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Friday, February 15, 2008

The Launch Rail Ticket (Conclusion)

This is the conclusion of a 5-part short story. Part 1 was posted on Monday.

(Start with Part 1)

Spots appeared in his vision, and the knot twisted enigmatically. He yanked on the rope angrily, unable to realize that it would only make his situation worse. The knot tightened, and he thrashed in desperation. In his fury to get loose, his arm rubbed against the steel burr on the edge of the box. The arm of the suit tore, and the burr scraped Jeremy's arm. He thrashed harder. Suddenly, his arm slipped; his hand inched down through the loops of the knot. The rip widened, and then the arm fabric separated.

And he was free.

He fell in a daze, and he noticed that veins stood out on his arm. The flesh was mottled and marbled. It was bleeding. He didn't care. He shifted his gaze and stared into the ocean far below.

He could hear his breathing, could sense death hiding in his confusion. A niggle in the back of his brain said he should do something. He grasped at it, and noticed a fluttering string at his side. Of course. Parachute. He pulled the string and the parachute opened. He noticed that it did not seem to slow his fall.

Sometime later, his mind recovered somewhat. He guessed that he was falling slower, that his parachute was finally doing its job in the thicker atmosphere. The coast of Africa spread out along the curved horizon like a lion on a hilltop. His arm looked horrible, with a bloody, inflamed cut.

A few hours later, he hit the water off the coast of Senegal. He fired his flare gun, and hoped someone would come rescue him. Thankfully, someone did.

He stayed in a hospital in Senegal for twelve days. An air embolism, nasty cousin to the bends, had severely damaged his left arm and hand. The hand would be practically useless even after it healed.

He eventually made his way to China, his native country, where his mother had moved after his parents' divorce. His mother was overjoyed to see him, and she was the first to hear his story (he had lied to everyone else). She loved it. He told her to keep it secret, because he was ashamed, and because he feared the law's retribution. She nodded solemnly and promised herself that she would only tell her best friends. And from those three friends, his story spread across the country. It eventually caught the ears of Chinese and American officials.

Two Chinese officers in sharp suits knocked at his mother's front door one morning.

"Jeremy Chao?" they asked. He guessed why they were there. There was no point in denying his identity. He nodded, ready to be cuffed and hauled off. He held out his hands.

The officers laughed. "No! No!" the tall one said. "The government does not wish to extradite you! We wish to honor you as our newest national hero, the first Chinese national and first person in the world to fly in low Earth orbit outside a vehicle. The Americans can go hang with their charges."

He could not believe it, and almost fainted on the spot. A wild grin spread across his face, and he yelled to his mother. She danced, cried, and sang about interviewing with Martha Shen, China's answer to Oprah.

And had he really gotten that far? Jeremy was not sure how high he had gone. But at this point he didn't care. Let them exaggerate it. He had ridden the loop and survived, and somehow the fact that he had succeeded outweighed his foolishness in doing it in the first place.

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