Fiction III

The Launch

The countdown began. The giant shuttle on the TV monitors shook as the engines fired up and fuel was rapidly pumped to the inferno below the shuttle through the standard supersonic de Laval nozzles. The roar was deafening even from the safety of the observation tower three miles away where X sat.

This was a climatic moment for X; the culmination of his efforts for the last ten years. On the launch pad sat the biggest single object ever made by human hands that was destined for space. In a few more seconds it would be on its way into orbit, within 24 hours it would join the 600 other geosynchronous satellites above the planet and become the second visible fixture in the sky above London, after the moon.

As the countdown reached 5, someone behind X put a hand on his shoulder and gave it a slow, clammy squeeze. He got a cold rush of half-panic going up his neck as the hand touched him. It obviously wasn’t a close colleague as they’d have known better than to attempt physical contact. X had a rampant OCD that dominated his psyche and all that knew him well knew the OCD better. As the countdown reached 3, 2… all X could think about was the germs on his shoulder creeping up over the edge of his shirt collar to his skin; he could feel his neck muscles contracting at the thought.

The small audience behind X, with their own dirty hands and invasive germs ready to spread, was mostly made up of Xenon employees, a few excited children who had come to see the launch with their parents and a couple of SpaceNow™ employees that had been chaperoning everyone from one observation deck to another all afternoon.

“This is it!” someone blurted out over the noise as the countdown hit 1… The room shuddered and a small pot of SpaceNow™ pens fell off the control desk and rolled next to X’s feet. The children behind him whooped in delight and he heard a baby begin to cry. He could just about make out the scrum of press cheering in the room next door, despite the hideous noise. The press were in a room much larger than his own and had been growing fat off the spoils of event catering since 11am, wining and dining on Xenon’s dollar as X was constantly reminded every time he encountered them that day.

Numerous American journalists were in the mix and when he heard the muffled cheer through the wall he pictured them, fat, sweaty and full of germs, bellowing at the window glass with pork pies in their hands and half eaten crisps in their agape mouths. He found it bad enough looking at them when he delivered his speech that morning. He had always felt repulsed by how shiny Americans looked. X didn’t like the company of Americans but accepted their presence was not only necessary, but inevitable, considering they were deep in Arizona desert.

It was more than likely the London press were also cheering, after all they were in the majority, shipped over by Xenon to cover the launch. London had no facilities for this sort of set up and whilst the New London Consortium were feverishly excited about the project, if the American SpaceNow™ corporation hadn’t stepped in, there would have been no conceivable way to get the monstrous satellite into orbit.

The sustained roar of the engines changed its pitch as the monitors showed the rocket lifting off and taking a slow arc into the sky. In the distance, out the window and across the orange sands, X could see the giant plume of smoke the rocket was creating. One of the two SpaceNow™ employees next to X started jabbering at him about the power of the engines and how the satellite would split from the shuttle once it was clear of the atmosphere. X couldn’t hear the details of what was being said and was preoccupied with how he was going to make his excuses to leave and wash the germs off his neck. He smiled and nodded nonetheless.

The group behind him were whooping and clapping and he couldn’t bear to turn round to look at their simple faces. In a few short years, this giant cubic satellite will be running every teleporter in the London city-state and X will have his place in history, yet at that moment he felt nothing but anxiety and repulsion.

He had myriad thoughts in that next few seconds. Perhaps this is what happens when a goal is achieved, perhaps quiet disappointment was the reality of success. Perhaps nothing can live up to the chase. Perhaps X didn’t know this secret until now as he didn’t know anyone else who’d achieved anything quite so historical. Perhaps this is standard anti-climactic practice when years of events lead to a crescendo. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. X’s thoughts sped up and wound tight as they began to sit heavy on his chest. Perhaps, he clearly thought, a sober life will always underwhelm.

He couldn’t turn around as the clapping and cheering settled down and the rocket became a dot in the sky and the end of a trail of smoke. Perhaps it was the anxiety or the sobriety but he remained fixed in his chair, looking up at the monitors so he didn’t have to make eye contact with anyone. His face felt like stone. Maybe he was never built for moments as big as this. Maybe that was it. Or perhaps it was because he knew that everything inside that giant, twenty billion dollar cube was a complete, unworkable mess. Yes. Perhaps that was it.