Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Lewis unzipped the duffle bag on the table so the stacks of paper bills were visible.

“Space suits are expensive,” Sweet had told him, “and you not bring back.”

Sweet eyed the contents of the bag from a distance. “It’s all there? I don’t have to count?”

Lewis shook his head ‘no’, and waited.

“Come, you need suit.” Sweet beckoned with big hairy arms and disappeared through the vertical strips of once-clear plastic hanging in the doorway.

Lewis followed. The corrugated steel shed he’d arrived at seemed to be built into the side of a hill, and the plastic-covered door gave way to a long dark passage, which itself opened up onto a massive concrete cylinder that reached deep into the ground and rose above him to the darkening evening sky.

“Missile silo, abandoned, but perfect place for big space gun, no?” Sweet stood proudly on the lip of the old launch tube. “Come, we go down, then you go up, yes? Quick, we need to shoot soon to hit cluster.”

Lewis followed the beefy man around an expanded metal walkway, bolted to the inside wall of the silo, to where a makeshift elevator had been attached to the concrete wall. He braced himself as they descended into the darkness below.

At the bottom the tunnel opened up into an almost warehouse sized building. There were shipping pallets stacked with boxes, some wrapped in plastic and most covered in dust. A row of rough terrain vehicles sat against the far wall, though how they got there, or whether they could be driven out wasn’t immediately apparent. Overhead large bulbous lights flooded the space in pockets of warm yellow and overlapping shadows.

“Your suit,” Sweet pointed to an orange and white space suit on a nearby table, “leave your boots and jacket, put on suit, I help with helmet and gloves”.

It took Lewis nearly fifteen minutes to struggle into the suit while Sweet busied himself with what looked like a large model rocket nearby, twice as tall as the man himself and held upright by a pair of vice-like attachments on a forklift. On the side of the tube was painted ‘CCCP’ in large red letters, with a smily face added below in apparent freehand.

“Gloves first,” Sweet returned his attention to Lewis, attaching the gloves and engaging the twist lock mechanism at their cuffs. “Follow and listen.” He led Lewis, ambling awkwardly in the ill fitting suit to the forklift and it’s rocket payload. “You climb in here, we pressurize can then load you in launch tube.” He pointed off into the darkness, back in the direction they came. “You watch oxygen here,” he tapped a gauge on the suit’s sleeve, “I fire booster and it shoots you into orbit, then you push here, and here,” he grabbed at a pair of handles inside on either side of the door, pushing them away from each other, “and out you go, yes?”

Lewis studied the helmet in his hands. “Once I’m in orbit, your people will be waiting for me?”

“Yes, my people are waiting for you.” He grinned, and grasping Lewis by the shoulders shook him heartily. “You will have plenty of company.”

The launch vehicle was a squeeze, but Sweet explained the thickness and the tiled nose cone would deflect the heat, and the formed interior was as comfortable as was possible with this kind of delivery system.

“Not first class, but quick and nobody find you. Good, yes?”

Lewis nodded, then tried to relax as the door closed and he and the rocket were trundled across the floor and loaded into the launch tube which, Lewis realized, was probably also bolted onto the silo wall.

The launch itself was brutal, Lewis slipping in and out of consciousness several times before the crushing weight of Earth’s gravity abated and the craft settled into what had to be its final orbit.

Lewis waited. An hour? Hours? He’d lost track of time, and could barely make out the glowing needle on his oxygen, now showing nearly half empty.

He put his hands on the two handles, hesitated, and pushed.

The cabin depressurized instantly, tearing the door off into the vacuum of space.

The Earth was spread out blue below him, and scattered around him, dozens perhaps in a tight cluster were familiar looking cylinders, some still closed, some, like his with the door missing and a familiar orange and white suited figure inside.

Sweet sat in his silo below, poured himself another vodka and raised his glass.

“Moy narod”, he said, “my people”.

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