Getting Lift Off
A Short Story by Doug Dean
Written using the suggestion "Satellite"
Originally featured on 09-19-2007
As part of our series "Alternative Universals"

James walks up the gang plank ahead of me. The flight crew is darting in between and around us making sure all the last minute preparations were set. They’re looking and patting our space suits. He turns and looks over his shoulder at me. I wink at him.

This is what gamblers must feel like. I’m referring to the good ones. I’m referring to the ones that win more than they lose. The ones that profit by gambling. When they’ve got everything on the line, I bet that this is what gamblers feel like.

I’m carrying my helmet against my side. This suit, which felt so heavy during training, feels so light now. Almost as if I’m naked.

This is what professional football players must feel like at the Superbowl.

Jerry, one of the technicians is inside the shuttle as I make my way inside. He’s got slick brown hair and a bushy moustache. Jerry’s down on his knees crossing off items on a clipboard. It’s the same checklist of nuts and bolts that I’ve seen him go over a hundred times in the past six months but he looks as though he’s reading it for the first time.

“Good morning, Jerry,” I say.

He looks up and presses his lips together. A droplet of sweat runs down his face. He goes back to his list.

“Let’s hope so,” I hear him say under his breath.

 

***

 

With my hands clutching the straps on my chair. I look over at James, also strapped in. I look at his face.

For how similar our lives have been, he looks almost nothing like me. Brown hair instead of blond. Big brown eyes instead of thin green. Taller.

We’ve been waiting like this for an hour and a half. We’ve almost launched twice but the tower has cancelled midway through the countdown — the first time at ‘7’ and the second time at ‘2.’

This must be what it’s like when you’re trying to get pregnant.

“Hey James.”

“Hey Ed.”

He lifts up his white arm and waves to me. I wave back.

They don’t tell us why they abort the countdowns when they do.

Inside the shuttle there are three of us. James, myself and Bruce. Bruce is sitting the other way. He hasn’t said anything or moved since the aborted countdown at ‘2.’ We’re leaving him alone. In the past six months we’ve learned to leave Bruce alone when he’s nervous.

Similar lives. More like identical lives. Our parents saw to that. Nothing but Math and Science and Sports. Nothing but studying and preparation. We didn’t know what for but eventually there was no turning back. We weren’t co-valedictorians so we could work at the local newspaper. We didn’t go to MIT on full scholarship, so that we could clean up at the zoo. Thank god Dad was Dodger fan or it would’ve been just studying and we wouldn’t be here right now. Astronauts have to be well-rounded nerds.

“Tower to crew.”

“Go ahead Tower,” says James.

“It’s gonna be a bit longer, we’re still checking on some O-rings.”

“Ten Four,” says James.

We go through the waving thing again.

This must be what porn stars feel like.

“Hey Ed?” James says.

“Yeah.”

“You remember Becky Jones?”

“Roger Jone’s daughter from Canarsie?”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah, what about her?”

“She had a thing for you in tenth grade, do you remember that?”

“No, I didn’t know that.”

“She told me that one time.”

“She what?”

“Yeah she told me that,” James says. I frown for effect at first and then I start having flashes of Becky in her cheerleading outfit. I’m frowning for real.

“Why the fuck didn’t you tell me?!?”

“Dad and Mom had strict rules. No girls. I even asked Dad if I could tell you, but he said ‘no’ cuz it was right before the SATs. Then I guess I just forgot or something.”

“You forgot?”

“Yeah.”

We stare at each other for a few minutes. It’s odd to stare at someone in a space suit.

“I had a thing fah her.” My accent gets thicker when I’m upset. I hope he doesn’t notice.

“What? You didn’t tell me that?”

“Yeah, I use to beat off to her. I use to think about her in her cheerleader’s uniform.”

“Oh yeah, she was hot, Ed.”

I can’t sit in the seat. I squirm to get out of the straps. It takes them ten minutes to make sure we’re strapped in right. I don’t care right now. I try to unclip them. I want to put my fist through his smug little face shield.

“You mutha! What the fuck, James?”

Bruce turns to us, eyes wide.

We both instinctually stop. Bruce lost it once in this cabin during training. It was enough to make us stop.

“Asshole.”

“Dick.”

 

***

 

It’s been a half hour of silence. Ever since Bruce stared us both into submission. I don’t even care anymore. I had such a thing for Becky Jones. I thought my twin brother was the one person I could trust.

“I’m a virgin.” I say it loud enough for Bruce to hear. “I’ve never been laid.”

James looks at me. He’s been laid before. He had a steady girlfriend at MIT that I helped him keep a secret from Mom and Dad.

Tears start to well up in my eyes. I can’t wipe them away because of the faceshield.

“I don’t even want to go into space anymore.”

“Oh come on Ed, don’t say that.”

“It’s true.”

We sit there, me crying.

 

***

 

“Ten…Nine…Eight…Seven…Six”

James looks at me.

“Five…Four…Three…Two…”

We both smirk.

“One”

“We have liftoff!”

The rockets start firing. The pull is intense on our necks but we’re used to it. We hear the shaking and I see a bolt fly across the cabin.

“Jesus!!”

There are flames everywhere.

This is what gamblers must feel like.

Read More By Doug Dean

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