by Eric J. Krause
As Eureka rose out of a thick cloud bank over Laguna Beach, Katherine turned to her mentor, Fritz, and said, "Last chance to back out."
He looked at her with a smile. "We'll be immortal. Every historian will sing our praises until the end of time. Why would I want to back out?"
Katherine sighed. "I don't know. Maybe because it might be suicide."
Fritz laughed. "You've learned nothing from me. Everything worth grasping and keeping is going to have risk. That is what makes success so succulent."
"Then do it. I don't want to think about it anymore."
Fritz manipulated the controls on his console that had nothing to do with keeping Eureka afloat. "Send us up," he said. "As high as she can go."
Katherine pointed the nose of Eureka as straight up as she would go without fighting. She put all her faith in Fritz and his invention. Never had something like this been done on a blimp, especially one as big as Eureka. Or, if it had been done, it had ended in catastrophe and no one knew about it. She didn't want to think about that last part.
"We're close," Fritz said. "Just keep her steady and my machine will do the rest."
A minute later Eureka shuddered enough that Katherine thought the gondola would fall off, but it held. "Brace yourself," Fritz said, and Eureka shot forward into the sky with a force that would have knocked Katherine backwards into the wall had she not been strapped into her seat. The blue sky turned black, and mid-morning turned to night, as the stars popped up into her vision.
"It worked!" Fritz yelled. "We're in orbit!"
Katherine wasn't sure it was possible, but here they were. She could hear the life-support system kick in, and she looked above them and saw the helium-filled balloon looked no different than if they'd been flying over Angels Stadium. She didn't even want to guess what modifications Fritz had made.
"We'll be famous," Fritz mumbled, more to himself than to Katherine. "All the talk shows; all the news media; everyone."
She smiled at his enthusiasm and started to let it sweep over her, as well. She never wanted to chase fame, but now that it had caught her, she wouldn't wriggle from its grasp. The only thing to do now was to get back down. Long Beach was expecting them.
"What did you do to enable us to get back down through the atmosphere?" she asked him. "That seems the hardest feat."
His face dropped and froze. "Back down? I . . . I didn't think . . . it all went to getting us up and stable."
She laughed. "Really, Fritz, I'm curious."
He didn't answer, and his face remained that of a deer caught in headlights. She'd known him for over ten years and knew when he was kidding.
He was not.