Writing and Other Afflictions

"If it was easy, everyone would do it." –Jimmy Dugan, "A League of Their Own"

#11: All Time High

11. All Time High, Rita Coolidge (from Octopussy). Points to Rita Coolidge for saying, “No way am I putting that movie title in my song.” Points for making a great, catchy 80s ballad in a period when soaring ballads were the direction the Bond films were going in. Points subtracted for a song about which one of my friends said, “I didn’t realize this was a Bond song until I got the collection of Bond themes.” This was the last of a short series of Bond themes about how awesome Bond is in bed, and the weakest (the other two will be coming up in the top ten–are you excited? do you know what they are?).

Fiction: All Time High

In space, altitude has no meaning. Rocky had made his name as a pilot going higher and higher, taking aircraft so high their engines stopped working and they stalled out. When the Air Force discharged him, he was hired by the UN Council For The Development of Space to fly their low-level spacecraft. Rocky had taken those up into the thinnest layers of Earth’s atmosphere, and had balanced at both the Lagrange points between the Earth and the Moon, feeling the precarious equilibrium, looking in one direction and then the other, as high as he could get above two surfaces at once (because once he moved away from either, he felt, he was no longer “above” that surface, but above the one he would be falling toward).

Later he became the first man to pilot spacecraft into the Lagrange points between the Earth and the Sun, but here, he thought, he was not as high as he could get above the Sun. As spacecraft engines improved and life support systems allowed people to remain alive in them, Rocky kept agitating to fly above the elliptical plane of the solar system, to find the edge of the Sun’s gravity well and hang there, suspended above its roiling, incandescent surface, before falling back down.

That was altitude, in space: the edge of a gravity well. Rocky wanted to be that high, so far above that nothing could reach him or affect him unless he chose to tilt his spacecraft back, to catch the lip of the gravity well and ride it back down like God’s own roller coaster. There was no scientific reason to do this, so he had to steal a ship.

He might be going on seventy, but that just meant he could bluff his way into the docks on the space station. Launching a craft from space took far less fanfare than the multi-stage rockets needed to propel one away from Earth, and Rocky’s years of practice had left him fluent in spacecraft controls. It would take him six months, he calculated, to get to the edge of the Sun’s gravity well, but he could sleep for much of that time and the spacecraft would keep him alive.

He turned off the radio after the first ten minutes of flight. They could yammer at him to come back, but they wouldn’t come after him. How could you force someone to come back from space? He’d overridden the computer, so they couldn’t remotely control it, and in a few hours he’d be out of range anyway.

He missed his seventieth birthday. The computer woke him to a deep black void speckled with stars, the engines firing faintly now. Rocky turned and saw the sun, millions of miles below, barely large enough to distinguish without the ship’s assisted viewing screen. The lip of the gravity well approached…but there was another one on the readout. He frowned and queried the computer: what else could be tugging on the ship, from what vast distance?

The galaxy, of course. The Milky Way kept the solar system in check just as the Sun kept the Earth in check, and the Earth the Moon, and the Space Station, and so on. Rocky checked life support to be sure, though he knew there wouldn’t be enough to get him back to Earth, let alone where he wanted to go. Well, he was going to die out here anyway. Might as well die higher than anyone else had ever gone.

He programmed a course perpendicular to the galactic plane, upward and outward. “See you at the top,” he said, and grinned.

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