Space In His Heart - Roxanne St. Claire

Roxanne St. Claire - Space In His Heart

Space In His Heart
Roxanne St. Claire



July 8, 2011

Merritt Island, Florida

Normally, a cloudy day in July was blessing in Florida, a reprieve from the relentless sun and oppressive heat. Today, the sheer white film across the summer sky only meant bad news for Jessica Marlowe. She wouldn’t see more than a brief glimpse of the shuttle Atlantis as it took off for the final mission in space.

Disappointment pressed on her heart, real enough to cause a physical ache. Maybe she should have gone to Kennedy and braved the crowds to sit in the VIP section with those she held dear, just to witness the majesty of a space shuttle launch up close one last time. Maybe it would have been worth the risk.

But common sense had prevailed. No doubt she would’ve cried, and she was enough of an emotional wreck without something like the final launch to put her over the edge. The ache in her chest pushed harder, like a weight on her solar plexus, a reminder of what was about to happen, how her world was about to change one more time.

Funny how you make plans… and God has a little chuckle at your expense.

Glancing inside the house, she squinted at the muted TV, a picture of Atlantis on the launch pad, billows of steam and smoke surrounding four and a half million pounds of rocket power. In the corner, the countdown clock ticked to T-minus four minutes. No one had to tell Jess what that meant: the crew would close and lock their visors now.

Though there certainly was a time when she had no idea what T-minus anything meant.

At that thought, she touched her queasy belly. It was the launch, of course. Every takeoff terrified her, ever since the first one she’d seen twelve years earlier. Each time the countdown clock started ticking, she feared for someone’s life, for the loss of a dear friend, a respected colleague or… worse.

So she tried only to think about the miracle of how they got up there, stayed up there, learned and lived up there and then came home.

A miracle that happened almost every time. Almost.

No surprise, the beach outside her second-story balcony was jammed with tourists and space fans gathered at one of the area’s best launch-viewing sites. Her gaze drifted past the crowd to the gunmetal-gray ocean, then north to Kennedy Space Center, a sprawling complex of science and hope, filled with men and women who lived, breathed… and died… for their dream of exploring space.

A roar from the beach crowd pulled her attention back to the TV to check the clock. T-minus thirty seconds. The onboard computers were taking over. More importantly, most every technological glitch had been conquered.

Launch was a go.

The pressure in her stomach suddenly shifted to stabbing pain, sharp enough to make her suck in a shocked breath. Lightheaded, she used the other hand to hold on to the railing.

“Whoa,” she whispered, shocked by the intensity of the pain. Gripping the railing for balance, she looked over her shoulder at the countdown clock. Sixteen seconds. They’d fire up the main engine in ten seconds.

All those lives on board…

A wave of dizziness threatened and she closed her eyes, swamped with memories so vivid she swore she could smell the burn of liquid hydrogen, the pungent stink of fuel and fury that hung in the air after a launch.

The crowd began to chant the numbers, loud and slow and perfectly in unison.

The sound reminded her of another launch, on a crystal-clear day full of promise and possibilities, her hands locked with two people she’d barely known then. But they’d shared a bond, a mutual love of their son. He knows what he’s doing, his father had said. Deke can fly anything.

Ten… nine…

The knife in her belly suddenly slid and cut deeper, making Jess whimper softly. Holy smokes, that hurt.

Eight… seven…

Two stories below, hundreds of people blurred in her vision, the roar of their counting barely getting through the throbbing beat of her pulse in her ears. Another agonizing fist punched low and hard, and her knees nearly buckled.

Six… five…

She backed into the house, momentarily blinded by the pain, grabbing for the metal rim of the sliding glass doors but missing, then stumbling awkwardly to the floor. Think, Jess, think. Where’s the cell phone?

Four… three…

Beads of sweat stung her forehead as she crawled to the table, slapping her hand over the phone. Shaky hands made dialing the number nearly impossible. She pressed