“T-minus fifty seconds.”
I took a deep breath, my hands shaking as I reached for the armrests of my seat. The cabin was cramped, and I was sweating profusely under my suit.
“T-minus forty-five seconds."
I felt a quick wave of terrified panic wash over me, but I pushed it away and stared straight ahead. I could feel my heart beating in my chest. No, it was up in my throat. I focused on breathing evenly and slowly.
“T-minus forty seconds."
I hated the idea of going into space. I really did. But I’m the kind of person who procrastinates against fear, agreeing to things I know I’ll be scared of doing, not acknowledging the fear until the last minute.
“T-minus thirty-five seconds."
Is it just me, or are the seconds passing really quickly? I jerked my hand forward, wanting to reach for the comm button and call off the launch. No! If you touch that comm button, you’ll let them all down. Stupid coward. I let my hand drop.
“T-minus thirty seconds."
My brother had been an astronaut too. He was the first man to return to the moon.
Before the equipment failed.
Before he drifted away into space.
“T-minus twenty-five seconds."
Eight years later, here I was, going further than ever before. Mars was the goal. And we had better equipment this time. I was prepared. I was their best. I would be fine. Right?
As if on cue, I heard a quiet whistling noise from behind me. I breathed in and out, trying to ignore it. It wasn’t real.
“T-minus twenty seconds."
Unwillingly, the memories of that day rushed back to me.
We were cheering, screaming, and laughing in celebration as he placed the second USA flag into the dust--this time with fifty-one stars since Puerto Rico had become a state.
I was so proud. My brother, the first man to return to the moon! We’d made history. He’d made history. My father kept clapping me on the back, tears in his eyes, ranting on and on about how our mother would’ve been so proud of Arthur.
When the ship began to lift off again, everything was going so well that a low whistling noise coming from the ship’s pipes was overlooked.
Not minutes later smoke began pouring through the cabin, and at that point the audio cut out of the live stream. The quality of the video went down to 360p, and all we saw was smoke and my brother and his teammates running around, trying to figure out what had gone wrong. It all ended in a blinding flash, and the camera went black.
I pulled myself out of my flashback, my eyes bouncing around the cabin as thick, black smoke began to wisp from the pipes.
I opened my mouth in horror and surprise, then began to cough. I bent down, my shaking hands fumbling for the comm.
“Turn it off,” I said, my voice raspy and my panic growing. “Something’s wrong. Something’s gone wrong! Turn it off!”
I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die out there. Anywhere but out in space. I’ll die, I don’t care, just not out in space!
I started reciting a prayer, “Our father who art in heaven...”
The smoke continued flowing through the cabin, trapped in the tiny space. I ripped my seat belt off and dropped to the floor, taking in the little air I could find down there.
"--repeat that, please repeat that, is something wrong? Over."
What if they can’t hear me? Did they not hear me? I wasn’t prepared for this. I’m not like Arthur. The comm’s down, what do I do?! I released my last bit of resistance against the panic and it took over. Grabbing the comm, I shrieked, “HELP ME!”
The rocket lurched upward, hurling me across the cabin. I screamed as my back hit the metal console, snapping my head back against it.
For a long moment, the world seemed to go silent and peaceful. I laid my head on the floor and closed my eyes for a few minutes, suddenly feeling very tired and confused. I couldn’t understand why my head was wet and sticky. Touching my hand to the back of my head, I opened my eyes for a moment to see my hand covered in red. It didn’t make sense, so I laid my head back down again and closed my eyes.
A deafening boom racked the cabin and I heard the searing sound of ripping metal. Sound returned, and I was thrown against the pilot’s seat. I opened my eyes wide, not believing what I was seeing. The smoke was gone, but I still couldn’t breathe, and it was suddenly so, so cold. I wrapped my quickly freezing fingers around the seat, but I wasn’t strong enough. The vacuum of space sucked me out.
The last thing I saw was the endless expanse of space. Stretching on and on and on, with nothing but my cold figure to fill the space.
I guess they won’t have a body at the funeral.
A man stood in a dark alleyway, the night sky dark and foreboding above him. A dark blue pinstripe suit fit him like a glove, in both personality and looks. He was leaned over a phone, watching the live feed of the first launch to Mars.
A smile slowly curled up his face as he first watched the smoke, then the pilot passing out, and then the explosion.
When the camera went black, he sighed, almost as if in relief.
Slipping his phone into his pocket, he pulled out an old, worn notebook with a long list of names in it.
Most were crossed off.
He flipped to the correct page, with two names on it, one already crossed off.
Arthur Diamond - 6/12/2025
He carefully scratched out the second one and, picking up a briefcase next to him, walked out of the alley.
Bennett Diamond - 9/21/2033