300 WORD CHALLENGE -- No. 4 -- VICTORY TO TERESA!!

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Teresa Edgerton

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Re: 300 WORD CHALLENGE -- No. 4 -- READ FIRST POST!!


AMID THE COLD OF WINTER

It was a difficult climb stumbling up the hill. Esther’s legs already ached. But the children had said, "A Christmas tree down in old Mr. Spangler’s meadow." She’d come to humor them. Where did they even get the idea? There had been no Christmas trees, no Christmas, no celebrations of any sort since she was a child and everyone had finally realized that Earth had forgotten them.

Forgotten this ball of mud and ice circling Bettelheim’s Star. The supply ships that used to come regularly had stopped. No one knew why. War or environmental disaster, maybe. What did it matter? The colony had troubles of its own. The native vegetation was inedible and the climate was changing for the worse. Under the thin cloud cover, the crops they’d been growing in vast greenhouses were fewer and sicklier. Two years, maybe three, that was all the time they had left.

Damn it, the grade was too steep. It seemed she could hardly get enough air in her lungs, but the children had no trouble. They ran ahead, laughing and calling back to her, "Grandma, hurry." The thought of their certain disappointment when they discovered their mistake made her heart hurt. She remembered a line from an old book, "Always winter and never Christmas."

But she crested the hill and there it was in the meadow below: Not quite the right shape — sleeker and more slender — but silver as the tinsel trees she remembered, and glowing with lights. Tears filled her eyes; the breath caught in her throat. A door had opened at the base of it, and out stepped three figures all in glittering silver.

Three men who followed the light of a star, and came bearing gifts.
 

Boneman

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Re: 300 WORD CHALLENGE -- No. 4 -- READ FIRST POST!!

No Going Back

They had no choice. It had taken them a day just to get here. When they'd set out the weather had been cold and frosty, and even when they'd crossed the sea there was no hint of what was to come.

“You’d best think about staying in town,” said one of the sailors, scanning the darkening horizon. “That’s a snowstorm, if I’m not mistaken.”

“We have to go on,” Juliet said, choked. “The children...”

Tears streamed down her face, and she buried her face in Keston’s coat. He hugged her tightly.

“We’ll get there,” he said. “I promise.”

They re-supplied themselves and pressed on. The storm struck in the afternoon; visibility was so poor they could barely see the road in front of them. Their speed dropped to a walking pace. But they pushed on. They didn’t want to think what it would mean if they didn’t make it. They stopped once. Mercifully neither of the children woke.

“We’ll make it, won’t we?”

Keston heard the fear.

“We’ll make it.”

They fought the snow and ice for the rest of that day and through the night. Finally, exhausted from lack of sleep, they saw it ahead of them. Snow blanketed everything, but lights burned here and there. There was still hope. Keston raced into the building, while Juliet hurriedly dressed the children.

“It’s the last one!” gasped Keston. “There are two seats left. We must hurry!”

“Monsieur! ‘Zis way!”

They slipped and slid their way to the tower, dragging the children, and strapped them in. The children understood. Juliet kissed them both, and she and Keston left the tower and stood watching, their arms around each other. The machinery started, lights blazed and the tower began to rotate.

“Next year,” Keston said. “I promise. We’ll go to Florida Disney.”
 

The Spurring Platty

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Re: 300 WORD CHALLENGE -- No. 4 -- READ FIRST POST!!

Prelude To Saturn

Left alone in the lab, he watched the windblown snow melt inside the doorway. Magnus, his assistant, had went back out determined to figure out why the fuel system on the rocket failed.

He already knew. It was another carefully planned delay. He trusted Magnus but his friend just didn’t understand the magnitude of their work. Or the consequences.

“We mean you no harm, Herr Professor,” exclaimed a voice behind him.

Startled, he turned to face a shimmering form. It was vaguely humanoid, about a meter tall. Through its greenish translucent body he could almost make out the lights on his workbench.

“You have worked out how to make the V2 rocket functional,” it stated.
Its manner wasn’t accusatory, the voice soft and non-threatening. Something about it seemed almost calming.

