Something loud echoes in the bowels of the ship. A shudder runs through the superstructure. Angry sparks fly in fountains of orange and red. Consoles erupt in wailing Klaxons and flashing buttons. Display screens flash messages like “FAILURE” and “OFFLINE”….
The note sat on the kitchen counter where she left it. He had hoped it would have been gone. Taken as a keepsake. But, there it sat in an ever expanding puddle of water from a smashed crystal vase. The front door…swayed on its hinges with a yawning moan. The wooden floors of the house still held a residual echo of the sound of her footsteps.
Gripping the controls, he pulled back with all of his strength. His breath came in ragged gasps. The steady blaring from a warning indicator. LIFE SUPPORT – FAILURE. OXYGEN LEVELS FALLING. Thrusters fired, trying to adjust his trajectory. In the distance the horizon of the planet loomed before the viewport……
He dropped heavily into a chair at the table. A coffee cup rattled as it made contact with his elbow. It wobbled and rocked as the few left over sips of liquid created inertia to keep it moving. He watched it as he drew in a breath. It seemed to move in slow motion. Before it finally gave in to gravity and tipped……making a porcelain sound and sending a tiny river of brown to the other side of the table…….
It’s gravity well snared the ship and made it pitch end over end. Clouds the color of old worn cloth and yellowed paper swirled in the lower atmosphere. Somewhere underneath their cover, lightning flashed. Something ripped from the hull and clattered against the fuselage. The control stick went slack in is hands as the message ATTITUDE CONTROL OFFLINE glared at him in angry red from the console…….
Something in his subconscious told him to grab a towel and staunch the flow. But he couldn’t muster the will to do it. He watched as it travelled to the edge and ran over, spilling the coffee on the floor with the pitter-patter of raindrops. He exhaled. His arms and legs felt heavy. Like the entire weight of the universe was bearing down on him…..
The starship hurtled into the atmosphere like a child’s rag doll. Gravimetric forces yanking it down…further and further into the fiery crucible of re-entry. Outside the viewport, flames danced with their incandescent glow. Metal was superheated to melting temperatures….lesser elements burned off and trailed as oily black smoke and fiery clouds of fireflies chasing the shattered ship to its grave…….
His hands feel to his knees as he leaned forward. Another breath drawn in and exhaled. This time with a shudder that made his shoulders shake. No, not this…not now…..not here. Elbows replaced hands as he brought them up to cover his face. Hunched like an old man, his back twisted and bent. He felt the wave coming. Squeezed his eyelids against it……
Layers of clouds moved passed now. Vibrations so intense, he could no longer read the display screens. Everything in the command module shook so violently. The colored gauges and read-outs blurred in rainbows of red, yellow, orange. Squeezing his eyes closed he pushed hard against gravity to reach the ejection lever. Hyperventilating, struggling against his harness. A female voice rose over the deafening violence of the scene. “ATTENTION: IMPACT IN 30 seconds”…….
It was hopeless. The tears flowed freely down his face, between his fingers. He moved his hands as if, by some miracle, rearranging their position on his face could stop the flow. A sob echoed from his chest and he felt his mouth being drawn open against his will. Heartbreaking and hollow, a moan echoed in the space around him. His heart, threatened to break from his ribcage. He shook his head slowly from side to side, in case saying No could stop what was happening……
His fingers stretched. Tendons and muscles straining to make his hand longer…make his fingers longer…alter his composition just enough to try and reach the ejection lever. Once, the very tip of his index finger curled around it…for a brief second his heart leapt at the idea he might save himself! An explosion rocked the burning wreck of his ship, and it shook his finger free. Just out of reach a sign mocked him. “PULL DOWN TO ACTUATE” A psychotic chuckle burst forth from his lips as he continued to struggle. The female computer again, “ATTENTION: IMPACT IN 10 seconds”……
His heart did not burst from his chest. But it did run in the rivulets of saltwater making its way down his cheeks. He had lowered his hands. Giving up the fight to keep it inside. His fingers rested against his throat, holding his head up. He blinked back as much of the tears as he could, glancing around the room. His eyes came to rest upon the refrigerator door. A note scrawled there in her beautiful script. Home late tonight, dinner’s in the fridge. Put in microwave for 3.5 minutes. Will call when I’m on my way. LOVE YOU. A small heart, drawn in a different color ink. On the bottom and to the left……
Reaching up he loosened the straps holding him in the flight chair. They flew back with a resounding POP! against the consoles. Now, unfettered, he tried once more to reach the handle. Reaching both arms in front of him he lunged for it. His right hand missed but, his left hand managed to grab hold. Spinning out of control he tried to force his muscles to stop attempting to keep him stable and in the flight chair. “IMPACT IN 5 seconds……”
He stood up from the chair. His feet were 75 lb weights as he shuffled them across the floor. He rubbed the last of the tears from his eyes and off of his cheeks.
“IMPACT IN 4 seconds…….”
He drew in one last deep breath.
Summoning all his power he pulled the handle
“IMPACT IN 3 seconds……”
Raising his hand slowly he pulled the note from the fridge door.
The handle pulled free of its housing and came off in his grip. Dumbfounded, he stared at it. “IMPACT IN 2 seconds…..”
Lifting the note in front of his stinging eyes, he read the last words on more time.
He turned the handle over in his hand and glanced once more at the sign next to it.
PULL DOWN TO ACTUATE. “IMPACT IN 1 Second….”
He never said it.
He had pulled up.