Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say.
"I heard it," I whisper. The crew doesn't even have the courtesy to look incredulous anymore. Instead, they share a look of communal pity, and that makes my skin crawl. "I did!" I insist, standing in a huff. "It was her! It was!" I've been trying to convince them for almost two weeks now that I heard Mitsy's scream during my last spacewalk, but after placating me with faux fascination one too many times, the crew has apparently decided that they want the old Jace back, in place of the bumbling mad-man I have become.
An involuntary sob escapes my mouth, and I look away - indignant. I don't need to be soothed; there's nothing to soothe me for, because I know what I heard, so she must be alive... maybe.
"Jace..." Claire - a practical woman with a soft heart - is the first to try.
"No, I won't hear it, Claire." I brush her off before she can try to rationalise with me. Mitsy's been out there too long; even if she did survive the avalanche, she wouldn't have survived the cold... or the creatures. "I don't care!" I shout, although she didn't say it. "You're wrong! You're all wrong!" Claire backs away, and there's a cacophony of protest and sympathy from the rest of the crew. I have the urge to swat them, like mosquitos, but instead, I stalk to my quarters, and slam the door behind me for extra measure.
It takes me hours before the seething settles.
It's uncharacteristic of me to get so angry, and I don't like the way my voice sounds when I'm mad. I practice deep breathing, and distract myself with the view out the window. It still amazes me the same as it did the first time I saw it. I don't think anyone could grow tired of the galaxy; there's always something new to find in the stars, even when you think you've seen it all. I hold my hand up against the glass so that it rests where Mitsy's favourite constellation floats, and I count the stars until I fall asleep.
I open my eyes, and stare at the ceiling. I'm too ashamed to meet Claire's eyes. I feel her weight shift the bed as she sits beside me. "I'm sorry," she says. "I shouldn't have dismissed you. If you say you heard a scream..."
I sit up and push the hair off my forehead. "Don't worry about it, Claire," I interject, "as you said, it's impossible." Her mouth gapes in a small circle, like a fish, which is both amusing and unsettling, because it's not often that Claire is careful with her words. I lean forward,"what?"
"But what if it is possible?" She blurts.
"Don't." I'm not in the mood for empty platitudes, and it's not like Claire to speak them.
"No, Jace..." She swivels a little so that I can see her profile, and to her credit she does looks solemn, "I'm serious."
There's a wrenching in my throat as if a piece of my shattered heart has lodged itself in my neck. It's one thing for me to be in denial, but Claire? I don't want to hear more, but the urge to dismiss her is second to my need for her to be right. I surrender. "What do you mean?"
She hesitates, but only for a moment. "Well, Remy and I were talking and I was just saying that I don't think I've ever seen you act like that before... you know, even when we lost..." she trails off. I know what she wants to say. I touch a finger to hers. We've all lost people in our voyages, and Mitsy's death... or disappearnace, isn't the only one that's fresh in our minds.
Clair sighs, and regains her composure."Well," she continues, "I've seen how you deal with trauma, and this isn't it."
"Okay?" It's nice of her to say... you know, that I'm not crazy, but it's gotten me no closer to deciphering her meaning.
"Okay, well Remy thought the same thing - that you were acting unusual." I feel an eye-roll coming on, and apparently, Claire can sense it because she picks up the pace, “- so he did some digging... and, well..."
"Spell it out, Claire!"
"Well, he... he found an anomaly in the atmosphere... little pockets of oxygen."
I have the feeling of being underwater. The air around me is thick, and I can’t breathe or hear. I know that despite my protests, a part of me had already accepted Mitsy’s death, and now I was being told that there was a chance, however slim, that she was still alive.
Little pockets of oxygen... meaning, we’d be able to hear a scream in space.
My mind starts racing.“Okay,” I nod, too fast and without stopping, “okay.” I move past where Claire has placed herself on the bed, and stand, rubbing my hands together. “So now what?”
Claire meets my energy, and shoots to her feet. “Well, the next step is we track down the origin of the anomaly.” I keep nodding, and don’t bother cleaning myself up before heading toward the commune. “Remy’s already working on tracking it down.”
“Good,” I say. I take long strides, and Claire has to jog to keep up. She’s pleading with me to slow down as I burst into the communal area, where I find the others waiting for me.
“Jace?” A tall woman with long dark hair breathes my name. I scan the room, and she looks back at me with mixture of shock, apprehension, and pity.
“Where’s Remy?” I demand, already turning on my heel.
“In the lab!” yells back the woman. I dart through the halls until I land in the lab, where I find Remy bundled over a computer screen. He's labouring over it with an intense bite of his lip, and I know that he hears me as I enter, but he doesn’t move. I halt in the doorway, and it takes all of my willpower to watch him without disturbing.
