Astronauts Have Christmas Too

Submitted into Contest #178 in response to: Set your story at a work holiday party,... view prompt

24 comments

Fiction Funny Suspense

The gingerbread man floated in the middle of the room. Flight Engineer Nate pushed off the floor and glided expertly towards it; he opened his mouth and bit off its head in one quick snap of his jaw. A cheer erupted from the group of astronauts in the Harmony module of the International Space Station.


The Christmas delivery had arrived last week and the walls were lined with snakes of green and gold tinsel. Protruding diagonally from one corner of the ceiling was a garish fake tree, full of baubles and sparkle. “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” jingled out across the room.


‘Get him Nate, catch that little ginger bastard,’ Project Scientist Sasha called. Her long blonde hair billowed about her head. She’d let it loose for their party and was wearing her favourite pink “I’ve been a good girl” jumper that she cracked out every year.


Nate grabbed the remainder of the gingerbread man and devoured it. There was nothing more Christmassy than the taste of ginger cookies. He gave Sasha a fist bump; his giant, tanned hand dwarfed her pale, bony one.


‘Got him,’ he said.


Commander Jenn clapped her hands together. ‘Right folks, let’s get opening some presents, we’ve still got work to do today. Who wants to go first?’ Her dark hair was cut short, and even if it wasn’t, she wouldn’t let it down any day of the year.


‘Woah, woah, hold up,’ Nate said with a grin. ‘We don’t know if Santa’s been yet! The sun’s on the other side, so technically it’s still Christmas Eve.’


‘Well in thirty minutes we’ll be above Asia, and it’ll be Christmas day, so I say let’s get on with it.’


Mike, the space tourist, piped up. ‘We could always check that Santa tracker website. You know the one? See where the big fella is and open our presents when he catches up to us?’ He always felt pleased when he had an input. It had been pretty intimidating being surrounded by three astronauts for the last week.


‘Not a bad idea for a newbie, Mike!’ Nate put his arm round Mike’s shoulder.


‘Yeh, except we’re going much faster than Santa, you Dumbo,’ Sasha said. ‘We do a whole round in ninety minutes; it takes him all night!’


‘Ha, that brain of yours never turns off, does it?’ Nate replied. ‘Maybe Santa should hand over the reins to us? We could have it all done in record time! Speaking of time, I need to grab my watch, I’ve got a call with the family soon.’


Nate pulled himself towards his crew cabin; a compartment the size of a shower stall. His sleeping bag took up one wall, and another was plastered in photos of a pretty woman with afro hair, and a young girl with a cheeky smile. Scattered amongst them were several printed diagrams of a stick man in a karate Gi performing sequences of moves.


Sasha turned to the others. ‘So, I reckon my mistletoe should be large enough to pick now. Shall I go get it?’


‘If you must,’ said Jenn.


‘Definitely!’ Mike exclaimed.


‘Don’t get your hopes up, Mike. Maybe Nate’ll give you a kiss.’ Sasha winked at him, and went to go check on her plants. As a botanist, she struggled to stay away from them for long. They were her precious babies, her silent confidantes.


She returned several minutes later with a bag of mistletoe clippings. As she reached in to pick out a sprig, a voice crackled through the wall-mounted intercom and made her drop the bag, which floated off in front of her.


‘I.S.S. this is Pilot Steve Caltrop…speaking. Merry Christmas ya lunatics!’


Jenn, who had been her usual uptight-self all morning, finally broke into a full-toothed grin. The intercom was only used for short-range communication. Sasha stood mouth agape, and Nate eyes couldn’t get any wider.


‘Surprise!’ Jenn exclaimed. ‘I arranged for Steve to come bring us some goodies for our Christmas dinner! He’ll be here for the next few weeks to help you with your experiments too, Sasha.’


‘You mean… Steve is outside?’ Sasha asked.


‘Is anyone there, I.S.S.? Shteve here,’ came the static laced voice.


Jenn went to grab the intercom.


‘Steve? It’s Jenn. Is everything ok?’


‘Jenn! How you…doing you old fox? I’ll be ready to dock in…like ten mins.’


Nate and Sasha caught eyes and grimaced.


‘Steve. Are you…drunk?’ Jenn said, her voice getting more high-pitched.


‘What? Nah, I just brought… a little present for you guys. Thought you’d love it. Might’ve started it…early.’


‘OH flaming Jesus Christ! While piloting the capsule? This is beyond idiotic. I should tell you to turn around right now and go back home. If anyone finds out this will be the end of your career, what were you thinking?’


