Lone Orbit

By Roger Ley

sfgenreMary woke, floating tethered in her sleep sack. She felt more relaxed than she had for months, now that she had been alone for a while. The latest Soyuz had brought supplies up and taken back the three other occupants of the International Space Station as they finished their mission. There’d been the usual cheery goodbyes undercut by the tense knowledge of the risks inherent in the drop to Earth, but the Soyuz design had gained a well-earned reputation for reliability during its fifty years of service. 

“Best of luck, Tovarich, say hello to Moscow for me.”

It would be several days before the next SpaceX 22 capsule brought up replacement astronauts. Mary’s mission would last another two months, and would break Peggy Whitson’s record for the longest space flight by a woman, in three weeks’ time.

Looking out of the window of her module, she noticed a change to the coastline of her beloved California. What looked like red and grey flowers were blossoming all along the coastal strip. She pushed her way out of her sack and drifted over to the comms console. “Hello, Houston, what’s happening in California?”

Mission Control called back almost instantly. ‘Hi, Mary, Estella here, we’re just getting reports of a big quake, centred on Santa Barbara. What can you see from up there?”

“I’m over flying it now, it looks serious.” The dust clouds were expanding. They must be enormous and moving fast if she could see the movement from two hundred and some miles up.

“Yes, I can see it on the live feed from your external cameras. Wow, that is big,” said Estella.

“It’s passing under me, I’m over the Gulf of California now. Keep me posted, Estella, Patrick and the boys are visiting his mother in San Francisco. Could you call him and let me know they’re okay?”

“Will do, Mary, I’ll get right onto it. Anything for the Sisterhood.”

The Station passed into darkness. It would take an hour and a half to complete its orbit, but her path would have moved one and a half thousand miles to the east. She wouldn’t be over Santa Barbara again for three days. 

Needing to divert her attention from worries about her ‘boys,’ she spent some time on the exercise machines and then swallowed a meal, not really aware of which particular flavour of gloop the tube held. The Station was quieter than she’d known it before, just the gentle sounds of pumps and fans, the creak of the structure as it heated and cooled. 

The radio burst into life. 

“Hi, Mary, it’s Estella. No news from Patrick, I’m afraid, but I’ll keep trying.”

“Copy that. What’s happening with the quake?”

“Things are not looking good, Mary, seems like the Cascadia subduction zone has got in on the act. The President has already declared a state of emergency in California. Looks like it’s the ‘Big One.’ We all knew it would happen eventually, but the reality is, kinda overwhelming.”

“Can you feed me one of the live TV news broadcasts?”

“I’m afraid there’s a problem with that, Mary.”

It must be bad, she thought, they don’t want to upset me. She went back to her solar observations and tried to concentrate on collating results.

She listened to the radio news broadcasts but it was only when she was passing over California again, three days later, that Mary could see the true extent of the disaster. The shape of the Pacific coastline from San Francisco to San Diego had altered, it was concave, not convex. The Gulf of California was open to the Ocean at both ends and the Baja peninsula was now a series of islands. She was horrified. There was a cloud of smoke and ash drifting east that obscured Arizona and New Mexico, somehow it reminded her of the TV images of the dust and smoke from 9/11, all those years ago. 

And still there was no news from Patrick and the boys.

“They’ve decided to reschedule the next launch from Baikonur, Mary, you’ll be on your own for a while longer,” said Estella during the next broadcast.

“How much longer?”

“No news at this time.” There was silence for a few seconds then, “Actually, Mary, I’ve just been told that we’re gonna hand over communications to our friends in Moscow. Things are getting a little disorganised here, what with the dust and general disruption. Apparently, Yellowstone is erupting. Things are falling apart, Hon. I’ll say goodbye for now and hand you over to Moscow Mission Control Centre. Sorry I couldn’t reach Patrick; I must have tried a hundred times. They’re shutting everything down here and sending us home. Good luck, Mary.” There was a break in Estella’s voice, “Houston out.”

“Hello, Houston, Estella, Estella?” There was only silence from the radio. “Hello, Korolyov, come in Korolyov.”

Apparently, no one had told Moscow MCC about the comms handover.

