Darkness, that’s how it always was on the other side. There were few lights, and practically all of those were needed for only the most important tasks. Yuri envied the Americans; their spacecraft had always been so much brighter and cleaner, at least, that’s what he had seen from the thousands of photos during the mission briefing.
The gap was closing, soon they would bask in the warmth of the sunlight, their destination would be clear to them. Thousands of miles and months of planning led to an important pait in these next few hours; when two would become one, and the Soviet Union would gain another means to observe the secrets of the Earth.
Yuri's trance was broken; it was a familiar voice, definitely not in his head.
"Yuri, focus! Docking is less than two hours away."
The voice was much clearer now, it was Pyotr; the mission commander, he had flown on two space missions before. Yuri envied Pyotr; he had always been the favourite back at Baikonur Cosmodrome. Pyotr, the commander who always the one in the spotlight; nearly all commanders of missions were the most important part of that mission. After all, the mission commander is responsible for the mission and the safety of his crew.
"Oh, what? Oh...yeah, we're closing at fifty kilometres. Everything is running normal." Yuri exclaimed, trying shifting the focus away from his apparent daydreaming.
Yuri had always wanted to be the mission commander. His fellow cosmonauts had always told him that he was too inexperienced. This was his first spaceflight.
The mission was secret; practically every Soviet space mission was these days. Yuri never understood the need for secrecy.
The Americans never had secrecy, why couldn't we be more like them?
Darkness became light, the Sun rose over the horizon of the Earth, leaving a bright red haze trail on the atmosphere. Yuri smiled; he had called this phenomenon a 'Soviet Morning'. Aptly named, since the Soviet's favourite colour looked exactly like what Yuri was seeing outside the capsule window.
Yuri snapped out of his patriotic trance, this time on his own accord. The spacecraft docking wouldn't handle itself, especially since Yuri was set the job of docking specialist for the mission, perhaps his only importance in the coming weeks.
"Twelve minutes until rendezvous" A voice exclaimed.
This voice was familiar to Yuri like the first voice was, this was Roman.
"Good, make sure the closing velocity is in check, we don't want to go faster than four meters per second. We'll stop the closing velocity at twelve kilometres. Then we wait for Tyuratam Control for the docking go-ahead." Pyotr exclaimed. His voice held a standing of authority that echoed throughout the capsule. It was the command voice that could have shouted down any possible counter-argument, the perfect voice of a commander.
"Yes Pyotr, we have got a closing velocity of three meters per second, it is more than optimal." Roman exclaimed in defence, shrugging off any possible doubt on his part.
Roman always tried to shove responsibility off his shoulders; he never liked having to be responsible for actions, especially if they weren't actions that dwelled on him.
Andrei was Roman's backup for the mission. On the occasion that Roman turned up unwell or did something that was not very desirable; Andrei would take his place on the mission.
After all, you wouldn't trust anyone but the best to handle your expensive and fragile equipment, right?
Three months before, back in Star City. It was a usual training afternoon, three cosmonauts; of which two of them stood, were next to a large pool filled to the top with clear water. Inside this square tub, was an exact replica of two docked spacecraft, completely submerged underwater. It was a spacewalk training pool.
Andrei stood behind and to the left of Yuri, and beside him stood Roman. Andrei was always known to have been a tall person, his stance dominated over Roman, who was at least thirty centimetres shorter.
"Roman, enormous pay and little responsibility never fit well together." Andrei said in a frustrated manner.
Andrei was annoyed at the fact that only a few hours before that the Cosmonaut Training Board had picked Roman over Andrei to fly the mission. Yet Roman was displaying qualities that gave Andrei the impression that maybe Roman didn't want to fly the mission after all. This frustrated Andrei deeply, since he wanted the mission badly, but it wasn't to be. The Board had told him that he needed more training, Roman only had twenty six days more training than Andrei, and that was mostly spacewalk training.
"I know that, I still want to fly the mission." Roman exclaimed in defence.
Yuri had sat and listened the Andrei vent his frustration on Roman from a nearby pool bench, at the time, he wasn't the least bit interested in the cosmonaut's argument. Yuri was too overtaken with the news that he would fly the Diamond mission as a docking specialist, other people weren't important to him at the time.
"Yuri, keep focus!"
Yuri snapped out of his flashback.
"Docking is in four minutes; make sure we aren't dropping in speed!" Pyotr exclaimed. His tone of voice carried small traces of frustration and impatience.
"Alright Pyotr, I have control!" Yuri mumbled under his breath as he prepared the spacecraft for docking.
For the first time in an hour, the spacecraft was beginning its routine travel over the Soviet Union. This would bring the spacecraft within communication distance of one of the tracking stations. Docking approval was needed by Tyuratam Control, so they would relay docking orders over the spacecraft's radio.
Out of the spacecraft's window; the bright Sun was blocked by a large floating cylinder. It was Almaz, the floating diamond, a space station three times as large as their ship. Yuri would call this floating piece of life in a sea of silence; home, for the next three months. It would be on this station that they would carry out their mission, unknown to the millions below.
