Content Warning: contains Donald Trump
Mikhail Padalka's hands danced on the joysticks, a syncopated routine of minor adjustments to bring the Soyuz in to the ISS. He moved automatically: if he considered his actions consciously he'd break the rhythm, overcompensate, and--well, he couldn't contemplate the consequences.
"If this was an American capsule," drawled the man to his right, "that automatic procedure would never have failed. Poor workmanship!"
Mikhail gritted his teeth and focused on the screen. Nudge-by-nudge, jets flaring, the capsule matched the trajectory of the station, then the spin, then finally edged forward to dock.
Mikhail slumped back, noticing for the first time the cramping in his hands and the sweat down his back. The American was already unbuckled and floating by the hatch. Mikhail wiped his hands down his face and joined him.
Commander Abigail Thorne was waiting inside as the door swung open. Mikhail embraced her. "Commander," he said, with only a hint of mockery at her new title. "It has been too long."
"Four years since Expedition 33," she said. "It's good to see you again."
"Yes, very much so. I have brought a guest with me"--Mikhail swung to one side--"the President-elect of the United States, Mr--"
"Call me Ronald," he interrupted, brash and loud--uncomfortably so in these cramped quarters. His blonde combover floated ludicrously in the microgravity. Abigail greeted him and started to talk through the history of the space station, the international co-operation, but he cut her off.
"I don't want to know any of that. I want to get a good look at America. Great nation!"
Abigail glanced at Mikhail, and her exasperation was obvious to him, but Ronald Fahrt seemed oblivious. "Of course," she said. "This way."
She pulled herself gracefully through the station, pointedly ignoring the President-elect's clumsy manoeuvres as he bounced off the walls, compensating for his lack of grace and understanding with a bullish determination to push forward.
The view from the Cupola stole Mikhail's breath. Delicate wisps of cloud trailed across the Outback like smoke on a still summer evening.
"What am I looking at?" demanded Ronald, shouldering his way past Commander Thorne and up to the central window.
Abigail backed out to give him space. "That's Australia, sir. We'll soon pass over the Pacific and should hit the West Coast of America in around thirty minutes."
"Excellent. I want to admire her greatness. Nothing like her!"
Abigail and Mikhail shared a smile. "We'll leave you to it then, sir, while I brief Flight Engineer Padalka."
"Sure, sure," said Ronald.
"I'll shut the door now to give you some peace." He didn't answer--he seemed not to pay attention to her--so she swung it shut.
Almost immediately, the comm panel crackled. "Why'd you shut the door?"
Abigail pressed a button. "To give you some peace, sir."
"Well I don't need peace. Leave it open so I can move about if I need to."
"I'd rather you not move about unaccompanied, sir--"
"I said leave it open!"
Abigail shrugged, and pulled at the handle. Nothing happened. She tried again, but the lock remained engaged.
Mikhail checked the electronic lock panel, then clicked the comms. "I fear, Mr Fahrt, that the door is stuck. We'll talk to ground control. You should be safe in there for a few hours."
"A few hours? I can't be trapped in here for..." Ronald's voice faded as Mikhail and Abigail moved away, headed towards Zvezda module and its central communications.
"Confirm, ground control," said Abigail, "one of the deadbolts appears to be stuck. Unable to identify if it is a mechanical or electrical fault."
She smiled at Mikhail as NASA ran through a checklist of tests for them to complete. He had missed that smile. He should have made more effort to keep up with her groundside after 33. Maybe he would this time.
NASA completed their list. "Confirm received," said Abigail. "Will proceed with tests now." She clicked off the mic and drifted over to a small window. "We're above Africa now. It'll take us a while to finish going over all that land. Do you think our guest has fully appreciated the view yet?"
Mikhail grinned. "I think maybe three more orbits. I want him to properly comprehend the scale of the world."
"I should think that'll do it. NASA won't locate the fault in that time."
"How quickly can you replace the cable?"
"Oh, it'll only take a minute. The connector was quite simple to get to, and I only disconnected it this morning so I'm sure of how to fix it. Coffee?"
Abigail closed the panel and Mikhail pulled the handle on the cupola door. It swung open easily.
Ronald Fahrt was curled against the glass as America passed beneath. He looked smaller, but perhaps it was just that--for the first time since Mikhail had met him--he was still. Serene, even.
"Sir..." started Mikhail.
"It's so big," said Fahrt.
"Yes sir, America is a very fine country. Are you okay?"
"Not just America. All of it. It's so much bigger than I knew. I mean, I knew it was big, but I didn't understand. And you know the strangest thing? You can't tell where the countries are from up here. You can't see where one ends and the next begins. It's all just... Earth."
"We'll leave you to it, Mr Fahrt," said Abigail, backing out. She smiled at Mikhail as they left Ronald watching the world turn below.
"I think your new President will be fine," said Mikhail. "And if he remembers this feeling, maybe we will all be fine. Let us hope."
"Let us hope," said Abigail.