I can hardly breathe even though the air gauge tells me I have four more hours of air.
It has said that for almost four hours so I know it lies.
For a while, I held out hope, strung along by the idea that if the gauge says four hours, it might mean there is more air than less.
Time clicks away and I think worse for it, and think perhaps I have less – maybe nothing.
Maybe death is already on me and the lack of air deludes me into believing I am still alive.
It is hard to breathe.
I stare out the portal again as I have often since the crash, looking for help I know will never come – and finally, as if in an acceptance of fate, I close the outer cover so I can see the stars or search among them for illusion of rescue.
Space scares me, but being closed in scares me more, as if I have just sealed my own coffin. Yet I make no move to reopen the portal, deluding myself into thinking closed means I might have more air from some imaginary leak I know does not exist.
I am a dying man.
My throat hurts. I feel pounding in my chest that is not just my heart, as if someone inside is pounding on the walls to get out, this flesh cell so much like the metal and plastic one that contains me.
And despite the closed portal I still see space after having stared out for so long in my desperate hope for rescue, the starlight has become burned upon my retinas so I see little else – that vast gap of blackness and stars that I always thought as wide open and free, but only a larger prison, one made more intimidating for its lack of walls, because men who tempt it build their own walls, not just the spaceship that contains me, but something more impenetrable without gauges to torture me with promises of air, but worse tortures, one claiming I am free when I am not.
I slap the wall in frustration, telling myself I didn’t ask for this, when I know I did, knowing that I ached for space when I looked up at it from more solid ground, telling those I loved down below that I needed to explore it a little before gravity’s death grip made it impossible for me to ever get off the ground, telling them that I would be back when I got my fill of it.
But how does one get filled up on a vacuum, and the higher I went into it, the less there was to fill me up, until I had filled myself up with the illusion that I was free, then I was much freer in the grip of gravity where I knew where I could place me feet. Here, I float in a limbo without boundaries, laws of the universe, a joke even Einstein disputed, nothing to tell me who I am or where I am or where I am going except for illusion of freedom. So the farther I took my spaceship, the more lost I became, taking comfort only in the fact that I was among others just like me, people who looked to the same stars with the same lusts, and who for some ungodly reason, looked to me as their companion in this unholy mission.
I always despaired that no one needed me; no one thought I had significance. But what did I know of insignificant until I came out to this place and saw how utterly insignificant I was? We do not conquer space; it conquers us, always finding a way to ruin our best laid plans.
So it was with me, and I still hear the scream of the alarm bells, shaking me from my weightless sleep, and the roar of ruin from some explosion somewhere else in the ship I did not then yet know meant doom.
I still thought that perhaps this was some new facet of space travel, our launch perhaps into hyper drive that brought me to some new level of understanding and accomplishment. I struggled to undo the straps that held me in the bunk so that I might indulge more fully in this new freedom, recalling the cabin manager telling me that we all had to spend some time in free fall before we attained the next stage.
Not until I saw the bodies floating outside my portal that I realized disaster had struck and I had been lucky to be in a part of the ship which had not yet been breeched. Luck held true until I reached and escape pod.
No, this is not luck. For even as I cough now, I understand that no hope exists. I grow weak understanding that even if the gauges are wrong, and the tanks that provide air have an infinite supply, I have no hope.
All is too distant to arrive in time regardless of how much air the gauges say I have, all my staring showing life beyond my ability grasp, and that four hours stretching out into four hundred or four thousand would not be enough to save me, even if anyone has heard the mayday message or cares enough to leave their own orbits to seek out one poor fool so isolated in space as me.
I smell my own sweat, and eye the medical supply cabinet wondering if the wise masters of fortune had thought to include a cure for this, something that would not take four hours to accomplish, something that could snuff out this light in an instant rather than drag it on and on.
But that is not nature of mercy. Nor is the beep of the constant SOS I hear and the torture of knowing that nobody hears it but me.
I keep waiting for a response, tortured by the belief I might hear one, when I know I won’t.
It beeps as if counting off the time of the air clock that just doesn’t move, always telling me I have four more hours to live, telling me that there is still hope, and even as the pain increases in my chest, and the fog settles over my eyes, I see stars on my retinas and wait for help that will never come, only the gauge face telling me over and over and over, I have four more hours.