Sophie arrived home exhausted. She went straight to her room, dropped her school bag and collapsed backwards onto her bed.
She stared at the framed picture of her dad that hung on the opposite wall. He looked back at her with his enthusiastic smile. It was two years ago today that he died. She remembered his last words to her. “Be a force for good, Sophie. Make a difference.”
“Well, I suppose I’ve done my bit today,” she thought. But as she looked at her dad, sadness crept up on her. She couldn’t explain it, but she always felt like she should be doing more. She was supposed to do more.
“Coming mum,” she called back. Sophie let out a sigh, hauled herself up and wandered into the kitchen. Sophie’s mum was scrubbing the baked-on remains of lasagne from a dish.
“Sorry sweetheart”, she said in her warm, Welsh accent, “I got hungry and ate mine earlier. I’ve just heated yours up. Where were you this evening anyway?”
“I was helping at the homeless centre again. They needed me to serve the dinners, and then I stayed a bit late to help clean the kitchen,” replied Sophie.
“Don’t you think you’re doing too much? It was the fund-raising event yesterday, you were visiting young children in the hospital the night before and last week you were running all those after-school clubs.”
“It’s fine mum. You know I like to be busy.”
Sophie’s mum wrapped a tea towel around her hand, grabbed the steaming plate of lasagne and peas from the microwave and placed it on the table. The smell instantly made Sophie feel relaxed.
“Darling, everything you’re doing is fantastic and I’m so proud of you, but you need to make time for yourself as well.”
“Mum, please don’t start. I’m tired. Honestly, you don’t need to worry about me.”
Her mum was worried about her. She admired Sophie’s determination to help people, but she also wanted her to a be more care-free. She remembered how Sophie used to love spending time with friends, chatting and playing silly games. She never did that now. Maybe moving up to secondary school didn’t help. Sophie lost many of her childhood friends that lived closer to different schools. However, she feared that Sophie lost her sense of fun when she lost her dad.
The next day, in her school classroom, Sophie noticed a group gathered around a screen chatting excitedly. She normally didn’t take much interest in gossip. She had no close friends at school. To most children, Sophie seemed serious and slightly bossy. Sophie knew she was bossy, but she couldn’t help it. She always had been. She wanted to get things done and she found giving instructions came naturally to her. On this occasion, Sophie overheard the mention of Space Command which grabbed her attention. She decided to approach the group.
“Excuse me, what are you all talking about?” she enquired.
“Space Command are looking for a child captain for a space mission,” came the reply. They showed Sophie the advert on their tablet.
“YOUNG PERSON WITH LEADERSHIP QUALITIES WANTED TO LEAD A CHILD-ONLY MISSION INTO SPACE. PLEASE APPLY.”
“Even twelve-year-olds can apply,” said one of the children.
Sophie gasped. “Child only? They want children to go into space without adults?”
“Yep! It says they want to train and then observe the best young astronauts for a routine mission to learn how kids will cope.”
Goose bumps rose all over Sophie’s arms. She lived in Wales, not too far from the spaceport and Space Command headquarters. She had been past it many times and stared at the large entrance gates. She watched the rockets climbing into the sky from her garden. Maybe this is my chance to make a difference, she thought.
For the whole afternoon, Sophie couldn’t stop thinking about the advert. As soon as she got home, she showed it to her mum. “Mum, I really think I could do this. I want to apply. What do you think?”
Her mum put her reading glasses on and read it carefully. A frown came to her and she was quiet for a few moments. Then she turned to Sophie and smiled. “Sophie, I know that anything I say won’t make any difference,” she began, “and once you decide to do something nothing will stop you. But I think you’ve had a tough couple of years and it’s about time you did something that you want to do. You go for it, sweetheart.”
From that moment, Sophie abandoned everything unrelated to her application for the space mission. She studied everything she could find, copying out a library of notebooks and memorising every fact. She was sent streams of exams and assessments from Space Command. There were essays to write on how she would respond in situations, tests of her ability to remember facts, online group exercises with other applicants, physical tests, memory tests, logic tests. It was relentless.
The months went past, until one morning before school Sophie was munching cornflakes at her bedroom desk whilst studying the internal workings of the latest spaceship design. She was interrupted by the ping of a new holographic message from her tablet.
Message for Sophie Williams
You have been selected to lead the first child mission into space.
Please report to Space Command at 0830 hours tomorrow, 2nd May 2068 for your first mission briefing.
Space Command Mission Designer
Sophie screamed. Her mum came running in to see if she was ok.
“Mum! I can’t believe it mum! I’m going to lead the space mission!”
Her mum read the message. “Oh, Sophie! Well done sweetheart. I know how much effort you’ve put into this.”
Sophie looked up at her dad’s picture. Tears started to roll down her cheeks, but they were combined with a grin. It was the first time Sophie’s mum had seen her properly smile for many months, maybe for two years. They hugged tight.