“When you take this step you can reach the stars,” it added. The weight of that statement drew him back into shock, touching on his most private hopes and dreams.

“We observe and our protocols prevent us from impeding progress,” it explained. “Our race sees your progress like one of your rivers. The river may narrow to a trickling stream; other places it is a flood. At certain times the river must be diverted. This is one of those times.”

“We cannot stop your work, but we can hope it moves in a different direction. An opportunity will come for you to safely leave this regime and the horrors they commit. For the sake of progress, even humanity …”

The door latch turned and in that instant it was gone.
“I can’t solve it,” Magnus entered, stomping the snow from his boots.
Seeing the look on his face, Magnus asked, “Wernher, what is wrong?”

He had reached a decision, “Secretly we must prepare to defect; the Reich will soon fall.”

. . .
 

Mr Turtle

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Re: 300 WORD CHALLENGE -- No. 4 -- READ FIRST POST!!

The Last, Best Hope

Russell looked out across the frozen lake, staring in quiet amazement at the size of the ship. 'The Ark' towered higher than the tallest skyscraper anywhere on Earth. Its epic proportions also dwarfed any of the space craft that had come before it. As he watched through his binoculars at the men busily working around the bottom of the ship, he could see the platform retract. Almost time he thought.

When it had come time for the lucky, chosen few to board the ship, the crowd had screamed and shouted for hours; their voices carrying across the lake. Russell had seen the men and women wave back, he had even caught a glimpse of captain; The famous Sam Libretto. The man who held the hopes of the entire race in at his fingertips.

It was snowing heavily now and Russell knew he wouldn't be able to make it back to the city. The roads would be impassable and there was no one left to clear them. It didn't matter though, the blast from the explosion would reach across the lake. He had known this would be a one way trip.

He checked his watch. 01:32. Almost time.

There was a rumble from across the lake, the engines had started warming up. The speaker above him crackled.

“T-minus ten minutes until take off.”

The crowd cheered. He looked at his watch again, 01:33. He couldn't wait any longer, the fuel would be pumping in now. He reached into his pocket and felt the trigger. He took one, last look at humanities best hope through the binoculars; they shouldn't have him passed over for Libretto. He flicked the small switch in his pocket and closed his eyes.

He heard the explosion, the cries from the crowd. It would be over soon.
 

nixie

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Re: 300 WORD CHALLENGE -- No. 4 -- READ FIRST POST!!

Vistors


“Stephen, wake up”

“Go away”

“We know how to get rid of them”

“Go back to bed”

“Shh you’ll wake mum and dad”

“I will if you two don’t get out of here and go back to bed”

“We’ll go ourselves then”

I groaned and climbed out of bed.

“ It’s 2 oclock in the morning”

“ Best time, they won’t expect it”

“Okay I’ll come, out well I get dressed”

“Hurry up”

The twins were armed with giant water squirters.

“Yours is downstairs”

I lead the way down the stairs to the kitchen.

“What’s in them”?

The twins grinned.

“You’ll see”

As we entered the kitchen, the smell hit me.

“Vinegar, mum’s going to kill us”

I lifed the squirter they had filled for me and opened the door.

“ Stay behind me and keep to the shadows. If anyone sees us there will be trouble”

leading the way to the landing area. Cursing my brother and sister under my breath.

“Look, people are going into the ship”

Cassie ran up to them before I could stop her.

“They can’t see us. Told you the monsters are going to take everyone away”

“So clever clogs, how do we get in”

“We walk in, stupid”

Cameron and Cassie, ran straight to the ship to take position at the front of the queue. I sighed and followed. The thing at the door turned and shouted.

“Thought the little ones were last”

“Bring them through”

It beckoned us to follow. Leading us into the spaceship, it took us to the rest of the creatures. As we approached the twins started firing their squirters. As the spray hit the creatures they started to dissolve. I need no further urging and started to fire. Cameron and Cassie turned to me.

“Told you”
 

TheDustyZebra

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Re: 300 WORD CHALLENGE -- No. 4 -- READ FIRST POST!!

