This is the first chapter of what will be an ongoing story over the next four weeks. I’d always hoped that the film ‘Gravity’ was going to be much more abstract than it was – maybe this is just me filling that void. In part two it will go somewhere very, very different.
Over and over he turned. Stars wheeled, not overhead, but everywhere, and Private First Class Fredriks wondered where he’d heard that saying before. Wheeled overhead. He’d heard it everywhere, he supposed.
An equipment strap, come loose in the last explosion, had snuck around his leg as the airlock opened, innocent in its way. Pulled him back as he fired free, sent him head over heels. In the vacuum, there was nothing to stop the turning. Sometimes, he closed his eyes, felt nothing but the slowly escaping warmth of Jones’ EVA suit, slightly too big for him. Motionless.
And then his eyes would pop open, involuntary, and his mind would seize, thoughts lost in the tumble.
Open. Close. Open. Close.
Freeze. Breathe. Freeze. Breathe. Breathe.
In the darkness behind his eyelids, Fredriks could see his home. Years away. Great jumps of light and space and matter from him, pulled apart by a twist of fabric.
One simple decision away.
Outside the curved visor of Jones’ standard issue mining helmet, Fredriks tried to find home as well. Would settle on a pinprick of light, make that choice. Wait and watch it fall from his vision as he span, lose it completely. Fail to pick it out again as he came around. He would try another, and another, lose another, and another, until he felt sick and had to close his eyes again.
His suit said something to him in Korean. Fredriks tried to ignore it. It could only be something bad. Understanding it, now, would be as meaningless as the choice of star he would latch on to when he next tried to look out into the darkness.
He looked harder at his eyelids. Squeezed them tight, watched as abstract colour popped and bubbled. The last colours he would ever see. None of them real. He imagined the shadows on his eyelids were people, waving, bidding him a safe journey. Back home, his parents, his partner, had all waved him goodbye, blown him kisses, cheered for his valour and bravery. Pleaded with him not to go, thrown plates at him, quietly shaken their heads. Understood, not understood, never understood. Some days, he could explain why he was going. Other nights, he couldn’t find the words. He would just sit outside, looking up at the sky, hunting for a star. Stars were impossible to see, the atmosphere scorched and clouded as it was.
Ray had held his hand, a few weeks before he had left. Told Fredriks that he had always imagined that he would buy a motorcycle. But Private First Class Fredriks didn’t care about the ground. Not anymore.
And off he’d gone.
Here, in the tumble, Fredriks kept his eyes closed as he moved his hand up to his face. His chest. Tried to feel something other than the suit. Feel some warmth in his fingers. Nothing.
He tried to hold onto something, part of his helmet, his other arm, just hold it, hold it. But his hand was seizing, and all there was left was the suit, alien now. More Korean, quieter this time; slower, distorted.
Soon, the tumbling would stop. It wouldn’t ever stop, of course. It would go on and on, immortal, immutable. But it would stop for him. One more star to pick from the expanse. One more to carry him tumbling off to somewhere much more distant.
Just before the ship had lost power, Fredriks had asked Jones what she was going to do when she got home. Jones had smiled, the way she always did, and simply told him that it was none of his business. Laughed, the way she always did.
And then the lights had blinked out, one by one, replaced after a pause by splashes of emergency red. There was a shake and a twist and a noise and Jones was dead. This suit her last gift. The gift of a few more minutes of life, of thoughts running through a dying brain tumbling through cold nothingness millions upon millions of miles from another living soul.
Fredriks would thank Jones for that, when he next saw her.
He opened his eyes, by choice now, sick of the dark. Longed to see something real.
Only the continued swirl of the lights. Sometimes, he thought he could make out the distant remains of his ship, its long mission into the reach now over. Thought he could glimpse the final home of his crew, his friends, but it was probably just a memory encroaching on his vision like a shadow.
As the suit began to fail, Fredriks’ breath started to catch and condense on the surface of his helmet. Fog his vision. Smeared drops of water, tiny, clinging to the clear, trying to escape. Maybe he’d drown. Maybe he could pretend that was happening.
Open. Close. Open. Slower and slower.
Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.
He couldn’t keep his eyes shut at first. Now he couldn’t keep them open. His breathing was shaped, laboured and cold. He wished he could hold on to something, just for a second, but even as his faculties dissipated like torchlight in deep salt water, he knew that he would never, never hold on to anything ever again.
And just as he accepted that, he opened his eyes for the last time.
Picked out a light. Settled upon it.
And clung desperately to his breath when he realised that he was no longer tumbling, and that the light was getting bigger.
Words copyright Matt Vesely. Image copyright David Keen.