For the Benefit of All

Submitted into Contest #74 in response to: Write a story that takes place across ten seconds.... view prompt

19 comments

Science Fiction Adventure Inspirational

For years, there had been talk. Goals set, dreams dreamt, aspirations left unachieved. Finally, after decades of research and hard work, it was time to begin the journey. Man would soon once again plant their boots on the virgin soil of another world.

Or so they thought.

Over fifty years ago, the world had watched as Apollo 11 blasted off on its mission to land mankind on the moon. Now, millionsβ€”perhaps, billionsβ€”around the world watched as the gleaming Starship rocket sat atop the historic launchpad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, preparing for takeoff.Β 

"T minus ten seconds," said a voice, pregnant with anticipation. In homes across the globe, mothers and fathers called for their kids to come see the launch. To see what the human spirit was capable of; to see mankind at its best.

"Nine," said another voice, as smoke and steam billowed from beneath the rocket. The countdown was here. History was being written.

Samuel Lawson, the lead astronaut on the mission, checked and re-checked the information being fed to him by the large, touchscreen console in front of him. Temperature, check. Engine power, check. Fuel levels, check.

Since his childhood, Lawson had been dazzled by the stars. He would spend hours sitting on the roof of his California home, finding the constellations and hoping to see a shooting star. He would fantasize of one day planting his foot on the lunar surface and his name in the history books. After two decades of service in the Air Force, he had been recruited by NASA and became the first black man ever to step foot on the moon. Now, he was so close to achieving a goal he had once been afraid to even dream of, for fear it would be left unfulfilled, being the first man on Mars.

"Eight."

Seated next to Lawson was Henley Grey. Grey was a no-nonsense kind of guy who strictly dealt in the material. He wasn't interested in the fanciful or the historic. To him, beauty was to be found in a perfectly balanced math equation or the wonder of prime numbers. Going to Mars was a chance to discover and understand. Another world meant new facts and figures to explore.Β 

The last member of the crew was Ian Hawthorn. An Englishman by birth, Hawthorn had come to the US at age twenty-five to begin his work at NASA as an engineer. After three decades of work at NASA, climbing the ranks and continually putting himself in the right spot at the right time, he had been selected as the third member of the first crewed mission to Mars.

"Seven."

The powerful reusable methalox staged-combustion engines started up, the historic takeoff looming only seconds away. As the engines rumbled, the thousands of people gathered to watch the launchpad cheered, then grew eerily quiet in anticipation of the launch. It was a beautiful, warm day in Florida. Not a cloud in the bright, blue sky.

β€œSix."

As Hawthorn felt the engines begin to rumble, he thought back to the years of training he and his fellow crewmates had endured to make certain they were physically and psychologically prepared for the nearly two-year journey to the martian planet. He thought of the times when he felt he couldn't possibly power through the intense physical training. He thought of how hard it had been to say goodbye to his wife and two kids and how much he would miss them.

"Five."

His mind came back to the mission. Seven months to get to Mars. Six months on Mars. Seven months back. During that time, Hawthorn and his crew would be pushed to the limits of their endurance. It would be extremely tough, but in the end, worth it. Not just for the scientific community, but for the world. People had once said July 20, 1969, was the pinnacle of human existence. Now, they would have a new date to look to, and new achievement to tout.

NASA and their partners in the private industry had battled setback after setback. Rockets that malfunctioned. Bureaucrats that thought the expenditure was too expensive. Even cyber attacks from China and Russia had threatened the mission. Finally, the impossible was becoming possible right before their eyes.

Until it wasn't.

"Four."

Inside the cockpit, Lawson, Grey, and Hawthorn suddenly felt a massive explosion rock the ship. The numbers on their screens began flashing and rapidly changing.Β 

β€œWhat the—”

Inside Mission Control, the engineers began shouting and trying to identify the problem and abort the mission. From years of training for this very moment, Jack Dean knew they had to abort the mission before the solid-rocket boosters, or SRBs, ignited. At that point, the rocket was flying no matter what.

"Abort! Cutoff!" Dean was screaming into his headset. Three lives depended solely on what he did in the next four seconds, and he had no intention of letting them die. "MPS, cut off the SRBs now!"

"Three."

Seated behind a sign that read: MPS/SSME (main propulsion systems/space shuttle main engines), technicians worked furiously at dozens of grey work stations to abort the takeoff. But it was already too late. The explosion had been one of the SRBs firing prematurely. The rocket was slowly lifting into the air, except at an angle.

All three astronauts felt the jolt as the rocket detached from the ground and began lifting off the launch pad, except instead of going straight up, they felt the craft leaning.Β Oh no,Β thought Lawson.Β The SRB fired.

With the other two SRBs aborted the mission was to keep the rocket from smashing to the ground in a horrific explosion.Β 

"Two."

Dean was now at one of the computers himself, but he quickly realized there was nothing that could be done. All of Mission Control were on their feet now. Some were crying, some were screaming, and some stood in shocked silence as the rocket lifted into the airβ€”as if watching it could keep it from crashing down to the earth.

