This story is by Tom Chambless and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Wendy made him want to leave and seek serenity in space, and luck helped him build the spaceship. Building it, he had gotten lucky twice.
Now his luck paid dividends. Obadiah Law pulled back the console throttle. The blasting thrust threw him back as the crystalline craft roared into the dark morning sky. After twelve minutes of continuous burn, the Luna entered the stratosphere heading east.
“Whoa! Will you look at this!” Ob said, facing Earth’s horizon and the rising sun. “It’s everything I expected.” Ob closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and exhaled. “This peace and solitude hit the spot, thousands of miles from Wendy. Getting to space makes the work worthwhile.”
Ob had developed his fusion engine from the metals of a giant meteor, his first luck. The strange, unstable metals fused into one another and never lost mass. They created tremendous heat. He formed the clear crystalline body from an acrylic he developed, more fortune. The clear dried resin could withstand temperatures well over five thousand degrees. He could mold it into any shape, and it weighed less than bird bones.
While working, he thought of Wendy. “How could Wendy expect so much of me?” Obadiah needed to get away from his wife before he exploded. Besides the heat, she motivated him to work nights in his machine shop. Everyone called him “Ob,” and his machine shop’s sign read Ob Precision Machine Works.
“I want peace,” Ob had said the day he completed the engine. “And this strange and wonderful rocket engine will take me there.” The computer steered the overhead cables holding the heavy tri-metal plate by magnets. It eased the plate into the engine and set the dense alien metal into its rectangular bed with a clunk. He mounted the rocket engine’s one big cone and test fired.
He smiled at his success while Luna orbited at an altitude of one hundred miles. She flew seventeen thousand miles per hour. “Wendy faulted me for things I should have done! She cried when I didn’t ask her how her day went. She expected me to read her mind about which question to ask! It’s like she invented things to blame on me!”
Ob kept ranting. “The way Wendy acted, a country guy like me had no feelings. Her perfect Daddy wore trimmed suits to an office and made tons of money. Who could compare with Mister friggin Frost?” Ob asked, wagging his head. “Those folks looked down on me. I needed to get away from them.”
“Screw Miss Wendy Frost, I’m going to Mars.”
Ob pushed a lever, and the wing’s stabilizers and spoilers rose. Small squares flipped along the wingspans revealing rows of dark blue solar panels. He flipped a switch, and solar panels turned along the fuselage and the elevator flaps.
“Switching from the battery to solar.” The power flicked, and solar power lit his instruments and interior, making Ob smile. He sighed and savored the enormous arc of Earth’s edge and the glow of its thin atmosphere.
In another half orbit, the computer would signal the engine to burn, sending Luna on a path toward Mars. “Ahhh! Four weeks at speed, neither NASA nor SpaceX ever dreamed. I’ll live with quiet reflection and nothing out the windows but silence and beauty. I’ll make history as the first man on Mars! Wait! I almost forgot.”
Ob touched an icon on his screen, and outside, a transmission disk rose on top of the glassy fuselage. It snapped in place and unfurled like a fan. “Radio communication with Earth, in case of problems.”
“Odd. The communication disk picked up a cell signal.”
Ting-a-ling-a-ling! Ob unzipped his spacesuit and reached into his jumpsuit pocket, retrieving his phone. “It’s Wendy,” he said.
“Wendy, why did you call so early in the morning?”
“I need you to go to the store for me right now,” she said and paused. “I need vanilla ice cream and Ritz crackers, and I need them bad!”
Ob snorted. “Well, it’s not like I can turn the car around, Wendy.” He couldn’t tell her about Mars. She would blow a gasket. At seventeen thousand miles per hour, Luna passed over India.
“Everything in the fridge makes me vomit, Obadiah! But if grinding and welding mean more to you than me, fine!” Wendy started crying.
Shit. Ob looked down at the Pacific Ocean, at the Mariana Islands, through clear skies. He typed and called the burn trajectories, and they appeared on his heads-up display. He had three minutes until the engine fired, sending him to Mars. “Alright, Wendy, I’m going to do this one thing for you.”
