I gasp hard, one quivering breath after the other. My chest clenches like it’s crushing inward because there is not enough air to fill the lungs. The spacesuit keeps me swaddled in like a cocoon, only two inches away from becoming one with nothingness. It is too tight. I can't feel my fingers.
“Oxygen level at 35%.” eUDORA's soothing voice inundates the limited room around me, but my ears are still buzzing.
I blink to clear up my vision and try to focus on the helmet’s HUD data when the whorl of contorted metal passes briefly in front of my eyes. "Tom," I whisper, and my heart comes undone in one million pieces. After a brief second, the muddled inkiness of the void seizes my vision once more.
It was supposed to be a routine check on the cooling conducts of the research bay. A gallivanting stroll while securely anchored with my mag-boots to the outer haul, and I am no stranger to spacewalking. But I am a stranger to being thrust out into space and becoming an insignificant speck of dust against such a majestic creation. I am a stranger to death. We all are.
How filled with life and light was the night’s sky as I looked upwards from my parent’s lawn. How full of wonders it seemed, when I embraced it with my gaze from another's loving embrace.
How blood-chillingly gargantuan is the pitch darkness that surrounds me now.
I need to focus and keep my bearings on the remains of the spacecraft. I need to think.
“eUDORA," my voice is shaky, "are any distress calls coming from the Gauntlet?”
“Let’s – Let’s try hailing them, see if anyone answers.” Like moving through layer upon layer of snow, invisible needles make my muscles spasm as I bring my hands together to operate the control panel and adjust the signal for long-range.
The repeating sound of the call bleeps a couple of times and I instinctively turn my head searching for what’s left of the spaceship. For sure, I must be spinning away from it, and I better figure out soon the direction and the rotation speed.
The beeping sound stops.
“Dam it! Pick up!” My voice is hoarse, and I punch in the command to hail again. "Tom, pick up…" I whisper, ignoring the tears swelling behind my eyes. Despair creeps in from my subconscious. “God, I hope he’s not dead.”
“There has been no contact with the crew in the 20 minutes since the event.”
eUDORA’s calmness gets on my nerves with every passing minute. How I miss Tom murmuring my name in the swirls of passion. What I wouldn't give for a strained, hoarse voice like mine, dripping with despair and humanity, to take eUDORA’s place. But the only answer I get is silence. The only presence I have to cling to out of this mess is eUDORA.
“Alright – alright. eUDORA, set a trajectory for the Gauntlet.”
Dotting lines take shape on the visor, disappearing as soon as they form.
“Cannot establish a clear trajectory.”
“Compensate for Gantlet’s new orbit, damn it!” I yell, wasting more oxygen than I should.
Finally, there is a green, stable, lifeline pointing to the spacecraft. Mangled as it is, it remains all I have to call hope. A haze slowly takes over my thoughts, making me shake my head and blink a couple of times. The indicator shows oxygen level at 25%. One deep breath is all I need, as long as I can still take one. I must think.
A short, calculated burst could put me on a path towards the Gauntlet. Releasing the pressure from the oxygen tanks should do the trick, but I must time it precisely. It would be like catching a fly with a thread if the fly was more precious than air.
While inputting the overrides, eUDORA thinks it wise to share an opinion. “Warning. Releasing the pressure from the oxygen tanks will leave the oxygen levels dangerously low.”
“Why, thank you for the obvious, smart pants,” I snicker back, with a weird sense of satisfaction. I never thought sharing banter with someone, even an AI, could feel so heartening. Must be the reason why banter was first invented but no one realised it. Meanings become lost over time.
People become lost.
My head gets flooded with gibberish like it often does, courtesy of my attention deficit. Not even the looming shadow of death could get my full attention. But I must concentrate.
I set the timer and steady my breath, anticipating the sudden change in acceleration. I am shooting for the stars, but I am clinging on to hope. As I am hurled across space, crackling sounds and the stench of burning plastic mixed in with overheated metal are not good signs. The HUD flashes intermittently and no indicators are clear. I can't see the spaceship anymore, neither on the HUD, nor out there as the beacon of home in the vastity of space.
Am I aimlessly drifting or dead? But the worst of all, why has eUDORA gone silent?
“eUDORA? eUDORA, are you still there?”
No answer. There is a void inside the void of helplessness, and I can taste its bitterness. A void eUDORA’s soothing voice filled. So what if I found it annoying at times? Bring it back.
My arm stings, probably where the short circuit fused the connectors, but I welcome the pain. It means I am still alive and for as long as I am alive, I will feel whatever I need to feel. But I am alone.
All alone. Is this it? I rest my head on the back support trying to come to terms with the inevitable when all I want to do is scream.
Out of the blue, a poem Tom recited while trailing star-charts on my back comes to me. “Do not go gentle– Do not go gentle into–” I search for the words out loud, but my mind fights me, and I can’t remember the rest.
eUDORA’s voice blasts from the speakers and tears are finally free to trail down my cheeks.
“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light…”
Oxygen level at 1%.