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art by Jonathan Westbrook


James Worrad lives in Leicester, England. He's recently graduated from the Clarion Writer's Workshop, UCSD, and is a member of the BSFA. There maybe other acronyms in his life but at present he can't recall them. James has a blog at jamesworrad.blogspot.com.

The man from NASA arrived the next morning. Walter Igwe met him at the crash site.
"The agency would like to thank you, Mr. Igwe," the NASA man said, "for your quick response." It was plain he wasn't used to the savannah's heat. His temples ran slick with sweat.
"It is nothing, sir," Walter said. "And my village offers the agency our condolences."
"Appreciated, Mr. Igwe." He brushed an insect from his nose. "But ultimately it's just a setback." He laughed. "Albeit an expensive one."
Walter hid his disgust. A man was dead. Their man. Was nothing sacred in America?
"The main section," Walter said. "Your capsule fell over there."
They made their way over scorched ground. Seeing the blackened capsule again, Walter recalled pulling the Astronaut out of it. It had taken much to haul the corpse from that impossibly cramped space. Walter had felt like a midwife, of sorts.
The spacesuit had been perfectly white, its NASA symbol immaculate. Walter had half-believed--had prayed--the astronaut still lived. Yet the visor was smashed and behind it lay roast flesh and bare teeth. Nothing to be done.
The NASA man spent the next two hours inspecting every piece of wreckage. He would look at some burnt device and mutter, "Write off," then move to the next.
Walter said nothing, but his hands were fists.
"You will come to the village now?" he asked the NASA man after he'd finished his inspection.
"I'd love to, really I would," he replied, "but they expect me back at your capital."
"But he's there, in my village. We have kept him in our refrigerator unit for you."
The NASA man's brow crumpled.
"I don't get you," he said.
"Damn it, sir! Your man, your astronaut!"
"But, Mr. Igwe…" he gestured at the wreckage. "This is a satellite. It's unmanned."
The two men stared at one another. Save for the hum of insects, the world fell silent.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, January 26th, 2012

Author Comments

The bare bones of this tale leaped out at me as I walked home from a twelve hour night shift. Never underestimate the combined value of sleep deprivation, long strolls and a notebook about your person.

- James Luke Worrad
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