Aphelion Issue 256, Volume 24
November 2020
 
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The Sound of Silence

by JonTrue


No one expected the end to come so soon.

There was no warning, no cries from the scientific community, no prophets speaking for their gods, no cult heads prepping their flocks with kool-aid. The end was not spectacular or glorious. It all ended with a simple ‘wompf.’ The atmosphere was drained away from the planet, the seas boiled away in silence. Every man, woman, and child on the surface was dead in seconds.

A moment of wild, silent panic, fell over humanity as they scratched at their throats and held their bulging eyes in their skulls desperate to cling on to their fragile lives. A third of them were lucky to die in their sleep. Some, on the dark side of the planet, were privileged enough to get a glimpse of the force that brought an abrupt end to their existence. They looked up into the night sky and saw the stars blotted out by infinite darkness. A hole in the universe, the size of Europe, had opened over Oceana. It stayed open long enough for all liquid water to be vaporized, and then abruptly vanished.

The machinations of mankind soon became as lifeless as their creators. The combustion engines and hydroelectric plants stopped first. Next came the nuclear plants melting down around the globe — with no water cooling ponds the systems quickly overheated. Lastly, a smattering of battery-powered lights shone on defiant to the end, but eventually, extinguished as well.

When the bombs were dropped at the end of WWII, those at the epicenter of the blast were considered the lucky ones. They died immediately, no pain, no fear; just a flash and it was over. Far more languished in the veil between life and death as their skin peeled away, and their bodies gave in to the inevitable. Thousands screaming in indescribable pain as they mourned for their loved ones and themselves. In many respects, the crew of the international space station found themselves in much the same situation six hours after being sucked into the abyss.

“Huston, this is Jessica Meir of the ISS, in unknown orbit. We have taken heavy damage and require immediate assistance. Please advise — over.” Her voice was becoming increasingly hoarse with each iteration, but as with everything else in her life, she didn’t know how to fail and would continue for as long as her body would allow.

Only the static responded. An hour ago, under the request of Commander Skripochka, she had connected the output to the vessel’s sounds system making any response, no matter how faint, audible.

“The hardware has to be damaged Oleg, let me go out and take a look.”

A stout man with a square face and eyes that gave him the appearance of being calm no matter the reality shot back with the reflex of a parent. “It’s not going to happen, Meir,” he said in a thick north Russian accent that reminded her of an intoxicated man with a mouth full of marbles. “You’re not qualified. You lab rats are all the same: you think space walks are all games. Let me tell you — is not. I am not ashamed to tell you the first time I went out, I nearly shit my pants.”

“That’s four.” Jessica’s emphatic expressions were amplified by the wild curly brown hair that framed her face.

“What’s four?”

“Four times you’ve told me that story in the last six months.”

Oleg shook off the need to win the argument. There were more important things than winning now. Commander Andrew Morgan had been rendered unconscious during the event. A hit to his head sent tiny droplets of blood floating aimlessly into the air. Immediately afterward, Dr. Meir strapped Morgan down to keep him from sustaining additional injuries while she kept a watchful eye on him.

Commander Oleg Skripochka was no stranger to command, but this was one mission that he didn’t want. He looked out the starboard observation window and tried to remain calm. As the ISS spun slowly around, he got a view of their new surroundings. A faint orange glow emanated from every direction. Lackadaisical particles approached the station and bounced off of the window. He couldn’t be certain what it was, but it reminded him of ash; ash floating in an orange haze.

“Commander! Morgan is starting to come around,” Jessica’s northeastern accent carried throughout the craft.

Oleg propelled himself to the comm center effortlessly gliding through the low-g environment. When he arrived, Andrew was already unstrapping himself.

Jessica pushed back from the console and started assessing her patient, “Take it easy Andrew, you took quite a nasty hit.”

“I’m fine. How long was I out?”

She didn’t need any equipment to know he was anything but fine. His left eye, bloodshot, wandered aimlessly while the right seemed to stare right through her.

“What is that sound?” he demanded, holding his head as if part of his skull might fall off if he didn’t hold on hard enough.

“It’s just static, we’re trying to get a signal from command, but nothing. The comms are down. We were just tal—”

“Shutup! Can’t you hear it?”

Oleg put his hand on Andrew’s shoulder, “Remain calm my friend, we have everything under control.” It was hard to look him in that one red wandering eye, but he squinted and continued, “Let Dr. Meir check you out, everything else can wait.”

“There’s no time. We have to hide. They’re coming. Oh Jesus, they are coming.” Andrew frantically ripped off the remaining straps.

Jessica and Oleg gave each other a glance, each knowing what the other was thinking, they acted without words. Jessica, once a professor of anesthesia, knew exactly what drug and dosage to give him to put him out before he could hurt himself, or worse.

The entire space station echoed with the sound of crashing metal. “It’s too late! They’re already here! Fuck, kill me, kill me now!”

But death would not come so easily.


2020 JonTrue

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