Author : William Tham
Green spots of oxidation on silver-lined instruments. The porthole encased in fire, through which I vaguely saw the curvature of the earth, the Scandinavian peninsula hurtling below me, followed swiftly by the frozen wastes of the North Pole under spiralling clouds a hundred kilometres across, and then over the Pacific coasts, before the capsule turned and my directions were lost.
And then I fell again.
On the outer edges of the atmosphere, the boundary of air and space, where gravity ebbed weakly a hundred miles off the surface of the earth, my hands grappled with the controls and levers, struggling to tilt the capsule to keep it level. Useless! I was out of control.
Down below, Baikonur, Houston, all tracking my progress as I turned into a shooting star, a burning man falling from the sky.
A voice over the static. Someone spoke indistinctly, received by burning mechanisms as the air superheated into plasma while I was forced back into my seat, pinned down by acceleration and gravity, fighting to live.
“Lev….the Minister…he calls you a hero…please, reply…”
For an infinite fraction of time the capsule righted itself and I was staring into space. Outside, light from distant stars shone through the cosmos, undead and unblinking, a hundred million of them witnessing re-entry. For a moment, it was as if there was no movement, but the illusion shattered as another explosion shook the craft and I was spiralling away from constellations that I could no longer tell apart. The parachutes must have been burnt up, and the heat shield combusted.
“We don’t know…how…why…please, stay on…the Minister’s trying to call…”
A lifetime ago, out of love of the void, where we lived our insignificant lives amidst the vastness of the expanding universe, I had unbuckled and floated in near-weightlessness to the porthole to stare at the world down below. And I knew I could never go back to an ordinary life, ever since that day when I signed away my life to reach for the stars. The Minister, in his greatcoat, walked me amongst the desolate wastes of the launch site, where rockets like ballistic missiles would escape the earth. “The future,” the Minister said solemnly.
I knew that someday, death would not come from a pointless car crash or nuclear warfare, but it would find me in space. I accepted it then. But now I could not.
Now I just wanted to live.
I was speaking quickly, incoherently, hoping that all my words, every permutation and combination of the alphabet, scattered by static and background radiation, would fluctuate through the atmosphere and to the short-wave radio enthusiasts and foreign spies and the controllers with their radio telescopes and the Minister himself, praying and holding a receiver to his ear to catch the last moments of a dying man hurtling from orbit, leaving seared flesh and metal and quartz to ignite amongst the stars.
“It’s still beautiful here,” I managed to say.