This story takes place in one of the smallest denominators of time we commonly know. A minute. Doesn't sound like a lot, does it? Well, a lot can happen in a minute. One born a second and all that.
Who I am is not important, just know that I am a... man. There you go, no more questions now. Let's continue.
The year is nineteen-sixty. Hold on, you say, I thought that the first man in space was in 1961. Twelfth of April... right? Sure. Yeah. That's the recorded date, when Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth in his Vostok craft. This story refers to those who haven't been recorded. Faces without names, without records, their families shipped off to some Siberian hellhole for life. The price you pay for 'failure'.
One cosmonaut will enter space on this date. No-one knows yet, and even the date when he first enters will be deliberately lost, sans the year. That way, if something goes wrong, the Soviet government can deny it. He straps himself in, and the technicians give the thumbs up as they check the untold amount of pressure valves and switches on the crafts skin. These men are sworn to secrecy. One false move and the next paycheck they get will be a train ticket to the Gulag.
Takeoff occurs as normal. He is guided through the take off procedure, his Vostok craft illuminating the sky like a blazing star, the observers in the command and control center staring on in awe as several tons of Russian metal extends its arms to the world.
Hours, minutes and seconds pass and this man is the first one in space. He feels elation, pride, and a feeling of warmth in the cramped cabin of his Vostok. The ground control is very pleased as well, for Russia has finally won the Space Race. America will be shamefaced when the news gets out, thinks the Cosmonaut. We shall call him, for sake of posterity and argument, Cosmonaut One. Cosmonaut One looks around his craft, a single tear escaping his eyes as he stares at the world in front of him, continents and countries reduced to misshapen lumps of land on a marble in the deep blackness around him.
But something goes wrong. The minute starts here. Cosmonaut One only realizes anything is wrong when the pleasant feeling of warmth turns to blazing agony. The craft is on fire! He kicks at the flames, emanating from the main control unit, but to no avail. He kicks the hatch door open, and pushes himself into the cold depths of space, seeing his craft burn to ashes behind him. But, as he looks back, he notices the flames have stopped. Of course! The fire pyramid. Fire needs oxygen, and, well, none of that exists here.
Suddenly, terror overtakes him. He is floating... no lifeline. No way back. Only then he realizes what he must do now.
It is better this way. I won't suffocate slowly. How long do I have? About half an hour of desperation.
Reaching behind himself, Cosmonaut One flicks the quick-release valve of his air tanks, and pull out the hose. Immediately, he begins to choke with the lack of oxygen. He had not expected it to be this painful, this terrifying!
But there is nothing he can do. Nothing at all. He regrets his actions, wishing for his mother, wishing for the Motherland.
He finally expires, his air depleted.
It was covered up. All of it. Out of sight, out of mind, said the Soviet government. It is over.
That is the story. It is not a good one. Not a nice one. But, before we go, there is one thing we did not discuss.
Who started the fire? How?
The answer is more clear than you think. No, it was not me. But... did I tell you that Cosmonaut One was a convicted criminal? That the only reason he went to space was so that he would not surely be killed by firing squad? They promised him a new start, fame, fortune. Freedom, as well. But it was a lie, all of it.
There is more to this tale, but alas, that is for another day, another time.