Good luck, guys.
“Hey, Melissa...” said Robert. “Am I getting through? Can you see me?”
“Loud and clear, babe,” said Commander Lewis. “The video link is solid.”
“They say I have 5 minutes,” Robert said.
“Better than nothing,” Lewis said. Floating in her quarters, she gently touched the bulkhead to stop drifting. “It's nice to see you in real-time for a change.”
“Yeah,” Robert smiled. “I can hardly notice the delay. I gotta say, I wish you were coming home.”
Lewis sighed, “Me too, babe.”
“Don't get me wrong,” Robert quickly added, “I understand why you're doing all this. Still, from a selfish point of view, I miss my wife. Hey, are you floating?”
“Huh?” Lewis said. “Oh, yeah. The ship isn't spinning right now. No centripetal gravity.”
“Because we're docking with the Taiyang Shen in a few days. We can't spin while we dock with things.”
“I see,” said Robert. “So how are things up on the ship? Anyone giving you shit?”
“No,” Lewis shook her head. “They're a good crew; I'm lucky to have them.”
“Oh hey!” Robert said. “I found a great addition to our collection!”
“Oh? What'd you get?”
“An original production 8-track of Abba's Greatest Hits. Still in the original packaging.”
Lewis widened her eyes. “Seriously? A 1973 or one of the reprints?”
“1973 all the way.”
“Wow! Good find!”
“I know, right!?”
With a final shudder, the jetliner came to a stop at the gate.
“Oh gods,” said Venkat, massaging his neck. “That was the longest flight I've ever been on.”
“Mm,” said Teddy, rubbing his eyes.
“At least we don't have to go to Jiuquan till tomorrow,” Venkat moaned. “14½ hours of flying is enough for one day.”
“Don't get too comfortable,” Teddy said. “We still have to go through customs and we'll probably have to fill out a bunch of forms because we're U.S. Government officials... it's gonna be hours before we sleep.”
Gathering their carry-on luggage, they trudged off the plane with the rest of the weary travellers.
Beijing Capital International Airport's Terminal 3 echoed with the cacophony common to huge air terminals. Venkat and Teddy continued forward as the Chinese citizens from their flight split off to go to a simpler point-of-entry process.
As Venkat took his place in line, Teddy filed in behind him and scanned the terminal for a convenience store. Any form of caffeine would be welcome.
“Excuse me, gentlemen,” came a voice from beside them.
They turned to see a young Chinese man wearing casual attire. “My name is Su Bin Bao,” he said in perfect English. “I am an employee of the China National Space Administration. I will be your guide and translator during your stay in the People's Republic of China.”
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Su,” Teddy said. “I'm Teddy Sanders, and this is Dr. Venkat Kapoor.”
“We need sleep,” Venkat said immediately. “Just as soon as we get through customs, please take us to a hotel to sleep.”
“I can do better than that, Dr. Kapoor,” Su smiled. “You are official guests of the People's Republic of China. You have been pre-authorized to bypass customs. I can take you to your hotel immediately.”
“I love you,” Venkat said.
“Tell the People's Republic of China we said thanks,” Teddy added.
“I'll pass that along,” Su Bin smiled.
“Helena, my love,” Vogel said to his wife. “I trust you are well?”
“Yes,” she said. “I'm fine. But I do miss you.”
“Can't be helped,” she shrugged.
“How are our monkeys?”
“The children are fine,” she smiled. “Eliza is adjusting to life in junior high, and Victor is goalkeeper for his high school's team.”
“Excellent!” Vogel said. “I hear you are at Mission Control. Was NASA unable to pipe the signal to Bremen?”
“They could have,” she said. “But it was easier for them to bring me to Houston. A free vacation to the United States. Who am I to turn that down?”
“Well played. And how is my mother?”
“As well as can be expected,” Helena said. “She has her good days and bad days. My last few visits, she didn't recognize me. In a way, it's a blessing. She doesn't have to worry about you like I do.”
“She hasn't worsened?” He asked.
“No, she's about the same as when you left. The doctors are sure she'll still be here when you return.”
“Good,” he said. “I was worried I'd seen her for the last time.”
“Alex,” Helena said, “Will you be safe?”
“As safe as we can be,” he said. “The ship is in perfect condition, and after receiving the Taiyang Shen, we will have all the supplies we need for the remainder of the journey.”
“Be careful,” She said.
“I will, my love,” Vogel promised.
“Welcome to Jiuquan,” Guo Ming said. “I hope your flight was smooth?”
Su Bin translated Guo Ming's words as Teddy took the second-best seat in the observation room.
“Yes, thank you,” Teddy said. “The hospitality of your people has been wonderful. The private jet you arranged to bring us here was a nice touch.”
“My people have enjoyed working with your advance team,” Guo Ming said. “The last month has been very interesting. Attaching an American probe to a Chinese booster. I believe this is the first time it's ever been done.”
“It just goes to show,” Teddy said. “Love of science is universal across all cultures.”
Guo Ming nodded. “My people have especially commented on the work ethic of your man Mitch Henderson. He is very dedicated.”
“He's a pain in the ass,” Teddy said.
Su Bin paused before translating, but pressed on.
Guo Ming laughed. “You can say that,” he said. “I cannot.”
“So explain it again,” Beck's sister Amy said. “Why do you have to do an EVA?”
“I probably don't,” Beck explained. “I just need to be ready to.”