Creative

The Ahavah Decision

1

I read that book, The Martian, before I went to space. I mean, if you are ever going into space on a long-term scouting and habitation mission, you read a classic like The Martian, no matter how many tens of decades ago it was published. You just do.

From that book, I learned a very important lesson: bring a variety of music with you to help pass the time in space. Mission accomplished there. I had a selection from over 200 years worth of the world’s best music up there with me. It was enough to play straight for 3.2 years without the same song repeating itself.

Unfortunately I had just heard my first replay of a song.

What I failed to adequately absorb from The Martian was the loneliness that was assaulting me like a relentless sea crashing for eternity on the shore. For I was alone, probably forever. Utterly, completely alone.

It did not start out that way, of course. There were six of us at the start. We landed on the lunar surface over three years ago, and after The Calamity on Earth just eight months into our mission, we deliberated at length and decided that three of us would attempt to return to Earth and three of us would stay on the moon, just in case.

Just in case the Earth was uninhabitable.

It still made me shudder to think about Earth as a barren rock devoid of all but small numbers of human beings, but I had no way to disprove that theory. In fact, I had plenty of reasons to think the theory was fact. First, we stopped receiving communications from Earth shortly after The Calamity. Second, we stopped receiving communications from the return mission shortly after they re-entered Earth’s atmosphere. Third, the two other astronauts who stayed with me on the moon came down with the illness shortly after the return mission departed. They succumbed quickly.

It was not pretty. If everyone on Earth succumbed in the same way that O’Malley and Dellamaria did here on the moon, then it was a nightmare of terror across the planet. Of course, statistically, there had to be survivors down there. I was alive, after all. But whoever they were, they were not communicating with me. I was not even sure they could, assuming they even remembered I was up there.

I had not spoken to another person in over two years. Now, I used to consider myself a bit of a misanthrope who really did not need human interaction for any extended period of time, but boy, was I wrong about how long I would be okay without any human contact. It turned out I did not make it as long as I thought I could. I started talking to myself after the first year, and after a few weeks of back and forth exchanges with myself I decided that I was going batshit crazy. Which was not good.

So, I decided to start communicating with anyone out there who might be listening. I started using our station messaging system to broadcast out updates on myself, the moon, the lunar station, and the situation on Earth. In the blind. There were other human outposts besides mine, after all, namely on Mars, even though I was not sure my communications were reaching them or that they were even alive on Mars. A mission had departed Earth for Mars shortly before The Calamity struck, so they could all be dead as far as I knew.

I started the outgoing messages around year 1.5. I did not receive a single reply for a very long time. Until I did.

2

“Hello? My God, is there really someone alive out here?”

I stared at the screen in shock, hands trembling, terrified and ecstatic at what I was seeing. Had someone really just replied to me? Was this a dream? My brain screamed at me that this was a person, alive, and talking to me. To answer back before they vanished. The message was in Hebrew, according to my comms package, which also translated it instantly for me into English. I assumed it was either someone transmitting up from Israel, or an Israeli astronaut somewhere up there in space with me.

I replied quickly once my fingers stopped shaking enough to type. “Yes! I am here. Commander Brett Hollis. I’m an American on the moon at the International Lunar Habitat. I am alone up here. Who are you? Are you on Earth?”

“Brett, my God, I’m crying… I can’t believe you’re out here.”

I waited. Whoever this was was more than likely composing themselves. I did the same. My eyes burned as tears welled up, and I could not stop myself from sobbing as the tears streamed down my face. Could this be real? Was I imagining it? I couldn’t be sure I had not not gone crazy up there alone.

“I am out here. It’s true. Are you real? Where are you?” Again, I waited.

“I am real! Although sometimes I doubt that’s true, and think of myself as a figment of someone else’s cruel imagination. My name is Yara Harel. I’m an Israeli astronaut. I’m on the Israeli Space Voyager Ahavah. We launched soon after The Sickness started. I’m the only one left aboard. I am alone, too. I’m in orbit around Earth.”

Yara Harel was a female Israeli astronaut. I knew the name, but I did not know her personally. She was a head shot in uniform and a name and not much more. But I instantly felt like she was the person I had been looking for my whole life. She embodied all the remaining hope I had left for human contact. In that moment, she was my entire world.

“My God, Yara, I can’t believe I found you. You’ve been up here as long as I have, then. I’m so sorry. How have we not made contact?” I knew of the Ahavah too, an Israeli long-range voyager-type spacecraft. It was designed for the trip to Mars and beyond. My mind began to swim with possibilities. Maybe Yara was going to Mars. But why was she still in orbit?

