Author : Duncan Shields

The helmet amplifies my own breathing and makes me feel uncomfortably confined. It’s like when you can hear yourself chewing and it sounds so noisy because of the bone conduction going on with the sound but outside of your head its fine. Except with me I can hear my own breathing coming through the speakers in my earpieces. All I can see through the faceplate is infinite space salted with Christmas-light stars. This is my first space walk.

Something interesting happens to the human mind when it’s confronted with this level of distance. Visually, there is no up or down and below your feet is an unknowable distance of nothing. The tallest building you’ve ever dared yourself to look over the edge of is nothing compared to this. Your brain tries to get a hold on it. It either gives up altogether or the monkey starts screaming and you go crazy. Right now I’m not sure which way it’s going to go. Am I going to blind myself by projectile vomiting against the glass? Am I going to claw at the catches on my helmet just to make it stop? My breathing is getting loud and ragged in my ears. My vital signs are rising.

Control senses it.

“You alright?” comes down the speakers.

I breathe back and manage a squeak. I feel like screaming but I can’t. I know I’m starting to lose it. Any second now the line is going to go tight, they’ll reel me in, and I’ll get shipped dirtside to a desk job or a training facility and my days in space will be done if I don’t get it together.

“McGavin! You alright?” comes down the tube again.

And just like that, like someone shooting out the part of my brain that’s not evolved, I don’t care. It’s like the monkey blew a fuse and just went dark. I look at the stars and they’re just stars. I look down and see my feet dangling and below them is just space. I’m fine. I can feel my little heart blink and start to slow down, relieved.

“Roger. I’m fine.” I say.

The instructor can hear it in my voice that I have it under control and I’ll be fine. He’s done this hundreds of times. He knows the signs.

“Copy. Five more minutes then we’ll pull you in. Enjoy it.” He says.

I start to hum a little tune that I heard a couple of weeks ago. I’m still humming it later in my bunk, going over the high fiving of my fellow successes and our uneasy shunning of the people who panicked and are going back to Earth tonight. I wonder for a while what the switch was in me and how it really didn’t seem like a conscious decision. I wonder if survival is different for some people, like we evolved from different apes. Some people panic, scream and run while some people just turn off and sublimate.

I drift off feeling mysteriously strong but not personally responsible.

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