A Sprauling Family Saga

All Rights Reserved ©

(Part Four) Chapter 27

In northern Maine is a model of the Solar System, strung out along U.S. Route One between the towns of Houlton and Presque Isle. The model is to scale, one mile to one astronomical unit, or AU, the average distance between Earth and Sun. The sizes of the model planets are proportional to their distances from one another. The model was built by volunteers under the direction of an enterprising professor from the University of Maine at Presque Isle, with donated materials, and cost the taxpayers of Maine not a penny. According to some sources, it’s the largest such model in the Western Hemisphere.

Neptune and Uranus are each slightly larger than a beach ball, perched on posts driven into the ground at two wide spots in the road ten miles apart. Saturn merits its own rest area, and giant Jupiter lords over a potato field. The professor’s volunteers expended most of their artistic effort on the two largest planets: Saturn and its rings and Jupiter with its great red spot and colorful bands of swirling gas. At scale the four inner planets resemble a collection of softballs and baseballs and golf balls near the University entrance. The Sun is in the foyer of the UMPI information center – one limb of it, anyway, because at scale the whole Sun would not fit into the building.

The model was built years after the Voyager 2 flybys of Uranus and Neptune in 1986 and 1989. The students who painted the outer planets used images from the spacecraft to guide their work. But what remains most impressive about the model is its scale. The planets are small and the distances between them vast. Their retinues of moons, save for our own and the four large Galilean satellites of Jupiter, aren’t included in the model at all.

The viewpoint on the drive north is that of an alien race entering the Solar System from the outside, from interstellar space, encountering the outer planets first. On the return trip, the point of view is Voyager’s. The distance between each successive world and the next increases, and one gains a sense of the spacecraft’s lonely mission. The gulf between Saturn and Uranus is nearly as large as the space between Saturn and the Sun. But that inner space is filled with the worlds humans have known since antiquity. Uranus looms on the outer edge of naked-eye visibility, 18 astronomical units from the Sun. It was not recognized as a planet until 1781, just 200 years before Voyager 2 passed Saturn and headed from the familiar into the unknown.

Jeremy Sprauling had never seen Maine’s model of the Solar System. In fact, he had never been to Aroostook County, the landlocked rooftop of a state famous for its coast. By the time the model was built he had moved three thousand miles away, one hundred times farther than Neptune from the Sun in the model. It was small comfort to know that the next closest star, Proxima Centauri, would at the scale of the model be on the Moon. He was still, cosmologically, close to home.

By January 1986 Jeremy had been scrutinizing Uranus and its system of small moons for nearly three years, first for his master’s thesis at San Diego State and then for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, which built and guided the two Voyagers. Years later his mother would mail him clippings about the model from Down East magazine and the Maine Sunday Telegram, and his sister Joanie would send him pictures of the trip she and Carol took up north to see the planets in person. But Jeremy didn’t need to see a scaled-to-size representation. He’d had a front-row seat for the real thing: the first encounter with this distant, mysterious world, four and a half years’ flying time from Saturn for the fastest machine ever built.

Sometimes he wanted to pinch himself. At twenty-eight, he was getting paid to peer into space, and he was involved, even if only in a minor capacity, in one of the great adventures of all time. The mission specialists directing Voyager 2 needed an accurate accounting of where the moons would be when the spacecraft stabbed through the system, and precise measurements of the planet’s mass in order to use its gravitational field to direct it toward Neptune. Some of his colleagues got to junket to Hawaii and Chile and Australia to observe the planet, but Jeremy was one of a small cadre of recent graduates who mostly crunched numbers. He spent an occasional night up at the observatory on Mount Laguna, but most days found him hunched over a computer, feeding data to a phalanx of software programs that ran the actual calculations.

Uranus, as any schoolchild with a passing interest in astronomy knows, is unique among the planets because it’s tipped over on its side, its equator nearly perpendicular to the plane of its orbit. The most likely explanation is that a collision with a large object during the formative stages of the Solar System knocked it over. The five major moons orbit the planet’s equator, which meant that Voyager would fly past them like a bullet fired through a paper target.

Most worlds in the Solar System are named for figures from Greek or Norse mythology, but the names of Uranus’s known moons came from Shakespeare and Alexander Pope: Miranda, Ariel, Umbriel, Titania and Oberon. Though Voyager’s cameras would photograph all of them, they could get a close-up view of only one: Miranda, the smallest and innermost of this odd world’s known companions.

