Tag Archives: Vampires

Denied the Stars (Conclusion)

“Lyubov and Andrei had both assured me the capsule would be safe. The glass had been polarized to filter out the sun’s rays, and the only part of my body that was exposed was my face inside the helmet. I think they tried, but the sun is a tenacious foe, and has ways of burning us that science has not been able to identify. It’s not the ultraviolet radiation, vampires don’t die from getting a tan, and it’s not the light itself. It’s something at the heart of the sun that tries to snuff out any darkness that if finds.”

“The sun looks much bigger on the ground than it does in space, not the orb itself, but the effect it has on the sky. On Earth it’s like whole hemisphere is out to get you. We are fooled by what we see when we look at the stars into thinking that space is dark, that the vast nothing between the dots in the sky will protect us.”

“It does not.”

“Your first Apollo astronauts died in a fire in their capsule, having never even left the ground.  As my face began to singe and boil I had some idea of what it must have felt like for them. Instinctively I took off my helmet, which only exposed more of my flesh. My hair, skin, my eyes were a blaze.”

“I pitched forward in a futile attempt to dive beneath the controls. Somewhere along the way down I fired the boosters knocking the capsule down out of its orbit and plummeting back toward the planet. Staring down at Earth I was temporarily released from the burning glare of the sun, but my approach was too steep, and the heat shield was on the other side of the capsule. Vampires have been known to survive falls from great heights, but I doubt any could survive the fires of reentry with no protection.”

“I grabbed one of the emergency fire blankets from the compartment above me and covered my face with it, while at the same time firing the boosters to try to flip myself back around. I was literally falling blind, but I didn’t dare move the blanket. My face was in agony, and my vision was beginning to cloud with blood. The capsule was screaming all around me, but all I could hear was a faint rushing in my ears.”

“What happened?” I said, leaning forward.

The man shrugged, “I blacked out. The capsule landed somewhere in Cambodia.  I didn’t even make one complete orbit,” he smiled wryly. “When I came to it was blessedly dark, and I was able to find a cave nearby where I could heal. The radio, the transponder, everything was smashed. If I’d been a human I would have been smashed too. I don’t know if they ever found that capsule, but I do know they thought I was dead. Not that I wasn’t dead before.” At this the man laughed and leaned back more comfortably.

“I survived on goat’s blood and a lot of rest, all the while trying to make it back to my home. I had nothing, so I was forced to walk most of the way. Occasionally I would ride the goats before I ate them. Eight months later I arrived here, and have lived in this town ever since.”

“Why didn’t you go back?” I asked.

“There was nothing to go back to, at least that’s how I felt at the time. The stars had made it plain that I was not welcome among them. I’d spent my whole life wanting something I could not have, with my anemic body, or with my dead body. It’s a cruel joke that God has been playing on me, or so I thought anyway.”

“I’m very sorry,” I said. There was little else to say. “Why did you tell me this story?”

The man suddenly stuck his hand into an inner coat pocket and pulled out a white and silver piece of paper, “Somebody needed to know.”

The paper was a ticket for my spaceflight the next day.

“But … you’ll die.”

“Yes I will, but it’ll be among the stars…”

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Denied the Stars (Part 4)

“Lyubov in our native tongue means ‘love’. I’ve always thought that was an odd name for such a hard man. By the mid-eighties the KGB was acting out of desperation. We all knew that the Soviet republic would fall, it was only a matter of time. Yet we acted as we had when the state was new, and Lyubov was no different.”

“I had no great love for government, less for a bunch of spies and assassins, but Andrei assured me this was the only way to the touch the stars I yearned for so desperately.”

“If Lyubov knew what we were he never said it, but there was something about the way he looked at us both that betrayed his true feelings. He would not shake our hands, and I did not offer mine. After a while you get tired of trying to explain why your grip feels like ice. His tone was terse, where with others he might have tried to be inspiring, with us he just laid it out.”

“Salyut 7 was not decommissioned after all. The crew that had docked from Mir had been a specially trained pair of agents who had outfitted the station with equipment to spy on the Northern Hemisphere, our friends in the Americas. Most of the station’s power was spent in constant surveillance, but something had gone wrong in the last few weeks and they were no longer getting any kind of  a signal. Lyubov needed an unofficial crew to go up there and repair the station, and run it manually if need be for the foreseeable future. Men of our kind were ‘the obvious choice’ since we needed next to nothing, even air to breathe.”

