Author: Irene Montaner

I was never good at holding my breath underwater. So the moment the doors closed I knew I only had seconds left to live. Seconds left to think of Luna, alone in that escape pod.

One Mississippi. Two Mississippi.

I used to play that game on hot summer days. We would dip in the lake and hold our breath until we could not hold it any longer and the last to emerge would win. I never made it past ten Mississippis. One day Jack grabbed my leg when I was swimming upwards, struggling for air. He pulled me downwards and kissed me. We were fifteen.

Three Mississippi. Four Mississippi.

Jack made it into the spaceflight academy. I enrolled at a state college and studied applied maths. One day he casually mentioned the station in Pluto and the special missions going on there. He had already been accepted for the brand-new Oort Cloud patrol. I wanted to run away but he said we’d be fine. We left earth together – he as a junior pilot, I as a data scientist. We were twenty-four.

Five Mississippi. Six Mississippi.

Life in the station wasn’t easy. Jack was often away, releasing probes to gather material from the rocks floating in the Oort Cloud. I was stuck in the lab analysing said materials. My days were lonely, long and dark, in spite of the fluorescent lights that were always lit the common areas. At night I often toyed with the blue pill that we were given for emergencies but I never dared to swallow it. I was on my own when I turned twenty-seven. And twenty-eight. And twenty-nine.

Seven Mississippi. Eight Mississippi.

We would fight about anything, Jack and I. Whenever he was around, we spent the day quarrelling about everything. And yet every time he said that things would be fine again and every time I believed him for a short time. It was during one of those truces that we made a baby. Nine months later I gave birth to a girl, a genuine Plutonian. We called her Luna. And things were really okay for a while, until the accident happened. I was thirty-two.

Nine Mississippi. Ten Mississippi.

Sirens hooted and lights blinked. People ran and screamed. No time to think. Jack was out in space and I took Luna with me and rushed to the spaceport, hoping that an escape pod would still be available. All the big ones were gone. I jumped into an individual one, holding Luna tight, and off we flew. The alarm sign went off immediately – not enough oxygen. I tried to calm down in order to reduce my oxygen intake but that wasn’t enough. It was Luna or me. I am thirty-two, she’s only a baby.

Eleven Mississippi.

All I can think of is Luna. Her tiny body, her chubby face, her milky blue eyes, her pouty smile, her perfect everything. I think of Luna drifting alone into space, the escape pod aiming for a planet that might never be a home to her. And I suddenly think that gifting her our oxygen wasn’t love but mercy. And mercy can be merciless.