Even the best telescopic images showed Uranus as a featureless blob, with nothing of Jupiter’s banded coloring or Saturn’s more subtle shades. The planet was the same blue-green all over. It was so featureless that astronomers had only an approximation of its period of rotation. They couldn’t even agree on the correct pronunciation.

Jeremy, of course, had heard all the jokes – “We’re sending a probe to your anus” – and like most people in his profession preferred to place the accent on the first syllable: YUR-a-ness. That is, until he met Bernie Overton, a good old boy from Oklahoma with a locker room sense of humor. Six-foot-five and pudgy, with a shock of curly black hair and a thick pair of Buddy Holly glasses, he looked and sounded like a yokel until he started talking about vectors and differential equations. One night after a few beers at a popular bar near the JPL where space geeks congregated after work, he declared that “your anus” was the perfect name for a planet that lay on its side. “Think about it,” he said. “The other planets either stand upright, like Jupiter and Venus, or they lean over, but not too much, like Earth and Mars and Saturn. Like they’re looking out a window for a better view, or bowing politely to someone. But Uranus rolls around on the floor like a slut. It’s a bent-over planet, begging to be butt-fucked.”

Jeremy had blown beer out of his nose when Bernie said this, and had called it “your anus” ever since.

Much had changed for Jeremy in four and a half years. He had a master’s degree and a professional job. He had a wife and a young daughter. And he was living in Southern California, a place that he had known more as myth than reality until his mother had handed him Bonnie’s letter at his sister’s wedding reception, the same month Voyager 2 had sailed past Saturn.

At first it had been bliss. Bonnie had recently split with another husband (he was two for two in breaking up her marriages) and rented an apartment in a beach community just north of San Diego. He’d gotten a job almost immediately, working at a store that sold telescopes and microscopes and other scientific equipment. One of the first road trips they’d taken was to the famous Palomar Observatory, home to what had once been the world’s largest telescope. She had helped him buy a car, a well-used but still reliable Toyota Corolla that he had only recently replaced, and encouraged him to go back to school. But Bonnie was a Maine girl who wanted to live in the country. Shortly after he’d enrolled in the graduate astronomy program at San Diego State, she found a secluded house in Descanso, a small town up in the mountains, and insisted that they move there. It was close to the observatory on Mount Laguna, she had argued, and the stars in the dry air outside the city were spectacular. Jeremy had liked living at the beach but went along. It was the first of their disagreements.

She was already pregnant. They were married by a priest in front of two witnesses (a married couple who had been friends with Bonnie and her former husband) at the end of the pier in Ocean Beach on a Sunday morning. Andromeda was born barely five months later. Had she been a boy, Jeremy had wanted to name him “Galileo.”

They had been mostly broke during those first couple of years, and had the kinds of money arguments struggling young couples have. But Bonnie was in her thirties and harbored expectations, and Jeremy, who had never set up house with a woman before, fell short of most of them. He didn’t make enough money. He was seldom home, and on many evenings after a long day of school and work, he was too tired for sex. When Andromeda turned two, Bonnie put her in day care and took a part-time job at an antique store, which helped with the money but not with the relationship. She began carping about his chosen career, telling him his head was in the stars when he should have been focused on his family. Mornings when he returned from a night at the observatory to a crying child and a cranky wife were often tense.

Still, he hung in and got his degree and then a job, and now he was working on the Voyager mission – living the dream, he thought, with a tinge of anguish, as he drove between Pasadena and the mountains east of San Diego, often in the wee hours of the night to avoid the worst of the traffic. He found a cheap motel to stay at when work required him to spend several consecutive days up there, and though Bonnie chafed at his frequent absences, she came out of her crabbiness often enough that they rekindled some of the fire of their earlier, illicit romance. They took a vacation Back East to see his family. Jeremy’s mother cooed over Andromeda, and the family accepted Bonnie as one of their own, despite the couple’s past.

But as the Uranus encounter approached, he was required to spend more time at the JPL, leaving Bonnie alone with three-year-old Andromeda, sometimes for long stretches of days. Jeremy knew that she drank when he was gone. She drank when they were together. He was known to toss back a few beers after work, and for the first couple of years he passed off her occasional excesses as simply that – a few too many in the pursuit of fun. But there were times when he came home to a crying baby in need of a diaper change, and a despondent wife on the couch in front of the television, a bottle and a glass on the table beside her, and a stack of unwashed dishes in the sink. At other times she turned surly and mean. Jeremy began to realize that Bonnie had a drinking problem, and he began to suspect it was tied to something else, something deep-seated and disturbing. He came from a family of drinkers, but he had zero experience with mental illness. Though he chastised her for her binges, and arguments often ensued, he wondered if her drinking was the cause of her problems, or a symptom of them. He still caught glimpses of the young woman he had fallen in love with in his teens, but that girl grew increasingly hard to find beneath the layers of anxiety brought on by the stresses of everyday adult life.