‘I’m fine… Jenn. It’s Christmas, just a bit of brandy! You wouldn’t say anything… would you? Woah, we’re coming up fast… you might wanna get ready for docking.’


Nate peered out a window at the end of the Harmony module where ships normally docked.


‘Holy shit! He’s coming in on the forward port right now! Stations!’ He bellowed.


Sasha heaved herself over to the laser-gun to check the speed of Steve’s incoming Soyuz capsule.


Jenn yelled down the intercom. ‘Steve, you haven’t even got the soft-capture ring extended. Get it out now. Get yourself together!’


‘He’s coming in fast, way too fast,’ Sasha said, steel in her voice. ‘He’s not going to have time…he’s going to collide! Jenn?’


Jenn had been trained all her adult life to make critical decisions in moments such as this. She could feel the blood pumping around her body as her heart went into overdrive. But her face was pure calm.


‘Nate, go to the airlock, get your suit. We might need you out there. Sasha, isolate Harmony. We have to prepare for the worst. Mike, get to the escape pod, just in case. Go, people go!’


Mike had been watching the last few seconds in a haze. He felt like he’d been thrown into one those immersive movie experiences. Maybe this was all part of the ride? When he’d won the lottery ticket for a week in space, he’d been expecting adrenaline pumping thrills, but so far he’d spent too much time helping with chores for his liking. So perhaps this was their way of giving him a spectacular send off? He decided he’d play along.


‘At once, Commander Jenn!’ he yelled, and floated off down towards the Destiny module.


The whole station shook and shuddered. The noise of metal bending pierced the crews’ ears and echoed in their eardrums.


Jenn and Sasha shared a look of disturbed comprehension at the gravity of the situation. Steve had crashed the capsule into the I.S.S.


‘The docking mechanism is going to be ruined. I’ve got to get out there or Steve is going to be stuck in dead space.’ Nate’s voice came from the airlock, over the intercom.


‘Go,’ Jenn replied. ‘Steve, come in. Are you injured?’


‘Jenn…it ain’t looking good, trying to patch up compression leaks… got some cracks. I’m… I’m sorry.’


‘It’s going to be ok. Get your flight suit sealed up, Nate is coming. We’re going to evacuate you. Make sure you’re ready.’


Nate donned his space suit. The hairs on his neck stood up as a feeling of creeping dread came over him. He should be calling his family right now. His heart hurt as he pictured little Cassie’s sad eyes when she realised dad wasn’t going to make their call. No, he had to focus. Steve’s life was in his hands.


He gave the tether a tug and released the door into the starry abyss. As he climbed out and saw the majesty of Earth below him, he struggled to contain a wave of bubbling emotion. Wonder, insignificance and urgency all battled to knock down the fortress of his training and overwhelm him.


He saw Steve’s capsule ahead. It had started to drift away from the station. Jenn had already noticed.


‘Steve you’re losing contact, increase the forward thrust,’ she said through gritted teeth.


‘I can’t! Th..the control panel’s been damaged!’


An unexpected voice came over the intercom.


Mike said, ‘Er… guys, are you seeing what I’m seeing? There’s another capsule!’


‘This is life or death Mike, get the hell off the intercom!’ Jenn yelled.


‘He’s not wrong though, there is another one coming up,’ Sasha said.


‘How can there be? No one informed us! Ok, you try and contact them Sasha, but right now we’ve got bigger problems. Nate, what’s the situation out there?’


Nate had made his way to the front of the Harmony module, but Steve’s capsule was out of arm’s reach, even with the extra rope provided by his tether.


‘I can’t reach him!’ he said. ‘Can you use the robotic arm to grab the capsule?’


‘No way, it won’t support that amount of weight!’ came Jenn’s reply.


He’d run out of ideas. He could feel his eyes sting as they welled up with tears.


Sasha was shouting down both the intercom and the radio to Mission Control.


‘Soyuz Capsule this is I.S.S. Sasha Olsson, do you copy? We can see you approaching, do you copy?’ In the other hand she yelled ‘Mission control this is I.S.S. we have a major emergency. Steve Caltop’s capsule has collided with the station, docking gear is broken, he’s lost forward thrust and is drifting. Is there anything you can do? Did you send this other capsule?’


For a few seconds there was silence from both hands. Then:


‘I.S.S. this is Mission Control. Stay calm. Steve has the skills to fix a lot of problems, ask him if there’s anything he can do. What do you mean another capsule? We only sent Steve.’


Sasha gave Jenn a look that said ‘What the fuck?’ more explicitly than the words themselves.


