Author: J.D. Rice
“Everyone, I’ve come to a decision.”
My voice echoes into the warm air of my helmet, the moisture fogging my visor and obscuring the view of the stars. The fog lingers for only a few seconds before the air filtration system of my suit recaptures the moisture and begins reprocessing it for delivery into my feeding tube. Beyond the suit, the cold, blackness of space presses in on me from all sides, though I feel none of it. The darkness cannot get in. Not yet, anyway.
“I’m sorry, but I have to say goodbye.”
My visor clouds again briefly, before I hear the faint hiss of sunction as the suit does its work. I wonder how long I’ve been staring at these stars.
“Are you sure this is what you want?” my wife asks. Her voice sounds ethereal and distant, not at all like the static one usually hears over the radio. “You’ve worked so hard to get where you are.”
“Dad,” the voice of my fully-grown son says. “Do what you need to do. We’ll be fine.”
I cannot picture his face. When I imagine him, all I see is the little boy who waved goodbye when I strapped myself into this suit for the first time. As the cabin doors closed, he even blew me a kiss.
“Daddy, don’t go,” I hear my little boy say.
Other voices, friends and family from back home, start to chatter their opinions on my plan. Some advise caution and patience. Others applaud my bravery. I don’t know how long I listen to them. I don’t know how many arguments I have or how many words of encouragement I offer, before the silence finally comes again.
The fog clears, and I see the vastness of space before me again.
How many years has it been? Five? Ten?
This suit is supposed to keep me alive indefinitely, recycling resources, synthesizing needed nutrients, running on a powercell that will last centuries. Tiny, electric pinpricks stimulate my muscles and keep them healthy and strong. A person could live seven lifetimes in this suit, without a physical want in the world. Stay alive and wait for rescue, that was the name of the game. But my rescue was never coming.
Not that I should have known it. The final mechanism of the suit, the one that makes it humane, was the powerful sedative that’s supposed to kick in after the first few hours of waiting. That way, no matter how long it took for help to arrive, you’d sleep the time away in blissful ignorance.
But my suit has failed in that last task miserably.
“How will you do it?” my wife asks, the pain evident in her voice.
That was, afterall, the chiefest question of them all. How does a person kill themselves when they are trapped in a suit designed to keep them alive indefinitely?
“I’ll scratch,” I answer, placing my hand on an all-too-familiar spot on my leg. “It may take me years, but if I focus on one spot, I’ll eventually be able to wear this material down and end it all. Nothing lasts forever.”
“Daddy, please…” I hear my boy say. “Don’t go…”
“It’s okay,” his adult self says. “He should have been asleep. He should have been rescued. If neither of those things happened, no one can blame him for ending his solitude.”
My fingers move of their own volition, scratching, scratching, scratching in the same place they always do. I have had these conversations before, more times than I can count. Sometimes I remember them, sometimes I don’t.
Sometimes I even decide to live.
Not much longer now. Another year, maybe two, assuming my resolve holds?
“Tell me a story,” I say, trying to picture my son’s face. Is he married now? Does he have children of his own? “Tell me what your life is like. I’ll just drift here and listen.”
Scratch, scratch, scratch, go my fingers.
“We have all the time in the world.”