(Alternate words: Espresso, Effect, Ecumenopolis, Eldritch, Evidence, and Ending. Added to the list.)
The shuttle hangs barely a hundred yards away to my retrograde, cargo airlock still agape; the pilot’s nerves must surely be worn to shreds with the delay in this atmosphere-scraping orbit, even more than mine.
Time for another check-out. I punch for another round of diagnostics on suit, shield, and thrusters, reciting the mnemonics. Suit integrity, blue. Cerametal oversuit integrity, blue. Oxygen, blue. Regenerator-scrubber, blue. Liquid cooling systems, blue. Heat sink, blue. Communications circuits, blue. Cold-gas thrusters, blue on diagnostics, blue on pressure. Drogue chute, blue. Main chute, blue. Shield integrity and strain, blue…
I resist the urge to unlock the foot couples and do another visual inspection of the shield. I’ve already checked it over the regulation thrice and once more for good fortune. I bounce some terahertz rays off it instead, and no weak spots show up. Any more than they did last time.
Count breaths. Nice and regular. I have this, dammit. Twelve simulations, no fatalities. I’m prepared. I glance up and down at the copper foil loosely wrapped over my suit. If I’m not, at least I’ll make a spectacular green fireball…
A voice breaks in. “Meteor One, this is Sialhaith Orbital. Acknowledge.”
“Sialhaith Orbital, Meteor One. Go.”
“Meteor One, net-zeps are in position and your window begins now. Commence entry at your discretion. Window closes in four point six minutes. Over.”
“Orbital, Meteor One. Commencing entry now. Clear.”
This is it. My navigation HUD lights up with trajectory plots, burn times, entry ptojections. I trigger the cold-gas thrusters with a thought and nitrogen hisses, shoving at my back as I drop lower in orbit. The shuttle’s ACS flickers overhead and lemon-yellow Sialhaith wheels below me as I reorient, getting the shield in position to feel the first touch of air and swift, sudden, roaring plasma shock.
Time to kiss the sky.