“How long can you live without blood?” I asked

“We don’t actually need it at all, but it dulls an ache inside us, one that threatens to rob us of our strength, and eventually our sanity. We can go for years if need be, though Andrei was a little concerned for me as I had not been one of his kind for long.”

“The mission was to go up in a few days, and Andrei and I spent the interim drinking. Just as we are without hunger, we are without satiation as well. Andrei said he was building up my stores of energy so I would be better able to survive, but I’m not sure if he truly believed this. If you drink anything in large enough quantity you can become drunk on it, and we spent a few last happy days in reverie before my silent and cold launch in the middle of the night.”

“The capsule was at least ten years old, one of the older models that had sent the first Salyut crew to their deaths, the first men to asphyxiate in space. The capsule had been thought to be scrapped and indeed it would no longer have been safe for anyone but me.”

“Though the mission itself bore no particular interest for me I could not help but be excited. Andrei was waiting for me at the base of the large tower and I embraced him with a grip that would have cracked the ribs of most men. We may not want to make more of our kind, but those we do welcome into our fold we treat like brothers. A few minutes later I was strapped in.”

“Lying back at the top of a rocket you lose a sense of how high up you really are. The whole sky reaches up above you, and it feels like you could be lying on the ground, or floating upward into the clouds. The force of the rocket was unmistakable though. Waves of gravity hit my body, hungrily trying to pull me back down even as I escaped the atmosphere. Then suddenly, nothing.”

“Weightlessness is a feeling like none that I have ever experienced. My body had always felt heavy to me, the need for blood when I was alive and dead kept me bound to the earth, and even the spaces beneath the earth. I didn’t think that it was only gravity after all, but for that brief moment I actually felt alive again, perhaps for the first time.”

“Salyut was stationed in geo-synchronous orbit above the east coast of the United States. As my capsule shot around the planet, licking up the distance above the ocean in minutes I saw something that I hadn’t glimpsed since I became what I am.”

“The sunrise.”

To be concluded…

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Denied the Stars (Part 3)

If you missed Parts 1+2 you can read them here and here.

“You see, we do not desire to create more of ourselves,” the man said as he pushed his tankard of blood to the side. “Life begets life, and death begets death. But there is enough death in this world, and so we try not to create more of it. If someone is dying we may pull them aside into our world but only if their need to exist is strong enough.”

“How many of you are there?”

“Difficult to say, but not more than a hundred or so. Too many more and we would pass out of legend and into cold reality.”

“But the people here know you.”

“Yes, but what is a small village in the middle of Russia? No one who lives here talks to the outside world, even when the outside world comes to visit like you and your fellow space tourists.”

I thought for a moment, then asked what seemed like an obvious question, though it had only just sprung into my mind, “Then why tell me?”

The man chuckled, “You are a fellow cosmonaut, or will be anyway. For more of an answer you will just have to let me finish my story.”

“I’m sorry, what did Andrei say to you when you woke up?”

“Not much. The strength in my body, my heightened senses told me most of what I needed to know. I thanked him for saving me, but he refused to accept it. He said he did not save me from dying, because it is true that in all the ways that matter we vampires are dead. He merely allowed me to finish what I had started, or so he led me to believe.”

“Our training facility was underground, so the sunlight could not touch me. Again, somehow I knew without it being said that the sun would harm me if it could. I sensed it on the track, which was at the top of the facility and closest to ground level. A heat that threatened to erupt in uncontrollable flame. It is not an easy thing to know the world does not want you to exist. Not the people necessarily, for no one in the training group suspected the change, Andrei had been careful to warn me not to show off my abilities, but the world itself. I do not know where we come from, none of us do, but we are not of nature.”

“The group I was training with was getting ready for a Soyuz mission to our newest space station, Mir. The Salyut 7 was still in orbit, and a crew from one of the first Mir missions had flown over and docked to transfer supplies to the newly christened station. You remember Mir, don’t you? It means ‘peace’ or ‘world’, the ‘peace of the world.’ It still holds the record after all these years for longest continuous human spaceflight, and was able to keep in the sky despite fires, equipment failures, oxygen leaks, and just about anything God could throw at us.”

