Adrift

Writing Prompt: Young Love

AdriftCover

Rava Carristo had been called many things in her sixteen years scraping out a living inside third ring. Ringrat. Beggar. Thief. What no one had ever dared call her, until today, was “you bloody idiot”.

No matter what else happened today, she was going to prove Grace Tano wrong.

Rava’s EVA suit charge displayed inside her helmet. 5% after twenty minutes charging on solar wind. The suit showed she needed at least 10% before her ion thrusters could cancel, then reverse, her steady drift. By that time, the interlocking rings of Horizon Station might be just another glittering star.

The only home Rava had ever known was now the size of a protein cake, and that cake was shrinking like her air gauge. Slowly, but inevitably. Stretched out below her, Jupiter remained brain-numbingly huge. Rava had stared down at that massive gas ball since she could climb to third ring’s hand-width windows, but out here, in this void, it just felt so maddeningly enormous.

Of course, this was her first spacewalk. The first time she had managed to nick an EVA suit from a maintenance locker. That had been Grace’s idea, Grace’s fault. These things were always Grace’s fault.

It was Grace who teased her, infuriated her. Grace who outpaced her across the cables of third ring and never let her forget it. Grace who took a knife for her when a greaseboy from second ring decided he didn’t like Rava’s “attitude”.

Rava would never see Grace again if she didn’t do something, and her suit popped a window that warned of rising heart rate. It bothered Rava that her last words to Grace had been a slew of Martian obscenities. She didn’t want Grace to remember her like that.

Should she burn this 5% to slow her drift, hope it bought her time to charge the other 5%? Her yellow air gauge showed two hours. If only she hadn’t spent the last two unconscious.

Rava wasn’t as terrified as she’d expected. She had heard CO2 poisoning was peaceful – you got sleepy, then you went away – but there was still so much she wanted to do first.  That included smacking Grace, repeatedly. No one else was dumb enough to walk across a dissipation port right before it irised open.

The last sound to pipe over their suitlink, just before the suit’s induced catatonia violently shoved Rava forward in time, was Grace shrieking like the day that greaseboy stabbed her. Grace flailing and trying to restore her suit’s maglock on the station hull. Grace shouting “You bloody idiot!”

Grace had been flailing because Rava had shoved her off the opening dissipation port, of course. As Rava recalled the terror in her friend’s voice, she felt unwelcome guilt. This was all Grace’s fault, so why did she have to feel guilty about it? She hadn’t done anything wrong!

The intense heat of the venting had challenged her suit’s regulators. To overload its cooling system it had to cut life support to dangerous levels, levels a conscious human couldn’t survive, and Rava couldn’t fault her suit for knocking her out. Still, two hours in an unconscious drift had put her a long way out.

A hyperventilation warning joined her heart rate. A hiss filled Rava’s ears as her suit pumped in airborne drugs to dull her panic. She decided right then to fire her thrusters, and when her burn ended she had stopped drifting. At least, almost stopped. It was so damn hard to tell out here.

The word “Charging… 0%” blinked as Rava’s hyperventilation and heart rate warnings faded. The suit’s drugs calmed her as her worried mind could not. Now she just had waiting ahead – thirty minutes? Forty five? – and the hope that the air left when her thrusters charged would get her back to Horizon Station.

There was nothing to do out here in the void – no vids to watch or games to play – so Rava focused on her best memories. The day Grace snagged a full pack of QuickHeat soup from an unattended cart heading to first ring, and they feasted for a week. The day Rava came across the last season of Atlas Peaks in a bargain bin – on thumbdrive, no less – and traded her best boltcutter away.

Grace had given her so much grief for that, of course – a boltcutter was so much more useful on third ring than a season of Grace’s favorite cancelled soap opera – but that didn’t make the countless nights they’d spend watching and rewatching episodes, huddled in the tent they’d stitched out of discarded suit patches, any less wonderful. The way Grace cried when Sarah walked out on Jason so Doctor Carlo wouldn’t send him to Mars, every damn time. Even when they both knew it was coming.

It was those memories – Grace’s smile, the way the station lights glittered on Grace’s blond crew-cut, the feeling of Grace’s back against Rava’s as they slept – that kept her sane until her charge reached 5%. With less than an hour of air, she fired her thrusters and ground her teeth.

