(Cosmonaut was published in the sadly defunct Astounding Tales in the winter of 2005. It was the inspiration for my unpublished novel, Flight of the Cosmonaut. Enjoy this excerpt.)
As Georgi watched the sunrise over Baikanor, his mind soared with anticipation of the glory that was every Russian boy’s dream – to be Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space.
In the distance, Georgi could see the new Proton SL-217 rising from the pad that originally launched Sputnik, and to the east, the Korolev 1, prototype for the heavy lift rocket that would soon be launching Russia’s Super Shuttle to the newly completed International Space Station. But these great achievements of the new Russian mega-economy paled in comparison to the mission for which he had been chosen. Cosmonaut Georgi Komarov was going to Mars.
Georgi had been one of a dozen test pilots chosen for the Mars Missions. Both Russia and the United States had been sending probes to Mars since the seventies, but no country could really lay claim to the planet without having first set a human foot there. According to NASA’s agenda, first initiated by the Late U.S. President George W. Bush, six American astronauts would be walking on Mars by July 4, 2031. And even though NASA’s mission had already left for Mars a year ago, Georgi would beat them there by a whole month – ETA – May Day, 2031.
“Good morning, Captain Komarov. I trust you had a pleasant weekend with the family. Not too much vodka, I hope. You know, the Americans have a saying. Never buy an Edsel built on Monday. The factory workers all have hangovers.”
“Yes. I mean, no.”
“Which is it, Captain? We can’t have our Cosmonauts handcuffed by indecision.” General Goronsky laughed before Georgi could attempt an answer. “The hopes and dreams of Mother Russia go with you, Captain.”
Georgi saluted and continued down the skywalk.
Gorbachev7 was more than two hundred meters tall, roughly four times the height of the original Proton rockets that carried Salyut and Mir into space. And yet it was dwarfed by the enormous launching chamber that stretched from deep underground to the surface of the Cosmodrome two kilometers above. Georgi couldn’t help feeling like an ant that had accidentally crawled into the barrel of a shot gun.
In a way, Georgi was glad he wasn’t Yuri Gagarin. Yuri never went to Mars. He never even went to the moon. The nuclear canon design would have been inconceivable during those first glory days in space. Even the smallest atom bombs would have blown the strongest steel canon to pieces. Russia was fully aware of this engineering limitation when they agreed with the rest of the International Space Community to ban nuclear explosions in space. However, the synthetic molecular alloys of Georgi’s day were just strong enough to make the nuclear canon a feasible idea once again, although not entirely legal. Georgi was lucky to be alive at this great moment in Russia’s history. He was literally at the pinnacle of human achievement.
Fellow Cosmonaut Vladimir Orionovitch was waiting for Georgi at the capsule. He was next in line for the Gorbachev missions and one of Georgi’s best friends. Georgi was glad he would be manning ground communications on this one.
“Here to tuck you in, Cosmonaut,” he said with a very serious expression, and then smiled as he helped the suited Georgi through the capsule hatch. “Go with God,” he said. “I’m not religious, as you know, but I like to exercise my democratic freedoms whenever I can.” When Georgi was seated and strapped into his G-form couch, Vladimir made one last survey of the cockpit and stepped back to close the hatch. “Oh, yes. Don’t forget to stow the LGM before take off.”
Vladimir closed the hatch.
Georgi’s eyes darted wildly around the hundred cubic feet that was to be his home for the next hundred days, but he saw no signs of LGM. In fact, he had no recollection of this acronym in any of his recent briefings. There were acronyms for everything – for the guidance system, the circulation system, the propulsion system, even the urine collection system – but there was no LGM. And then he saw it sitting on the visual reference monitor smiling at him – a Little Green Martian, the kind of thing that Americans hang from their rearview mirrors. Vladimir had bought it in Moscow the day after they had both been accepted for the Mars Missions. He said it would bring them luck.
“Prepare for pre-launch inspection.” It was General Goronski. “Captain Georgi, are you there?”
Georgi quickly stuffed the LGM in with the sealed rations before the scanning onboard cameras could pick it up. “Yes, General, I am ready.”
An hour later and T-minus ten minutes, Georgi was pleasantly surprised to see that his pulse had not risen significantly. The launch date had been pushed back so many times that perhaps he was not even sure that he would ever take off. But so far today they were right on schedule with no major delays. The weather window was acceptable and all systems were good to go. Maybe this was it.
“Captain Georgi, Baikanor Command wants a final confirmation on the LGM.” Vladimir had taken over the com.
“T-minus one minute. Prepare for final count down.”
It was the longest minute of Georgi’s life. When the nuclear canon fired, Georgi felt the G-forces mount exponentially. He couldn’t move or talk or breathe. He watched helplessly as the blood in his vision turned from scarlet to brown to black in just a few seconds. And then, he felt nothing.
Dear Publishers: If you have enjoyed this excerpt and would like to see the entire 2600 word story, please email me at the following address.