The next few weeks slipped by quickly in a whirlwind of classes and study. The intensity of the course work meant that there wasn’t much free time for socialising and certainly not any more wodka. However, Jude fell into a rhythm of working alongside her new if much younger fellow participants. She got used to Alta’s bubbliness and exuberance and the soundtrack of upbeat tunes that followed her everywhere. It was akin to having the little sister she had never had, so to speak. Jude learned about Alta’s family in Lodz, her friends including Miro, who Jude guessed Alta had a teeny little crush on. But she found herself being guarded about her own life, telling herself this teen whizz-kid wouldn’t be interested in her disjointed past. Until it caught up with her.
The day began like any other – Alta’s alarm and morning routine waking Jude from her slumbers. Jude got dressed and picked up a coffee and a couple of paczki doughnuts on the way. Doctor Levarr was first up today and the youthful lecturer greeted Jude with a friendly nod as she entered the lecture theatre with Alta and Miro. They took their seats and shuffled off their jackets, hats and scarves, pads at the ready to take notes.
“Today,” Levarr began, “we will be looking at thermodynamics and heat transfer and how that will affect you all once you are in space. Safety is paramount and nowadays we fortunately have a good record. Sadly, accidents do happen. Can anyone think of any examples?”
A hand shot up at the back, a student Jude hadn’t ever quite caught the name of.
“The Tiandong disaster, sir.” Jude felt all of the blood drain out of her face and she gulped.
“Well, I was thinking of the AS-204 or Apollo One as it’s more commonly known, Mister Calvey,” Levarr suggested.
Calvey, Jude thought, shut the fak up.
“But what happened on the former Chinese space station is surely more pertinent here sir? It being a Cee-Cee operation and all.” Calvey was quite determined.
“Maybe it’s a little too recent to be discussed here?” Levarr shot a glance to Jude, who was sinking down in her seat, her pad grasped defensively to her chest. Alta felt her room-mate moved and whispered “Are you okay, Jude?” Then, as if a multi-watt light bulb factory was lit up all at once in her head, Alta gasped in stark realisation. “Oh my good lord.”
Jude hastily picked up her coat and scarf, dropped her gloves, swore, picked them up, excused herself and ran down the steps and out of the class room.
“One moment please, class.” Levarr chased after her.
“Jude, wait. Please.”
She stopped running and stood in the empty corridor. Hot salty tears ran down her face and her heart was pounding. Her tutor caught up with her.
“I’m sorry. I had notes all prepared to talk about the Apollo during this lecture. It never crossed my mind that anyone would bring up the Tiandong. I was so stupid.”
“Did you even know?” she sniffed, wiping her nose with her glove.
Ben Levarr looked sheepish and shuffled his feet. “Yes,“ he confessed. “The whole faculty is aware of your background and how you came to be studying here.”
“I just…” she swallowed hard then straightened up and looked her teacher right in his blue eyes. “If I knew back then what I am learning now…I don’t know…maybe I would have known the risks of high pressure gas leaks and how to detect them. I could have saved Glass and Kristof.” Jude felt a sob rising in her throat and she coughed it back down. “And perhaps, Wib too.”
“James Wibberley, ah yes. You too were…romantically involved?” Jude nodded. “I’m dreadfully sorry. What happened was just terrible. For you. For all of you.”
“Thanks. Oh fak, I’m a mess.” Levarr reached into his pocket and offered her a clean linen handkerchief, which she took and blew snot into.
“Will I call someone? I know that Susan…Professor Doohan…doesn’t have a class right now. She could walk you back to your dorm, have a chat?”
Jude steeled herself and took a very deep breath. “If it’s all the same to you, Doctor Levarr, I’d like to return to class.”
The tutor was taken aback. “Are you sure, Miss Sadako? It’s alright you know, if you want to skip it.”
She shook her head. “No, sir. I’m sure. Let’s give Calvey a history lesson he won’t forget in a hurry.”
After a brief detour to the toilets to wash her face and straighten up, Jude returned to the lecture theatre. As she walked in, the chatter hushed. She walked purposefully back to her spot next to Alta and Miro. Her friend shuffled up, a look of real concern on her face. “It’s fine,” Jude mouthed to her and placed her pad back on the narrow desk in front of them.
Doctor Levarr looked up and caught Jude’s eye. Then he ran his fingers across the touchscreen of his pad and the smart board above him came up with the title “CSS Tiandong – A Survivor’s Account”. Puzzled looks flitted around the room.
“It is not often, “ he began, “that we are in the company of heroes. Of people who have been out in the real frontiers of space, who have experienced what, to many of you here, is pure theory. Ladies and gentlemen, Technician Judith Marie Sadako, technician on the CSS Tiandong.”
Jude stood up again and made her way to the lectern beside Doctor Levarr. He stood aside.
“As Doctor Levarr said, I am Jude Sadako. But I’m no hero.”
For the next forty five minutes, she described what had happened in detail. At one point she was aware of the door to the classroom opening and group of people crowded in, among them Professor Doohan.
When she was finished, the room erupted into applause and cheers. There were a few teary eyes too.
Drake Calvey stood up. “Jude,” he said, “thank you.” She nodded up to him. The students began to disperse, many of them smiling at her as they left. Jude went back up to her seat to collect her belongings. Alta handed up her bag and coat.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” She pouted. “I had no idea.”
Jude grinned at her roomie. “You never let me get a word in edgeways.”
“Well,” Alta said, punching Jude playfully on the arm, “tonight, you’ll be doing all of the talking.”
Over a large bottle of their favourite tipple, Żubrówka, Jude and Alta had a good old fashioned girl-talk. The young Pole sat open-mouthed as her until now mysterious pal gave her the edited highlights of her life so far.
“..and they seriously wanted me to join the Galactic Cops. But my heart is in this. In EVAs. In wanting to learn more about the nuts-and-bolts. So here I am.” Jude took another sip of the buffalo grass wodka.
“Heavens, you were a J-pop singer too.” Alta was astonished. “I need to download some of your stuff.” She reached for her pad.
“Oh please don’t.” Jude giggled.
“Do you have any pictures?” Alta asked. Jude reached over for her own pad and scrolled through her folders.
“Here,” she said, showing Alta one of the Tiandong team, all smiling happily together in the training room at Kakuda. She scrolled past to another one. “This is me with Wib. Jimmy.”
“Oh he’s gorgeous.” Alta exclaimed. Then “I’m sorry.”
“It’s cool. Yes he was lovely.” His strong, dark and chiselled Mancunian face smiled out at her. “Those were good times.” Jude said wistfully.
Alta had the pad now and was flicking through the albums. Jude had glossed over her time on Mars so there were no questions about Maxie or Neesh.
“Who is this beauty?” Alta passed back the pad to her room-mate. It was the most recent snap she had of Hennessey, one her had sent her of him in his Hibakusha overalls. He did look devilishly handsome.
“Is he your boyfriend?” Alta prodded.
Jude hesitated. She hadn’t seen him in months, not since that sweet interlude in Olympus City, before he had jetted off to his new posting. Yes, there had been warm exchanges between them and she was counting down the days til he was coming back.
“We’ll see, Alta. We’ll see.”