Posted by: lordkyler | April 7, 2014

In Space – Short Story

They say that space is huge, unimaginably vast, an overwhelming void of blackness illuminated with only a few pinpricks of light. Technically, this is true. But in practice, it is the opposite. You can’t go outside. You are trapped in a cramped and claustrophobic spaceship. The blackness is oppressive, keeping you trapped as surely as a submarine in the depths. You are an ant, trapped in a tin can at the bottom of the ocean. Only a thin layer of glass and metal and plastic keep your blood from boiling in your veins. I know only too well how true this is. I can still hear the screams.

I’ve been dreaming of space travel for over twenty years now. Ever since I was a small child in France, watching science fiction, dreaming of the stars. I moved to America. I got a job. My life was perfectly average and utterly boring. Then I heard about the mission to Mars.

Due to financial strain within the government, NASA had been closed down, but dozens of private companies were making their own way into space. Some for prestige, some for profit, some for the sheer scientific research. One of these was Mission Mars, a crowd-funded effort to found a colony on the Red Planet headed by a forward-minded CEO. Estimated date: five years.

I had nothing to keep me here. No family, no real friends, no interest in the future of this planet. I had grown thoroughly sick of politics, natural disasters, pollution, bureaucracy, the looming Third World War. So I signed up. I focused everything on training. I put myself in peak physical shape, I studied  everything to do with space travel, I took acting lessons to make myself more charismatic for the selection process, I did everything. And I made it, second to last pick.

Most of the startup space programs ended up going under, but Mission Mars stuck it out to the end. It ended up getting some pretty major tax breaks and government grants. The US wanted to tout the colony as an example of capitalism at work. Showing off to the Communist countries. It was all playground posturing in my opinion, but if it helped me get to space faster, then it was worth it.

I got along well with my fellow astronauts, an international mix of men and women from a variety of backgrounds, united by a common desire to set foot on a new world. We hit it off well, which was a good thing, since we’d be spending the rest of our lives in close quarters.

That’s how I met Rosa, my first and only love. She caught my eye during training exercises, we flirted over freeze-dried asparagus, I proposed just before we boarded the rocket. We were perfect together. We held hands during liftoff.

About two months into the journey, the other crew members were taking a spacewalk, both as a photo opportunity and to perform maintenance on the solar panels. It was the third spacewalk of the voyage. It was also the last.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a star gave it’s dying breath and went supernova, tearing a solar system to shreds, and reducing planets into slag and gravel. A few pieces survived the blast and were hurled away to travel through the void for all time. How long had the debris been flying, how far had it come, before it hit us? What truly astronomical odds that we two microscopic specks coasting through infinity would collide?

The moment was short and violent. A cloud of minuscule asteroids crashed into us like a hailstorm of bullets, unannounced, unanticipated. Our solar arrays were shattered. Hoses were torn apart, tanks punctured, antennas snapped off.

Spacesuits ruptured.

Time gone.

Hope crushed.

And in an instant I was alone in space.

Communications have been lost. The colony pods we were going to spend our lives in were practically shredded. It shielded me from the deadly debris. Many times I wished it hadn’t. The suits are still tethered to spacecraft, dangling behind the ship like cans attached to a newlywed’s car bumper. I can still see them out of the rear window. I don’t go the back of the ship anymore.

I sometimes feel as though I am being punished, as if fate is cursing me for attempting to flee the fate of the planet. Sometimes I feel like believing in God just so I can curse him. Sometimes I pray. I cannot sleep.

I had a picture of Rosa. Just one. I didn’t think I would need more. I thought I would see her all day, every day. And when I see her picture, it reminds me that I will never see her again. I will never touch her. I will never hear her voice. I will never share the same air with her. I tore the picture up. I taped it back together. I tore it up again. I think I’m going crazy.

I don’t know what they thought back on Earth when they lost communications. Nobody could have seen this coming. Somebody will probably accuse someone else of sabotage. There will probably be a war. Maybe there’s been a war already. Maybe there’s nothing to go back to. Maybe there’s nothing left ahead. Maybe I’m the last human being alive. I don’t know. I don’t care about anything but I think about everything. There’s nobody to talk to. I write a lot. I delete it. I draft a will nobody will ever read to distribute stuff that’s already gone. I write letters. I keep a journal. I don’t talk about what happened.

I can’t bring myself to end it all. It would be easy. I know the override codes, easy enough to open the doors and let the air rush out and the nothing rush in. But I don’t I’m going to finish this mission, then I’ll run out of air, and then I’ll die. I don’t know why I should care. I don’t know if anybody cares, if there’s anyone alive to care. If a man steps on the surface of another world, but nobody sees it, does it count? If life exists for one shining, fragile moment, and then destroys itself and nobody ever knows, does it matter? I’m going to do it anyway. It’s all there is left.

Months go by. The ship is damaged, but it’s trajectory is unchanged. It’s like a trick shot in pool: line up the shot, calculate the angles, fire away. Thousands of miles later, the ball goes into the pocket, easy as you please. The ship slides into geosynchronous orbit. The colony pods are damaged and useless. But there is an ejection pod.

I calculate the angles and the distance. I put on the last spacesuit. I blast off towards the surface of Mars. As I fall, I see the ship that brought us here one more time, the bodies floating forever in space. Several minutes later, my chute pops open, catching the thin atmosphere and cushioning my fall.

Ceremonially, I perform a final check of all systems, and then put on my helmet, feeling a strange calm that I haven’t experienced in months. I open the hatch doors and set foot on an alien planet. I stand and look at the night sky and the stars.

Maybe some day we’ll be found. Another expedition, a probe, aliens. Maybe they’ll see out battered ship and wonder what happened. Maybe they’ll find me and wonder who I was.

My oxygen is running low already. There won’t be any more, the equipment is broken. I find a rock and seat myself in the lotus position as best I can in the bulky spacesuit.

I am the first man to set foot on Mars.

Optional twist ending

I awoke when I had not expected to. I am still in my suit. I am still on Mars. But I am alive. I try to move, but find that I cannot. I squirm in my suit until I can see the ropes crisscrossing my body. What is going on?

I struggle to break free, but the restraints are tough. To my astonishment, a tiny creature strides across my chest and marches up to my helmet. The being is no more than five or six inches tall, with reddish, pockmarked skin that blends well with the surrounding rock. He is humanoid in form.

He states at me for a moment , then turns and communicates to an unseen crowd around me. Announcing I am alive.

He steps over to my chest again, where my name is embroidered on a tag above the Mission Mars logo. His tiny fingers trace each letter. G. U. Livier. He returns to my helmet, and to my astonishment, presses his face to the glass and says, “Gulliver, you on Mars. You are prisoner. Greetings.”

My name is Gerard Ulysses Livier and these are my travels.

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