All Astronauts Go To Heaven
rating: +13+x

Valentin woke up to the sound of Ham chittering urgently.

"Hungry, eh comrade? Come on, why don't you ever bug Neil or Christa or anybody else? Let's get you some breakfast." As Valentin rose up out of bed, the chimp ran around the room, whining urgently, before running to the building's front door. "Oh. You're not hungry. Something else, then. Let's see it, tovarisch."

He quickly laced up a worn pair of boots and followed the ape to the door. As he turned the knob, he heard the whining of a familiar mutt from outside.

"Oh, good morning Laika. Good girl." He patted the dog's head as the dog pawed at his feet. She looked up to him and barked. "Everyone's on edge this morning. All right. This better be good." He let Ham out then closed the door. The dog and the ape took a running start for what they'd all come to know as the landing pad.

As he speed-walked to catch up to the excited animals, anxious thoughts started to run through Valentin's mind. Probably no one I know. They're probably quite scared. I wonder how it happened. Maybe I should go get Kalpana or Christa, they helped Alsbury better than any of the rest of us could. But I'm already up, let's go see who it is."

Valentin reached the open field after a brisk 5-minute walk to see Laika and Ham running around a strange machine, barking and chittering respectively. "Both of you, come here, leave it alone." The animals ran to his heels after he said this. As he reached it, he walked around it, looking it over, assessing it. It had a camera mast a bit over a meter and a half high, a back covered in solar panels, six wheels, and all manner of instruments. He noted a familiar red-striped standard with a blue, star-spangled canton.

"So you're American, eh?" The mast that housed a pair of cameras turned towards him. "Oh, and you're awake! Do you have a name, mechanismik?" The cameras followed him slowly as a mechanical voice from deep inside the device rumbled out a sound that didn't sound like anything at all. "Take your time, little machine. You've just come a very long way."

Eventually, the rover tried again. "Opp… Opportunity."

Valentin smiled. "I've heard a lot about you, Opportunity. We met your sister, Spirit, some time ago. We thought we'd meet you sooner. But you were a tough little probe, weren't you? Didn't want to give up. You did very well. My name is Senior Lieutenant Valentin Bondarenko, these two are Ham and Laika, this is Elysium, and you're finally home."

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