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JJ, King, Song-Ye, and Dyl went to the changing room mockup, a room that had served as an imaginary shuttle cabin during their school trip. On the earlier mission, students had struggled into jumpsuits while a launch clock counted down. Now JJ saw that for their Saturday mission the jumpsuits had indeed been replaced with full-fledged spacesuits, complete with helmets, boots, and life-support packs, that looked to JJ like futuristic suits of armor.

“No wonder this is a special invitation-only deal,” King said. “They couldn’t possibly get suits like this for all the kids in a class.”

The suits appeared to be brand new. JJ touched one. “Looks like the real thing.”

“It is.” Zota stood at the doorway, regarding them all. “Now, before you suit up, I must give you a more specific safety briefing. Please pay careful attention. Conditions on the Moon are dangerous, so your life may depend on knowing exactly how your spacesuit works.”

Dyl groaned, balancing himself on his crutches. “Another briefing? Aren’t we safe enough already?” Still, he fished a note card and pencil out of his pocket and prepared to take notes.

Tossing her long, dark hair, Song-Ye eyed the disassembled suits. “Why don’t we skip the extra briefing and get to the main event? Let’s get this part over with as fast as we can.”

“What’s the rush?” JJ understood impatience to get to “the good stuff,” but in this case, putting on a real spacesuit was good stuff.

“I can only give up a few hours today. My chauffeur will be back for me at one o’clock.”

JJ frowned. “Why? The invitation said 9:00 am to 4:00 pm.”

“I …” The dark-haired girl glanced away, her cheeks turning pink. “I told Winston to come back early, just in case I got bored.”

JJ guessed that as a diplomat’s daughter, Song-Ye must be used to bypassing procedures that everyone else had to follow. Annoyed by the girl’s attitude, JJ imagined how her life must be—free of inconveniences that normal people like Dyl and JJ had to deal with. Song-Ye probably skipped lines at Disneyland, received backstage passes to concerts, sat in box seats for plays and symphony performances, went on private tours after hours in museums.

Commander Zota did not show any favoritism. “You’re part of a team here, young lady, and all of you need these safety instructions. You will find the briefing to be well worth the time if your suit integrity is compromised or you run low on oxygen.”

“Let’s all buy into the simulation,” King said, giving Song-Ye a friendly smile. “What’s the worst that could happen?”

“We accidentally push her out the airlock?” Dyl said.

Zota raised an eyebrow. “Safety is a serious business. The lunar environment is unimaginably harsh—more so than the most inhospitable place on Earth. Therefore, we use a buddy system. It is a matter of survival. The slightest mistake could kill you, and innumerable precautions must be taken.”

“That’s why pilots and mission personnel use detailed checklists,” JJ said. Whenever she took a flying lesson, their uncle Buzz made her go through every step of the safety inspections to his satisfaction. She had learned quickly that if she wanted to get airborne as fast as possible, she had to do each item on the checklist and do it well. “Our uncle who’s a pilot always says, ‘Skipping the safety checklist is about as smart as skipping breathing.’”

Song-Ye rolled her eyes, but JJ wanted to do this right. She caught her brother’s alert gaze.

“You know me,” Dyl said. “I’m all for safety.”

King spoke for all of them. “We get it, sir. We’ll follow instructions.”

“Very well, then.” The commander turned to the disassembled suits, assessing them. “First we must find suit components to fit you all. You are rather tall Mr. King, but I believe I can accommodate everyone.”

King grinned. He stood a dozen inches taller than Song-Ye, who topped out at five feet. Dyl was slightly taller than the Korean girl (though he looked shorter when using his crutches), while JJ fell halfway between King and Song-Ye in height.

After rummaging around for a bit, Zota began to hand out components. Dyl looked at the bulky pieces in dismay. “You expect me to walk wearing this?”

“I’ll help you,” JJ said, though she wondered if her brother could move around in the cumbersome suit.

Zota’s eyes held an odd mixture of concern and mirth when he looked at Dyl. “Trust me, Cadet Wren, once the simulation starts, you will find yourself quite capable.”

Dyl still looked dubious. “No problem, then. I’ll try it.”

JJ knew he would, although a failure would only lower his already fragile self-esteem.

From a set of metal lockers, Zota took four slithery garments that looked like long underwear, as well as a stack of padded, absorbent rectangles with adhesive tabs at the corners. He dangled the long underwear in front of them. “This is your Liquid Cooling and Ventilation Garment, or LCVG. It is a liner that goes between you and the rest of the spacesuit. Its function is to remove the excess body heat you’ll produce as you move and work outside in the lunar environment.”

“That other thing looks like a disposable diaper,” Dyl joked.

Commander Zota raised one eyebrow. “Essentially correct. It is your MAG—Maximum Absorbent Garment—designed to collect an astronaut's urine during lengthy activities outside the moonbase.”

“Ick.” JJ put a hand over her mouth to suppress a giggle. “That’s an acronym for Insanely Cruel Knowledge. ICK.”

“Uh-huh. That MAG thing might take some getting used to,” King said.

Song-Ye was mortified. “Absolutely not. I’ll wait until I can use a real restroom. I’m not wearing a diaper.”

Commander Zota’s keen eyes studied her. His scar darkened. “Is that so, young lady? Consider this: suiting-up properly takes anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour, depending on your proficiency with the suit. Once you begin a project on the lunar surface, I’m sure you’ll agree that it would be impractical to run inside simply for a ‘rest’ break.”

“Just put it on, Song-Ye,” JJ sighed. “Nobody’s going to make you use it, but you’ll have it, just in case.”

Dyl laughed. “C’mon—stop whining, put on your big-girl space panties, and show us how long you can hold it.”

Without meeting anyone’s eyes, Song-Ye grabbed a MAG and an LCVG.

