by Alex Price
I woke to the sound of beeping. A voice pulsated in my ear.
“Oxygen low.” My eyes, still groggy, were not yet adjusted to my surroundings. I tried to move my arms to get my bearings, and felt nothing. I tried the same with my legs and realized—I was floating.
Shock flooded my system. Panic was in the very air. I peered out from my helmet visor as my eyes took in the sights for the first time. The world all around me, towering above and encompassing all of my vision, a great celestial giant standing alone in the vastness of space. My eyes could just barely make out the space station in the distance, appearing to me like an ant on the surface of an apple.
Where was my cable? My hands lunged furiously around, spinning me like a top. I began spinning too fast, with no way to stop myself. The world swam in and out of my vision, going around and around. I felt sick and closed my eyes. My spacewalk cable was nowhere to be found.
I furiously attempted to stop the spinning, this time ending my rotation without the comfort of the Earth in view. All I could see was the endless night of space, with the occasional star twinkling within.
“ISS. Come in. This is Mission Specialist Albert. I am marooned without a cable outside of the Space Station. Can anyone copy?” There was nothing but silence on the other end. “ISS. Please acknowledge. I am marooned in space without any ties to the orbiting satellite, and appear to be outside of the gravitational pull of the Earth. In need of immediate assistance.” Still nothing but silence. My heart was pounding in my chest. Something was wrong. The communications only reached a certain distance, it’s possible that I was out of range. I successfully turned my body back around, facing the Earth, and noticed that the station appeared even smaller. I was floating away faster than I thought.
Movement caught my eye. My gaze quickly turned to my right. A large, blurred object floated about twenty meters away from me. “Oxygen at thirty percent” said the soothing computer AI in my helmet. I tried to think nothing of my oxygen count, and did my best to angle my trajectory to match up with the object in the distance. The object was getting closer, and I could make out the vague shape of arms and legs, covered in a space suit. Another astronaut.
I caught him with both hands, but unfortunately his momentum carried me further away from the space station. Frantically, I tried to right him so I could see his face. Easier said than done. I tried to move him around but his body felt limp, unmoving. My heart stopped. With much effort, I turned him over and looked at his face. His eyes were closed. I knocked on the glass of his visor, clinging on to a hope that he could have just been knocked unconscious. Looking closer at his visor, there was no breath fogging up in inside the helmet. He wasn’t breathing. I was alone.
On closer inspection, his oxygen tank appeared to be damaged. A hole the size of my fist was punched through the holding containers, to be more specific. His face was one I recognized, one of the crew on the ISS. Youngest of all of us, and most determined to work his way up in the ranks. The Earth loomed over me like a scolding parent, punishing me for daring to venture past its safety. I let go of the young man and let him float away. I had no cable, and no communications. It’s likely that the ISS had been compromised or at the very least was inoperable, and I was quickly gaining speed away from the station. It now only looked like a dot to me, like a period on paper. There wasn’t any possibility of getting back.
“Oxygen at fifteen percent.” The computer whispered in my ear, soothing me with its robotic tones. Though it didn’t matter if I had fifteen or one hundred percent oxygen. My body was in a state of panic, yet my mind didn’t match. My thoughts were straightforward, orderly and collected. I knew what I was in for; this was the end. I took a long and deep breath. “Oxygen at ten percent,” said the computer.
“Stop telling me my oxygen level.” I ordered. Silence seemed to be the greatest companion right now. They say, before you die, your life will flash in front of your eyes. I don’t think I can attest to it being that dramatic, but I can say that my last thoughts were not of death, but of the life that came before. I thought of my parents, and how my dad used to walk me to school in the morning. I thought of the time I blew my first gum bubble, or when I got my first bike without training wheels on Christmas. And how it was raining that day.
I thought of the day I graduated high school and the day I graduated college. I thought of everything in between and beyond. The birth of my daughter. The failed birth of my son. And the first time I ever looked at the stars and felt that yearning to be among them. A pull that told me that my place wasn’t on the ground, but in the sky. And here I was. Doomed to a graveyard of endless void, dirt replaced with nothingness, and a casket replaced by the very suit designed to protect me. In some ways, it’s funny.
The Earth lay before me as I gazed in longing. I watched clouds move across its surface for a while. There was the occasional thunderstorm and hurricane, but mostly they seemed peaceful. I thought of the billions of lives that lived on the planet. I thought of the billions more who died in its history. And yet, does the Sun even care about its planets? Does a galaxy care about its systems? Does a universe care about the galaxies within it?
“Oxygen at three percent. Replace immediately.”
The Earth held my gaze. An elegant body. No words were exchanged between us, and no words needed to be.
“Oxygen at two percent. System shut-down imminent.”
“I care.” I whispered faintly.