One small portal afforded a view of the Earth below. The brown deserts of Kazakhstan receded, giving way to the taiga of Mother Russia, turning a deep green as the Vostok passed over the forests of southern Russia, split by the silvery ribbon of the Ob River. Further east, the land grew more rugged, heading towards the Sea of Okhotsk. The Kamchatka Peninsula passed beneath, and the craft was over the Pacific.
All was peaceful, quiet.
Until the lights went out, plunging the craft into complete darkness. At the same time, the retrorockets fired. The lights came back on, readings were all wrong.
“Something’s wrong,” Vorobei said, fighting to keep her voice calm. “Thrusters have fired. The power went out, then came back on.”
“We’re working on it,” ground control replied.
A vibration shook the ship, a display light flashed. “Instrument section separation!” Sparrow no longer tried to hide the panic.
“Fire thrusters,” ground control ordered. “Orient spacecraft for re-entry.” This was unusual; the Vostok was to be remotely controlled from the ground, Sparrow no more than a passenger. That they would have the pilot perform any course corrections was a sign that something was seriously awry.
Vorobei hit the buttons for the retrorockets, felt a shudder as they fired. The dials danced but it appeared that the craft was properly oriented for re-entry. It was weighted towards the bottom so it would re-enter with the heavier instrument package downward, where the ablative shielding was heavier.
. . .
Vorobei hit the manual override for the hatch and ejection seat. The explosive bolts fired, the hatch flew off, Vorobei thrown into nothingness in a blur of sound and motion, falling, falling, until the seat’s parachutes fluttered and opened, jolting Vorobei once again. Above, the Vostok swung lazily beneath the white drogue parachutes, its silvery surface charred black. Below lay a crisscross pattern of roads, ruler-straight, a neat geometric grid filled in with the brown of fallow ground and the green of ripening grain laid out in precise parallels. There were several houses visible below, but the roads were empty, save for a lone red truck at the front of a dust cloud. .