Envying the Dead
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He stared at the opaque glass of his visor. It was nothing he hadn't seen before. Every single day, he looked at nothing but the misted over surface. He had wept the first few months. By now, he didn't feel like mustering the energy to cry. Most days, he couldn't muster the energy to do much of anything. Not that there was anything to muster energy for.

His eyes traced the spiderweb of cracks in the glass. He knew it better than he knew his own face. He recalled being handsome, back in Russia. He had attracted a wife whom he vaguely remembered being beautiful. Of course, there was no telling just what his face looked like now. He knew it had been years, but just how many he couldn't guess.

The accident though, that he remembered quite well. It had all been going so perfectly. They had told him he would be the first human being in space. And perhaps he had, before the explosion. He had been the only one actually wearing a full suit when it happened. His friends, they had been lucky. At the time, he had mourned for them. He had gone through years of training with Sergei and Andrei, and watching them be torn apart by fire and shrapnel had been the worst moment of his entire life. Now, though, now he envied both of them.

In the beginning he had prayed to God to be rescued. The air in his suit was only supposed to last a day, maybe two, without resupply. At first he had counted off the seconds in his mind. When he reached three days, he stopped, the burn in his throat made sure of that. After what he guessed was five days the gnawing pain in his stomach took up all of his attention. When he went for almost a full week without asphyxiating, his prayers slowly turned from rescue to a far more desperate wish.

In his grief-stricken state, the ramifications of his continuing existence were slow to occur to him. Eventually it dawned on him that, even if he had continuous oxygen, he would have long ago died of dehydration. At first this seemed like a miracle. He was so hopeful, certain that the motherland would not leave him here in the empty void of space.

When the thing had first attacked him, he had prayed for death. He had prayed to die rather a lot over however long he'd been stuck in this suit. God hadn't been sitting by the phone, it seemed. The Devil hadn't been especially receptive either. None of the old gods had bothered showing up. Perun, the god of thunder and lightning, the one his wizened grandmother used to whisper about in front of the hearth, well, apparently he wasn't in a prayer answering mood either. When the second attack came, he finally gave up all hope of being rescued. It had him now.

That had been a long time ago. He had stopped praying to anything before long.

After the praying had ceased, the screaming had started. He had screamed and screamed for days. Once, his throat had become so damaged that he had choked on his own blood. That had been the last time tears welled up in his eyes. For a moment, a brief, shining moment, he had hope, hope that he could finally die. He really should have known better.

For what felt like weeks he begged himself, God, anything, to let him just die of dehydration, of starvation, of asphyxiation, anything. There was no way he could be alive anymore, not after floating in space without supplies for this long. Yet, he stubbornly remained breathing, breathing and suffering.

Abruptly, the constant feeling of motion -the whistle of what air there was this high in the atmosphere rushing past his suit, the sharp tug of G-forces against his flesh- his only link to existence outside his suit, slammed to a halt. He knew what that meant. He knew all too well. It had come for him again. The pain arced through the same spot in his chest, just as it had before, time and time again. He screamed, this time in agony, not in fear or despair. Unbidden, his hands rose to his helmeted head. He knew it was useless, but he had to try anyway. His gloved fists pounded against the hardened dome. He never saw what menaced him, never knew what it was that tormented him. It didn't really matter. Knowing wouldn't change a thing.

Oh but it was so much worse than before. Whatever the thing was, it had gotten much better at hurting him. He had stopped screaming long, long ago, but now he found his lungs being voided of air against his will, his vocal chords, scratchy from disuse, finding a purpose again. He screamed for an audience of one. No one but him heard. His fingers, so clumsy in the bulky suit, reached above him, to fight back, an involuntary response to the pain. He knew there was nothing there that he could touch. There never had been.

His screams grew louder and louder as the pain spread through his entire body. His hands came back from their fruitless quest to beat a frantic tattoo against the glass of his helmet. It had to break. It had to. Something like desperation filled his heart, a diseased, atrophied cousin of hope. It hadn't broken before, but now it would. This time would be different. Death would come, death would free him.

It didn't. The comforting rush of the vacuum, his last hope, didn't sound in his ears. The burning agony reached a new crescendo, and he felt fresh tears in his eyes, for the first time in so long. His efforts to break the helmet ceased, fingers instead scrabbling in what he knew was a futile effort to breach the pressure seals. Then, as quickly as it had appeared, the searing departed. He gasped for a long time. He couldn't bring himself to bother feeling relief. It would be back soon enough.

Aleksei's breathing finally calmed back down. Once again, he stared at the misted over surface of his visor. It's not like it was anything he hadn't seen before.

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