Author : Rick Tobin

“Two percent remaining. Warning.” A calm woman’s voice filled his helmet.

Night jasmine. There was that cloying odor. A cup of sugar poured into the nose. Drawing and repulsing. She wore it on their first date. Her ring remained, partially scorched in his melted glove.

The Baja rotated below him. There his marlin broke the leader piano wire. His brother’s face bleeding from the whiplash. Salt water on his blistered hands. Sunburn critical later.

“Two percent remaining. Warning,” she repeated.
He turned slowly, peering over the Earth’s ultraviolet horizon. Sprits and sprites rose over a storm cresting the Rockies. Free fireworks. Free to look at what few ever new.

Burning in the leg subsiding. The scorch on his back, over the destroyed jet pack and radio, cooled in the frigid vacuum. Peaceful at the ending. Pains gone long before reentry.

“One percent. One percent. Take immediate action!” The voice grew louder in the headset but dimmed in his ears. Stars twinkled in a graying mist. The gasping deepened. Frightening. Inevitable.

Midnight in Paris filled him—his Mother’s favorite perfume. He carried her burial hankie with him to the Air Force Academy. She saw him graduate. That was enough.

Flashing to the right, the Chinese spy satellite splintered from his charges. NASA did not know about the on-board laser defense system. A long space walk in 1990 was still high risk. No way to return if he failed. McCandless had just proved a Manned Maneuvering Unit could support substantial Extra Vehicular Activity without tether.

National security was at risk. China could track U.S. subs with a new blue-green laser system. He volunteered. There would be no plaque at the Manned Space Center, just a private ceremony in a closed hangar at Edwards. He wouldn’t be mentioned in the next century with the other seventeen astronauts perishing in space missions.

Albedo from Colorado’s storms reflected over him at twenty-two thousand miles above his homeland. He curled, in partial fetal position as the last gasps ended. The warning bell and red light in his helmet continued as he spun downward, months away from brightening the March night sky over a baseball in West Virginia near his grave marker.

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