An hour and a half later she passed over the Yellowstone Caldera. The ash cloud covered Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Soon Dakota and Nebraska would be obscured. Mary began to search the radio frequencies. There were broadcasts in all languages, the ones she could understand were mainly calls for help. As the days passed, the ash and smoke cloud slowly encircled the globe, only the most northern and southern latitudes were partly free of it.

The Station sailed sedately on, subject only to the unvarying laws of celestial mechanics. Mary carried on with her mission for another two days before she admitted the pointlessness of it to herself. It had been a way of dealing with the shock and avoiding the realisation that she was truly on her own now. There would be no launch from Baikonur, there would be no resupply rockets. There was always the Soyuz crew return vehicle, of course, docked to the Russian module, but if she made her escape, what would she be returning to, and where would she land? It might be Mongolia and she’d never get back home from there.

It was time to do some stock taking. 

There was a ton of food. She reckoned that if she lived frugally, the new supplies, still floating in the docking chamber, would probably last a year. Water was the limiting factor because it was used to generate oxygen as well as for drinking. After checking the tanks, she came to the conclusion that, with a little care, the supply would last about five months. 

Over the next weeks the voices from the ground slowly disappeared. The last to go were from the Antipodes: there had always been a few hardy souls down there as she overflew Australia, probably using ancient, pedal-powered radios recalled into service on the sheep stations of the outback; but finally, there was just the hiss of static and the click of lightning from the vast storms roiling below her. 

She mourned the loss of her family. She hadn’t been with them for almost a year, but she clung to a shred of hope that they were still alive, maybe in a Government shelter somewhere, hunkered down to wait out the ‘nuclear winter.’ Loneliness became her biggest problem, she wondered if she was the last human being alive. She hoped not. Perhaps the Scandinavians would be able to cope with the cold and dark and eventually re-populate the planet when the skies cleared. A peaceful Viking invasion this time.

She found the empty plastic bottle floating in the Russia Orbital Segment. ‘Ethyl Alcohol 99.99% use as solvent’ read the label. Just add water to bring it down to a less throat burning forty percent and it’s vodka by any other name, she thought. No wonder the guys were so cheerful when they left.

***

Floating in the darkened Cupola module at the top of the Station, lights low and surrounded by stars, her beloved Elgar played as she mixed a vodka OJ in a drinks bag. She sighed and looked at the paraphernalia floating around her: squeeze bags of orange juice, ‘vodka’ from the chemical stores, ampoules of morphine and a needle from the meds locker, a length of rubber tubing from her lab for a tourniquet. 

All a girl needed to party on her final orbit.

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About the Author

Roger Ley

roger ley2 200Roger Ley is a retired lecturer in Computer Aided Engineering. He writes speculative fiction because it stops him drinking hard liquor and chasing fast women.

‘Lone Orbit’ is one of the stories in his speculative fiction collection, 'Dead People on Facebook' which will cost you half a cup of coffee.

His three other speculative fiction books are similarly available on Amazon AU or visit his website.

Find Roger at: <https://rogerley.co.uk>.

Roger’s Amazon author page: <https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B01KOVZFHM>.

His YouTube playlist: <https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLHDmc8dxD57cPaMnsYfuJhQIirRohnaWY>.

AntiSF & The ASFF

AntipodeanSF supports the ASFF

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Please visit the ASFF website and consider joining for up-to-date info about Australian SF cons, awards, competitions, and to receive the Foundation's newsletter, Instrumentality, and more.

<https://asff.org.au>

The AntipodeanSF Radio Show

AntiSF's Production Crew

nuke conflux 2017 200Ion Newcombe is the editor and publisher of AntipodeanSF, Australia’s longest running online speculative fiction magazine, regularly issued since January 1998, and conceived back around November 2007. He has been a zealous reader and occasional writer of SF since his childhood in the 1960s, and even sold a few stories here and there back in the '90s.

“Nuke”, who it turns out loves editing more than writing, lives in the New South Wales North Coast holiday destination of Nambucca Heads, where he is self-employed in IT training, computer support, desktop publishing, editing, writing, and website implementation. He is also the resident tech-head, skeptic, and board member of community radio station 2NVR, where he produces a number of shows including The AntipodeanSF Radio Show.

