Chapter no 15

Winter World

THE ALARM WAKENS ME. For a moment I flash back to the ISS yesterday morning. It already feels like another life and time. A time when I had a crew. And—

A message flashes on the screen:

Proximity Alert

The pitter-patter of the leading edge of a debris field hits the capsule like firecrackers going off.

A voice sounds over the speaker. Goddard mission control. “Get your helmet on, Commander. We’ll drive.”

The capsule jerks wildly as I pull the helmet on. I tumble across the small space. Sergei’s body slams into me. The impact sends pain through my battered body.

Through the window, I glimpse the debris: a module that has broken up. I bet it was close to my capsule when it came apart. Mission control would have alerted me or changed my course if the debris were heading for me. This is a recent event, and there’s no way to accurately predict changes in the debris field.

The din of pelting debris subsides, followed by a collision, a sledge hammer into the side of the capsule. I stare and listen and wait. The wrapper for a Meal Ready-to-Eat, or MRE, floats by. It’s a beautiful sight— it means the debris didn’t breach the capsule.

A new message flashes on the screen. I lean over to read it, but I never get the chance.

The capsule shudders and jerks, tossing me side to side and end over end, like a mouse in a tin can shaken by a child. I throw up. I brace against the walls, but Sergei’s body slams into me and breaks my hold. I hear another crash, larger this time. I collide with another wall, and the air goes out of me. My vision spots.

Atmosphere rushes out of the capsule like a balloon popped. I see the puncture. It’s about the size of a fist, vacuuming everything out. Sergei’s body reaches it first and plugs it. And saves me.

I float in the middle of the capsule, in utter silence. Blinking. Trying to stay conscious. The capsule is adrift.

A new message appears on the screen. One line after another. Comms still work.

I try to read the message, but my visions blurs and the letters dissolve like text on a printed page in the rain. The black spots get bigger until they’re all I see.

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