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Balthazar's Legacy by Jordan Lanni
SUMMARY: A man looses his best friend and is faced with an important decision. My entry to the January flash fiction competition, theme is "choice."
Blair Tural sat alone in the board room overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, the seats still warm from their recent vacancy by the chairmen of the Board. The men and women had left in a huff, greatly displeased with him. The sea was calm for once – now if only he could say the same for his mind. Like everyone else, he had seen the explosion of the _Horizon Alpha_ moments after launch, except he saw it from three hundred feet away while most everyone else saw it on national television. Three men and three women sent on a noble mission to lead the colonization of the Moon were gone in an instant. Not even the bodies remained, he remembered.
Not even that of his best friend, Jim Balthazar, who had beaten him out for this very mission. He was gone, leaving a wife and three children. Those kids would grow up loving space as much as their father, but Blair hoped this didn't scare them away from space travel forever. It was the future, every astronaut knew that.
He rubbed his creased, freckled forehead with a rough hand. Years of station construction and precise movements with small tools in zero g were beginning to show in the form of nubby, dry knuckles.
Was he afraid to get into space now? Impossible, he had clocked too many space hours. Was it his close friendship with Jim? That man taught him the ropes in his days as a young punk itching to get to space, he practically owed his career to Jim. Or had their places been switched, which was a distinct possibility, he would be dead right now and yet he was allowed the right to live on in Jim's stead?
He mused at the idea of an alternate dimension wherein that happened, but the ever-changing science of cosmology, answering questions with questions gave him a headache. He preferred the real world of engineering and planning station expansion. And the sea, a very real thing, was so calm.
Blair reflected on his last conversation with Jim, the night before the launch. "Don't worry about it, they'll send you soon enough. You're too valuable to keep on Earth, we need you up there."
Blair sighed. "You're right, Jim, as usual. I wish you luck. Shoot me a wave after you're in orbit."
Jim laughed. "No problem. I'm honored, I just hope I live up to their expectations..."
His mind returned to the sea. Of course he felt some jealousy over the choice, no one wants to be beaten, it's human nature. He wanted that mission as much as the next guy, and he recognized that Jim's more distinguished career led to the decision.
He looked at the empty seats, and he could envision the Missions Specialist, Albert Fisk, bullying him. The stout man with brown, hooded beads for eyes and a megaphone for a voice should have been a drill sergeant. "You've been assigned to the _Horizon Beta,_ Tural. We can't delay the mission any longer. The expenses are increasing, the base needs leaders. We need you in orbit by tomorrow so heave yourself out of your pity party already, this is all proper procedure. "
Blair had leaned over the table top. "Put yourselves in my position – I'm the second-choice, the guy you passed over, and now you're praising me.