And so he began spending more time away from home, though he doted on his daughter, who had Bonnie’s blue eyes and whose first word, uttered before her first birthday, was “Daddy.” When he was home he carried her around the small town on his back and took her to the community playground, where she watched the big kids swing on the monkey bars and clamber over the jungle gym. Now that she was older they could walk down to the playground together, Andi’s tiny hand in his, and their neighbors stopped to say hello and tell him how nice it was to see a father spending time with his little girl. He, to his own surprise, loved being a father. The pain in his life was that everyone seemed to praise him for it except his wife.

“You’re the horse and I’m the cow,” Bonnie told him. “You’re fast and exciting. I’m slow and comfortable.” She had said it with a smile on her face, but it was one of those observations with an edge that he had come to anticipate. Though Bonnie professed to love living in the mountains, in a rural town where everyone knew everyone else, Jeremy thought that she resented him a bit for being out in the world, involved and engaged in the exploration of the Solar System, while she stayed home with a toddler.

By the end of 1985 Voyager was sending back images of Uranus at greater resolution than any Earth-based telescopes. Still the disc of the planet refused to show any detail. Jeremy and his colleagues painstakingly tracked the movements of the moons and supplied the data to the navigators who directed the spacecraft. He tried to call home every day but sometimes he forgot. Bonnie was often drunk when he called. But he liked talking to Andromeda, and when he went home he seldom forgot to bring her a space-related gift: a mobile of the planets, a tee shirt displaying the night sky, or a beach ball that looked like Jupiter. Caught up in the excitement of exploring a new frontier, he sometimes didn’t make it home for an entire week. Bonnie complained, and they had arguments, but what did she expect him to do, commute more than a hundred miles each way? It was her fault for wanting to live out in the mountains instead of someplace closer to his job. If he had wanted to live in the boonies, he had grumbled to her more than once, he would have stayed in Maine.

The holidays passed in an atmosphere of subdued tension, kept at bay by their shared desire not to upset their child and a few days off for Jeremy. Bonnie wanted to keep the tree up through Twelfth Night. On the second day of the year, Jeremy kissed his wife and daughter goodbye and headed back to Pasadena. The most important month of his young career awaited him. In three weeks, all his observations and calculations would be tested. If Voyager made it past Uranus and its moons intact and on course for Neptune, it would be at least partially due to the long nights and long hours he had put in.

They didn’t take the tree down until mid-month, when Jeremy was home for another three days. He was happy to help her put away the decorations and vacuum up the pine needles, and she seemed grateful for the help – until he accidentally dropped one of her favorite glass ornaments, shattering it on the hardwood floor. He hadn’t done it on purpose, of course, but Bonnie got mad, and dashed one of his against the wall in revenge. The memory of his stepfather doing the same thing in his mother’s kitchen came back to him. He told her he would buy her another glass angel, and though she snapped that it wouldn’t be the same, the promise prevented her from smashing anything else. But the tension between them remained, and he was glad to get back to work.

Even in 1986, few women worked in space science. The after-hours gatherings at the bar were almost exclusively male. The talk often turned to sex, specifically, sex in space. Bernie Overton opined that Sally Ride had been chosen to be the first American woman in space on the basis of her name. “It gives a whole new meaning to that song,” he said. “Ride, Sally Ride. They’ve got to experiment. Nobody’s gonna volunteer for a Mars mission if it means three years of celibacy.”

“Yeah,” said Sewall Chason, an expert in orbital mechanics who favored thin neckties bearing mathematical equations. “That teacher they’re sending up – what do you suppose is the real reason? She’s not bad-looking, for an older broad with a couple of kids.”

“I’d do her,” Bernie declared. “Especially in zero-gee.”

“She’s married,” Jeremy objected. And, he thought but did not say, only a couple of years older than Bonnie.

“So what?” Bernie said. “So are you, and how much are you getting lately?”

Jeremy looked into his beer and said nothing. Who was he, after all, to pass judgment on the morality of extramarital sex? But Bernie’s comment hit close to home. Bonnie was down there in Descanso, spending more nights than not without him. Who knew what might be happening when he wasn’t around? He tried not to think about it.

