Author : Bob Newbell

I hear the sound of alarms in the distance. An ambulance? A firetruck? No, the sound isn’t that. An alarm clock? The sounds get louder. Recognition hits me like a blast of cold air. I pick individual alerts out from the symphony of klaxons. Atmospheric pressure warning. Power failure. Radiation alert.

I open my eyes. It takes several seconds for the image to focus. The glare from the blue sun in the sky pours in through the cracked windows coloring the flight deck with a surreal light. Most of the ship’s displays are dark; the few still operating tell me the diverse ways in which my starship is dying. I hit the silence buzzer control. The cacophony of alarms is replaced by the sound of air hissing out of the ship from various points. Since the vessel’s life support readout is inoperable, I resort to my suit’s environmental display. Atmospheric pressure is 300 millibars and dropping. Less than the pressure at the top of Mount Everest.

I try the quantum spin radio. It doesn’t work. Not that it matters. Even if the spinrad were operational, there are no other ships in the vicinity of Alpha Leonis. The closest help would be in the 88 Leonis system and it would take eight weeks to get here under maximum FTL drive.

My spacesuit’s heads-up display informs me that my suit’s oxygen tanks are depleted. In addition, I have already absorbed near-lethal amounts of radiation. I think back to the centuries-old science fiction movies and TV programs I’ve watched, a not uncommon hobby for my profession. In those stupidly optimistic turn-of-the-millenium entertainments almost every planet in the galaxy was imagined to be Earth-like. The Australian outback or northern Canada are more inhospitable than most alien planets according to the first two or three hundred years of sci fi. I guess dying alone and pathetically on some dead rock of a world with no villain to heroically defeat wouldn’t have made for an interesting story.

I tap on the controls on my suit’s left forearm and issue the various voice commands required to initiate the spacesuit’s suicide protocol. I feel a needle slip into each of my antecubital veins. After a couple of minutes, I begin getting drowsy.

It’s tragic, but not uncommon. An old spacer once told me that for every planet or moon that’s been successfully colonized, there are at least two whose only inhabitants are dead crews. Or a single dead explorer. There are more extrasolar cemeteries than extrasolar cities, he’d said.

The alarms again fade into the distance as drugs and oxygen deprivation cloud my consciousness. My vision fades to blackness darker than the void between the stars.

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