A glowing ash floats in zero g, tumbling free from a spaceman's cigarette. In the clear canopy of the cockpit, it glows dark red among the stars, if only for a moment.
"Are you sure?" she asked.
"Yes," said Wan Hu, "I want to see the gods."
When Vladimir died, all that was left was a burnt husk. The state held an open casket funeral for the fallen cosmonaut, and he was mourned by his family and Yuri Gagarin, who had volunteered to go in his best friend's place.
"Well, space is there, and we're going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God's blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked."
-John F. Kennedy at Rice Stadium
The cinder blinks, twinkles, and inevitably dies. Smoke blows away the corpse.
I feel tar in my earthly lungs, the result of city living. You can't see the stars from where I live, only the very lonely moon. I have only actually seen it with company once, on a church retreat into the wilderness. Myself and another boy, we stood upon a pontoon bridge in the middle of a frozen river and marveled at an unsuspected sky. I've never seen another sky like that, so full of light. Even in the dark spaces imbetween it seemed you could only find more stars.
I no longer go to church. I'm not religious. I've never watched Cosmos or anything by Sagan. But if I had to pray, if there was no choice, I would pray to that sky like a pagan of old. It's the closest I've ever come to viewing infinity and someday, maybe, I'd like to go there. If I'm an old lethargic man, I'll have them strap me into some rockets and launch me regardless of health conditions in the hope I die in heaven. They can dump me out the airlock and watch me cremate on re-entry. And I'll be the tar in somebody else's earthly lungs.