Zota gestured toward the doors in the hall. “You may put them on in the restrooms. Once you’ve donned the inner garments, I will fit you with the exterior components of the suits.”

Coming out of the bathroom in her high-tech clothing, JJ felt much more self-conscious than she’d expected about the absorbent garment that fit snugly at her waist and legs. She told herself that the awkward MAG wasn’t really a diaper, but it didn’t help. Back in the main changing room, she found King still adjusting the clingy fabric on his arms and legs. Dyl had managed to dress himself as well and seemed full of excitement.

When Song-Ye finally emerged from the bathroom, she wore an impatient frown along with her clingy suit. “This seems like a lot of trouble just for a simulation.”

“Ah, but you’ve only just begun,” Commander Zota said. “Now, we can suit up in earnest. First, we connect the EMU Electrical Harness, which is called the EEH for short. It’s basically your electronics package. Then we attach the EEH to the Hard Upper Torso, or HUT—a rigid shell that protects you and supports the other components.”

“Lots of acronyms,” JJ remarked.

“Some of the names are just abbreviations, not acronyms,” Song corrected her. “Technically, it’s only an acronym if the shortened form makes a pronounceable word or name—like scuba or NASA.”

“LOL,” Dyl quipped, and the others groaned.

Commander Zota waited for them to quiet down. “It’s important to know your equipment, but using the complete technical name for each item is unnecessary and can actually interfere with communication. Abbreviations save time.”

He helped the four companions hook up their systems, explaining each step. “Your Primary Life Support Subsystem provides oxygen, power, temperature control, communications, warning indicators, and so on. A spacesuit is a self-contained environment, the equivalent of wearing a human-shaped submarine.”

After attaching their arm components, they all claimed helmets and treated the inside visors with an anti-fog compound. Though he must have done this countless times before, Commander Zota referred to the detailed checklist for each step.

Just like Uncle Buzz’s preflight checklist, JJ thought. “When a small mistake could cause disaster, it’s a bad idea to rely on memory alone,” her uncle often said.

JJ thought back to a ski trip her family had taken years ago. At the time, she had considered it a pain to put on the long undergarments, ski pants, layers of socks, ski boots, sweater, jacket, hat, glove liners, gloves. But that was nothing compared to this!

Dyl nudged her. “Remember when we went to the fire station and got to watch Dad put on all his gear before going out to fight fires? He didn’t complain, and I’m not about to complain either.”

JJ remembered. Their father had always been courageous and careful, but his equipment hadn’t been able to save him five years ago, when a burning ceiling had collapsed on him during a rescue. She had inherited her sense of daring from him. She was practically fearless, in fact—except for fire. JJ shuddered.

“You sure take this simulation seriously, sir,” King said.

Zota gave him a thoughtful look. “The more accurate the experience is, the better you can learn from it. Make it count. By the end of the day, I believe you will understand a great deal.”

“When do we start the mission?” Song-Ye was having trouble getting into her boots. “Is all this really necessary?”

Zota continued as if he hadn’t heard. “Because of the Moon’s lack of atmosphere, walking on its surface will be like stepping out into hard vacuum. Your spacesuit maintains your body’s integrity. If your suit fails, your tissues explode and freeze. We wouldn’t want that now, would we?”

The cadets shook their heads.

“On Earth, atmosphere protects us from solar or cosmic radiation, but on the Moon you have to count on your space-suit for that too. You can’t see the deadly particles raining down on you, but they can cause cellular damage. And don’t forget that temperatures on the Moon range from over two hundred degrees Fahrenheit in the direct sunlight to three hundred degrees below zero in the shade.”

“I’m convinced.” King patted his life-support pack. “I have a new appreciation for my suit, sir.”

Commander Zota helped them put on more suit components. He connected the control umbilicals, and the systems began powering up. “You each have an in-suit drink bag and an energy bar. That should offer sufficient nutrition for our day’s activities.”

“A built-in snack? They thought of everything!” Dyl raised his arms in a victory gesture in his bulky spacesuit.

The body armor helped him stand up straight and provided support.

“Pfft. Everything?” Song-Ye said, waving her cell phone at him. “Did they think of pockets?”

“Good question,” Dyl said. “I wanted to take some note-cards and a pencil along. This is a problem ….”

“I would not recommend taking anything with you, but if you must, there is a small pouch here.” Zota pointed out a storage pocket inside the space suit, then explained how to ensure that each other’s seals and connections were correct. By the time they put on comfort gloves and outer gloves, JJ was anxious to get moving. It had been nearly an hour since they started.

Commander Zota showed them how to read their suit information on the display inside their helmets. “Keep in mind that the faceplates are reflective to protect your eyes and faces from the sun, so you won’t be able to see each other’s faces while you are wearing your helmets. Final step: lock it down and check one another. Working as a team will help you stay safe.”

With a brisk gesture, JJ installed her helmet and linked up the comm systems. She looked through her visor, listening to her breath echoing in the helmet, and heard Zota’s voice through the small speakers near her ears.

“Very well, cadets. After verifying your suit integrity on your diagnostic display, you may enter the airlock chamber.” He gestured to the far wall. To JJ’s surprise, the double doorway there looked more complex than the painted movie-set door Dyl had walked through only a few days earlier, and she wondered if the helmet’s faceplate was distorting her vision. The Center couldn’t possibly have been remodeled so quickly.

Commander Zota opened the heavy hatch. JJ helped her brother forward, and King and Song-Ye crowded after them into the airlock. Over their helmet radios, Zota’s voice said, “Once you reach Moonbase Magellan, your adventure really begins. The future is in your hands. Make this count.”

Song-Ye grumbled something about “taking make-believe a step too far,” but her comment was cut off by the loud clang of the door closing.


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