Trapped in the darkness of the cockpit, I look around the blank screens on my console and feel a sense of dread begin to well up in my chest. It has been some time since the overhead lighting had cut off throughout the ship. The only remaining source of illumination is the piercing red streaks of the emergency lights that sporadically dot the metal grating of the floor. To be honest, it only seems to give everything a hellish red tint, rather than providing any sort of practical light source to work by.
I imagine that will impede the Recovery Team’s efforts to get my vessel operational again somewhat once they track me down, but in all honesty, I don’t see it effecting my own personal outcome all that much. I’m probably going to suffocate or freeze to death before they ever show up to answer my distress beacon, assuming they receive my signal at all.
I’m normally a pretty optimistic guy, glass half full and whatnot, but when it comes to being on the drift in the middle of an abandoned route between worlds, even a ‘Positive Pete’ such as myself is forced to accept that the odds of me of coming out of this situation alive are slim at best.
When I was down in the belly of the engine room trying to find the source of the trouble, I was still under the foolish impression that this was simply a minor technical hiccup, some easily amendable situation that I could quickly correct with my respectable amount of firsthand knowledge and experience.
However, when I opened the light blue metal paneling that housed the controls of the main turbine, expecting to find a blown fuse or maybe a loose coupling harness, I was instead greeted with a smoldering mess of melted wires and metal that looked more akin to shrapnel found in some warzone as opposed to any sort of tangible piece of equipment used to control a turbine. A master engineer chocked full of enough Ritalin to focus a classroom full of kindergarteners wouldn’t be able to do much with this without the resources of a fully stocked repair bay.
What makes no sense to me was how such a thing could even happen to begin with.
Even though the Comport Systems fleet is made up of older vessels, they are all hearty ships, serviced with clockwork regularity, and unlike some of the other transport companies, the higher ups don’t skimp on quality when it comes to replacement parts. These facts are the main reasons I didn’t mind so much when I took to traversing a solar lane less-travelled in order to shave a few days off of my trip back to Mars.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d be foolish not to expect some level of danger on these journeys, be it from space pirates or some rogue meteor, but I felt like the risks were at least mitigated as much as they possibly could’ve been.
When I’m wrong, I’m really wrong.
What I was faced with in that engine room isn’t supposed to be possible, even if faulty wires had somehow ended up being used. The only other explanation that I could think of at the time was possible sabotage, but for what purpose?
The only score that would interest a brigand to begin with would’ve been in the shipment of medicine that I had transported on my last run, but that had already been delivered to Praxis Science Station, which also happened to be the only time I’d even been out of my ship for any length of time in the past 5 rotations for anyone to sneak aboard and tamper with anything.
There is no logic to be found in such a line of thinking, it is merely paranoia running rampant in my mind, so I force myself to dismiss the notion. I stop dwelling on what could be and instead begin planning for what’s to come. It's not pleasant, but it’s at least somewhat proactive.
I know that I’m going to turn into a popsicle before I even have the chance to worry about running out of oxygen or food, so I do what I can to give myself the best shot of surviving this. After I don my space suit, I begin sweeping each and every nook and cranny of my ship for any and all useful resources; blankets, oxygen cannisters, and emergency rations, before continuing onwards to the frontmost portion of the ship.
As I make my way through the steel bulkhead leading to the cockpit with my slim pickings, I seal the entrance up tight behind me and plop down in front of my control panel. I navigate the submenus quickly and begin redirecting all available heat and oxygen from the other vacant rooms of the ship to the cockpit.
Glancing at the neighboring screen, I see that a distress signal had been automatically triggered by the system as soon as the engine began to seize and is being broadcasted on all open frequencies. With all of that done, there is nothing left for me to do on my end but watch my screens, conserve my resources and wait. I try and moderate my breathing, doing my best to keep my respirations slow and light.
It wasn’t much longer after that the lights shut off, followed swiftly by the screens. With the recirculation systems offline, the air is as still as the grave. The absence of the telltale whirr of the vents or constant tremble of the engine, the heartbeat of the ship, it seems unnatural to me.
It feels dead.
The only noise that interrupts the blanket of silence is the quiet, steady creaking of the hull. The ship’s groans add an extra layer of ominousness to the already tense atmosphere.
I don’t want to die like this.
No one deserves to die like this.
It begins to feel like the blood in my very veins is freezing solid. No matter how many blankets I pile on, it makes no difference. This is the kind of cold that not only freezes one’s body, but their very soul as well. It gives my limbs the impression that they are being roasted by icy flames. The insulative properties of my space suit is helping somewhat, but it can only do so much without being outright activated, and to do that I have to attach the helmet.
My breaths grow short and ragged as the oxygen content in the cockpit continues to dwindle. With shaky hands, I manage to hoist the heavy olive helmet over my head and secure each of the four latches that connect it to the torso of my suit. As I flip the last latch, a loud squeaking sound rings out as it seals together, followed by a perky series of chirps indicating successful activation. I take a deep breath and feel my lungs fill with the rich oxygen. My head feels less cloudy, my senses are somewhat sharpened.
The feeling is blissful.
The teal HUD built into my visor activates, giving me a readout of my vital signs, as well as the amount of oxygen and power remaining in my suit’s external battery pack and canister. I can’t help but utter a small moan as I feel the underlying material begin activating, the influx of warmth brings the feeling back into my fingertips. As much as I revel in the relief, I quickly adjust the settings to conserve as much of my resources as possible. The once bright HUD dims to a faint shimmer.
I lean back in my chair, causing the metal frame to squeak with the shift in my weight and rest the back of my helmet against the headrest.
I am officially out of lifelines.
A few more days pass, and the cavalry has yet to swoop in to save me. My suit gradually burns through the remainder of its battery, and I’m soon left only with the residual heat trapped inside the suit with me and only a wisp of oxygen.
At least my fingers aren’t as cold.
I wonder what my son is doing right now? I imagine him gazing out at the docking bay from the little reading nook of our apartment back on Mars, eagerly waiting on my ship to make its past-due return. I can see him in class keeping a watchful eye on his comm-link while he’s supposed to be studying, hoping for any word from me that I’m okay and on my way back to him.
My one regret is I know that the last thing I’ll ever do in this life is disappoint him by breaking my word. I promised I would return to him, and fate has made a liar out of me.
My eyelids start to droop as my train of thought grows increasingly harder to maintain. I’m getting so sleepy, but I fight the urge, I’m terrified of not waking back up.
“Be optimistic,” I hear my late-husband say, “Never give up hope...after all, you landed me.”
I smile widely, knowing he’s right.
My boy’s not going to lose another father, it’s going to be okay. It has to be.
I give in and let myself drift off into a deep sleep, where I’m rewarded with the most pleasant dream that I think I’ve ever had.