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Friday, February 15, 2008

The Launch Rail Ticket (Part 4)

This is part 4 of a short story. Part 1 was posted on Monday and the story concludes on Friday.

(Start with Part 1)

As the earth receded, the horizons seemed lower, the world seemed an island beneath him. Soon, he could see past the ocean, and the sun glared brighter through his visor. A vision pressed itself into his brain, that of Icarus and his wings of feather and wax, plummeting. Jeremy would perform a similar plummet into the ocean later today, but hopefully a more controlled one.

Jeremy's elbows began to throb. He figured this was normal for the arm strapped to the crate, but he was confused about his right arm, which seemed to hurt more. Worry fluttered. Worry bloomed into outright concern when his knees began to ache as well. Then, his lower back began to burn. Muscle cramps? Jeremy feared worse, because he had finally noticed a rhythmic whistle coming from the confines of his helmet. There was a leak, letting his air pressure out, or the pure oxygen it was sucking from the thin atmosphere was being contaminated with carbon dioxide. Whatever the cause, he was suffering the first effects of decompression, otherwise known as the bends.

Once again, he berated himself for this stupid thrill ride. However, he would ride it out until he knew he had to dismount. Too early, and he would land out in the ocean where no one would ever find him.

The cable began to level out, and the moon rose over the horizon, large like a zoomed-in shot in a movie or a fantasy painting. He thought about maintenance men for the cable, how unlucky he was to get a malfunctioning suit. Then, suddenly, he realized it wasn't luck, but bad planning. The cable of the launch loop could be lowered. The only time the maintainers would actually need the suits would be for very rare (perhaps nonexistent) circumstances in which they didn't lower the cable. Jeremy found it difficult to find a reason to do it, but he tried anyway. Maybe they occasionally rode the cable, like him, to observe its operation. Or maybe they had hopes to convert it into an honest-to-goodness thrill ride. Or maybe there were space bats that would attack the cargo, and the maintainers would have to fend them off with flaming swords. Or maybe.... Wait. Something wasn't right. He shook his head and looked up to see the moon overhead. His mind reeled, and dizzily he rolled off the size of the crate and hung out over the smooth sea. Sun poured in his visor, and he realized that his lungs were burning, his head ached, and he could not concentrate. Time to dismount, he thought, lazily. He looked up at the knot strangling his arm, and pulled at it. How did you untie this damn thing, anyway?

(Read the Conclusion)

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