Creative

The Ahavah Arrival

This is part 3 of a series. Part 1 can be found here and part 2, here.

1

Being one of the dozens of American mission control personnel stationed at the Baikonur Cosmodrome was an honor and one for which I had worked for most of my adult life. Years spent in fluorescent-lit astrophysics and engineering classes, musty libraries, sterile labs, and aging NASA facilities had finally paid off. I was damn proud of myself and I knew that I deserved the job.

As I used to walk around the cosmodrome, I did so with a spring in my step and my head held high. And why not? It was the launchpad for the world’s exploration of space. I saw myself as the doorkeeper to the universe beyond Earth.

Moving to Kazakhstan, it must be said, was not my wife and children’s idea of a good time, though. In fact, at the time, it was a big sacrifice for my family. Things were different then. That was back when the word ‘sacrifice’ didn’t have quite the same meaning that it did after The Calamity struck. They had accepted it, though — eventually — and my family got along pretty well for a time in central Asia. As my wife used to say before we made the decision to move, “I guess we can survive as expats for a few years.”

As usual, my wife was right. Tragically so. She and my two girls survived exactly three years and three months as expats in Kazakhstan. Then, The Calamity took them, along with most of the rest of the people of Kazakhstan and the world.

In the years leading up to those terrible days, Baikonur was the busiest spaceport in the world. Hundreds of commercial, military, and scientific missions were launched annually from the cosmodrome, cluttering the horizon as they were launched toward the stars. When the Second Great Space Race began, and created millions of new jobs in space flight and its supporting industries, Gagarin City grew up a dazzling metropolis around the cosmodrome.

Situated 120 miles east of the Aral Sea, and just north of the river Syr Darya, it had become a city of close to a half-million people by the time The Calamity struck. So it wasn’t like I had moved my family to a backwater or anything. Gagarin City had good restaurants, schools, culture, and was a clean and decent place for families to live. Even American ones. The wealth that accumulated there was astounding, owing almost exclusively to all the countries that poured in their people and money to make the trip to space.

My wife and I took our girls for strolls in the park. We ate ice cream at the gelato shop near our house. We browsed the luxury boutiques that arrived with the space industry. We enjoyed ourselves. I loved my work. I relished being a part of the process of launching long-range spacecraft into orbit and then onward to places farther than humanity had ever traveled in our galaxy.

Those halcyon days had passed quickly, like a long-range voyager leaving Earth’s orbit and heading to Mars. Gagarin City had become a virtual ghost town. Its remote location on the desert steppe of southern Kazakhstan was no shield against the super-virus that would kill most of humanity. That would kill my beautiful wife and daughters. The city was now dusty and tarnished. Wind whipped through the buildings, and oftentimes was the only noise one would hear emanating from the city.

2

The original Baikonur spaceport design was an ellipse, measuring 56 miles east–west by 53 miles north–south, with the cosmodrome at the center. That ellipse had shrunk considerably with the growth of Gagarin City, which grew up to surround the spaceport in a nearly-perfect circle, with the spaceport’s property like the pupil of a cat’s eye — a smaller ellipse of 5 miles east-west by 3 miles north-south — situated at the center of the city.

Humanity had made incredible advances in reaching Earth’s orbit and in space travel itself in the Second Great Space Race. The advent of the linear motor mass-driver launching system provided a safe, efficient, and environmentally clean ascent into orbit around Earth. The nuclear-powered interstellar jump drive had made travel times through space shorter, given constant acceleration.

While the 12 square miles of spaceport at Baikonaur had offered a sufficient safety zone for the city’s inhabitants from any lingering dangers due to the launch of spacecraft, it had offered no reciprocal protection to the spaceport personnel from the super-virus that first plagued the city before reaching the cosmodrome.

People died daily, by the hundreds, once the virus took off. There was no stopping it. My wife and daughters succumbed quickly, which was a blessing in some ways. They did not have to suffer the famine and lawlessness that followed. The roving gangs of survivors. The water shortages. The world outside the perimeter of the cosmodrome was a wasteland. It was death and sickness. It was nature taking back the Earth from humanity.

We were lucky at Baikonaur. We had a secure perimeter, guarded by what was left of the various international military units. It was not a lot, but it was just enough to keep us alive. Now we were just surviving. We had no power, no way to launch spacecraft, no communication with the off-planet settlements on the moon or Mars, and no intention of re-starting our work anytime soon. We had more important things to do. We had to survive.

3

“Costa! It’s your turn to stand watch on tower 4.” I awoke roughly from a dream that my daughters were begging me for food and I could not provide it. I was relieved to wake up to the barren deserted world.

“I’m up, I’m up.” I struggled to pull on my pants and grabbed a water bottle and a coat to keep off the chill of the desert night. I made my way to tower 4, and relieved the watch, who was a man named Andropov. He handed me his binoculars and the rifle that stayed at the tower.

“How are you, Costa? You look tired. I guess we all look tired.”

“Andropov, if I were any more tired, I would be dead. Which would probably be preferable to this hell scape we call Earth now.”

“Ok, then,” Andropov said, archly. “Have a good shift, my friend.”

“Sleep well, Vasili. I’m sorry to be dour. It’s been one of those days.”

“We live in an eternal hell of ‘those days’ now, my friend. You do not need to apologize to me. Good night, Michael.”

Vasili climbed down the tower and I watched him as he shuffled back toward the horse that would carry him back to the living quarters. The horse whinnied as Vasili approached, lifting and lowering its head, as if to remind us that the world had moved on, and we were no longer in charge. “Believe me, horse, I know,” I muttered to myself, as I turned to face the world beyond the perimeter. That was my job, after all. Not to watch the world inside the perimeter.

As I scanned the horizon, I looked for anything that might threaten us, so that I could, what? Shoot it? I scoffed at that notion. The shot I would let loose was more to warn the rest of the cosmodrome than for any lethal effect.

As my eyes drifted from left to right, I saw what I thought was a star, low on the horizon. My brain knew instantly that it was no star. There were no stars that bright, in that particular place on the horizon. I knew that as sure as I knew that there was a sea nearby. It took only another half second for me to realize what I was seeing.

I was seeing the final approach of a space craft. I had seen it many times before, in the days prior to The Calamity. The light was a vessel returning to land at Baikonaur. How could that be? It was impossible. But I knew it wasn’t impossible. I raised my rifle and fired into the air three times. The signal to wake the camp.

After I fired the shots, I turned back to watch the ship approach. It was big, I could tell. Probably a long-range voyager. I inventoried in my mind what ships were left up there, that were unaccounted for once we started to go offline. After reviewing the data in my head, I decided it could only be one vessel. Only one would fit the profile of what I was seeing approach.

It was the Israeli vessel, the Ahavah. It was returning to land at Baikonaur. Tears rolled down my face as I climbed down the tower and sprinted for the landing zone.

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Miche
Member
Miche

Ooooh, I’m liking the way you’re spinning the tale, drawing it out, providing a widening circle of detail. This is fun. 🙂

Mason
Member
Mason

This made my day. Great installment.

Joni Smith
Guest
Joni Smith

You’ve totally captured my attention with this tale. Each part spinning a new thread to the story. I can’t wait for the next part.

Joni Smith
Guest
Joni Smith

Don’t make us wait so long for the next part, please. I was really excited when this popped up in my email notices.

susanh
Member
susanh

Ooh, this is good, Fru! And you’ve introduced somebody new. So when can we expect part 4, huh? Huh?

clluelo
Member
clluelo

I am very much enjoying this series

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