Max and Patty’s Space Adventure
by Matthew McAyeal
“Why do I have to learn about the 2020s?” asked Max Lester. “I wasn’t even born back then!”
“The 2020s were a very significant decade,” his Uncle Stanley replied, “starting with the COVID-19 pandemic. Do you remember how it affected the economy?”
“I really don’t care,” said Max. “It’s all ancient history now. Besides, why do I have to think about homework on vacation?”
“You’re not really on vacation until you get into orbit.”
Uncle Stanley was seeing his niece and nephew off before they boarded the Alden passenger rocket at Cape Canaveral. Thirteen-year-old Max was very excited about visiting the new Hilbert Space Hotel, which was being built under the supervision of their parents. Max’s ten-year-old sister Patty, however, was standing there with a perpetual scowl on her face as though determined to show the world that she would rather be anywhere else.
“I’ll be right here when you get back,” Uncle Stanley told them. “See you next Wednesday.” With that, he left, and Max and Patty turned to board the rocket with the other passengers.
“Isn’t this the best vacation ever?” Max asked his sister, ignoring her obvious lack of enthusiasm. After all, he was enthusiastic about this, and she should be too.
“This isn’t even a vacation at all,” said Patty. “We’re going to Mom and Dad’s work.”
“We’re going to outer space, Patty!” said Max. “Do you not understand the significance of that? It wasn’t that long ago that only professional astronauts could go into space.”
“I would rather go to Salzburg. That’s where they filmed The Sound of Music.”
“How can you be so obsessed with that old movie?”
“It’s not just some old movie! It’s a classic, and it’s so romantic!”
“There’s no way visiting any place on Earth could be as exciting as going to space!”
“It could, if that place were Salzburg.”
Not long after they had taken their seats, the countdown started. As though oblivious, Patty put on her display headset. No doubt she would be watching The Sound of Music for the thousandth time. As they lifted off, other passengers began putting on their headsets as well.
Max did no such thing, of course. He did not intend to miss a second of their flight. By the time they were in orbit, most people were taking off their headsets and turning to look at the spectacular view of Earth, but not Patty. There was no way Max was going to let her miss this. Whether she realized it or not, this would be something she would never forget.
“Patty, look!” he said, prodding her. He realized that she couldn’t hear him with her headset on, so he pulled it off. “Look, we’re in space now!” he told her.
“Really?” she asked sarcastically. “I thought this rocket was headed for the center of the Earth.”
“But don’t you want to see the Earth from space?”
“No,” she said, putting her headset back on. “Don’t bother me again until we’re there!”
Max sighed. He was sure that she would appreciate the view if only she would just look at it, but it seemed she wouldn’t.
Just then, they were rocked by an explosion, followed by a shrill alarm.
“Attention all passengers,” said a voice over the loudspeaker, “we are experiencing a hull breach! Put on your oxygen masks now! Do not attempt to hold your breath; it could rupture your lungs!”
Realizing that Patty couldn’t hear or see the alarm with her headset on, and that he didn’t have time to explain the situation to her, Max grabbed her oxygen mask and pressed it onto her face.
“I told you not to —” she managed to say before he forced her mask on. Her headset fell off, but she continued to struggle, preventing him from putting on his own mask.
“Patricia, this is an emergency!” he said, and she stopped struggling. She knew it was serious when she was called by her real name. Finally, Max was able to put on his own mask.
“We will be making an emergency docking with the Malaysian space station Merdeka 4,” said the voice over the loudspeaker. “After we’ve made repairs, we’ll continue on to the Hilbert Space Hotel.”
It seemed to take them forever to reach the Malaysian space station. Max took steady breaths, afraid that he might run out of air before they docked. Fortunately, he didn’t.
“We have docked to the Merdeka 4. Please float to the exit in an orderly fashion.”
The panicked passengers did not do so, instead fighting and jostling to get to the airlock as fast as possible. No one wanted to spend any more time than they had to on a ship that was leaking air. Max had not expected that his first time floating in space would be like this! Holding his sister’s hand tightly, he pulled her along as he floated into the space station.
The room they entered was cramped, as it was not intended to hold so many people at once. Max did not dare to take off his oxygen mask until the airlock closed behind them and the chamber was repressurized. And even after that, he did not let go of his sister’s hand.
“Thank you,” said Patty. “You — you might have saved my life!”
“You see the sort of things you miss when you have that headset on all the time?” asked Max.