Creative

The Ahavah V: Believe

“You gotta try and keep yourself naive; In spite of all the evidence, believe.”
— Jason Isbell, “Flagship”

Read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, part 3 here, and part 4 here.

1

The woman who stepped out of the Israeli spacecraft, the Ahavah, ducked her head as she slowly emerged from the starboard hatch, and appeared to draw a deep, thirsty breath of the nighttime Kazakh air. She then slowly made her way down the small stairway that descended from the hatch to the ground. I shook myself out of my frozen stare, and rushed to the foot of the stairs to help her, not knowing how frail, sick, or malnourished she might be. Everyone else who had gathered at the landing strip remained frozen in place, staring.

My first impression upon seeing her was that she could be no more than 80 pounds of sallow skin, atrophied muscle tissue, dark sunken eyes, and thinning hair. Despite the late hour, she seemed to shy away from the starlight and the night air, as though it was oppressing her. I reached her before she descended to the bottom of the stairs, and offered an arm.

“Let me help you,” I said, as she steadied herself on my forearm. “My name is Michael Costa. I’m an American Mission Control Specialist here. My God, you’ve had a journey.”

She exhaled a sound that was a guttural half-laugh, half-cough.

“How many of you are there,” I asked her.

“I… I’m the only one,” the woman said in a weak voice. Despite its frailty, I could make out her Israeli accent. My mind began to inventory all of the female Israeli astronauts, but I could not place her name. And had she just said that she was the only one? Had this woman survived up there alone all this time? I was suddenly without words, and again overcome with emotion — not for the first time since I had seen this vessel return Lazarus-like from Earth orbit.

“Let’s get you to the infirmary,” I said. “We’ll save the questions for later.”

2

Yara Harel — once she told me her name I immediately recognized it — had suffered the effects of her years alone in space. Though her bones and muscles had not suffered catastrophic damage, given the artificial gravity available to her, they still had weakened significantly. The gravity simulator — which actually created centrifugal force on the human body — could only go so far in simulating Earth’s gravity.

Yara was also malnourished from her forced fasting, which she used to preserve her food and thus stay alive in orbit. In addition, she had not been in the fresh air or sunlight for years. Her skin and hair both reflected this fact.

On the plus side, the countermeasures developed during the Second Great Space Race had saved Yara from the effects of high doses of radiation and micro-meteor strikes. She was lucky to be alive. Despite that, though, she was still at an elevated cancer risk — given her, albeit minimized, exposure to radiation and gene mutation. The Ahavah’s protective shielding and the prophylactic drugs had saved her, though she was still in relatively ill health.

Yara was experiencing flu-like symptoms, difficulties with re-adjustment to Earth’s gravity, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and an as-yet undetermined psychological reaction to her return to Earth. Besides those ailments, she was in remarkable health, all things considered.

As our limited medical staff examined and cared for her over the course of her first weeks back, Yara explained that her crewmates had succumbed to The Calamity shortly after the Ahavah reached Earth’s orbit. She also explained how she rationed her food and water, conserved her fuel, and eventually made contact with the American astronaut Brett Hollis on the International Lunar Habitat before making her return to Earth.

All of this struck me as incredible. As I listened to her over those weeks, I was rendered awestruck at her courage, perseverance, and determination to survive. I was also heartbroken for her as I explained that we had no news of Tel Aviv, nor of her family there, but that we assumed that they had experienced the same extreme mortality rate as the rest of humanity.

The woman clearly and acutely felt great loss not just for her family, but for Commander Hollis, as well. She was determined from the moment she returned to make contact with both Tel Aviv and the Lunar Habitat, no matter the obstacles. We attempted to accommodate her wishes with palliative words, though we remained skeptical that we could ever make contact with either, and facilitate a successful reunion.

3

As was to be expected, Yara was also acutely curious about The Calamity, and how humanity’s first age had ended. “How did it start,” she asked me one morning, after she had regained some strength. I noticed that her color was improving daily, she looked more rested, and she was putting on weight. Those were all positive signs.

“We were never sure exactly where it started,” I told her, “but the disease control specialists were able to determine before most of them succumbed that it was an extreme and lethal mutation of the Candida auris fungus. The mutated version went airborne, spread at speeds never before experienced, and effected young, old, healthy, and sick alike. No anti-fungal medications could stop it, quarantine didn’t work, and nothing could save the infected once they contracted the disease.”

“Why were we spared,” she asked.

“That’s a question we have all asked ourselves countless times since it all started,” I answered. “Could be something in the genes, although that would not adequately explain how single members of whole families managed to avoid infection. We simply don’t know. And the medical and scientific infrastructure to find out is now gone. The remaining remnants of us can barely manage to keep ourselves alive, and civilization from utterly and completely collapsing. That’s where most of our efforts remain focused now.”

