Ashes like leaves blow in the wind, bright embers like fireflies.
The world burned.
Grey skies over grey cities, permanently overcast.
The ruins of civilization covered in a dense blanket of ash like dirty snow.
The only light on night side of earth from orbit were from vast fires.
Much of Africa still glowed at night, even through the smoke.
The rain forests were dry after the war. They lit up like petrol when the bombs were launched from orbital platforms and hit Egypt and South Africa.
And things were going so well.
A small unregistered orbital platform sits in a geostationary trajectory over Chicago, or at least that's what the onboard navigation system said. It lacks ground scanning radar to see through the permasmog, and even then, all it would see would be a series of craters. The words "Carpe Noctem" were spray-painted in block letters on the side of the platform. The on-board computers register five humans on board and one outside the platform on the hull. Five hours earlier the computers registered a micrometeorite that impacted the outer hull, grazing a partly exposed fuel line. A memo was on the logs that said simply "David: shield that fucking exposed pipe asap". The memo was signed Lauren H and dated 3 months ago, right after they had installed a new fuel line. There were similar such memos repeated every 3-7 days thereafter.
David had entered the airlock 15 minutes ago, after hitting snooze every 6 minutes on the alarm for the previous 5 hours and spending half an hour alternately swearing and getting into his EVA suit. It is important to note that it was not an alarm clock he was snoozing, but rather the fuel leak alarm. The public address system was broken on the Carpe Noctem, and an old radio speaker was monkey-patched into the computer in David's room.
A clock in the corner of David's head-up display silently turned 00:00 CST. He guessed (correctly) that the micrometeorite event had occurred half an hour or so after he and the rest of the crew retired (stumbled) to their quarters (and passed out) following an intense 6 hour crew meeting (consisting of binge drinking and smoking marijuana). He finishes patching up the fuel line and remembers he left the shielding materials in the airlock. Or was it under his bunk. Or maybe it was was still in the cargo hold.
"Dammit." he hits the intercom switch "Lauren, I need you to look for the fuel line shield." silence. "Lauren! Jackie?" He remembers the PA is broken and has been for a month. "Fuck."
He starts climbing "up" towards the airlock, there was no up or down in space, but dammit its above his head so it is up. Besides, thinks David, it makes his stomach do fewer back flips when he thinks of things in terms of up and down. The handholds are made up of mainly junk ripped off of old satellites and some bits of cargo containers hacked off with a plasma cutter. The platform was an old military installation that had apparently been welded to parts from some abandoned space station. When they had stumbled across the space station modules Lauren has said it looked to have been attacked while under construction. It (mostly) worked though, and was surprisingly spacious for the era it was built in.
Just as he reaches the airlock, something glints out of the corner of his eye. He looks up reflexively. Space is big, incomprehensibly big, and nothing should be nearby. Certainly not this close. He shields his eyes from the glare of the sun, hot against his face, and he flips his visor down. He glaces down at the time on his HUD, the digits 00:14 glow silently back at him. It can't be the sun, there's a planet in the way.
A bright blue-white sphere of light descends towards the planet below. He can't tell what it is, but he assumes it's a fission drive, the light being a rapid series of small nuclear explosions that propel a craft forward. What would a fission craft be doing heading towards the grey planet on this trajectory? He does some bad math in his head and can't figure out anything useful. He hits record on his suit's camera but there is no storage device installed, he must have taken out the datastore and left it in the computer. He watches the light fade slowly into the distance, never straying from its course. Something inside him says its heading straight down the gravity well (as opposed to what his body considered "down", what with the planet being above his head and all), even though there is nothing planetside at this location. Eventually it is no longer visible and he crawls into the airlock, breathing heavily. Modern medicine may have cured the muscle atrophy common in early space missions, but hangovers were still a bitch.
Closing the airlock door behind him, David begins the repressurization sequence. He floats against the inner door impatiently, he'd been meaning to optimize the pumps in the airlock but hadn't made the time. The inner airlock door unlatches and he wheels it open, flopping gracelessly inside and nearly slamming into a groggy Lauren (who is taken completely by surprise).
"David is that you in there?" she blinks at him, "What in the hell were you doing out there?"
David makes some muffled noises from inside the suit, sighs frustratedly and then pulls his helmet off, "Did you see that fission drive go by?"
"Fish can't drive?" she was hungover and just woke up.
"Fission drive. Rocket. Boom." David gestures emphatically and mimes various explosion and rocket shapes with his hands.
"I didn't see anything, I just woke up to make some coffee. Did you take some video?"
"No" he sighs, "I left my datastore in my bunk or something."
"Sure you didn't hallucinate it?"
"No I didn't hallucinate it, I was out on the fucking hull. You saw me come in."
"Yeah.." she trails off and then with curiosity in her voice, "What were you doing out on the hull anyway?"
"I was" he pauses to think, "I was going to install that micrometeorite shield on the fuel line. Then I realized I left it inside, and on the way back in I saw some sort of what I think was a fission driven ship heading straight towards earth."
"Its not like you to wake up early and do something useful." she chides him.
"Yeah yeah. I just wish Luthor was conscious more often so he could help me fix this place up."