“Houston… we have a problem.”
The problem was me. I was the problem. Always the problem. But did I ever really do anything wrong? Was there ever really a problem, Martha, or were you just so caught up in your own desperation to live a perfect life that you didn’t realise you didn’t need to conform to that sentence? ‘We have a solution’? Your solution was ‘make this person feel as shitty as possible, as much as possible’. Were you okay?! At this point, who knows. There’s nothing I can do about it now. Still, funny that you’ve popped into my head moments before a potentially very painful, very slow death. Or is it a quick death…?
“Houston? Are you there, Houston?!”
Panic. It won’t get me anywhere. I think back now to that day when you decided to say those things and then act like it was a truth I needed to hear. But my finances were my god damned finances, and still are – but you, my friend, are no longer a part of my life. And I never thought I’d be in a position to look back with 20-20 vision and say ‘wow, I was so fucked up back then’. But here I am. Only difference is, I’m watching the Earth float slowly further away…
“Houston, please for the love of God come in.”
The tiny little oxygen pipe connecting me to the space station isn’t going to do a damned thing to keep me connected when it pulls tight. By my count, I have roughly… four minutes before I’m far enough away for it to pull tight. And then it’ll pop loose, because it’s an oxygen pipe, and not a safety chain. The safety chain is waving at me, mocking me. American-made piece of shit. It seems in space everything is reversed. The Russians, renowned for their shoddy workmanship on Earth, seem to have unparalleled safety and general material in space. The Americans, known for their excellent workmanship on Earth, can’t even create safety chains that work in sub-zero temperatures more than twice!
“HOUSTON, I’M NOT AFTER PANICKING, BUT CAN YOU PLEASE ACKNOWLEDGE THAT THERE IS A PROBLEM?!”
Shouting isn’t going to help. Rationally I know. But I’m panicking. And I know I’m going to die like this because my life is literally flashing before my eyes. And I thought I’d had a boring life… My childhood was uneventful. Father left, stepfather was an abusive shit, mother did everything she could to play both parents, keep a roof over our head, food in the fridge, her day job and make sure she was a functional human being too. Friends got sick of me quickly because I was the crazy weird one. Unable to fit in at home, unable to fit in at school. Literally adrift on a tiny little oxygen pipe that would not hold me or even attempt to hold me in… three minutes.
College life saw me with a fake boyfriend because ‘friends’ wanted to see how gagging for sex I actually was, and had the audacity to act surprised when I didn’t fall into bed with him ten minutes after he asked me out. College life saw me with people who didn’t want me to succeed. University saw me with a friend who wanted the world for nothing in return. She had such a poor view of her own existence that I had to cut bits off mine. I had to stop living so she could feel better about her own pathetic experiences. I had to close the door so she could be happy with her unwillingness to open her door. And then she dropped me like a bag of cold sick when someone more her level came along.
“Houston… please. I beg you. Come in. There is a MONSTER of a problem.”
It all really loops back to you, Martha. Not that I want to give you another second of my last precious few, but you wanted me to stop being who I am because you were so terrified of me… doing what, exactly? It used to really bug me that you never explained why me sending money home was such a huge thorn in your ass. Now it doesn’t. Because I never stopped being who I am. If anything, I’ve had less money and been happier. Because look at me now. The money I didn’t save… but the experiences I had. The career shift I had… One of us is about to die in space, and you’re still on the ground, feet planted, stressing about having your precious six months emergency fund on the go. Do me a solid. Spend it. Because when you’re dead, it’ll stay in the bank. You can’t take it with you.
I have good friends now. I have a good life. I’m shit poor, but I’m so undeniably and quite obviously fulfilled in ninety percent of areas that I don’t want to end like this. I can’t! This can’t be how I die. I cannot have ‘safety chain snapped in space’ on my gravestone. There’s so much more to life that I still want to do, because I broke free of the chains others put me in because of their own jealousy! So much to see and do and be and experience and feel! If I’m going to die in space, then I’m going in some spectacular space explosion because a hydrogen fuel tank exploded. It will be magnificent. Because I am magnificent.
This is not magnificent! I’m worth more than this!
“Fuck this.” Radio flipped to internal space station communication. I know the Russians are on shift… they’re due for a space walk too… Please work… “Privyet?! Hello? Pamagi menya!” Help me! I hold what little breath I have. The pipe is stuck on something. The air’s restricted. “Pazhalusta!” The little Russian I’ve picked up – God, my accent is horrible.
“Da? Everything is okay?”
“Nyet! My safety chain snapped, Anatoli! Get out here and help me!”
“Shit! Okay, we come!”