"Berkut, NIP-Four Yastreb here. Orders have been relayed from Tyuratam Control. Docking is clear. Yastreb out."
Roman flipped the radio switch and spoke into the radio receiver.
"Roger docking, altitude green light."
Berkut; this was what the ship was christened as. It meant 'Golden Eagle', a fitting name for a spacecraft such as this. Yuri thought to himself.
"Pyotr, we've got a nought point one clockwise bank here, the rotation autopilot isn't responding to it." Roman said, with a hint of worry in his voice.
"What the...the kill rotation autopilot isn't working. We're entering a high-g spin!" Pyotr shouted. His 'perfect command voice' was completely drained; all that was left was worry.
Something like this had happened before on the American Gemini VIII. Their spacecraft had gone into a high speed roll, fortunately Armstrong had shut down the faulty thrusters, his craft was saved.
"Must...call...Ya...streb" Roman wearily spoke, struggling to get words out. He reached for the radio panel, but stopped short, fainting.
Not Yuri's, there was no escape, the Berkut was entering a spin. If there is a high speed spin and you can't stop it, all the blood drains from your head. You lose consciousness, forever.
All turned black, the Berkut faded away. Yuri was lost.
Tyuratam: a town in the middle of the Kazakh Steppe. The Steppe was a large desert that stretched from the Caspian Sea to the western Chinese border. Tyuratam wasn't a usual town; it was the driving hub behind the Soviet Space Program. A tower on the north side dominated over the community. It was at least seventy five metres tall, short by western standards but enormous when compared to the insignificant dwellings of the town.
Inside the tower, there were six floors; each one stacked on top of the next below, on the fourth floor there was a small office. Fans blew everywhere in this office to fight the swelling heat of the desert. By the number of fans alone, anyone could tell that this office belonged to someone important.
Chief Designer Valentin Beregniy
The sign dominated the room, anyone who entered the room would see this sign first, and they would surely know just how important the person they would be about to talk to would be.
The crew roster for the next Soyuz mission sat on the desk, a bald man with a cigar studied it closely. This was Valentin, the head of the Beregniy Design Bureau, an extremely important man indeed.
A tall man entered the room, and did exactly as was expected, by looking at the sign, the man acknowledged the importance of the chief designer.
Valentin noticed the man entering, but decided not to look up, his crew roster document required more concentration.
Besides, my secretary probably has something trivial and unimportant to say. Heh, it is probably another one of cosmonaut Anatoli's 'interesting escapades'. Valentin chuckled to himself.
"Sir, there is an urgent telegram addressed to you from the operations station." The secretary exclaimed, his tone of voice would have told anyone that this telegram was top priority.
Valentin no longer smiled.
"Don't stand there, let me read it." Valentin snapped impatiently. The secretary didn't hesitate to pass the telegram to Valentin, walking right up to his desk.
The worried chief designer gazed at the telegram:
CHIEF DESIGNER VALENTIN BEREGNIY. BEREGNIY DESIGN BUREAU.
RADIO SIGNAL AND TELEMETRY FEED CONNECTION LOST WITH SOYUZ XII-E.
UNABLE TO RE-ESTABLISH.
SOYUZ XII-R AWAITS LAUNCH APPROVAL FROM BAIKONUR CONTROL.
AWAITING FURTHER ORDERS.
TYURATAM OPERATIONS STATION.
"Sir?" The secretary interrupted Valentin's concentration, which was now firmly on the telegram instead of the crew roster as it had been before the untimely interruption.
"Get Brezhnev on the line, tell him it is urgent."
The secretary nodded in anticipation. Valentin continued speaking.
"Give Twelve-R my approval, contact the three cosmonauts training for that mission"
"What will our deal be with the public, sir?" The secretary questioned Valentin.
"There won't be one, keep the mission as is."
Equestria; a true example of a perfect world. There was only one problem; Yuri wasn't exactly in this perfect world; in more ways than one.
The mid-day Sun struck the grassy landscape, gleaming it a bright golden colour. There was not a tree, bush or scrub in sight, the land was completely bare to all except for a few tufts of short, golden grass; offering no shade to whoever would desperately need it as protection from the sweltering heat of the Sun. A long and narrow dirt track cut through the plain, showing a dark and contrasting brown colour to the surrounding grass. The brown road was the only example of civilisation in this harsh, desolate wilderness.
A white leg struck the dirt track with enormous force, cracking the hard baked soil around the hoof. Another hoof struck nearby almost a split second after the first. A third, then fourth slammed down as the first two were lifted from the hard-baked ground.
Eyes of dark green; focusing on navigating through the winding path, which seemed to last forever, cutting through the desolate grasses. A neatly trimmed crimson coloured mane and tail; turned scruffy by the furious blowing of the wind. A saddlebag donned the stallion's left side, half of a golden coloured scroll was hanging out. Such a colour proved whatever he was carrying must be important.
Fear consumed the escaping pony's eyes. Two distant moving objects were pursuing him.
He couldn't see them clearly; turning his head back to see his pursuers would make him unable to see what is in front of him. I might trip over, then they'd catch me. The fearful stallion thought to himself.
