Zero Atmosphere

The act of checking himself in the mirror sparked memories and before he knew it tears blurred Lord Del Tyminsk vision then streamed down his cheeks. They were not for the passing of the Churches highest ruler, but for his wife whom he lost to an accident four months past. Not many reminders of her stirred up his sorrow to the point of tears these days. Yet as he checked his ceremonial dress in the long mirror, it reminded him, of how little he needed a mirror when she was alive. If not for a piece of rock no bigger than his fist, she would at this very moment be fussing over him incessantly to see that every hem was straight, creases sharp, and his beard trimmed “oh so perfectly”. Through tear distorted vision, he could see the memory of her fussing over him, moving from his left shoulder, then to his right, tugging at this sleeve, pulling this hem, straightening his tie. But alas, the memory faded and he stood alone before the mirror.

Visions of his wife faded and he continued to look at himself. For a Lord preparing to swear in the new High Priestess and say goodbye to the old one, he looked like crater dust, he thought. He was certain his light brown hair was much grayer these days. It was definitely the prominent color of his neatly trimmed beard. Red rimmed his blue eyes, while dark bags sagged like shadows below them. He had been drinking more lately to dull the ache in his heart and to quiet his stomach. Unfortunately, now both his midsection and jowls bore the evidence of his increased consumption. Reluctantly he shrugged on his coat to test the fit of recent tailoring by his domestic droid. Erratically, he half turned each way to check how it hung across his shoulders and back.

“What do you think Jihles?” He asked the droid.

“Hold still Master Tyminsk.” The droid requested in a calm metallic voice, its programming sensitive to its master’s grief. It moved in a half circle behind Tyminsk from right shoulder to left, its silver eyes precisely measuring every line. The only sound in the room was the droids servo motors as it picked at lint and tugged at hems. “The suit fits properly Master, though I can offer no opinion concerning taste or style.”

Tyminsk removed the coat after a final look in the mirror and handed it to the droid. “Thank you Jihles make it available for my departure then resume you duties.” Jihles accepted the coat, bowed slightly, and took the hint to leave the grieving Lord alone with his burdens.

Lord Tyminsk turned from the mirror, left the changing room, and into his bedroom. There he paused briefly to look for someone who wasn’t there, then headed to his study. There, he sought out the beverage dispenser with the intent of ordering a beer. He checked a wall crono, decided it was too early, and ordered a coffee. From the dispenser came an ornate coffee cup with saucer, filled with steaming black liquid. Absently he blew across the top of the cup as he looked off into space, once again lost in thought and grief.

Without knowing why he became aware of intense scalding pain that consumed his tongue and the sensitive tissue above it. Quickly he realized he took too big of a sip of the blistering liquid and without thinking swallowed the still scorching coffee, which spilled liquid fire down his gullet. Rapidly he drew in deep breaths through rounded lips to cool the fire. Clumsily he clattered the saucer and cup to the table while calling for ice water. Before the tall glass finished filling he yanked it from the dispenser and emptied it in three deep gulps.

With his physical pain eased, he replaced the glass in the dispenser, collected up his saucer and moved to his preferred chair. There he set the cup and saucer on a small round table beside the chair and settled himself into its cushions, clasped his hands together, and placed them in his lap. “Alice,” Tyminsk called to the house domestic program. “Please bring up the message from Lady Tyminsk dated October fourteen, 314 A.E. Project it here in the study with no sound, please.”

Materializing before him was the life size image of his wife the last day he saw her alive. She wore a light green pants suit cut to hide her middle-aged figure, her shoulder length blonde hair free of any gray, sky blue eyes full of life. His tears flowed freely now as the holographic image reminded him of how lively she was that day and every day before it. The way she moved, her grace and the eternal smile, preserved in a short message she recorded before going to Center City for a day of shopping with friends.

Tyminsk closed his eyes to the image of his deceased wife, replacing it in his mind’s eye with scenes from later that day.

He was sitting in the same spot he now sat reading an E-Text of a classic novel published in twenty-seven A.E. He just recently discovered it and converted it to modern E-text format. To his consternation, Alice announced an urgent incoming call from Commandant Tember of the Lunar Security Force.