“Weightless fucking’s gotta be awesome,” Bernie went on. “Especially for a big galoot like me. Hell, why are they sending up an elementary school teacher? They oughta send up a male astrophysicist, with six female astronauts. It’d be a test of endurance.”

“Yours or theirs?” Sewall said.

“Publicity stunt,” muttered Fred Crowley, another young astronomer on their team. Fred was from Ohio, which in California counted as the East Coast. It seemed to Jeremy that almost everyone he met in California was from somewhere else.

“Sex in space is a publicity stunt?” he said.

“No, Sherlock,” Fred said. “Putting a schoolteacher on the space shuttle is. And I think it’s an insult they’re doing it the week we fly past Uranus. They can’t wait a week, let us have our fifteen minutes?”

“Reagan hates planetary science,” Sewall Chason said. “He wanted to shut us down, remember?”

It was an ongoing argument, one Jeremy usually tried to avoid. Many of his colleagues thought the space shuttle an extravagant waste, a money pit that sucked funds from scientific missions like Voyager. But Jeremy saw it differently. Weaned on Gemini and Apollo and inspired by the novels of Arthur C. Clarke, who eschewed fantasies like faster-than-light travel and envisioned instead a near-future Solar System colonized by humans, he secretly rejoiced in every manned mission, no matter how banal. The planets and their moons were places, where people could eventually go. Voyager was an early ambassador to worlds human beings would come to know well in the decades and centuries to come. He hoped to live long enough to see the first manned mission to Mars. And from there, could the asteroid belt and the Galilean satellites of Jupiter be far behind? Pure science was fine; more than that, it was necessary, but explorers provided the inspiration that led to great accomplishments and new knowledge. Would the world remember Edmund Hillary, or the anonymous mathematicians who calculated the elevation of Everest from below? When Christa McAuliffe returned to her seventh grade classroom in New Hampshire, she might inspire some kid to go to Mars, or to find a practical way to get there. Jeremy thought it money well spent.

But he understood the resentment. The space shuttle got the money and the headlines, while worthy follow-up missions to Voyager languished on the drawing board. His job depended on the availability of tax dollars for space science. A space bus to low Earth orbit did not require astronomers.

“Yeah, well, I’ll bet the Voyagers will still be sending back data long after Ronald Reagan is dust,” Fred Crowley quipped, “even if there’s no intelligent life left here to receive it.”

Jeremy said nothing. He wasn’t a Reagan fan, but he hadn’t even bothered to vote in the last election. He didn’t like politics. Politics led to arguments, and he had enough of those at home.

Excitement had been building in anticipation of the encounter. Closest approach to the planet would take place on January 24, a Saturday; Jeremy had told Bonnie he would not be home that weekend. Though Uranus stubbornly refused to offer up much detail, Voyager had already found several new small moons inside the orbit of Miranda. The imaging team was now looking closely at the planet’s dark, wispy rings, so dim that they had been discovered from Earth only a decade ago, when Uranus occulted a star. The rings were worrisome, because no one knew how far out from the planet they extended, and the tiniest bit of cosmic rubble could ruin the spacecraft. But at this point there was nothing they could do but hold their collective breath and hope for the best. To stay on course for Neptune, Voyager needed to fly through a window a mere 300 kilometers wide, at a distance of two billion kilometers, an epic piece of needle-threading akin to throwing a strike over home plate in Dodger Stadium from the pitcher’s mound in Fenway Park.

Jeremy’s small contribution to the success or failure of the flyby was finished; he and his fellow astronomers were already turning their attention to Neptune, whose moment in the spotlight lay three and a half years in the future. But there was no way he was going to miss out on being at the JPL for the first close-up images of a new set of worlds. He and his young colleagues knew that if Voyager failed to hit its window, they would shortly need to look for other jobs. That was not the uppermost thought on his mind, or, he guessed, on anybody else’s. They were too caught up in the coolness of it all. Here was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to vicariously – and, to be sure, boldly – go where no man had gone before.

Voyager did not disappoint. Because of the system’s sideways orientation, the encounter lasted only a few hours. Though the planet remained visually bland, Voyager’s instruments streamed back information on its magnetic field, its atmospheric composition, and the tiny shepherd moons that held the tenuous rings in their orbits. Slowly, line-by-line, images of the five major moons appeared on the big screen. All were dark and differed from one another in detail. None was as large as Earth’s moon; the smallest of them, Miranda, was a mere 300 kilometers in diameter. But Miranda stole the show.

