Orbit

January 20, 2012
By the time I had left earth’s atmosphere, I was fully familiar with the reality of death. Trying to pilot a craft alone is dangerous enough, but when you have an actual mission to accomplish, you have a better survival chance in performing surgery on your own self. Over a thousand things can go wrong, and not a single one of them is fixable if you’re alone.

I’ll tell you the mission I was given now, so that you can follow the story later. I was to pilot this ship, all alone, dock about two hundred thousand kilometers away from the edge of the atmosphere, deploy a new communications satellite, then use the return ship to fly my a** back home, in one piece if I could manage it. Which was very unlikely, as I’ve already said.

Somewhere near where I was going, I received a transmission from Mission Control. Over my head, the T.V-esque screen lit up of it’s own accord. It was an image of some low level secretary type, decked out in a white coat and slacks. Very official looking, especially with his written down notes in one hand. Like an angry terrier, he barked at me through the screen.
“USS Demeter, this is mission control. Do you copy?”
“This is USS Demeter. I copy.”
“Our tracking puts you close within the established range of deploy. Is this Correct?”
“Sure. I mean, yes, I am. Why?”
“There is a change in plans. Overhead requests you deploy the satellite now. Do you copy?”
“Yes, I copy. Will deploy satellite. “
“Do so immediately. Mission Control out.”
The screen overhead blinked out and faded back to the same deep black as the vacuum outside. I could see my own reflection glinting in the windows and the screen, surrounded by the forest of radiant knobs, dials, levers and buttons that made the white metal interior look like the inside of a cross between a candy store and a supercomputer. I glanced at my own self in each frame, inspecting my face from each angle, noticing the sweat on my brow, and the quivering in my lip. I thought I saw fear. I reasoned it away as excitement, Since in couldn’t blame it on heat or cold in a perfectly air-conditioned environment.
Having no choice in the matter I got up and donned the one and only spacesuit the ship was equipped with. Despite looking like a plastic and iron casket, it was soft inside, as warm as flannel pajamas in the summertime. It felt just as strange, too. I entered the air lock, and saw the reason I was risking my life for the first time. The satellite had the appearance of a giant Gatling gun, with two large solar panels that crested in the shape of bat’s wings, and a large radio dish attached to the top- all folded down, resting. I couldn’t help noting the peculiarity of the thing. I figured it should, being a new type of communications satellite, so I shrugged off what unsettled me. I walked over to the iron bar on the side of the air lock, and picked up the tightly wound rope, and bound myself to it, then sound the satellite to the iron cord on the wall- then I broke open the only barrier between myself and the void.
The satellite and I naturally lifted out of the ship. I worked slowly on it, unfolding the giant wings, angling them to the sun and locking them in. they shimmered like pond water at noon. I had to shut my eyes a little bit, to avoid being made blind. I took great care to make sure the ropes were all entirely secure, since I didn’t want to die of starvation or suffocation if I accidentally fell away. I felt like one of those unfortunate cartoon characters, holding onto a lone twig that juts off the edge of a sharp cliff only instead of something as reliable as a twig, I instead was blessed with twine.
As I worked on the satellite, unfolding the wing-like structures that gave it power and activating and unfolding the radio dish, I realized that not all the equipment in my suit was working properly. I looked down at my belt for a small instant, and realized that the Geiger counter, which was fully necessary, read no radiation present in the area. This was clearly wrong- in outer space, rather high amounts of radiation are always present. Taking the thing into my hand and off the belt, I entered the code necessary to restart, reload and recalibrate. When it came online, I made a discovery that was, in no uncertain terms, a goddamn disaster.
Around me, the radiation was three times what it’s supposed to be. The kind of chill you get from freezing ice went straight up my spine. I pointed it toward the satellite, and it went up again.

I realize now how brazen I may have been. I should have just shut myself the hell up, the way they tell you in the training; the training I did better than anyone normally does- that got me on the damn mission in the first place. I should have kept my goddamn head.

Keeping up with this stream of noticing things that I shouldn’t have, at the far end of the satellite, where it was supposed to be closed- there was a very slight groove that I should have clocked up to hallucination- but that training goes both ways. I touched the groove like a stupid little kid. As I did, the end of the satellite flipped open.
I saw what I should never have seen. Pointing straight at me were the distinctive points of nuclear warheads. I could do nothing but stare and think. I started to put details together in my head, running a sort of grim calculus. A little bell went off in my mind when I realized something.

The reason the weapon was placed so far away from earth, was so that the small warheads would fall from such a distance that they would all hit the earth like a US Government-sanctioned nuclear asteroid, with enough force to turn the planet into Bathory’s bathtub. And for a while, all I could do was float and stare.
I became angry all of a sudden. Angry for being lied to, angry for being put in this situation, angry at the breaking of all the damn treaties against this, angry for the sake of anger. I started to grab at the panels and kicked them, as best I could. I tried to snap off the long rod on the radio disk. It was all futile. I could do almost no damage.
Then an idea came to me. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the thruster of the ship. I pulled myself back down my tether, and onto the ship. The thruster was alterable by design so that it could be removed or re angled in emergency cases. I disengaged part of the lock from the outside, and angled it toward the weapon. I flipped to the other thruster, and pointed it the opposite direction. Then, I went into the air lock. I used one of the machines to retract the iron cable of the satellite, pulling it closer and closer towards the thruster. I went out of the air lock into the cockpit of the ship, switching through locks to the still preserved air of the room. I went to my seat at the helm, and engaged the thrusters. The ship began to shake violently. I walked back through the air locks to see the satellite. The thruster was burning away the outside, save for the protected weapons. The satellite would soon be useless, but I was already damned. I didn’t care, though, in my delirious anger. I could see the weapon burning as though it were my own self being burned at the stake. I exited the open air lock to the void, and went through the second one, to the return pod. I climbed into the tiny thing, and locked myself in and deployed it. I plummeted away from the ship, automatic thrusters turning on to send me falling down from the heavens and back to face a trial I knew would soon come. I readied myself for the long wait as I went back down to the atmosphere, gazing out through the window and seeing the stars, the sun and earth all shine brightly in the void. My own face looked back at me, the same as before, in the dark black and bejeweled window of the pod. As I flew back toward certain death, I smiled at my own reflection.





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