It’s agony. After twenty minutes I consider speaking, but before the words have even touched my lips Remy holds a finger to me. He has a sixth sense for intentions, apparently. I slump back against the wall, and melt to the floor.
After another painful waiting spell, in which I begin racking my hands through my hair, Remy finally speaks. “Okay,” he says, “come here.” I almost lose my balance as I stand – which he doesn’t seem to notice – and I fall onto the chair next to him. "See here?” He says, pointing to a smudge on the monitor.
“What is it?” I ask.
“Jane and I thought we saw an anomaly when we went over the files. I wasn’t sure what it was until I looked closer. I had to confirm, but it’s as Clairice told you. There are pockets of oxygen out here. I don’t know how, and I don't know why, but I’ve managed to track a possible pathway to their source.”
He leans over so that I can get a closer look at the screen. He’s tracked a journey, from here to what was presumed to be an uninhabited planet far off our course. He’s also estimated our time of arrival; 14 minutes, 2 hours, and 93 days.
A whimper escapes my mouth. Ninty-three days. We didn't have that much time to spare on a throwaway trip, especially if Mitsy was somewhere close by. Even if she was dead, I wanted to be able to retrieve her body before something happened to it.
Remy already knows what I'm going to say.
"There's so much that we don't understand about space," he muses, staring blankly out the window. His vacancy makes me pause. "It's theoretically impossible that we will find Mitsy alive, Jace, but if we are going to find her, it will be on this planet." He raises his eyebrows at me, pointedly, and I swallow my pride.
He's a better scientist than I, so if he - for any reason - believes that she could have ended up so far away in such a short amount of time, it'd be in my best interest to trust him. But I still need to ask. "How is it..." I stumble, "how is it that she could have gotten there, so far away?"
Remy just raises his eyebrows higher, "that's what we're going to find out."
We spend hours labouring over data, coming up with theories as to how the pockets could be maintained in the vacuum of space. There are little circles of coffee stains bordering my person, and I think I've drunk so many cups that my brain would be better used for freestyle scatting than scientific theory.
Claire is falling asleep on the other side of the table, and unsurprisingly, Remy and Jane are the only people who are still talking sense.
"I wish I could be like them," I say to Claire, causing her to jolt out of her sleep in a sheepish show. I snort.
"I'm awake, I'm awake...". Even as she says it, her head begins to loll to her chest. I roll a piece of paper into a cylinder and poke her with it. She grunts in response, and slowly sinks her head to the table. Well, she's out for the night.
I adjust my focus to Jane and Remy, and try to orient myself to their discussion. It's an arduous task, but I hang onto the snippets that I can understand. They have a myriad of theories as to how the pockets of oxygen came into contact with our ship, and over the course of the following hours, I drift in and out of focus as they discuss quantum entaglement and wormholes.
With the occasional glance in my direction they circle back to their most perplexing problem; how did the pockets carry a scream?
It occurs to me, with a pang of annoyance, that they might be considering this question only to appease me, and if I wasn't there, perhaps they'd have ignored the conundrum altogether. It's not that they didn't care about Mitsy - they wanted to find her alive almost as much as I did - it's more so that they don't trust my trauma. I can understand that, but it still pisses me off.
As my watch marks the arrival of a new day, I'm torn between heading to bed and staying in the commune to haunt it like a ghost. Claire's gentle snores pepper the conversation that has now lulled in pace and vigour, and Jane watches me from where she leans against a desk by the wide windows. I can see the work she's put in by the weight of the bags under her eyes. I sigh, and force myself to my feet.
I tickle the crown of Claire's hair, and she looks up at me with baby-blue eyes. "Come on," I whisper. She rubs at her eyes, puppy-like, and trails me to the sleeping quaters. I drop her off at her room, and she lingers. "Not tonight," I tell her, although it's technically morning.
"Right," she says, shaking her head sheepishly, "sorry."
Mitsy and I had been considering an open relationship before she disappeared. I had never known how I really felt about it, just that life worked differently when you were floating through space. I adored Claire, but I knew that she felt more for me than I did for her. I wasn't going to take advantage of that, nor did I want to.
I make sure she is comfortable before leaving for my own room. The walk down the hall feels long and laboured, and the lack of sleep combined with the coffee is starting to take its toll. A worry tugs at me - that I won't be able to sleep - but before the thought has fully formed my eyes are closing, and my mind is descending into a dreamscape.
The crew lets me sleep, and I don't wake up until late evening.
I drift into the commune. "Why didn't you wake me?"
Remy just looks at me, and blinks. "After the stunt you pulled last night?" He scoffs, "watching me with those beady eyes of yours? I decided I'd get more work done without you here."
I scoff back at him, "I don't have beady eyes."
Jane considers me with a thoughtful expression. "No," she says, "you kind of do."
