(This is something a bit different, please indulge me as I put up a small piece of fiction)
I’m going to assume something about you. That at some point in your life you have floated in a pool or body of water. You’ve lifted your feet off the surface underneath you and allowed yourself to float.
I want you to think about that feeling. The release of pressure as gravity fades from your perception and you’re left with nothing but awareness of your body, floating in space.
It’s freeing, isn’t it?
You float in whatever direction the water decides, unshackled from earths constant tug. Your muscles are utterly relaxed, your bones sigh with relief.
Think about the way your fingers curl slightly when there’s no pressure on them, how your body rests when gravity abandons you.
Do you feel it?
Now remove the water that surrounds you.
You drift in nothingness.
You drift in the space between matter. Particles and dust are your only brethren out in the abyss.
No water beneath you, no sky above you. Emptiness in all directions.
Are you still feeling lovely? Do you still feel relaxed?
I have no water around me; no place I can let out the breath I’ve been holding and stand on two feet.
No discernible tug from the earth.
No air but for that which is being recycled in the pack on the back of my suit.
Two hours since I left the Syrinx. An hour since an errant rock travelling past the moon ripped through the tether that connected me to humanity.
Five minutes since I stopped sobbing and screaming.
Finally ready to talk.
“So, how long do I have?”
An intake of breath precedes Sienna’s response.
“Evan, thank god. We didn’t know if your comms had been cut off or if your suit had been damaged or…” She trails off, unwilling or unable to finish the thought.
“I’ve been thinking and, to be honest, screaming.”
A choked sob of laughter burbles through the comms.
“We can’t tell you how relieved we are to hear your voice, Evan.” Sienna says. She is the commander of the Syrinx, steadfast and sturdy; this is the first time I’ve heard anything but confidence in her voice.
“Sienna, how long?” I ask and I wait. Silence dangles between me and the ship.
My eyes are closed and have been since I realised I was going to continue to drift into the void, away from earth, the moon, the Syrinx. I squeezed them tight and refused to open them. The back of my eyelids is basically the same as the blackness of space, I reasoned with myself, but without the vertigo and sense of existential dread.
“Three days, maybe four if you conserve your water.”
It was about what I expected. EVA suits weren’t equipped for situations like this, they were designed for timed activities and it was assumed they would be brought back in for whatever maintenance they required.
“Well, I can’t promise I’ll stick to rationing but hey, who knows, maybe I’ll make it to that fourth day.”
“Come on, Evan. Don’t be like that. We will get you back here.”
“Sure,” I say, forcing the smile that doesn’t appear on my face into my words, “I know that.”
“We’ve contacted Joanna. She knows what’s going on and should be able to contact you in a day or so.”
My breath catches and tears collect in pools around my eyes.
“Shit.” I mutter and pull one of my arms into the body of my suit. I remove the cloth from the internal compartment in front of me and use it to absorb the tears.
I have to open my eyes and I can’t help but look.
The moon is in front of me, the size of a fingertip. It moves through space at an incredible pace but to me it seems motionless.
It isn’t the moon that holds my gaze, as beautiful as it is. I look past it. Beyond to where a bright sapphire planet is suspended in the abyss.
Tears pool once more, and I absentmindedly absorb them with the damp cloth.
I lift my other hand slowly, desperately avoiding any change to my momentum, terrified I’ll send myself tumbling through the dark as I was when I first began to drift.
With my thumb, I block out the earth.
Everyone who is living, everyone who ever lived.
Your family, your friends, the people you love.
The people I love.
“Evan? Are you still with me?” Sienna’s voice slashes through my perspective and leaves my mind reeling. I close my eyes, unable to bear the sight of earth shrinking as I drift away.
“Yeah. Yes.” I manage to stutter as disparate thoughts try to coalesce back into one mind.
“I need you to stay with me, Evan. Look, we are doing everything we can to try and get you back, running through every scenario. We will get you home.”
There is a granite certainty in her voice, and it momentarily hardens the hope I hold on to.
“You can’t use the Syrinx can you?”.
I almost hear her shake her head before she answers.
“No, we don’t have the manoeuvring capabilities. We were running almost at full tilt when you were on the walk, and it would take days to catch you.” Her voice is bitter with frustration, and I wonder how many scenarios they have already put a line through.
“We will get you out of this.” Sienna whispers.
“I know.” Something in my tone cuts short whatever Sienna’s response is going to be and the comms fall silent.
It was rude to cut her off but I struggled to care, as harsh as that sounds.
I open my eyes and look upon the earth from a vantage point no one before me has ever experienced.
Why does it matter?
Can you answer me that?
All of it. Anything and everything.
Think about how small we are.
Really think about it.
We are stuck to a rock, floating through space; we are specks to people in planes and from where I am right now the whole planet can be covered with my thumb.
I know it’s a matter of perspective, I get it, I really do.
The problems you’re facing; the trials at work, the pain of losing the person you love. They are real and they are important.
I’m not trying to diminish them.
But take it from me.
We are specks.
Tears once again collect around my eyes and, after getting rid of them, I unclip the screwdriver attached to the outside of my EVA suit and toss it out and behind me.
I spin and when I can no longer see the earth or the moon, throw the duct tape that attached in the opposite direction. My momentum stills but doesn’t stop. The two objects weren’t perfectly weighted, but my spin is agonisingly slow, barely noticeable.
