Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Deorbit or Learn to Breath Vacuum

Things were, for lack of a better term, fucked. About as bad as they could get, or at least they hoped the bottom had been hit.
After the last oxygen generator had burst into flames and been doused, the final report from Mission control had come through.

The call came from a maintenance man, the last one left at mission control who knew just enough to tell them how good a job the virus had done at emptying out the planet.
From the sound of his hacking and coughing, he was nearly a goner himself. That had been two weeks and a big pile of the oxygen candles ago. Since then, there had been total silence from the planet below. Every radio, TV or satellite broadcast that wasn't on auto repeat had gone silent.
Large parts of Europe and most of the developed world had gone as dark as the Sahara at night, and the only bright areas were the burning cites.
The plague was burning itself out as it took most of humanity with it. There were some places still lit up, but those were dropping off the grid quickly. Every orbit showed another hole in what was left as the planet slipped into a post civilized state.
They had few choices, all of them bad ones. Their orbit was decaying, their food almost gone, the air running out. It was time to either load into the Soyuz and bail out or learn to breath vacuum.
So they loaded up the last of the supplies, dogged the hatches shut and blew loose from the space station. The Soyuz might have been designed by their grandfathers, but it was a nearly indestructible beast, and they had just enough fuel and momentum to aim somewhere warm.
They chose an island off the coast of New Zealand, one that might be untouched by the virus. If the heat shield held, if the GPS satellites were right, and if the trees didn't kill them on the way down, they might just make it. It was going to be a hellish ride, an untested flight path in a spaceship that should have been obsolete long ago, with no guidance from ground control, no life raft and no supplies.
Much to the amazement of all three of the crew, it worked. Romanov's head took some slight concussion damage, Shultz broke an arm when they bounced off the trees and hit the rock, but Ivanovitch, in his usual irritating way managed to slide through without a scratch.
They blew the hatch, and wobbled out of the capsule on rubbery legs that had long ago forgotten how to walk under normal gravity.
The bright sun, the blast of wet air and the smell of organic decay blew over them with a staggering intensity. After a year on the space station, it smelled like heaven and the monkey house at the zoo on a hot summer day.
Two days of slogging that should have taken an afternoon on legs used to gravity brought them to the sea, and the first signs of humanity in the shape of a costal village.
Shultz decided to make first contact. He had that arrogant air that a lot of the NASA guys had, a rude sort of assumed competence that had rubbed his Russian crewmen the wrong way since his first week on the station.
The tribe called themselves the Kuman, and had a culture that was older than most on the planet. They were hunters, warriors and guarded their land with an intensity that had kept everyone but the most determined away from them for thousands of years.
They were also cannibals, with a long history of serving man.
That night, around the fire, almost everyone was amazed at how tender and tasty that white stranger had been. So easy to chew, and so easy to catch. Shultz never knew how much like veal one could become spending that much time in zero gravity.

1 comment:

Patrick said...

Veal is wonderful.

"Sometimes a scream is better than a thesis." Ralph Waldo Emerson