To The Stars, Again.
I feel fine.
Eyes aimed at the sky.
Clouds above. Low and grey. Snow covers the hills and forests. Down in the valley, the launch towers surge towards the snowy mist and the railways leading to them look like ejecta from an asteroid crater. The inside of the train is warm. The world around me is white and grey. Smooth. Devoid of asperities. Serene.
They’re speaking all around me, engineers and scientists. I can barely hear them. The wind whispers around me carry my hair in the snow. Sixty heartbeats per minute. Blood flowing up and down. Warm. I do not feel the cold. My body measures it but I do not feel it. The launcher has achieved its journey towards the pad. It stands here, a white tower in the middle of the valley. Silent.
Through the visor of the helmet, I can see a porthole and through the porthole, I can see the clouds. The capsule is a small spherical coffin and it stands at the top of a massive tower of explosives. When the door closed on me, my heartbeat surged a little, from sixty to seventy beats per minute. Now it calmed down. Everything is nominal again. The snow isn’t falling anymore. It’s pouring. The sky is descending on the plain. The world is white. Silent.
Fire and fury. Seven hundred tons of fuel ignited below me. A bright flame scraping the snow. And suddenly, it moves. The launcher vibrates, trembles, erupts. I feel like the entirety of the sky is pushing against my chest.
A heavy thump echoes through the launcher. First stage separation. Words on the radio. My lizard brain answers them in a pure reflex. The rest of my consciousness wanders away. The clouds are gone and with them the smoothness of the world. The sky is now blue and sharp. The light is blinding. The air so thin over the curve of the Earth. The weight on my chest is decreasing. Sixty heartbeats per minute. All systems nominal.
A second, lower thump. Second stage separation. Orbital insertion burn. Then something surges through my spine. Something primal. Pure bliss. Weightlessness. Engine thrust set to zero. The world has become smooth again alongside the thin curve of the high atmosphere, way, way below me. Eyes locked on the horizon. Axial tilt zero.
I open my hand and my pencil floats away. I am falling at several hundred meters per second and everything around me is following me, but the Earth is spherical and I never hit the ground. This is called an orbit. This is all there is to me right now. A long curve around the Earth, four hundred kilometers above the ground. They are asking me questions on the radio. I am answering them, mechanically. Training has taken over. My mind is somewhere else. Somewhere brighter.
Down below, the ocean, then the continents, then the ocean again. Up above, there are no stars. The light of the sun is blade-sharp. The pencil is coming back towards me. I catch it. Earth below, space above, I am straddling the limit. Suspended in the void. Sixty heartbeats per minute. Weightless.
I was born in the seventeenth year of the fourth century of the Low Age. I am the first human being to reach low earth orbit since the thermal-industrial world devoured itself.
I feel fine.
Eyes aimed at the Earth.
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