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The Ocean Sky
(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)

Page 2

This flight had been the culmination of years, decades, of effort. Iíd been fascinated by balloons since Iíd been a schoolboy, and in college Iíd studied aeronautics with one aim in mind only; to know as much about balloons as I could, to become the worldís greatest expert in the field if possible. I had joined a ballooning club early on, and as I grew more experienced, I became convinced that there was only one thing really worth doing. Others could have the endurance and long distance records; Iíd go for height.

Of course, to do this, Iíd need a special kind of balloon, one specifically made for altitude. I designed it myself, and, with the help of the inheritance I got from my parents, I constructed it. After several test flights, I was ready for the big day at last. As I strapped in my parachute, an unfortunate but necessary additional weight and precaution, my fellow balloon club members pumped the translucent envelope full of hydrogen gas. It would of course have to be a hydrogen balloon; helium was too heavy, and I couldnít even think of taking up the additional weight of a hot-air burner and cylinders. That I had to take an oxygen cylinder and mask up with me was already more weight than I could really afford, but like the parachute, it was a necessity.

My friend Oskar, who had been almost as fascinated by my project as I, and had helped in every way he could, checked me over one last time, testing the buckles of my harness and my parachute. "Are you quite sure you wonít take a radio?" he asked for the sixth or seventh time, as he helped strap me into the seat and locked the bar into place.

"I told you," I replied once again, "I canít afford the additional weight. And any radio I could take up wouldnít have much in the way of range anyway."

Oskar looked up at the envelope, which was now a billowing lighter patch against the pre-dawn sky. The capsule surged, straining against the ropes holding it down. He nodded. "Well, letís hope there isnít any emergency."

"Why should there be?" I asked. "The weather forecast is perfect, thereís next to no wind, the balloon is in excellent shape, Iím as fit as Iíll ever be, and we arenít anywhere near the sea or something. Stop worrying, it never does any good."

"Youíre probably right," he said, sighing, and handed me the map on a clipboard heíd been carrying. "Ready?"

I nodded. The ropes fell away, and with a lurch the balloon rose into the air.

Itís impossible, for anyone whoís never been up in a balloon, to imagine the thoughts that go through oneís mind as one makes an ascent like mine. As the ground fell away below, the sky to the east brightened dramatically as I rose above the line of the horizon. Then, with a flash, the rays of the still-hidden sun turned the balloonís envelope into a huge teardrop of gold. I imagined that Oskar, who would undoubtedly be following me through binoculars, would be able to see it too.

The silence, in a balloon, canít be imagined. Not only is there no engine noise; since a balloon moves exactly as fast as the wind, there is not even the rustle of a breeze. The slightest sound below, the crowing of a cock as the sun rose, might be clearly heard, if one were flying low, with ballast bags tied on; but I was rising straight up, and so quickly that long before the sun painted the roofs of the town I was wrapped in silence.

As the balloon rose, the capsule turned slowly, spinning in a great circle taking in the horizon. I wasnít very high yet, but it was already distinctly colder, despite the sun. I was glad of my heavy gloves and boots, and of the thick flying suit. The sky was clear, except where, very high above and well to the north, a few strands of cirrus lay like ripples on the sand of a beach. It was going to be a great day, I thought; the perfect day for my attempt. I felt like laughing.

The earth underneath fell away into a flat sheet of brown and green. I had to concentrate on the instruments, plotting my position on the map with the help of the compass and the speed indicator. According to the readings, I must have encountered an unexpected stream of wind, for I was further south than I expected. Not that I could do much about it; and, as I rose further, I must have passed through the wind stream, for I no longer drifted south according to the instruments.

[ Continue to page 3 ]

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Genre:Science Fiction
Type:Short story
Rating:6.16 / 10
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