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by Eileen Frances Quilter Williams 11 months ago in Sci Fi
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A view of destruction from the Space Station

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

It was a worry – but things go wrong – communication had been interrupted before – but it was still a worry so close to home time.

Gray McConnell and Gerry Lewison had been in space for half a year – together with three members of the Russian Space Agency cosmonauts. It had been an exciting culmination of many years of testing, training, sacrificing in order to be one of the ‘elite’. A man amongst some of the only human beings to be awarded the high honour – and indeed privilege – of representing the achievements of their country in the universe beyond earth’s limits.

The previous night, they had lost communication with both sets of monitoring agencies down on earth. Though little hiccups had occurred in the systems – as was only to be expected – during the months up living amongst the stars, it had always been momentary up to now – never more than a couple of hours, and always something comparatively trivial. Two things seemed to Gray to be different this time: it had rarely – well in fact never – been known for both Russian and American contact to be lost simultaneously, and usually they had had some kind of warning. Some indication on their own systems that there was a problem. The boffins – both sets – had always been able to reassure them that ‘it was nothing’ … ‘easily fixed’. Just sit tight. As if they could do anything other than sit tight in a tin can (as David Bowie had described it) high above the earth.

This time Bowie’s lyrics kept playing around Gray’s head and he was beginning to feel not proud and macho, but apprehensive – verging on the panicky. Naturally he could not show any of this to his fellow American – who seemed perfectly relaxed, as usual - let alone to the Russians. He had to keep his fears to himself, and his paranoia under control.

He was finding the uncertainty difficult to take. He was almost wishing that somebody, somewhere, would declare some kind of ‘emergency’ or some kind of real ‘problem’ because he managed better with the known than with the imaginings of what might be. Why was there a – literally – unearthly silence from both sets of boffins?

There had been no communicatIon with those ‘boffins’ for several hours, and with only three days, four hours and nineteen minutes left before Gray and Gerry were scheduled to be returning to earth – to their families, and to the now welcome earthly trials, tribulations – and much missed pleasures – of their usual, normal existence each of them had begun to worry. Neither worried outwardly, that would break the code. But each certainly was beginning to get a sinking feeling somewhere deep down in their gut that was not comfortable.

Nobody was saying anything. Everybody was acting ‘normal’. It was very likely that ‘acting’ was the appropriate description of what was occurring because even for the hardened cosmonauts this was not a situation that had happened before – neither to themselves, nor had it been reported by any of their comrades. Alexei had been routinely doing the chores that they each took in turn to do – an exercise that had become second nature to all of them living in such a confined though elaborate egg shell high above the world that they all knew so well. He too was trying not to appear alarmed – and he was in any case scheduled for another six weeks in space, so the current ‘blip’ did not personally impinge on his own plans, but to be so far away, in such a vulnerable position, without any knowledge of what the problems down on earth with the monitors, naturally, was a disconcerting feeling. He had tried to casually express his surprise at the length of time without hearing anything from below to his other Russian compatriots, but Boris was his usual ‘don’t disturb me it’s my rest time’ and Vlad was dismissive of his concerns, and kept reminding him that this was his third time up in the space station, and ‘these things happen’ - it will sort itself out. Just be glad that they aren’t constantly jabbering at you and accept the peace and quiet for what it is.

The spaceship was on is normal journey, and at a point where the earth would normally be the closest to them, and the familiar sites became more identifiable Alexei who was monitoring their situation – and who was in the habit of waving a far flung greeting to his family as he neared them and then left them, was shocked to see that there was a heavy pall over the whole of the earth, and that it was impossible to see anything clearly – indeed at all. Nothing was there to indicate that human life existed there. He rushed to insist that Vlad come and look – if nothing else to confirm that it was actually Earth that he was looking at, and not some other suddenly appearing planet that had materialised literally out of the blue.

Vlad was not pleased, but crossed across to look fully sure that he would be able to either tick Alexei off for disturbing him, or laughing at him for his stupidity, only to pull back in horror at what he was seeing. Yes, certainly that was Earth – or was what Earth once was – but there were no familiar landmarks visible, and there was a dark and unhealthy vapour which obliterated the view almost entirely. That, together with the lack of communication, did now ring alarm bells with even this most hardened of cosmonauts.