Voyager flew past at a distance of just 29,000 kilometers, its closest approach to any world since liftoff. The first images drew collective gasps from the assembled scientists, for it was like nothing they had ever seen before. Here was a moon that looked like it had been slapped together carelessly by a kid with several different consistencies of clay. Grooved terrain abutted fields of craters; deep canyons stood cheek to cheek with lumpy moguls. By the end of the first evening, the planetary geologists were theorizing that the small moon had been shattered by a massive impact and reassembled itself, maybe more than once. Jeremy thought “Miranda” would make a fine name for a daughter, should he and Bonnie have another child.

He barely slept all weekend. Mornings found him in his hotel room, with a twinge of a hangover, eager to get in and out of the shower and over to the JPL to see what new images had come in overnight. He called Bonnie a couple of times to share his excitement, and for once she seemed responsive. “I’m happy for you, darling,” she told him on Sunday night, when he reported that the spacecraft had safely passed the planet. “You’ve put an awful lot of work into this.”

“Me and a thousand other people,” Jeremy said, pleased by the praise despite the effort at modesty. “Some of these guys have been here twenty years or more. I’m the new kid in town.”

He was due for some time off, which ought to make her happy. He told her he would leave Pasadena on Tuesday, in the early morning hours. On Monday night he shared a final round of beers with Bernie and the regular gang. The mood was triumphant. Back in his room, he packed his few belongings, set the alarm for six, and was in bed before midnight.

He was on the road by seven, after a quick shower and two cups of coffee in the room. He left a twenty on the bedside table for the housekeeper, a shy young Mexican woman named Rose who had come to like him, because during his extended stays she only had to clean the room once or twice a week, and because he left the Time and Newsweek magazines he liked to read at night behind for her, and she had told him they were helping her improve her English. She brought him real half-and-half for his coffee instead of the powdered chemical stuff management supplied for the other rooms. He would not be guaranteed the same room when he came back, but they would hold it for him if he called ahead – a room on the corner, at the quiet side of the motel, with two windows instead of one. He had begun to think of it as his home away from home.

Traffic was moderate and mostly headed the other way until Pomona, and then it thinned out and moved unimpeded at 65 miles an hour. He had learned from bitter experience to take the inland route, away from the busy Anaheim corridor and the stop-and-go traffic that plagued most of the highways in Orange County for much of the day. He stopped at a gas station in Corona for a bathroom break and a breakfast burrito and a cup of coffee to go. He did not listen to the radio. Bonnie had given him Bob Dylan’s Biograph for Christmas, a compilation of career highlights, hits and alternative versions and previously unreleased songs on three cassettes, which would last him all the way home and then some. The day was clear and cloudless and a comfortable sixty degrees – a gorgeous winter day in Southern California. He had been here three and a half years now, and still had not found cause to complain about the weather.

The sunshine inspired him to leave the freeway at Temecula and take the scenic route through the mountains. It was faster to continue on down to Escondido, cut across through Poway and Lakeside and then up to Descanso on the 8 (he still wasn’t used to the way Californians inserted the definite article before the numbers of Interstate highways), but he had discovered the backcountry and enjoyed the drive more. The two-lane road climbed gradually through avocado groves and Indian reservations, and up into hillside boulders and cacti, past the tiny crossroads settlement of Aguanga, where another highway split off toward Anza and Palm Desert and Indio, and, if one kept driving for a week or so, Maine. He aimed the car south instead, through the small high-desert resort of Warner Springs, and along the back flank of Mount Palomar. Looking off to his right, he could see the bright white domes of the observatory buildings along the ridge of the famous mountain. He had been lucky enough to spend a few nights up there, and he recalled the glossy astronomy books of his youth, with photographs of Jupiter and Saturn taken with the Hale 200-inch reflector. The land up here was mostly open cow pasture, green at this time of year with the periodic rains and occasional snow. He recalled his astonishment the first time he had seen snow in Southern California. It only snowed in the mountains, and it melted vertically, from bottom to top, so that one could watch a horizontal snow line recede up a slope like a curtain going up for a play. He hadn’t expected snow near San Diego, and he laughed the first time he saw snow in Descanso and people shoveling it into the back of their pickup trucks to take it back to the city before it melted.

