Shaun was shivering, arms folded across his chest. As he exhaled, the vapors of warmth disappeared into the freezing air. The condensation on the International Space Station’s console had begun to freeze. A picture on the module showed a man and a woman with a young girl. It had begun to curl on the left side where it hung freely while the right side of the photo remained fixed to the board, stuck under one of the many once flashing lights. Shaun pulled it off. Some of the ice that had built up on and around the picture broke, and fell into his hand immediately melting. He stared at the photo, longing for the woman and the young girl to say something to him. He licked his left thumb and tried to rub out some of the red residue that was on the photo. It smeared. Holding the photo, his hand began to shake. His face contorted into a miserable grimace as he begrudgingly began to crumple the memory in his hand. His eyes were pierced with tears, pain stricken, resisting a complete breakdown.
21 hours earlier...
Shaun was stirring the last bit of coffee in his cup. He wasn’t a cream and sugar kind of guy, but the last bit of coffee didn’t even fill the cup ¾ of the way full. ‘Some coffee with your cream and sugar, sir?’ He chuckled. After he carefully sipped the coffee he pulled the cup away just enough to turn his head slightly towards his commander, Xhensiano. The man in charge of the spaceflight to the ISS was born in the Balkan regions of Albania. He was 21 when he went to America, leaving behind his family in Kosovo, Serbia. Since then Kosovo is now an independent nation mostly consisting of Albanians. But before Xhensiano left his homeland his family was caught between a rock and hard place. His mother was from Serbia who worked in its foreign affairs office. She met Xhensiano’s father, an Albanian who worked in the Kosovo government, long before The War took place. Their families of course didn’t approve of their relationship, but their romeo-juliet-esque passion flourished into a proud family.
Xhansiano also had an uncle, his father’s sibling, who was an outspoken leader always advocating for independence from Serbia. His uncle always talked about the betrayal of nationalist allies who, in 1956, ratted out a number of Albanians who were then put on trial in Kosovo on charges of espionage and subversion. Xhansiano’s grandfather was one of those men charged and also a close friend of Adem Demaçi. Soon after the formation of the Revolutionary Movement for Albanian Unity, Demaci was imprisoned after one of their secret headquarters was seized by Yugoslov secret police. Xhansiano’s grandfather was reported to be killed during the melee that ensued when the forces clashed. His body was never recovered.
Xhansiano’s uncle was a mysterious man, often alienating his immediate family. It was eventually learned that his uncle was a key figure in the Kosovo Liberation Army. When Xhansiano left for America in 1995 to eventually pursue flight school in the American Navy, it was his admiration for space flight that consumed all his efforts which eventually led to his own alienation of his family. Like his uncle, he was too distracted to keep up with his family in Kosovo. The Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida, one of the best Navy flight training schools, was recruiting heavily in the navy and soon after his visa was ascertained NASA snatched him up for astronaut training.
Unbeknownst to him at the time, the new NASA pilot learned in April 1996 the KLA claimed responsibility for a series of attacks on Serbian security personnel. During this attack, Xhansiano’s younger brother and father were killed. His uncle was holding out in a siege of a known KLA building and eventually captured. For months his uncle was tortured and kept in a dimly lit cell that gave little to no light except, on the brightest of mornings, when a skinny ray of light peered through a crack in the wall. Tired, grief stricken and heart full of sorrow he passed away, quietly in his cell when he could only bear it one more time to have that light shine on him, depriving him of a free Kosovo.
The Yugoslav government considered the KLA to be "terrorists" and "insurgents" who indiscriminately attacked police and civilians, while most Albanians saw the KLA as "freedom fighters". In 1998, the U.S. State Department listed the KLA as a terrorist organization. Xhansiano’s mother finally reach out to him one evening to tell him what happened. How had time gone by so fast that he didn’t know the demise of his father, brother and uncle? She let him know she was safe, although terribly sad, and was hiding in the village of Donje Prekaz. After they hung up he never heard her voice again. The next evening after March 4th, 1998 Serbian police massacred men, women and children in that village. When he didn’t receive word from his mother after the news poured over American television, he knew. He went home to his new wife and son and did not return to flight training.
Shaun had learned this on one of the many nights he spent with the Albanian during their time stranded in space. Shaun had befriended the inhibited man who was quiet, but educational because he had a considerable amount of flight training that rubbed off onto him. Although Shaun was a few years younger, both men lived on the same base and would spend weekends with their families doing activities together because their wives needed the female camaraderie. Shaun was the one who persuaded Xhansiano to return to training.
On the eve of their first flight to space the mission was postponed for 2 hours and 15 minutes when reports of an attack had come in from Houston, Texas. It was determined to be a false alarm and the Kennedy space center ignited the launch sending the two men into space for their first time. Hours into the mission they didn’t talk. They waited for their approach to the ISS when the first exchange of words began.
“Shaun, prepare to dock with the space station.”
“Copy that, commander.”
Their mission was far from extravagant, but occupying the prestigious International Space Station was still considered an honor all these years later. Astronauts often joked what a rusted old heap it was, but it was the closest thing to civilization up there. Once the men were docked they received a call.
“International Space Station, this is Houston, do you copy?”
“Yes, Houston, this is International Space Station second commander Shaun Reyes, go ahead.”
“Commander, reports form Homeland Security have raised the national alert level to DEFCON 1. The United States Armed Forces are under attack by an unknown enemy and have advised all government forces focus all efforts defending the home front. Copy?”
“Copy, Houston. What is it you suggest we do up here?”
“Commander, I am incredibly sorry, but we do not have a contingency plan for a situation like this. The news is worse than I am capable of explaining it to you. All operations here in Houston are on lockdown until the threat is neutralized…”
The communications officer in Houston paused, but did not stop the transmission. Shaun could tell something was different when his next grave, informal response came through the console.
“Shaun, reports were coming in that people were attacking each other. Biting each other. Eating each other, feeding on each other until they were dead. Then soon after they would get up and start attacking others as well. We received a transmission from the Pentagon, forwarded through Annapolis Naval Academy, that the President and officials of government have gone underground. During this transmission, it was interrupted by the officer screaming that he was being attacked by fellow workers in his building. The connection went dead soon after. I don’t know what to tell you right now, except I will be here for you to reach out to. Until then, there is no other information to go on because there was also a media blackout. Nothing is on. The internet traffic has ceased. We’re truly paralyzed with fear here. Do you copy?”
“Yes. Commander Xhensiano is here to. We copy.”
“All the best, you two. We will be in touch, Houston over and out.”
Shaun gave his commander a disconcerting look. Xhensiano turned away and looked out the window as the sun’s last remaining light swept off the ISS and vanished behind the Earth.
“It looks like…” pausing he gazed through the blackness of space and said, “We’ll never see home again.”
What is this?You are reading an article written by a citizen of eRepublik, an immersive multiplayer strategy game based on real life countries. Create your own character and help your country achieve its glory while establishing yourself as a war hero, renowned publisher or finance guru.