It was nothing more than exceptionally unfortunate timing that I ended up out here. I was assigned to replace a damaged part of the comms array on the Syrinx.
To get there, I leapt.
Stupid, I know. You don’t have to tell me how cocky and arrogant I was being.
And would you believe me if I said I wasn’t usually like that? If I said I was quiet, reserved, a bit of a smart ass but never one to leap away from a set course. A momentary influx of recklessness overwhelmed me; I gripped the handrail, tucked my legs, and pushed up and out, towards the emptiness of space.
The comfort of the tether ran through my hand, I held it loosely, waiting for it to tug and swing me back towards the Syrinx and the comms array that dangled from the outer hull.
I waited, my eyes fixed on the ship, expecting the tether to pull me back at any moment.
I watched and dread grew like weeds in my stomach.
I panicked when I spotted the dangling thread of the tether beneath me, unattached from the Syrinx.
My screams echoed through the comms and drowned out any response from the crew.
I didn’t go quietly into that good night. I kicked and threw myself, tossing my weight around to try and reverse my momentum but there was no point. All I did was send myself into an uncontrolled, erratic spin.
It took almost an hour to right myself and by that time I had no more screams left.
The Syrinx can’t come after me. There are no ships small enough in orbit or ready to launch that can reach me by the time the water I have runs out, or the energy reserves of my suit drain and I freeze to death in the vacuum.
I think I would prefer to freeze than to die from dehydration.
I take a sip from the nozzle that hangs near my mouth. If I make the water last four days my suit will most likely run out of power first.
I crack my eyes open. The earth, moon and sun are mostly behind me. I face an unobstructed cosmos.
The beauty of it is unexpected.
It isn’t darkness, like so many people believe. Space is pinpricked with countless dots of lights, innumerable in their majesty.
I wish I could somehow allow you to see what I do and at the same time wish that you are never in the situation to do so.
Even the darkest location on earth, away from any city and light pollution cannot hold a candle to the view of the stars I have.
They stretch before me into infinity.
My sense of depth abandons me, and I reach out with a flailing hand.
I swear I can touch them. I promise you I can graze my fingertips against the stars. Their heat suffuses me, fills me up until I feel ready to burst. I reach out with my other hand and reverently grasp the nearest star.
In my palm it looks small, as small as the earth did a moment before.
And while I hold the fiery sphere of fusion, I am connected to everything.
Time ceases its linear flow and crashes into me, all at once. Past, present, future. It flashes before my eyes in ribbons of golden flame.
I see fledgling stars form from dust and frail stars limp in orbits as they slowly cool. I see planets collide into one another and feel the shockwaves ripple through my body.
I see the infinite density of the black hole everything orbits around, and I giggle with unbridled joy as I skim through its accretion disk, leaving trails in the light and dust.
It’s all there right next to me, within me. It passes through me in that instant and I know, deep within, that I will be okay.
That you will be okay.
We are part of a connected universe, infinite and at the same time infinitesimal.
And then it ends.
I’m back in the present, my hands out, light years away from touching anything other than the star that slowly rotates at the centre of our solar system.
“Evan?” Sienna’s voice floats towards my senses as if from a vast distance.
“Hmm?” I respond, words seem out of reach for me in that moment.
“We thought you were gone. We haven’t been able to contact you for almost a day.” She says, relief and pain lace her words.
“I’m sorry, Sienna.” The first words I speak are languid, dropping from my mouth as if they are paper dropped by nerveless fingers.
“It’s okay. Evan, I…Joanna won’t get here in time. She’s recorded a message and sent it to us. I can play it for you if you want.”
“Send it to me. I’ll listen to it soon.”
“Okay.” Sienna says and a few moments later the ping that signals I have received a message sounds in my ear.
“Evan, we’re not going to be able to contact you soon. The Syrinx’s position with earth and the moon…we won’t be able to contact you.” She repeats, her voice flat with exhaustion.
I wonder if any of the crew have slept. If Sienna has moved away from the comms station at any point. I doubt it.
“It’s okay, Sienna. Really it is. I feel okay.”
“Evan, I’m sorry.” She says and her voice breaks at the same time as her heart.
“Sienna, I’m okay.” I repeat, “It’ll be okay. I have a favour to ask.”
“Anything.” She gasps in between heaving breaths.
“I’ve been recording a message for Joanna. I’m going to send it to you, but I want you and the crew to listen to it as well. It’s for everyone.”
“Okay.” She manages to whisper.
“Sienna. I promise you; everything will be okay. I want you to listen to the message first. I want you to know that…it’s not as scary as it seems.”
I take a deep breath.
“Goodbye.” She breathes.
I shut off the comms link and blow out a long-held breath.
I let go of everything, every worry and concern. Every niggling self-deprecating thought and every embarrassing moment from my past.
I let it all go and watch as it drifts into the void surrounding me. It doesn’t matter anymore and maybe it never did.
This isn’t easy, I want you to know that. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I do know that I’m not scared anymore.
I’m a single piece in an infinite puzzle and so are you.
But remember, please remember, that no matter how vast the puzzle, it wouldn’t be complete without each piece in it.
Without you in it.