Steve had clearly heard the transmission from Mission Control, as his voice came over the intercom.


‘Jenn, there’s nothing I can do. I’m screwed.’


‘Keep trying Steve, keep trying. We’ll get you,’ Jenn responded.


Sasha grabbed hold of Jenn’s hand and they both looked on hopelessly as Steve seemed to drift further and further away. She thought of Steve’s proud smile when he’d handed her the golden NASA astronaut pin after her first flight.


Then, both of them frowned. Outside, Nate’s eyebrows furrowed.


The unknown Soyuz capsule was close and appeared to be lining up directly behind Steve’s capsule.


‘Soyuz, who are you and what are you doing?’ Jenn said into the mic.


There was no response.


‘Answer me, damn it! This is Commander Jenn Campbell and that’s an order!’


Silence.


‘I think… it’s going to ram Steve,’ came Nate’s voice, unusually reedy.


Jenn was stunned. This was ludicrous. But it might bloody well work. She had just been coming to terms with losing Steve, but maybe she wouldn’t have to.


‘Steve, listen to me. Nate thinks you’re about receive a push from the other capsule. It might give you one chance; you’ll have to eject and pray to whatever gods are out there that Nate can catch you,’ she said.


‘Ok, copy,’ Steve whimpered.


The unknown capsule decelerated and was partially obscured behind Steve’s capsule as it collided with the back of him. They all looked on in disbelief as through the small pod window they could see Steve’s distant, terrified face approaching, as if in slow motion.


Nate gathered himself. He could see Steve releasing the hatch and preparing to jump. The unknown capsule peeled off at the last moment and Steve leapt off the roof of his own capsule as it slowed down, just short of the I.S.S.


Nate pushed off and glided expertly towards Steve. Steve reached out his arms towards him, but he could feel the forces working against them like in a dream, as Steve’s face turned from hope to horror. It wasn’t going to be enough.


Then, from the top of Nate’s view a long metal arm reached forward, extended behind Steve and scooped him inwards, into Nate’s arms. Sasha’s voice came through on the intercom.


‘Yeeeeeha!’ Nate could hear the huge grin on her face.


Steve sobbed and went floppy as Nate carried him inside. They all gathered round as Steve removed his helmet, and his tufts of thin ginger hair stood on end.


‘You moron, Steve, you goddamn idiot,’ Sasha said. Her face was wet with tears. 


‘Nice to see you too,’ he said with a hiccup of a laugh. ‘Who was in that other capsule?’ The shock and adrenaline of the last thirty minutes seemed to have more than sobered him up.


‘No clue,’ said Jenn. ‘Did you see you anything, Nate?’


Nate didn’t quite look them in the eyes. ‘Well, yeh. Kind of. But it doesn’t make sense.’


‘What’re you talking about? Spit it out!’ Sasha said.


‘I only saw him for a second, through that tiny window. There are no registered astronauts that look like that. It…he was a big guy. With a bushy white beard.’


Sasha narrowed her eyes. ‘You’re having a laugh.’


‘I swear! That’s what I saw. On my life.’


She rushed over to a window and saw the mysterious capsule on its way back to Earth.


‘So Santa saved our asses? Man, I could do with that brandy right now,’ she said.

December 27, 2022 17:40

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24 comments

Amany Sayed
18:33 Jan 01, 2023

This was so fun to read! Piqued my interest from the start and never let it go. I don't know if it was on purpose, but I found the use of the metaphor " the gravity of the situation" to be quite punny considering they're in space. The ending was also quite clever and funny. I only wonder why you use single instead of double quotes for dialogue? Other than that, everything was great!

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Michał Przywara
21:03 Dec 30, 2022

This was great! It starts so jolly and safe, and then the tension suddenly gets cranked way up. Party to emergency in sixty seconds :) It's probably also the first DUI in space :) The twist - I had a suspicion, especially when they contacted mission control and they had no knowledge of the second capsule - but it's very much fitting the season. Very enjoyable :)

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Edward Latham
10:29 Dec 31, 2022

Haha I was interested to find out that although NASA officially prohibts astronauts from alcohol in space there have been instances reported over the years where people have smuggled it up there. So I hope Steve is the first DUI, but you never know! I'm glad you enjoyed, and pleased you had a suspicion of the ending, I was aiming for surprising, but inevitable.

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Kyle Bennett
02:35 Jan 03, 2023

Yeah, the ending was pretty much a dead giveaway, but in this kind of story, that's part of the charm.