I ball up the paper I had been sketching on and flick it at her.
"Okay, okay, enough," Claire interrupts. Unlike myself, Claire is able to recover her wits on only a few hours of sleep, and this evening has her back to her usual commanding self. "I've pieced together all of our findings, and it seems as though we've all arrived at the same conclusion."
Jane intercedes, "wormholes."
"So it's possible?" I ask, "that the pockets came from a wormhole, and theoretically, they could carry soundwaves?"
"Theoretically, yes," Claire responds, and she spreads a pile of papers on the work table for me to see. "It's the only way to explain Mitsy's sudden disappearance and the presence of the pockets. The only problem is..."
"We don't know where the wormhole came from, or if another one will even appear" I continue, to Claire's approval.
"Or," she adds, with emphasis, "if it would even be safe to travel through one."
I bite the inside of my mouth, and decide in that moment that safety could be damned. "If another one appears, I'm going through it."
Jane and Claire share a look, as if they expected me to say something of the sort. "Listen, Jace." Jane is floating toward me now, on her ethereal long gate, and loosening my soul with her signiture sad eyes. "Claire and I were talking, and we think that - if you did hear Mitsy's scream - isn't it possible that that was her final breath... the last sound she was able to make as she was sucked through..."
"She was shredded by the wormhole, you mean?" Jane swaps her sad eyes for a look of disapproval. "Yes Jane, I think it's possible. In fact, you're right, that scream was probably the last sound she ever made, but if we're lucky enough to come by a wormhole, I'm going through. You can gather whatever remains of me when you rock up in ninty-two days."
And so it was decided.
I'd spend my spare time huddled in the loft, searching the sea of stars for any abnormalities, whilst the others handled the grunt work. Jane thinks that the wormhole will appear like a shimmer; a hazy sprinkle of lights, but Remy says that's just her feminine sensibilities talking. He thinks that the wormhole will look more like a circle... that's it. He's never been very good at Pictionary.
One might think that I've been given the easy job. But staring out into the void for hours on end isn't necessarily fun work, so I've started measuring the passing time by how long I can go without blinking... maybe I do have beady eyes, after all.
"Jace?" Claire is leaning against the doorway, I presume. I don't turn to look at her.
"Do I have beady eyes, Claire?" I expect her to laugh, but she doesn't.
There's a pregnant silence, before she sighs, and says, "no, you don't. You have lovely eyes, actually." My stomach flips. I'm not ready to have this conversation. "Jace," she says again, this time with a subtle ferocity, "would you look at me?"
"- I can't."
"I'll keep a look out," she placates, and her rage is embued into every soft-spoken syllable, "you're not the only one who can spot a wormhole. A shimmering scatter of light, I got it."
"Or a circle," I correct.
She actually huffs at me, and I can hear her turn when I finally concede. "Claire!" I call. She returns to the doorway, and waits. I slump, "I'm sorry." She keeps waiting, and I realise that I'm going to have to have this conversation, whether I like it or not. "I'm sorry that I -" I pause, and reconsider, "I'm sorry, if I hurt you...".
There's a shimmering in her eyes; a sparkle that threatens to turn into a tear, and I don't want to be the cause of it. "Mitsy loved you," I declare, "and I... I loved Mitsy. She loved me too, Claire, but, she loved you, as well."
Claire sniffles, and I can tell that, despite my lack of eloquence, she's piecing together my meaning. She doesn't hesitate before asking me, upfront, "so you don't love me, then?" She says it more like a statement than a question, and I shake my head, no.
"I don't love as freely as Mitsy does," I blurt, before she can leave. "I really did mean it, when I said I wanted to try. I never used you, Claire, and under other circumstances, I think we really could have, ya know... made it work."
The teardrops are trickling down her face now, and I don't fight the urge to sail over and catch them. I run my thumb over her cheek and watch as the tears spool on my fingertips. She lets out a strained sob, half chuckle, and I realise that I'm crying too. "I know you didn't use me Jace," she admits, pressing her head into my chest, "I just...". There's a brief silence, before her strained sob breaks, and turns into uncontrollable wailing, "I just - really - miss - her." Her words come out broken, and hysterical, and it takes all of my willpower to not breakdown with her.
With her head on my chest, no one is watching the space outside, but I can't find it in myself to let go. I hold her close, and let her cry.
"Pass the popcorn?"
Claire has decided to join me in the loft. We ratonalised that two sets of eyes were better than one for spotting wormholes... after all, no one really knows what they look like, I'd argued to Remy. He'd disagreed - said that he needed Claire elsewhere - but Jane had taken him aside for a quick whispered chat - and afterwards, he agreed.
We don't actually have popcorn; we've broken our rations into smaller, snack-worthy sizes. I pass one to Claire, and then let my hand fall back into hers. This is as far as our relationship will go, so long as I have Mitsy's absence on my mind, but the closeness feels more like comradery than lust, and I get the sense that Claire feels the same. For now.
