by David Nelson
Reaching out she was separated from the stars only by her thin skinsuit they felt so close yet the true immensity of the space they were embedded in engulfed her comprehension. Humanity’s passion strove for them, driven by the impossible challenge they represented. The scale of space evoked in her the dual dehumanising perspective of awe in the Creator and the rejection of individual prominence.
“The Heavens declare the glory of God,” was all Anika could utter in response.
“Or the insignificance of man,” came the crackling reply over the radio from the figure ahead of her. They were emerging from the secondary docking port tenuously crawling across the contoured surface of the slowly rotating cylindrical orbital habitat.
“John, you are ever the cynic,” she retorted but gave up the rest of the rebuke as she saw the crescent form of the moonrise. The lunar settlements could be clearly seen on the Moon’s dark side glinting in constellations of their own as they spread across its surface. Settlements congregated in lunar craters, lights rimming around its edges in crescent patterns, mirroring the Moon’s own form.
These however were eclipsed by the original lunar city that dominated the moonscape with its impossibly tall microgravity structures and space elevators. Aptly named Future it represented just that to the one and a half million people living there including her younger sister Prisha.
She could remember how Prisha spent every night just before sleep looking longingly up through the gaps between the tarps of their Indian slum tent. She smiled in remembrance, Future had inspired the passion in both of them and God’s blessings made it a reality.
“I love you,” he said breaking into her thoughts bringing her back into the moment, “I love how you see the beauty in everything, Anika. You help keep my eyes open, my heart free. You always have.”
She turned to him and emotions flooded her body with the inexplicable desire to feel close, be close, to press herself into his encompassing grasp. She felt the coldness of space displaced by the warmth of his soul, the pressure of his embrace defining the perfect balance between hidden strength and careful protection. They drifted clinging close together above the turning steel hull under the rising lunar crescent for a timeless interval.
A brighter light was now encroaching on their position, the messengers for the violent rays of the sun. Together they gazed, seeing the sunrise through the visiplate in their helm piece which automatically adjusted to filter the powerful rays. Anika felt her skinsuit’s thermoresisters straining as they cooled her to keep thermal homeostasis against the heat from the sun.
The sun emerged at the very apex of the lunar crescent as if they were balancing upon one another. Then beneath this pair a sliver of blue appeared, outlining the edge of Earth’s domain. She gazed at the earthrise, the sun’s rays highlighted the thin atmosphere creating a blue crescent that mirrored the Moon. Furthermore the lights from Earth’s sprawling megatropolises defining the demarcations of continental and national borders was a terrestrial counterpart of the lunar crater cities.
Anika gazed in rapture until John forcefully grabbed her wrist. Startled she saw him swing out in front of her and she quickly returned the grip. There he hung floating among the arrangement of celestial bodies. Then her heart leapt in panic as he detached his suit’s tethering line. Now she was his only connection back to the ship, the only thing preventing his certain death of anguish alone in the abyss. Gripping his wrist she quickly strove to pull him in, however he motioned for her to stop, fixing her with those intense eyes while he purposefully let go of her wrist with his hand. His sole connection to life lay in Anika’s grip.
“I trust you,” John said, “I will always trust you, with my future, my life, my love. I entrust everything I have into your hands. I love you and always want to be with you. Marry me … please.”
Joy burst in Anika’s heart as she leapt off the hull and encased John in her arms and legs. Startled he returned the embrace just before her tether jerked them back to the ship. He landed heavily on top of her, his body shaking, crying tears of joy that fogged up his helmpiece.
“It will be a new hope, a new chance, the fresh start that we need,” she replied.
But she was cut off by a screech of static surging over the radio frequencies. Simultaneously her visor filters maxed out plunging her into darkness. Then she felt the thermoresistors throughout her entire suit straining to breaking point and failing. Such incredible heat overwhelmed them as their skinsuits fused together searing deep into their skin. Their overlapping forms providing partial mutual protection. The total unexpected sensory overload overpowered Anika causing confused panic that created uncontrollable spasms across her entire body.
Gradually the visiplate visual filters cleared enabling them to see the aftermath. The first thing they noticed was the incredible intensity of the auroras. Huge strands of them like rainbow serpents thrashed around the poles and well into extreme latitudes.
It was a horrifyingly beautiful display.
Then it was Anika who first noticed the circle of molten rock that lay spread across the face of the Moon glowing white hot in the centre fading outwards to a dull red. She saw in incomprehension the expanding hemispherical halo surrounding it containing the blasted debris of the crater city Future.
“No,” uttered Anika in the void.
The loss was incomprehensible; one and a half million lives, hundreds of trillions of dollars, the inspiring dream of this generation, gone in an instant. But Anika’s only thought was of Prisha, her heart refusing to believe what her eyes told her must be true. Violently she cried out giving voice to the destruction of their emotional bond that was rending her soul. Mental anguish engulfed her physical pain multiplying her suffering, creating far deeper trauma.
John caught the direction of her stare and after turning he immediately doubled over, bloody vomit splattering against his visiplate. The radio static cut through their communications, she was unable to console, unable to hear the anguish, unable to act or protect, unable to reach out to their loved ones. Completely powerless, stuck absently floating, a spectator to events on a scale too large to be swayed by her influence.
Gradual realisation overcame Anika’s anguish and turned it into a deep boiling hatred that shook her to the core.
She desired vengeance and justice; for those responsible to feel the pain of her sister and all those who suffered. For everything they valued to be destroyed in front of their eyes before entering a permanent Hell of tortuous punishment. Her heart raged inside her heaving chest. Her belief in eternal justice was her only consolation but she dearly wished that it would be carried out in this life as well as the next.
While that thought blazed in her mind her visiplate flickered for an instant while another flash casted the pair in relief against the hull. She saw a billowing fireball spreading over the East Coast of America its emanating mushroom cloud towering many kilometres high appeared as a perfectly round artificial storm that quickly shifted through the spectrum from red to white until settling on a greyish brown.
Again and again the visiplate flickered for hours, each flash revealing the location of millions of dead and dying. Such intense pain, fear, anger, hopelessness and loss overwhelmed Anika until completely drained she could only watch on with emotionless eyes reflecting the dull blotches spreading across Earth. Almost mindlessly she stared at her Indian hometown barely able to mutter the words of some incoherent prayer. It was the only thing of her past left to her.
Eventually the Moon and Earth disappeared from view as the station continued its slow revolutions. Stars filled the spacescape, reminding her of the future she once dreamed among them. They shone brightly as before but they were now forever dimmed in her eyes, all she has ever been able to see since is the ominous darkness that loomed between them.
The corner of her mouth twitched in painful recollection triggered years later as she stood there looking at the scars that stretched across her body. Reconstruction had been skilfully performed but the remnants of her whole skin still stood out defined by John’s protective silhouette. She fingered the skin just above her left breast, the place where his hand had lain across her heart. Thinking back she could see it was his protection, his love that shielded her heart from the engulfing despair in the ensuing days.
A hand wrapped around sliding to the place where he had protected her long ago.
“Old scars never heal, do they?” he whispered into her ear.
“And acts of love never fade,” she replied.