“I don’t know how we’ve missed each other,” she messaged back. “I’m just glad we found each other. I believed I’d die alone up here, never speaking with or seeing another living person again. I miss my family, Brett. I miss my children, and my husband. I almost gave up. Many times. I don’t know if I can keep going.”

“I understand Yara. I know exactly how you feel. Don’t give up. Stay with me. I haven’t spoken to another person in more than two years. My family is left on Earth too. I don’t even know if they are alive. I haven’t spoken to anyone from our ground control in years. Are you not in contact with Israel?”

“No. Like I said, I am alone. No one is here but me, and I have no comms with Earth. We made it into orbit just as the rest of my crew became sick. They all passed and I have been in orbit ever since. I never got sick. To make matters worse, my interstellar jump drive is down and I can’t get it running without support from Earth. I’ve been working on it ever since it went offline after the crew became sick. I’m stuck in orbit. I can’t even be sure I could make it to the moon, or I would have already tried.”

My heart sank. Yara was not going to Mars. At least not with an offline jump drive. I had no way to get to her either, as the return mission crew from here had taken our only flight-capable craft back to Earth. To be honest, even if I could make it to her, I was not sure I could get her jump drive back online without support from techs back on Earth.

“You don’t have enough fuel to make it to the moon with your standard engines?” I held my breath awaiting her answer.

“No,” Yara replied. My heart sank. I waited for more, but nothing came through and that wait filled the space around me, and in my head, with the deepest sorrow I had felt in a long time. The absence of her words — for what felt like an eternity — caused an ache in my heart that I had not felt so acutely since early on in my exile.

“Yara?” I could not bear the lack of her words now that I had found her and spoken to her.

“I’m here, Brett. I’m so sorry. I don’t think there is any way I can make it to you. Can you make it here, into orbit, and dock with the Ahavah?”

It was my turn to crush her hope. “I don’t have a module of any kind, Yara. Half of my crew took it back to Earth. I never heard from them again.” It was her turn to wait for my follow-on words, but I had none to give. I could feel her on the other end of the comm link, mourning as I was the fact that even though we had just experienced the most profound and acute joy at finding each other, were were both realizing that we had no way to actually make it to each other.

The silence lingered. I buried my face in my hands and my tears returned.

3

“Good morning :-)”

A month or more had passed and I messaged Yara with my usual wake-up note after reading a series of messages she had sent me during the night. Occasionally one or both of us could not sleep and sent each other long, rambling messages about life, our families, our routines, and any other topics that came to mind. Yara had sent me a series of notes overnight about a vacation she had taken with her family a few months before The Calamity first started. It was her last truly happy memory of her life before. I felt the usual ache in my heart for her, and the need to hug her and have some kind of physical contact with her, even though we were thousands of miles apart.

While I awaited her reply, I took care of my usual morning chores, required to keep things running at the station. I felt like everything else was just ancillary to her messages, which were the center of my existence. Everything I did in the station was centered on staying alive so I could communicate with her. The next time I checked the screen, she had replied.

“Hey, love. How are you this morning? Sorry about the long story last night. I couldn’t sleep. I was missing my kids. It felt good to talk about it.”

We had grown very close very quickly, and I knew that I loved her even though I was still apprehensive about telling her directly. I relied on affectionate words to make the point, as I sensed she was also doing. How could we not love each other, I wondered, when we were the only two people left in existence, as far as we knew? Still, I knew I would have loved her in real life too, as she had turned out to be quite an amazing woman.

“You never have to apologize to me, Yara. I want to hear everything about you that you want to tell me. I can’t get enough of hearing about you. You’re my world. I’m sorry you had a rough night. Feeling better today?”

“Yes, thank you. I was just hit with the usual disbelief about it all, as we’ve talked about before. How this happened. How we ended up like this. How we found each other. Sadness that I can never be with my family again. Or with you. It all just feels horribly unfair.”

“I know that feeling,” I replied. “Are you hanging in there?”

“I am,” she said. “It passed, as it always does. Do you think we’ll ever make it work to see each other?”

Both of us asked this question at different times, on different days, depending on how we were feeling. We longed to be physically together and were constantly in denial that it was not possible. It really was the cruelest of fates. This time it was my turn to make her feel better, which she had undoubtedly done for me on just as many occasions.

