As the roller coaster that was the launch subsided, Max entered micro-gravity. She sighed in relief, despite not being relieved at all. Max had successfully stolen one of the two remaining Burans, together with an Energija rocket. And when stealing from Russia, you don’t get do relax, lest you want to wake up to a Plutonium coffee one day. But maybe, thought Max, Russia wouldn’t care. They hadn’t cared about this thing for the past 30 years. Which also wasn’t a reason to be relieved, who knows how many of the components she didn’t inspect had been rotten and would fail.
If Max had looked out the window to inspect the stars, she might have seen satellites whizzing by way too close.
Down on earth, some TVs would lose signal for a bit, causing fans to miss a last-minute goal by their favourite team.
Down on earth, things were getting heated as those fans were calling the support line to complain.
Down on earth, things were getting tense as the leaders of the world were preparing for nuclear war.
But Max didn’t look out of the window. Max stared at her instruments, waiting for the thrust that would de-orbit her and allow her to land on a small island somewhere in Denmark, the last place anyone would expect a rocket to hide in.
As Max was being pressed into her seat during the de-orbit maneuver and a dead squirrel was bouncing around in the cargo bay, the leaders of the world grew gravely concerned. No leader had issued a launch command. Unknown forces had taken over facilities with ICBM capabilities. They would have to respond with extreme force.
Max noticed the “Lock-on” warning, maybe even still in time. The Buran wasn’t ballistic itself, it did had wings – small ones, which in this thin atmosphere would barely be able to change the trajectory by anything at all. Max tried it anyways, together with the last bit of fuel with the downwards firing control thrusters. The missile itself also burned its thrusters to adjust. It was lighter, so it had an easier time putting itself to the new trajectory. But it also had less fuel, and barely overshot its mark.
Max didn’t even get to sigh this time as she was now well within a nosedive. The heat shield of the nose cone was burning up, sending sparks flying past the windows like comets going the wrong way. The wing flaps weren’t strong enough to pull the vehicle out of this nose dive.
Out of desperation, Max opened the cargo bay. These things technically were wings as well, after all. Slowly, the Buran went back to gliding, the cargo bay doors joining the heat shields burning up. The dead squirrel got stuck on the edge of the bay, flaring up before it was ripped off by the wind. The second anti-ballistic missile exploded the squirrel like fireworks in the sky.
The leaders of the world stopped arguing and closely followed the screens. They had exhausted all options to prevent this catastrophe. They had failed.
Max no longer followed her screens. She could see the ground and had to find where she could land safely. A large meadow would have to do.
When the police came the next day, the farmer girl pointed them to a part of the meadow with a crater and remnants of conventional explosives, giving the police a difficult riddle to solve. The farmer girl’s haystack was impressively large, but not suspicious.