The axiom of every Creative is to make something out of nothing. Right? But sometimes, that nothing just happens to be pretty darn cool to begin with.
- A sunrise from a lake at just the right time at just the right angle.
- A first kiss.
- Witnessing the birth of your first child.
In this case, for the latest First Lines Project, iAuthor challenged me to write the first lines based on this image:
In 2001, I moved from New Hampshire to the “Space Coast” of Florida. Since that time, I’ve seen more than a few shuttle launches. Most of them from just outside of my apartment. Something happened whenever one of those birds took flight. It didn’t matter what you were doing. If you were outside and you heard the booster rockets, you stopped what you were doing and looked toward the coast.
Every launch was always held in high regard, and they were a decent social equalizer too. You could be in the middle of a hostile discussion about politics, seconds away from fisticuffs. Everything is forgotten, and camera phones come out when you hear the low and thunderous rumble to witness this spectacular and awe-inspiring moment.
To base the first lines of a story based on this had its own set of challenges. Everything seemed fairly obvious: the perspective of the tourists/mission control/astronauts. Rocket Man. Major Tom. All well and good. But for me, it had to go somewhere else.
Thank you very much for reading.
Earth Mission: Caruso
“Shuttle Discovery, this is control.” Connor would always marvel at the disembodied voices that would echo across the launch pad. They weren’t like the cold and sterile computer voices he grew up with. To him, it always felt like there was a hint of ambivalence, of fear, doubt, humanity. “H-two tank pressurization OK. You are go for launch, over.” Connor’s eyes widened. This was his favorite part.
“You’re standing a bit closer than usual, Connor,” a female voice from behind him crooned.
“I know, mother. I shouldn’t be on the grass. But this part is so exciting!” Connor could barely contain his glee. “I keep forgetting, how much gasoline did they use to go to space?”
Shyla, his mother, was ever patient with her son. He is extremely bright for his age, but he still has his moments where his youth shines. “They never used gasoline, Connor. They used something called liquid oxygen. It was far more abundant and far more powerful than any fuel known to man.”
“Oh. Is that what they kept in those ‘H-two’ tanks?”
“Well, no. Not exactly. They kept hydrogen in the H tanks. They kept the oxygen in another. They kept the gases separate and very cold so when they got together, they would explode. And that explosion was strong enough to launch the astronauts into space.”
The man’s voice barked from every loudspeaker, “10, 9, 8,…” Connor and his mother at the edge of the marsh. Dangerously close to the launch pad.
“Oh, I see.” Connor’s voice trailing as the anticipation builds. “Mother?”
“If they didn’t use gasoline in the tanks, and used something that was even more precious to get to space…”
“3, 2, 1…Liftoff of Space Shuttle Discovery!”
“Is that how the Earthlings died?”
A thunderous explosion and fiery walls of spent fuel came rolling towards them faster than a Martian dust storm. Shyla’s expression wilted because as much as she was well versed in Ancient Earth culture, she had no real answers for him.
“Computer?” She sighed. “End simulation.” The walls of exhaust stopped advancing, gulls and sparrows froze in their mid-air escape. The cameras of a few dozen tourists ended in mid-frame. An ancient spacecraft hangs silently above a ball of fire. And then, all at once, everything vanishes in a mist of ones and zeroes. “Simulation terminated,” said the cold and sterile computer voice.
“My child,” she said gently rubbing the top of his head. “I’m afraid nobody knows for sure how it all ended. Some say there was a great war. Others claim it was an ancient religion. Still, others are convinced there was a great draught, and it eventually drove everyone to cannibalism.”
“Awful,” Connor winced.
“I know!” his mother agreed. “But whatever the reason, I’m sure the Earthlings, your ancestors, as flawed and primitive as they were, had the glorious foresight to colonize Mars because they had hope for mankind. The lives of you and me and everyone we know depended on it.”
Connor cast a miles long stare through the glass roof of the Martian biodome, to a tiny blue dot in the sky. “I wish I could see it, mother. I wish I could breathe the air and feel what the sun feels like on a closer planet. And taste rain, oh I would really like that.”
“Oh my child,” Shyla laughed. “Someday you will. Someday.”
A random comet streaks across the night sky.
“Can we load the ‘Old West’ Simulation?”
“Not tonight, cowboy. It’s getting late.”
©2016 AA Payson