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mark web 200Mark Webb's midlife crisis came in the form of attempting to write speculative fiction at a very slow pace. His wife maintains this is a good outcome considering the more expensive and cliched alternatives. Evidence of Mark's attempts to procrastinate in his writing, including general musings and reviews of books he has been reading, can be found at www.markwebb.name.

One of Mark’s very best forms of writing procrastination is to produce the eBook series for AntipodeanSF, which he has been doing since issue 175.

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In The Next Issue...

Coming In Issue 266

And Then There Was One
By Tim Borella

Barkeep
By Bethany Tatman

Beyond the Cold Light
By Kevin J. Phyland

Body Dysmorphia
By Daniel Purcell

Chase v. Lee, or, The Green Sheep Hip Wiggle Case
By Anya Ow

Hullu City Murder Mystery; East Texas Town Rocked by Killings
By Wes Parish

Implant
By Roger Ley

Smoking
By Kyosuke Higuchi - Translated by Toshiya Kamei

Sneak
By Robert W. Caldwell

The Interview
By Chris Gladstone

The Rorne Model
By David Scholes

The Sponsor
By Shaun A. Saunders

The Visitor
By Thomas Tilton

Time Warp Donors
By Barry Yedvobnick

The Contributors

danielmackisack 200Daniel is a sociologist, social entrepreneur, sci-fi fanatic and belligerent optimist.

Raised on Star Trek, other early influences include Kim Stanley Robinson and Douglas Adams.

In addition to writing, Daniel is a former diplomat, cofounded media transparency organization 'Write In Stone', spent 4 years studying revolution and democracy in the Arab Spring and leads workshops on collective decision making.

Umiyuri Katsuyama 200Umiyuri Katsuyama is a multiple-award-winning writer of fantasy and horror, often based on Asian folklore motifs.

A native of Iwate in the far north of Japan, she later moved to Tokyo and studied at Seisen University.

In 2011, she won the Japan Fantasy Novel Award with her novel Sazanami no kuni.

Her most recent novel, Chuushi, ayashii nabe to tabi wo suru, was published in 2018.

Her short fiction has appeared in numerous horror anthologies in Japan.

Benny Thang was born to immigrant parents and lives in Melbourne, Australia.

He enjoys stories in all its forms and hopes to write more things in the future that others might perhaps one day come across in-between the mundane things of their everyday lives.

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kyosuke higuchi 200Kyosuke Higuchi writes science fiction, speculative fiction, and literary essays. His debut novel, Kōzōsōshi [Structure Elements], won the fifth Hayakawa SF Contest in 2017. 

His short fiction has appeared in Syosetsu Subaru, S-F Magazine, and Bungei, among others. 

His latest book is a collection of essays entitled Subete namonaki mirai (2020). 

Kyosuke lives with his wife and young daughter in Nagoya, Japan. Find him on Twitter at <https://twitter.com/rrr_kgknk>.

Daphne has read SF since childhood. She writes poems, flash fiction and short stories which vary from the darkly humorous to the vaguely sinister. She is currently working on a flash novella, and a collection of short stories.

Daphne reads regularly at Perth Poetry club and has recorded two podcasts for ILAA on Kalamunda radio.

She lives with her partner and a holographic cat.

Her pamphlet The Blue Boob Club is published by Indigo Dreams Press: <https://www.indigodreams.co.uk/daphne-milne/4594486684>.

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rudy diaz 200A Physicist in Engineer’s clothing, Rudy worked 20 years in the Defense Aerospace Industry, from performing Lightning Protection analysis on the Space Shuttle to the design of Radar Absorbing Materials. He then joined Academia as a Professor of Electrical Engineering, where for another 20 years he attempted to infect unsuspecting students with a love for Maxwell’s equations.

Since High School he has spent most of his free time either writing Science Fiction or trying to figure out how to make Science Fiction a reality. (His students' latest work has led to the demonstration of efficient RF antennas that radiate using true magnetic (not electric) currents.) His speculative fiction short stories have appeared in Residential Aliens, Ray Gun Revival, The Untold Podcast, and the Crossover Alliance Anthology Volume 2. The rest of his work is in the peer reviewed Physics and Engineering literature.

Rudy has also been involved in Jail Ministry for about 30 years. He and his wife Marcy live in Phoenix, Arizona.

<https://rediazauthor.com/>

In recent years, Ben F. Blitzer has produced three unpublished literary novels and an unpublished novella, set in or around Perth, Western Australia.

