Re-entry (Flash Fiction)

The boarding call for Earth sounded over the speakers, and Bob moved from the large observation window over to the boarding area. The attendant, a young blonde with a beautiful smile, scanned his face and said thank you when the screen turned green. The transport back to the surface was undersold with half of the seats still available, and he was told by another attendant, yet another blonde, that he was free to sit anywhere he liked. He glanced around and saw that most travelers were alone and opting for window seats. He did the same. The pilot for the transport made a few brief jokes, they detached from the space station and were underway.

As they moved away from the station, Bob’s view was slowly exposed to the planet below, that big blue orb called home. “Home,” he said, as if saying a word from another language. For two years on the surface on Mars, the word home had taken many shapes, colors, and textures. Home was a single bed in an underground bunker on the frontier ranges of the Mars Mining Colony, filled with dust and artificial sunlight. Home was a picture from a magazine taped to the wall next to a framed photo of family members left behind. Home was a place to get a great burger or get laid on a Friday night or lose your temper watching the game in real time. It was where the heart was. It was where the beer was, and the women, and the air that wasn’t recycled from canisters, and food that wasn’t freeze-dried for transport across millions of miles of nothing. Home was the island of safety from the empty, silent void of space.

And now home was floating outside of his very window. Not a high-def image on a screen or a movie or a vacation getaway commercial with lush trees and white beaches. It was there. Right there.

The transport engines powered up and the small vessel began to emit a low hum. They made a long curve and for a brief moment the sun peaked out from over the horizon like a burning diamond. Once their trajectory was established, they began to descend. As they did, the sun was once again blocked out. The pilot commented on the protocol for re-entry, and soon the protective dampers over the windows were closed.

A low roar took to the craft as heat and friction ate at the transport. There were no concerns or alarms. All part of a normal re-entry. But as Bob sat at his window, seeing the metal of the dampers begin to glow a dull orange, he felt a strange feeling come over him. He wasn’t ready. He had forgotten what it meant to be home. The transport vibrated, and Bob thought of all the things the pictures didn’t show. They didn’t show his arrest record or his messy divorce. They didn’t show the awkward feelings one had when returning to a place that used to be yours but had long since gone away. Time moved on. People moved on. Life moved on. There was no brochure to advertise what it was like to drive down your old childhood street and see a random family living in the house where your own family used to be. There were no models in bikinis that could make a man want to hurry off and see the look of disappointment on his own son’s face when he reappeared for the first time in nearly thirty months, or the careful scorn of the ex-wife that the court ordered always be at least five hundred feet away.

The ride of the transport smoothed. The pilot mentioned something about the weather, and the shields over the windows were raised once more. A dark orb floated below them, lined with the jewelry of city lights along coastlines. Bob folded his arms and gave a nervous glare. “Home,” he said. “Home again.”

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