Chapter no 3

Winter World

EMMA: FLOATING in the cupola attached to the Tranquility node, I watch the International Space Station twist and buckle like a Midwestern farmhouse in a tornado.

The solar array disintegrates, the cells flying away, shingles from a roof. It’s only a matter of time before the station is opened to the vacuum of space.

In the sea of destruction, I see hope: the Soyuz capsules docked to the station. I’ll never make it there. Neither will Sergei or Stephen. Besides, each Soyuz holds only three people.

“Pearson, Bergin, Perez-get to the Soyuz docked to Rassvet. Right now. That’s an order.”

We’ve trained for this. The Soyuz can be separated from the ISS within three minutes, and on the ground in Kazakhstan within four hours.

My earpiece crackles with a voice I can’t make out. Internal comms are fried. Did they hear me? I hope so.

I have to tell the ground.

“Goddard, we are evacuating-”

The wall crashes into me and bounces me against the opposite wall. Darkness tries to swallow me.

I push off and glide through Tranquility. Unconsciousness pulls at me, but I push past it, a swimmer in an undertow fighting not to drown.

I’m trapped on the station, and it’s probably only a matter of seconds before it blows open and everything is sucked out. I have one chance at survival: an EVA suit.

I grab the closest suit, slip inside, and tether it. That will give me oxygen, electricity, comms-if they even still work.

“Goddard, do you read?”

“We read you, Commander Matthews. State your status.”

Before I can respond, the module around me explodes. Darkness finally drags me under.

CONSCIOUSNESS COMES IN WAVES. Sensations come with it, like an onion peeling, nothing at first, then intensity: pain, nausea, and utter silence.

I’m still tethered to the station. The module below me is split open. I see the Earth below. A block of ice covers Siberia, bearing down on China, the contrast of white and the green forests beautiful, if not for the destruction and death it represents.

Segments of the station float free like Legos tossed into space.

I don’t see either of the Soyuz capsules.

On the comm, I call out for the rest of my crew.

No response.

Then the ground stations.

No response.

I try to estimate whether the Earth is getting larger or smaller.

If larger, I’m in a decaying orbit. I’ll burn up.

If smaller, I’ve broken free of Earth’s gravity. I’ll float into space. Suffocate when my oxygen runs out. Or, if the station provides oxygen long enough, starve.

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