The impending arrival of my Russian saviours is a boost I’ll never forget, and one I wish I didn’t have. See, I keep as still as I can because the oxygen pipe is stuck on something. But I also know that it could take them a long time to get ready for a space walk, even if it is just to rescue me. My best hope is that whatever the pipe is stuck on stays stuck.
“Vasya is coming. He is on his space walk. He will be there soon. I am getting ready to come out also. We will get you.”
“Anatoli, I love you. How do I say that in Russian?”
“Ya tebya lyublyu.” Anatoli’s chuckle gives me life. His laid-back attitude to almost everything… even the death of a colleague. Granted, with what’s happening on Earth right now, we have the right to hate each other, but the space station is one place where international politics on the ground doesn’t matter. If one of us is in danger up here, we all are. If I drift off into the cosmos, there’s one less person to keep everyone safe. And if no-one turns my oxygen supply off, the station’s supply will be drained pretty quickly… so, one person suffers, we all suffer. It's that camaraderie that sets us apart from our respective countries.
“Ya tebya lyublyu if you save me.”
“Budet lyubite menya even if I do not save you. Vasya is almost there.”
Sure as eggs are eggs, Vasya’s helmet is right there. He grins at me, and switches one of his safety chains to another section. Then another. Then another. Slowly but surely, he’s coming. If my oxygen pipe snaps now, he’ll be able to get me. I’m still not totally safe, but still. Better than it was. I can’t help but laugh at the places my brain took me to in the face of death. I hold the pipe as Vasya clips himself down double, checks the tension, and then looks at me. He inspects the pipe for a second, just as Anatoli arrives, also triple-clipped in.
“Stop smooth talking me and get over here.”
“I jump for you, okay? Hold onto pipe. I jump and pull you.” I give him a thumbs up. Anatoli double-checks Vasya’s safety, both of them inspecting the oxygen supply. If that breaks, I have whatever’s in my lungs to keep me going until one of them can stick me back online. That needs to stay connected as long as possible.
“Vasya, you take pipe and hold in place here, pull Daisy to us. I will jump for her.” Vasya gives a thumbs up. Anatoli checks his own safety, Vasya double-checking. “Alright. We do like this. Vasya hold pipe, he pull you. I jump for you, catch you, we bring you to station. Yes?” I give him a thumbs up. “Good. Ready, Vasya, on count of three. Ras, dva, tree!” Vasya gives me a gentle tug.
The worst sound in human history.
My oxygen pipe pulls free of my suit, and the recoil sends me into a gentle spin – away from the space station. There’s panic. I don’t know how fast I’m moving! I’m moving away from the station. And fast. It’s spinning. I’m going to be sick.
But all I can think of is that time I never stayed to greet my friends after they’d been away and I’d dogsat their puppy. Or that I never told Lilian to shut up about knowing every last tiny thing there is to know about the gym and diets when our bodies were and still are completely different! Anxiety into overdrive, I didn’t see Anatoli unclip his safety, launch himself after me, with only Vasya to scramble and clip the safety to the station and hold on for dear life.
A strong pair of arms wrap around my lower half and the spinning stops. I can’t hold my breath much longer. Houston… Houston indeed. How contrite is it to constantly look for solutions, because the actual phrase is problem-centric, only then to create so many problems with people who don’t live exactly as you do?! Who DOES that?! And why is it bothering me right now?! I have no more air left. But the space station wall beside me scares me enough that I let out the breath I’ve been holding as a scream. Vasya clips the safety onto both me and Anatoli. Anatoli pins me to the wall and reconnects my oxygen supply. It’s like a flood of relief into the suit. I’ve never felt so alive!
“Daisy? Daisy, you are alright?!” Anatoli holds my helmet. I try to not, but my neck’s stuck. I give him a lame thumbs up. He grins and closes his eyes. Both of them get me inside. I feel a bit stupid, relying on them. But the snarky little remains of my safety chain remind me that it’s not my fault I was almost turned into space soup in my suit.
Back inside, Vasya and Anatoli help me get my space suit off. My team-mate Michael comes to offer me support. And a crushing hug. And a medical check-up, too.
“Thank Christ Anatoli and Vasya were on their way out,” Michael says, slapping both Russians on the shoulder. “Thanks, guys.”
“Ne za shto,” Anatoli smiles. “Don’t mention it.”
It’s been one hour since I almost span away to my death in the deep depths of the unknown quadrant of space we occupy. My mind has been permanently on the past. On the things I did and didn’t do. Things I’ve hurt myself with. The people I almost let win. But didn’t. I snap the comms headset onto my head. They’ve been chatting with our dear friends on Earth the entire time. Roskosmos even replied before Houston did.
“Oh, dear. Houston, we so have a problem.”