Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say. I thought as I tinkered with the broken panel on the hull of my ship. The temptation to scream was high. I spent the last hour trying to loosen a bolt on this panel and when I finally gained access to the enigmatic ship guts below, I realized I didn’t have the right tool for the task. So, one hour of frustrating boredom followed by complete failure that resulted in hours of work. Yeah, I wanted to scream.
I held back though because the saying was false in my case. My voice would reach hundreds, perhaps thousands. The monitoring team wouldn’t appreciate the ear-splitting noise, my bosses would lecture me about self-control in the stressful environment of space, the school kids watching from their classrooms would be frightened, and then to top it all off, some streaming-video jerk would be watching on the corporate stream of my spacewalk and post it for the world to see.
That jerk, sitting in his mother’s basement. No, not his mother’s basement because those guys all make bank somehow. He would be sitting in his swag LA abode with some hottie bringing him a beer while wearing a bikini while he laughed at my frustration and made money off the clicks he could get from his millions of followers. What a jerk.
I sighed. I didn’t really feel this way. Three months into this journey and I was starting to lose it. My go home date passed two weeks ago, but I couldn’t go home until this problem was fixed. It was enough to make anyone scream. I didn’t blame the jerk. Hell, I posted videos all the time. People ate up videos of how we live in space. Corporate loved the videos because more people supported government funding for space when they thought space was cool and fun.
Well, today space was not cool or fun. I secured the wrench to my suit after replacing the aggravating panel. Another spacewalk tomorrow with the right tools and maybe I could go home. They would still want to test the panel for a week before I could go anywhere. I wanted to flop down on a comfy couch in frustration and have someone bring me a beer. It wouldn’t even need to be a hottie in a bikini. At this point, anyone would do.
As I floated, chewing on some freeze-dried vegetables that tasted like moldy cardboard, I wished I could go back out, fix the panel, and start the journey home. I could make it by breakfast. It’s not like the ship was far from home, only about 300 miles above the blue ocean below. I could drive that in less than four hours with room to spare. Oh well, today was not the day.
I packed up the cabin, did a demo of my bedtime routine for a classroom in Sri Lanka, and went to bed. At least when the lights were out, no one could see me. They even turned off the thermal camera in the control room so I could have a little privacy. They continued to monitor my vitals and the sounds emanating from the cabin though. I was never alone and always alone at the same time.
The next morning, I checked with the nerds on the ground. They were done with the calculations for the space walk and told me everything I needed to take with me. Good. I needed to do something, even if it was hours of a small task that wasn’t interesting.
I floated into the air hatch and listened to the oxygen leaving the space around me. I opened the door and stared into the vast nothingness of space. This would be my final trip out here, I decided at that moment. The awe and intrigue of space left me on this trip. I thought of my family as I navigated to the panel. My wife wanted me to retire two trips ago and was angry at me, especially now that my return date was pushed back. My son was a teenager and couldn’t care less about the decisions his boring dad made. My daughter just started college and called home once a month if we were lucky. Maybe, if I spent more time on planet, then I could repair those relationships. Yes, this would be my last trip.
I reached the panel and secured my suit to the ship. This job needed two hands to complete, and I didn’t want to float away if I lost my grip. That would be just my luck. Floating away to oblivion, running out of oxygen, no hope to ever get back. I began loosening the bolts that gave me so much trouble yesterday. Today was easier, but not by much. Forty minutes of grunting and I had the panel off. I secured the bolts and panel and reached for the damned tool I needed yesterday.
I turned my head to the side, listening. Must have been my imagination. I remembered yesterday and chuckled. I wouldn’t hear anything out here other than messages sent from the control room on the planet, but they were silent. Letting me work.
I turned more this time, almost expecting to see someone floating a few feet away, but no one was there. What was I hearing?
More than a little disconcerted, I got to work on the panel. I held the tool in my hand and began leaning in to get a better view of the workspace when my foot slipped. Because of my angle and my tether to the ship, I faceplanted into the side of the ship. My wrist hit the edge of the hole I opened in the side. My grip on the valuable tool failed and away the precious instrument flew.
“No!” I yelled.
“What happened?” One of the techs on the ground asked.
I didn’t answer. I swung my arm out trying to catch the tool before it was out of reach, but my fingertips bumped it and sent it speeding away from me. Now what would I do? I turned back to the ship and shouted out a guttural growl and punching the side of the ship. I floated staring at the tiny problem that needed to be fixed before I could go home. The tiny problem that already cost me weeks. The tiny problem that now needed a new solution. I dropped my chin to my chest. Well, as close to my chest as I could in the suit.
I felt a light tap on my shoulder and jumped. There, floating next to my helmet was my tool. I reached up and took it, baffled. There was no way this could be here. How did this get here? The clicking sounds a moment earlier rushed back to my mind.
My heart pounded.
I turned around.