Streaming Sunlight

Submitted into Contest #8 in response to: Write a story about an adventure in space. ... view prompt

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Science Fiction

The clear black of space felt endless and out of reach, but he had worked hard to get there. The astronaut turned the latch and the door hissed open onto the blackness. Deep shadows echoed back from the floating rocks around him. What stories they would tell, if only he could take just a sample back to Earth.

 The astronaut took a step out of the shuttle door and onto the porous surface of the asteroid and shuttered. It was not due to the emptiness of space, but because he had no way of knowing what he would face on the space rock.  A total of two hours on the asteroid was all he was given. That’s how long it would take for his oxygen to run out. That’s how long it would take for him to complete the task and return to the shuttle. He knew the mission, he knew what he had to do, but half of him wanted to remain in space. 

No matter if he returned, it would take him years to get back to earth. He knew that the chances were slim that his wife was still alive. She had been sick when he left, but he could not resist the money he was offered to make the journey. It would take five years to return back to Houston. The fact that he made it to this asteroid as it was passing by Europa was a miracle in and of itself. 

A shadow flickered and his heart skipped. There was no life here, his readings showed no lifesigns. Taking a slow step forward, he turned his body and looked towards the sunlight gleaming through the darkness. He was the first man to make it to the asteroid belt and the first man to take samples of this alien rock beneath him. He had to do this mission quickly and return to the shuttle. 

The astronaut took another moment to revel in the shadows of passing meteorites and smaller asteroids, The way they looked as they floated between him and the sun reminded him of how the sun peeked through dark clouds and the streams of sunlight poured onto the ground. The astronaut took in a deep breath before turning his back to the light to begin his task. 

He grabbed a sample container and opened it. It made no sound as air from earth escaped into the void; a dust particle floated up, catching the beam of sunlight just before the astronaut could no longer see it. It had taken him five years to get there. If only there was a way he could stay just a little longer than the measly two hours he was allotted. 

“Captain Elliot, do you come in,” The radio crackled in his ear. “Captain Elliot, if you receive this message, we have your wife on the line. She wishes to speak to you.” 

The astronaut stopped what he was doing knowing the signal was at least 16 minutes old. The station back in Houston, knew that too, so he listened. 

Jim,” The astronaut’s wife came through his headpiece. “Jim, honey, I hope you can hear me.”  Her voice sounded soft and weak. She took a deep breath before continuing. “Jim, the doctors give me a few more days. I wanted to talk to you and tell you I’m sorry for how I was when you left. I know you were doing it for me and it gave me more time, but I can’t win this battle.” She took another rattling breath and continued. “I love you, Jim. I miss you. When the time comes, Lena is going to live with my parents. I told her that when she is old enough to come say hi to you on occasion. I hope she does. Just know that I will be with you on your journey home. Be safe and come home to your daughter in one piece. She doesn’t need to lose another parent.” She was gasping by the end and the astronaut knew that she wouldn’t have the strength to speak anymore. He wasn’t even sure if she would have the strength to wait around his reply. 

Taking the chance that she did, the astronaut hit the button on his suit that would allow him to speak and said, “Houston, I read you. I hope my wife is still there and can hear me. Tell her, I’m sorry I wasn’t able to be there in the end. Beth, if you are still there, I love you too. I love you to the end of the universe and back. If Lena can hear this, tell her I love her and I know she will be in the right hands with your parents.” 

The astronaut looked up, feeling the moisture build up in his eyes. His daughter was two when he left. By the time he would get back, she would be thirteen. He knew he would be missing her grow up, but at the time, the money to get his wife better was worth the risk. He shook his head, suddenly angry at the mission, at the fame and glory that came with it. He was angry at himself for justifying the money. He lost the time that was important. His wife would be dead, his daughter would be a stranger, and he would have been gone for ten years, away from his friends, even the people he worked with changed. The director in charge of the space program had changed twice since he left. Everything was different and alien. Much like the dust coating the asteroid was alien. 

Looking back down at his task, he took his small shovel, and knelt down with the jar in his other hand. Resting the jar on the ground, he shoveled some of the dust into it and sealed it up with a click. One jar down, four more to go. 

He set the jar on the ground and picked up the empty one next to it. Still holding the small shovel in his hand, he made his way, slowly, towards the rock resting on the edge of a basketball sized crater. 

“Jim.”

The voice caused the astronaut to jump back. Before him stood a familiar young woman with short black hair and soft brown eyes. Her skin looked healthy and a pinkish glow touched her cheeks. The sight of her in her younger years caused the astronauts heart to race. 

“Jim,” The woman repeated. She quirked her head to the side and smiled. 

The astronaut could not respond. He knew her. He loved her. How could she be here? 

“Jim, aren’t you going to say hi to your wife?” The woman breathed in and out before lifting her arms and twirled, the sun’s light making the folds of her yellow dress look like petals of a flower. 

The astronaut shook his head. “You- you can’t be here!” He gasped out. He blinked several times, hoping that the hallucination would go away, but when he opened his eyes again, she would be one step closer. 

“Yes I can, Jim.” She stopped twirling and looked at Jim, a glint in her eyes. “Come dance with me, Jim. It is gorgeous out here!”

The astronaut looked down at the time remaining his oxygen to see not the two hours he had set for himself, but twelve hours! He let out a breath of relief, fog quickly building on the inside of his helmet before disappearing just as quickly. 

“Beth, what are you doing here?” the astronaut asked lowering his wrist. 

Beth jumped into the air, twirling in the as he had seen her many times when she was well and happy. She floated for only a moment before returning back to the surface of the asteroid. Her grin never faltered from her face and she held out her hand to him. “You know what I am doing here.” 

A shadow flickered behind him once more, but the astronaut did not turn around to see what it was this time. Instead, he dropped the shovel and sample jar and leapt towards her, the way he had seen her leap. Only too late did the astronaut remember that the asteroid did not have enough gravity to bring him back down. He looked down to see his wife waving to him, the smile still on her face as he floated further and further away. 

“No!” the astronaut cried reaching for his wife. 

His wife looked at him for another moment before she jumped into the air and caught up with his fall into nothing. Her smile twisted into a snarl and her eyes burned red beneath her dark eyebrows. “You left us!” She screeched through the vacuum of space. “You chose money over us!” Her voice hurt his ears and he tried covering them, but was unable. 

“No, I did this for you!” the astronaut hollered back. “I did this for you!” 

“You sentenced me to die alone!” Her voice lowered into a snarl. “Now you will too.” She reached her hand and his the button on his helmet to release the pressure. 

Before the astronaut could stop her, his face froze in a permanent scream as he floated above his shuttle. 

“Captain Elliot,” The radio crackled to life sixteen minutes later. “Captain Elliot, your wife… I’m so sorry to tell you, but your wife collapsed as soon as she sent you the message. We tried to revive her, but she was declared dead just a few minutes ago. I’m so sorry, Jim.”

Jim listened to the message then looked back at his wife, who’s face softened back into her smile. “I’m so sorry I left you, my love” Jim said taking his wife’s hands in his. He noticed how much younger his hands looked than they had a few minutes ago. He reached up and touched his face to feel the wrinkles gone from his neck, and around his eyes. Then, Jim turned his head to see his body, floating above the asteroid, still tethered to the shuttle, his hand still resting on the button to release his helmet. 

September 21, 2019 20:14

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1 comment

Lee Kull
21:39 Oct 02, 2019

Great story! I'm not generally a fan of science fiction, but this story is very nicely laid out, and I liked it very much. Thanks for sharing it! - Lee

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