17 May 2013

"Down to Earth"

By Curtis C. Chen

"They have telescopes," Perry said. "They've all got telescopes. Some of them are tracking you right now, feeding live video to public web sites. We can't shut down the entire worldwide amateur astronomy community. You can't de-orbit."

I hated not being able to see him. Several of the meteors—the smaller ones—had impacted my helmet, knocking out the heads-up display embedded in the transparent visor. It was weird, hearing Perry's voice in my ear without seeing his face, and I wondered if it would have been better if one of the bigger rocks had smashed into my head. At least then I would have died in an instant, instead of now having to choose a terrible public demise.

"You think it's going to be better if I yank off my helmet and suffocate?" I asked. "Then the whole world gets to watch my corpse circling the planet for centuries. At least if I burn up, it's over in a few minutes."

"Do you want your husband to see that?" Perry said. "Do you really want your immolation broadcast live, in high-definition 3-D?"

"Fuck you, Perry," I said. "Lamont's smart enough to turn off his TV. You're worried about how this is going to affect the stock price."

There was a long pause. I stared down at planet Earth, huge and beautiful and still. I wondered how many people were observing me from the ground. They probably couldn't see my face through the polarized helmet visor—unless somebody was using a wide-spectrum receiver. Never underestimate the ingenuity of bored graduate students.

"We have another option," Perry said at last.

"Does it involve me not dying?"

He hesitated before answering. "I wish I had better news, Kayla—"

"Just tell me."

"Your spacesuit thrusters still have eighty percent of their reserves," Perry said. "We can give you a procedure to overload the primary fuel cell cluster."

I kept my face calm and hoped nobody watching from the ground could read lips. "You want me to blow myself up?"

"Just let me finish," Perry said. "It'll be quick. Over in less than a second, and any debris gets incinerated in the atmosphere before hitting the ground. We can program in a random delay, so you won't even know when it happens."

"You're so kind," I said. "And then the company gets to cover up the whole thing, pretend my suit was damaged in the meteor shower, and call this entire 'incident' a terrible, unavoidable tragedy."

"I'm on your side, Kayla," Perry said. "I'm sorry, but this is your best option now."

I squeezed my eyes shut, holding in my tears. "I want to talk to Lamont."


"I want to talk to my husband."


"You get my husband on comms," I said, "or I start waving my arms in semaphore and spelling out exactly what happened for the whole damn world to see. You've got thirty seconds, Perry."

"That's not enough time!"

"Twenty-five seconds."

"Okay, okay!" The line beeped and went dead.

"Fucker," I muttered.


Photo Credit: edujota via Compfight cc