Thursday, June 3, 2010

All Alone in the Night by Michelle Houston

Riana couldn’t handle it anymore. As she pulled herself over the top of the cliff, she felt her will to live leaving her. Her suit was plastered to her skin with a layer of sweat, and acted like an insulator. She was almost out of air, and thanks to malfunctions with her suit she had no way of knowing if she could breathe on this strange planet.


Finally, she pulled the rest of her body over the ledge and collapsed on her stomach, grateful that at least the end would come without much physical pain. She was too numb to feel much of anything.

Riana forced herself to breathe slowly, hoping to prolong her life for a few minutes, at least.

“One minute of oxygen remaining,” the disembodied voice of her suit’s computer proclaimed.

Great, she thought as she checked the gauge on her arm. Soon it would be over, and like with Braden and Davin, no one would know about the possible wormhole, the fact she evacuated her ship right before it crashed into the water, the long swim to shore, or her climbing up a cliff to survive.

Gritting her teeth, Riana tried to sit up. Feeling the sluggishness in her muscles and the ache that had set in, she struggled and finally achieved her goal. Each breath grew harder, until finally the whisper of air in her helmet fell silent. Her oxygen tanks had run out, not that they were made for any kind of extended use in the first place. Holding what air she had left in her lungs, Riana reached up and removed her helmet. She held her breath as long as she could, but the need for air won out.

* * * *

Two days earlier, she had been on cloud nine. The Unified Earth-Space Initiative was sending her into space to find their lost pilots; they had finally gotten off of their asses and decided it would be safe to launch a fact-finding endeavor. It had only taken two years, a miracle given the size of the bureaucracy.

While other teams went out on different explorations, she had devoted her time to arranging a rescue mission. She turned down several chances to reach for the stars until she received the go ahead to investigate the sector where the guys had disappeared. There was no way, however, the newly formed Unified Earth Program would risk one of their fancy new shuttles in that uncertain area, despite not having picked up any of the anomalies that had occurred just before Braden and Davin had disappeared, so she begged and borrowed, and called in every favor to get permission to take out a recently decommissioned craft, built on the technology of the early decades of the twenty-first century that was long since made obsolete.

Even her suit was an older model, with tiny oxygen tanks, streamlined to be nothing more than a second skin which sealed around her. It had been made for short term wear inside the craft, devised only to last her until she could get into a bigger suit should she suddenly lose oxygen pressure in the craft.

And hers was to be a solo flight, a way of minimizing potential damages. She had to fight just to get the go ahead for herself. They weren’t willing to risk anyone else.

Although she had no real hope of finding Braden and Davin alive, she wanted to discover what happened to them to give their families, and herself, some much needed closure. The guys had become her family, the first to welcome her into the space program, and the only ones to treat her as a partner rather than a woman they wanted to score with, despite the threads of attraction running between them.

All her years of devotion to the space program, her missed opportunities at dates and of a normal life, were about to pay off. She was going to the stars. If only it wasn’t to find out what happened to her friends, but she had chosen that path after they disappeared.

Riana had been excited, despite her misgivings with the loss of Braden and Davin. She had finally launched into space when the boom dropped. The Earth-Space Initiative’s mission control picked up the same odd readings in front of her craft that had appeared just before Braden and his copilot went missing. By the time she realized it was the gravitational well of a forming anomaly, potentially a wormhole, it was too late. Riana’s ship was already in its pull. Nothing could stop her from going into it, though God knows she tried. So, she sent everything she could back in a message to ESI, letting them know what happened to her, which she suspected was the same thing that had happened to her friends.

She knew there wasn’t much chance of finding her, even if she survived. After the craft was sucked into the gravity well, everything went blank. She blacked out from the shock and pressure of her descent and woke up just in time to change the angle of her fall into the atmosphere of this strange planet.

* * * *

So this is it, Riana thought, and allowed the air to leave her lungs. Hesitantly, she inhaled. The sudden rush of oxygen was dizzying. I can breathe. Sweet euphoria clouded her mind. She was going to live, at least for a while longer. She might starve, or be killed by some strange creature, but for the moment she was alive…and life was good.

Her remaining strength gone, Riana fell forward on her face, feeling the gray, rocky earth scratch her tender skin. The feather like grass tickled her nose, but she didn’t care. It was yet another reminder that she was alive.

The snapping of a twig startled her. Riana lifted her head high enough to glance at the sound, and encountered a pair of bare feet. Raising her head further, her gaze traveled up the almost naked body and met the brown eyes of a man; a man who looked strangely familiar.

She could see his lips moving, but with the loud ringing in her ears she couldn’t make out a word he said. Although, she severely doubted she would be able to anyways. It was too much to hope that the man spoke English, despite what movies always seemed to show.

“Well, fuck,” she mumbled, laughing to herself at the irony. She had survived everything to be killed by a barbarian on another planet, in a star system she probably had never even heard of.

Riana heard the stalks of the grassy plants crunch under his feet as he stepped closer, but she couldn’t summon the will to do more than open her eyes wider and watch him as he squatted down beside her. She stayed where she was, and allowed the shock of the last couple of days run through her mind as her gaze traveled over him, searching for some clue as to who he was. As the sweet claim of oblivion fought to take hold, it dawned on her why he looked so familiar. It was Braden.