my night robe draped over the back of a chair and hurried down to the next room where I found Steve thrashing in bed. I perched myself on the rim of the mattress and attempted to shake him out of his delirium.
“Steve! Wake up!”
“Noooooooooo,” he drawled. “No, stop…stop countdown. Danger.”
“Steve!” I yelled with a hard shake.
He sprung up in bed and gasped in a breath. “Hey, take it easy. You’re okay.”
He stared at me with great confusion. “What?”
“You’re in my apartment, remember?”
Steve rummaged through his memory while he ran a hand over his face to wipe the thick sheet of sweat. “Yeah,” he breathed out.
I reached for the jug of water on the nightstand and poured him a glass. “Here you go.”
He took the glass and gulped down half its content. “Thanks.”
He nodded before finishing the rest of the water.
“Want more?” I asked as I took the glass from him.
“No. I’m fine.” He lay back on his pillows and raked his fingers through his damp hair.
“Congratulations! It has officially become a recurrent nightmare.”
“I’m sure it’s nothing to lose sleep over.” His attempt at bad humour failed to get the reaction he anticipated.
“In this dream do you see anyone else aside from yourself? I’m thinking perhaps Peter Colburn?”
Steve knitted his eyebrows in confusion and shrugged. “No. I just assume he’s strapped in his seat behind me just like the others.”
“But you don’t actually see him or the other members of your crew for that matter.”
Steve’s sleepy eyes swivelled back and forth as he strained to recall that detail in his nightmarish vision, but the image remained fuzzy. “I can only sense that there are four people behind me, but can’t visualise their faces.”
“Then I think it’s as good a place as any to start our investigation. We’ll need to delve deeper into their backgrounds; comb every inch of their past; skim their personal and professional files.
Steve chuffed out a loud sigh of aggravation. “Cassie, forget it! You’re making too much of this.”
“Yes! It was just a dream.” He raised his pillow behind his head and rolled onto his left side. “Go back to sleep.”
“I said forget it, Cassie!” he interjected coldly.
His fierce tone cut through me like a knife. I bit my upper lip to refrain from voicing my opinion. “Alright. I’ll forget it for two weeks, that’s all. I’m going to Belgium on assignment a day after tomorrow and when I come back you’d better be nightmare free or I swear I will march into Billings’s office and demand that inquiry.”
“He’ll laugh you out of his office once you tell him the reason.”
Steve flashed a knowing grin. “You know, the frightening thing about it is that I honestly believe you can persuade him.”
“He doesn’t know me yet but he will,” I said with a devious smile. “Do you think you can get back to sleep okay?”
I ran a soothing hand over his shoulder. “If not we’ll stay up and have some hot chocolate.”
“I’ll be fine.”
“Alright.” I stood from the bed and crossed to the door. Before closing it I cast one last glance at my troubled friend who threw me a reassuring wink before shutting his eyes.
Over the next two weeks the nightmares continued to plague Steve’s nights, eventually taking their toll on his physical and emotional health. Exhaustion and a severe lack of appetite were major signs of insomnia. He had become belligerent, snapping at anyone who differed in opinion or dared challenge his theories. Oscar tried to get him to confide in him about his obvious problem but Steve would just snub him. Instead of patching up the rift between he and Peter Colburn, he widened it. He was a walking wreck.
When I returned from my mission abroad, I was appalled by Steve’s haggard expression and unkempt appearance, evidence that the nightmares had not released their hold on him. Rudy informed me that he’d prescribed Steve some mild sedative, though the problem was not falling asleep but actually staying asleep.
Following my short informative session with the good doctor, I decided to take the bull by the horns. No sooner had Callahan announced my presence that I charged into Oscar’s office with a defiant stance.
“Cassandra, I would like to commend your work on the Steely case,” Oscar praised with a congratulatory smile as he closed the file containing my report. “Good job!” He stood from his chair and stepped over to the bar. “Can I fix you some coffee?”
“No thanks, Oscar. I came here to ask a favour. Well it’s not exactly a favour, it’s a must.”
“Oh! What is it?”
“I need you to institute an enquiry of the Apollo 17 mission.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I have good reason that this flight is doomed to fail. Something will go horribly wrong, leading to the death of the five astronauts aboard, including Steve, “ I stated matter-of-factly.
Oscar stared at me in bewilderment. “What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that the rocket will likely explode on take off.”
Oscar took a hard gulp of coffee and keeping his frown fastened on my steely expression, he walked over to his desk. “Where did you get that information?”
“Let’s just say I got it,” I retorted with a slight embarrassment about my voice. I was shy to state the real reason for the enquiry knowing Oscar would mock it.
“Cassandra you’re aware I can’t request an investigation without solid evidence. I need more to go on.”
