Then would come the sherbet colors of true dawn. The lights would slowly progress to real sunlight, hoping to wake the human inside of its pod with a slow, natural progression towards daylight.
At one time, this progression seemed ingenious to Remora, but now she just wished she could speed it along.
The story was something I had lived over and over.
The first time the story came to me was 1986. I'd been in an outer space kick for several weeks and had managed to convince my mom to let me stay home to watch the Challenger's Space Flight. I sat in front of our tiny, color TV block and wore my one-piece pajamas with feet in them, shoveling LIFE cereal into my face as fast as I could manage. When it took off at 11:39AM on January 28th, that Tuesday morning ruined my life.
It was a horrifying disaster, and for the first time, I released that no matter how safe and white-washed my life on Earth was, space was dangerous.
The first time I wrote the story, I wanted a happier ending.
Remora, therefore, met a nicer end, flying through space to end up on the planet of Ponytopia with her new best friend Pony. I still have the copy of this story; it's page one of The Binder.
The next year, I rewrote the story, adding something more about the planet being made of cheese.
Ever since 1986, I have written a new version of the story. The versions have gotten progressively better (Ponytopia was deleted by draft 5, Pony by draft 6). The story matured as I did, moving from a one-page short story written on the back of a kid's menu in crayon to double spaced, typed and printed stories. The word count grew every year, too.
This year I decided to hand write it. Perhaps, this time, I'll actually finish it.
Although I wasn’t sure I wanted to know the end of the story.
Remora took a deep breath, waiting impatiently for the Dawning programming to finish its cycle. It chirped cheerfully when the “sun” was up. Taking a deep breath, Remora braced herself for the return of Earth-level gravity from zero G’s. A whir sounded, the only warning that false gravity was going to come back online inside of her sleeping pod.
As the gravity kicked in, Remora fought the panic that always pressed around her brain. It felt like a hundred hands pressed her down to the padding, holding her there as all of her muscles locked up in the sudden onslaught. Just when it seemed the transition might kill her this time, her muscles would readjust, allowing her to shift and her lungs to re-inflate.
The original team that constructed these pods hoped to use the collected data to make a full scientific study about the long-term effects of occasional zero gravity on the human body. If Remora could contact her colleagues back on Earth, she would give them an earful about it. But Remora couldn’t contact her people on Earth. She couldn’t contact anyone. No one even knew she was still alive.
Remora was the only human still alive in the space station.
I shook out my fingers, massaging them against the sudden muscle cramps of holding a pen for so long. Glancing at the clock, I saw that it was nearly 9PM; I still had several hours before I had to get ready for bed. Work didn’t start until 11AM tomorrow morning, so I had plenty of time to finish more of this before sleep.
I stood up and almost immediately collapsed; the story pulled me hard back to the desk. “I’m just getting a heating pad to wrap around my hand!” I told the pages. They seemed to shift a little before releasing me as if warning me not to stay too long. “And I’m losing it; talking to my story like that.” Shaking my head, I stretched, grabbed a cup of decaf coffee out of the pot, and found my heating pad.
I sat down at the desk, fumbled to turn on the pad for a moment, then began writing again. “So next, we’ll have Remora get out of her sleeping pod and into the main room.”
Remora sat down to a quick breakfast of dehydrated fruits and dry cereal. She drank water, used the waterless shower, and glared at the tiny clock above the eating hall’s doorway. Most of this room had been destroyed in the flash fire that had eaten up most of her backup oxygen and killed all but one of the crew on the space station. The fire here, at least, had quickly run out of things to burn and had gone out, leaving the sleeping pods and emergency life support system in place. Remora had spent the last two days moving the remaining surviving plants, backup tanks, and other supplies she’d found so far.
“Another day, another dollar,” she whispered, glancing over at the empty tube beside her own. The door was shattered off of the pod, leaving the burnt-out interior exposed. She didn’t like to look in that tube; it hurt every inch of her heart to see it.
Pulling on her suit, Remora locked the air tank into place and slid open the door with caution, closing it as quickly as she could behind herself. It used to be a sealing, motion-detected door, but she’d broken the sensors on both sides to keep out the icy, airless nothing of space. So it took a little pushing to get it open and closed, but the security was necessary.
