Our silence was broken by a crackle out of the speakers. We all ran to the control room, tripping over each other.
“Space Station to Houston, do you read?” I anxiously awaited reply.
“We do not copy, over.”
“Copy Kennedy. What is going on?”
”.... worldwide….Clouds of dust,...flooding,...massive,...we are operating on generators.”
“What caused the dust cloud?”
“U.S…ombs hit Mexico…istorted weather…”
“Kennedy I’m going to try to make our connection clearer, you’re breaking up.” After some modifications, “Kennedy, copy?”
“Copy. This is Kennedy minimally operating by generator. A hurricane has knocked out power to all gulf states.”
“Did you say Mexico was bombed?”
“U.S. diverted terrorist bombers headed toward California, but they “accidentally” deployed on the Mexican border. Most of the western states are sealed due to possible radiation. Dust has eliminated satellite communication for most of the hemis…”
The control room was silent.
We waited for what seemed like hours, listening to silence. No one wanted to voice their fears, concerns, and hypotheses aloud. Speaking them would give them power over our minds, allow them to settle in and take root.
I eventually became very weary from controlling my emotions and thoughts, so I stood, stretched, and broke the silence with, “I’m tired. I’m going to bed. Wake me if anything happens.”
There was a resounding hum of agreement, and Billings volunteered for first watch in the control room for the night. He had two small children on Earth.
I looked at the calendar in my bunk space. In two days a Russian ship was going to put a satellite into orbit that would allow the Space Station to receive TV, internet, and radio transmissions from Earth. I wondered if the destruction had made it to Russia. I could sure use CNN right now!
I rolled away from the calendar. No point in staying awake thinking about it. I shut my eyes. Visions of my family danced in my head, lulling me to sleep.
I don’t remember how I spent the next day. I paced around from one lab to the next without direction.
Everyone seemed to get more anxious as the evening drew near. Dr. Vellamy even spilled her coffee on her jumpsuit. I avoided caffeine. I would have a hard enough time falling asleep.
The Russians were coming tomorrow; we hoped. They will be able to communicate with us, outside of the dust cloud, and bring us valuable news.
I lay awake far too long, staring at my calendar until it went out of focus.
We had so many questions! But only one translator. Hopefully Colonel Aristov was able to come on this mission. He speaks fluent English. He missed the last mission due to illness.
I chuckled as I remembered trying to translate Russian to French, then to English! Both ships were bringing parts of the oxygen system; generators, sensors, spare tanks, the whole works. We had to organize mixed teams to install the equipment and it was a near disaster!
But this mission was succeeding, and will continue to do so!
I woke up determined to do my job! I went to the cafeteria, ate quickly, then stood and cleared my throat to get everyone’s attention.
“Astronauts, we have all been concerned about events going on down on Earth. We have all thought about our families, and we have all been through the wringer emotionally. But today we might find out the truth. Today we might finally be able to establish contact with our homes. I know this brings hope, but if for some reason there is a delay,”
I notice looks of real worry pass through my captive audience, gulp, and continue, “I want all of you to do your best to save that planet, anyway!” There was a cheer from someone, then nervous laughter as the tension was broken a little.
I continued, “That’s what we are here to do! And I want you to do Your Best! Get to work people!”
I was pleased to see smiles on some faces, determination in some eyes, and a fight back in the spirits of my fellow scientists.
I exhaled relief. We were over the first hurdle and a cohesive unit again.
Things were running smoothly, for the first few hours. I checked my watch. The Russians could make contact at any..
“Grreetings, Space Stay-shun!” the speakers blared. Aristov!
We all dropped everything and made a mad dash. So what if it wasn’t dignified!
“Good day to you Colonel Aristov! Good to hear your voice! Any voice actually!” I took the radio.
“We khad a successvul launch but vill need to dock at zee stay-shun. Zee dust vill rrreach Russia today and prrrevent rrrentry for a veek.”
“We would love to have you!”
“Furrst ve vill poot satellite in place, no?”
“Of course Colonel! We are looking forward to it!”
After the pleasantries were over, I let Billings back on the radio to monitor the mission. He grinned at me amused with my exuberance in taking it away in the first place. “Call me if anything comes up.” I lamely reply. “Aye-aye!” he quips.
The mission went smoothly, and we began setting up WiFi inside the station. The small Russian crew unloaded themselves, and a crate of Vodka.
Both crews sat staring at the projector screen. A computer downloaded and played CNN videos of the devastation on Earth.
No one spoke. No one even breathed. Maps displayed areas of radioactive contamination from the missile misfiring over northern Mexico and Southern California. The Santa Ana winds had carried it far out to sea and the tides had washed radioactive debris as far as Japan and China.
The dust cloud had moved out of the states, and was dissipating over the Atlantic and Europe. But Aristov was right, it was going to hinder reentry above Russia.
World wide shipping had almost stopped. No planes, nor boats could travel anywhere safely. Hurricanes sprang up due to the dust and hurricane Zephyr was blasting the Carribbean, on its way to Florida.
Rain had pelted the midwest, tornadoes had ripped zig-zag paths through roads, railways, towns, and cities making long distance travel impossible. Not to mention flooding many of the highways that still remained.
“Vodka anyvun?” offered Aristov.
They all started with a little to drink. Soon some had reached their limit and sang off-key to satellite radio while attempting dance moves never before seen.
Tomorrow the goal was to connect the WiFi network to each room in the station. I could watch the news from my bunk. Which is where I was headed now. I didn’t want to have to penalize someone for something they did tonight while drunk. What the Captain doesn’t know, won’t hurt the crew.
I had a fitful sleep. I kept dreaming about natural disasters and being unable to help my family. I woke several times. The last time I woke, it was close enough to morning that I just stayed up. I had breakfast in the empty and disheveled cafeteria and basked in the silence.
This was the first time the silence was comforting. I was still worried about my family, but I knew I could do something to find them now.
I went to the computer still attached to the projector and began searching. A window popped up. An aerial video. I watched. I got excited. I called to my crew
We turned on the projector so everyone could see, even with bleary, bloodshot eyes.
A large group of people, tens of thousands, were gathered on a plain somewhere. They walked into a formation, like a band on a football field.
Then they each held up a posterboard. The pieces soon all touched forming a huge sign. It was like fans at a stadium creating a team emblem out of individual colored pieces.
The sign read “U R our…” Then they all flipped them over in a huge wave, synchronized.
“HOPE” The colored background was a huge rocket.
It was a desperate plea. We replayed the video all through breakfast. Then we solemnly set to work with renewed purpose.
I sent emails out to any place I could think of, CNN , NASA, to get the message to the world that we heard them. Loud and clear.
The Russians left after about 10 days with us. They took back one of the first “space sprouts” to show the world that we were doing everything we could to save them. It gave them hope.
And they gave us motivation.