Author : Charles Paul Wallace

Ashura contorted her body, thrust her arm through the jagged rip in the ship’s inner hull and aimed the flash-driver at the stuck bolt.

Which, as ever, refused to turn.

She slumped back down to the shrapnel-strewn floor and considered her possibilities.

One: give up; wait for the remaining air to seep into space; die.

Two: Leave the escape pod compartment without, somehow, suffocating in the vacuum of the rest of the ship, and locate any surviving tools that might help solve her predicament.

Three: keep trying.

One was not an option. The Pan-African Space Agency was on shaky enough footing already without adding cowardice to the catalogue of errors. If corners hadn’t been cut on the ship’s construction, if Commander Musonda hadn’t panicked when the alarm flashed into life…She was determined the last remaining survivor of the mission would show no weakness.

Option two seemed an impossibility. The asteroid-net had scythed through the outer hull, obliterating the rest of the crew in one fell swoop. Musonda’s death had followed swiftly once he made the mistake of severing the command capsule from the power module. The resultant blast of nuclear material had billowed through the vessel’s interior in seconds. Ashura had heard it all from where she had taken shelter by the escape pods. She had only survived the blowback by pure luck. Now, her one chance of survival lay with…

Option three: keep on trying and hope for the best.

Small hope though it was.

She stretched her arm through the tear in the bulkhead once more. Centimetres away, the bolt sat beside the pod’s release mechanism, unconcerned and indifferent to her attempts to turn it. She switched on the screwdriver for the briefest second. How absurd, that her survival should rest on the waning charge of this tool. How narrow the divide between success and failure. She grimaced; the same could be said for the entire mission.

The bolt, naturally, didn’t move.

She withdrew her arm and tried to think. The dwindling oxygen supply was making such an exercise near-impossible; she tried pinching herself, slapping herself, anything to clear her thoughts. The fuzz inside her head ballooned, a clouding, impenetrable miasma…

A memory came to her: her mother, on her hands and knees in their barn. The farm where Ashura had spent her childhood seemed to manifest itself around her, out here in the void. Her mother, arm extended inside the only cow they could afford, was desperately trying to pull its calf out before the beast expired from the effort. Sweat drenched her forehead. Ashura could do nothing other than shout words of encouragement.

“Mother!” she screamed. “Pull! Pull!”

Her mother gave one last almighty wrench. With a sound of slurping mud the calf tumbled out onto the straw. The cow gave out a low that shook the air, turned its giant head and began to lick its child clean.

Suddenly Ashura was back on the ship. A sharp pain in her arm, and the stench of the farm became the stench of stale air. She found she had thrust her hand back through the hole without even realising it. The driver glowed. With a final, infinite effort she waved it above the bolt and jammed it forward.

It slipped from her grasp and tumbled to the floor with a clank.

Weeping, she lay her head on the cold metal of the hull.

And it was seconds before she heard the hiss of the turning bolt; and then the womb-like interior of the escape pod lay before her, ripe with the promise of rebirth in the stars.