Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer
I deserved the black eye. John stood there, lip quivering, blood on his fist, fiercely willing his tears to stay in his eyes. He looked at me with shining hatred. I couldn’t blame him.
I picked myself up off of the floor. We were in one of the spaceport receiving lounges. There was a knot of people looking at us in a mute circle. I caught the eye of a six-year-old girl sucking her thumb and holding on to her mother’s hand. I stood up and saw the exact same vacant-eyed expression on her mother’s face.
It was like they were watching television.
How could I explain it to John? We’d been friends for years. I had known Jessica as long as I’d known him. The three of us had attended more shows, drunk more beers, partnered on more long haul flights than anyone else I knew or worked with. We were a tight and small circle of buddies. The fact that John and Jessica had been together for most of that time didn’t bother me at all.
Until a day ago.
The air had been running out. Jessica and I knew that we had two hours at the outside. Recovery shuttle ETAs were over six hours away. We’d patched the hole so we had stable pressure but the engine containment shields had been cored before the filaments had imploded to save the ship. We were dead in the water.
The property was more valuable than the pilots. It had always been that way.
It was an odds-defying breakdown. We were lucky to be alive but we knew we were going to die.
Jessica and I had stared at each other, sweating in the heat, drowsy from the lowering oxygen levels, and knew that we would never see anyone back home again. No words were said. All we needed to express was there in the gaze we pinned to each other. We charged each other in the zerograv. Years of longing I don’t think either of us knew we possessed came coursing out through desperate pulling at buckles, buttons and zippers to get to the warm, slick flesh beneath.
It took us no time to wrap ourselves around each other, getting as much flesh contact as possible, trying to become one living thing. Death would take us, exhausted, wet, smiling and holding on to each other in the oldest defiance of death that existed.
Floating, hours later, near death, a bright light had shone through the forward window.
In a complete fluke, another ship had been in our lane just a short ways behind us and had received the call. It was on an illegal flight plan but that had been overlooked in light of the rescue when it docked at the station. The ship had been broadcasting live to the station when it looked in the cockpit windows. There were pictures of our harshly-lit, floating, naked bodies still on the SNN feed on the station’s screens. There were scratches on my back.
I had, under fear of imminent death, betrayed my best friend by sleeping with my other best friend before being rescued by pirates. It had been a full day.
Now Jessica had run somewhere, embarrassed and crying, and I had a broken nose, black eye and split lip courtesy of a heartbroken John. He stalked off without another word.
I needed a drink. I didn’t want to think about the future.