It would seem that I am in quite the bind.
. . .
The date is June 28th, 2121. As of now, it has been twelve hours, two minutes, and thirteen seconds since I became detached from the Abel.
I am, at this moment, staring at an organic orb, painted with its soft blue and green hues, which holds a startling contrast to the larger inorganic, irregular object of steel, stained in its varied blacks and whites.
That jagged piece of metal held its passengers within, as opposed to the orb, which held its passengers on the outside, restraining them from the hostile outer space due to its sheer size and the God-given properties of gravity. As humans, however, we must resort to more primitive methods if we are to invent our own habitable spaces. We employ the latest of our own discovered sciences, creating air-tight containers, equipped with various mechanisms; their sole objective being that of the circulation of oxygen and heat. We take water and food from the orb with us to prevent dehydration and starvation. And we hope and pray that everything turns out as we intended. This is all for the sake of science, of course. That, and for the human spirit.
That orb, of course, is called earth.
That jagged piece of metal is called the Abel. My ship.
Or, more accurately, my ex-ship.
Now, here I am, a passenger of neither. I am currently left with a smaller life support system than either of the two aforementioned mechanisms would provide.
Here I am, on a brief journey in the cosmos.
My name is Charles. I am a cosmonaut.
Once upon a time, I was bound by the firm convictions of duty. An uncompromising mission, with timing, deadlines, and back-up plans. Now I am free of that. Now, I have nothing but the emptiness of the stars.
Earlier in my life, I was aboard my ship. Safe and secure, yet not free.
. . .
Our ship hung delicately in the blackness. Long gone was the bumbling ships of yesteryear. In todays age, the biogeneticists have chosen a different animal as their representative. It resembled something close to a species of Cephalopod. Each of the eight articulating limbs fastened themselves tightly to the ship, and yet with just enough freedom to become useful. If they were bound too tightly, of course, they would be of no use at all. They would be only crystalized tumors; solid, immovable limbs without purpose or function.
And it so happened, on this particular day, one of the arms had loosened itself slightly, begging for a chance to have the smallest freedom from the iron grip of the Abel. It was approximately 0.07% out of tolerance according to our organizations tolerance guidelines. Anything other than perfection would be a grave sin indeed.
And, since I was the senior-most mission specialist with the highest level of mechanical qualifications, it therefore was my duty to bring that wayward soul back within tolerance.
“Ready, Charles?”, the captain called to me.
“Of course”, I replied, with rock-solid fortitude. “That’s what I’m here for.”
With a suit perfectly fitted to me, tailor-made for my use, I made my way through the outer door.
. . .
As far as I can ascertain, it has been three hours, twenty one minutes, and thirty-eight seconds since my oxygen supply was reduced to fifty percent.
. . .
Out on the deck of the ship, I carefully navigated myself to the problem area. Kept in check by the long tether, attached firmly to the base of the ship, I moved carefully forward.
I checked for the placement of my left hand, then moved my hand there. Then eyed the spot for my right, and adjusted accordingly. One hand, one leg. One arm, foot. It was a dance that must be executed to perfection. A small slip meant disaster.
. . .
As far as my conscious body will allow me perceive, it has now been four minutes and twelve seconds since my oxygen supply was reduced to twenty-five percent.
. . .
I sat across from the man who may become my captain. He was holding a manila folder containing several documents. Valedictorian, it said on one page. Graduated with honors, said another. Exemplary. With Honors. Written in bold letters, there was a phrase, “I hold him in the highest regard”.
“You know the odds are not in your favor”, said the captain, as he laid the folder on his table. Several stacks of similarly shaped manila folders lay cluttered on his desk. He looked past me with a nonchalant gaze, his mind elsewhere, and it was completely perceptible to me that he thought the interview a complete and utter waste of his precious time.
“I understand”, I replied. “I’m prepared to do my part. Anything I can do to help my chances, I’ll gladly do.”
“It’s a good attitude to have. But we don’t hire based on attitude. To be honest, there are others far more qualified.”
“Let me ask you something,” He leaned in. “You’ve applied for this position for the last seven years. The pay is bad and there are many risks. Why do you want to do this so badly?”
He eyed me carefully. Was it possible that he really did want to know the answer?
And so, I decided to tell him the truth. “Losing your life in order to be a part of something wonderful? It seems like a nice trade to me.”
