By H. E. Remus
I can’t think about this. I remind myself, while I lie there in my bed with my eyes turned up through the porthole to space. I am safe on a space station. I reassure myself. I am safe in a place with oxygen. I breathe in, and out, full breaths. There is nothing like an environment with real, genuine oxygen in the air. No recycled air. No methane. No evil come to asphyxiate. I touch my cheek while I lie in bed. My face feels free, and clean, without a breathing apparatus attached to recycle the same air I had been breathing for months. It feels strange, smooth, alien. I cannot believe how short a time it has been since I arrived.
I hear a knock on my door.
I sit up from the bed, and look around for some pants. “Just a minute!” I yell. There, on the floor. I grab them and slide my legs through, buttoning up. I am not wearing a bra under my shirt, so I grab a sweater and wrap it around myself. I open the door. It’s Mara.
“Hi.” She smiles at me, too chipper for my taste.
“Oh, hey.” I say, and move out of the way. “Come in, the place is a mess.”
“That’s fine.” She says, “I don’t care.” She steps past me, over some clothes, and plops down on my desk chair. “What are you doing today? Did you just get up? Do you want to get breakfast at the cafeteria?”
“Yes.” I say. I shut the door. She is well put together. Her long dark hair is thick, and frames her face. Her face looks pristine. “How do you do that?” I ask, a little jealous.
“Do what?” She laughs, and touches her hair. She knows what I am talking about. Despite my mental state minutes earlier, she is relieving the burden of my mind.
“Get perfect?” I joke, turning around and removing my sweater. “Turn around, I’m getting dressed.” My temporary studio apartment does not afford much room for privacy.
I hear Mara laugh. “Stop it!” She giggles as she turns around with her back to my back. “I am not perfect. You are beautiful, you know.” I laugh as I put on a bra and a proper shirt, but there is nothing light in my laugh. It feels harsh.
“Sure.” I say, pulling my shirt on.
She turns back around just in time and glares at me. “You shouldn’t be so down on yourself.”
“Mara, come on.” She makes eye contact with me. My attitude is not pleasant for either of us, but we were roommates at Academy. There is no pulling punches. “This is not the fucking time.”
“Jesus,” She looks away, all the smile gone from her. “Fine. Sorry. I was just trying to encourage you.”
I grunt, aggravated for making a nice person feel bad. “I know you’re just trying to be nice, but I can’t do the teasing right now. I don’t have the emotional capacity to deal with my own insecurities this week.”
“It’s been three weeks.” She says back, looking for my eyes. I look away to find my glasses, wallet, and keys. “When are you going to talk about it?” She asks.
“Hardly long enough.” I avoid the question. She rises from the desk chair as she sees I am ready to go.
“I’m sorry.” Mara is at my side by the door, her hand on my arm, sharing her soft energy with me. “It will be good for you to get out of this tiny room. You’re not meant to be cooped up.” She is right. I say nothing, but I unlock the door and leave the room. She follows, with feet and conversation. “So… When are you going to tell me about what happened?”
I look over at her. “Never?” I try to pass it off as a joke. I know I will tell her, to get it off my chest, but I have been trying hard not to remember it. Despite my brain’s ability to regurgitate bad memories as it has been.
“You know how unhealthy repression is.” Mara sing-songs. We stroll past happy people shopping across from massive coated glass panels that look down on Earth. I pull my hair up while we are walking, grab a band from my wrist, and sweep my hair into a long ponytail.
“Your psychology does not make it easier to discuss.” I reply. “If anything, it makes it worse.”
“Look, everyone is going to find out soon.” Mara remarks as we round the corner to the elevators. “They’re releasing the information next week.”
“What?” I stop by the elevators, where there is a crowd of a dozen or more people standing, waiting for the glass circles to deliver them to the next floor. I feel a little sick. “What do you mean?”
“I mean I read online that there is going to be an exclusive released by the Celestial Observer about the mission and why it went wrong. Everyone wants to know. Titan is one of the next habitable moons that would push us out to the edge of the galaxy.” Mara says, making my heart constrict with every word.
“Don’t you think I know that?” I snap back. “I know exactly why the mission was important. You don’t need to tell me.” Her face takes on a wounded quality, her eyes soften and become sympathetic.
“I just don’t think this is healthy for you.” She pushes back gently, in a softer voice. I am getting loud. She always gets quieter when I get louder. I try to calm myself. I realize that my heart is pounding. I look at my watch. One week. No wonder they had me taking a month off. They didn’t want me reporting anything to the press or talking to the Observer. Fuckers, I think to myself. Mother. Fuckers. My head hurts.
“Nothing is healthy for someone who watched their best friend die.” I hiss back quietly, trying not to be an asshole and failing. Mara says nothing. She cannot say anything. No one can say anything to that. The elevators arrive. Everyone files in but us. “Wait,” I say to Mara, and she waits. “Come here.”
I walk over to the giant windows that look out on Earth. I look down at the beautiful blue and white mixture of weather, landscape, and primarily oxygen. Earth is so lovely it makes me want to cry.
“Mara,” I say quietly as she joins me. My voice is broken, a grating, graveled sound coming from the rest of me. “I see that moment, over and over again in my mind.” Mara looks up at me. Her eyes are waiting, her face is contemplative. Not the worst person to vent to. “No matter what I am doing, that moment comes back to me,” I say. I bite my lip and feel the beginning of the sting of tears gather in my nose and cheeks. My voice is about to crack, but I keep going. I push through it. “I see Abrielle’s face, Mara, as her heart seizes and stops beating while she is in my arms. I saw her eyes as the last light faded from them, but most of all I felt… Feel her still… Leave me over the course of several hours. I see her cracked helmet, the glass shards still connected but the oxygen in her suit gone, all in my mind, over and over. How a little crack can kill you. Fuck.” I stop. Tears are streaming down my face as I look away from my friend, ashamed of my own weakness and pain. But I continue, knowing if I stop that I will never get it out.
“How the tiniest wrong thing can affect your whole life.” I struggle through the words. “I feel her here sometimes, even though she is lightyears away in our multiverse, floating through the void in a coffin.” I really lose it at that moment and angry, sad, devastated me takes over. Mara gathers me in her arms, and I sob uncontrollably on my friend while the Earth turns and turns 243,000 miles below.