Short Story | ‘Countdown’ by Adam Renn Olenn, Illustration by Mark Reihill
She closed The Book, handed it to the attendant, and stepped awkwardly through the door. The other six were already in their seats, and she deeply wished her thick suit came with a pocket. It occurred to her that foxholes aren’t the only places inhospitable to atheism.
The attendant followed her in and helped her to her seat. She endured his machinistic ministrations and mentally reviewed her plans and contingencies again. This habit had become reflexive, almost compulsive, a mantra that filled all the quiet moments of her mind until they were no more.
A monotonous man’s voice crackled to her through headphones, and she replied with pre-arranged responses. They spoke like synapses, two tiny points flickering to one another in code, conspiring to set in motion forces larger than themselves.
The other six checked and re-checked and made adjustments and then re-checked again with the nervous energy of ants, their muffled fingers paw-like in their gloves.
She would have turned for one last reassuring look at The Book, but her head was immobile now. Then the attendants left and closed the door, and she would simply have to remember having looked at it.
There was a momentary pause, as if everyone felt the shifting of history together. It reminded her of jumping off the ropeswing into the river at her grandparents’ place in Virginia, the tiny weightless infinity at the apex of her flight, before the laws of physics reasserted themselves on her body and sent her splashing into darkness.
For a second, they all looked up at the robin’s-egg blue in front of them, at the shell they would soon breach, and leave.
Then the man’s voice came over the headphones again. “Good morning, Captain. Are you ready?”
She said that she was, and they performed their well-rehearsed dance one last time. When the clock reached thirteen, he broke from the script. “Good luck, Mars One, and may God be with you.”
She blinked, and a tear sneaked out of the corner of her eye. Then the man counted out loud, and the very atoms of the earth seemed to roar. She felt pressed into her seat, and the tear rolled backwards across her cheek, trickling through the folds of her ear and finally pooling at the back of her helmet, behind her, as salty and small as the ocean.
Illustration by: Mark Reihill