Chapter no 7

Winter World

THERE ARE things that stick in my mind. The Christmas morning when I was six, when a brand-new bicycle with training wheels stood by the tree. The day Adeline was born. And Owen. And the day I boarded the Soyuz capsule atop a rocket that would carry me into space.

Space was always my dream. At some point, it also became the reason I had delayed so many things in my life. Marriage. Children. Settling down.

Now it has turned into a nightmare.

But the sight of the capsule rushing toward me right now is one of the moments I’ll remember forever. I’m overflowing with joy. Someone down there sent it—for me. To save me. In a world fighting for survival, they launched a capsule into space to save one life.

That says something about the human race.

The capsule unfurls its small solar array, like a bird extending black wings. It maneuvers with thrusters, puffs of white air blossoming from its sides as it slows and moves closer. I recognize the logo on the side. It’s a private space contractor. This capsule would have been launched in three weeks, to bring a new three-person crew to replace half the crew on the station, including me. They launched it early.

I know the specs, studied them at length. It’s a dual-purpose crew and cargo capsule with room for seven of us. And tons of supplies. From top to bottom, it has a nose cone (now gone), a pressurized section for crew, a service section (unpressurized), a heat shield for reentry, and on the bottom, an unpressurized cargo hold that detaches before reentry. That’s all great, except for one problem: I don’t have a working docking port or berthing mechanism.

The capsule turns its nose toward me, as if it had read my thoughts. The capsule’s berthing mechanism opens. I expect the atmosphere inside to rush out, blowing the capsule backward. But the puff of air that escapes is a gentle push. They depressurized the crew cabin before launch. Smart.

The open mouth of the capsule seems to stare at me, the black of space behind it, as we both orbit the Earth. The ISS was flying at over seventeen thousand miles per hour. We’re likely doing less now. The capsule is matching the velocity of my decaying orbit, but it has to use its thrusters to stay in place, and even that’s a losing battle, like a hummingbird trying to be utterly still. It’s impossible.

What’s their plan? I’m expecting something to extend from the capsule that I can grab on to and pull myself in. A tether. A rope. I’d accept a licorice stick at this point. Anything to get me inside.

But nothing comes.

The capsule stares at me, waiting. The cargo lights begin blinking. I realize it’s Morse code about halfway through. (Thanks to the decompression sickness, I’m not firing on all cylinders here.)

The message begins again. Dot dash dash dash.



I missed the second letter. Focus.

The third letter: Dash dash. Or dash dot.

It’s an N or an M.

The next letter: Dot dash dash dot. P.

J, something, N or M, then P.

Oh. No. Please tell me it’s not— The sequence starts again.

Yep. They’re saying JUMP.

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