Creative

The Ahavah IV: The Return

“And the more I try to speak, the more I lose that earthly tone; and before heaven proves me hopeless, I won’t forget my way back home.”
— Dawes, “My Way Back Home”

Read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here.

1

I raced from the guard tower toward the flight line. I was in shock that the long-range Israeli space voyager Ahavah was about to land at our spaceport. Baikonur hadn’t seen a craft take off or land for years, ever since The Calamity wiped out most of the people on Earth. My mind struggled to piece together how this ship had survived up there, and was now apparently making a successful approach toward our runway in Kazakhstan.

I struggled to breathe as I first sprinted, then jogged, then fast-walked toward the landing zone, all the while wishing I had that damn horse to get me across the seemingly never-ending span of desert steppe. It seemed like I made no forward progress as I ran.

I started thinking that I was going to die of a heart attack before I ever reached the Ahavah and the thought greatly distressed me — not because I was scared to die; I had lost my whole family and did not much fear the approach of death — but because I desperately wanted to know how the Ahavah had made it back to Earth.

Just when I felt I could not possibly run another step — I was really out of shape, I discovered during this unplanned sprint — I saw the damned horse moving toward me at a gallop from the spaceport. “Thank God,” I wheezed to myself. I stopped, bent over, and struggled to breathe as I waited for the horse and rider to reach me.

“Costa! You fired the general alarm and you’ve left the guard post. Why? There is a ship approaching!” Vasili had returned for me when he heard me fire off the volley of shots to wake the base. Now he had arrived in a dusty cloud kicked up by the horse’s hooves, which caused me to choke and cough.

Between desperate breaths, and as I waved away the dust, I struggled to admonish him, “Vasili, you are nothing if not a keen observer of the obvious.” I gulped for more air, while sweat dripped down my forehead. “I sounded the alarm because a ship was approaching. I left because we need to go assist the returning astronauts. Do me a favor, and give me the horse and walk back to the guard tower and take my post. I need to be there. Those people will need help.”

Vasili Andropov was not a mission control specialist, nor an astronaut, doctor, nor any other profession that would enable him to assist the returning Ahavah personnel. He was a base security agent and thus it only made sense for us to switch places. Still, he looked annoyed that I had asked him to replace me. He gave a glance over to the runway, as if contemplating arguing with me over the point.

“Okay,” he eventually sighed, while dismounting the horse. I quickly mounted the barely-winded beast and gave her a firm kick toward the landing zone. I did not look back to say goodbye to Vasili.

2

I arrived at the landing zone just as the Ahavah was touching down at the far end of the runway. I had made it. I swiftly dismounted the horse, and slapped her on the haunch to send her off into the field adjacent to the runway. She meandered away as if she could not be bothered by the excitement that surrounded her. She started to lazily chew some dry grass.

A crowd was gathering at the end of the runway, close to the outbuildings that once serviced the taking off and landing spacecraft. It now housed a detachment of security personnel. A number of them had stumbled out, awakened by the rifle shots I had fired signaling a general alarm. They began to relax their posture as they realized this was not another invasion of roving gangs looking for food. Everyone stared at the ship as it decelerated toward us.

On first look at the vessel as it slowed to a stop not fifty yards away from us, I took note of all the damage that had been sustained by the craft’s hull. It looked as though the vessel had suffered hundreds of micro-meteor strikes over the years it had spent in Earth orbit. Of course it had, I thought, chastising myself for not having realized it sooner. Thank God the Second Great Space Race had led to advancements in the protective hulls of the long-range vessels. Those same advancements had also no doubt protected the returning astronauts from the lethal effects of long-term exposure to solar radiation in the vacuum of space.

My heart began to race as the hatch on the craft’s starboard side opened with a mechanical hiss. The mechanical stairs deployed as they were designed to, and I had seconds to wonder what was about to greet me on that no-longer-inactive runway in Central Asia. I felt an excitement I had not felt in years, since before The Calamity struck and robbed me of everything important in my life.

I had a purpose again.

3

I sat in my jump seat utterly stunned, unable to believe that I had actually made it. Tears began to roll down my cheeks, and I buried my face in my hands and wept. I wept for my children. I wept for my husband. I wept for my lost crewmates. And I wept for Brett, still stranded alone on the moon. How in the name of God had I made it back to Earth after all this time? I cried hard and ugly, the tidal wave of grief, relief, and disbelief washing over me, rendering me unmovable in my chair, tears blinding me and snot running from my nose.

I, Yara Harel — as far as I knew Earth’s last known surviving Israeli astronaut, had returned to a world ravaged by a lethal pandemic and transformed into what could only be an unrecognizable shell of its former self, devoid of most of humanity.

I composed myself, wiping away tears and snot, and activated the hatch and stairs so that I could disembark what had been for years my home, my prison, my means of survival, and now my salvation. I could hardly imagine leaving the Ahavah. Anxiety began to set in almost immediately as I stood and walked toward the hatch. My stomach felt queasy and I could feel my legs getting heavy, as if they were trying to restrain me from leaving the confines of the ship.

As I moved to the opening, and breathed the fresh air pouring in, I felt an ecstasy that could only be compared to drinking a glass water after an extreme thirst. The air was heavy and rich and full of non-mechanical and non-artificial smells. I caught whiffs of dirt, manure, and burning wood. I wanted to soak in every breath, and simply close my eyes and breathe. But I had to move forward. I had important work to do. I had to find my family. And I had to save Brett.

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Theo Dyssean
1 year ago

Love this story…

Mason
Mason
1 year ago

Just flog me with the cliff hangers, please, more. Another great installment! Fantastic writing. “Cried hard and ugly”, is real world knowledge, and adds a dimension to this story. Thanks Fru!

Miche
Miche
1 year ago

A new installment! Yes! I feel a nostalgic tie to the olden days when bits of stories came in newspapers to frontier towns. Combined with a touch of our own near-future, as we seem to be starting just such a second Space Race in our own generation. 😀

Theo Dyssean
1 year ago
Reply to  Miche

I would honestly like to see Freq take on a more Weird Tales feel, where the stories are serialized then put together in a book. Same for poems or pics or whatever. Drop pieces over time, then sell the full set.

Theo Dyssean
1 year ago
Reply to  Theo Dyssean

Same thing for the fireman calendar that Fru’s gonna do for us…

susanh
susanh
1 year ago
Reply to  Theo Dyssean

Lol. A fireman calendar – yes please, Fru!

Miche
Miche
1 year ago
Reply to  Theo Dyssean

Haha! My sister in law posts pictures of oily half-naked men on Fireman Fridays. Seems like a distracting, counterproductive way to try to keep schedules and appointments organized….

Theo Dyssean
1 year ago
Reply to  Frumentarius

Sorry, dude. I’m just so excited thinking about it.

Miche
Miche
1 year ago
Reply to  Theo Dyssean

Yes! I love that idea!!

Miche
Miche
1 year ago
Reply to  Theo Dyssean

Uhh…speaking of which…where’s our next installment of WOODWIND?!

Theo Dyssean
1 year ago
Reply to  Miche

Soon. I actually meant to run that last week, but forgot. :-/

Miche
Miche
1 year ago
Reply to  Theo Dyssean

😍

susanh
susanh
1 year ago

Thank you, Fru. Next instalment please!

susanh
susanh
1 year ago
Reply to  Frumentarius

Yay!

Joni Smith
Joni Smith
1 year ago

Imagine smelling fresh air for the first time in long time….I was right there with her taking a deep breath in. Loving the story. Getting used to the cliff hangers. Keep them coming.

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