Following, Sees


The snow came down in flurries, but the memories came in a flood.

Rona knew that her grandson, Jeff, had grown up hearing about his grandparents' harrowing sailboat adventure, but now she knew he'd taken it to heart. Looking through the snow at the tower of his time machine, she realized what Jeff was about to do --had done-- so many years ago when she was young.

The lights flashed.


***


They had set sail from Bermuda this morning in glorious sunshine, but now it was pitch black, the blowing rain stinging their faces. Rona and Dan were experienced sailors despite their youth, and they quickly switched to storm sails, set the sea anchor, and strove to keep the bow into the wind. However improbable, this hurricane would capsize them instantly if they got broadside of it, and Rona feared they were not to make Puerto Rico as planned.

Their instruments were hopelessly contradictory, weather forecasts clearly useless; the rain turned to snow and began to pile up on deck.

Unbelieving, Rona peered into the tropical snowstorm.

A light flashed, off the starboard bow.

Again.

She yelled above the howling wind, pointing, and Dan saw it too.

The flashing became steady, and she steered toward it as best she could, praying it wasn't a ship on collision course. But although the wind changed, and the light moved with it, they never got any closer.

When the snow turned back to rain and the rain subsided, their instruments and then their eyes told them that they were home. The light flashing before them now was the Cape May lighthouse, 700 miles from Bermuda.


***


Nobody ever determined how they'd followed a lighthouse from Bermuda to New Jersey (in one day!), but now Rona knew the answer.

Through the snow, the lights flashed.
 

johnnyjet

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Re: 300 WORD CHALLENGE -- No. 4 -- READ FIRST POST!!

Invitation to a Death Bed Convention

Doc Bennington looked out the window of his cottage when he heard the unexpected sound. He sighed when he recognized the small hovercraft that was landing in the clearing north of his cottage. He watched as the small heavily armed and covered team exited the craft. He chuckled as they initially struggled in the sixteen inches of newly fallen snow.

Six of them approached his cabin bearing their weapons in a threatening manner. He knew there was no point in fighting or hiding. They were well trained and would easily subdue him. He slowly opened the door and showed them his empty old hands. He stood in the entranceway and waited for their arrival.

"Welcome to my humble abode," he said as the first one stepped up on his front porch.

He stepped inside and sat on one of two wooden chairs around a table with bread and a bowl of stew.

"I’m sorry I have only one guest chair."

"It’s time to go, doctor," said the first one inside. The voice was female behind the face mask.

"May I finish my stew?"

"The ship is waiting, doctor."

Another one – a male voice – said, "We can give you a few minutes."

"Thank you." He took a spoonful of stew and a bite of bread. After he swallowed, he asked, "Am I the last one?"

"There are two others, but they are now presumed dead," said the female.

"Ah," he said, "they were able to choose their death beds."

There was no response.

Later, as he was escorted toward the glowing ship that would take him to the prison world Charon – the new home for dissidents, lawbreakers, free-thinkers and undesirables – he wondered if he would be allowed to heal others there. Or would his healing touch be unwelcome there as well?
 

Highlander

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Re: 300 WORD CHALLENGE -- No. 4 -- READ FIRST POST!!

The Rocket.

The two hooded figures stood below the gantry framework and shook their heads. This nuclear winter could have been avoided if the rocket before them had launched. No-one knew where the first nuke came from, but now all major cities lay in ruins with the sky darkened these past months because of this failure.


Over many decades, the major powers had all secretly launched dozens of nuclear weapons into orbit as deterrents for aberrant nations but they all forgot about one thing. All of these weapons were on a system that required continuous communication with the ground controllers. If there was no confirmation signal received periodically, the weapons were programmed to launch.


The sun ejects powerful solar flares from time to time. These flares have been known to disrupt power on Earth and satellites have also been knocked out because of them, disrupting communications around the globe. Usually it is only one satellite or two that is crippled but that wasn’t what happened that September evening. A super flare knocked out all satellites virtually simultaneously and all communication with the launch systems was lost.

