Random Writing 3

The moment of thrust-down is like birth. Crushed into your seat it seems like there is nothing before, nothing after, just the endless pressure of acceleration and the shrill roar of the engines, their vibrations penetrating every part of the ship, every part of your body so that it seems the sound is coming from inside your own head, an unbearable sound even with the earphones, the helmets, the noise-cancelers without which you would be deafened before reaching the edge of space. It seems like you will exist forever in that state of chaos where not you but the rocket - which is not a rocket but your entire universe - where the entire universe is letting out its primal scream, a scream that began with the big bang and is still going.

But then, then, thrust-down. Suddenly nothing - a silence that must be big, has to be big to fill the space left by the sound it replaces. And the straps which a minute ago were lead, gold, uranium suddenly are spidersilk, gossamer twists barely detectable, barely resting against your chest. Your ears, free from the combined assault of the engine's noise and force, feel like new, as though every tiny sound you are hearing is the first sound. The click of mechanical safety harnesses disengaging, the beep of the flight computers, the sighs and laughs and triumphant whoops of the other crew members.

Not just the sound, though, but the sights too. Everything around you is bright white, the clinical colours of the inside of the cabin now lit oddly by a light you don't recognise, but which has been with you from the start - the light of the sun, that light that you're seeing directly for the first time, not a blurry thing you can just make out through the atmosphere but a disk, a sharp-edged disk of light, a burning thing hanging there in the middle of nowhere.

Wrestling off your helmet you gasp your first breath - the air inside the cabin warm and sour, but better than the smell of the last thing you ate. It is even easier to breath than normal - you would never have thought that the force of gravity on your chest would make the slightest difference, but you were wrong - and that slightest difference is strangely liberating.

A sudden jolt pushes the seat into your buttocks, and you yell out in surprise. The two nearest crew members burst out laughing.

"Sorry!" calls the pilot. "Auto-correction. There might be a few more like that."

It means nothing to you, but the the others seem happy, so you relax. All around you there is a bustle of activity, but not like the activity before, none of the anxious, nervy energy before take-off, but a calm, happy freedom. Men and women in white clothing glide back and forth in front of you, moving from station to station to confirm what they can already tell by looking, and by the feeling in their stomach - that the launch has gone well, that the last few months of backache and pressure have been worthwhile, that they have made it without problems.

"Fuel mass 800 tons remaining," the auburn-haired engineer says, close to your ear. "Looks healthy. We'll be more than good until the refuel point."

"Move forward from the launch stage," the pilot tells her.

"We're coming up to a ditch point in two," the navigator adds.

You want to know more about what they are saying, but beeps and clicks around you demand the attention of the crew, so you lay back into your chair and just breath, delighting in the gentle touch of the chair, nothing compared to what you are used to, and the almost intangible humming and buzzing that reaches through the ship as the flight engines begin to warm, preparing for their task. The sensations of weightlessness are new, but the ship is old and comforting, a presence that has been with you since the ground.

To your right, you watch the engineer watch two bars as one shrinks and the other grows. When the waning bar has vanished completely, she touches the panel and taps at the hieroglyphs that glow there.

"Launch stage clear," she says. The pilot waves his hand in acknowledgement.

"Ditch point," says the navigator.

"Go?"

"Go," the pilot confirms. The engineer taps at her panels again, and in front of you red lights blink and change in sequence to green.

"Umbilicals free," the engineer calls out. "Separation in three, two, one."

"Launch stage away for landing zone - uh, five."

You feel a sharp jerk, and try to imagine the launch stage falling away from the ship, wings folding out ready to ride the winds back down to earth. You have seen it on films, of course. In the olden days they would be cremated as they fell, but now everything is reused, every bit of he machine too precious to waste. It will glide back down to the landing stage, and from there make its way in sections across the globe back to the starport, ready to become a part of the next ship to come up, vital to the process but never to float among the stars itself, never quite free of Earth's embrace.

For you, though, it's the real thing. You unclip your safety harness and pull yourself out of the chair, pulling yourself hand-over-hand along the ceiling, dodging the other crew members until you come to the starboard nose viewport, the side away from the sun. Down below (or is it below, now?) you can see the arc of the globe, a bright coin, huge, but no bigger at this distance than a small house. How can you have spent your whole life there, you wonder? It seems as though you must have been able to seen everything in such a small place, been able to meet everyone, been able to do anything. That old life must be complete. It is time, out here, for a new one.

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