“The NASA team need to concentrate primarily on the booster rocket. Check for any crack that might leak out hydrogen or fuel which could trigger an explosion,” I continued notwithstanding his argument.
“Didn’t you hear what I just said?” Oscar asked sternly, somewhat annoyed by my insolence. “I need a reason to warrant this enquiry. Do you have any notion of the cost?”
“Oscar, five human lives are at stake,” I stated on a scathing tone. “Invent any reason you want but just do it!”
“You know something I don’t?”
“Yes I do. Oh and while you’re at it you might want to ask Billings to review the crew members’ backgrounds to be on the safe side, particularly Peter Colburn’s. See if anyone would have any motive to sabotage the mission.”
“Sabotage???????” Oscar was completely dumbfounded. “And you won’t tell me why?”
“I’m keeping my reliable source confidential for the time being.” I leaned over his desk and stared at him with beseeching eyes. “Please, trust me on this one. I know what I’m talking about.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” he sighed heavily.
“Thanks Oscar. I knew I could count on you.”
“Your hunches have always proven accurate in the past so I don’t see why I should question this one.”
“You keep me posted?”
I threw him a grateful smile before leaving the office.
At lunchtime, Oscar met with Steve in the OSI underground parking lot as he was walking to his car. His friend’s pale complexion, blood-shot eyes and general wretched appearance struck him. Steve was seen staggering with tiredness, halting to breathe away a fainting spell before pressing on. “Steve, you look awful!” He quickly grasped Steve’s arm to hold him off the ground. “Hey, you alright?”
Steve ran a hand over his stubbly chin. “I guess I forgot to shave this morning.”
“Never mind the stubble, look at you! You’re a mess!”
“I have an appointment with Billings.”
“I know but it’s scheduled for one o’clock and it’s barely eleven.”
Steve glanced down at his wristwatch and shut his strained bleary eyes in embarrassment. “That’s right.” He blinked heavily to establish clear focus, all the while breathing away a second fainting spell threatening to send him crashing to the ground.
Oscar assisted Steve back to his car where he leaned him on the hood. “When was the last time you had a goodnight sleep?”
“That would be two weeks ago,” he yawned his head off. “Rudy prescribed some sleeping pills but they don’t seem to have any effect on me.”
“What’s going on with you, Pal?”
Steve pinched the bridge of his nose and breathed out his answer,” I don’t know.” He rubbed his red-rimmed eyes and continued, “I keep having these recurring nightmares. They won’t let go of me and it’s driving me nuts.”
“Yeah, I noticed,” Oscar sneered. “What are the nightmares about?”
“It’s silly, really.”
“I keep seeing the Apollo 17 rocket explode in mid air.”
Oscar’s eyes widened in shock at the word ‘explosion’, which instantly hurled him back to the early morning discussion we had.
“What? Oscar, why are you wrinkling your brow?”
“Your Agent 35 was just in my office this morning urging me to request an investigation of your forthcoming space mission.”
“She didn’t?” Steve sighed with exasperation.
“She did and as usual was very persuasive.”
Steve rolled his eyes in disbelief. “Oscar, you’re not seriously going to go through with it? She has it in her head that my dream is somehow premonitory.”
“What if she’s right?”
“Ah come on, Oscar!” Steve scoffed. “You of all people don’t believe in that psychic stuff.”
“I told Cassandra I would do my best. If I don’t she’s liable to go over my head.”
“You’re not scared of her, are you?”
The mousy grin hanging on Oscar’s ears was self-explanatory. “A little. She can raise Cain when her temper flares up. She’s worse than you.”
“Forget about it, Oscar. It’s a stupid dream. It’ll eventually go away. Don’t fret about me. Come on, let’s go to lunch.”
Another week trickled down with the tormenting nightmares continuing to plague Steve’s nights. His fuse was shortening; his temper was highly volatile. His nerves were raw to the point of jumping ten feet in the air at the mere sound of a kettle whistling. When Billings finally remonstrated with Steve about his behavior, 34 grabbed him by the jacket lapels and plastered him against the wall in a fit of fury. Luckily Oscar intervened before Steve lost it completely. He apologized for his outburst and stormed out of the meeting.
I was persistent in my belief that having Steve bunk at my apartment would somehow help him find peaceful sleep. He would mock my suggestion and give me the cold shoulder.
I was desperate to find a solution to his problem. The answer finally came one morning when a NASA official dropped by Oscar’s office with a disturbing report.
“Mister Goldman, my name is Gordon Ramsey. I’m the head engineer assigned to the Apollo 17 space mission.”
Oscar stood from behind his desk to shake the man’ s hand. “Mister Ramsey. You have a report for me?”