The weapons, themselves protected from such flares and EMP, reverted to a war footing and started their ignition sequences. Time counted down and, as no signal arrived to avert the catastrophe, the rockets launched and that was the end of much of life on Earth.


And what would this single rocket have done? It was packed with thousands of 5-molecule thick gossamer-like material, packed into dozens of micro-rockets that would have spread out and formed a shield from the powerful solar windstorm.

And why no launch? The man who knew the launch codes and kept them in his head had been tragically killed in a car accident the day before.
 

Culhwch

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Re: 300 WORD CHALLENGE -- No. 4 -- READ FIRST POST!!

Villainous

As a child, I was tormented. Smaller than the other boys, frail and sickly, I was the easiest of prey.

My solace and escape was in comic books. Within their pages I found hope. A path to a better future.

I learnt to endure.

***

‘Sir,’ said the ensign in his native Russian. ‘All is ready.’

I nodded my acknowledgement and the boy marched away. The wind had picked up, and a light snow was falling. Flakes drifted across the ground and swirled about my boots.

Her footfalls were almost silent. ‘You still intend to carry this through?’

‘Of course.’

‘Then I can do nothing to change your mind.’ Not a question.

‘Once, you were the most loyal of all my disciples. When did you lose your nerve?’

‘When you embraced madness.’

I turned to face her. A single tear marred her perfect cheek. Even after all these years she could still steal my breath, like the bitter cold.

I held my resolve. ‘Madness? Madness embraced me, my dear, long before we ever met.’

‘They don’t deserve this. No one deserves this.’

‘No. They all deserve it.’

Her movement was so swift I barely saw it, and the hidden blade in her hand was suddenly at my throat. I didn’t flinch then, nor when the sniper’s shot cracked and her head snapped back.

She fell, lifeless, to the frozen ground.

Behind me the rocket roared to life, shaking the earth and filling the dark sky with light.

***

As a child, I was tormented. Smaller than the other boys, frail and sickly, I was the easiest of prey.

My solace and escape was in comic books. Within their pages I found hope. A path to a better future.

Within their pages I found my heroes.

They didn’t wear capes.
 

The Judge

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Re: 300 WORD CHALLENGE -- No. 4 -- READ FIRST POST!!

No Joke


“There’s been a mistake.”

“No mistake, Clancy. Those are the co-ordinates.”

“I’m telling you, da Silva, it’s a mistake. Or a joke. There’s nothing here except some old gantry. And snow. Lots and lots of f***ing snow. Me and Singh are coming back up.”

“Your orders – ”


“Stuff the orders. Nothing’s here. We’re coming back.”

“Clancy, I’ll have your – ”


“What’s that? Hold on, da Silva. Singh, go check out those lights.”

“Lights?”


“On the gantry. Pink fairy lights.“

“Ha bloody ha. Now carry out your orders.”


“Clancy? Clancy, what the hell are you playing at? Report in. Explorer Shuttle, report in.”


*

“They were investigating a distress signal. Then comms failed.”


– How failed?

“Just went dead. Next thing we know, all their life signs go. Everything goes. The shuttle just disappeared.”


– Is this some kind of joke?

“Two men missing isn’t something we joke about. And now we’re getting this ghost feedback on comms.”


– Have you analysed it?

“It’s like... What on earth? Those pink lights, what are they – “


– Explorer? Come in, Explorer VI.

*

– Relay Station Zebra, this is Exploration Fleet Command.

> Hiya, Joe. How you doing?

– Problems. Explorer VI has disappeared.

> Come again?

– All trace of her wiped away. She’s gone. Last contact detailed the disappearance of their shuttle on a routine mission and then –

> And then?

– We’ve got pink lights here, all over the controls.

> Pink lights or pink elephants? Take more water with it next time, Joe.

> Joe? Joe?

*

> Sector Control from Relay Station Zebra.

...> Control here.


> Use text-comm. Emergency situation. EFC has gone. Total wipe-out.

...> Right. April 1st where you are, is it?


