Author: Alzo David-West

Allen Etter was stranded in deep space. The propulsors of his small hypercraft had exploded, and he was thrown off course. His initial hope had been to make geostationary orbit in the gravity field of the nearby artificial planetoid Beta until the autonomous rescue vessels there arrived, but that was no longer an option.

His electrostatic radiation shields were down, and he knew that overexposed, he would be susceptible to the high-energy emissions that swept through the soundless emptiness. An apparition of smoke expanded and dissipated from the end of the craft. He sent out a distress message:

“Gamma, Contrast, Alpha, this is Navigator. Wolfdog has hyperbolic propulsor failure. Do you read me? Over.”

There was no response. He suspected the transceiver was not transmitting, yet he could not reconcile himself to sit helplessly. He had to do something, and that was to go outside with his manual ion thruster to generate counter-momentum for the craft to move in the direction of Beta.

He laughed at himself and secured his white helmet, green spacesuit, and yellow oxygen tank. The craft door opened. He turned on his illuminators and, with a tether, floated aft in the breathless darkness. A charred distortion of mangled metal and melted plastic came to his view.

The illumined surface was extremely hot, he thought. Still, he considered where he could position himself. As he hung weightlessly over a fractured propulsor chamber, an invisible blast of magnetic repulsion suddenly struck him like a tidal wave.

He was in a daze, not knowing exactly what had happened, and then he realized with a shudder that his craft was gone, his tether was broken, and his ion thruster was lost. He was drifting. A stern agony attacked him, and his heart grew sick. He panicked and struggled instinctively, lashing his arms and legs around ineffectually in the frictionless void. He grew tired, and after regaining his calm, a pensive quietness fell upon him. He spoke into his helmet transceiver:

“Gamma, Contrast, Alpha, this is Navigator. I am overboard and drifting at unknown velocity. Wolfdog is somewhere in the radius of 0.31 astronomical units from Beta. My suit locator is activated. Over.”

He looked at his flow meter and gauge. He had consumed a generous amount of oxygen in his panic, but with a small auxiliary supply and a rebreather fitted into his spacesuit to recycle the exhaled air, he was not particularly worried. His more pressing concern was the space radiation, which the softness of his suit could not withstand indefinitely.

He drifted for ten hours and, growing weary and lightheaded, decided to ingest a liquid sedative through one of the feeder tubes inside his helmet. His eyes closed, and his breathing slowed.

As he sank into a torpor of semi-awareness, his mind mused freely on thoughts of his wife Kristi, his two sons Zack and Max, the tribes of his kin, and his blood-brother Haig, and unconsciously, he wondered if, in the flight of all his years as an independent navigator, he was now destined to make his last bed in the shroud of the great solitude stretching between Andromeda and the Milky Way.

He drifted deeper into the expanse. His individual being retired. A long train of nothing passed.

“Navigator Allen Etter,” a mild voice called out, “this is autonomous rescue vessel Gamma. Contrast and Alpha have retrieved hypercraft Wolfdog. I have identified your position and am approaching. Stand by for rescue. Over.”

His eyes opened thinly, and he saw the illuminators of the vessel. The wobble of the light was like a phantom in a dream.