The two astronauts glided through the almost perfect vacuum of Low Earth Orbital space, connected to nothing but each other. Ten metres of braided steel tether, strong enough to support half a tonne down on Earth where people actually had weight.
Earth. Only four hundred kilometres away, vast and beautiful. George looked down, his eyes piercing the clouds in search of the river that coiled about the house he called home – though if home was where the heart was, it wasn’t there. It was here, in the nothingness, the majesty of creation cold and vivid all around, the ever present threat of painful, lonely death.
Space. Life existing on a knife’s edge. Or hanging by a thread, perhaps. Even with all the layers of steel and teflon and whatever else that protected them from the cold of space and the heat of the sun, and hopefully any passing space junk, there was a finite supply of oxygen. Eight hours, maybe nine.
Almost gone now, though. A desperate gamble that might yet pay off. “There she is,” he said, pointing. “Looks like my calculations were right.” Which was a joke, really. He’d guessed the trajectory, and nudged and nudged with the little help his SAFER unit afforded, hampered every metaphorical step of the way by his companion. Amateur.
“Thank God,” she said.
The irony of space. It was as if the two of them hung motionless, the only change about them being the pattern of day and night on the planet below. It had grown, of course, as they neared it, though the change had been too gradual to observe. The ISS – the International Space Station – had certainly grown. What had started as a bright dot was now clearly an arrangement of modules and solar sails.
“Shooting’s easy,” he said, dismissively. “Catching the bullet’s a whole lot harder.”
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t look like it, but we’re going to hit that station with the speed of a rifle bullet.”
“Shit! There’s no way we’ll survive that! Can’t you slow us down?”
“I’ve fuel enough to make sure we miss it, but unless someone catches us, our next stop is Earth.”
“There’s no one there to catch us,” she said in bitter whisper.
“No, but we just walked from the Hubble to the ISS. How sweet is that?”
After a minute, she laughed. “It’s pretty cool, I guess.”
Together they saluted the abandoned space station as they shot past.