Day 122 – Orbital Errors

This one’s for Ully.



Word count: 1535



11.03am, New York, November 14th.



Taps dripping; over timers ticking; dishes clashing; two year old twins wailing and throwing food at each other; stressed mum yelling down the phone at her ex-husband begging for money; and the droning voice of the newsreader underpinning it all.


“A communications satellite is due to be decommissioned as it comes to the end of its natural life, the Space Federation have announced. The satellite, used for thirteen years for weather monitoring and which has helped produce vital statistics in climate change research, will be formally shut down on November 26th and is likely to fall somewhere over the Atlantic ocean. The Space Federation would like to reassure those on the East Coast that the chances of a land based collision are very slim… In the fraud trial between Morgan Lovett and the Bank of New York….”


“Listen, I don’t give a shit about how you got underpaid this month. You have two sons to feed – can’t you just remember them instead of arguing with me all the time? Oh yeah, that’s it hang up,” Misha threw down her cell phone on to her sofa – crammed with coats, cushions and other crap.


Her sons Toby and Dwayne were screaming. They had been up since six. Misha was not even sure if she’d slept at all.


“Come on sweeties, please eat – I can’t afford to throw away food…”



09.49pm, San Diego, November 20th




Michael rang the doorbell, a bottle of red in the other hand. After working solidly after what seemed like several weeks, he was glad he had some time off. He needed to see his girl; she was taking ages to answer the door though.

It was one of those chilly winter nights. He’d dressed up in smart suit. He was going to ply her with wine and then maybe take her out along the shoreline and look out for some shooting stars. He loved astronomy; outer space – the worlds beyond this one.

She answered the door in a negligee, “It’s been a while,” she smiled, pulling him in by the tie.




01.45pm, New York, November 21st




“I’m sorry, I can’t pay the rent…. My ex husband didn’t pay the child support… Can you give me a few days? Tomorrow? Ok, I’ll get the money to you, thank you, thank you, thank you!” Misha danced round the room for a few seconds before realising that she needed to get three hundred dollars by tomorrow.


The bank would not let her borrow any more money. Had she exhausted her the bank of her dad? She speed dialled him.



03.02am, San Diego, November 22nd



Another three day straight at the office. Michael could not take any more coffee without feeling physically sick. He already had a caffeine headache. There was nothing he could do. There was not enough funding in the Space Federation. Michael had to do all the calculations. He had to communicate to all the satellites; make sure they were all functioning and operational.

He went to the vending machine. The sight of the coffee option made him ill. Maybe he would just take a tea instead. The machine poured out a dishwater colour of warm liquid. He returned to his desk. Satellite Alpha Delta X-ray Twelve was flashing on his screen. The name rang a bell, but he couldn’t think where from?

Michael double clicked on it – the information was brought up in a little sub window. It was the one due to come down in four days time. He frowned. What was it doing? It then suddenly stopped flashing and carried on as normal.

“Stupid glitch,” he moaned, and took a sip of tepid sick.




03.13pm, New York, November 23rd




“Here you go,” Misha counted out the money into her landlord’s hand. “I’m sorry, this won’t happen again.”

The old wrinkly, creepy landlord glared at her, knowing full well that this would happen again next month. As she counted the last twenty dollar note into his hand, he curled his fingers over her hand and stroked it. Misha was repulsed, but she could not let it show.

“Anything you need help with, I’m here,” he said, grinning.

“Thank you, I will.” Misha trotted back up to her grotty apartment.

The twins were asleep – for now at least – but it at least meant she could prepare to earn the money she’d been given back.



05.34pm, San Diego, November 25th



Michael had a pounding headache. Once more he was alone in the office. He’d just received a text message from Tina, his girl. She couldn’t wait for him to come over at the weekend. Michael couldn’t wait either – but he knew he’d be exhausted. At least he’d had some company until four in the afternoon. It was always great fun when Steve was around, though not much work got done.

Michael was making himself something to eat. A slice of toast to keep him going until he felt ready to order take out. It might be Chinese tonight. He hadn’t had Chinese in a while. The toast popped and he spread it was jello and peanut butter. He felt like a child.

Once more at his desk, he bit into the toast and closed his eyes. It was nice just to not look at a computer screen for a while. Something, however, started beeping from his computer. He was annoyed. Whatever it was was stealing his precious personal time.

When he opened his eyes, he saw that the same satellite was flashing once again on his screen. He double clicked it for information. What was wrong with this thing? He checked the log file on the system mainframe. It seemed at the right altitude – it was not prematurely shutting down either. It was all set to follow the shut-down sequence he had programmed for it. At precisely midnight on the 26th it would initiate the sequence and start falling towards the Atlantic.

Michael gave up and hit cancel, going back to his program on stellar activity.



11.48pm, New York, November 25th



The twins were crying. So was Misha. She’d just earned back her three hundred dollars and though she could at least repay her father, she felt horrible. But she had to get on with it. She prepared a small meal for her kids and stuck on the television to see what rubbish she could occupy herself with. Misha thought about sending her ex husband a text, telling him he would never see his kids again if he didn’t pay up this month. But she knew that wouldn’t get her anywhere, he never saw his sons anyway.


11.56pm, San Diego, November 25th



Michael was still in the office. He’d just completed his stellar observations. His computer had just started beeping again. It was the same satellite. There was, though, something slightly different this time. It was flashing red and had an exclamation mark attached to it. Had something gone wrong? Michael clicked on the information status for the satellite and read through the data as a quickly as possible. The shut down initiation sequence was also on view in this file. He felt sick. His insides twisted inside. How had he been so wrong?

He pulled back from his seat and began frantically typing. Why had he not noticed this earlier? How had he even been allowed to make this mistake? He had to act – and fast. There was only a few minutes left before the Shut Down sequence would begin and there would be no going back. He hurtled through lines and lines of code attempting to rewrite his mistakes. But it wouldn’t save – it wouldn’t compile. He was panicking now. Only a few seconds remained by his clock – it was… it was… it was too late.

The Satellite blinked off his screen. It had begun. There was nothing he could do to stop it now. He should phone the Air Force – somebody… someone must know about his mistake? Michael thougth about this for a few minutes. No. If he could save over the file, there’d be no record. Michael tried to save over the file. It worked. But there was still a horrible feeling inside his stomach. He’d calculated the fall distance in miles. The program was using kilometres. This satellite was never going to fall into the Atlantic. It was going to hit New York.




01.44pm, New York, November 26th




“Due to a technical failure, the satellite crashed into a block of apartments in the suburbs of New York early this morning. There has been no statement from the Space Federation thus far, but there has been one confirmed casualty.”


Misha was cradling her twins in both arms watching the television in a sleepy daze. She was barely even paying attention, but if she had she might have been in higher spirits a lot sooner than when she received the phone call.

Her cell phone started ringing.

“Hello, Misha speaking.”

It was some lawyer.

“Yeah, I’m the same.”

Her ex husband was dead. He was hit by a satellite. His life insurance policy was in her name. Fifty thousand dollars was coming her way.


~ by S.G. Mark on February 6, 2012.

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