> Ghost comms. Open dangerous. Use text-comm only.

...> Stop making with the funnies.


> Text-comm now. Lights will hit.

...> Lights? What lights?


...> Zebra, come in.


*

...
> Sector Control to Earth...
 

AlcubierreWarp

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Re: 300 WORD CHALLENGE -- No. 4 -- READ FIRST POST!!

It was time – less than ten seconds remaining on the countdown. Jordan glanced upwards, keeping his head covered. The rabble which gathered was much like those in the Middle Ages, crowding to see the hanging of a criminal. It shouldn’t have happened like this.

Was it only last week? Jordan remembered the smoke and light as the flash-bang grenades stunned him. He reached out towards his father while the secret police kicked his hand away. The muzzle that was pressed against his skin was a brutal reminder – follow the government line, or else.

Looking at the shuttle a little closer, Jordan could see the markings that denoted the habitation pod as well as the command and control module. The shuttle was headed for the terraforming project on mars. The cargo contained fresh supplies for the effort; food, water, and labour.

In the past, the thought of terraforming Mars had been outlandish. The costs involved would be astronomical, and the certain loss of human life inexcusable. That had all been true, up until a couple of years ago. In 2016, the G8 countries all passed laws within their countries which transferred custody of their prisoners to the World Space Agency. Suddenly the costs weren’t so astronomical.

Jordan’s family was poor, his parents proud. They didn’t borrow money, or beg from the food bank. They had enough to get by, without any extravagance. Jordan wished he hadn’t done it. It was just a loaf of bread; but it was enough.

“Thanks for taking the rap Dad. I’ll take care of Mom and Kim. I’m sorry.”

He reached into his pocket, and pressed the button that would set his father free.
 
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Kaladan

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Re: 300 WORD CHALLENGE -- No. 4 -- READ FIRST POST!!

Ascension

To observe the machine in operation was to witness a miracle of ancient technology, as much a step into the future as a step into the past. Over the centuries, pieces had been discovered and subsequently obtained. Items from all over the world; some seemingly banal objects, others revered artefacts, all taken from their rightful owners by the dread Crimson Legion.

Of the original five thousand Legionnaires, only seven hundred remained. They had crossed the globe to aid and behold Maeron Mentari's ascension.

The towering machine had come alive, glowing red veins and symbols burned with furious intensity, transforming the blizzard that engulfed the site into a brutal, raging fire storm.

Mentari smiled. A near millennia of searching, all for this moment. Villages were razed, cities crumbled and temples burned in the wake of the Legion.

Kneeling now, the men were basked in light as red as the blood they had bathed in for so long. Mentari stood alone, hands resting on his sword pommel. His mind shut out the ice-laden wind's fierce shriek as he waited for the mysteries of the past to fill his soul with their knowledge, their power.

Invisible to the others, Daroth laid a spectral hand on Mentari's shoulder.

"The prophecy is almost complete. The Astral'aar is awakened," he hissed, "and it seeks the Legion's exalted. Nervous? Hehe."

Mentari's tattered armour fluttered in the gale for a moment longer before the blizzard faded away, along with the eerie glow from the Astral'aar. A shaft of light saturated him; he smirked at the spirit.

"Ever doubtful, Daroth.".

Closing his eyes, Mentari enjoyed the light's warmth as he awaited his prize before unexpectedly bursting into a gory smear on the snow. Only his sword remained.

"Oh dear," Daroth cackled.
 
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Moonbat

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Re: 300 WORD CHALLENGE -- No. 4 -- READ FIRST POST!!

Which -cide are you on?

Some people mistakenly called it 'the saviour from the stars', it was anything but.


It changed the way we thought about ourselves, about our place in the universe, about what life can and should be. It had survived the void. It survived re-entry. It began to thrive in the Atacama desert. Peopled hailed it as a miracle, the military treated it as a monster.
A thousand philosophies disintegrated under one simple fact: survival. No small word, no small feat.


There was no place for sentiment, we fought our humanity for the sake of humanity. Our hesitation betrayed us, nature does not reward consideration. The most selfish gene will prevail.