Some of his shorter works of fiction, however, feature science-fiction, fantasy, and horror themes.

He lives in Western Australia.

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Toshiya Kamei holds an MFA in Literary Translation from the University of Arkansas.

His translations have appeared in venues such as Clarkesworld, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and World Literature Today.

alistair lloyd 200Alistair Lloyd is a Melbourne based writer and narrator who has been consuming good quality science fiction and fantasy most of his life. 

You may find him on Twitter as <@mr_al> and online at <alistairlloyd.com>.

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Maree Collie loves the idea of Flash Fiction. So much to say in such a little space. She also dabbles in short stories, monologues and plays.

Maree has had pieces published in anthologies, a play performed in 2018, and a monologue slated for performance October 2019.

She has completed a BA in Professional and Creative Writing at Deakin University.

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roger ley2 200Roger Ley is a retired lecturer in Computer Aided Engineering. He writes speculative fiction because it stops him drinking hard liquor and chasing fast women.

‘Lone Orbit’ is one of the stories in his speculative fiction collection, 'Dead People on Facebook' which will cost you half a cup of coffee.

His three other speculative fiction books are similarly available on Amazon AU or visit his website.

Find Roger at: <https://rogerley.co.uk>.

Roger’s Amazon author page: <https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B01KOVZFHM>.

His YouTube playlist: <https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLHDmc8dxD57cPaMnsYfuJhQIirRohnaWY>.

George Nikolopoulos is a speculative fiction writer from Athens, Greece, and a member of Codex Writers' Group. His short stories have been published in Galaxy's Edge, Daily Science Fiction, Factor Four, Grievous Angel, Helios Quarterly Magazine, Unsung Stories, Best Vegan SFF, The Year's Best Military & Adventure SF, Bards & Sages Quarterly, Havok, SF Comet, Mad Scientist Journal, Truancy, Digital Fiction QuickFic, The Centropic Oracle, StarShipSofa, 600 Second Saga, Antipodean SF, Manawaker Studio's FFP, Fifty Flashes, 9Tales from Elsewhere, Event Horizon 2017, and many other magazines and anthologies.

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Where you see strange dreams, cockatoos and other nonsensical nostrums congregate, there’s a good chance you’ll also come across our author.

By day he’s all manner of mundane things: a board member, business association manager, policy adviser, researcher and scholar - in Canberra.

At night he lets those wild ideas of his run, well, wild.

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kevinjphyland 200Old enough to just remember the first manned Moon landing, Kevin was so impressed he made science his life.

Retired now from teaching he amuses himself by reading, writing, following his love of weather and correcting people on the internet.

He’s been writing since his teens and hopes he will one day get it right.

He can be found on twitter @KevinPhyland where he goes by the handle of CaptainZero and his work is around the place if you search using google or use the antisf.com.au archive.

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Wesley Parish is an SF fan from early childhood. Born in PNG, he enjoys reading about humans in strange cultures and circumstances; his favourite SF authors include Ursula Le Guin, Fritz Lieber, Phillip K. Dick, J.G. Ballard and Frank Herbert. He lives in Christchurch, NZ, is an unemployed Java and C programmer, and has recently decided to become a mad ukuleleist, flautist and trombonist, and would love to revert to being the mad fiddler and pedal steel guitarist..  "Where oh where has my little pedal steel got to ... ?"

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Shaun Saunders lives at the beachside suburb of Merewether, in Newcastle, NSW. He particularly enjoys Asimov's Foundation universe, and stories from the 'golden age' of SF. He is a regular contributor to AntipodeanSF, and winner of 2003 & 2004 AntiSF awards, and the inaugural 2005 SFSSC. His novel Mallcity 14 has been favourably compared with both 1984 and Brave New World.

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AntipodeanSF October 2020

ISSUE 265

Speculative Fiction
Downside-Up
ISSN 1442-0686

Online Since Feb 1998

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Download AntiSF E-Book

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AntiSF's Narration Team

mark english 100Mark is an astrophysicist and space scientist who worked on the Cassini/Huygens mission to Saturn. Following this he worked in computer consultancy, engineering, and high energy research (with a stint at the JET Fusion Torus).

