It's Flashback Friday, and time to pull something out of the archives that I think could stand a little more exposure. I found this one which also fits the Wendig Challenge, more or less, and only got a couple of comments when it first aired in 2015. The funny thing is that it goes the opposite way of the story I wrote (about hope) for this week's challenge (which I'll share next week). So here we have...
Helplessly HopingWhen everything has already gone wrong and there’s nothing more to do, they say that all you have left is hope. At that point, “hope” is a four-letter word.
I had always thought hope meant you had guts. You didn’t give up, even though things looked bad. Turns out there’s a world of difference between looking bad and being hopeless. I knew that now. When you are helpless and there is no one to come save your ass, hope is for cowards.
I wasn’t going to die helplessly hoping. I’d die with my eyes wide open, grinning right back at Death.
Today started as a good day. “Day” is an artificial term in space, but our bodies create days wherever we are. My space days are 26.3 Earth hours. I work alone, so that’s how I set up everything in the ship. The computer tracks UT—Universal Time, the arbitrary clock that allows ships to communicate and coordinate. Since I avoid other ships, the only time I have to change my inner clock is when I go dirtside.
I hadn’t been dirtside for a long time when I reached the Shortcut. The Shortcut is the asteroid field surrounding Settlement Two on three sides. Settlement Two sounds like a frontier outpost, and it was, back when it got the name. It’s been the hub of galactic parties for a long time now.
I wasn't going there to party. I think I’ve made it clear I’m a loner. I did want to refuel and restock some crucial supplies. I was nearly out of Scotch, and completely out of what they still call “feminine hygiene products.” Most spacer women take the Pill and skip that whole mess if they aren’t trying to reproduce. I’m allergic, worse luck, so I needed those supplies.
I read history. I know that when we first went into space, some argued that women shouldn’t go because of our monthly cycles. Too hard to manage. I laughed when I read that, but I had no idea then that an incipient period would kill me.
I needed tampons, so I took the Shortcut, and now I can die alone, helpless, and stubbornly not hoping.
I can see the asteroids out the view window of my EVA suit. Beyond them, I can see the galaxy. I’ve always loved that view. Sometimes I go Outside just to admire it. I'll tether myself to my ship and lie back and enjoy the scenery.
There’s no ship now, and no tether. Just me and space, and no one to rescue me. I have 726 minutes of air left. One thing about this death: I don’t have to worry about dying of hunger or thirst. Though now that I can't have it, I’d like a good meal before I go.
The trip around the Shortcut would have taken two extra days. You can’t do it as a hyperspace jump; it’s too close to the planet, and too close to the asteroid field. Two days was too long. Even going through the Shortcut dead slow—and no one did it any other way unless they were committing suicide—it would be faster than that. I put the shields on maximum and drew a straight line for Settlement Two. Eight hours of hypervigilance would see me through, and then I could sleep.
The whole thing should have worked fine. Lots of ships did it. I’d done it myself, when I was younger and took risks for their own sake. One hour into the traverse, everything went to hell. It started with a glitch in my nav computer. That didn’t worry me too much; I pretty much had to drive this stretch myself anyway, and they could fix the problem when I landed.
Then I drove right into the tail of the comet that laid down the mess. I knew when it was where. But my internal clock killed me: I failed to translate to UT, and with the computer down there was no check on me. I missed my route by hours, because my ship wasn’t doing the thinking for me. The third substantial chunk of debris took out my shields. By that time I was already dressed for an emergency EVA, which is why I am not dead yet. Rather, I'm dead, but I'm still breathing.
I’d been thinking in terms of going EVA to do repairs, once I was clear of the worst of the debris. I couldn’t turn back—there was more behind me than ahead, by my calculations.
I was still working on those calculations when the big one hit. After that, it was too late to activate an SOS, and I was already EVA. By which I mean I had no ship. Gone. Pretty much vaporized; I think maybe there are some bits floating nearby, but nothing bigger than my head.
Curse the effectiveness of these suits! By all rights, I should have been pulverized along with my ship. Then I wouldn’t have the pleasure of dying by inches, without hope or help. I’m using my suit jets to start me in the direction of Settlement Two, if I have the direction right. But even if I could live long enough to drift that far, if my guess is wrong by even a hair, this far out, I’ll drift right past the planet. If I get close enough and I'm still alive, I could activate my suit beacon and there would be a one in 2.37 million chance that someone would pick it up and sort it out from all the noise that surrounds a planet like that.
Hitting those jets and turning on the beacon are the last things I can do for myself. Those done, my state is the definition of helpless.
When I’m ready, I will defy the urge to hope, and remove my helmet. This is one spacer who won’t die helplessly hoping, an inch at a time.
©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2015
Now go and visit other Flashback Friday participants.
Now go and visit other Flashback Friday participants.