Understandably, it was her husband she left first. She had known him the longest and she was surprised by how easy it was to walk away. She simply didn’t return from the lab one Friday night and that was that. Her phone was easy enough to silence and it’s not like she didn’t have plenty of work to do. A faraway part of her hoped he wouldn’t take it too personally.
The warehouse portion of the lab was locked and chained, secure against prying eyes and the doubtful incursions of any passing battering rams. The welders worked in shifts, twelve hours of sweat, eight hours of sleep. She frowned at them as she passed and they mopped their brows, hurried and sincere with apology. The technicians and electricians scurried about her, precise in their synchronicity, merciless in their progress. Elated, she would glare at them from afar, quietly humbled by the ballet of their purpose.
She could hear her mothers grief every time the phone rang. She could feel her childrens confusion when it rattled its machine-gun plea, a tantrum set to vibrate. Once, she had almost answered, but there was much to do and so little left to say.
When they showed her the suit, she wept. It’s what you would have expected, but it’s always different when it’s yours. Bright white to reflect the sun. Patches and pockets, buttons and valves. Obviously, the gloves were too big for the dainty callouses of her thin hands. Instinctively, she put a thumb to her ring finger, comforted by the warmth of the familiar gold that still lived there. She forgot it the moment they showed her the helmet. It was a masterpiece of chrome and glass, a relic from the future, somehow both new and ancient. She took the helmet in both hands, losing herself for a moment in the fishbowl version of her own reflection. She squinted. In the shadows beyond the glass, she saw her future. Once she put the helmet on, she would never take it off again and she smiled at the thought.
Despite the plutonium being used as a power source for the craft, the reactor was technically a bomb. Despite the FBI’s legendary politeness, it was, technically, a siege. She had been releasing the staff one per day in a grudging appeasement. The physicists went first, arms up, innocuous and shivering in their lab coats. She hugged them before they left, feeling their tension rile, unnaccustomed to her affection. She was happy for them. Their purpose served, it was time for them to nestle back, shaken, scarred and quietly proud, into the real world. The time for theory had long passed.
They had been surrounded for two full weeks when the weather shifted in their favor. They were down to protein bars and Hot Pockets when she got the okay.
When the earth begins to move, there is a perfectly rational, wholly unreasonable instinct to run. It’s easy to forget that the earth is always moving.
When the rumbling began beneath the lab that day, panic served as a relief from the dread. The sky was bright, pooling sweat into bullet-proof vests, fogging glasses and helmets with irritability. Beefy SWAT men danced a fruitless jig of mock-stability before collapsing into each other on their way to the shuddering pavement. The media were better prepared. By the time the lab caught fire, they were already filming. You’ll have seen the video. The engineers and technicians, reluctantly fleeing while the lab shook itself to rubble. Then the fire, then the sound, then the flight.
She was unprepared for how loud it was. For a moment, the world had become thunder. For a moment she had blinked away tears. For a moment the earth pulled her back, begging with all the screams and fury of a lover jilted. For a moment she almost regretted it.
As she left the Earth, she could feel her children, specks now on a receding horizon. She could feel her husband and her family and everyone she had ever met gasping the last breath they would ever share. But then the clouds gave way to stars. She blinked away the last of her tears and watched them, floating before her, round and perfect, spiraling away in her own private fishbowl, trading gravity for weightlessness.