Coils of thick, white steam rose before my eyes, obscuring the small window I was looking through. I sighed and prodded at my food, filled with an all consuming listless despondency. Dinner tonight; at least I assumed it was night and that it subsequently was dinner, it was hard to keep track of time out here; was a hot, steamy, gruel of re-hydrated soy-protein. A foodstuff so treated, packaged, processed, pulped, dessicated and so utterly devoid of taste as to have completely divorced itself from the conceptual notion of food. Food was an inefficient and wasteful concept, this was nutrition. Nutrition, it turns out, is not particularly appetising. Alas it was all I had left and it was all there ever would be now.
The view came in waves as the station spun about its axis, the star speckled vista of deep space rolling into the face of the planet earth, then back to deep space. On and on. Regular. Like clockwork.
As a child I remember being taught the tenets of Buddhism. Only one ever stuck in my mind: “All existence is suffering.” My teachers had called it one of the Noble Truths. From the myriad of things I had seen in life, both in person and on the news screen; the slum fires in Säo Paulo, and the day after day of rolling news footage; the Berlin food riots, where I hid in a dumpster while I saw an old lady murdered for a loaf of bread; people just being people; I no longer had any doubt that it was true, I just continually failed to understand why there was anything particularly noble about this truth. Brutal, yes; Noble, no. Nor could I quite grasp how a man who was so often depicted as jovial fat man could be the source of a statement so inherently grim. It didn’t diminish the truth though, I only needed to look out the window the see how true it was. Our little rocky sphere of green and blue was now rendered in hues of grey and orange. Everything was on fire. And what little wasn’t on fire was drowning in soot and smoke and pyrolytic ash. T’would seem that after all this time all of human endeavour has finally been proven to be futile, all of our successes fleeting and all our collective flesh tragically transient.
Wiser folk than I could smell the change the wind before it arrived. You can prepare, set a store of things away from the future, but that’s all it is: preparation. You can board up your windows and hide in the cellar but at the end of the day you cannot stop the wind, you just have to hope that as it passes over your that it doesn’t blow you away and tear down your own little corner of the world. Rational men and woman sought a way to bring unity to the world, give us a common goal and a common purpose, something to bring us together in a new sense of commonality and camaraderie. A thing which would allow us to share our hopes and joys as well as our fears and darkest nightmares, or at the very least something to keep our minds occupied and our hands busy. And thus was the great wheel conceived, a world above a world, a place of neutrality and impartiality. Despite all that is happening, has happened or is yet to happen it is likely that it achieved its ultimate goal, with all our nations gone and dead how could we be anything other than impartial and neutral.
From the cramped little machine room in which I sit, swaddled in the smell of ozone and the lingering vestiges of an engineer’s old spice I watch Nairobi wink out of existence. I never had a chance to visit Nairobi. I wonder if it was nice. I wonder if the people were decent and whether they deserved the cataclysm that had just been visited upon them. I was always torn by this thought, it had played itself out in my mind hour after hour as city after city was vitrified or slagged or atomised or burnt. Part of me thought that any nation capable of conceiving and visiting such destruction on another state probably deserved a fiery and ignoble end weeping with pain as it choked out its last rattling breath. That this was all a sentence to a global guilt, a final judgement being handed down from the jury box of reality. But there was of course the flip side to this, that the people dying were not the people who had made the decisions that had caused this. Could you really hold a collective populace accountable for the ill-made decisions of their leaders? Was the common man really responsible for this? The baying mob of civilisation you could perhaps accuse and convict as aiding and abetting in this slaughter. But the individual? The little island of independent thought that was a person? Could you really cast the blame on them? Then you got into the cyclic loop of probabilities and the platitudes of all that evil needs to succeed is for good men to stand by and do nothing. But if they were standing by inactive then they obviously weren’t good. It was a strand of messy thought that I was ill-equipped to unravel. All that I could be sure of is that were I still back on Earth I’d be dead and there would have been nothing I could have done to avert it.
The station’s shuttle glided out of the docking bay and out on a mission to start knocking out GPS and observation satellites. A mission as much intended to protect ourselves from any attack from the surface as it was to blind those below, an attempt to limit the carnage.
There were precious few certainties in the world these days, but for now at least the wheel in the sky would keep on turning.