The time spent crying has heavied my eyes, and I can feel myself growing tired. I feel like 'tired' is my new state of being, as of late.
"It's okay," Claire says with a smile, "I'll keep watch."
I fall asleep counting the stars, and I dream of Mitsy.
I see her face. She looks up at me with hazel eyes, and a peel of laughter ripples from her lips as she marvels at the verdant green of our surroundings. "Jace," she says, and her eyes grow wide when an insect with feathery wings lands beside us. That one's safe, I tell her. "Jace." The scene shifts to a mountain peek, covered in snow. The weather changes rapidly here, and we rely on our adrenaline to help us through the tundra. I glance over my shoulder, expecting to find Mitsy behind me, but she's gone. I call for her, and a desperate voice calls back. "Jace... Jace, wake up!"
I'm shaken awake by an anxious Claire. I blink dumbly. "Mitsy?" Claire slaps me. Wait. Claire slapped me? "What! what is it?" I shout, scrambling to my feet. Without speaking Claire points a shaking hand out the window. A wormhole.
A clustered circle of glittering lights is visible in the distance. I don't pause to take it in; I sprint as fast as I can and barrel into the commune. Jane and Remy are already on their feet, shouting orders, and reorienting our vessel to a different path.
"Get ready," Remy says, with an uncharacteristic quiver in his voice. Visually, I ignore the wobble in Claire's lip that I see in my peripheral, but I feel the ache in my stomach, all the same. If I die, then she's lost both of us in a matter of weeks.
It doesn't take us long to reach the wormhole. Up close, it appears to be the size of a hobbit-hole. Under different circumstances, the comparison would have made my heart leap, but I'm not feeling particularly humorous, or hopeful. The small amount of hope that does reside in the pit of my stomach - like a slither of dusty moonlight - is all that is driving me forward.
I reach for my gear, and slip inside.
The short travel to the wormhole feels both like a drag, and like I'm speeding through life on fast forward. I wonder if it's a side-effect of the impending structure, or if this is how you're supposed to feel before willingly strolling to your amost-certain death. Everyone's talking around me, making preperations, but I don't hear a sound.
Jane helps to secure the tether around my waist. "If you're in imediate danger" she says, "we can pull you out." She means if the danger is so apparent that my death would be laughably innapropriate. What she can't account for, and what this tether won't save me from, is what happens once I'm inside.
I'm surprised to see that Remy is the first to consider a goodbye. He shuffles on awkward footing, and searches his encoclypidic brain for the right words. "No," I command. "Let's not make this harder than we have to." He looks relieved, but in the absence of words is an air of anxiety that ripples through the crew. I feel like if I touched the spaces between them my veins would set alight, sparked by their repressed energies, and I would change my mind.
So no goodbye hugs today, then.
I keep my distance, and draw on my wells of affection for each of them; Remy's deadpan jokes, Jane's blistering wit, and Claire's moments of goofiness that sometimes break through her otherwise impenetrable togetherness. Before I can help it, I'm crying. "I love you all," I say with a bittersweet smile, and before they can stop me, I open the hatch, and leave them behind.
There's nothing in my head as I float towards the wormhole. No room for anxiety, hope, or even a plan. Just one thought that carries me forward. Find her. Find her. My Mitsy with the hazel eyes, and the laugh that made me learn how to write poetry. Her heart-shaped face glowing against the green, and the look of horror that I keep trying to forget as the avalanche covered her.
I'm almost at the wormhole when I notice that it's fading; the tiny lights are flickering out like fireflies. No. I will myself forward faster, but it's not enough to match the disintegration that's happening before my eyes.
"No!" I scream. The collapse quickens as the wormhole shrinks, and in a matter of seconds it's gone from a small doorway, to the size of an apple. "Come on, come on." I'm within reaching distance. I extend my arm as far as it will stretch, trying to slip the shimmering circle on like a ring...
One more step...
"Come on," I plead,
and it's gone
My screams fill the void, and I can't tell if it's just echoing in my skull, or if the space around me has been filled with my pain. I shriek; a blistering sound that's unfamilar to even myself, and I hear it repeated back to me - mockingly. At the break in my voice, I catch a different sound amongst the parroting... a laugh. I freeze. Mitsy's laugh. It's unmistakable; that sweet, chiming tone, like bluebells in the spring, resounding through the pockets like church bells.
A bewildered laugh escapes me, too, and it quickly transforms into glee as Mitsy's voice combines with mine. I don't know how, but for the first time in weeks there is hope. There is no assurance, no sure-fire sign to convince me that she's alive, but in this moment, this is enough.
About the Creator
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
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The story invoked strong personal emotions