It’s a rare thing for me to write fiction any more, but the idea for this story came from a scene one night at rehearsal for my improv troupe, and I couldn’t let it go. Back in November, while the more ambitious were writing novels for NaNoWriMo, the self-publishing service Lulu held a contest for short short fiction, 600 words at most. That sounded doable, and proved to be almost exactly right for the idea I had, which I now present here.
Falling From Grace
“Houston is going to be so mad,” Lena mumbled as bright orange light poured through the windows from the heat outside.
Houston, the agency, her family, friends, coworkers. Well, everyone, really. And understandably so. Theft of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of hardware was not to be taken lightly. And the failure to deliver the expected cargo would be a career-changing inconvenience for dozens of people, some of whom were friends who knew and trusted her and Gray.
Gray. She quickly stole a glance at him, and it briefly lifted her heart. She wished she could reach over, squeeze his hand in hers, enjoy that familiar comfort, but now was not the time. Neither could spare their hands for a second as the vibration and pressure continued to increase.
The literal, physical turmoil around her was nothing compared to the turmoil within her. The former, she was trained for. Conditioned. Prepared. Reacting to it, doing what needed to be done, was reflex, almost instinct at this point. The latter turmoil was very much terra incognita, an alien landscape there was no way to prepare for. The former she dealt with because, no matter the risks, it was worth it. She glanced again at Gray, and knew the same was true of the latter as well.
Shame would be the worst of it, the embarrassment. Not for her, not for Gray. Neither of them would be around to deal with it. No, what burdened her heart most was the embarrassment this would cause practically everyone her life had touched, from her parents to her friends to her coworkers to the agency.
After all, the media would have a field day with this, once the initial shock was past, and the truth began to filter through the confusion and the assumptions that it was all some horrible accidental tragedy. Right now, no doubt, engineers were working desperately to figure out why the communications systems had failed, trying everything they could think of to reestablish the connection, nearly giving themselves heart attacks over the frustration of why the failure made no sense.
When would it occur to them that she and Gray had simply turned their comm system off? How long would it take them to figure out that there was an option even more unthinkable than the unthinkable options they were trained to imagine?
After all, hardware failures aboard spacecraft happened. How many times had some error forced a Russian Soyuz into an off-nominal landing somewhere unexpected? Even the death of a crew, horrible to consider, is not unprecedented.
But the theft of a spacecraft? By its crew? Returning to Earth? There was unthinkable, and then there was unthinkable. And this particular scenario, to the ultra-logical, left-brained mathematical minds that ran things at Mission Control in Houston, would be even more unthinkable by far.
Love makes people do unthinkable things. And love was never supposed to have been part of the equation. When they’d left Earth, they were colleagues, crewmates. But during the two years of the trip; they’d become more. The psychologists had warned it could happen; the engineers didn’t listen. And now, they had two choices – live their lives in a media circus that would be inevitable for the first man and woman to walk on Mars, or force an off-nominal re-entry in the middle of nowhere, use the survival training the agency had kindly provided, and simply disappear.
Outside, the parachute deployed. Their capsule slowed over the forest below. Mars had been a mission, for which they had trained and prepared. This? This would be a real adventure.
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