Over an Ember Sky

A response to a writing prompt, first published on 4th January 2018

“It was part of my training back in Cologne and I remember the jokes about it vividly. Trajectory calculations just by landmarks and time. Still, we had to learn and master it. It is all part of being a real European Astronaut.
I hate it when they write in Books “I still see it before my Eyes” but it is true, some things never leave you.”

The Room he currently occupied was dark. This made it much easier to see what the universe held for him outside of the Panorama Window. It was mounted inside one of the leisure modules that made up the Space Station Minerva. But these days it was rotated to give a spectacular view of earth.

“I reach for the Nationality Marking on my flight suit and remove it. It has become meaningless to me and to most on the station.”

A soft female voice stated softly: “You do not need to document your behavior as I will add it automatically to the Transcription, Astronaut Fleischer”. It felt as if the voice was emanating from the walls. The Man nodded to himself and sighed resignedly.

“Thank you Minerva. It still feels more natural to me. Anyway. Three Days ago we were witnesses to…”

A sudden flash of tears and angst overcame him and it took a short while until he could find enough strength to speak again.

“The worst imaginable accident has happened. I can’t and won’t believe that it was something different. But three days ago we discovered multiple exhaust gas trails rising from the ground as well as others already traveling over the horizon. They appeared random.”

It required everything from his training and preparation to keep him coherent enough to continue.

“The worst thing was the travel time. Few people think about this but it takes them fifteen to twenty minutes to reach their target once fired.”

“Could you please elaborate: It” asked the voice monotonous.

“ICBMs, Gottverdammt. Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles.”

There was a short pause, then the voice noted: “Thank you. Factual information and clarity will benefit this report greatly.” In a fit of rage he wanted to latch onto the comment like an animal but held back at the very last second. She, or better It was only a human input device. Nothing more than a glorified keyboard. He gave himself some time to cool of and continued.

“We informed Houston and Darmstadt about the launches. But before they could confirm there was only static remaining. As acting mission administrator I ordered a grieving period of twenty four hours as per Guidelines. We do listen in on the normal communications and emergency channels but until now there is nothing.”

Gripping the headrest of a chair he moved himself nearer towards the glass of the window. All he saw was the dark ashen soil of his home planet. From up here it looked like a burning piece of coal, only the murky blue seas provided some variety.

“Earlier today we made contact with ISS and the indo-japanese Yukikaze. We came to the agreement to join the stations. Our biologist Dr. Dubois is confident that together we have enough resources to survive two missed supply runs. Since the last one was four days ago, we have eighty six, respective 176 days left. I am not convinced.”

The door opened and a woman in a slightly different colored flight suit put her head through the airlock: “Fleischer, the ISS is coming up port and deck.” The lonely astronaut nodded and was left to his own devices again.

“Minerva, redact my emotional outburst from the transcript. On a closing note I want to add that in any case we all know that we all are dead man walking. We will spend our remaining time installing the RF resonant cavity thrusters and move the combined stations to a lagrange point if possible. We will not die suffering. This is the last privilege granted to us.”

After a last look towards the ember sky of earth he pushed himself through the open airlock.