Ramsey handed over the folder to Oscar. “Your hunch was correct, sir: we discovered a tear in the second stage of the rocket’s pressure hull just above the liquid hydrogen tank. For some unknown reason it went undetected during the first two tests we performed on the engines. “
“Do you suspect sabotage?”
“Not likely. We subscribe to the theory of possible metal fatigue. Your timely request for a complete inspection of the rocket and its instrument panel prevented a major disaster.”
“Meaning the hydrogen leak could have triggered an explosion?” Oscar surmised.
“Not could; would have.”
Oscar’s mind was striving to assimilate this startling information. He sighed heavily and resumed his seat. “Thank you. Has Calvin Billings been notified of this report?”
“Yes sir. He has a copy. He said he’ll be in touch with you in that regard.”
“Has he mentioned anything about possibly scrubbing the mission?”
“No. He merely wishes to postpone it until we address the problem.”
“No, Thank YOU. We are all very relieved to have detected the tear before lift off.” He turned and crossed to the door. Before exiting the office he left Oscar with the assurance that he would remain in touch with any new development.
Oscar buzzed Callahan’s desk. “Callahan, could you locate Colonel Austin?”
Barely an hour later, a zombie-like Steve shuffled into his boss’s office. Seeing how his friend was on the verge of collapsing, Oscar quickly gripped him by the shoulders and assisted him to the sofa. “Sit down before you fall down.”
“I’m alright,” Steve heaved out in exasperation, waving off Oscar’s hands. He flumped down on the cushions and began rubbing his strained eyes. He then glanced up at Oscar who wore a broad satisfied grin on his face. “I know I look like hell, so what else is new?” Steve scorned with a yawn.
Oscar stepped up to his desk to pick up the report. “After you get a goodnight sleep you might want to take a look at this report on the rocket inspection. Cassandra was correct; your nightmares were indeed premonitory. NASA engineers found a tear in the rocket’s hydrogen tank.
Steve’s head jerked up at Oscar’s statement. “Did I hear you right?”
Oscar smiled his response. He clasped Steve’s arm to hoist him to his wobbly legs. “Go home and get some sleep. I guarantee they will be no more nightmares. Never again doubt your gut instincts.”
Steve strained a lopsided grin before he headed out the door with the folder. He took a quick peek at the report on his way to the elevator. He leaned heavily against the wall as he waited for the door to slide open, glancing distractedly at the people walking past him. He was about to step inside the elevator when he spotted me walking down to Oscar’s office.
He hurried down the hall and crept up behind me, sliding his arms around my waist.
“Jesus!” I shrieked, jumping out of my skin. “Steve, don’t you ever do that again!”
When I turned around to face him he clenched me into a soul-stirring hug. “Something wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong. Everything is just great and I have you to thank for.” He pulled back but kept his arms entwined at my waist.
“What is it?”
“You were right about my nightmares. NASA found a tear in the rocket pressure hull.”
I took a few seconds to register this information before I broke into a euphoric grin. “You mean?”
“Yep! I’m finally going to get a goodnight sleep.”
“34, that’s great!” I gushed, pulling him into another bear hug.
Steve apologized profusely for his rude behaviour towards me in the last few days, particularly for mocking my theory of premonitions. In the end my unflagging stubbornness paid off and saved the lives of five astronauts.
“Let’s go back to my place and break out the champagne!”
“That’s a mighty tempting invitation, 35,” he hesitated.
“And you know I won’t take no for an answer. I just need to discuss something quick with Oscar and I’ll meet down in the parking lot in about fifteen minutes?”
Nearly an hour had elapsed when we arrived at my apartment. I went straight for the kitchen to take out a bottle of Cordon Rouge out of the frig that Steve popped open with one bionic pluck. After toasting to his good fortune, we kicked off our shoes and sat on the couch to further discuss the mission. At some point during the conversation, Steve’s sagging eyelids waged a raging battle with his will to remain awake. Finally it conceded defeat and Steve fell like a log. I gently removed the glass from his hand and stretched out his legs on the couch. I went to the linen closet to retrieve a blanket that I spread over him. I gazed at his serene expression filling me with joy at the thought of him finally enjoying a long well deserved nap.
The physically and emotionally spent man wound up sleeping for forty-eight hours straight without so much of a stir. Thankfully Oscar had acquiesced to my request for a brief leave of absence in order to play babysitter. When Steve opened his baby blues that evening, he was a totally changed man. His mood had improved, not to mention his appetite.
Three months later, I was at Cape Canaveral with Oscar and Rudy to watch the launch of Apollo 17. Although all systems were go and the countdown was on, I sent a silent prayer to the heavens to watch over my darling Blue Eyes on what was to be the first in a long string of successful space command missions.