The two gryphons snapped their wings out into a mode of readiness as soon as they realised catching up to the speed of the stallion would be nearly impossible to do by hoof.
They had both realised this instantly, and in a split second they had gained flight, soaring up and over the plain.
The running stallion darted his head left and right, eyeing for a sight of his pursuers. They had disappeared completely from his sight, which was fixated on the ground around him.
A shrieking eagle-like cry came from above; the stallion glanced up, hoping to meet the source of the cry with his long ears.
I shouldn't have done that. The stallion thought as he immediately regret his decision to look up.
The bright mid-day Sun had shone directly into his curious eyes as he looked up. He glanced down as soon as he could, shutting his eyes from the burning sensation the Sun had brought to him.
A swooping maneuver, the shadow of a majestic gryphon landed less than four feet directly in front of the stallion. As quickly as it landed, it braced and prepared to strike.
"You're comin' with us now."
As quickly as those words registered in the pony's head; he felt a large crack above his snout. Nothing was felt; just the draining of his conscious and the decaying image of the world that was fading fast from him. The pony collapsed on his front toward the ground, with his head landing directly into a dirt pile on the track, blowing dust all over his face.
The gryphon that had swooped down and struck the fleeing pony was met by the second gryphon, who had glided down and landed nearby.
"That's what you get for breakin' into our country an' snoopin' around!"
The first gryphon had uttered those words and spat on the dust-caked forehead of the unconscious pony. He was joined by the second gryphon, who couldn't have cared less about the sleeping pony and was more concerned by the saddlebag, not taking his curious and eager eye off of it in case something were to happen.
"Has he got it?"
The second gryphon eyed the first towards the saddlebag, hinting an order for him to go and check for 'it'.
The gryphon knelt down and rummaged around in the saddlebag; two golden scrolls lied at the bottom. Apart from small clumps of dirt that had caught in the bag during the earlier chase, there was nothing else of value.
The first gryphon pulled his sharp talon out of the saddlebag, clutching the two gold scrolls in disappointment.
"No, these are the only two." The first gryphon spoke as he hung his head in shame.
"There just has to be more of 'em thieves, they've probably made off with the other three. They could be anywhere by now."
The second gryphon stamped his right talon onto the baked ground in anger, spewing dust up and around his legs.
"What'll we do with....this one?" The first gryphon pointed to the sleeping stallion and spoke out, hoping to salvage at least a small prize from the large failure.
"You can carry him."
The first gryphon's expression changed from one of hope to one of frustration, he hated being the one that had to carry everything. Particularly because he had injured his spine a few months previous from 'The Talon's Claws', an annual challenge of strength in the Kingdom of Gryphonia.
"Worst part of the job." The first gryphon muttered to himself as he shoved the unconscious stallion onto his back with ease, gryphons were known for their superior strength to ponies.
The two gryphons walked along the path, unfolded their enormous wings and flew off into the mid-day Sun, leaving no trace of their encounter behind.
It was all quiet, Yuri was falling; spinning, ever so slowly.
The pain of a massive headache was beginning to be felt as Yuri became conscious. He awoke; startled at the fact that his body was no longer in the position it was when he lost all feeling of what was going on.
How did it get like this? Yuri thought as he questioned his body transition.
Yuri finally tried to see if he could piece together what exactly was going on. Trying to get more information that he could see; Yuri began to open his left eye.
Too fast, the bright mid-day Sun lied above where Yuri was lying. This bright array of light had overwhelmed Yuri's eye which was delicate and confused at the time.
Yuri slammed his eye shut and covered it with his hand, trying to help some of the pain away. Moving his arm; Yuri felt the need to breathe in through his nose.
As he breathed in, the shock caused him to sit up completely.
It was a burning smell, like the smell of cinnamon roasting. The small caused him to recall a memory from his childhood; where Yuri would travel with his two brothers Fedyenka and Stanislov to the Siberian wood and roast a hand-crafted cinnamon pie over an open log fire. The pie always tasted good, and Yuri would always enjoy the experience. It was a very strong memory, but for the past few years it could only do to cause him pain.
Feeling more comfortable at being upright; Yuri decided to open his eyes.
Trees, lots of...trees. Yuri thought to himself as he saw a surrounding army of long pine-like trees. Yuri noticed the short green-coloured grass; he was in the middle of a forest clearing, certainly not aboard a spacecraft.
Chto za huy, I must be dreaming!
Yuri was in complete disbelief, Baikonur's specialists had trained him how to operate the Reaction Control System during docking latch failure with rapidly falling pressure aboard the Soyuz, but they hadn't trained him at all for what Yuri was beholding.
What? No...gravity? How is there...never been here. In space, no...gravity. Here, gravity? Need know...where am I? Pyotr would know, he knows... everything. Roman, nothing. Where Pyotr and Roman?
Yuri's internal conflict between his brain and his brainstem was making them both talk through his mouth at the same time. Hundreds of questions were being asked in Yuri's mind, yet none of them could be answered.
He simply sat there staring at the trees, oblivious to his surroundings.