The Mississippi Company
by Mark Kertzman
A razor-sharp line separated the blue of infinite sky from the tan of all-too-finite land. Above, the blue verged into a beckoning purple. Below, the tan progressed from the gauzy reaches of the far-off Australian coastline to the shimmering heat of the austere scrub desert far below.
Ravi shifted his attention from the tiny porthole window to the dimly lit cabin interior. He had wanted to get a last glimpse of the runways and vehicle elevators of Woomera Spaceport, but it was too far astern.
Settling himself into the padded acceleration seat, he waited, his heart hammering in his chest.
“This your first time up, sonny?” A grizzled, white-haired man sitting across the tiny aisle from him choose that moment to lean forward and chat.
Ravi gave a thin-lipped smile. “Yes, yes, it is,” he replied.
“Mine, too. They say it’s a hell of a ride, though.”
Ordinarily, Ravi would have been voluble and friendly. Today, though, he was nervous and excited. “I’m sure it is.” he said in a clipped fashion.
To forestall any further conversation, he leaned forward and stared out the porthole again. Above him, he could make out the wing of the larger carrier aircraft. It cut off part of the sky, but left enough so that he could stare up with wonder.
From little speakers in the cabin ceiling, a spectral voice made a simple, ominous announcement. “Release in fifteen seconds.”
Ravi put his head back, and waited. He could hear his heartbeats thumping in his ears. The seconds went by interminably slowly, moment by moment.
The wait had gone on too long. Ravi thought they had missed the release, that something had gone wrong.
There was a loud clunk.
The cabin dropped, suddenly, and kept dropping like an out-of-control elevator. All five occupants flailed their arms and legs, held to their seats only by the sturdy five-point belts. Someone shrieked.
Ravi’s stomach was leaping into his throat. He was trying not to panic.
Something kicked him right in his back. At the same time, a huge roar started from beyond the back of the cabin, and didn’t stop. The five passengers were pressed back into their seats. Ravi’s head was shoved awkwardly back into the cushions. He could barely move it. It felt like someone was sitting on his forehead.
Very slowly, he turned his head towards the porthole. This mashed his ear and cheek against his seat. It wasn’t comfortable, but he didn’t care; he wanted to see!
Already, the horizon was tipping towards the vertical. The left half of the porthole was tan, the right half blue. That made blue ‘up’. He couldn’t believe they were actually racing upwards, but the acceleration gluing him to his seat convinced him.
It didn’t seem like long at all, but the blue was already turning purple. The vibration in his seat, combined with the deafening roar, was giving him a massive headache. He really wished that there were a drink service on this flight.
When he looked out again, he was shocked. What had been blue sky, clear as day, was now black sky like the coming of night. Yet sunlight still streamed through the little portholes, making jiggling little pools of light on seat backs, walls, and the ceiling. He tried to smile at his own momentary lapse of judgment; of course space was black. Yet his smile came out as a drooling frown, so he closed his mouth again.
His entire world was made of black sky and the continuous roar. Maybe it was the acceleration, but Ravi felt himself drifting away. His vision clouded into blackness, and the road faded to the dull thunder of a nearby waterfall.
He didn’t know how long he was like that. It didn’t matter. He came out of it with a yell.
He was falling into silence.
Grabbing the straps holding him to his acceleration couch, he realized that he was floating. So was everyone else. The powerful rocket engine had finally gone silent, and that was as deafening as the noise.
The speakers crackled to life again. “Welcome to Earth orbit. We will be docking with the Bai Yun transfer station and orbital hotel in about thirty minutes. Until then, feel free to enjoy zero gravity, but please remain strapped to your seats.”
Just then, Ravi really wished that there were a drink service on this flight.
Copyright © 2011 by Mark Kertzman