The group – both the Russians and the Americans – had got on reasonably well during their enforced imprisonment together, and though probably none of them would be ‘friends’ back on earth since they were all very different people with very different interests and personalities. They had all been well trained, and indoctrinated, into understanding that work, safety and happiness relied upon everybody being the best example of themselves that they could be, and burying any irrational, undesirable, or irritating flaws that they might have in order to not be a pain in the ass to others. Everybody’s safety depended upon everybody else and every effort had been made to ‘iron out’ during the selection process any quirks or potential flashpoints that might exist. Those that had survived the selection process were more likely to be the more ‘’bland’, ‘staid’ candidates who could never be likely to cause offence, or irritation in others. Sometimes the profilers got it wrong, but they hadn’t as far as any of these spacemen were concerned.

Vlad called through to the other three to join himself and Alexei, which naturally stoked up Gray’s feeling of dread, but at the same time pandered to his need to be ‘doing something’, ‘facing something’ - not just sitting and waiting for the worst to happen. He was naturally assuming that the problem was with them – the pioneers up in the dangers of space – the brave men that risked their lives by going where so few had gone before …. Gray still had a romantic notion and was still living on the pride that his parents had expressed in his selection for the mission. His father had been a decorated service man and had seen his son’s role as a ground-breaking astronaut in the same way as he had viewed his own service in Vietnam, and his father’s service in World War 2. He could not have been more proud.

The five men stood in horror as they viewed their home planet beneath them, knowing that those they loved were down there – or had been down there – when they left them. There was a variation in reaction as well as a divergence of opinion as to what their next move should be: There were those that were trying to think how, indeed if, it was possible to return and what would happen when they splashed down without the assistance of others who normally controlled their destiny down on earth. There were and those who were just relieved that they were up in the heavens – many miles from what looked like devastation below them.

They were divided, but not divided on any kind of ‘nationalistic’ grounds. Vlad immediately decided to try to launch the Soyuz module which would take them back to earth. Gray, anxious to get to his family – if they still existed – was all for that plan, as was Alexei who could think of nothing worse than being stuck up in space indefinitely. Anything – even devastation and death - was probably preferable.

Boris decided he was going to sit it out on the space station – at least for as long as supplies lasted – and in the hope that all on Earth was not quite as bad as it looked from where they sat at present. Having thought about it, Gerry realised that he had very little to return to since his fiancé had written to him during the selection process to tell him that she had met somebody else and had returned his ring, together with a heart shaped locket that he had given her at the time. The gold locket – which he had looked upon as almost more a symbol of their love than even the ring – which he saw as convention and expectation - had a picture of them both inside, looking happy and in love. In his rage, when she returned it, he had torn out their pictures and had replaced them with a picture cut from a magazine of Minnie and Micky Mouse ….

Before Gray, Alexei and Boris set off in the module, Gerry gave Gray the locket too return to his ex-fiancé should she still be alive. Gray thought it was a lovely romantic gesture and vowed to find her if she was there to be found.

And so they parted. Each group to face what the future might hold – or might not hold.

The Space module splashed down in a seething and boiling ocean – with no way to communicate with any living thing who might gather them up from the middle of the cauldron. They had an inflatable on board, and rations to survive, but the seas were heavy and raging like a boiling kettle and there was no way that they could launch or entrust themselves to such a flimsy craft under such circumstances. They remained with the module in the hope that somehow, even now, there would be someone left on Earth who could rescue them.

After many weeks, a canoe paddled by six tribesmen found it possible to cross from their remote and pristine island to see what had become of their neighbours – they had witnessed great flashes and explosions in the skies, and they had miraculously survived the onslaught. Since they lived without the blessings of electricity, and modern civilisation in any case, their lives – apart from the havoc caused by the unparalleled winds and devastating seas – had not been too badly affected.

They found the module, but unfortunately, nobody on board had survived. They were intrigued and mesmerised by the contents of the space module and considered that the bodies must have been spacemen – perhaps from another world – that had come to earth, and that the colliding of the two worlds was what caused such destruction. They burned the bodies – as was their custom – having got them back to their island. They examined with much merriment and intrigue the myriad assortment of ‘gadgets’ and ‘gizmos’ that they had found in the module and had no idea what they were or could be for. They decided that they were from a civilisation far beyond the clouds, brought here by the spacemen who had died. They made a cross between an altar and a museum exhibit of these and regarded them as treasure.

The Chief took possession of the locket, and wondered if the pictures could be the king and queen of that other world? He was not impressed.

Sci Fi

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Eileen Frances Quilter Williams

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