“Display the call in my study Alice.” He responded as he deactivated his SolNet device and set it on the table next to a tall glass half full of amber ale.

A meter in front of Lord Tyminsk appeared the bust of Commandant Tember, the commander of the Center City District. The interior of a Security Force command vehicle served as a backdrop. Tyminsk notice the commandant wore a ZAS suit without the helmet. Red and blue light flashed across the Commandant’s face and the vehicles interior, it was clear he was calling from some sort of tragedy. The set of Tember’s chiseled features made it clear he was about to deliver distressing news.

“How can I help you Commandant?” Lord Tyminsk asked the holographic image tentatively.

“There has been an accident,” Tember looked about then continued. “A small meteor slipped through the asteroid defense system…the lunarplane carrying Lady Tyminsk and three others was struck and crashed.”

“Oh my Mother, is she all right,” Lord Tyminsk cried.

“We have sent a Security Force lunarplane to pick you up; it will be there any minute now.” Tember looked directly in to the holographic pickup. “She doesn’t have much time and she is asking for you.”

“What are you talking about?” Tyminsk pleaded, his mind going numb, his chest ached, and breathing was becoming difficult. “If she is still alive, why can’t you do something for her?”

“We are…we are sending a transport for you. The officer flying the lunarplane will answer any questions.” Tember looked away as if attending to another matter, nodded and looked back to Tyminsk. “The officer says she is outside your hanger door, she can have you here in less than ten minutes…if you hurry.”

Lord Tyminsk stared at the Security Force commandant for several seconds before the commandant reminded him the officer was waiting. Tyminsk distractedly ordered the house domestic to open the hanger to the waiting lunarplane and in a daze found his way to the hanger.

At the hanger door, a woman dressed in a ZAS suit showing a Lunar Security Force emblem on her chest was waiting for him. “We must hurry Lord Tyminsk.” She said taking his upper arm and guided him to the plane ignoring all protocols concerning interaction with a member of the House of Lords. She led him to the passenger side, waited until he was up the short latter and settled into the seat before running around the nose of the craft and climbing into the pilots seat.

“I need you to tell the house domestic to open the hangers doors Lord Tyminsk.” She urged softly and he complied, having to repeat himself because his voice did not carry to the audio pick up the first time.

As they cleared the hanger door lip, Tyminsk pulled himself from his well of misery and focused on the Security Force officer.

“What happened officer…” He paused to get her name.

“Signia.” She replied.

“Why is it officer Signia we can’t do anything for the Lady Tyminsk if she is still alive?” He asked his voice icy.

She looked to Tyminsk with nothing but sorrow and pity in her eyes.

“It’s…um just plain luck she is even alive my Lord.” She turned back to flying for a second then back to the grieving man beside her. “The asteroid took out the power plant along with a quarter of the lunarplane. One of the passengers is still missing; she was pulled from the rear seat before the containment field could shield the occupants.”

Lord Tyminsk turned to look straight ahead, her narration causing his eyes to well up.

“You wife’s lunarplane careened out of control into the Center City Park dome. It bounced off the dome and crashed into an engineering structure.” Again, she paused knowing the next part was going to be hard on her and the man sitting next to her. “She is pretty badly banged up, even if we could get her out of the wreckage before the emergency air runs out, she may not survive anyway.”

Lord Tyminsk turned and faced her, his eyes red, tears streaming down her face. “What is keeping you from pulling her from the wreckage?” He growled.

“We need heavy lift equipment, if we move to fast; something could shift and crush the lunarplane and your wife with it.” She responded sympathetically meeting his glare. “There is a ZAS suit behind you; you’re going to need to put it on if you’re going to see her.”

She was already reaching back for her suits helmet as she spoke. Tyminsk glared at her for a couple of second’s comprehending what she said then turned, reached back and grabbed the suit.

