Flash Fiction: Gravity or Pancakes
What took place in minutes felt like a nanosecond. There was no time to get Kalee. There were no last goodbyes, or a reason for them. Everything relevant was now irrelevant - even memories. Life had changed forever. The five minute interruption in the gravitational force had left most planet species dead, yet Neils knew if he could get back to Earth somehow he might survive, depending on the surface conditions. An astrophysicist, he suspected the Earth had left the solar orbit and the atmosphere would now be harsh and unforgiving. Winds may be hundreds of miles per hour. There would be tsunamis and volcanic eruptions. But life here - floating in an ever expanding universe - was impossible. As he moved farther from the Earth and Sun, the temperature got colder. It was dark and foreboding. The light of an occasional star gave him a sense of hope, but even stars were disappearing as they cooled.
It made him feel guilty to be alive when his family and friends had been snuffed out instantly. Home, he mused, fighting back regrets or thoughts of people he had taken for granted. It felt ridiculous to think he could survive this event himself. The dissipating atmosphere could suffocate him if his spacesuit failed. He could perish as collateral damage in an interstellar collision. NASA would be pleased to know the spacesuit passed its beta trial, but it was pointless information. There was no one left to wear it but him. There were no signs of life in space – just the floating, lifeless limbs and bodies of people and animals, distorted and dissected. He hoped and prayed to a God whose existence he had begun to question that he did not see Kalee like that. He was enough of a realist to know she could not have survived.
Neils turned his thoughts back to his own survival. How do I get back into the Earth’s atmosphere safely, he pondered. Assuming gravity was restored, it would pull him toward the planet. He could use that to his advantage. Reentering the Earth’s atmosphere in the best conditions, however, creates drag. He knew from experience that as an object falls toward Earth it rubs against particles of air in the atmosphere which in turn, create friction. This friction would slow him to a safe re-entry speed, but it also would generate extreme heat. He would need a blunt object to use as a shield in order to create a shock wave in front of him. This shock wave would keep the heat at a distance yet he doubted his own strength could suspend the shield far enough in front of him to prevent death. To complicate matters, his spacesuit was engineered to exit and re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere from the safety of a space shuttle. With the Sun now farther away, he would be forced to count on a cooler planet and atmosphere. I could use a spaceship about right now, he thought, grasping for humor in the midst of devastation.
Neils was uncomfortably estranged in space. Miles away he could still see the Earth lit by explosions. He knew that he could live for thirty days without food but no more than three days without water. Survival in this deep abyss came first. Returning to the Earth’s surface came second. He turned his attention to the objects around him – he couldn’t have imagined so many “things” once on Earth – most meaningless, now weightless. He looked around at large pieces of metal and rock. Anything of real value was obliterated in the atmospheric transfer – photos, memorabilia – now vanished for eternity. He watched as two stars collided in the distant haze and thought, I need a miracle.
“D-a-a-deee,” Kalee pled for her father to arouse. “You promised me banana pancakes.”
Neils was already lucid trying to recall every detail of his daunting dream. Kalee had taken her mother’s death much easier than he had. Despite the passage of time, he still felt like he was drifting from everything that mattered. Vineccia was all that mattered. She was gone.
“Come on, dad,” Kalee insisted. “If you can make pancakes as good as mom did, it will be a ‘miracle’!”
Neils eyes popped open. The gravity of Kalee’s words pierced his soul like a knife. “You are a ‘miracle,’” young lady. Neil jumped from his bed and raced Kalee to the kitchen. Kalee squealed, delighted to see her father return from 'wherever' he had been the last few months.
© 2016 Vicki Parker