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Stevie Burges
04:34 Dec 30, 2022

Fabulous story, well told, and I loved the suspense and the good laugh at the end. Really enjoyed it.

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Edward Latham
10:30 Dec 31, 2022

Happy you enjoyed it Stevie, thanks for reading!

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Stevie Burges
10:51 Dec 31, 2022

So enjoyed it.

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Delbert Griffith
22:18 Dec 29, 2022

Man, what a great tale. I loved the suspense and the surprise at the end. This is masterfully done, Edward. You have a gift, my friend.

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Edward Latham
10:32 Dec 31, 2022

I actually havent done too many action scenes like this, so pleased it had the suspense needed! Your kind words are an inspiration to keep at it, thanks Delbert!

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Kyle Bennett
02:36 Jan 03, 2023

That was going to be my comment, that the action scene was well executed. That kind of thing is a lot harder than it seems.

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Wendy Kaminski
02:34 Dec 29, 2022

Loved this! Great, forward-moving action, fun science highlights and not too technically tedious for the average reader. I would watch this movie -- the plot is already better than some of the more disappointing sci fis out there. :) I enjoyed the teaser at the end, too - nice touch! :)

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Aeris Walker
21:09 Dec 28, 2022

Ah, this was great! Thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing. I am impressed by how much edge-of-the-seat tension you were able to pack into this, all in a way that felt completely realistic, scientifically accurate, and just purely entertaining. The chemistry between all the crew members was palpable, and the ending was just icing on the cake! I genuinely had no guess as to who the mystery astronaut might be, even with the lines in the beginning discussing said magical character, so I was happily surprised. I wonder if you had to do much researc...

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Edward Latham
22:29 Dec 28, 2022

Thank you so much Aeris! I'm glad it came across as realistic, this was probably the most research I've done for a short story: spent a lot of time reading about the ISS, how it moves, how astronauts sleep and communicate and the whole she-bang. Very much enjoyed your story too, your writing is always a delight to read.

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Laurel Hanson
14:29 Dec 28, 2022

This is so much fun! Great ending.

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Edward Latham
15:44 Dec 28, 2022

Thanks for the kind words and for reading Laurel! I heard a piece of advice recently from an author who said they always decide their ending as the first thing and work back from there - so that's what I tried with this piece.

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Laurel Hanson
17:04 Dec 29, 2022

Interesting advice. I've been letting the characters tell me what to do. They can be very bossy and opinionated. ;) And then the ending tells me it has happened. Not sure that's the most effective way to write.

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Kyle Bennett
02:42 Jan 03, 2023

I'm with you on that, Laurel. I'm a confirmed pantser. The characters tell me where to take things. They're way better writers than I am.

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AnneMarie Miles
05:41 Dec 28, 2022

Oh man, i love this whole story! What a great setting for a Christmas party, and his creative. Christmas in space! Not only that, but full of action and suspense! To be saved by Santa...now THAT'S a real Christmas miracle! Such a fun read, thanks Edward!

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Edward Latham
15:41 Dec 28, 2022

Thanks Anne Marie! This was a fun mix of humour and thriller for me to write! I tried to include a bit of craft in here too with some foreshadow and mirroring. Happy you enjoyed!

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Gregg Punger
02:52 Jan 09, 2023

Great story. Super engaging and a wonderful ending.

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Lily Finch
07:04 Jan 04, 2023

Nice story. Good suspense and a great ending. Thanks for the excellent read. LF6

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Rebecca Miles
15:51 Dec 31, 2022

So nice to read a different sort of Christmas story this week. I'm sure I'm not the only one who's looking forward to different literary fare from next week! I really liked the main premise: Santa up in the sky; astronauts making similar but speedier journeys in space. I also thought you handled the switch from light hearted to tense really well. I look forward to reading more from you next year!

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Hello, Edward. I like the unusual story you wrote for this prompt. It was funny, your opening drew me in, and the title fits well and adds to the humor. [‘Woah, woah hold up.’] Perhaps add a comma after the second [woah] [‘If you must.’ Said Jenn. ‘Definitely!’ Said Mike.] Reading [said] twice in a row is a bit awkward, and though I don't agree with the idea that "Said is dead," I do think you can use something more descriptive for Mike. {'If you must,' said Jenn. 'Definitely!' exclaimed Mike.} [Sasha stood mouth agape, and Nate eyes c...

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Edward Latham
12:53 Dec 30, 2022

Thanks for reading and for spotting the errors in time for me to edit! It seems there's always a few that get missed! Thanks for the kind words and happy you enjoyed the ending.

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