I nodded, “I remember my parents telling me about it’s de-orbit. How long was it up, 15 years?”

The man nodded in agreement, “Yes, and I wanted to be one of her first crews. I hadn’t stopped to think what the change would mean for me. It is one thing to train with men in a large facility, but quite another to be cramped with them in a tiny capsule. People tend to notice if you’re smuggling an unusual quantity of blood aboard, and it is difficult to keep it fresh.”

“But I did not think of these practical concerns, and even when Andrei explained them to me as I confronted him after seeing the mission postings, I could not accept them. Why had he allowed me to live if he could not give me the thing I sought?”

“I almost ran out of the facility right then. I had trained for years for nothing. God had given me a body that could never meet with my desires, and Andrei had given me the same. Blood is life, and I have always lacked for it.”

“Somehow Andrei caught me before I could open the doors. I had been running at my true speed, but Andrei had been a night walker longer than I and despite a cultivated mid-fifties appearance he had a body as young as mine.”

“‘Our bodies do not deny us the stars my friend. Our road to them is simply different. There are uses for men with our abilities, missions the men you trained with could never hope to achieve.’ Andrei had said.”

“And that was when he introduced me to Lyubov, agent of the KGB.”

To be continued…

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Denied the Stars (Part 2)

The color must have drained from my face, because seconds later the man was clapping me on the shoulder.

“Relax, my young friend. I’m not gonna bite. Look … see.”

The man used his left index finger to lift his thick mustache and upper lip to reveal a normal set of teeth, though in considerably better shape than a man of nearly eighty had any right to.

“See. Nothing pointy or sharp. You’ll find no animals in the village with two little teeth marks either.”

I somehow mustered the strength to speak, “Then how do you…”

The man thumbed in the direction of the bar maid, “She gets it for me, from the butcher I think, though it’s not exactly a secret in town either. The coffee shop down the street’ll serve me if I’m in a bind, but I can only get in there in the winter, and only if I don’t linger. But Anna has never left me high and dry. She wants me to make her one, when she gets older, but I’m hoping she’ll change her mind.”

I felt like someone was putting me on. The blood had to be cornstarch or something else. Some local trick to get the best of the locals. But if the man was playing a game he wasn’t playing a very good one. Even an amateur would’ve sprung for the teeth.

“So … if you don’t bite anyone, how did you…?”

The man knocked back the rest of his drink and nodded to the bar maid to get him another, “Not all at once. You have to indulge an old man his ways, especially when he buys you a drink.”

The woman walked over and set down two glasses, his opaque, mine frosted. Even though the glass was clear I was hesitant to take a sip, not quite sure of the contents. As it turns out the quality of the beer had significantly improved. Evidently the bar maid didn’t give out the best stuff to just anyone.

“Thanks.”

“Anything for a fellow cosmonaut. As I said, I was like you as a child, dreaming of one day not just going to the stars but living there. You Americans may have landed on the moon first, but we were the first to make space our home. Our greatest hero dies in a plane crash, we keep going. Our first space station crew asphyxiates on reentry, we send up another. There was a spirit in those days, something I think your country forgot, of space being the next frontier.”

“And so I wanted to be a part of it. Most cosmonauts started as pilots, so I joined our air force at 14 by lying about my age. I was an experienced flier by 19 and a candidate for the Soviet Space Program by 22. We’d been launching space stations since the 70s and the last of the Salyut line, Salyut 7 was launched just a few years before I joined the program.”

“I trained harder than men twice my size. I wanted to get to the head of the line as soon as possible. But my body began refusing to cooperate.”

“What happened?” I asked.

The man gave me a wry smile, “I’m anemic, or was anyway, which as ironies go is a pretty good one. I’d been able to stave off problems before with regular transfusions, but the training program was straining my body beyond its limit. Somehow I was able to keep myself upright through sheer force of will during the day, but at night I would collapse into my bunk, not sleeping, but simply unable to command my body. My internal organs were deprived of oxygen, and if that goes on for long enough your body begins to shut down.”

