Chapter 29: Spacewalk

Lindsi hung there, curled up on herself and pressed against the Ship like she was hiding from the blackness all around us, for a few seconds that felt like forever. I was panicking, too, but I’d been on spacewalks before and I wasn’t the one who needed to breathe, she was. She should have been going to die, but instead she raised her head and looked at me, shaking, her fingers still locked onto the hull in a death grip and turning almost navy blue with the pressure. I watched her mouthing words, and somehow I heard them.

“I’m not breathing.”

I could hear — or ‘hear’, anyway — her voice shaking, too. She sounded about half a step away from coming apart

“My display says I have ten minutes of air left, but I’m not breathing, I can feel it!”

Lindsi! I didn’t know what to do, nothing made any sense, she should have been going to die and some part of me deep inside was completely calm like everything was going to be okay, which was crazy. There wasn’t anything I could tell her, anything I could try and get her to do, I couldn’t even try and tell her it would be all right.

“I’m not breathing…” Not breathing, but still thinking, her mind still working, still alive. Panic battled for control behind her grey eyes, and her thoughts had to be racing as fast and disjointedly as mine.

We’ve got to get inside, I said, feeling oddly detached from my own words, like someone else was saying them, too small to be significant. We have to find another airlock. They all open from the outside without authorisation, in case of emergency. Bizarrely, I almost wanted to laugh at having said that. I wasn’t making sense. The universe wasn’t making sense any more.

Lindsi nodded, slowly and a little jerkily, momentum sleeking her hair back and forth in airless, weightless space. She looked around, searching for handholds, but there are only so many trackways across the outer hull of the Ship, and we weren’t on one, we’d just been lucky enough that she’d been able to grab a protrusion. From a distance, the Ship looks pretty smooth, but close up there are all kinds of little features. It’s not as if we have to worry about streamlining like you do inside, where there’s an atmosphere to get in the way. I looked around, too, and realised we’d ended up almost ‘upside-down’: that the base of the spire became the slightly angled surface of the ramscoop almost ahead and only slightly to the right. The multifaceted shells that make up the outermost layers of the Domes seemed to glitter with the light shining from within them, each one a different colour, one almost utterly black and flecked with tiny points of light like a microcosmic reflection of the vast space all around us: nighttime. They looked pretty big, and I knew they were bigger still, kilometres of Ship radiating out in front of us to the horizon at the edge of the ’scoop. The lights inside the night-time Dome shimmered and shifted thanks to the air they were shining through, but the stars all around us shone still and cold, impossibly far away, magnificent and uncaring. It would take more than ten minutes to reach one of those kilometres-wide Domes, or anywhere at all on the ramscoop, and even if we somehow managed to kick off fast enough that it took less than that, we’d hit the hull so hard and fast without any friction to slow us down that we’d just bounce right off again. Drifting in space without thinking about it, I looked around at it all, and realised our best chance, half my mind working coolly from very far away, the other half chattering in randomised, half-senseless thoughts.

Lindsi… Space-rated biosuits usually have magnetics in the boots. Does yours?

Lindsi frowned, keeping her mouth firmly pressed shut in a determined line. She looked at her hands and I saw the right one begin to unclench, saw her flinch and retighten her grip.

It’s okay. Even if you let go, you won’t go anywhere unless you push off. There’s no gravity out here. But I knew what it was like, I remembered my own first spacewalk and how much convincing it took to make my mind accept that nothing out here worked like the instincts you get from growing up in air and gravity tell you.

“Yeah,” Lindsi muttered. I still didn’t know how I was hearing her. “Yeah, I’ve done my classes, and I’ve seen films.” She sounded more like she was psyching herself up than criticising me, though honestly, I didn’t care either way. “Force, mass, acceleration. No force, no acceleration. Just momentum, and I haven’t got any.”

Technically, of course, she did. We all do: we’re flying along through the galaxy as fast as the Ship itself, and that’s just relative to the stars. They go around the galactic core at up to a couple of hundred kilometres per second, and the galaxy itself — I don’t know if anyone knows how fast that’s going, or what you’d even measure it relative to anyway. But relative to the Ship, Lindsi didn’t have any momentum at all. So, forcing herself through every motion, she slowly unclenched her right hand from its death grip, brought it across and touched it to her other arm. I watched, holding my breath — or feeling like it — as she entered unseen commands, read responses on the faceplate she didn’t have, and her feet suddenly swung around and snapped silently into place against the hull. She looked startled and relieved at once, and laughed a little in a kind of crazy way, too close to breaking point. It brought me dangerously close to joining her, but I didn’t, and she stopped.

“Now we walk…”

Yeah. I felt myself frown, thinking about it. Let’s go down, towards the Domes. We’ll come out levels below Cargo, out of the way. Your boots should auto-release one at a time as you walk.

Lindsi nodded, but she didn’t immediately stand up, her left hand still locked tight around the hull, her right closed into a fist as if that were the only thing stopping her from grabbing hold with that hand too. It almost certainly was.

Come on. We’ve only got nine minutes.

“Eight and a half.” But the reminder made her grit her teeth and stand, wavering uncertainly back and forth as her sense of balance rebelled: though her boots — or her feet? — were keeping her anchored to the Ship, there wasn’t any gravity to give her a sense of up and down, and I knew she felt like she was falling, falling forever without going anywhere. Your first spacewalk is one of the most disconcerting things you can ever do, even when it’s on a class tour with experienced teachers around to guide you and walk you through it, and this was anything but that. Jaw clenched tight, Lindsi took a short, uncertain step, arms out and wavering, and I drifted ahead without thinking about it, looking back at her.

That’s right. Come on!

Lindsi following me, step by jerky step, we made our way over the hull, heading ‘down’ the spire, avoiding the many, many windows that let people gaze out into space from their halls or workstations, looking for an airlock before our time ran out.

< Chapter 28 | The Fused | Chapter 30 >

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The Fused by V. L. Bending is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.