Hugo Moran hated outer space. He was by nature a nervous person, and found it difficult to not throw up as the tiny ship called "The Rita", on which he had booked passage, careened out of Earth's atmosphere and into the inky darkness. He was clutching his cat, Moriarty, whom was put into cryo-suspension, so as to not compound an already stressful situation. Hugo had considered doing the same for himself, so that he wouldn't have to deal with this rattling space-barge, (which was really more of an outhouse with thrusters on the back) but wasn't sure he could trust anyone to defrost him. He had booked this shuttle to take him into space, because it was cheap and he was hoping to save as much money as he could. He realized now that he should have gone with one of the government sponsored shuttles. The government companies were inefficient and slow, but they got you where you wanted to go…eventually. These privately owned spacecrafts, particularly ones as small as The Rita, were hard to regulate because, once you were up in space, it was buyer beware.
"You ever go into the black before?" yelled the pilot over the blaring engines.
"What?!" Hugo cried back. "The black! You know, SPACE?!" The pilot motioned out the front bay window as Hugo nodded furiously, "Once when I was kid! Mars! Right after it opened to the public!" Hugo caught himself relaxing a little at his poor attempt at small talk. It was then that he saw the shuttle's pilot take a bottle of whiskey out from under the console, unscrewing the top while licking his lips. The very thought that he had entrusted his journey to a man that was now drinking alcohol while piloting a spacecraft, made his stomach drop. The pilot offered the bottle to Hugo, while absentmindedly checking the atmospheric readouts. Because he was concentrating on his instruments, he was unable to see the horrified expression on his passenger's face.
The rattling of the shuttle increased and the sound of the thrusters became deafening. Hugo's vision became blurry and he thought that his ears may start bleeding. He plugged one ear with a finger and clutched Moriarty tight to his chest. Tears began to seep from his eyes as the roar of the ship pierced his brain. The sound was a low thrumming noise collaborating with a high pitched, skull-cracking scream. Just as he thought his head would implode, the sound suddenly stopped and became a rushing whisper. Hugo unplugged his ear and wiped the tears away from his face. He adjusted Moriarty to fit under his arm and looked out the portside window. "Beautiful" he whispered. Unaware that he's said anything at all. Below him, was the blue marble he had once called home.
The silence was broken when the pilot flicked a switch over his head, filling the spacecraft with the scratchy sounds of Hank Williams Lovesick Blues. "Where you from?" The pilot asked in a lazy drawl. "Denver." Hugo answered, "It's in Colorado." "Yeah, I know where Denver is, I have family that way. My uncle lives out by Berthoud." Hugo nodded, even though he had no idea where Berthoud was. "Where are you from?", Hugo returned after a pause. "Kansas." The pilot said, taking another swig off of his bottle. Hugo nodded his head again not knowing what to say. He had never been to Kansas and his only frame of reference regarding the state was from The Wizard of OZ. "What's your name?" The pilot asked, turning to the cabin and looking his passenger square in the eye. Hugo guessed he was around thirty years old, but well worn. His face had a smudge of grease above his eyebrow. He wore a sweat stained baseball cap with a tiger stitched on the front. He was rough, but seemed trustworthy. "Hugo. Hugo Moran", he answered extending his hand awkwardly toward the pilot. "Jenkins", the pilot replied, firmly grasping Hugo's sweaty hand. "Good to know you."
Jenkins reached into his front shirt pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. He shook one loose, putting the pack up to his lips and pulling it free. He flicked the steel lighter, bringing the flame up to the cigarette, inhaled deeply and then snapped the lighter shut. He exhaled the smoke from his nostrils and offered the pack of cigarettes to Hugo.
It had been three years since Hugo last had a cigarette. He used to smoke a pack a day, but due to the protests of his girlfriend, had quit. He prided himself on this decision, under duress though it may have been. He enjoyed the benefits of being a non-smoker, entry into restaurants, the ability to walk up a flight of stairs without wheezing. And he smugly enjoyed the concept of living longer than those who did smoke. He would be one of those 100 year old dynamos you see on Station 5, those elderly folks who run marathons. Mortality was indeed a factor in the habit, but then again so was going into space. As he thought a bit longer, Hugo realized, for the first time since making his decision to leave Earth, that he would likely never go back. He would probably die in space. This thought made him begin to sweat. He nodded his head and with a shaky hand pulled a cigarette from the cardboard box extended before him.
First he ran the cigarette sideways across his nose. The rich tones of tobacco made him think of the last one he's ever had. He put the cigarette between his lips and craned his neck to the steel lighter Jenkins had lit. He inhaled.
And it was after that long, beautiful drag on his first cigarette in three years, clutching his cryogenically frozen cat, rattling his way beyond the only world he'd ever known, that Hugo thought that his future wasn't terrible. And as Hugo exhaled the smoke he just pulled into his lungs, he felt his body tense and he threw up.