“We are going to keep trying. I’m never giving up on you, Yara. I hope you know that. Even if, God forbid, we cannot make it work to be together, we have each other on here, and I am thankful every second of every day for that. You mean the world to me. I can’t imagine this life without you. How is your food supply?”

“Thank you Brett. I need you too. I’m so happy I found your messages. My food is holding up. I’m still rationing, but the soil is still fertile and my new crop looks like it is doing okay. I’m not panicking yet.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” I replied. “Keep me updated. Now, let’s talk about your fuel supply and staying in orbit!”

4

Much more time passed and Yara and I became as close as two people could possibly become without actually ever occupying the same physical space. We shared everything. I knew all her dark secrets and the shameful moments of her life — all those she had shared with me, anyway — and she knew all of mine. We shared regrets we had, loves we had lost, mistakes we had made, and choices we would’ve made differently throughout our lives. We made love with nothing but our words and our minds to convey our actions, and our own hands to act as each other’s surrogates.

I felt like I knew her better than I had known anyone else in my life, and she certainly knew more of me than anyone else ever had. Something about the lack of being physically present with each other made it easier to open up our minds to each other. So we did. Completely. We told each other that we loved each other daily, to the point that we laughed at our joint sappiness.

At a certain point though, we knew a choice was coming. Yara was going to run out of fuel to stay in orbit. She had to either accelerate herself higher into orbit, and thus prolong the re-entry date, push herself out of Earth’s orbit altogether to deeper space, or risk re-entering the atmosphere sooner rather than later. None of those were good options.

In yet one more cruel twist of fate, I was likely going to lose the only other human being in my life to physics. I was also going to lose the love of my life. We both knew it, and there was nothing we could do about it. Except make a choice and hope for the best.

“Yara, I think re-entry sooner rather than later is the only real choice we have. The Ahavah can survive the heat of re-entry and you still have enough fuel left to land. We have to believe there is a way for you to make it. Everything else ends with you dying up here, and I can’t take that. I have to believe you can make it. I love you.”

“I know you’ve said it over and over, Brett, but it means leaving you. Soon. Alone out here. Neither of us knows if we can re-establish this comm link. I don’t know if I can risk that. The thought of losing you hurts me deeply, Brett. I love you, too, and I need you.”

“I know it hurts you, and it hurts me just as badly, as you know. I can’t bear the thought of not having you, but it would be worse for us to agree to sentence you to death up here, floating away in space, or burning up in the atmosphere when your fuel runs out. That is unacceptable.”

“I know,” she replied.

I knew it was the moment to decide, and I was determined this time to force the issue. She had to take the risk and return to Earth. There was no other way. I waited for her to send her message to me.

“Please, Yara, do this. For me. For us.”

I waited again.

“Okay, Brett. I will do it. I will go back to Earth.”

It was like a great weight was lifted off me, and I was more relieved than I had felt in a long time. And yet I was also terrified and heartbroken. I knew I was going to lose her. The odds were long. They were near impossible. But we had to try. It was worth it. She was worth it.

And so she left for Earth.

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yankeepapausmc
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yankeepapausmc

Well done sir.

-YP-

Mason
Member
Mason

Okay, you have to finish this. I am hooked. I have a million questions and scenarios running around, and just like your main characters, you have to finish this, otherwise I am alone with no one to talk to. Great story!

Joni Smith
Guest
Joni Smith

Excellent story, Fru. I’m totally hooked. Please tell me there will be more to come???? Or are you leaving us to come up with our own ending? I’m a happy ending kind of mood, but the odds don’t seem favorable.

rynosbucket
Member
rynosbucket

Wow. OK. I am already emotionally invested in this one…

susanh
Member
susanh

Oh, wow, Fru! That was wonderful! Can we please have some more? And will you please give us a happy ending? Pretty please?

Mic-Mac
Member
Mic-Mac

I love this Fru! I am anxiously waiting for more!…

Susan B
Member

Thoroughly enjoyed it, Fru. Will be looking forward to the next installment. Keep ’em coming!

Miche
Member
Miche

Nice cliffhanger! The thought of being stuck in space without an endless supply of oxygen and gravity freaks me out. More please. 🙂

Also…I’ve always considered myself an introvert who could easily be content alone. Then I spent a week (only a single week!) in a country all by myself where I didn’t fluently speak the language. It was far more isolating than I would have imagined. While I still enjoyed my experiences, it was a relief to return home to a country full of people with whom I can communicate easily any time I want.

GsGirl
Guest
GsGirl

Perfect, Perfect, Perfect!!! So wonderful to read your writing again! Can’t wait for the follow on story.

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