Short Story (Sci-fi)
Hank Lowie is an astronaut on a space-walk which goes horribly wrong. Two minute reading time.
The nickel-hydrogen battery on the International Space Station exploded. Hydrogen gas under tremendous pressure hurtled outwards, damaging the station and shredding astronaut Jim Donovan’s spacesuit. Hank barely registered Jim’s scream over the radio as the explosion sent him tumbling end-over-end away from the station.
Hank’s training took over. He reached for his lifeline, pulling it towards him to arrest his tumble. The line was still connected to its anchor point, but the metal stanchion had been ripped from the station and Hank continued to spin through space.
He looked at the pressure gauge on the front of his suit. Steady on 4.3 pounds per square inch. No holes. Thank God!
First the Earth and then the ISS spun past his boots. Don’t puke in the suit for Christ’s sake! He reached for the joystick of his SAFER jetpack and sent short bursts of gas to stabilise his spin. It took longer than he expected, but slowly he managed to stop the tumble. He came to rest facing the ISS, the Earth behind him. The station was getting smaller.
“Jim, this is Hank, do you copy?”
“Hank, this is Evie, I have a visual on Jim’s suit.” Evie’s voice cracked. “There’s not much left. Jim’s gone.”
Hank couldn’t stop a tear forming for his friend. The weightless tear pooled in his left eye, held there by surface tension, blurring his vision and impacting his depth perception. There was nothing he could do about it. It’s not like he could wipe his eye with his helmet on. And removing his helmet seemed like a bad idea.
“Hank, your telemetry shows you de-orbiting at 160 feet per second.”
Hank was stunned. That was way too fast for his SAFER jetpack to return him to the ISS. But a ship was permanently docked at the ISS in case of emergency. “Evie, can you activate the Soyuz to pick me up?”
“Negative Hank, Soyuz is offline from the explosion.”
“Other options?” asked Hank.
Evie paused, “Let us work the problem. Houston …”
Hank turned the volume down slightly on both radios. He could still hear Evie talking to the Mission Control Centre, but it was quiet enough that he could think. He triggered the SAFER and slowly rotated until the Earth filled his view. Oxygen for another four hours in the main tank, then thirty minutes of emergency. Cancel that, atmosphere re-entry would be in less than two hours. Hank nodded to himself. That stubborn tear was beginning to sting.
Houston would be busy contacting his parents to set up a relay. But, did he really want to speak to them? He shuddered and another tear formed. They did everything right, gave him every opportunity in a strict but loving home. What would he say? Or maybe his ex-wife Jamie. Should he apologise for focussing on his career instead of her? No kids to worry about at least. No, better for them all to remember him as he had been, not crying and impotent.
Evie was calling. He turned up the radio. “Say again, Evie.”
“I’m sorry, Hank. We can’t see any way to reach you.”
“Copy, Evie. How long until I hit atmosphere?”
Her voice wavered, “You’ll ummm … you’ll start to feel some buffeting in about five minutes.”
What would it feel like to burn up? Not good, that’s for sure! He took a long look at the planet of his birth, then reached for the clasps securing his helmet.
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