Flash Fic Challenge – Breathing Around Our Abandon

New Chuck Wendig writing challenge, new fiction. I’m not going to lie to you, this is super depressing. But it’s what came to me.

Breathing Around Our Abandon

Ultimately, we don’t know what caused it.

Communication had been spotty at best for the three days before, blamed on an increase in sunspot activity as well as a variety of disruptions to the electrical grid. From the viewing ports at the base, we could make out the red algae bloom that took up a good third of the Pacific Ocean. It was actually kind of pretty, if you didn’t think about what it meant. The same was true of the hurricanes along the Eastern seaboard.

We knew tensions were high. Hell, the moonbase was staffed by Steve, a Canadian; Kathleen, an American; and Ivan, a Russian, leaving me to represent the Chinese. It was some attempt to calm world tensions, a way of proving we could all work together towards a common goal. For the most part, most of the world governments thought it was a waste of money building the moonbase, a feel good publicity stunt, since there couldn’t be that much wealth to mine. They were right, for the most part, but there was still some hope that the moon would be involved in the inevitable push towards Mars. We were scientists, and we weren’t jingoistic by nature, but I’d be lying if I said there was never any kind of cultural tensions. The thing about being on a moonbase is there’s a lot of free time, especially when the communication is spotty.

I was finishing up tending my seedlings when Steve, alarmed, suddenly activated the base’s comms. “Everyone, get to control now.”

My first thought was the aft airlock seal was leaking again, or worse, had completely decompressed, as we’d had problems with it since day one. But as soon as I entered the control room, where Kathleen and Steve were staring rapt at the outer monitor, I realized the problem wasn’t here on the moon. The problem was on Earth.

I missed the first flash, but I saw the second one, which appeared to be on the Asian continent. I was still trying to process how I could see a flash of light from Earth when Ivan arrived, just in time for a third flash, on the North American continent. “What –“ Ivan began, but stopped, as there was yet another flash, this time near the African continent.

If there were more, we couldn’t see them, as large plumes of ash started spreading throughout the atmosphere, diffusing like dye in water. We watched in quiet horror, as we had lost our voices. Right in that moment, we knew we were never getting back to Earth.

The choking clouds of ash seemed to swaddle the planet in no time, but it must have taken ten minutes at least. It’s just watching from a distance, helpless to do anything but watch the Earth slide into slow suffocation, time loses any meaning it had.

None of us ever thought a nuclear war could happen. It seemed like the thing of fifties propaganda films. Global warming was going to kill us all first, right? Or a viral outbreak. Zombies seemed more likely than nuclear warheads somehow.

For all we knew, it wasn’t war. It was a terrible accident that led to dire consequences, or maybe a terrorist. We had nothing but time to come up with scenarios for what happened. When you have no facts, imagination quickly fill the void.

Steve and Kathleen altered the frequency of the radio, bounced signals off satellites, trying to contact anyone still alive on the ground. Ivan sunk immediately into a depression and began hitting his alcohol stash hard. I held out hope the blanket of choking ash would, if not exactly clear, have a thin part, a hole to let in sunshine and hope to the people still left on the ground. If anyone was left on the ground.

By day seven, we decided the chance of anyone’s survival was nil.

Oh, it was possible some people, government officials perhaps, were safe in underground bunkers, but that’s where they’d live the rest of their lives and die. It would take thousands of years for the radiation to die down to survivable levels, and there’d be no replenishing of the food or water supply. Whatever you had was all you had. Maybe you’d live to a ripe old age in a bunker full of supplies, maybe you’d die of thirst within a year, or starve to death within ten. Maybe you’d be so crazy it wouldn’t matter.

We did the math. We had enough food supplies to last us a hundred days, and as long as we could pee we had water, thanks to the recyclers. But we only had enough oxygen for thirty two days. Our module could return to Earth, but where exactly would we go?

To die on Earth, or to die here. A quiet death was better than an agonizing death, so here we stay, counting down the hours, and staring at the dead ruin that used to be our home.

Hope does die last. But no one will ever know.

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