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Requiem in Orbit

The prologue to this story was published as a piece of micro-fiction a literary blog called the Were-Traveler. It was not originally printed with "Requiem in Orbit" but does make for a nice sort of prologue. Stop by the Were-Traveler. It's a fantastic place to go for unsettling, thought provoking, and just downright terrifying short stories.
A little ambiance and a montage of thermal-nuclear terror to set the mood...1 millionth of a second....
                                                                A Prologue
The pillars of fire ignited the sky spreading an ebony cloud of death that quickly engulfed the glowing blue and green orb floating in the infinity of space. All over the planet, the bright clusters of lights that had once stood as a testament to the power of man were smothered by darkness. To the men and women watching from their observatory on the edge of the cosmos the lights dotting the surface of the Earth were more than just the burning glow of civilization, the illumination emitted by billions of lives. These lights were a reminder of their homes, of their families, of their lives, and in only a matter of minutes, it was all gone.

For the astronauts on board the international space station, the burning red flurry of atomic explosions was like a silent fireworks show. They were deaf to the Earth shaking roar of the blasts, the howl of the scorching nuclear winds that were carrying the screams of billions across the dying world, and just like a fireworks show the pyrotechnics eventually stopped, and everything went dark. They floated in silence.  The only sound from their communications equipment was the static transmitted by a dead world.