Rava was drifting back toward Horizon Station at last, but Jupiter’s almost inconceivable bulk felt claustrophobically close now. Too close. Could its gravity be pulling her in? What would it feel like to be crushed at four times station gravity, or would she burn up first? How badly would that hurt?

Rava squeezed her eyes shut. The suit assured her its trajectory was correct, and she had to trust it. She had to trust she would see Grace again.

Drugs hissed, breathing slowed, and Rava drifted through void. She imagined herself floating in a cool sea – not that she’d ever been in one, just seen one on Atlas Peaks – and imagined Grace floating beside her. Imagined clutching her warm hand.

Rava drifted with her phantom Grace, surprisingly content, until the beep of an oxygen warning opened her eyes. Had she slept? She had slept. Horizon Station was larger now, ten times the size it had been, but she was still so far away. Too far away.

Her air gauge blinked red and her thruster charge remained at less than 1%. She knew then either her batteries or absorbing panels were fried, probably by the intense heat of the dissipation port’s discharge. Rava could not gain any more velocity than she had. She wasn’t going to make it home.

She’d tried. She hadn’t given up, not ever. That counted for something, didn’t it?

She hoped Grace would find a way to get along without her.

Rava’s heavy eyelids drooped as a dot separated from Horizon Station. Rava assumed it was just some chunk of debris a third-ringer had tossed out a cleaning vent, illegally, but it looked too dull for that. Not shiny enough. As it grew, the dot squirmed. It had arms and it had legs. A person? A suit?

“Rava?” Grace’s tremulous voice was barely audible over the static-y suitlink. “Rava!”

“Grace?” Rava knew she was dreaming, lost in carbon-monoxide induced bliss. There was no way Grace would have remained outside the station for over four hours, looking for her. No one would do that.

“Rava!” Grace’s voice was stronger now, loud enough for Rava to hear it clearly over the air alarm. “Stay there! I’m coming! Don’t flail!”

“I’m not flailing,” Rava whispered. Unexpected droplets wicked off her eyelids and floated between her face and helmet. Dammit! She couldn’t afford to cry right now.

Grace was the size of a lug nut. Then a hull patch. Then a person, a real person. Grace threw long arms and legs around her, and even through the suit fabric Rava imagined her warmth.

“Don’t move!” Grace ordered. One of her gloved hands clumsily jammed a linktube into the backpack of Rava’s suit, failing again and again. Stupid lack of gravity. Finally, the linktube snapped into the ring.

Rava’s air warning faded as the tank inside Grace’s suit circulated air between them, heady, wonderful air. Air that smelled like grease and sweat, that smelled like Grace. Rava breathed deep.

Droplets floated before her eyes and Grace did too. If she was dreaming, she refused to wake up.

“I thought I’d lost you,” Grace whispered. “I thought I’d killed you, Rava!”

With the viewports of their helmets pressed together, with the helmet lights highlighting Grace’s light brown face, she was almost obnoxiously beautiful. Droplets floated inside Grace’s helmet, too.

As Rava floated in the arms of the only woman in all third ring she would trust with anything, even her life, regret and guilt flooded her like suit drugs. How could she have been so stupid for so long? All their arguments, all her complaints, all her nitpicks – those were the words of a bloody idiot.

“I love you.” Rava clutched Grace and shouted. “I love you, Grace Tano!”

Grace managed a half-giggle, half-snort as they drifted toward the bulk of Horizon Station, together.

“Well.” Grace beamed at Rava through floating tears. “Duh.”

THE END

 

About the Story:

The theme for this month was “Young Love” which initially prompted a lot of hand-wringing from the usual participants. I think we’ve all seen examples of stories with young characters in love that didn’t work for us, and initially, I had no idea what I was going to do with this one. Eventually, I focused on story first, theme second, and ended up settling on the inner monologue of a young girl drifting away from a space station.

Once I’d settled on that idea and the drama it inspired, it ended up being incredibly easy to imagine the thoughts that might go through the mind of someone facing a slow death alone in the dark, in particular thoughts of those they love (as many might guess, the movie Gravity also provided inspiration). Thus, what I thought would be a difficult theme ended up coming together nicely and rapidly. Once I understood the challenges Rava faced, her love for Grace came naturally and was easy to incorporate into the story.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/14204983@N06/3338434326″>Outerspace – Earth</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

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