“Okay, Obadiah,” she said sniffing.
Ob flipped the solar panels back and brought down the communication disk. He lowered the thrust reversers in place, slowing Luna. Ob slowed enough for re-entry and let Luna’s underside scrape into the atmosphere. He headed to California.
In Los Angeles, people screamed and ran as the hot crystal spacecraft landed in a strip mall parking lot. Ob ran into the store’s front door, and it dinged. He found her vanilla ice cream and grabbed a box of crackers. He ran past the checkout and threw the attendant a twenty, and out the door. In a few minutes, Ob landed the huge Luna in his big back yard.
He ran in the house, and Wendy met him in the laundry room, and he handed her the ice cream. “Thank you, Obadiah! Let me get a spoon! But they’re these guys in the living room in suits saying they’re from Homeland Security and the Space Force!”
“Shit!” Ob said.
“Shit?” Wendy asked, wide-eyed. Panicking, she snapped her head toward the living room.
“Yeah, shit,” Ob said. He grabbed her shoulders and spun her. “Get your spoon, and let’s go!” She nodded.
They rushed to the kitchen drawer, and she got a spoon. Ob snatched the box of crackers, and Wendy carried the ice cream in the crook of her arm as he pulled her out the back door. Two Space Force soldiers sprinted toward them, carrying rifles across their chests.
“They’re running!” a man yelled. He had Wendy’s hand as they ran and stumbled up Luna’s stairs.
“What’s this, Obadiah?”
Ob gave her a gentle push. “Get in, Wendy!”
“You’re under arrest!” the Homeland Security person said.
“Stop them!” an officer yelled.
The bullet ricocheted off Luna above the door, and Ob and Wendy ducked. Ob touched a console button, and the stairs closed as one Airman leaped, reached for the edge, but missed. Wendy sat in the seat next to him, and Ob fastened her belts. He sat and did the same. “Wendy, hold your food. We’re lifting off!”
“More soldiers!” She said.
“It’s okay, Wendy, we’re alright,” Ob said as the engine whined. “The bullets can’t penetrate the Luna. Nothing can pierce her, not even meteorites.” Ob pulled the throttle handle, and the massive spacecraft eased above the trees. They left the government men running and shouting.
Ignoring them, Ob rose Luna higher under low power. He gained enough altitude not to burn down the neighborhood. He told Wendy, “Hold on!” Ob fired the fusion rocket engine, sending them both back into their seats. In a few minutes, they entered orbit, and Wendy let go of her spoon. It floated in her face, and she laughed.
“Zero gravity,” Ob said, as he went to solar power and raised the communications disk. The radio blared, “Obadiah Law! The United States Space Force orders you to return to Earth at once!” Ob pressed a button, silencing the broadcast.
Wendy shrugged. “You won’t surrender.”
“No, Wendy. We have an engine burn in three minutes to push us out of orbit and into the computer’s trajectory. The computer sets the course according to Mars’ future position.”
“Do we sit here the whole time?”
“No, I’ll start the ship’s gravity once our bodies become comfortable to constant acceleration. Later, we’ll walk around, eat, and sleep. We’ll reach a hundred thousand miles per hour and arrive at Mars in four weeks.”
They paused and searched each other’s eyes in silence and weightlessness. “You had launched when I called,” Wendy said, wide-eyed.
Nodding, Ob stared at Earth’s horizon and turned back to her. He shook his head and said, “I left you.”
Wendy sighed, holding her ice cream spoon. She nodded with glassy, teary eyes. “You left us,” she said and sniffed. Wendy looked down at her belly, and her long brown hair flew crazy wild in zero gravity.
“A baby!” Ob said, smiling.
Correcting the course for Mars, the computer announced and paused. Engine firing in five, four, three, two, one. The blast threw them back into their seats.
Wendy faced him. “You’re happy about it?” Wendy asked, and her lip quivered.
“Happy? I’m lucky three times over!” Ob reached for Wendy, and they clasped hands as Luna hurtled into deep space.