Monday, July 23, 2007

Untitled fragment

The airlock door won’t open again, no matter what we try.
Darren knows it too, as he watches me through his faceplate, his gaze bearing a fierce resignation. He can only fight his fear now, unlike us who, inside, keep trying to defeat the mechanical forces that prevent us from saving our friend and colleague. Behind him, Matt and Cara are slowly tumbling away, already beyond any reach, their white EVA suits fading beacons on the steady background of stars.
At least, Mark is safe. He’s inside. He’s struggling to help us get the door open, but from inside. The knowledge of this warms my soul, giving me a calmness I need and couldn’t summon otherwise.
My suit is crushingly heavy, but I dare not take it off – afraid to waste precious seconds - even if my gloved fingers are clumsy bear paws over the exposed wiring of the command panel. My breathing comes out in raspy draws, amplified to an eerie intensity by my imagination or by a mere defective comm interface.
The circuits won’t respond. Stealthily, beads of sweat start down on my forehead, betrayed by the tiny tickling, and, as I try to blink them away, I begin to realize that something is wrong even in this; the suit should regulate the temperature and the humidity.
Billy touches my shoulder, startling me badly. He seems to have the same problem; I almost can’t see his features behind the faceplate anymore. He’s going to take his suit off. Puzzled, I look behind me. Nate and Maya are coming out of theirs, looking flustered, with their cheeks red and shiny. I have to do the same before I faint. We’ll go inside for now, figure out from there what this malfunction means. Darren is still attached by the umbilical chord; he has oxygen for another half hour; time enough, just maybe, to get him inside.
“We’re coming in,” I transmit.
“NO!” Mark’s voice comes over the comm, its imperativeness perplexing, alarming. “Stay suited, Sam! STAY SUITED!”
I don’t understand what he wants, why he is so agitated. We only want to get inside. I range my suit on the rack, perfunctorily following entry protocol. Then I hear Billy scream, and before I even have time to turn my head and look at him, something hits me hard in the ribs, just below my left breast. I drop to my knees, next to Maya, bewildered, numbed by a searing pain that I can’t explain. It felt like an electrical discharge, powerful enough to cause a burn. I touch the spot with my fingers, pulling my tank top away from my skin to see. Blood flowers red on the white cotton fabric. Two droplets. To my left, Nate swears coarsely.
“SAM!” I can see Mark’s face, through the porthole. His gaze bears such pain, such hopelessness, it makes me weak with fear, with anger. I don’t understand. “Baby,” I whisper, not caring if everybody else can hear me, “what’s happening?”
“Put your suit back on,” he says, “quickly!”
Why? After all, we’re going inside.
At that moment, I see the small metallic sphere, full of thorns, gliding smoothly through the air and entering a hole in the wall. Disappearing in there. I shrug, in pain. Whatever it is, it’ll have to wait until later. We don’t have time now. Forcefully, I hit the button.
The door to the inside is blocked also. I snort, incredulous, and look at Mark, just as a dark foreboding is getting hold of my heart. In the eternal split second in which we make eye contact, his eyes tell me things I can’t even begin to fathom. His love for me washes over me, warms me, melts me to tears. The longing to be in the safety of his arms sweeps my soul away.
I hit the button again. Nothing. What’s happening to us? I look at Mark.
“Put - your – suit - on,” he mouths slowly, his whisper barely audible over the comm.
Billy starts pounding on the panel, with furious obstinacy, as if taking his own pointless revenge on the machine whose malfunction holds us captives. He’s going to break it, I simply record, curiously unable to feel anything more than annoyance at the deafening stridency of the noise.
Yet, somehow, in the absurd slow motion of my take on the surroundings, Mark’s words seem to finally trigger an effect within me. A cold panic swells up in my throat. How much time left? I move to the suits rack, take mine down, manage to put my legs inside. Its weight feels suddenly leaden; I fumble with the inner skin, pull it up to my shoulders, fasten the zipper with shaking hands. Behind me, Maya starts a high-pitched wail. I only throw her a brief glance, feeling the skin on my arms and back of my neck prickle with goose bumps. An odd feeling of déjà vu makes me dizzy to the point of nausea. I would give anything if only she’d stop. She’s on her knees and hands, over her EVA suit, as if trying to put it on in that awkward, impossible position. I bend to help her, but she’s too crazed to let me handle her and I almost tumble over.
“Nate, Billy,” I holler, “Give me a hand over here!”
It’s to no avail. As I turn to look around for them, a low grumble, almost unintelligible, comes out of the comm. I can barely recognize my own name in it. It comes from Mark. For a few seconds I watch him as he puts the palm of his right hand on the porthole’s window, and only looks at me, his eyes liquid gleaming wells, his expression darkly severe; I am too distraught to respond in any way but agitate myself further. Absorbed by my struggle, it’s only at the last moment that I realize that I won’t reach him anymore, that he’s lost to me. That he somehow knows, understands what is happening. That there will be no salvation.
A blaring alarm erupts from everywhere just as the thought that he’s saying good-bye knocks my heart out with overwhelming ferocity. The airlock door is slowly opening to space. Ultimate panic strikes me, chokingly, devastatingly. We will all die.I will die.
In the instant before the massive force of decompression blows me into the void, I recall all the minute glitches that taunted us to desperation in these last moments of our lives, and, curiously, think of punishment. By whom?
It all feels harsh, undue, devastating. Darkness comes quickly.

© Copyright Vesper L. All rights reserved.


Jon M said...

Powerful stuff Vesper. I always get a chill when I think of the claustrophobia of the space suit. It's a paradox but imagine feeling so trapped in such a vast open space!

Vesper said...

Thank you, Jon. Yes, it must be terrible. But I suppose it's pretty much the same with anything that involves a big mask on your face. Makes me think of the movie "The Hill" with Sean Connery.

wrath999 said...

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Vesper said...

Thank you, Wrath999!

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