He hated being out on the lunar surface, especially in anything as flimsy as a Zero Atmosphere Suit. But he was familiar with its operation, as was everyone else who lived on this crappy ass rock, he thought to himself. With little effort, he donned the suit and ran the self-diagnostics to make sure everything functioned properly. For the time being, he kept the helmet on his lap.

Dread filled him and he looked up at the Earth. There it floated in the black space that surrounded him, them, all of humanity. Earth itself was bereft of any human life. Forced into exile by an environmental movement based church that rose to power almost four hundred Earth years ago. Now humankind faced the constant threat of death by vacuum, meteor showers, and various equipment failures since they relied entirely on machinery to survive on this lifeless rock. Though he was a Lord in this nightmare theocracy, it didn’t protect him, or his family from the reality of living in a vacuum. Now his most cherished Chrysty was clinging to life, because the technology they counted on to survive failed them…him…his two sons.

“Fuck you Church of Earth First and the High Priestess.” He muttered under his breath. He looked sidelong at officer Signia to see if she heard, she was pretending she did not.

As the Center City park dome came into view it quickly became clear that something tragic took place not that long ago. First, he could see the myriad of red and blue emergency lights of the security force and emergency vehicles outside the dome. A few hovered over the point of impact, while the majority was concentrated around and engineering plant a couple hundred meters from the dome. Above the largest concentration of security force lights was the amber flashing lights of safety and engineering vehicles. These vehicles focused on what Tyminsk figured was the impact area of the dome itself.

Officer Signia was on the Nav-Comm announcing their arrival and getting instructions on where to land while Tyminsk took in the enormity of the scene. He could see the black outline of the roboplates as they supported the park dome and held in its atmosphere. These emergency devices were stored in underground lockers waiting for mishaps just like the one he approached. When some object breached on of the hundreds of domes that pocked the lunar landscape the roboplates literally flew into action and sealed themselves against the damaged transparalloy and each other. The sheer size of this roboplate patch left Tyminsk wondering why the dome did not just collapse into the park below. He could see frozen clouds of atmosphere escaping in a few places.

To the left of the dome was a fresh crater created by the asteroid that took down his wife’s lunarplane. By his estimation the crater was about ninety meters across; part of a residential complex sustained damaged by the asteroids impact. Medical transports and personal surrounded the damaged complex.

“Not a good day for the Asteroid Defense Ministry.” Tyminsk growled.

“No it’s not my Lord…no it’s not.” Signia replied as she guided the lunarplane to its final destination.

The horror of the scene took Tyminsk breath away. Wedged into the engineering building at a twisted angle was what remained of his wife’s lunarplane. From his perspective, the asteroid may have removed a quarter of the plane, but there was much less of it wedged into what was left of the building. The lunarplane was basically upside down with the pilot’s side of the canopy pointing directly at the ground. Even from here, he could see that the plane supported much of the weight of the partially collapse engineering building.

“The Center City Park and much of the adjacent residential district is on backup life support.” Signia offered after landing the Security Force lunarplane about thirty meters from the crash site. “You need to put your helmet on my Lord.”

Lord Tyminsk gave her a sickened look then returned his focus to the remains of Lady Tyminsk’s lunarplane. Signia waited patiently for him to don his helmet, which he finally did after several seconds of staring at the crash site. Mechanically he checked the seals and ran the suits diagnostics. She saw the all green on the inside of his visor before he gave her the thumbs up and popped the seals on the lunarplane.

Signia was out of the plane and standing beside the passenger ladder before Lord Tyminsk even pulled himself from the seat. In the time it took him to step over the low lip and down the short ladder Commandant Tember was standing beside Signia, it was clear to her the Commandant was having trouble ignoring the low air light that pulsed next to his right eye. Judging by its slow steady rhythm, her boss still had several minutes before it turned red.

Tember tried talking to Lord Tyminsk but the grieving Lord could not here him. He tapped on the side of Tyminsks face plate to get his attention then held up one finger followed by seven fingers to tell the grieving Lord to switch his comm channel to seventeen. Tyminsk blinked at the Commandant a few times then raised his right hand and changed the comm channel on the wrist cuff with his right index finger.