“Michael, I have to find out what happened to my family. And I have to recontact Brett. He’s up there alone and needs help. I have to believe we can do it.” She looked at me and her face showed both desperation and determination. Her mahogany eyes locked onto mine and I felt the urge to look away. I couldn’t bear to let this woman down, who had gone through so much to make it back here to Baikonur.

“Well, let’s start with your family,” I began, slowly. “The only way you are ever going to know for sure is to travel yourself to Tel Aviv and try to find them. That assumes they stayed there, and that you could make it. It would be an extremely difficult, if not impossible, journey. You would have to travel by horseback, over 3,000 miles, and we could not possibly outfit you with enough food for the trip.

“You would have to forage and hunt as you went, which I would assume is doable, though it would be highly unreliable. There are bands of… people… we call them Outliers. They roam all over, looking for food, water, supplies, and slaves. They take women, they take children, and some of the more troubling stories refer to incidents of cannibalism.

“Society has collapsed, Yara. Humans — some of them — have reverted to not much more than animals. In the best case, it is something closer to what you would expect to find in the time of the Huns or the Vikings, out there. The rules are very different now. We’ve barely managed to keep this place safe; mainly owing to the military contingent that was here when The Calamity struck, our remote location, and the surrounding steppe that allows us to see raids coming. We have been lucky. I could not pretend to promise you the same security if you tried to make it to Israel.”

I watched her face as Yara digested this information. It was not sadness that darkened it, but more a deep pondering of what I had just said. The Israeli astronaut sat up straighter in her recovery bed, smoothing her faded scrubs as she leaned back on the headboard. She took a sip of water, and I sat in the small wooden chair next to her bed, saying nothing for the moment.

Finally, she spoke again. “What about Brett? I’ve thought about what you said a few days ago, that we had no functioning communications systems. The Deep Space Network is offline, equipment has been stripped away by Outliers, and we are no longer communicating with the outside world, let alone the off-planet facilities. What about the Ahavah?”

I knew what she meant: The comms suite on the Israeli long-range vessel. “I’ve thought about that too, Yara. The Laser Communications System definitely has the capability to reach the Lunar Habitat. If Brett’s Ka-band receiver stays online, and his channel coding is still operable, then the transmitter on the Ahavah could make the link. The Disruption Tolerant Network is still functioning, as well, which, as I understand it, is how you two communicated while you were up there. You had text messaging capability, only, right?”

“Yes,” she said. “His voice communications package could never link up with the Ahavah. We had messaging only. But maybe you could make it work?” She looked hopeful. I remained skeptical.

“Power is the limiting factor,” I said. “We don’t have the fuel, but the reactor in your propulsion system might provide it, if I can divert it to the comms package. I don’t want to promise you I can do it. It’s not my specialty,” I cautioned. I did my best to present her with a face that showed I was willing to try, but was not hopeful of success.

“We have to try,” she said. It was not a question, or even a suggestion. She stated it as fact.

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Mason
Member
Mason

What the heck!!! Canadida Auris is currently showing up in (you guessed it) Canada! Nice way to freak out a hypochondriac with some toenail fungus. Wonderful installment. Thanks Fru!

clluelo
Member
clluelo

Wut ? Where ?

Mason
Member
Mason

Read, enjoy . . . don’t have nightmares!!! Just remember, Brain Eating ameoba’s “Naegleria fowleri” is a much more horrible way to go. Funny, I swim in lakes, ponds, rivers a lot . . . jeesh.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/06/health/drug-resistant-candida-auris.html

Joni Smith
Guest
Joni Smith

Civilization as once known destroyed by a fungus. It could happen. Based on the fact that South Texas sends all their pollen up our direction, I can see it happening. Maybe it’s already.happening via the pollen. There’s a shortage of steroid allergy shots because everyone has allergies so bad this year. Even people who don’t normally have allergies have allergies. So it begins….😂😂.

This has been a great story. I’m looking forward to the next part. Thanks Fru!

Miche
Member
Miche

The description when she steps outside was jarringly realistic. I hadn’t even considered that so much time surviving in space would take a toll. And the idea of a world where swift travel is no longer possible because civilization has broken down… We think we’re so invincible with our advanced technology. We’re barely a breath away from a world where that technology does us no good.

Miche
Member
Miche

P.S. I love that the ship touches down in Kazakstan of all places. I spent an inordinate amount of time in a lab studying isotopes in carbonate rocks from the Usolka, and I’ve always wondered what it’s really like there. I think I kinda romanticized it in my head. (Lab work can become tedious after a while, and most days I’d probably rather climb mountains than pick apart their molecules.)

susanh
Member
susanh

Ugh! Fru! I’ve got to wait for another instalment?? Hurry up and write it! Please 🙂

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