The gravity of the apocalypse instantly crushed the brave souls of the cosmonauts. Everyone was dead, and everything was gone forever. There was no way home. The space station they inhabited that once symbolized the accomplishments of an entire species had become their titanium tomb, and while their families were instantly incinerated on the ground below they would be subject to the slow death of starvation. In due time the cold specter of desperation would find its way into the hearts and souls of the astronauts. The once revered and respected men and women would try in vain to delay their descent into oblivion by consuming the only things they had left, each other.
                                                                 Requiem in Orbit 
The familiar sound of his wife softly saying ‘Good morning’ was the first thing Brian Burnon woke up to. That simple greeting delivered by the soothing tone of his wife’s voice is what he was treated to almost every morning for the last 15 years. He would never tell her, but he would always take a moment before opening his eyes and relish in the sound, hardly able to keep a smile from breaking across his face. As he enjoyed the moment he was surprised as he heard the phrase softly uttered again not by the voice of his wife this time but another and even more familiar voice to him, it was his mother’s-somewhat changed by age but with the same safe nurturing qualities it had always held for him.
He opened his eyes and saw the two women illuminated by the wide glowing rays of morning sunlight. He sat up, wide-eyed and greeted her. “Mom, when did you get here?”
She greeted his almost childlike enthusiasm, with her usual calmness, “Your father and I came in while you were sleeping, and we wanted to surprise you. Your father has some big news. Come out to breakfast and we will talk all about it.”
He nodded, and the two women turned and left the room, closing the door behind them. He hurriedly kicked off the covers, and threw on his long white bathrobe; he knotted it up and raced out of the room. Entering his large white tile kitchen, he saw sitting at the table his mom and dad on one side and his wife and his two children on the other. His son was dressed in his blue church suit and his daughter in her blue floral print dress from last Easter.
They were just 7 and nine and he realized the amount of time and effort that had to have gone into dressing the kids so formally and neatly. He inferred that his wife had had a long time to prepare for this “surprise visit.” He looked at her, her mid-length brown hair hanging softly against her cheeks; she lightly brushed the hair from her face and smiled widely at him. And as he smiled back, he felt completely unaware of his children and parents in the room, their voices all melted away and for a fleeting second he felt that it was only they who existed in the world. All too quickly though, that micro-world they lived in popped like a bubble, as his father began speaking to him.
Hey, Brian. How have you been?” his father asked, extending his hand.
Great Dad. Great.” He responded, almost laughing while he talked. “I have some great news,” he began. “I…”
He seemed to stop mid-word and freeze up as his mom suddenly interjected. “Oh wait, honey, remember Captain Burnon has to go up to the space station.”
Oh that’s right, “responded Brian with a tone that seemed mixed with mild surprise. “Yes, I forgot the launch is today.” He looked at his parents with a look of confusion and speculation.
Yes,” they seemed to respond in unison, “Your launch into space is today, that’s why you’re wearing your spacesuit.” Brian looked down to see the material of his spacesuit puffing out through his robe. He pondered it for about a second and his dad spoke again, “Yes this is the day you go out into space.”
His dad’s eyes seemed to cross a bit as if he was looking at something beyond Brian with an intense focus. He turned around and through one of his large wood-paned kitchen windows, with the soft white paint that made him think of his childhood home the country he looked out and saw the looming figure, the space shuttle. It stood on a launch pad, with a large crowd around it with more and more flocking to the monolithic figure that towered toward the sky.
He looked surprised but he remembered today was that day! He had nearly forgotten that it was time for his to go to the shuttle. His smile lessened; he would rather see his parents he decided; his launch could wait. He turned and faced his family. “Oh yeah, you know what, I can just do that tomorrow.” He said, casually.
His wife stood up and his parents shook their heads all at once telling him he should go. He felt his daughter’s small hand take hold of his. He looked down at her, “It’s time for you to go into space, Daddy,” she said smiling, “It’s time for you to go see God.”
His reluctance began to break into a more apparent fear. “No, no,” he answered back, “I think I can stay here just for today.”
The tone of voices of his family members seemed to be becoming more urgent. “Go, go” they said. He looked over at his wife and saw her standing off to the side, smiling at him giving him a soft almost nervous smile. “Honey,” he said, almost sounding like he was pleading, “Tell ‘em I don’t have to go. Tell ‘em I don’t have to go.”
She smiled, tears welling in her eyes, “Goodbye, Brian,” she said almost inaudibly as the rest of his family pushed him out the door. Try as he might he could not push back, as the smiling faces of his mother, father, daughter and son pushed him out the door.
His robe slipped off as he stepped back, revealing his spacesuit. He looked over his shoulder seeing the dark doorway they were pushing him towards. He called out again, “I can stay, I can stay.” But his pleading was no use; before he knew it he was standing on the small concrete step in front of his door, watching his family disappear behind the door. He stood outside in perfect weather on what was for a while his perfect day and stared at his perfect house in his perfect town. He tried not to look at the space shuttle off in the distance beckoning to him.
The power of the mighty rocket shook the very earth under his feet as the steel construct seemed growl and snort like an enraged animal ready to charge. He started towards the door to try and knock when a sudden flash blinded him and he could feel a burning heat engulfing his flesh. The world around him seemed to turn red, and wisps of smoke flew off his house as the paint was vaporized and in what seemed like slow motion the entire structure exploded into a million wooden, brick and glass particles.
He could feel the heat clinging at his flesh, tearing at his skin.
And suddenly nothing.
All feeling had gone.
He looked down and saw his flesh had gone; the only traces left behind were bloody stringy remnants that hung across his bones. He could see his family in the foundation of his house that had exploded into oblivion; they stood there in the same pose as he had last seen them. They smiled as the flesh burned and evaporated from their bones; they did not move as the fire seemed to ingest their flesh in an instant. He could feel the fire consuming him and as he watched the fire take his family, he felt it take him.
He screamed with the pitch of a young girl. The pain was unbearable: the death of his family, the loss of his home, his life engulfed by nuclear fire was a mere micro second that to him felt like an eternity. He could see there was almost nothing left of himself but he would not die, the pain would not cease and he could feel the painful bite of the flames on limbs which he no longer had. His flesh burned, then his bones seemed to burn, then his organs felt like they were on fire. He felt his eyes sizzle and boil in their sockets then finally explode. He could not feel his eyes but he could see he could not avert his eyes as he watched his family burn in front of him in an instant; it was all gone and just when he was sure death would finally release him from the moment his eyes shot open.
A cold sweat across his face and, panting the Captain awoke and felt himself restrained. He pushed up again but could not escape the grip of the restraints. He paused for a minute looking down to see that he was strapped into his sleeping compartment. He continued to pant as he undid the restraints, freeing himself and floating away from the space bed. There was no one to greet him, no “good morning,” just silence. He floated through the white sterile room, in an almost confused state. He could not remember how he’d gotten there or how long ago.
He could not remember his last moments before waking up. He kicked off the wall and headed for the door. He got into the corridor and could hear no one. There were four other people on board: his counterpart from America, Captain Tate, the two Russian astronauts, as well as a woman from China. They were all a part of this mission. He continued to float down the corridor propelling himself by pushing off the walls, until he came to the observation deck. He stopped himself. He remembered the dream he had and he wasn’t sure why he had been in the sleeping quarters or for how long. He knew something was wrong.
But he couldn’t remember or didn’t want to remember what.
He had the feeling the answers to all his questions would be on the observation deck. He stood peering through the entryway, still reluctant to enter when a sudden pain ripped across his skull. He grimaced and grabbed his head with his hands.
He could see it in his mind. The crying crew by the observation window, the large flashes coming from the Earth and the darkness consuming it, the last image to race through his mind was the image of himself sobbing uncontrollably. He had a feeling deep down he knew what it all meant but he didn’t want to go in there, he did not want to confirm the nightmare scenario from his memories. A part of his believed that if he waited long enough he would soon be greeted by the rest of the crew, and that would tell him it was all a dream, maybe some kind of newly discovered space psychosis.
From the room he could hear some slurring words in a Russian accent. He recognized that voice.
It was Dmitri, the cosmonaut.
Hello,” he called out, “come out Mr. Burnon, it’s okay now.”
Slowly Burnon pushed himself into the room, not looking out the large observation window to his right but looking to the left at cold steel room with the large com center. The great machine blinked with countless little lights as its many buttons seemed to be active but the only sound that came from its speakers was static. Dmitri hovered around the machine drinking from a collapsible fluid bag.
“I see you’re awake now; we didn’t know if you would awake. Some of us, we think the stress maybe kill you.” His words slurred terribly through the thick Russian accent and Burnon knew what was in the fluid bag.
The station supply of wine meant for their final day in space.
“You were in minor coma I think.”
“What are you talking about?” asked Burnon.
Dmitri let out a laugh, “Mr. Tate guessed you would have no memory of what happened.”