Soon he was in Santa Ysabel, where he turned left and climbed another thousand feet in seven miles to the old gold mining town of Julian. It looked like a mining town, with a Main Street on which one could easily imagine a shootout at high noon, though its primary businesses now were apple orchards and picture postcards. There was a mine still in semi-operation; he and Bonnie had taken a guided tour of it once. But as he was discovering in Descanso, one small town was very much like another, whether on the coast of Maine or in the mountains that backdropped the cities of Southern California. He was up above four thousand feet now, and the air had cooled; he rolled up his window as Bob Dylan sang about the Caribbean wind blowing from Nassau to Mexico. The last half-hour of his drive took him through Cuyamaca State Park, past centuries-old oaks and gnarled manzanitas, and as he emerged from the park he opened the window a bit and breathed in the aroma of sage. The west coast smelled different than the east – newer somehow, more direct and less complicated. When he pulled into his driveway next to Bonnie’s car, he felt happy and relaxed, ready to be home.

As soon as he opened the door, he knew something was wrong. Andromeda’s toys lay scattered around the small central living room, but she wasn’t playing with them. The child was curled up in the faded green armchair he had bought last year at a yard sale, her little arms wrapped around the stuffed lamb that was her favorite companion, a worried expression on her face, her eyes wide and wary, watching her mother. Bonnie was on the rattan sofa, sitting forward, watching television. Jeremy could see that she had been crying. In front of her on the coffee table stood a glass of white wine and a bottle. A news program was on TV, and the news had something to do with Cape Canaveral and the space shuttle. Bonnie looked up at him, the corners of her mouth drawn down, her eyes red-rimmed sockets. “You!” she spat at him.

“Bonnie, what’s the matter?” In the excitement over the Uranus encounter, Jeremy had forgotten all about the shuttle and the first civilian to fly on it.

“You don’t know?” He could see that she had gotten a good start on the bottle. She didn’t often drink in the morning. She was upset, and so was Andromeda.

“I’ve been in the car.” He looked at his daughter, who normally would have been out of her chair for a hug and a kiss the moment she saw him. “Hi, honey,” he said. But the little girl just stared. He glanced into the kitchen, which was a mess, and then at his wife. On the TV, a news man in a tie was superimposed over a picture of Mission Control in Houston; Jeremy had never been there, but he had seen it on television a hundred times since childhood. Today it looked different somehow.

“It blew up!” Bonnie screamed at him. “I watched it happen. One minute it was rising into space, and the next – Boom!” She gesticulated with her arms; wine sloshed out of the glass she held in one hand and onto the sofa cushions.

“What? The teacher…”

“Dead!” Bonnie cried. “She’s dead, Jeremy. They’re all dead. They’re in a bazillion little pieces, floating in the ocean.”

“What?” he said again, too stupefied to say anything else. He set down his suitcase and moved toward her, his eyes and ears on the television. He felt sick. He lowered himself to the couch, and reached for his wife’s hand. But she scooted away from him.

“Don’t touch me,” she said.

“Bonnie, I…” But here was the video, showing a normal liftoff at first. He watched in morbid fascination and then mute horror as a fireball engulfed the external liquid-fuel tank and the shuttle itself, and the trail of exhaust billowed, bifurcated and then began to disintegrate. How many times had they replayed it already? And how many more times would a traumatized American public see it over the next few days and weeks? It looks like the wisps of smoke that float down to Earth in the wake of exploding fireworks. But this was no Fourth of July celebration. To Jeremy it felt like the end of the world.

And he knew, in that moment, that fairly or unfairly, everyone with a stake in space would be affected by this disaster. A selfish thought, but it surfaced, unbidden: how many scientific missions to the planets would the American public support now? Would the entire space program come crashing down, now that the lives of six astronauts and one seventh-grade teacher had been snuffed out on national television?

“Oh my God,” he said, in a voice that sounded small and far away to his own ears. “Oh my God.”

He reached toward Bonnie again, but her eyes flamed at him. “Those poor girls,” she said, “are never going to see their mother again. All because somebody thought it was a good idea to put her on top of a rocket. It was only a matter of time before they killed someone. But why’d it have to be her? Why her?” She buried her face in her hands and sobbed.

He touched her shoulder. She knocked his hand away with such force that the wine glass tipped over, spilling on the table. She grabbed the glass and the bottle and stood up, moved to the other side of the room. Jeremy saw his daughter clutch the stuffed lamb more tightly to her chest.

Bonnie poured another glass of wine; some of it sloshed over her hand and dripped onto the floor. Her eyes were terrible to look at. “It’s your fault,” she hurled at him. He had never seen her look at him that way before, not even in the worst of their fights. “You’re just as guilty as the rest of them – you and all your space-happy friends. You all killed her. You’re all a bunch of murderers.”

Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered book publisher, offering an online community for talented authors and book lovers. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books you love the most based on crowd wisdom.