“Can you hear me Lord Tyminsk?” Tember asked before continuing, Tyminsk nodded absently his attention shifting back to the red canopy of his wife’s lunarplane.

“Nothing I can say will prepare you for what you are about to see my Lord. She is very badly broken up and as you can see, she has lost a lot of blood.” Tyminsk shifted is eyes briefly to Tember then back to the broken plane. “The craft has no power, batteries are smashed, and you will have to press your face shield against the canopy to talk to her…do you understand.”

Without acknowledging the Commandant, Lord Tyminsk walked stiffly over to the lunarplane. Only his need to see and talk to her propelled him forward because the site of her blood coloring the planes canopy that crimson shade of red horrified him. So did what he might see. As he drew closer, he could make out the outline of her broken body in the smears of red. Her face was at waist level, the left side pressed against the canopy just above the growing crimson pool. Awkwardly he got down on his hands and knees and crawled the last few meters, his tears turning the world a blood red blur as he drew closer.

He blinked to clear his eyes and could see her blue eyes open but slightly glazed, her blonde hair sticking to her and the canopy in red strands. For appearance sake, he called her name knowing she would not hear him. He raised his right wrist, switched off the comm, and made a show of placing his face plate against the lunarplanes canopy. The thunk of his face plate contacting the canopy glass pulled her from her shock induced trance.

Chrysty, honey it’s me Del. Lord Tyminsk said trying to establish a telepathic connection with his wife. He swallowed the lump in his throat when she turned her head slightly and winced in pain. Can you hear me baby?

Her eyes cleared a little and just a hint of a smile appeared as she focused on her husband and lifelong friend.

I can hear you just fine my love. The pain in her mental tone made Del flinch away from her briefly.

Take it easy my sweet, their trying to get you out of here. He could tell she knew better.

There is nothing left to rescue Del. They tell me there still looking for Alyn. Carys and Tanya are in here with me somewhere. Oh, I am so glad you came. Her eyes closed for a couple of seconds then opened.

I’m here my sweet. Tears flowed freely making it hard for him to see. I am not going anywhere.

Chrysty offered one last weak smile. I love you my white night, I always have. Her eyes closed once again and did not open and their connection ended.

Lord Tyminsk felt more than he saw the life slip away from his wife. He placed the palm of his right hand against the canopy, anger welling up within him in frustration over the barrier between them. Silently he grieved in the lifeless vacuum that surrounded him. In the time the emergency crews allowed him, Lord Del Tyminsk cursed every deity he could think of including Mother Earth and the cursed Church that put them on this lifeless rock.

“Father,” The voice of his youngest son pulled him from his reverie. “Are you all right?”

Lord Tyminsk shook his head slowly as he struggled to the present. Kenoyn stood were the image of his wife was just moments before; she was gone…again. Kenoyn looked little like the boy he was the last time he was home. His light brown hair shaved to mere stubble. He wore the black uniform of a Solar Naval Cadet, and looked older than his fourteen years. His features were a combination of concern and sorrow. The sorrow for his mother reignited when he walked into his father’s study to find him staring blankly into a holographic image of his departed mother.

“When did you arrive, Kenoyn?” Lord Tyminsk asked, unaware of his sons own question to him.

“Just now,” Kenoyn answered as he sat on the front of a chair to his father’s right. “I would have been here sooner but an imminent threat alert slowed us down considerably.” His father’s appearance troubled him deeply. “Are you all right father?” He asked again.

Lord Tyminsk stared at Kenoyn for several long seconds, as if lost in thought before answering. “Yea…as I’m sure you could tell when you walked in here, I’m missing your mother pretty bad today.”

“It’s not because of this evening’s ceremony is it?” Kenoyn asked his father, his tone betraying his belief that the answer was no.

His father smiled wanly at his son’s question. “No, it’s getting ready for the damn thing that touched it off. Your mother went to great pains to make sure I was ready for something like this.” Lord Tyminsk’s eyes lit up with pleasant memories. “Now I have to fumble along myself…I so miss her.”

“We all do father.” Kenoyn answered with deep emotion.

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