. . .
As I understand it, there has not been a single case where this particular situation has occurred. And, not surprisingly, the odd sequence of events which led to my predicament were just as strange and rare a thing as the chances of a man being set adrift in the outer realms.
Of course, life subsists of a series of checks and balances. When we hear of a plane that has crashed or a building that has fallen, we hear it because it is exactly that. News. Something so exceedingly rare that the world must know about it. How do we come to such staggeringly trivial risks? Why does the building not collapse at the slightest gust of wind? The answer, without question, is that of checks and balances. And checks and balances within those checks and balances. Such is the case, that only in a series of catastrophic failures is disaster given a foothold. And such is the case in this exceedingly rare event. That a man is jettisoned away from his craft with astonishing force. Not due to just one stumble, but of several, stacked on top of one another; the O2 cannister having a microscopic rupture; the sensor that normally would catch even a microscopic rupture becoming slightly out-of-tolerance, therefore providing a false negative reading; the routine check of the sensors being delayed, just this once, with express approval of the Flight Director, due to various time constraints.
Just this once.
. . .
It has been nine minutes and forty-two seconds since I last heard my captain’s voice, his gentle reassurance doing little to dull the constant, sharp beating in my chest.
. . .
“We’ll find you”, I heard my captain say. The sound was distorted, as though I was listening through a tin can, which could only mean that he was much further away than he was mean to be.
The coldness of space was hardly noticed through my protective suit, holding me delicately. Still, the truth of it all was laid bare to me. The situation was hopeless.
The view, however, provided some consolation for my circumstances. With little obstruction, I could see everything. And so beautiful it was, I had to admit that it was nearly a worthy prize.
And it was humorous to me of the events that laced themselves together to lead me to my current circumstance, a cosmonaut adrift among the heavenly bodies.
. . .
It has been one minute since I ran out of oxygen. I can’t seem to recall the last thing my captain said to me.
. . .
In my brief journey through the cosmos, short though it may be, there was one thing that became clear. And, having reached the conclusion, I found it a most curious thing. Within me, two passions beat full within my heart. One, the passion of duty, and of obligation. Of friendship. Of love. It spurred me on, pushing me ever further to accomplish greater and greater feats. But there was another, which met my passion to be bound to these most pertinent things. It was the desperate grasp for freedom. For Peace. For Comfort. A moment of rest. These two great conflicts beat on, colliding with one another. An everlasting conflict.
. . .
It is nearly impossible not to feel the burden of obligation. To feel, however falsely, that every human and angel is watching you with silent judgement, weighing your accomplishments.
But now, drifting among the stars, with all eyes blind to me, it’s hard to imagine that all of this time, for my whole life, all of the perceived pressure from the citizens of heaven and earth was simply a misunderstanding.
It was all too obvious that it was me, all along.
Could it be at all possible that I am not wearing chains at all?
It’s hard to imagine, but out here, it seems a sound possibility.
. . .
And, it was at that moment that I saw them.
A multitude of beating wings; with robes so white, it was as if I had only previously been privy to darkness. It was clear to me that this the first true light I had ever seen.
So bright, in fact, that it seemed to illuminate my entire self. From the outer dermis, down to the blood that circulated throughout my body, down even to my own beating heart. And yet, even further still, it continued to shine. Down even, into my very essence. And, to my own astonishment, it seemed to shake me, what the light uncovered.
With tears, I saw my own self, in bondage to the burdens of duty, and guilt not only for the things I had not done, but even for the things I have yet to do.
And, only when it seemed as though they lit up my innermost self, the beings spoke.
“Yes, it is true. Your burdens are needed. But it is also true. Those who wear the heaviest of chains also wear the grandest of crowns.”
And, in the very next moment, a buzzing rang in my ear.
“Charles. Charles.”, it said, in a familiar voice. “We found you. Hang on.”
It was the voice of my Captain.
. . .
Within moments, the team had cut my suit from me and stripped me down to my underclothes.
I was taken to the medical room. A few moments later, the medical advisor came in. She took my temperature and my vitals.
“Touch your nose,” she said.
“Follow my finger.”
“Look at the ceiling.”
“Look at the floor.”
“How do you feel?”
And with the image of the robed one firmly in my head, I told her.
“I am free.”