Infinity… and Beyond – by Bob Corpening

             Jaspers’ comms link buzzed obnoxiously, a bright red link blinking inside her helmet. “Will he never just leave me alone?” she muttered to herself, switching on the link. The airlock door slid shut, leaving her alone in the vast emptiness of space. It was almost peaceful.

             The audio link crackled to life, static sounds flooding into her ears. “Jaspers, you there, amiga?” Gilson asked. It was always Gilson calling, probably abandoned in the control room again. The man didn’t know how to shut up long enough to breathe, which was exactly why nobody wanted to talk with him. She wondered how he hadn’t figured that out yet, after forty-plus years of life.

             “Houston, we have a problem, alright,” she replied. “Gilson wants to run his mouth some more. Expecting severe damage to all comms, sudden outages probable.” She triple-checked her toolbelt, ran her hand over the blowtorch like it was the family dog. Seal the hull breach and get back on the ship. Easy enough job.

             “Oh, very funny, Jaspers,” he replied. “You know what they say about astronauts who get a big, swollen head, don’t you?”

             “Don’t care.”

             “They say it’s just the O2 deprivation getting to you. And if you start thinking you’re above everyone else-”

             “You’ll fall back to Earth real quick. I know, Gilson, I went through the same basic training you did. Now let me get back to work.” She pushed off from the airlock, drifting lazily towards the signal array at the rear of the craft. She reached out as she drifted past and caught a rung on the ship’s hull, latching herself onto the tether bar. She began to climb, the clip sliding up with her.

             The static fizzled away for a second, and Jaspers took a deep breath. Maybe Gilson had finally gotten the message. But as soon as the thought landed in her brain, his voice flooded back through the comms. “Damn it,” she muttered.

             “You hear about that Chilean ship they retrieved last month? The one where the crew went missing?”

             “What about it?”

             “I’m just wondering what happened there, you know? I mean, I know space is infinite and all, but how’s a whole crew go missing from a ship, and nobody’s gotten wise of it, even now? They had to go somewhere, didn’t they?”

             “Maybe they heard you were coming and shipped on out,” Jaspers grumbled, staring down at the tear in the hull. “Something must’ve struck us,” she said to herself. “Wonder what it was?” She pulled the blowtorch from her toolbelt, held it against the tear in the hull and flipped it on. The plate metal oozed together, flowing shut around the crack. The force of the torch pushed her gently away from the ship, but the tether held her snuggly in place.

             “I know you wish you’d gone into standup and all, Jaspers, but give me a break,” Gilson said. “I’m just saying, it doesn’t hurt to keep the comm lines open. Keep in touch, and we’re all better off, alright?”

             “Right,” Jaspers said. She dragged the blowtorch along the length of the tear one more time, making sure it was sealed nice and tight. She nodded to herself, happy with the clean lines. All around her, distant stars twinkled in the sky, their beaming messages, lightyears from home and eternities older than she ever would be, filtering into her eyes. Funny, she thought, that you could stare directly at a sun just so long as it wasn’t your own.

             Gilson starting speaking, but the static buzzed loud, garbling his words. It sounded like he’d asked if she was almost done.

             “Just taking a moment,” she replied. She felt so lucky every time she got to spacewalk. Most people would never see anything like this, she knew. Most probably couldn’t even begin to imagine how vast everything really was, how tiny they were in comparison. She got to live that thought every day, and even she couldn’t quite wrap her head around it. She was so far from home, so decidedly, calmingly alone.

             She loved it.

             The static crackled some more, much harder to understand now. She thought she understood “inside” and “danger.”

             Suddenly, her display lit up bright across her vision, blurring the infinite cosmos to mush behind flashing lights and commanding visuals. Debris, flying towards her at her 3 o’clock. She turned her head and saw the dark figures, spinning slowly as they drifted towards her, seemingly carried by some solar wind, some indescribable galactic current. She knew that wasn’t how it worked, but still. Whatever it was, was coming. And it was coming fast.

             She holstered the blowtorch and scrambled down the rungs, back to the side of the array facing the airlock. She glanced back at those shapes, speeding towards her, closer every second.

             Her comms blared again, static flooding into her ears. “-no time-” she heard Gilson shout. “-HURRY!”

             She tried to kick off, jerked back and slammed into the hull, the clasp holding firm. “Shit, shit, shit,” she said, fumbling to unlatch herself from the tether.

             Finally, she got the clasp free. The debris was almost on her now. She kicked off from the hull, shooting towards the open airlock. Thank God for Gilson, she thought, getting that door open for her. She took a deep breath, tried to steady her nerves. The debris was right on her heels, but it looked like she would just make it…

             Her eyes went wide. She had shot wide of the airlock. She was going to miss it.

             Jaspers stretched her arm out as far as it would go, the outer rung of the airlock drifting ever closer. She held her breath as it passed within reach and stretched.

             Her fingertip tapped gently against the rung as she drifted pass. She had missed.

             “FUCK!” she screamed. She fumbled for the blowtorch at her waist. There was still hope, she could still do this. The static crackled in her helmet, but nobody could help her now. She switched off her comms, bringing her undivided attention to that torch, her finger wrapping around the trigger.

             She pulled.

             Slowly, slowly, slowly, she drifted to a stop, then started moving the other way. Back towards the debris. She glanced over her shoulder, saw she was moving straight for the airlock. She closed her eyes, hoping against hope. Just a little further…

             Her head snapped forward as she collided with something hard. The airlock? She couldn’t see. She opened her eyes, but all was dark around her. The torch spluttered out. She pulled the trigger again, but there was nothing left in it. She glanced to her right, picked her angle very carefully, and threw. The torch sailed off into that unending blackness of space, sending her ever so slightly back towards her ship, towards safety. If she ever saw Gilson again, she’d let him talk his lungs out. If she could just get back…

             She wasn’t moving. Why wasn’t she moving?


             She looked down, saw an arm sticking out under her suit. Not her arm. There was an emblem there, red, white, and blue, with a single star in the top left. A flag, she realized with dawning horror. A Chilean flag.

             She raised her helmet, visor to visor with the Chilean astronaut, and saw… nothing. Nothing, and everything, all at once. Within that visor was a vast emptiness, an unending blackness akin to the void around them, the whole universe melting away inside. Jaspers stared, unable to look away, felt herself being dragged into that blackness, that infinite dark. Felt her mind slip away, as the universe faded to nothing around her, the stars winking out one by one.

             Static screamed, and the comms blared to life. “Jaspers?” Gilson shouted. “Jaspers? Do you read me? Jaspers?” But nobody answered. The infinite dark of space stretched out, hungry. Endless. Infinite.

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