Sailing past the first room, I pushed past the three rooms I had already cleared.
I glanced down at the paper and frowned; why had I written “I” instead of Remora’s name? This wasn’t first person POV. Or was it? I glanced back through the rest of the story. Where I was sure I’d been writing in the third person, the words seemed to have changed to first.
“How odd; this story has always been in the third person.” The last twenty-nine drafts, one a year for the last twenty-nine years, all were in the third person. Weren’t they? I was a little scared to go back and check them. It might be too weird if they had also changed. The Binder was right next to my right hand, and my fingers itched to look through it, but I fought the urge.
My right hand twinged hard under the heating pad, making me wince. Frowning, I pulled my hand out from under the heating pad, rubbing at the offending knuckle. “This is what I get for hand writing it this time.” I sighed. Looking down at my hand, I nearly choke as I notice that the tips of most of my fingers are missing.
I brush my left hand over my right. I can still feel them, I just can no longer see them.
“Does that make it worse, or better?” I growl, my fear making me angry. “This is what I get for eating tacos before bed. This is certainly a dream. Excellent work, Kate,” I cursed myself.
But it didn’t feel like a dream.
I tried to stand up, but I was firmly glued to my seat.
Finish the story.
I should finish the story before bed. Remora is already outside, ready to start another day of work. It won’t take too much longer to write, right? It’s only 10PM; I’ll keep it up for a while longer.
The wreckage is massive in the first of the two rooms I’ve already cleared. The walls are blackened, small holes puncturing the walls, pieces of shrapnel embedded in the walls. The rest of the station’s gravity is out of order, so I push off of the floor, floating into the next room. Then the next. I started work on the third room the day before, slipping through the broken airlocks one after another.
I clear out each room, taking anything whole and useful back to the only room with power still remaining. I try not to think about how much longer the power will hold out. Even with five work backup generators, it may not be enough power to be able to hold on until rescue comes.
If rescue ever comes.
Kate slipped her hand out of the heating pad again, rubbing her fingers gently with her other hand. The fingers were completely invisible by now, but she could still feel them. They were there when she ran her other hand over them. Strange; where could her fingers be disappearing to?
Kate went back to writing, her head throbbing. But she couldn’t stop. It was nearly midnight, but she wasn’t ready to stop yet.
I pulled a burnt, crusted panel off of one of the walls, my eyes searching. There is a bundle of wires and a few severed chips of melted aluminum. “The fire seems to have started her,” I whisper to myself, my heart wrenching in my chest. Tears pricked the edges of my eyes as I stare at the pieces in my gloves. “So much destruction from so little a thing.”
It took all of my willpower not to glance back at the blackened husks of human bodies behind me. I refused to acknowledge their existence. If I did, I was pretty sure that I would go insane.
There was too much destruction in this part of the station to hope to find even components to make a communication device. Time to move onto the next room.
I pushed my way into through the next airlock, trying not to glance around too much.
Kate thrashed against whatever was holding her in place at the desk. “Please, let me go!”
But it demanded that she finish the story. Tears slid down her cheeks. Both arms up to her shoulders had disappeared, slipping away into whatever alternate reality the story was pulling her to. “Please don’t make me finish this.”
She had to finish it. She had too. If she didn’t, perhaps her character Remora would be lost in space for eternity. It was time to give the story an ending. The story craved an ending.
So Kate sat down in her chair. Ignoring the loss of her arms, Kate kept writing, her invisible fingers sliding the pen faster and faster across the empty pages in front of her. Remora cleaned out two more rooms, finding pieces for the communication device she was trying to build before the day ended.
A blip on my wrist unit reminded me of the time. My body was exhausted and my shoulders strained, pulling every time I moved them.
I really needed to stop daydreaming about this being fiction. About being a writer back on Earth making all of this up. It wasn’t health escapism; it was distracting me from the only thing that could save me.
Building some sort of working communication device to let the people of Earth know I was alive and well. Maybe they could save me before the lights shut off. Because once the lights shut off, the plants would die. Once the plants died, there would be nothing to breathe and very little left to eat.
I needed to build it. I needed to take this seriously. The feeling of loss clogged up my chest, throbbing against my rib cage like an injury.
Somewhere on Earth, a pen floating over paper falls to the desk and rolls onto the floor.