Seated in the captain's seat, Lawson knew there was only one outcome here. Once again, he thought of his family. He thought of his crewmates and their families. Somehow, though this wasn't his fault, he felt guilt for letting them down. What was supposed to be a triumph had turned into a catastrophe.Β 

Henley Grey's mind went to the NASA slogan: "For the benefit of all." He had once been told there were no bad takeoffs. Even in disaster, lessons could be learned for the next time. He found consolation in the fact that his final act as a human being would be for the betterment of mankind. Man would get to Mars one day, and when they did, he would have helped them do it.

Ian Hawthorn placed his right hand over the American flag patch on his chest and his left hand over the spot where the Union Jack was folded up inside of his uniform. "For God and country!" He shouted over the main communications frequency.

"One."

As fast it had lifted, the crewed Starshipβ€”what was supposed to be the first manned mission to Marsβ€”came crashing down to earth. The rocket exploded in a giant ball of fire that was seen and heard for miles in all directions. Launchpad 39A became engulfed in flames, shooting thick, black, acrid smoke miles into the air.Β 

Families huddled around their televisions recoiled in horror. The thousands that had come out to watch the launch began running in fear for their lives. The engineers in Mission Control openly wept and cried.Β 

It was over. What was supposed to have taken almost two years had ended before it even really got started.Β 

* * * * *

One year later.

It had been a year since the disaster that took her husband's life. NASA had made it clear to Marie Grey that they understood if she didn't want to come to the launch of the first try at going to Mars since the crash. They understood if she never wanted to see another NASA emblem in her life.Β 

"Lift-off! We have lift-off!"

But her husband would have wanted her here. As she watched the rocket lift into the Florida sky, she thought of the mission patches placed on the crew uniforms. Alongside the names of the crew members were the names:Β Lawson, Grey, Hawthorn.Β 

"For the benefit of all."

December 30, 2020 06:53

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19 comments

Hello Antonio! I think that this story was one of the best ones I've read for this prompt! Honestly, you interpreted it very well, and your story is very impressing. I wish you and your family a Happy New Years Eve./New Year!

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I'm going back through all my stories and saw I never responded to this. My bad, lol. Thanks! I just came out with my first story in months and would love for you to check it out and give me some feedback. Just trying to connect with all those who have given me advice in the past.

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17:51 Jan 15, 2021

This was a great idea, and it pulled through nicely. I would recommend showing more dialogue and inter-emotion, which may be hard to do in the span of ten seconds but still have some more emotion and relations. Great job, though!!

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Thanks. Honestly, I started writing before I had even completely worked out the story in my mind, and while that works sometimes I think this story suffered a bit because of it.

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19:00 Jan 15, 2021

Yeah, I think that's a thing that varies between different authors.

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Colin Devonshire
04:15 Jan 07, 2021

That was great, you had me glued to my laptop.

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Chris Buono
04:10 Jan 04, 2021

Damn. I didn’t even think to write about a rocket launch. I like your take on it though and the wife’s acceptance that her husband would want her to cheer on the next attempt. Sad but with a positive ending. Great job!

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Thanks! It was a bit tough to come up with an ending but I think it turned out okay.

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Great story! This was definitely inspirational, as you tagged it as. The story was well-paced throughout the ten seconds, showing a good amount of characters and backgrounds. The suspense was built up well and the main message of the story was portrayed creatively throughout. The twist in the story, where the first rocket ended up blowing up, was unexpected and creative. It set your story apart from other science fiction/ space exploration ones. Nice job! I didn't find any typos or errors. My only suggestion would be to maybe take the quota...

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Thanks! I enjoyed writing it. I’m not sure if I can change the title now, but you’re right. Since Reedsy adds the quotes it can look a little messy.

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Tom .
17:08 Feb 25, 2021

I think I was about 11 years old watching the 'Challenger' lift off live on television, I would have to look it up to know my exact age. Because it was live it confused everyone, my mother did not turn off the television but sat next to me and talked me through it, what it meant and how I felt. The shock was huge. It was one of the first really big world wide incidents caught on camera as the world watched. I will never forget it. It was one of those things that was so very black and white. The interpretation was definitive. The way you craf...

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Thanks, Tom. This one was a fun one to write. I've always loved learning about space travel.

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Coco Longstaff
22:29 Jan 30, 2021

Hey Antonio You online? Just checking in to see how youre doing. Hope your well. If you need anything, dont be afraid to ask mehπŸ˜†

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Haha I’ve been off and on. Haven’t been able to write a story because I’ve been busy with my freelance writing. Don’t get paid for these. 😜

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Coco Longstaff
06:56 Feb 01, 2021

LOLπŸ€—

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Akshaya Sutrave
04:36 Jan 01, 2021

Hi Antonio! I enjoyed reading this story! I loved the way you used the concept of astronautics and implemented it in this story. Your story suits the prompt very well! I liked the last line! I don't think you bit off a little more than you could chew. This story was superbly written and a joy to read! Great job, keep writing! Happy New Year/New Year's Eve to you and your family!!

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Let me know how this one turned out. Honestly, I don't feel like it was my best work. I think I bit off a little bit more than I could chew, haha. Don't hold back, I need the help.

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