Joe followed behind Elon as they walked to other side of the rocket. The tour group was dispersing, but Donovan, after some uncertainty about where he should go, followed his teammate.
“I’m serious, mate, I’m not trained for this,” Joe said. “This is seriously the first I’m finding out about my supposed trip to Mars.”
“Stop being bashful Joe, we’ve been training you here for months,” Elon replied, apparently interpreting Joe’s protestations as a joke. “Don’t get cold feet now, we don’t have a backup plan. You’re our guy. And I know you’ll do great.”
On the other side of the rocket, technicians were undertaking a complicated series of steps in order to open the cockpit door. Elon noticed Donovan’s presence for the first time and was surprised. “Is that your boyfriend, Joe?”
Joe could only stare at Elon for a few seconds before responding, “No. We play on the Jazz together.”
“Oh,” Elon replied. “It’s just that usually astronauts will bring along their significant other with them when they’re about to get blasted into space. Not just some guy they play basketball with. You know, it’s totally cool if he’s your boyfriend. I’m cool with that.”
“He’s not my boyfriend, mate,” Joe re-iterated. “And if I had known I was getting sent to Mars today, I woulda brought by wife and kids, but nobody thought to tell me about it before today.” Joe wondered if this was some elaborate prank set up by his teammates. He looked around for cameras, but didn’t see any.
The door to the cockpit finally opened; despite its immense size, it swung easily on hinges. Elon stood next to it and motioned for Joe to enter.
Joe shook his head. “I’m not getting in there. No way.”
Elon was becoming exasperated with Joe’s reticence. “Joe. Listen. This mission is perfectly safe. It would only be dangerous if we threw you in here with absolutely no training, but as we both know, you’ve been under an intense astronaut training regimen for the past six months, so get your ass in here!”
“That’s what I’m telling you, mate, I haven’t received any training!” Joe shouted.
“It’s true, we’ve been working out in Utah,” Donovan supplied.
Elon threw his hands up in frustration. “I don’t know why you picked now of all times to start making up lies about your lack of training. You are getting in that cockpit and taking this ship to Mars. You have no choice in the matter.”
Not seeing any easy way out of the situation, Joe he did the only thing he could think of: he ran. After a brief pause, Donovan ran after him. Elon didn’t bother chasing after; instead, he pulled out a walkie-talkie and began barking orders into it. “Mars astronaut is running. I repeat. Mars astronaut is attempting escape. Stop him at all costs.”
Joe had only just made it out of the hangar when he was blindside-tackled by a fat security guard. Immediately, he was swarmed by more SpaceX personnel, who dragged him back to the cockpit of the ship.
Joe’s heart was racing in panic as he struggled against the restraints that held him to his pilot’s chair. He knew that one of the glowing buttons within reach of his hands should probably free him, but he had tried them all multiple times and he was still trapped. Mission control had probably disabled those buttons for his “safety”.
A sense of impending death was overtaking him, and underneath that, there was a small hint of regret: the first manned voyage to Mars would be a failure, a failure so magnificent that it was unlikely that another attempt would be made for quite a long time. And it was all Elon’s fault.
The ship was being wheeled out to the launch site. Joe looked out the side window of the cockpit, just a small circle, and saw Donovan’s face pressed against it. Joe waved sadly at his teammate, not even trying to smile. When a tear slipped down Donovan’s face and he mouthed “goodbye”, a similar tear escaped Joe’s eye.
The engines had been activated and the ship was rumbling. Instructions were being piped into his headset, but Joe wasn’t hearing any of them. He had spotted a small switch labeled “Pilot Override” that was just out of reach, and had spent the past minutes trying to hit it. When he felt the ship slowly lift off the ground, he knew it was now or never. With one final burst of strength, his finger grazed the switch, and immediately his restraints opened.
“JOE, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” Elon’s voiced yelled into the headset as Joe fell out of the seat and into the back of the cockpit. “GET BACK IN YOUR SEAT! CANCEL THE OVERRIDE NOW!”
“I don’t think so, mate,” Joe snarled, clawing his way up to the cockpit door, which had instructions for its opening printed on it. Calmly executing a series of button presses and keypad entries, he heard the lock click open as warning lights flashed around him. Seeing the ground recede beneath him at a growing pace, he yanked open the door.
“Don’t do it, Joe,” Elon begged. “Think of humanity.”
Joe threw off his headset. Then, with a deep breath, he jumped.