My head breaks through the surface in a terrific splash, sending droplets of water harmlessly to the waves never to been seen again. I take a deep, thankful inhalation of breath, feeling my chest expand despite the pressure of the water around me pushing back. The air is salty and the sun is bright, but I don’t notice at first. I am just happy to be alive.
I trudge my way back to land after what feels like hours. The wet sand feels more like an expensive mattress in a darkened bedroom rather than a beach under a relentless sun. I fall asleep with the waves still rushing toward me, blanketing my soaking body in saltwater.
I awaken with the sun turning from a bright yellow to a mellow orange glow on the horizon. Drifting lower and lower behind the ocean. My skin is deep red and hurts to the touch from sunburn. I’d take that over death any day. Still, I limp to the tree line and lay down with my back to a tree. The course needles from the wood feel like daggers stabbing me against my sunburn, but I don’t pay much attention. How did this happen?
I was checking the navigation course, telling Captain Pfizer that we were on a steady slope to pass through the atmosphere and return to Cape Canaveral in just a few short minutes. Lt. Turner had just radioed base and they had given us the clear. That was when the alarm went off.
The nuclear-powered engine of our small spacecraft had a malfunction. We were going to experience a blast half the size of the Hiroshima attack if we did not jump ship as soon as possible.
“Everyone remain calm!” Captain Pfizer shouted. I think it was more to himself than to Lt. Turner or me. “We have three minutes to get as far away from this craft as possible unless we want to be added to the list of Space Explorer casualties.”
I hastily put on my spacesuit and helmet with trembling fingers. Panic was setting in but I was trying my damnedest to keep it at bay until I was at least outside of the craft.
“Turner,” Captain Pfizer pointed to the Lieutenant once he was geared-up, “Grab the portable radio so that we can tell earth about our situation once we are safe.” Next, the Captain pointed to me, “Dante,” I knew that Pfizer was scared because he had actually called me by my last name, not just Rookie, “Initiate the destruction protocol so that this thing flies away from earth.”
It was going to be a narrow window, but we were going to escape. Space Explorers- in addition to other things- spent years perfecting how to handle mishaps including meltdowns, oxygen depletion, crash landings, and every other little detail that could go wrong when exploring the cosmos.
“Sir, Canaveral has been notified,” Turner spoke as I initiated our ship to flee toward the stars.
“We have thirty seconds to depart the ship, Captain,” I said.
Captain Pfizer rounded us near the door. We had fifteen seconds to jump as far away as we could. It was getting so hot in the ship. I was sweating in my suit as it felt like the fires of hell were burning in the back of our craft. The door was stuck.
“Damn lock isn’t complying,” Pfizer spoke. The words he had spoken hardly registered, that look of utter despair in his eyes sent me over the edge.
Black circles encroached around my vision. The heat from the failing reactor turned to the icy coldness of liquid nitrogen. I couldn’t contain the shake in my hands as my heart pounded into my throat.
“-unlocked, sir,” I heard Turner’s voice say. He must have activated the manual override. The high-pitched squeal of the emergency protocol sounded. We were out of time.
My voice sounded in my ears, “Sir, what-?” It was too late. A pair of hands gripped my shoulders and flung me out. I experienced the sensation of flying through a vacuum. A ball of orange light ignited, overtaking the glow of the sun for a moment before disappearing into blackness. Captain Pfizer and Lieutenant Turner had been killed saving me. Also, Turner had not been able to notify base of the disaster. I was floating dead in space with no about two hours of oxygen in my tank. It would probably take three hours alone for Canaveral to realize that we had not shown up on time. Then my savior arrived.
It was a dark metal disk with flashing red and yellow lights illuminating the diameter. I don’t know how long I was floating there, not long enough to run out of breathing air, but I thought maybe I was hallucinating.
From the disk, a bright blue beam shot out in my direction. I had the calming sensation of loving arms wrapping around me. It was like being a child who’s been hurt and his mother comes to console him. It was the feeling of the arms of an angel taking me to heaven. The saucer starting pulling me towards earth.
I felt fear set in again. I tried pulling myself away from this beam of light, the anticipation of burning up in the earth’s atmosphere made me wish for perishing with the other two men of the crew. The grasp- though loving- was too tightly grasped for me to escape. I took a breath and closed my eyes. After that, I woke up deep underwater.
I can’t explain it, nor do I think I want to try just yet. The agency would find me eventually- most likely before noon tomorrow- then I would have way more than my fill of questions as to what happened. For now, I will just send a silent thanks to my unknown savior.
The sun was completely out of the sky now darkness offset by tiny glittering lights had taken the view now. Whoever it was that saved me had come from these stars and here is where I sit, staring into the forever-expanding edges of the universe and wondering if I will ever truly know what saved me.