Space exploration and eventuality.
|She knew this could be a possibility. Tara and her husband talked about it once. Then they chose to pretend it won't happen. When she married Jake, she made it clear she wasn't leaving the space program. Even when she got pregnant with Carter. The program gave her six weeks maternity leave, she came back after three. Jake took over rearing Carter while she pursued her goal, to be in space.
The opportunity to man a large monitor satellite was presented to her. They gave her the pros and cons of the job. She knew it was dangerous. She knew the mortality rate.
"Mom, when are you coming back?"
"Not for a while. You know Dad will take care of you. And we'll be able to communicate once in a while. And you can always look up at night and see me fly over our house. Won't you like that?"
"Yeah. My friends think you're pretty cool."
"I think you're cool." She ruffled his hair and got into the program van that was waiting to pick her up. She looked out the window and waved at the guys until the house was out of sight. Her throat was so tight.
The van pulled into the launch site. They had a week of preparation and then launch. One night while she was on video chat with her son, he pushed a big thing in front of the camera.
"What is that, Carter? Move back so I can see the whole thing." He moved and showed her the model of a space station he was assembling.
"Dad got me this!" Carters's face was animated, waving the box around and talking about where he was going to put it when he finished.
"I thought it would keep him busy." Jake smiled wryly. "It has a ridiculous number of pieces."
She laughed. "You know most of them will end up in the vacuum."
"I know, love." He tilted his head and smiled at her. "I downloaded the app that will alert us when you fly over."
She smiled and nodded. "I know you'll watch the launch." She wasn't sure she wanted them to watch, in case something went sideways.
"Don't worry. You'll be spectacular!" He laughed. "Next time we talk, you'll be in space. How many men can say that about their wives?"
The launch was spectacular. Firing up into the night sky, strapped into her seat, her thoughts were on her guys down below. Fighting G's with tears squeezing from her eyes, she told herself this was her dream come true. Then she was busy giving readings to Ground and checking readouts to make adjustments. Then suddenly the jets were out and there was silence. Well, as silent as it would get on board. The white noise was comforting. The days settled into routine. She was there to monitor global activity and interpret if there was hostility. Sometimes there was a two minute window where she could speak to Jake.
"I love you." She always said it first, in case they cut out. Jake would laugh and quickly tell her their news. As weeks turned to months, Carter would sometimes get on camera. He always showed her the progress on his model space station. She recorded the call so she could play it back when she was lonely.
Eight months in, the program director scheduled a video conference. Unusual, but perhaps they were ready to retrieve her and send someone else in her place. She groaned, the procedure manual she memorized was huge. The docking alone took almost a day.
The director's face pixelated and then cleared. "Tara, we have some news." He looked very serious.
"I assume I'll receive procedures for this on the monitors." Her head was already ten steps ahead, planning the docking.
"Yes. Although it's pretty simple, we want to make sure we stay in contact with you as much as possible."
"Tara, this isn't what you think. We've discovered some malfunctions." That got her attention.
"What do you mean?" Frowning, she looked around at all the readouts. "I'm not seeing issues."
"The capsule will run out of oxygen. In about three days." He teared up and choked out the words. "You're going to have to jettison."
She just stared at the screen. "That's impossible." She got louder. "How could you do this to me?"
"There's not enough time to launch and retrieve you. And honestly, not enough money." He had the decency to look away, mortified at his own words. "We'll send you the procedures." A tear rolled down his cheek. "We informed your husband. And you'll have time for one more video conference."
She spent the next 48 hours watching all her video calls and crying. She read the procedures on the jettison and understood what to do. Finally it was time for the call.
Carter was on first, he was crying a little. "Daddy told me you're not coming back."
"No honey, the space ship is broken. I can't come back." He cried harder. "Carter, I love you. When I jettison, a little while later I'll become a falling star. Will you watch me fly across the sky?"
"Mommmmmmy!" Jake held him tight and the boy sobbed into his shoulder. Tears were pouring down her husband's face.
"Baby, I love you. We'll watch....and we'll think of you every time we see a falling star afterward. You're my hero. You really are. I'm so proud of you." He shook as he held their son and sobbed.
"I'm so sorry." She kept repeating it as they all cried. "I'm so sorry." Then the feed went white and dropped.
She cried herself to sleep. When she woke hours later, it was almost time to start the jettison countdown. The technicians on the ground began transmission as she came into range. They were very somber as the read off their checklists for shutting down the capsule. As they completed their work, she said to them. "I'm so sorry." They saluted and signed off.
She took the drugs from the Rx box and swallowed them with a drink. Then removed her clothing, there was no point in taking them with her. She folded them carefully and tucked them away. She could feel the drugs taking effect as she climbed into the tiny jettison capsule. She could barely keep her eyes open as she activated the jettison countdown. She was unconscious by the time the readout said zero and her capsule disconnected from the larger ship. A small jet pushed her away and she floated into space.
Her body floated for quite some time, circling like all the other flotsam left by space programs, until gravity drew her closer and closer to Earth. Jake and Carter watched as she arrived, her capsule burning through the atmosphere, a brilliant streak in the sky.
"There's Mommy's shooting star, Carter. Do you see it?" The boy nodded as he watched it cross the sky.
"Can I hang up her spaceship in my room? When I see it, I'll think of Mommy and remember her." He looked up at his father.
Jake looked down at his boy, tears in his eyes. "We'll always remember her."
For 48 Hour Challenge: Media Prompt
"Note: 48-HOUR CHALLENGE : Med..."