“How did you hide what was happening to you?”

“Early on in the program I made the acquaintance of one of the program’s doctors, Andrei, who helped me get my transfusions without the rest of the team knowing. Sometimes he would stop by my bunk at night to give me something to help me sleep and restore me to some kind of working order. I think we both knew that actually flying a capsule might kill me, but he wanted to help me try.”

“One night I collapsed in the hallway on the way back to my room, gashing my head on a crate as I went down. Still have the scar.”

He parted his hair back his forehead and a thin white line extended for nearly three inches, starting from his temple.

“How did you survive?”

“I didn’t. I don’t know how much blood I had lost when Andrei found me. I was shifting in and out of consciousness and could only sense a vague form lifting me up, then putting me down on a table. I don’t know if he tried to ask me, asked me if I wanted to become like him, but the question had been answered a dozen times as I kept trying to force this shell to get me into space.”

“The transition is painless. at least it was for me. The body does not strain, the mind does not trash. There is only a sense of warmth slowly ebbing away. At the time I had thought I was only dying. But then I suddenly awoke, and Andrei was looking at me with sad dark eyes.”

To be continued…

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Denied the Stars (Part 1)

The bar was no more promising than the rest of the town, but I didn’t feel like sitting in my hotel room staring at four walls before the launch. Taking a trip to space, even as tourist, seemed to be something that should have more of a sendoff, some acknowledgement that this time was in fact special.

Probably if I’d taken the Virgin Galactic route there would have been a party, but something about going up into space with the people who did it first made more sense to me. That and it was 50,000 dollars cheaper. Still, a gruff trainer signing off that I had completed my three days of athletic preparation did not quite feel like all the pomp the occasion was due.

Walking through the door of the bar was like walking back in time, not just a few decades, but centuries into the past. Most were dressed as you would expect them to be in some old soviet movie, ratty gray coats, with wool hats and long gray beards. The only woman in the room was the bartender, and it was unlikely anyone had made a pass at her in 15 years, or dared try.

The room was packed with the only available seats at one of the many tables around the edge of the room, each with at least one occupant. Parties are usually better when more than one person is involved, but I didn’t particularly relish ambling my way up to a stranger, especially strangers who looked like this.

I grabbed my beer which was chilled in a long cold glass and started an aimless walk toward somewhere to land. Everyone seemed to ignore me, everyone except for a man with a dark beard and darker eyes in the far corner. It was not a warm look per-say  but it did seem to be the best invitation I was going to get, and he did not raise any objections when I sat down across from him. He even had the decency to say the first words.

“You’re going up tomorrow?”

“Yes,” I replied a little startled, “how did you know?”

“No one visits this place except to go up into space. And you look tired, but not like the rest of us. We have been tired all of our lives, but for you it has only been the last few days.”

I took a nervous sip of my beer, “Yeah, they’ve been working us pretty hard. Seems like a lot of effort just to sit in a chair, be weightless for twenty minutes, and then come back down.”

“Then why do it?”

“Well, because, I d’know. It’s space. It’s the kind of thing you dream about when you’re a kid. And I know it’s not like the men who went to the moon or anything, but it’s the biggest taste of it I’m likely to get.”

Unexpectedly the man laughed, “That is a good reason. Men much younger than you forget what it is like to be a child. I saw Gagarin fly when I was eight and I’ve never forgotten it.”

“Gagarin?”

Yuri Gagarin was practically the reason I was here, that and the money. We may have landed on the moon first, but Gagarin beat us to the heavens. He returned there about eight years later, only that time dead. Not many in the year 2030 remembered him with quite the same reverence, but as I’d said, space was my dream since I was a child.

“But that was seventy years ago! Pardon my asking but what do they put in the water around here?”

“It’s not the water,” the man said as he took a sip of his own drink. He then pulled a shot glass from deep in the folds of his coat and poured out a little of his mug. The substance was thick and viscous, a dark crimson that swayed back and forth in the glass as he poured. Leaving half the shot glass empty he pulled out a flask and filled it to the top with something brown.

“Nothing like a jack and blood, eh my young friend? And you thought all we Russians drank was vodka!”

To be continued…

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