Planning Her Escape

Submitted into Contest #243 in response to: Write a story about a character who wakes up in space.... view prompt

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Science Fiction Speculative

Tess woke up remembering something from the days before. She had been only a child then and the story was old at that time, so it was amazing that what she recalled was so vivid, so fresh in her bones. The story had terrified her the first time she heard it, yet something drew her to read it over and over in the decades that followed. Maybe there was a message in it she was supposed to discover. It was a Ray Bradbury science fiction story called All Summer In A Day about people who colonized Venus where the sun came out only once in every seven years. The little girl in the story – maybe that was why she liked it, it had a little girl in it – knew about sun replacing the relentless rain and tried to tell the other children it was about to happen but they didn’t believe her, taunted her, locked her in a small room and then forgot about her when the sun did come out.

The most terrifying but also satisfying part of the story was how horrified the children were when they realized what had happened and that it was irreversible.

And now here was Tess near some colonized outpost deep in dark space, her ship having lost contact with command, and the rest of her crew asleep, dead, or suspended. She had no idea and no understanding of what had happened except there was a silent explosion. How is a silent explosion even possible, she was wondering, as her mind called up the fierce swoosh of flame that swept outside and inside the ship, like St. Elmo’s fire everywhere but, of course, with no sound because there is no sound in space.

Tess shook her head, partly to rid herself of the image but also to see if she could move her head, move her neck, half afraid she had been internally decapitated. Feeling as if everything were intact, she slowly unbuckled and let herself lift out of the chair so she could maneuver around the cabin and check on the status of her mates. Why had she been spared the unconscious – or dead – state? She told herself to banish that thought and just concentrate on one thing at a time, proceed through a systems check.

The people around her, still in their seats of course, were warm to the touch, what she could touch, which was only a small part of skin on the back of the neck in between the back of their collars and under the headgear they all had to wear during liftoff. Then she remembered that they had been leaving one station and heading to another in the chain of colonies when it had happened.

No one moved to her stimulation. But they were still warm. Was that because they were alive or because it was still so close to the silent explosion that the bodies hadn’t cooled, yet? Tess’s eyes sought the console for a time check. Northing was registering although there was a faint blue/grey haze so there might have been a jot of energy pulsing; unless, maybe it was being fueled by energy from the explosion. She would have to mark new time from now.

Tess knew how long it took to travel the whole ship, to check out various components so she would use her internal clock as she made her way to every corner and then she would come back and see if there was a change in body temperatures.

With a plan, her mind relaxed but that only let in the thoughts again. What if she was the only survivor and what if she was completely out of contact with anyone anywhere; and, what if they had been pushed off course and the ship was just drifting? Something told her she needed to start planning her escape.

Tess forced herself to make two rounds of the ship before she checked on everyone else. This was one of the smaller ships since it was a day mission, so she thought the extra time was justified. In truth, she felt as if an icy core was rising from the bottom of her sternum. It was fear, she knew, and she had to keep it tamped down or it would disable her resolve.

Resolutely, she started with the third row. Nothing.  No pulse. No reaction. And the body was cooler than it had been the first time she touched it. It was the same for every one of them. They were dead. She knew it. She had known it on some level from the first. No point in speculating why she wasn’t. She needed everything in her mind to help her get out of this.

But what if she couldn’t?  This is a universal fear, one of them; the fear of being unable to solve a problem that threatens your very existence, and the fear of being alone. Tess could feel herself giving over to the fear and then over to something else, a desolate acceptance that made her feel her core was melting. She remembered the times she had surgery or, once, when she was in anaphylactic shock and she had stilled her body, stilled her nerves, gave herself over to the doctors. She knew she had to be emptied out to be saved.

This was different. As time wore on and nothing inside or outside of the ship changed – she could have been suspended upside down or on end; she had no idea – Tess understood that it was unlikely she would be saved. They were all trained and prepared for this, having undergone extensive psychological testing before being accepted into the fleet. She knew there were provisions on board to help her end the timeless agony.

She let what she thought was one day, then another day go by before she made any decision, checking the console for activity, checking her partners and friends, because of course they were friends, detecting no change.

On what was, she calculated, the fourth day, Tess took the pill and let herself drift off to whatever was next with thoughts of the little girl in the Bradbury story who had not seen the sun.

On the fifth day, a slight flicker appeared on the screen.

March 22, 2024 22:15

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1 comment

Dena Linn
13:59 Mar 30, 2024

Holly... interesting story and you are on the cusp of many ideas in this version. There is so much to develop here I encourage you to keep writing and working with it.


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