All this science hasn't damped his love of fantasy and science fiction. It has, however, ruined his enjoyment of rainbows, colourful flames on romantic log fires, and rings around the moon. He has previously been published in Stupefying Stories Showcase, Everyday Fiction, Escape Pod, Perihelion and also on AntipodeanSF where he is part of the narration team.

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sarah pratt 200Sarah Pratt is an avid fiction writer and a Marketing Consultant.

She is currently working on her first novel but loves diving into short stories to bring a little lightness, intrigue or humour to the day.

Her work has appeared in Sponge Magazine and The Commuting Book.

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marg essex 200Margaret lives the good life on a small piece of rural New South Wales Australia, with an amazing man, a couple of pets, and several rambunctious wombats.

She feels so lucky to be a part of the AntiSF team.

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tim borellaTim Borella has never lost his childhood passion for SF and writing in general and has been lucky enough to have worked most of his life as a pilot — in other words, he’s never properly grown up.

He lives in country Far North Queensland, has won awards for songwriting, and has had various other writing achievements, the most recent being an honourable mention in the 2018 international Literary Taxidermy Short Story Competition.

He also has bachelor degrees in science and teaching, and has completed a couple of as-yet unpublished SF novels. He’d dearly love to spend more time writing, but will have to continue juggling for another couple of years until the kids have fully left the nest.

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alistair lloyd 200Alistair Lloyd is a Melbourne based writer and narrator who has been consuming good quality science fiction and fantasy most of his life.

You may find him on Twitter as <@mr_al> and online at <alistairlloyd.com>.

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timonthy gwyn 100Timothy Gwyn is a professional pilot in Canada, where he flies to remote communities. During a lull in his flying career, he was a radio announcer for three years, and he is also an author.

In addition to short stories at AntipodeanSF and NewMyths.com, his SF novel is available internationally in print and ebook formats. "Avians" draws on his love of alternative aviation to tell the tale of a girl who runs away from home to join a cadre of glider pilots on a world without metal or fossil fuels.

On Twitter, he is @timothygwyn, and his blogs are at <timothygwyn.com>.

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ed erringtonAlthough a writer of the baby boom persuasion, Ed has not boomed for quite a while.

He lives with his wife plus a menagerie of non-domesticated — native Australian animals intropical North Queensland.

His writing within the ‘real’ science fiction context of COVID-19 is intermingled by long night sky vigils — searching for pesky aliens intent on maintaining their social distance to the nth degree.

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carolyn eccles 100

Carolyn's work spans devising, performance, theatre-in-education and a collaborative visual art practice.

She tours children's works to schools nationally with School Performance Tours, is a member of the Bathurst physical theatre ensemble Lingua Franca and one half of darkroom — a visual arts practice with videographer Sean O'Keeffe.

(Photo by Jeremy Belinfante) 

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geraldine borella 200Geraldine Borella writes adult short stories and stories for children and has been published in anthologies for both. In 2018, one of her children’s short stories placed second in The Buzz Words Short Story Prize and she won an ASA Emerging Writer’s Mentorship. She currently works part-time as a hospital pharmacist and as an online creative writing tutor.

She’s fascinated by stories that expand upon today’s technology, addressing the moral and ethical issues that might arise. Equally, she enjoys the creative freedom that writing for children allows. Right now, she’s writing a young adult novel, reworking a middle grade novel and writing adult short stories when inspiration strikes. She lives with her husband, Tim, in Yungaburra, Far North Queensland and dreams of one day taking a European gap year.

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pixie willo 100Pixie is a voice actor, cabaret performer & slam poet From the Blue Mountains in NSW.

She enjoys writing short fiction, plays for radio and stage as well as her own brand of weird poetry.

She hosts the 'Off-Beet Poetry Slam' held bi-monthly in Katoomba.

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The AntipodeanSF Radio Show

AntiSF Radio Show

antipod-show-50The AntipodeanSF Radio Show delivers audio from the pages of this magazine.

The weekly program features the stories from recently published issues, usually narrated by the authors themselves.

Listen to the latest episode now:

The AntipodeanSF Radio Show is also broadcast on community radio, 2NVR, 105.9FM every Saturday evening at 8:30pm.

You can find every broadcast episode online here: http://antisf.libsyn.com 

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Arthur C. Clarke

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