Space

The rage had fled within the first six hours, replaced by the sort of serenity heralded by the unflinching realization that you’re going to die and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.

The day started like any other. He’d gotten into his suit, went through his pre-walk checklist with Don, ensuring the pressurized seals were holding, the comms functional and the life support systems running in the green.

After an hour of testing, they stepped into the airlock, waited for the Captain’s go-ahead, and listened to the slight hissing that signified air being leaked out into the vacuum of space.

His favorite part was the silence that accompanied the final depressurization. The only sound was the faint beating of his heart and the whisper of fabric indicating that his chest still rose and fell with breath.

Today they were repairing an external diffuser, one of 15 panels that ensured the unfiltered UV rays from the sun didn’t damage the sensitive equipment on board more than they could withstand. The re-supply drone had malfunctioned, requiring a slight adjustment in course that’d taken them a bit too close to the undetectable rings of the barren planet they orbited, and the infinitesimally small debris had pushed one of the diffusers out of alignment.

The MagBoots had never failed him before, and he’d become complacent. They’d drilled the danger into him back in Boot Camp, but a decade and a half of space expeditions, and almost 500 space-walks had dulled the fear.

When the small reactor that powered the magnets failed, he didn’t notice until his grip slipped off the diffuser strut.

He lazily floated away, his tether becoming tighter and tighter, clipped into the side of the ship.

That was when the terror sunk in.

He saw that the clip wasn’t fully engaged as the tether went taut and slipped from the hook.

Don wasn’t paying attention, and those three or four seconds before the comms transmitted his screams were the difference.

By the time Don had checked his own tether and moved to get him, he was too far to reach. Once the captain became aware of the situation, she ordered Don to return back to the airlock for debrief and turned his comms onto the ship-only frequency so he couldn’t hear the screams and curses.

The rage settled into his stomach like a cancer; first at anything and everything he could blame. The shoddy manufacturer of the boots, Don’s ineptitude, the bitch of a captain who couldn’t justify the fuel expenditure so close to the undetectable debris after an already unscheduled burn.

Then the rage then got directed inward. How could he be so fucking stupid. How could he be so careless. Why didn’t he check the connection? Maybe if he hadn’t shown up hungover to so many pre-flight classes after Boot Camp, maybe if he hadn’t married Denise and been forced to take this contract to pay for her chemotherapy, maybe if he had finished college instead of dropping out to become a goddamn Skyrine.

But after a few hours, realizing that he had a day or so left of air before he suffocate inside of his suit, he realized that anger was pointless. Why think and reminisce about the things that could have happened, that should have happened, that could have happened.

He thought back to the first day he’d looked down on Earth from space. He’d heard all the bullshit (or what he thought was bullshit) stories from pre-War astronauts who said that seeing that vast planet almost dwarfed by the never-ending cosmos that surrounded it — seeing the cradle of humanity looking so fragile — how it was an almost religious experience. He didn’t believe it until he gazed down there and saw that floating blue sphere.

He thought back to when he’d first met Denise, and the way she’d smelled and the shy smile he saw out of the corner of his eye when he grabbed her hand on the way out of the restaurant.

They were all tinged by sadness and understanding that those experiences were the sum total of who he was as a person; he tried not to think about the decisions and experiences that were taken from him. When Denise was diagnosed while they were investigating their fertility, when his father died before he could tell him what a fucking prick he was.

The serenity took him by surprise, but the gratitude he felt for the end of that roller coaster ride of emotions he’d felt sprung tears from his eyes.

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