“What do you mean ‘what happened,’” Burnon asked.
Dmitri took another drink from the bag and looked at him grimly.
“Look out the window, look at Earth. I noticed you have been avoiding it, look out at the planet and you will wish you had died, Mr. Burnon.”
Brian paused for a moment looking at Dmitri who took another drink, and gestured for him to turn around. Slowly he rotated in the air to face the window and Earth. It did not take long for Brian to realize what he was seeing. Earth, the once luminescent blue and green orb that stood out in beautiful contrast with the black surroundings in space, was now darkened and black. The lights from the great cities that had once reached up to the very heavens themselves had been extinguished. The once great signs of life that were visible, even from space were gone. There was nothing. Brian felt his breath get trapped in his throat and tears well up in his eyes.
It was gone, it was all gone. He remembered his dream, his family being engulfed by fire and his home exploding and he knew that’s what happened, he had seen this happen, he had watched from space as his life was literally taken out from under his feet. He shuddered and sobbed with his face in his hands.
“I’m sorry, Captain,” Dmitri said softly.
Brian looked over at him and asked through his sobs, “What happened?”
Dmitri sighed and lowered his head, “War broke out and one side decided to push the button, so did the other. We could see the mushroom clouds and burning cities from the station. And in less than a day it stopped and it was all gone.”
Brian stood speechless for a second, almost unsure how to react. The first thing he could think to say was, “Where’s the rest of the crew?”
Dmitri still had the same somber face, “They are all gone,” He replied, “My comrade killed himself. He ingested poison.”
What about Captain Tate and Miss Ling?” Brian asked urgently.
Mr. Tate also decided to take his own life. He put on his suit and left the station. He decided to just float away.”
Brian stood shaking unable to believe what he was hearing. He finally worked up the courage to speak again. “And what about Miss Ling?” He asked. Dmitri lowered his head and Brian could see tears in his eyes. “What happened to her?” He asked again.
I can’t lie, Captain, I…” He paused for a moment and drew in his breath. “I killed her.”
Brian was emotionally and physically spent. He didn’t know what to do. What to say, or how to react. He just stood there shocked. Dmitri continued, “After the other two had gone, I thought you were going to die. And it would just be me and Miss Ling. I started thinking about our food supply and something woke in me. Either I would die, or she would die. So, I strangled her, I strangled her and left her body in the control room.”
“And do you know why I did it? So that maybe I can live two months longer!” Dmitri put his face in his hands and began to cry. “I was so stupid; I did not see that even if I had all the food I’m still going to die in less than a year’s time. We are both dead, Brian. Can’t you see that?”
Brian stood there in silence as the grave reality of the situation dawned on him too.
They were trapped here.
There would be no rescue.
There would be no resupply.
This space station would be their tomb.
Dmitri interrupted his morbid thoughts, “The people on Earth, their deaths were instant but we…We will die slowly. We will either starve or become like animals and kill each other. I will not let that be my fate… Not anymore.”
Well Mr. Burnon,” he said, holding a knife in his hand, “I know there is only one way to make it better. Not all of us, Russians are godless Commies,” he said, chuckling softly, through his tears. “I must make my penance. Her life for mine.” He glared at the other man, tears twinkling in his eyes, “Goodbye, Captain Burnon. It’s been an honor.”
Brian just stood there.
He did not scream.
And he did not try to stop Dmitri as he ran the knife across his own throat; the blood streamed from his neck and broke up into little drops and floated around him. He floated; his body slumped, bleeding out on the com console convulsing and coughing.
Until he finally stopped.
Now there was just static coming from the com console. It was the only noise left on the station. Brian drew in a breath again, unable to sob anymore. He just stared at the lifeless body of Dmitri and the charred remains of Earth.
It was all over.
He floated idly, staring at the dead world below. His friends, family, his lifetime of achievements now only existed as a memory. No one left down there would be thinking about Captain Brian Burnon and his journey into space. The newspapers, magazines, and all the other material commemorations of his story of personal triumph were all undoubtedly consumed by nuclear fire. His thoughts turned to his home, the image of his shattered smashed house formed in his mind. He could picture the pile of brick against the backdrop of the irradiated landscape.
Then his thoughts turned to his family. He could see the fire consuming their flesh the same way that locusts consume a field. He could see their corpses in the rubble of his home, their white teeth standing out in contrast to their blackened flesh.
But he still could not cry for them.
Having the aerial view of the entire globe, he saw the greater scope of things. Billions were dead, and more were still dying, with no possibility of help. And in that instant, he felt grief for a billion lost souls.
And then it was gone.
He was spent.
All his humanity had left him.
He also knew that none of it mattered because he would never see it. His home had been lost to him the minute he’d stepped onto the shuttle.
He had believed in the mission.
He had believed that he was there to help mankind, to advance science and build a better world for the entire human race.
But now he knew he was only up there to die.

This story was printed in Skive Magazine's "2011-2012 Young Authors Edition". Skive Magazine always publishes fantastic collections that will have something to satisfy fans of any genre.


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