Trapped and quarantined it was the duty of science to give us some understanding. We had no xeno-biologists, no xeno-behavioural scientists, what study could we do that would tell us anything meaningful about how this alien lived?


The job falls to me, I have learned much of this alien and so I am the delegated executioner. The injection is quick but the poison works slowly, it is a survivor and doesn't die gently. In a last ditch attempt at survival it births a thousand tiny spores, releases them on the wind, each one could spell doom for Earth, but we have taken precautions.


Maria comes to me and we stand close together, the spores fall around us like snow as we watch the alien's chances of survival evaporate in the dry desert air. The spores settle on the ground, they will not flower, theirs is failed birth. I have committed xenocide, possibly an extinction event. Will history remember me as a saviour or a monster?


She understands and we stand silent as the snow spores fall.
 

Ursa major

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Re: 300 WORD CHALLENGE -- No. 4 -- READ FIRST POST!!

The Rite of Winter


Progress was slow.

This year, we’d set off early, hoping to see the Lighting. At least that was what Gregor had told us to say if anyone asked why we were travelling in late January. As he’d given no other reason, this might have been true.

Gregor was a strange man. At times super-lucid, at others he’d be bull headed, driven by bitterness directed at the Apostles of Winter Air. He’d spent his childhood training to be an Acolyte, but had been discarded because, he’d said, they feared his insight. Perhaps. We feared his temper.

“If only they’d made their decision sooner.” Gregor spat at the ground, his frosted face twisted by rage.

Had he read my mind?

“I could’ve become a Collector,” he continued. “Or a Bearer. Even a Purifier.”

I tried hard not to think of what those Sacred roles involved. Collectors spent their every waking hour collecting Earth’s Tears, which seeped out so slowly, it was hard to believe that Mother Earth meant us to have them. And then, in an act verging on blasphemy, the Purifiers discarded most of it to make Cold Fire. This the Bearers brought to the Holy Place, for the Gods to mix with the Apostle’s Winter Air and drive Darkness away.

Ahead, a bright light shone.

“The Trinity,” Gregor shouted. “We’re too late!” He dropped to his knees and began pounding the frozen ground, all the while sobbing.

Too late for what? The Celestial Flames would last a fortnight.

My heart almost stopped. Had he wanted to steal some Cold Fire, some Winter Air? Had he, in his wickedness, sought the Everlasting Darkness that only the Gods can bestow?

We never found out. Gregor rose and ran towards the Trinity, shouting profanities, until an Acolyte’s arrow brought him down.
 

Dermit

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Re: 300 WORD CHALLENGE -- No. 4 -- READ FIRST POST!!

The End

The great ice was on the move and there was no more time.

I sat alone in the rocket's cockpit, darkness all around. So alone.

Jessica--lovely, barren Jessica--would stay and see to the launch. Someone had to
.
For this sad necessity she would die. Certainly. There was no food. There was no heat. Soon she would starve or freeze and die.

I thought of the little knife I knew she kept strapped to her thigh, ever sharp, and I hoped she would not wait.

The rockets hummed to a start below me. Consoles lit up. Heat and light filled the cockpit with a false sense of energy, of life. Almost of hope.

But there was no hope, not truly. Too much had been lost.

Jessica was sure some had made it. So sure. Many had fled for the moon when the great ice first appeared, on rockets just like ours. Some must have made it. Of course they had. There would be females there, ones not left barren by the ravages of the plague that came in the wake of the ice. There would be children. Laughter.

She believed this because she needed to believe. Without it her sacrifice, her death, was meaningless.

Poor, sweet Jessica.

I watched the sky as the rockets roared away beneath me, the final, defiant roar of a dying god.

The stars leapt. The moon grew to fill my vision, a beautiful silver circle glowing bright against the darkness beyond. So beautiful.

There could be life there, truly. Some could have made it. There could be children.

Then the roar of the engines beneath me sickened, sputtered, died. The rocket slowed, began to fall.

I watched as the Earth rushed up to meet me, and I wept for what was lost.
 
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